Wednesday, November 19, 2008

five minutes. 4:20 p.m.

OBSERVED: Lanterns on a tree limb.

There is a tree beside the lake. White lanterns and gigantic snowflake cutouts hang from its limb; the limb itself hovers above the water. Across the lake is a hill, and on the hill there are houses at the tippy-top, and other houses that step down all the way to the lake shore.

You think that it is Christmas every single day in these homes that make a grand stairway to the water. You think the paper snowflakes- bigger than life, and the ghostly paper lanterns that hang on the limb on your side of the lake must be on that limb year-round, decorations to remind people across the water: It is Christmas for you. There are gifts for you. Your life is a sacred holiday, even in August or September, even on the eve of death.

Someday, you think you might fold a boat out of paper, origami big enough for you to sit in, whiter than the lanterns and snowflakes. You might sail across to the other side, climb the steps of the hill- as long as it takes, live a delicate life. At night, you'll become a glowing spec on the hill. You don't know what you will think when you look across the water at the lanterns then - themselves glowing at night.

Maybe the map of your life will all be out of paper, an intricate cut-out, a tangle of routes as individual as one single snowflake.

Monday, November 17, 2008


When standing before a large crowd to read:

1. Imagine everyone is naked, and every single body in front of you is hideous.
2. Pretend you are Meryl Streep accepting the Oscar, and the audience is full of seat-fillers.
3. Tell yourself that the bodies in the folding chairs belong to five year olds who are on heavy doses of Benedryl
4. Annunciate.
5. Look at out occasionally at these fat-bellied, naked, drugged five-year-olds.
6. Just never look them in the eye.
7. Speak to them like you are Princess Di waving to all of London - look sincere, but don't pause to make eye contact with individuals.
8. Shoot whiskey before you begin. But not too much.
9. Remember when you were five and you stood at your kitchen stove pretending to be the chef on a cooking show - you are instructing a group of viewers. You know more than they know. You have secrets to cooking success.
10. Project.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

return to fat city.

Since I lost twenty pounds and completed two half triathlons, this has happened: I’ve stopped running (last time was around the 3rd week in August and I could barely do a mile), I’ve stopped swimming, I’ve stopped biking, stopped going to the gym where I paid someone to make me workout. I’ve stopped doing even my super easy stretching routine. In short, I’ve let myself become lazy again; I’ve allowed the chaos of everyday life get in the way of scheduling in this time for myself, my body, my wellbeing. You know, the whole mind, body, spirit thing.

My belly that, granted, still had a bit of a paunch even at it’s flattest and tautest, is expanding back to soft and doughy. The fat’s not in my face again, and it hasn’t worked its way back up to my arms (not they ever became svelte - but they were gaining a hint of definition). It’s thighs first, stomach second, then arms, then face; that’s how fat sprawls against my body. Where did my motivation and discipline disappear? Because, when the workouts are gone, so is the charge of adrenalin, the sacred feeling of greater sanity, and a fear mollified – that I will not become sickest, saddest parts of my mother. Diabetes. Triple-bypass surgery. Exhausted. Occasionally depressed. Massive stroke. Mini strokes. Chronic shortness of breath. All these things I never want associated with me.

The body is a kind of mystery. Sure it’s been studied, experimented upon, medically examined. But it is a kind of mystery to me. This morning c. and I went on a bike ride. I was like the big bad wolf, but less powerful - huffing and puffing and blowing my own lungs out. This body – how is it that only last July, riding my bike with c. from home to downtown Baton Rouge for the fourth of July, he commented that I was leaving him in the dust – that I could ride faster, more easily? Four months later, and five miles riding, I huff and I puff and I blow my own air, heaving to get it back, to regain what healthy felt like. Because, really, strangely, healthy isn’t the way a body looks so much as it’s what a body can do. At least, this is what I think - what it felt like is still so clear to me.

I’ve dreamt about running lately. I’ll let you know when I wake from a dream and put on my running shoes and make my way around Town Lake.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

sucky blog entries.

My blog entries have really sucked lately. I can’t seem to focus on any one thing right now. I’ll try to expel many thoughts in a series of short entries, so I can get back on track with some decent entries. So, readers, here you go! Below, FOUR brand new entries in one day.

PS - where are you my commenters? I need you. You're important to me. You help me. I LOVE you people.

PPS - FINALLY. A new song. Beast of Burden, Rolling Stones.


I wonder if the pleasure of Thanksgiving died with my mother? I was flipping through a magazine yesterday. It was full of Thanksgiving recipes and photos of holiday dishes. As I looked them over, I felt nothing. No joy. No anticipation. My mouth didn’t water. I didn’t want any of it.

This will be my third Thanksgiving without my mom. The first time around, my family was at a beach house in Virginia Beach. We scattered her ashes and ate and fought and cried.

Last year, I stayed home, angry at my dad for having remarried before I was ready for him to remarry. Instead, we had people over for dinner. We had a bonfire in the backyard. Everyone ate too much and drank too much, and we were satisfied. But earlier, as I dusted glass bottles lining my fireplace mantle, I had cried. Sobbed. I had called my sister to say how I missed my mom. How I wished it didn't hurt so much to remember her.

Looking at food in the magazine yesterday, I wondered what else I could do on Thanksgiving besides gather with my family, eat off of plates I have loved since childhood, argue over how to cook the gravy? What else is there to do?

I realize it now. Thanksgiving is always going to be an aching. It will always represent an absence. A void I never want to acknowledge.

Sometimes I still talk about my mother like she is here, alive. It is always a slip of the tongue, natural and real as the weather, the color of my eyes. Something like, “My parents.” Then I self correct, “My dad lives in Raleigh.” I don’t have the gumption, the self-honesty, to acknowledge or explain the correction.

Right now, I don’t want Thanksgiving. I don’t want voids and absence when I am supposed to be full.

the ballot is cast.

Last night I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. with the crazy idea that I’d wake up, dress, have some coffee and be the first in line to vote. It’s good to have high expectations.

The alarm went off and I hit snooze. At 8:50, I was stretching and yawning and yanking my body upright. I dressed. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, grabbed my voter registration card. I drove to a coffee place because I couldn’t convince c. to wake up and make me some coffee (Yes, I’m spoiled that way, and it’s something I’ll tell grandkids about, mine or other people’s).

Then I drove to the school where I thought I was supposed to vote. Wrong place. The man directed me to the right school. I drove there.

As soon as I entered the neighborhood, I had this glee swell up inside of me. My windows were down. The air was cool. Someone was strolling his kid down the street. The houses were charming and friendly instead of intimidating. I want to live in this neighborhood. I want to always vote in this neighborhood. Somehow, even with its xeriscaping, it reminded me of my favorite Baton Rouge neighborhoods, reminded me a little bit of home and security. Everything wasn't exactly what I'd hope for, but it still felt good and right.

When I pulled up in front of the school and parked, “Beast of Burden” played on the radio. I sat and listened. Then I stepped out of my car, walked up to the building and I voted. It felt really good to vote. Why is that?

After, I got back in the car, and there was a news clip playing. A woman being interviewed was saying how she was abstaining from voting because she didn’t believe either of the candidates would do what they said they would. Then the news story moved on to discussing votes for 3rd party candidates.

I felt a little disgust rise inside of me. Maybe it’s really un-democratic of me, but it’s what I felt. I’ll feel more disgust with all of those third party voters and abstainers if McCain ends up in the white house.

Eight years ago, I voted for Ralph Nader because I was so utterly dissatisfied with my options. Today, I realize how myopic my own thinking was at the time. Today, I think it’s myopic to vote purely on deeply personal principles. I wonder what to make of myself? I heard the woman on the radio today say that she thinks McCain and Obama are the same vote. Eight years ago I thought Gore and W were the same vote. Myopic. That’s what I think now.

Today, I look back, and wonder – what a different situation we might be in if Gore had been president when 9/11 occurred? What an entirely different state of affairs may have ensued.

Casting a vote ought to be far from selfish, far from myopic. Voting for a president is considering and weighing in on the big picture, the majority of people, larger belief systems, larger principles.

It’s good to have high expectations. But sometimes, simply getting a task done without complete failure is the best there is - the thing to be happy about. If we're lucky, there will be surprises along the way instead of dread and shock. I hope one day I will move into that perfectly imperfect neighborhood.

Here is the best I can do at articulating my thoughts at this moment.

tim o'brien.

My workshop with Tim O’Brien was on Halloween. Leading up to it, I was excited like a kid. Then on the day of, thirty minutes before I was supposed to leave for San Marcos, I went into full-neurosis mode.

I had a dress picked out, one that I love and feel comfortable and confident in. I knew I was going to wear it. I have a pair of black tights that I wear with it. Two weeks earlier, I had pulled all of my tights out of a drawer and hand washed them in the bathroom sink. Pink ones, white ones, cream, brown and black. Clean tights.

When I put my tights on under my black dress and looked in the mirror, the tights looked navy blue. I had on a pair of mustard yellow shoes. Are my tights blue? Do I own blue tights? I went to my drawer and dug around trying to find the BLACK tights. No sign of them. I walked back to the mirror. Am I hallucinating? I must be. My shoes must be making the tights look blue. I walked into the living room prepared to leave. I made a comment about how my black tights must have faded when I washed them, and my classmate who was waiting patiently said, “Oh. I thought they were blue.” Then c. agreed, “I thought they were blue too.”

YOU DID? Does it look BAD?
k.: No, I thought you did it on purpose. Your bag is blue.
c.: It looks fine.
Me: Shit.
The thing is, I sort of agreed that in an odd way, the blue tights with the black dress and mustard shoes actually looked allright. Notice, I said, "in an odd way."

But. Panic ensued. I tore them off. I put them back on. I tore them off. Put them back on. Who knows how long this went on (we were late leaving town). Finally, the tights were on, and we were in the car. My stomach was rolling around inside of me. I announced: “I’m really nervous. I didn’t realize I was nervous until I had a meltdown over my tights.” We parked the car, and I stepped out. Just before I closed the door, I said, “I can’t were these tights.” They came off for a final time.

k.: I so knew those things were coming off again.


Tim O’Brien arrived. I tried to guess his age. 67? 72? I'm sure you can look it up on line. He wore a baseball cap. He seemed smallish and approachable. He sat at the table and kept a pack of cigarettes in front of him like they were a timer set to go off.

He began with the other guy’s story. Tim O’Brien knows what he’s doing. That is the first thing I thought. I guess he should. I mean, Pulitzer nomination and all. But you never know. A lot of writers lead crappy workshops. Not him. It’s actually really focused, really precise. He pays attention to the details in your story. A few times I was looking at the guy whose work was up for crit, and he seemed shaken.

On the back of my story I’d written 3 headings: Point of View – Location/Geography – Past/Present Tense. I knew that these would be my biggest issues, and I was preparing to take notes in these areas. I was dead on. Tim O’Brien honed in on these problems right away. Somehow, me knowing these things are not working, and me trying to figure out the solutions on my own is easier. But this is my 12th draft of the story, and when Tim O’Brien began pointing out these problems, I had an internal crisis: How can I not have figured out how to make these things in the story WORK? Tim O’Brien thinks I am a complete IDIOT.

I felt like I was going to cry for the first five to seven minutes. That’s a bit uncharacteristic for me in a workshop. I am usually really good about dissociating from the story right away so that I can listen objectively. So. Yeah. I was really nervous, and it all hit me at once with the stupid blue/black tights.

Then I had this silent moment: Herpreet. Pull it together and listen to what the man is saying. He obviously knows what he’s talking about. Just like that, I set my ego aside and started to listen.

When we went for drinks afterward, I felt a little shell-shocked. I asked the other writer if it had been hard for him. Standing with his too-perfect posture, he lied: "No. It wasn't bad." I wanted to scream: "I SAW your FACE. It looked like you were going to cry a few times. I SAW you." I didn't. I just silently stared at his shoulders until I could picture them slouching.

Someone said, "Well he liked the story." I said, "He did? When your work is up for critique, and you’re sitting there silent, nothing seems obvious except how terrible a writer you are. I asked the guy to repeat what good things Tim O’Brien had said about my story.

I’ll only share with you the one compliment that I actually remember. There is a scene in which the main character is in a bar talking to some random dude. She gets drunk and they have sex in a phone booth in the bar. It would be really easy to write that scene like it was in a soap opera or a romance novel, really easy to write it badly. And I have revised it a million times to remove the melodrama and the cheesy-ness. I do remember That Tim O’Brien said, “The author did a nice job with that bar scene when they slept together.” Then he paused. “Or whatever. I guess they didn’t sleep together, but had sex in a phone booth.” When he said it, I did exhale inside of myself, release the concern that this one scene would come off really cliché. It didn’t. That’s not to say there aren’t other cliché moments in the story. There are – but they’ll be easy to fix.

So. There you have it. My first workshop with Tim O’Brien. Next time, I think I’ll wear tights. Blue ones.

red stick.

I DO miss Baton Rouge. I miss her. My freshly painted yellow porch swing. Heading to the Chimes for cheese fries and to Chelsea’s for fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade, and also for running into people who I actually know - familiar faces. I miss my friend a. and her front porch and living room – the way they embrace a person. I miss my friends l. and c. and their dogs and their back yard and drinking whiskey with them while we gossip. I miss being around girls who wear make up and heels without necessarily being 20 and in a sorority. And the way I can go either way without feeling awkward. Jeans and sneakers on friday, heels and a dress on saturday. (Why are the girls older then 21 in Austin and San Marcos so resigned to anti-fashion?) The swamp red maple tree in my back yard, whose leaves I’m certain are a burst of yellow right now, and in a few weeks they’ll spread a rug over the grass that will glow. I miss walks in Spanish Town with my friend r. – who isn’t in BR anymore anyway. I also miss laughing with her terribly. I miss the porch at Perks – all of its gecko lizards scurrying, turning from brown to green. I miss the sight of banana trees and I miss the overwhelming color of spring green spreading flat and far out all around me. A vast carpet interrupted by a muddy brown thread of twisting water.