January 27, 2010
Alas, for the past few nights sleep has eluded me, has left me pressing my forehead in the dark, a tired body with an alert mind. Last night, in frustration, I cried and whispered aloud, “Am I on speed?”
It has been such a long time since I have written anything other than journal entries and failed FAILED blog posts, and sometimes it feels like the words are angry with me. They gang up in my head and kick my brain at night.
My brain is a collector and a filer. I store all kind of information in it and then need to let it have time to file itself away. Sometimes the paperwork gets backed up. Sometimes I think I put so much stuff in my brain and don’t give it the time to file as a coping mechanism. If I am constantly filling my brain, I don’t need to file anything. I don’t need to reflect on all the things that have fallen inside it. I don’t have to confront the hard questions I think through. Last night, as I was trying to untangle the mess of words inside, I wrote, “Do I have so much useless information floating around in my head that it’s preventing me from fully engaging with my own life? Have I stopped having deep and compelling thoughts because I never let myself sit down long enough to think them? I miss those nights in college of inspiration and creativity, where I would lie awake and think about things and possibilities and what life would hold for me – all the places to go and the different opportunities and the jobs and people – sometimes creativity was my caffeine. I would think about stories I would never write, projects I would never start, men who would never love me back. It was almost like the pursuit of the possibility was more compelling than the object itself. Now it is like all those nights have piled up, demanding the sleep that I lost back then, and they have compounded so I am just that tired. I am just that old. I have forgotten how to let my mind play, or maybe it has just gotten old too.”
Over a year ago, maybe even almost two years ago, I slept on D’s couch one night. I awoke in the middle of the night with an urge to draw. So, I drew a dress design in my journal, and beside it, I wrote in my half-sleep stupor, “Maria von Trapp making clothing out of drapery (‘and having a marvelous time.’)”
I stayed up for a few hours and wrote several pages about fashion, making lists of all the things I could think of that supported its influence on my life. I wrote extensively about the film My Fair Lady, and how, when I was fourteen years old, the bit of red on Eliza Doolittle’s Ascot gown — in a forest of black and white dresses — changed my whole perspective on fashion. And really, as cheesy as this sounds, it changed my perspective on creativity. I wanted to be the bit of red in a world of black and white. And I was, while still under the safety of my family. I wore plaid pants to school and had pink Converse All-Stars laced up with blue ribbons. I acted. I sang at the piano. I wrote poems and let people read them.
Somewhere between then and now, I grew up. I don’t sing anymore unless it is with a group. I scrutinize what I wear. I rarely write anymore because my inner critic is so strong. And, perhaps the worst tragedy of all is that I don’t write poems. My beat up notebooks lie sheepishly on the shelf, slightly bent and hiding behind a jewelry stand. So, last night while I was trying to quiet my mind, I pulled one out and discovered the last poem I worked on. I was trying to re-write a poem I wrote in college, and I was filled with confusion about my relationship with D, about my purpose in moving to California. I was filled with a heavy sense of anxiety all the time. I felt alone. I was scared. So, I first debunked the meaning of the original poem I had written. I wrote it about one of those guys mentioned above, one of the ones that I laid awake thinking about, one of the ones would never love me back. And as I read it with fresh eyes, five years later, after that same guy got married and had a kid, I realized it wasn’t really about him at all. I scribbled in the margin of my notebook, “The man isn’t actually a man – he represents everything I want to be and feel and have and do but cannot. Likewise, the other woman is not a literal woman. She is the voice in me that tells me I cannot have the man. The voice of the poem comes from my vulnerability, the part of me that wants to escape the poem, so her voice, her body, her beauty, will no longer threaten me and the life I want.”
I re-wrote another draft of the poem and called it “Dichotomy,” and I would like to share it here even though it is not very good yet. In fact, it’s terrible. IT’S A HOT MESS! This is my effort to silence the inner Other Woman who likes to tell me I can’t make dresses out of drapes – that I do not have the talent it takes to create something beautiful out of nothing. She likes to make me think that I can’t be the bit of red in a room of black and white. But I want her to shove it.
This is why men have
erected worlds on her legs:
She is the high ground
and the hot breath,
the bed of survival
the shade and the incubator
and the blood of the line.
But she is also the bikini smile
wrapped in your towel,
sleeping in your tent when it rained.
You could not see that her body
was a cliff,
a shadow from east and west,
a thirsty bed,
into sparse, wet cracks
that seal up the sun.
But I knew that she was not the
thirty feet from rock to river,
the air falling too fast to breathe.
July 30, 2008
Men must’ve been walking on the roof, and I said as much. “What are they doing up there?” I asked when the building moved.
The night before the earthquake D and I were driving back up to L.A. from Newport Beach after spending Sunday and Monday in the O.C. with best friend L and her boyfriend JT. Saturday night offered a birthday party at D’s house up in the Hollywood hills for a roommate; spending the night at JT’s aunt’s home — a big-whig CBS person; a Sunday brunch with JT’s sister and brother-in-law — a studying architect and a cinematographer; a Sunday afternoon lounging on JT’s grandma’s deck in the Newport Bay while watching JT windsurf; a Sunday night snuggling on the couch to the romantic-est of romantic movies, American Psycho; a Monday driving around Newport in a 1970s convertible Volkswagen, license plate similar to but not exactly THE THING, with a surf board sticking out the back; and a Sunday early evening watching JT, L, and D surf (and attempt to surf) in our very own little section of the ocean.
In the car, on the drive home, we were tired. And satisfied. We love our friends. In the quiet satisfaction of the drive, I sang aloud the song that has been stuck in my head for days and days now, Natalie Merchant’s “San Andreas Fault,” a song I put on a mix CD for D before we started dating. It is off the album Tiger Lily, an album that has been somewhere in my head since I was 14. I know every lyric on it. When I was 14, I almost wished I had a broken heart so the song “Seven Years” could be true of me. It was that lovely and tragic, and I was that masochistic. Still, “San Andreas Fault” is my favorite on the album:
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there
You’ll be the brightest star
The world has ever seen
Sun-baked slender heroine
Of film and magazine
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there
You’ll be the brightest light
The world has ever seen
The dizzy height of a jet-set life
You could never dream
Your pale blue eyes
Lips so sweet
Skin so fair
Your future bright
It’s rags to riches
San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Such an awful sound
San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Terra cotta shattered
And the walls came
O, promised land
O, wicked ground
Build a dream
Tear it down
O, promised land
What a wicked ground
Build a dream
Watch it all fall down
For as long as we’ve known it, the West has beckoned people with dreams; first those literal gold-diggers with their shovels and pans, those unsinkable Molly Browns. Then Hollywood boasted gold, a Golden Era where riches dwelt not in rocks but in pictures. It is that gold that people come with their pick-axes to claim now-days. There are so many people here, so many, many people who are fighting for that gold, like Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. One must wonder if this role resonated a little too deeply with Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland when she played it. Like me, she was born in Minnesota. She crossed the fault line into Hollywood. Perhaps she wouldn’t have died of a drug overdose or attempted all those suicides without all those insecurities about her appearance, exacerbated by studio execs pushing her to be a skinny woman. She might’ve had a long and happy life in Minnesota. Perhaps there really is no place like home.
Sad songs are always the best songs, and I never really understood “San Andreas Fault” until I moved to the wrong side of the actual one. At 14 I didn’t know much about youth even though I possessed it in abundance. Now that youth is ticking away, it has become a precious commodity, more precious than the number in any bank account — even William Randolph Hearst, circa 1928. I moved here not for a dream of wealth, but for a dream of youth. I came here to spend my years of sweet lips and fair skin in a land of water and seemingly endless sun.
You would think that a City of Dreams would offer its residents lovely neighbors, that the opportunities would abound like the pigeons, and all the people would drown in gold and get grills for their teeth. But maybe L.A. is called the City of Dreams and not the City of Successes because so may come here with a dream and leave without it. It doesn’t slip through just any old crack. It slips in the San Andreas Fault. That’s why we have earthquakes: All those orphan dreams are rolling around down there.
When the earthquake happened I stood up. Others I know dove to the floor. Apparently the plastic electrical plates burst off the walls in office buildings close to the origin of the quake. D’s sister E had an awkward moment with her boss under a desk. In my office, we stood in the hallway, each in a respective doorway, watching the juice our company manufactures slosh in the bottles to see if the building was still swaying and that it wasn’t just our scared little knees. A California-native hugged me. This was my first quake, wasn’t it? Was I scared?
Scared? No. So thrilled I felt it through my whole body? Yes.
It isn’t really the San Andreas Fault that scares me, even though my new homeland will supposedly someday fall into the ocean. My own faults scare me much more… faults like financial irresponsibility, worrying so much about my life that I fail to live it, the ways that I take my anger out on the people I love, the inability to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, my tendency toward depression. Meanwhile, youth ticks away. My birthday is next month. My twenties are more than halfway over.
The earthquake didn’t really scare me because the ground did not jump or shake here like I expected it to. I expected it to shake us like pennies in a jar. Instead it moved like the L.A. traffic does when you watch it from the Hollywood Hills at night. All those lights snake up the hills, in a choreography of curves and different sounds. Sometimes when I’m driving home I listen to the classical music station because its like we’re in an orchestra. Enter Ford F150 with your booming tympani; come gently little old Volkswagen Beetle with your flighty piccolo; El Diablo, bring your classical guitar; don’t forget your French Horn, Mercedes Benz. When you’re in it, it can feel jerky and unpracticed — some people play the wrong notes. But when you look above and see it happen with a different perspective, all of it works together. You see the beginning, and you see the end and all the lights and buildings and hills in between.
And when those faults do act up as they inevitably do — the Angelinos have been expecting The Big One for years now and are relieved this small one came to relieve some pressure — perhaps it truly is the best idea to run to the first doorway and stand in it until the swaying stops, and on scared little knees, take a new step.
December 6, 2007
Today, while going through a box of old college papers and pitching about 75% of them, I ran across my folder of poetry. Now, this folder is generally something I don’t know what to do with. It is where I stash all types of pieces of paper on which I have written anything even vaguely poetic in case it might some day inspire a great American masterpiece. So far all it has done is grow. In fact, I don’t think I have actually ever looked through and read all of this gobble-de-gook. I just keep adding to it. I must be saving up for something big.
When I opened the folder, I did feel a certain pang from those days when I wrote prolifically and had all types of friends nearby to be excited about it. They didn’t even have to read what I was writing — they were just excited that I was writing, the same type of excitement that my boyfriend expresses when I tell him I’m working on something, which isn’t too often these days.
As 2007 is drawing to a close, I’m thinking about doing some sort of 2007 wrap-up on le blog, which will be a synopsis of my top 5 greatest movies, books, TV shows, etc. to see if they’ve changed at all through the course of the year. When I started thinking about the books, I had to smack myself. I’ve been such a bad reader this year, and, consequently, a bad writer. This blog conflicts me a little. While it is good that I am practicing the discipline of writing every day (and believe me, having an audience helps, so thanks! I appreciate you all!), I am not practicing the discipline of re-writing. I sort of just type what I’m thinking and hit publish, only going back in to clarify or fix the punctuation. That, my friends, is not writing. It is drivel. Now, it may be enjoyable drivel, but it is still drivel.
Which brings me to a funny story. About three years ago, I had the honor of living with a house full of awesome girls during our senior year of college (and HK was a grad student). We were all sitting around the living room one afternoon working on homework, but HK was looking at a book her sister had left at our house after we threw the sister a Book Shower for her birthday. Book Showers are very popular birthday parties in my camp of things. Each guest that comes to the party must bring the birthday girl/boy a book as a gift. It can be used, new, whatever. It just has to be a book. I think we had three or four Book Showers in that house for various people the year that we lived there. Anyway, the book was given as a joke to HK’s sister, and the title was something like, How to Be a Good Christian. Now, I am a Christian and have nothing against Christianity as a religion. But I hate, hate, hate it when supposed Christian big-shots pretend like you can have a step-by-step guidebook on how to live a successful Christian life. It’s so trite and cliche and revolting. But all that is a post for another day.
I had the good fortune of living with other Christian women who believe the same as I do about how sad it is that these Christian big-shots shoot up their fellow believers with a bunch of jargon that has nothing to do with making the tough decisions. HK was looking at the book when I walked in, and all I heard was my other roommate A saying, “…why are you reading that Christian drivel?”
“What Christian drivel?” I asked.
A looked at me, smirked, and said, “Your diary.”
That was just another highlight of 616 Maple Street. We got our kicks at 616.
Anyway, back on the topic of my poetry folder… I found a sheet of paper full of lists. At the time that I wrote the lists, I’m pretty sure I was reading a chapter from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which is quite the brilliant little manuscript. In it, Shonagon writes these fantastic, concrete descriptions. Amazon.com’s summary of the book says, “The Pillow Book is a collection of anecdotes, memories of court and religious ceremonies, character sketches, lists of things the author enjoyed or loathed, places that interested her, diary entries, descriptions of nature, pilgrimages, conversations, poetry exchanges–indeed, almost everything that made up daily life for the upper classes in Japan during the Heian period. Her style is so eloquent, her observations so skillfully chosen, and her wit so sharp that even the smallest detail she records can attract and hold the attention of any modern reader.” Some of the lines will make you laugh out loud. Others will strike you in such a way that you will never forget them. The description is that precise.
When I was reading this book, I attempted to write lists of things similar to Shonogans’. Mine are certainly not as poignant as hers, but just the same, here they are:
Things the people with whom I grew up consider scandalous:
– Lashing out at other people
– Spending large amounts of money on frivolous things
– Racial prejudice
– Benny Hinn
– The way a woman opens her mouth when she is putting on mascara
– A dead fish floating in a tank
– The accidental sight of a stranger’s naked body
– The uncontrol of what one eats
Things of which I am afraid:
– Dead things
– Grasshoppers and centipedes
– Being attacked by a crocodile
– Suffocation (in the forms of drowning or being buried alive)
– Organized sports
– My own indifference and apathy
– The deaths of those close to me
– Leering men
– Small talk
Things I dislike but will endure to be polite:
– Naughty children
– Eating tomatoes
– Bad poetry
– Bad coffee
– Teenage enthusiasm
– Discussions on politics
– Overt flirtatiousness
– Phone calls from acquaintances (I only like talking on the phone with people I know and trust. Otherwise, I loathe it. I’m one of those awkward phone people.)
– Exclamation point rampancy
Things I embrace:
– A good pen
– Hot baths
– A movie as a study break
– A good book on a rainy day (how trite)
– A creative project
– A deep conversation
– New shoes
– Old jeans
– Hard work
– 8 hours of sleep
– Physical affection
– Having friends over for dinner
– Theme parties
– Smiles from kind strangers
– A long email about nonsense
– Bare feet
– Old houses
– The smell of an extinguished candle