Streaming

My whole life, evenings have been a time of creative rebirth. A time to explore my internal web after the dull exhaustion of a 9-to-5 job and post-work chores. I seek activities that help me lower the walls of my mind and access the ripest parts. In general I am happiest with the writing I seem only able to produce during the witching hour.

Lately I’ve been throwing away this opportunity in favor of starting just one more Netflix series (okay, really just re-watching Gilmore Girls for the 17,000,000th time), and let me tell you, the shame has become…invasive. I am not only rusty at my craft—I’m more like its least-favorite estranged relative.

“The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”
― Marge Piercy

So tonight I sat down on one of our tall, uncomfortable kitchen stools (these days I have to be pretty careful as I’m apt to fall asleep on anything resembling a couch/bed) and waded into my stream of consciousness. I wrote a whole page of nonsense that picked up nowhere and left off somewhere between Memory Lane and Pith Avenue. It was total garbage, and it felt GREAT.

Instead of deleting the file or saving it to the Bermuda Triangle of my hard drive, where many of these random one-off nights of writing have mysteriously disappeared and/or gone to die, I decided to experiment with erasure, or found poetry. Whether or not it can really be considered “found” is up to you, but in the spirit of phlogiston, here is something like a poem (reproduced below for readability) :

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 11.05.00 PM

Here we are, already asleep. You fill again, again, streaming light, warmth, color, oxygen. Let yourself be this, the elixir of your life: gone softly like leftover rain (and not). Pay attention, are you coming? An orchestra is rattling in your teeth. Listen for the absence of aching in one single moment. It only takes one to eat you whole. Now you must live inside the pages, learn the way they feel in your mouth. Open yourself towards something or decide you never existed at all.

*

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On Writing: Seek. Capsize. Repeat

The writing process sometimes escapes me. Alright, it often escapes me. Two degrees, two creative theses, and what I have left to show is a profoundly lonely sense of seeking.

Tonight I looked at the sky, dark tree silhouettes against a dying bright blue, and just beyond them a single star. Lately I’ve taken to swaying as my relaxation of choice. It’s an almost unconscious moving of my body, one unit back and forth, to and fro. This happens about my second or third hit of any number of substances – caffeine, beer, music, fill-in-the-blank. In fact, it started while I was surrounded by three of my best friends, listening to Holst’s Planet Suite play over the sound system in a very comfortable (and perfectly-carpeted) living room. We were in the hive mind. Of the hive mind. A kind of syncopation. In any case, we each took turns swaying gently while our bodies buzzed from somewhere deep inside their cell walls. (Each of us, I should say, except my husband, who is much too grounded for that sort of thing, even when in the hive mind.)

Now I can sometimes tap into that feeling, that movement, and I was in it this evening as I swayed on my porch. And each time I leaned to the right, a star emerged from behind the dark fingerling of a tall tree in our neighborhood. Back to the left, the star disappeared. There again, then gone.

This interaction parallels my experience with writing. Several very wonderful writers have discussed their own relationship with the craft, and what I’m attempting here is nothing new. It’s just that I have to say it. I’m still trying to earn my place in that camp.

Given the right conditions — the right music*, the right work-drug — the art will emerge. Sometimes as a single star, other times, a constellation, and if I am so lucky, a whole galaxy.

Here is what it means to create (in my experience):

You are sailing along in a single-capacity sailboat, cutting through a vast but quite calm sea. You can see nothing but water** for miles. You are the only one guiding the ship, and you feel capable (most days). It’s a rather lonely existence, being the only one accountable for your life’s work. You’re skimming along with nothing to look at except endless water. Small waves now and then—but then you’re creating those yourself, aren’t you? Once in awhile you turn around to see the boring wake you’ve made on your moving canvas. Still, there is something beautiful about the symmetric fluidity of nothingness, the straight line you know you’re leaving behind. Every day is more of the same.

But.

One day you think you see something straight ahead on the horizon. You’ve been out here for so long—alone—that you’re convinced your mind is playing tricks. And you’re right. The moment has passed. A rogue whitecap, that’s all.

But the next day, there’s something else—the horizon is growing and moving upward. That’s the shaky outline of real trees. You’re approaching an island now, and you spend the next few days eagerly trying to aim for shore. The wind is picking up but it’s moving against you. Each time you lap towards the shore, you can smell the heat, taste the stale salt against the sand. This is what it means to find an idea and have it inhabit nearly all of your senses, only to be pushed back and back and back.

Tomorrow you’ll try again, not because you’re stubborn but because you can all but feel an entire new civilization inside of you, fraught with characters and conflict, with the lyrical game of life and more often, death. It’s a place to house meaning for awhile. What else is there?

 

*Current song of choice to guide my motion.

**David Foster Wallace described it best (and look at me even stealing his incredibly annoying habit of footnotes).

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A Birthday Letter

Your 28th birthday passed quietly today as you sat at work, crunching wistfully on Sun Chips and savoring the last day of the Obama administration. You still don’t feel quite adult (read: millennial syndrome), yet you’ve also never grown “up” as much as you have over the last several months. Most years pass as a dream – you look back and can’t really pinpoint, directly, when or where things happened, only how you felt, generally, over the time. But 2016 was different. It was a skin you stepped into, a film strip that you can rewind and fast forward, revisiting moments and experiencing them with the same immediacy of the present—a tale full of nostalgia, of ecstasy, followed by a deep and resonating sound and fury, signifying…well, everything.

On the eve of your impending 3000-mile move across the country, a close friend of yours passed away from a brain tumor. The loss was cavernous; it still brings fresh pain each time you stumble through another memory of him from the past four years. The last time you heard his voice was a month before his death, when he told you, in stilted sentences over the phone (because the tumor was affecting his speech center), that he needed to call you and be “gushy for a minute.” You refused to believe what he was really telling you in that phrase: that he knew he was going to have to leave this life, that (after two other surgeries) this was the Big One, and he knew. He knew. When you think back to the light tone of your own voice in that conversation, it still makes you sick.

A month later, in June, you and your fiancé packed up your little green Honda civic in a frenzy, tossing climbing shoes on top of the camping gear; on top of the blankets and the two guitars; on top of the dented boxes you shoved haggardly into the car, taking only what (you thought) was necessary. Your bike was left on the side of the curb with a “FREE” sign, new fenders and all, to some lucky kid (you hope). As you weaved in and out of the burgeoning greens of the mountain pass, heading East toward your new life, the two of you spotted a female moose on the side of the road. You had never seen a moose in person before. Luck, you voiced to C, must be on our side. Ahead of you were corners of the great North American landscape you had never seen or touched before. Behind you were friends old and new with whom you had left parts of yourselves — carbon fragments that will forever remain in Oregon, dispersed by the wind to the shoulders of Mt. Thielsen, the snaking river path that hugs Smith Rock, the charming cinder blocks of downtown Corvallis, to rest ultimately in the soul of the Pacific Northwest and the soulmates you met there. These are the romances that Joan Didion told you about, the stories you tell yourself in order to live. Leaving that place created a weight in your chest; in a way, it felt like you were breaking up with Oregon. But the velocity at which your life was moving forward was also the second most thrilling adventure (after that time studying abroad in Greece) of your “adult” life.

Your best friends, still rooted on the East Coast, were about to get married, and damned if you weren’t going to make it home in time for the bachelorette party! It was an exciting summer to be alive: first J & M’s wedding, then your own. At the end of August you were going to be able to use the phrase “my husband” — a prospect that overwhelmed you, for better or for worse. First, though, wild America was calling. Donned with a journal ready on your lap, you were prepared to document the whole trip in word-pictures. A month later you find this entry in your notebook:

Rt. 26 to Boise, across oregon

What we see:

patches of picked scabs on the land. The road followed rivers all the way through oregon. The sagebrush stings my nostrils and leaves me wanting more. We are heading home beyond. Dipping and weaving. Ranch after ranch and many cyclists. Roy Orbison, sing me home!

We named the car Eleanor.

Cows lazily appearing in the desert. Where is home for them? There’s not a structure in sight.

I miss something every time I bough [sic] my head to the page.

Nine hours later, Eleanor was broken down on the side of the highway just over the border into Idaho.

Let the record state that you were actually right about the moose. Luck was on your side, as you had just completed a seven-hour stretch across high desert without cell service or more than a handful of humans in sight. Shivering in the wind of passing 18-wheelers, you and C were only a forty-five minute drive from his sister and grandparents. When told the car would cost $4500 to fix, you sold it and gave the camping gear to the family. Then you and he got on separate planes and flew East, each of you succumbing to a new listless mindspace of what, and where, and who, truly felt like home.

The weddings of Summer 2016 were magical events, each one a story made up of lights and colors, of tears and sweat and bliss. You had found your persons and were surrounded by your people—you can still smell the bonfire in your clothes and hair after you swam in J’s pool long past midnight, everyone sneaking kisses and setting up tents drunkenly in the dark. Here on January 19, 2017, you can enter the memory of your best friend’s wedding. The brouhaha is dying down, but the happiness whispers long into the night.

For the love of all that is good and human—how else can you describe September, October, November, and December except as the Autumn of Our Discontent? Aside from a stray creative video or meme here and there, the frenetic onslaught of your newsfeed was filled only with politics — names a bit too dirty and exhausted to mention. A wave was rising in the distance, and it was threatening to be historic, one way or another. The United States would either see its first female president (the mere principle of which repeatedly brought you to tears) or usher in a paralyzing era of a narcissistic demagogue. Well, guess who won the race? Tomorrow the ogre will sit on his throne and eat the past 50 years for breakfast, washing it down a glass of every marginalized citizen he offended throughout his campaign.

Which brings you to the last few memories of your twenty-seventh year on Earth. In 2016 you wrote a eulogy, you wrote a song, you gave your heart away for good. These things are meaningful and you need to remember them. These things don’t belong in a trash can fire—they belong in the museum of your life, even if you are the only one paying admission. Today there are simply more lines in the skin of your hands. Some of them lead nowhere. Some of them lead forward.

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