Upon Examination

I went through a Pat Conroy phase five years ago. I read three of his books: The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, and My Losing Season. I stopped after that… Conroy, for all his skills as a writer and storyteller, began to feel a bit like a one-trick pony (suicidal sister; flawed, yet beautiful mother; abusive father). But there is one scene from The Prince of Tides that has stuck with me since I first read it. I’ll keep it lengthy for context:
“Hello, Luke,” my mother said uncertainly.
“Hey, Mama,” he said, his eyes affixed on the shining river.
“You’re awfully mad at me, aren’t you, Luke?” she said, trying to make light of it.
“Yeah, Mama,” he said. “How long did you know about it? When did Newbury let you in on the big piece of news? When did you plan to steal the only thing Dad ever owned?”
“I earned the right to own that island,” she said. “I bled for that piece of land.”
“You stole it fair and square,” Luke said. “Just don’t expect your children to love you for it.”
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “The island’s gone. Colleton’s gone. We’ve all got to start over.”
“How do you start over, Mama?” he said to the river. “How do you start over when you can’t look back? What happens to a man when he looks back over his shoulder to see where he came from, to see what he is, and all he sees is a sign that says, ‘Keep Out’?”
This image haunts me. Good literature strikes a chord deep within its reader, connects with them and doesn’t let go. Luke’s character in The Prince of Tides gripped me harder than most characters have. Maybe it’s because I’m such a sad person, and I think my sadness is tied to my nostalgia, my longing for the past. Every new day I awake to find a “Keep Out” sign nailed over the previous day, and it breaks my heart. I can’t go back, I can’t undo mistakes, I can’t redo actions, I can’t relive bits of happiness.
Once when I was maybe 13 my dad, gesturing broadly to the world in front of us (a developing neighborhood with a growing shopping center and rows of fast food restaurants), told me that one day I’ll forget what this place used to look like because it will transform into something wholly different. He suggested I document everything before it happened. I never did. Perhaps my reasoning was similar to that of Joan Didion in Blue Nights when she wrote that, “In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.” (It wasn’t; I was just lazy, as always. But, honestly, when would I think to pull out an album of photos documenting fields of trees and shrubs and a narrow I-77?)
So I’m striving to be Didion, but I’m fated to be Luke. We’ll see what happens.

Our President Elect

*Note: I wrote this before 7 November, but it’s still relevant and worth exploring.

I have been thinking about Donald Trump as synecdoche and what that could mean for the next few decades if we don’t understand and act on what that entails, e.g., if he loses the election (and concedes, too), we still need to deal with many major problems (which, mind you, are not by any means new or surprising): The climate that bore Trump; the climate that exists in his aftermath, albeit more than likely agitated and angered to a greater degree; the small details that, combined, create a problem as large as what we see in this election (I’m talking about sexism, racist, misogyny, islamophobia, neoliberalism, isolationism). What I mean by small details is that, for example, when cis men tell women  that they’re beautiful even though this bothers women because unwritten in our societal language is the implication that women are required to say “thank you” or basically applaud men for being so bold and romantic. These are difficult to address because they’re greeted with stubborn dismissals. When I talk about this, I think of the Waking Life Espresso events in Asheville, NC. The two owners of the business were members of the Red Pill fraternity on Reddit and other weird and disturbing corners of the internet. After someone anonymously posted the owners’ podcast recordings and screenshots of their Twitter and blog feeds, Asheville erupted in rage, boycotting the coffee shop until, only a few days later, the owners closed Waking Life permanently. The reactions to the event were varied. Some men sided with the WL owners. Other men acted surprised that this could happen, that men treat women this way. But that reaction smacks of ignorance and insouciance. We, as women, know that these two men in Asheville were not outliers in an otherwise pleasant landscape.

Point A to Point A

My boyfriend and I drove across the country in July of 2016. I’ve told this story so many times that the experiences and memories have removed themselves to screenshots and elevator pitches. But it was still an incredibly humbling and centering journey. Primarily because the United States is SO BIG. Look up ‘big’ in a thesaurus for more information re: the vast and desolate landscape that is our country.

I took a few pictures while we were out in the middle of nowhere. This way when I’m re-reading Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead I can look at poorly composed iPhone pictures of Arizona/Nevada, &c., and I won’t have to try as hard to imagine the landscape of the play.

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Albuquerque, New Mexico. Did you know that driving west as the sun sets on the high desert is a recipe for a car wreck? That’s why the city places the stoplights at eye level. Before we left, we took a short hike into the foothills. We didn’t get very far because I was convinced that a rattlesnake would jump out and bite us. Alas, all we saw were roadrunners.
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Monument Valley. This detour caused a shitty fight that I never want to relive, but this place was beautiful and sacred. We also felt very unwelcome (white people in Navajo territory). This was an experience during the trip where we were reminded that this country is not ours; we stole it from people who are now suffering at our hand. 
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Many people who have visited the Grand Canyon have told me that it’s underwhelming. I’m not quite sure if that’s the right word, but it’s certainly unfathomable. In my casual readings of astrophysics and socioeconomics, I’ve read about the human mind’s limitations w/r/t scale and infinity, and the Grand Canyon really feels and looks like an example of infinity. It goes on forever. And I have terrible vision, so it might’ve continued on farther than I could see. The green dots you see in the photo are trees. Trees at least 7 feet tall. And they continue down, farther and farther. Unfortunately, we were crunched for time and cash, and Nix has a paralyzing fear of heights, or we would have taken a hiking tour down to the river–I’ve heard that view is incredible.  
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I can’t quite remember where this is, but I believe it’s somewhere around the boarder of California/Nevada. We drove for hours without seeing a single car. For most of this stretch, we barely had WiFi, too, so if we’d’ve run out of gas, we would’ve died. Close call!

 

“Reading Like a Writer” Notes

Because I’m the kind of person who’ll pick up a book and, half-way through the first page, suddenly find another book in my hand — I can’t commit! (My therapists know all too well.) These words from Francine Prose offer me guidance:

With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word … All the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another.

 

1st Draft/Margins

I.

I want to slip into the curve of your back–
where my fingertips dance along the ridge
of your spine as I count each vertebra in a
language we created–unreeling like an anchor
while your hand moves so deeply inside me
I lose my center. I will rest here, unsteady:

(… “Lacunae”: cavities/depressions in bone
Missing pieces of manuscripts. Example of the adj. jejune. )

II.

I am thinking about your tongue
and the way your eyebrows slope
when you look up at me and you
moving up to me and
cool blue light
and low
music and your voice
while I
until you’re sitting in front
of me thinking about it all.

III.

Feel like I’m waking up after a week of illness. Air fresher, sun warmer; I’m able to laugh and smile.
Does this make sense?  I’m alive, and I know what that means now because I wasn’t before you.

Bilateral Mastectomy

—Your boobs look really good. Might be
the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me
while I’m crying.
(Am I mean? Guarded maybe.
But my mom said I’m mean sometimes.
She could be right.)

—Why are you crying? I’m sorry.
—What’s wrong? I’m so sad.
—Why? I don’t know. I’m so sad all the time; it won’t stop. (Apologies, excuses.)
—You were the one who said that it’s OK
to be sad.

I crossed his path twice today. He stood in the same place, Parliament resting between his thumb and index fingers.
—You’re still waiting for Godot? (He reminds me of an old friend. I’m always finding memories in the expressions of acquaintances.)

I’m already working on his next mix CD. Thought I’d title it something sad, like: We’re not dead, but asleep dreaming of ourselves. (Maybe he’s like me, and he doesn’t think that’s sad. And our flesh will become dying birds spiraling out into dusk to catch the last echoes of traffic exhaust in the deep Southern sky, our pale feathers dipping to touch once softly and then falling away.)

All Business All the Time

You once loved Whitman. You take one Women’s Studies class in college. You take four more. Your gender becomes a question to declare a statement. I mean, you’ve always questioned its state. Draw attention to that fact. Nothing is worth reading anymore. “Kurt Vonnegut sucks.” And the Lost Generation should be forgotten. Be as radical as possible. No one gets it like you do. Drink so much your fingers spin. That’s funny, you think. It’s easy to laugh as your friend speeds drunk down the highway when you realize the consequence is death and you’ve been wanting that for so long. You’re only not laughing the next morning when you’re awake, you puke in the bushes on the way to work, and you’re still here. But you wake up. Deal with the day. Smile at someone. They don’t smile back. No one’s happy. The dim room spins around heavy with conversations you paid tuition to escape. No you didn’t. You rolled your eyes through your liberal arts education. Shows you didn’t learn anything. “I never want to go back. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back.” Where else, then? How long can I live in Facebook statuses and Instagram photos? Do they charge rent? I feel like I’m dying, I’m telling you honestly. That’s not true. I can’t say it out loud. But I’m feeling that way. I can’t take hot showers anymore; I feel so suffocated. Used to stay in until the water ran cold. Until my skin boiled. Blistered. Burned.