Friday, September 26, 2008

proclamations of love.

This is the night I fell in love with Austin, TX. With his bike rides and music and cool evenings.
This is the weekend we are going to have our perfect just-like-in-the-movies date. It has already begun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

five minutes. 11:50 a.m.

Nothing observed or overheard. Just a sentence that came into my head while, of all things, I was peeing: I will build you a mountain. This was really more like 15 minutes and not five, and maybe it is the early scraps of some story to come. But hell, maybe so are any of these five minute writings.

I will build you a mountain.

That’s a lie, and you know it is a lie. But when he says these words, avalanche inside your heart, your gut. Part of you just crumbles away. And you know you will never get it back, no matter how you cling. The hopeful part of you that is stuck in 8th grade reading Seventeen Magazine and wishing before bed each night that Peter Lucien will finally notice you. When are you going to be worthy? Thirty-six. How old do you need to be?

Damn it. It is under a tent with a sky screen, beneath a bed of stars, looking up. Pack of cayotes howling in the distance. Equally relaxed and on edge, listening for the sound of bears, even in your sleep. You should have picked a spot further from the water, further from this cluster of evergreens. This is when, this is where, he speaks these magic spells. Always. He is a bear, right beside you. If you would wake up.

He will never love you like this when you are someplace real. Wyoming is not real.

At home, in the bar in Lafayette, there will always be women. Prettier than you. Younger. The ones who are shorter than he, the ones whose waists synch inward and whose hips blossom outward underneath house dresses from 1950. They bought them in a thrift shop down the way. They paint on shocking red lipstick, brush loose translucent powder over soft pale faces. And that is all the make-up they need. They twirl, swirl, whirl. From stage, a fiddle player winks at them while they move. Singer croons like he is singing love songs in French only to them. Triangle pings every so often, hurts your ears. Even you would kiss those puffed lips. Even you.

He does it all the time. Every kiss, you crumble a little more.

You don’t want to know how many there are. How many middle-of-the-nights, when he stumbles home to you, he’s been kissing some 24-year-old first. He is drunk. You pretend he is picturing you when he’s kissing them. You have to believe this.


I sometimes wonder, when I come out of writing for an extended period, an hour, two, three, how I can live so far inside of my own head. How can there be so many inventions churning around and charging out of my fingers.

I’m working on a story, and I know that in the story I’m going to kill the little girl. And as I write her, she is so sweet and so charming and so undeserving of death. But she’s going to die. With each saccharine word that shows more and more who she is, my heart sinks into my stomach in a sick way. A mourning way.

I need to go off by myself and walk off, or think off, or sweep and dust and clean dishes to wash off all of the images of this made up child who is going to die at my fingertips. But there's a bigger story I'm telling, and the little girl has to die to tell it.

Am I so cruel? Writing her makes me want to cry.

Monday, September 22, 2008

five minutes. 5:09 p.m.

OBSERVED: Man in tight pink t-shirt with fake boobs underneath. On another day, same man in girl’s cheerleader outfit, no fake boobs.

“My mother told me not to be so gruff and dirty. I was six and I’d spit on the ground the way I’d seen some of the other boys do at school. She had sighed when I did it. ‘Embicile behavior. No peein’ on trees, no spittin’ on sidewalks. Is that clear?'”

Lola Can, who used to be Louis Campbell, sets his iced tea down on a concrete picnic table, scroll ornamentation cast along its circular edge. He adjusts his boobs. Double D. “My GOD. Womanhood is difficult. If my mother taught me anything.” He takes a drag from his cigarette.

Lola’s voice is not effeminate. It is as manly as the Adam’s apple that bobs in his throat when he speaks, as the fifty-four year old wiry gray hairs curling over his arms and legs like an unmowed lawn.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

five minutes. 12:25 p.m.

OVERHEARD: So, have you shot your girlfriend yet?

“So, have you shot your girlfriend yet?” Daniel Paul didn’t really want his older brother to shoot Cicely. Most of the time. He didn’t even believe in owning arms. But he thought that Charlie could do better. No. Deserved better.

Cicely was a champion dart player in the local dart playing circuit. It was her claim to fame in the small town of Dandelion, MS. Shortly after Daniel turned 21, Charlie took him out for a night of darts. Charlie turned out to be pretty good at stabbing the bullseye. The brothers began playing in competitions two local bars hosted.

This is how they laid eyes on Cicely.



Oh my goodness. I didn’t mean to neglect my blog for so long. I am doing all the things you do when you are in grad school. Reading a lot. Writing a lot. Grading freshman papers. Trying to get to know my classmates better – all of whom I like so far.

My first workshop went well, and now I’m working on two different stories. If I can pull together three or four really good drafts by the end of the semester, I’ll work on revising them over the break and having them to submit to journals during their spring reading period. This feels really doable.

The two stories I am working on are for my next two workshops. The first is on October 31, and the second will fall later in the semester. In my workshop class, I only get two workshops all together. The one on Ocotober 31 is a terribly frightening added bonus, and it doesn’t take place in the safety of my class. Rather, my story is submitted to every MFA student in the department.

Tim O’Brien teaches workshops every other year. The year he doesn’t teach, he comes in to do 3 workshops in the fall and 3 in the spring. You have to sign up to get one, and it’s first come, first serve. So on Halloween Tim O’Brien is going to workshop my story. I’ve heard he is fairly harsh, actually, that he will rip you to shreds. At the end of one student’s crit two years ago, he said that although the story worked technically, etc. he couldn’t help getting to the end and asking, “Who cares?” Ouch. I’m trying really hard not to give him a ‘who cares’ story. Especially because the workshop is open to everyone in the department to observe and take part in.

Okay. I’m feeling incapable of writing any worthwhile entries right now. A lot is going on, but I guess I’m digesting. Or still chewing. So I’m going to ask you to humor me for a while until a blog comes to me. For now, I’m going to use this space to do five- minute writing exercises.

I’ll give myself a topic, an image, a line I’ve overheard someone speak, and just free-write for five minutes. I expect that some of it will be really bad, but I won’t edit. Which is why you’ll need to humor me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

shut it.

Internal dialog today on the shuttle ride home: Listen shithead. Wake up for a minute, I need to show you something. See that guy over there? The one sitting like a gentleman and not like he owns this space. Come on dude. It’s a commuter bus. A shared space. Not your mama’s fat living room couch. And you are infringing on my goddamn space. Close your fucking legs.

Days of sleeping on a couch (30) and on a yoga mat (2) on the floor (urban camping) – over. The U-Haul with our millions of too-many belongings and trailing an old ’78 truck behind, and my husband who drove the whole mess here.

Deaf football practice goes on across the street, and it’s like a surreal dance. In addition to the silent game, if I stand in the right place in my front yard, I can see the skyline of downtown Austin. Last night, at 1:30 a.m., Chris and I found a 24 hour Mexican bakery and Taqueria a few blocks down the street. Which is good, cause he was hungry, and I was hungry. It smelled like a sugar factory – after the sugar’s been refined.

My first fiction workshop. I’m leaning away from a novel right now and toward a short story collection. What to do? I had to remind myself before class: Who gives a fuck if people like it or not. I like it. And I know it’s raw still. So people need to give me feedback that’s constructive. And I need to hear feedback as constructive. I’m building a story – not tearing one down.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

between home.

Today is September 8, and it marks one month that I've been in Austin, TX. It has taken a full month to move through feeling as if I'm on vacation to feeling that I live here. Truthfully - I still feel a bit displaced. Do I live here?

This morning, I moved all of my belongings out of the apartment I've been staying in and into the house I rented. That alone provided a new sense of stability. Meanwhile, a friend from Baton Rouge called, and she didn't feel like talking about Gustav because, she told me, "it's too much to even try to describe what life is like here right now."

As my blogger friend Alex noted (in a different context), there are not Grandmas stranded on rooftops, so CNN left town. But don't be fooled world, power in the red stick is still out (along with a sense of normalcy) - though it's finally returning in some neighborhoods. My husband got power yesterday. As the city turtle-crawls back to functioning (schools reopen in one week), it also braces for Ike. As I begin to feel settled here in Austin, I feel unsettled because my old home still feels like my present home. Which is to say - I feel like I'm supposed to go back and take care of some things, clean up a mess, check on people.

Oddly, there are some physical assimilations. I have finally stopped sweating like a water wall - the kind of fountain that continuously seeps water down it's surface. I noticed this about 3 days ago. Up until then, every time I went out in the middle of the day - to walk 3 blocks - sweat began pouring, I mean pouring, down my thighs. I was afraid if anyone saw me they were going to think my non-pregnant self's water had broke.

I also told a friend that I didn't have enough hippy in me to live in Austin. But in the midst of all the crazy sweating - I purchased this clinical strength deodorant that you are supposed to put on at night when you go to bed. But I got nervous that it contained a poisonous, cancer-causing amount of aluminum. So to counter it, I bought Tom's lavender deodorant to use during the day. (Yes, it IS illogical to pretend the "good" deodorant can counter the "bad" deodorant. So.) I've only been using the clinical stuff 3 times a week at night - and the Tom's during the day. At first I continued to sweat and smell. But now - I am like a yuppy-hippy - which is to say, lavender-fresh instead of patchouli drenched.

I live in an orange and lime -sherbert colored house now. These colors are very un-me and un-c. There it is in the picture. Somehow, I am really charmed by this sherbert colored house on a hill. I get happy inside when I see it.

The interior is painted colors that I've been describing as what you'd imagine if you walked into a smoothie shop in the Caribbean. But that description has been off. Finally, today, the exact description HIT me. Remember that cartoon, The Littles? Well, when I walk inside, I suddenly feel like I've transformed into a Little in the way the teenagers in Kid Video turned from human to cartoon while driving in their band's van. I become a Little wandering around inside a king-size box of Fruit Loops. I get less happy when I enter the inside of the house, so when c. gets here, we're picking out some paint colors! Less cartoon-land sugary-cereal, and more...something else.

c. and Basil arrive either late tomorrow, or on Tuesday afternoon. I'll have a husband again! - fresh out of the surreal-ness that is Gustav. And it will probably take him a full month to feel that he actually lives here, and that no, he isn't on vacation. But I'm so happy to have him back again - disoriented, sweaty and all.

SONG: My Little Corner of the World, Yo La Tengo

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

cracks and splits.

My mind is cracking open, like an egg.

Baton Rouge took a beating. And our house is one that dodged the punches. Some ways it's been described: Eerie. Navy sky is illuminated by the hospital a block down the street. The hospital glows orange. The sky looks navy. Everything else is pitch black. The only sounds are crickets and a generator running in the house across the street. The generator roars like the engine of a lawnmower. Listen - that groan/roar and crickets together, nothing else.

Once, earlier today, a convoy of ambulances, lights swirling, drove down an otherwise empty street to the hospital. I know this because I asked, if, like during Katrina, the sound of helicopters overhead is present. The sound of helicopters had made Katrina sound like how I imagine war in Bosnia or anywhere else that war is real and not on TV. But, no. c. says it's just convoys of ambulances. And if you ask me, that is also warlike in it's own way - like a funeral procession with twirling, flashing, harsh lights. Reports of people dying in their houses when trees fell through the roof is what c. says. It looks bad, he tells me, and that we are really, really lucky, because so many of our neighbors and friends are not. It is the wind that got us. Terrible high speed winds. Houses split in half, literally split through the roof down to the ground, straight through the middle, by hundred year old live oaks. Water oaks. Pine trees. Pecan trees.

He emphasizes. He says, it will take days just to clean up the mess of our yard, and we didn't even get any damage. And selfishly, or perhaps longingly or simply with attachment, I hoped my two baby cypress trees, newly planted, stayed firm in the ground, supported by the way I'd staked them. But I doubt it. And I didn't want to ask because I didn't want the answer. What's a crooked tree when your house is split in two? Or has a tree leaning against it.

Ruby is lying next to me having a nightmare right now. Wimpering in her sleep, so I can tell it's not a good dream.

I have to workshop a story next Tuesday. I'll be the first in my class to have a workshop (to be ripped apart). And that is really scary. I didn't want to go first, but I didn't speak up soon enough to get a middle-of-semester date. And when I had to pick between first and last, first seemed better. I just began something new - about, what else? hurricanes, ghosts, grieving, chaos, water, drowning. But I can't write as fast as my thoughts come, and so I think I'll not be able to workshop that one until the second part of the semester (I've got to get the piece to everyone by Saturday). Most likely I'll workshop the story that maybe should be a novel, the widower story that got me into school and still needs a whole lot of work.

I got terribly homesick today. Sad in my gut and I felt I wanted to cry and to be in baton rouge. I didn't even know the havoc Gustav had reeked on that red stick. maybe it was a sixth sense. we got it worse this year than we did with Katrina. These are some of the things I know.


I am beginning to think that I may never have a normal night of sleep again in my life. It is 1:30 in the a.m. and I’m WIDE awake. My own fault, I guess. I went to bed earlier than usual.

I met my internet friend for a beer at 3:30, and that became three. I got home at 7:30 p.m. (or was it 7:00?), walked Ruby, ate some dinner (that included spinach and sweet potatoes, because I felt like I needed to counter the beer and burger I’d had earlier), watched TV on the internet, and went to bed at 9:30 p.m. Now I’m awake and sober.

I wonder when I’ll have to stop referring to her as my “internet friend.” As we were speaking tonight, I had a weird vision of myself with her in which I was introducing her to another me and saying to myself (my other self), “This is n., my internet friend.”

I talk to much. This is another thing I thought about while I was downing too many pints and talking to my internet friend (if you're reading, sorry I talk so much). Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with three of my classmates. We wandered Austin. I thought I talked too much then too. But maybe all writers talk a lot. Probably, I’m just justifying.

I began a new story two days ago. Actually, I got an idea after I re-read my blog entry beginnings, and all of a sudden I was writing a story, ideas coming faster than I could type. I had to interrupt myself writing the actual story to jump to the bottom of the page and just type out the ideas that were swirling around. In my head it already has a name: The Drowning Season. It is going to be as sad as all the others. One day I’ll write something funny. Or at least funny and sad, John Irving style. But for now, everything is just heavy and sad with endings like poison. It’s the best that I can do.

It is strange and exciting to meet other writers. I like it. I really like the people in my program. I really like my internet friend n. who’s not in my program, but over at the Michener Center. Writers. I’m surrounded by writers all of a sudden. Other people who make shit up all the time. Create people and conflicts in their heads. Or rather, on paper. Or a computer screen. Sometimes, after I finish a story, I feel so bad for my characters, I have to just cry. I wonder if they cry about their own endings?

Someone in my program said that after he met two of our professors, he thought maybe he wasn’t crazy enough to be a writer. You are, I thought. Yes you are. I can tell. I didn’t say it aloud. We all seem totally normal and oddball at once.

The same person asked if I use humor in my stories. No. Why?

You seem like you would. You’re pretty funny.

If only he knew how flattering that was. And untrue. I didn’t bother correcting him. I ruined the compliment by fumbling around trying to explain that occasionally I get lucky and write some funny instance, but that I can’t consciously set out to write something funny. [Like, last summer, a story in which a five-year-old asked to be a heroin addict for Halloween. A what? Her mother had asked her (as in, come, again?). You know, a drug addict, her child had said. And then there is a scene where they go trick-or-treating, and people at their doors say, What are you, sweetie? And she holds out her arms with drawn-on track marks before answering sweetly, a homeless junkie. I didn’t set out to write that, but after I did, I thought it was pretty funny.]

I didn’t share this example with the classmate, but inside I thought, I’m funny? Then I confirmed, I AM being funny, lately, aren’t I?

Okay, maybe I’ll try to sleep some more.