who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
"... If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain,
We 'd hunt down love together,
Pluck out his flying-feather,
And teach his feet a measure,
And find his mouth a rein ;
If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain"
- Charles Swinburne
In 2008 I picked up a book of Osho's after reading Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
As an atheist, nondualism made sense to me, and tantric buddhism felt like home. I remember a passage- which of course I can't find now- about moving into pain. Going deeper inside it, exploring it, never running from it. I loved that. I made that part of me.
It's full of meditation techniques- 112, actually. One of my favorites you do right before you fall asleep. You lie there, eyes closed, fully relaxed, and begin remembering your entire day, backwards. Step by step. Kissing your sweetheart, brushing teeth, making dinner together, the whole thing. It's strangely cinematic, gives you this incredible sense of the fullness of life. The heart spills over. He also recommended doing the same technique but going backwards over longer stretches of time- weeks, months, years. Your entire life.
Its fairly dense, not the kind of thing you should read all the way through right away. Better to read a passage, live with it a while, read another passage. Incorporating the pieces that move you. After a few years the book got packed up, and I didn't read from it any more.
This past weekend my Z mentioned Osho. It had been so long since I'd thought about him that at first I couldn't place the name.
"Meditation techniques, the book of secrets," Z said.
I almost jumped out of my chair.
"Bah, I love you, I love that book!" Later we're all at our house, middle of the night, I'm pulling it out again.
I'm reading it again, sitting again. I read a passage, and then meditate. Lately I've been disappearing entirely while I sit. And sometimes, visuals.
Last summer, I had an out of body experience that made me question my atheism. I became aware of something within me, separate of my flesh- a kind of watery, pulsing current.
It lifted -I lifted?- not terribly far, but enough to startle me. Afterwards the thought came to me, very firmly, that I ought to stop drinking caffeine, eating meat. Meditate longer, more often, to make myself 'resonant'.
You know, woo-woo type thoughts. Of course I didn't do any of that.
But after living with the experience a few days I did contact a few religious friends to ask them about their faith. At first they were hesitant to talk about it.
Andrew and I have always been such jubilant atheists, crass. We must have said things so many times, cutting off conversations.
(Sap drying on broken stems- ah, the associative mind!)
You feel so exposed, talking about these secret, important, so-private beliefs. Especially when you think someone is likely to scoff. They are so tender, these beliefs, these questions.
But now I wanted to listen, really listen. Lovely conversations.
One friend told me I should believe whatever I wanted to believe. "Don't you think it would be comforting?" she said.
"I guess I don't want to be comforted."
I wanted to know. Ah, but faith is trust. Trust in the face of difficulties, obstacles, evidence otherwise.
I'm open-hearted, you know, but not trusting, not by my nature or inculcation.
You can really only trust people who are brave. Most people, lovable or not, are cowards at the bone.
(Talking with GVG recently, wondering about the history of doubt. Centuries of conversations we wish we could overhear.)
Andrew's response to all this has been irritation, bemusement. He signed up with an atheist!
Isn't it funny how our lives rhyme with the lives of our parents? My mother is devout, my father's always had this fond skepticism regarding her faith. At times painful for her.
When I tried to draw my dad out about faith, his response was to shut down, too.
"You've taken biology," he said, irritated. End of story.
But there's so MUCH story to it- thoughts, experience, heritage. What did his father believe, I wonder? I'll have to try bothering him about it again.
When I thought about it, the only real conversation I can remember with him about faith was when I was in college. We were out on the boat, talking about (our mutual, then) absence of faith, which devolved into him telling me a story about how he'd sawed open skulls in med school.
He didn't expound on it much, but the implication was that there are no mysteries. Bone and ganglion, growth and death, yes. But no mysteries.
It is logical to believe we are no more than meat puppets. All this around us simply an enjoyable accident, meaningless except for the meanings we choose to give it.
And for a long time- since the sixth grade, when I looked at our priest and thought, 'huh, who the hell are you?'- that is what I believed.
But now I wonder.
Suppose everything is holy.
This passage in Osho:
"We are not normal and natural. We are absolutely abnormal, unhealthy, really insane. But because everyone is like us, we never feel it...
...if you take sex as you take your hands, your eyes; if it is totally accepted as a natural thing, then tantra will have an appeal... [but] Western psychology has come to a conclusion that the basic human disease is somewhere around sex, the basic insanity of man is sex-oriented....Man has gone wrong only because of his attitudes about sex. No attitude is needed. Only then are you natural. What attitude have you about your eyes? Are they evil or are they divine? Are you for your eyes or against them? There is no attitude! That is why your eyes are normal.
....Take some attitude- think that eyes are evil. Then seeing will become difficult. Then seeing will take the same problematic shape that sex has taken..."
An interesting exercise, yes?
I've been swallowed up in my manuscript. Foggy, distracted, happy I finished up another pass, going over it again. Feeling good about it, neglecting just about everything else.
Still keeping up on the journal but no time to polish it, to make it legible to anyone but me.
"The night is different for Juliet because the stakes in the night have suddenly soared. Not only has the night changed but also the balcony has transformed into another stranger. Suddenly the balcony is more protecting, more frustrating, more silly, more important, and how the balcony demands to be touched or rejected, leaned on, stretched over, sat on or hidden behind, will all have changed utterly. Irina never transforms, Juliet never transforms, the I never transforms; it is everything else that changes, like the inconstant moon..."
"Juliet's dress changes for her, Juliet's fingers change for her, Juliet's face changes for her. There is now more at stake for Juliet in whether or not she blushes, whether or not she feels the wind blow colder as her cheeks get hotter, whether or not the air is more difficult to breathe..."
"Actors see with their entire bodies... movement does not originate within. Movement comes from the thing we see."
-from Declan Donnellan's fascinating book, The Actor and the Target. (I heard an actor I admire reference it during an interview. Also very interesting.)
It's good to have on hand (at elbow?) while editing. Helps me get into my characters' skins in new ways.
Speaking of channeling, read this. My friend Joe Yelverton is a spellbinder.
How did you start writing?
From the Paris Review.
When I close my eyes, there will always be a part of me still seeing your dreams.
Last month, after reading The Names by Don Delillo, I was sorry to leave his head. I went googling about to find more bits of him, and found an extraordinary conversation he had with the Paris Review.
I'm fascinated by the process of art, and was delighted to have a chance to peek through his window:
"Discarded pages mark the physical dimensions of a writer’s labor—you know, how many shots it took to get a certain paragraph right. Or the awesome accumulation, the gross tonnage, of first draft pages. The first draft of Libra sits in ten manuscript boxes. I like knowing it’s in the house. I feel connected to it. It’s the complete book, the full experience containable on paper. I find I’m more ready to discard pages than I used to be... I used to find ways to save a paragraph or a sentence, maybe by relocating it. Now I look for ways to discard things. If I discard a sentence I like, it’s almost as satisfying as keeping a sentence I like. I don’t think I’ve become ruthless or perverse—just a bit more willing to believe that nature will restore itself...."
"...There’s a zone I aspire to. Finding it is another question. It’s a state of automatic writing, and it represents the paradox that’s at the center of a writer’s consciousness—this writer’s anyway. First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere. But rarely for extended periods, for paragraphs and pages—I think poets must have more access to this state than novelists do. In End Zone, a number of characters play a game of touch football in a snowstorm. There’s nothing rapturous or magical about the writing. The writing is simple. But I wrote the passage, maybe five or six pages, in a state of pure momentum, without the slightest pause or deliberation."
This section was of particular interest; I've done it before, sometimes with just a sentence, or a page, but not rigorously, all the way through, just a single paragraph at a time. It's an incredibly helpful technique. I've started doing it now, as I go over my draft of Evening's Land again...
"When I was working on The Names I devised a new method—new to me, anyway. When I finished a paragraph, even a three-line paragraph, I automatically went to a fresh page to start the new paragraph. No crowded pages. This enabled me to see a given set of sentences more clearly. It made rewriting easier and more effective. The white space on the page helped me concentrate more deeply on what I’d written. And with this book I tried to find a deeper level of seriousness as well. The Names is the book that marks the beginning of a new dedication. I needed the invigoration of unfamiliar languages and new landscapes, and I worked to find a clarity of prose that might serve as an equivalent to the clear light of those Aegean islands. The Greeks made an art of the alphabet, a visual art, and I studied the shapes of letters carved on stones all over Athens. This gave me fresh energy and forced me to think more deeply about what I was putting on the page. Some of the work I did in the 1970s was off-the-cuff, not powerfully motivated. I think I forced my way into a couple of books that weren’t begging to be written, or maybe I was writing too fast. Since then I’ve tried to be patient, to wait for a subject to take me over, become part of my life beyond the desk and typewriter. Libra was a great experience that continues to resonate in my mind because of the fascinating and tragic lives that were part of the story. And The Names keeps resonating because of the languages I heard and read and touched and tried to speak and spoke a little and because of the sunlight and the elemental landscapes that I tried to blend into the book’s sentences and paragraphs."
Failing and Flying
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
I'm working on someone else's computer today. My operating system crashed! Hoping my little electronic creature has not come to the end of his triumph, because he and I sure haven't gotten very far yet. Hellish humpday...
March 31st, 2014. I'm driving with my mom to visit my brother and his wife. Squabbling with mom on the drive there- she wants me to buy health insurance. I refuse to do so when the deductible is so ridiculously high that it's cheaper to pay out of pocket. The deductible is $6,000 -a big deal to a starving artist, with monthly payments for the insurance at $300. Nothing covered at all until $6,000 deductible is reached.
"But what if you have an accident?" people say. Fear mongering. I realize things happen, but I prefer to take my chances and live frugally, freely. Next year I guess I'll have to cave in and get one of these BS policies, as the penalty fee will be so much higher then.
Suddenly she goes quiet, collapsing the way she does, and I feel terrible.
Her life has become so anxious. Trying to take care of everyone, to hold everyone up, even from afar. She can't help but pick at the things she worries about.
I spend the rest of the day trying to make it up to her. All I can really do for her is be loving, be supportive. Earlier in the week we'd had another squabble. I was upset about a decision she'd made, or anyway had let happen, which I thought might put their safety in danger. (Note: Speaking behind veils here, for reasons which will become apparent below.)
The best thing and worst thing about coming home is finding accumulated sameness...
After that squabble I'd resolved to just love them, to not speak out of place, but damn, I am horrible at that. I've inherited an alternately controlling/worried nature, which so often pushes away the very thing you are trying to protect. Refuge in stories-
Brother's new house is a beautiful cottage in a gracious neighborhood. Their daughter at the door, watching my mother run up the sidewalk to her. She squeals and spins around with glee, clings to my mom's legs soon as they open the door.
Baby rosebud mouth, puff of blonde hair. Happy baby, thoughtful baby.
"I would like a beer, please," I say to Thomas. He gets out two and we put them in the stroller.
There's six of us kids. I'm the eldest, and he is the eldest of the boys. History buff, cycling enthusiast. Chiseled face, thoughtful, speaks measuredly. He's one of those extraordinarily good people- teaches history at an alternative high school. Does his best to be decent, to be kind, and he is. He works hard at everything- being a good father, husband. Homeowner, citizen, teacher.
We walk to the park. While mom walks Claire around by the hands, twee little ruffians industriously begin throwing pebbles down the slide. Claire runs around squealing. Stops to observe the ruffians. What does she see? Tickled, she runs away, squealing again. She picks up their dachshund's leash. Tolerantly, Freddie lets her walk him. They waddle together back and forth over the grass.
Talking with my brother and his lovely wife about free play spaces, parenthood, parents. Life. He asks how Andrew is doing. They were both friends with him before we started dating. I say, "he's doing great," and then, “I love that you guys knew him from before.”
“Oh, yeah,” Thomas says. He kicks the mulch. “I mean, we did. But he was always an enigma.”
A conundrum wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma, that’s one of Andrew’s favorite sayings.
“I’ll tell him you said that. He'll love that." Writing this now, I guess it probably didn’t make sense to Thomas why anyone would be pleased to be thought of as an enigma, but he let it pass.
We go to a sandwich shop, have dinner. Claire picking off tiny pinches of her sandwich with her fingernails, eating it by increments so small I wonder how she can even taste it.
April 1st, Monday. I fly home. My earlier flights, coming into the Midwest were much more neighborly; I always know when I’m on a flight back to Charleston. A man standing in line ahead of me, bragging about his girlfriend, how much she pays in taxes. Hmm. I try to read Tortilla Flats but I’m too sick to read, and anyway later I realize I don’t like the book, can’t finish it. My body keeps seizing with the cough that's gotten worse over the weekend. I'm squeezed in between businessmen, coughing hard into my elbow, terrorizing them, poor guys.
End of the flight apologizing to them blurrily for it. Keeping their arms clear of me and my germs, the men nod and smile, averting their eyes.
A relief to see Andrew, to throw my bag in his trunk and my arms around him. The smell of his beard, of his sweat. He’s exhausted from work at his warehouse, bone-tired. We surge home, dog pile on the couch, order Indian food. Its indescribably delicious. Hot and rich. Spicy, salty, everything I want.
“Jesus, it’s good to be home.”
“I missed my beem,” he says.
April 2nd. Blur of work. In the evening Cherry comes over and we head out for one of our long, aimless walks through the downtown neighborhoods. I'm wearing lipstick, sunglasses. I don't have my contacts in, and the shapes of things is pleasurably indistinct. Bleeding into one another, soft masses of green, of pink and white. Nearsightedness comes with a blissful sense of privacy, as if no one can see me, either.
She’s had a horrible breakup. A brief, intense love affair with a college girl, a gorgeous yogi with long hair, frenetic ways. I really, really liked this one. She managed to possess this weird stillness even in the center of all her dancing, jumping about, as though she were simply standing there, while you watched her fly around the room from one friend after another. Sitting in laps, backflips, nervous hostess, guest. Afraid that people didn’t like her, but everyone always did. She was infectiously lovely. Sincere. Also a little erratic. She'd been lashing out at Cherry over a period of days, sabotaging things. Miscarriage of a love affair. Afraid to be loved, afraid what it would mean if someone accepted her for all that she was. She wanted to be perfect, I think, an irreducible whole, but if someone loved her even as a pile of puzzle pieces, that meant maybe that the whole became less real, or maybe wasn't worth striving for- and what then?
My friend was deeply hurt. She cares so much about her favorite people. A fierce loyalty, devotion. We're talking, walking, blooms scattered all over the cracked sidewalks. Dusk falling. We get hungry, eat at the Park Cafe, sitting on a picnic table outside. Christmas lights. I have lentil soup and a coughing fit. She has chicken and a beer.
That night I keep Andrew up half the night with my coughing. If this was a movie I’d be dying.
April 3rd, 2014-
I got wonderful notes about the previous post here. Old friends, mostly. No matter where we go we will always be from Lawrence. Those comfortable streets, the freedom we had. Night time, cornfields. Place binds us.
Text from Milo: “Just read your entry about your old Mass St apt… kind of chilling”
I write back. “You were on the counter and climbing out the window :) Have you been back to yours?” We make plans to call later.
I go to yoga with Andrew. When I come out my phone is full of missed calls, panicked texts. In my entry I'd written about a family member in a way she found upsetting. Looking at it again, I saw how what I'd written was thoughtless, reductive, cruel. I took it down-
I'd wanted to illustrate that our family is full of different and sometimes abrasive parts, although it is a woven whole. But in doing so I reduced her to a cheap, unnecessary cliche. Ah, so thoughtless. And in many ways we hardly know each other- she was blindsided by what I wrote. And why wouldn't she be, when we've never talked about it? Unfair of me.
After all, they did not ask to be written about- it was naive of me to think they wouldn't care. I use these pages to work through private thoughts- as my external memory- but when those thoughts concern people who are private, where is the line?
It is possible to write about anything, everything, without hurting anyone- inexcusable to bring needless pain into the world- and yet I did.
It’s important to always write exactly what you mean. The saying goes “show, don't tell,” but in “showing” with a throw-off line, I wasn't revealing what I'd intended at all. I revealed myself as casually monstrous, willing to exploit someone behind their back for an effect.
I took something that did not belong to me- her sense of self- and warped it, maybe forever.
The person in question has always been magnanimous and kind. We were kids together together. Weekend afternoons playing in the creek at our grandparents house, cops and robbers on the golf course. She’s a beautiful, hard-working person, building a name for herself in her arena.
She’s also a part of a different world from mine, one that is not oppositional. By trying to illustrate them as such, I perpetuated the divide that's always made women weak- our reluctance to all stand together, to support one another.
Maybe the over-culture is right to look askance at weirdies like me- tattooed, living in sin, following our own private directives. We’re not trustworthy, maybe. We are the villagers outside the castle, throwing rocks.
rebels without a cause, right?
Especially if, in the end, everyone loses everyone-
or if, alternatively, we are part of some greater All. Maybe we’re all a part of the same thing, the same underbelly, or animating force. Which means that maybe I gnawed at my own tail- or-
if this is it, if this world is the chance that each of us have, then we’re all bound to live up to our potential.
It feels so strange to be in the wrong. To live in the wrong. I try to live so that I can always be certain I’ve done the best I can. Yesterday I made an error I can never take back. I am sorry.
“But I don’t think you are,” her voice says, strongly.
But I am.
Carve it open- lift it out- this beating ego. And yet it crawls back within. We learn I am somewhat monstrous, which is useful, the point of this exercise. Do I cast ego aside, or do I embrace it?
In any event, must take care to write only what I mean, exactly what I mean. To write about all characters with fullness, both fiction and non.
"...artists hatch from a cuckoo's egg." -Tad Friend. Article about Daren Aronofsky. It's good, you should read it.
From letter to Joe Yelverton:
"One of the things I like about you is that you seem to be so exacting with yourself. Quality in progression- repeating an act, again and again, until the wholeness of it becomes inextricable. That's really lovely.
There's a book by Joyce Carol Oates called Bellefleur, with a carpenter in it. He builds a clavichord for his mistress and becomes so bound up with making it a perfect, wondrous thing that he disappears. It's never said what happens to him, but it is implied that he becomes the instrument. Her husband is jealous of it, ultimately destroys it, and the woman loses her mind. I'm sorry to give away the plot of the chapter but I don't think you'd enjoy the book, just wanted you to have the image.
What is a post and beam shop? - I felt lazy writing that so I googled it; do you mean you want to build a workshop for yourself? I imagine it would be a very good thing to work inside something you've made with your own hands.
You ask if writing is hard for me. I love to write, always have. But. It isn't always easy to get down what I'm trying to say- or thinking- sometimes I struggle for embarrassing amounts of time over something trivial. Sometimes I have serious and painful doubts about myself which nothing can make better but a new day. Sometimes it's bliss through and through- haha, usually those days I have to edit pretty severely, but I get a lot done.
Overall the things that are best come quickly, but for that to happen usually I have to be in good shape, ie writing and reading all the time.
Your interest in photographing raw emotion/emptiness is good. Although its eerie how in some photographs the truth slips out from behind someone's eyes, even as they have rearranged themselves in a certain way- and I suppose that it the thing an artist is most interested in. The veil, the suggestion of what is behind the veil. With a little room for speculation in between.
Probably the best way to get what you are after is just to spend long amounts of time with people as they work. So they relax and maybe even get into flow while you're there. I think you do that anyway, from what I've seen, but it is interesting to know what you are after.
Facial personality muscles...
What I've just been through today makes me categorize all this differently than I would have yesterday, or even this morning. I posted a new journal entry today about a visit back home. I put a link to it up on Facebook- yes, shame on me, I FB- like I usually do. I got a few nice texts and even phone calls, which surprised me, but glad to see it was touching a chord with people.
Then this evening [family fall out].
Now- I did not realize that any of them read the blog, and I did say something flippant about this cousin, just to show our family isn't all of a single piece. We're an interesting messy family, a fun family sometimes, but never easy, and I wanted to show that. But I did so at her expense. Just throw-away stuff, broad strokes. Color, you know.
But she read it and was deeply offended. It was not at all the Facial Personality muscles she has worked all her life to present. I reduced her to a stereotype. And maybe I changed the way she'll look in the mirror forever.
I called [the family]. Apologies all around, and then I took down the offending words.
Because it was lazy of me to not say what I really meant to say- that the family is complex, not easy- lazy for me to have just thrown in a sort of... caricature of someone I've only ever known on the most surface of levels.
Because no one wants to be summed up in any way, you know? Even if you think you're summing someone up in a flattering way, there's something about being summarized that makes people squirm. Because we're so intimate with the nuances of our own lives- 'I'm the guy who picks my kids up from school every day, I'm the guy who's putting my brother through school"- how awful to reduce such a guy to a caricature, to someone with a funny walk and a pear shaped nose, and yet that was what I did, earlier today-
and maybe that's what people are trying to prevent with those FP muscles. Saying 'like me,' 'respect how brave I am,' 'how loving I am.'
And of course that is what they -mostly- deserve.
She's going to hate me forever. I guess I'm lucky to have had this experience, and begin working now to be more exact. To make that inextricable whole.
Interestingly, I had the best conversation I've ever had with her father, talking about the point of art, of how we can use it to struggle through together. [during which I cried]
I know you meant something different, though. You want to capture spirit, humanity- and you're right, we can really only see that in unguarded moments... They're beautiful, your pictures. Always a feeling of intimacy, even when your subjects are far from the camera. A frozen story.
You shoot wild, fierce people, at least from what I can tell of things, so to capture them looking relaxed, focused is an accomplishment. What is your process like?
Haven't been to BM, just want to go.
I'm the same way with people, although I can go longer now than I used to be able to. About two days of social stuff, and longer if its family or loved ones. (Although I need a few hrs of alone time every day or I'm no fun.) From what I understand of BM you can just drive away for a while when it gets to you, although the breakdown is supposed to be part of the point of IT, my friends say. They say everyone breaks down. It's just too much of everything- dancing, acceptingness. Of finding everything you want to find. Of not sleeping, of steaks from the dot coms for breakfast, that probably doesn't help. I'm so curious. So many things to put off again for next year! Damn it.
I think when people like you and I say 'drift', we mean in the purest sense- without any agenda, endgame, for days, weeks. Months, years. So I'd have to say the last time I drifted purely was during summer break, in college. Sitting in the trees writing bad poetry, camping, eating tomatoes from friends gardens. Right now I can't truly drift like that. I have too many daily obligations. If I don't make them, this good thing I have falls to pieces. Freelancing is wonderful, but it is a steady grind. At least I can structure my days myself, and that makes me glad.
How about you...?
As for your most recent comment. I was NOT a sacrificial explosive device :) I was a heat-seeking priestess, I destroyed temples on arrival, haha. I sucked. You're probably right- there were cracks in the relationships preceding me, but every relationship has cracks. I
Seriously, mostly that was a selfish, vacant time. With my writing I'd like to reach other girls who've gone through it. Our culture romanticizes self-destruction, and there's something appealing to the American temperament about punishing one's self... but its so wasteful when it comes at others expense.
and I said those awful dismissive things about my [family member]. I could slap myself..."
Earlier I was catching up with Milo on the phone. Outside in the driveway, pacing a path in the gravel. It's chilly, I'm talking fast, my voice cracking, raw with a cough. He’s talking about places, memories. Things that came up in him reading the entry about my old apartment on Mass street.
“It’s strange to remember a time when you were so happy," he says, the voice I've known half my life, "and yet everything you believed to be true about the situation wasn't true at all. But you felt so happy in that moment. And in your memories you still feel that same thing, that happiness-before-knowing.”
“Is it real, then- happiness about something which turns out never to have existed? I think that it was- because you felt it, and no one can ever take that from you.”
We've both been betrayed, Milo and I. Now I hold myself to a certain ideal- this is a belief I have about myself, that I should not cause pain- and yet with my writing I've just caused so much-
Talk drifts to a mutual friend who's come to California, where Milo lives now. “He’s acting strange.”
“No, you know how sometimes you can see someone’s in a bad place? And that it’s a place that could motivate them to do things they wouldn't ordinarily do… he’s there, that’s in him.”
I am reminded of O’s shadow people, of people who are possessed by their demons, by the dark places. The undersoul. Is it real? An appealing thought, that not all bad or weak people are self-serving, only haunted. Difficult to accept, regarding the ones that are close to you.
Milo’s always had this intense awareness, attention to subtleties. We've known each other since junior high, became close at the end of high school. It’s so difficult- there are people you’d see all the time if you lived in the vicinity of one another- raise your kids together, all that. But he and and his wife live on the other side of the country. I haven’t even met her yet, not in person. They found each other under a waterfall in Hawaii, Milo drifting then. Oh, I do know some lovely, lovely souls.
It takes a long time to fall asleep. A thin white headache settling over the top of my head. Restless dreams.
I have a meeting today with... I don't know what to call him, a liaison with the SC Arts Commission? A few months back they put on a panel for thirty or so regional artists. Lots of advice, inspiration, and at the end of it they announced that they had slots for one-on-ones with mentor-type people available. The plan was that everybody who signed up would get an hour and a half with their liaison, all of whom are tremendously accomplished people. Talking with you about where you want your career to go, your plans. Helping you hammer it out, make things feasible. I'm nervous and flattered and terribly excited.
I'm up early, writing in the kitchen. Windows open. Its already hot. The fan going, smell of coffee. I feel so much better, like myself again.
After a while, “Baby,” I say , “you gotta wake up. Honey? You gotta go to the warehouse.”
I’ve left the door to the bedroom open and I see him roll over. He’s been putting in long hours. Busy season. It'll be like this until August, he thinks.
“Beeeeem,” I say. Putting cashew butter on apple slices for our breakfast. Cashew butter is easy to make. You throw the nuts into a food processor until they’re creamy. 6-10 minutes. When you dip your spoon in, the butter is warm from the blades. My sister’s recipe. It’s good.
“Mm,” he says. “I know.”
“I’m bringing you water. I mean apples,” and he grins sleepily. Pulls up the covers against the light. I put the plate down on the bed frame, the wide pine bed frame he made for us in Tucson-the frame we lugged across the country, and then stored for months on a porch because we weren't able to get it to the second floor of the place we were staying then. It’s beautiful, lighter than honey.
“Get up. You have to take me to my meeting.”
“Yeah?” I leave, hear him eating.
“Come hither, beem,” he says.
“I have to go!” I say, but I crawl over him in bed. We hold each other tight.
A little later he's up and moving like a fireman, shimmying into the polyester cowboy pants he always wears, a blue shirt. He drives me downtown, drops me off in front of the theatre my contact co-founded. It's a fantastically nice space. A small group of people buzzing in a side office. He grins at me- "It's going to be just a minute. We're averting a crisis," he says. And then later we're walking out for coffee, talking excitedly. The coffee shop is closed so we go to a park inside, pace around the perimeter, then sit on a cement border in the shade. He asks about my story, and I pitch him awkwardly, shyly. He's a generous listener.
"You want to leave room for people to ask questions in your pitch. You're in the excitement business, you know, so a dialogue is always good. It can't all fall apart if you aren't able to say it in a particular order." (I'd stopped and changed the subject several times during the pitch, coming up crabwise to the things I really wanted to talk about.)
"I'll practice it."
"Good. Write it down and send it to me." He tells me I should attend the SC writers workshop in October. That I should be collecting emails on this site, so that when there's something for readers to do, I can let them know. "Do you have a list of agents you'd like to work with?"
"I do, but only like ten," I said. "I probably need fifty."
"Ten is actually a good start. Now you should start finding out how close you can get to them. You'd be surprised who knows who. If you can get one remove away, that's best."
(Amazingly, later I find out Cherry faintly knows Shepard Fairey, who's coming to give a talk here soon. So there's great truth to this. You never know who you know, by proxy)
He gives me more advice, I take down notes. We start talking about process, and I ask if he wants to see a little of my book.
He says yes, of course- what else can he say? and I pull out my phone, find an email that has one of the most recent versions in it. Hand it to him. My hands go cold, my heart races. Silence as he reads-
He looks up happily. Relieved, probably, that I am not terrible.
"You write like Neil Gaiman!" he says.
I could almost levitate, I'm so happy. "He's my hero!"
"So you should just follow his career, do what he did," he says. "Comic cons, you know."
That's a little crazy for me to hope for, but shoot for the moon, I guess. And I have written some comic books and a graphic novel- all of them long pending, I think the plan is to release them at the same time as the MMO video game I wrote them for- maybe when those are released, all these words I've written will feed together.
He tells me to send him my action plan, my synopsis, my novel. I give him a huge hug and walk home, beaming. And I work.
The hours fall away- a parallelogram of sliding time, lost, over, it’s evening. Headache thickening. I text Cherry and cancel our plans for another walk tonight. Realize I’ve forgotten to eat anything but the apple this morning, and skipped my dinner last night too. Not like me. I eat another apple, red, pacing around the house. I stare at the succulents on the porch. Chewing. We need to go to the grocery.
It’s hot. We can’t sleep. I put my hand on Andrew's chest. “When are you going to marry me,” I whisper, the words tangled, words I didn't know I would say until I say them.
Sheets rustling. His eyes in the dark. “When I get you pregnant.” He grins.
“No,” I say. For all my battiness, I am traditional in this single thing.
“In two years. In two years, I’ll give you babies, a house. And then we can jump over a broom if you want.”
“No. I want it to be real. You know?”
“Okay,” he says, “okay,” and I turn away, facing the wall. After a minute he curls around me, his arm over me, and even though it is hot we sleep that way, like folded hands. He must be able to feel my heart beat. I listen to his.
The windows are open. Night sounds. Someone singing. Cars now and then; their wheels sound like rain. The dark is soft and heavy, and I lie there, until suddenly it is morning. Cars now and then.
I forget the conversation the way I’ve forgotten others. Now it wafts up before me as I write these pages. The ghost of a moon. Wanting to know I can still have that option- a family, safe- if I decide I do want one. I am 30, after all. It enters the conversation now, in a wondering tone from friends. "Do you want kids?"
"...each world had sheltered her from the other, and to lose one was to be turned, against her wish, into a permanent resident of the other." Yiyun Lee, "A Sheltered Woman."
Sweat on my laptop keys.
April 4, 2014.
Apples and cashew butter. I worked late last night so I could come with Andrew to help him at his warehouse. He’s an import export guy- this is what Cherry told me I should say, because I always try to explain what he does, since it is confusing. It’s tricky to know what to call it exactly.
Freight forwarding? But a lot of people don’t know what that is. Technically he does freight forwarding and consolidation for international schools. He is the director of the American branch of a UK company; that's why we came out to Charleston, SC, so he could open this warehouse. It's a great location for it. His business has already doubled but he’s extremely frugal, self-sacrificing. Proud of that quality in him.
(Scottish on his mother’s side, frugality is a sport for them, even when there is no longer ‘need’ for frugality. Important habit for artists and entrepreneurs, frugality)
So he does everything for his branch himself- double walling every package with cardboard, so products survive their trek oversea in freight container. Building, reinforcing pallets. Making of them huge building blocks, solid. All that stuff is simple but time-consuming, hard in unheated, uncooled warehouse. Does all the sales, negotiations, conferences, accounting.
Long days, but he loves to work hard, loves to see the tangible results of his efforts. Warehouse doors open to the trees, the radio playing. He inveigles friends to come and help him pack boxes- I’ve never known anyone so able to get people to work for him for free.
I come in every week or so, sometimes less, sometimes more, to help out. Good little wife. I can’t ever do it all day but I can give him hours, and they are pleasant ones- repetitive, simple stuff he has me do, preparing the packages- which are all sorts of things: art supplies, tubas, chairs, books. Anything, everything a school needs.
Sometimes ideas come, things I’d like to write, drifting in from nowhere.
One’s really stuck with me: an idea for a novella, a sweeping Western a la Legends of the Fall. Native American women, lesbians, the two-spirit. Their love over time as colonists come over the land. I’d need to take time off for research, but I put it on the list of things I plan to write. Evening's Land is a series, and I have an idea for a novel after that. Maybe some time to write a novella between.
Kafka, Borges, who could fit such stories onto a single page!
Sometimes a supplier sends Andrew too much of a thing for an order. Occasionally he gets to keep it, the overstock. He's put aside charcoals for me, art supplies. A gallon of sunscreen, a big storage tub.
“I have a surprise for you,” he says, today. Lino blocks, big ones, eight of them! And two tubs of printing ink, which cracked and leaked during shipping- they're a no-go for the client, and the supplier has to send him another batch.
He’s cleaned them up and taped them for me. “Oh, beem!" I'm delighted. Presents!
My good and frugal man. He has described himself, sometimes almost apologetically, as not very romantic. But he is endlessly thoughtful. Making me dinners, bringing me home things.
Once, in Tucson, when we were first talking about getting chickens, he brought me home a smooth stone he’d found, because it was in the shape of an egg (we put it in the nesting box for the chickens; I still have it somewhere.) Strange trinkets. And then random decadence: flowers and steaks at lunchtime- a motorcycle when we first started dating, when there was more money.
The one time he brought me flowers, they bloomed for four weeks in a beer stein on our kitchen table. I fed them sugar.
Anyway- working with him now, laughing. We listen to NPR, podcasts: StarTalk, Stuff You Should Know. Chicken fingers from Publix for lunch. In the afternoon there are biting flies. I take my laptop out into the trees and work.
I’ve worn the same pink and black skirt for two days. Roses.
I feel like myself again.
Home, I change into a long pink dress with an embroidered t-strap back, and walk to Mariah’s art show at the Halsey with Cherry. It's a lushly warm day. Women everywhere wearing dresses, soft expressions. Music falling out of passing cars, Friday night.
Mariah is radiant in a red lace dress. Her photograph- at the top of this entry- was elected Best of Photography, and she's abstracted, dreamy, maybe not quite believing it. Wonderful photograph, the skull levitating about the woman. A Bush Soul, I think now, looking at it, an affinity-
"The term "affinity" is in use among educated natives throughout the West Coast to express the mysterious link believed to exist between human beings and the plant or animal into which they are thought, under certain conditions, to have the power of sending forth their souls." -D. Amoury Talbot, 1915. Women's Mysteries of a Primitive People.
Jung wrote about it too, somewhere.
Mariah, I remembered your love of cameos recently when editing, and slipped one into Evening's Land:
"Rooms that smelled of dust and night air, rooms possessing fish like shadows— and Mary began to feel very peculiar, as if she were locked inside a museum at night, or dreaming.
Clara stared after them, a slender cameo in the lacquered dark."
(Clara always wearing white.)
One of the works on exhibit is called "I'm a Very Rich Man," by Branch Tanksley and Keller James. I'd like to interview them- they'd constructed a tiny beach shack inside the exhibition hall, complete with crumbled dirt, leaning surfboards, swayback bed. A few books on the shelf, God's Bits of Wood, bottle of tequila, lime, salt. We went inside and looked at the things, took a shot with strangers. On the wall, hanging over a hot plate was one measuring cup, one coffee cup. Tortillas. A spear gun. It was wonderful, a sort of bottled happiness.
Our friend Christopher is late meeting us. "I love doing things late," he says, apologetically, hugging us tightly, "I'm not so good at early."
Blue and white striped shirt, cool white and tan shoes. He always has an eye for detail, Christopher. Peruvian, with liquid eyes, his intense focus, passions.
We wander around a while, and then he drives us back to my house, where Andrew is hanging out with a chef friend of his. We make drinks, take them out onto the porch, after a while head out to a birthday party for a sweet guy named Tracy I don't know very well. He's just moved into a new place where he's living with his dad, because he's about to take off and go live in the Dominican Republic for a year. His father has an impressive collection of tobacco pipes, more than a dozen I think, all of them from Germany, brought back by Tracy's grand father.
"This one here, this is ivory, it's worth like two thousand dollars. Never smoked."
Small strange face of a boy with sad eyes, a large hat.
But none of the pipes have gathered dust. He opens a tin of tobacco.
"That's H.L. Hunley," I say, a local tobacco blend, and he's tickled.
"You are an unusual girl, aren't you?" he says. "Tobacco, taxidermy."
When I came in I was excited about all their mounts, strange to see so many in a suburban house. Deer, pheasant, even a turkey. Instead of wood paneling, fur against smooth walls, a different effect.
End of the night we're out back in rocking chairs. Porch light, hunting dogs, whisky. Christopher and his boyfriend curled together in one chair. Christopher and I talking intently. The perfection of a friendship when sexual desire is removed: utter friendship.
"I feel like we're almost soul mates," one of us said. Giddy feeling of deep connection, of summer on the horizon. "We'll go and take pictures again soon..."
The wide yard, trees fanging the night. Moment of perfect happiness.
Then it was late, we go back to my place. Andrew and M, his chef friend, are still talking, but out back now, with our roommate, Adam, & his lady. We all sit out in the yard under a circle of warm lights. Drinking tea, and then someone pulls out the moonshine. Some of the boys take half shots- a night cap- but we talk for another hour. Goodnight, goodbye.
Saturday April 5th. I run to the grocery for salad things, fruit. It's so much cheaper to buy in bulk, but we haven't had time to do one of our massive Costco Runs in a wall. I go running in the park, Its hot. Last night Andrew started roasting the pork shoulder he'd been marinating for his famous tacos, commissioned by a friend to make them for an engagement party. It's fantastically good. She comes by, tastes them, is dumbfounded.
I am feeling inward, stay home to work on pages. Everybody heads to this engagement party.
Delicious silence. Purring cat. I try to work on pages, have no desire whatsoever. I lie in bed and look at the ceiling. Restlessly flip through New Yorkers, three issues behind. Then I start Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and fall into the story.
Cherry calls, wondering if I will walk with her downtown to meet a friend. I flop over, groan. "Nah, I'm just going to read..."
In the evening Andrew comes home, glowing. His pork shoulder a raving success. I have a sudden, imperative craving for ice cream. Go out and buy us some, and we cuddle on the couch, talking with Adam & Theresa. Andrew plays with a knife, shaving fuzz off a pillow.
I remember last night, birthday boy standing suddenly shirtless, throwing a broadsword behind him, backwards into the lawn. Everybody going inside.
Sunday April 6th. We loll in bed. Umberto Eco. I take a big cup of tea out onto the front porch, go over pages. Desire to hide for a few weeks, take a vow of silence.
Then we make ravioli. Rich man’s pasta made with egg yolks instead of the entire egg. Making a well of sifted White Lily flour on the counter. He weighs out eggs, milk, I swirl it in. Olive oil, salt, kneading it. It works! We feed it through the pasta maker, one small lump at a time, turning the dough into lovely, long, golden tissues.
Cherry comes over, subdued. Outside it is warm, rainy. We put dabs of Andrew's ricotta concoction on the sheets of dough, fold them, seal them. Put them on floured plates.
“You live like you think. You think like you live,” she's saying, hunted by thoughts of her ex.
Stream of thoughts about fixing up her apartment, making it right, her need for cleanliness, order. The ex liked chaos, lived in chaos. Cherry's expounding on this.
I get excited about the idea. “That’s so good, it’s so true. You should write that down.” I'm looking around at our house, our things. “Our house is cluttered, its chaotic. But we can’t really eliminate or control that, because there’s too many people- roommates, so many people going in and out.”
Cherry nods sagely, somber. “Correct. You live like you think.”
I would love to live on my own with Andrew, but can’t afford that yet, not in Charleston. For the cost of our entire three bedroom rental in Tucson, we can only afford one bedroom in a shared house here. So, chaos for now.
Most of the chaos is not so bad, the product of four people in a small space. Books, plants, cooking equipment. Sitting equipment. Andrew makes a fantastic sauce with roasted tomatoes and garlic, spinach, oil, magic. We eat, blissfully.
Cherry helps with our dishes, then goes home to rest, sad. Its quiet. Roommates napping, Andrew on his phone on the sofa.
With my laptop on my lap, papers on the arm of my chair, I finish entering the pen and paper edits I started this morning, pp 81-114, with rewrites as needed. It's hardcore. 20 pages is a tough day. This is a little crazy. I get it done, although occasionally I need to remind myself to breathe. It's anxious work, I guess.
My manuscript is 191 pages, plus four floating chapters I still need to insert into it. I can never quite make up my mind where they should go.
Plan: Three more deep edits on pen and paper, rewrites as needed. These edits are for character consistency, tension, style.
Goal: Completed to the caliber of the first 50 pages (which I am happy with) by May 30th.
I read a little more Eco. Do some yoga. Sleep.
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
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Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
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Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)