I moved my writing back to my old blog Snails in Her Suitcase because it does a better job of saving things. It’s nothing fancy - just notes, journal entries from my year in Brazil, and some character sketches. It’s nice to have an outlet in the midst of all this boring academic writing.
Thanks for stickin’ around!
I love the sound
screaming in the oven.
The intensity of love and hate of man-made things is a strange kind of sadness; the way objects become attached to the spine and gather dust there, become you, like the teeth of a twin who should have lived instead of you; the way a fragment of a sentence can float from a page, linger, and define that thing you could never quite… the frustration innate in telling - in never getting the thing just right, and telling it so many times that it starts to shape something like being. It’s a strange sort of sadness to feel the feeling of these man-made things, yet for the men who made them, only appreciation.
2.5 months past the due date.
1.5 months of research.
Time to edit.
I smell bad.
He picked a time in his life and tried to remember it.
54 years-old - not just any other age.
He remembered the smell of his wife’s $2 Raspberry Suave.
He saved the fuckin’ bottle, and sniffed it to get in the mood
with other women. There were other things he remembered about that year,
like buying a boat in the spring, sailing the Catalina harbor, and selling it for $100 in June. The man in the Yankee’s cap from the PennySaver asked,
“Why are you selling it?”
“What’s the point,” he said, “of catching fish alone?”
The hour passes
a decade of laundry loads
catching fish alone
Albert aimed the shotgun at the neighbor dog’s skull. That morning he had found its footprints in the freshly fallen snow leading away from his garbage bins, their contents torn and scattered across his lawn, and if that wasn’t reason enough to murder the damn thing the barking was.
Night after night Albert had contemplated shooting it from the second story window of the empty guest bedroom that looked down into the Jacksons’ backyard. He watched it nuzzle its snout through the slats of the picket fence, howl off into the wooded canyon, and bark back at its own echo. Albert was embarrassed by its loneliness.
He panned the gun over to the Jackson’s living room window. They were hosting a New Year’s Eve party and the guests were gathered around the television to watch the ball drop in Time Square. Mr. Jackson kissed his wife’s mouth full of wine. Albert had a straight aim for his eye. Before he was a postman he was in the infantry. He could shoot a man in the right eye and make it come out the left.
He shifted aim to Mrs. Jackson. She blushed, embarrassed as she wiped the red wine off the front of her cream colored blouse, and disappeared into the bedroom to change.
By the fireplace, an overdressed man in a tailored suit made a show of popping the cork on a bottle of Champaign for two dowdy women, who sighed when the cork slid right out and wilted on the floor like a dead fish. Albert aimed at the overdressed man’s well-trimmed beard, at the handkerchief in his breast pocket, at the line in the center of his forehead.
Mrs. Jackson reappeared in a green blouse and passed out Champaign flutes and pom-pom noise blowers. Mr. Jackson chatted with an attractive woman by the punch bowl. The single people positioned themselves near other people with single-looking faces, pressed the wrinkles in their pants flat, smoothed their skirts, and chanted, EIGHT! SEVEN! SIX! FIVE!
No one heard the barking.
FOUR! THREE! TWO!
Albert aimed -
and shot the Jacksons’ dog, who laid down in the snow, shut its eyes, and listened to the last of itself echo off into the new year.
I don’t dream often, but when I do they’re usually so weird I want to tell them to everyone and no one.
This morning I woke up from the worst dream.
I dreamt that my grandparents had gone crazy. I dreamt that they each had a sex change to become each other because they were so unhappy in their own bodies. When I went into their room, everything was gone, but I could hear my grandmother’s voice coming from a cupbord.
And if that’s not weird enough, they had a horse living in their house that acted like a dog, and as my grandmother (grandfather?) tried to wrap a plastic sheet around me because she (he?) thought I was cold, the horse ran in circles around the dining room table.
Dream interpreters, go.
The Girl Who Becomes A Mountain At Night was all crevices and valleys and temperate rain. She was twisting roads and caution signs. When she opened her mouth to speak, her words came out in deep, guttural howls, so that all the people who lived in the town below would fear her.
In this town there lived a boy who never slept. There was a girl he wished to marry, and at night he would lay awake, tossing and turning, thinking of her. But in order to marry this girl he needed to pick a special flower that grew at the mountain’s highest point. The reason for the flower isn’t important. (If you must know why the flower is important, see the story of the “Golden Boy’s Golden Bread,” or the “Orphan Baker Boy,” or some other variation of those titles, which I can’t remember at the moment). Anyway, this isn’t his story. This story is about the Girl Who Becomes A Mountain At Night, and the boy is only marginally important.
The Mountain fell in love with the boy and devised a plan to make him climb her. One night she sent a whisper down the stream that trickled past his house.
“Climb me,” she said. “It’s so very nice out tonight.”
Thinking only of the girl he wished to marry and the flower that would win her love, the boy heard the Mountain’s whispers and followed the stream through the trees. He had never heard the Mountain so quiet.
He set out fearing the worst, but not a howl or a groan from old Mountain was made. Not a coyote or a bear, nor even the snapping of twigs in the distance. He felt safe, as if something was protecting him. When he finally reached the top he laid his cheek down on her soft earth and fell asleep.
Mountain was so happy. She listen to the rhythm of his snoring, which was loud and violent, and soon she too fell asleep.
When the boy who never sleeps woke up, he looked over and saw the flower he had come for. He reached over and, without permission, yanked it from between two rocks.
Suddenly the wind blew. The boy was scared. Then thunder came and the Mountain began to scream. He stuffed the flower in his pocket and ran down the trails, slipping and tumbling. The Mountain scratched him with her branches and bit him with insects of all kinds. She chased him with coyotes and wildcats. The whole time he thought only of the girl he loved. (For the tragic tale of their marriage, ask Supertopsecret Jones).
The Girl Who Becomes A Mountain At Night howled and wept until the stream by the boy’s house became a river, and then a lake, swallowing the fields until finally she dried up and and saw the boy for what he was: just a speck floating in the middle of all that sadness.
In the morning she was a desert.
It’s 2 in the morning and my room is infested with ladybugs! They got in through the window on the fourth floor. I didn’t even know they could fly that high!
I wait for them to land on the walls, deceiving them with a trick I learned in northeastern Brazil, where bugs visited me in swarms: turn the light off, turn the porch light on, and guide them back into the safety of the night.
Except I don’t have a porch so I’ve had to tweak it a little.
What I do is I turn off the light, and then I wait for them to land on the walls. And once they do - BAM! - the lights back on and I slap ‘em dead. Haha! Little Ladybug, not so lucky now are you?
Havaianas the world over are littered with little corpses of the souls they took.
I am two more lady bugs closer to going to sleep. One has landed on the illustrated Aesop’s Fables poster above my bookcase, and I wonder if old Aesop found a fable out there about ladybugs.
THE SCORPION AND THE LADYBUG A Scorpion befriended a Ladybug who became a loyal companion to him. A time came when she struggled to cross a challenging and dangerous river, and so the Scorpion offered to take her to the other side on his back. He had come to care for her and promised he would never harm her. But, safely across the river, he allowed his tail to dip upon her with its venomous sting. As she lay in greatest pain, she said, "... but, you promised... why?" He shrugged and said, sadly, "Because it is my Nature." Regardless of our wishes, or even our intent, it is to our Nature alone that we will be faithful.
Standing on a chair, I heave my arm back, shut my eyes, and smash the ladybug with the bottom of my sandle, leaving a red streak across the panel of “The Fox and the Crane.”
The last ladybug has hidden itself somewhere in my room. It’s nearly 3am so I decide to leave it. I turn out the light and crawl into bed, trusting it not to join me. The last thought I think is: Why did I close my eyes to kill it?
In the midst of all this cultural theory and academic jargen-googling-dictionary.coming nightmare, I finally read a masterpiece of ethnography written with such haunting pain and desire and longing that my reactions were visceral, actually causing me to squirm in my seat in the library, and yet pay no attention to its analytic components. Emotional aspects were too intense, too gnarly to stop and look up big words I don’t understand.
After reading Kathleen Stewart’s A Space in the Side of the Road, I’m starting to see why academic language is important; a set of vocabulary that, once learned, contributes to an understanding and an articulation of concepts that are perceived but must be reached for. Like the poetics of things. The way we build place with stories and how we build stories with place. How a door hinge or a pile of rusty toys punctuate a place and a narrative. For example, when you enter a new place, like an old town or a retirement home, and you get a feeling that what constitutes that place is more than just a bunch of old bodies, but rather a whole poetic history, right down to the knobs and railings. These are things I’ve understood on some frustrating level of appreciation and practice but never had the vocabulary to express.
So I guess the key to understanding how to articulate people - who are so simply complicated - and their relationships with things in a way that gets to the core of whatever range of emotional understanding the reader can reflect on, while at the same time maintaining objective scientific integrity, lies in the hands of a bunch of old German/French dudes so smart they have to hit their palms against their foreheads to keep their brains in.
A guy named Sunshine (of his own volition) said he once dreamed he was arguing on the phone with the insurance guy over the dream-period of a few months. The dream was induced by the knowledge of the unavoidable, and when he woke up he spent the next few months arguing on the phone with the insurance guy in real life.
He said he once had a dream that he took out the trash. When he woke up, he had to take out the trash. Menial dreams extend the time of menial reality.
“It’s like that movie Wristcutters,” I said, “where the people who kill themselves go to a slightly shittier afterlife version of their actual lives.”
“Yeah, I mean, what if this is really just a mundane dream of the mundane reality, and when we wake up we’re back in the dining hall and can’t even tell the difference?”
“You mean a shittier dreamworld version of your just-shitty reality?”
Sunshine said his hope for the future is to live out his goals in his dreams, exactly like Inception.
“There are people who work all day at boring jobs and are perfectly content because it allows them to go home and have their enjoyment time. I want to work and come home to an enjoyment that exists in sleeping because that’s the only place where I can make things happen that will never happen.”
“What would you do if you could do anything in your dreams?” I asked.
“Get the girl back, of course.”
The card-swiper attendent said the cafeteria was closing and it was time to clear our trays. We dumped the leftover food in the trash, separated the plates from the bowls, the forks from the knives, waited for the elevator that never came, and eventually took the stairs back to our rooms where we opened our books and studied.
creativity is born in the exhaustion of other work.
There wasn’t much to be said about the weather.
I have this amazing view of the bay. Every evening at seven I sit on my $2,000 balcony (yes, thank you student loans) and watch it change in the shifting light. It shimmers orange like one of those scenic electric paintings that only slightly move.
Yesterday my friend Constantino told me that he’d been listening to tapes about Yellowstone to improve his English. He said, “They have scale from 1-8 for places in the world very likely to rupture and Yellowstone is 8. Very many peoples go there all the times and they have no idea what’s happening under all the beauties. The land rise and sink in the day like breathing, but the peoples have no idea.”
I feel like that about the bay; too pretty not to breath. I’m waiting for the day something finally creeps up out of it for the fresh air.
Albert the stamp collector retired from his mailman post in the 80s. He admits that he used to peel the stamps he really liked off the letters he delivered. He hangs out in the International House on the Berkeley campus so he can meet people from different countries and talk about their stamps. A girl gave him some stamps from Peru once, and he said that by the looks of them he judges it’s a beautiful place.
That’s when I realize that in his long life Albert hasn’t traveled outside the perimeters of an envelope. What’s the point, he seems to think, when you can fit the world on the pad of your thumb?