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.

Hermitism, youth, and the goddess of decomposition.

It is springtime, I have springtime insomnia. I become furiously excited and then, it rains, and I wilt, and my excitement turns to cold fear, and I lay in bed and pick apart my brain, wondering what I am doing wrong and how I can fix it.

This afternoon, while standing over the sink in my trailer, drinking water from an old blue mason jar and watching the rain, I came to a realization-

There is always the same amount of suffering. If I lived in the forest, in a tree- if there was no electricity or plastic and I got to walk barefoot, all the time, in the forest- life would not be awful in the ways it is awful now, but it would be awful in its own, special way. Maybe this sounds obvious to you but I often tell myself that life is hard just because I am in the city, and blah blah blah, if there were enough people living on enough land I would live there and life would be so much better- but then today, drinking water from my jar, I admitted to myself that this is not true.

One year ago I heard the saying “One happy thing is every happy thing” and it struck me like a bell, and made me feel less fidgety. And then this afternoon I realized that one awful thing, too, is every awful thing- that there is no hierarchy of awful, there is no escaping awful.

The past three days I’ve been a little sick, and also depressed, I think, and I missed class and I walked my dog to the library, through the beautiful neighborhood with the huge trees leafing out and snowing blossoms everywhere, and I checked out Craig Thompson’s Habibi, and then, back at my trailer, that is what I did, read Habibi, for three days. Habibi is overwhelmingly beautiful, and if you haven’t read it, you should. It is expensive but if you remind yourself that the library exists, then you remember that life can be easy, too. Also, in my trailer, with the rain coming down, I read James Baldwin, and I started the Grapes of Wrath again. Then today I did writing exercises with my friend Sweethome, in her kitchen, and for our second prompt we each made a list and then exchanged lists, and wrote from that. In the list we had a dead person and I had put James Baldwin in mine, and Sweethome didn’t know who James Baldwin was, so in her piece she had James Baldwin dying on a rocky plateau in Russia, mourned by a boy with wheat-colored hair. I thought it was appropriate. Sweethome is a magical, shiny yoga teacher who makes me feel calm and who appears, as yoga teachers do, as though she will live forever.

I keep thinking of moving to the desert but then I think of the loneliness, of leaving all my friends behind. I think of a wind-swept expanse of cracked earth and just myself, alone, slowly going mad from the solitude. I tend towards hermitism as it is, here in this teeming city of extremely likeable people. There are so many friends I already do not see often enough, and I live less than two miles from most of them. I beat people back with sticks until they forget about me, and then I can approach them on my own terms, like a feral cat. I become overwhelmed, for some unfathomable reason, when people actually want to make plans with me. I don’t know what I am afraid of, but just thinking about it makes me want to lock the door of my trailer, turn up the space heater, climb in bed with a stack of books and my dog, and not leave for many days. I am, as you can imagine, the absolute worst person to get into a relationship with. And of course I tend to date people who want to hang out constantly. And I am always disappointing them, and they are forced to psycho-analyze my behavior in some attempt to find the “pattern” so that they can figure out my “intimacy issues”, as if existence were a tapestry woven neatly of tidy little threads. And the people that I date, the ones who want to hang out all the time, and be married, and have babies, forever, also tend to date people like me, who mostly just want to be by themselves. I don’t know why this is except that it’s the way that everything is.

Speaking of friends, my friend Madeline is moving away this summer and it makes me very sad. Madeline is my oldest Portland friend and also one of my closest friends. For nearly a decade our lives have been parallel, coming apart and then together again, like a braid. When I lived in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula she was my only friend out there, aside from the stars and the elk, who would huff, just beyond the yellow circle of my porchlight. That was a hard year for Madeline, and she spent much of the winter weeping in the pile of blankets that was her bed, on the upper floor of a hundred year-old farmhouse on a dark country road in the middle of the forest. I would visit her, and pet her cat, and sit in front of the woodstove. Her housemates would have made chicken soup and biscuits and the kitchen would be filled with steam. On sunny days Madeline would go to the barn, where a trapeze hung from the rafters and she would swing around and around on it, like a monkey.

Madeline and I met in 2003. I was twenty-one and we were both staying in a small peaked house that got so much traffic from overly-eager anarchists like ourselves that it felt more like a community center than a house, and the FBI would occasionally visit, which I thought was really, really cool. It was summer and Madeline wore short-shorts and a leopard-print top that she’d freeboxed. She was really tan and her hair was wild, like she’d been electrocuted. She carried the skin of a housecat with her everywhere, she’d found it in the road and she was slowly working it with her knife, to make it soft. That’s how we all were. There was nothing subtle about any of us. I, for my part, was just beginning to use freight trains and the fact that I could live without money to prove, once and for all, that I actually had an identity.

Of course young anarchists are the foot-soldiers of gentrification, and so it was no surprise when it turned out that our house was at the very center of the newest hip neighborhood of rapidly gentrifying Portland, like right at the exact intersection of the very center of the most desirable new neighborhood (where, of course, the black people have always lived). And so we were all evicted so that the landlord could sell our dilapidated, one-bedroom shotgun shack (that was never meant to house eleven people), and it could be painted a cheerful green, and it is now, somewhat inadequately, a storefront.

Madeline was also the inspiration for my story Madge and Pansy, which some nice person then made into an audio recording which you can listen to on your computer, part one and two.  She’s the inspiration for a lot of my writing, actually.

Madeline is moving to Bellingham, which is a place I know nothing about except it’s rainier than Portland, and much closer to Canada. And I have a cousin who lived there once, and he would smoke pot and drink coffee and go to the beach and have epiphanies. I want to say that I’ll visit Madeline in Bellingham, in the moldering old mansion where I imagine her living, but it’s hard, right now, to imagine going anywhere that is more rainy that this. I don’t, actually, want her to move to Bellingham. I want her to move to New Mexico with me. I want to take all my friends to New Mexico with me, in a caravan. We can gentrify a neighborhood somewhere in the desert, and start this process all over again. Or we’ll go out into the desert and build our own neighborhood, from old trailers. We’ll have chickens and goats and there will be babies and feral kittens and lots of life and death. And none of the trailers will have mold in them, because it will be the desert. In the desert, objects last forever. Here in the rainforest there is a vicious beast called Decomposition, and she stalks your houses, your buildings, your objects left out in the elements. She injects them with her seed, which is small droplets of water. Small droplets of water to feed the moss, the mycelium, the primary decomposers. Powerful forces to tumble your house of cards. Decomposition thinks that cities are just unruly leaf piles, she works her magic to turn them back into forest floor. We hammer away, prop things up, tie things together with twine. We are faster, more nimble, but still it feels almost impossible.

I am talking about the moss, of course, growing on the caulking that seals the outside edges of my trailer. This summer I will scrub my trailer, and paint it, but for now it is slowly being eaten.

One awful thing is every awful thing, and now, I think, I can sleep.

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.

It doesn’t ever stop raining

Ever. It’s always been raining, and it will always rain. The ocean is broader and deeper than the depths of my imagination, and each day small bits of it rise up, roil through the air, and pound the edges of the continent. We are an extension of the ocean, we are the inner edges of the continental shelf. We are the pacific northwest. We are underwater.

Tonight, at sunset, the light broke through the mounded-up, blue-white clouds and lay, like orange paint, on all the west-facing surfaces. Fig trees, fence posts, wooden garage doors. A rainbow appeared, too, half-hearted, over everything. The streets sparkled in their joyous wetness, as if the world was a creek-rock that looked better wet. Then the sky clogged up and the half-hearted rain began again over the half-hearted rainbow. The light was gone- a greeting card from a better place. North Dakota, maybe, where one will predictably find a ball of retina-burning yellow unshakably aloft in the sky, but the wheat fields are too lonely, and there is too much wind.

Here, between the ocean and the mountains, there is no wind. Does the sun make the wind? Once, we drove east, to find the sun. After eighty miles the light was suddenly, blindingly bright, and looking behind us we saw the edge of the cloud, roiling in the atmosphere but not, somehow, able to make it any further. We pulled the truck off the highway, onto a narrow dirt road that wound around the hills, now bare of trees. We parked next to a gate, and began to climb. The earth was rocks, and blue grass, and small yellow sunflowers, the sky was blue and bare, and the wind beat at our faces like a rolled-up newspaper. We grinned, our hearts pounding, our lungs gasping at the clear, dry air, air from which there was no need to filter damp cobwebs of mildew and cloying, always-blooming roses. The dogs bounded ahead of us, ears flattened. As we walked upwards over the open, flowery hills the wind beat us harder, until at last we were on the top, and the earth was a sleeping woman below us. There, at the top, the wind was like a truck that bore down on us, out of the nothing, and the sun was thin and helpless. We looked at the spine of the earth, held our hands to our cold ears, and walked down again, gasping for breath.

The wind, the rain, the sun- too much, not enough. There is nothing wrong with the weather, it is our desires that cripple us. I want it to be sunny, I wish it would stop raining. Who is larger, us or the weather? Who is older? What comes from what? The ocean is larger than anything, and when my bones, from lack of vitamin D, turn to sand castles, I will be washed away with the rest of the shore, turned into something new. We have the weather inside of us- barometric pressure, the moon’s gravity, we have dreams about earthquakes, tsunamis. We are, in our hearts, like rabbits, running from the forest, anticipating fire. I will stop pretending, this June, that anything other than rain happens here, in the rain cloud, next to the ocean. I will accept the melancholy that comes with the cold, wet rain, the way it smothers my sense of urgency. I am the rainclouds, I come from the ocean. I am sleepy, there is no time. Sometimes I am the wind, expanding and contracting in space. But right now I am the rainclouds, and there is nothing that I want.

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?

 

water, dreams, cupcakes, the ocean floor

My dreams have been so magnificent lately.

Picture this: It is the end of the world. The lowlands are filled with clear water. All you clothing is red. It’s warm, and someone is coming after you. You have to swim. You have to hide. You have to cross narrow trestles that glisten in the moonlight. The sky is empty and black. All the plants are green. Quickly! Someone is following you, and you’re not afraid. You’re excited. This is what you’ve been waiting for, for years. This is what you’ve been waiting for. To run, to hide.

You climb aboard a freight train. You’re bound and dumped onto a freight train. You wake up from a groggy sleep, on a freight train. The train is like no freight train you have every been on. It is a ghost freight train, dark. The only thing shining is the tracks. The cars are low and made of rough, rusted steel. The train is endless, going on forever. The train is narrow, you must hold on. The train moves slowly through the secret night. This train is going to the moon.

It’s the end of the world again. You have to swim. You’re wearing a heavy pack and you sink, but you’re a good swimmer and you reach the surface and clutch the grass, the railroad tracks. The water is cold and black like tea. Now there are sharks, and waves crashing against a steep concrete slope. You’re in the ocean. You’ve lost your small boat, in which you’d moved beneath the moon.

You wake up. It’s late. The sun is out. Corinne has also dreamt of sharks.

I love my dreams.

Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago, but didn’t post, because I thought there wasn’t any yearning in it.
——————————————

It’s not very cold outside
and my woodstove is strong
the earth has gone wet, and black,
each year’s tragedy
we fall into mourning
for this:
the flaming leaves, the dark that hurts our eyes
wet and black
I don’t want to go anywhere, anymore. I just want to go inside myself, and other people. It feels like the time to look and see what others have been doing: wintertime.

on the internet there are images
of the Caribbean
and beneath the warm blue waters
there are gray concrete sculptures of people
ordinary people
and on their faces grows coral
the color of strawberry milkshake
and where their hair ornaments would be
are bottle-brushes of white
and from their shoulders burst turquoise plants, arrogant and brave
it is what it would look like
if history ended
it is what it would look like
if people didn’t matter
if all that mattered
was the way a woman’s nose was shaped
and the way the light looked
on the loose sand of the ocean floor

I do not much like this poem
or whatever it is that I am writing
I have no yearning, right now
I want nothing
not even chocolate cupcakes or a knee-high, snow white dog, dripping wet
that would find me in the forest, lost and enchanted
and I would take her home and we would dance around, in front of the woodstove, and then she would sleep, and I would touch her forehead gently
If I have no yearning, how can I write? I am fed, warm, have good soft lighting, sleep well. There are pleasurable things in the world- junk shops, free books, sausage, coconut soup. I am not curled under a thorn bush in Arizona, dying of loneliness, listening to the crickets, waiting for sunrise.
I cannot wait to write about all of that.

Look! I wrote something!

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

—————————–

S A D

———

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.

I’m back

It is so strange to be back in the city.

It is raining, I cannot ride my bicycle. The air is cold and grey- there is fruit out there, ripening, figs and blackberries, but I do not know how to find them. Last September it was not like this- last September there was long yellow light and the sidewalks were strewn with walnuts and moldering flower petals.

It is hard to leave the forest. They dry, breezy forest where I have slept these last five months. In the forest there are always good smells, pine pitch and green things, everything is fresh, there is dust, and small mammals with bright black eyes who make their lives in the dirt and the moss and in the food cabinet of the outdoor kitchen, in a crumpled plastic bag. They eat the bag of green tea that was left there. They eat fifteen grains of brown rice. They do not want the rice cakes. No-one wants the rice cakes, not even me. Rice cakes are famine food, although I did not used to feel this way. The mice build a nest of hair and cloth fibers behind the bottle of olive-oil. They have just gotten settled when I wake them, mid-day, and they stumble out on their hopping gerbil-feet and huddle, confused and disoriented. I can not bear to scold them because they eat green tea-leaves and harm no-one. Gentle beings with their tiny, beating hearts.

It is so strange to be back in the city. I woke too early this morning, all the world was present in the warm damp wind from the window- jet-planes were in attendance, and freight trains, and buses, and garbage trucks with their crashing sounds of glass like windows breaking. If only there were the sounds of water running underground, and the clatter of breakfast dishes, and stars exploding. But it is hard to be present to the whole world at once- my ignorance of some things keeps me sane. I do not think I could stand to hear the stars exploding.

Not in attendance were the animal sounds. “I think that the season of screaming birds is over,” I say to you, from my half of the bed. We are both bathed in light, much more light than I am used to. Your old bedroom, downstairs, got little light. And in the forest the light was blocked by leaves and wood. Now you have moved into an attic bedroom with windows at both ends, and the light and winds blow through, woo-woo, in one end and out the other, and shine off the hardwood floors and colorful walls. There is room for yoga and dancing and a dozen reading chairs. The view is of peaked rooftops and the tops of trees. And in the distance, a rainbow windsock. And the thick grey sky.

The rain has stopped, and there is so much to do. It is September, and there are so many things. I can write again, and soon I start school. Today though I will unpack the car, and get on my bicycle, and go to the grocery story for carrots and chicken broth. I will do laundry and go to the bank. I will make my bed and put the books on my bookshelf. I will search out more Fitzgerald. I will sleep early, in the dim musty light of my shack, with its walls banked in moldering leaves and its light filtered through raspberry canes. And tomorrow! And the next day! And all of September! And I am in the city now!

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.

dispatches from the land of head-cold

Today I feel sad, and I have Too Much Time. Too much time to miss you, to feel out of sorts, to feel alone, to resent people who are different than me. Too much time to think. And I feel ill, just a little. People are sick and I don’t usually get sick, but then I worked too hard for the people who couldn’t work, because they were sick, coughing up blood, and now I’m sick too, although it’s a sickness that won’t show it’s face, explosive diarrhea and a vague heavy feeling in my skull. My skull feels too hot and my bones ache.

My back aches. No matter what I do, my back aches. I lay on my back and it aches. It won’t rest, it’s like a stiff door, badly hung. Twisted hinges. I’m badly hung. Underused and overused. I am not like a horse, standing in a field of peonies, next to some wheat, in the sunset. I am not a beautiful hippie woman, with perfect posture and long silver hair. My back is all twisted and dull. It aches.

Hot. I feel hot. It’s raining outside, and damp. I don’t have a house, just a tent. In the tent it’s cold. I can’t get warm, but my head it feels hot. I go into the library and lay on the couches. It’s crowded but I pull my hood up around my face. There’s a hippie woman napping on the couch next to me, a purple sarong wrapped around her. It’s over her face, protecting her dream world from outside intrusions. Her purple-lit dream world. Soft light drifting in, the distant sound of children. Everything is distant. She’s dreaming of the strong horse in the field of peonies, in the sunset. Her fat toes are curled. She’s wearing stacked anklets of green and yellow beads. Two gay dudes in tye-dye sit down on the couch between myself and the hippie woman and start talking about real estate. They sit too close to my feet. I can smell their sugary gum. They flex their socked feet on the coffee table and put their arms around each other. I want to snuggle my feet against their legs.

Outside it starts to rain, hard. I think of the people standing in line for food. It’s the solstice, but there is no sun. The sky is crying. Nature is having a temper tantrum. You can’t get mad at nature. Nature is not the enemy. Like how you can’t get mad at babies, and dogs. Nature is feeling its feelings. Nature is not capable of being manipulative.

Now the gay dudes are talking about the price of custom suits. They are talking about vacation. They are talking about two pairs of pants and two shirts. They are talking about wrinkle free. Outside the rain won’t let up. Some people have strung up a tarp and underneath it, folks are eating salads in tupperware bowls. And chocolate cake. Paula made twenty industrial-size chocolate cakes on Thursday, enough cake for six hundred people. Four of the cakes were gluten free. All of them were vegan. It is excellent cake, springy and brown, the top dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It leaves your fingers glistening with oil. It makes you want More Cake.

The library is growing more crowded. People are trying to escape the rain. They have taken back the dining room, they are unstacking the tables and pulling down the chairs. Now we will have to clean the dining room, and sweep up their dirty footprints. They don’t want to sit on the grass, and eat in the rain. The rain is like pencils falling. The drops are that big. It makes a thrumming noise on the tarp and the roofs of the buildings, like pencil-tips. Someone is playing a hand drum. The din of voices is growing in volume.

Now the gay dudes are talking about Europe. They have smooth skin and graceful hair. They lean into each other and chew their gum. They are wearing blousy sarong pants. They make me want to have sex. I imagine they have sex the way people do yoga. Shamelessly, and for health.

Now they are talking about dual citizenship, and vitamins. They want to move to Europe. In Italy and Greece they feel like kings. I’ve seen pictures of those Italian men, with their fitted suits and pushed-up jacket sleeves.

Now, outside, the people are singing. They’re not singing in English. They’re singing secret, timeless hippie songs, stolen from other cultures. The pencil-tips tap ceaselessly on the tarp, the silver pencils, and turn to water, and soak into the earth. The river swells. The pencils are growing shorter- golf pencils, library-reference pencils. The pencils are growing blurred and indistinct. Soon, the air just undulates, saturated and wet. It is a freshwater sea, filled with cotton sarongs. The people are finished eating from their dinners, they’re snapping their cold fingers. They’ve finished their salad greens, their shreds of raw beet. Tomorrow, all the water in the port-a-poties will be purply-pink. They’re content to all sing now, together, off-key. The river swells, the water drips from the needles of the trees. The sun will come out again, or it won’t.