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.

I feel like a Linkin Park song

Sometimes the noise in my head is so loud I just have to say fuck it and surrender to the tears that are pushing and shoving their way through my tear ducts. They all want a turn to star in the show. Me, me, pick me, Sarah. Cry me! I’m next in line.

Today I cried in my car parked in front of a Subway. I’ll take the 6’’ inch turkey with chips, and a cup full of snot, please. There was this guy in a dark Mustang parked next to me who looked startled, then squeamish—like he just saw a squirrel get run over, and he was trying not to stare directly into the pool of glistening guts. So warm and gooey.

Subway is long gone. I’m home alone. I reactivated, then deactivated my Facebook at least five times. I tried to change my profile picture to something less morbid, less “feel-sorry-for me.” But then again, I don’t know what face I could possibly make to convey all of what I’m trying to say. It’s known in my circle of friends, co-workers, and family that I’ve shied away from social media and why. After fumbling around on Facebook again and again and failing to speak up for myself, I went to the gym.

The gym is one of the few routines—that and my beautiful drop of delicious sunshine a.k.a writing group—I have to my name. Zumba always makes me feel GOOD. Like I’m one sexy, strong mama with a slammin’ pair of hips. Like the flaming-bird-spirit-child I’m supposed to be. If I could stare at my ovaries in the mirror during Zumba, I would. I would ask them out on a date and get to know them.

And then the adrenaline dripped like a hose that’s just been turned off. And here I am. Alone with myself. It doesn’t help that my pits smell.

It’s 10 p.m. right now, and I’m forcing myself to write. Even though I detest writing when I start to dip this low.

The truth is I don’t want to sound like a Linkin Park song.

I’m sorry if you like Linkin Park. I like Linkin Park, too, actually. Back in the day, Meteora was my jam. But for some reason I thought I was light years away from Meteora in terms of my life. I thought I only had room for Bob Dylan, for Iron and Wine right now.

It’s not only the lyrics (Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit, and Easier to Run, if you want to get all technical about it). I also feel like I’m made of Chester Bennington’s voice. I’m the hairball covered in shards of glass scraping on your tongue. I’m like swallowing a blister that explodes in the back of your throat. I guess I just want kind of want to break things. Or run.

I told everyone that I need some alone time because I truly do. I told them because I’m not one of those people who just disappears. My brother tells me, “Dude, Sarah, you sound sooooo emo right now.” One of my cousins thinks I’m pulling some bomb ass Edgar Allan Poe shit. My friends and boyfriend support me, but linger in the shadows just in case I need anything. My parents have no idea what planet we’re on, and that I live in it.

I’m not blaming my parents for this. Even though they have a lot to do with things. In fact, I have this ancient biblical-like scroll I could pull out and read to them. But I have never blamed anyone for my problems, and I’m not about to start.

My wanting quiet time is supposed to be a good thing. I set out to work on my writing, settle the racing thoughts, figure out where I want to go next. YOU ARE HERE on the map. But I’m having a rough time with it because in the silence, I’m finding yesterday’s news. It turns out I’ve been hoarding newspapers for years.

I’m reverting back to the gurgling, black pit of insecurity and helplessness that we so cherish in our adolescence. And the worst part is I’m not okay with that. The steaming bitch inside me is not onboard with letting me feel this all out. Even though “feeling this all out” is a part of the plan.

Because the same hustler, the same back patter who has been working with me, inside me, for years is also the one handing me my ass, my severed head.

Here’s what you don’t learn sitting at a desk or find staring at you in the middle of the notes you wrote in your college rule notebook: sometimes you sweat blood to get out of the dark cloud of your home life, you push yourself, you come ploughing through the other side—and you realize that it kind of feels the same. Except there’s nothing there. There is no broken home, no screaming match, no violence on the other side. The nothingness itself is what eats away at you.

You move into an apartment. You feel the wind in your hair of being on your own. You find a full-time gig, a window to your career, something to do with your time. You have someone to share it with, who understands what it’s like to be a 20 something on your own in 2014, someone who will hug you through it all. You think, I’m ready to begin my life, but wait…

And suddenly, IT is there. IT never left you. IT rings like a bell reminding you what you left behind. (Speaking of Poe) BELLS BELLS BELLS; to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells. There’s nothing touching you. You can’t feel it on your skin, taste it on your tongue. You try like it’s your religion to phrase and re-phrase it the best way you can. You try to outrun your past, and you find it here waiting for you—sleeping in your bed, sharing a cup of coffee in the morning with you. It says, “hey man, remember me?” with a nod of its head. It tells you fuck off in between red lights.

My parents are cropping up in casual conversations. It’s almost how I introduce myself, how I recap my weekend. How was your weekend, Sarah? Oh you know, my mom wants to live in my living room. The usual. How do I tell people that that she calls me weekly, pleading in pain, while I’m at work? I don’t. Because that shit doesn’t fly, dat shit don’t pay rent. Sarah, please help me. Please help me, Sarah. And I feel ready to cave, to just give it all up. To move back into the cigarette-stained apartment, to suffocate again with her. All in the name of HELP.

If you read my pulse, you’d find my family there. If you listened close enough, you’d hear something bleating like a half-wounded sheep. I used to have this on lockdown. For a long time FAMILY was the one genre of honest writing that was off limits for me.

I desperately want to ebb and flow in front of my siblings. They after all lived through the same thing. But I’m too stubborn to show them, too scared to get black ink all over their clothes. My brother is a young dad now. He’s found a way to outsource his rage, through scream-o music, and my jaw drops in awe whenever I hear him scream. It’s thrilling to me—like the feeling I get on the Giant Drop. My sister has a new boyfriend she’s really pumped about. And apparently she’s what the kids call “a boss” at her job. The other one is going to school after silently digging holes into herself and straggling from house to house for years. I worry about them as often as I click on a link, as I type a sentence, as I turn a tight corner. I also well an ocean of pride for them because I know what it takes. It takes everything just to move an inch in the muddy waters of poverty, of pain you wouldn’t believe even if you lived it. Because trust me, I don’t believe my eyes.

Being the first to graduate in your family sounds like a big fucking accomplishment. It is, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something so pathetic about coming out the other side alone. There’s no one at the finish line to share this with me. I left people behind. When I come back to visit, there’s this artificiality, this distance, this need for them to understand me. I miss my people. I need my people. But I’m afraid to get close.

Let’s get back to Linkin Park, and why the bitch inside my head is not okay with me feeling the music. When I was 13, this was expected. I just let myself feel whatever I had to feel, and then moved on. Mostly, I felt angry. I felt suffocated. But as soon as I opened the sliding door, when I left the dingy, cigarette stained apartment, shit was funny again. I turned to my friends and teachers; I didn’t push them away or push the button on self-sabotage when my open life was staring me in the face.

Sometimes I wish I could just inject funny into me. I used to see directly past pain, and a lot of that had to do with my ability to open my mouth, hear the sound come crashing behind my tonsils, and laugh with my entire body. My defenses are down. I’m so good at making myself laugh, at laughing at myself. But right now my humor sounds like a radio playing muffled music, short-circuiting under water.

I try to move on, but really what I’m doing is distracting myself, over stimulating myself—with the Internet mostly. With the opinions and thoughts of everyone else, so I don’t have to be alone, truly alone. At home and at my desk, I’m living in this hyper sensory bubble. When something happens—not just to my family, to people I hardly know or don’t know at all—the bubble I’m living in zaps me. My hair stands up straight from the electricity. When a journalist is beheaded. When a comedian kills himself. When an entire population is led to an edge at gunpoint. I suddenly can feel that, too.

I feel like a dandelion that’s being plucked over and over. When did I become such a delicate, little flower?

And then there’s the whole what am I going to do with my life thing that plagues us all. I figured out a long time ago that I’m not okay with doing something that isn’t meaningful to me. What I really want to do depends on if other people think I have anything legit to say. It has to smell new, feel new. It can’t be covered in chocolatey clichés. For the love of god, I want to be a writer. A WRITER. I usually follow this with a punchline, chortle, a snort. Why of all things, does it have to be that? Why couldn’t I have picked something else to fall in love with?

I don’t even know what kind of writer I want to be. My boyfriend tells me I need a niche. Hey babe, you’re good at movie and book reviews. Hey babe, you love poetry. I know I need to narrow things down, too. The trouble is I have this professorial snob in the back of my mind who is wagging HIS (because let’s face it, most known writers are men) finger at me, telling me I’m not smart enough to be a writer. He speaks in a British accent of course. He asks me what I know. I tell him I’m not sure. And he laughs a merry laugh that only a well-esteemed, well-accomplished old, white man can.

I know a million people around me who are feeling the flimsiness of being a 20 something in 2014. As my best friend said to me last night in between my large gulps of air, our parents, people before us, don’t know what it’s like now—to graduate from college, to write a resume, to encourage yourself, to find a job, to learn the ropes of a new one, or to be stuck in one. It’s a miracle that I still have my best friend, that I have friends to share these raw sentiments with.

In a sense, this is why I’m sharing all of this. I know I say I want alone time, but this does not mean I’m truly alone. I know you are on the other side feeling some of these things, too.

Here’s the advice that I’m telling my wide-eyed, sleep-deprived self this morning. (It’s no longer 10 p.m. I woke up. It’s 7:30. I have to be at work at 9.)

The advice I tell myself is nothing fancy. It doesn’t wear designer clothes. It’s what I tell everyone else. Here it goes: just roll with it. If you feel pain, fucking let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Girl, don’t push it down. Where do you think that shit goes? You can’t simply have a bowel movement, and out it goes. Wrapping up insecurity and pain and stamping a frilly bow on top of it all is not the way to go about things. It has never helped anyone. Hiding breeds bad adults. Plain and simple. Say something. For fuck’s sake, wake up, speak up. Turn around and look. We’re all bleeding around you.

Irene

Back when I still shelved books for far below a living—well, read books or whispered about them with my co-workers between the stacks—I knew this peculiar bird of a woman, Irene who worked in adult reference.

Irene always wore homemade things—earrings of two crooked figurines woven from sharp wire, a speckled feather broach with a flimsy emerald in the middle, or a sweater patterned with different shapes and colors of eyes. She was like one of those storks you see along the highway that juts out from a pond on two long stilts, with a brightly colored bill that doesn’t blend well against the back fall of soft, pastel greens.

But there Irene sat behind the reference desk, attempting to bleed into invisible reeds. She was always surprised when a patron approached her. “Excuse me, do you think you could help me use the print card?” a patron would ask. In her thick-rimmed glasses, her eyes readjusted as if light was shined directly into them, and she looked desperate to fly.

It must have been hard for Irene to thrive eight hours a day in a building completely surrounded by glass on all sides. Under the green, limey lights, there were books filled with songs and rhythms sung by birds of paradise, the poets she idolized.

I remember taking big fish gulps of air in my car before coming into work. I did this a lot to prepare myself for a long silence that was usually punctured with the unsure, rampaging thoughts of a growing person. Once, I saw Irene’s face from the employee door window. There was no color in her cheeks, and her eyes welled wildly, bulging with whiteness. Her gray face staggered back and forth, and her bottom lip trembled. She looked beyond seasick—more like she just discovered a corpse, or something worse. Though her stare lingered in my direction, our eyes never met.

Irene had disappeared before I had the chance to meet her at the door. Once I clocked in, I rushed over to Irene’s desk on the other side of the library. I demanded to know what it was she saw in the window, and why she was staring like a seer with a horrific vision. She was confused, like I just informed her that I had seen her sleep walk. After a long time, she seemed to come to her senses. She said, “I didn’t even know you were working today—you aren’t even on the schedule. I had this weird feeling. I could feel you all the way from here behind my desk. I just knew you were here.”

One time she discovered me writing a poem in the break room. She made a strange cooing sound and cocked her head sideways as if to hear the words I scribbled onto the paper. And once again our eyes missed one another’s. She looked like a little girl who wanted to share a secret, but didn’t know how. Irene told me she tried writing for herself, but she stopped because she got a “little carried away.” Somewhere along the way, she misplaced something and had to retrace her steps. By the time she went back to her trail, the breadcrumbs were all gobbled up—by birds if I were to guess.

A few years later, I heard Irene had a run-in with death. She never married or had any kids. She donated one of her kidneys to a man she hardly knew. Her body seemed to know it was missing something and put up a fight. I have a hard time imagining doing the same—offering my body for harvest while it’s still alive—to help a stranger.

These days I hear Irene is lighter, even flightier than before. She’s somber when she stares out the windows. I hear she has begun to write again.

Green pain

When I was a kid I never noticed things like sunflowers pointing toward the sun. I realize now it’s a little creepy – like they have a soul or something. Maybe there was once a time when I sat for long periods and was okay with being myself on some random stump, or rock, or hill.

I used to watch my mom writhe in bed, wriggle like a worm set on fire. There was a music to it. Professionals couldn’t agree on the tune. It meant something different to each white coat. A leech, maybe. Wires switched around or exposed? Suppose there was something swimming around in the abyss of her DNA. They all murmured something different. I used my imagination to color in her pain. I wore it like a new summer hat. I closed my eyes tight, imagining electric shocks pricking my vertebrae or icy cold fingers wrapped tight around my spine. I imagined what it was like to see nothing coming. To feel NOTHING knock me off my feet, or turn off gravity.

My dad’s pain was just as tough to wrestle. I imagined playing hide and seek with him and never finding him. Though it’s been 15 years, he still suffers for the dents in the furniture, the empty cans in the storage locker. I can see it in his face just before he changes the subject or cracks a joke, when he forgets birthdays. Sometimes when I take swigs of drinks, I imagine it’s like kissing him on an open sore on his mouth.

There’s so much noise out there. I contribute to it. I’m just one mechanical wave in an auditory ocean made of vibrating waves. There’s so much noise. People yell over roaring engines, explosions, over a soundless cyberspace that’s just as loud as everything else. The internet’s echo is loud enough to wake me from a sound sleep. But pain is still the loudest of all. And yet, I wear it in the winter, wrap it around my neck like a scarf to keep me warm.

I want to feel the pain, so when that crinkle in the face we call a smile happens, I’m there to see it. Not take ownership of it, just see it. Like a solar eclipse or the sighting of a humpback whale. There’s something insanely beautiful about smiles poking holes through sadness.

When I was a kid I used to spin around in circles and just see a blur of grass. Everywhere, it was green. I was dizzy with green. Maybe I would have realized that if I stopped spinning for one second, I could notice the calmness of things. I could pick out individual blades of green.

Success in solitude

Thoughts+Expression = Success

I’m beginning to think that maybe solitude is the success.

I don’t want money. Growing up, I was welfare poor. That’s right. I said it. Now, even though I’m inching up in life, I’d rather be welfare poor than rich without morality and concern for other people who are hurting below me. I get the concept of work. Sometimes. But I never really understood money.

I don’t want to be the smartest person alive, though, that’s tempting. To be that person who can rattle off knowledge or pull it from her pocket. People need to know more things than other people. Though I’m far from immune to this tendency, I know deep down that I don’t need to collect facts, stockpile knowledge to make others feel ignorant, stupid, LESS than me.

I don’t want a big house or to discover the American dream life, the “home is where the heart is” bullshit they feed you for breakfast. I never belonged in any home anyway. AND THAT’S OKAY, I’m beginning to realize.

THIS. This is what I want. Mommy, daddy! Buy me this for Christmas! Put this in a box and wrap it up, eh?

The following passage is from Pablo Neruda’s collection of writing found in Passions and Impressions (1984). It was originally posted in La Nación in 1924. It’s an introduction of some sort to how he saw a collection of his poems (his life, really) all together, which he admits is impossible. “Tying them together, interweaving them, never finding what will endure—because it does not exist.”

I had to type it up word for word because this doesn’t exist on the internet apparently. I guess this is what happens when you say fuck the internet to go sifting through the library instead. You find gems.

This piece is about self-expression, creation, and finding yourself in solitude. It seems to say you can set yourself free when you can pinpoint your expression. You don’t have to define yourself, confine yourself to anything, but if you have something that pulls passion from you, and you know it, it’s worth muddling through yourself. Obviously, muddling through and translating it into a piece of something you can see, touch, hear, get others to relate to etc. takes time and pain. A lot of QUIET time. Quiet time is especially hard because of how noisy everything is. How many interjections there are rolling around the internet, the 9-5 life, and in so many other places. The pain comes from isolation, from being absent from other people’s lives. This is hard for me. Maybe it’s hard for you too.

Take a read. I have put in bold italics the things that I think are worth re-reading again. Re-reading sentences over and over again lets things sink in more for me. Enjoy!

“Exegesis and solitude”

“I have undertaken the greatest act of self-expression: creation, hoping to illuminate words. Ten years at a solitary task, ten years that make up exactly half my life, have generated in my writing diverse rhythms, opposing currents. Tying them together, interweaving them, never finding what will endure—because it does not exist—I offer her my Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada. As scattered through in its elusive variations, joyful and bitter, I have fashioned them, and I have suffered no little in doing so. I have simply sung of my life and my love for certain women, as one would by shouting greetings to the parts of the world closest to him. I sought increasingly to link my expression with my thought, and I achieved some small victory; sincerely, and consciously, I put something of myself in everything I wrote. From afar, honorable people, people I didn’t even know—not clerks and pedagogues, who personally detest me—unhesitatingly demonstrated their friendliness. I didn’t respond, but concentrated all my strength on damming the tides, my only concern to pour intensity into my work. I have not tired of any discipline, because I followed none: the hand-me-down clothes that fitted others were either too small for me or too large; I acknowledged them, without looking. Always a meditative man, I have given lodging, as I have lived, to too many anxieties for them to vanish because of what I write. Facing in no particular direction, freely, irrepressibly, my poems have been set free.