29 June 2013

Will You Take a Look?

This week in Writer's Circle, I submitted my blog post "The Tender Heart" for review. Two of the Circle had nothing to submit this week; the other three submitted short poems. Only my piece and one of the poems were "new" work, i.e., written within the last year.

After observing that feedback and critique offered in the first meetings of the group were mostly of the "I really liked that" variety, I decided it would serve the mission of the Circle -- to become better writers-- and the writing practices of its members to spend some time learning  how to give constructive feedback.

Toward this end, I drafted a set of guidelines, including suggestions like 

                "Criticism does not rest upon subjectivity alone. 'I liked it' is a valid response to a piece but the author needs to know why you like it (or why you didn't like it)" 


"Speak from your own perspective. Let the writer know how you responded as you read (or listened to) the piece."

I didn't realize until yesterday that these two guidelines could be viewed as contradictory. Taken together, they seem to instruct us to both move away from subjectivity AND to stand squarely in subjective experience. 

While I would have liked to notice this apparent paradox before distributing the Guidelines, it was the experience of sitting with the writers and watching them attempt to integrate both ideas and put them into practice that revealed it to me. Some glitches aren't visible until you take a test drive.

Each of the guidelines mentioned presents particular challenges. With the first one mentioned, people find it difficult to move from subjective to objective. In fact, they aren't always able to even discern that they are speaking subjectively. They think that what they perceive must be the way everyone else perceives it, that their "blue" is everyone else's "blue" and anyone who calls it "gray" is either making a joke or suffering a visual impairment.

The difficulty with the second guideline noted, the encouragement to "speak from your own perspective", arises from its implied requirement to plumb the depths of a subjective first-take. So you "liked" my piece (ah, Facebook....); why did you like it? what specifically did you like about it? Responses to these questions give both the writer and the critic something to work with: something to support the writer's ongoing efforts at becoming a better writer and the critic's ongoing journey toward self-awareness.

An obstacle to reaching awareness of subjectivity as well as moving deeper into a subjective response is resistance to vulnerability. "Visibility" and "vulnerability", sister concepts in my opinion, are at issue here. Owning the subjectivity of one's perspective involves seeing yourself. Sharing with others the beliefs, motivations and fears that underlie our perspectives involves letting ourselves be seen. Seeing and being seen leave us immensely vulnerable.

The feedback one of the writers in the Circle offered in response to "The Tender Heart" supports my theory. "I really didn't like this piece" was the language used. When I pushed for more specificity, i.e., give me more than "I don't like it", the writer responded. "It was too specific and personal. It was about the very place where we meet tonight. I would have like it if you'd been more abstract or hypothetical. Too much information about real life."

I think the response has a lot to do with resistance to vulnerability. It suggests the writer's distaste for unobstructed access to another writer's vulnerable human heart. The speaker's unwillingness to consider there might value for his/her own work in taking a closer look at their aversion to "close looks" suggests a related distaste for access to his/her own vulnerable human heart.

I asked those who had nothing to submit this week and those who submitted "old" writing to think about this: Am I submitting old work because finally letting someone else see it helps me grow as a writer or because I'm stuck right now, unable to create new work (perhaps afraid to see what's stirring in me now or afraid to let anyone else see what's stirring in me now)?

Central to these considerations is the question of whether (or to what degree) conscious intention leads us to avoid seeing and being seen. Do we know that we don't like "up close" and choose to keep our distance or is it something more like instinct that directs us to avoid seeing things too clearly and avoid being seen too clearly? 

We are a writer's group. Our mission is not expressly psycho-therapeutic. My interest in these questions, in the context of the Circle, is based on desires to become a better writer and to support others in becoming better writers. I know that inquiries about visibility and vulnerability smack of psychotherapy. There is a chance I am less resistant to exploring the questions and more convinced of the value to our writing craft than my colleagues in the Circle. There's a chance that "pushing" this agenda will feel like therapy to some and they will be turned off.

I proceed, seeking a balance between an awareness of my own subjectivity and my convictions about the value of exploring the nature of seeing and being seen

within the surrounding context of a writer's group...in 21st century Western culture...in a small Southern town.

26 June 2013

Small Turnings on a Great Journey

I skim the surface of most political debate that pops up on my FB page; but when every fourth post was about Wendy Davis the other day, I did a little research to find out "Who is Wendy Davis?"

It's apparently pretty easy to fall in love or flare into hatred with people we only know from the publicity surrounding them. I'm not in love with Wendy. I am inspired by what I've learned about her personal life and public career. There's something in her story that speaks to the universal search for meaning in life.

Watching a short video clip of her filibuster my imagination wandered to consider what was going on for her the night before she took the mic in the Texas statehouse. I can't think of a single thing I've done in my life that comes close in terms of courage but I've had some night-before-the-big-game experiences -- on the eve of a performance, for example. You know that tomorrow is a Big Day. You feel there's a lot at stake. You are awed by the breadth of possible outcomes and humbled by your absolute inability to have even a tiny clue about how things will turn out.

You're maybe a little scared. Or maybe a lot scared. Every now and then you think "What am I doing?!" and break out in a cold sweat; but you tell yourself to calm down, to give that kind of thinking no attention. That you want to do this. It's important that you do this. It'll be OK.

A recurrent thought  for me the night before a Big Day is "Wow....this time tomorrow..."  I'll be onstage or I'll be taking a bow -- it'll all be over. The inexorable forward flow of Time fascinates me. Nothing lasts forever and there's always a next moment, a next thing.

(The contrast is stark between the experiences on either side of an event. The night before, it is a mystery; the night after, it's a known quantity. On the front end--trembling uncertainty, blindness; on the other side confident basking in a job well done or a lesson learned.)

I call it merely brave when, despite fear, I take the stage (or step in front of a classroom). I call Ms. Davis' stand heroic. The difference? For one thing, she walked into a much larger arena. Whatever you think you know about what awaits on the other side of an event, all bets are off if the event is witnessed by throngs of people who you don't know, who will probably never meet you or hear your back-story, but who, through the wonders of modern technology, will be able to react and interpret and discuss and spin off from whatever they think they heard you say or saw you do..

For another thing, she already knew there were monsters waiting for her inside. She's a woman. She's pretty. She's smart. She's a Democrat. The issue is abortion. It's Texas.

Grief Transforming
Artist:  Cynthia Lee  - for more about the painting, http://spirituncaged.com/2013/03/27/grief-transforming/                                                                             
She also likely heard some good reasons NOT to do it from people who care about her. Maybe some of them are people she looks up to, people who know more about this or that than she does. And there were probably some "What good will it do?" voices in the mix, too.

Research reveals she has substantial experience with facing daunting mystery, with standing on this side of A Day to Remember. She was a single parent at age 19. I was a little older than that when I became a single parent, but close enough in age for a reality-based sense now of what it took for her to move from that situation to graduating with a law degree from Harvard. The first in her family to graduate from college. Yeah, I stood on that threshold, too.

What does it take to keep your eye on a prize? To do what you gotta do when you're well aware you don't know how to do it? To follow a deep inner prompting when really excellent reasons to ignore those promptings present?

I don't know exactly. It took me 20 years to finally graduate from college; and outside of amassing a student loan so great that I will never be able to repay it, I don't have much to show for it. The "prize" I sought initially each time I enrolled in school was an escape from poverty and the humiliation of doing work I despised. In retrospect, I think I lost sight of the "prize" and was repeatedly distracted by the excitement and vitality of the pursuit of knowledge. Enthralled by intellectual stimulation I completely forgot about staying in the game for a successful, well-paid career.

I thought about how Wendy felt, what she was thinking, as the hours of the filibuster ticked by. About the nature of her experience after 20 minutes....3 hours....8 hours.... I wondered if her confidence wavered at all and how she handled it, all the while maintaining her public face. At the end she said her back hurt; and I thought about the way physical reality impacts our commitment to an idea. The marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965...among that crowd, how did thirst or sore feet or menstrual cramps affect their commitment to the project in progress?

What's it take? What goes on backstage, inside, as a momentous event unfolds in the life of an individual? I imagine a solo show that consists entirely of the inner dialogue of a person on a mission. A complete transcription of the thoughts of a marathon runner, for example. Or a single mom, from the onset of labor through delivery.

I think about how this blog is something like that. Notes from the road. Except I don't know where I'm going.

25 June 2013

Book News: Author Of Controversial 'Seduction Guide' Apologizes : The Two-Way : NPR

Book News: Author Of Controversial 'Seduction Guide' Apologizes : The Two-Way : NPR:

'via Blog this'

Words, writing, language. Such tricky, malleable components of the human toolbox. For one thing, there's interpretation. Bunch of young American African males hanging out around a basketball court, calling each other "niggah" this and that. Through interpretation, the lightning-quick filtering of stimuli based on past experience, the 60-something "white" woman, the 11-year-old Puerto Rican boy and the 36-year-old bi-racial Harvard grad within earshot will each hear something different and respond in three different ways to what they hear. And if you ask one of the young men what the word and it's usage means to them, you'll hear yet another opinion.

Beyond interpretation, there's the inherent duplicity of the human mind. Almost all of us would claim the best intentions underlying whatever we say or write. We are often blind to our own deepest motivations. How often someone has said to me, "I don't mean to rain on your parade" just before they say something that...well, rains on my parade. How often someone says "I don't want to interrupt you" just before they interrupt you.

This is not a problem with a solution. It's just the way it is. It helps to think before you speak (or write...or listen). It helps to ask questions, requesting clarification, before jumping to a conclusion. It helps to cut each other some slack.

Oh, and yeah, it helps to hang loose and keep your sense of humor.

21 June 2013

The Tender Heart

My mother called it "hypersensitive." My grandmother called it "tenderhearted." In episodes of unforgettable, excruciating irony, extended family and family "friends" jokingly referred to us as "cry babies."  

As children, my three siblings and I were close, in age and size and temperament. Four little hearts that beat as one:  three huddled together in a closet and cried whenever the fourth was punished. A humiliation or triumph in the life of one was felt by all four. We finished each other's sentences and sometimes dreamed the same dream at night.

With two cars, a three-bedroom house and a garage on a large, well-tended lot, our family was solidly situated economically in the striving middle class of our small town. This made us somewhat unique among American Africans in the town, many of whom lived in small rundown houses on postage-stamp lots or housing projects. Both of my parents were esteemed in the community:  they had "good" jobs; both had graduated from high school; and both were active members of what some saw as the premier Baptist church in town.  We had status. We had reputations to uphold. In our little pond, "the world" was watching.

Making an impeccable public impression was important to my parents, albeit for somewhat different reasons. My mother suffered especially acute mortification on occasions when the family portrait fell short of the ideal. Venturing out into public with four highly-sensitive, prone-to-tears children, there was often a strong possibility that "a scene" would develop.

A straggle of kids outside the drugstore muttering ridicule as we passed...being left in the care of a less-favored relative or served an unusual food at a family gathering...anything might set one or more of us off into inconsolable crying. There was, for us, the universe we inhabited -- and then there was the strange, unpredictable world beyond it in which we were expected to perform flawlessly in a glaring light.

A central task of growing up was growing out of this sensitivity. My mother viewed it as a priority component of our upbringing. I think she believed our survival depended on becoming invulnerable--or at least learning how to pretend invulnerability.

I learned to pretend invulnerability. I learned not to flinch when "bad" kids cursed on the playground. I learned to hide my hands in my pockets when they trembled.  And I learned to always carry myself as though "everyone is watching." Never let them see you sweat (or get mad or embarrassed or excited or confused). Never faint. Never run. Never hit back.

I achieved a remarkable degree of competence at hiding my heart. With one glaring flaw:  I kept crying. As a young woman, I could usually avoid a public outburst (though this sometimes meant holing up in a bathroom stall, stifling sobs with toilet paper); but as I got older this was harder to pull off and most friends soon discovered that I cried easily. A colleague in seminary, observing quiet tears on my cheeks as we talked, said he recognized me as one of The Broken-Hearted. He flattered me "All the great hearts are broken. Love does that when it comes in." 

In my 30s, I came to see it as a problem and began a regimen of anti-depressant medication. The world still bruised me but it didn't hurt as much and I stopped crying.


This week, after months of happily anticipating the opening of Holly Springs' first coffeehouse, hanging hope on the intellectual, financial, social, and artistic benefits my involvement there would bring to my life, I learned that the owner interviewed and hired staff last week. Although he had promised me a position months ago, I was not invited to apply. On an intuitive prompt, I stopped by the shop one afternoon. The young barrista from Oxford, whose role in the enterprise has been pivotal (she led G______ and I in two training sessions) but mysterious (I asked her weeks ago if she would be managing the coffeehouse. "Oh no! I'm just helping unpack and get the kitchen set up," she replied), was there.

"Hey, J______!"
"Hi Alex."
"What's up with completing our training on the machines?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean it's been almost a month since we got together and I understood the plan was for at least twice-a-week sessions til we opened."
"Oh....  Well, you need to talk to C_______ (the owner) about that."
"OK.  Is he here?"

She scurried off without answering and C________ appeared from a back room.

"Hey, Alex!  How's it going?"
"Good.  OK.  I'm still the sky....  Just wondering what's going on with the training."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, last time we were together I was told the next session would be in a few days but it's been weeks since then."

He proceeded to tell me about the complications and challenges of getting the fire door installed. The hassles and added workload of a new project he's taken on in town. Final dramatic, antagonistic run-ins with outgoing city administration. "But I think we have our staff, so that's good," he said at last. 

"Am I part of the staff?" I asked.
"Well, I didn't know if you were still interested. You know G________ has a new job now and...." He was off on a run-down of developments in the employment life of the woman with whom I was to run the shop. "Are you still interested?"

"Yeah. Very much. Nothing's changed for me. Has it changed for you?"
"OK.  I didn't know. OK. We had about 13 people apply. A good group. Hired five folks and ...."

Photographer:  Alexi Mire
We talked for about 15 minutes. And although I learned what I learned only by prying it out of him, little by little, the upshot is that the little barrista is Manager, I am not on staff, and I can maybe check back with him after the shop's been open for "a little while" and see if they need any help.

I felt betrayed. C________ is one of only two or three people I count as friends here. He had assured me I was part of the team. It felt like a punch in the gut. I did not cry until I got home.

I tumbled down down down emotionally for hours afterward, landing, literally, at last, on my bed, escaping for three hours into popcorn, ruby red grapefruit juice and Season 5 of Mad Men on DVD. 

I dragged myself out to buy cigarettes and returned to sit on the back porch and stare.

My thinking turned to silent "People are so ___________!" tirades for awhile. Why can't people say what they mean? Why can't people do what they say they will? Why can't people treat me the way I treat them? 

From there I spiraled into "what does 'friendship' even mean" and "what's wrong with me that I cannot attract honorable relationships?" and "how can I be almost 60 and still not know how to live?" lines of thought for a few hours. I cried some more when I reached this sector of the Galaxy of Despair. I deactivated my Facebook account -- why bother? none of these people are my friends....

Somewhere around 3 a.m. I remembered.
I am the sky.
This is weather.

Nobody's doing anything to me. 

I tell myself
at a kitchen table in a windowless room in the Way Way Back of my mind 
that something is missing and I want It    
from Holly Springs
from the coffeehouse
from C_________          
from my life     
from anyone bold enough to say they are my Friend
"Maybe I'm just like my mother....she's never satisfied" 
I am lifelong familiar with what it sounds like when doves cry


I spent this day in Memphis, making some weather for myself. I did alright. I didn't need a thing. The public library was so damned beautiful and well-designed and cool inside, I actually shed a tear of joy as I left. I sat in the serene garden of The Church of the River, on the banks of the Mississippi, the great river whose complete path I'd just seen etched in the pavement at the entrance to the so damned beautiful public library.  

I have a tender heart. It breaks in all kinds of weather.


18 June 2013

Dream of a Perfect Life

Lot of excitement leading up to the broadcast of Jian Ghomeshi's interview with Joni Mitchell. He talked to her recently  in her home, at her invitation. It's a big beautiful feather in Jian's professional cap. Good for him. 

And so what? That was my feeling after watching two or three video clips of other reporters interviewing Jian about his interview of Joni. Some people can talk about what they do in an interesting way -- other people can't. I'd love to hear a description of how one prepares to interview a living musical legend. I wonder what one does with the weight of public expectation -- knowing that millions of people are waiting to hear (and critique) the finished product. I wonder how you avoid contaminating the work with your own vanity  as one of a handful of people ever allowed access to one of the most important artists of the 20th century. 

Jian isn't as young as he looks but perhaps lacked the personal maturity to offer anything more than the usual commercial-media style teasers for the upcoming broadcast. Or perhaps it was just another example of striving for the greatest mass appeal, the "lowest common denominator" approach. Or maybe he'll do a more reflective, interesting interview about the experience sometime in the future.

I'm in the process of listening to the interview in its entirety and will blog about it soon. For now, I'll begin a discussion of what I see as a widespread subconscious belief that a "perfect life" is possible. It shows itself in a lot of different ways. For example:

With the recent heightened public exposure, Joni has come under attack for her continued indulgence in cigarette smoking. What is that about? Seriously. I'd love to hear someone talk about what gets triggered in them when they see a celebrity smoking or Joni Mitchell in particular smoking. I asked someone about it and they responded "Barack Obama, Joni Mitchell...People like that are role models. They have a responsibility to set a good example." This was the response I expected but it didn't answer my question. I want to know the cause and effect of being outraged about the behavior or lifestyle of someone you don't know. 

Joni has been "sick as a dog" (her words) in the past few years. A comment on a website stated plainly: "I have no sympathy for her as long as she keeps smoking." Really? This person's reaction to Joni Mitchell's smoking habit is sufficiently intense to disable capacity for compassionate response. What is going on there? It goes beyond mere spite since it is unlikely Joni will ever see the comment.

Another comment on Facebook reads "Joni? Still Smoking? Really....?" as though everybody knows the One Thing there is to know about smoking. As though you either get it that smoking is horrible and immediately stop doing it or you're not very smart. As though if you smoke you forfeit all entitlement or possibility having A Good Life.

In reality, of course, there's more than one thing to know about smoking cigarettes. And  moments of ineffable joy, fulfillment and beauty occur even in the lives of people who smoke cigarettes. To this last idea, a comment at one of several sites promoting the Ghomeshi interview responded "She would have even more happiness and success if she quit smoking."  The writer cannot sincerely believe she has the power to make this prediction? And what does that statement even mean --  how do you measure the happiness and success of someone you've never met? What would more happiness and success look like for someone like Joni Mitchell's?

Note:  It's over a week since I started this post. I'm not smoking and temps have been over 90.... I'm disoriented and disinterested and unable to go any further with this.

09 June 2013

IMBY (In My Back Yard)

I am troubled by the look of the back and side yard. Out front, a small but lush lawn boasts azalea, rose, forsythia, iris, wisteria and daffodil accents. But out back and along the side, under mature gardenia, plum, fig and pecan trees, instead of grass, a botanical patchwork of "weeds" is growing. I've counted no fewer than 20 varieties.

I am torn:  In the early Spring, I was enchanted by the variety. So many different shades of green! So many tiny flowers:  whites, blues, purples, pinks and yellows. A beautiful carpet of soft "baby" vegetation. I thought "We call these 'weeds'!? How presumptuous!" A "weed" is a plant that grows where we don't want it to be. Who are We to say what belongs where?

But as the season advanced and I watched the brick patio disappear beneath tiny shoots that became runners and vines and stalks, my enchantment dwindled. Research introduced me to the power of white vinegar. I purchased a weed sprayer, filled it with vinegar and attacked the patio. It was fun operating the sprayer -- pumping it up with air and methodically squirting between the bricks; but little by little an uncomfortable self-image came into focus:  there I was, on a beautiful day under a beautiful sky, surrounded by Life -- bugs and birds and trees and flowers and squirrels and kittens -- and my role in the scene was to kill green, growing things.

Twenty-four hours after applying the vinegar the patio bricks were visible again. And I derived a measure of prideful aesthetic satisfaction from the view out the kitchen window. Still, the carnage... The withered brown and white carcasses of once vibrant plants littered the ground.

I was reminded of a field trip to San Francisco's Presido during the Ecology module of my undergraduate program at CA Institute of Integral Studies. We were there to exterminate "invasive" plant species. Within the first hour, I developed a raging headache. I had begun to identify with the plants we were killing -- like them, I descended from stock that originated "somewhere else".

I persuaded a couple of classmates to run away with me. By the time we picked up picnic foods and a bottle of wine, my headache was gone. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, cavorting in the sand and swapping life stories.


On the east side of the house, a mysterious flowering shrub stands nearly 10 feet tall. Local gardeners who have visited the bush-tree with me over the last few weeks confess they have no idea what it is. They've never seen this species before. The hard, waxy buds resemble tiny, tightly-clenched, peach-to-tangerine colored fists. They blossom into brilliant, flaming-red   flowers with a visual texture like crepe paper.

With abundant rains this year, this plant (like everything else in the yard) has undergone riotous growth. It  has nearly doubled in size since I moved in last August. Last week I noticed one of the branches drooping beneath the weight of the sturdy buds and proliferating flowers. It extended from the center trunk nearly to the driveway gate. Thinking it could use a little support, I stopped at the hardware store for twine to anchor it. In the store, I described the plant to the salesman -- he and I often talk plants when I stop in -- and he was intrigued. "Do you mind if I stop by after work and take a look?"

He stopped by. And he couldn't identify it either. (He's going to bring his wife by next week and see if she knows what it is). As we toured the yard he delivered a horticultural tutorial. Among other things, I learned:

  • the grass in the front yard is "high grade" St. Augustine. "Very expensive stuff," he stressed. Several times. "You want to take good care of this grass. They sell this stuff for $10 a square." It produces runners that can be transplanted to bare places out back. It's a good choice of grass for this yard because it loves shade and there are lots of trees on the property.
  • there is a huge, robust spread of poison something-or-other, attached and expanding across the eastern face of the house
  • the little holes all over the back yard are snake holes

He also said that most of what's growing on the side and back yards are vigorous weed species that, left unchecked, will quickly and completely take over the entire yard, killing the "high grade" St. Augustine in the process. He recommended something he called "weed and seed" to kill off the weeds. He said it comes in a container that attaches to a garden hose and they sell it at Wal-Mart.

Well....Wal-Mart is an ongoing "issue" for me. There are so many reasons not to give them my business. So many reasons I dread entering the store.


In New Orleans, in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart was all there was -- if you wanted food or cleaning supplies or a blanket or a pair of scissors or an aspirin or.... I quickly got over elitist qualms I'd learned while living in liberal/granola strongholds like the SF Bay Area. Now I never forget that in some places in this country, you do Wal-Mart or you do without.

So I drove out to Wal-Mart this afternoon. Who knew there were so many ways to kill "weeds"? I spent a good half hour in the lawn&garden aisle, reading labels. Actually, I guess it stops being a "label" when the text runs to several pages and requires a Table of Contents, which is what I found attached to most of the products offered. Already physically weakened and polluted from last night's marathon crash-and-burn of my most recent smoking cessation attempt, my gut began to churn as I read the precautions and risks and disclaimers. I started feeling peculiarly guilty and vulnerable as I noticed that every product on the shelves of that aisle was expressly manufactured to kill something, some living thing that had the misfortune of being designated "pest" or "weed".

"I can't do this," I thought. The smell of vinegar in the air for an afternoon is one thing. Making sure no animals or humans wander onto the property before the product dries and discarding the container "properly" to avoid contaminating public drinking water is something else altogether. Felt like way more risk
than I was willing to take on as a novice gardener. Felt like way more risk than probably anyone should take on. I wondered:  who's using this stuff? Are any of my neighbors using this stuff?  I picked up a pair of hedge clippers and left the store.


knowing that for the eco-purist the whole idea of manipulating Nature into a pleasing residential space is wrong-headed, I am off to scale one more learning curve, in search of a way to balance ecological responsibility with personal aesthetic and create a comfortable, beautiful, sustainable space for all who want to cohabit peacefully here -- fur, feather, skin and scale. 

08 June 2013

Look At It: Don't Blink, Don't Smoke

I am renting the TV series "Mad Men" from Netflix while attempting to stop smoking cold turkey.

At a time and in a place where I feel reduced by circumstance to two primary pastimes as go-to sources for psychological and intellectual stimulation and sustenance:  writing and playing piano -- both activities that have been closely pegged to cigarette smoking for the last 40 years of my life.

It's been noted before (on this blog and elsewhere) that for smokers, cigarettes are like friends. Best friends really because of their uncomplicated, non-judging loyalty and reliability. Who/what else has been there no matter what, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, good times and bad?

Here's a paradox of the relationship:  this friend can in one moment grant a compelling insight that sparks creative invention (so much of the writing here has come this way); but over the long haul, for most of the days and nights of the relationship, this friend suppresses feeling, hiding me from Truth and Truth from me.

In "The Shitty Handshake," the second gritty portrait in Paula Bomer's  Baby and Other Stories, a woman quits drinking. Or tries to quit drinking. With some weeks of sobriety under her belt, she abandons polite convention with her sister-in-law for the first time and tells her the truth. The sister-in-law invites her to join the family for a holiday getaway.
"Thanks, Alexis. But I don't think I can make it. You should check with Dan, though. I'm sure he would love to go."
"You have other plannz?"
"Actually, no. I just don't think I'd be comfortable, but thanks. You have Dan's work number, yes?"
... "You wouldn't be comfortable?" Karen could hear her sister-in-law adjust her headband.
"I'm sorry. But why not?" ...
"Because I'm not comfortable around you and your family."
"I'm sorry." Alexis said, with absolutely no conviction. Indeed, it was one of those sorrys that really meant fuck you.
"No need to be sorry. I'm just not comfortable around you and there's nothing either of us can do about it."
"Well, but why not? We're always so happy to have you," she lied.
"Because you are a bitch and a snob."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm not comfortable around you because you're a bitch and a snob. There's nothing anyone can do about that at this point. It's just who you are, what you are. A bitch, and a snob." Karen's ears started to ring. A current of electricity surged through her and the lights in the kitchen flickered. The truth was that powerful. ...
When she got off the phone, she was so high she realized she didn't need booze. No, she just needed to tell the truth. It was such a rare thing, the bald truth, especially since she'd gotten older. Of course, the feeling wore off, just like the effects of alcohol do. ...
Bomer, Paula (2010-12-15). Baby & Other Stories (Kindle Locations 286-294). Word Riot Press. Kindle Edition. 
I know this "high". It's unpredictable and uncontrollable. Just every now and then, taking a deep breath like any other deep breath and SURPRISE! -- on the out-breath all traces of uncertainty or artifice leave me. I see myself and the world around me with an uncommon clarity. And if you ask me anything in that moment, I am powerless to respond with anything besides plain, uncontaminated honesty.

It is strange, how separation from my "best friend" -- paradoxically the same "best friend" who carries the words and ideas and feelings I need for inventive creative work -- sets the stage for transcendent vision and truth-speaking. [Researchers are looking at this and related phenomena through less romantic lens; they study "the effect of nicotine on brain activity."]


In part because I'm missing my "best friend"
and in part because after 10 months in Holly Springs I am still essentially an outsider here and spend most of my time alone
and in part inspired by Bomer's brilliant narratives about the interior life of Introverts

I'm thinking about alone-ness lately. Thinking that feels sane, stripped of nostalgia and emotion. 

A big new idea: seeing my family as a clan of loners, a bunch of people related by blood who could not (why?) forge strong social bonds with each other. Examining my lone-wolf nature as a learned, socialized characteristic. Wondering if any of this is transmitted genetically.

I don't know how far I can go with this investigation 

without smoking.

It's like I need my Friend to hold my hand while I face the truth about what kind of Friend s/he is. 

It's like only without my Friend can I see how alone I am and fully feel that alone-ness and wonder about it...but I need my Friend's company to think deeply or do any writing about the process.

This is boring.

04 June 2013

Re Frame


I woke up the other morning to this thought

If I live as long as Mommy, I'll be dead in less than 20 years

 Wow. The thought quietly rocked my world for a few days. An exhilarating sense of freedom came over me: And excitement. And curiosity. 

Remarkable how one thought changed my perspective on EVERYTHING. And the longer I looked at Life through that lens, the calmer I felt.

And then, one day, a new thought intruded:  

If I live as long as Mother, I have more than 40 years of living left....a whole 'nother lifetime...


So I  tossed the cigarettes and decided it's time to "quit" again. 

Not smoking always changes my perspective on EVERYTHING because my "friend" is gone

and I have all these scattered minutes to fill with ....something

and there's more oxygen fueling the System

and I have no protection from the thoughts and feelings that smoking helps suppress. For example:

With all due affection for my descendants, having a baby was a bad choice.

Here's another one:  I didn't come to Holly Springs with a great idea. I came to Holly Springs because my friend invited me to come create something with him and because I was tired of hustling for survival in the SF Bay area. 

yeah,  everything is lit by a very stark, unflattering light in the first days of a Quit. I kinda like it. 

I can't write but I can see.