All these weirdos, and me getting a little better right in the midst of them.

•January 10, 2011 • 3 Comments

After much encouragement from the management, I scheduled some days off. Let me open this statement up: I am taking some days off and I am not sick, no one died, I am not moving, nor is it a holiday. As you might be able to discern from that extrapolation, this is not common. I wish it was. While I am grateful for my day job, it does it’s share of soul-killing without giving me much more money than can meet my basic needs. I could expand another translation here, but two colons in my opening paragraph will land me a mental slap from at least one of my four readers. Perhaps two. But I make no concessions away from the blurty 2-3 word sentences and the, well, already common comma-kaze nature of my writing. Surely, you’re used to that by now. I mean really.

Anyway, the first day off…there was no plan. I cannot really afford to leave town. Sure it would only cost $25 to get to Milwaukee, but then I would be in Milwaukee in the middle of January. I’m not that fond of the place. I decided to be all touristy in my own city. So I set out this morning to ride the El (I normally take the bus) and walk around Jewelers’ Row and down State Street, maybe hit the big Library. Waiting on the train platform between a guy in a PSU jacket and one in a Pitt jacket (both just as out-of-place as I am here, both exhaling homesickness germs) was not a good start. So I took a different train and let the other possible Western Pennsylvanians slide away. I began to feel a little guilty for not just sitting somewhere and writing. I nearly went home.

You see, Chicago is huge. Really huge.  Big. A kind of absolute fucking hugiosity that you can’t fully perceive until you’re leaving or plunging right through the middle of it at high speeds. And I live here, little old me from a town of 600! That is weird. I shouldn’t be here. Shooting between the high-rises and back and forth across the river on a rickety train brings that simultaneous fear/wonder right back, pronto.

All of this stuff is *there* and available every day, but I don’t do it. Don’t go downtown. Don’t ride the train. I get where I need to be and don’t look up much in between unless I’m on the bike (much like Milwaukee, I am only seasonally fond of the bike). This city, this big enormous working city of great big enormous padded shoulders can be too much for me. Getting across it is too much of a fight. So I default to a few neighborhoods like the sedate one where I live (families in mostly wood-frame houses with little yards up against bars and venues), or the odious one where I work (rich yoga moms blocking the way with double-wide strollers and saying things like ‘post-delivery mommyjob’.) There is a third neighborhood I frequent, way down on the south side near The Carpenter’s shop that, so help me god, reminds me of home, but it is miles away from everywhere else I need to be.

Today, seeing the heart of it all gleaming and sharp, Chicago was huge in a good way again. Downtown rolled out like a moving map, some steel and stone version of a giant circulatory system. It hummed. It shook. It was cold and bright and full of opportunity, and I needed to be reminded of that. Reminded of that way it looked to me when I first came here in, what? 1994?  1995? I moved in as the Bulls were winning yet another Super Basket of Basketball or something and the city was exploding. It was punishingly hot for the season and if people had anything explosive, they were out in the street lighting fire to it. The kid that drove us in, though he’d planned to live with us, dropped us off and split within the hour. I was stuck sorta living with my sorta boyfriend. I was sorta pissed about it. I asked sorta boy to show me where to get the free weekly and tell me how to get to the places advertising jobs. He told me that I was ‘as urbane as a potato farmer’ and that I ‘shouldn’t stare at people.’ In my defense, I was only staring because we were standing in a tap room at the time. If you’ve ever seen the crowd in a Chicago tap room in the morning, you’ll understand why I was gobsmacked.

I spent the days bus and train hopping then walking— loose and lost in a city alongside a German kid whose English was worse than my German and  whose sense of direction was beyond terrible. He had deep pockets-full of 5 Pfennig coins that were useless to exchange against our money at the time, but they worked as a 50 cent token at CTA stations. I took the German backstage at a Legendary Pink Dots show and he called Mr Ka-Spel ‘Mr. Bowie’. I never took him anywhere else except Taquerias. Big fan of both the oompah and the burrito, but kind of a dud as a friend/co-explorer. I was busy moving between Autonomous Zones and Skyscrapers anyway. I lived in a Puerto Rican gangmember retirement home and worked for some creepy Greek mobsters. I sweated and cried, got drunk, laughed, and sorta broke up with sorta boy. Got a job at a dyke bar, picketed the Democratic Convention, went gambling with French and Vietnamese cabbies, defended Family Planning locations, taught Anarchists how to make soap and herbal meds, saw about a zillion bands and became fully convinced that Chicago was the strangest, most wonderful place I’d ever been in the US. It might still be. It’s just that I lose sight of it in the true sense of ‘not seeing the forest for the trees.’

Nothing was won today, so there were no happy little riots in the streets, It was just a cold Monday. But Chicago was still there in all of her noisy glory. I took all of the stairs (I am still puffing from it!) to the 7th floor of Harold Washington and looked out over all of the fiction shelves, imagining where my books will go. What? I am totally allowed to do that, and it’s super easy to imagine when you’re lightheaded from the climb. A+ Highly recommended! Looked out past the big metal owls designed by the people who were the first to ever fire me from a job. I took an unnecessarily circuitous El route, twice through the neighborhood that evokes stories from Jesus’ Son in my incomplete memory.  Went into a super-fancy shoe store and bought boots. Walked far too long in the cold (not wearing the new boots, alas). Also ate a proper, if veggie hotdog on the street– I love these people, but they really need to accept sauerkraut.

I did nothing big. Just a lot of small things that I don’t normally have time for, that I needed to, or else I was going to continue feeling miserable here– all the love gone between myself and this place. Like I was stuck. This is still a wonderful place, but the challenge is to not let it lull me into one small corner of itself. That’s when I get stuck. Or at least feel stuck. I may still need to leave Chicago, but I no longer feel like I really need to GTFO. I tossed some coins (yes- one was a 5 pfennig piece ) and a little scrap of poetry into the river on LaSalle & Wacker. We’ve come to an understanding for the nonce. Chicago and I are good for another stretch. She doesn’t give a crap if I stare at the men in the tap room at 8 AM. They are there drinking Old Style to be stared at.

“A bus came. I climbed aboard and sat on the plastic seat while the things of our city turned in the windows like the images in a slot machine…” this and the title of this post are from one of the stories in Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son”. If my memory were better, I’d be able to tell you which one. 

•January 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

I certainly hope you haven’t come here looking for some sweeping resolutions or tales of some awesome success. If you did, then I am terribly sorry. I hope that your disappointment fades easily. That’s the weird pole I’m swinging right now– in a place that seems to either demand amazing amounts of grand action or uproariously ridiculous  VICTOLY.

Luckily, in the last 2 years I have learned just enough about affect tolerance to be able to say that I am having none of that, TYVM. I don’t want to swing on a pole. Historically, I land with a painful thud. I’m just going to sit here and chug away at my own version of baby steps, OK? It’s the only thing that continues to make sense as things around me crank up to senseless levels of noise.

This is a terrible first post of the year. In my defense, it’s been a rather odd year. I learned a lot of weird useful stuff. Much of it was really difficult to learn. Mostly I was left feeling empty. I’m right at the edge of being overwhelmed, like I emptied myself out so thoroughly that the world is rushing back in.

Again, “no thank you” to the tornado on one side, and a familiar abyss on the other. I’d like 2011 to be the year when I start seeing some return from the many hard lessons I’ve come into. Maybe if I just stay on this nice path in the middle… I’d like 2011 to be the year that I stop working in the dark.

I’d like to hear the first utterance of that problematic word: yes.


What I learned today.

•December 5, 2010 • 1 Comment

I don’t have an elaborate excuse for not having blogged in months and months and months. I’ve just been busy is all. Busy living, stressing, working, walking, teaching myself to write, etc.

But here’s what I finally let myself learn today:

Not every sentence needs to push a plot forward. That is total bullshit. Sometimes sentences are just poetry. Sometimes they’re a little path of breadcrumbs to another story.


I have things to do, paragraphs to lubricate 🙂 What? They get creakier than hardwood floors!

Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär und auch zwei Flügel hätt…

•August 1, 2010 • 3 Comments

So, about this revision… It’s been weighing on me like a ton of bricks. How, When, Is it even worth it?!* Brains, well, ‘brain’ has been wracked. Stress has been stressed. Not a small amount of flopsweat has issued forth from tired pores.

Last night I got it. Or at least I think I did. From a most unexpected place, too. I use, or try to use, a technique in visual art** that allows for multiple points of entry. It sounds more complicated than it is. Basically, it’s something that I picked up (another random point of entry!) from working with a particular old, yet still standard programming language. It simply means that a calculation, or piece, or text, if you will, is equally valid from any point in a sequence to the end.  Every element means itself entirely. Every function is true and valid.

For any math or programming geeks who might be reading this, yes…I’ve co-opted Reverse Polish Notation for the arts. If you cannot understand why/how, then please reread GödelEscherBach.

Anyway, the story is heavily steeped in music. Heavily tied (in my head) the two main characters. I thought that if I de-stabilized either of these two connections, I could see something new, or at least see another way in.  I changed a name or two and started sketching out to no avail. Then I changed the music…in quite possibly the most random act of the day…the some old Volkslied. Then it happened. I sketched with wild abandon for an hour. Then I looked at it, and lo– it wasn’t sketch, it was a whole new beginning for one of the characters! Now, honestly, there is no way in hell I’m transforming this into a story which will rely heavily on German folk songs. I wouldn’t do that to you. I wouldn’t do that to myself. And in the spirit of full disclosure: I was a little tipsy for the last half of the experiment.

But it was enough of a disruption to pull me into a different part of the ‘operation’…a different line in the command, if you will. And (hopefully) this will help me move inward and onward with a slightly askew perspective, which is how I prefer my perspective anyway.

Thank god I absorbed all of that random Art Song in my previous incarnation as a singer. I just knew it’d end up being good for something down the line.

*Side note: we need to glorify and revive the interrobang.

**Another side note: have not touched a canvas in over 12 months.

And, umm…just in case you’re curious: “Were I a little bird, and had two little wings, I’d fly to you…


•July 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

To Be Sung On the Water

Beautiful, my delight,

Pass, as we pass the wave.

Pass, as the mottled night

Leaves what it cannot save,

Scattering dark and bright.

Beautiful, pass and be

Less than the guiltless shade

To which our vows were said.

Less than the sound of the oar

To which our vows were made.

Less than the sound of its blade

Dipping the stream once more.

— Louise Bogan

Something’s turned, is turning. Something invisible and internal, leaving less than the sound of the blade dipping the stream. Rest assured, it’s quite loud from where I stand.

disorganized ranting.

•July 17, 2010 • 2 Comments

I’ve got four documents open in Scrivener. Each is less than a month old, and not one of them is more than 700 words long. One is just an outline, and if you look closely you’ll find it’s actually a recipe for baba ganoush with some plot-related notes surrounding it.

Internets, let me be honest: I don’t know what in hell is going on from one second to the next. Perhaps my brain has finally melted in the intense heat. Maybe I’ve gotten so out of the habit of writing every day that my reality has frayed and thinned out into a loose matrix of threads. I’m bored. I’m restless. Irritated. I feel like that psycho kid that I used to be who’d poke a hive of bees just because. That kid whose boredom always turned into something dangerous.  Ideas will not fully form. Nothing is stable enough. The stuff I’ve been cranking out is like an old boyfriend from high school, one you loved at the time, but haven’t seen in 20 years. You’ll smile and chat. Maybe even get a little nostalgic against your better judgement, but there is no way you’re hanging out with him again. I mean, crap, he’s got 8 kids, calls the president ‘Nobama,’  and still works at the Kwik Fill on Route 322.

There are complicated other feelings over something I’d thought it best to bag (the failure that was the sex, drugs, rock-n-roll & psychic emitter novel). I got some much appreciated crit concerning the novel the other day. It was kind enough not to come right out and say ‘JESUS FUCK, THIS IS AN ABOMINATION!’ but it still bothered me that this person (whose input and eye I implicitly trust) asked one simple question to which I exploded internally.* Regarding the novel itself, it’s been months of feeling so bad over how it turned out that I wanted to burn it, let it go. Chaulk it up as a flaming failure but a decent learning experience. If I was an alcoholic, I might have drowned it far enough down by now. Alas… This woman’s simple honest question brought it all back.

What are your current plans for (this)?

Truth is, I had given up thinking about that story’s problems. About what I wanted to do with it. About ditching some bits that didn’t work and re-doing the timeline entirely. About taming down certain elements and lifting others. And I had given up because it had broken my heart. It needed to happen. I had over-reached my abilities writing it. I had failed. It was done. Then all my friend had to do was insinuate that there should maybe be additional something… and suddenly I’m back to the beehive, stuffing it into a burlap sack and debating whose picnic to throw it into.

Do I go back there and utterly slash and burn the thing until something is strong and solid from the wreckage? Or do I put it back in the folder under my bookshelves and go on with the High-School Reunion of topics until something with a broad back comes along? Rargh! It might have actually been long enough that I could do it with fresh eyes, too. It’s the crippling embarrassment that my friend(s) read the hot pile of garbage that I might not recover from.

Full disclosure: Throughout the generative process, I was avoiding doing what most needed to be done. The beginning needed a trackback with a LOT of character integration. The kind of thing where the setting does all of the heavy lifting. An establishing shot, if you will. I couldn’t do it, so I pressed on. Of course the longer I typed without getting that beginning straight, the worse it got. The voice got swallowed up by Order. Because the order of things was never right, it just got louder until it took over completely: This thing happened, this hand lifted, these words slid onto the table, that voice choked because…because…you see where there this is going. It was a shame, and I knew it the entire time.

Total nightmare, but it least it taught me that I need some more fundamentals up front to even get relaxed enough to be honest with my voice. It taught me that unless I get comfortable paying attention to these fundamentals at some level, I will trip and fall. It’s not a new issue, actually. I can hear my college Poetry prof. in my mind right now (a man whose opinion weighed less in my mind than a feather) asking me with long drawn-out hand gestures “I need to know what is happening in this po-ehm…” But it’s different between prose and poetry. Poetically, I’ve found ways around it.

Fiction is a whole new bag of bees. But I am trying, with ginger plucking motions, to pick up that bag and run.

Honestly, I want to go back and drastically revise. I want to spend about a week away from my job and just hack it into better shape, then more casual time smoothing it out. I want to. I’m worried that I shouldn’t. That maybe I can’t. In the meantime, I will just keep poking the bag of bees with a stick. It’s only a little dangerous, and it gets boring pretty quickly, but eventually I’ll learn to have faith in the burlap, in the stick, in the venom inside all of those bees.

Moving on isn’t working out too well right now. I’m still looking for the right picnic to ruin.

*I don’t mean to discourage feedback here. My friend was brave in wading through that thing, and even if I didn’t love her already, I would still be incredibly grateful. And what she said was completely right. And completely helpful. And if she was here right now, I’d buy her a big mocha and hug her for hours.

before I come back from my hiatus

•June 3, 2010 • 3 Comments

here are some things I’ve learned about myself while trying not to write and utterly succeeding in not updating this blog:

  • If I’m writing every day, I often have trouble coming up with anything, but if I am not allowing myself to write, it’s all I want to do.
  • When I’m not writing, I cannot seem to come up with a good reason to stay seated in a cafe for any longer than it takes to finish my coffee.
  • The times I want to write most are when I’m exercising. It remains unclear whether or not exercise is an inspiration for me, or if my sudden urge to write is some kind of autonomic whinge having more to do with not wanting to stay on the elliptical.
  • I don’t know how I can keep calling myself a writer.

things I am not doing for the rest of the week

•March 31, 2010 • 2 Comments

(in no particular order)

  • looking expectantly at the mail (it’s only ever bills lately anyway)
  • saying ‘hawt’ (I don’t know how this started and I don’t care. It’s just odious!)
  • skipping my workout because my workday has ground me down (there are punching bags in the gym!)
  • using the punching bags at the gym without some kind of hand protection
  • making myself feel guilty that I am not writing when I am super stressed-out*
  • fantasizing about planting my garden in full knowledge that there is at least one more hard freeze coming
  • stepping on a scale
  • forgetting to floss
  • demeaning myself for something when it’s not my fault**
  • immediately censoring story ideas because they seem too familiar and/or silly
  • laundry

I wish I had more than a laundry list to serve up here, but times is tough. Also I am terrible at making promises so three days is about the best I’m going to get.

*this will undoubtedly resume come the weekend

**this will also undoubtedly resume its normal course very soon

self-soothing for the writer

•March 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

Today was not the best of writing days. Actually, today just in general was not a great day. The past week has been trying to say the least, and it really racked up inside me. Perhaps the single unifying theme of my week: failure of common compassion in simple situations– said failures thus making incredibly complex and unpleasant situations. Vague enough? Let’s just put it this way, then: at multiple points, my sanity could have been saved by a single person looking up (or down as it were) and saying something to the effect of “wait! I’m being a jackass! Sorry about that, I’ll pull back now.”

Unsurprisingly, that was never said.

I went out this morning knowing that I was mentally exhausted and pretty emotionally vulnerable, but really wanting to put in my hard-won finally free time and write even though my tank was empty from the get.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t really work out all that well.

Then I did something surprising. I sought solace. Instead of just sitting there beating myself up, I got up and went out into the library and paged through Seymour, An Introduction until I found what I was after. Yes, I felt bad and immediately sought out J.D. Salinger. Don’t judge! I was after this, which is a bit in a letter to Buddy from Seymour:

When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful. moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished. I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Good night…

I find a lot of comfort there. Especially while listening to this song at the same time:

Don’t get it? Listen closer and imagine that you believe in your heart that you’re a complete and utter failure. At the same time, be angry at yourself because you know that this belief is completely and utterly wrong. Hold both of these to be absolutely true and feel trapped between them because one person cannot contain those warring facts. Now shake your head, go for a little walk in the springtime snow and try again tomorrow.

You can be that big inside. How much more might you contain?

Wherein I cannot hold my liquor.

•March 12, 2010 • 3 Comments

After months of financial hardship, stress, frozen weather (inside and out) and that weird oppressive inertia things like that generate as a waste product, I find myself sated on my porch.

Today was a long series of hoots and clicks, but then as I came home there was the first crocus straining up full of hope. All green and purple and operating solely on some faith at a cellular level. And then music. Music pounding into my bones from just a few feet away. It went on for hours. I’m nearly deaf right now, and the cheap gin’s sure to leave me logy tomorrow, but it’s OK. My feet thud with the pain of not having danced in far too long. But I did dance, goddammit. Behind the reverb and the whine of blood pressure, David Beaird’s line echoes between my ears:

Life, she’s every bit as hungry as death.

Happy birthday to me: the hillbilly poet, the crackpot collection of scars and regret,  the newborn under the still, that tubby grub out in the garden, the little steel girl longing to rust in a downward slobber of tears.

I’ve been fighting myself for 36 years, but I am still here. Still alive. Still hoping for a new and proper target. Still wondering what the hell it is that I am meant to be doing here.

But still here.