I wake up at 6, takes twenty minutes to persuade myself from bed. It’s still crushingly busy at work. I fell asleep on the warehouse floor at midnight earlier this week, while the boys kept humming on, til 1 am, 1:30, 2…
So sleepy. But this has been my plan: this is the morning I’ll ride my motorcycle in the street.
So far I’ve just been noodling around, practicing in parking lots. Scooting my Rebel along the greasy, cracked strip of asphalt back and forth behind our warehouse.
Almost running into ditches, parked cars, etc.
Goddammit I’m doing this. Because this is the day and this is my plan.
Unlocking the wheel, strapping my tank bag on. Wiping the seat off with a painter’s rag; embarrassedly waiting for the man sleeping in his van across the street to drive away before I hop on and duck-walk down our gravel driveway into the street.
FINE-C, sitting there warming up, watching the traffic. Lots more of it than I planned.
I’m suddenly so nervous I feel like I have to pee, maybe throw up, but when I don’t kill it on my first turn off the street suddenly I no longer give a shit about the cars, the people watchful inside them.
“You have a right to do this,” I keep saying- or hearing- in my head, and how funny that this is what it says to me, this voice I’ve never heard before- “You have a right to learn this.”
Killing the bike on turns; motoring happily around Hampton Park, taking up space at stoplights-
“You have a right to do this!”
I go chilling through a series of neighborhoods, azalea blooms fallen electric in the street, smashing through sleepy mirrors full of nothing, house after house with its eyes closed beneath the draping branches of wandering oaks,
and then manage to kill it somehow right in the middle of the (thank god empty) road. Swedish-looking middle-aged woman walking by with her tiny dog. Fussing my bike into movement again, I grin over at them: “I’m gonna do this!”
She flexes her muscle at me, smiling a little- “You’re gonna do this!”
And then I do, I ride away, very slowly, haha, down the block.
I don’t hit any cars and no cars hit me.
My Rebel 250 is just a gloriously sexy scooter, really; and I don’t look cool on it, not with my cat glasses, my big silver spaceman helmet, dorky braid hanging down under the back. Killing it dead and motoring around slow as a tired cow-
but I feel the tickling edge of something that must be freedom.
Ah, this muggy, lovely morning, and the air full of water. Sitting with coffee on the porch watching the sky turn blue, and my bike in the driveway grinning back at me.
Oh hey there, Thursday.
PS. still saving up for a camera. Almost there.
We’re standing on the train tracks out back of Logan’s warehouse, he’s opened it up to the night and everybody’s dancing, spilling out into the grass. Costumes, party cups, pretty lights.
“What’s your name again?” this guy says.
We’d been introduced earlier, and I didn’t actually feel like talking anymore, it was so beautiful and clear and starry- so I said one of those things you say to try to end a conversation. “Names don’t matter,” I said.
He turns at me, interested. “Oh, so we’re there, huh?”
I’m a bitch with a bone. “No, you don’t understand what I mean. They don’t matter; names are a social construct. To organize people. But names aren't any more real than societies themselves. Civilization, legislation, the idea of time. None of these things are real, consequential. I mean, we can call a mountain a mountain. That doesn’t mean it actually is a mountain. Right? You don’t need a name if you know who someone is.”
“Whoa,” the guy says to Logan. “She’s on the good drugs.”
In a long white wig and white rubber cat suit, and unable to resist a storyline.
“The beautiful thing about rationalization,” I said, pleased with myself now, sweeping my cup of champagne around, “you can rationalize absolutely anything!”
“I don’t know man,” Logan said to the guy, “she’s a writer.”
“Wish me luck, man,” the guy said.
“Fft, I’m married, it isn’t like that.”
“But we do need to organize people,” the guy said, ”or we can’t have a society. And society’s been pretty good, overall.- I mean-”
“Has it? I think America’s falling into decadence. I think we’re a failed experiment. Culture as an idea is lovely, but the majority of people, I think they’d be happier in migratory hunting societies.”
“Well, I just want to help animals, anyway,” he said.
“But it’s funny, right? How we feel empathy for animals because we think, oh, they’re innocent, they’re subject to the predations of man-”
“But for so much of humanity, it’s exactly the same thing. People are innocent all over, too. They suffer to the predations of those at the top. Everybody needs help, don’t they?”
“I guess, man,” he said- not realizing, I realize only now, the reason why we do need names.
Also why, maybe, sometimes you just answer the fucking question.
We miss the turn to the taco place, talking about dreams.
Earlier, after the meeting, I’d asked the guys if their dreams were ever… weird.
“I mean, like, narrative dreams, but ones that have nothing to do with you or your life. Sometimes I have these dreams that are like bizarre movies about other people, I can’t figure them out.”
Lane nodded. “Sometimes I’m outside my body, watching. But I’m always me.”
I fiddled with my shoe. “Last night I dreamt I was a man. With these two kids, and we were standing in this dark waterway, and somebody shot one of them. And then, while I was trying to save him, the shooter stole the other kid.”
“You know, in Freud and all those guys, everything in your dreams is a symbol. Even if they don’t obviously have to do with your life.”
Down on my knees in that dark water, weeping.
My love and my art.
Chase two birds and both will fly. Is this true?
“Isnt it amazing,” Lane says in the car, “how those early psychiatrists first came to analyze dreams, to understand all the symbols? I guess there's certain things that are true across all cultures. But discovering that- being the one to put it all together- wow.”
Andrew pulls up next to us at the stoplight. He's on the motorcycle, all in white, wearing sunglasses against the wind and his long hair flying wild. My husband looks as happy as a bird with a french fry.
“This place is nine minutes away, my ass!” he says.
I reach out to pat Andrew’s head through the window. “Ssh, ssh. All right then, fuck the tacos.”
So we go back to Lane & V’s, and the boys make us chicken-fried rice. It’s been weeks since we’ve all been together. It feels wonderful.
V settles back into the sofa with a sigh. “My family!” she says, smiling around at us. My best friend, radiant in pink pajamas- wadding up and throwing little balls of paper for the cat to chase. Andrew falling asleep on the sofa between us, Lane tipping back in his chair, telling stories. Family. Yes.
My parents had been in town for a few days that week.
Showing them around Charleston, all the thousand little things I’d known for years they would love if they could only see them.
And having them with us, seeing them love it all-
I can’t catch the right words for this.
There was a moment in one of the gardens, my mom smiling up at the trees, that I hope I’ll remember all my life.
Saying goodbye to them outside our house, I started bawling.
33 year old woman bawling like a kid, barefoot in the street. I’d felt it coming on, how hard it was going to be. To not know when we’d all see each other again- and may not ever here, ever again, in this place where they’d been so happy.
How lucky to have such love in one’s life, that saying goodbye should be so hard.
And how fucking painful.
I remember the first time I came across Buddhist thinking. My horror at the idea that one should renounce all intensity of feeling, as everything is but a dream. So that you don’t cloud your mind with the pain -or the wonder, either- since it is all for naught.
Truth is Not a Toy. That was a great headline in the NYT this weekend.
Those Buddhist truths-
I know I let myself feel everything too much. That this is a choice.
But I don’t want to change. I like cherrypicking from wisdom texts, and living my life by them- for a while- but at bottom, let’s be honest, I don’t ever have any intention of withdrawing from the edge, of trying to protect myself from the pain of feeling everything, of experiencing everything. Even though I know it’s all meaningless, really...
Making one’s own meaning. I wonder. Does that make a toy of the truth?
No one honks when you take yourself a dog’s age fishing at the stoplight. We all got nothing but time.
Trading recipes with the clerk and other people in line at the grocery.
Saying heya and how are you to everyone you pass on the sidewalk, meaning it. Both of you slowing down to smile & wave as you go by.
Bumping into friends, everywhere, all the time.
The unblinking acceptance of eccentrics and quirks; the embracing thereof.
Old trees. Puppies.
The constant, delicious frisson of high and low culture, lushness & decay, wealth & poverty. We live in the richest, most fragile of soils. Charleston is a hothouse flower indeed.
My gorgeous, lustful, hothouse flower Holy City. Give us our sins again.
Brutal days: full-on busy season, and we’ve just swapped warehouses in the midst of it. 15, 16 hour days. Sand fleas, dropped beams, lost keys. Thank god for music.
If you give up on absolutely everything outside work; if you just work til you drop- eventually you surface into sunlight, you look around, and by god you finally fucking got it done. We’ve almost completely settled into the new place, should be more or less operational again. We have lost scarcely a workday, while tripling our footage!
Tomorrow he leaves for a conference in Africa, I’m manning the monster while he’s away. Which is fine except that ....
I think too much. My trouble, when there’s not a chance at the border of the workday to write, is that inevitably I turn all David-at-the-dentist- “is this forever? Ah, I’m wasting my life!”
Because when I don’t write, I start to panic that I’m giving up, giving in.
But there isn’t any way out of this but through. If I can just turn off my brain for a while and fucking grind. Things will slow down again in August or so. A person can do anything for half a year. And of course, I'll find the time to work on stories. I'll make the time. I always do.
And I shouldn’t worry. It’s a cowardly thing, anyway, worrying.
Now I’m worrying I worry too much.
Andrew slips into bed next to me. “They’ve got another one on the way-”
I can hear the smile in his voice, I curl up against him. “Oh yeah? They must love having a family, that’s great.”
“You think you’re ready for kids, beem beem?” he says, teasing me; he knows I’m not quite ready yet.
If we started a family, unless I was making enough from my books to justify writing at least part time, my little obsession would go out the door. There just wouldn’t be enough time.
Oh, my sweet love: I want to give you a family, I do, but my heart’s blood goes cold at the idea of giving up. I don’t know who I’d be, what I’d be, if I gave up. I don’t think I have it in me to give up.
But at what cost this selfish, stupid obsession? It’s a folly of course. It isn’t even real. He is real. The warehouse is real.
I think about college athletes. The ones who didn’t make pro, but who tasted it just the same. You can’t ever forget that taste.
And yet... even if I can’t be an artist, I can live my life as a work of art. I could do that much.
My Andrew does. He does this like breathing. This boundless generosity in him; this lust for life he has.
But me, at work, somehow I allow myself to feel so beholden to tasks; I hardly remember to breathe. It’s just grind, grind, grind. End of the workday: shower, we make dinner, fall into bed. And that’s it. A whole day, gone. Weeks, months. Y----s. Oh, it’s the scariest thing.
What a brat I am, to want more, when really we are so lucky, so safe, so healthy. Etc, etc.
But this fifteen year old girl in me. When will she die?
I love these things, the details of him: how my husband’s beard presses to a point against his pillow, my husband whose seeming ethnicity seems to shift wherever we travel. He is German-Italian, but manages to look Hispanic, Turkish, Moorish, any number of things. His skin has changed over the years we’ve been together, a beautiful smooth leather, creasing slowly where he smiles, where he frowns.
You know the expressions you habitually make carve tiny marks against your skull? That’s how they do those facial reconstructions, they can tell your favorite expressions from marks in the bone.
I imagine the marks like worm tracks under the skin…
Five years ago, when we were in Ukraine everyone thought I was from there. Odessa. They’d speak to me quickly, conspiratorially; I couldn’t respond, and then they saw my flash of American teeth.
Once a man came out of a crowd and poked at my stomach, yelling at me. The same sentence over and over again. He was angry he couldn’t make me understand. Some transgression I’d made- or maybe he thought I was someone else- I wonder about it still.
Five years ago.
Interesting the theory of Eternalism, that all moments in time- all those days, each one a burrow, a tiny worm’s track- are equally real. Each one, future and past.
We are alive so briefly, think of it, sure, all our days might as well be simultaneous.
I close my eyes to remember, really remember that day in the market. I can almost go back.
Then I open them. 6 am. Coffee and pages before another long, vanishing day at the warehouse.
The bright colors of the market gone five years, that man is perhaps dead, Maria & Yevgeny are divorced and the pomegranates are all eaten.
December 3rd, 2016. From a letter-
Somehow the days have quite dissolved, and we’ve been married a week. The time has run through our hands like water: how bittersweet that happiness is the fleetest experience of all- and our wedding day was the quickest, most transcendent experience I have ever had. It was heavenly. Setting sail on our very own moon river. And off we go.
Right now, at this moment, this apex: counting our blessings feels like counting the stars.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
All our love,
Paula and Andrew
From the bad old days to our happy, wild, perfectly-imperfect apex, man, who'da thought. Then again... some people saw us coming :)
Andrew is one of my younger brother's dearest friends, and has been for most of their lives.
This is a younger brother who, as Andrew always tells it, prefers to keep his peas and carrots separate. So fourteen years ago, when Andrew started talking about seeing me on a porch at a party, talking about 'anti-establishment-tarianism, or whatever', Robert was pissed. I guess they knew it before I did, that the attraction between us would be instant and irrepressible, once I only started looking back.
My Andrew is wild-hearted, deep-spirited, with a wolfish soul to match my own, but he is loyal as the rising sun. Our alliance is the one I've always dreamt of, "like the sun and moon, free to go far from one another, yet crossing every night— each forever circling the other. That is a real marriage— a marriage made of eternity. Not a metal band simply wrapped around fingermeat.”
The times when I think he understands me least are the times he knows me best of all: he is strong enough to give me the room to fuck up and figure it out, so that each of us is growing up all the time.
He's the cleverest, craziest being I've ever met, my very own trickster King, and anyone who thinks he's just out for a lark always ends up loses their shirt- but grinning anyway.
Because Andrew is that rarest, lovelist creature of all. The irrepressible Coyote-King you end up admiring even when he's just bested you. For his sheer, shameless joy in just being alive, feeling good- and always closing.
He lives his whole life as a work of art. I fell in love with him over the dinner table, that very first date. Sure enough, our second or third (you know, blurry) was looking for our first apartment. And crazy-love or not, now here we are, with blessings.
Andrew put it best. As we stood up in front of our friends and family (and that's my dear, beloved, beloved father up above, marrying us, right after my wonderful brother David walked me up to Audrey Hepburn's reindition of Moon River):
"I can't promise this will be easy, but.... there's a poem I'd like to read to you, from Pablo Neruda:
'I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.'"
I love you so, my sweet beem beem.
As I said to you then, I'll say it again here- you are my sun and moon, the stars in my sky. I can't wait to spend the rest of my life making yours a heaven on earth.
And nah, it won't be easy- but you know that already- oh well! We'll hold each other tight.
And yes, Ry Calhoun from Candlemoth is based on Andrew! Go buy it already!
My honey's coming to visit next week!
He's been traveling all month: Casablanca, Rabat, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Amsterdam. Running around with school heads and crazy-pants vendors; they're planning to throw a wild cocktail party in Capetown this spring. A jazz band, a mansion, a pool with a view. Shipping school supplies to international American & British schools; shit, who knew? He's been building this wonderful thing out of his blood-sweat-tears forever, and now it's paying off. Half the year working his tail off in his warehouse, half the year rubbing shoulders- I'm awfully proud of my man :)
And man, it's almost November: we haven't seen one another since August when I rolled out for New Orleans. This is far and away the longest we've ever been apart. I've missed him so badly. It's given me nesting fever.
“The two of you like the sun and moon, free to go far from one another, yet crossing every night— each forever circling the other. That is the real marriage— a marriage made of eternity. Not a metal band simply wrapped around fingermeat.”
When he gets in I'm gonna surprise him with a belated birthday feast. All his favorites at once: homemade soup dumplings, mac & cheese, jello shots, an Elvis trifle. Mill around town together a couple days, maybe check out some hot springs. Naked and steamy in the falling snow: all my favorites at once :)
Then we've got to run down to Tucson, where his childhood bestie is getting married. So many beloveds there we haven't seen in too long. It'll be wonderful, and probably I won't write a word.
The White Place.
John Collier called this part of the country The Red Atlantis, and it does have a lost, enchanted quality. "Ha, it’s quarantine!" somebody here called it, recently. (The man with the storyboard tattoos.) But it pulls at you, it strikes you.
There’s that quality in O’Keeffe’s work, too. A certain- deepening. Of color into form, form into flowering; other times, of that just about to happen. That was what it was like, standing there outside her place in Abiquiu. Clouds and mountains and fields and mountain roads, and so lovely to be in all of it, deepening. You wanted to stand there silent a long time. That dreamscape of colored air, everything so open, so near and far at once.
I’m so glad you’re coming to see me, and to have this with you in it. And then to have it in us both, after. But of course it was you, adventuring in Tucson, who said, oh, let’s move here- to this corner.
Oh these lovely corners, dancing edges! Everything beautiful seems to happen at the edges; wild things come from the edges. And what is wild is beautiful, at least to you, to me, who are uninterested in taming things, beveling rough into smooth...
Waiting for you, my heart with your heart,
Snow Q xxx
In other news. To have this gift of time, three months of Sundays! All Babes is coming along beautifully. I've got four more scenes to hit before I have to stop and research. A huge portion of the
novel has turned out to take place in 1950s Charleston.
So my last weeks of residency: snow on the ground and these gorgeous wild-open skies, I'll be here, pen in hand, books in my lap. Eating lentils. Tapping in.
"More than Sixty"- Jack Gilbert
Out of money, so I'm sitting in the shade
of my farmhouse cleaning the lentils
I found in the back of the cupboard.
Listening to the cicada in the fig tree
mix with the cooing doves on the roof.
I look up when I hear a goat hurt far down
the valley and discover the sea
exactly the same blue I used to paint it
with my watercolors as a child.
So what, I think happily. So what!
This is a wild soul-book