Monday, May 31, 2010

My city of ruins


Epel says, "It is important to identify your own needs as a writer so that the writing process can serve a deep purpose inside you."

In the house where I grew up, we were encased. Our hedge was so tall that I had to use a step-ladder to trim its tops. That was my job, taking care of the yard. My father pawned it off on me when he got sick of paying Than, the lawn care “freelancer” who rang our doorbell when it snowed or the grass got patchy.

In the winter when we had snow days, my brother and I built forts, one on either side of the yard, and spent the day in unsupervised combat. There were no time outs. We threw icy snowballs. Cars inching along our side street so as not to skid got the ones we didn’t dare throw at each other.

One spring, we tried to plant a paltry cherry tree in the middle of the yard. A cousin mistook it for a stick and ripped it right out of the ground. We tried to plant a sunflower next to the hedge, but it got no sun.

Inside the yard, little girls and I (a little girl too) popped snails and ruined anthills. So many bugs displaced at our hands! We mashed my father’s irises into love potions. One of the rougher neighborhood girls taught me to write “FUCK YOU” in chalk on the sidewalk. My mother caught us and made me scrub it off alone with dish soap, while my accomplice wandered home without punishment. In winter, we covered the hedge in white lights.

When I was 21, my parents tried to cart my sister off to jail. Before the police arrived, she walked right out the front door. There in the yard, my father reached out to stop her. Hold on to her. She bit him. Like wild animals do.

By the time I got home, there were squad cars parked on the street. Front gate hanging half open, like a loose tooth. Neighbors with strollers craning their necks for a better look as they passed. So this is what we must have looked like from the outside.

I am terrible at small talk. It strikes me a trait women should be able to maneuver. When a new person talks to me I am so nervous my listening skills dissolve. I am thinking, what can I say next to endear this person to me, entice them into friendship? But how can one possibly know another, when they are too anxious over being liked to tune into the other’s frequency?

There are a few people I telephone. My brother, my mother. Rarely my father, who is just deaf enough to get irritable when he can’t see your lips moving. The thought of phoning others strikes me as exhausting.

We sold the house, to a family who didn’t move in right away. They left the Christmas lights up through June, didn’t cut the grass. Started to paint the window trim, changed their minds. No matter where I am, I often get the feeling that I am standing in the dark, pressing my nose to someone else’s window.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The rising

In an effort to resuscitate this blog, I’m putting on display my newest writing project, a series of exercises from Naomi Epel’s “Observation Deck.” Tonight I drew my first card (meant to “jump start creativity,”) this is what it prompted:

Epel says, “Imagine a future in which you have become the writer you always wanted to be. You are living the way you want to live in a place filled with things that you love. Let this future reassure the present that everything will work out.”

Welcome to my apartment! Come in! That? Up there? That’s the roof garden. I’m a real green thumb. My herbs have made it through several rainstorms. Of course I use those planters with holes in the bottom. What kind of a monster would overlook a plant’s basic need for circulation? All my planters are incredibly breathable. And those are brussels sprouts. Yes, they’re very hard to grow.

Would you like a drink? I wouldn’t mind one. It’s nice to let down your hair once in a while. As responsible mothers, how often do we get the chance? Isn’t being a mother fulfilling? Especially because we are so damn good at it.

I keep the scotch in that globe over there. Yes, it opens into a bar! Several times when I was younger, I tried to learn about scotch, and always forgot everything I was taught the second after I learned it. I nearly gave up. Then one day, I thought, maybe I’ll give it one more shot, and you wouldn’t believe it but these days I’m known as New York’s premier scotch connoisseur. The whole experience encouraged me to challenge what I believed to be my limits.

Oh, thank you. You look wonderful too. During my pregnancy, I was diligent about my pre-natal yoga. Yoga really relaxes me. Helps me sleep. No, I don’t have those sleeping problems anymore.

Yes, I still keep in touch with her. Her too. I’m lucky that way, to have kept so many people I love close to me.

These are my books, I feel silly showing them to you. You don’t think it’s impolite, do you? I just hoped you genuinely wanted to see them. Short stories, about strong women. They sound silly when I describe them that way.

I used to think I was meant to be an unhappy person. It was probably because of my age. Mid-twenties. Maybe everyone feels unhappy at that age and just doesn’t talk about it. I thought a light inside me had burned out, like I was some broken refrigerator and all my insides were rotting in the still, stinky air trapped behind the door. I used to have a lot of boyfriends, and they would say “Tell me what you’re thinking! Why don’t you talk to me?!” But I’d be afraid, that everything inside me had turned, had curdled, they they’d be disgusted if I opened up.

And then one day, I didn’t have anymore boyfriends. And I thought, the only company I have is broken down old Me. So I just had to get over it. Because really, hating yourself is just a way of freezing time, of not taking care of what needs to happen next. I wanted to be made of wax. To stand outside myself rattling off judgments: Her arms are too skinny! Her waist is too thick! She is too quiet, too mean, too young for that gray streak on the right side of her hairline.

Let me pour you that drink. I would apologize for digressing, but I don't feel comfortable being sorry about something so trivial.

At first, I had to keep moving. I had to make the bed and wash the dishes and sweep the floor even if I’d swept it yesterday and hadn’t walked across it to track any dirt in since. It was important not to pause, because in pausing I might remind myself: you are terribly lonely. And a thought like that could discourage a girl from sweeping the floor, because maybe she thinks that dirt is her only company.

Is that drink too strong? Oops! I should have added water. You'd think I was an amateur.

That loneliness, it goes away! Not until much later of course. But at a point, you just get tired of moving so fast all the time. And so little by little, you slow down. And then one day, you rest. And in resting you suddenly realize, you’re able to sit with yourself.