Urban living. To manage the throbbing swell I consider stabbing my eye with the cuticle scissors. It is not my intention to be maudlin, macabre. Claustrophobia was a slow, silent malevolence until recently when the backhoe next door perforated the bedroom wall adjacent to the nightstand. There is a smear of grime from behind the plaster on the once-virgin Ikea lacquer. The puncture is a pea under the mattress. When I was younger I feared the geometric precision of suburban lawns and the impermanence of drywall interiors. Now suburbia seems sublime, Waldenesque. How beautiful the dime-thin drywall of McMansions. The anemic lawns promise manifest destiny. The retreats are retreating, and then, when it is time, where will we lay ourselves down?
Overcoming writer’s block.
“What I mean to say is that sex is like tomatoes.”
I was stunned by the abruptness of the word–sex–something at 16 I understood denotatively but not intimately. I was equally stunned with the ease and near-flippancy with which she said the word. We were washing the dinner dishes: Ellen washed, I dried and put away in the right or wrong spot. That summer in the late 90s when I was 16 and innocent and lonely and in a perpetual state of inner undoing. I was scared of and fascinated and in love with everything. What I mean to say is that I was constantly craving and simultaneously denying myself satisfaction. I had told Ellen, my Dutch host mother, about the boy I loved back home who was wonderful and beautiful and far too old and so, because I had to suffer discontent and unrequitement, I requited none of my appetites. Surfeit-less. I grew wan, thin and excessively maudlin despite the newness of every day and the extreme newness of my home in the Dutch pastoral. I was affronted by the word–sex–because it was in brutal, undoing conflict with my self-imposed asceticism, and that it should be metaphorically aligned with food undid me further.
“Soon you want tomatoes on everything: pizza, sandwiches, a little bit with your cheese, a thick bit on it’s own, even if the first taste of one isn’t very good.”
I’m incapable of running the garbage disposal with the usual flippancy, unmindful of the quotidian task of grinding up discarded bits of whatever meal and vegetable pulp from the juicer bin. Each time I flip the switch, I am overcome by the fear that I will insert my hand in the drain while it’s running. Voluntarily. I have no desire to mutilate my right hand–it’s always my right hand that concerns me, being that I’m right hand dominant, but I’m overcome by the grotesque. I’m also unable to sew a number of buttons on shirts because I am afraid I will insert the needle in my eye. Always my right eye. I’m fearful. I flirt with disaster. I have a number of shirts in need of buttons.
I’ve been writing the lyrics to popular songs in my dreams. Last night I couldn’t remember that Boz Scaggs sang about Lido. I developed an aphasia for the name Lido. I woke from a dead sleep to play the song, and only after I satisfied the gap in my memory could I rest, though resting is more like waiting for the relief of a reasonable hour to rise.
I am troubled by television violence. I am troubled at recurring aphasias. I continue to be troubled by the impression of a certain shade of purple. What I’m saying is that one’s inner life should never comprise more than fifty percent of one’s experience.
“..Let me go to the window / Watch there the day-shapes of dusk / And wait and know the coming / Of a little love…”
We didn’t see Gram’s ghost at Joshua Tree. Before we checked into his room (alarmed. Also enormous with the excitement of its All Hallow’s availablilty) were were lost for the better part of half an hour. It was Lynchian comme Lost Highway. Wild thoughts, Robert Blake’s opaque presence haunting the car hurtling through the dark (but for starlight. But for the extraterrestrial and/or supernatural incandescence that periodically, inexplicably flashed). Our first world terror at the loss of cell reception, the one lane sandy road unmapped by geopositioning or Rand McNally atlas. How the fuck do we turn the car around? We turned the car around. Inexplicably. Beyond mathematical reason. But we turned the car around.
Before that, outside Santa Barbara, our appetite surfeited on Napa Cabernet Sauvignon–wine has a tendency to give rise–our largesse beget ghosts. The assumptions and speculations of what really happens. That one time I was fifteen and heard, as clear as anything, my name spoken in the sleep dark room, a hand on my shoulder. R. who witnessed unseen hands returning the family photographs she inadvertently rearranged in her earlier examination.
I dreamed of ghosts. Of Arkansas. Of people I knew there, of who I used to be, what I used to know I used to want to do.
Other things, too. Was there an actual affair, a bit of illicit love, taking place in the tent near the showers (the showers were hot and cost a quarter for a few brief moments of respite from the eco-friendly mid-size sedan. I spent nearly two dollars despite the mold that crowded me to a few inches of slippery tile. Gag reflex notwithstanding, the hot water was brilliant)? The affair was oddly brief (it was Tuesday. It was a state park). We saw Him, alone, two glasses of wine and a bottle on the picnic table, his two person tent, just Him but for an elderly and immobile Golden Retriever who would not lift his head from the swath of cool dirt where he lay. Later another car, a woman’s voice. In the morning, only Him again, moony and piny pop music playing from his truck. The bottle killed. The glasses used but empty. Him? Used but empty? Her?
The relative solitude and quiet of the state park gave way to Ventura which gave way to the reprehensible traffic conditions in Los Angeles, Robert Penn Warren banging around the car (For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go).
Everything has been discovered in the West. Wanderjahr? There is no wander, nor wonder. Dreams the last vestige, though we’re all only interested in our own. Mine are nearly all bleeding from the mouth or my mouth rotting from the inside out or bloody reenactment of television violence. I have become almost violent in brushing my teeth. Seattle seems very far away from everything. Soon there will only be a few hours of sunlight, if any. It’s very far away. I am very far away. I brush each tooth with precision, focus. I would brush them away. That is one of my nightmares.
Last night I dreamed that I scaled a mountain naked, terrified by both my exposed, imperfect body and the incredible height of the mountain. After I succeeded, I stepped in dog shit and was never able to find clothes that would not spontaneously desert me. I wrecked a mini-van.
Lost in the desert. The one mapped/actual campsite that was searchable was full (of zombies) but we managed to get to the Joshua Tree Inn with Gram’s ghost, though we got lost first, and though it took three margaritas to cloy my palate and steel my nerves. We left the back door open–there is reported periodic knocking from an unseen hand–and I left my guitar out should he be compelled to strum a few chords (more than I know, perhaps as instruction or else to bless the instrument). Cloyed, steeled, I managed to sleep though I woke in the predawn, my bladder full of the cloying margarita mix, the steely Patron, too afraid to walk the four or five steps to the toilet, the childhood fear of a disembodied hell hand seizing my tender, defenseless ankle and dragging me to an unseemly, untimely horror managed to dull my the pressure until first light. My guitar was silent. There was no chill wind blowing through the open back door. Gram was not there that night on Halloween or, if he was, he relented, gave me rest. The relief of the morning was ineffable.
I drove alone from New Orleans to Fayetteville, having survived a night of whiplash/dancing/too much wine (the vino! It begets!), inadvertently choosing Louisiana State Highway 25, resplendent with miles and miles and miles of cemeteries. Alone. Robert Penn Warren’s incorporeal words accompanying me again (There is nothing more alone than being in a car at night in the rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren’t any other people there wouldn’t be any you because what you do which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren’t you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you. There is only the flow of the motor under you foot spinning that frail thread of sound out of its metal guy like a spider, that filament, that nexus, which isn’t really there, between the you which you have just left in one place and the you which you will be where you get to the other place). It was neither night nor raining. It is gospel. Seattle is very far away and I’m very far away from it. I’m in Fayetteville, but I’m very far away from it. The closest contact outside the family home is summoning ghosts. It is an extended séance.
The lasting impression of desert pink which beget itself in the thunderstacked clouds. A color which begot the same color in the dusky clouds. There were walls of them with the nascent lighting flitting across in sheets. Electricity. It’s October when the electricity typically dissipates. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. There is always some regret in releasing the past, no matter its content.
I did not run away from the Northwest. I did not run to the South. I only seek release.
Last night I dreamed I was bleeding from my mouth and coughing up blood.
Napa, California is the land of the semi-original Sorensens (the Ur-Sorensen is a Danish export). Having little to no historical reference for my family seriously undermines the ability to construct a satisfactory narrative, so it was necessary to assemble some semblance of skeleton, the barest bones being the semi-original Sorensen stomping ground. There were no ghosts. There was, however, wine, which begets ghosts, especially when you’re taking a road trip with your best girlfriend from your hometown, which may or may not even be your hometown anymore. I mean, there’s Seattle. And there’s Mexico. Ghosts are typically constructs of the hippocampus, and damn the hippocampus for its tendency to rise and lean into a glass of Malbec. Or, rather, damn the ghosts. There are so many things I find that I forgot to remember, and the forgetfulness is as thin as a dime. One thin dime.
There is no soundtrack yet, but there are patterns to dreams, most of which involve bleeding from my mouth, expelling blood from my lungs, and sustaining anthrax infection via postal delivery. Though my dreams are largely suggestive of crisis, I am not suffering from any mental or emotional distress. I am distressed only by my inability to find an appropriate soundtrack. I am bereft of songs despite the overwhelming number of songs at my immediate disposal. No suggestions merit follow-through. Nothing familiar sounds right. I need new songs.
There are moments of interstate travel, deep in reflection, when I am appalled at my use of the word “I.” Perhaps the new soundtrack is one of omission–omitting the “I.”
The Instruction Manual
Men at Thirty
Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles upon a cake
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash
Yet there was time to wish
Before the break light could die
If I had known what to wish
As once I must have known
Bending above the clean candlelit tablecloth
To blow them out with a breath
Men at Forty
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.
And deep in mirrors
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something
That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.
Dreamfulness and childlessness weigh upon me; consequently so does William Shakespeare.
It’s midnight. An aching need for something sweet. I’m up, rat-like, rifling through the stuffs in the dark apartment galley kitchen, two paces from the bedroom, the bed where my husband whose deep, restorative sleep occasionally admittedly makes me all prickled hot envy, rage. An odd bit of chocolate, a snack size packet of dried fruit, a cold, creamy hunk of frozen banana, whatever amuse bouche I can wrest from the darkness. On my mind: cost-benefit analyses of various retirement savings accounts, the calories I just ate, the grey space of long-ago collegiate optimism, writer’s block, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, that summer I sat in the reconstructed Globe, the fact that I will never have children.
My sweet tooth is merciless. The geometric precision of suburban lawns is merciless.
I am going to die. The classic existential crisis ensues. It’s not even interesting. Even Rabbit Angstrom’s life-long grappling with existence maintained attention, and he played golf all the time for chrissake. Frank and April Wheeler. Jack Burden. Prince Hal. Ishmael. But I am Holden Caulfield, but at thirty years old and reliving the quintessential adolescent crack-up, hysterically trying to caulk the cracks where the dark bleeds the light: death and dying, yadda… It was fine the first time around.
But I am thirty now.
But this is midnight and it aches. Where the pressure, pound per square inch like bricks or an automobile or the spirits of the ones already gone or still here but losing their grip sit there, there is a histamine reaction to the fear. J asks, why is your chest so red and broken? It’s because at midnight, or just after, death and dying wake me and I panic. I must find something to put into my mouth, to suck, to worry at with my tongue. Because I am going to die and what have I left here to prove that there was anything good, or decent about me? I am not even going to have children.
I have a “creative writing degree” and I also really wanted to “study Shakespeare.” I almost did. Twice. Now I have an undergraduate degree in “creative writing” and “writer’s block that has lasted five years” and I’m not “in a graduate program” for either “Renaissance literature” or “more creative writing.” The writer’s block is both the cause and the symptom of good deal of the histamine-inducing midnight automobiles for the frozen banana amuse bouche. So isShakespeare, all but languishing in that part of my mind where, I’m sure, the finite math and ancient civilizations gather webs and dust.
I’ve always known that I wouldn’t have children because I don’t want children and I have never changed my mind about that. It’s not because I had a difficult relationship with my own mother, though I did have a difficult relationship with my own mother, and it’s not because I don’t like children. I do like children–anyway, I like them just fine. I simply have never felt the biological and/or gravitational pull of motherhood. The primordial ooze encased in my womb is dutifully and unceremoniously shed each month, always to my relief, always the miracle of contraceptive science. I simply do not want to be a mother, never felt as though it would make me anymore complete that I either already am or will be.
I have been vehemently advised that this is poor thinking. I have been vehemently advised that it is a woman’s duty.
I’ve been amassing books on financial planning, vegan raw food diets, and foreign language dictionaries. We call this obsession. And now that I’m doing it compulsively we’ve reached a new level of crisis. I spend a fortune on supplements (chlorella tablets, digestive enzymes, magnesium-oxygen capsules, raw vegan protein powders), yogic texts and nut milks. Maybe I’m not what I wanted to be when I grew up yet because I was preoccupied with only wanting to be beautiful, which I only am in an obscure way and only from quarter turns to the right and only when I’m not thinking about it. Maybe I’m not what I wanted to be when I grew up yet because I’m terrified of being destitute, which explains why I’m not a “writer.” I never wanted it badly enough to really suffer for it, though I thought I did in away, in a very young and foolish and first world way, choosing poorly in the areas of sex and romance until I finally didn’t, spending an inordinate amount of time in a maudlin state until I didn’t anymore. Molly Giles always said you had to be a little overweight and miserable to really write.
I totally believe(d) that. And it sounds truly awful. I’m thirty years old and naive enough–or revisionist enough–to think that it can be done in a different way. Anyway, I’m sick of being an “administrative assistant.” I’m a swirling mess of Tennyson and sometimes, deep in thought, I answer the phone and forget where I am and how the fuck I got here.
So I just say, “Hello?”
And sometimes it’s hysterical.
If I don’t have children who will take care of me if I become old and destitute? And who will perpetuate my own flame?
Petrarch was right about immortality. It’s all we want. Or has Tithonus finally convinced me otherwise? Or will he eventually?
Immortality and geriatric care seems like a pretty poor reason to procreate.
Cars with faulty brakes. Involuntary manslaughter and then on the lam from the police (but I have no memory of who or how! Where am I running to?!) Having to repeat high school math. Once I had to repeat physics ten years later and after I already had my B.A. I got married in a green dress in Yankee Stadium in the driving rain, the hem of the dress caked with infield mud. Why didn’t they cover the field? Once Christopher Walken showed up and that’s when I burned the dream dictionaries and began occasionally giving into the sweet tooth. I don’t do it so often anymore, fearing the late night empty calories, but sometimes that tiniest bit of chocolate spreading out and out across my tongue and out and out some more is electric, the jolt reaffirming life.
Clearly the blue river chimes in its flowing.