Thursday, October 23, 2014

the sum of our parts

1. never never land

Yesterday was not an awesome day. Work fell from the sky in fat droplets and splatted at my feet, and I felt caught without an umbrella. I started coming down with a cold. And…another friend got pregnant—one who’s been trying hard, who gets it, whom I want this for—and I felt alone on my little island of nevernevernever.

Why do I feel like this island in Dubai might be the world's loneliest?
We’ve been at this trying-to-obtain-a-kid thing so long that not only have all the fertile people gotten pregnant, but so have the infertile ones. Single people have gotten married and popped out kids. Hopeful adoptive parents (as they are called in adoption lingo) are now just adoptive parents, meaning parents. It’s no longer just the glib and lucky who have kids. It’s everyone. There’s no one left to be mad at, because I have abandoned my obnoxious friends (or they’ve abandoned me, in some cases) and schooled the remaining ones on the careful art of sharing their good news.

I know it’s not everyone. I know I should join a support group or something. But I feel like everyone in it would just have a kid and leave.

Yesterday, Fr. Greg talked about how a lot of people seek out Homeboy because they want to “give back.” “I think it’s better to receive than to give,” he said. He went on to talk about how generosity is a good impulse, but kinship is a more effective one. When our only goal is to sit with someone in their brokenness—to receive them as they are—we experience our own brokenness and connect. That connection is the gift both parties receive.

Morning Meeting at Homeboy: a place to receive, and also learn what the soup of the day is.
I think that’s what God is—when two broken things add up to something whole. And when you feel like one broken thing, it gets lonely.

I’ve always felt most whole around people who are a little bit broken. I’ve always liked poor neighborhoods better than posh ones, sad and anxious people better than confident over-achievers. And even as I type this, I feel a little self-conscious about it, like, Well, of course some hipster writer would say that. What, do you think you’re Kerouac or something? I worry about grief porn, poverty porn, about a possible need to feel superior. At other times, I feel like I work at Homeboy so its collective spirit can save me, and that makes me feel like some kind of drain on the system, some kind of reverse welfare queen who steals from the poor to give to myself.

Kerouac in kinship with a gato!
But they way Fr. Greg framed it made me feel less like my—what would you call it, social orientation?—is pathological or posturing. It’s kinship. Because I’m not so well-off, and maybe the most useful thing I can do in the world is to stop trying to be so fucking useful.

2. killing it, crawling lit

Last night was the second annual Lit Crawl L.A. in North Hollywood. This year it was bigger and better. Two Homeboy alum knocked it out of the park sharing their life stories at a store selling overpriced sorta-skater clothes, and I got to meet one of the writers who coached them, Jeanne Darst, whose memoir I loved. She was totally friendly and real, and she had great yoga arms, and I want to be her.

Then I ran down the street in my fantastic but unwieldy heels for my reading with Wendy Oleson, Bronwyn Mauldin, Pat Alderete and Olga Garcia at the Laemmle. I pride myself on being scrappy and punk rock when it comes to the literary life, but it would have been nice if they’d given us a whole hallway to read in rather than a roped-off sliver of hallway. On the upside, the good-sized crowd just went with it, sitting cross-legged on the casino carpeting, and the place smelled like fresh popcorn.

At least there was art in the hallway.

In addition to Jeanne Darst's arms, I want Olga's dimples.
I don’t remember exactly how it started, but we decided we would all read pieces about guns. None of us are fans of guns, so we thought it might be a challenge to be eclectic and not didactic. It wasn’t. Just to brag for a minute: I think we killed it. Metaphorically, of course. We called the reading “Exploded Guns” after a book Bronwyn found that displayed the organized parts of dissected guns.

We were greater than the sum of our parts. Wendy read an eerie, Aimee Bender-esque story about a girl made of glass and her brother the gun. Bronwyn read a stunning and funny poem comprised entirely of the names of gun models. Pat read “authentic fiction” about the aftermath of a gang shooting in 1970s East L.A. I read a Homeboy-inspired piece about how a scared little kid turns into a scared teenage shooter. And Olga closed out the night with a big, beautiful, Howl-esque elegy for Brisenia Flores, a seven-year-old bordertown girl shot by Minutemen.

No te olvidaremos.
3. we haven’t always been this way

After the reading, I chatted with my dad and my coworker Lauren, and my dad encouraged me to read my story at Homeboy. I squirmed at the idea of telling people’s stories back to them, even though god bless my dad, because he was the one person who turned out just to see me, drove all the way from Manhattan Beach, sat on a patch of carpet in a way that must have killed his back and didn’t take it personally when I turned down his offer of frozen yogurt afterward.

“You’ve always been this way,” he said. I cringed, imagining how he might explain “this way”—“fighting for the underdog?” “caring about minorities”? Part of me worried my dad was going to call me an N-word-lover in some thinly veiled, not unkind but still ignorant way, in public. And I wanted to explain that 1) “They” are fine without me and 2) “They” are not a “they.” I’m the N in this story, trying to love myself, unabashedly serving myself.

Still squirming, I said, “I guess I’ve always had some kind of empathy.” (Although there are times when my empathy has been incredibly clouded by my own shit.) Fiction writing is the practice of putting empathy on paper.

Lauren, luckily, did not seem put off by my dad’s praise and not-quite-PC phraseology. My dad is one of the most stubborn people I know, but also one of the most open-minded, meaning he will make his case relentlessly and is slow to change, but he will never stop listening. He’s also kind of on-the-spectrum in terms of reading other people’s emotions, and yet more sensitive to human and animal suffering than a lot of people. I think that part stems from his attunement, as a kid, to his mom, who was a loving and somewhat emotionally volatile widow struggling to raise two boys on her own.

The world of my dad's youth, or the idealized version of it.
I suspect he tried to fix things for her, just as he tried to for my loving but hyper-sensitive mom and his loving but hyper-sensitive girlfriend of ten years. He thinks this is how women are. He’s somewhat baffled that he raised a woman who says what she means and reminds him—intentionally and not—of his powerlessness to fix the world.

All I need is a national talk show, and the Duesenberg is mine.
In some ways, I think that’s why he’s a Republican: He just can’t stand to imagine that people are suffering as much as they are, even/especially the ones who do terrible things. He wants simple solutions. It’s a kind of denial that seems to be eroding and evolving as he grows older and more open-minded, and it hurts me to see how it hurts him. I want him to be liberal and Zen, but I also want to protect him. I want to give him the world he wants, just as he wants to give me the things I want. I want to buy him his dream car: a Duesenberg, a long-nosed, expensive German roadster manufactured during the Great Depression.


MBS said...

De-lurking to say Hi from another broken person. I've followed your blog for a year or so. I appreciate your writing.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for saying hi, MBS, and in hanging out in broken-person kinship on Bread and Bread. :-)

bronwyn said...

Great post, Cheryl. Wide-ranging, yet somehow all of a piece. Whatever path your story goes down next will be the right one.

P.S. I think we killed it too. In a mostly-vegetarian way.

Cheryl said...

Thanks--here's hoping!

ktmartinez said...

I am also a fellow broken person (I emailed you a while back about the kismet of us both being infertile young breast cancer stricken lesbians.) It's nice to not feel so alone in broken person-ness. Thanks for your blog.

Cheryl said...

I remember you! Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope you're doing well.