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,
scurrying anemones
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.

On Finding a Setting

August 13, 2008

This evening D and I had a conversation on the phone that lasted more than our typical phone conversations now-a-days. Actually, we had an argument, but that’s not what this post is about. In the midst of all of it, during the resolution of the whole thing — the time when we are done with the heightened feelings and adamantly trying to prove a point, when we both re-cap what we need and try to find some sort of compromise — I closed my eyes for a moment and could picture my apartment back in Arkansas so clearly, right down to the feel of my bed and the cat’s tail ticking against my leg and the way my bed creaked when I moved. We spent a lot of time talking on the phone in those days, back when he was the California branch of our relationship.

It’s funny that the very thing the argument began with (our arguments rarely end with what they began with) was the very thing I was picturing: Setting. This post is not about the argument, so I’m not going to go into the details of what transpired. For the past few days, however, I’ve been attempting to put into words a discovery I made on the beach Saturday. But I’ve also been trying to challenge myself to improve my writing style so it’s slightly less amateur and emotive. Today I tried writing a post entirely devoid of “I” as a subject. It just doesn’t work in blogging. This is what I came up with:

“One of the major components that separates a seasoned writer from an amateur is the emphasis on setting. The category of seasoned writers is by no means this girl’s dwelling place, but freshman year fiction writing left me with a better understanding of setting in writing. Heck, this blog nearly tripled in its readership once it took on the personal of a Midwestern transplant living in Los Angeles. Or maybe it was the advertising to friends on Facebook that did that.” Can you say boring textbook? I just need to stop trying to justify blogging with failed attempts to turn this entirely narcissistic thing into something literary. It’s a blog. Of course it’s going to have a high degree of gush.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that often amateur writers neglect setting in their work, and they leave their poor characters floating around in a readers’ mind in banal, shadowy places like generic bedrooms, rather than putting them someplace specific. In real life, we live in specific places: not just any room, but my room with the pile of laundry on the bathroom floor and the broken blinds and the stale scent of herbal shampoo. Not just any old park, but the park with the statue of the man who invented the chocolate bar. J.R.R. Tolkien is so fantastic with his settings that I am having such a terrible time getting through The Lord of the Rings. Any time Frodo or the other hobbits think of the shire and how they long for their home, I start crying. Homesickness…meh.

Saturday, le roommates and I went to the beach, and the fact confronted me that I’ve only been to the beach three times in the last seven months even though is less than five miles from my apartment. And by going to the beach, I mean donning a bathing suit with at least a slight intention of getting wet. Saturday was the first day since I moved here that I actually immersed myself in the Pacific. And then I realized that part of the reason that I have been homesick to some degree since I left for college back in 2001, moving away from Minnesota for the very first time, is because I have never given myself a chance to get to know the land in any other place.

If you were to ask me about Minnesota, I wouldn’t just say that I lived in a house there or went to high school there. I would tell you about the countless snow structures we built and how we would hang our mittens and hats and scarves over the radiator in our first house to let them get warm before we put them on. I would tell you about the mulberry bushes in the backyard and how they would become so ripe and juicy that you could bump the branches and they’d fall to the ground, washing it in purple, and how the birds would poop mulberry seeds all over the patio. I would tell you how our family built that patio with bricks and sand and cement blocks, and it all went quite well until the ice that winter built up under the bricks made them explode. Every winter the fire department would flood the park for ice skating, and Jack Frost would paint our windows. I remember how it feels to lie in my bedroom, the exact way the bed fits my body, and how it is to wake up there to the sounds and smells of absolute comfort — to knowing the people you love most in the world are only a wall away. When I was a little girl, in our first house, I could always tell who was coming up stairs by the rhythm of their steps. Mom would always stop at the bottom to pick up toys and bring them up. There were twelve steps at my first house. Sixteen at my second.

I never gave myself the chance to know Arkansas that well. There was the damp and musty feeling of our house on Maple Street, where I lived with 3 other girls, and the sounds of the frogs outside my window in that studio above a professor’s garage. There was the feeling of desperation and sadness when I finished college, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved out of that apartment all in a few days. But the same elements and concretes are not there. I was so busy being productive that I didn’t take the time to memorize the number of steps from the ground to my door. These were merely places, apartments for a temporary life. It’s no wonder they never felt like home.

Sometimes I think that I will never feel at home again unless I get married, have kids, and settle down somewhere. Nothing reminds me of home more than watching my niece and nephew play and seeing again the things that are important to children. For my niece, it is wearing pink, putting on chapstick, and reading books. My nephew just wants to run everywhere with his binky in his mouth. They want other kids to play with, adults to entertain them, and lots and lots of cookies. They remind me of what it was like to grow up with an older brother and what it was like to have such a big living room… what it was like to have a house not just cover you, but protect you. There were all the alcoves and crannies to that place… the towel cupboard you could climb inside and close the door, the secret storage closet in my brother’s room, the turning cupboard in the kitchen corner where breakfast cereal was kept.

At the same time, I know that my life is here in L.A. now, at least for the next few years, and I need to be investing myself here. I need to pursue the land with the same intention that I pursue the friends I am making here. I need to count the steps from my carport to my apartment. I need to go to the beach every weekend and find a spot to memorize. I need to stop floating around in this generic place and make it specific. I need to find my setting.

This post was supposed to be about my own abyss of staggering, suctioning desolation. It was supposed to be about my struggle with anxiety, including dripping references to Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath and how all great writers eventually asphyxiate themselves.

This post was supposed to be gushing and emotive and altogether moving; a post in which everything the heroine says or does resonates within the reader, until the reader bursts out shouting: “Yes, dear writer, your plight has been my plight, and your life, my life! I love you for brilliantly expressing what I, as a mere reader, cannot express! You are the voice of humanity and all that is poetry!”

While writing said post, I had a fit of writing-hating: hating myself via hating my writing. I called Best Friend L in San Francisco and gushed to her about all my irrational fears and my struggle with anxiety these past few days and how I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, and (sob) I miss Francis the Cat.

Then L told me that when she was in Peru a few weeks ago, she got sick one day and vomited, and right after she vomited there was an 6.5 earthquake while she was naked.

And lo, I laughed. L laughed too; she said, “I’m so glad you reacted that way. No one laughs when I tell them.”

“What, do they say, ‘Oh no, you threw up, I’m so sorry?’”

“Yes, but I wish they would laugh. It’s really funny.”

And lo, lo, I laughed, heartily.

And then I told her… I told her all the irrational things I’ve been anxious about… virgin pregnancy being the forerunner.

“See?! See how irrational it is?” I asked. “I’ve never even had sex, but suddenly I gain weight and my breasts get swollen from PMS, and I’m all panicked that I’m giving birth to a deity and asking D if he’s had any prophetic dreams lately.” I didn’t tell her about the fears that the bank is stealing all my money (“This girl has $2000 in her checking account and $30,000 in school debt… she looks like she wouldn’t notice if we took a grand here and there…”); or my fears about my feet growing really, really wide; or my fears about my eyelashes falling out. You laugh. You just go ahead and laugh, but seriously, guys…

What if this happened?

And then I told her about how D and I were kissing the other day, glorious, healthy kissing in the purest way possible, and I actually started crying. Not because the moment was so romantic and emotive and meaningful that I couldn’t help myself. I started crying because I imagined what it would be like if we broke up. And suddenly, that Worst Case Scenario became my reality instead of the real reality – the attractive young man beside me who likes me so much that he lets me place my mushy, saliva-covered lips on his.

And then L said, “Give yourself a break!” She named off all the tough things I’ve done lately, dating all the way back to the moment of the big move to California in December. “Seriously,” she said. “Give yourself a break. We need to start making this our mantra whenever anything is scary: ‘At least I’m not pregnant.’”

And that was just what I needed to hear, just what writing a million gushing posts could not cure. Well, it was what L said AND D’s earlier affirmation that the bank is not stealing my money, and even if they were stealing my money, I would not die.

That’s the nice thing about having so little money. There isn’t a whole lot to lose. And really, the best thing about all of it is that even if the bank were stealing my money, the bank could not make me pregnant…


On the Tip of My Tongue

March 22, 2008

Tonight, while trying to write the afore-promised post about D and my experience being evacuated from the movie theater, I got to thinking about writing. Actually, the thinking came after the attempt and failure to write and during the subsequent bath-time that followed.

I have mentioned before that for a long time, blogging is the only writing I’ve really been doing. And while we all love our blogs and spewing mundane daily events in the form of quippy, cute sentences, this is not real writing. Real writing is about 80% agony from the knowledge that no matter what I write and how good I feel about it, the first draft is always going to be terrible. There’s no getting around it. Real writing requires re-writing.

For a long time, I’ve been dancing around the idea of writing a novel. I may have mentioned it before… certainly to people in person, and maybe on the blog. I don’t quite remember. This idea has begun to pressure me more and more as I’m settling into my adult life and finally coming to terms with the fact that I will never be a child again, and therefore, will always have to have an adult job. Right now I am working as an assistant. A year ago, I was working as an assistant. And though I like my job now and am thankful for the work, in five years, I do not want to be working as an assistant. There’s nothing wrong with being an assistant. It takes brains and organization and hard work and stress just like any other job. But for the rest of my life? Eh. I think not.

Tonight in that subsequent bath that followed the discouraged blog failure, I believe I may have come up with the first line to my novel. At least for now. At least a starting point. And I realized something I never realized before about writing:

Writing should be like building a friendship. I don’t mean that like it sounds. A lot of writers will gush about how their characters became their best friends in the course of the book and how it was so sad to kill so and so off or do that terrible thing to such and such because man, my characters are amazing and SO REAL that THEY COULD BE MY REAL FRIENDS. Perhaps I’m being a jerk here, but that’s a little pathetic. Characters are a means to an end, the personification of a rhetorical device. Writing should be like building a friendship because one must approach it with a story rather than an agenda. If we make friends to prove something, our friendships are insincere and vacant. A real friendship begins with a story:

Hello, my name is Ann. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. I have two parents, an older brother, a family dog, and I used to own a cat named Francis who was the coolest cat I’ve ever met. I miss her.

I’ve had such a hard time beginning my novel because I’ve forgotten the simple, lovely value of a story. I get caught up in the outline and the ending and the big picture of it all. Sure, Al Finnigan lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and was raised by his grandfather and has a Great Pyrenees named Muldoon who is blind in one eye and was divorced by his ex-wife Pam five years ago, BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS STORY? WHAT DOES HE SYMBOLIZE? Tonight I realized that if I write the book the way I am thinking about it right now, it will be insincere and vacant. Instead, I have to begin with a story:

Pam spent most of her first marriage asking questions. Of course, the questions began even before the marriage did: What’s your name? Where are you from, Al? What brought you to Sheboygan? And are you still working in the lumber business? Do you like it?  Al was a man who needed questions. Even after they had vowed to love, honor, cherish, and share, Al needed the questions, or he would spend his evenings flattened against the couch, eating his cornflakes with crushed crackers and peanuts on top and watching the Discovery Channel, saying nothing about the day.

So, my question here for you all is, does this paragraph make you want to read more? It’s a first draft, so it’s rough and clunky and wordy, but are you intrigued? Be honest. For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a novel blog. I’m still thinking about the implications of it, and I definitely need to get this one back up consistently before I take on any other web projects…. any thoughts on the idea of a novel blog?

Today the post was going to be about blogetiquette: my definition of what should not appear on a blog, for reasons of gentility and just plain Not Embarrassing Yourself Later. I’m sure that I have broken some of these rules, and I am probably about to break more of them. This morning I realized that I need to do a little honest writing here, a little something that shows what’s really going on.

This transition to California has been hard. I’m not going to go into all the little details of it because I don’t believe in writing things that I wouldn’t tell people to their faces. Especially on the internet. (This would be one important rule of blogetiquette that many, many people violate.) I might make exceptions in a journal, but journals are meant to be private outlets of thoughts and feelings.

But I can talk about myself and some of the things that I have been going through. Most writers tend to be inward people. We are the shy ones, the introverts, the ones who don’t really want fame but have to write anyway because it possesses us, and the fame sometimes just comes with it. It is hard to write anything worthwhile without an audience.

I made an important discovery about myself a few months ago when a Myers/Briggs expert came to my workplace and went through the Myers/Briggs test with each of us. My personality type (INFP) came up as a person who has high ideals for herself — so high that she often can’t reach them. And when she doesn’t reach them, rather than realizing that she’s putting too much pressure on herself, she gets upset at herself and begins a downward spiral. It is so easy to get sucked into that spiral and have a difficult time getting out. It’s happened before, in a life-altering way, so I feel better equipped to deal with it through talking to friends or positive self-talk or even therapy. It’s infinitely more easy to deal with something when you realize that it’s happening.

This Myers/Briggs expert warned me that when I went to California, I’d have to be careful. “I have such a soft spot in my heart for INFPs,” he said. “You need to surround yourself with people who you trust who are going to encourage you and support you when you move. Moving to a new place can be incredibly discouraging.”

This move has been especially hard because I had such a wonderful time with my family while I was home in Minnesota for those few months. I am very homesick this week, not because I necessarily want to go back to Minnesota, but because I miss my family so much that I get tears in my eyes every time I think about them. I know that coming to California was the right decision, and I’m going to fight through this because I can’t live my whole life in the circle of their safety. I’ve got to get out and do my own thing for a while. It’s just that with them I am always home, and here I am not.

Yesterday I acknowledged for the first time that this move has turned my whole world completely upside-down. Just before this, I was in the safest place possible. Now I am living with people I barely know, far away from my closest friends, in the second largest city in the United States, without a job. D is the only person I have known long enough to trust, even though I know many people who are trustworthy, and I even feel bad about depending on him so fully — not because he has made me feel that way but because my over-idealistic personality type tells me that I should be independent all the freaking time.

Plus it’s just difficult to transition from living on your own for the past six years and never having a real curfew in your life, to living under the roof of kind and generous people who raised their children a lot differently than how you were raised.

Also, even though I am overjoyed to finally be in the same city as my boyfriend, moving from a long-distance relationship to a close-distance one is harder then you might think. Roommate J had a similar experience with a guy she used to date, and she told me that finally becoming close-distance almost broke them. I know D on a very deep, communicative level because of the long-distance part of our relationship. As far as the detailed, every-day planning, interacting side of things, I’ve never really experienced that with him except for the few times we’ve seen one another in person. And those times were always with the starry-eyed attitude of, “We’d better savor this while we can because it’s going to be over soon.”

We’ve had a lot to talk through. I’m invading his turf. I’m adopting his friends. I’m expecting him to make adjustments in his life to fit me into the every-day-ness of this. My whole life has been one giant adjustment for the past several weeks. Yesterday D and I had a very good talk about one important thing that was bothering me. It was good. Through all of this, it’s good to know that I have strong allies in Roommate J and D.

And my best friend L is coming down from San Francisco this weekend. She has a habit of swooping in and saving the day at the exact moment that I need her, and I’m getting all teary-eyed right now just thinking about her. It will be nice to have a bit of home for a few days. Also, my friend LR lives in Irvine, and I need to get together with her this week. She is another strong ally who I haven’t seen in a very long time and miss considerably.

I just pray that God leads Roommate J and I to the right jobs and the right apartment. And that whatever He’s developing in me right now will develop quickly and help me later on.

Nearly a week has passed since I arrived in California, and I have to keep reminding myself to be patient. I just need to keep pursuing a job, and eventually one will come to me. I’ve been sending out resumes and cover letters like a paperboy tosses newspapers. I have to remind myself that I sent them, um, yesterday, and it may take corporations a little while to figure out whom they want to interview. If they’re smart, that’ll be me. I WANT A JOB!

The relatives I’m staying with have graciously allowed me to stay here however long it takes for me to find the right position. They told me, “We want you to find the job you’re meant to have and not feel pressured to move out at a certain time.”

I get scared every once-in-a-while. But something encouraging that happened yesterday is that D and I went up to Los Angeles proper, to Miracle Mile where tons of big corporations are. Other than that, I’d pretty much only been hanging out in Hollywood and Orange County with D and his brother, so going to a place where there are serious people working was exciting. I thought, There are thirteen million people in the Los Angeles area, and the majority of these people found jobs. I’m just as capable as they are. My New Year’s resolutions this year were to find a job that I love (it’d better not take all year to do so) and to write every day. Hopefully those two resolutions will, at some point, work together.

So, what have I been writing about these past few days, you may ask? Guidelines are always good because they force me to step out of the mindless cesspool of drivel I seem to be wallowing in lately. For the next month, I am trying to write down the things that I see during the course of the day: Was anything particularly interesting or touching? Did anything scare me? Did anything make me laugh or say, “That would never happen in Minnesota”?

So, the other night at Barnes and Noble, D and I sat down to do literary things. D is always so much more prepared to be literary than I am. He always has a pen, always a notebook, and he totes a book around with him like a purse. The book even has a pencil jammed inside for spontaneous margin-writing. Because I was ill-prepared to be literary, as usual, D handed me his notebook, a graph paper notebook full of tiny squares – boxes on which to organize handwriting. I looked at the past pages, full of his writing, and felt attraction for my boyfriend overwhelm me. There is something so sexy about a notebook full of a smart man’s handwriting, especially when it is on a grid. The writing was so small, light, and even, and it filled the pages. It was art.

It felt almost sacrilegious to write in D’s notebook in my mess of cursive and bullet points and inordinate amounts of dashes and ellipses. Still, I wrote the things I have seen so far in this adventure in California, this adventure that, when I really think about it, petrifies me. What am I doing here?

Well, here are a few things I’ve been doing…

I saw a fight on Hollywood Boulevard early in the morning on New Year’s Day. D and I went up to Hollywood to celebrate with D’s brother G and some mutual friends they have. As we drove down Hollywood Boulevard, a bunch of guys started punching one another. Apparently this is not a rare occurrence. It’s so awful that one can’t look away.

That night, while standing at a stoplight, one twin on either side of me, a man walked by with a bleach-blonded woman on his arm. The woman was probably in her forties, most decidedly drunk, and wearing a sparkled New Year’s hat. As she walked by, she turned her head to the side, grinned at us and kept repeating something like an omen. I wish I could remember what it was. (This is why I need to be more prepared to be literary.) It was something like, “Happy New Year.” We all smiled, and G returned her sentiments.

On Monday, after dropping my mom off at the airport, D and I went up to Santa Monica. It was around 72 degrees outside, and we lay on the beach for a while, my head on his stomach, among other settlers celebrating the New Year in T-shirts. January? What what?

We left the car at a fantastic parking spot just outside the mall area, full of lovely shops and affluence and people on holiday. The pier was full and the beach just busy enough to be interesting. The striking thing was the man sitting on bench just down the block from D’s car. He was dirty and bedraggled, wearing messy pants, and wrapped like the Madonna in a worn bedspread, sitting up, sleeping there on the bench. A statue. When we walked back to the car, the statue was bent over at the waist — a book that was open, now closed.

I hope I never get used to seeing the homeless and wondering what it is like to be homeless. How does one get to that point? Who were this man’s parents? Did he ever have a wife or go to church or school? Did he ever think that he would have the life of a statue, there, on Santa Monica Boulevard, wrapped in a bedspread like the Madonna? Probably not.

Lastly, D gave me a few poetry anthologies for Christmas (suck up), and I have begun working my way through one of them. It is called Blue Iris: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver. A few of the poems in particular resonated with me:

“Black Oaks”

Okay, not one can write a symphony, or a dictionary,
or even a letter to an old friend, full of remembrance
and comfort.

Not one can manage a single sound, though the blue jays
carp and whistle all day in the branches, without
the push of the wind.

But to tell the truth after a while I’m pale with longing
for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen

and you can’t keep me from the woods, from the tonnage
of their shoulders, and their shining green hair.

Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a
little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from
one boot to another – why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,
I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.

“Some Questions You Might Ask”

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves in into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

For Reals?!?

December 21, 2007

The shower is generally a prime location for deep thoughts, and this morning was no different. Today it occurred to me that most reality shows on television are about people who, in many ways, don’t have a lot of common sense or may lack some of those down-to-earth qualities that average people have. Do people ever get turned away from reality shows because they’re too smart? Do the producers meet their quota for smart people after just a few and send the rest home? Or are smart people just too smart to even want to be on the show in the first place?

Now, you may or may not agree with me on the brain-state of most reality TV stars. But let me support my assertions by naming off just a few of the many reality shows featuring people who are less-than brilliant: America’s Next Top Model, The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Girls Next Door, and even America’s Most Smartest Model is pretty iffy. If you gauge smarts on whether or not you can name a river in France (and most of the contestants can’t) or whether or not you can name an Italian designer (um, think just about any designer… Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, Roberto Cavalli… and most contestants can’t), well, then I guess these models aren’t really smart. Would they even be considered smart if they could merely recall rote knowledge, as the questions ask them to?

I haven’t watched any of these shows extensively except ANTM, but they all have the same idea. America likes watching stupid people compete, or watching rich people who are also stupid live their daily lives. Now, these rich people may have the tenacity or insanity to make a lot of money, but they do not have the intelligence it takes to raise smart, hard-working children or solve conflicts within relationships.

So, what if we created a show called Smart People, and it was all about, well, smart people. My first though was that I should have a reality show made about me, moving to California. Because I’m smart. And I have smart friends. And we’re funny. It would be about a writing group that gets together for editing, or what we talk about on the weekends, or about the huge argument D and I had the other night about the meaning of the word prolific:

Ann: No, you’re wrong. Prolific has nothing to do with quality. It’s all about the quantity of things. When Dr. B told me I was a prolific writer, she didn’t necessarily mean that it was good — she just meant that I do it a lot.

D: No. When you call something prolific, you mean that it’s good.

Ann: No, D, let’s look it up in the dictionary.

D: I am looking it up in the dictionary.

Ann: So am I, but my dictionary is better than your dictionary.

D: What makes you say that?

Ann: Mine is a $2 dictionary I bought at an antique shop, and it’s like 8 inches thick.

D: Whatever. Yours is just old. Here, let’s ask John [D’s roommate]. John has his master’s degree. You should listen to him. Hey, John, what would you say the word prolific means?

[John’s muffled voice is in the background, but I can’t quite hear what he’s saying]

D [speaking to John]: So, you wouldn’t say that it has anything at all to do with quality?


Our reality show could also feature us taking IQ tests and looking up things in our dictionaries. We could have specials about writing research papers, and subtitles with definitions of the words we use so the common public could understand what we’re saying. This would especially be helpful with D’s Philosophical Phriends. And if we ever got into fights, the show would feature us having debates in suits, with notecards.

EDIT: My friend Lee Ella posted this video on my MySpace in honor of my upcoming (5 DAYS!) move to California.

The funniest part about this is that the cows’ accents are exactly like those of the middle-age farm wives I worked with at the fruit packing company.

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.’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
– Pornography
– Murder
– Abuse
– Racial prejudice
– Benny Hinn

Pathetic Things:

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
– Vomiting

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)
– Heights
– 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
– Hunger
– Bad poetry
– Gossip
– 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
– Mutts
– Old houses
– The smell of an extinguished candle