chocolate covered bacon and the meaning of the wintertime

The dry season ended, all of a sudden, and the sky became dark and wet and the air turned cold and all the leaves fell. At first I was taken aback by all of this, because I hadn’t wanted it to happen. I was feeling like a victim of the seasons, like one of those people who lives in Portland but wishes they lived somewhere else but who won’t, for whatever reason, just move. But then I cranked up the space heater and pulled out the extra blankets and got a Netflix subscription, and now my trailer is a cozy little winter den with yellow lamps blazing and chicken stock bubbling on the stove and I never want to leave it, I only want to eat pears while I watch gossip girl and stroke Kinnikinnick, whose fur has been softened by the rain and who refuses to go outside and pee again until spring.

My life currently lacks direction. I purposefully set up my life this fall in such a way that I would have plenty of time to write. As summer was winding down I registered for just a few credits, knowing that between school and my two regular money gigs, I’d have lots of downtime left over. I’ll work on my book, I thought, and then in spring I’ll set off to hike the pacific crest trail. Isn’t life grand! Except now the rain is falling torrentially, sealing me indoors like a biblical flood, and I can’t write at all.

You know, I’ve read alot of books about the writing process. Books about writing by prolific authors I do not read, and books about writing by not-so-prolific authors who I adore. I’ve even read books on writing by authors who are neither prolific nor particularly admirable. Writers say lots of nice things about writing, and that’s nice, and it feels comforting. But they can’t ever answer the one question that I have, the question that never goes away. In fact, they never even try. The question seems pretty straight forward to me, but the fact that no writer-writing-about-writing has, as far as I know, addressed it, makes me wonder if I’m a fool for even asking it in the first place. My question-

What do you do when you are trying to write but you don’t feel like writing?

This question is not- What do you do when you want to write but you’re blocked?

The question is- What do you do when you don’t want to write? Like, at all? For a really really long time?

If there was a writing god, up on a mountaintop somewhere, I would climb to the top of that mountaintop and I would walk up to them and I would shout at them-

IS WRITING OR IS WRITING NOT MAGIC?

Because if writing is magic, then it’s probably not something that you should force yourself to do when you don’t want to do it. If writing is magic, then it’s probably not even possible to do it when you don’t feel like doing it. If writing is magic, and you don’t feel like writing for a whole year, even though you’re really, really tired of having nothing to show for yourself but a bunch of rambling personal essays on the internet, then there’s probably nothing you can do, but maybe wait. And do something else, like learn to be a dog musher. Or walk across the continent.

But if writing is not magic, then you’re a fool, and not only are you a fool but you’re a lazy fool, because if you had just one speck of discipline well then you could sit yourself right down at this here computer and write and write and edit and edit and ediiiiiiiiiiiiiit and then after a number of days had passed you would have a finished manuscript and then maybe you could find someone to buy it and then you would be a writer, a real writer, and you wouldn’t even have to move to the sub-arctic to learn to be a dog musher which is fine because you didn’t really want to do that in the first place, you just wanted to be a writer.

So there is the writing god, way up on the mountain top, and there is capitalism, way down in the hollows. Between the two I’m perched in a little alpine meadow, watching the clouds roll by, tearing the petals off daisies and trying to pretend that time is not passing.

So my life has no meaning right now, seeing as I’m neither writing, working towards anything in school, having adventures, or falling in or out of love with anybody. And so in an attempt to stuff the meaning back into my life, I’ve taken up Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is like regular yoga except totally different, and that’s why the yelp reviews are so harsh. Because most people, I think, don’t like it. In regular yoga everyone is calm and the room is cool and if you need to pee you can just get up and pee. In Bikram yoga you’re not allowed to leave the room to pee but it doesn’t matter. You’re sweating so much fluid and you’re so dizzy and overheated that your bodily functions cease entirely. And the instructor stands on a mirrored podium and yells at you through a mic. LEAN back! Lean back! More back! More back! Farther back! Back! Back! BACK! Like they’re daring you to fall over. And it’s not only 105 degrees, there’s also no air circulation and it’s humid and close. It’s like if Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights was teaching you yoga in Florida in the summertime. And you weren’t allowed to open the windows.

Afterwards though I sit in the little courtyard in the rain and look at the faded prayer flags that have tangled in the trees and my sense of wellbeing shoots up to about five thousand percent. The melancholy of my stupid life actually starts to seem sort of beautiful, and as I walk the four blocks home in my sweat-drenched yoga clothes, clutching my crumpled mat, while the freezing rain falls around me, I notice how nice the rain can smell, like mushrooms and earth. And I remember when I first moved to Portland from the desert and how miraculous I thought it all was, the green and the wetness of November, the dripping conifers in the park and the steam rising off the ground. And the grey of the wet-season sky comes in so many different, subtle shades; smoke and soot and burnished steel and burning lead, each one invoking its own special flavor of melancholy. The emotional pallet of the Pacific Northwest wintertime.

So Bikram is helping me. And aside from taking up Bikram yoga, I’ve also adopted the Paleo diet, for no reason other than it’s extremely difficult to stick to, and so that takes up alot of my brain space that would otherwise be devoted to seething existential despair. Following the Paleo diet is satisfying in the way that having an eating disorder is satisfying, in that it makes you feel as though your life is under control. When I was a teenager I had an eating disorder- I’d memorized the caloric content in every food that I ate and I spent the day counting and recounting, adding things up in my head. My rules were simple- always be hungry, and eat as close to 1200 calories a day as possible, and never, ever eat more than 1800. I was super thin, and I fit perfectly into whatever I wanted to wear. My jawbone was alluringly angular, and nothing on my body folded when I moved. I was also super weak and always coming down with colds and things, constipated and riddled with allergies, not to mention always hungry. The worst part was that my boyfriend thought that this was my natural, healthy body type- he thought that this was how girls were supposed to look, and I never told him otherwise, and so I helped perpetuate his fucked up ideas of what women are supposed to be.

When I moved to Portland at nineteen and walked across the park at 22nd and Powell, feeling the damp grass soak my shoes, my eating disorder magically went away. I was making my own choices about my own life and I no longer needed it to make me feel as though I was in control. I started exercising and eating regular meals and I immediately gained about thirty pounds.

Following the Paleo diet doesn’t hurt me the way that starving myself used to hurt me, and so I feel pretty good about it. And it’s a fun challenge- kind of like that radio show where a caller presents the host with three imaginary ingredients and the host has to come up with a dinner made exclusively from those ingredients and a few random spices. I know, no-one listens to the radio anymore but I do, and it’s a real radio show. If the Paleo diet was that radio show then the caller would say, “Ok, your ingredients are Meat, Vegetables, Bacon Grease, and if you’re feeling really wild, a little bit of sweet potato or maybe a ripe plantain. What will you make?” As an addendum to my own personal version of the Paleo diet, I’ve added on as much dark chocolate (80+ percent) as I want. And of course in order to balance out all the discipline that’s required to not break down and binge on a giant bag of juanitas tortilla chips or a pot of gluten-free rice pasta, I’m allowed to watch as much Gossip Girl as I like. And play online scrabble. As much as I want.

And all of this, of course, makes me feel as though my life is under control. Under MY control. As if I can control anything. Like, I may not have the discipline to work on my manuscript, but at least I haven’t eaten any grains in a while. I may have all this writing just sitting around that just needs a bit of editing and maybe I could get it published somewhere, and here I am unable to work on it, but at least I can stand on one leg and fly forward like a bird in a really hot room without falling over or throwing up. It may be cold and raining outside, and I may be lonely, bored and directionless, but at least I have Netflix, and chocolate covered bacon. And my dogs. Who are awesome.

light bulbs, chihuahuas, and writing about myself

My new apartment is two square rooms, a yellow kitchen counter, and the hum of the fridge. It is the click-click of the baseboard heaters and the cold blue light of the stark-white walls. I have not hung artwork yet. I just moved yesterday from a one-room cottage with a woodstove to this land of carpet, neighbors, and window blinds. But I had to share a kitchen when I lived in the cottage and I don’t want to share a kitchen anymore. I have some money and I want to live alone. I have never lived alone in Portland. I have lived alone in plastic, drafty yurts, I have lived alone in dark cabins made of logs. I have slept alone beneath mosquito netting in a camper van, I have lived alone in a two-person tent that I pitched, surreptitiously, in a patch of woods next to the highway, while I waited for salmon season to start. I have lived alone on the freight train, and always I have lived alone in the copse of trees on the outskirts of town, lying on my back on my foam sleeping pad, watching the birch leaves flip like coins in the wind. But I have not lived alone in Portland and now here I am, in the City, in my very own Apartment. I must be grown up, or I must be anti-social. I am highly efficient, or I am a capitalist tool, unwilling to do the work it takes to share space with others, and so ultimately responsible for the current breakdown of human community, and all of our resulting cultural alienation and existential despair.

In my apartment, now, there are No Distractions To Keep Me From Writing, and it is raining heavily, so even my dog needs nothing. She is a chihuahua, from the desert, and she does not like the rain. If I try and walk her when there is water falling from the sky she will turn, face home, and plant her feet. Sometimes if I stand motionless, the leash taught, and wait a long moment, her peanut brain will reset and she’ll forget why she’s pulling so hard. She’ll trot merrily for another half-block, before she remembers, again, that she doesn’t like the rain.

Today it is raining and dark, I am tired, and I do not know what I need. I am tired today of my small dinners, my cabbage-and-onion browned in a cast iron skillet, my half-a-lemon, my leftover-chicken. I am tired of reading periodicals and watching the rain in the courtyard. I am weary of the way I overthink my relationship with my dog, the way I look at her and try to puzzle out her emotions, the way I project my own negative feelings onto her (Kinnikinnick doesn’t love me, Kinnikinnick thinks that I am a failure) in a way that I do not do with any human relationship.

I am Tired, I have Fatigue, I cannot Concentrate, and so instead of working on my novel here I am, writing about myself, which is what I specialize in anyway, since it is what I have done the most.

Yesterday I was at Fred Meyer buying a can opener and I found myself lingering in the light bulb aisle, picking up the long fluorescent tubes that said things like “sunshine!” and “full spectrum”. I’ve thought, before, about buying a full-spectrum light box, in front of which I could sit, in the mornings, until I became energized. But full-spectrum light boxes are expensive, and what with my solo apartment in the city and all the money I’m spending on healthcare each month and how much Corinne and I like to eat at Chaba Thai, I wasn’t sure that I could afford it. Then, in Fred Meyer, I saw that you could buy the “full spectrum” tubes individually, and that they were the same price as any other florescent bulb. So theoretically I could just get a fixture and put one of these bulbs in it, and then I’d be all set to get jacked each morning on pseudo-sunlight and slowly turn my sad face upside down.

But then, I didn’t know if the ones at the hardware store were really the same as the ones in the light boxes, and I just looked on the internet and the light boxes were on sale, so I bought one.

We shall see, when it gets here, how it makes me feel. We shall see if it can replace the forest, if it can replace the drip of rain in the fir boughs, if it can replace the infinite peace that nature brings. If it can prop up my chi enough for me to write.

In the meantime, dear steadfast reader, I have a question for you- have you ever used a full-spectrum light box, and how did it make you feel. Was it as nice as cross-country skiing? Did it make you feel generous towards your chihuahua? Were you less prone to eat snack chips instead of meals? Did you feel like running in the rain?

 

Look! I wrote something!

My chemistry homework makes an appearance, as does North Dakota.

—————————–

S A D

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It has gotten cold here, sometimes
sometimes it is not cold, but the air is filled with water like someone is misting us
like we are fragile plants that need misting
It has gotten sometimes cold but dark
dark, dark, dark
I do not know where I am
that it is so dark out
where have the trees gone? the sky? the road?
my eyes hurt from non-light
six o’clock feels like ten p.m.
I do not know what to do with this.
I have gone to the gym,
I watched TV on the elliptical trainer.
I do not like the gym.
when I was younger, I rode my bike through the dark, mist stinging my face, grimacing in pain.
I was fearless and brave.
when the ride was over I do not remember how I felt. Transcendent, like I had gone through the oracles and not been shot with laser eyes,
or just cold and wet and miserable, reminded that life is suffering.
My ears painfully red
the leather of my shoes damp
my bicycle rusted.
Now it is dark and I research light-therapy lamps on the internet
with 10,000 Kelvin bulbs
and it doesn’t make me feel any better.
I want to fold up into myself, I want to go blind. I want to find a giant puppy, eviscerate it, and climb inside for heat. I want to drop out of college and go somewhere colder but brighter, like North Dakota. I would have no friends. Friends and light frequently shift on the antique brass scales of my heart.
The country is like a periodic table, light increasing as you go east. I am the element Lithium. I am Oregon. North Dakota is a transition metal and Alaska is a noble gas. I want to go to one of the places that has not been discovered yet, Sunny Ununtrium where the ecosystems are still intact and no-one believes in science. The people who live there talk with their hands and use their voices only for singing. They live in huts thatched with palm fronds and eat coconuts and raw sea-beast. There are giant spiders. But would that really be any different than riding the lightrail downtown, bathed in fluorescent lights and off-gassing plastic? And off-gassing people, who don’t eat any vegetables, who wear too many layers and live in dark, moldy houses. These people have nothing but at least there are cats for them, cats they can feed dry kibble made from the bodies of euthanized shelter animals. Mostly euthanized pit bulls.

I want something exciting to happen. Something really big, like an explosion. Maybe the earth will crash into the sun and all of our molecular bits will dissolve into everything, heat and light and then infinite, infinite cold. I’m not sure if that is better than the park outside my school, where the pumpkin-orange of the maples clashes so well with the grey, grey, sky, and the mist that makes an infinite continuum of the sky. The sky falling down all around us, sifting down, permeating matter and dissolving the trampled leaves. There is beauty here, but there is not light. It is so still it makes me tired. I want to freeze in place on the bricks where I sit until I become a stone and can talk with the trees. We’ll look down at all the people and the bright white glass of the buildings and we won’t think anything.

spring summer everything

spring but it’s cold. But we know it’s spring because the light is out later, and then there is moonlight, the fullmoon, and it’s like the light above the river never leaves, where the trees break, over the water, between the mountains, where the sky lives, the big open part of the world, as if we are insects in a meadow deep down in the grass, unaware of the big open space above. And birds.

It’s cold in my tent but quiet now, on nights where there is no rain. I can hear only the snorting of  yearlings and the soft THUNK of their hooves as they chase each other in the wild strawberries, or run from an unseen evil, a cougar-shaped shadow. There are not very many cougars, and the deer are safe from very nearly everything else. No hunters come here, there are no roads, no cars to take them out at the knees. No cars to take me out. I do not ride a bicycle in the woods. There is no way to die, here. I will live forever.

We will live forever! I asked the trees about it. They told me that no-one dies, a blessing and a curse. We hiked in the woods for a hundred days, sat in the damp moss, got stoned and ate beef jerky, until we couldn’t feel the cold anymore. While I fucked you you looked up at the trees above you, the cedar boughs against the sky. You said you liked it more than anything. Fucking in the woods is like swimming naked, opening yourself up and letting nature get in every little part of you.

I don’t have time to write but I wish I had time to write. I lay in bed in the minutes before sleeping, in the dark, and start to write, but it is too cold to get up or I have no electricity or both or my body says sleep, sleep, because writing comes later, in another life, not this woods life, where I repeat phrases slowly, in my head, to try and remember them, but they are always gone, and in the morning I drink my mug of chickpea miso in the outdoor kitchen and look out at the damp forest that holds dark like a body holds heat, and my mind is empty. Or happy. My mind is happy. Still I try and remember things. Something about our worlds not being congruent. I live in a deep woods and there are hardly any flowering plants, and the rain pools in a million tiny places and the floor is not dirt but a network of tree roots, mycelium, moss, decaying leaves, and bug poop, stronger than anything, and living. It breathes, you can hear it breathe. You can feel it breathe, leaning against a doug-fir in a gentle wind. The world is rocking, did you know? The world is rocking us. It wants us to be soothed. We cut it down to the ground and burn it to ashes, and then there is no-one to soothe us. And you! You live in a world stuffed with flowers and humid, exotic shrubbery. And your people are plagued with allergies. And the floor is concrete. And there is nowhere for the water to go, except against the glass, and into the river, and to the sea. And dark and silence were driven out long ago, to the edges of everything, by the airport, with the coyotes. The dark and the silence and the coyotes live in the tall grass, out on the edge of everything. The sit together, and watch the lights along the Columbia. They think of metal skiffs and the open sea, and lanterns on long poles. They think of fog. They tell themselves old stories. They tell themselves the oldest stories. They wait. They have more patience than anyone.

I think it’s getting warmer. I think summer is coming for sure. I have patience. I have energy. My body functions. I am alive, and I even feel it. I bought a pair of birkenstocks online to bring summer on faster, but they were too big and summer hasn’t come. Just the long wet end of the rainy season, that goes on and on and on. And the books in my tent gather damp, and rain beats on everything. I want it to be so hot the mud paths turn to dust, and my tshirts fade in the bright UV light. I want to turn brown. I want to jump in the river in all of my clothes.

I want to name the deer- I want to recognize them by face. I want to sleep with them in the meadow sometime, my fists filled with grass.

Dispatches from the night-time

It’s so late, and yet here I am.

It’s cold in Portland, cold, cold, cold. Not Alaska cold, but cold for here, and clear, and all the stars are stuck frozen like glass slivers in the dim lid of the sky, the night sky that’s all milky and faded from light pollution and the particulates of furious living, so many humans all in space together, like the flaking layers of a croissant. And the humans live so furiously their lights burn all through the night, and fade the sky, until there is no dark anywhere, just burning, burning, the hot burning of the human race, like a lit cigarette dropped into a forest wracked by drought.

Toby came over for dinner tonight and we made Pho, or a distant approximation of Pho, a soup almost transcendentally brothy. Once upon a time wheat and dairy marched out of my life, just up and left. They were blinked away in an instant- whole lives have been built on wheat and dairy, whole cultures, civilizations! And to think they could just be gone- gone! And their absence left a hole in my palette the size of Rhode Island, and tonight the meaty meatiness of the pho broth almost, almost came close to filling it, like a bit of spackle in a nail-hole. While eating Toby and Eden and I talked about the difference between Memory and Focus, and how none of us had either, and why that was, and was it getting worse as we got older, to which Eden, who is the eldest, replied Yes, definitely. And then I played the game in my head called Trying To Imagine Twenty Years From Now, to see if I had, in the night, grown a special muscle in my brain that suddenly allowed me to inhabit or imagine a time other than the present, and found that I had not. After dinner I walked Toby the three miles home in the starry night, down Alberta with its steamed-up shop windows and strange boutiques that sold hand-made versions of common, un-interesting things, and through the neighborhoods where all the humans were shut up inside, keeping warm, watching TV on the Internet in bed and petting their dusty, arthritic cats. As we walked Toby and I talked about how she’d decided to go to PSU next year, and how I had decided, vaguely, to do something or other similar, although, as we both agreed, I Had Better Get On It. We talked about the practice of making elaborate plans and how, over the years, Life Happens Anyway, in spite of plans, and how suddenly we might find ourselves living someplace, not only because there is no other place to go but also, maybe, because the place where we are just happens to be the place where we live. We paused our walk at the co-op so Toby could buy a peanut butter cookie and the checkout clerk commented on the psychedelic fleur-de-lis print of Toby’s brass-buttoned shirt. “Did you know,” asked the clerk, her flat blonde hair come undone from its clip and falling half over her face, “that a fleur-de-lis is really a stylized iris?”

“An iris?” I asked, astounded. “Really?” The clerk nodded, watching as Toby stuffed her EBT card back into her battered fanny pack and took her cookie.

Back out in the street we plodded west, and Toby told me about the library books she has been reading, which have been almost exclusively about Mexico, including one massive text that has been passing back and forth between her and two other people at the library, each of them putting it on hold, getting it, and then not being able to finish it by the time the next person’s turn comes up. As we neared her house Toby complained about her car, which is just barely broken, but is not, according to her mechanic friend, broken enough to be fixed, and which is also uninsured, but which cannot be insured, because then it must be registered in Oregon, which it is not, and for that to happen Toby must get an Oregon ID, which she does not have, and anyway who needs a car when in Portland it is so easy not to have one? And we mused about the nearly insurmountable mound of Unimportant Things that can tangle, if one is not careful, like blades of grass in the chainrings of day-to-day life, and I thought of how the mechanical parts of my life are like my bike- undermaintained, badly adjusted, and always in need of grease- and yet sturdy, somehow, like simple machines always are, as long as you keep them simple, and don’t get any crazy ideas.

Now I’m home, and it’s late, and I’ve turned the heater on, and eaten a last little bowl of soup. I’m going to crawl into my bed and pile up the blankets like a debris shelter, and when I wake up the earth will have made another revolution around the sun, and I’ll finish painting the front room orange with my housemates, and continue this game of Accidental Living, where one always imagines oneself in search of a home, without realizing that home has been following doggedly along this whole time, just waiting to be noticed, and that one has been alive for quite some time, and will most likely continue to be so, in the future.

Seen on a bumper sticker on Emerson- Home is where your food is.

everything

I sleep with the windows open and it’s cold now, as wintry as Portland will get. In the mornings I come up as if from the bottom of a deep hot pit and the cold air bites the tip of my nose where it sticks out from my ten hundred blankets and my sleeping bag, underneath all of it. I open the blankets and eject my little knitted bear, which has been wrapped up in my arms like a cat. I turn on my cellphone to see what time it is. Usually I’ve got a text from you, because you wake up before I do. Sometimes you’ve left me some soup on the front steps. Sometimes it’s still warm. This morning I wake up right when you’re walking up the driveway so I pull you into my shack, try and drag you down into the watery depths of my bed like an octopus. But you keep your shoes on so you won’t be late for work.

After you leave I get up and shut the window and turn on the space heater. I could keep the window shut at night, but then there’s something I’m allergic to and I stay up all night coughing. Mold! The concrete floor of my shack floods when it rains hard, the whole thing threatens to float away like a ship. I can only imagine what’s happening in the walls. But as long as there’s air circulating at night it’s not too bad, and I’m only mildly expectorant during the day. But still it wears me down a little, at the edges, and I fantasize my way out of here, plan my Great Escape. Only there’s nowhere to go. I can only move horizontally, I cannot transcend gravity. I am the master of my own heart rate.

So I stare at the computer, and think about my audience. Am I writing for you, who I don’t even know? With the shining hair and the glamorous costumes? What is your life even like? I have come to suspect these last few days that life, for nearly everyone, follows the same subtle patterns, and there is no way to transcend it at all. I can only move horizontally. Still I wonder where you sleep, and if you drink out of mason jars like me. Are there people who don’t stare at computers? Are we all jealous, imagining each other living? Last night Peter Fran came over for dinner, and while the shepherd’s pie and zucchini bread were baking we talked about all the horrors of the world, and also all the beauty when things come easily, and the contradictory nature of those ideas, and how try as we might, it was impossible to reconcile the two. It was, and still is, seemingly impossible that we exist in a world that harbors both. It makes a spectrum so wide it won’t fit into my field of vision, and I cannot make heads of tails of any of it. I am, we are, will be, stumbling along, in the middle. I guess that’s why it’s called mystery.

.

.

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(and this has nothing to do with anything, but it’s really, really funny.)