Another man’s trash

On my way to and from school I used to pick up one piece of trash off the side of the road or in the grass along the sidewalk. I always double checked to make sure it wasn’t particularly goopy or sloppy or infested with critters. Because I wasn’t about to pick that one up. But other more normal looking trash, sure. No skin off my ass.

Then I’d throw the piece of trash away.

I did this every day for years. No one asked me to do this. No one even hinted. I did not feel controlled by guilt or fear. It wasn’t going towards my GPA. There was no one around to “catch me being good.” I didn’t do it to get into heaven. No competition.

I just did it because it made me feel good in my own little life.

I’m not sure when or why I stopped doing this. Maybe because it was no longer apart of my daily routine. I stopped walking to school and drove a car an hour to get to the city.

But I have a dog that I walk every day, so it’s literally that easy for me to get that groove going again. Even if it’s pointless. When I was a kid, it didn’t seem pointless at all.

I’ve been staring out my window at the same discarded UPS box for the last two days, and oh look, my dog has to pee.

Inside the Bird Box

Attention: I’m adding a new category to this blog, which is apparently still kicking. Anyway, the category is called: “Funny. At Least to Me.”

My reasoning for this category is simple. I’ve read enough of my own site, and I have to admit that the majority of it bores me, makes me sad or doesn’t quite get at the surface of what I need to say. As I’ve said in a prior post, this doesn’t necessarily bother me.

This blog was/is supposed to be a mad scientist/writer project, so there’s a lot of experimentation on here. Some meh things. Some pretty decent things. A lot of moving parts. It’s actually a breathing organism. Meaning, I edit, delete and rearrange things quite frequently.

I’m learning to live with this monster blog. It’s not so bad. But like I said: a lot of sappy, heart-heavy shit on here, which is truly me feeling my way around the dark. But I’m craving some funny bits lately, so I thought I’d dedicate some time to a category full of them.

So here’s my first Funny. At Least to Me story:

Today I made the grave error of sucking down an iced Dunkin Donuts coffee too late into the day. Though I’m a walking stereotype of a copywriter, I don’t particularly enjoy the taste of coffee. But I need my drugs, man.

So I drink coffee, then I can’t sleep. Sean, my fiancé, also can’t sleep. I suggest we watch something. Our long-limbed dog kicks the computer screen in her sleep to remind us of her presence. My fingers lightly graze her butt hole, and I shiver in disgust.

Sean and I shove our rude dog back into her place and settle into the unattached, dull plotline of “Bird Box,” the movie on Netflix that apparently everyone has seen.

Sean tells me: “I would never let you drive a car during a crisis.”

It’s a wonder that no one has killed themselves after watching it because this film is one of the biggest piles of cinematic garbage I’ve had the displeasure of seeing in a long time. I expect better from John Malkovich.

We’re watching the part where the little girl gets out of the rowboat, and I decide I don’t care. My neck is giving out. So I excuse myself and start up the old shower.

The warm water loosens some of the balls twisting around in my neck. My soap is something citrus. Very calming.

I forgot to bring a towel. A toothpaste-stained hand towel hangs from the towel bar. I open the curtain and call out to Sean to please bring me a towel. We have two bathrooms. He thinks I’m in the one I’m not currently occupying.

His face is the face of pure startled horror as he finds me in the bathroom staring dead-eyed at the door. I’m the Bird Box creature, a living nightmare. He clutches his heart and legit almost falls backwards over the second floor’s railing.

Soft

It’s a character I grew up listening to,
a silly face.

Funny how funnies always water
the night terrors down.

Oh, I’m not ashamed that I need them.

Don’t you dare tell me
what I need to be ashamed of.

Did you notice that?
Everyone telling each other
what shame to feel?

The world is a heavy sponge
filled with shame.

Someone wring us out.

We dream about former love
people, places, things,
love that almost was
then drown ourselves
with static versions of it.

Does anyone know anyone anymore?
Does anyone accept that the people
we love will inevitably change?

If I told you I was different
would believe me
or would you judge me by
my surroundings?

Please tell me there’s a few out there.
Are you out there
in the ethereal disconnect?

Create, just create,
that’s all I can think.
My concepts of children
are always half born.

I’m a chaotic machine,
but when you tear me open, you’ll find
fur, felt, lint, stove top stuffing.

I soak in the bath for hours
until I’m soft, soft.

Sundays at Valli

I love free slices of deli meat,
when they ask you if it’s cut
the way you like.

Today I ask for honey
roasted turkey.
It’s cold and salty.

When I was a kid my dad
always asked for a slice
of American cheese for me.
I never chewed,
let it melt on my tongue.
If we were lucky
there’d be freshly baked
chocolate chip cookies
by the bakery.
Mostly bird bits
in the latter parts of the day.

It’s one of those Sundays
where you pick up items
you don’t recognize
and ogle at their contents.

A jar of honeyed nuts.
Walnuts, pistachios
almonds, corn flakes
precisely aligned.

Smoked baby clams
in a can are $2.99.

Who uses the olive bar
and feels the need to
try seven different
types of olives?

And who among us
has braved cow tongue?

How do you cut a pomelo
and what citrus dream
does it taste like?

I put raw fruit
on the belt to avoid
using more bags
to bring home
to my cupboard of bags.

While we were away
at the grocery store,
our dog tipped over
the garbage can, sifted
through coffee grounds
and vegetable ends,
slurped up leftover
tomato sauce,
gnawed rib eye bones.

Containers licked
clean, now littered
across the house.

When our eyes lock,
her ears droop.

I want to be mad,
but she just wants
to try everything.

Blueberries

The blueberries were on sale.
Hundreds of containers sat on a table
in the front of the store,
over-ripening,
simply wasting away.

I placed the abandoned fruit in my cart.

They’re best when left in the freezer,
less mush, more tart,
but I’m eager to try them.

My bird helps me, picking up her deflated
piece and setting it down into her dish.
She clicks her throat in approval.
Her beak looks like it’s been stained with ink.

The whole world is not in my hands;
it’s a pale blue dot I roll between my fingers.

 

Through the Roof

The tree outside my window
with its decaying crabapples,
jaundice yellow leaves, and
the garbage bag the roofers
left behind, claimed by the wind,
now streams from a branch.

A black cape without an owner,
it waves goodbye to summer
when there was a man in every
window. They wore shoes
made of thunder, and they
stormed us from all sides.

Drilling, hammering holes,
peeling pieces off our home.
The deconstruction, a slow,
agonizing exposure, took days.

I awoke to knocking, sideways
picture frames, couches covered
in debris rained from the skylights,
and man crashing through ceiling.

A Room of One’s Own

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I’m lying on the floor of my office, watching the clouds outside my window upside down. This is the exact spot my dog likes to sunbathe in. I can see why she likes it so much.

Patches of light poke out from clumps of cloud. It’s been a while since I’ve made a conscious effort to watch the earth turn.

My eyes wander from crabapple to crabapple in the tree outside my window. I just Googled “crabapple tree”, and learned that it’s formally known as a Malu, and there are 55 different types of these trees. (Just to make you think I know a shit ton of things about trees.)

The crabapple tree begins to thrash in the wind underneath a restless sky. Jagged, gray clouds have begun to swarm and dominate the fluffy whiteness. The tree’s branches shake like violent pom-poms.

I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I’m only 15 pages deep. I probably won’t finish this book, even though I really like it. Honestly, I haven’t finished a novel in at least two years, but have started and stopped plenty. I’ve dog-eared the pages of this particular book at least three times. I enjoy it, and it hooks me every time, but so do news articles, long-winded social posts, and everything else.

For example, this morning I sat transfixed in bed on a BBC article about the hundreds of Caravan migrants at the Mexican border right now. I burst into tears, quickly swiped them off my face, and grabbed Egan’s national bestseller. Because this is what I do every time I’m overwhelmed by reality—I reach for fiction, and sometimes I try to create it myself.

I’m reading about a narrator who’s a kleptomaniac in treatment. She just brought a date home to her New York apartment. He’s excited that her bathtub is in her kitchen, and asks to take a bath after they fuck. He uses some bath salts that the narrator stole from her best friend.

I stop reading. I make a note in my notepad about the tub drawings I’ve been sketching every weekend for the last three months. It says, “Draw tubs in other rooms of the house.” Then I yell downstairs to Sean, who’s immersed in gunfire erupting from the television.

“I want to go to New York. All the writers are out there.”

“The writers for Red Dead Redemption are in New York.” Right now he’s playing Half-life II and counting down the days to the release of the game he really wants to play.

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“Let’s take a trip,” he says.

“Yeah.”

I stopped fighting my need to escape Illinois, because I realized that I can travel when I choose to or do creative things that push my imagination in my down time. And so far it’s been working. I have never wanted to live a life I need to escape. I moved so much when I was a kid, so I find the thought of moving around and trying to find myself in places outside myself versus inside, super exhausting.

I prefer warm socks. Wine. Fumbling around with a pencil in my office. Flipping one of my dog’s ears inside out or rolling it like a tortilla. In the comfort of a consistent home. You know, like a lot of people.

When I stop to think about it, this town home is the first place I’ve ever lived in that I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s not to say I hated anywhere else I’ve lived—I just didn’t prefer it.

The third floor apartment I lived in before my current home drove me crazy. I was literally stalking flies in my underwear late at night.

The kitchen was a joke. I couldn’t reach any of the pots and pans in the cabinets, and there were at least three fake drawers you couldn’t open. The cracks in the ceiling. The paint the landlord said he would fix. Then there were the groceries up three flights of stairs. The angry laundry room notes. And the shit in the closets that started to accumulate. I hate holding onto things I don’t need, things I begin to feel the weight of.

One day I was so mad that I swung open a closet and started heaving everything onto the floor. Sean was horrified at the wordless drama, but I was having an angry blast. It felt so good to see dusty games we never played, random pieces to things we didn’t even know existed come crashing to the floor, forced to explain their existence.

It’s not that I’m any less crazy, it’s just I feel more at peace here. If that makes sense. I have established my nooks. Sean sits in a spot on the couch downstairs that’s sunken in from his days of excessive gameplay. In my office, there’s a sign on the wall that says, “Create.” It’s colorful and corny. I found it in the two-dollar section inside Target. I realize it’s the only reminder that I really need. Every now and then, Sean and I call to each other, and then we resume our respective hobbies.

A car engine vrooms down the street. I call to Sean, “That sound is annoying. It’s just noise, not music.”

“It’s music to someone,” Sean calls back. And I begin Chapter 2 of my book.

Letter to 13 year old me

I want you to know that you were right before you felt the need to be right.

The dog in the picture that sits inside your arms is different now. She’s a longer, daintier half breed. People stop you on the sidewalk to tell you how pretty she is. A beagle on stilts.

But you don’t forget the now deceased animal of your past. Small with soft ears too big for his head. You once sat up all night cleaning the worms he vomited onto the couch. He was one of those puppy mill puppies that was broken when you got him, but you were prepared to love him anyway.

You were fiercely jealous when he curled up next to your brother at night. Once you snuck him out of your brother’s room, but he stumbled his way back.

The dimly lit space behind you was too snug for him. The neighbors complained about his howls through thin apartment walls. And your mom didn’t feel well enough to chase him around. So another family loved him instead.

You were a clash of color. A smorgasbord of thrift store finds. Musty, knitted sweater. Yellow beanie. Yellow like sunshine. Yellow like madness. You put every single one of those rings on in the morning as armor. You knew you belonged here.

Why do I keep coming back to you?

What is left for me to forgive? To criticize? What is there to learn from you that I haven’t already internalized?

Today you match everything except for your socks, because you can never find the partners. You wear an engagement ring on your middle finger. Your grandma’s watch on your left wrist. It has since stopped ticking. You remember the day it stopped ticking and felt a little more alone, until the next meaningful conversation rolled around, and you stopped paying attention to time.

It’s raining. There’s a spider outside your window. You left it there because you admired the amount of work and time it put into its web. Your dog is asleep on the couch. Your man is washing the dishes you filled with dinner. You had a good day. People see you. This is the present. This is the love you surround yourself with. It loves you back.

You were right before you felt the need to be right. Thank you for allowing yourself to be huge by nurturing the most fragile parts.

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Bath time with Frida Kahlo

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I’ve been thumbing through, “The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait,” for the past week or so. It appeals to me that someone can use both writing and drawing at the same time, in the same place, to capture their inner world.

I knew very little about Frida. Just that she had a sweet unibrow. And I could recognize her famous self-portraits like a lot of people. A few months ago I bought a pair of bottle cap earrings with quarter-sized portraits of her painted onto them. I wore them around a music festival I attended with a friend. A lot of people were delighted at the sight of Frida dangling from my earlobes.

All but one of the drawings in this diary I’m reading never made it out. It was her space to make sense of things. I had to read the translated notes because I don’t understand Spanish, but I still found myself examining her multi-colored writing. She wrote in colored pencil and left scratch marks and scribbles, as one would do with a pen. It’s nice to know someone as regarded as she had visible second and third thoughts, could allow herself to stumble on paper.

It turns out she was quite the writer too. Here is one of my favorite letters, one of the many written to her beloved Diego:

Diego,
Truth is, so great, that I
wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep,
or listen, or love.
To feel myself trapped, with no fear
of blood, outside time and magic,
within your own fear,
and your great anguish, and
within the very beating of your heart.
All this madness, if I asked it of you,
I know, in your silence, there would be
only confusion.
I ask you for violence, in the nonsense,
and you, you give me grace, your light and
your warmth.
I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors,
because there are so many, in my
confusion, the tangible form
of my great love.

Frida suffered from a lot of physical ailments throughout her life. She beat polio in her childhood, and in her later years was in a near fatal accident that left her physically impaired for the rest of her life. She had close to 35 operations in her lifetime, and was unable to bear children. Much of her art depicts misplaced body parts, parts outside her body. And a spiritual and sexual longing to reproduce. It’s no wonder she painted so many self-portraits. Despite her immense pain, she found a way to steal her own joy and find love in her life.

Many consider her to be Mexican hero, who appealed to Mexican women and more broadly to the plights of women everywhere, but a lot of her critics thought her work was intensely self-directed and incapable of moving past self.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” the artist once said.

Essayist Sarah M Lowe wrote, “Her work was deemed so excessively personal and self-referential that it is thought incapable of expressing universal emotions or the human condition. In time, her self-portraits, though they never cease to shock, have overcome some of the prejudices against women painting their own lives.”

I started drawing women in bathtubs a few months ago. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind the choice of vessel. I know that both baths and drawing calm me down when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the weight of things.

And baths are where some of my best ideas have come from.

In a college writing class I wrote a metafictional story about this woman who takes a bath and gets the idea to write the story of her life. There’s a talking shower head that is encouraging her to write and also shouting innuendos.

The woman rockets from the bath in a Eureka-like moment, water spilling all around her and plummeting to the carpet. She runs butt naked into her garage and wrenches out these old, dusty bins filled with her old journals.

She searches one of her journals frantically, dampening the pages with the water falling from her hair. She finds the passage that is supposed to help her define this moment of certainty. She realizes the passage is in fact not the missing piece she needs to solve her life story. She’s frustrated at her younger self for leaving such a poorly constructed record of her life. She scoffs and criticizes every line in that single passage then moves onto mocking some others. Finally, she flings the journal across the room.

Looking back at this piece, I realize it was about my idea process and the frustration I face in creation, particularly writing. When I have an idea, I feel that well-known mania, and I need to write. RIGHT NOW. URGENT HURRY. A lot of times I lose the feeling. Then I over complicate the idea. I rage about the hopelessness of memory. The idea vanishes as quickly as it comes.

Drawing these bathtubs was my way of coping with my issues with writing. I love these hours I spend shading, erasing, coloring. It’s obvious I don’t have formal training, but this doesn’t stop me from getting better and sharing my work. Putting my work out there has only made me feel braver.

For now, the bathtubs seem to be working. Drawing has helped me reunite with writing. I’d like the two to become friends. Like my girl Frida, I’d like a space where I can combine both worlds.

Tonight I walk with lightning

Lightning

My partner and I walk
in hazardous conditions;
a silent picture
before the thunder rolls in.

What I know about lightning:

The colors can be
green, blue,
abrasion red,
neon sign yellow,
pink as grapefruit,
bruises on flesh,
violet, cyan,
and flames.

Also,
no two bolts are ever
exactly the same color.

That negative charges
live in clouds
while we step
on positive landmines.

Oh, and lightning never
strikes the same place twice,
which everyone knows.

I want to know
if “lightning” is a verb.
Because “lightninging”
is slightly unsettling.

Most journalists say:
“there was thunder and lightning”
to avoid using the verb at all.

I hold my boyfriend’s hand,
as we speed up on uneven
sidewalks under slices
of sky carved by knife.

Rocks in pavement cracks —
They’re on standby,
raised like hairs.

Suddenly, I’m aware
of thunder in my chest.
Is it a first love flashback?
It’s been such a long time.

I laugh at such young girl
thoughts from a grown girl.

In my head I write this poem:

The first time I was in love,
 
I stood on a boy’s porch step
and waited for a kiss.
He had freckles
drip dropping
across his face.
I waited the whole night.
I didn’t lean or make my body
obvious as a sunflower
following sunshine,
 
or bowing to rain.
 
I just took a seat near him,
so close to his mouth
in my own mind.
 
And then it happened.
 
He smelled like metal
and trees all at once.
He kissed me slowly.
 
It felt like a naked swim.
 
The current was charged,
but failed to kill me.
 
I ran home in the rain.
My feet never slowed.
I could barely breathe
as I reached my door.
I slammed it behind me.
 
My heart was drenched.
 
I have forgotten how to pray,
but I wonder how many people
in the world right now
are asking for rain.

Or how many moms tell
their kids that thunder
and lightning are angels
bowling and striking pins,

or God is angry.

We round the next block.
A man and his shepherd
hustle across the street.

The sky lights up in sections
like different parts of a chorus.

The wind whines a warning
so we lengthen our strides.
My legs are short so I run
to keep up with my partner,
who has long swimmer legs.

By the time we reach home,
clouds have swallowed
the light rays,
shooting stars
bent like boomrangs.
Our love is a safe,
seasoned one.
I have to feel around
for a pulse,
but it’s there.
It comes in little waves.

I tell him I’d push him
out of the way
if a tree was struck.

I hope I would.

There’s a story behind
the cloud curtains.
It’s covered in veins,
flickering signals telling us

we’re alive until the clock strikes
in places where time ceases to exist.

We wait to feel the first drops
before the sudden downpour.

I want to smell the earth
beneath the concrete.