Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Who knew balloons could be magic?

Overheard in the office today:

"Shooting like injecting, or shooting like film?"

What's interesting about this is i know for a fact they were talking about work.

Also, I was having a pretty blah-bordering-on-one-thing-going-wrong-and-me-turning-into-a-head-eating-cyborg day until UNTIL i remembered that i had THREE (not one, not two, but THREE) boxes of fresh Girl Scout cookies in my desk drawer. Three. So I broke out the Do-si-dos and now i am having a fantastic time eating the entire first sleeve of these oh-so-nutty glorious wonders and not thinking about all the running i'll have to do to make up for it later (or not. i have cramps. i can eat whatever i want, dammit.).

Also, last night i went to this crazy psychedelic wonder of an art performance show by the Big Art Group (that's their name. isn't it WONDERFUL?) made up of a lot of short sketches and the first one i saw was a catholic girl who went to catholic summer camp and loved amy grant and i had a flashback to my ENTIRE life until i was 18. Fantastic. They had all of these video screens set up and while the performers were doing their thing on stage, the screens were showing footage of the performers, and those long skinny balloons, and a bunch (i mean a BUNCH) of hairy women's crotches. like, for 15 minutes. just pictures of naked women's hairy crotches. more hairy crotches than i have ever seen in my whole life COMBINED (probably due to previous reference to life until age 18, but whatevs. LOTS and LOTS of hairy crotches) and i had a few beers and then, and THEN, the most amazing thing happened. two men came on stage with those long balloons you make balloon animals out of (the kind they were showing video of earlier), and these two guys were just COVERED in them. they had them on like a big suit, wrapped around their arms and legs and heads, and then coming off of them like plumes or branches, and they were moving real slow-like and it was graceful and colorful and beautiful, and then they danced around each other, still very slow, and getting closer to one another, and then they started leaning in and away from each other faster, faster, faster, until they collided and started fighting and popping balloons, and then they were rolling on the floor, the balloons popping and disappearing until the two of them lay (mostly) naked and breathing heavy on their backs on the floor, all the balloons popped. I can't even imagine how exhilarating it would have been to watch that while on LSD.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bad News Bears

Bad news, kids.

I've just had my very first ever rejection from an institution of higher learning. Rejection from men? That I am well versed in, friends. I've been learning how to navigate the subtle underpinnings of potential-romantic-partner rejection since my first crush on one Jonathan Gardner circa 1988 (we were in kindergarten. I was in love.) when I decided to make known my romantic intentions by strategically placing my mat next to his during naptime and kissing him when he wasn't looking. To which he replied by yelling "Ech!" and wiping his mouth furiously. (or something. I don't remember. It was 1988.) I got a good talking to from Mrs. Foster about how "nice girls don't kiss boys." But I've never been a nice girl, have I? And it was totally worth it.

Back to 2008. Educational rejection. Now this is a completely different animal. For once, it has nothing to do with the way my face is shaped, or how much fat i happen to be wearing, or whether or not my clothes are fashionable, things i don't generally put much stock in anyway. No, no, this rejection is based instead on the baring of my innermost soul and desire, my utmost creative effort, WHO I AM AT THE VERY FOUNDATION OF MY BEING, and all of the things that are inside, all of the things i generally rely on for my self-esteem, hooking of romantic partners, general advancement in life, purpose, goals, dreams, etc, etc, etc...well, with one piece of paper, SLC took one giant, hot, steamy shit all over it.

Thankfully, though, I learned a very valuable lesson this week from a little show called One Tree Hill. It was this quote: Blessed are those whose hearts bend, for they will never be broken. My heart is bent, friends, it is. But thankfully, it's not broken. *tear*

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

yoga and milk

i lay flat on my back, the ringing of the Tibetan singing bowls resounding between my ears, filling my entire consciousness. i sink into the floor, belly rising and falling with my long, deep breath. Some days, like today, I have no trouble relaxing deeply and quickly into meditation. My practice was more difficult today than usual and pushed me to that fine line where hard work becomes teary frustration. i barely held myself from falling over the line. but the closer i get to the line, the more concentrated my efforts have to be. i believe this determined concentration is what leads to these deep, full meditations. Usually, my meditation goes in one of three directions. The first is distraction, when i can't fully relax into meditation, usually because i don't care for the teacher or there have been too many distractions (real or otherwise) during class. The second is a deep quiet, probably what most people think of when they meditate. There are no conscious thoughts, just the feeling of, well, being, i guess. being the type A thinker/worrier that i am, the only other time i'm not actively thinking about something is when i'm asleep, so it's nice when i can be somewhat conscious to enjoy it. The third kind of meditation i've experienced is when I'm lying there, kind of mulling the "words of wisdom" the teacher has just read (he or she generally reads a quote at the end of class, before the bowls) and suddenly having an epiphany of one sort or another. today, my meditation takes me somewhere else.

Back to my 2-year-old self. I am walking next to my father, holding onto his blue jeans. We are in the barn where we get milk. I can feel the heavy rough fabric of his jeans. i look down and see my own tiny sneakers, my short legs, my slightly rounded belly. I look at my small hand. I see adults, who look huge to me, speaking to each other. I stare at things I've never seen before: hay, cows. We take the empty gallon jugs with us, and they give them back full of milk. While we are waiting for the jugs to be filled, my father lifts me up so that I can see the cows at their eye level. The strongest sense I get is of this absolute innocence. Everything is new. Everything is an experience. It's no wonder that children are so happy and excited all of the time. Everything is something that has never happened before. As I felt the newness and innocence wash over me, happiness did as well. It goes without saying that life was simpler then. When I was two. Obviously it was. I lay there as long as I could on my yoga mat, letting the memory fill me, feeling as much as I could something that adults don't get too much of, especially when they don't have children of their own: wide-eyed innocence, joy in simple things, that feeling of being small and protected, of being lifted into your father's huge arms and of being shown something for the first time.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Woods With the Fallen Alive Trees*

There were these woods, when I was a child, that seemed magical. They were the woods behind my best friend Erin’s house—the parish house—the woods where the trees, the kind with a million long, thin branches, had fallen on their sides, offering us canopied boughs of small, richly green leaves. Erin and I would run out of that small house, with the old, stained carpet and the musty smell, our skinny, soft-hairy legs and big feet carrying us with abandon to the place where we were sure no adults had ever been, weren’t sure could even find. We yelled “C’mon!” and “This way!” as the ferns lapped at our ankles and the briars tried to grab us (but we were running too fast), the late afternoon sun landing in dappled spots on the fertile brown earth. And then we would stop, our thin chests heaving, laughing, at the place where the trees were on their sides. They weren’t dead, or didn’t look it, yet, at least. Their leaves were still green, their million fingers still supple. When I think about it now, it all has a soft pink glow, and even though I know that is impossible, it’s how I like to remember it. Erin with her honey hair and freckles and big round brown eyes and me with my wild untamed curls and flashing blue eyes. She was the pastor’s daughter. I was…well, I was just one of the poor kids. Where we went to school, there were the rich kids and the pastors’ kids. I was neither, but the pastors’ kids didn’t mind that I was poor. They were, too.

We had things in common, the pastors’ kids and I. Our clothes never fit right. Our pencils were the yellow kind from the dollar store, you know, the ones with the erasers that just scratch at the paper, leaving a pink smudge. Our moms drove station wagons that were as old as we were. And we never got out of school for a week to go to the Caribbean.

Not that we understood at the time what all of it meant, really. We knew we were less, the rich kids made sure of that. Some of the poor kids tried to befriend the rich kids, to see what they could get. If you were friends with a rich kid, you could go to her big house, drink soda from a glass bottle, play with her American Girl dolls. But you never wanted her to come play at your house. No, you made sure you always went to hers.

I always hated it when the rich kids gloated about the nice things they had, because I knew it wasn’t my fault I was poor any more than it was their fault they were rich. I knew it didn’t make me less or them more, but I could never explain that to them. I got angry instead. And because I had no way to express that anger, I hid myself in books, because books couldn’t tell me that my pants were too short.

Erin and I met on the first day of third grade. She wore a sherbet-colored taffeta dress and a bow in her hair. I don’t remember what I wore: I’ve tried to forget everything I’ve ever worn. Our assigned seats were the two front ones in row three and row four. That was the first time I spent a year in that classroom. The second time would be sixth grade, when Abby Staibel had breasts before everyone else, and would proclaim in the locker room after gym class, “I am a woman now!” Boy, was I glad when her family moved to Utah.

Erin was shy, and I guess I was, too. I hadn’t really had many friends before that; I wouldn’t have many after either. But we became friends in the way that children can, before they are hurt too much and know better. And so, on sunny, warm afternoons after school, her mom would drive us home in one of their secondhand Subarus (they had two) and we would drop our backpacks and run full tilt into the woods, along the skinny footpath, arms in front of our faces to push away cobwebs and branches, until we got to the place with the sleeping trees, the ones that beckoned to us with their countless shimmering leaves. We crawled through the maze of their arms, climbing to the top of their bough-mountains, and lay on our backs, splayed across the branches, staring up at the willowy trees that still stood and the way the sun looked like a disco ball, shimmering above their long, dancing arms. We would talk about whatever it is 12-year-olds talk about, and we would forget that our shoes were too tight and that our sweaters itched. We forgot that we were supposed to feel inferior. Because at that moment, we were the queens of our green-branched castles, warding off dragons and being rescued by knights. We were the wives preparing dinner for late-working husbands (the only kind we knew of) and caring for the babies sleeping by the fire. We were the Indians in our tee pees, shooting arrows at the attacking cowboys. (Or was it the other way around?) We transformed those woods, and I guess you could say that they transformed us, too. Because when we were in the woods, with the fallen alive trees, we alone determined our fate.

*A little bit of fiction for those of you who have asked.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Amy Hempel

Let me begin by saying this: Amy Hempel is a goddess.

And this: at the risk of sounding trite, or like i'm lying, I have just added her to my list of women that I would go gay for, should the opportunity arise. Here is my list:

1. Maggie Gyllenhal (of course)
2. Angelina Jolie
3. Amy Hempel

From my vantage point in the "Lillian somethingorother Writer's House" (about halfway back a narrow room, behind a doorway, sans doors, that used to lead from what i assume was the drawing room into what i imagine was the parlor), I watched as Ms. Hempel took her place behind a small podium with a microphone. I sat a few chairs away from the speaker, set on one of those old wooden folding chairs. She has thick white hair, but as I watched her read from (the scarcest book i've ever tried to buy) her collection of short stories ("The Collected Stories") I swear, she wasn't a day over 26. She was breathtaking. I witnessed this transformatory magic as her words swelled toward, and then enveloped me. I was in love.

She writes short stories and what she calls "short shorts" that are only a page or two long. I am in awe of her brevity. And how much meaning she packs into every. single. word. Let me find you an excerpt. Here's one, the end of a short story about a friend who dies.

"I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands.
In the course of the experiment, that chimp had a baby. Imagine how her trainers must have thrilled when the mother, without prompting, began to sign to her newborn.
Baby, drink milk.
Baby, play ball.
And when the baby died, the mother stood over the body, her wrinkled hands moving with animal grace, forming again and again the words: Baby, come hug, Baby, come hug, fluent now in the language of grief."

Fuck me. This woman is a genius.

After the reading (which could have gone on for hours, in my book), the guy (an NYU professor with prematurely gray hair and a high voice), asked her some questions before they opened it up to the audience. I always hate that part, cringing with (I assume) the writer every time a precocious 19-year-old asks a stupid question. Yet, i never have the nerve to ask one of my own. I'm strangely timid at readings. I go alone. I sit in the back. I take notes. I buy the book if i have the money. I leave, taking a good long look at the writer's face before I do. I suppose I'm looking for whatever it is that I hope I have, too.

Although I loved her writing, i was a little disappointed with her answers. I don't just go to readings to try to glimpse the writer's soul or hear them read: I go because I want them to teach me something about writing that will help me write. She said a few helpful but relatively clicheed things, that beginning writers should "be obsessed," that successful writing is not about talent but about will and wanting it most, that you should "do the thing that unglues you." But when it came down to discussing her process, she was...a bit flighty. The most interesting thing she said was that most writers write about the "main event" but that her stories often look to the side, at what is happening beside that event. She said that she writes a story already knowing the first and last lines, but that she doesn't think of them: they come to her. She says that she doesn't edit after she writes: it COMES OUT THAT WAY. She said, when asked how she writes that way, "Oh, it's really a lot like magic." MAGIC?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME, MAGIC? I CAN'T DO MAGIC! my insides screamed. "That's it. I'm fucked."

She reminded me a lot of Sarah, whose spiritual/other-worldly sense is probably stronger than her other five combined. I bet Sarah would have understood what Amy was talking about. But I didn't, and I wish I had. I try to not even rely on physical things i can touch; can you imagine relying on magic?

Though, maybe there's something there. The something that you can't always put your finger on about the literature that moves you. I guess you could call that magic. Maybe we all have the magic, and it's just a matter of letting it out. Maybe it was that magic that i was looking for as I left quietly, gazing at her face.