Monday, November 26, 2018

Every Word There Is For "Daughter"

...It’s been a long time / since I’ve wanted to die, / it makes me feel / like taking off / my skin suit / and seeing how / my light flies all / on its own, neon / and bouncy like a / wannabe star.

--”Field Bling,” Ada Limon Tonight on my 15 minute drive home from campus, I almost hit two animals, which seems like it could have been a bad omen, but almost means it’s ok. The first was a panicked  little rat jittering across the center lane in the intersection down on Federal. Right in front of the crossfit gym where I always drive slow because I worry that very strong people will be carrying very heavy things on their shoulders on the shoulder of the road, wearing dark clothing without any reflectors. The second was the little black cat that’s taken to lounging outside my sliding glass door now that That Cat isn’t down here to drive them off with her fury. Or maybe one of the 20+ other little black cats that appeared suddenly this spring and have spent the last year growing lanky and fearless. Some mornings I find their dusty little toe-bean prints scattered across my windshield. It reminds me of childhood winters in Montana, how we’d check the wheel wells to make sure no critters were curled up sleeping, trying to keep themselves off the frozen ground.
Makes me think about the story my dad told. How he’d been called in for some fire emergency and forgetting to check the engine, dragged our black cat, Little Kitty, all the way to the station and back. Still that mangled little cat lived to see me off to college.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about origin stories. Where we come from. Who we come from. What it means to leave. I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to get things all mixed up in our heads, no matter how long we’ve been gone. How people become the stories we tell, the way we become other people’s stories. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what you say about me. Worse yet, I think about you saying nothing, like the whole of me just stopped existing. Did you know Angr, the obvious Old Norse root of our modern anger, also means grief or sorrow? What does it mean to carry this sort of duality? To shoulder our contradictions.
There was a day, do you remember? Sunset on the Santa Monica pier. When you told me you missed what we’d had because even with nothing we had each other. And I thought about the half-wide trailer by the train tracks where we slept, the three of us, on the pull-out couch in the living room. The night you woke us to stand shivering and barefoot on the front steps. To bear witness. Migration. How the sound of the geese, all those wings, was the definition of flying. How we looked up into the sky and it was white with bellies, all those bodies heading somewhere, bellies splashed orange with the streetlamp glow. Migration. We are always coming or going.
I’ve been thinking about how when I say home people hear family, even though those are two different stories, and how when I say home I mean Portland, which is where my family is, but not like most people think, and I’ve been thinking about how I could have killed myself in that yellow room during the winter in 2011. Could have taken all those pills with all that tequila, but I didn’t. It’s been a long time since I wanted to die. Tomorrow I’ll be 30, and I’m trying to reconcile how I can be both that sad little girl, wearing hand-me-down dresses and eating Kraft cheese sandwiches, and this person who sees musicals on Broadway. Drinks $12 craft cocktails in speakeasies. Doesn’t ever have to count pennies to keep the gas tank full.
I don’t remember how old I was when Little Kitty disappeared. I must have been in college already. Gone or leaving. I don’t remember how she was missing for days or weeks. I don’t remember, wasn’t there, the day you found her in the backseat of my stepfather’s old car. What I remember is the hush of your voice when you talked about the sound of the maggots chewing. The smell of summer-ripe rotting flesh. The catch in your throat when you said you called the 12 year-old neighbor boy to put her out of her misery. How the gun was his father’s. How he named that bullet mercy. I’m embellishing again. But what are we without stories?
One of the greatest gifts you gave me, I was seven or eight maybe. You told me, Baby. It doesn’t get easier to be brave just because you’re grown up. You’re still scared. But you do stuff because nobody else will and it has to get done. I’m sorry I forgot. I’m sorry I expected you to be brave. I’m sorry I’ve been waiting for you to save me, when I’ve already saved myself in a hundred different ways. Seeing you like a gut punch after not seeing you for so long, like maybe love has always been another word for missing, like anger and grief, two sides of the same coin.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what you say about me, hoping you use every word there is for daughter. There’s no word for the bond that forms between two people who survive a natural disaster together, or if there is I haven’t found it yet. I’m sorry that for so long I’ve thought of you as the storm, when in fact you were just as weather-torn as me. Tomorrow I’ll be 30, and I’m me in a way you can’t quite comprehend. You’re you in a way I can’t quite comprehend, living so many miles and a vastness of silence away. But you’re also the mother who spent my childhood reading I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be. Here’s what I know: when I watched you, rolled up sleeves, washing dishes through a steam-smeared window at your daughter’s wedding, I loved you so much there aren’t words for that kind of lonely.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Living In A Teenage Wasteland

Oh hey, sweetie heads. Now that I’ve turned in final grades, slept 14 hours straight, tuned and played my guitar for the first time in 9 months, and watched an entire season of Planet Earth while crying on my living room floor, I’m finally gonna take some time to reflect on this last two years. It occurred to me as I was driving home from the grocery store with Just The Essentials (red wine, a 12 pack of soda waters, and rainbow Goldfish), that this whole grad school experience mirrors adolescence in a lot of ways.

Two years ago I started this program as a child in my own eyes, with an un- or under-developed sense of myself as an artist. Luckily, my world-wise, scholarly professor-parents stepped in to teach me how to Be (before I could eat a brain-damaging amount of paste).

Of course, every professor-parent has a different style. You’ve got the laidback, go-with-the-flow lecturer who calls you a “colleague” and talks to you like you understand all of the obscure references he’s making. He’s like the older cousin who would let you sip their beer at a party as a 7-year-old, or teach you how to roll a joint at 13. Then there’s the quirky, queer young aunt. She’s here to introduce you to feminist porn, and teach you to reclaim vagina terminology.

And that’s just your first semester. In time, you’ll meet the helicopter mom, the absentee but somehow still stern father, the kooky grandmother, the scholarly uncle… They’re all there. And you’re paying them to shape your mind, and shape your art, and shape your daily experiences in this program for three years of your one and only precious life. And you let them, for awhile. Like a child, they’re here to teach you “the rules,” and maybe you toe the line and maybe you don’t, but either way you trust what they say. Maybe this is because you trust authority, or you trust their experience, or you so deeply distrust yourself that it’s a relief to finally trust somebody else with Your Self.

Enter adolescence. You’ve been doing this art thing With Intention for awhile now, and you’re starting to get a sense of who you are. What you’re about. Maybe you have a few publications under your belt, or you’ve won an award. You’ve navigated classroom politics to one degree or another, finding your people, learning when and where to keep your guard up or let it down. You start to question your professor-parents’ judgement. Why can’t I stay out past 10pm? Really, what’s so bad about listening to heavy metal at an ear-splitting decibel? Oh, you’re saying I can’t use the passive voice and all these adjectives to tell my story?

I don’t remember the first time I realized my parents were just humans and not gods or machines with all the answers. I can say I started to question my professors at the exact moment that a piece of writing that moved me to tears was called “shallow” and “predictable.” I can say that I started to rebel the instant a memorial piece for murdered queer women was called “sexy and playful.”

Here’s where you start to notice that everybody comes from different backgrounds, including the people who are supposed to have all the answers. Here’s where you notice that the time, energy, attention, and resources are being subjectively distributed. Maybe you’ve benefited from this, maybe you haven’t. Either way, you feel profoundly and suddenly complicit in a system you didn’t seem to notice until it was too late, despite all of the warnings.
Yesterday, sitting at Living Room Cafe with a friend, and we were discussing the pros and cons of a full residency program compared to low residency. [Note: full res is what I’m doing, where I go to campus some days a week to meet with profs face-to-face every semester. Low res is mostly online, with intensive face-to-face meetings 2-3 times per year]

One of the cool things, she said, in this low -res program is that you get paired with a single mentor professor, and get to work with them one-on-one with your writing. To which I responded (less than tactfully I think) with an Oh, fuck no. She seemed confused, asked You wouldn’t want to study one-on-one with somebody? Not even with Really Talented Professor You Admire? And the honest answer is no. No, I wouldn’t want to spend three years working one-on-one with anybody, let alone Really Talented Professor I Admire. Because this time is about learning to trust myself more than I’ve ever trusted anybody else. If that human's opinion was the only opinion I ever heard about my work, I’d feel even more compelled to respect it. Consciously or unconsciously, I’d start to compromise my sense of self to fit that subjective mold of “good poetry.”

What I’m trying to say is maybe the world needs “bad poetry” the way it needs overplayed pop music or teenage love stories or hell, even finger painting. Because the things your parents/professors/etc find shallow and predictable are the exact same things that made you fall in love with art in the first place. The exact same things that might make the next generation of artists fall in love. Because it’s less about impressing the people who came before, and all about inspiring the people who come after.

I’m sure there’s more I want to say here, but the wine is almost gone, and I’ve been sitting upright for an untenable 3 hours. I think the best way to end this is with an angsty list of the unfortunate things my writing has been called in the last two years:

Too circular and predictable
A little shallow
Not sexy/playful enough
Syntactically uninteresting

To which I say:

Cheers, dreamers. And remember, no matter what your passion is, you’re better than the haters. Not to mention, you know way more about your art than any-goddamn-body else on this planet.


Friday, May 18, 2018

A Brief & Incomplete List: #9

A Brief & Incomplete List: ways to use the phrase, “We’re 30 Year Old Women”

1) To justify spending $12 on Bulleit Rye Old Fashioneds, instead of $9 on well whiskey at the indie-hipster concert in North Park. Your sister, who is only a 23 year old woman, will have no such justification. Her night will peak when she weaves her way through the crowd, double-fisting PBR tallboys while the crowd serenades her with “PBR Angel,” sung to the tune of ”Beauty School Dropout.” Don’t be jealous. You’re a 30-year old woman; beer and being the center of attention make you queasy anyways.

2) In disbelief when you realize, on your way to brunch the following morning, that the right thigh of your jeans now sports a rather impressive splotch of dried marinara from the save-your-life pizzeria you visited the night before. This is a singular statement of disbelief, (“But… I’M a 30 year old woman...:”) because your person would never leave the house in pizza pants. Luckily, she loves you anyways.

3) To explain why you and your partner have no interest in going dancing on a Sunday night at the Gayborhood’s most happening dance club with your literary friend following a casual, potluck-style drink-and-chat at a classmate’s house. This usage should be accompanied with big smiles and rueful shakes of the head, as if to say, “If only we were younger, if only we were as strong and energetic as you! Of course we’d love to be there, but… we’re 30 year old women.

4) As an excuse for day drinking on the beach that same Sunday, after brunch but before the potluck-style drink-and-chat at said classmate’s house. In this context the phrase comes with an implied “we deserve this” clause. Careful, this particular use walks a fine line between “we deserve this” the day the drinking occurs and “we should have known better” the morning after.

5) As an explanation for why you and your partner need to leave the beach-adjacent bar after taking a quick lap through the pulsing neon lights, and the bass that rattles your glasses’ frames, where the girls in bikinis and cut-off shorts are hip-thrusting the exposed bottoms of their white, white pockets in the general direction of the shirtless men on the rooftop.

6) Basically anytime in any situation because perching upon the precipice of 30 allows you to
both gaze backwards into the void of things you’ve already accomplished or overcome, and peer
indefinitely forward, into the vast expanse of experiences you have yet to encounter.

Take the nap, drink the cocktails, sleep in late, eat the pizza.
You’re a 30 year old woman, goddammit.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

In Which I Try Not To Ruin My Own or Anyone Else's One and Precious Life

Hello dream weavers! Guess what? We’ve made it through 81% of yet another semester, and the
Turtle Insurrection still hasn’t happened. I mean, plenty of other things have gone horrifically wrong
in the world, but at least it wasn’t the turtles. I’m sure that’s what you were all most concerned about.

This morning while I was waddling aimless circles around my 400 square foot apartment, chatting with Boo Face, I casually thought I should really take out the recycling. This thought was immediately and quite unexpectedly followed by the thought But will any of those materials come in handy in the case of a nuclear event? Maybe I should save things just in case. This led to several more minutes of tortured internal debate, before Boo Face talked me down with her science and reasoning. According to human logic, a 12 gallon repurposed kitty litter container will not do me any good in a nuclear war, even if it is filled with potable water.

So I guess that’s about where I’m at these days: straddling the line between absurd alarmism and generalized despondence. I did not fill the kitty litter tub with potable water, but I also didn’t take it out for recycling because, what’s the point?

There are three weeks between me and the end of my second year of grad school. For those of you keeping track at home, that means the upcoming year is my third and final. Much like the current state of our nation, this thought fills me with existential dread whenever it crosses my mind, so I try to keep it tamped down with to-do lists, alcohol and binge-worthy television (what up, Magicians? Can’t wait to see what happens to all my new friends in Season 4…).

This semester has been some of the most humbling, overwhelming, and if I’m being completely honest just-a-little-bit-soul-crushing months of my life. Remember last semester? When I was like, Yeah I can shower and feed myself and work four jobs and still sleep at night because I can do anything good, better than anyone? I was wrong. There are things that take time and practice. I’ve learned that teaching is one of them. I can honestly say I think my students like me (or at least pity me enough to pretend), so that’s nice. What’s not nice? The constant nagging fear that I’m somehow derailing their educations, their futures, and potentially their entire lives. Not only am I worried that someday (hopefully years down the road) I’ll die alone in my apartment and be eaten by my 47 cats after my dishwashing shift at Applebee’s. No, I’ve also got myself worked up about the theoretical futures of 25 college freshmen.

Is this a reasonable fear? No, not at all, but I think we’ve already accurately assessed my propensity towards reason (see above: recycling quandary). Anyways, I guess most of this was to say that I’m still alive, the turtles haven’t taken over yet, even if I’ve been in that space where I can’t write and I’m afraid I’ll never write again, so I keep Not Writing, because what if I’m no good at it, the way I’m no good at teaching, and so on and so forth.

Now that most of you have forgotten this blog exists (much like I did for the past several months), I’m probably going to use it as my janky, Muggle Pensieve because even Dumbledore needed somewhere to store his stresses, memories, and probably family recipes, favorite song lyrics, and strange observations. SO, internet. Thanks for always being a readily available void for my worthless and self-pitying human angst.