I shoulda been writing this morning, but I was dreaming of roadtripping instead…
Two separate but oddly similar issues have been converging for me recently. The whole #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen internet storm has been amazing to watch, though I haven’t had much to add to the conversation. I’ve loved seeing my friends share their stories, and seeing people struggle (and often succeed) to explain exactly why #YesAllWomen is important.
I wondered, though, how many men (nice men, men who really are #NotAllMen) were convinced. I wondered… until I realized that the lesson was one that I needed to absorb as well.
Gentrification is a very tender, but resonant, subject for me. About a year ago, Oakland Local (who still does great posts on the subject) and the Bold Italic ran an opinion series the topic, and I went back and forth on whether to add my own voice to the mix. In fact, there’s a blog post titled “Nothing New to Add to the Conversation” in my drafts, never published.
I realized this week that it’s more than the fact that I had nothing new to add — it was that my place in this debate is to listen, not to convince you that #NotAllWhiteWomen are gentrifiers. I had so many “buts” — but I was born in Oakland, but I was displaced myself, but I’m poorer than most of my neighbors, but, but, but…
Doesn’t matter. I’m still a white lady living in a historically black neighborhood, one that struggles with poverty and crime. I’m the privileged one in this situation, and I need to swallow all my “but”s and just listen. Just like #NotAllMen need to. Recognize your privilege, witness the pain on the other side, and speak only when spoken to. Or, you know, if you have to speak, do so without hijacking the conversation (like quietly on your own little blog where only your sister and one stranger in Ohio will see it 🙂 ).
I’ve become a bit afraid of this blog. Blogs have become places for a writer make her mark, places to gain a following. Places where your unselfconscious account of your adventures in coupon-clipping as a broke-ass rehab-graduate gains you a fan base that you never, in your wildest Pollyanna dreams, could have imagined.
I forgot why I started this thing in the first place. First, to break the spell of the blank page: a short blog post is the equivalent of a running push to a VW van with a dead battery. A kick in the pants that leads you to god-knows-where. Second, travel. Just that. Third, the joy of writing like no one is reading (my version of the old “dance like no one’s watching” maxim – ’cause I sure as hell don’t dance).
So. I am broke (1.4 years to debt-free!), and cannot travel. Instead, I dream. And plan. And remember.
First, the dreaming. I want to drive to Alaska. More about that in a future post, I’m sure. Second, the planning. More realistic travels: once I’m debt-free, I have researched and discovered that it will cost me $2.2K to fly to Boston, rent a car, drive up the coast on the cheap and camp throughout the glorious Acadia National Park, eventually finding my way to Prince Edward Island, where my sisters will be waiting, having flown in the night before. (This is gonna happen, man.)
Finally, the remembering. For a young(ish) person, I have some hella good trips to remember. Tonight, I was remembering Kentucky. I think.
On my Road Trip (always in caps), when I was 24, I had a long list of sights to see. I’d been building that list for years, culled from the burgeoning internet and RoadsideAmerica.com, and recommendations from far-flung friends, and amazing magazines like Weird New Jersey. My supreme college roommate Katy gave me a parting gift of a perfectly organized pendaflex with AAA maps of every state, and I turned my list into highlighted towns and cramped notes along the margins.
This worked exceedingly well. I was guided to the most amazing surprises. Since the lag time between planning and traveling was 1-5 years, sometimes I had completely forgotten why I wrote “White Squirrel Mecca” next to a town’s name, or what the source for that little tidbit was. It made for an infinitely surprising and awesome road trip.
Of course, it also made for a few lost places. I didn’t take the most comprehensive notes in my journal, and sometimes, all I have left are a handful of photos (like that of Little Guy‘s grave) and a hideously faulty memory.
Like this place. From the photos that surrounded it in my borrowed Kodak Advantix camera, I discovered it during my speedy (or speedy for me, which still meant back roads all the way) trip from Minnesota to Atlanta in December of 2003, where an airline ticket awaited me to take me home for Christmas. I have a vague memory of dogwoods, and the Blue Ridge Parkway… I think it might have been Kentucky. I’m pretty sure. Alfred somebody-or-other’s statues – an outsider artist who created these strange, life-size, concrete persons. From the remnants of paint on the faces, they may have once been bright and colorful. When I found them, they were gray and missing limbs, the greenery just barely being kept back from engulfing them.
They were fantastic. I had followed a strange trail there, not knowing what to expect, and the creepy, abandoned, kudzu-encroaching feeling of the place had not disappointed. As I wandered among them, snapping photos, I heard a howl. From out of nowhere, a wolf appeared. (Well, probably more of a husky-mix, but still. And he was actually ridiculously friendly – we tossed my mascot, Stripes, back and forth for ages, and he postured like a puppy.)
I have not the foggiest idea of how to find this spot again. For all I know, the kudzu has won the battle and the statues have been absorbed by the forest. Or my memory is just truly terrible, and it was actually Florida and the artist was named Jeanine Smith. Who knows.
But it doesn’t really matter. Yes, reality is a good basis for travel memories. But it’s how those memories impacted me, the bit that I took away from the trip, that really matters. (To me, anyway – I’m remarkable self-centered and don’t care much for the travel dollars that a blog with a following of 4 people could have poured into that small Kentucky/Florida hamlet.) And there was a longing about that place, a sense that time had either already forgotten, or would very soon forget, the spot, a sense that would have been ruined by my being able to locate it on a map and return.
Or so I tell myself. Because I really, really want to try and find it again.
I grew up in bookstores.
When I was eight, my family moved back to the States after a couple years on a typhoon-ridden island1
. Back in California, with its lovely beaches and high cost of living, my mom had to get a job to help us make ends meet. Enter Books West, the only new book store in the five-cities area. She worked there for 15 years, until the owners retired.
Books West was my house for 10 years. Instead of being a latch-key kid, my mom insisted I hop on the bus and come down to her work. I read every book in the YA section, half the books in the mystery and sci-fi sections, and a smattering of books from farther-flung shelves, all for free. We even got to take home some of the ones that didn’t sell, their covers torn off and returned to the publisher as “proof” that we destroyed them.
It was paradise. I had my favorite hidey-holes where paying customers wouldn’t disturb me. Self-Help was largely unvisited in our beach town2. I would read from 3pm-6pm (closing), then we’d swing past Round Table and grab dinner before heading home.
Over the years, they employed me from time to time (as did the amazing used bookstore across the way), but for the most part, my hours in that house were full of lazy page-turning and idleness. I loved it. There’s kind of a golden haze over that whole period in my life.
Toward the later years, when I was no longer an indulged child and had to actually buy the books I read, I came across a very expensive, very enticing novel3
. It was in the mystery section, and, unlike some of the silly you-solve-it books that I loved that began that section4, it was in fact a novel. But it didn’t look like any novel I’d ever seen; text inside changed fonts, colors, directions. White space was used like crazy. It was huge: 9x6ish, with at least a thousand pages5. I wanted that book like mad. But $21 was well outside my budget. I re-shelved it, and vowed to remember it.
And I did. Mostly. Everything but the name. Okay, I forgot almost everything about it. But it haunted me. I described it to other bookstore employees, in that maddening-customer way (“you know, it’s big and black and… just weird”), tried to quiz my friends with similar reading tastes, even searched the blossoming internet for sign of it (but “big black and weird” leads you down an internet rabbit hole that will never lead to a simple novel).
Years later, I finally found a friend who remembered it, who loved it. She gave me the name; I diligently marked it down. But the pull had lessened over the years, and I didn’t seek it out.
More years later, I fell into a leadership role for an apocalyptic book group. While soliciting recommendations from group members, one hesitantly mentioned this book. “It’s not really apocalyptic,” he said. “But it kinda is.”
All this is to say: I finished “The House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski today. And I feel a little bit more mentally unstable for having done so. But dang, was it worth the wait.
1 Oddly enough, my most vivid memories from the island are book related as well. During Super Typhoon Kim, we had to abandon our house and run to the neighbors, during what we hoped was the eye of the storm (it was not6). I tucked a Judy Blume book securely under my shirt before the run, and was nearly unconsolable when I discovered the wind had whisked it away. I was only brought back from tears when the neighbors shared their stash of Garfield books. After the typhoon truly had passed, there was great adventure to be had and much work to be done. My job was laying out the wet books from our house, squeezing out the water, and thumbing through the pages as they dried to get them to not stick together. Our library, even after we moved back to California, smelled like wet books for years.
2 Self-Help was also where I first discovered sex7, which led me to a treasure hunt throughout the store, particularly to the western section8, and taught me to refine my ability to scan for naughty bits.
4 Ken Weber, Five-Minute Mysteries (Running Press, 1989)
5 709 pages.
6 During the run, my mom was physically lifted up by the wind, and blown into the neighbor’s banyan tree. She broke a couple ribs. I don’t remember this – but my sister assures me it happened. What I remember was my lost book. I was kind of a shitty kid.
7 Nancy Friday, My Secret Garden (Trident Press, 1973)
8 Wesley Ellis, Lone Star #35 (Jove, 1985); pp 52-56, 74-75, 112-114.
I just had to get “Trust No One” off as the first post (especially since it’s been there for nearly a year)!
But seriously, that’s closer to my feelings today. I just got back from an annual volunteer trip up to Bolinas, where I co-run a weekend workshop for teen girls aimed at redefining beauty. We do a slew of activities examining how beauty standards get imposed on us and either end up shaming us or trapping us in a struggle to be perfect that we will always, eventually, lose. We talk about other ways to define beauty, then I do a photoshoot with each girl as she portrays a particular beautiful quality. At the end of the weekend, I put together a little ‘beauty magazine’ that they get to take with them. It’s a gorgeous setting, on a farm in Bolinas, with winding paths in oak forests, horses on the property, and the a view of the lagoon down the hill.
And I hold in rolling my eyes, THE ENTIRE TIME. Because this is good work, and important practice. Because some nugget, somewhere, might stick with them and make them think. Because it can’t hurt to have a supportive group come together and tell you you’re beautiful, all weekend.
When I was a teen? I would have been mocking this endlessly. I would have been rolling my eyes, and yawning. I’d heard all of it before. Yeah, yeah, it’s the media’s fault. Mmm hmm, impossible to achieve beauty standards. Whatever. You’re just saying this ‘cuz you’re ugly.
This weekend reminded me of the importance of holding that snark in. I’m trusting those girls to take what they can from this workshop, to listen and bring in the important points, and to appreciate what we created together. And today, I feel dang good about that trust.
I feel dang good about THIS, too!
Bad Ass Faeries: It’s Elemental is now available for pre-order! With a story by ME! Faerieland Local 2413 tells the story of a nickar water faerie on the railroad. I am so excited – I loved this story, and it actually kicked off more stories set in this world, some of which are still in my head, some of which may be popping up soon…
That’s all for today. Trust everyone. You’re beautiful.
I’m in the middle of a massive crafting project, and as a result, I’m re-watching all of the X-Files on Amazon Prime. As one does.
I’m approaching season 3 now, and I’ve finally realized where that nagging “this is ridiculous” thought in the back of my head is coming from. At the end of season 1, in an episode that originally aired in 1994, government whistleblower Deep Throat dies, whispering “trust no one” to Scully. Well, duh.
The entire premise of the show is that the government lies to us. Sure, there’s aliens, but that’s an afterthought, or a metaphor, or whatever. The show is about government, truth, and lies. But in a post-Patriot Act world, none of what they’re telling us is shocking.
In 1994, Deep Throat was a tragic hero. In 2013, Edward Snowden is a traitor. Their motivations were the same, but the world that has happened in between has changed the context.
I don’t have a strong opinion on Snowden, unlike many, many people on the internets. I do, however, feel sorry for him. Let’s take his stated motivations at face value (ignoring any potential desire for 15 minutes of fame or an inflated sense of importance): he wanted the public to know just what was going on behind closed doors.
I think he made a few assumptions that did him in.
1) The public does not care. While this is a pendulum, and I’m sure any day now there will be something horrible that the government does that will make public opinion swing back the other way, right now we still seem to be living in the shadow of terror. We’re still more than willing to look the other way while you scan our nubile young bodies at airports, and pull us out of line just because our names have middle-eastern etymologies.
2) The public already knows. Seriously, man, this is not a surprise. Of course they’re spying on us. The technology exists, and the fear I referenced above makes it the government’s right, nay, duty, to use that technology. We might have not known the details, but there is nothing shocking about the idea.
In 1994, there were a slew of people who wanted to believe, and a growing certainty that our government was carrying on some dark shenanigans behind closed doors. I was right there with them, as a moody, outcast teenager. I watched X-Files religiously, and even looked into joining the FBI so I could be behind those doors, sneaking a look at those ominous secrets.
Since then, the doors have been pried open a few times and, aside from a few squawks mostly from conspiracy theory nutjobs and the far left, they closed again without anything much changing on the other side.
There have always been shadow organizations operating outside of and around the law, but they always had a fear of the daylight. They knew that if their assassination plans reached the public, there’d be a national debate and furor. I’m terrified, more by what Snowden’s case implies than by what he actually told us. I’m terrified because I don’t see people being enraged that they lost their right to privacy, all without much discussion on the matter. It just kinda happened, and we’re all like, yeah, that sucks, but what can you do? Terrorists, you know.
(Also, I wouldn’t use this to prove a point, since it could prove equally that the dark shenanigans are working as intended or that they are completely misguided, but I find it hilarious that more toddlers killed Americans than did terrorists this year.)
Postscript: If you speak Spanish, this is another interesting intersection of Snowden and the X-Files: this video discusses the alien secrets he released at the same time!
I’m going to admit to two things that I’ve been shamefully hiding from most of the world, or at the very least, downplaying drastically.
– I’ve been pretty depressed.
– I have not been writing.
In my head, both of those are shameful, and to be hidden. (I know, I know. But my head goes where it wills, no matter what I try to tell it. Stupid, stupid head.*) And both of them contribute to the other, and not in a straightforward algebraic way. Each issue increases the other exponentially.
I’ve written through my troubles before. The kind of sadness and anger that you face when you lose a loved one, or a loved car, or you hate your job with a fiery passion, or you’ve just been mugged… that’s a funk I can write through. Writing helps me process the pain, and the pain does sometimes even serve as inspiration and fodder, as romantics all agree. The myth of the tortured writer, and all that.
But this. This feeling, the feeling that nothing in the world is bearing down on you, at least no more than regular, and so if you feel this shitty, it MUST be your fault… that’s a hard feeling to write through.
We are young. We are strong. We’re not looking for where we belong. We’re not cool. We are free. And we’re running with blood on our knees.
Oh, man. Mika just came up in iTunes. Did you know it’s really hard to maintain a funk through
some all of his songs? That’s the sign of a pretty awesome pop star, if you ask me.
Try it. Just try listening to this, and keeping a frown on your face.
Okay. Shit. Where was I?
So, I get down on myself. And I sink into the couch, and my WIP languishes as I re-watch Dr. Who, and the self-loathing mushrooms as I lose sight of myself as a writer, which makes me fear writing even more, which makes me even angrier at myself… **
I hate days like this. When it rai-rai-rains, when it rai-rai-rains. Baby, I hate days like –
Oh, god. Seriously, if you didn’t click the above video, just try it. Turn on some Mika, and see if you can keep a good, morose, whining rant going. Damn it, it’s hard. I may have just found my solution. I’m gonna get some earbuds and just listen to Mika, constantly. I might end up writing some cheery fucking bubble-gum romance shit, but I’ll be writing.
It’s nothing like a life we wanted, but you better move on, cuz I’m ready for more than this, whatever it is. Baby, I hate days like this. Caught in a track, I can’t get back, baby, I hate days like this.
Sure, it’s artificial. It’s a high that will soon burn off. If I use it properly, it doesn’t matter. I just need a kick; if the buzz gets me writing, then the credits start multiplying exponentially as well. I’m a writer again. And even if nothing else changes, what would you rather be: a tortured writer, or a depressed couch potato?
Which one of those choices gets you more action?
* Obviously said in Judy Davis’ best mocking voice. Stupid, stupid rain.
**Is there an artist out there who can draw me some self-loathing mushrooms? Because I’ve got a pretty clear image in my head, and it’s cracking me up.
I’m not terribly prone to road rage. It’s rare that I honk in anger, or scream and curse, and I think I’ve only ever flipped someone off once (after some careful deliberation). I think what I get is better labelled as Road Tics.
In other words, I gesticulate and make odd noises, but there’s very little anger behind them, and… well, they’re not the standard angry gestures.
Last night I was driving home in some mild (by Bay Area standards) traffic. A hole opened up in the lane next to me; I began to move into it, just as someone two lanes over did the same. We both saw each other, and moved quickly back into our own lanes, and then, when I saw the hole was still there and I was still positioned, I took the space.
As they passed me moments later, I could see the passenger had turned to face me and was screaming something. He didn’t look happy. Sort of idly, without even meaning to, I raised my hand with my forefinger, middle finger, and thumb extended… kind of like a gun.
I have no earthly idea why I did that. I wasn’t angry; I think I was even giving him a slight smile, in a “Hey man, it’s cool, we both did the same thing and were in the right, and hey, we even both saw each other in time to avoid a collision, aren’t we great drivers” kind of way. Collegial, you know? Not menacing or creepy — calming. I don’t think it had the intended effect. They fell behind, and stayed there.
I do this all the time. A hand raised in exasperation starts rotating, and turns into this weird “smell my breath” motion. One time, I barked. Like, a lot. Like, I rolled my window down and was barking at the top of my lungs at this woman who was trying to cut in front of me, across a solid line, after I’d been stuck in unmoving gridlock for the past 58 minutes, moving less than a half a mile.
Okay, so that one might have had some rage behind it. But she sure didn’t know that; she just looked mildly annoyed, then massively confused. And sped away from me.
Now that I think about it, I think these tics are pretty excellent survival mechanisms. They keep people away, like bright colors and spikes on lizards, without escalating the rage of any of my fellow highway drones. If I had any control over them whatsoever, maybe I could use them in other areas of my life.
“I’m sorry, the grant deadline is when?” *patting my head, flaring my nostrils, and sticking my tongue out* “Oh, great, four weeks. I thought you said four hours.”
“You need a break?” *ripping open my shirt, biting my lip, and blinking rapidly* “Oh, we should go on a mini-break. Great idea! Paris, on you? Sweet.”
“I’m sorry… did you say marry?” *thumb to nose, fingers waggling madly, and off-key humming* “Oh, no, right, merry meet back to you.”
Oh, I had good intentions today. I woke up before seven, ready to jump into the blank page. But since I woke up so early, I decided there was time for a bath. Then, after the bath, I had to make tea. Then, I began my pre-writing ritual of clearing out my rss reader, and ‘warming up’ on my blog.
It is now almost nine. I have an appointment at 9:30. That means I spent over two hours on all the pre-writing crap, just to get to the warm-up stage. More upsetting is the fact that I seem to be doing this more and more. I think I just need to move the writing part up in the ritual. Before my eyes open, I should be warming up here, on the blog, letting the words flow while my mind is still muddy and doesn’t know what my fingers are doing. Hey, that’s my theory of exercise: get the running shoes on and be out the door before my brain knows what hit it.
I sabotage myself, I know. I always feel like I have the best intentions, but I’m pretty sure I’m fooling myself. If I had wanted to write today, I would have written. My subconscious intentions are crap, and they all want to bathe.
Right. I still have 35 minutes. I’m not going to let my subconscious get the best of me.
Yesterday, I drove a speedy little Fiat into the Santa Cruz mountains, the light filtering through the redwoods and through the sun roof onto my head, in order to take a wilderness skills class that taught me how to walk stealthily through a pile of leaves in order to sneak up on a deer and smack it on the ass.
This post is not about that. Because I never feel compelled to write about the actually interesting things in my life, it would seem.
Instead, this post is about community colleges, and my love of them. On my way to the citycarshare pod to pick up my fiat-for-the-day, I passed Laney College. There’s nothing in particular that I can point out as appealing about Laney (though I’m sure some of my alum and staff friends there can fill me in), but it just made me happy to walk onto the campus for a moment.
It’s because it plain feels like a community college; the look, the smell, the aura, everything. The buildings are of that old-but-not-old-enough-to-look-prestigious era, you can peek past smudgy windows into sparsely decorated rooms, and the giant cement steps and attempts at a ‘quad’ clearly demonstrate the sweetly aspiring dreams of the designers.
Aspiration. That’s why I love community colleges. They remind me of my time in high school, when I would visit PCPA at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria (bad idea!) and dream about my future as a Broadway star. Or that other time in high school, when I spent my freshman summer in a young writers’ program at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo, dreaming about my future as E.L. James.
So there’s a little of the bittersweet in there. Sweet aspirations, rarely grounded in reality. I kinda want to pet those concrete walls and murmur words of support. “Oh honey, it’s okay if you never MAKE it. I love you just the way you are. You don’t have to be an ivy leaguer to deserve love.”
Cuesta may soon be closing, and the thought makes me incredibly sad. That campus in particular always felt full of dreams, and, in a less ethereal vein, also had amazing programs and faculty. If the school closes due to a poor reaction to a funding cut, it will be a spectacular loss for the community… and for the future of dreaming.
* Possibly tied in (but more likely just relating thematically) to my love letter to average scholastic achievers: today’s discovery that my coworker’s high school had two alumni who are now Nobel winners, while my school’s claim to fame lies in teen heartthrobs. Cuesta’s alum list is also way more impressive. Jake Shields! Dude!