A Room of One’s Own

44421677_301415193920417_249787231986778112_n (1)

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.

Library trippin’

Those trips to the library on Sunday. Oh, ah, yes. I always come prepared with a list. Jump onto one of those old clunky computers and scroll through the online portal. Most of the ones I want are either at another location or are checked out. 5 copies of “Hillbilly Elegy” gone. Jeeze. Share with me, ya book hogs.

Yes, I know Kindles and Amazon exist, but I prefer to get lost, you know? I’m not one of those people who dims the lights and masturbates to my favorite Smell of Old Books candle; I have limitations, and I’d like to think I’m a sentimentalist for the right reasons. But I do like books that have I trek for and find myself. Tis a noble quest in my opinion.

This haul was not pre-established whatsoever. These are things I ran into, and here you will find my justifications:

  • “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules,” edited and introduced by David Sedaris. This was my audiobook selection. I drive an hour to and from work every day, so I find it helpful to pop in a good read to prevent me from causing a rage-induced collision on Touhy Ave. I prefer things that make me laugh. I’ve been through all of David Sedaris’ books, which are especially funny in audiobook format because he reads his own material, and therefore knows exactly how to hit the high humor notes. This compilation is not Sedaris’ work, but they are some of his favorite writers who he deems to be essential to the short story canon. I am not an absolutist, but I trust his judgement that all of them will be good.
  • “Little Labors” poetry by Rivka Galchen. Saw this in the new poetry section. No real reason why I picked it up. Maybe because the cover was orange? I don’t know. From what I found out about Rivka is she’s from Canada, and she won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. I’ve never heard of this award, but it sounds legit enough.
  • “The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing” by Danell Jones. I wanted Virginia Woolf’s “Flush,” but I settled for a text that was written with her in mind. You know, it’s amazing that the library owns text after text of literary criticism for some folks, but not all of the texts that these folks actually wrote. Like Jesus, if you are going to have 40 books about Virginia Woolf, you should probably also house every single book she ever wrote. Just saying. I miss being in a writing group, so writing group exercises inspired by the dark lady sounds good to me.
  • “The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost” by Donna Freitas. I saw this on my way to the checkout counter. Seems relevant. And I’ve been spending way too much time on social media and feeling sorry for myself and the world while doing so, so I thought I’d read a book about why I might be so compelled to do so. I’ve already read the first chapter, and I’m already comforted by it. Social media is changing the cultural landscape as we speak, and it’s happening so fast that people don’t necessarily know how to process. In the meantime we’re building our usual weird human norms around it–what we can and cannot say, how much stock we put into our image, etc.
  • “Writing from Within: A Guide to Creativity and Life Story Writing” by Bernard Selling. Creative nonfiction is my jam, but lately, I’ve been feeling this constant distancing. And also my psychotic, helicopter parent of an internal critic won’t let me say anything. I need some written reassurance that I can write about things that hurt. It gives plenty of tips and encouragement that I’m looking for right now.
  • “People I want to Punch in the Throat” by Jen Mann. This was one of those judge-a-book-by-its-cover finds. I started cackling in the 800s the second my brain registered the title. Like who says that? A man standing a few feet away from me quietly scooted over to the next aisle. I just had to have this book. What a title. And it hasn’t disappointed me. Such a sassafras of writer. I sat down for about an hour to read this book. I tried not to disturb the girl sitting at the table in front of me who was doing her chemistry homework or something. I don’t know if it was chemistry; I saw a lot of numbers and my eyes glazed over. She had red hair and spaces between her teeth, which I could see every time she stopped working on her equations to smile while reading a text on her phone underneath the table.

Welp, there you have it. Another Sunday in the books. It’s kind of sad really, the sight of me waddling up to the checkout line with a teetering pile of books. I will fully read maybe two of them. It’s 2017, and I have good intentions.

Good intentions lead to late fees. The second I stepped up to check out my books, the squirrely man behind the counter told me there was a hold on my account because I owed them 28 dollars and I had lost a book. I told the woman at the other counter that I knew for sure that I had returned Margaret Atwood’s “True Stories,” though I could imagine myself stealing the book because I liked it so much and footing the “lost item” fee of 5 dollars. The woman looked a little too relieved when I told her I’d go check the shelves myself for the book, and sure enough I found it.

I told the squirrely, shy guy behind the counter that I would be better this time. I would bring my books back when they are due, I assured him. I’m sure he could care less about this information.

Early morning read

I set my clock early this morning so I could read. I slunk into my slippers, uncovered the bird and told her good morning. She squawked her annoyance, but then puffed up and settled into the warmth of her feathers.

I sat in Sean’s spot on the couch because it’s cozy and worn from his habitual video game play. My eyes still wore a foggy film of sleep residue, but I propped myself up and willed myself to be awake.

As my eyes began to hunt the text, I realized I didn’t have to look for mistakes and inconsistencies. I could just read. I burrowed into my book. It was lovely.

I edit things all day, so I spend a lot less time reading for sheer enjoyment than I ever have. It’s funny that when you have a job and want to do it well, you almost take on the persona. I am an editor, but I’m so much more. This sounds like a common sense statement, but it’s important for me to say it, for me to come back and read it over.

Lately, I’m hyper aware of betraying myself, of squashing my artist, of forgetting where I come from, of becoming all ego — personally and professionally. I think most people, especially young people, have an issue with this balance — how to believe in yourself but not fly too high. Some people think there are no limits, and I have never been one to believe this. We are filled with limitations. And that’s okay. That’s the beautiful part, right?

I received a mug as a birthday gift that said: “I’m silently correcting your grammar right now.” It’s actually my favorite mug because it has the perfect weight, coffee distribution, and lip to drink from, but that’s  besides the point. The point is, I don’t necessarily identify with the words on the cup.

I have a secret for you: I don’t cringe at the sight of bad grammar or misspellings. But yes, I absolutely notice them, especially if I’m the one making them. I have high standards, but I try my best not to glower, not to make others feel small.

Anyway, there are worse things to have than bad grammar. Like a rotten heart or a closed mind.

The book I started reading this morning is called “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. A friend recommended it to me. I’m about 40 pages in, and I’m already digging the simple-Jewish-man-travels-across-the-world-to-study-Buddhism vibe to it.

This book is a challenge for me. Though I would call myself a spiritual person, I don’t tend to take pragmatic advice on the soul or choose to read the equivalent of a car manual on spirituality (contradiction, anyone?). This text is far from that. I find it inviting, so much that I set my alarm to read it this morning. I will have more thoughts to share and quotes to pull from it eventually (or not, maybe I will read for the sake of reading), but this is what I have so far.

I’m glad I woke up today.