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Books Insomnia Nostalgia Observations People Pointless Narcissism Think

Five Pound Book Wanted; Short Bespectacled Wizard-People Need Not Apply

For the past several days, since its long-awaited and much-hyped release, my roommate has been tirelessly reading the latest (and purportedly final) installment in the Harry Potter book series. He sits for hours on the porch, absorbed–he doesn’t speak unless spoken to; in fact the only sound he makes is the occasional chuckle, which is directed, of course, at the fictional characters within, and not at any human within his proximity.

On one level, I understand his rapt intensity: I have been a reader of this sort my entire life. When I was in my early twenties, I read all of Alexandra Ripley’s Gone With The Wind sequel in a single sitting–eight hundred pages in seven or eight hours on Christmas night. When my sister came down in the morning to make coffee, she saw me sitting at the kitchen table, where I’d been when she went to bed. You’re up early, she said. No, I replied, I’m up late. I closed the cover of the book and pushed it across the table at her. You’re kidding me, she said. I shook my head. I am no stranger to picking off a book in one go, regardless of the length of the thing–provided I have the time. Les Miserables, of course, took a few days, maybe a week. I am also very familiar with the sort of exclusionary hypnotism a good book provides–particularly a good book of fiction. Unfortunately, due to a monumentous school reading load and an inability to get back on the horse after the semester finished, I can’t remember when I was last in that trance.

On the other hand, I can not relate to my roommate’s unrelenting consumption of pages because I seem to be the only adult woman alive who has not even opened the cover of a Harry Potter book. I haven’t seen the movies, either. All I know about Harry Potter is that he’s a pint-sized wizard, he’s got a dorky redheaded friend and a cute one and maybe one other, and apparently they’re all enrolled in some magician school of sorts. Something about Warts. I know that the people behind the merchandising empire have found a way to make a little bag of jelly beans cost seven dollars, and I know that the woman who wrote the books was facing homelessness before they were picked up, and now she’s a bazillionaire.

The reason I haven’t read Harry Potter is simple. I was an underpaid employee at Borders in Monterey when the first book came out, and the second. If that’s not telling enough, let me elaborate: For weeks on end, I answered the same question, moved and re-moved thousands of copies of the same book, directed people to the same area of the store, tendered the exact same transaction. Though Christmas is gift-wrapping season, and Potter was not released at Christmas, I gift-wrapped hundreds of copies of it in a matter of less than a month. I went through this horror twice–at an astounding pay rate of seven dollars an hour (jelly beans, anyone?). So no, I had no desire to read the thing myself. As far as I was concerned, it was a thirty dollar paperweight. Kindling, perhaps, but not worth my precious reading time. In addition, I assumed that as I tend not to be enthralled by what everyone in America is obsessed with (Britney Spears, The Matrix, The Arcade Fire, etc.), it would be an expensive waste of time anyway.

However, I find myself strangely envious of my roommate. I want a book that will do that to me again.

Truth be told, I could probably pick up book one, and within a day be finished with it–and likely enjoy it despite the fact that I’m convinced it’s probably a Tolkien rip-off but with younger, more kid-friendly characters. Once I’d finished the first book, I’d devour the second, the third… and then I’d be waiting with the rest of America for the next installment. I went through that routine once with the Robert Jordan series and I gave up after the second book. And of course, there’s the whole loyalty-to-principles issue–I’ve stayed with my Potter boycott so long that I don’t want to give up now.

I could re-read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy–but I know how it ends, and that would take away the magic. Similarly, I could re-read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, two books which had me so transfixed that I finished the former while sitting in a bathroom in a motel in Memphis because my father insisted I shut out the light in the room. Then again, I know how those end, too. I want a thousand pages of someone else’s imagination that will so wholly seduce me that I will forget to go to work, eat, and sleep–and I just can’t find it.

So I beseech you, dear readers: Give me an alternative. Recommend to me a well-written fictional book or series that a) is not Harry Potter; b) has more than five hundred pages; c) is not written by a depressing Russian, d) does not involve months of anticipation for a sequel; and most importantly e) will hold me in a state of such singular awe that I will unknowingly make wide-eyed faces like the one my roommate just made, laugh out loud, cry real tears, and lament having reached the end too soon.

Until then, I’ll be reading Lester Bangs’ and Chuck Klosterman’s essays, one at a time, on the train.

Categories
Blather Faraway Places Nature Observations Rant

The #1 Reason I Will Never Live In Alabama

Forget the overpopulation of self-righteous Bible-beaters. Forget the Ku Klux Klan and the legions of Confederate Flag-waving toothless rednecks with rifles strapped to the backs of their twenty-foot-tall Chevy pickup trucks. Forget the chew-spewing truck stop waitresses and the forty thousand mullets and the fact that the only music you’re likely to hear on the radio is 70s and 80s cock rock (1). Forget the hummingbird-sized mosquitoes and the deadly poisonous Copperhead snakes and the swamps and the alligators and the pollution-laden smog and the unfortunate proximity to all things Florida. The number one reason I will never live in Alabama is this:

I HATE HUMIDITY.

Every year, roundabout August, New England turns into Alabama–complete with mosquitoes the size of cargo planes–and I don’t like it one stinking bit. There is nothing that makes me want to move back to California and live forever with a complete absence of weather than an eighty-degree day in which five seconds after stepping out of the shower I feel as though I need another one. Yesterday, the air was so laden with icky, fetid moisture that by the time I finished my twelve-hour shift (inside an air-conditioned restaurant with only one door open), the backs of my knees had red chafing marks from being stuck to the insides of my jeans, which were not tight at all. This morning, before the rain (2) came, I woke up in my bed, wrapped in my sheets like a burrito–not because I’d slept that violently, but because my sheets were stuck to my skin as though I’d rolled in a vat of glue before climbing under them.

Directly opposite August on the calendar is February, the only other month in which I find New England to be completely intolerable. February brings with it not only cold, but soul-sucking winds so strong and dry that they literally rip the skin straight off of my face and every other part of skin that’s exposed for even a minute. The wind is cold, so cold in fact that it’s nearly impossible not to find oneself clenched involuntarily into the shape of a praying mantis, with a resulting backache that lasts until the middle of March. Toes cease having sensation, scarves must cover as much area as hijabs in order to be at all effective, and any attempt at remaining fashionable is thrown completely out the window.

Contrary to the popular belief among a bajillion ignoramuses in Long Beach, the hideously ugly and hideously trendy Ugg Boot was invented for the purpose of surviving February in New England [or Montana or Colorado or anywhere else that actually has snow (3)], not for wearing with mini-skirts in Malibu in the middle of July. Likewise, woolen knit “beanies” were a necessity among desperately cold New Englanders long before they became fashinable among expertly disheveled surfers in the O.C.

That said, I vastly prefer the face-stripping agony of February to the sweaty, gooey misery of August. This is because I appreciate being able to wear clothes–even if I have to heap them on like a sherpa in order to stay alive. In the August humidity in New England, any piece of clothing more substantial than a G-string bikini is akin to cruel and unusual punishment, even when it’s relatively cold(4). And we all know that at least 99% of the population would never, or should never, even contemplate wearing such a thing–myself emphatically included. If I were a creature incapable of sweating–say an armadillo or a supermodel–I may consider August to be the preferable month to be in New England.

I will never, however, consider living in Alabama. Even if I do spontaneously turn into an armadillo. Because in Alabama, it feels like Alabama in July all the damn time.

Notes:
1. Yes, I know every one of these assertions is a completely unabashed stereotype.
2. The fact that humidity of the magnitude that Boston has been experiencing for the past few days is a near-guarantee that there will be plentiful and violent thunder storms is the only remotely positive thing about the month of August whatsoever.
3. Or, more likely, August–which in the Southern Hemisphere is winter–in the middle of the desert in Australia, where Uggs were invented by people who likely don’t give a dingo’s ass about fashion or what Paris Hilton is wearing, ever.
4. By “relatively cold,” of course, I mean “under eighty degrees.”

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Blather Music Observations Pointless Narcissism Rant Tattoos

In Which The Salt Girl Unwittingly Gets A $700 Tattoo.

I often joke that my life is governed by Murphy’s Law. Those who are close to me know that this is at least partly true: I am afraid of skunks, and I come from an island that is hideously overpopulated by them. If I am dressed up, with my hair straightened, it will undoubtedly pour, thereby rendering both my outfit and my hair worthless. If I like a guy, he will instantly be attracted to my best friend. If I go somewhere on vacation, the most exciting thing in my home town will happen the day after I leave, and the most exciting thing in the city I’m visiting will occur the day after I return home. If I get a shift covered at work, the person who covers for me will make twice what I’m used to for that particular shift.

And I’m clumsy. I’m a dalmatian-spotted mess of bruises most of the time, and I’m almost incapable of crossing a room without walking into something. I have slammed my own fingers in car doors, I have thrown out my back by tripping over a cat, I hit my head on the car roof nearly every time I get into a car that’s smaller than an SUV.

And I’m unlucky. When I’m riding in someone’s car, they hit every red light until they drop me off. Likewise, when I’m riding my bike, I encounter not only every red light, but every traffic impediment imaginable (like street fairs with renta-cops). I have never won more than ten dollars on a scratch ticket–but I’ve watched the person who bought the ticket after mine win $500. I lost a spelling bee once because the judges made an error three rounds back, and didn’t catch it until I was going for the win. The next year, in the same spelling bee, my first word was one that I’d never heard before so I was out in the first round, but I correctly spelled every other word in the competition without even a second thought.

That said, I was terribly disappointed but not surprised to discover this evening that I have just purchased myself a seven hundred dollar tattoo. According to the care regimen for the tattoo I paid $250 for last week, I am supposed to wash it several times a day with “a gentle, antimicrobial soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s.” I have done so, faithfully–so faithfully that I made the awful mistake of carrying the soap with me in my bag when I went to work. The soap, somewhere between work and home, inexplicably opened and spilled all over the inside of my bag, destroying not only the bag (which I adore–and paid $70 for, but I am willing to part with grudgingly) but also my four-month new $350 80GB video iPod.

I love my iPod. I don’t ever leave home without it, and I am frequently able to play it through the sound system at work so that everyone else can enjoy my music too. When I fly, I load videos onto it so that I can sit in my seat and be passively entertained for hours on end. I am addicted to music–so much that in the Time Before Ipods, I used to spend hundreds of dollars every year replacing Walkmen and Discmen so that I could constantly have a portable source of music. Ipod eliminated the need to do this–until Murphy’s Law and my own ridiculous stupidity eliminated my iPod.

The kicker of the whole thing is this: up until a few weeks ago, I always kept my iPod in a protective case, which, had it been on my beloved gadget this evening, probably would have saved it from the Dreaded Soap. Unfortunately, I discovered a few weeks ago that the reason that the speakers often buzzed when my iPod was playing at work was because the case prevented the jack cord from going all the way in, meaning there was a faulty connection–hence the buzz. I took to taking my iPod out of the case when I played it at work, and about a week ago, I was unable to find the top part of the case when I retrieved my iPod. It could have fallen in the recycling bin, which is located just under the stereo at work. Needless to say, I did not go right out and buy a new case like I should have, nor did I refrain from stashing my iPod in my bag while in transit.

The music itself is replaceable, as I have very smartly retained all of my CDs–but the basic fact is that I cannot afford a new iPod. I cannot afford food at this point, if you take my current debt-to-income ratio into consideration. I couldn’t afford the goddamn tattoo. I suspended my guilt over that at the time, but now it’s hitting me like an anvil dropped from on high: If you’d just refrained from getting the tattoo, you’d still have your iPod…

I’m devastated, because I’m pretty attached to the little sucker, but more than that I’m frustrated and disappointed because I did this, just like I am usually the culprit when things go wrong in my life.

And to top it off, after an entirely mosquito-bite-free summer, I’ve just been eaten alive while I’ve been typing this blog, and I think one of the little fuckers got me on my $700 tattoo. And I’m out of the damn soap because it’s all in my iPod.

Categories
Blather Pointless Narcissism Rant School Think

The Inexplicable Draw

It’s mid-July, and I’ve been out of school for more than two and a half months. Initially, I was relieved not to have to wake up in time to get to class, to have my evenings to myself instead of devoting them to homework, to be able to read whatever I wanted in whatever time I felt like reading it. I like spare time, a whole hell of a lot–and I’ve had enough of it to read several books, go to the Vineyard a few times and screw off, and idle in my papasan chair to my little heart’s content.

But I’m ready now. I’m ready to have a purpose again; a reason to get up, and something that requires my attention in the insomniac hours after work. I’ve been vaguely inspired to write lately, but not enough to complete any work worthy of submitting to either a professor or a publisher–I’m in desperate need of deadlines. Similarly, I’m reading two books at the moment, but without a specific time frame in which they must be finished, I’m stagnating–either reading trash magazines or doing a whole lot of nothing instead of reading. It doesn’t help that my new tattoo prevents me from going to the beach and sunning myself silly with a good book.

I have another six or seven weeks until the semester begins, but I’m already looking forward to it with happy anticipation. There’s something about having to be in the heart of the city every day, with a mission to accomplish, that’s strangely addictive. I know that once I’m in the throes of it, I will resent the lack of spare time, but right now, I miss it. Each night I open my computer and stare blankly at its screen, wishing that I had something which needed to be accomplished with it. I have this fantastic new machine–the machine I should have bought in the beginning of last year when I realized my old computer was shitting the bed–but beyond this blog and the sporadic checking of email, it’s being sorely under-utilized. I even have a peaceful place in which to concentrate, with multiple porches on which I can hibernate and get my work done, only I don’t have any work to get done.

Theoretically, I should write anyway, but that’s not the way it works. I either have a deadline and an assignment, or I do not write anything other than this pathetically narcissistic blog. I wrote a page of a short story tonight (which I actually assigned to a friend and she hasn’t written because she’s having too much sex to bother writing, damn her), but as I only know the setting and a bare-bones idea of the character, that’s as far as I got. I’ve got all the time in the world to make love to these keys, but I’m totally blocked. In November when I’m waist-deep in required reading and a manic ball of collected stress, I’ll be brilliantly inspired and I’ll sacrifice even the tiniest bit of sleep in order to get the words on the page. Go figure.

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Blather Observations People Philosophy Pointless Narcissism Rant Think

How Not To Be An Annoying Flake–a long-winded note to self.

1. When your alarm rings, get up. Do not hit the snooze button, and if you find you simply must hit the snooze button, make sure to do so no more than three times.

2. Calculate how long it takes you to get to whatever destination you need to be headed for, and leave five minutes before your calculations dictate that you should, NOT five minutes after.

3. Before you leave the house, check to make sure you have everything you need: wallet, sunglasses, KEYS… and check again once you’ve gotten to your destination (so if you happened to forget your KEYS, you can call your roommates early and not have to wake them up at 2 a.m.)

4. When you get a bill, write a check. Do not wait until the absolutely last day it can be paid without being late and pay it by phone while you’re walking down the street, five minutes late for wherever you’re supposed to be.

5. Go to the bank and make deposits frequently, so that you will have the money to write the check when the bill comes so you won’t end up on the phone at the last possible minute (whew).

6. Look at your calendar every day before you get started. You know you’ve written things on it that you need to do (like returning the library books that were due in May), and you’ll forget them if you don’t look at the damn calendar. Set reminders in your cell phone if you have to, just RETURN THE DAMN BOOKS.

7. Spend the money to get a new cell phone so that when you forget to put your phone on vibrate and you don’t want to answer a call, you can silence it, rather than forcing everyone in the room to listen to Beethoven’s fifth at top volume three times in a half hour just because your crazy sister won’t stop calling and you can’t shut off the ringer.

8. Never choose Beethoven’s Fifth as the ringtone for anything. Stay away from Gnarls Barkley, too.

9. Do your errands when you have time–say, during the time that you usually spend reading books of little literary merit and consuming ridiculous amounts of black coffee–so you don’t have to do them on your way to work, thereby making you late.

10. If you’re a waitress, use a pad and pen and write things down instead of trying to be a showoff and remember a table’s entire order in your head. Just because you can achieve this monumentous mental feat most of the time doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the ass when you come back to the table thirty seconds later and say, “I’m sorry, what did you order?”

11. For fuck’s sake, go to sleep when normal people do, that way you won’t be so damn tired and forgetful all the time, you bloody nincompoop. Get stoned. Drink wine. Do whatever the hell you need to do to make your eyes stay shut for more than five hours at a time so that you can wake up before noon and NOT BE A FLAKE.

12. Take your goddamn keys with you. Wear them around your neck like a necklace, hang them from your bra strap, fold them into the leg of your pants, embed them underneath your skin, just BRING YOUR KEYS WITH YOU, ASSHOLE. Nobody wants to talk to you at 2 a.m., least of all your roommate who was peacefully sleeping but was rudely awakened because you forgot (again) to BRING YOUR KEYS WITH YOU. While you’re at it, remember to buy cigarettes when you’re running low too, jackass. And if you’re gonna smoke, carry a frickin’ lighter.

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Blather Friendship Islands Nostalgia Observations People Think

Of Triangles And Train Wrecks

Every once in a while there comes an incident or a conversation which makes you re-examine your own behavior and beliefs, and indeed your own memory. Memory is, after all, largely associative, and completely connotative. What we remember is colored by how we felt about a certain situation, or how we wanted to feel–our own interests often dictate what parts of an occurrence we choose (subconsciously) to remember. Sometimes we think we remember things we don’t actually remember because we’ve heard stories about them so many times that we start to believe we remember–for instance, I’ve heard it said so many times that I was bald as a baby and mistaken for a boy, that I can picture myself there in the stroller, gender-misidentified, as though I actually remember it, which I decidedly do not. Similarly I remember a fight between my parents which I’m sure I was too young to remember, but which I’ve heard described so many times by both of them that I can visualize it. I was there, but I was too young to have cognizantly recalled the fight the way my mind paints the picture. The power of suggestion is amazing.

That said, I’m digressing from my original point.

I have recently come back into contact with an old friend from whom I’ve been estranged for nearly a decade. We did not have a single falling out; it was more like a series of miniature falling-outs which were never mentioned or dealt with until finally the whole thing unraveled, leaving me perhaps more bitter than I should have been. After all, none of the things over which we clashed were worth the effort–certainly not the man who turned out to be the catalyst of our friendship’s slow self-destruction. As she said in her email to me today, “we both did some really bitchy things to each other,” which is entirely true–however, I think I’d forgotten about the bitchy things I’d done because in our little petty, worthless competition, she turned out “victorious” (she won a whole lot of asshole), and I ended up spurned, nursing my wounded pride and having lost not one friend, but two. Our friendship, and in truth every relationship in our fucked-up little triangle was, to use her words, a trainwreck–and neither of us tried to right the damn train.

What I failed to take into consideration in resenting this friend for years afterward, was that though I was feeling hurt, deceived and eventually cast aside, I never once stood up for myself, or addressed the fact that I knew our friendship was falling apart. I didn’t fight for it. I resented my friend silently, and I never told her how hurt I felt by her behavior. I was content to think I’d been trampled on, but I was too chicken to say so. In addition, we BOTH violated the cardinal rule of friendship–we put the attention of a guy that we both knew wouldn’t last before friendship.

When I received her first email–she was the one who made contact after all this time–I neglected to consider that there are at least two sides to every story, and that my own jadedness may have prevented me from seeing that she didn’t have a grand time of it either. I never got her side of the story because I never asked for it. In truth, it’s all irrelevant now, because we’re both ten years older, and if age teaches us anything, it’s that high school doesn’t matter once the cap and gown come off. Still, it’s refreshing to get a wake-up call sometimes to remind you of your own folly.

I know that it will take time to get back to where we once were as friends, if it happens at all–but I’m willing now to take the time, and I’m willing to suspend my reservations and get to know her again. In her email, she reminded me of how much fun we used to have before it all went to hell, and I’m hoping we can get to that point again. One thing that I’ve learned in the ten years since we’ve seen each other is that you can never have too many friends–and that friendship is something that requires reciprocation and effort–upkeep, essentially.

So here’s to old friends becoming new ones, and to letting old bullshit lie in the past where it should.

Categories
Books Friendship People Rant

Don’t You Hate It When…

…your best friend casually drops into conversation–as casually as I’d mention having once waited on Al from Quantum Leap–that she met Hunter S. Thompson? And furthermore, did mushrooms at his cabin and partied for an entire evening?

I am not one to get starstruck, but Dr. Gonzo?! Now that’s being in the presence of greatness, and she didn’t even seem to have recognized it for what it truly was. Oh yeah, she said, I met him, but I didn’t see him much after that. Who cares? She met him. She saw him, in the flesh, and was able to reconcile the man with the myth, and seemed completely nonplussed. What I wouldn’t give to have been her for that one moment. Instead, I served tea to a complete asshole B-rate star, and almost ran over Kelly Lynch on my bicycle when I was 16. Not comparable. Not in the least.421b1f5f5eec5-35-1.jpg

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Blather Faraway Places Observations People Philosophy Pointless Narcissism Tattoos Think Travel

Invisible Ink

When I visited Paris a couple of years ago with an ex, we did the tourist thing for a bit, which of course included a visit to The Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa, some Van Goghs, a few other extremely famous paintings–then while we were descending a stairway to look at a room full of sketches, I caught sight of something truly arresting. I’ve always appreciated art, but I must admit that I’m not really stricken with awe by most paintings. I prefer photography and, I discovered on this trip, sculpture. There, in the stairway, was the only piece of art that has given me goosebumps: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The Winged Victory of┬áSamothrace

The sculpture is of the goddess Nike, the goddess of Victory, and dates back to sometime B.C. (I’ve forgotten the date and am not feeling the necessity to look it up). It was discovered, partially destroyed, centuries after its creation. The goddess’s head and arms are missing, but a massive set of imposing wings are intact, outstretched behind her. I stopped in the stairwell and stared, while my ex anxiously shuffled his feet–to him, this visit was merely a “must-see,” and he didn’t appear truly awed by much of anything we saw, much less paralyzed on a stone step as I was, completely transfixed.

Ever since I saw the Winged Victory, I’ve wanted to get it as a tattoo. I’ve spent hours online looking for the right image–one that would translate correctly to the flesh, retaining the power of the image as much as possible. About a year ago, I was trading images of the sculpture with my friend Dave, a MySpace buddy who I’d never met in person. He sent me a few shots that I liked, and I added them to my library of “Winged Victory” images. In addition to finding the right shot, I needed to decide where on my body I’d like to have the Victory. I pondered putting it on my upper arm, but I’ve shied away from tattooing my arms for unknown reasons. I concluded that the best place to put it would be on my shoulder–my right shoulder, so that the wings would reach up and out from my shoulderblade and appear almost as though I had a wing of my own.

A couple months after the initial image trade with Dave, I received a picture message on my cell phone from an unknown number. The photo was of a girl’s back, with an amazing tattoo of the Winged Victory in exactly the place I wanted to get it. Damn, I thought. I guess I’m not so original after all. It took me a minute to realize that it was Dave who had sent me the message. I figured, since Dave is sort of an internet research guru and can find almost anything online, that he’d found the image on a website somewhere. Still, I asked: Whose back is that? For a couple hours, I received no response. Finally, a message came in: My psycho ex.

For a moment, I considered the possibility that my cyber-friend, whom I’d never met and should therefore not really consider a friend (though I did, and still do, and we’ve actually met now), had thought my idea was so cool that he’d shared it with this girl and she’d gone and swiped my idea. No, Dave told me when I asked him if this was the case, she came into town and boasted of a new tattoo, and when he saw it, he was shocked.

Though there is an incredibly small chance that I will ever meet Dave’s “Psycho ex,” or even encounter anyone who has met her besides Dave, I am nonetheless reluctant to get the tattoo now. The tattoos I do have, with the exception of the first one I got professionally (the Chinese symbol for “pleasure” on my back, which I had done when I was 18) are carefully chosen, and as far as I know, unique to me. While I understand that it’s a near certainty that there will be other people in the world who have the Winged Victory tattooed on them, as there are millions who have seen the sculpture and surely some of them were as taken aback by it as I was, still it makes me uncomfortable to know that I have a friend who’s seen the tattoo. In the exact spot I wanted to put it.

I’ve toyed with the idea of putting the tattoo in a different place, but the only place it belongs is on my right shoulder blade. That’s all there is to it. So, I either get it where it belongs–and have the exact same tattoo as someone’s Psycho Ex (not exactly someone I want to share a taste in ink with), or I do not get it at all. This, along with poverty and procrastination, is the reason my flesh is not currently adorned with the goddess of victory in all her stone glory.

My friend Jamie is coming up either tomorrow or next week, and we are going to get tattooed. Jamie knows exactly what she wants, and where she wants it. I would love to get the Victory, but a) can’t afford it, and b) have yet to make up my mind as to whether I want it at all anymore.

I know that my reluctance may sound unnecessarily indignant, but to me, a tattoo is a statement of identity–a marking which makes a claim not only of that person’s likes, loves and history, but of who they are. With this thought in mind, I’ve considered my other tattoos–“Belonging to the ocean” in Sanskrit; “Wander” and “Experience” in Japanese on my ankles; a Beastie figure on my neck in honor of my mother–and I’ve started to wonder if I have any business putting the Victory on my body at all, regardless of the other girl who’s already done it. After all, victory and the quest for it are not very high up on my list of important ideals. I don’t believe in war, and I feel most often that people who are on a quest for victory are willing to do almost anything in order to attain it, including damaging other people without regard–and that is an ideal I do not agree with. On the flip side, what the mythological significance of the sculpture is was never what drew me to it, or had me eager to preserve the image for posterity on my skin. The thing was just so goddamned beautiful, and I do appreciate beauty, particularly damaged beauty.

On Wednesday, I will most likely have a Latin phrase inked on the inside of my right wrist: Verba volant; Scripta manent. Translation: Spoken words fly away; Written words remain. As far as I know, this is mine and mine alone, tattoo wise. And it’s small, which means it’s cheap, and that’s what I can afford.

On a more philosophical level, a writer cannot afford to go chasing after victory, anyhow. They must be satisfied instead with the pursuit of small, indelible truths–because in time, the ever-pursued victory will spread its legendary wings and fly away too, ceasing to matter in the long run. But then again, there’s a certain melancholy beauty to destroyed victory… wingedvictory.jpg

Categories
Family Friendship Nostalgia Observations People Think

You Never Know Who The Angels Will Be

For most of my life, my mother has been my “big mystery.” She is a person to whom I am intricately connected, but whom I barely got the chance to know. My grief over her death ran most of its course over a decade ago, when I was a young teenager, trying to find direction in a world without rudders. At this stage in my life, I am so accustomed to my mother’s absence, and to the effect it has had on my upbringing and my development as a woman, that I don’t often get upset about it anymore. Every once in a while, however, the tears come–and they come in torrents.

This afternoon, my father dropped off a few boxes of books that had been stored for the past two years in his shed, since I didn’t have space for them in the places I’ve lived since my move to Boston. My new apartment, however, has plenty of space, and roommates hungry for my accumulated wealth of literature. One of the boxes my father brought was unexpected–it did not contain books; rather, it contained journals and date books–more specifically, my mother’s journals and date books.

My mother kept a written record of nearly everything that happened in her life. She wrote primarily in Steno notebooks and date books with Degas paintings on their covers. The date books she used to record a day’s events, rather than to plan upcoming engagements. The pages of her life are peppered with nuggets of truth, such as “Punkin cranky today,” (Punkin is me), or “cannot feed self, cannot garden” (when Multiple Sclerosis had taken its toll on her body). I have paged through most of these books, but I have not read them all in their entirety, and I was surprised to flip one open this afternoon and discover a sort of letter–a voice from the grave. Her words were directed at me, but I imagine they were more of an internal monologue of her own with me in mind–she likely never expected me to see them.

25 Jun 90
…you had a big ow gouge in your knee when you were last here….I have a phone; consideration is easier than distrust. Let’s make good times–we must, there aren’t that many. Each cupful is precious. Will you show up tomorrow?

…But he did drive away and leave while I cried in the snow. (Crying in the snow is dumb, but I’d still do it.)
I feel that way about you, too. THAT is, I care about you having consideration, manners, thank yous, ability to maintain a schedule…Wish I could produce someone to help you. A grown-up friend. Suzanne not old enuf, Tanya either.

…Do you remember painting the boat? The brush was almost as big as you were.

This entry was written shortly before my mother moved to California, after I’d stopped living with her and moved in with my father. We’d grown distant unintentionally, as school scooped up much of my time, and illness and preparation much of hers. Also, at ten, I was too shortsighted to realize how little time I had left with her, though she as an adult (with a clear plan of self-deliverance from her illness) knew precisely how dear each moment was.

Sitting in my living room this afternoon, fifteen and a half years after her suicide, I found what is the closest thing to my mother’s voice that I have. I was both grateful and devastated: grateful to have found it, and devastated all over again at how profound the loss of this woman has been in my life. I wished for a way to assure her that I do have manners, and consideration, and have learned to follow a schedule. I wanted to tell her that it took me a while, but I found people to help me through the hard times, women who mothered me as well as anyone can mother a daughter who is not their own. I wanted to apologize for the difficulty I put her through when she was ill–for every entry that said, “Punkin angry, spiteful,” or “Punkin out of control.” More than anything, however, I wanted her to see how far I’ve come–despite the inherent pride I feel in my accomplishments of late, there’s still a part of me that feels like none of it’s completely real because she wasn’t there to see that I turned out okay after all.

I ran my fingers over the ballpoint indentation of my mother’s words, and I wept. I turned the pages and watched her handwriting grow more and more illegible as the illness overtook her body; there were parts even I could not decipher, after years of practice.

In one date book, I found an entry that put a smile where the tears had been. It was from February, 1989, my week-long school vacation. Reade overnight, it said. Monopoly all day. Great. 3 hotels on Boardwalk for Reade. I remember the day as though it were yesterday. It was snowing, and Reade (my childhood best friend since her birth 3 days after my own) and I were off from school. The three of us sat on my mother’s huge bed and played the game for hours–the majority of the day. I was eliminated after about three hours, but Reade and my mother played on, until finally my friend was victorious. It is one of my few clear memories of my mother, and one of even fewer in which she was truly happy. To read in her date book that the day had been as special for her as it was for me was rewarding, a confirmation that the memory was accurate, and that she really was as happy as I remember.

Tonight, Reade came over to see my new apartment. She’s six months pregnant with her first child, and she’s radiant. I wish my mother could see her. The two of us were raised for a time by each other’s mothers as well as our own–we have been family from the very beginning, and it would have overjoyed my mother to see Reade so happy.

For Reade’s “something borrowed” in her wedding, I suggested she choose a piece of jewelry that my mother made-and wore-and wear it during the ceremony. She chose a silver bracelet that my mother wore every day. I knew my mother would have been proud of the choice: it was simple, elegant and graceful, like Reade.

This evening, I shared my discoveries with Reade–she is perhaps my only friend who would understand the depth of emotion that can arise in me when such a thing is uncovered, and she is the closest to my heart; she’s known me nearly as long as I’ve known myself, and probably knows me better. Also, she remembers my mother. Most of my friends never even met my mother, but Reade remembers her–at times, I think, better than I do. She loved my mother, and my mother loved her.

With Reade there, i felt comfortable voicing my own regret–regret that I know intellectually is foolish because no nine-year-old has perfect manners, and no child can know the strain that their own behavior puts on a parent. Similarly, I felt she’d understand my gratitude for being granted an intimate glimpse into my mother’s last months, regardless of how painful that gilmpse was.

Looking at Reade across my new kitchen table, I was instantly transported back into my mother’s bedroom, on that snowy afternoon, before grief and adolescence and responsibility made a smile on my face such a rare occurrence for such a long time. Even during the dark parts, though, there was this friend–this one person who did not for one moment allow me to question her loyalty or her love. I’m so lucky, I thought, and that child in her belly is the luckiest kid in the world.

My mother gave me this friend. She and Reade’s mother were in Lamazze class together when they were pregnant, and from our earliest stages of infancy, we were together. In childhood we’d spend days on end at each other’s houses, and we celebrated every birthday together. During adolescence we did not see much of each other–we had different friends by then–but still I knew that Reade was the one true friend I could turn to without ever doubting her. That’s what family is. And as we left high school for what would eventually bear the title of “adulthood,” we reconnected, and have been as close as ever since then.

At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I’m eternally grateful to my mother for her role in Reade’s presence in my life–and I’m equally grateful that Reade has grown to be every bit the woman I’m sure my mother expected her to be, and that she’s still a close part of my life. She has a wisdom beyond her years, and a heart that is beyond measure, and I love her as only family can love. Likewise, I’m glad to have someone around who remembers me–and my mother–before tragedy took us down and made us merely shells of what we once were. She has been here for the long haul; she’s seen the ups and downs, the scary parts and the dreams come true, and she knows me better than anyone I’m not related to.

I realized, too, as I sat talking with Reade this evening, that it is she who has been one of my most significant role models. She has always been kind, and polite, and dependable, and when I am around her, I am my best self. My mother wished for an “adult” role model to teach me manners, and gratitude, and grace–little could she have known I’d learn them from someone no older than myself, the girl with whom I’ve suffered all of my growing pains, and without whom I probably wouldn’t have made it past the fifth grade.

As I watched Reade’s silver car drive away tonight, I thought to myself, “You never know who the angels will be.” But maybe–just maybe–my mother did know.

Categories
Books Music Nostalgia Observations People Pointless Narcissism School Think

The Two-Dollar Cure For Brain Death

When I was a teenager and had little in the way of responsiblity to worry about, I read. I mean I read a book a day, almost every day. I’d stay up into the wee hours of the night on a school night to finish whatever book I’d had clandestinely hidden behind my textbooks in class, and the next day I wouldn’t feel any worse for the wear. I read voraciously, and I read anything. I’d go to the local Thrift Store because the books were fifty cents, and I’d buy heaps of them. Some I’d never read, but most I’d pick off within the week.

This unflagging ability to read continued into my early twenties, and ended promptly when I returned from a three month trip to New Zealand in 2003. While I was in New Zealand, I read books I found on hostel shelves, I traded books with other travelers, and when there was nothing free, I ventured to used book stores and usually came out ten minutes into the visit with twenty pages under my belt already.

Upon my return from the trip, I enrolled in community college in Monterey, California, where I was living. I was also working full-time at a restaurant. While I did still read–often by average standards–I did not have the time or the focus to keep up my previous pace of three books a week or more. It also became more difficult, as my attention drifted to academic reading and my mind reeled over the unprecedented fullness of my schedule, to pick a book to read. I’d stand in front of loaded shelves and stare, pick up book after book and read their jackets, and leave the store empty-handed. Because I am incapable of riding buses or sitting around without some sort of reading material, I begun to read magazines–Spin, Outside, Backpacker, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker–whatever glossy cover attracted my attention and boasted of having something intelligent to say inside. After a few weeks of “reader’s block,” I’d find a book, usually by accident, and I’d be back in the saddle again, so to speak.

As my educational pursuits have continued to become more focused (writing and literature) and more difficult, the reader’s block has stayed with me, and it’s gotten more frequent and more… well, blocked. During the semester, I am able to read my required reading (which last semester consisted of two novels, fifteen to twenty essays and ten to twenty short stories per week), but I become incapable of reading anything else, due largely to lack of time–and guilt. It is during the semester, however, that I routinely find books I’m desperate to read–only I can’t read them, I have to put them off. By the time I have time for them, I’ve either forgotten what they were or lost interest.

I’ve found, disappointingly, that this block has continued well into what is supposed to be my relaxation time–my free reading time. School does not begin again until mid-September, so I have all the time in the world to sit around and read, but by and large I can’t. Since the end of the semester in May, I have read a total of three books. Three books in six weeks. That’s a sixth of what I used to be capable of. I’d like to say that my disappointing reading record is due to a busy schedule, other projects, a sudden burst of artistic creativity–hell, I’d even willingly blame it on a new friend or boyfriend. But it’s not that. I’ve got plenty of time to read, I just don’t. I stand in front of my shelves and look at books I’ve intended to read for months or years–half-finished biographies, books of essays and letters, “must read” classics. I stare, I ruminate, I walk away empty-handed.

When I do find something, I’m grabbed and I hold on for dear life until the thing’s done, but I’m reluctant to read the last pages, because I know that when I’m finished, I won’t have anything to read for days, or even weeks. This was how I felt the other day when I finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, which I’d borrowed from a friend months ago and left sitting untouched until in a moment of desperation I forced myself to read the first twenty pages of it. From there, I was golden–but I don’t like forcing it.

I’ve just moved into a house with three other people–three other people who read–which means that I’ve got their entire lot of books at my fingertips as well as my own. The morning after I finished Animal Dreams, I stood in front of the shelf and stared not at the same familiar titles I’ve been looking at all year, but at new ones. A few of them jumped out at me: a Vonnegut book I’d never heard of; Steppenwolf; Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang; a history of cults. It was this last which piqued my interest–I’ve always been fascinated by cults and the people who join them; I am baffled by the ability of some people to suspend free thought and blindly follow the rules of a charismatic but megalomaniac leader. “I think I’m gonna read about cults,” I said to my roommate, excited. Five minutes later, I put the book back on the shelf, along with The Monkey Wrench Gang and Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

Then yesterday, the unexpected happened. I was loafing around in Harvard Square, slowly going about my errands, and I followed the smell of cheeseburgers toward Bartley’s, a legendary burger joint. Of course the place was packed beyond consideration, and I turned around. On my way back, I passed the Harvard Book Store, an independent with a great selection of used books and nearly everything new that I would ever want. I spent five minutes inside, considered a few things, and walked out, disappointed.

On my way back to the train station, I passed the Book Guy: a bespactacled, Z.Z. Top-looking vendor who sets up a stand on the sidewalk (it used to be downstairs inside the T station) and sells books, his dog tethered to his director’s chair the whole time. I paused at the Book Guy’s stand and a thick white paperback caught my attention immediately. Rolling Stone Magazine, its cover declared. A history of the magazine’s beginning, and its polarizing, revolutionary/capitalist founder, Jann Wenner. In small print under the book’s title I saw Hunter S. Thompson’s name, and when I flipped open the cover, his words of praise for the book were printed at the top of the first page. I’ve been a reader of Rolling Stone for years, increasingly reluctant to shell out my five bucks for what will largely be ads and stories on music I don’t give a damn about, but unable to pass up the chance of reading the occasional gem that it seems only Rolling Stone is capable of digging up. And Thompson, well, he was the clincher. I would enthusiastically read anything he ever touched.

I paid the Book Guy my two bucks, and by the time I’d reached the platform in the subway station, I had read twenty pages. By the time I got home later in the evening, I’d read 78. And this book, which takes place largely in the late 60s and early 70s, is the perfect segway to reading about cults.

For the moment, I’m cured. Thank you, Book Guy, for throwing a mountain of books in my path and making me stop. I’m eternally grateful, and will continue to give you my two bucks as often as I am able.