Saturday, February 24, 2007

Come to Think of It


I'm going to unlock that post.

Because secrecy is stupid.

Dizzy Pep Talk

I haven't been active here in a while and that's making me feel guilty.

I must be, deep down, Catholic. Or Jewish. Or just guilty, sinful, bad to the bone.

But I've been writing on Facebook and Livejournal. In fact, I just wrote something for Livejournal that makes me feel a bit queasy. I locked it, felt guilty for locking it, felt damn guilty for even writing it in the first place (sworn in some cases to secrecy, blah blah, but who can carry the load of all that emotion without exploding? Fuck secrecy, in fact. It's one of the causes of what happened to make me write the goddamn post in the first place). This is like being on one of those creaky merry-go-round devices you find in some parks, the kind that you grab onto and run with, then leap into the middle and try not to puke.

And, and Kyle, I read through all of your blogs--you must be going through a massive growth spurt of some sort (intellectual, emotional) and you're having the requisite growing pains, the kind that keep you up and night in a low level whole body moan. Ugh. Anyway, that's my spot analysis/diagnosis, for what it's worth.

I'm not gonna say, hey, you'll get over it, because what if you don't? I'm over 40 and I'm not over some of the stuff that mushroomed out of my early 20s and probably never will be. I still think about that first serious, longterm boyfriend--wonder where he lives, what he's doing, if he thinks about me, if the story of our relationship has warped him at all. Narcissism? Whatever. It's my life. It's your life. You have to be able to live it, to write about it, talk about it, and not continually, obsessively apologize for it, or feel guilty about it. If your friends can't let you be, if they have to keep licking at the sore, chewing on it, until it gets bigger then (she said, putting on her mother hat), probably they aren't your "best" friends. It's like any relationship that goes sour--you can't breathe right or see the thing until you're out of it, until you get some space.

Oh. Hm. Seems like I pep-talked myself just now, eh?

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Meg suggested that I could have written, yesterday, about how she vibrated me during our college's first ever presentation of the Vagina Monologues. My phone was in my coat pocket, and the coat was draped against the back of my seat, and while one of the young actresses presented an impassioned version of "My Vagina was my Village," it began to vibrate.


On my left, KC looked around.

Why is this phone so fricking vigorous? I wondered. I wanted to clutch the pocket and see if I could mute it, but I knew it was buried down near the bottom of the seat, under me, and I'd cause more of a ruckus trying to get at it. I thought it was my friend Amy calling from Texas (the Bush state, how appropriate would that be?)--we'd been playing phone tag for days. But it was Meg, who'd gotten her Valentine's Day present from New College, a phone interview that went stunningly well, that ended in a "I'm sure you'll be hearing from us soon" exit line.

Our college is Catholic, and so getting the Vagina Monologues has been a long, strange trip. Every time we get the idea that we'll do it, someone in the Cardinal Newman Society gets wind of it and starts a bombing campaign.

Afterwards, some of us stayed behind with a few of the actresses and a professor who teaches Feminist Theology to talk about the production, and the impediments against it. Some of the actresses, all of them students at the college, thought that it might have something to do with the "vulgarity" people ascribe to the word, vagina, or to the repressive nature of Catholic conservatism, wanting to shut sexuality into a box that can only be opened after marriage, and then only for a second before clapping it shut again. Some of us thought that the idea of pleasure is too upsetting to the Puritanical American sensibility.

I think it has a lot to do with love; love is a dangerous, unsettling activity. It opens us up, makes us take risks, makes us vulnerable, might even change our minds. Love takes work. Love takes thought, effort, energy.

It's hard for us to love ourselves, especially if we're women. Self love is power, confidence, assertion, empowerment. If I say, hey, this is what I want and I demand it, then I'm aggressive, potentially a bitch. If I say "vagina," I make people look at me, see me, hear what I have to say. Think about me. If I say that I love my vagina, then I say that I love myself, and at the same time I take that part of myself out and show it. Make it seen.

Do we want people who have historically been taught to love others above themselves to turn that love inward rather than outward? Do we want women to celebrate their bodies, themselves, over the bodies of their husbands, their children, their country, the law, God?

Probably not.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Running Out of Gas

It's getting very hard to fill two different blog spots, I tell you. I just finished typing a story about Lizzie into Facebook, which I then copied into LiveJournal and appended with another scene, and now here I am, on empty.

I could write about the disappointment I experienced with the Nevada Barr book on tape, Blind Descent, that I checked out of the library. Tape 2 was completely screwed--every other phrase or so was gargled or deleted--so I had to return it after getting a whole tape in. Boring.

I could write about how hard it is for me to remember things lately, but that's old news.

I could write about the Qigong class that I'm starting this afternoon, or how I can't drive Dave to his appointment with the oral surgeon (he's getting all 4 of his wisdom teeth yanked) because of it, which makes me feel guilty and less than uber-wifely, but that's ho hum at best.

I could write about the quiz taker down the hall, making up a missed exam and coming, now, to the end of her 50 minutes, so that means I have to get up, ugh, and go down there and pry it loose from her hands. The equivalent of doing the dishes.

I could just announce that I've had it, I can't keep this pace up, I can't think of pithy things to write about writing (or anything else, for that matter), so I quit, I'm going back to one blog and that's it. But that would just be a momentary tantrum and I'd regret it later. Like at the end of the sentence. And I'd delete it and have to think of something else to write.

I could pull down one of the binders overhead and see what I was writing 18 years ago, since I've got all the letters I wrote on my first computer (a Macintosh Plus) printed out, or dip into one of the dozens of notebooks stacked on a shelf behind the comfy chair, here in my office, but usually that makes me a mixture of bored and queasy. Also embarrassed for myself, the self I was in the past.

I could read some of the poems I was writing when I was an undergrad, but I did that yesterday. I could look at my dissertation notes (saw into my veins with a dull knife) or the letters Daddy Roy MacDiarmid (the dead one) wrote home from college and grad school. The first will make me dizzy and the second will make me lonely.

This has become one of those arch, self-indulgent meta(non)fictional accounts of my arch, self-indulgent middle class middle aged life.

So I'll just end it and go to the bathroom (turns out I've been holding it in for a bit here, inventing urgency). Piss out this discontent, this vague ennui, go to lunch, read my students' love poems, and Qigong myself into the weekend.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Teacher Man

I'm now reading the latest, greatest offering from Angela's Ashes writer Frank McCourt. It's fun and it makes me slightly embarrassed. He writes, in the first three chapters, of how he's not teaching correctly--instead of covering the material, he's telling stories about himself. He knows that the students are pulling him off the track of the lecture deliberately. That they'd rather do anything but what's required. Still, he lets them. He allows them to pull him off the track into his life, his past, into story land.

Of course that's what I do. I tell stories about myself, Lizzie, Dave, high school days, that have nothing very much to do with the subject at hand--literature, how to write a poem about grief. When I do it, I feel the same elation as Mr. McCourt. Time passes before we can catch it. Bells ring, classes change. Sometimes, before that happens, someone in the class offers her own story.

I'm sure that McCourt's lurking thesis is that this is real teaching, after all. Still, we have to suffer through that sense that we're misleading them, that we're taking them away from their destination, that we're incompetent, selfish, self-involved shysters rather than teachers.


Talked to a friend this morning about what it means to be an Adult Child of an Abusive Parent. "Turns out," I said, "all of my friends are Adult Children of Abusive Parents."

She snorted. (She's a therapist.) "Well, duh."

"I've gotten through all the descriptions of the problem and now I'm at the part where I learn how to heal. Problem is, I don't want to heal. I think I want to hang on to this problem."

"You've got to stop repeating the same old stories from the past. Got to move on," she said, as if she'd managed, somehow, to put away her own horrifying stories of neglect and abuse, along with all the clothes and books stacked in her basement. As far as I know, she's still restacking, reboxing, the same old shit.

I was talking to her on my cell, walking from the car to my office. It was about 10 degrees and my hand had already started to go numb, along with my ear. I can't stand people who need to talk on their cells while they're walking from place to place, as if the sound of their own thoughts would be too terrible to endure. I frowned, even though she couldn't see it. "What if I give up these stories and then don't have any more?"

"Maybe you'll find new stories to tell," she said.

Like a happy one, maybe? Right. Because everyone likes to read happy stories. They're so much fun! And happy people write so much about their happiness--just look at all those novels written by happy people about happiness. Let's see, there's ...

Fuck it. Give me my darkness. I like how it tastes. What's that poem by Stephen Crane about the man eating his heart in the desert? It began to run through my head as I steered my cell conversation into new kittens and 104 degree fevers. The narrator of the poem is eating his heart in the desert and he's asked: why are you eating that heart? So he says something like "Because it is bitter, and because it is mine." Yeah.

Something tells me I'm done reading AC of AP, and done talking about it. But not about the past, or the evil people and events that give it that nice, rich coffee color.


If you're interested in reading that poem, here it is:

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm wondering what the deal is with my Christmas cactus.

It's blooming madly now, big juicy chartreuse blossoms that hang over the side of the pot. I haven't bothered to water the plant for weeks now--the less I water it, the more it blooms. If I do water it, in fact, the blooms implode--shrivel, harden, fall off.

At the same time, the blades (for lack of a better word) twist and shrivel, curl up, look as if they're exhausted, done in, ready to kick the old bucket. "Wow," said a student once, "Is that thing okay? Cause it looks like it's dying." The leaf-blades, usually a nice medium green, have turned dark, brown and purple, weighted. It's as if the whole process of blooming has sapped the plant's system.

This is definitely a metaphor for something--probably the writing process. Or peri-menopause. Maybe marriage. Love, of course.

A little internet research yields these facts: Christmas cactuses need to be in cooler places, not exposed to drafts. Well, my office plant is right over the heater and heat blows up on it, when heat comes out of the register (it's certainly not coming out now), and it's right in the window, where I'm sure a draft wiggles through the panes. Christmas cacti are not as drought resistant as some of their relatives (they are not true cacti) and so they need to be watered as soon as their top soil gets dry to the touch. If we want our cacti to bloom again after Christmas, we should give them "uninterrupted dark periods" for about 12 hours every night--close them in a closet, for instance. Well, some of that goes on in here. But I'm sure that the parking lot light shines in over it, and the low lamplight from the walkways, and the diffused starlight from behind clouds. If the cactus gets too much light, it'll turn reddish (ah ha!) and wilted.

According to all this, I should immediately a) water the plant, b) move it off the window ledge, c) pinch off some of the old blossoms so that it'll make new ones.

But if my plant is in a metaphorical relationship with my writing process, what I should do is to, for once, leave the damn thing alone. Let it bloom in desert sand. Let it suck the very marrow out of the old soil, starving, over the draft, in direct sunlight, turning red with the effort, burning up, exploding into blossom.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Deranged Woman

I finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife and have embarked on P D James' The Children of Men.

"It's a pretty good novel," Dave said, "but it's uneven."

It was a bit hard to get into, at first, but I blamed that on a stiff 1st person narrator and the small, blurry type. (It's not me, right?) Once the novel slipped into alternating 3rd person with 1st person, I was hooked. And I wondered by James bothered with the 1st person at all--her POV character is annoying, one of those "can't feel, can't be involved" middle aged divorced professor men who suffers not only because, when she was 18 months old, he ran over his daughter and killed her, but because he couldn't feel the appropriate grief over the accident, her death, his wife's anger and blame--only horror over what he'd done. In short, it's hard for me to like this guy, and he's a pompous ass on the page.

I like reading about him, not with him.

Right now, I should be reading what I've assigned for tomorrow--three short stories, all of them under 5 pages--Chopin's "Story of an Hour," Atwood's "Happy Endings" (a personal all time favorite), and the ubiquitous Kincaid offering, "Girl." A chapter on "Witnessing" in Adonizzio's and Laux's The Poet's Companion.

Just looked at my syllabus and realized that, shit, I went over the wrong chapter in workshop yesterday. I blithely discussed the chapter I assigned them to read for tomorrow, "The Shadow." None of them called me on it.

I hate it when I discover that I've shuffled reality, after the fact. It makes me feel like a ditzy mess. No. It makes me realize that I'm a ditzy mess.

In the same vein, I also forgot to bring my own second text with me to class yesterday. And I made this wildly inappropriate comment: "Wow, what a justification for having crabs--'my genitals have become a playground.'"

Students tell me that they talk about me in other English classes. That they've started a list of things that I say. That, for me, it's all about sex.

Huh. For such a "sexy" ditz gal, I'm the biggest prude I know. The last time I ranked "having sex" above "doing the dishes" or "grading a set of essays" was . . . I don't remember. I'm like one of the characters in James' novel, who, hopeless and barren, futureless, give up sex as a fruitless activity.

What I really like is that look of open-mouthed, glassy-eyed shock I get when I say things that are supposed to remain silent. I'm Pandora, ripping the lid off the box. I expose. Streak. I'm wrong. "Sometimes you're so wrong," said one of my friendly helpful friends, "and I just want to be able to tell you that." Out of control. Inappropriate--I hate that word, and yet aspire to it. Sometimes my goal is total squirming, hooting embarrassment. Deranging.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Time Travel

Right now I'm reading The Time Traveler's Wife, which I'm enjoying, despite my inability, at times, to understand the complete mechanics of the central character's time travel.

This is Audrey Niffenegger's first novel and it's pretty good. I'm reading it with two eyes--first, I want to enjoy the story, the strange and interesting twist on the old formula, the romance. Second, and this is probably a bigger eye than the other one (causing me an astigmatism, but what the hell), I want to figure out the secret, the impulse, the drive behind the first novel.

How does one do it? What's the seed I need to eat in order to stay behind in the land of novel long enough to churn one out? What's the drink I need to quaff in order to chase down the seed, so that I not only create a novel but get the gumption to find an agent, write and send out short stories for publication so that, perhaps, I can find an agent, someone who will believe in me, in my "product," or my potential products, who will water me so that I grow into a novelist and then market me in the Home Depot of first novels?

Shit, my metaphors are colliding as fast and furious as my ego with my critic.

Back to Niffenegger's work: perhaps the most clever bit of her concept is the idea that this man, when he's stressed, travels back and forth along his own time continuum. He meets his wife to be when she's six and he's 36, though in real time they are only 8 years apart. He's experienced marriage with her for years, then, before he comes back to find her before the story begins. When she finally meets up with him in "real time," when she's 20 and he's 28, a librarian at the Newberry, he doesn't know who she is, even though they have a history together--her entire cognizant childhood--already.

Using time travel as a metaphor for memory and story is quite interesting, though it can also be confrustrating (confusing and frustrating). My betamax brain can't always entirely grasp the physics of his time travel and thus the rules of the novel's universe. But, unlike Pychon's vast and enervating novelverse, I can skip over the blips in the radar and keep going, reading at least for the "good bits"--the trouble in the marriage, of course.

Because who can deal with a spouse who can't live in the present?