Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Version 2.0 with links and better spelling.

Hate the game, not the player

Hungry like the Wolverine

I drove up to Knoxville Thursday night, late. Erin and I sat around for a few hours talking about comic books, writing, and art. This was what I needed. I was still sort of scattered and jumpy while visiting her, but after a big midnight breakfast and an evening's rest under a fuzzy red blanket in an apartment full of slash and fandom, I woke up the next morning totally restored. Her one bedroom apartment was a mirror image of Dustin's old K-town place, and even included many images and writings he had passed her during his time there. There is something nice and right about that apartment complex, but I can't put my finger on it exactly.

I am thinking more about living by myself lately. If I had to live by myself, I'd want an apartment just like Erin's.

I rode off the next morning to northern West Virginia. The mountains were beautiful, and on the way I listened to Liz Phair, The Postal Service, and Tears for Fears. It's 7 hours from Knoxville to Morgantown. I was alone, but happy.

Jill stayed with me at the Mountaineer Inn Friday night. We were both rather quiet, and full of our own thoughts. Most of the people Dustin hangs out with in Morgantown are younger than Jill, who is 21. I felt old and odd. We hung out at Dustin's apartment and several people hung with us; one was a 19 year old guy, beautiful, single, who I knew liked "older women". I managed to keep my nose in a book most of the evening, with said 19 year old in the corner of my eye. Dustin was much amused by the actions of two girls who came to the party, both of whom obviously held him in high regard. I tried to talk to one of the girls, who seemed smart and interesting. Unfortunately, it was one of those meetings of learning disabilities that should never happen; after a few minutes, our conversation went like this:

"So what I was saying earlier applies."
"About actors?"
"What were you talking about?"
"What I said earlier."

Dustin, sitting to my right, actually pushed his hands in a separating motion between us.

"OK, stop it ! You're in an ADD feedback loop!" and he grins as I and this other girl are staring at each other with puzzled looks, until we realize that we're both suddenly lost in the background noise of a party, unable to understand each other or comprehend where things went off track. No one had warned us about each other, because ADD is something you usually hide. We spent a few minutes later in the party talking about her experiences with the medications I still refuse, until something shiny or loud distracted us and ended the conversation. Or maybe one of us just wandered away. Honestly, I can't remember.

Jill and I slept in Saturday, read a bit, and then after lunch with she and Dust's mom and step dad wandered around Morgantown for a bit. Dustin's mom had wanted me to walk a bottle of champagne up to him after the first cast call of the show that night, but I was phobic about it. Jill agreed to the job in exchange for Godiva chocolates. I decided this was a good way to go; I didn't want to be next to him in front of all those people. Before Jill and I went to see the show, I took a nap and then showered, and leaned my forehead against the cheap plastic wall of the bath and just paid some attention to my breathing. Fill the lungs and expel them; this is life. Mountains, men, comic books, bitter chocolate, sharp vegetables, the parents of your friends, the presence of someone you know more through their writings than through their everyday life. Dustin's mother paid me some high compliments this weekend; I listened to his stepfather's stories, carefully watching his mouth so that I could not be distracted. Dustin grinned at this; he knows I am paying more attention because I have too. None of this is easy for me. I can do this, I can be nice, I can be good, I can behave. I will not drink nor deflower the 19 year old from the previous night's party on this trip. I will accidentally swear in front of Dust's mom twice, alienate a waitress at the Boston Beanery, and manage to dress badly for the one instance where someone is taking pictures. Que Sera.

The show is exceedingly good. An adaptation of Dr. Faustus incorporating the music of Soul Coughing and using puppets, somehow it made you think about what the nature of hell might be. Dust was soaked in sweat and glowing by the end.

When Devon and Erin and Elizabeth Rathgen arrive for the second show, I am so glad to see them that I am given to spontaneous expressions of joy, I bounce up and down, I hug them too much. Oh, thank god, other people. And later I go to pick up Underdown from the Pittsburgh airport, and we meet everyone at an old house full with and undergraduate party in full swing, drinking and smoking in the back yard, girls flirting, Dustin more drunk than I've ever seen him, and I manage to actually relax a little more, and all of us girls who have driven so far - me, Christi, Jill, Devon, Erin, and Elizabeth R - we end up leaving the party to discuss philosophy on a hillside, what happens to you when you die, Devon's got a good idea, Erin, Jill and Elizabeth R. aren't into the huge house party like I am but I hang out with them instead.

The night ends with me, Underdown, Devon and Jill talking about...I can't remember. My memory extends as far as an image of me lying next to Underdown on the hotel bed while she and Devon and Jill converse. Devon is exhausted as well, but Jill is lit up in the presence of Underdown and Devon, Jill is animated and excited to talk to them.

I sleep alone, kicking the covers off my bed, disturbing the liner, tossing while Jill and Underdown are passed out on the other bed. The other girls are down the hall. There are so many of us up here, supporting one another all in one way or the other. We are all leaning a bit, Christi leans on me and I lean on Erin who is supported perhaps by the weight of all of us leaning, Devon is maybe abandoning her dream of being a writer, and where does that leave me, who is so much less talented? Jill wears a pair of pants covered in quotes she wrote last summer, her jeans covered in words. She writes in a little dark green spiral bound notebook all weekend. On the cover of this notebook is a metal hand. I once wrote a series of essays about hands, puppets, and comic books. I sent the essays away; I don't have them anymore.

The next day we all check out of the hotel, invade Dust's apartment, and end up eating a big meal together. Christi takes shots of people's plates for me, we make our own food porn. There is a long table with only six of us now, Jill left in the morning with her mom and step-dad.

At this table there are three of us on either side, so that no one sits at the head. On one side sits me, Underdown, and then Elizabeth Rathgen. On the other side sits Devon directly across from me, then Dust across from Christi, with Erin facing Elizabeth Rathgen. All of us get the breakfast bar except for Dust, so that his plate comes as a different shape from ours and unmoving from his chair he becomes the anchor, our center, and rightfully so as we have all come to celebrate him and his artistic success. This show is the equivalent of publishing on a higher production scale than most of us have previously enjoyed, at the moment he is the most artistically successful of us all.

Erin and I have a project due out next year that is already 2 months overdue in process; Devon is contemplating leaving Naropa; Christi hasn't published since Scribbling Mob; Jill scribbles in notebooks, but I don't know that she produces either. None of us are 19 anymore, although truthfully I don't remember being 19 that well. Dustin is still bathed in that light of artistic endeavor that I know have to search so hard for.

In the face of this midmorning gathering, as a table of writers, poets and artists, we do what comes naturally - we talk about comic books. Specifically, X-men. There was a boy at the party last night named Logan who had sideburns, this starts it off. Is Hugh Jackman good or bad for the character?

"I like my Wolverine short and ugly." I say, because it's true.

"But Hugh Jackman..." Says Erin, and goes on to pontificate that Hugh Jackman is rather nice to look at, and everyone is nodding. Also, points out Erin, Hugh Jackman's attitude lets him carry it all off. Wolverine is more of a state of mind.

"but the point of Wolverine's character is that he's short and ugly." I protest. "That's why he can never have Jean."

"But in the comics, it's not about why he can't have Jean. It's about him wandering around in the woods getting into fights."

I frown. "Only in the past decade has he been out in the woods wandering around, looking for fights. He wasn't always that way."

"Well, so, they get Hugh Jackman and say, 'hey, people like this tension between him and Jean, let's play up that.' ."

"But it was always there. I like my comic book characters miserable. If they're not in pain, I'm not interested."

"It's unrequited love" says Devon over her coffee. For the first time ever, I notice how blue her eyes are. I thought she was wearing contacts, but no, her eyes are an ultra-light blue, just like my cousin Joe's, and they're focused on me now.

Erin leans over the table, so that Dustin has to sit back a little so Erin can get my attention, because we're at opposite ends and I've been distracted again.

"About unrequited love...look, Wolverine loved Jean, but it would never happen. After a period of years, it just became this understood thing between all of them. The unrequited love faded into this deep friendship where everything was unspoken. Everybody knew it was there, and there was nothing to be done, so it was all underneath the surface. Because unrequited love either deepens into friendship or hardens into resentment."

Devon is looking at Erin over her glasses. "A bitter Wolverine full of resentment wouldn't be a very interesting character. They have to work together as a team to get things done."

I don't know what to say. I'm lost in the implications of all of this. So I say: "But I like my comic book characters miserable. If they ain't suffering, I don't want them. For Halloween, I'm going to be Jessica Jones. I'm just going to wear my leather jacket with a nametag on it that says HELLO MY NAME IS Jessica Jones, Fuck You."

Dustin nods, because he's the only one who reads Alias. I focus in on him. I can't believe he doesn't look hung over after all the partying he did last night.

"What do you think?" I ask him, because he's got that sly thoughtful look.

"I think that the name tag should just say Jessica. After all, there's only one place where that character would wear a name tag, and they don't let you have last names there."

Everyone else looks puzzled, so I lean back and explain: "He's talking about Alcoholics Anonymous. Jessica's an addict."

There is a communal shrug, and the conversation shifts, tilts, and moves on. Later there is a misunderstanding between Christi and Dust, and she and I drive for 10 hours back to Atlanta, and spend another two settling rental car matters and such. I miss her. I'll write more about that, later.

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