Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
The body...beautiful? (and sneaky Poetry Thursday)
Motherhood has come to me in a torrent of words, but most of them have little or nothing to do with actual motherhood. Instead, all of my thoughts and words are imbued with urgency...a desire to cling to their liferaft even as emotions sweep me along. The curve of her cheek as she sleeps, pressed against the pillow as her mouth falls open—to quote William Carlos Williams "nothing matters more." Her changes are like a challenge—"keep up, mother!"—she’s a clarion call. If I lag behind, grow weary and vague, I might miss something. I might fail in my task to be her female role model.
I might fail, period.
I am surprised by the fierceness of my maternal love. It wasn’t always this way, sadly. I loved her from the beginning, but my love was tentative, even somewhat grudging. I needed to go through those late hours with her, needed to give space to my grief for my old life, for the self that was surely pooling at my feet, dress pants I no longer need for a job I no longer have. I needed to fantasize about selling her to gypsies (in spite of their absence from my California suburb). I needed to rage and shake and molt and cry and feel utterly, completely, nakedly inept.
I still do, sometimes. But the spaces between are growing green again. This must be what everyone talks about when they mention the virtues of commitment.
My daughter is the first task I can’t escape, can’t run away from.
One of the surprises of motherhood is how physical it is—the tending to her physical body, sure, with its dirty diapers and washcloths and dresses...but also how much I linger on her beauty. It is what touches me most about her. I went to a feminist Name School; I should be extolling the virtues of her humor, her curiosity, her persistence. And I do. But the adjective that comes most spontaneously, most often, is "beautiful." I drink her in greedily, take nibbles when I should be satisfied with kisses, watch her play with the kind of one-point focus that would make any Buddhist proud. Watching Madam is my meditation. She pulls me out of myself.
Why is her beauty so important to me? It satisfies a lack I never really felt was important. My way of creating beauty has always been through words. I learned early on that I could not draw (as children do when they are as self-critical as I was and still am). But if I could describe what I saw precisely, clearly...then others could see it too.
But she is wholly physical, biting and pulling and scratching at the world as she tries to understand it. She pulls me down to the ground with her as she plays, tongue poking outside of her mouth, as she crawls and grunts and stands, wobbly, the baby fat on her legs growing sinewy with the effort.
And inevitably, she makes me face my own body, something I usually manage to avoid. Oh, sure, I have a certain perfunctory gratitude for it, for bringing my Madam into being, but that’s as far as I go. Madam feels like a creation of my own mind, and my body gets scant credit.
My body tells a story about me that doesn’t feel true. My mind grows heated, electric with connection and excitement, twirling perpetually under a disco ball. My body sits, sullen, in a corner, doing its algebra homework.
We’ve not been in good terms since the pregnancy. Oh, I loved being pregnant...loved that for once, my body was signaling a change within me, marking me as part of a special tribe. I’d never been able to do that before—instead, I smiled conspiratorially at those who looked like artists, and cringed as they looked through me.
There’s a fleshy roundness to me now—overt and earthy. I try to hide it—try not to take up too much space, but whenever I see myself in a mirror, there I am. Larger than I can handle. Dowdier than I want to be. How do I learn to inhabit this new body? Megg’s words come back to me—about her journey into womanhood. I gave birth—a uniquely female experience. And yet, I don’t want to go where my body seems to take me. I want to go back to that untouched envelope of a body I once had.
Growing up, I thought my mother the most beautiful woman in the world—so much so that I relegated all matters on beauty and femininity to her. I chose to live inside my head, inside that place where I could pretend no one is ever judged on their appearance, but only on the contents of their souls. The home of the perfect books, the ones where words never darken the pristine page. The land of no mistakes, because nothing is ever embodied.
I want to be embodied. I want Madam to think me beautiful. I want my outside to match my inside. I think I finally really want to be seen.
How do I make the "it" of my body feel like "me?"
This week's Poetry Thursday prompt was to try and incorporate a phrase we use everyday into a poem. Well, I wanted to try one of those fancy new fibonnaci haikus which are all the rage, so here is my mom-fib.
Wait to be set free
By inspiration’s fickle breath.
Labels: Poetry Thursday
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
More questions than answers
Instead, if I am honest, I am fairly conventional, far from hip, coffee swilling, searching, plastic-toys-and-a-swing kind of mother. I am one bad morning away from a playpen. Maybe one bad half hour.
But Madam is actually my wellspring of joy lately. It’s not her fault that she’s as fascinated by the laptop as I am.
I just spoke to an old friend. I can feel how our friendship has suffered a tidal sea change since I had Madam. We are moving in such different directions in our lives, and our searchings are opposite...although now that I think about it, not exactly. We’re both desperate to find a way to do our work, whatever that work will entail. Of course, she is further along in the process...it makes me a little sick-green to remember how much free time I had, and how little I did with it. Oh, sure, I have a couple of drafts to work on (novel and screenplay) but how much more I should have done! Short stories and poetry and learning photography and possibly writing a play entirely staged in bamboo trees, where the monkeys all speak Middle English (I’ll let the audience decide what it all means).
The Mamaphonic book talks again and again about not being tied to the idea of having “time to write” or to the ritual of daydreaming on the page until you find your topic. That’s why I have become such a fan of writing prompts like Sunday Scribblings, although they can feel like cheating. I don’t have time to stop to think, I just barely have time to write. Forget editing. Forget even really re-reading. I write and I write and most of what I write is, well, crap. Wait, I don’t really believe that. Most of what I write is not fiction, is not something I could really work with and craft and take seriously.
I thought I had gotten over this issue I have with fiction.
I guess when you tell people you are a “writer” (something I never really do) you need to have some sheaf of papers to show them, a story, or a novel, or SOMETHING. Otherwise, how is what I am writing different from the grocery list?
I feel as though it’s different. I do feel like something that is happening here, happening with me, matters. That it will change me, that I am laying the groundwork for something new to enter my life. That I need to clear all of this brush—squeamishly turning over every sodden log of my history and facing every bloated grub that lives there. That I need to somehow name my normal, and see if it’s something that needs to change. And to see if there is anyway TO change it.
I need to learn not only to take myself seriously (because honestly, I do take myself seriously as a writer now. I am not sure when it happened, but like I said, this all feels important), I need to get everyone else to take me seriously. OK, maybe not everyone else. Maybe just TEG. I need for him to admire me again...to see me as someone who has potential. He swears that he still does, but I sense a certain dismissive attitude that just was not there before. Is this the way relationships evolve after you get to know the person and move past the honeymoon phase? Or is this a symptom of something larger—a certain boredom, a barely hidden disappointment?
Now what? At what point do I say enough? At what point do I claim myself again and face what needs to be faced? At one point do I realize that I deserve to find people who believe in me and give me tangible support? And why does it feel like "cheating" (there is that word again) to acknowledge that I DO need to find fellow travelers on the journey? Why do I think the only way to make it real and important is to solder on alone?
Onto a different subject—the process of crafting a long work itself. I wish I could go join a medieval guild and apprentice myself to a master because I am overwhelmed here. I read the books and try the exercises, but I guess what I am looking for here is the physical dailiness of working on a longer piece. Do writers start each day with a topic related to the larger work? How do you come up with all of the scenes you need, and keep them straight? How to maintain a consistent tone and voice? How to rearrange your scenes while rewriting? Just lay index cards on the floor?
I know everyone has a different process, but I need some sort of a model to follow, if only so I can have a starting point.
What works for you?
Labels: navel gazing; family tales
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Ah ah, no no by Hector Lavoe
For a time, long ago, music made up the boundaries of my life.
"But Mardougrrl," you might ask. "Don’t you mean writing, or reading?"
No, I mean music.
Words were interior...my secret self speaking back to me. I would burrow in shadows to read, and to write in my journal, turning on the television so that my family would think I was watching, and leave me alone to write. I would disappear from family gatherings, until inevitably someone noticed me missing, and would call out imperiously "Mardougrrl! Donde estas? Where are you?" and I’d crawl back to the fold sheepishly.
Words divided me from my family—my crude Spanish was no match for their fluid native tongues, and the way I was already expressing myself in English was far beyond their abilities, at that time. So I retreated into my books, where everyone spoke the same language of beauty. But I needed to learn another language. I found music.
I’m not sure why I started playing the flute. I do remember wanting to play the drums, and being discouraged because "girls shouldn’t do that." I didn’t have much interest in the flute, especially, but the girls in my books all played some instrument, and I felt that I needed to give myself the same classical education.
But that wasn’t the real reason.
My family was saturated in music. My parents and their friends had weekend parties that stretched for days, and of course, everyone danced until exhausted, then had a huge meal-pernil, rice, beans, and salad and felt compelled to dance off the food languor. The record player in our small apartment turned and turned for miles, pausing for a breath only as we changed the LPs. I would stare at everyone as they paired off, watched how some adults used dancing to get fresh, or grope for some excitement. And how some, like my parents, would use it to return to themselves. Not factory workers, not immigrants, not laborers who struggled to pay every bill. They danced elegantly, allowing the music to elevate them to royalty. I would stare, pleased to see their straight-backed confidence return, if only for a song. Their pasts shone in their eyes as they watched each other—remembering a different life. My mother would grow flushed with delight and close her eyes, letting the music dance through her as she danced herself back to Colombia’s beaches and her own youth.
Every now and then an adult would try to pull me onto the dance floor, but I always shook my head, embarrassed and pretend that I was too cool to dance like these old people. I didn’t want to give the adults yet another chance to point me out as "la Americanita" and laugh, a nasty edge to their voices. I didn’t want to step on the spell with flat feet.
But secretly, I wanted to be a part of the spectacle. I wanted to belong there, just as surely as I belonged inside my books.
Limelight by Rush
I’ve always been a fidgety person, so instead of tapping my fingers and jogging my legs while watching television, I started practicing my scales. Soon, I became proficient, and by the time I reached high school, I was good. I think I joined the high school band to fill up a class period.
But like a fire on parched brush, it licked away at all of my other hobbies and obsessions and became my life, my people, and my stage. Band introduced me to a true artistic community—we all spoke music all of the time, trading mix tapes and fascinations, romance and song lyrics. We practiced every free moment, teaching each other to listen to our cues, to know when a performance needed to be more raucous, or more subdued. The music ran through us like a current, the performance like a group trance. There were concerts when I was so in tune with the rest of the band and with my communion with the sheet music in front of me that I can’t remember particulars, just that sense of a great good, a well being that feels like the pressure of tears as they finally gather and fall.
Band, and music, fed a burgeoning theatrical bent to my personality. Have you ever been on stage, lapping up the stares of the people who see you everyday, but who are now watching you the way they watch television? It shocks with the thrill of strangeness, watching someone expand into a star in your vision. I devoured that feeling, craved the limelight in a way I had never understood before.
This gave me common ground, finally, with my family, a collection of outsized drama kings and queens. No longer did they only see me holed up with a book. No longer did they have to worry about my puzzling silences, my alarming habits of staring into space. No, music gave me force, gave me exuberance as I opened up to my parents about my love life, my tiny soap operas which seemed to encompass the moon at the time. They didn’t always know if they liked that other daughter, the writer, who seemed to be living alongside rather than with them. But this loud, brash, musical daughter? This was a daughter they understood, a daughter who finally spoke loudly enough to be heard within the family.
Ah ah, no no by Hector Lavoe (revisited)
The years after college were lavender hued with a shame I could barely give words to, let alone express.
After college, being exposed to the high patrician culture of publishing, well...it cemented my inner certainty that I was a have-not. A Latina Gatsby masquerading in the house of literature. Best not to reveal my origins to eyes that would be kind, but pitying. I am sure they guessed, if they bothered to think about me at all. I was obviously a "quota" case from my Name School. That fact alone gave me some currency in this new world, a field of intersection with my colleagues, who had all also gone to fancy Name Schools. But there was a whole area of negative space that I tried, diligently, to hide from them. So there could be no question that I belonged there after all. I fashioned myself in the long line of people who try to "pass", deny their roots and create themselves from patches of remembered movie lines and quotes from books.
The problem with all this was it was making me miserable, and straining my always-tenuous relationship with my parents. They could sense the critical disapproval in my eyes and bristled against it. They were very proud of themselves, and they wanted to be proud of me, but they could sense my shame and it hurt and confused them.
I couldn’t see any talent, any intellectualism in my own community. I saw us the way the statistics spelled out, low-class, manual workers, fresh off the boat, criminals and barely-literates. I pushed my culture away with both hands.
Even when well-meaning liberal friends mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Alvarez, Isabel Allende, I nodded politely and sidled away. I didn’t want to be affliated with what I called, scornfully, the "flying grandmother" school of Latin magical realism.
Which, of course, just shows how ignorant I was.
Finally, it grew intolerable. I felt a stone at my throat. My heritage was cement poured into my mouth.
I poured out my misery to my best friend. She was shocked by the toxicity of my self-hatred. She encouraged me to detach from it a bit by researching my culture impartially, as though it were an assignment for school. Pretend I knew nothing about it. Approach it with beginners’ mind.
This, I could do. I was always good at school, and research.
You would think I would start with the words. Words, after all, being my passion. Perhaps that’s why I started with music. Less ego involved, and more connection to an enthusiastic side of myself I had let wane as I tried to be reserved and "cultured" at work.
I began feverishly downloading the songs of my childhood, the music I remembered in the background as I played with my dolls, as my mother fried onions for beans in the kitchen. I really paid attention to the insistant drums, the celebration of the trumpets as they blared exclamation points through the music, the sophisticated piano syncopations that made my feet itch to dance.
I forgot that I had grown up lying about hating this music, a lie so old I took it to be a truth. The music was an overheated apartment, sun dying on the linoleum floor as it set fierce over the apartment buildings. The music was the rhythm of the local bodega as the neighbors greeted each other with a warmth and calculation that would have made Jane Austen proud. The music was the ever-present New York skyline in the dusk, the blare of bus horns, the chant of girls jumping double dutch.
And most of all, the music was my parents, dancing their best selves around and around our cramped living room, and all of the other couples doing it too.
A green leaf of pride started to grow with me. A fierce love of what I had once lived.
Music gave my culture back to me.
To dance to more music, go here.
Labels: sunday scribblings
Monday, June 19, 2006
It’s not Minneapolis, which has unfolded itself to me in a sea of treetops from my picture windows, a lake that sparkles with mischief and flicks golden sparks with every breeze, a city full of charmingly unexpected side streets canopied by old, gracious trees.
No, it’s me.
I don’t think of myself as a control freak, no, not exactly. I am something far more unpleasant. I am a nudger, as in, if only I could nudge the Universe into going in my general direction, everything would be so much better. Pixie posted something about Bryon Katie the other day--about the unhappiness that can come from arguing with reality.
This is a lesson I need to learn again and again, and inevitably, it washes away like a sandcastle after the tide rolls in.
You see, in spite of my best efforts, I am someone who cocks her head and squints at the reality of whatever is in front of her, convinced that if I pulled an errant thread, it would finally fall into place beautifully. Perfectly. There is a perfect litany of "it only needs this..." or "if only this could occur..." that keeps me firmly focused on the lack amidst the abundance. On the negative space.
Immigrants are past masters of this relentless focus on the future, usually because the present, whatever the present is, is so unpleasant. So I grew up waiting and wishing for whatever was NEXT, whatever would happen "if only" something else fell into place.
I suppose my parents found it motivating. Optimistic, even. They never allowed themselves to be swayed by whatever unhappy circumstance was oppressing them at any given moment. My mami, especially, is a firm believer that ANYTHING can be improved, and to relax your constant vigilance is to invite the Universe to leave you by the side of the road, stuck in the mud. The sheer force of your will and hard work would twist your future into submission, and lead you into the life you've earned and thus, deserve. And best of all, this process never ends. You can continue to push and push...forever!
To be contented was to settle, and in her eyes, NOTHING was worse than settling. There was always something better, just down the road. Nothing was perfect.
My parents look at me and shake their heads, saddened by what they believe I have become. Someone who allowed herself to become sidetracked from their inexorable march towards progress. Someone who had endless opportunities, nay, a responsibility to blaze my family’s name in lights.
Since I was the only one who was born here, after all.
So I breathe. I try to stay in the moment. Try to focus, loosely, on the way the world is, rather than how I think it should be.
Lately, I am failing miserably.
I wonder whether my parents are right, after all. Certainly, no one could argue that I have been blessed with opportunities, and few could argue that I haven't squandered them. Not that I regret going to a Name School and majoring in English. Not that I regret following my passion for literature.
But I do regret the fearful little person I became there, wilted by the heated blast of so many big, confident personalities. People who had money, family prestige, knowledge of a world I barely saw even on television. People who were entitled, and knew it.
I am not entitled, and know it. So I spent four years expecting to be passed over, and for the most part, I was.
Sadly, this pattern has continued since then. I still meet people I admire, and expect to be ignored by then. And of course, I shrink myself to the most innocuous little ball...to the point where even I am bored by me.
And the prophecy is fulfilled. They DON’T remember me. One could argue they never really met ME after all.
I fell into an abyss of depression at college.
Bewildered, my parents waited for me to "snap out of it." I had finally made it. I was finally leading them into the very echelon of the mainstream of genuine American life. We had almost done it!
Problem was, no one showed me how to do it. I felt inadequate, gauche, forever policing my tongue in case I mispronounced a word I had only seen on the page and revealed my "true" self. I needed to follow the rules, make sure to carefully imitate my "betters" so as to avoid embarassing myself.
So I wait for the world to tell me if what I am doing is worthy. I wait for your comments on my writing, for TEG’s occasional compliments, for Madam to get an "all-clear" from the doctor. The glow of excitement when I think something works fades away when the world seems to disagree. And then I feel foolish, again, for relaxing into contentment. My mami's words come back to haunt me.
All I want to do is to hide, to rest. But I resist that, ashamed, and resolve to be ever more vigilant with my list of "should bes" and "if onlys..."
Because I can’t shake the feeling that I am letting everyone down. My parents. TEG. Madam. I look in the mirror and am startled by the reflection. Who is this person who drags herself around town in an ever-present t-shirt and yoga pants? Who slouches about unkempt? Who can’t seem to ever see the other side of her to-do list? I have a JOB, damn it. I need to prove to the world that my family did the right thing by coming here. That we’re just as good as people who are descended from those who came over on the Mayflower. I need to prove that my expensive education was not a waste. I need to prove that I am not just settling.
The problem is, I don’t think I believe any of that.
My head feels heavy from this endless resistance. I wish I could trust that if I just release this tension, this need to prove that I deserve to be here, that I wouldn’t fall even further into confusion.
That I wouldn’t be left, mired in mud, by the side of the road.
Labels: navel gazing; family tales
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Sunday Scribblings-Bed ( a fiction)
Emily, my dearest:
Here I lie, propped up on my bed like an octogenarian Cleopatra, surrounded by entirely too many pillows (I almost wrote,"surrendered"and that sounds right as well...the war is over. The pillows reign victorious.). Is this the new fashion...to send pillows in lieu of gifts, or flowers? Are mine secretly reproducing in the night (someone should enjoy this bed, after all!)? At any rate, I am sure they all have some story attached to their arrival to Periwinkle House. If not, I’ll just have to make one up.
Ah, all of this rambling about beds puts me in a Proustian mood, so I fear this will be yet another one of"Aunty Elizabeth’s stories.” Luckily, I know I always have an avid listener in you, so I feel free to indulge myself yet again to your detriment.
I suppose I should begin by telling you that I spent far more time than was strictly proper in bed...it’s where I have always done my best work (and no, not in that way your mother thought...although, now that I think of it...that too). I loved that clandestine moment of closing the door to my latest hotel room, and sighing at the sight of that great big bed, demure in its covers, with a grave economy of pillows that still somehow managed to wink at luxury and decadence. I would rush towards that bed, managing to shed my clothes along the way, desperate to pull out my notebook and spill forth everything I had seen, every conversation I’d overheard (sometimes following the poor people for hours, if things were exceptionally interesting), every impression. Thank goodness someone back home was paying me for these scribblings, but honestly, darling Emily...I would have done it for free. Writing was my way of fixing all of these occasions firmly into memory...my way of cramming every possible impression onto the page and into my lifebook. I didn’t only want to live long, you know...I wanted to live deep. And above all, I wanted to remember how startling this world can be...how surreal and phantasmagorical and utterly beguiling.
For example...take the famous"second-best bed"left by Shakespeare to his wife.
Let me tell you, the world has gotten that story COMPLETELY wrong.
I was in Stratford-on-Avon on a whim, you see, with my latest romancer, Nicholas. Nicholas had the kind of deadly earnest, vitally important job that all but required that he get away lustily and often. And he was every bit as dashing as his name would suggest. A true Earl among men (princes are so boring...so staid and responsible! Give me a rakish Earl anyday!).
Anyway, I had made the trip from Paris (where I was staying at time, courtesy of the New Yorker) to London, picked him up, and we decided that attention must be paid...it was April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday...and what better way to celebrate it!
So we took a tour of his home, led by a very pedantic young man in a somber black suit. He knew all of the ins and outs of Shakespeare’s history, but one got the sense the spirit of the plays somehow eluded him. And yes, I did judge that particular volume by his glum visage. I hope I would be wiser now, but somehow I doubt it (I can hear your mother’s cosmic snort from Heaven).
We got to the famous tale of the second-best bed, and this young gentleman fairly dripped with scorn as he related the troubles that Shakespeare had with his wife.
“It is well documented that Shakespeare had many passionate relationships with others. It seems fairly obvious that he married her for her money and social position, and found his pleasure elsewhere. He managed to get the last word through his will, when he left his wife the ‘second-best bed’, the clear implication, of course, that some more-beloved, more-favored lover received the very BEST bed.”
Well! I was positively offended on poor Anne Hathaway’s behalf! His tone just raised my hackles (and you’ve seen them fully erect, haven’t you, dear? Not a pretty sight). I pulled Nicholas back towards the end of the crowd as the tour marched inexorably on. I wanted a closer look at this second-best bed...I suppose I just wanted to prove to myself that my adored Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have been so petty. We never want to see the muddy side of our Gods, after all, and I was more than half in love with the Shakespeare revealed through his plays and sonnets.
I don’t know how we managed not to get caught. I put my finger to my lips and gave him one hard tug into the room. Quickly, we shut the door and stood there, chests heaving with nerves and with that ancient feeling of being a naughty student about to get reprimanded by the principal.
But no one noticed us, and no alarm bells clanged. It was just Nicholas, the second-best bed, and I. The bed was sturdy, with crude carvings in the headboard, plainly dressed. The shine of the yellow wood was dimmed by dust and time. Clearly, no one had bothered to restore the bed to its former glory, or rather, this was the most glory it got.
Wouldn’t it be a terrific climax to say that Nicholas and I made feverish, passionate love atop the bed? I wish I could embellish the story, go back and make that a reality. But we were entirely overawed at being that close to a bed where Shakespeare actually SLEPT...a bed that must still be liberally covered with his molecules! So we contented ourselves with lying there, chastely, making sure to mix our molecules with the Bard of Avon’s.
After a suitable amount of time had passed, we snuck out of the room, thrilling at our good luck, and rejoined the dazed tour goers.
It must have been the molecules that did it, because once we got back to the hotel and fell asleep (slightly less chastely that time), I received one of my visitations (please tell your mother to stop chortling! It makes me lose my train of thought!). In a series of images, Anne Hathaway showed me the second-best bed as it had existed in their household. Emily...this was the bed where they had lived, day to day, made love, slept. I saw their son bound in and awaken them, saw Shakespeare rub his eyes as he rose to a new day.
Then I saw the very BEST bed...proud like moneybags in the spare room, elegantly and ornately decorated, velvet coverings and silken pillowshams...the works!
But this bed was never used, never touched. It existed solely to redound to Shakespeare’s newfound credit as an author, existed as a tangible symbol of the family’s prosperity.
But no one ever slept on it, dreamt under its covers, loved on it.
Anne seemed to be telling me, through images, that they regretted that. But that Shakespeare left her the second-best bed as a reminder of the beauty of the life they had lived together, as a reminder that true riches can come in plain packages. It wasn’t a punishment. It was the ultimate honor.
And now I am passing this story onto you, my Emily. Make sure to always sleep on the very BEST bed, smash the glass and wear the jewelry, dress in your finest everyday, pull art from the walls and touch it, love it as best you know how. No sacred cows, ever. Anything worthy, precious, beautiful needs to be handled and truly lived with. Otherwise it has no point.
I have lived my own life this way, and it has served me very well. I lived hard, will die old, and will leave a beautiful corpse. No doubt on this fluffy white island of a bed, mourned first by my myriad pillows.
And I will kiss your mother on the lips for you, when I see her again.
Your aunty Elizabeth
More bedtime stories here.
Labels: sunday scribblings
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Poetry Thursday: Broken English
I bow to you and sing to you.
Enthroned above a lofty perch
Untrammeled by mundane concerns.
I don’t wanna crush you, Keats
Lock you in a musty tower
When you want to shake it up on the ground
And curl into the soil
Like a cat.
I trace my brown fingers on your proud wavy letters, Virginia
Try to eat your brilliant madness through my flesh
But I don’t feel you there.
I taste your words, in whispers
Sneak them through security
You are patient, say “Repeat after me.”
But they sound unintentional
In my accent
Overemphasized and underwhelming.
Thees and thous wrap around my tongue and tighten
Cut me off at the root.
How do I dare?
What do I know of you, after all?
No cars drag trumpet blasts and techno beats
Like ribbons behind them
Where you live
No mamis stew, eyes mottled
From the smoke of too many sofritos
Eyes wet from too many novelas
No girls step out, more curves than sense
As they try out sex like new arms
Awkward like colts
No steamy showers
Where papis wash the grime of the city soot
And the machinas
From their fingers
Leaning against the tiles
Only staring down the drain
But then I look at you
Dancing around each other like electrons
Drawn by the gravity of love.
Do you see me?
Behind the curtain, wearing red
Adding salsa sways to your minuets.
A grace note
Unnecessary flourish with my hips.
The dance goes on
Like the parrandas of my parents’ land.
No one mocks my broken English.
No one thinks the less of me.
Shakespeare, Whitman, Aristotle
I croon your names, an invocation.
I long to join myself to you
Warm skin to white page.
Life to life.
I bow to you.
You sing to me.
For more Thursday poetry, go here.
Labels: Poetry Thursday
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
One book leads to another book leads to...?
Writing the last post exorcised all of my negative fearful feelings about the city, and after I re-read it, I made a decision. I vowed to view Minneapolis through the frame of "I like it." I would train myself to focus on whatever positive I could find, and stop comparing it to Chicago, or to California. It’s a lesson I need to learn over and over...to accept what is right in front of me without endless comparisons.
I’ve found a lot to like, but nothing more so than the fabulous public library. I never managed to get a library card while living in California, so this feels like absolute abundance. To think of a book, to remember a title I’ve been curious about, and then to either get it off the shelves or request it online? Bliss!
It’s been a feast to this book-starved soul. Currently, I am the happy borrower of 9 titles, with several more on hold. Sure, one could say it’s, well, rather optimistic to think that a mother of an 11 month old Madam could find the time to do all of that reading. But I’m beginning to think that motherhood is actually the necessity of invention. I am bound and determined to do it.
Thanks to Cate’s enthusiastic recommendation, I’ve picked up The Right to Write by Julia Cameron again. It’s clearly a case of "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." I leafed through it once before, but all I remember from the experience is feeling vaguely defensive. I suppose I never thought I really had the right to write after all, and I resented her for making it seem possible. I returned it to the library (Chicago, that time) and chalked it up to a bad book...after all, I had used and loved the Artist’s Way.
This time I’ve been nodding yes, yes and making enthusiastic notes in my journal (the only one I brought with me...it’s getting quite a workout these days!). One of the exercises she wrote about involved writing to your inner writer and trying to see what she/he needs. I’ve done similar exercises before, with varying results, but something about her presentation captured my imagination, so I waited until nap time and went to work.
What I heard back surprised me.
My inner writer unleashed a hurt diatribe about not valuing the kind of writing I do naturally...the kind of writing I do here...self-therapy, I suppose you could call it. She complained about my endless focus on "the novel" and how I need to get back to it; it’s my real work, etc. And basically she said, over and over again, that she would not budge on the novel until I respected the kind of writing I LIKE to do, the kind of writing that comes naturally to me.
And she is right. I have always exalted the true creative person--the one who seems to create out of pure imagination--like, say, Laini or Alexandra. I have always seen autobiographical writing, especially thinly disguised as a novel, as somehow cheating. It’s not "real" unless it is far, far removed from your own life.
I cannot seem to create this way. When I write, I want to explore the way my mind ranges from mood to memory. I want to understand myself in the hopes that it will give me some insight into human psychology and the larger self. And so, inevitably, I end up writing personal essays, or journaling, or writing a novel that draws heavily on autobiographical elements. And that last one haunts me, in part, because I want to invent new things for her, a new history, but she stubbornly resists, and stubbornly remains committed to the past I’ve already laid out, which is almost completely my past.
This illuminating exchange wore down my last bit of reserve, and I made myself a promise. For the next year, I will allow myself to write the way that feels natural, and try to craft my work without denigrating my instincts.
Which lead me to the second book, Writing as a way of healing. I’ve seen this book before...the Dean I worked for at Cool but Aimless Job had a copy of it in his office, which surprised me at the time because he was a very clinical scientist. I remember being turned off by the title, looking so slight there amidst the solemn leather bound textbooks and medical journals. It looked almost pleading, as though asking to be returned to its natural habitat. I scoffed a little at it, telling myself that I was interested in being a Real Writer, not someone who writes for mere therapy and self-improvement.
Yeah, you can see how well that worked out.
My time at the library can resemble that old show "supermarket sweep" as I careen from shelf to shelf, trying to gather as many books as possible before Madam remembers that she dislikes the library. So in a bit of a panic (she was already doing her low pitched introductory whine), I pulled the book off the shelf and added it to my pile.
It’s exactly what I need to read right now. She writes about honoring the desire to write, about creating a process in layers, and not getting ahead of it (such a problem for me, as I believe I should know how the final polished shape should look before I finish the first draft). She writes about not believing you can write, and writing anyway.
So, yes, you write to heal. But you also write to create a self, to understand your mind, and to teach yourself what you most need to know.
This is what I have decided to do for myself this year. I have decided to take myself seriously as a writer...to utilize whatever resources I have at my disposal, to use whatever time I can finagle between naps and TEG’s involvement, to write the way I seem to need to, right now, and trust that I can learn by doing what I need to do.
Labels: navel gazing; family tales
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Moving to Minneapolis has felt offkilter so far. When I moved to California, I was immediately surrounded by a kaleidoscope of icons and images I had been seeing all of my life—the palm trees, Hollywood sign, those famous hills. It’s like a blurry photocopy of Chicago for me…so I squint and I point to where I think something should be, but it’s not there. I am haunted by a sense that I should feel more comfortable, but I am not. I feel the urge to run back to something familiar, to escape this sense of dislocation. I long to go back to California, back to Chicago, back anywhere that can be referred to as “home.”
You see, I’ve never liked mysteries. There is something companionable about following a story to its end—we’re all in this together, none of us know for sure. But the very idea of a mystery implies a hierarchy—separates us into those that Know and those that Don’t Know. And the not-knowing feels intolerable, shifty, awkward. Is this right? Is this right? beats the steady refrain. So I grab at any certainty, the first fact that floats by. I’m the kind of reader that hangs on to any red herring, anything to maintain my footing.
As you can imagine, I am terrible at figuring out whodunit.
I’m trying to stay open this time, trying not to ride the first hint of familiarity with the area into a rut that I never escape. But mystery feels like a lack of fluency, like not having any words at all while others around me converse freely. Mystery feels like a whispering behind you—a ring of backs laughing around a fire, impenetrable.
It's all about wanting control, wanting to use knowledge as a way to blend into the crowd, to sit meek and unlined in front of the world. And yet I proclaim loudly and often that I want to be special, to be eccentric and left-of-normal.
I want to change…want to be seduced by the low hiss of mystery—to follow the trail of clues, to welcome the discoveries that Not-Knowing will bring. To realize the potential for my growth when I grow in confusion.
"Live the questions"...too often I settle for the first answer, stretching that one fact ragged in an attempt to create a rope over the abyss of mystery. I write this way, too--holding into the edge of my meager understanding for dear life, frightened of letting go, being wrong, getting lost. What is so terrible about getting lost? I...am not sure, but I'm trying not to rush to a too-pat judgment.
So here I am. Faced again with the mystery of an unknown city, where the buildings gaze at me with blank faces, and all of the roads wind to nowhere. And faced with the mystery of a blank page, frustrated at inspiration that wafts away again, at uncertain skill and indeterminate talent.
Faced with the mystery that what I most want is what I most fear.
For more mysterious writing, go here.
Labels: sunday scribblings
Thursday, June 01, 2006
But Madam needs me now.
I miss being here...I miss reading all of your wisdom and humor and discoveries on your blogs. I feel adrift--loosening my ties to one home without entering into the next.
I'll see you all when I'm all moved. I might be 33 by then (it's my birthday week this week, so have a drink with an umbrella in my name, since I can't do it myself yet!). And I won't be a Californian anymore, at least physically. But who knows what the next few years will bring? I'm excited to meet myself-in-the-future. But I don't think California and I are quite done with each other yet.
(and a note about comments, that I originally posted below in the Ache post):
"I never know quite how to respond to your comments...in email (but what if you are commenting without it linked?), in the comments section (but will you come back and read it)? But I needed to tell you how incredibly inspirational and helpful and thought-provoking your comments are. Not just for this post, but for all of them. They truly help me keep writing, and for that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart."
Labels: navel gazing; family tales