What is it in me that finds it so enormously satisfying to drop thousands of words here?
I had almost forgotten the thrill.
I am sitting on my couch eating some corn chips. The dog is right beside me, warm against my leg. She is not begging, which I appreciate. I haven’t posted here in a very long time. Months and months. I’ve been cool with that, alright with it. I think, however, that I may resume, because I like having this repository of digital artifacts of aspects of myself.
I woke up this morning thinking about how, as a child, I’d name places in the woods, and my parents would name places. The Lookout Tree, named for the day we saw a man in the woods while we were climbing through the branches of an old oak over by the river. Teetle’s Pond, a drainage run off that formed a small circle of water by the highway, named for a pet turtle we released into the pond when it failed to thrive in our home. Osprey Point, a small jut of land from which a sun-bleached skeleton of a tree stood, the nest of an osprey built in the upper bare branches.
The landscape I grew up on became more mine because of these names. Isn’t that how naming works? If we name something, it becomes ours.
Do you remember when Idaho became California and all the known geography got tangled in your mind? I didn’t know how to talk to you then, what to say, how to respond.
The week before, _____ had written, in an email to herself, that she loved clouds, because they were always different, that no sky was the same twice. _____ always watched the sky; she had ever since she was very, very little. If the house she had grown up in had had cable television or fewer windows, she might not have looked at the sky so much, but there wasn’t much else to look out back in the woods at the edge of the river. Trees and sky and water. Books, too, of course and she did get to watch cartoons and old episodes of I Love Lucy and the NBC nightly news on Channel 4, but the sky was always there, too. A delicious feeling of waiting for something to happen tingling the edges of her bones when a thunderstorm gathered at the horizon and tumbled it’s way across the marsh, rippling the surface of the water into small waves and pushing the limbs of the oak trees that clung to the bank into a reluctant and grinding sway of a dance. Blue skies were boring. In the sky of her childhood she saw Halley’s Comet arc across the horizon and she slid special glasses on to view a solar eclipse with her father’s hand on her shoulder, his voice in her ear saying, “Be careful not to look right at it. It’ll blind you.” She saw, also a tiny glint of silver followed by a plume of white shoot straight up into the air until it disappeared, a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral down in Florida, a couple of hundred miles away, but she still saw the rocket go up into the sky.
The day that she knew she wanted to be a photographer was the day she went out to the small tooth of land that her family called The Point and took pictures of the sunrise so that she would have them to look at when she went back to boarding school in the mountains. The sunrise was pale and orange, streaked with blue grey over the interstate. It wasn’t spectacular at all. She noticed then that the water of the creek was utterly still and smooth and that the sky was beaming back up itself and that while the sunrise itself was somewhat ordinary on that day, its reflection was beautiful and she took a dozen pictures of the sky laid onto the surface of the water beside the flat, dark mud of the low tide bank. She did ‘t want to go back to boarding school, where nobody else seemed to smell like salt and where nobody seemed to love any place like she loved the place where she was from, down by the river, at the very edge of the world. The kids at the school liked places, sure. Places like Underground Atlanta and Papa John’s Pizza and Orlando, Florida or Six Flags. She never heard them talk about loving a place though, loving it like you love your next of kin, loving it like you love something that is a part of you or that you are a part of.
____ didn’t know, then, that people don’t usually go around speaking that sort of love. They might speak fondness for a place, but most people don’t talk about how they love certain places, and – she realized much later – if they do, they talk about such love in low voices and fumbling words, and don’t know, it seems, really how to say that they love a place, or a tree or a certain bend in the road that tells them that they are getting close to home or on their way out town.
____ sometimes thinks that, maybe, since she didn’t become a real photographer, maybe she could create a catalog of places she loves and has loved. Once, as a birthday present for a man she loved, she spent a whole day riding her bike around the city that they lived in and taking pictures of all the small and wonderful things that she was fond of among those streets. A brick wall with dozens of cracking layers of paint on it, colors on top of colors, green breaking through red, a gouge of cream yellow. The steady procession of baked bread sliding along the conveyors behind the glass at the Franz Bread Co. A statue without a face. She found, on that day, other things to notice and love. Grass growing alongside a building that was painted precisely the same shade of green as the leaves of the grass. A single orange marigold growing bright and blooming a liquid orange on a set of turquoise steps. She put all the pictures into a book and gave it to her lover for his birthday and saw, almost immediately, that he did not understand and although the relationship carried on for quite a while, she thinks, in retrospect, that maybe it began to end then, when he failed to see the beauty she had tried to offer him.
When she was very young, she could not see well, but nobody knew this about her because if you have never been able to see well, you do not know that you cannot see well. The world is just a blurred landscape. She could see well enough to make out general gist of her environment and could read up close, but when she was in the 3rd grade her teacher moved her closer to the board, and then closer still and then, finally, told her parents that she probably needed glasses. The day she got her first glasses, she saw for the first time that the dark line across the river was trees, the State of Florida. She saw, for the first time, that clouds had edges and that the river had texture and that the world was far more detailed than she could have imagined.
I have thought a lot about how to tell this story, what I might be able to get away with leaving out. I’ve considered whether it might even be possible to fictionalize myself as a character, to change the setting and the time, take the basic gist of what happened and why it is important and turn into a story authored by a pseudonymous self. At times, when I think about all that occurred and the various ways I made sense of it, the knee-jerk reactions and the muddled meanings I came up with, things I said and did, and even things that I thought, I feel a tremor of embarrassment course through me. When I am feeling especially uncertain, the feeling of embarrassment – a dull quivering in my gut, a slight weight around my shoulders, like an imaginary blanket that I want to pull over my head – edges into something closer to sheer humiliation, and even if I am alone, driving to work or standing at the sink washing dishes, my head drops and my chest gets tight, my arms feel shaky, as though every single cell of my being is trying to simply disappear. I was, it’s true, exceedingly foolish in how I handled the whole situation, but the kinder part of myself reminds me that I really did manage the best I could, that most anyone would have become a bit unstable, given the circumstances. However, I also have to admit that for such a series of events to have even begun to unfold a person would have to be a bit unstable to begin with. I think that most people have a soft center, a segment of themselves that is wavering and uncertain, prone to fall apart if pushed too far, pressed too hard, if they are confronted with something that splinters the structures of their personal realities.
Some situations that end up being pivotal in our lives begin in ways that don’t initially seem important at all. Yes, there are some stories that shift dramatically at evident turning points – a winning lottery ticket found crumpled on the sidewalk, a phone call in the dead of night, the look of worry flashing across a doctor’s face as she considers your test results, that sort of thing. A moment, people say, that they’ll remember forever as the moment their life changed. This is not one of those stories, and the moments that changed not just my life, but also me, in the core of myself, were not, alas, big moments, obvious and impactful. If they were, I probably would have freaked out a lot sooner. If confronted with the whole hugely beautiful mess in one fell swoop, I might have resolutely clung to my ideas about what was what, dug in my heels and rolled my eyes at what must surely would have seemed impossibly crazy. Of course, at some point, the whole thing did seem rather mad, but I already believed it by then, and so it seemed a different sort of crazy, a sort of crazy that felt like awe. In any event, had known immediately that what I saw would, in a matter of months, create an enormous rift between me and the rest of the world, that it would result in me sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser with my hands cuffed behind my back, I probably would have never looked up.
As laughable as it is, the thing that set into motion the utter undoing of my life as I knew it was a cloud.
Yes. A cloud. It was not, in itself, a remarkable cloud. It was not a thunder head or a golden orb of vapors in the sky. It did not look like anything other than a ‘w’ – a wispy zigzag. The clouds was not especially large, and it did not hang alone in the sky. No portent flocks of black-winged birds flew in the sky around it. The world did not fall silent. Nonetheless, I pointed it out to someone, a man who sweeping the steps of the church on the corner, a few feet from where I stood on the sidewalk, my little dog snuffling the grass while I looked up at the sky as if something mightily important was happening. “Do you see that cloud? I pointed to the sky beyond a space between the tall oaks in the yard across the street from where I stood. The man stooped a little, craning to see, and shrugged. “Which one?”
“That one, the one that looks like a ‘w’.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess I do.” He began to sweep again, dismissing the cloud.
“I saw a cloud that looked just like that yesterday.”
While I don’t remember the man’s response, precisely, I do recall that I got the sense that he wasn’t exactly blown away by my observations on the structural similarities of clouds, and I walked home. I guess it was probably the cloud I had seen the day before, while walking across the parking lot of the convenience store down at the bottom of the hill, that started the whole thing in my mind, that distinctly letter – like form that had caught my eye. The day before the w shape had been accompanied by a lot of other w shapes, a whole sky a swathe of rickrack. I knew that the wind had pushed and pulled the clouds, the water and dust and gases reflecting light, into these shapes, that the air was filled with currents and patterns, just like oceans and rivers, and that all manner of curious shapes might be made in the stew of atmospheric conditions. However, the fineness of the angles within the forms caught my eye, and I thought, “Gee, that looks a lot like a bunch of w’s.” Then I pumped my gas and drove away and it wasn’t until the next day, out walking the dog, that I thought about the w clouds again, when I saw that one w up amongst the other cloudforms.
Maybe it wasn’t even that cloud, or the one the day before, or any other singular cloud, that was the catalyst of my undoing. See, the only reason why it struck me as odd to see clouds of such similar forms was because I had recently written, on my blog that nobody read, that I liked clouds, loved them even, because they were never the same twice, that they were constantly changing, that the skyscape would never repeat itself. My blog was supposed to be about my efforts to draw everyday for a year as a means to regain what I thought of as “my lost creativity.” In retrospect, I think what I was trying to regain was the feeling of drawing, focused and contented at the kitchen table in the home of my childhood, my biggest concern in the world being the precise curvature of a horses neck. In spite of my intended scope of topic, my blog – like many blogs – drifted into all sorts of ramblings and rantings, musings and personal declarations. It became the digital dumping grounds of my consciousness. During the late – spring of that year, 2010, I was uncertain about a great many things and trying hard to find something to count on. So, really, perhaps it’d be fair to say that the circumstances that led me to sit maudlin at my desk attesting my love of clouds for their ever-changing nature in my inventory of what could be relied upon, that those circumstances were the point of departure, the crucible of my transcendent disaster.
This tracing back, trying to find the starting point, the crossroads moment, ended up dragging me through several centuries, and even further, to the origin of language itself and the world before humans had names for every little thing we behold. It’s predictable enough, that one might lose their mind in the process of considering such things, but the thing that has been surprising to me is that in losing my mind, I found out a lot about who I am, about how my mind works and, more importantly, what I think is truly beautiful, how I experience awe.
I have, as usual, done a lot of thinking lately. I have not explicitly thought about reviving this running commentary, but yet here I am. If this (space) is anything at all, it is a collection of thoughts and impressions. Not exactly a compendium. More of a random sampling of experience and impression. I am, of course, a different person than I was when I started this endeavor eight years ago. Eight years ago, this endeavor was not this endeavor. It was a project about drawing everyday for a year, which I should probably do again. That is one of the things that I have thought about lately. I have also considered making a change in my occupational role, and have contemplated all of the reasons why I might want to make a change and all of the reasons why I probably won’t. Not yet, at least. I am not sure exactly what I am doing here, with this particular writing, other than simply writing. Last week, I had a few good days of trying to tell the story that weaves through this record of days. I began telling it in the ‘I’, but then shifted to describing events as occurring in the life of a character written in 3rd person. That character, of course, being me, with a version of my middle name as an identifier and the same small black dog. I only actually managed to describe one small event, which was – truth be told – rather uneventful. I am standing on the sidewalk. Behind me, a man is sweeping the steps of the church.
If there is one thing I have realized, it is that writing with any sort of intention is difficult. Writing as a fit of streamed consciousness, saying whatever might come to mind, is much easier. It is hard to tell a story.
A couple of months ago, I participated in – and completed – National Novel Writing Month. 50,000 words in 30 days. I haven’t revisited the text I was working on. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a finished novel, or even a rough draft of a finished novel. True, there is a protagonist and a series of interconnected events, an exposition and a conflict (several actually), and a decisive point of reckoning and journey, which leads to an additional reckoning and a long trip home. There are also numerous peculiar characters that cropped up without any invitation, caught my attention for an evening and then edged back into the murk which not only surrounded the story I was trying to tell, but which also frequently spilled into the story itself, submerging it in murk, mucking it up tremendously. See, I didn’t make any sort of outline or precontemplate any of my settings or characters. In the first several pages, my protagonist has a sister who practices her vocal scales constantly, her voice ringing through the rooms of the house. Then, said sister never shows up again. My protagonist, while crossing the foyer to speak with his mother in the sitting room, glimpses the tall, thin neighbor girl, whose name is Camille, walking briskly and with her head down the street in the falling light. The neighbor girl does not appear again. A complex story of indecent liberties taken by a group of older boys carries on for several pages, but serves only to explain why my protagonist and his friend might think said older boys may have ideas about how they may accomplish a particular sneaky goal they have. I could go on with this accounting of flaws, and probably should – it’s very instructive. However, the point I am generally trying to make is that writing is hard and that in spite of my occasional prolificism in discharging the flotsam and shine of my mind, I am not very good at it. This is an important thing for me to realize, because it means that – if I try, if I put in the time and effort – maybe I will someday gain some modicum of adequate skill. Recognizing that I am not the stunningly talented creature that I once fancied myself to be relieves me of the pressure to do anything astounding or otherwise impressive with words. It is the people who never realize that they are not especially talented who are doomed to a deluded frustration in being. It’s okay not to be naturally brilliant. The vast majority of people aren’t. Yet, if one believes themselves to be brilliant, and is not able to view their own work with a constructively critical eye and mind, then one is unavoidably set up for bitter impotence. There are no clear criteria for being brilliant, of course. A great many things that are ostensibly simple are truly brilliant, not because they are complicated, but because they are beautiful and they inspire within people the feeling that is beauty, or they create a powerful disruption of the everyday mechanics of reality, so people might learn to see, at least for a moment, the world in a different way.
I didn’t set out to say anything about any of that. It’s just what came to mind as I thought about the sheer relief I feel in inhabiting the reality that I am not brilliant and that I don’t have to do anything brilliant and that it’s totally okay that I couldn’t write a stunning novel in 30 days while working full time in a state – funded recovery education center, being a mother to two full-fledged adolescents, and trying to maintain an aging home and a menagerie of high-maintenance pets while also meeting my goal of running at least 15 miles a week so that I don’t totally lose my mind.
In any event, NaNoWriMo 2016 was a great experiment and while I definitely gained some insight into my shortcomings, I also did manage to write some truly lovely scenes and – even better – I was able to live those scenes as I wrote them. Given that National Novel Writing Month this past year was also election month in the United States, writing fictionalized occurrences set during an entirely different era provided a much needed respite from reality. A related outcome in the experiment was that I realized that, overall, I am happier and more satisfied within my life when I am writing. Regardless of what might be happening or not happening in my walking and talkingness, I am – at the very least – satisfied and somewhat contented with the simple act of spending time with words, saying something, even if only to myself.
Now, two months later, I am trying to figure out what to do.
Note: to document my observations of both the internal and external environs during the commute to work so that the time will not simply be spent thinking and gawking around at the scenery with nothing to show for it. This might also be useful in remembering the songs I like on the radio. Like this one: Strand of Oaks, Radio Kids
Thought tonight while running: to do a painting that depicts the progression of effort, motivation, and experience while running, with green bleeding into red with undertones of black that suddenly gives way to a clear, calmly exuberant blue, which then shifts back to green and then onto red, and on and on. I am finally, at age 40, learning how to push through discomfort to find satisfaction on the otherside of wanting to quit, to stop running. I wish I had had role models and mentors in the art of effort and perseverance as I was growing up.
It has been almost a year since I started running, and for almost a year before that I developed the habit of walking. Change is slow for me. Dogs help to compel action when one’s natural inclination is to sit still.
This text is a collection of scenes, snapshots and short reels documenting a period of time that has since past, but that continues to exist as memories, which are – of course – fallible. Memory was a living component of the events presented here, segments of experience and recalled feelings that filled the space between the fibers that I wove together to make the meaning that I, at the time, made of what I saw and what I noticed. So, there is a recursive action in this telling, a stitching together, a back and forth. When I speak with my voice, I frequently find that my hands are making diagrams in the air around my head, especially if I am talking about something that matters to me, something that I might have ideas about. My hands swoop and punctuate, framing boxes and wiping down walls, creating lines in the air from one side of my peripheral vision to them other, gesturing at my skull and my belly, the ground beneath me. “Here I am in space and time, and here is where this thought lives in my head, and here is how it takes to the air, the shape of it and how it moves. Here, between my ribs, is where I feel what I say.” If I am listening, my hands are quiet in my lap, resting or fidgeting with some small object. I keep small objects near me, on my desk or in my pockets, so that I will have something to hold while I am sitting quietly, something to twist or to pull, a string or a rubber band, a thin strip of paper.
Words are tools of interpreting, transmuting sensation and impression, describing actions and objects, trying to name what has no name…and they often fall short in their duties, fail to adequately convey what we seek to share. Conveyance is not simply a matter of the conveyor delivering its substance…said substance must also be received and recognized, synthesized and understood as being what it is. What is said is also heard and a great deal of meaning can become muddled in this process of exchange. So, in order to write anything at all, to try to tell this story or any other story, I have had to abandon any attachment to the idea that what I say will be read accurately and understood in the way that I would like it to be understood.
Writing about my personal experience in 3rd person is easier in many ways. It gives me a little distance, a buffer, a safe zone of sorts. Even if I know that what I am writing is about me, the 3rd person is much less terrifying than making statements about what I did or did not do, what I thought and believed. Stories written in 3rd person can be kept at arm’s length; they can’t come back to haunt you like anything you might dare to say about yourself. The 3rd person stance allows one to stand back from what was happening, to be a fly on the wall of one’s own experience. It gives the opportunity to imagine what one might look like and sound like to imagined others, to picture how one might appear without the privileged knowledge of what was happening in the subjective experience, even if that knowledge exists in the background, informing the way the story is told.
Yet, in spite of all the benefits and comforts of the 3rd person, ultimately I believe that stories are more deeply felt when read in the first person. It seems possible that, in the mind of the person reading, the distance between oneself and the character that one is reading about is reduced by the simple act of reading the word I. I becomes you and you, in the act of reading, become I, the subject, the person that inhabited the scenes. Of course, any reader brings their own experience and impression to any text they might consume and so, try as I may, I could never fully explain what is what was like to be me in particular moments. A single minute contains multitudes of memory and meaning – making, associations and anticipations, sense and sensation and even in all that there is still a matter of what actually happened and all the various events and phenomena working in conjunction with those occurrences.
Tonight I took the figures out of their plastic bags, where they have been resting for almost two years, since I got them from a person selling things on a spread-out blanket in Vancouver, British Columbia. There was a coffeemaker, too, there on the blanket, and an assortment of miscellaneous shoes, all laid out on fading blue fleece on the street that connects Cordova and Hastings at the 78th block. I had been talking with a man holding a pink vinyl umbrella shaped in the form of an upended bloom or a grand ballroom skirt. The sun was shining through plastic and the man was held in a rose glow, which caused his red, damp eyes to seem even more inflamed, almost like he might have conjunctivitis. The man had slick black hair, held in a low ponytail that scruffed out at the very end in a dry-tipped poof tinged in orangey highlights that looked burgundy under the emanating pink of the umbrella.
I don’t know why I thought to take the figures out of their bags, which were tucked under a small pile of photos on the top of a shelf in my room. There are entire weeks that have gone by during which I thought nothing of the figures in the bags on top of the shelf. The only time I really even remembered them at all was when I was looking for something on the shelves they were on and I might happen to notice the edge of the bags, peeking out into the air from under the loose photos. Don’t get the idea that I didn’t care about the figures, just because they were kept in their bags on top of a shelf and I never thought about them much at all.
The top of the shelf is one of the safer places to keep things in this house. Everything I care about is kept off the ground, and the more I care about something, the further from the ground it goes. This horizontal value based home decorating and storage method serves the double purpose of both diminishing the likelihood that the object will get cat hair on it or will become a dog toy and also making sure that I don’t have to spend time worrying about the care and condition of valued objects. I put them away, as high as they need to go depending on measures of sentiment and replaceability, and then, for the most part, I forget about them.
Even though I only got the figures a couple of years ago, they were sitting right up next to the photo album I have of pictures that my mother and father and, later, friends took of me during the years I was growing up. Pictures of my nuclear family, and some scattered relatives and a few formative friends, a few special places. A hamster in the bed of a plastic dump truck. My brother eating a piece of barbecue chicken in a highchair. Marsh grass and old women.
I made the album when I was home visiting, during the time I lived across the country on SE 7th Avenue near the foot of the Morrison Bridge and spent most Friday nights reading short stories, smoking cigarettes and eating cereal out of the box alone in my apartment. The photo album is sort of a sampler of my early life, and was created with the intent to make something to remind me who I was and where I was from, lest I begin to forget. I intentionally picked photos out of the big storage box of curling – edged images that I thought showed my actual experience, rather than just me smiling. I am, in fact, smiling in a few of the pictures, mostly those taken during the brief period of vanity that took hold when I was entering adolescence, but in a lot of them I look blank – faced and tired, or am scowling with my arms crossed, pissed because of the sailor shirt my mother made me wear when I was seven, or because my father is taking a picture of me in Unicoi State Park while I am reading a note passed to me by a BFF-turned-6th-grade-enemy that I found in the pocket of my jean jacket while I was bored-on-vacation at the park information sign with my brother who, in another photo, is grinning wildly, having not yet developed the tendency to feel foolish in one’s joy.
So, the figures had, in spite of their general lack of attention, a place of prominent and protected importance amongst my belongings. They had been resting beside the old photo album, which is on the list of ‘things I would try to take if the house caught on fire.’
I was in my room, folding laundry, a stack of blue towels all in slightly different shades, a row of small cotton parcels in a line on my desk – shirts, pants, things-I-sleep-in, a little gathering of socks clumped at the end of the procession. Somewhat out of nowhere, I became aware that I wanted to take the figures out of their bags, and had the vague thought that they would possibly bring a kind of good, industrious energy to my house, that they would bring a sort of heartening. Now, as I write this, I recall that I had the thought, while I was digging through the baskets of clean wash looking for all the towel-like devices – washcloths, dishcloths, the blue bath towels – that it really is only a matter of time before one’s life begins to get away from them if things aren’t structured in a way that a person can actually manage and maintain them. Eventually, things start to slip, pile up, get dusty. There are closets that are never opened, and bags of things to take to donation drop-offs that never get taken and are left for months to slump in the corner of the room. “It makes total sense,” I thought, “that I have these piles of laundry on my desk.”
I don’t know why the thought that taking the figures out of their bags may present some sort of solution to the problem of household entrophy. Maybe it was the color of one of the towels, the darkest one – a blue like a sky reflected on the surface of darker water, a blue that seemed like it was straining to be deeper than it was – that made me think of the figures. Two of the figures, the woman and the animal-man, are made of wool that is almost the same color as that towel. Perhaps that’s what spurred me to decide, all of the sudden, that I was going to take the figures down and open up their bags. It wasn’t even a thought or a decision, in the way that I usually think about such conscious determinations of what one may or may not do. It was more like a feeling – a wavering, dull excitement, the imagined fresh air, the yellowing plastic no longer a barrier – that the figures wanted to get out of their bag and that it was important that I take them out. I didn’t immediately question or dismiss this assumption of the desire of inanimate objects. Lot of people believe that objects have a nature to them, a sort of aliveness in spite of not being, technically, alive. When I was 16, I took a quartz stone egg that had belonged to my paternal grandmother and threw it into the St. Johns River near the hospital where I was born, which is – incidentally – now a parking lot. I threw the egg away into the river, because I got the idea that it had “bad energy” due to my grandmother having been an alcoholic who was not nice to my father. I immediately wished I hadn’t thrown the egg in the river, but it was so thoroughly and immediately gone that I didn’t have much choice but to just keep walking, while the scuzzbucket boy I was walking with kept trying to put his hand in my back pocket. “I like to feel your butt when you walk.” He didn’t care that I had just brazenly thrown a possibly-important family artifact into the river, but I made out with him anyway. I think that things have the power we imagine for them, to act – at the very least – upon our own experience in what meaning we make of things.
In spite of the fact that this sort of thinking and feeling that non-alive things have a sort of life about them is not really so strange, it is not the sort of thing that one openly declares that they believe to be true, unless you are a for real shaman or medicine person or practitioner of hoodoo or voodoo, which I am not, mostly because I think it is obnoxious when people from the suburbs decide that they are, sometime between the ages of 25 and 50, going to starting wearing crystals and plastering their cars with stickers about spiritual beings having a human experience. I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, I grew up in the woods, in a house my father made out of old boards he took from a different house on the land, which was itself old. I guess all places are old, everywhere on the planet is ancient, but some places seem more old than others, like they feel like they have a history, blood soaked into the soil.
In the few minutes before I bought the figures, I spoke to the man with the pink umbrella and he told me about the tragedy he had experienced at the residential school, and I thought a little in the back of my mind that that probably hadn’t seemed like a tragedy when it happened. It was just life, stretching out for years and years, an abusive normal, and that that somehow made the tragedy worse. The man told me that we don’t know anything, that we go and we do our good works, but we don’t know shit. He stared into me, his eyes flat black discs, rheumy at the edges; I was pretty sure that no matter what words I said or what I did with my face, no matter what light and integrity I might try to bring into my own eyes – dry and strained I was trying so hard to show them as open, as seeing – the man could see right through me, could sense what my truth is, and all the truths beyond the truth, all my bullshit.
I tried to make my face look like a listening face, but not blank, not a blank listening face, an actually hearing and absorbing kind of listening face, with subtle movements of the brow area, a thinking-about-what-this-person-is-saying mouth, twisting and curving itself in smiling or in question. I was trying hard to listen, but something inside of me was closing, and the street sounds rushed in at the edges of my hearing. I felt the movement of people around us where we stood in the street between tables and blankets of things people had found in their homes or on the street or at the charity clothes closet, a plastic shelf set full of stereo parts, maybe stolen, knobs worn and wires trailing out like stray hairs.
The bubble of pink umbrella light that had held me in conversation with the man was suddenly gone, and all I could think to say was, “Thank you for telling me that. I agree.” Then the man turned to the blanket he was standing beside and I saw the dolls. Three of them, two in one bag and one in another. “What are those?” I immediately wanted them. I wanted to own them, those figures of felted wool. The woman and the animal-man are made in blue and the man is felted white. The woman and the animal-man were together in the bag, both naked dolls about a foot tall. The only way you can see that the animal-man is an animal-man is because his face is shaped like a horse’s, with an equine shape to his muzzle, but a man shaped head in general, and because he has a tail, long and only slightly tapering, a soft cylinder of wool coming off the man’s buttocks, which are molded to look like a human backside, just like the woman’s breasts are small round mounds with a smaller round mound in the center and her naked pelvic area has a clear triangle formed by felting right where the woman’s long thin blue legs meet her hips.
All of the figures have hands and feet, weirdly flat and fine-edged, like they were cut. Five fingers and five toes, all spread wide. I wanted them, all three of them. I could not only get two. “Those are dolls made a by a woman who lives right over near around here. She is an old woman, takes hours and hours to make one of these.” I asked the man how much the dolls cost, and was clear that I wanted all three, not two and not one, but all of them. I don’t, writing this now, remember what the man told me or how much I paid, in paper money and 2 dollar coins, but it wasn’t that much. Maybe 30.00? To me they were worth much more, even if the woman who made them was not a famous folk artist and even if I did find them in ziploc bags at an open-street flea market. I probably wouldn’t have paid much more for them though, because I don’t believe in spending lots of money for magic – seeming objects. Besides, I didn’t have much money to buy them with. I stood off to the side of the people walking by and dug deep into all the little pockets inside my bag, glanced through gritty handfuls of loose change, sorted American coins from Canadian coins. I didn’t think twice about buying them though. I wanted them. All of them.
I carried the figures stacked together in their bags and held close to my body back to the Gallery Gachet, where I sat breathing fast and sweaty from the heat in my workshop chair and told the woman beside me about the man and what he had said to me, about being in the residential school and how I didn’t know anything and how it was such a mind-blowing conversation, such an encounter, and then I bought these, showing the bags on my lap, holding the small felted leg of the woman through the back, feeling it roll under my finger like something fleshy and alive.
The lady next to me smiled, “It sounds like a remarkable meeting. Those are very nice,” she looked briefly at the dolls, her eyes sliding over them and then pausing. She leaned closer, “My, would you look at those hands. Beautiful.” Seeming more sincere then, she sat back in her chair. Looking ahead, not so much at me at all, she explained that “the native people will do that now, talk about what happened in the schools. They will tell anyone how many times they were raped, how often they went hungry.” Sighing, “At my program, we try to encourage them not to tell their story too much, not because it shouldn’t be told, but because when they tell it and tell it and tell it, it becomes too central in their identity. They forget they are anything other than what happened to them.” I don’t say anything, just listen with my listening face, and then nod as the workshop facilitator walks into the center of the circle and I carefully fold the plastic around the people and tuck them into my bag. I didn’t know what to believe.
It is now two days later, four days past the night when I began to try to tell the story of the figures and how I took them out of the bag. I guess I already told that story, and – honestly – it doesn’t feel that important now. Some sort of resolution, a closure to the story of the figures and how I took them out of the bag and why it meant something, well, that’d be nice. I did have any idea about how I might tie it all up, make it worthwhile. The idea is slippery though. It has something to do with housework and how I engage with it, how I feel about it. No, that’s not it. I think I had a moment, washing the dishes on Saturday night, while the weight of myself pushed into the painted tile floor and the muscles between my shoulder blades seized intermittently, of feeling like maybe there was something peace to be found in all of this, with all of this, that maybe as I move through the rooms of this house and re-set the objects and clear out the life debris of old papers and outgrown shoes, still with dried mud caught in their treads, some forgotten field, that something in me will come back to life, too, will move about, rid itself of clutter and trappings, moldering detritus of people I was and have been and might have been, and I will create a place of order and industry within myself and in my external environment.
I don’t know what I mean by industry. Not factories, not smog and lead and exploitations, that sort of thing. Not that. I mean it as a verb, not a noun. The act of being industrious in one’s endeavors, whatever they may be.
Oh. I just remembered. The point was that it was inauguration day, when I took the figures out of their bags. Inauguration night, actually. The whole day done. I wore pink to work that day, last Friday. Big linen pants cinched at the cuff so they balloon at the knee and a bright pink cropped cashmere cardigan, both items I got at the Goodwill, the pants from Patton and the sweater from Tunnel. Everybody commented on all the pink I was wearing. I usually wear grey. So, it was inauguration day and I wore all pink to work and it was a pretty good day. I went and ran in the forest after work, and even though I was slow, it was okay. I did listen to the radio in the morning, before the actual inauguration, but I didn’t listen to any news on the way home.
Jan 26 (12 days ago)
Someday, you are going to powerfully realize that I am a total mess, and have been for a long while. (Maybe not a total mess, a functional mess, not even a mess . . . but, maybe weird, not in an exceptionally problematic way, but in a way that sometimes disrupts my efficacy in the Activities of Daily Living.)
Nonetheless, regardless of my relative non-messiness and only-a-little weirdness, you will think I a mess. You will see me clearly and recognize that, dang, your mother is kinda weird. I know that you will, obviously, still love me, but for period of time, maybe just a few minutes?, you may feel conflicted, or freaked out, or possibly sad, depending on what else is happening in that moment in your life, whether it is a rainy day, what movies you’ve recently viewed, or pop psychology articles about mentally ill mothers you may have come across in the airport or the dentist’s waiting room.
(I assume that you will be traveling some, and that you will have excellent dental insurance that your employer pays for. I envision an quality adulthood for you, meaning – at the very least, that you will have the freedom to go wherever you’d like, and that you will have some work that you enjoy and that means something and that offers a good health insurance package. I do realize that these things, as reasonable as they are, are privileges, luxuries almost. I know that you won’t have it as easy as some people, but for some people such a quality of life is almost impossible to attain. I don’t know why I feel guilty that my children – you – will have opportunities that other children will likely not have, and that…then again…they will have opportunities that you won’t have, and that there will be ways that barriers are presented to you, very real barriers…guilt is stupid. It doesn’t improve the situation. It can be a motivator, but it’s kind of a gross one. Would you rather do something out of love and passion and ethics and integrity, or do it – whatever it is – out of guilt and an effort to avoid the physical sensations of guilt, which feel to me, like worms in my chest. Like I said, gross.)
All that being said, please don’t feel guilty when you realize that I am weird and are embarrassed of me, or when you realize that, in some ways, okay, a lot of ways, my weirdness contributed to significantly bad situations in your childhoods and you momentarily hate my guts. That makes total sense.
So, yeah, I’m a little weird. I was weird before I had children, probably even more weird than I am now, or just weird in slightly different ways, just like when I was kid I was kinda weird, but not in exactly the same ways I am weird now. Alright, I am noticing that I really ought to find some synonyms for weird. There are so many problems with so many words, connotations, shadows, the feeling of the mouth as it forms the sound: “peck-you’ll-your”
Weird is a fairly neutral term. Okay, it does some have some shade of suggesting something distastefully different, or undesirable. I guess maybe those aspects of the word are appropriate, given the reality of cultural norms and various stigmas.
It’s not neutral at all.
Nonetheless it is the term that, tonight, feels most apt to describe me. Oh, wow…it just occurred to me that weird is also an adjective of summary, boiling down the details of a person, everything about them really, into a five-letter syllable. The term weird doesn’t say a thing about what’s so freaking weird about a person, place, or thing.
Oh, jeez, I just remembered that my own mother would declare something she did not like or understand, or understand and like to be weird. “That’s weeiirrd.” The word drawn out. “It’s so weird,” the curvature of feigned awe in the statement, like she just couldn’t believe that anyone would sing a salacious song or perform a bizarre improve comedy experiment or commit an atrocity.
Yeah, so, maybe the word weird is not the greatest.
I don’t know, Adjectives are tough. I guess I could just see what I feel like saying as I write. It’s not like I’m gonna spend this whole letter talking about how I’m weird and oh, I’m so weird and this is why I’m weird and this is what happened because of my weirdness and . . . oh, crap…I guess I was gonna do that, an in depth treatise on the reality of your mother’s weirdness. I mean, that was the whole point.
The idea came to me when I was sitting outside smoking a cigarette. (Yes, I am smoking again, only a small amount, and I am still running and still increasing my mileage. Chances are good that I will be neither smoking nor running by the time you ever read this.) It was one of those moments where you just knew something, a moment of powerful realization, like “Oh, I am old.” or “Gee, one day my kid is going to realize how f*cked up I am.” I didn’t feel bad or get stressed or anything when it occurred to me that one day you’re going to realize that, to some people, your mom is crazy. Of course I’m not actually crazy. Like I said I’m just weird.
So, you see how the idea emerged as the notion to maybe write a book about, yeah, totally, I am weird and people did think I was crazy, and I kinda was crazy for a little while, and that if I write this amazing book as a letter to you, contextualizing the issue your mentally ill mothers, that maybe I could help to alleviate some of the Adverse Childhood Experiences burden that you both carry, whether or not you realize it, or to support you in having a better understanding of who I am and why I am so weird, just for your own peace of mind, but also – I admit it – in the interest of the small possibility that I could somehow actually finish a book and that the words I might write to you, not as a message or explanation, but as a story, told in bits and pieces, fragments of memory and…okay, fine, explanation. I really want to explain. Hopefully, I can curb that impulse, or at least find a way to explain that might actually be bearable to read. There is nothing more brutal than a long, poorly written explanation that one feels obliged to read in spite of the fact that, a) they don’t care and B) they don’t care. I try to be as skillful as I am generous in my explanations. I do understand I am taking liberties with people’s time, so I at least make the effort to present my explanations with a paprika of minutae that, while they are mostly inconsequential or simply not of people’s, provide an appealing linguistic experience or, at the very least, a pleasing sense of appreciative bewilderment. I guess most people might just be annoyed by long explanations, no matter how engagingly they are presented.
I don’t really want to explain…and if I do, it’s not ’cause I want to be right or I want to defend myself or anything like that. It is my general sense that perhaps if I tell stories to explain about my weirdness I will
..what, shift the dominant paradigm?
Jan 25 (13 days ago)
Tonight I am thinking in terms of concrete tasks. Put the laundry in the washer, carry the computer upstairs, plug it into the printer, notice work login when the computer is turned on. Close the tab. Open email. Conduct search for messages to me, from me. Decide to print off all recent emails-to-myself and send them to my friend in Rancho Cucamonga. The correctional officers shouldn’t have an issue with printed pages. They sent me back the letter that had the painted papers in it. They thought the paint, (watercolors) was suspect, potentially containing contraband. They’d probably prefer that I wrote in simple pencil. They may not allow the printed pages, because of the red in the Gmail logo. It may be suspect. Anyway, I decided to print and send most of my recent emails-to-myself to my friend, in lieu of an actual letter I might sit down and write, like, “Hey, how are you doing in jail? I have nothing to say, but I think about you a lot.” My original goal, the concrete task at hand, was to print off the messages that contained my effort to tell some sort of story about how I took the figures out of their bags, and to read over those pages with an editorial mind, to make remarks in the margins, to cross out some lines and draw some arrows. To clearly indicate the misspellings of my phone, the errant auto-corrects and missed letters. I don’t have to think to much (sic) when I type with this little on-screenkeykeyboarx. (sic) The small-vibrations-when-typing setting is on and when I really get going with something I would like to say, this device trembles in my hand like a little animal.
So, yes, I was going to print off the pages I had written and approach them like a real writer, refine them, expand some parts, remove others, brighten and sharpen the language and phrasing, put the words into a document, and pat myself on the back for making some sort of progress in actually completing something.
The laundry is finished in the washer. I will now place it in the dryer.
9:36 PM (22 minutes ago)
Well, it’s been a minute. I think I got your last letter, what? A month ago? The other night I printed out all the stuff I’ve written recently – words and things, phrases, parts of story process. Just sitting down and writing what felt important at the moment. There were some bad ideas, not terrible in their entirety, but not fantastic. The idea of a book written as a letter to the young people that will someday reflect on how their mom really was kinda weird. i.e. my children. I guess I just want to explain, because there is some value in explaining if the explanation can change the understanding of a situation in such a way that it matters. I’m sure that if I sent you all those pages, they wouldn’t let you have them all . . . but, who would want them anyway? My initial idea was to print off just one set of emails to myself, to actually try to develop and edit the piece of writing that I’d begun…you know, take it to the next level, actually, like, try to focus and consider the darn reader and what I was asking of someone’s time and attention. All that. Then I got distracted and just printed off all the pages in all the emails, but my printer-computer interface of understanding what I want and making it simple was not operating well that night and there was a blocker to turn off with no discernible way of disabling the blocker and so I had to print from screen and so there are words cut off, sentences broken.
The one about the wasp is interesting, because the entire structure of the sentence and what the wasp was understood to know is changed in the deletion of the last word and the first word at the edge of the page. Anyway, right now, in the here and now, I haven’t written in a few days. It’s funny, I was totally engaged in the act of blathering on to myself with some grandiose vision of Project Completion and impact, fueled by the dopamine release stimulated by a satisfying idea and a small goal completed, the act of writing itself, and then – kerflooey – I had nothing to say and now it seems that I could not ever possibly say all there is to say, meaning that there is a press of notions in my head, a feeling of importance at the edges of some ideas, impressions.
Lately, I have been carrying a little blue book that has a nice magnetic closure flap that lays over the front cover of the book like a envelope. The book is bound in almost certainly fake turquoise leather, made in China, very soft, like the hands of children. On the bottom edge of the book’s cover is the single word ‘thoughts.’ It was 2.99, in a bin with other little books, calendars and such, larger journals, all marked down. It was the only ‘thoughts ‘ book, though. I have written down my thoughts, which are mostly to do lists beginning with laundry and briefly stated ideas or Project names, or essay titles such as “My Mother and Saint Martha.”
I even taped an old guitar string envelope to the inside of the back cover, black duct tape, to save the thoughts I removed from the notepad so I could write down some new thoughts. I will probably write down some more thoughts soon.
I can almost chart the ebb and flow of my writing inclination in relation to time spent with the youth. I think it’s good for me that there are days that I mostly just plan meals and run errands and sweep floors and wash the dishes and go for walks with dogs and young people and idly read parts of magazines and watch episodes of I Love Lucy on youtube and go to sleep early.
It’s 9:01. I had a moment, just a little while ago, like a half hour ago, during which I realized that I could stay up until midnight and that I had nothing to do except write. True, I do have one service to document, a 5 minute job, and I could file my taxes, which is a triggering and unpleasant task, as I do not claim either of the young people and my taxes make it look as though I am not a mother, which I know is utter rubbish. I got totally screwed on my taxes from working for icarus. That seems like a long time ago, like something that happened to someone else, even though I know it happened to me, that I was that person and that person was me. Lately, at work, we’ve been learning about the Community Resiliency Model, which is basically a trauma – integrated lens for viewing behaviors or states that may show up as symptoms of a “mental illness”…kind of the biological behavioral experiential model of post traumatic stress disorders. I know I mentioned my amygdala or my limbic system or something in one of my last letters. I really think that, for years, I was in an active fight/flight/freeze and tend / befriend state. Seriously, for years…and now that I am not so much in a state of constant and intense nervous system and endocrine dysregulation, I feel oddly separate from the person I was…who is the person I still am..which is both a question and a statement. A double entendre. Some depth psychology wonk might suggest that I am dissociated or not integrated, but my understanding of the situation is that different parts of my brain are active now than were active then, when I was living in survival mode, operating from my survival brain of feeling and sense…so much so that I feel disconnected from the immediacy, the reality, of the person I was and the things I experienced. Of course, I remember quite a bit, at moments it seems like everything, but the memories do not the emotional resonance that they did. I can remember what I said about what I was feeling, and I remember the experience of sensation and thought, standing at the kitchen and feeling a tender sadness because I was aware that I was bidding farewell to myself as I had known myself to be. This sense of moving on from some era of being is not new. I think I think I was writing g about the same perception that I had changed and become a different sort of person than I was before, not hugely or radically, I still listened to the same records, I still wore my hair in a fashion that was about the same as I had worn it before. I never bought new shoes or changed the work I was doing much. I still liked the same books and the same quotes. I had the same tattoos. Nonetheless, periodically, something in me will shift in experience or something will occur to me that creates a rift in what I thought before and I have a moment of seeing myself differently and then my whole experience of being the person that I was will take on this sort of disconnected feel in my mind, becomes awkwardly objective. I think that, yeah, there is some shift of consciousness or human reckoning happening, but also that, now, I am not entirely inhabiting my survival brain and so the experiences that I had while in those states are, while remembered clearly, a little blanched of their emotionally.
I just got tired. All of the sudden. It is 9:25. I could stay up until midnight and write. I could go take a caffeine pill right now. I could drink some water. I could splash some cold water on my face. I didn’t get so far as I wanted with this. I had a moment, upstairs before I sat down to write, when I suddenly thought about how utterly absurd it sis that I would be simultaneously thinking about Peer Newsletters, and pie charts of productivity time and direct service hours and drafts of a recovery “path” for psychosis that I could potentially present to the Integrated Care Service Manager day after tomorrow and how I really hope that when my kids are older they will remember, in addition to the crummier-aspects of their youth, that I made them pizza almost every Wednesday night. Well, for a period of time it was on Mondays, but then it changed to Wednesdays. I make the dough in the big red bowl that my mother gave me, which is a type of pottery from Italy that feels like it is filled with air and would shatter easily. I purchase the highest quality whole milk mozzarella I can find at the big grocery store, which is always on sale for some reason. I cut up the garlic myself. I love making pizza at home. It takes hours, but is mostly prep save for a half hour of full on construction and rapid rotation baking.
I hope they remember that I made pizza.
It’s 9:35. My low battery notification just went on.