torrential rainfall and the disputed kingdom Protista

radiolaria

It’s been raining torrentially all day- this morning we took the dogs to kelly point park, the superfund site where the metallic Columbia meets the sewage-filled Willamette, and big cold drops began to pelt us as soon as we stepped from the car. We walked along the path through the woods, throwing Emy’s ball before us. The poplar trees, huge overhead, swayed ominously in the wind from the oncoming storm, and we watched in wonder as limbs broke off, now and then, and fell in slow motion to the ground. Let’s go to the beach? I said. A tree might fall on us? But the beach was too exposed, the wind beating us like a newspaper and the rain splatting us and the lights from the grain barges on the river. Back in the forest, we watched the trees. Woo woo, they said. The air was grey with condensation. Along the trail nettles grew hopefully, taking up nuclear waste from the soil.

Now I’m in my trailer with the space heater up too high, and it’s still raining torrentially. Earlier I tried to study, laying in bed with my big floppy biology book, watching the water run in rivulets down the little trailer-window, but I fell asleep instead. Before I fell asleep I’d been trying to focus on the disputed kingdom Protista, but instead I was thinking indulgently about summertime, and houses I used to live in, and meadows I have known.

I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia lately. Maybe because it is the wet end of the wintertime, maybe because I have been in the city too long with only crowded backyards and superfund sites to retreat to. And it’s funny, because when you finally let a thing go, sometimes years after you first realize that you should be done with it, you never think that it will come back all draped in the soft colors of nostalgia. But that is how I feel today, tonight, about all sorts of things- and I am thinking of them longingly, here in my little driveway-house full of warmth with the rain pounding on the aluminum roof.

Where do they go, these things that happen? Our experiences, our disembodied stories? Apparently there is a compost heap in my brain where they are recycled into magic treasures, more whole then they ever actually were.

I think of North Dakota often, it is one of my muses, if I am using muse in the correct sense, if a muse can be a thing other than a person. Also my friends are muses, people I have known, mostly old friends who cannot get their shit together, who are propelled helplessly through life by their own irreconcilable contradictions, who are moved about as if by mystery. Who do not use logic. Who are painfully beautiful. Who always seem more alive than other people but also more ungrounded. Which is maybe the same thing.

And North Dakota. North Dakota from a freight train- the train goes fast, because north Dakota is wide open. The train could be said to hurtle. On both sides of the train, the soft gold grass. Bent at the tops, like an ocean. The native prairie that grew back after people fled to the cities. Just the grass and the train and above you, the glass observatory of the sky. Now and then a broken down barn, melting into the grass. A stone fence, half-finished, built from stones fished from the ground. A shiny ribbon in the prairie is a stream, flat and clear, like you could float down it on your back. Wind, and sometimes clouds, charging from the east. Lightning.

I used to do whatever I wanted. Travel all the time, move back and forth. I ate dumpstered birthday cake and slept outside under forgotten clumps of trees and that was ok, because I was young and needed nothing. I thought that everything was too fucked up to invest in anything, but then investing in nothing made me feel like I was already dead, and that made me wish that I was, and that feeling was confusing because I had no reason to want to be dead. It was like I wanted to be free so bad but then when I was free I realized that there was nothing else. Like when I was little and I would try and play the video games my brother liked so much but all I cared about was finding the edge of the world, moving my little man into all the corners of the screen to try and find some place beyond what you could see. But there’s nothing else, there’s just the tunnel or whatever, and it’s all set up for you, you’re supposed to jump and get the coin and stomp the mushroom and it’s supposed to make you feel good.

When I was younger, I never thought about what would happen. I figured that the world would just end soon so there was no point in thinking about it. The world felt old, tense, used up, on the brink of something. Everything felt so extremely precarious, like if I touched it it would fall over. It didn’t make any sense to me to put my efforts into something that would just end anyway. I didn’t know then that things that fall over build themselves up again, over and over like magic. It took me a long time to see that.

I used to not need anything- not money, not a home, not any specific food. But there’s a lot of stress in that lifestyle, and loneliness, and eventually your adrenals get worn out and you wake up one day and your body hurts and you can’t do it anymore and you need things. Or you throw yourself off a bridge, because the world hasn’t ended yet and you can’t keep bluffing.

I’ve been in Portland for a year and a half straight. I used to leave for about half of every year. Also notable- I’ve had my dog for a year and a half, I’m starting my second year of undergrad next term, and March 18th is my one-year anniversary with Seamus. I turn thirty this year, and I’m so grateful that this shit is getting easier. And it feels sweet, this nostalgia for the way I lived for so long, tonight, sitting in my trailer with the rain coming down- memories, dreams, popping up like treasures from underwater. Sometimes I feel anxiety about it- like I’ll never be able to travel again, because I won’t have the money, and my body can’t handle the way I used to travel, for free. Waking up on the freight train, sided somewhere in Minnesota, watching the dawn bleed into the sky. Shoplifting grapefruit and sardines. Spending days in a bramble thicket, reading Steinbeck. Walking for miles in the dead of night, looking for water. So many moments of feeling so alive- stacking up on top of each other, making the universe hum like an electrical current. Like it was just me and the universe. The universe moving through me, like I wasn’t even there. Have you ever felt that way? Like you can actually forget yourself enough for the universe to go about its business right in front of you. Like in any Farley Mowat book, when he’s been in his canvas tent in the snow for long enough and the wolves decide he’s just a bunch of lichen, and they start playing with each other and acting out all their wolfy dramas in front of him. Like he’s found the secret place at the edge of everything, where there’s something else that no-one knew was there.

I haven’t been working on my book for a while. I took too many credits this term, and I moved, so I haven’t had time to write. And I hate being really busy. It gives me big fluffy piles of anxiety. Too much of my brain is devoted to thinking about stuff like colors and shapes and patterns of light and very little is devoted to time management and schedule planning. So I sort of freeze up if my life gets too complicated and then I can’t do anything. I need large blocks of time to stare out the window and think about sea creatures. I need to be able to accidentally fall asleep while studying. I need to be able to be ten minutes late for everything. I may not actually be ten minutes late for everything, but I need that to be ok.

I wish I had another three month stretch to work on my book. It’s my ladder to the moon- I need it to climb out of here. But you need a really strong ladder to climb out of one way of life and into another one, and it takes a long time to build a ladder that strong. Right now I’m doing undergrad to prepare to go to school for my master’s in Chinese medicine, because that’s my other dream, besides writing. But when I look down that road I see full-time school for the next five years and then after that, working full time to pay off my student loans, and then working forever until I die. And there’s no time for writing in that anywhere.

How do you do it? How do you be an adult. How do you want things hard enough to make them real. It’s like I woke up one day and all the rules had changed. Or I woke up one day and realized where I was- in this body, on this ground, with this rain coming down everywhere. There’s no place at the edge of everything, and yet there is. And I can want both worlds, but so far, I haven’t figured out how to have them both at once. And that’s painful, but pain can be good. A motivator. Soothing, even. I feel pain, therefore I exist. This sucks and I want something else, therefore I exist. This sucks this sucks this sucks, I exist I exist I exist.

Where darkness lives

I woke up this morning thinking about my mother. I invoked her, yesterday, by talking about her, and when I woke up this morning she was there, in the room. Her spirit, her energy.

My mother exists.

It’s hard to believe that something still exists when you do not see it with your own eyes. It’s hard to know that something exists when you do not pass it on your daily walk, talk about it in casual conversation, or read about it in the newspaper. Environmental catastrophe, prisons, endemic poverty, my mother. These things could all be one and the same- my mother is environmental catastrophe, my mother is endemic poverty, my mother is in a prison built for one. My mother is second-hand cigarette smoke, yellow fingers, and gas-station popcorn. My mother is isolation, alienation, hopelessness, and despair. My mother is fear.

My mother is homeless and schizophrenic. She lives in a halfway house in Alaska, and she suffers. Part of her suffering comes from inside, from her f-ed up frontal lobe, from genetics combined with environmental exposure combined with whothefuckknows. The other part of her suffering comes from outside, from being homeless. The inside and the outside feed each other, make a great cycling loop of isolation-alienation-hopelessness-despair that our culture will never interrupt. Round and round goes the loop, isolation and lack of treatment making her illness worse while the paranoia of her illness causes her to isolate herself even further. The upside is that the suffering that comes from inside of her is so huge and real, that the conditions of her physical environment must pale in comparison.

My mother has been a victim of the horrors and hallucinations of her own brain (which are modeled after her deepest, most secret fears) for the past 25 years. My mother’s paranoia causes her drive away those closest to her, or those who would try to come close. She is angry, spiteful, elusive, psychotic, and often violent, and for this reason she is without a single friend.

My mother is crouched alone somewhere, in a room that I have never seen, arguing vehemently with the voices in her head. She is trembling and rocking back and forth. She is chain smoking. She will not eat. She will not talk. She is hallucinating. And yet she lives, and lives, and lives.

My mother exists.

What I don’t understand is how my mother can suffer so much, and for so long, and have such a low quality of life, only to die someday, and then just be dead.

There’s no story arc to that. There’s no “Life is beautiful, life is hard” in that equation. There’s no dignity, no simple pleasures. There’s no “Things got shitty but we were brave and now we’re stronger for it”. There’s just badness, on and on and on, a black and infinite badness, like how you feel on the very worst day of your entire life, only forever, and with no ending or beginning. One single, endless moment, of suffering.

My mother didn’t do anything wrong to go crazy. She was just a regular person once, a sort of american archetype- young, beautiful, working class, small-minded, and racist. She was petty and shallow, bad at math but good at basketball. Just out of highschool she met my father, and they moved to Alaska to try their hand at life. There were jobs in Alaska. It was the seventies, and white people were moving there in droves. The quarreling, drama-prone couple settled in the mountains outside of Anchorage, half-built their house, and had two kids in the first four years. (In Alaska, if your house is not “finished”, you do not have to pay property taxes.) Somewhere in that murky, convoluted time, which no-one in my family will talk about and which contained a messy divorce, a restraining order, and my brother and I spending a total of two years in foster homes (apart)- my mother’s frontal lobe broke. The next seven years are, for me, mercifully blank, although I have been trying recently to get the memories back. (How to do this- therapy? Hypnosis? Writing?) I do not remember what my favorite foods were, what clothes I wore, or what kinds of toys I liked to play with, before the age of nine. I do not remember if I had any friends, if we had pets, where we lived, or anything about school or any of my teachers. And after the divorce (restraining order?) I never saw my father again.

If my mother hadn’t been in Alaska, so far away from her (controlling, hostile, small-minded) family, and so stubborn about staying there, then she might’ve ended up like my aunt. My aunt is also schizophrenic. She’s on a toxic cocktail of medications that took many decades to perfect and many cycles through the revolving door of the mental health system. These medications cause my aunt many unpleasant side effects, but she is functional. She has her own little house, her own interests and hobbies, a job, friends, and community. My aunt suffers, but it is closer to the way that we all suffer- endlessly, but with bright spots, flares from the infinite darkness, bits of poetic justice, hope. She has been known to keep geese, watch interesting documentaries, and ride her bicycle in the sunshine. She is a tireless fountain of trivia, very curious, and endlessly engaged with life.

She was also her mother’s favorite, the first-born, the one closest to her parents. And so it wasn’t hard for her to stick close to home and get support when she needed it, and when she ran away it wasn’t as far, and her parents were always able to bring her back.

In the beginning my mother was too stubborn to leave Alaska, too stubborn to admit that she had failed. She had no marketable skills, she had no clue how to raise children, and the friends she had made she was driving away, one by one, with her paranoia and her anger. But she was too stubborn to give up, and in the end Alaska and total destitution were the only things she knew. The life she’d had before Alaska was slowly eclipsed by the life inside her busted frontal lobe- a life that was like a movie projected onto the empty space around her- god, satan, the virgin Mary, and most of all, demons who knew her most secret insecurities and taunted her, day after day after day.

In a way, we are all like my mother. We all suffer, and we all occupy realities that we create inside of us, with our thoughts and our spirits and our expectations, and that we project onto the world around us, like a movie. Each of our movies is different, and yet each of our movies is real.

We are all like my mother, and we are none of us like her.

Once, in a crowded, wooden kitchen in the forest, I met an old man who told me that we humans are meant to experience the goodness, joy, and beauty of life about sixty percent of the time, and to dwell in the darker, more painful places for the other forty percent. This balance is based on the golden ratio, he said, which is a pattern that pops up often in nature, architecture, art, and the patterns of galaxies. It is one of the patterns of existence, a spiral and, mathematically, a sort of tilted balance, a leaning scale that lists towards Life and keeps us from slipping back into that dark abyss of pre-existence.

If my mother’s life is meant to be 60/40 goodness/badness, then do her pre-marriage years count as goodness? Did they consist entirely of flawless, sun-filled days, of flips on the trampoline, of sewing pinafores, of bickering breezily with her siblings? Is this why she was spit out into the world so helpless, without any skills, so small-minded and so shallow? Was it because she had never experienced suffering? Because she had never really been crushed by life, had never experienced the blackness of despair? Would a little bit of suffering have inoculated her against the dark hole of badness that she was about to stumble into?

And if my mother’s young years were pure goodness, and her adult years were pure suffering, then she has, as of this writing, spent equal time in each. Which makes the ratio of her experience 50/50, and counting slowly higher on the side of darkness. And what of that, universe? Does the irregular nature of her suffering to not-suffering ratio create imbalance somewhere else in the cosmos? Does it alter the fabric of space-time? Does it contribute to global warming? Does it speed us towards environmental catastrophe and ecological collapse?

Or is her unwarranted burden of suffering just a reflection of a larger trend, a mirror in which, if we are brave enough to look, we can see the grossly unjust worldwide distribution of resources, the disparity between the rich and poor in our own country and others, and the vague, far-flung wars we participate in but whose purpose we do not understand and whose aftermath we will never have to see.

A mirror in which, if we are brave enough to look, we can see all of the individuals, in our culture and in others, who must carry the burden of suffering and who will never be forgotten, because we do not bother to know them in the first place.

(In honor of the fact that my mother (still) exists, I am going to write about her every day for a week. This is the first post.)

I WANT


I want to bust you out of the city. I want to steal a car and drive up I-5 as fast as I can go. A nice car, a solid box, a bubble-pod, a car that smells like vinyl, nothing of the forest, a euphoric comfort machine. Stolen. What better thing to steal, than a car?

A stolen car and a suitcase full of money, to pay for all the gas. I’ll find the suitcase under some tumbled rocks on the mountain-top, underneath a giant Alaskan yellow-cedar of record diameter. A suitcase full of money and a car. The seas are filling with oil, the world is ending, who cares. This is no time to be pretending to know how to bake bread. This is no time for routine. This is no time for patience, for tolerance. This is no time to love the land of here below.

I’ll pick you up in my new car and then we can go anywhere. First, we’ll chase the sun. For moral. We’ll bust out of the rain cloud that clings to the cascade mountains and drive east into the summertime. It’s so bright out there that we’ll get suntans on our feet in the shape of flip-flops, even while driving. No more getting cheated out of summertime. No more pretending to know how to bake bread.

I never want to learn how to really bake bread. How to give an egg wash, sprinkle the loaves with seeds, mist the ovens with water to make a nice crust. I want to burn all bread loaves. Next, I want to burn all gluten-free bread loaves. I want to burn all pizzas. I want to burn the word PIZZA. As soon as I’m out of the rain cloud this feeling will pass. I’ll have my feet up on the dash, in flip-flops. Bread loaves can live. Bread loaves make a pleasing smell, sandwiches are sometimes interesting to assemble. Anything can go in them. Absolutely anything.

I’ve got you in the car with me and we’re busting out. Routine does not need us. School in the fall can Eat a Dick. Being far apart from each other is unnecessary. Missing your freckles come out, one by one, in the springtime, and seeing them only in bunches now and then, for a night or two, tears my heart apart. Now I’ve got you till the money runs out or we get sick of each other, whichever comes first. You’re wary of my plan, my stolen car, my mercurial wanderlust, but then I tell you that I’ll pay for your art school so you don’t have to spend your savings, and you feel better.

We go to North Dakota, because it is far from everything and not overdone. There’s an abandoned ranch, the grass waist-high. The wind blows ferociously, and sucks the moisture from our lips. The old house tips into the earth, but there is no mold anywhere. All the rooms are filled with light. The paint is peeling, and paint chips get in everything. I have a small gas generator for electricity. You’ve brought a good table and enough coffee to fuel a mild obsession.

All we do is fuck and work. We wake at dawn and run, without time pieces, down the pitted dirt road that goes through the grass. We can see the horizon in front of us, and I think of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her bareback ponies.

We run until we are exhausted, farther every day. There’s a stream to jump into, clear, with wildflowers. We bathe in the stream and then make breakfast out of things from our garden. We’ve cleared an overgrown patch of yard for our garden. It has volunteer watermelons and chicken bones in the dry soil. An old compost pile. We’ve got chickens. We eat and then I push you over into the grass and take off your clothes. We lay in the sun and bake. Then we crawl into the shade to fuck, because I am intolerant of the heat.

After fucking, we do not know what time it is. It doesn’t matter. We stumble, barefoot, into the house, leaving our breakfast dishes in the grass, and begin to work, you at your table and me at my computer. When we get hungry we eat from the big pot of food on the stove. Simple things, mung beans and brassicas and bone broth. Wild potherbs. Bacon.

When the sun sets we stop working, for we have no electric lights, and if we tried to work by oil-lamp we would go blind. The oil lamps hiss and we lay on the warm boards of the deck and watch the stars come out. I’ve got a banjo, and you’ve learned to play the thumb piano. Our hair is wild. We have no mirrors. It doesn’t matter, because we know how beautiful we are. We fuck again. All day, when we are taking breaks, moments of staring out the window at the tall grass, and the wind, we are thinking of new ways to fuck. Ways to fuck that no-one has ever done before. Fucking as improv, as spirituality, as ritual. Fucking that pushes our limits, our pain tolerance, our love for one another. Fucking that doesn’t try to be anything at all. Sometimes I read outloud to you from Little House on the Prairie while you masturbate. Sometimes I try and make myself come just by breathing and watching the clouds.

Frequently your coffee consumption keeps you from sleeping. These nights you sit up in bed and blind-contour draw my chin as seen in the moonlight. During the day you nap, and I write you love letters because I miss you, and feel my infinite smallness, all alone on the plain. I am like Ma in the dugout, when Pa has gone away to find work back east, and the blizzards will not stop coming. Only Ma was infinitely more patient than I am, because she never had the internet. Eventually you wake up, and find that I’ve taken off your clothes and tied you to the bed with some rope I’ve found in a broken-down stable. I’ve rubbed you all over with oil and placed warm stones along your spine. I’ve made constellations of your freckles with one of your shoplifted drawing pens. I’ve made you come seventeen times, in your sleep. You’ve had the strangest dreams, and you’re flushed.

Summer gets old and dried-up, and we run out of salve for our lips. We’ve eaten the twenty-pound sack of mung beans and are down to the bottom of our barrel of salt-pork. The wild pot-herbs have gone to seed and we’ve eaten all the watermelons. One day I wake up and want to read the news. You’ve been reading it on the sly for many months, and tell it to me in one long narrative there in bed, propped on your pillows, talking with your hands. I work in some magical realism to put the world back together, like an emulsifier. The seas are still filling with oil, there is still nothing I can do. The sun from the window is resting on your perfect tits, which have exploded in freckles. I pull the suitcase of money from under the bed. It’s empty. We haven’t grown sick of each other.

What to do next? Get married? There is nowhere else to run. North Dakota was the last place. You furrow your brow. You are both worried and excited by my mercurial wanderlust. Your hands are neat and square, the blue of your eyes has faded from the sun. I do not know what to do with you. Maybe I was exposed to too much lead as a child. All those peeling low-income apartment complexes. The lead weights in window dressings. Lead affects the part of the brain that determines impulsiveness, and one’s ability to learn from one’s mistakes. I flop back down on the sheets, and whine like a puppy. The sheets are thin and soft, like my grandmother’s sheets. They have small simple flowers on them. The sheets make me want to have sex, and sleep. They fill me with infinite peace, like my grandmother’s house, with its hardwood floors and chiming grandfather clock.

We don’t have money for gas, so we leave the car at the house, at the end of the long pitted dirt road. We use some of your savings to mail your art and art supplies and my computer back home, to the raincloud. Then we walk. It’s fall, and the wind blows drier than ever. I have a mason jar of water and a cucumber, and my banjo. We’re barefoot. Our jean-shorts are torn. My tye-dye shirt is faded and thin. Around my neck are rainbow freedom rings, and they glint painfully in the sun.

When we get to the small paved highway we’re so hot we almost pass out. A woman with air conditioning picks us up. She’s unhappy, so I give her my banjo. She rambles when she talks, and offers us diet sodas. You’re allergic to diet soda so to protect you I dump yours out the window when she isn’t looking. In this way you know that I love you, and that I Pay Attention. The woman is so excited by our energy that she calls her husband and breaks up with him, and then drives us to Oregon. She throws her shoes out the window, and after dropping us off in the raincloud she moves to a small beach town, and opens up a shop selling bath oils and gluten-free cinnamon rolls. She’s reached the end of her personal evolution and lives there, happily, until her death.

My problem is that I fear that I will never reach the end of my personal evolution. Back home, we both get jobs somehow, even though the world is ending and capitalism is becoming irrelevant. It feels good, to have routine. It’s much easier to pretend to know how to bake bread than to think. The wild part of me goes to sleep and I lose my suntan. The rains come back and we both have allergies. We don’t worry about what the next part will be because we both know that one day, the day will come when we won’t have to figure out the next part, that the next part will come for us, over the mountains in a tidal wave, and we’ll never have to think again.

i went shopping

P U R C H A S E D:

A pair of boat shoes, new-old, brown leather, dark and soft, unintentionally like moccasins, with stiff laces that betray their poor quality, although I suspect that all shoes, good and bad, come from the same place; the place of plastic and glue; and they are scented like vinyl, stuffed with papers and otherwise gussied up so that we may buy wealth, symbolically, or poverty, also symbolically.

A pillow of low quality, soft enough.

One old copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, battered, because my Portland copy is MIA and I am lost without my holy book. This is my favorite printing, very seventies, and Annie is on the cover, sitting on some rocks, open-mouthed, looking like she’s been struck by lightening.

Keats: poems and selected letters. Very yellowed.

A backpack, new, an unintentional purchase. It is generic and old looking, which is good, because I am somewhat embarrassed that I bought it at the mall, what with all the backpacks already in the world, and my little canvas black one perfectly good besides.

Six carrots and a bunch of kale, bulk chickpea miso, bulk salsa. A raweo, favorite snack of the winter of 07-08. Soy-free earth balance. Reality-free snack mix. Anti-gravity herbal tea. Dish soap to stop the apocalypse. Bottled in plastic that eats other plastic, goes back in time, stops the fateful sequence of events that set all of this in motion.

after eating

After eating I feel fatigued (don’t ask why) and so instead of going to hip-hop dance class I lay in the hammock and try and soak up the beauty as much as I can, I am too tired to read my book about birds’ nests in winter. The sun is warm and damp and angled just-so and I put on my sunglasses and push against the hard ground with my foot and the brilliant pink, woven patterned hammock whose pattern I will never, ever look closely at, just another thing made, just another thing detailed- moves back and forth in and out of shade, beneath the fig tree and I can see the squirrel dash along the fence posts with a walnut, he is gathering walnuts, he is looking haggard, I think back to this time last year in North Carolina, I was gathering acorns and making acorn flour, I was skinning a roadkill squirrel, I think of the strong muscle of his thighs, like a catapult, a bundle of steel springs, a grasshopper. Earlier I saw some birds go into a nest in the high leafy bush and fight. I do not know what birds because I know nothing about birds, I do not know what bush because this backyard is a veritable jungle of exotic species. Oh high leafy bush, oh fig tree, oh trapeze- from where do you come?! Somewhere there is a plum forest, I think, remembering Wednesday afternoon biking back from the naturopath in Sellwood when I stopped at Michelle’s house to gather plums. Two trees, so much fruit it is obscene. Like some sort of sick joke, a year’s worth of fruit in three weeks. And the whole world, suddenly, is running in slow motion, running, running in slow motion, hands outstretched, mouths open, burlap sacks thrust forward, jaws churning at a glacial pace.

A plum forest. Wherever is there such a place?

Soon I am too tired to lay in the hammock, even, and so I go in my shack in the garden and lay on the bed with the country-music radio coming from the neighbor’s backyard and he’s tearing up with his circular saw like power tools are the new late-summer afternoon wind-chimes. I have a new pillow that needs trying out anyway, I think, I got it today and so far it is soft enough. Then I change into sweatpants because structured clothing has become too difficult, really just beyond me and I think- is this what it feels like to be depressed? But I’m not depressed I’m just fatigued, and I don’t know why, at least I don’t know why yet, but I’m collecting vials of my spit at morning, noon and night with the little kit the naturopath gave me and in two weeks when the lab results come back, then maybe I will know why. I hold my wrist against the ceiling, my thin wrist against the dark wooden ceiling, I have injured it again. I injured it in March when I first got to Alaska by trying to set some sort of personal wood-chopping record, standing ankle-deep in the new snow, woods quiet around me, sunlight dancing on the white birch bark, I had finally, for the first time in my life, figured out how to split huge rounds, the huge rounds that we pulled through the woods, one by one in our plastic sleds- they had been sitting here at the woodpile gathering snow, and I had finally figured out how to split them into stove-lengths and so I did it triumphantly- and all that maul action vibrated my wrist all to heck but I didn’t stop and next thing I knew it was injured, didn’t feel right again for three months. Now I have re-united with my bicycle and it has injured it again. I rotate my wrist against the dark wood of my ceiling and I just don’t know what to do.

I planted a kale garden last week. Just kale, nothing else. Twenty-four little starts in a raised bed in the side yard. Now I look at it and when I’m looking at the kale I see the raspberries, hanging ripe and drunken in the last rays of afternoon. Barefoot, I step across the kale bed and pick them one by one, shining and perfect and red, and put them in my mouth.

These are magic raspberries, I say, in my head, as I pick them. These magic raspberries will cure my fatigue. These magic raspberries will cure my wrist. And I imagine the blood swirling in the pale mechanical inner workings of my wrist, all those fishing-line ligaments and slivers of bone. Circulation! I summon the blood from within me. It’s pulsing, it’s swelling, it’s making new cells, it’s fusing all together. I know this is what needs to happen because Kristi had the very same thing happen to her wrist back in April, when she over-did the pick-axe at her electrician job, and she went and had it x-rayed and that is what they told her- that it doesn’t heal, it doesn’t heal because there isn’t any circulation in there, only pale white tangles of tendon and bone, no blood at all, and any little thing can break and it doesn’t ever, ever heal.

This raspberry will cure my wrist, I say, as I turn one over in the light, standing in the kale bed in my sweatpants, and examine the glimmer of snail-trail on its side. And this one will cure my friend’s wrist, I say, as I add another, this one soft and fermented like wine. And this one will cure my fatigue, and this one will cure my friend’s fatigue, as I add a few still firm, intact, like twelve-year-old farm children before pesticides and mountain-top coal mining. And this one will cure so-and-so’s irritability, I say, and this one will help this other friend with her depression. And I lift up the canes and pull the berries off, and I think- It didn’t used to be this way, I think, I remember it used to be easier, and this is like a mantra I chant upon waking, when I button my shirt-buttons, grease the cast-iron skillet, rummage in the fridge for eggs, make my to-do list that only grows, and never gets smaller, and I realize then that wishing my to-do list was smaller is like wishing my life already over- I remember it used to be easier, I remember it used to be easier. And it’s too much, I think, the weight of you plus the weight of me, and we can’t help each other, we can’t help each other anymore.

And I can almost see the letters, there, in the periphery of my vision, as I lean into the raspberry canes- block-letters backlit against the late filtered sunlight, they would be, right there, sitting atop the wooden fence, and if I looked- and if I looked I would never be able to look away, and I would burn up – W H A T  W I L L  W E  D O , it would say, but I won’t let myself look, I won’t let myself see that it’s there.

Anchorage

In Anchorage, it’s really spring. All the snow is gone, and the air smells like dirt. And the sea, too, although I cannot see it, beyond these dead potted plants and ratty driveway, ground down by winter’s ice-age of weather. I can smell the sea, though, and hear the seagulls. I know it’s close to me, the sucking mud beach, the flat shallow water, the reluctant whales. The white volcano in the distance, just across the water. I forgot about the volcano! I suppose this town should be covered in ash, buried. Well it’s not. I was here when Redoubt blew the first time, in like 1989 or something. I was approximately seven. The skies turned black and for days ash fell like fine dirty snow. I went to buy groceries with my mother’s food stamps, and a man on a bicycle handed me his paper dust mask. I collected the ash in a pickle jar, labeled it, put it up in a closet, and forgot it when we moved.

Earlier today I was sitting out here, on a friend’s peeling front stoop, breathing the good sea-air, and some kids were playing on the cracked pavement of the road, riding a little pink bicycle in the gutter and rowing the ground with their feet. I used to be those kids, I thought, not far from here. I lived, at one time, just down the road, in a neighborhood just like this, sort of sinking and neglected, with lots of children. When I lived here, and was a kid, the whole city, it seemed, was like that. Sinking and neglected, cracked and peeling. There were rich people, sure, and everything still cost a lot. But the rich people lived off somewhere, and you didn’t see them. And I’d walk along the silty sidewalks, head into the car-wind, with my paper bag of cheeseburgers, or whatever. And at the traffic light I’d hit the metal button, pong, pong, and the loneliness of all the poverty of the world would pour down around me in the form of rain, and hit the dirty snowbanks, whose gravelly crusts sported sad sprinkles of straw wrappers, crushed drink cups, and cheeto bags. I’d plod, it seemed, for miles on those sidewalks. And when I left Alaska in high school, that was always what I remembered of this place- the plodding. Lonely, hungry, empty-pocketed plodding. I’d had no magic tickets for anywhere, no street-smarts other than the ability to dumpster chalky old candy bars from behind the drug store.

Anchorage is different now. The first summer I was back here, twenty years old and hitch-hiked up the Alcan to meet my dad for the first time, I rode a borrowed bicycle to the low-income apartment complex where I’d lived as a child- Tyee Apartments, it was called, on Northern Lights Boulevard- slate-colored buildings that smelled of ramen noodles and echoed with the cries of playing children. Four years- it was the longest we had ever stayed in one apartment. A happy place. That first summer back I pressed my hands against the wrought iron gate that encircled the place, that had never been there before. The TYEE sign was gone, the one that had always blown over in the mid-winter Chinook winds. In front of each apartment, now, was a sleek SUV. A gated community? Really? The shopping mall next door, where we had dumpstered the candy bars and dragged them to the woods to devour among the spruce branches, was closed. Its sign had been gutted, windows black. The carpeted halls held no-one. There had been a library inside, once, where I poured over Seventeen magazine in my stained pink winter coat. Now it was all gone, just like my childhood. Like a movie set, that rolled over. Now it was someone else’s story- the people with the SUVs. But what were their stories, exactly? I Moved To Anchorage Because I Got A Really Awesome Job Offer And I Like To Wear Gore-Tex And Go Hiking? What kind of a story was that? An un-story.

Yesterday I was sitting in River’s van in front of the bookstore on Northern Lights, waiting for her to come out. We’d driven down from Little House the night before, stopped to sleep in a pullout next to a frozen lake a few hours outside of town, but her bed was too small and our blankets were too few and finally we gave up, me reading an Augusten Bourroughs library book in the four a.m. dawn as we drove the rest of the way to Anchorage, giant jagged-edge mountains that showed flakes of dull grey beneath their white winter coats circling the horizon, and then the stoplights, overpasses, and newly-built strip-malls of the edge of town. Wasilla. This is where Sarah Palin lives. We started our errands early, as soon as the shops opened their doors. We breakfasted on sausage and hash browns from the Fred Meyer deli and one organic cucumber, delicious cellulose tube. And then I waited while River was in the bookstore, watching all the yuppies in their five-hundred dollar arcteryx jackets pour from the coffee shop next door. I was feeling delirious and sleep-deprived and prone to mild epiphanies that flashed like the last flare of a dying headlamp in the cabin at night.

These yuppies weren’t here when I was a kid, was what I managed to come up with. And then the reality of it hit me- really, they weren’t. They really, really weren’t. There were no eco-friendly parents pushing babies in jogger strollers, no tattooed hipsters here for summer jobs on the Kenai Peninsula. Way back then, back when, it was just me, and the city. Wasn’t it?

It’s strange how our memories of a place from the past and the realities of a place in the present can fail to reconcile. The don’t overlap or blend, one does not cancel the other out as the More True Reality. Nothing, really, is resolved. They both just are, stacked one on top of the other, a fine, thick wall between them that’s just as real as the passage of time and just as strong.

And yet, it’s amazing, sitting here on my friend’s flaking front stoop, watching the pale eight pm sky begin to darken, how being here makes me feel the same sort of hope I used to feel, when all the world was opening up, the daylight running into the evenings, the sun warm on the boggy ground. I had a fierce belief, even then, in the god-like power of springtime, of summer, of fall, of winter. The seasons were a god, I was sure, the passage of time, a god, the seagulls were gods, the trampoline of moss in the forest was a god, and I was in awe of it, it would make me drunk, and I would fall down into it, and it was, in the end, the only real thing at all. And then, of course, I would be free. Because if Nature was the only real thing, then what were cities? What was flaking paint, second hand smoke? What was hunger? That was nothing. That was nothing in the face of forests, of sucking mud-tide, of glittering white snowbanks in the dark of winter.

I guess, what I’m saying, is that Alaska gives me Hope. Even if it feels like another world and Sarah Palin might as well be president of the whole goddam thing, even if the forests are just an illusion, the last scrap of wood pulp waiting for the world to trash its last ream of Xerox paper. The bears are just props, the wolves, disposable, hunted down from bush planes when the moose fail to walk into the sights of trophy hunters. The musk-oxen, hunted to death by the first people with spears who came across the land bridge ten thousand years ago, are re-introduced from Greenland. The weather makes no promises anymore, just like everywhere else. The ocean currents carry PCBs from all the corners of the world and deposit them in the breast milk of the coastal Inupiat. There are over four thousand LUST (Leaky Underground Storage Tank) sites in this great green state, and they hold enough persistent organic pollutants to single-handedly birth a thousand generations of autistic children. And on and on and on.

Is it stupid, to have hope, in the face of it all? Is it stupid to sit on the peeling stoop and smell the sea-air and have hope? I’m alive, after all, I might as well act like it. And if Nature is a god then she is a strong one. And by Nature I mean Life. Life is strong, I think. Sometimes I don’t feel it, sometimes I forget. Sometimes just being alive feels like driving a broken car until the engine blows, not caring when or where. Just driving this stupid fucking car, for no reason I can understand, and all I know for sure is that the car is going to break. And even if I’m alive, I’m still stuck in a car, which isn’t like being alive at all. And I don’t know how to feel alive, I don’t know what to do. And there aren’t any instructions telling me what to do, no books I can get from the library. There never have been, really, and it doesn’t seem like there ever will be. All the books already written just sort of skirt the subject, never looking it dead in the eye, because if you look it dead in the eye it’s just gone, and there you are, and you have more questions than ever, and no answers.

River was telling me, once, about how when she was a kid the Athabaskan elders in the village would tell stories, they’d sit in a wooden chair and tell stories that just went on and on and on, and the stories wouldn’t have plots the way our western stories have plots, now, and the stories wouldn’t have story arcs, and hooks, and soft rounded edges that tie the world up all neat like yarn in the corners of a woolen scarf. They’d just go on and on, and then they’d end, without any resolution at all.

woodsponies

Today we ate a late lunch of re-heated pinto beans and set out, sleds in tow, to move spruce rounds from the edge of the oil road. There are two sleds, both black plastic, one large, one smaller. One holds five spruce rounds, stacked in a pyramid, tilting and tipping on the packed-snow inclines of the trail. The other holds five smaller spruce rounds, stacked in a pyramid, tilting and tipping on the packed-snow inclines of the trail. They both have loops of rope on their fronts- the larger has a red and white striped rope, the smaller has a thin black rope. To drag the laden sleds we step into the rope, pull it across our hips, and walk, leaning forward. Pulling the sled in this manner makes me feel like a pony, and I tell River as much. River, I decide, is a stronger pony than I. I set out in the afternoon to pull fifteen sled loads of spruce rounds from the oil road to the woodpile in front of the cabin. I have done some shaky math, attempting to quantify every little thing like I always do, and have decided that if we each pulled fifteen sled loads of spruce rounds today from the oil road to the woodpile, we can move the whole pile in a day, a veritable mountain of logs. Three hours and eight sled loads later I, with my smaller sled, am tired, and decide in the weakening light of eveningtime to make cauliflower and smoked salmon curry and do the dishes instead. River is a strong, tireless pony, and she says Yes, of course you can make food and no, you don’t have to haul any more wood and sets off down the trail towards the road, sled in tow. The dog Brosef follows along, stick in hand, too old to help and doesn’t have a harness besides. The men on the oil-road sometimes joke, when they see us pulling the sleds with our hips, strong woodsponies- Why doesn’t the dog pull? Why don’t you have the dog pull, ha ha ha.

Inside the dimming cabin I start a fire, though the walls still hold the memory of last night’s oppressive heat. When we go to bed, generally, the stove is still warm, and we don’t want the fire to run out of fuel in the night, so we put a big green log on the coals and shut down the damper and the vent and cross our fingers, knowing that the green log will either catch and burn eventually or it won’t. So it’s heat, and lots of it, or none at all. Last night the log caught, and so we had an eighty-degree night, both of us awake at 2 a.m. to fling off the covers, throats dry, and strip down to our underwear. The walls of this cabin are insulated against fifty-below winters, in spring they hold the heat for days, like a ghost. And the stove itself is huge, a great hulking mass, much larger than reasonable for a 16 by 20 foot cabin such as this one. The stove is so huge we don’t even have to cut some of the logs, we just open the creaking, asbestos-lined iron door and toss them whole into its orange and fiery depths. The stove is, apparently, an “earth stove”, although I call it a “smoke inhalation stove”, because it doesn’t draw, at least not when the door is open- instead it sends out plumes of nasty woodsmoke, which gather like smog in the air above my bunk.

Once the fire is lit in the stove I gather rusty knife and unreasonably small cutting board and set about to chop the head of cauliflower- conventional, of course, and of questionable freshness. There are corn fields in Alaska, no fields of blowing wheat. There is no agriculture at all, save for one small valley near anchorage, where they grow carrots and potatoes for five minutes in the fall, and are always losing entire crops to blight. There was a dairy there, too, Matanuska Maid, but it went under. There are no factory farms in Alaska, either, and no cattle herds. There are no battery cages filled with chickens, no pork processing plants. The cauliflower I am cutting, in the dim and warming cabin, comes from the Fred Meyer in Fairbanks, a few hours’ drive away. The Fred Meyer got it from a barge, or a truck. The barge or the truck got it from California, which is in another universe, three thousand miles south. Everything I eat, unless I hunt it or grow it myself, comes from three thousand miles away.

I cut the cauliflower, precious vegetable, into florets and set it in the cast-iron skillet, where some butter is hot and spitting. The pound of butter in its greasy wrapper came from the cabinet. Before the cabinet it lived in River’s van. When it was in the van the dog, Brosef, got into the butter, and it still bears those wounds, a deep gouge in its center, like the circular hole in a donut. Brosef loves butter and will hop onto the counter and pull the unsuspecting butter off, to lick it from its wrapper on the dirty cabin floor.

Once the cauliflower is sautéing I open a freezer bag of smoked salmon from our friend Kaz. Kaz is an angel, always showering us with gifts and cooking us fried-chicken dinners and letting us read her autobiography which she types in chunks, a story of growing up white-trash on Crisco sandwiches in Nevada near Lake Tahoe. She caught the salmon herself, last summer, and smoked it, and I break off a piece and eat it, delicious oily meat-candy, more precious and rare than anything you could find in the lower 48 anywhere, except maybe hot basil plants in July or homemade goat cheese, or the sickening-sweet stretches of blackberries, obscene in their invasiveness and sheer volume of fruit, along the roadsides in Oregon, in august.

Alaska. At least we’ve got good meat.

I’m not sure if smoked salmon and cauliflower even go together, much less smoked salmon and curry and cauliflower, but it’s what we’ve got and it’s not beans and rice or fish and potatoes, which we’ve both, in our own ways, grown weary of.

A few minutes later I step out in the golden evening light to pee and River is back with her tenth load of wood, and she’s talking to somebody. We’ve got company, she says. Oh, I say, and duck back inside, to collect the unwashed dishes and stack them haphazardly on the table, sweep the onion skins off the crusty countertop and toss them in the stove. I feel like I should tidy up a bit, although it doesn’t really matter. I used to think it did, until River told me a story about what happened the first day the men came to cut wood for her, the old Athabascan men with their chainsaws. They showed up in the morning to buck the spruce and she met them at the trail and stood by awkwardly, unsure of how to help. One of them, Rick, pulled a sausage from the seat of his snow machine, and told her to go cook. It’s ok I’ve got whitefish, she said, and set off down the trail to make some stew. By and by the men ran out of gasoline for their chainsaws and walked down the trail through the woods, gathering in the dirty, cluttered cabin to eat, sitting on the cooler of salted fish and spooning stew into their mouths. When River freezes whitefish she leaves them whole, and when she cuts them up for stew she slices open their bellies and pulls out the sticky, silvery eggsacs and tosses them into the dog’s slop dish, which is a stew of its own sort, sprout water and eggshells and moose bones and cabbage hearts, sitting for weeks at a time in the stuffy cabin to ferment. The eggsacs of the whitefish are, to River, infinitely and immeasurably gross, and she tries not to touch them, even if she is a strong Alaskan pony, raised in the bush on fried beaver-tail and bearfat. And indeed, not even the dog will eat them, and he doesn’t even get up from his bed when the fall with a SLAP into his bowl. And so the men are sitting on the cooler eating stew, and one of them, Rick, the one who gave her the sausage, sees her drop the pouch of whitefish eggs into the dog’s filthy slop bowl, and he stoops over, retrieves the eggs, and eats them.

And so this is why I know that it doesn’t matter, when they come over, if the cabin is messy. And it always is, anyway, because there isn’t any running water, and because River has better things to do, like read about sex magick and commune with nature, and write the sorts of stories to liberate the human race.

The curry is nearly done and I really have to pee so I go back outside and walk to the rear of the shed to squat where the dog poops, out of view of the men. There are two of them, Rick and Timmy, two of the guys who cut wood for us. They are old Athabaskan men and they work on the oil road, Timmy drives a big dump-truck and dumps gravel all over the forest, Rick claims to be in charge of the whole operation. The exploration itself is being done by Doyon, which is their Native corporation. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, at some point or other, gave corporations to the different Native Peoples in Alaska, along with some land. And some of the corporations are ethical, but all of them are capitalist, and some of them, like Doyon, make Total Destroy, and mow down the forest and fill the creeks with gravel, all in the name of petroleum, and newer and shinier snowmachines for everyone.

But what can we say? They’re nice guys. They cut our wood. When we ripped all the squirrel-pee insulation from the sauna and dragged it out on a giant tarp, Timmy was our partner in crime and hauled it to town in his pickup truck, laughing, and dumped it in the dumpster behind the gas station. Rick comes by, albeit unexpectedly, on his snowmachine, and gives us long strips of smoked salmon prepared the native way, without salt, and we eat it like oily candy in the snow.

River’s property is a small piece of land bounded on all sides by a much larger chunk of property, which is owned by a woman who lives far, far away, the daughter of the old man who lived in the cabin through the woods a ways, the cabin with the iron bedstead and sheet metal stove and neat tins of pipe tobacco lined up on the windowsill. This far-away woman’s property butts right up against the oil road. At some point in time Doyon may want that property, and this one, or not. At the very least they could pollute our water by drilling down and pushing contaminants into the water table, which they will most likely do. Any way you look at it, it sucks.

The men leave before I get the chance to ask them to dinner and we eat the curry, and it tastes good. Then River reads from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek while I do the dishes in melted snow water and peppermint soap, and I marvel again at the fact that Annie Dillard could find so much, a whole universe, really, the beginning and the end, a closed loop, safe and limitless, enough- in a dry field of grasshoppers in West Virginia.

“This is what I had come for, just this, and nothing more. A fling of leafy motion on the cliffs, the assault of real things, living and still, with shapes and powers under the sky- this is my city, my culture, and all the world I need. I looked around.”

February in review, the dark sucking void, a bit of march

The weather, outside, is clear, oddly, and I try to think of snow. Think of snow. My life is mostly colorless save for dance parties, and I don’t want to write about those. I’m afraid I’ll sound like an idiot, shallow and cheap and incredible and impossibly naïve all at once, unwilling to compromise the way I feel about it now with the way I might feel about it in the future. It’s a sort of self-consciousness I’ve never known before, that I can’t wait to shake off like a head cold. Self-doubt that clings to me like cheap cologne I sprayed on by accident, some place I can’t remember. February is the month the vortex opens, and the rest of the world is suddenly there, in stark relief. The vortex opens some place you don’t expect it, in the hollow of a tree except in the city I never notice the trees, so that analogy won’t do. In the hollow of my own heart. The vortex opens, and through it, the void, a small black square of it. I know that beyond that small dark square it’s black and bottomless and bigger than anything, absolutely bigger than absolutely anything. And I remember how small I am, how soft, how mortal. And I know, too, that the universe tends towards chaos, and I can see, all of a sudden, the sheer improbability that is life on Earth, and as a last thing I realize that we have manifested it, that this elaborate collection of single-celled organisms that is life is only here through the sheer will of our believing in it, and all through the month of February I look into the void at its darkness and its blackness and its bottomlessness and my powers of manifestation start to wane, my Chi starts to dim like a guttering votive in a cardboard box, and I know, with all of my heart, that it could all be gone in an instant.

We have to believe.

And now March, which feels halfway through already but I think that’s because I’ve sent all my feelings ahead to the middle of the month and I find myself wandering here in the beginning, without a thing on my back. The days feel empty and sort of rough, like sandpaper. And their loop no longer feels refreshing, it feels instead like I have an excess of one thing and too little of another, like I’ve got plenty of clay pots but no water. Where is the market where I can trade time for money? Ah yes, capitalism! But I have never been much of an economist, and besides there’s a handwritten note on the capitalism machine today, closed for repairs. So I’ll be rich and poor forever, a sort of limping existence, a one-legged life.

I’m not the only one, of course. Everyone my age I talk to who doesn’t have a job and lives in Portland is having one heck of a time trying to find one. I feel like come summer we should form bands in ragged woolen caps and set off across the country on freight trains. Only it wouldn’t be picking peaches this time, like in The Grapes of Wrath. What would it be? Something horrible. Pharmaceutical studies, web design. Something like that. There is no labor anymore, at least not for us. No objects moving through space by the power of our own two hands in exchange for warm metal coins, not now and never again. It makes me want to put on my cap and run off on a freight train just to spite them. Oh wait, I already do. I will not become a web designer. I will not.

Speaking of the void, I looked at the Second Life website today. Don’t ever go there. Just don’t. I had a horrible feeling about it, but I was curious and procrastinating, and then there I was, sort of hovering over it, the fake satellite image map of that fake horrible land, unable to descend and look closer because I was unwilling to open an account, but it didn’t matter because I could see it from here- the end of the world. The goddam end of the goddam world, like the Nothing in every young adult novel I’d ever read. I closed the browser window quickly, and the map blinked away. I almost expected it to pop back up, to suck my face into the flat blue light of my computer screen. I realized it would have been wise to tie my feet to the legs of my chair in advance, as a sort of anchor in case I fell in.

But it was gone.

I don’t want to look at my computer anymore. I keep trying to imagine a life as a writer without it, but I can’t. I am of its generation, and it is of mine. We are grown together, its wires in me like tentacles. My brain has grown around its cold glowing, the hum of its small fan. I think and my fingers tap and pages are written, like a sort of magic manifestation. The thought of life without it fills me with a sort of panic.

But I am growing to hate it. I don’t want it. I want to smash it to pieces, and I fantasize about that- about tossing it against the wall, destroying it so I cannot use it ever again. I’d be in some dry, dust choked place, and a faded door would bang open, screen torn off in the wind, and light would stream in. I’d walk out that door, leaving my computer on the smooth concrete floor, nothing but a bunch of harmless plastic, no portal to anything, not a part of my own flesh and blood. I’d walk away along the road, the good solid road, and stick my thumb out- and from then on out I’d only move through real live space, in the third dimension, and I’d scribble my stories in notebooks made from old paper if I wrote them at all, or I’d become a traveling storyteller, an oral storyteller, and I’d spin a mythology to save humanity. In this fantasy I look, for some reason, like Angelina Jolie in this video.

The end of the world. The beginning. The middle.

And driving a pedic@b is all sorts of hard. The first night I did it I made nothing, combed the empty streets, felt like I was the last one left alive. Made it home at four a.m., delirious and exhausted. The second night two rich men hired me to follow them from bar to strip club to bar and wait outside, perched on the bike with my library book, good woolen flannel protecting me from the night air. I’d drag them inch-by-inch up hills like a tired oxen, and they loved it. Dapper men in flapping scarves walked past at the speed of jet planes, laughing good-naturedly. The riders gave me twenty dollars, over and over, and at the end of the night I had eighty. I felt like I’d finally felt what it was like to do sex work, only I’d sold exercise instead. They’d been too drunk to stand all night, straight as arrows, and one kept telling me how cute I was. That flannel, he said, in all seriousness. And your boots. I wanted to tell him that if he thought I was cute then it made him a homosexual. He would’ve laughed at that, drunk and happy. If I had money like him, I thought, I’d hire everyone on the street to do any little thing for me, pay them in crisp stacks of twenties. My own stimulus plan.

The third night the chain broke on another cabbie’s bike, nice man who lives in Beaverton, just moved here, I picked up his subtle North Carolina accent right away, even though he just lived in Asheville for a spell, was really from Baltimore. I gave him my cab, told him my quads were sore, my magic was faded. Unlocked my bike in the parking garage that smelled like piss and rode home past all the glowing taco bells. drive through open. I work again in a few days and I’m not excited, but damn do I need the money. It’s cold winter still in the late night and there’s hardly anyone about, you have to hunt them down like shy rabbits on the barren downtown streets and coax them into your cab. Luckily when they’re drunk their feet don’t work anymore and that makes it easier. Unluckily they’re all poor like me and I haven’t yet learned to tell the ones who have endless regenerating magic money banks like the two men I ferried from bar to bar and then dropped them, at last, at the Hilton to sleep off their hangovers.

And here ends this rambling entry. It’s late night and the time has changed. My bed is calling me, my small knitted bear, my flat imperfect pillow, the open window. And since I’ve been re-reading The Bandit Queen, nightmares- my brain processing chapters that I read too quickly, in a panic, on the max- I’m in India and I have to hide in the jungle, I am Phoolan Devi and I am an the reincarnation of the goddess of vengeance, I am the physical manifestation of all the oppressed peoples who have ever lived. What do I do?

Phillip’s Story is finished!


Hooray! At long last! I finally finished the fantastical tale I began in the spring, about a sockmonkey on an epic quest to find out what’s ‘real’, and sabotage what is not. An artist friend of mine has agreed to illustrate it, and then- who knows! Publishers? Disillusionment? Capitalism? To read the full story, with edits and a shiny new ending, click the link below.

Phillip’s Story

What Goes Up Must Come Down- An Imaginary Letter to No-One (Disclaimer- this post is fiction)


I was inspired by your compulsive book-ordering on my behalf, and did some compulsive shoplifting on your behalf. I got you this sweater- I like the color, and it’s very soft. I got myself a pin-stripe button-down with narrow bands of the same vivid blue, they’re both from the same cheap store so they might fade with time, but for now they seem perfect. I also got you this- can you believe they had a book of Victorian lesbian erotica at goddam B&N? I know you like Victorian lesbian erotica and wasn’t sure if you had this book already, but knew that if you didn’t, you would appreciate it. After my “shopping” I ate a cup of over-priced icecream and watched the cars glint in the sunshine, looked down at my wingtips, wanting polish, so scuffed they’re almost blue. I wasn’t impressed by the icecream or the cars and so I straddled my bike and rode to the lake, looking for something better, older, more nourishing. I felt a sort of anger at the bike-path, so covered in fall leaves it was like riding through a bowl of cornflakes. No one, it seems, outside of Portland, has much respect for bicycling as a valid form of transportation, and so they don’t bother to clear the bike paths.

At the lake all the foliage was on fire. I pushed my bike through the woods and dropped it, crackling, into the leaves, next to a large oak tree, the ground covered with moss. The sun, this late in the year, still warms me- for better or worse. I sat and watched the lake, a squirrel flicked its tail and made a sort of purring noise, a barred owl called out across the water. (Who cooks for you! Who! Who cooks for you!) I opened the book of Victorian lesbian erotica I got for you and wrapped a wool scarf around my neck, a sort of gray hounds-tooth cashmere- I would’ve liked it to be the same vivid blue as your sweater but I am leaving to travel west again, in ten days, and I needed a color that will match the train. I read a story in the book and found that I liked it- not because it was hot- it was more lukewarm than anything- but because it was such a curiosity. And the strange typos and obsolete language had me believing it was real- pulled from underground publications of the 19th century, like the introduction claimed.

I rode home under the half-moon (because it gets dark at 5:30 now) and got frustrated at a busy intersection- alone at the signal, the light would not detect my small bicycle. The light across from me, backed up with cars, changed green, red, green again, while mine stayed red. Meanwhile, the road in front of me was solid with rush-hour traffic, no way to cross against the light. And not even a metal pedestrian button to punch. Finally a few cars joined me in the lane and my light changed- and was so short I hadn’t even made it across the intersection when it turned red again, and it was only through the grace of waiting traffic that I didn’t get hit. The whole experience made me furious. So angry I wanted to scream at someone. And it’s not just biking, it’s not just the concrete- it’s also, in a way, a sort of emotional aftermath of the presidential election. For the first time in my life, the other day, I felt a sort of hope for my country- I felt for the first time, in fact, that I belonged to a country at all. It’s as if I’d been living in a sea of my own making, while a political storm blew itself out overhead; a storm as removed from me as the clouds, as untouchable as a hurricane- nothing to do but duck and wait it out, or leave. Friends have come and gone as activists, small boats riding the surface, edging closer to the storm, sucked into its eye and torn to wooden shreds. I have always chosen to stay below- it’s too big, it’s too powerful, it’s too out of control.

And then, it’s as if a piece of paper was dropped to me on a length of fishing line, way down deep where I was hiding, making my weird way like a black bear in the forest. A note, and the note said some of the things that I had never admitted to myself I wanted to hear- the note used words I could understand, it used language that made sense to me, as if it was coming from a real human being, of flesh and blood, a human being who cried salt tears and felt, for once, a sort of empathy. I knew where the note was coming from- it was coming from the storm above- still as distant, still as out of control- but somehow the note had reached me, and I couldn’t help but read it. Before I knew it a crack had opened in my heart, and seawater rushed in, and suddenly, it was me up there- exposed, on the surface, facing the full terrible weight of the storm- somehow, suddenly, it was me.

And when morning came, the world hadn’t, after all, changed. To the contrary, the election had brought the worst of the racist, fear-driven bigots out of the closet, and I suddenly felt exposed and oppressed and afraid in a way I’d never experienced. Not only were we still living under the same terrible time-bomb of a system, but now the wealthier and more close-minded half of the country was seething, roiling mad, whereas before (when gas was cheap and war was plentiful) they’d been quietly placated, almost hypnotized with content.

I was on the surface now. Shopping centers sprawled, lights stayed red for bicycles, television commercials sold horrible toxic shit. Everything, of course, was the same. I had been tricked. Somehow, for a moment, I had been tricked.

It made me seething, raging mad. It made me want to scream at cars, throw rocks for no reason. It made me want to set fire to shopping centers, burn them to the ground to see what sorts of weeds might grow up in the blackened rubble. It made me want to tear up concrete, freeing the animal trails below. It made me want to shout at families, just getting home from the day, with McCain signs still in their yards-

ARE YOU THE ENEMY? ARE YOU THE ENEMY? ARE YOU THE ENEMY?