Gray Area, or Purple Cats

October 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I know what they’ll tell me. They’ll say it’s just that fire in your belly, that electricity in your mind, it’ll pass, don’t worry, just a phase, a season that’ll bloom and fade, and they’ll clap me on the back with worn hands bearing faded rings, dull diamonds, while they toast, toast something like another birthday, another sure sign that things are ending, coming to a close, cut the cake, pass the wine. Youth, is what they’ll say. Oh, youth. I remember reading Jack Keourac myself. Live it up now. Soon you’ll be taking out a mortgage and taking junior to his physicals and spending half your life in the frozen food aisle.

Just a burst, a chemical exchange. It makes me want to be sick to feel it, to know I feel it, and I wonder if I should start wearing plaid and wearing glasses again, if I should say, hey college, fuck you, I’m going to go travel across the country drunk as all hell and trying to find the “it” like the great poets and say screw you, suburbia, screw you all the rest of ’em. Oh, God. No. Never. Don’t ride on the spark and land in the dark. I crack my knuckles and call my mother. She asks me what color I want my new comforter to be and I tell her I have to go, have to my essay for Victorian Lit, have to go cook a lasagna, have to go light myself on fire. Well, alright, remember to mail that birthday card to your grandmother.

Can’t even write, I think to myself now, can’t even fricken write. And if you can’t write, what’s the point? You’re only allowed to travel across the country drunk as all hell and find “it” if you can write well, write something people put on their bookshelves and never read but dust occasionally. If not, go take out that mortgage, go join the rank and file, or hang yourself in your closet. Or no, scratch that. Because you’re only allowed to hang yourself in your closet or overdose on sleeping pills or put a bullet through your brain if you’ve written tangles of thought down on paper and someone with a name plaque on their desk nodded approvingly at them, or someone raised their hand to discuss them in a book club that dedicates half the reading list to novels about the Holocaust.

My therapist tells me, believe in a gray area. It doesn’t have to be either or. This or that. Life or death. And so to that I say, but the commercials will tell me buy or die. The boy who sits next to me in class will say yes or no when I ask him to coffee, the election will be Romney or Obama, my mother will glare or she will be silent, and there will be a God or there will not. And to this she will nod, she will write it down in the notebook, she will file it away in an alphabetized drawer covered in magnets and stickers of purple cats. 

Car dealerships and vacuuming and a Master’s degree or roads and oceans and people you meet once and never again. Somewhere, definitely or nowhere at all. And here, I realize, is the problem. Here is the gray area. Here I will reside.

I hate them both.


I See Before the Burst

October 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

I tell them, I never see myself at the bottom of the river, or crushed beneath the car tire. No, I don’t even see myself falling fast, fast through the air, or I guess at 9.8 meters per second squared, really, since gravity doesn’t discriminate between peaceful autumn leaf and roaring, tumbling human body, though I think we’d like it better if it did. I don’t see myself flattened against the earth whenever I reach the bottom, wherever that is, whenever that is.

Think, they say. You don’t think these things.

No, I say, I don’t see. But I do see myself dangling over the edge of the cliff, extended far off with my arms broad as an eagle, feeling the air push and pull me, push and pull, but never taking flight. There’s a favorite of mine, I say, where I see myself crawling down the side of a bridge like Spiderman, and then I crawl underneath and stare at the specks in the concrete. I feel the rushing traffic below me, but I don’t see it, only the cold, hard concrete, and I just cling on. I think about funny things that don’t make any sense, like who else has touched this concrete, who else has seen it, who put it here, and what is he eating for dinner tonight? I don’t think about letting go, I just feel the people rush above me and rush below me and dangle at the edge of suicide.

Their eyebrows frown, their pens make scratchy noises, the receptionist’s phone rings and she answers it in a squeaky tone.

What I do see, I tell them, is the moment right before. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. I see the taxi rounding the corner, I see my leg extending off the curb. I see myself wading deep in the water, watching it ripple round, remind me I’m still here. I hear gravel crunch, flies buzz. I don’t really see my face, or maybe I do, but it doesn’t look like me. It’s just a filler body. The surroundings are what matters, the action.

Tell me about the pool.

The pool?

When you were a child. You mentioned the weekly trips to the pool.

Oh yes, the pool. I hated going to the pool. There was a man there who always smiled at me with a round belly covered in slick black hair. He’d bounce along in the shallow end with me and I’m swim behind my sister, but he’d bounce along and follow and sometimes that wet, hairy belly would push up against me and I’m kick, kick, kick to the deep end. And then I’d slip my head below the surface and push down, down, down, until my feet felt the bottom. And then I waited.

You waited?

Yes, I waited.

What did you wait for?

I don’t know. The silence to explode in my ears, I suppose. At the bottom of the pool the water pushed in on me at all sides and nothing rippled, nothing moved, nothing breathed. So I waited for it all to explode. And what would happen when it exploded?

Well, it’d explode that’s all. And I’d explode, and I could be happy. But that’s just it, see. It never exploded. Nothing ever explodes. So I’d swim back to the surface, and the worst moment, the absolute worst moment, was when my head burst through and I saw all the little things I hated, like the pool rules sign and my Dad reading the newspaper and the woman folding towels. I hated even looking it. I wanted to stop my eyes from seeing, so I’d splash them with chlorine and stare into the burn.

But I like the dangling, really. It’s really when I feel the most comfortable, that halfway point between life and death, the pause before action. Maybe because when you’re just dangling, you’re in control of whether or not you fall, so you don’t have to fall at all. No need to prove a point, really. No need at all.

I Speak, But I Don’t Hear All The Words

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment


When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I wrote a story and showed it to my grandmother. I had shown her a few other pieces, a privilege I’d never extended to my parents. My grandmother enjoyed writing poems and often hinted at a lengthy memoir she was always in the middle of, one we’d be allowed to read only when she wasn’t around to write anymore. So I trusted her with my own work. She rarely had anything to say, other than that she could feel the passion behind my words. “And that’s what’s most important,” she’d say with a nod.

I can’t remember the specifics of the story, only that it involved a group of friends trying out a rope swing at the town lake, a rite of passage for soon-to-be high schoolers. The moment I remember most vividly is when the main character, suspended above the water, wishes to stay up in the sky wrapped in the faint glow of stars, but is forced to fall back down to earth, sinking into the rushing water that obscures the view from above.

I showed my grandmother this particular story on a lazy summer day in Cape Cod, out on her porch overlooking a garden filled with rusted leprechauns and a tall fence draped with ivy. Grandma had got me settled with a glass of Lipton ice tea, as was custom, and then delved right in. I pretended to be absorbed in a little bird hopping across newly laid grass seed.

My grandmother read and then nodded, read and nodded. She paused a moment at the end, and just as I was starting to get a little nervous, she looked up and asked me, “Why are you always alone?”

The words struck me dumb. For only a second I didn’t understand her meaning. The main character wanders alone throughout the story, hanging with a group of friends but still somewhat detached, one step removed. This wasn’t made blatant, but it was nevertheless felt.

“I don’t know,” I said. My grandmother frowned, nodded again, told me it was good, and offered me some more tea.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how something that was still undetected by my conscious mind-my lingering depression from childhood, my sense of detachment from others-seeped through into my writing. Powerful feelings lurked beneath those words, feelings that strengthened my story, made them more than just a fourteen year old girl’s ramblings about her friends and a trip to the lake. While a part of me understood these feelings, another did not. Even today I finish writing something, motivated by some unexplained feeling, and only half comprehend what I’ve tried to convey. Half because clearly some part of me understands what my conscious mind can only guess.

I guess we authors aren’t as in control as we’d like to think.

Take a look back at earlier works you’ve written; what do you see now that you didn’t see when you first wrote it? What feelings does it seem to communicate, and what feelings does it stir now? What were your original intentions writing the piece? What might have been other intentions?

Because they might not be what you think.

Where Am I?

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