I do not have new words. I do not have better words. I do not have THE (b)right idea. I do not have the deepest grief. I cried fewer times than yesterday. I did my job. I took pleasure in the food I put in my body. My back didn’t hurt when I jogged, and I noticed this, and I was glad. And I am still stupefied; and deeply, impotently angry.
Yes, of course. The proximate cause of the last n years of [insert innocent victims here] lives being ‘cut short’ is down to the [insert negative adjective(s) here] (mostly) men with personal arsenals bigger than the ‘hero’ in Olympus Has Fallen. But they’re mostly dead (which is better than they deserve) and we’re all stuck with a political impasse which is literally shooting us in places far more lethal than the foot.
I am supposed to narrow this narrative to a well-informed rant lambasting our in-the-pocket-of-private-interests, do nothing government, but that’s a waste of pixels. Our American idealism has gotten drunk on a few successful Twitter storms for beloved TV shows, or against some skittish publicly traded business. Ladies and gentlemen, grown men have had their genital selfies broadcast through national news outlets. Most of them are still elected, married, getting richer, and shagging/harassing/abusing their target demographic through a different private number. No amount of ‘exposing’ a politician’s hypocrisy, selfishness, or intellectual deficiency is going to make them change. I believe they just call all of it publicity.
So what the hell are we supposed to do? For those of us who care beyond the posts and likes we have one vote per election, ballot question, etc.; impassioned letters, petitions, and sometimes meetings, with our legislators…which frankly feels a little hopeless against billions of dollars in lobbyists, funded projects in your district, special interest PACs; and millions of angry people who -fuck!- have guns.
Please vote. And not for the racist guy with a shag carpet tile on his head. Don’t give up on those letters and petitions and meetings either.If you’ve got the stamina see if you can organize a gun buy back in your community.
But it’s time to get creative, coordinated and disruptive. 24/7 media coverage won’t bring any of those amazing people back, is inadvertently glorifying, and is no doubt giving someone else ideas. Competitive vigil-ing is healing and a good excuse to hug strangers (ask first), but it’s also another act in this pageant we have rehearsed so much it is rote. Other nations, your lights and solidarity are warm fuzzies, but you know from your own experiences we are facing cold steel and hot lead. Your condemnation of our gun laws, trade interruption until we improve our policies, and cooperation to interrupt and destroy trafficked weapons would be the real assist.
We have to out-stubborn our state and federal governments to secure our safety. Bring me your boycotts, your sit-ins, your work-slow downs, your sex-strikes, your hack-a-thons (Anonymous, can you hear us?). It’s time to think outside the coffin so we can stop lining them up.
Pattern. Fabric of Life.
Weft from warp.
Tempting to tie off;
Take up slack; draw taut.
No strand out of place.
Imagine instead: whipping wind.
Free fall. Touch down.
Tangled. Raveled. Undone.
Old threads. New life.
Stay your hand.
The catchy bit of that pop song.
Absurdly large implement to remove that performer who is bombing on stage.
Old fashioned, but terribly useful clasp for clothes (or gates), when paired with an eye.
To catch or be caught on something, literally or figuratively.
On a day when I broke the lanyard off my work ID and nearly ripped a sleeve off my shirt because these items got hooked on a chair arm and a door handle respectively, I couldn’t help but wonder if these snags might be a metaphor for my life.
The theme here is not ‘woe is me’ -aside from the occasional scare with an expensive electronic, the hitches have not brought tragedy- but ‘why is me?’ In spite of knowing better I as good as court these hang ups.
Dresses, long skirts, stockings (made to snag, am I right?); shirts with ‘romantic’ sleeves (or hems or collars), or sashes or bows (sounding like a bit of a priss aren’t I?); scarves and wraps with fringe or open weave; shoes with laces. And the primary offenders: work ID lanyard, headphone cords, my abundant curly hair.
Looking at that list I am enormously grateful I have not broken more iPods, zippers, or teeth. And I ask, with no little bit of joy and surprise, why is there always some bit of me hanging out in the world trailing along ready to get looped around something?
You can pick your own moral: Don’t sweat the small stuff; it’s all small stuff. A stitch in time saves nine. Safety first (clearly not heeding that one). Don’t worry, be happy. Constant vigilance. Oops I did it again.
I choose to see it as leaving the door open for Kismet. As an introvert who plans compulsively (and, indeed, professionally) the blackout curtains are drawn pretty tight against spontaneity and vulnerability. Some allegorical bit of me dangling out there to get caught on the world, while frequently an (amusing) inconvenience, forces me to pause and for a moment be surprised and genuinely emotional about: the spilled guts of my phone, my ripped shirt, the earring caught in my scarf and accidentally flung away, the interruption of my favorite song. And honestly, I need as many dress rehearsals as I can get for being open to life as it comes.
So there’s my silver lining. Of course, I can’t discount that I may be an oaf.
There are going to be a lot of tears this year. Perhaps for years to come. Stand away. These drops are not for comfort or sympathy. I am not in distress. I do not ail.
Just nod, for you have been here.
- Insecure, timid, angry at your weaknesses
- Already tired, when the road -difficult and long- is just beginning
- You have tasted relief and had it taken away
- You have fooled yourself for far too long, and yelped and wept when the scales fell from your eyes and dropped heavily on your foot
- You have hidden and no one has found you; and you have ached and shivered understanding that you were not missed
- Your stoically practiced belief in your beauty has turned out to be a paper boat in a hurricane
- You have known all your life that most things just don’t turn out the way you want them to
- Ever practical, you have measured: disappointment hurts more than never hoping
Until it doesn’t
And then you must walk the thorny road of wishing -which to you feels like begging- which smacks (a cracking blow) of your hardest times, still not quite shaken off.
But you must learn to wish, and against all instincts believe.
No Jiminy Cricket Fairy Godmother Bippity Boppity Boo. This house must be gutted, total reno, walls broken through. A frightened aloof architecture must be pulverized and evacuated.
There are going to be a lot of tears this year. Perhaps for years to come. Stand away. These drops are not for comfort or sympathy. I am not in distress. I do not ail.
I am under construction.
My strangeness is my completeness
What you cannot compete with
Do not put me in a box
I did not make your mind small and lazy
I will not be a victim of it
That your imagination cannot contain me
Does not mean I am not
I tire of that being the only complement you can pay me
But I am not waiting for you
You have already declared you are not trying to catch up
To sour internally
And gas out your disappointment in yourself
By pettying me into poverty
This hundreds (and hundreds) of years’ fight
But I think you don’t know what that is
For you ‘better’ is an overpriced item
Made for nickels
By a child
In a country your expensive education ignored
That looks just like the one your best friend bought
Is the same
Which might be why we’re all arrested
To elevate, I have to blend in
To maintain, you keep increasing the cost of the status quo
What you are becomes more and more expensive
And less and less valuable
Of course I have to innovate
And now I can do you and me
Make laws (again) to exclude and abuse me
You keep pulling the same shit
But whether you like it or not
It’s a different day
One of my toddler nicknames was ‘The Screaming Mimi.’ I wasn’t aware when I was christened such, I just remember hearing it whispered: ‘Oh here comes the screaming mimi again.’
From context rather than content I assumed that like the many other (very clever and erudite!) things my brother called me (like, Gila monster) it was an insult. 20/20 hindsight reveals it really wasn’t (see Below), but it does capture how affecting, frequent, outsized and possibly calculating, my fits of childhood tears were.
And they were fits. I was a shaking crown to toe, racked with sobs, snot-dripping, pointedly inconsolable, upon the floor flailing, peals of shrieking wails, kind of crier. I could have been a professional mourner. Or a Banshee.
Whatever it did for me in my childhood, by Tween time crying was embargoed. I would do anything and everything I could not to shed a tear. Not only had I lapped up all sorts of negative ideologies and associations about crying -sign of weakness, crying is always only about bad things- I had seen so many ‘baseless’ tears (my own and my family members’) that I had begun to blame the tears themselves. It was the crying and not its stimulus, that was the evil. If one could just avoid the crying, perhaps the bad thing didn’t happen?
This belief helped not at all with my already developed (and still present) tendency to bottle up emotions.
Thank heavens, some time in the last five years I have learned to enjoy crying. I am still loathe to do it in public. If you witness me crying, I am profoundly overwhelmed, or thought I had the safety of general anonymity (I cry on train rides in foreign countries).
And if crying alone has a long-moldering stench of the pathetic to it, it is also an amazing opportunity to feel your body. The small muscles of your face contort so curiously, tears cool so fast, a shocking contrast to the rising heat of the effort to expel the emotional splinter and find your regular breaths; bits and pieces tingle.
There is a refreshing quality to crying (glad I feel so because I have been doing more of it of late). And while the soreness of whatever cause is discomfiting, the lesson learned becomes somatic, easier to conjure, harder to ignore.
‘Let’s not do that (that way) again,’ you might think. ‘Yes, last time it all ended in tears.’
A little research plus my brother’s predilections make it clear Screaming Mimi was a reference to a Marvel character now called Songbird. Which is a) really not an insult at all; and b) both prescient and really creative. Thanks bro!
Three quick articles I liked on crying:
- Why Do We Cry? The Three Types of Tears
- Why Do We Cry? The Science of Tears
Go see Keanu. Don’t argue with me. Just go buy a ticket.
If a genre satire isn’t your schwing, buy a ticket for Keanu and sneak into something else.
Remember, the point isn’t whether or not you see the movie, it’s proving, financially, to a profit-mad, creativity-bankrupt industry that we want more movies like this. They are already going to make 20 more superhero movies, I want more ‘Look world, there are middle class black people! With the time and emotional bandwidth to just be corny’ movies.
Keanu has an absolutely adorable kitten in it, and the continuously ridiculous theme of gangster drug lords desperate for his company. It moves quickly and is plenty of fun. But all that pales in comparison to all the other heavy lifting they did.
Thank you Key and Peele [minor spoilers]:
- Look at those beautiful dark-skinded black women.
- Look at those black women with their own jobs, authority and innate confidence.
- Look at those happy middle class black couples.
- Look at that black woman who wasn’t secretly pining for a white man savior figure.
- Look at that black woman positively owning her eager sexuality with her husband.
- Look at that black woman taking the lead in a relationship.
- Look at that black man making a successful living as a freelance photographer.
- Look at that black man with contacts in the highest levels of the US government.
- Look at that homo-erotic dream sequence with not one gay joke, zero gay shaming, zero masculinity shaming.
- Look at the affirmations of the strength of black love.
- How ridiculous do Key and Peele look tryin’ to be ‘hard’? And they akshly black!
This movie made me very happy. Everything it provides points out the way ‘diversity’ in media frequently fails. There will be an incredible spectrum of personalities and circumstances within any group of humans you could pick. When a specific race, tribe etc, decides that they are main and everyone else is ‘other,’ the spectrum gets reduced to a few, typically negative, archetypes which accomplishes a nearly indelible, continuous social programming. Let’s stop doing that and start telling the whole stories of everyone.
I did not have a happy childhood. I did not have a sad childhood. I definitely had happy experiences, but it was a very weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders kind of existence. I was aware of our poverty pretty early, and of how much stress it caused my mother and I wanted her to be to happy. So I worried a lot about ‘making it better’ for her. And felt very helpless in the face of not understanding how life worked so I could ‘fix’ our lack.
I am not a nostalgist. Friends comment often on my lack of pictures. I rarely throwback on Thursdays. My origin story was so uncomfortable, even as I was going through it, that early on, I shuttered those halls, and wrote off history.
So it’s been a surprise to me both times this year when some experience -really it feels like a kind of bread-loaf sized packet of complicated emotions- that I never would have thought indelible, wells up in me.
On an exceedingly brief trip to Washington, DC in March I found myself trying to walk by all the places I had lived there, and visited constantly by ghosts of the interactions I had. D.C. was my first real stab at adulthood. Which means it was actually my last adolescence. Luckily, both the friends and the mistakes I made were deep and dear in equal measure. And the fear and anxiety made choices I am very glad I lived through to get to now.
Yesterday, I was making blueberry oatmeal muffins, and the brown sugar was three quarters of the way to hard. That is, if I steadily drove all of my upper body weight through the stacked heels of my hands I could just get the block to start to yield and partially crush. Memory came on with that stinging scent of rubbing alcohol. A thin seam of sharp pain zipped open and closed in my chest lightning quick. I remembered baking cookies as a child and hard brown sugar being an insufferable defeat.It was so frustrating it would make me cry because I wasn’t strong enough. Sugar should have been simple, but I wasn’t strong enough.
I felt unexpectedly happy to be visited by this past self, to feel what ground me down 30 years ago, and know how the story ends; know that I have found solutions between then and now for times when I didn’t feel strong enough.
The muffins are good. I still get obliterated coming face to face with my own frailties. And such, my dears, is life.
I drive to work in an office park and park in a shared garage. Work being a daily activity for many people, patterns and trends emerge. Parking is loosely assigned (each building has designated regions of the garage), so I arrive about the same time and park in about the same place, amongst generally the same cars every day.
Today, as I swung my sharp 90 to line up to back into a space, I noticed my soon-to-be neighbor car and thought, with no little surprise, ‘Oh! I like that Aston Martin.’
I am not specifically a car enthusiast, but I will ogle a sleek chassis. I am a James Bond fan. And I totally second guessed myself, so I confirmed the logo when I got out of my car.
I also didn’t get out of my car until I put my phone and my iPod in my purse and put my purse in my work bag with my computer, making sure all these valuables were secure and concealed (NB: My work bag is not computer shaped).
As I did all this tucking and hiding of maybe $1100 worth of goods, which we all basically take for granted, while sitting next to a purposefully obvious $400,000 (base model) item, I began to wonder about conspicuous consumption in our modern era. Why do people bother?
For donkey’s years evidence of class was upward mobility. You were supposed to judge a book by its hand-massaged, imported leather, custom embossed, and gilt cover. The smart people clocked the rich people, aped them, were accepted, promoted and succeeded. Good strategy.
During violent, displacing governmental changes; genocides; and every apocalyptic movie ever, the smart people hide all their wealth and pretend to have nothing. That way the usurping military regime, racist authoritarian crackpot, or other assholes who just think their life is worth more than anyone else’s, will think they have nothing, and when the smart people finally escape they can pay for help. Good strategy.
I suppose which ‘good strategy’ you employ has a lot to do with whether or not you think our current circumstances are more apocalyptic or status quo. And perhaps whether or not you believe people still look upon signs of ostensible ‘high class’ as uniformly positive.
So, do you conspicuously consume? How? Why? Is it important you?
No answers from me either way, but I do encourage you think about what you like to see in the world, how you might have us all live, and lead by example.
One two four two one two four five four six four two one.
There are three hundred songs on my tatty, first-gen iPod touch, which I can plug into my car. A semi-permanent state since iTunes ‘upgraded’ to something so slick I don’t really care to interface with it anymore. A musical museum of a few months ago when I was healing something -shit, I’m always healing something- and all that jazz was the right idea. I know every note of every tune, each burdened with moods, moments, stretches of road.
Accompanied me tonight, loud and rocking, playing softly as a ghost in my head through…well, look at that: another work day of the transactions that keep us alive. Those are my stats at the top. How many humans in my look, touch, breath, moment, from dinner with a friend at a reasonable hour that grew to her boyfriend and his coworker, then shrank to me and his coworker who held the Camel in her hand: precious, needed, but unlit we parted. Afraid to offend? Alone a few moments -five songs- to the next breathing entity of us, changing shape eight times in the four plus hours. If you must know, this is love. This air exchanged as we minutely grow old together, attention and presence given and taken freely.
I did not count the house party at Ellery and Harvard. The overspill of guests clumping in the cool night air on the porch and knobbed brick streets; hands occupied with cigarettes and drinks. But I admired those hips finding music leaking through the walls. I did not tally those waiting for green lights with me. Though I saw the trio of young women turn their heads to take me in, each at a time. We wondered together (you wonder about anyone, anywhere in a car at that hour). More humans but we did not share the air. Safe home. Begin again.
Awoke, stumbled into shoes and out the door early enough to walk with the last bit of the sunrise.
A bike burred past me, and there were few enough cars on the street I could hear the clockwork ticking of his gearing down the street, over the rise in the road.
Someone had been sick on the sidewalk. A sure sign the summer season is here, even if the weather demanded three layers and light gloves; would have welcomed my neck gaiter; watched my breath the whole time; witness the grass rimed with frost.
In the cemetery, the birds roost preferentially in the trees nearest the street. They were riotous with spring song. A Grand Central Station cacophony blurring their calls into dense foreground crackling. In the trees further along I heard the woodpeckers.
Pre-mornings are an inescapable stamp on my existence. Genetics and my father’s habit. Acquaintance with the dawn used to be a forced march. Now, anywhere near a city it is the only time I like for itself. A silence truly gilded.
I was forced out of bed by a dream I could feel melting, Dali-like into a nightmare. And once up, my typical mild meander toward consciousness seemed unbearably heavy. So I walked outside to grab lungfuls of the day’s first air; hover in the sadness and confusion of the broken dream state. It broke the fear that had been mounting.It brought the whirr to life of my internal difference engine.
On my last lap a rabbit ran before me, hopping off to bed. He paused at such an angle before a headstone –HIGGINS WILLDON– he appeared to be reading it, recalling them. ‘Good folk. Nice garden. No dogs.’ The sun was just above the horizon then, huge and bronze, laying radiant paths between the trees. “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
I have run out of optimism for this 24 hour period. It will get replenished. My blood sugar will go up, because I have food, a blessing it is too easy to ignore. At some point I will sleep and morning is a unique, inextinguishable benediction. In the course of this evening, there will be company that will lift my spirits. But in this moment, in this gratefully transient now, my mental wheels are spinning in a tired muddy rut, too often visited in the past several weeks: there’s some stuff I think I want in this life that I just might never get to. It might forever be beyond my reach, or the wrong shape for my available time, or it just may abruptly be gone in the wake of the continuous and escalating conflict (with truly devastating weapons) humans have sown in the last 50 years.
I’ve got the mantras down: Live each day as it comes. Think happy thoughts. Believe in yourself. It’s never too late for your dreams. I am as genuinely Pollyanna and glass-half-full as anyone who has met their darkest alternative and been glad to find their way back. But I am not infinitely courageous. Sometimes the lamp gutters to stillness for dark moments long enough to let doubt creep in. Which is where I’m standing now. Not frightened. Just concerned. Playing the what if game, but only sounding the sad alternatives.
Fretting that something may never happen is always my impatience speaking, and often my id shaming my ego for her practicality.
There is only one answer to the naively pining “But what if I never make it?” A jaded, possibly scoffing, gimlet-eyed query, “Yeah? So what?”
So what? So what are you going to do now? You’re still living and doing. So what? Are you disrespecting everything you gained and learned from the effort you made? So what difference does it make? And feeling bad for some unknown future outcome? So what the hell is that?
Yes. I take your point.
My new friends are
Quick to give thick hugs
in a moment of levitation.
Chest to chest
a dumpling wrapper of arms
warm, doughy, and tight.
Those dewdrops of weightlessness
to the thirst
of an under-tenanted heart;
and as ephemeral
as any gift from Gods.
have you formed the cave
of heads and necks
and upper torsos–
craning to be out of the way
curving to press together–
heard the ‘whuf’–
involuntary ecstatic relieved exhil/halation. Another human skin!
cooling breezes and shields up.
miles, years, infinity;
thicken to a perfect shroud
hermetic, glove-fitted, deceptively transparent.
To play act deep amity
thousands of miles away,
gill-less and gawping.