Monday, March 29, 2010

Happy Birthday, 31

I remember when my friend
threw my 21st birthday party.
Someone threw up on the back
step. Someone spanked me
with a frying pan. We almost
had to go to the hospital because
someone took the wrong kind of
drugs. I was thinking about this
as I returned home from
my birthday lunch, 31, with that
same friend. She'd come from
three hours away to be with me.
We slept in the same bed. We had
lunch in the neighborhood where
we lived eight years ago now,
when I spent most of my days
with the blinds drawn in total darkness.
I was thinking about this as I returned
home, from my birthday lunch, 31,
crying. I cried because it's all gone.
I cried because people showed up.
I cried because I was sad about
what's been lost. I cried because
of what's been found. I cried because
I don't know.

And I'm crying right now
because I'm alive.

Monday, March 22, 2010

...and then the world imploded.

So, somewhere along the way between yesterday and today, I realized that I respect blogging as a medium.

This is crazy. It is also crazy that I am conveying this message in a blog--and not my first blog, and not a blog I started somewhere between yesterday and today. But let me be clear on a few things. One, I'm a person, so sometimes my actions are contradictory to my own beliefs. Sure, in a perfect world, it never would've come to this, but it did. I blogged. Which brings me to my second point: I've got an ego. I could write things and save them on my hard drive where they could then languish for all eternity, but then I would never get to bask in the glow of the occasional complimentary comment from someone or another. Really, my blog is a sign that I've got a big old ego but very little faith in my ability to ever get published.

Which, you understand, I've always seen as vastly different from blogging.

I don't know that my argument against blogging was all that unique. I viewed it the same way I viewed the idea of people paying to have their own book published: lame. I suppose there's a very absurd idea at play here, that idea being that unless one is somehow discovered and plucked from the wastebasket of all the people in this world who think they can write (and, believe me, I've read enough bad writing to know that there are lots of people whose writing belongs in a wastebasket) by another person or entity outside of themselves, they're a hack. Anybody can jump online, set up a blogger account, and start posting whatever they like with no controls. That just doesn't seem very impressive. And what, you might ask, about the blogs that take off and get popular? Aren't they "chosen" by another person or entity outside of themselves as worthwhile? Well, that's problematic for people who believe that most people are idiots and can't be trusted with their own taste.

I guess you could say that just this morning I realized that I've been an elitist asshole with an inferiority complex. And, for the record, this whole "blogs are bullshit" argument doesn't apply to blogs hosted on sites for marketing or journalistic purposes wherein the blogger has been hired to write said blogs--although, really, I'd rather these be called "columns", as they are just what would be a newspaper or magazine column hosted online instead of in print. I mean, remember print?

So, when did I have this great epiphany? I was trying to come up with something to write about and absolutely nothing was inspiring me. As usual when this happens after about five minutes of hopeful pondering I started to spiral down into the idea that I was NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO THINK OF ANYTHING TO WRITE ABOUT EVER AGAIN. I was finished. I'd said all I had to say. Since I was obviously never going to be able to come up with any of my own ideas and would subsequently have to shut 'er down and quit the game, I'd have to come up with other ways to pass the time until my eventual death, so I decided to check in on one of my favorite As expected, there was a new post, and it was, indeed, funny. And the girl who is responsible for Hyperbole and a Half posts frequently. Like almost daily frequently. Of course, they're not all pitch perfect, but most of the posts are either hilarious or some approximation of hilarious. And that's when it hit me. Somewhere between my complete demise as a writer and the realization that someone out there probably goes through that on an almost daily basis but pushes through it and perseveres, I recognized that blogging is totally legit! Because the real problem in writing is not whether or not you ever get plucked from the wastebasket by publishing Jesus and singled out for recognition. To some degree, that is a crap shoot. Plenty of great writers have gone to their deaths completely unrecognized, and I've read a lot of shit someone actually plucked out of the wastebasket and paid to have pressed on paper and sold as something pretending to be a good book. No, the real problem is between the writer and the writing.

This whole question of blogging's validity as a medium is really a question about standards. Today I was having a conversation with a coworker about standards of a different nature. It started out as a conversation about linguistics--specifically, the idea that language evolves over time. When I was in college, there was an English graduate student who worked at the video store near campus. Whenever I would go to check out, he would ask me how I was doing. I would always respond with, "Good," and then cringe because I knew what was coming next: he would actually correct me, pointing out that I was, in fact, "Well." I used to see him around the Language Building on campus, and he didn't appear to ever be with anybody else. This little habit might explain why. If we all stuck to such formalized rules of speaking, we'd all still be speaking Elizabethan English like the folks from the furthest reaches of Appalachia. My coworker and I both agreed that there is a difference between the standards in spoken language and the standards in written language, and within that difference there are several other differences. It's fine to write, "How r u 2day?" in a text message, but please, for the love of God, don't write it in a high school English essay. But if there is a need for some kind of standard, where is the line? Blogging is a completely rogue entity. It's the exact thing that the internet was designed to accomplish, namely that anyone could say anything he or she liked. That implies very few, if any, standards. Can something be meaningful without externally imposed standards, or are our standards just another trapping of our egos and an expression of man's drive to survive by getting rid of the competition? Really, the question comes down to this: does everyone get to have a say? Is everyone's viewpoint valid--even if, as a friend of mine once said of someone's blog, his or her writing makes me wish I was illiterate?

I really meant to bring the book with me, but I didn't. I was going to quote Chuck Klosterman here, but I guess I'll have to paraphrase or approximate. In Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman talks about how sometimes writing is easy and sometimes it is like trying to tear down a building with a ball-peen hammer. Sometimes it feels impossible. Sometimes it feels like I'm not up to the task of saying it, and I'm afraid it will be lost. Sometimes it feels like all of my body is shaking with something to say that just cannot be said. Sometimes it feels like it might not even need to be said. And if I can overcome this block--the incessant self-questioning that brings me back here again and again--it is a real feat.

Why would I not want to share that with someone else, even if it is only in a blog?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Veil of Illusion

Sometimes I want to be invisible.

A few years ago I noticed it. It was a Sunday, and I wanted to go to the dance club I've been frequenting for twelve years now. I haven't gotten to know many people there in twelve years, but I've gotten to know a few. When I really cherish a place, I usually don't want to know many people there. I guess it's too sticky. I guess I don't find other people in my freedom.

I wanted to go and dance, but I felt a violent reaction in my body at the thought of having to talk to anyone. The thought of a nameless mass of people surrounding me didn't bother me. Sometimes it's easiest to be alone in the middle of a people who are all paying attention to something other than you. It was the thought that I'd run into someone I knew and have to interact or risk them thinking me strange or a bitch that paralyzed me. I thought, "I could wear a veil! A huge black veil coming down off a hat, covering me to my hips!"

Sometimes I wish I could wear a burqa. I wish I could wear a burqa to work, to the store, around my house when I don't live alone.

I want to be able to slip through the world unseen, free from everyone's watchful eyes and their judgments. It seems that everyone has an opinion about some aspect of who I am. I don't mind that people have opinions. I just wish they wouldn't share so freely sometimes or act as if their affections were so tied to my ability to adhere to a certain set of superficial standards. If I want to stay up all night eating candy, does that mean you have to subtly threaten to leave me?

I know this is just how it feels. It feels like there is all this pressure. It feels like there is this choice to be made. I can't decide if this is just an illusion or something I have to learn to live with. I hear so many different things about the way the world works, and when I've tested each of them they only seem to be true to a point. I am told that I am the one who is too hard on me. "She would not go into company because of the ill-at-ease feeling other people brought upon her. And she never could decide whether it were her fault or theirs. She half respected these other people, and continuous disillusion maddened her. She wanted to respect them. Still, she thought the people she did not know were wonderful. Those she knew seemed always to be limiting her, tying her up in little falsities that irritated her beyond bearing. She would rather stay at home and avoid the rest of the world, leaving it illusory."

This passage from Lawrence's The Rainbow reminds me of when I moved in high school. I was 16. I complained because that is what you do when you are 16. I complained because I was given the subtle impression that I would be perceived as an unfeeling person if I didn't. Even with my feigned complaining I ended up getting a lecture from my brother because I didn't miss my friends enough. But secretly I was elated. I was happy to be leaving what I saw as the confines of the people I'd known since I was a very little girl. I felt free, like I'd been limited by supposedly being known as a certain kind of person and could now be any kind of person I wanted. I immediately cut my hair. It was as if I'd felt I'd had to respond to what was expected of me because no one would believe otherwise.

This is why sometimes I want to be invisible, wear a veil, don a burqa. Because even though just yesterday a friend pointed out that I have always done what I wanted, others be damned, sometimes it gets tiring feeling as if those are two opposing forces--myself and others. And since I cannot make others stop putting their expectations on me, I guess my only option is to cease to exist.

At least in theory.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let's just move to Detroit!

Yesterday I came home from work feeling a little defeated. Why? Because a scant 2-and-a-half months into my new job, I've come to a realization: I cannot stand sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day! Which is what I do! Which, therefore, is the end of the world! I realize that I am just like 98% of the people in this world, but I'm more sensitive than most. Most people can just suck it up and accept their fate, sit at a desk all day and get stuff done. After about two hours of the stuff, my brain starts to freeze up and I find myself perpetually refreshing my Twitter feed, praying for some catastrophic world news or a funny Onion headline to break up the monotony, and beating myself up for being such a worthless sack of crap.

At times it even feels like I can hear myself slowly dying.

I started this job with all the enthusiasm in the world. I know that at 30 I'm way too old for idealism, but I can't help it. Even though I know everything is meaningless, I want to believe in stuff. So I came to work at a non-profit. I help raise the money that keeps this operation afloat. But the youthful (read: delusional) idealism I brought to the job has quickly faded as reality has set in: modern life is absurd and ridiculous and, yes, meaningless. I still believe in being helpful above being a dick, but that's hard to remember when I find myself sitting at my desk at 3 pm fighting the urge to just give up alltogether and stare blankly into space.

So I walk into the house yesterday and find my boyfriend working on a freelance article. Then he starts talking. "Well, today started off strong. I did this, this, and this," he says. "But...then I took an hour-long nap and watched Fletch." I knew he was thinking I'd be horrified by his wasting of time. Mostly I was just horrified at his choice of movies. But as soon as he got out the words "nap" and "Fletch", he started spewing out a very specific list of all the productive stuff, large and small, he'd done as a defense. And I thought, "So, I'm not the only one who feels a little lost at times as to what to do with myself AND beats myself up for it! Sweet!"

I then went on to tell him that I've now decided my dream job is some combination of farmer, professional student and misanthrope. "I've decided that I'm going to stop trying to be a productive member of society!" I declared.

"You do that?"

It would appear not. While I did graduate college in December of 2002, I didn't get a "real job" until, well, January of 2010. I define "real job" as the kind my parents would want me to have--the kind that comes with health insurance and doesn't make people think your child has a drug problem. In other words, not waiting tables or writing for an internet-based business with four employees who all work out of someone's loft in downtown Dallas. My work history is very, let's just say, counter culture. I spent many years thinking that this was somehow causing me misery.

Nope! Turns out I'm just a miserable person! And, hell, if I'm going to be a miserable person, I might as well do something that gives me all the mental and emotional space needed to be miserable without the threat of getting fired!

Today a friend put through a Facebook status update saying that he's comforted when his friends write blogs about how they don't know what they're doing with their lives, either. So, this one's for you, Donald! When I saw that, I thought, "Okay, I get it. EVERYONE, if given the option, would probably be doing something other than what they are doing. EVERYONE has a bit of the old insecurity about what they're doing with their life. Nan, don't blog about this because, at this point, the topic is redundant." I thought that last bit about halfway through this and, quite honestly, don't want to waste the copy. It left me thinking, though, that maybe the key is to accept my fate and just try to focus on the parts of my life that make the drudgery bearable.

But then I think, "Hey, if life really is meaningless, why not go ahead and give this whole misanthropic student farmer thing a try?" If everything is nothing, what have I got to lose?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Want to know what eternity sounds like?

This morning I woke early. I like to get up before anything else gets up. I laid in bed next to my love, my belly pressed to his back, my legs curved to fit with his legs. I placed my open palm to his belly. I prayed. "Thank you," I said.

I got up and started the coffee. I exercised. I stretched. Then I poured myself my first cup of coffee and sat down on the couch. I like to take my mornings slow, allow time to stretch out in front of me, to circle me like a halo and stand still before it suddenly snaps back like elastic and becomes taunt once again. When you're the only thing awake, it feels like waking up after the bomb.

I was sitting on the couch, still and quiet, when I suddenly recognized the voice in my head. There is always a hum in the background. Often I don't even notice what it is. Sometimes it's music. Sometimes it's chatter. Most of the time it's both layered on top of each other, incoherent and constant. It pretends to be white noise. But somehow, against the quietness of my morning, it managed to stand out in high relief from the blankness and become clear.

The voice was talking shit.

It was jumping from person to person like a bee travels between flowers. "He does this. She does that. They do this. They do that." Each statement might sound like simple fact save the tone. Judgments are hard to see. They are not colored by our worldview; they are our worldview. Judgments are what we have come to believe to be good and bad. If asked to write down on a piece of paper what we believe, most of us would lie. Most of us wouldn't even know we were lying. Is telling an untruth lying if you don't know you're lying? If you believe what you say, aren't you telling the truth?

If you want to know what you really believe, get up before the rest of the world and try to be quiet. Your mind will continue to work with very little effort. It will say things without your conscious attempts at crafting interesting sentences. It will tell you what you think of as good and what you think of as bad. It will tell you things you didn't even know you thought--and some of it will be stuff you don't want to know. Let your mind wander. Sometimes I am shocked at what my brain will tell me I believe if I let it go off unsupervised.

I have to hear this voice before I can begin to understand or change myself.

Over the last week, I have had the honor of being in the great well of sadness. It is a feeling I wouldn't describe as depression. It is like being in contact with the reality of suffering. This morning, when I was sitting on the couch and eavesdropping on my thoughts, I realized that these thoughts cause so much of that sadness. I am held down by them. I am also grieving what is lost when I buy into them. I believe the sadness may come from my soul observing my mind.

There was a Grimm's fairy tale about a forrest where all the roads lead back to the middle. If someone set out to escape the forrest, he might think he was heading the right direction until he found himself inexplicably back in the middle again. So I follow these thoughts and they lead me back to the middle again. I've unhooked myself from the world only to get hooked again. Again and again and again we do this if we're seeking to raise our consciousness. And it's just when you think you've gotten to the top of the mountain that you look up and realize you're actually back at the bottom.

Time snapped back taut when I heard my neighbor fire up his old clunker to go to work. I don't know that I learned much of anything this morning except that maybe I know even less than I thought I did, which was a great deal less than I knew when I was twenty. I find myself more and more in awe of how little I know the longer I stay alive. And they say that it is our thoughts that create our feelings! What am I going to do!

Why, think less and listen more, of course!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sense and Nonsense

Last night I painted. Now, I’m a writer. I’ve always painted, but mostly because there’s something soothing about the process and sometimes I come up with something I actually like (enough to hang on my own walls but would never pretend to be able to pass off as “art”). I was even an art student for about a year, which is laughable considering I make art like I shoot pool—I’m either completely on or completely off and have very little control over which state I’m in at any given point.

So last night I painted. I painted a copy of a piece by a famous artist I had made into a slide and then projected onto a canvas. It’s a lot more fun and affordable than ordering prints, and the piece ends up looking “real.” I will put it up on my wall and feel an odd mixture of accomplishment and pride over the fact that I now “own” a knock-off Beardsley.

Human emotion is a funny thing, but sometimes you have to just play into it.

There are two camps when it comes to creatives: writers and everybody else. A specific kind of person becomes a writer, and there’s a reason they become a writer as opposed to a painter, sculptor, performer, dancer, actor, photographer or musician. A real writer doesn’t become a writer because he or she shows any proficiency for the skill or writing—lots of people are grammar nerds and not writers. Writing is the act secondary to the need. While every other medium requires some sort of physical interaction with the subject while the piece itself is being made, writing requires none. In fact, writing automatically separates the writer from the subject, drawing a hard line from behind which the writer can more clearly observe and define. I can describe the physical sensation of the need. It’s very much like the reason I started smoking. It’s also why I often suddenly wish that I could walk around wearing a veil so that no one could see my face. I have a simultaneous need to exist in concrete terms while being invisible. Smoking is an action that allows me to do something while also blocking intrusion by the outside world. Wearing a veil would be much the same. Writing is exactly the same.

I’ve noticed that I’ve lost my taste for writing.

Yesterday I was reading about Cosey Fanni Tutti, a member of the music projects Throbbing Gristle and Chris and Cosey and a performance artist. I’ve always wanted to be a performance artist. It seems like a really good way to get to be naked in public. I realized at some point while reading about her that right now I want to make physical art. I use such a broad term because I’m not tied to the idea of what kind. For me the process of making things is what is most important to me, so what is made is secondary to the process of making it. There is something very different about the process of making things from the process of writing. When I am writing, I’m trying to bring some sort of truth to bear. Writing poetry is a little more like creating visual art for me in that I feel like I’m taking a picture of a place that doesn’t exist in physical terms when I write a poem, but it’s still ultimately about taking a picture of a word that represents a feeling or idea. The making of physical art is a physical experience. My whole body gets involved. At some point my brain actually stops thinking, and I move from trying to bring some sort of truth to bear using language as a representation to actually bringing an experience to bear in real time using the experience itself. Writing is about meaning. Quite frankly I find most writing that isn’t trite. But making physical objects can be about the space between meanings or the space that isn’t meaning. It can mean nothing. It can simply be about physical experience in a way that writing can’t because writing is not itself a physical experience.

Ultimately I’m a writer because I’m ambivalent about whether or not living life is a worthwhile endeavor. I’m here, so I’ll make the most of it. But had I been given a choice, I don’t know that this would’ve been my first one. I still form attachments to this world, but I like to remain a little detached. I’m the kind of person who likes to think about things to the point that it’s questionable whether I’m actually doing anything. Writing is mentally active but physically passive.

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong,” said Joseph Chilton Pearce. I find that this is precisely why I am having such a hard time with writing lately and feeling so much more drawn toward making things. I have no problem with the idea that other people might not like what I write or agree with what I say. It is not this kind of being wrong that I have a problem with. I have a problem with the fact that writing is about a concrete idea, and I am unwilling to stake a claim on any one idea at the moment. It is the fact that I have come to lose interest in almost every kind of subject upon which one might make a judgment and the wrongness that might ensue from this dilemma with which I have a problem. I do not believe in power struggle anymore; power is an illusion. There is nothing left to fight. I also believe that almost everything is meaningless and that which has meaning is something I cannot ever ferret out completely. So what is there to say?

At this point I must pause to point out that I’ve written a page-and-a-half of copy about how I have nothing to say. “We say little if not egged on by vanity,” said Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld.

Which brings me perfectly to my point. For years I have tried to move beyond vanity into meaning. Now I have found meaning wanting—or, at the very least, explored meaning to the point at which it has lost meaning. Now I want to play with vanity. When the world was full of meaning, vanity seemed superficial, the antithesis of everything I believed to be important. And, oddly, I find that superficiality is still abhorrent, but in a different way. I find that those who ascribe a deep meaning and importance to superficiality are generally wretched individuals. While I said most things are meaningless, I do believe there is a meaning which I have not yet discovered. I believe this meaning has something to do with the overcoming of the ego and the movement into oblivion. But I am intrigued by the idea that we can flaunt our vanity simply for fun. I’ve always been a very serious person, even as I was an adventuresome and frivolous person. I took everything seriously. I feel like making things instead of writing things down will open me up to being completely unserious about everything. It will allow me to put aside my fear of being wrong because I won’t have to stake any kind of claim. I will not have to make an argument.

I will just have to make a thing, and what are things but nothings?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Them Babies Got Scabies

I once heard the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron compare addiction--anything that binds us and creates a compulsion--to scabies. She says that we are like a child with a bad case of scabies. If the child goes to the doctor, the doctor will tell him not to scratch because this only makes the scabies worse. The itch is so bad. The child wants to scratch. The child knows that if he scratches, he will get temporary relief. But this ultimately makes the itch worse. But, she says, if the child loves himself enough, he will not scratch...

Read about shenpa and the art of staying here.