Sunday, March 28, 2004

Progenative Force

It seems I can't help but create things these days. On weekends I tend plants growing out of hand. I bake outrageously complex meals for myself and my roomies, experimental recipes for brownies, breads, chicken, and cakes, all from scratch using a variety of new kitchen tools I got for Christmas or borrow from the roomie's odd collection. I write long twisted letters revealing too much to friends, decorated with images from Comics Preview magazine and using other photocopied works of art, newspaper clippings, and hand-drawn doodles. A few weekends ago I spontaneously decided to make a stuffed animal, a little white cat out of fleece for Titania to help her feel less lonely while I'm at work. I desperately want some hemp thread so I can start making necklaces again for myself and friends. Knitting has become wildly popular among my peer group, and I've considered taking it up; after all I already have the needles, as they're a common tool used in book repair. I've been repairing a lot of my books, too.

Help help, I'm bleeding arts & crafts.

The worst of all this preoccupation with handiwork is that I know I'm doing it to avoid writing. While I have managed to turn out two short articles for a political 'zine in Chicago this month, it seemed that my out-of-control creative force only applied to writing once I found out that this 'zine was hopelessly stalled, and that Kati feared for it ever seeing press. Freed up by the thought of being part of another stymied project, I typed away with glee, composing a satirical conversation between Karl Rove and Nixon, and completing a brief biographical rundown of another Republican administrator. Reading about the 9-11 hearings this past week made my efforts feel doubly redundant; now not only did I write these pieces for a zine which may never get published, everyone knows these guys are bastards.

While every plant and meal I touch exceeds expectations, every literary project I involve myself into seems destined to go bitter and fail. The project I am closest to completing sits on my hard drive, mocking me. In order to finish it I'd need a week off of work, a co-conspirator, and at least a grand. I have the leave from work, it's true, but the idea of me pulling together a grand and not using it on my sisters or ever-growing debt is just laughable. The other literary projects I have, while much easier to complete, just languish like forgotten ferns. If I watered the comic book projects with Alestar or myself, I know they'd live again. But they stare at me from my subconscious mockingly. The projects know I've given up on being a writer.

It would be easier to learn how to knit. I could knit while I watched TV. Or I could buy some hemp and glass beads and once again turn out presents for friends that I'd see around their necks for years. Step aside, guys, I've got cookies to bake. Even writing for work seems a chore, the words that should flow easily from me are constricted, too tight, unacceptable for one reason or another, not what the company magazine really needs. The resulting pieces, which, it's true, reach thousands of readers, feel alien to me; informational quasi-advertisements for services available to libraries and archives from the government funding. And to think, I once thrilled feminist horror fans with that short story about puppet miscarriages.

I want to finish the ghost story I started a year and a half ago. I have a clear picture in my head of how the resulting short graphic novel would look, and I think I'm going to approach my filmmaker roomie about working on it with me. He's a photographer, and I think that between the two of us we could really do some innovative image work, twisting digital images to tell the story. But I am afraid of starting another project, with the last one languishing in my picture drive, giggling at my attempts to create again. I am often worn out by my professional work, and I feel deeply conflicted about what the last, unfinished project says about me as an artist and a person. It's like the last project accomplished what I'd really been looking for in my art and writing from nearly 30 years. The last project held a mirror up to me and showed me parts of myself I can't always see, and truthfully it wasn't a flattering reflection as a whole.

Through my own art, I was able to understand more about myself than other people do. And what I discovered has nearly halted my ability to express myself on a higher artistic level. Everything in my life was affected by that last big project - friendship collapsed and were built up around it. My romantic life revolutionized itself. My opinions about family members changed. Everything moved and tilted because at last, I was really making art. And now I find it hard to want to do that again.

Does anyone want a nice scarf?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

More than I need

Of the nearly four dozen sunflowers I planted two weeks ago, every goddamn one came up and turned into a seedling. This means I have nearly 48 sunflower plants, each well over four inches tall, all of whom would like the chance to grow between six and ten feet tall. It seems to be the same with every plant I touch lately. I have marigolds and catnip coming out my ears, and then the neighbor gave me a bunch of ferns. The only plant untouched by my radioactive green thumb are my dill seeds. Only three plants resulted from that pack.

So if you want a giant sunflower, let me know. Currently I'm trying to kill the buggers by transplanting them to spots in the yard where they are wildly unlikely to grow. And yet the buggers keep thriving. They're more than I need, but I suppose the birds and squirrels will come to love me in a few months.

Spring is in high gear here. There are flowers everywhere in the park and my neighborhood, the cat is shedding like a goddamn deamon, and The Republican and took some time to cast eyes at each other last week. We had dinner at the local pub, walked through the warm night and ate ice cream, and I revealed my mad pinball skills to him. I tried to get him to play but he said he'd rather just watch me. Later we sat on my back porch and argued weather the one celestial light to be seen above us was a satellite, star, or planet. Then we kissed a rather lot.

I also got the run-arounds and hung out with Underdown and Dust a bit. Underdown and I had so much to say that even as we left each other she was walking backward talking as she got into her car. We don't see each other enough. I'm happy that we have both a camping trip and a working visit planned in May. Dust and I were out of phase with one another, talking about the same thing on different planes. Which is OK sometimes - sometimes you just need to see your friends, and weather or not you do anything consequential isn't important. Sometimes you just have to be near them for a bit, to get your head back around who you are in relation to them again.

As Spring comes on I find I am resentful as ever at having to dress up for work. I visited Underdown at her workplace, and there she was in this fabulous archive, hoodie and jeans, fraying braid, absolutely comfortable. At the office where I work now they're very concerned with image, and so even though we are librarians and archivists we must adhere to an arcane dress code which isn't written down but relies solely on the opinion of each department's supervisor. My supervisor wants me ironed, has deep-sixed combat boots, and will comment on anything from hemlines on pants to dress socks. I am very pliable on all her suggestions, as I'd like to keep my job, but I draw the line at dress socks. All my socks are white, so they match each other. I used to actually pair up all my socks in the drawer after I washed them until someone pointed out to me that matching up white socks was a pointless endeavor. Since then I have quite happily chucked them all in a drawer and pulled out socks as needed, always confident that they match. Not that it mattered since I wore combat boots all the time, but knowing the socks matched was something. Until I met Kati, who, as far as I know, has never worn matched socks in her life and continues to be a successful professional woman.

Dressing up just seems so unnecessary to me. No one becomes a librarian or archivist for the pay, or for the stunning fashion. In fact, a major draw to the field was people's lack of concern for appearance. The best librarian at the top of his field that I have ever known wore a blue denim workshirt nearly every day. When we had tours come through, he'd bother to wear a tie. Sometimes. This was quite inspiring to me, and I always hoped I'd one day have his ease in the profession, his confidence in what he does. But alas, all good things come to an end, and I now get fashion lectures despite the fact that most women in our field have never ironed a skirt in their life.

The horn-rimmed glasses, the comfortable shoes, the slightly stained blouse - yes, I'd love to be a typical archivist sometimes. Dress clothes are just more than I need in my life. I have too much of everything suddenly right now, and I'm still learning how to handle it. I do love my job. I do love my boyfriend. I do love my plants. I do want a few more things. But I worry it's all more than I need. I've been getting by on so little for so long now the tide of work and love and abundance is a lot to handle.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Cigarettes: A Love Story

or, how much I love that which I cannot have.

So beautiful and slim and full of desire is a cigarette. I never had one until at age 18 I fell for a boy in an MTSU dorm named Alan who smoked Sampoerna cloves. Every time I kissed him he tasted wonderful, sweet and smoky and spicy. It was around this same time that I began to drink. I think it was Alan who gave me my first clove, but it might as well have been Tracey Grandmaison, or any of those other people whom I've lost touch with over the years. In any event, we all smoked cloves, because it was the early 90's, and we were all very alternative, and when you ran with an alternative crowd in the 90's smoking cloves was still a Very Hip Thing To Do. By the late 90's smoking cloves was a little embarrassing, because a lot of uncool teens had picked it up. By then you were hip if you knew about bendes, these flavored things you smoked that were from India. I think they're still around. I never tried them. When I do still smoke, I sneak furtive cloves, a little embarrassed because they're so out of style. But I can't help it. I love clove cigarettes.

I was hooked on regular cigarettes very briefly in the summer I had my first apartment. Tracey knew these people who were looking for a roomie, and even though I knew none of them I signed on the lease. My roomies all smoked like chimneys. Jeremy and Rodney were amateur drag queens, and I think Rodney in particular lived off of diet coke and Winston Light 100's. I did have, officially, one other roomie, an anorexic/bulimic borderline transgender lesbian named Hope. She signed the lease and slept in the apartment maybe twice, although I did come home one afternoon in June to find her binging on all my groceries. I was the token straight. Both Jeremy and I were still in our teens, and became good friends for a short time before I moved back into the dorms and Jeremy left college altogether. I heard he was in Nashville some years ago, but never managed to find him again.

Which is all too bad, because we did a killer lip-sync version of "Sunset Boulevard", with Jeremy as Norma and me as Joe. But that's another story.

Anyhow, that summer I learned to love cigarettes. I bummed them all the time, paying back the roomies with food. And then came the fateful day when I went with one of the guys to the Discount Tobacco Outlet to buy cartons, and I thought, "Hey, I might as well start picking up my own." But I didn't. Probably because right then I happened to look up and see a woman 9 months pregnant buying her family's stock of cartons to take home. Here this heavily pregnant redneck woman was, just loaded down with four or five different jumbo cartons of discount cigarettes. Her toddler son was playing with packs in a dump bin near the register, running his little hands through the multi-colored off brands. In proud Southern tradition, he was shirtless, shoeless, and a little grubby.

I put my thought of smoking regularly away. And I've managed to resist since then. Mostly. Except -

God, I love a cigarette. When I'm stressed and wound up, it's just soothing. I tend to keep a secret pack of cloves in the fridge or freezer and pull one out from time to time. I smoke them so infrequently that to keep the pack anywhere but the fridge would just mean most of them would go stale, unsmokable after the third or fourth cancer-causing stick. I'll smoke when I'm drinking sometimes too, and in grad school it wasn't unusual to see me standing with the smokers on a fine night when I was skinned again, waiting on a check, trying to figure out how to juggle 3 jobs and the education I loved so much. Some times there was nothing finer in Boston than sitting on my fire escape and blowing smoke into the wind while I wrote. Other times - the last semester times especially - I would deny myself the pleasure in order to try to keep from becoming addicted again. I'd pace my little hallway between the bathroom and the common room, sweating, *wanting* a cigarette so badly my mouth tasted like ashes anyway, but refusing to go buy a pack. Smoking stains your teeth, smoking hurts your throat, smoking is bad for your skin, but oh, just one taste. Please. But no.

When I moved back south the temptation was especially strong in the first few months. Some of my relatives smoke, and in a show of solidarity I'd join in. I was stressed and unemployed and living with my cousins. So I smoked once or twice a week, so what? It's expensive, that's what. And eventually my drive to live on my own was greater than my need to buy cigarettes. I avoided the habit again.

Now I work at a job where smoking would actually be a positive career move of sorts. My division boss is a smoker, and when she breaks she smokes with another division boss. Recently my supervisor seems to have relapsed into smoking as well, the result of family stress or as a shrewd career move I'll never ask her. But there's definitely a smoker's club where I work, and yeah, friends up north, it's all women. Sometimes my work is so stressful I want to smoke too. But I still don't. If I can make it through grad school and family crisis without becoming a habitual smoker, I can make it through anything.

But do love a cigarette. A black-wrappered clove. I love to roll the smoke around my mouth and feel the rush after a few puffs. The settling effect it has on me. I love the way cloves taste, like my first college boyfriend, like I'm still 18 and skinny and a little invincible. And I want one right now. I'll always want a cigarette just a little bit. A delicious, nerve claming cigarette. I haven't had one in months and months and oh, how I'll always love them, and hide them, and covet them from others.

But really, they're not meant for me.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Watching the sunflowers grow

Last Sunday morning I put some seeds into potting soil. Dill, catnip, marigolds (the properly tall ones), and more sunflowers than I could possible need. I planted the seeds in random makeshift starters - the cut-off bottom of a two-liter, old bowls I never liked anyway, heavy-duty cardboard boxes I can cut up once the seedlings take off. The seeds have been getting days of sunlight and nights indoors to keep them safe. By Thursday night the first sunflower had popped up, their heads still heavy with the casings of their former shells. Yesterday the marigolds came up. Today I'm hoping for evidence of dill, at least. The herbs will take longer, because the plants are so small, I suppose. By Easter, they should all be big enough to put in the ground.

I love watching sunflowers grow. They're so dramatic, they grow so fast, almost like slow animals, rearranging the dirt around them as they go. It's tempting to help the seedlings break through, but I know better; this pushing, this beginning hard part they need to do for themselves so they can build strong stalks. The sunflowers will all be around six feet tall, and I hope their heavy heads attract the songbirds. But we'll see.

Right after I got the seeds in the ground, The Republican called me and we had this huge "relationship" talk. It's sort of on hold until he visits next weekend, but of course I'm full of anxiety. You can't help these little things, right at the beginning. Pull the shells off the top of those seedlings and the plant won't grow. The light will be too harsh for the leaves not yet ready for sun, it'll shrivel up and die. Or in trying to get the seed shells off, you could accidentally pull the whole sprout out of the ground, and without roots to hold things together, the seedling is nothing.

I worry I've planted things too early. I worry that we're pushing around the wrong sort of dirt. But I only worry a little because - and this is a horrible thing to write but I'll write it anyway - I've done all this before. Many times. And I know what it's like to love somebody, or some town, or some thing, and to not get to be with that thing or place or person for the rest of your life. I know that people can be the best thing that ever happened to you, and still not be the person or place you end up with.

I loved Boston. I couldn't afford to stay. I've loved a few men who were good men but had lives to lead that didn't include me. On occasion, I've been the one to break it off. I've got places to go and things to do. Usually, when someone wants to talk about the future, it's the beginning of the end. The only thing you can really do in life is make your own plans and be confident that your decisions are, by and large, the right ones.

And that's life. I loved my cat, Mr. Puck; he isn't around anymore. I loved him as much as anybody could while we were together. But fate's a bitch, you know? The great loves of my life - and there have been a few - goddamn, did I love them. I've seen the reflection of grandchildren in a few sets of brown eyes. But my life and the lives of those owning the brown eyes had radically different versions of our own futures.

So when the Republican comes to me and says "I want to talk about the future", I cringe a little. Then I go out on the back porch, sit with Titania in my lap, and smoke while I watch my seedlings grow. Damn little plants. As soon as they establish themselves, things will just get harder. I'll transplant them. A lot of the sunflowers will need to be tied to stakes for support. There will be weeds and insects and hard rains. It takes so much work, just to get something to grow.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

That special feeling

There's a physical feeling I get that's attached to happiness. It's a tingling around the back of my neck, a certain lightness of being I feel when walking in the sunshine. I've had this feeling nearly all week , and I've realized what triggers the tingling, the physical sensation of happiness for me: it's the muscles in my back and shoulders relaxing. When I'm really happy, the muscles in my neck release their strained crunch.

I am happy. Here's a few reasons why:

I have a job that can be horribly stressful, but I have been reassured that the job is mine and some of my heavier gripes were repeated to me when I bumped into a co-worker on the train one morning this week. And I realized that my gripes weren't just mine alone, but part of everyone's there - and oh, this person had been working there for over four years! So if this person had the same gripes and was getting the same sort of stresses - well, I must be OK. So I feel a lot more secure in my job after the past week. A few people have made the effort lately to let me know things will be fine there, too. I needed that reassurance to get comfortable.

I have a guy who loves me. That can be sort of intimidating at times. I have finally realized that he loves me after months of him telling me so. He talks about me to other people. He tells other people that he loves me. I suppose I must always have external proof, eh?

I live in the most beautiful neighborhood in the best city. About a block from me is a big old house with deep beds of daffodils in bloom. On either side of their walk they have daffodils in beds about six feet deep and five feet wide. It's like a little field in bloom. Every day I walk through three blocks of park to get to and from the train. And yesterday afternoon I sat down in the park, which hasn't been mown in a bit, and I was surrounded by dandelions and violets and lots of the other little weedy flowers that I love. The sun was shining and there were children in the park and I know how lucky I am.

My roomies and I are all sympatico. This house functions as a unit. That's a wonderful thing.

I look forward to walks every day through my neighborhood of bungalows to Little 5, where I might eat a sandwich and read in the sunshine. I do miss you though; come visit.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Andrew Bird
being alone it can be quite romantic
like jacques cousteau underneath the atlantic
a fantastic voyage to parts unknown
going to depths where the sun's never shone
and i fascinate myself when i'm alone
so i go a little overboard but hang on to the hull
while i'm airbrushing fantasy art on a life
that's really kind of dull
oh, i'm in a lull
i'm all for moderation but sometimes it seems
moderation itself can be a kind of extreme
so i joined the congregation
i joined the softball team
i went in for my confirmation
where incense looks like steam
i start conjugating proverbs
where once there were nouns
this whole damn rhyme scheme's starting to get me down
oh, i'm in a lull
i'm in a lull
being alone it can be quite romantic
like jacques cousteau underneath the atlantic
a fantastic voyage to parts unknown
going to depths where the sun's never shone
and i fascinate myself when i'm alone
i'm rambling on rather self consciously
while i'm stirring these condiments into my tea
and i think i'm so lame
i bet i think this song's about me
don't i don't i don't i ?
i'm in a lull

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

It's Spring

Spring is here!


Good lord, winter is long and depressing. But luckily I live in a region where Spring starts roughly around March 1st. The crocuses are up, there are pink roses in bloom, and little wildflowers in my new backyard. It's too warm to walk around in a jacket, even if the March wind makes you want one. Thank goodness, the cold is over. My eyes are a little sticky and I've got my annual Spring head crud, but who cares! IT'S SPRING!! Everyone I know should be glad I at least have the inhibition of clothes about me. Because some times the compulsion to walk around naked really does make itself present, and I have to hold myself back.

Atlanta is hashing out the gay marriage issue in their statehouse lately. After defeating a "defense of marriage" bill Friday, the Christian coalition had a rally downtown yesterday to protest...something. I'm not really sure what they were protesting, but that's OK, because they weren't sure either. They were plenty angry, that's for sure. I stayed away because I heard Ralph Reed might be there, and if there's anything I'm nearly phobic about, it's Ralph Reed. Seriously, the hairs on my arm stand up just typing his name. I honestly believe he's representative of everything evil in the world. The man is creepy. He's like the Witch-King of the conservative movement. It pains me that he lives here in the state that I love, casting his shadow over the city of my heart.

This is going to be a hard year for me, politically. While I respect John Kerry, I have no love for him. I wish I thought John Edwards could win, because I like him so much. My dream ticket is Edwards/Mosley-Braun. Which has a snowball's chance in hell right now.

I'm on a creative tear right now, because of the weather or hormones or stimulation of creative friends. I'm on a writing jag, one so productive that I stayed late at work yesterday without meaning too.

Life is good. Let's party.