Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In defense of screamers

Brooks Salzwedel, Nest High

Pretty in Pink

Andie walks up to Blane in the hallway to confront him about reneging on their prom date. Previously, Blane succumbed to the pressure of the wickedly delectable villain, Steff, played by James Spader, to stop slumming it with Andie. Andie has no intention of letting Blane cut and run. Nope. She wants him to admit he's ashamed to take her out. Up to this point, Blane has been avoiding her so that he won't have to actually tell her he won't be ringing her doorbell, corsage in hand, on prom night. Sweet.

"What about prom, Blane?" (calmly)

"Oh Andie, I'm having a bad day. Can we talk later?" (eyes shifting)

"No. What about Prom?"

"C'mon. Why don't we just meet after school." (smarmy)

"No! What about prom?" (shouting)

"Andie, C'mon." (cowering)

"Just say it." (sternly)

"What?" (pushing back)

"Just say it. I want to hear you say it." (crescendoing)

"Andie, please. Alright?" (just above a whisper)

"I want to hear you say it." (sternly)

"A month ago I asked somebody else and forgot." (voice quivering slightly)

"You're a liar! You're a filthy, fucking no-good liar! You didn't have the guts to tell me the truth! Just say it!" (Andie pushes Blane back against the lockers, then hits him on the left shoulder, gritting her teeth, and screaming at him.)

"I am not lying." (resolute)

"Tell me! Just say it! Tell me!" (screaming)

"What do you want to hear?" (accusatory, raised voice)

"Just tell me!" (screaming)

"What?" (raised voice)

"You're ashamed to be seen with me!" (screaming)

"No I'm not." (shaking his head)

"You're ashamed to go out with me!" (screaming)

"No I'm not."

"You're afraid! You're terrified that your Goddamn rich friends won't approve! Just say it! Just tell me the truth!" (screaming, hitting Blane on the chest)

"You don't understand, and it has nothing at all to do with you." (calmly)

Andie abruptly turns and hurries down the hall. Blane calls out to her with tears in his eyes.

* * *

Whew, heavy. People tend to say "I'm not lying" precisely at the moment when they are lying. When you're backed into a corner it becomes a battle. Fight-or-flight instincts kick in. The right thing to do doesn't play into it at that moment because moral questions require forethought and afterthought. Someone calling your bluff leaves no time, and the only thing that matters is winning, or not letting the other person get your goat. Could it be the act of aggression coming from the perpetrator that leads a person to stick to his or her guns at all costs? No you did not get all up in my face with your so-called virtue. Or, does it have more to do with control? After all, this brazen individual has just crossed over an invisible line of demarcation and is treading on your super-ego. You get to decide. At least you get to decide first before anyone else is allowed in with their rights and wrongs, yeses and nos.

Being able to predict the outcome is vital in many situations, profitable even. It comes in handy if you play fantasy football. It comes in handy if you own beachfront property in Galveston and a hurricane forms in The Gulf. It also comes in handy when trying to decide if a new love interest is worth your trust.

In chaos theory, "dynamic systems . . . are highly sensitive to initial conditions. . . .Small differences . . . yield widely diverging outcomes . . . rendering long-term prediction impossible (Wikipedia). To exemplify how a small difference can yield a widely diverging outcome, scientist Edward Lorenz came up with the butterfly effect: "The flapping of a single butterfly's wings today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does" (Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos). Even though chaos theory is most often applied to science and mathematics, each of us has the ability to detect slight variations in human interactions that deviate from the norm, variations as subtle as the flutter of a butterfly's wings. We can sense that a widely diverging outcome may be around the corner and are compelled to know it ahead of time. Typically, we will either turn away and stop listening, or we will confront.

In the case of Andie and Blane, Andie chooses to confront. To Andie, the screamer, two things are reprehensible: the betrayal and the lie. The betrayal happened the minute Blane submitted to Steff. He became complicit in the act of stripping Andie of her identity and turning her into a faceless, nameless "other" for the purposes of silly high school social dominance. Really, Blane? Andie knew something was up when Blane altered his predictable pattern of behavior and didn't return her calls. Non-response is like a flashing yellow sign on the highway that reads, "Proceed at your own risk. Not liable for damages or injuries." For Blane, avoiding Andie's phone calls seemed like the thing to do. He'd sold his soul to Steff and abandoned his lady love--if he just topped off that pot of depravity with a nice, tight lid, maybe he could get away with it. And here's where the lie comes in with a trio of tactics: 1) Avoid: "Can we talk later? Why don't we just meet after school?" 2) Deny: "I am not lying." 3) Turn the tables: "What do you want to hear?" This one especially stings because he's edging to sully her credibility by implying there's no merit to her claims, basically saying she's a raving banshee.

Seemingly, the easiest part of the dark side is that getting away with it is dependent upon being right, and we will wrestle tenaciously to claim it like a prize. I'm right! I did what I did because I was right and therefore I don't have to face the consequences because there are no consequences because I'm right! Screamers have something to say about this. They aim to snatch that prize right out of the weasel's hand and take him down with a knee pick.

Andie's looking for a couple of things, here, the satisfaction of hearing him say it to her face. The lie rips through everything the two of them know about each other--the information they have gathered, absorbed, memorized, coded into language, and then has come back out in their movement and breath, glances and speech, gestures and affection. This way the two of them know, the way you know when you look into someone's eyes. The eyes tell you everything, don't they? She is able to walk away the minute he admits it, when he says, "You don't understand. It has nothing at all to do with you." That's what she wants most, a return to their internal language rather than the denial of it, him pretending as if it were never there at all.

Andie and Blane turned out alright. Blane told off Steff and apologized to Andie. They made out like crazy, illuminated by the headlights of Blane's BMW. A happy ending, the two of them are likely stronger for the trial because they got to see one another's mettle in the face of social pressure and moral questions. But what about the rest of us, hobbling without the benefit of a Hollywood screenwriter?

According to author James Gleick, "An essential property of chaotic behavior is that nearby states will eventually diverge no matter how small the initial differences are" (Chaos, The Making of New Science). In relationships that are troubled, are we pre-destined to split apart in wider chasm each time we return? I'm hedging the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Getting back to that butterfly, the flutter of its wings caused a change in the atmosphere that had a domino effect. One thing led to another, resulting in a tornado, or not. It makes me think of the familiar time machine plot line where travelers alter some tiny feature of the past and then return to a present barely recognizable. Time travelers are supposed to follow the laws of the land, to leave no trace. Our environments are not sterile; they are ever-changing. New and different facets enter the fray, redirect, and affect the evolution of our relationships every day. When I am feeling anxious, you step out of the office in the cold to call me from a park bench. For the first time, we sleep all the way through the night without reaching out. Missing my elastic band when I wash my face before bed, you hold my hair. I don't answer when you call. At times we are as open and true as Don Quixote on a quest. At others we cloak and shift with guile.

Our relationships are deterministic systems, ones in which "every action . . . produces a reaction . . . and every reaction, in turn, becomes the cause of subsequent reactions" (Wikipedia). In effect, our relationships are the sum of "cascading events," each one changing the outcome again and again. It stands to reason, then, that the possibilities for outcomes are almost infinite, even though we don't always move at such a pace.

Monday, April 18, 2011

perfectly ripe for pairing

I go to the nail salon every few weeks to see my favorite friend and technician, Quynh. We first exchange niceties about our families and dogs, but this is only small talk to stave off a direct inquiry into the status of our love lives. It’s as if through our note-comparison we hope one of us has found a seed. At times we trade off wearing a rosy glow, brief happiness that is visible from the vitality of new romance. But most of the time the look on Quynh’s face reads like the worry of someone in the world alone, someone who does not want to be. She is the most popular technician, always booked up at least a week out. She talks her customers’ ears off, makes fun of their crooked toes loud enough for everyone to hear, calls them on their bad habits, and then has something to fix it right up. She is as warm and comforting as easing into an old cracked leather seat. If you are lucky enough to sit in her chair, she will transfer a little bit of that warmth onto you.

The basic condition of the egoic self is one of a deep-seeded sense of lack, of not [being] complete, and it strives to fill [it] almost continuously, except for a brief moment when something [fills it up] and the lack is not felt. It looks to fill [a] hole that is always there [that says] I am not myself. I am not complete. I am not home. One of the main areas where it looks to fulfill that lack is in the area of relationship. The entire focus of the self becomes focused on one other person who is perceived unconsciously as the one who is going to complete me, make me whole. Almost an obsessive attachment forms to the image of that person. And that is called falling in love. Eckhart Tolle

Love is perpetually on the brain. Perhaps this is my lesson, a rather protracted, epic one. When I was twenty-eight my mother sent me to a reputable psychic in town. He was actually voted “Best Psychic” by readers of the local rag. Joe told me when he met me that I had a harpoon through my heart. I wasn’t surprised. The lack of subtlety to his vision wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I wasn’t surprised. That was the last worst one, the kind that is a tumult on the radar screen of your life. Joe told me I needed to hurry up, that if I didn’t take things seriously I would end up alone at thirty-five. He got that one right, too.

I find the act of pairing up with someone incredibly pothole-ridden. On the inside where it’s just me, however, I feel perfectly ripe for pairing. Innately I know how it’s done. Someone told it to me in a breath when I entered this world. And now I keep reaching for the negative space, the thing that isn’t there.

Glimpses of love come along as slight as an evening conversation. I recognize it and somehow know it won’t be staying long. I am like Quynh, alone yet I do not want to be. And what would Tolle tell me? I think it takes time and a willingness to let things come and go. I’m not looking for the false fulfillment, but rather the sustainable one, reliant upon the self as much as the pairing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

heaven on earth

My mother tells me in Heaven we have jobs uniquely designed for each of us. I imagine a span of bodies like a wheat field, toiling with purpose. The individual aspects have fallen away in the face of greater good, much like the features of Earth disappear as you zoom outward from a satellite image. You cross over into a new realm when you can no longer see faces, only evidence of their energy, their light.


Every freshmen in American universities is required to take Composition I and II, or versions of them. As a past instructor of these courses, one of the things we teach students is to speak, or write, with authority. This means that in your composition you communicate effectively and impactfully by presenting claims and backing them up with supporting evidence. Beyond that, you present your thinking on the matter at hand, offering something new to say about what others have said before you, always making sure to refrain from using logical fallacies that would hurt your credibility, such as claiming you have foreign policy experience because you live in Alaska and can see Russia on a clear day. I am skilled at this, argumentation and speaking with authority. When you teach a subject your students suppose you to be expert on it. I have passed the rigors of one-on-one interviews by Department Chairs, panel interview by English committee, and on-the-fly interviews over the phone when a Chair needed a class filled last-minute. I spoke with authority, well enough to get the job. I assured these fine people I knew what I was doing, and I assure you that I did. This was a subject with which I was astute. In turn, I was comfortable in my own skin, enough so that my students were able to imbibe that same comfort-level when it was their turn; my ease provided them with their own, an acknowledgment that it was perfectly okay to be themselves and work it out until they found their voice.

The other day at work (I no longer teach Composition), I was asked to explain what superhero I am. This was to be told to a group of 30 strangers in a lower-level conference room in a Vegas hotel. When my turn came, I stood up and went for it, but something was missing. It was my voice. People could hear me, but everything about the words I said and the way I expressed them was flimsy. I picked the Green Lantern. Your guess is as good as mine whether it came out Green Lantern, Green Hornet, or some other green concoction. The Green Lantern is a regular Joe with a power ring to help him do good in the world. He is part of a force and therefore not a loner. He has to be certain that he has the will power to wield his powers effectively or else his power ring will fail. I suppose the Lanterns are a little like the Guardian Angels or the Peace Corps. I like the idea of working with others toward positive ends, but none of this reasoning matters if you don't say it right, and by right I mean that when you stand up to speak you don't make people tap nervous feet waiting for it to end so that they no longer have to imbibe the discomfort-level coming from you.

Being at a loss for words is common enough. Wedding toasts, trying out for the school play, telling someone your feelings when you have no idea if they will turn out to be friend or foe, all of these situations can inhibit the bravado of one's voice.

In a little book called Eat, Pray, Love (maybe you've heard of it), Elizabeth Gilbert explains the Yogic Path. If those two words together make you want to run for the hills, you're not alone. "Yogic"? Never heard of it. But I'm pretty sure I know what it means. You see, I don't do yoga much. I'm a Republican if only in my exercise part of life. We do calisthenics. But back to Gilbert's wisdom. She explains that the yogic path "is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition . . . the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." She goes on to explain that "yoga is about . . . the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise."

A place of eternal presence, I think I'd like to go there. I think that's what was missing in the lower level of that Vegas hotel. I was ten steps ahead or ten steps behind. To stand still requires that you let people look at you. Sometimes you don't want them to look because they might see your discontent. But discontent isn't an Achilles heel, although almost all of us view it that way. Discontent can be that you are on your way somewhere, amidst your own process of exploration and development. It can be that you had a bad night's sleep, burned the toast, and were late for the meeting--you became entangled. To stand stripped away from every comfort but your own voice is to stand naked. It's a path right to your own light, whether dim or bright. To be eternally present is to be bright. It's our opportunity to connect most closely with others, to be collective, to allow the individual aspects to fall away.


When flying at night, as you come in for landing, you may have noticed an incredible phenomenon. An optical illusion occurs as you pass over the streets below. As the plane slowly descends, the street lights appear to be waving at you in gentle flicker. I saw this just recently and stopped to consider whether these lights were in fact flickering. I believed it for a moment, but then stepped back into my disbelieving scientific mind to recognize that street lights don't flicker unless we're stepping back into the 1800s. I then looked closer and could see the dark green bushels of the trees. For a brief delay they would blot out the light as the plane passed over. After detecting the source, I zoomed back out again to take in the span of the landscape. I saw hundreds of lights waving up at me, and beckoning me in.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

first love

"In your life I see everything that lives," Pablo Neruda.

At seventeen, when the world was still new, and just ten months shy of me getting the chance to take it on, I fell in love. He wasn't someone I had known. We were in school together, but our paths hadn't crossed. I asked about him through a friend. We were introduced, and that was it. I was swept up and away, just like any of you who have ever been in love.

Every love is unique. There's platonic love, can't-keep-my-hands-off-you love, bad-timing love, for-the-time-being love, you-are-the-sun-moon-and starry eyed love, jealous love, innocent love, I-can't-quit-you love. Donald and I were starry-eyed. He sees himself imperfectly, but not me. In high school he was big brother to all the girls. He took the time to listen until they were done, until they felt better. He had a hug waiting without fail. You knew he would be there, and while he was by your side you were filled up in his warmth. This was his capacity for others. For me, the one by his side, it was more intense. Quite simply it was the best, he was, our stolen moments were.

When it was time to go to college, life took its natural course. Eventually, we pried ourselves apart. By junior year, we moved on.

Over the years, there have been others, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes heartbreakingly. I've had the good fortune of reconnecting with Donald twice, once at the ten-year high school reunion, and again now that another ten years have passed. Each time I am overtaken with emotion and I wonder how it's possible to still feel so much. Beyond that first gift of being able to love before your trust gets crumpled in someone's hand, beyond sitting in the newness and anticipation of what life has waiting for you, what was this person and his love about?

I said that I don’t see his imperfections, but I do. I know they’re there. Donald battled the world, not me. He battled himself, I think, because he wasn’t able to rest until he lived up to his own expectations. But he didn’t battle me. He let me take off his bandages in the quiet of his room; he let me care for him; he let me in.

We carried each other; nothing was broken; there were no cracks. We kept each other whole. He wanted goodness in the world and for those around him, and in his life I saw everything that lived (Neruda).

A love like ours was no small miracle. I keep it with me, to the stars and back.

Mr. Starling, me, Donald

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

miracles on larkin street

Do you find things, or do they find you? Writer Heather Sellers has an opinion on the matter. She says, "I don't think we look or don't look for love; the heart is a receptor, always working. In spite of our best efforts to protect or hide it, love looks for us, regardless of how we orient ourselves." She's talking about love, but I'm thinking in general terms, about things. Miracles are happening this December, and I wonder if they've come looking for me.

Miracle #1: I'm getting off the couch.
Miracle #2: Inspirations, solid ones, are swirling about and continuing to find me, or I'm finding them.
Miracle #3 (which has been there as a constant for many, many years): friends keep appearing, the kind who add another branch to your family tree.

I had a feeling the other day. It was true happiness. I recognized it from before, but time has passed by for so long that I had forgotten what it felt like. Good times, don't get me wrong. But true happiness is different. It's unique, like true love.

The meaning of these items will reveal themselves in good time, but why not take a peek?

{from littlebrownpen}

{from love, jenna}

Dessert and tea? A trip to Morocco? Maybe, if you ask nicely. And another inspiration: this writer she calls herself, from NJ, who does stints in Paris for three months at a time, taking in the scenery, "the unique juxtaposition of ancient and modern, the appreciation for beauty, the attention to detail, and of course the food." Her name is Nichole Robertson and she writes a blog called, littlebrownpen. Some people call it taste level. I call it restrained, precise beauty. You have to remember to pause. Within the pauses is the space that allows us to see, to taste, and to feel.

{allimages from littlebrownpen, from Paris}

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a lovely next decade. My love and blessings to you.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

my mom's not a slut

I don't subscribe to the notion that you should wait until you're married to have sex. No surprise there. But somehow folks are surprised (and by folks I mean some women), when I reveal that I don't believe you should tell young girls not to give it up.

One fine day I was sitting in my living room with "Oprah" on in the background. The topic had to do with women and sex, not really sexuality or empowerment, more like the bad stuff. A few people in the audience seemed to be standing up giving testimonials. As Oprah grew more intent in her responses I started to listen. She seemed offended, set off, like you could see the heat rise up in her. Then she began to preach. Her basic message was that a woman's virginity, or her decision to have sex with a new partner, was a pearl to be placed in a box, tied with a bow, and put on a nice shelf. As I listened to her the heat started to rise up in me.

Girls: have you ever felt like your sweater had a big red "S" on it? "S" for "slut," of course, a nice badge of shame both you and your peers gave for taking the box off the dusty old shelf one night after you had too much vodka. And, girls, how long did it take you to shake the feeling of that brand for all the world to see?

Boys: I'm going to let you in on what it's like be raised a good girl. If you do things the right way, there's the promise of salvation. If you stray, it's Hell on Earth. Two paths. Your choice. Make it a good one. For the teenage brain this is a little too much weight to carry. Some girls get out from under the burden by choosing to save themselves. Others become high rollers, taking their chances with whatever the consequences may be, oftentimes bigger risks than they might normally take because there's no turning back.

The problem I have with all of this is that we draw a line in the sand and tell girls they are either good or bad, saved or sluts. While there surely must be fortitude that comes from saving yourself for marriage, or perhaps to a lesser degree for "the right person," there is also the by-product of making the rest of us into a bunch of sluts.

Every year a close group of my friends and their husbands/boyfriends congregate for a Christmas celebration. We break bread and open presents from our Secret Santas. This past year during the present opening, us girls got onto the topic of waiting until marriage. I quickly found myself the only one arguing to go ahead and do it. Why wait? I couldn't imagine any good reason. They wouldn't budge even though I kept pushing. I shouldn't have been surprised, really. They all grew up private school, and I'm a public school girl. But like I said, I kept pushing until one of them asked: "Wow, Vanessa, is your mom a slut?"

We aren't sixteen anymore, not twenty-five either. We're in our thirties, and we still carry the "slut" word in our back pocket like a trusty boomerang. It does the trick every time.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


I don't know what I'm doing here. It took thirteen hours to cross 800 miles west on I-10 up 285 toward Ruidoso, New Mexico, to pop a squat at a little spot on the tail end of the Rocky Mountains. Besides wanting to stop one thing and start another, I'm not sure what else to do. The problem is that I brought myself with me, and it would be really nice to get a break. Coworkers: Vanessa. Roommates: Vanessa. I'm looking at the woman in the mirror all the time and asking her to make a change, so I took her to the mountains to see what we could do.

The other day I caught a marathon of "No Reservations" on The Travel Channel, a show hosted by Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer, restauranteur, and pugnacious critic. Tony is really a philosopher, which makes his profession perfect--he immerses himself in visceral and anthropological pleasures by day and night. (The woman in the mirror just perked up.) Tony's show follows him on world travels, often to remote parts of Malaysia or whatever country he is visiting at the moment. He is an observer and participant, simply there to experience what he hasn't known before. At the end of the Malaysia episode, he gives an audio commentary that runs over scenes of him watching a helicopter come to pluck him from the longhouse where he's been staying. It's a summation of where he's landed by the end of his journey. He says that living in the village for those days had changed him. He says that travel should do that. He says that a place so far away and different than the world from which you've come is intoxicating. As you watch his mind traverse all that is new and see the twinkle in his eye, you want to know all the more what he's thinking. What's it like? And why is Tony so smitten, this world traveler and purveyor of the tastiest cuisine, from five-star to street vendor? Malaysia looks ordinary, the water muddy. It must be very close to the other side of his moon, and by definition, then, the apex of the journey.

The monotonous can be good, though. Habits can be good. People say it takes 21 days to make something stick. Hopefully you've chosen mountain biking instead of meth. What I know of this is that if you busy your body you can free your mind, through repetition of action you get a release. I'm sure we all experience this on different levels. For some, being surrounded by the comforts of home can shake off the stresses of the day. Others meditate. I'm more like Bourdain. It requires flipping me upside down like a salt shaker to find that release.

Getting back to the "changes you" part that Bourdain whispered, going some place new changes you, he says. Like this is religious wisdom from a guru, I eat it up. Or maybe it was the unmistakable look of blissful satisfaction on his face that told me it was true. Actually, it was simple recognition. I know it. When you get away from what you know for awhile, you see the world differently, see yourself differently. Possibilities expand so that you might have some new thought or direction or experience or feeling. Like Italy, don't you just want to dive right into it? Take me away! Escapes are not as much about what you leave behind as they are about what you gain. Progression, simple motion, is a guide to the apex.

And that brings me back to these mountains. It's not as different as I need it to be. Coworkers: Vanessa. Roommates: Vanessa. But, when I leave these four walls, slowly, trepidatiously out on my own to find the lake at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, and run along it, or chat up the locals, have a meal by myself, and open a new book instead of sitting in front of the television, a little something something happens. I'm going to keep at it a while longer.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

design yummy enough to eat

top image: watermelon blu dot strut tables in powder-coated steel

bottom image: duravit vero washbasin; reminds me of the ice cream in the middle of an ice cream sandwich.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I said goodbye to the one-hundred and twelfth one tonight. Of course not to his face. Via text. Something about leaving his stuff by the door. There doesn't seem to be any time for goodbyes anymore. Life's busy. Not like in airports where you see plenty of people lapping up farewells, but they are in love, not out. The first goodbye was Ian when I was four. When I was four I thought his name was "N," because that's what I heard people say. It's the South, and folks tend to add a few syllables to their letters. He was sweet, had dark brown hair and glasses and somehow had that magical quality of bringing out the experimenter in me. In Kindergarten it was Brock. He and I had a tumultuous relationship that centered around the playground. Skipping ahead, I have to give a shout out to Josh, who is still a very dear friend of mine today. We never made it official, but we've carried a torch for one another for almost thirty years now.

Truth be told I've had many relationships like the one with Josh. They're friendships, really. They make me feel safe. I like a male companion by my side. If it happens to remain platonic, I almost like it better because it's easier and more constant. I've never been good at making love last, even though I've gotten feedback as stand-out as, "You're cool as shit." When I was a young woman I wanted the world more than love. When I was thirty I wanted to be loved more than anything. Now I think I'm ripe for something that just might work. But what do I know?

The thing I think about today is how many people come and go. It's swift. They're gone before you've had the chance to figure out what your song is, what kind of Scrabble player you are, what your parents are like or where you come from. They take you in parts, until your whole self shouts loud enough to push them away again. I've adjusted to the piecemeal way of life. Romantic notions are more timid. I certainly don't expect much more from number one-hundred and thirteen other than some laughs. But if it happens, I'll be ready.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

travel journal (circa 1999)

Today is Monday, and I'm on my way to Dover Priory by train. Last night I stayed in the Hyde Park Hostel in Bayswater. It was a brief visit but a bit more lively than the last hostel. The place was full of French people who played Eminem and Lauryn Hill loud and smoked cigarettes, putting them out on the floor. In my room was Stephanie from Toulouse, Danilo from Sao Paolo, and Ash from South Africa. We talked about capitalism and desire, slavery and normalcy. My Spanish was better than I expected. I can understand everything. I'm just reluctant to form sentences of my own.

Danilo and I went for a walk and coffee last night. We talked some more about leaving home, stepping outside of routine and comfort, searching and challenging ourselves. I was restless all night. Didn't sleep well.

Coming back from Paris now. Had to take the Eurostar so that I could stay longer to have a chance to see the city on Tuesday. I love speaking French. I love the food and the architecture. We had good experiences with all the people --se bon. JT and Marie met us out for dinner last night for Basque food. The water closet had no toilet. Odd. I didn't eat enough food while I was there. We went to the Picasso Museum and the Pompedou. Great views of the city. A moment alone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


My plan to churn something out at least once each month tanked in April. I actually crafted a little number called "Crazy Bitches" (inspired by my client), but it didn't make the cut. Truth be told, that New Year's resolution to get something published, yeah, I've only made one pitch. You have to keep pitching. It's like acting. You try out, audition, stand in long cattle call lines, usually to hear "no" at the end. My cousin-in-law chatted me up one night about what it takes to be really great at something, a Cracker Jack. Apparently, according to some 20/20 segment he saw, it requires at least four hours of dedication per day to be great. That sounds about right. Think of Olympic athletes or Dancing With The Stars contestants, to excel it takes lots of practice. Most of us dabble. You need time for all the other things. We choose many instead of just one focus.

So, I'm wondering what it takes to make you sign on the dotted line and set all other things aside in favor of one endeavor. This one endeavor could be lots of things--medical school, a start-up business, trying out for American Idol, even marriage. I think it starts simply, with the idea that you want to be something. But what if everything is going great, the status quo is treating you right? That seems to be my problem anyway. I remember the point at which I chucked the career path and went to grad school. The thing that made me do it then was that I'd hit a wall at work. The promotion wasn't coming soon enough to suit me, and I had also always wanted, intended to go on for more schooling. That was the foundation, but it was the obstacle that made me do it. And it was no small endeavor; it was one of the toughest challenges I've experienced, but I never wanted to quit. I was committed. I wonder if that was because it actually was the right thing.

I don't doubt that this little wish of mine is right, isn't something I could do or be, but I do ask myself if it's the right time. I can write whenever. I can be a writer in my 40s or 50s, later in life when I have a New England cottage and a writer's nook overlooking a snow-filled meadow, hmm, when I have something different to say, a different vantage point maybe. Why now?

For those of you who know me, you know that I'm really not talking about writing at all. The things that hold us back or make us say "yes" without wanting to take it back, what are they? In May I'm derailed, a bit.

Monday, March 09, 2009

finalmente y otra vez

I wish I could reach the place I'm longing to go. I have been waiting. But then it seems the thing I have been waiting for no longer matters after years pass without it. Other things bring happiness in surprising ways. Writer Monica Ali describes the fickle nature of our desires in a revelation about different kinds of love. She says there is "the kind that starts deep and slowly wears away, that seems you will never use it up, and then one day it is finished. Then there is the kind that you do not notice at first, but which adds a little bit to itself every day, like an oyster makes a pearl, grain by grain, a jewel from the sand." Do you desire a well with fire that burns until it goes dark, or an ember, slow burning by your breath upon an open slate?

It's likely true that I don't have to choose, that Ali's two kinds of love inform each other and work as one. How would you know when the sand becomes the pearl if you didn't know what a pearl was? That doesn't mean that the two are ultimately the same. They fill different needs. The delight of running bare toes through cool grass is something I can feel now, just by remembering; it awakens you, but everyone eventually puts their shoes back on and steps onto the sidewalk. That pleasure is different from emotional constancy, building each day by another's presence. But the day-by-day can be a chore. Each one falters, and each one holds the other up.

I've gotten off on love, and I started with dreams and the happiness that fills empty space. That happiness feels good; it's a satisfaction with today. I used to battle longing for the things that weren't there. Now when I think of the future, if people ask me or if I ask myself, I'm okay either way. Both kinds of life are good. But even with that, I sometimes want more and wonder if I'm living in the in-between places. When your dreams don't find you, do you forget them, or do they disappear? I wonder if I'm supposed to remember something that slipped away long ago. And here I am again.

(artwork by Joy Young Shannon, RHS alumni; title inspired by Kate Zaluski's journey to the D.R. and back)