Thursday, March 07, 2019

we are the coolest

The first time I met Molly in person, I was coming off a morning spent roaming the aisles at Target, contemplating the fact that, depending how you sliced the statistics, there was a ten percent chance I would be dead in five years. It was 2013.

Then I remembered that coffee existed, and I got some and dried my eyes. I sat down at Swork and waited for Molly to find me, which wasn't hard to do because I was the only bald woman in the place.

She told me her story, which is to say her cancer story, which was of course only a piece of her story. She'd reached out to me at Poets & Writers about a Poets & Writers thing, but in the process she'd come across my blog, so she added a P.S. to her email: "If you ever want to talk to someone who went through the same thing at a similar age...." And here we were, talking. About fake boobs and prognoses and the super annoying social worker who'd crossed both our paths.

I admitted: "I just feel so old and creaky and uncool."

Molly was more than a year out of treatment. Her blonde hair had grown back. She was starting a new micro fiction collective.

"Are you kidding?" she said. "I think we're the coolest."

She was so undeniably cool--the way she talked and wrote and moved through the world--that I instantly believed her.

Molly on the runway in 2017. One badass thing among many.
For a few months, we were fast friends. I joined her collective and hung out a couple of times at the loft she shared with her then-husband in Atwater Village. I had some kind of art/cancer/sister crush on her. Navigating a world people tried to avoid, I'd finally found someone aspirational.

And then she slowly drifted away, admitting in an email that she was struggling with depression, which was not new for her and which her oncologist said was common a couple of years after cancer treatment. I circled back to her blog and her Facebook page now and then, looking for proof she was still healthy and hoping she'd still want to be friends. She was mostly quiet.

Then, in January 2017, she shared a long, unflinchingly honest, un-self-pitying Facebook post: She'd been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2015 and writing about it anonymously (until now) on a blog that I devoured instantly. A rich meal that made me sick even as I ate it.

She wrote beautifully. She said things I'd thought about and shared wisdom I hoped I would arrive at if I got to the point of Stage IV. I did what everyone does when reading, even about fictional people, which was to slide inside her narrative. It was a slippery and dangerous and irresistible task. I hadn't seen her in a few years and so she became Molly The Story, even as she was Molly The Writer and Molly The Person. I was mindful of all the ways it was unfair to Molly The Person to project my own fears onto her, even though Molly The Writer was aware of this inevitability and wrote about her own projections.

Death is the process of transitioning from Writer to Story, whether you are a literal writer or not. Story is a kind of earthly immortality, although I hope there are other kinds. Writers try to trick death by telling our own stories, even though most of us know we will be digital ghosts at best, not Shakespeare, not even suggested summer reading.

I'm telling you about Molly right now because this morning I saw these tweets.



Until now, she's been the one telling her story, which is as it should be. At Homeboy and now at 826LA, we talk a lot about the power of claiming and telling your story, and it's easy to forget what what it actually means, though it is also easy to remember, to be pulled back to earth by this gut-level truth. I say that storytelling is my own religion, and like any faith, I can't quite explain it. Like any faith, it takes work. It can be lost. It can be exploited.

At this actual moment, I don't know if Molly is still alive. I feel like I'm floating and sinking at the same time. But in handing over language, she is passing the baton, making her peace with becoming story rather than teller. (We are all teller. We are all story.)

I didn't know if she would read my reply--I doubted it--but I wrote: "I think about you all the time. Thank you for showing me and others that honesty in is art. I love you."

Then I saw my typo and corrected: "*honesty is art."

Her probably-final tweet contained typos; she was a meticulous person and a methodical writer, and I suspected she was on some heavy medications. I thought about my dumb correction, a bratty little assertion that I still existed in a world where not only did language matter, but "correct" language.

It buoys me that Molly is walking boldly into the post-language realm with love and lightness. We should all be so lucky. She described a friend who died of cancer as a "sherpa" to others, and while I'm as superstitiously, anxiously, cautiously optimistic about my next cancer check-up as ever, if I have to climb that mountain, I want Molly as my sherpa.


Monday, February 18, 2019

center screen

When I saw The Station Agent, I remember imagining an alternate-universe version of the movie focused on the relationship between Michelle Williams’ and Bobby Cannavale’s characters instead of on Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson. I.e., on the young, traditionally sexy couple instead of the man with dwarfism and the older woman. Of course, that alternate universe is usually this universe, and I felt so happy and grateful to visit a world where the “supporting” characters were central.

Realizing that in 2003 Patricia Clarkson was probably like five years older than I am now.
I had the same experience last night when AK and I saw Roma at the Egyptian Theatre. If it had been a movie about a middle-class Mexican woman (Marina de Tavira) struggling through a divorce while her indigenous maid (Yalitza Aparicio) deals with an unplanned pregnancy, it might still have been a good story. But writer-director Alfonso Cuarón made the same simple/radical choice that Tom McCarthy made with The Station Agent, and told the whole story from the point of view of Cleo, the housekeeper and nanny to Mrs. Sofi’s four children.

The storytelling itself is traditional in the loveliest sense. Black-and-white, slow-moving, hauntingly poetic. But the lingering shots include many of the messes Cleo is tasked with cleaning up: dirty dishes, dog shit, piles of laundry, cigarette butts (it takes place in the seventies, so of course cigarette butts).

This movie will make you crave soft-boiled eggs.
There’s a scene where the family is watching TV. Cleo hangs out for a bit and watches with them. Two of the four kids fight over who gets to cuddle with her. The father (who, like most of the grown men in the movie, turns out to be utterly fucking useless) asks her for a tea. She gets up, clears plates, gets tea. The truth of her simultaneous status as family member and Other is apparent in every shot.

And in this particular shot, I felt a surge of recognition—not because I’m a housekeeper, obviously—but because as a mom who tries to keep things tidy, every chill domestic scene is threaded with an undercurrent of cleanup. I know what it means to always be moving, and seeing it on screen was validating.

This face will make you crave more movies starring Yalitza Aparicio.
The bigger, more obvious validation, of course, was the joy of studying Aparicio’s face—to see someone with dark skin and almond-shaped eyes get the same treatment that rubios have been getting for a century. She looks like the face I see across from me at the dinner table every day (well, metaphorically—we’re actually pretty terrible at the family-dinner thing), and like the kids who fill the tables at 826LA. Needless to say, I can only imagine how heartening it would be for someone who actually goes through the world with that face to see themselves reflected. AK confirmed.

When we visited Mexico City in 2017, I remember being slightly surprised by the number of white people. In the posh neighborhood where we stayed, I did not stand out at all. No one expected me not to speak Spanish. Seeing Roma, I was reminded again that what many Americans think of as generically “Mexican” (because racism, ignorance, and actual immigration patterns) is more often than not indigenous-Mexican. People who are doing fine economically are less likely to leave. White Mexicans are more likely to be doing fine economically.

Every man in this movie: "Um, I have to go over here for a minute." [Leaves forever.]
After the movie, there was a Q&A with the two main actresses. I think I overdosed on Q&A’s in my twenties, so I tend to avoid them. I’d rather just savor the dream-world of the movie itself. De Tavira and Aparicio were gracious and funny, but the interviewer was insufferable. In addition to asking the most predictable questions, he seemed intent on mansplaining his movie-nerd facts and revealing his ignorance about everything outside those facts. When de Tavira said something about “during the six months or so when we were shooting—” he interjected to say “108 days!” He doled out some pandering flattery (“the camera loves you”; although he was not wrong) to Aparicio, but almost all of his questions to her were about being a first-time actor; it seemed like he wanted her to share a story about how she thought the camera would steal her soul or something. Instead she told a hilarious story about working with the dog in the movie (“He was also a first-time actor”).

At one point, the interviewer said, “Mexico City has a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty—it’s an unusual city in that way.”

Someone in the audience shouted, “Like L.A.” I mumbled, “That’s not ‘unusual.’”

We took our cue and fled to get food at a little Oaxacan place up the street, and to try to return to the dream of the movie. Among the many things I loved about Roma was the reminder that life is precarious—men leave, the government steals your land, earthquakes shake the ground you stand on, fires break out at your freewheeling 1970s New Year’s Eve party—but human beings are scrappy. And when the sound of the crashing waves gets so loud you can hardly hear anything else, you cling to each other.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

milestones and other rocks

1. the middle will write itself (unfortunately not literally)

Some small but important things happened since my last post, and it feels necessary to mark them here, because subtle milestones, like subtle angst, have a way of getting lost in the churn of everyday. I mean, they are the churn of everyday, which is why they’re so easy to not see.

I’ve been thinking a lot about units of time. I know what I want in the big picture—love, creativity, and whatever makes those things possible on Maslow’s pyramid. I sort of know what it takes to translate those things into a single good day. Read. Write. Connect with people I care about. Clean some small square of my house and take a walk. (I often don’t do any of these things because work, because life, because phone.) But when I think about the middle range, I tend to panic: What is my five-year career plan? Do I have a five-year career plan? Is it utter hubris to assume I’ll be alive in five years?

One solution—and I’m not being facetious here—is to not think about the middle range. Trust that it will write itself if you work on having good days and moving in the general direction of love and creativity.

The other thing that has been a beautiful balm for the What if I’m doing it all wrong? voice in my head is the IKEA Writers Collective. Toward the end of 2018, a writer named Shea posted in a Facebook group for writer parents that she wanted to finish a draft of her book, and she needed some accountability partners. A group text grew out of it—Shea, Aubrey, Debbie, Jennifer, Hannah, and me. They’ve been, essentially, an antidote to the image of Writer as white man who locks himself in his office at a beautiful wooden desk for four hours a day—and even to my more contemporary image of Writer as multi-platform Millennial who crafts zingy Tweets against old white men and gets an instant book deal as a result.

We cheer every time Shea puts a star for writing five hundred words on the sticker chart she made herself. We weigh the pros and cons of having a second or third kid. We share pictures of messy houses in solidarity or admit, as Hannah did, “I think it’s still too early in our relationship to show you all a picture of my sink.”

It is early, and I’m in the throes of infatuation, but bear with me.

This isn't any of our living rooms. This is IKEA.
Aubrey texted about a dreamy solo trip to IKEA, and we all extolled the joys of childcare and veggie dogs, and wasn’t there like a wholeTV show shot in secret in IKEA’s staged rooms? That’s when we began dreaming of a writing retreat at IKEA, or anywhere really—any place that would understand and cater to the needs of trying to write in the midst of everything else. The churny intersection of the spiritual and the banal would have to look like IKEA, I think.

These five women, all of them really good writers, have given me the gift of not making it look easy. And the paradoxical result is that writing has gotten a tiny bit easier. For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing for twenty or thirty minutes before Dash wakes up. Dash, for his part, has given me the gift of sleeping till 7 or 7:30, which could change at any minute. But I’ll do this while I can, when I can. I’ll take these gifts and run with them and try to trust that when they depart, there will be others.

TFW when your memoir is flowing.
Almost exactly a year ago, I finally admitted that I needed to write the first section of my memoir—all the anger and longing and heartbreak and semi-psychosis that predated cancer. I didn’t want to, but Dan (of our late great writing group that never quite got off the ground) encouraged me to do it. Thank you, Dan. That section exists now. It’s messy and full of holes, but it exists. It’s 112 pages. I have two big sections to go, which exist in the form of journal entries. But they exist too. So I could call that a…draft? For the first time in forever (picture Kristen Bell’s voice singing it, Frozen fans) my memoir feels like a project, not just a weight I’m carrying around.

2. next stop, flip-flop station

I also feel like I pushed through something in my relationship to my job, although that is as much of a work-in-progress as the memoir.

Something is shifting with Dash, too. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but this has happened since he was a baby, where I’ll periodically look at him and see a new person and feel a little shy and shaken, like I need to reintroduce myself.

For the past six months or so, I’ve appreciated that he’s getting more independent, and I think I over-celebrated my ability to do other things while he’s in the room. I became a little bit obsessed with what I could clean or cook while he played with his cars, and I was always jumping into the addictive blue glow of games and socials on my phone. It wasn’t good for me or him, and in small fussy ways, he’s let me know.

I’m trying to listen to him, and to think of this as a chapter in our attachment, where he’s voicing his needs and I’m adjusting because I am attuned, vs. a failure to take care of my kid, vs. choosing a dumb fashion game over my child.

Just this past week or so, I’ve focused on giving him my undivided attention for ten or twenty minutes at a stretch. Those bites—like writing for twenty minutes—are doable, and they add up. As Dash becomes more engaged with his surroundings, he’s also more sensitive to them, and he seems more likely to need a break from the stream of activities AK and I drag him to. He needs to sit under a blanket with me and read picture books, or build a roller coaster, or pretend our kitchen chairs are a bus (passengers include Mama, Mommy, and a lone flip-flop; our stops are Mama Station, Mommy Station, and Flip-Flop Station).

He needs space and breath, and it turns out I do too.

Photo by Roopak Ravi on Unsplash
You’ve probably heard that management parable, about how you have a big jar that represents your time, and you have to put the big rocks in first, followed by pebbles, followed by sand. These geological objects represent your priorities, in descending order. If you fill the jar with sand, you’ll have no room for the big rocks. Homeboy’s head baker once performed a live demo of this at Morning Meeting, using tennis balls and marbles.

I don’t disagree with the metaphor, but I’ve been thinking about how the type of sand makes a difference. Maybe not all the grains of sand can be a returned email or a scrubbed sink. Maybe they shouldn’t all be a stroll through Instagram’s suggested videos, either. And maybe some of the space in the jar needs to remain unoccupied. Just air.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

tops of 2018, plus some low points

More mornings than not in 2018, I woke up to a string of insults and imperatives--from myself, hurled at myself before I could bring a cup of coffee to my lips. I spent too much money on coffeehouse lattes, so they came with their own shame, curled like foam on top. I got coffee from gas stations and 7-Eleven, augmenting it with things that left a chemical taste in my mouth. There are too many tiny plastic creamer tubs in landfills bearing my fingerprints. I felt tacky and wasteful. On days I made coffee at home, I felt virtuous, even though it tended to be weak and/or instant, and I ran through portable mugs faster than I could wash them.

The cliche I live by.
Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash
Even the thing that was supposed to jolt me out of my internal invective to be better came with its own list of ways I could do it better.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast so badly that watching other girls execute higher, more graceful back flips gave me almost physical pain. "Oh, Taylor Niemeyer? She's good," I might say of a fellow elementary school gymnast. "Good" contained so much. Pointed toes. Flexible spine. Muscled legs. Moral purity. Otherworldliness.

By middle school, I'd realized that no kid who'd taken lessons only at their local Parks and Recreation, in the same community center that hosted cooking classes and holiday parties, was going to the Olympics. Perfectionism isn't just ambition. It's a horrible awareness of what could be, and everything that's standing in the way.

Eventually I made some kind of life for myself as, I dunno, a queer artist or something? But, like, with a day job and health benefits. To me, the queer aesthetic is questioning what's standing in the way, and who put it there. It's a belief that there are a thousand answers to "what could be," not a single, unachievable Platonic ideal. It's mixing the ingredients of What Is to create a weird but tasty smoothie.

But the part of me that hangs onto those health benefits also hangs onto the idea of the perfect back flip. How can I be a revolutionary when our white supremacist capitalist world has been so good to me?

I went to therapy. I considered these things. I wrestled with them. I wrestled with cancer and infertility and grief and came out on the other side with a belief that I was strong after all. I set my striverhood a little further to the side.

I'm always diving headfirst into What Could Be.
Photo by Eugene Lim on Unsplash
Then I took a certain kind of job with a certain kind of well-meaning boss who invariably wrestles with his own perfectionism and anxiety, and it was like a hole was punched in a container I'd built brick by brick. The tenuous peace I'd found in simply ("simply," ha) being alive and fed and loved and making things was suddenly nearly inaccessible.

I had such a good life. I felt like such a piece of shit.

All of this came to a head in July, and then again Christmas Day, when all the low-grade stress and self-flagellation of the past year crashed into the complicated, banal stress of the holidays. Wrapping six hundred framed pictures of Dash for relatives. Driving from loving relatives' house to loving relatives' house to loving relatives' house to loving' relatives house in a thirty-hour period.

Somewhere between Santa Ana and San Clemente I lost my shit and said really unkind things to AK and scared Dash. And then I did it like three more times. If this were a Christmas movie, I would need to be rescued by the owner of a small-town tree lot who would turn out to be Santa-Jesus. Or, I don't know, maybe I'm the villain, and AK would leave me for the owner of a small-town tree lot.

Apparently there is a movie called Fir Crazy.
If I have a resolution for 2019, it's to rebuild that brick container around my perfectionism, and to tune out the loud voices of perfectionism around me. In practical terms, that means a two-month trial hiatus from verbally shitting on myself. That doesn't mean not admitting my mistakes--but maybe I don't have to beat everyone to the punch.

Perfectionism is egotistical and unhelpful and paralyzing. I also know that art--making it and experiencing it--saves me again and again. As does AK, who does not tune into the same radio frequencies that whisper in my ear. This can be confounding when I'm like "But do you hear it??" But ultimately thank god she doesn't hear it.

All of this is my very rambling, arguably depressing lead-up to my Tops of 2018. Here are thirteen books, movies, TV shows, and podcasts that kept me going and helped me escape:

1. Suspiria: I realized halfway through that I wanted the witches to win. The witches won. Also this movie punches Nazis. 

Me before coffee.

2. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie: This raw and messy memoir reveals what healing looks like in textual form. I think this is what they meant in grad school by "performative writing." Alexie is hella funny, and also writes about how humor is a defense mechanism.

3. The Dream: This podcast peeled the three remaining scales from my eyes re: capitalism. America is one big fucking pyramid scheme.

4. The Favourite: As they say, everyone is going through something. Queens, concubines, politicians, scullery maids, bunnies. An intense love/hate triangle about power and self-hood, punctuated with just the right amount of strangeness.

I related most to Queen Anne, who wasn't as stupid as she seemed, but could not strategize to save her life.

5. Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug: Beautiful, meticulously crafted journal that captures all my feelings about guilt and reconciliation.

How to be nostalgic without being a Nazi.

6. The Book of Emma Reyes by Emma Reyes, translated by Daniel Alarcon: Emma Reyes was born into extreme poverty and abuse in Colombia in 1919, and bounced between convent orphanages and relatives' homes. Not only did she survive, but she lived to tell her own story with a visual artist's eye for detail and a winking, mischievous take on the world around her.

7. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam: It takes the writerly equivalent of a neurosurgeon to write from the point of view of a sexually abusive kidnapper in a way that is both sympathetic and unforgiving. Nadzam is that writer.

8. Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman and David Polonsky: A classic for good reason. Now illustrated, with imagination and humor.

The other Queen Anne.

9. Sharp Objects: Gillian Flynn delivers cocktails of psychology, zeitgeist, and creepy detail. The miniseries version adds oppressively lush aesthetics (think lots of floral wallpaper and creepy dollhouses) and alcohol. Patricia Clarkson is the heartbreaking/-broken mother we all fear becoming. Amy Adams plays a troubled heroine, like Libby Day in Dark Places, whose angst goes far beyond quirk.


TFW your little sis and her brigade of roller bitches discover a toothless dead body.

10. Decoder Ring: Willa Paskin takes deep dives into all corners of pop culture, from hotel art to the "Sad Jennifer Aniston" tabloid trope. Riveting, relevant, and delightfully weird.

11. Faithful Place: Dysfunctional family dynamics, beautiful writing, and muuuuurrrrrder. I loved it for all the same reasons I loved Sharp Objects.

12. Bodies: As suspenseful as a true-crime podcast, except the mystery unfolds in patients' own bodies. Usually women. Usually fighting through layers of medical and cultural bias as well as with what's going on physically. It's a quietly radical podcast that's oddly empowering for hypochondriacs like myself.

13. A Star is Born: On one level, a dramatic musical that throws its arms wide and belts shamelessly. Also a heartbreakingly believable portrait of addiction: The characters truly love each other, know what they're getting into, and find periodic happiness, but it's not enough to make for a happy ending.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

it's fine

Unfortunately, I am always thinking about self-improvement. To the point that I am starting a pretend nonprofit called IT'S FINE. IT'S FINE's mission is that whatever is going on is fine. Could we use volunteers and donations and a board? I mean, maybe, but mostly we're fine.

IT'S FINE was born because panic--the concern that MAYBE EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH EVERYTHING, AND WE'VE BEEN DOING IT ALL WRONG UP UNTIL NOW, BURN IT DOWN, BURN IT DOWN AND START OVER, BUT THIS TIME BE PERFECT!--usually doesn't make anything better.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash
I'm better at getting better when getting better is a whispered goal rather than a shouted one.

So this is one thing I've been thinking about. At work and in my personal life. Not as much in my writing life, which is the one place I default to growth orientation and/or act like the mature human I strive to be elsewhere.

*

Here's another worky analogy for how I want to be in the world. Bear with me.

I was raised on Microsoft Word and still use it for my just-for-me writing projects. I always thought the goal was to create a perfect document that you could share with others, but not let them touch. You have to hit "save" to overwrite anything, meaning you have to make a conscious decision about what is true, and worth keeping.

Oldie that I am, I only started using Google Docs regularly a year ago. In Google Docs, you work together, and every change is real.

At 826LA, we use the phrase "build it out" a lot. As in, "I've created an outline for that campaign, and I'm starting to build it out." I think we may have borrowed that phrase from Rachel, who comes from the design world. I like it. I like the idea that campaigns/documents/life are this thing you're always building, even if at times it feels like the Winchester Mystery House (which was actually not the work of a madwoman, but rather an amateur architect who didn't have a lot of outlets for her creativity--check out the 99% Invisible episode about Sarah Winchester!).

Mysterious, yes. Crazy, no.
I like the idea that progress is incremental and a team effort. It's hard to explain how I think of teamwork and work, in general, differently now than I did pre-826LA, but it feels more three-dimensional now. It feels both more challenging and more comforting. I want to carry this idea into my personal life and daily habits, where I hope to be less perfectionistic and, paradoxically, better.

*

I'm reading Joshua Mohr's addiction memoir, Sirens, and his relationship with drugs and alcohol feels a lot like (all too much like) my relationship with food, which has not been great lately. Here's a quote that especially resonates with me:

If I zero in on my life, if I scour and stew on any aspect, I'll always locate some benign reason to give up. To fail and flee. So the question becomes, is that what I want? Do I want to end up alone and alcoholic?"

No, of course not.

Yes, of course.

I was raised in the cult of Personal Responsibility (a Microsoft Wordy cult) that half our country is still obsessed with. Hard work fixes all, etc. In a country where corporations have more rights than humans, this is bullshit; meritocracy is the opiate of America's masses.

I try to reorient myself toward the systemic. On a recent episode of This American Life, David Kestenbaum talked about why, as a scientist, he doesn't really believe in free will, and I was right there with him. We are the product of our atoms and our circumstances. No one can really be any different than how they are, or they would be.

But does that make me a person who can't help but guzzle eggnog until I hate myself, or does that make me a person who has a habit of guzzling eggnog and hating herself, but who ultimately stops leaning into self-sabotage and develops some healthier habits for more than a week at a stretch? Either could be written in my bones, my circumstances, my "choices."

But in a plastic cup, and refilled three times.
What is the line between acknowledging the reality of your situation and looking for reasons to fail? As someone prone to addict-esque black-and-white thinking, I think the main thing for me to remember is that there is a line.

Yes, it is exhausting working full time and raising a kid, despite all the help and resources I have. Yes, the holidays are a minefield of cookies. That doesn't mean I have to race ahead of those facts and gain thirty (more) pounds just because. That doesn't mean I'm-fucked-so-why-bother-trying. That does mean the serenity prayer. It all comes down to the serenity prayer.

A friend in recovery told me addicts tend to see themselves as either special or terrible. Another wrote this amazing post about how both sexual abuse and cancer can trigger the same kind of thinking. And even though I'm not an abuse survivor or someone addicted to anything you can quit cold turkey, I'm like yes yes yes.

Photo by Inês Pimentel on Unsplash
Being better--to my body, my soul, my family--means accepting that I am neither special nor terrible. I am average. I need food and rest and time to think, and without those things, I get grouchy, and that's okay. I have strengths and weaknesses. My strengths are special because they are unique to me, but I am not fundamentally set apart from everyone else. This is so boring. This feels like accepting that, after a lifetime of believing I was either a unicorn or an ogre, I am in fact beige carpet.

But it's fine.



Sunday, November 11, 2018

the three mothers

1. suspiria/mother of sighs

“When women tell you the truth, you don’t pity them, you accuse them of delusion.” –Suspiria, 2018

Susie is the new girl in the dance troupe, pulled from the flat fields of Ohio as if by an umbilical cord, to a Berlin still catching its breath from the war. The Helena Markos company is a palace of mirrors, where dancers’ bodies twist and break as dancers’ bodies do, to live a story larger than any one ugly foot on one wooden floor. Susie says: More, please.

Sara is an unknowing ambassador to the cabinet of curiosities that lurks beneath the floorboards, with the hair and wrecked bodies and bespoke metal hooks. She is a sweet English rose.

Dr. Klemperer is an old psychoanalyst who does not believe in witches or ghosts, but he lost his true love to the Third Reich. He believes in what a group of people can do, when organized, to other people.

More, please.
Sara and Dr. Klemperer meet over trembling teacups. I think I am supposed to root for them to get to the root of this evil, for Sara to land in some sunlit room, and this knowledge is a kind of sigh.

Madame Blanc is the maestro with no eyebrows or lashes who says: “After the war, there are two things dance can never be again. Those things are beautiful, and cheerful.”

I cannot turn my face toward cheer, and this film won’t make me do it. It is a sigh of relief, this new knowledge.

Susie says: “Why are you so afraid of the mess that’s still to come?”

I am afraid. In the dark theater, I lean into the bloodbath. I crave this world of women as sex and unsex, life and afterlife, intestines and beating hearts, easy as a pear to slice, hard as folklore to destroy.

If you want to see a movie that both features Tilda Swinton and is the cinematic embodiment of Tilda Swinton, Suspiria is that movie.
But at night I transform my fear of mess into the banal, my own alchemy. I have done the reverse before—turned a dull ache into the apocalypse—and I know the ins and outs of such spells. What if AK’s headaches last forever? What if I become only a body shuttling to and from one kind of work to another kind of work? What if my body fails?

We cut our son’s umbilical cord when he was born. His birthmother in the room, bloody. It was magical and cruel, simple and sterile. It wasn’t spaghetti; it was thick, durable, like something from the bottom of the ocean.

2. the dream/mother of darkness

It is not a true crime podcast, but it unfolds like one. Or: It is the truest crime. Our host, from a flat farm town in Michigan, recalls the Mary Kay parties of her youth. The women who gathered and laughed, told stories about tangled pantyhose and a grandmother who wore furs as a child, ate Jell-o, sold each other lipstick.

There are women and warmth and camaraderie, promises of beauty and riches, and this is how the cults get you. Not a pyramid, they say, just a structure that happens to be large at the bottom and small at the top. Guess which part you’re on.

Our host takes us through legal cases and a bit of stunt journalism, signing up her coworker to sell beauty products whose names are modified by adjectives like: perfect, enduring, rich.

I am horrified by this spell in plain sight. Betsy DeVos is an Amway heir. Donald Trump flew to the White House on Amway air. He is made of air.

Flashing gang signs. Someone issue an injunction, please.
The message of every multilevel marketing training is: If this isn’t working for you, the problem is you. You must not be perfect. If you cannot endure, you will never be rich. The message of America is this, also.

I fall for the spell. I know what it is to hustle, in a nonprofit sort of way; I know what is easy and what is not. And yet that makeup sparkles like mica in a gum-pocked sidewalk. The idea of myself in a pinstriped girl-boss suit holds a certain appeal. I was raised on the myth of meritocracy, as American as fat-free Devil’s Food SnackWells.

3. seven/mother of tears

Today I would be the mother of seven-year-olds. Two boys who were only ever tissue and blood. I am only tissue and blood.

A cyst that has not drawn any blood vessels to it is probably benign. I am probably benign.

A headache that retracts with rest is probably benign. A mystery to be unraveled one pill and one yoga class at a time, not a single thing to be attacked with a scalpel. Or so we have reason to believe, even though I don’t completely believe in reason anymore. Even as I say my incantations to the gods of Google.

The mind-body connection is real, but is has been borrowed by the Mother of Darkness, sold as Herbalife and Isotonix. You must be the reason for your headaches, your lack of sales, your dead babies. Do not look over there. Do not look at that man made of air or the pyramid behind him.

How to take a thing that is kind of true and turn it into a zillion dollar quackery industry.
I want to stage a cry-in. Me and all the people fucked so much harder than me, who have learned not to fear the mess. I fear the mess. But for the purposes of this spell, let’s say that I don’t. All of us will summon our salt tears and make a tsunami. Turn the pyramid back into sand. Wiggle our ugly toes in it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

artificial intelligence

Google sinus headache, subcategory mucus
Do not Google brain tumor
When Google autocompletes "do sinus headaches have the same symptoms as"
with "brain tumor," wonder if
this is because sinus headaches have the same symptoms as,
or because others are as anxious and sick in the head, haha, as you
and artificial intelligence knows we are dumb

Google brain tumor

Say all the wrong things
Resent her for dredging up your old apocalypses
Wonder if she resented you when you were sick
Know the answer

Text your friends
Text your doctor friend
Call your sister
Call your therapist
Call your therapist back when the call breaks
up twice

Escalate: in the morning you spoke of sinus and tension
Now, migraines and neurologists

Hell is waiting for the results of an MRI

Crunch numbers
20,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a brain tumor this year
Calculate, add fairy dust, arrive at a .01% chance of brain tumor
in this singular adulthood that belongs to a person you love

Consider adding another child
Consider the risk: more to love, more that could go wrong
Cancel your call with the adoption agency

Pick up your child
Consider his smooth skin, the color
of almost-sunset
and how he deserves so much more
than what you have to offer

Deserve is a dirty word,
to be relegated to the dungeon alongside
Responsibility and Fault

Drive the 710 with slow belching trucks
Watch the almost-sunset behind the skeletons of industry
Listen to The Wheels on the Bus
go round and round and round
as your thoughts expand like the universe
and implode like the universe

Drink cheap wine with your dad
Know that there will be a time when your dad is no longer
Imagine, try not to imagine
When he asks if you have heard about mindfulness
Do not strangle him

Come home to her
She is home
She needs to laugh and you need to cry
Say some more wrong things
Be forgiven

Wake up at 5
Throw your journal in your bag
and begin the hard right turn into Crisis Management
Make mental lists and plans
Plan to put them on paper

Know the answer
These grooves on an old warped record
The joys of middle age: you are strong
you are paper
you are in risk categories

Write this list instead
Cry some more
Teach your phone the truth of a meme you saw:
You never mean ducking

Duck like a duck
Waddle on land, awkward and funny
Swim beneath the surface
like your body was made for this