I remember what you wrote to me: “I moved people in NYC up until 6 months ago…probably thousands of people through the years and I don’t remember but a handful. You were one of them.”
There you are, that same grin.
“This is unreal!” I exclaim. Why open this door? Because it is one?
You buy me an iced tea that tastes more like juice and we sit on bar stools as if this is normal. You’re chewing that gum that made me dizzy and nauseous. I wonder if you remember? You do.
“You look great. What are you doing? Something right, that’s for sure. Is it the books you’re reading?”
“Ha, maybe? I’m being crazy. That’s probably it.” Easier than the truth.
We have the customary literary talk, you’re reading him, I’m reading her. “I guess I identify with the character” “Is it just shocking, or actually good writing?” “She was a heroin addict.” “Who were her lovers again?” Right as we’re sitting there, you call up a friend to ask this last question. This is it, this is what I was always talking about. We have the same behaviors, the same patterns, our minds working in the same ways. Deep down I knew you’d do that because I would.
You tell tales of getting hitched on a whim in Vegas to a “child bride,” of love affairs with married women, of playing in bands down South, of being in the Navy, of spontaneous moves to Los Angeles, of living on an avocado farm, of betrayal.
“These women are bad news,” I say. “But you know that. It’s intensely good, and then it’s utter chaos, right? It always ends like that. So volatile.” You’re wondering if I’d be the same story, I know you are. You nod your head, you’ve got twenty years on me; such despair and heartache go into this simple movement.
I don’t ask you why you do it, why you pursue them. (Us?) I know why.
Your fifty-year-old rich fashion designer friend calls you and immediately you say, “I’m sitting here with a beautiful, young woman. She’s intelligent, vivacious, charismatic, has a good heart and a great smile….” I laugh into my tea, then watch your face as you carry on making dinner plans, always unsure how to react to someone describing me out loud, sitting a mere two feet away. What are you doing?
“They’re lucky, you know that? All of those guys, I hope they know that. I’d love to be in their position.” I knew you’d say that.
I smile, roll my eyes. “Right. Lucky.” What should I have said?
“Tell them that.” Right.
Later you will write:
…you should invite me over tonight…
I can’t believe you. I shake my head and say aloud to the walls, “I can’t believe you.”
…too much work…
…your gentle hands…
don’t play this game…I knew you would…
…these hands need to write…
These hands need to write.
I’m pondering a little excursion way upstate to Lake George next week to visit with some friends, whom we’ll call L and E. It’s L’s family cabin, and though she has been going for years, I have never been able to come. Until now muwahaha! Well, I don’t know if I have the time to go, but in a carpe diem manner, I think I have to find the time.
L is awesome and we refer to each other as “partner-in-crime.” She is one of those friends with whom I’ve never been to the cinema, meaning that we never do normal things like sit in a room and stare at a screen for two hours. Instead, we do things like bake cookies at 3am in the dorm, think we may have started a fire, flee the scene and go to Denny’s. (In hindsight, this was foolish, seeing as though all of our stuff and friends were IN that dorm).
When Kurt Vonnegut was teaching at Smith, she proposed that I steal his course booklet (with his name on it). Done. (Do you think I even hesitated? Felony schmelony) She spontaneously proposed trips to Rhode Island for a cappella concerts. So we went. Multiple times! I once told her how I was perplexed by the “Express” in Holiday Inn Express, so we drove to one to get to the bottom of it. I basically launched into a speech with the hotel staff inquiring about this matter, saying my parents were going to come stay and asking if one could rent a room by the hour or, if not, what was the meaning behind it. L said she’d come up with me and help out with the questioning, but she stood there silently; as usual, when pulling pranks or scheming, I do most of the work.
I only became friends with E very late in college, during the last semester or so. Our mutual reasoning for never being friends beforehand: “I thought you were normal!” We soon discovered that neither one of us was “normal,” and became friends instantly, after being sad about all the crazy things we could have done together! In New York last year, a bar that does “Name Night” just happened to have E’s name the ONE day she was visiting. What are the chances?!? (It’s NOT a common name either) After taking her around on my mystery shopping adventures, Central Park and to Canstruction, we headed to the bar. Then she drank for free, and I drank as if I were drinking for free, which is to say we got trashed. Between the hours of 5-8. Then we traveled back to my apartment, because oh yeah, my parents had just driven into town! E got to meet my parents totally smashed and I tried to cover up the redness in my face, the loudness of my voice, to no avail most likely.
So, with the opportunity to go hang out with these too, in even bumf—- New York, well, anything could happen. What we have to work with: a rainbow-lit waterfall in the middle of town, no internet or cell phone reception, a drive-in theater, Pirate mini golf, bumper cars. And our imaginations. Oh man, the possibilities are still endless!
A couple of weeks ago, I had a long discussion with people about various books and authors after one of them related a story about having dinner with Bret Easton Ellis (!) and it got me thinking how rare book talks like that have been for me recently. Why does no one read?!? Or is it that no one talks about it? And I’m not talking about the latest contemporary stuff to hit the New York Times Book Review, which is all well and good, but I have little interest in Eat, Pray, Love or The Fortress of Solitude and all of those “bestsellers” that lack depth, meaningful stories and round characters.
Some classics too are bad in my opinion, but more often than not, reaching back a century or two will leave you more intellectually and literarily satisfied than if you were to reach for something published last week. I was going through some stacks of notes I’ve made on books in the past, some quotes, some commentary, some questions, and came across a long quote from Henry James’ The Ambassadors that I had forgotten about. Henry James, almost more than anyone save for Joseph Conrad, taught me not to be afraid of reading. What I mean by that is, “tough,” or “dense” books can make you angry because they test your reading skills, but by all means do not give up. They make you feel stupid, which makes you feel insulted; I’ve tried to switch the negative thoughts to positive by thinking of “trouble” books as challenges. I would rather feel stupid reading a book, looking up tons of words (I’m pointing my dictionary-turning finger at you, Henry James) than not. I “hated” Conrad for a long time, but the real problem with Conrad is that as a 16-year old who didn’t read much as a child, I didn’t “get” him. At all. It took me until age 22 to try again, and when I did, I was floored. Not only did I understand Conrad, but I practically felt torn apart inside—how he really gets to the bottom of emotions, human struggle, the romantic notions of “heroes.” I was moved, but that’s an understatement; it was more like being pummeled.
Anyway, James’ quote. It’s long! Are you ready? It’s amazing:
“It’s not too late for you on any side, and you don’t strike me as in danger of missing the train; besides which people can be in general pretty well trusted, of course—with the clock of their freedom ticking as loud as it seems to do here—to keep an eye on the fleeting hour. All the same, don’t forget that you’re young—blessedly young; be glad of it, on the contrary, and live up to it. Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had? This place and these impressions—mild as you may find them to wind a man up so; all my impressions of Chad and of people I’ve seen at his place—well, have had their abundant message for me, have just dropped that into my mind. I see it now. I haven’t done so enough before—and now I’m old; too old at any rate for what I see. Oh, I do see, at least; and more than you’d believe or I can express. It’s too late. And it’s as if the train had fairly waited at that station for me without my having had the gumption to know it was there. Now I hear its faint, receding whistle miles and miles down the line. What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. The affair—I mean the affair of life—couldn’t, no doubt, have been different for me; for it’s at the best a tin mould, either fluted and embossed, with ornamental excrescences, or else smooth and dreadfully plain, into which, a helpless jelly, one’s consciousness is poured—so that one ‘takes’ form, as the great cook says, and is more or less compactly held by it: one lives, in fine, as one can. Still, one has the illusion of freedom; therefore don’t be, like me, without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don’t quite know which. Of course, at present, I’m a case of reaction against the mistake; and the voice of reaction should, no doubt, always be taken with an allowance. But that doesn’t affect the point that the right time is now yours. The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have. You’ve plenty; that’s the great thing; you’re, as I say, damn you, so happily and hatefully young. Don’t, at any rate, miss things out of stupidity. Of course I don’t take you for a fool, or I shouldn’t be addressing you thus awfully. Do what you like so long as you don’t make my mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!”
I’ve mentioned before here that I am a chronic list-maker, to the point that I always have at least 2 or 3 lists resting on my desk, one for the day, one for the week, and maybe a random one such as, “People I want to visit this summer,” or a grocery list for the Asian supermarket in Chinatown.
Recently I found some lists from the past (yes, I keep some of the significant ones), including my list of jobs ever held (I’m up to 35, and no, I’ve never been fired!). Oh my, did I really dip corn in butter over and over for money? And paint Adirondack chairs? And work at a law firm? Yes, yes and yes!
I was going through what I call “my real writing,” writing that I have done over the past 10 years or so that few people, if any, have ever read. This is the stuff that I will put in that future book everyone keeps nagging me to write, but for now, it sits in a stack while I concentrate on writing that pays the bills. I don’t consider the writing that makes me money “real” because it’s typing; this is coming from someone who WROTE, with a pen, EVERY single college paper out on loose leaf first (upwards of 25 pages sometimes), with a complex but efficient system for editing, organizing and completing. I know it’s real, but I miss the paper in-between step. I still have an internal struggle over the fact that I now type things for a living, or rather, push plastic buttons as Amit puts it.
Okay, I already wrote about my favorite sounds, but how about my favorite smells? (I’ll get to all 5 senses eventually) First, a note about smells: when I was a kid, well, I was much like I am today…thinking a lot, with my serious face on, a little crazy perhaps? I used to come up with strange scenarios like, “If I had to smell one smell for the rest of my life, what would it be?” This was of the utmost importance to me, and I revisited the question frequently to make sure I was ready for when the scenario presented itself in real life. (Weird, it hasn’t) Over and over, I chose the same smell: molasses. (I also did EVERYTHING for months with my left hand in the event that I broke my right one…to the point that I was almost ambidextrous)
My mom, sister and I baked all the time, and two of the cookie recipes we used called for molasses. Mom also taught us to hold our tongues with our fingers and say the phrase “Molasses on the table.” Do it! Sounds like “My ass is on the table.” Now that’s a cool Catholic schoolteacher mom! I don’t think it’s necessarily these memories that made me choose it, though; it really was just about the smell. I couldn’t get enough. I keep molasses on hand at all times, and even now, I still check…yep, if I have to smell the one smell for the rest of my life…
Favorite smells, in order
- freshly cut/sawed wood and/or sawdust (my dad built a lot of stuff and we frequented the lumber yard)
- burnt sugar
- Old Spice deodorant
- garlic when it first hits a pan of oil
- the plastic smell of stores like K-Mart, Ames, etc.
I hope other people, and not just kids, make fun lists like this one. If not, you should. And while you’re at it, contemplate the smell scenario. What would you pick?
Wow, I almost forgot I had a tumblr; don’t get too excited that I’m back, because I am bound to forget yet again. But first, something of note:
I recently read a memoir entitled The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso. It’s one of these books that I will drop everything to read from start to finish, unbeknownst to me in the beginning. The books I skipped class for, or rudely cancelled plans for; luckily I was reading early on a Saturday morning, without any set schedule.
Anyway, the topic is pretty heavy—serious disease—but not necessarily a downer (although I don’t mind those either). It was strange to read about the exact same drugs I have to take, the ones that “make you feel better than it is possible to feel without them” that are coincidentally “poison” at the same time. Fun, right? There are so many paradoxes like that in the world of illness and it’s easy to get caught up in all the metaphors before remembering just how painfully real it all is.
Switching subjects, today I become completely overwhelmed with how much I have on my plate right now. I feel like I have 8 part-time jobs, which I essentially do, so if you do the math, that sort of equals 4 full-time jobs. I’m exaggerating, but not completely.
It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, I try to remember how lucky I am to be busy like this. (I do need to learn how to say “no” though). Like Manguso, there was a time I couldn’t walk across the room without throwing my white flag. I am such a far cry from that today, and with every bit of struggle and unhappiness comes strength and appreciation down the road. That reminded me of a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke’s classic, Letters to a Young Poet:
“Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise, he would never been able to find those words.”
As I read an email today from a good friend who happens to be experiencing something similar to what I am, a (cruder?!) quote stuck out:
“Dude, you f—-ing rock. Seriously. Wise, wise words, my friend.”
The common thread? Wise words always originate from an experience, and a trying one at that.
Today I can add yet another one to my list of health care system flaws. I get a letter from the hospital, where I did bloodwork three weeks ago. My various counts are all low, which I knew, and they have forced an outpatient day upon me to come in. In three weeks. Okay, now if you do the math, and know anything about moderate-to-severe anemia, you’d know that I would pretty much be DEAD by then, or at the very least, had gone into some sort of cardiac arrest.
Thanks hospital people, but um, that’s why I went to my doctor the day after I went to your clinic, and he told me my pitiful blood counts. You see, I’ve been through this before, and I sort of don’t want to die this time either. But, thank you for being so considerate and wanting to see me May 28. I will be visiting you in the future, dear hospital, so don’t you worry about that.
Wow. I had heard about this book while at Smith College because it was the summer reading choice for incoming first-years. I was either a sophomore or junior at the time, and had always meant to pick it up. (Funny that only after I finished it did I learn that she is a Smith alum too).
This novel is so many things: a work of fiction, a cinematic piece in its movement, a political piece in its content, a look at “romantic” relationships and their complexities, motherhood, eating disorders, the meat industry, corporations, television, American cities and towns, Japanese housewives. I really couldn’t put it down (and my last few days of working have suffered from it!), but it isn’t traditional page-turner material, I kept thinking. But then when I was reading the interview with Ozeki at the end, she said she realized at some point that she was writing a “thriller,” so in a way, yes, it has traditional page-turning qualities, but the content is so authentic, so original, so different.
I’ve been poking around her website and was happy to find that she is a lover of libraries, as am I: http://www.ruthozeki.com/weblog/ (May 30, 2007 entry). I could sense this in the book as well, but she says something I have wanted to articulate but couldn’t so succinctly: “libraries are miracles of public munificence in an age of privatized corporate greed” and goes on to elaborate upon how truly wonderful the public library is. Every once and a while, I deliver my monologue on the same thing to anyone (un)lucky enough to be around, going on and on about Ben Franklin and how ridiculously blessed we are to have public lending-libraries. Anyway, read this book and tell your friends to as well, and ponder this quote from it in the mean time:
“…ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence….If we can’t act on knowledge, then we can’t survive without ignorance. So we cultivate an ignorance, go to great lengths to celebrate it, even. The faux-dumb aesthetic that dominates TV and Hollywood must be about this. Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralyzed by bad knowledge, from which the only escape is playing dumb. Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people to live. Stupidity becomes pro-active, a political statement. Our collective norm.”
I have one reason, and one reason only, for wanting to learn guitar some day: so that I can play Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of I Put a Spell on You, to the point that my fingers bleed, possibly at my wedding reception, and to the detriment of everyone present. I’m not sure if that will be before or after the Pittsburgh Pirates Pierogies race around the room, however.
The future is very, very bright.
Everyone in New York, or at the very least in Brooklyn, probably went to the Brooklyn Flea today. They have probably already blogged about it in some form.
There, now I have done both as well.
“People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there’s a war. That’s when adventure becomes available to the masses!”
-Tom, in Tennessee Williams’ “That Glass Menagerie” (1945)
For a play all about characters living in everything but the present, is it ironic that this quote still holds true today, and may always?