Can they not understand? I said I wanted to bury myself in work. I meant it. What do they mean, leaking toxic waste into my air-tight, sealed cave? I thought they couldn’t see me, didn’t know I existed, like hiding under the blanket when you’re scared in bed as a child. If they can’t see me, I’m safe.
But no, they found an opening. And all those words, words upon words, upon which I built my impenetrable wall, well they were just too airy thin, too porous. The poison seeped in. The words I didn’t want to read, they were all there. I thought they had left me in peace for a while. Yes, they did. I remember the relief. Maybe I got too used to not seeing those oozing, infectious, pus-filled pockets of venomous ink.
And no wind, seagulls, rain, wave, or chimes will wash them away clear now. My fingers curl under their weight, and my arthritic knuckles ache. You’d think I’d be grateful that I have any words at all. But today’s not the day for patience, compassion, tolerance, or ease. Today’s the day they sullied my ocean’s ark along the curb, street side of nowhere else to go.
Saturday night, stool-side at my usual digs, the corner wine bar. I come here to write in the evening, when it’s time to switch from coffee to beer.
“I have Stone on tap. Interested?” The bar tender knows me. I’m past the initial flinching at that recognition.
“Looks like you have two.”
“Yep, this one has pineapple and tangerine with a…” Jason, I think I call him (I hope that’s his name).
“Whoa, no fruit in my beer,” interrupting his pitch.
That first sip…not sure which bliss compares aptly, not quite orgasm, but not far below. Not three steps, anyhow.
Uh oh, the guy next to me peers over at my screen and squints.
“How do you see that tiny print? I mean it’s so…”
“I manage.” Yeah, I’m a bitch. Pick a different intro.
My stinky fries arrive just then, anyhow. The sirracha-ketchup is the bomb.
Long day nerding over AI and healthcare. Auditioning a piece for a real journal. I’ve claimed expertise in the area, but it’s really just gushing sci-fi enthusiasm. Yes, I’ve written a few thousand words on it for my weekly health tech start-up gig, but this is big-time. My head’s a bit spinny.
“Ready for another?”
Shit, I washed down half the fries with an entire tall one already?
I still have a half plate of stinkies. It’s the melted cheese over them that lends them their title. Ah, I’m going to hell anyhow. As my father reminds me daily, “I’m going where it’s warm.”
The alarm goes off yet again, screaming. It’s not a bell or a song. It’s not even electronic. It’s in my head, under my skin. It yells anger, fear, irritation, and doom in fire red sirens. Every day the alarm sounds, no matter how many times I shut it off, slam it down, throw it across the room, mat, or freeway. I try covering my ears with my palms vice pressed against them, try squinting my eyes skin-swallowed inside shut, and try tensing my body blind from the sound, skin, and shaking–to no avail.
And then it’s gone. Quiet follows. Later, I can hear the soft gongs, smell the incense, feel the rubber under my toes, and breathe. But sometimes, too many times, my left foot won’t lift off the ground, my toes won’t dig themselves snug into my right thigh, and I can’t stand tall on one foot, balls of the feet gripping the axis of the earth. No balance. Off kilter.
Other days, I can kick up both feet off the ground, jettisoned by balls and big toes–left and right–and half-pipe myself slowly, silently cannoned through vast, airy nothingness before grounding earth in thud landing, shock-waved cement-gravity from toe to head.
I’ve got laryngitis. You know, when you lose your voice. I’ve lost my voice. Not my speaking voice but my writing voice. You see, after droning on all day in the land of copywriting, pounding keys to the sounds of an empty drum, plucking at mind-numbing formulas, headings, subheading, bullets, numbers, and (watch my Oxford comma there) italicized catchphrases til my brain seeps out of my left ear when I pause to blink, sigh, and rest my left cheek on my left hand knuckles, I can’t write a word. I haven’t. There’s nothing but echoes of a dry, raspy, husked wheeze when I try. Maybe I’m sick. A writing virus, but not the computer kind. The kind when you’re dry, wheezy, and bereft of words. No sentences form like the flu–with no appetite for food. Only it’s words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. No paragraphs either. I’ve no hunger or drive for text. A malaise. Burn-out. Fizzled out.
So this is what I have. Shredded sound. Squeaked out verbs in a tin can, clanking thin. Strange that a dream can disperse like dandelion seed in the wind. A longing turned to fright when the object of desire obtained. I always wanted to be a writer.
Naked fries with Sriracha ketchup, where have you been all my life?
I’m not one to sit down to a plate of fries, unless of course, they’re those thin-strip bistro fries, crisp and deep golden. Limp fries never tempt me. I can do without the whole deep-fried potato thing altogether, but when the week has been exceptionally long…Fries and Sriracha. Yes.
Why do crowded happy hour bars feature at least one loud cackler and one deep-throated shouter? Modulate your voice, please. I used to request my children do that. Indoor voice. What hilarity drives that savage slicing squawking? I guess I’m more the philosophical buzz type. And so.
A big grinning bearded fellow with a bandito hat and a zip-up black windbreaker high fives the bartender and my happy hour is complete. Suddenly, venturing out of the cave with trepidation (No, not peopling!) seems worth it. The bartender shakes not stirs in icy loud agreement.
As the beer and wine flow, the last fry dipped, and a dribble of Stone left in the glass, it may be time to open up some bar space for those making a night of this cacophony and rum. Especially since I can’t take my eyes off the red-plaid sports jacket complemented by the solid red tie across the bar. Shouldn’t there be a warning sign attached to him? Don’t stare into the red. It’ll change your DNA irreparably. Too late for me.
And I make the Nike air check sign to the bartender.
Unfazed, tuned-out people amaze and inspire me. I want to be them, wearing bullet and worry proof vests. Mind you, I don’t know who these people are, other than my great niece and nephew, 5 and 8, respectively, who seem to be very selectively tuned in. One knows all the Ducks and Lakers stats, and everything sports, really, and the other knows an incredible array of lyrics and lines from Disney’s Frozen. I’ve heard her sing every word of several songs. That’s what they know. Those comprise their obsessions. Awesome.
Me, on the other hand, I start each day trying out the Buddha disposition: be a sieve, let it all flow through. But by about an hour into the day, I fail miserably. Something of the world–outside and inside–disturbs me, disrupts my peace, unbalances promised equilibrium. My promise to myself to be dispassionate about things, all things. I try.
News flashes and bites remind me of Doritos Nacho flavored chips. They must be laced with heroin. Probably the only snack I can’t have. Because I can’t just eat one. It’s the bag or nothing. And it’s been that way since they hit the market dozens of years ago.
My news services and journal bundling apps, I’ve tailored now to filter out politics and current events–only showing arts, photography, philosophy, yoga, writing, books and music. Same thing with Facebook and Twitter (Not sure what I’m doing on Instagram). Yet something still manages to slip in, riling the perturbations, zinging my zen upside the head.
I may have to turn to something quicker and stronger than yoga and meditation, something kick ass to calm my ass. Maybe sucking helium balloons.
I’m tired of beginnings. They’re exhausting, and it’s awfully hard to get them right. There’s nothing worse than starting something with a “meh”. Like reading a listicle that starts with a question: Are you getting enough vitamin B in your diet? Well here are 7 sources of that … blah, blah, blah.
I’m guilty of that sort of thing. It’s trite and boring.
Opening lines, like handshakes, create an impression. In grand literature, they’re extraordinary, memorable, once in a life time handshake that keeps on gripping you. Even my little-read college students have heard the line, “It was the best of times…” But Dickens is not alone or even the top of the greatest hits of first liners.
I like intriguing first liners like Philip Roth’s one about awakening one day to find himself an enormous breast–“It began oddly.” Or short punchy ones, like “I am not a total idiot.” I actually don’t remember the author of that one, but the line has stuck with me. Maybe that’s just me, and what sticks is random.
It’s challenging to be unique, innovative, and first in language. After all, we have only 26 letters at our disposal. How different can we be? Haven’t all the possible letter combinations been tapped? Is there still some one-of-a-kind combination yet to be splayed linearly across a page? Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of making up words that seem intuitively and associatively clear.
Though I suspect you don’t have to go that far to pen something new. Memoirist Patricia Hampl claims describing what you see, what you know, from your eyes alone is unique enough. No one’s lived your life or sees things precisely the way you do. Perspective. Lens.
It may not be a new alphabet, but it’s vision–and all that we’ve got.
I couldn’t say I’ve ever come across a true love or ever will. I’ve had great love. I’ve had potentially tru-er love–but for the right person showing up under the wrong circumstances or vice versa. At least how I imagine the right person. How could I know without a long, leisurely test drive?
But true love is truly a cultural marketing scam. And it’s not for mere cynicism that I write that. I’ve no complaints about the loving in my life–all shades and degrees of it. I’ve slid in and out of love’s grasp by choice and force both. Yet, true love seems to have eluded me only because it’s been beamed into my brain by invisible designs since birth–without explanation.
Like waking up every day, there’s an impulse to arise and act, get the day started even when you don’t want to or know why you do. We just live as if there’s no choice, most of us. It’s incredibly difficult to kill a healthy human being, more than you’d think. That same blind instinct–get up and live–impels us to find true love without even knowing what the fuck that is.
No one believes Disney, so I’m not referring to that conception–princes and princesses and shit. Chemistry, kindred souls, soulmates, and other hollow terms language has fed us to conceive of the truth in true love make little sense. Like it must be fate. In myth and religion, there is an element of the divine in all truth, in language itself–in the beginning, there was the word.
And yet, all children are indoctrinated in the one true love story, even as they grow up to see the truth in that lie. It lies like death everywhere, not just in movies or television or books. It permeates culture like a dream or a virus, thinly veiled and ever present–potentially lethal.
January 13, 2017
Friday, the 13th. A writing day. All day. Buried in cybernetic space, capturing words and ideas like butterflies to the net, I emerged this evening disoriented. Have I been gone all day? Did I leave the house?
When I used to write papers in college, I’d experience that world spin standing still feeling, like just getting off the ferociously spinning playground merry go round where obstreperous middle school boys spin captives sick or flying. I’d spread papers out over the long, royal blue shag carpet of my apartment floor in the days before personal computers (gulp). I wouldn’t even get out of my pajamas for an entire weekend. Just staring at endless scribbled words. That was when I could write in nearly legible cursive penmanship.
I’d shuffle papers, pages and pages of written approaches, starts and stops, fits of penetrating insight overlaid with banal truths and just plain shitty prose. I turned and tossed the visions of literary geniuses and abstruse philosophical stalwarts of literary theory over and over in my head, never coming to a conclusion, never quite figuring it out.
But the stretch, though painful, felt like progress, growth and expansion. I felt my brain swell with inflammation and information. It hurt so good. I hated it. Loved and hated it.
The struggle is not the same now. I read better, comprehend more. Though merely a comp. lit major, I can write a short white paper section on patient warming techniques in the operating room through radiation, convection and conduction devices, condensing thermodynamics, biology and quantum physics into 750 words, like I did today. Before that I wrote about patient engagement strategies in healthcare, and after that I wrote about 5 superfoods for longevity.
No, the struggle is not so much in comprehension anymore as in attention span and endurance. I mean it’s all fascinating and boring at the same time. The process, the mechanics–blind fingertips smashing keys. But the flow–the lost time in some other realm–that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
I’m shrinking. Yes, I’m aging and so, inevitably ground down by the constancy of gravity’s punishing anvil. Heavy, relentless, like my 30 pound 5-month Husky puppy. A never-ending stream of energy that refuses to be relegated to neglect and invisibility.
I might be shorter, by an eighth of an inch or so. I’ve always regaled my 5”8″ and 3/4. I believe I was either shortchanged by an 1/8th my last checkup or I’ve shrunk. All that running, pounding the pavement with my spine upright, couldn’t have helped either. Helping gravity hammer the nail.
But that’s not the shrinkage I’m thinking of. My world is shrinking. Intentionally so. I’m closing up the shudders more. I open the blinds only when there’s something to see. I’ve arranged my world so I don’t have to partake of it but a little, just enough to get my fill of smiles, smells, complaints, grunts and questions. Since school let out mid-December, however, I don’t even get peopling twice a week.
And I’m fine with it. I’m only interested in the sun, grass, sea and trees, my daughters’ whining, my father’s banter, and my mother’s rheumy stare most days. And when I’m tired of them, I shut my door, lock it, pull the blinds, and put my headphones on.
At night, I pleasure in the reprieve from estrangement with a glass of wine and slice or two of cheese with my thus-far-in-life-long partner in house holding. I work at the corner of a corner desk. I write, research and read. It’s what I’ve always enjoyed anyhow.
More than before, I’m reading and writing about what I want. Not self-indulgent stuff I’m quick to slap up on my public pages (like this one), or clever tweets (at least I think so). Part-of-the-world stuff, like what business is up to and health culture and building things, tearing them down and rebuilding them in real estate and relationships. I work remotely–in my flip flops–for others all over the world.
I choose not to write or read about politics or injustice. Those are constants. Nothing new. By virtue of my birthright gender, I live by injustice. Whenever your body is public property, legislated and controlled by strangers, fearful white men–and the women they keep–there’s mad, mind-numbing, heartbreaking injustice. I’m slamming the door shut on them. I’ll wait for the right, gentle hands to fold me back in.