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2011, it seems, brings the inundation. It’s the stormiest spring I can recall, with thunderstorms and the threat of tornadoes — tornadoes, here!!! — in the forecast every other week, at least. It’s a far cry from past years, soft rain and snow even in April, mild weather throughout 2009 followed by last year’s long, hot, and dry summer. Used to be the weather was one thing we could, to some extent at least, count on. Is there no consistency anywhere to be found?

My struggles with words. This is consistent. So, yes, there is some strange comfort in that, perhaps.

Spring drags on sometimes, more for some than others. My little sister, Halle, is desperate for summer, the end of seventh grade, some freedom of her own. I remember those days. It’s different now, in this thing we call real life or adulthood: there is so little change with the seasons, sometimes it’s hard to tell that anything is really changing at all. Sometimes I miss the definitive framework of the school year, which makes it more or less impossible for events and occasions to sneak up on us. Is it May already? Nearly mid-May? If not for certain earmarks on my time — Halle’s bemoaning her last few weeks of school, Mothers’ Day — I’d not have noticed.

This makes me wonder if I’m missing something, if there are things I should be paying attention to that I miss on a regular basis.

I miss Molly, that I know. (And no, this isn’t pandering, though I’ve already said this blog is for her in the first place — it’s true.) Without someone here to drag me out on the town occasionally it’s far too easy for me to get lost in my own world, my own thoughts, locked up in the world of the mind that I construct for myself. I don’t know that it’s an entirely healthy place; I need someone to bring me some semblance of balance. For the past few weeks I haven’t spent a great deal of time with anyone outside my own family, and not enough time with them, even, seeing as I sleep into the afternoons and spend most of my waking hours alone, in the kitchen till dawn, waiting for someone to ring the bell. Lately, no one comes.

I’m alone here with my music, intentions, myself. I listen to words better-written than my own, and think of what I mean to accomplish here.

So, Molly: what now? What purpose does this exercise serve, when I’m just brain-dumping onto the screen, getting nowhere? I feel like I must have something in me worth saying, worth sharing, or at least I know you believe I do. So how do I access it?

Alright, how’s this for a start: I’ve begun writing poetry again. Not the sort of thing I was ready to share until I felt I had composed something worth sharing, worth putting out into the world, however small my world might be, right now.

Sonnets are out of fashion nowadays, but they were my first love. Is that unusual? It was Shakespeare who first reeled me in, taught me the power of a well-constructed line, made me want to construct something, similarly magical, of my own. Not to the marriage of true minds… I don’t know how far I’ll have to go, how long I’ll have to strain and fumble with syllables, to achieve something modestly akin to that. But here you have it: my best effort, to date.

Sonnet for the Smoldering

The first time is the hardest. Wrapped in flame
and bellowing like a furnace, acrid smoke
and an exquisite ache razors your frame:
you are reduced to ash. You might invoke
the name of something sacred: it won’t change
anything. When the embers cool, you start
your slow reconstitution. You trace the strange
new boundaries of your desiccated heart.

And so you burn. Time and again you burn,
and each time you return from ash, it is
as something far more delicate. You learn
to make do with your diminished self. You miss
the losses less each day. That is to say,
you began with too much of you, anyway.

I’m putting my ideas out into the world, and learning that some people like them, which is a strange and wonderful feeling. The encouragement I dearly need. Stats show me that I have readers, though nobody comments; that means I have an audience of sorts, and maybe an anonymous audience is a good thing — after all, that’s what most writers have had all along. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling, too, to know that people out there are listening. Whoever you are.

A word about mothers

Just think: with all the services mothers provide, if they were available for sale, none of us could afford one. Aren’t we lucky we all got one for FREE?

Happy mothers’ day, mama. And thank you.

Keeping secrets

I have decided to regularly start coining searchable phrases that would make most of my family cringe for a week and a half if they read them. BUT GUYS! THIS IS OKAY because most of my family would rather eat their own eyeballs than read my blog. you think I’m being self-deprecating here but I’m not. It’s true, and I don’t mind. It’s actually rather nice to have a forum where I can speak my mind and know that they won’t hear what I have to say.

I love my family, I do. I adore them. They’re complicated and quirky and funny and totally mine, so much a part of me. But I need some parts for myself, too, and that’s what I get to have here.

Not that I have all that much to say, just now. but it’ll come in time. I hope.

In more mundane matters, I’m pleased to report that I am having a really productive week overall. Did loads of housecleaning, grocery shopping, and a bit of cooking — for myself, not just for the Night Kitchen. I went to the farmer’s market on saturday morning; if y’all are not doing this, you need to. The way produce prices have been skyrocketing lately is more than reason enough, though of course the fresher, tastier produce and the more sustainable form of agriculture are possibly even better reasons to buy local food. A good alternative in this area, if you can’t make it out there, is Stanley’s produce mart on West Market (on the right just before or just past the new Wal-Mart). Sometimes the selection is iffy, but the prices are excellent.

I picked up lots of fresh fruit and so decided to make litte fruit galettes, or free-form pies. This is what the phrase ‘easy as pie’ is all about: you simply roll out little circles of dough, pile some fruit in the middle, sprinkle on a bit of sugar, and wrap the edges up around the filling. (A small chunk of butter on top doesn’t hurt, either.) You can use any pie crust, homemade or storebought, and bake at 325 till golden — T didn’t time mine but it was somewhere around 30 minutes, I think. you can make them any size you want, and fill them with any fruit you like. I made four of them, one each of four fruits: blackberries, blueberries, sliced peaches, and sliced plums. Mine are about 4″ across in finished form and the perfect size for dessert… Or better yet, breakfast. These will be making a regular appearance in the Night Kitchen.

I spent my days off cleaning my apartment. I mean the serious kind of cleaning, the kind where you scrub the insides of cabinets. Monday was the bathroom, Tuesday the kitchen; next week I plan to tackle the living room and maybe even the dining room. (That’s a daunting task seeing as it’s largely been used as junk storage for the last three months — it was too cold for anything else during the winter.)

I hate to clean. I’m a slob and I know it; I’ve accepted that about myself, and I can’t seem to change it. But I still do a thorough cleaning every so often. And once I’ve finished cleaning, or even midway through the process, I get the most amazing sense of accomplishment… And of course i thoroughly enjoy the results for weeks afterward. So why can’t i remember how great the “after” is when I’m struggling to force myself to do it? It’s like working out: you get a great rush from it, and you’re always glad you went, but somehow that’s not the first thought in your mind beforehand, when you’re trying to talk yourself into doing it.

But I’m determined to keep this up. if I do, in 2 weeks I’ll be able to have people over to my apartment — and not just people who know my slobbish nature and accept it. It’s my new goal.

I notice that I spend a lot of time talking about my goals, and a lot less time working on fulfilling them. No good, self. At least I’m finding words to fill this page with, even if they’re not as interesting or inspiring as I would like for them to be.

In that vein, I stumbled on this quote and it made me laugh and wonder, both:

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.” ~Leonard Bernstein

So, yeah. If anyone has any advice on how to find that approach, you’ll let me know, yes? Yes. Thanks.

I was thinking it would be good if we talked more. I was thinking that we might have something to contribute to one another’s lives. I guess, when I get right down to it, I was thinking it would be good if we talked at all anymore. I don’t remember when we stopped. I don’t know how that happened. It was never my intention (I hope it wasn’t yours).

I wonder where you are, and what you’re doing, how you spend your days these days. What you think of me now. If you think of me at all. I wonder what I did so wrong, and when — if — you’ll decide that I have been punished enough.

I make no excuses for the way I spend my days. There isn’t much to it, going through the motions, doing what needs to be done, focusing too much energy on not thinking about you (that never works, by the way). I try to make things, dream things up, shape them out of words or clay or lines on paper, but I never finish what I start, never, it’s all a series of fits and starts, beginnings (good or bad) that never find an ending. I start nearly every sentence with ‘I’ and wonder what that signifies, ego or conceit, navel-gazing, then decide that I don’t care. I write what I want, what I think, what I feel and it’s coming from me so I, I, I, I, I. I am. I do. I think. I breathe. I eat and sleep. I rinse and repeat.

You over there, so far away (in space and, increasingly, time as well), you fade a little every day: or I imagine you do, I tell myself I see you less clearly, remember less clearly, that the things I think I know about you are as likely projections of my will, my wishing, my imagination as my memory. Whether this is true or not, I neither know nor care. The thought is somehow comforting: that all the best things about you weren’t about you after all, they were about me, they were my projections and not real, not worth clinging to. So I should be able, by now, to let you go. If not by now then by next week, or maybe next fall. But soon.

I’ve had so much forgetting to do — to try to do — recently that I’m no longer entirely certain who it is I’m writing about. Is it the boy I left, a few months past, on a distant shore, both of us tearful and, if not quite heartbroken, at least heartbattered? Or the boy I haven’t heard from in a year, the quiet one I never met, not face to face, but knew through and through because he wrote me pages upon pages every day, or nearly every day, for two years before falling utterly (permanently) silent? Sometimes I think it might be the one I walked away from, years ago, willingly but further than intended. Hell, it might as well be someone I made up, constructed for myself. It might as well be. Probably is.

You’re all so far away. I should be looking closer to home. Not that I haven’t looked there: I have. I just don’t find what I am seeking. (Though if I’m making you all up, to whatever extent, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine someone I can reach, should it?) Looking farther away is easier for me. I only want what I can’t have. How often have I been told that, anyway? How often have I believed it? How much do I care?

It’s that time of year the cicadas drown out the crickets at night, and I hate that. I prefer a softer lullaby.

I am not making the best possible use of my time. Not even close.

Whoever it is I’m writing for, I will keep doing it. I’ll keep the words flowing. They’re all I feel I have anymore. I’m reaching out, my hand is open, I’m calling out your name and hoping that that (whether you respond or not) you’ll hear me. That, in time, you’ll listen. Hear past the noisy hum and cry of the cicadas and catch the low tones of my voice, my quiet song for you, the one you loved once and responded to. Whatever it was that caught your attention: it’s still here. It’s still the biggest part of me, the most important, even when the inanities drown it out. It’s the only promise I can make you, but I make it wholeheartedly: and you know I never make a promise I can’t keep.

Navel-gazing

I’m still seeking the David Levithan to my Rachel Cohn. I need a collaborator. Someone to work with, someone to play off of, someone to inspire and be inspired by. Someone with whom I, as part of a team, can create better stories than either of us can create on our own. Why is he (or she) so damn hard to find?

It’s not that I don’t think I can do it on my own. I can. Eventually. But words fly out of my head and hands when I have someone else’s words to build on and respond to. Like Molly and I did so many years ago, when we wrote strange and hilarious stories for — and about — our friends. And like Adam and I did more recently (if still a good few years ago) when we were learning one another, blending our daydreams into one strange and complex kingdom of the imagination. I would like to write more with both of them; but right now I need someone for whom it’s a bigger priority than it can be for either of them right now. (For Adam, of course, at all — when writing to me, acknowledging me, is something he just can’t bring himself to do anymore.)

I’m not felling particularly inspired these days, and the quality of my recent writing is more uninspiring still. Maybe I should begin by working with older words, my own from years ago, which can serve as a jumping off point, and which deserve revisiting and revising. There are more than enough of those. Fragments of literary ore that may, with sufficient refinement, ultimately yield a few gems.

I’ve been using the word ‘ultimately’ quite a lot lately.

One of the flaws in this commitment to write 750 words a day, most days, is that the numerical requirement encourages me to be verbose rather than concise. That’s something for I’ve never particularly needed encouragement. I want to be a crisp, clear, and concise writer. I want to learn to pare away the unnecessary clutter and get to the worthwhile heart if what I have to say. There’s something in there, in most everything I write, but it’s often so deeply buried under excess verbiage that even I have a hard time finding and defining it. This is among my fatal flaws as a writer. Nobody wants to sift through three or five or twelve pages of dreck just to get to the point. Even I find that annoying, both in my own writing and in other people’s. I just haven’t learned yet to overcome it. I’m too in love with the sound on my own voice, I imagine. With poetry it’s a particular problem, but it’s a pretty big issue with prose as well.

I want to make a commitment not just to do this thing, but to do it well. I want to make a commitment to do better work in all areas this year. I’m tired of doing the least I can get away with and never ending up with work I am truly proud of (in any capacity, that is, outside the kitchen — there, I rarely falter, there at least I am at my best). This is a major shift from my younger days; I almost invariably know I have better in me than what I’m giving, but I almost invariably fail to care very much about that.

I continue to have a deficit of self-motivation as well. This is a real problem for me. I used to write poetry every day, much of it bad, most of it just fragments, but the words were always there, and I loved that. I don’t know how or why I lost them. I don’t know how to get them back. Why was it so hard for me to draft poetry for the writing group I joined last spring? And why should I write none at all, not even try to, really, when I’m not doing it for a designated reason? If I can’t begin to make a better effort on my own, then perhaps it’s time to give up the idea that I ever will.

No: it’s the one thing I have always meant to do, the only goal in my life that has never changed. So I am trying to actively pursue it now. I am trying to get the words and ideas and stories and people and tiny glimmering vignettes out of my head and onto paper (or the screen, as it may be) and to assemble them into something worth sharing with the broader world. Something worth keeping. Something I can be proud of. I know I have it in me: I just have to learn to follow through.

I wish I could think of something new to write. Something more true. Something less metaphysical, less erudite, less pedantic and more real. Something less morbidly interior, less completely me, and thus more complete. The world is more concrete than my words make it out to be.

I know what I want my story to contain: the feeling of this place, the concrete details that make it real and palpable. Thunderstorms, trains, cicadas, crickets and mosquitoes. County fairs, church picnics, vacation bible school. All-vegetable dinners from the garden and the farmers’ market. Cornbread with beans and biscuits with corn; grits with everything. Sweet tea and porch sittin’. Homemade jam and apple butter. Catching fireflies in jars on long summer nights. Racing slugs on the bumper of the station wagon parked in my grandmother’s driveway. The Oakwood grocery, before Wal-Mart and the other chains forced it out of business. Cheerwine and Dr. Enuf. Moon pies, funnel cakes, fried chicken, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy. Add to that the growing, thriving, art and music and theatre scene, the quirky and surprising people, the myriad accents, rolling foothills and mountains on the horizon. Late nights with friends in bars and coffeehouses. Hiking trails and seeing the remnants of the fire that ravaged the mountain three years ago. Swinging on the school playground at midnight, watching the stars, thinking my feet could nearly touch them, that if I let go of the chains at just the right moment, I could keep climbing toward those stars and never have to come back down.

There, I’m repeating myself, already, what — six posts in? I can do better, I will do better than this.

The First Man

Molly has often accused me of oversharing. And I do; I know I do, with her and a select few others. It’s one of the reasons she wanted me to start writing again, so that I could find an outlet for the thoughts and words I otherwise tend to dump on her shoulders. Which is good, it’s what best friends are for; but it’s too much for one person. And she’s the only person I have to share all this with anymore.

She wasn’t, always. I had another outlet, my other best friend (does that sound insincere? it always sounds insincere to me, to claim more than one “best” friend, but in this case it was wholly true), until he disappeared and left me hopelessly in need of the shoulder that I’m still — two years on — afraid that only he can provide.

When I lack that outlet, that’s when I start to write — usually not to talk, usually, just to write — in second person, to address someone directly in absentia. Ridiculous, I know: but I don’t even always catch myself when I do it. Looking back, I’ve already done it here once. I couldn’t even make it two entries without talking to someone who’s not there.

Well, my long-lost, far-off, favorite person on earth is not here, either. I’m not going to address him now. Instead, I’m going to tell you his story.

The loveliest person I’ve ever know, I have never met face to face. He is 3,000 miles away. I found him — serendipitously — online, and I wrote to him because his photographs were striking, his musical taste refined, and his personality (self-effacing, witty, wry) just my type. It was one of the wisest things I have ever done. The friendship that grew — rapidly and deeply — from that correspondence was among the best I’ve ever had. The person I got to know through those messages is, incontrovertibly, one of the best I have ever know.

Really, the clincher, the one resonating note that made it impossible for me not to contact him, was his description of his occupation: “I pull thorns from the paws of lions.” The line, the reference, says so much about him. He does. He would. He is that very creature.

I am the lion. I always have been. And this situation — of my own creation, yes — it is my thorn. I can’t rescue myself from it. I am waiting for him, for his assistance, for rescue.

He was my addiction: the person whose voice I needed to hear (there on the screen) every day for every day to be worthwhile. Oh, the things we had to say to one another: our shared fictions and non-fictions, histories and daydreams, every future possibility.

I put a stop to it, if unintentionally. I staunched the flow of words, not because I ran out of things to say — not to him, I can’t imagine I ever would — and not, never, not because I grew weary of his replies. Quite the opposite. I had to back away because I needed those words so much. Every day I did not hear from him was a blue day. It was not healthy. It was not sustainable. I backed away.

But I went too far, I stayed away too long, and now I cannot find my way back to his door. Or I did, I could, but he doesn’t hear me call to him anymore, doesn’t hear or recognize my voice, doesn’t want to reply. He doesn’t want me to find him anymore.

I keep calling his name, will keep calling it, but I am lost in the wood. And every day he does not answer, I get a little more lost. If you wait too long, the birds devour your breadcrumb trail, and you will have no way to get back home.

(I relate everything back, sooner or later, to fairy tales, fables and myths, those ancient stories. They are my singular frame of reference. I’ve dissected and analyzed them, torn the stories to pieces, found every flaw, and yet I still frame my ideas and interpretations of everything on them. It’s contradictory, perhaps; but, then, so am I. “I am large: I contain multitudes.” So do we all, Walt. So do we all.)

Personal History

My mother and I had an idyllic relationship when I was growing up. Ridiculously good. Something out of a storybook, but not the good, honest kind: the kind you would put down in disgust because it was too unrealistic. She was my best friend, my confidante, everything good in the world. It was just the two of us for the first fourteen years of my life, and that was all we needed. She dated, sure, had a couple of serious boyfriends, but she never let anything interfere with our relationship — something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I’ve started my own slow crawl toward adulthood. And that didn’t change when she met Joey, when she married him, not even a few years later when they had my little sister. They became a part of our bond, rather than an interference.

What did change, though, was my perspective on fathers.

Prior to Joey, I had no real concept of fathers. My friends had them, and that was great for them, but I didn’t feel like I was missing out. I never saw anything better than what I had. We were a perfect team of two. But Joey and Halle — well, that made me wonder about what I’d missed out on. He’s incredible with her. He’s incredible with me, too, a wonderful addition to our family: but I didn’t get him till I was fourteen. We didn’t have memories together, a lifelong history, and suddenly that was something I craved. I didn’t even know this other half of the formula that resulted in me, knew virtually nothing about him, had never seen his face, only hints of it in my own. Joey made me crave my own father, my own history. I didn’t even want his name or money or attention, so much: I wanted his story.

I started asking questions then: for the first time wanting to know where my mother and my own father had met, where he had come from, what he looked like, if I had inherited my tastes and likes and habits (good or bad) from him. My mother’s answers were vague, barely sufficient, and she always found a way to change the subject quickly. After a few years, though, that wasn’t enough. I wanted him, or needed to know why he hadn’t wanted me.

“What does it matter if he wanted you or not? I wanted you. I should be enough for you. I used to be enough for you.” She paused. I didn’t speak. “I wanted to be enough for you.”

“Or,” I said softly, “did you want me to be enough for you?”

She looked at me. Her eyes were dark, brows knit together, lips pressed tight and thin. The face she makes when she is carefully considering the truth against the words she’d rather say. “Yes,” she said, almost a whisper, hesitant, as though she were measuring the accuracy of the words as she spoke them: “Yes. I wanted us both to be enough for each other.”

“But we weren’t, were we?”

She was slow to answer, but she was caught up, now, in her honesty. A slippery slope. “Not forever, no. Not forever. But for a while, we were. For a while we were perfect.”

Ok. I won’t argue with that.

(These speech patterns, I know I take most of them from her. My strange and pensive syntax, repetition, staccato sounds, particularly when articulating difficult words. We give each thought just a little space to breathe, test it out, once, again, see how it feels in the open air before expanding on it.)

My questions were left largely unanswered. I grew tired of asking the same ones over and over again from different angles, and gathering nothing new. She had always volunteered what information she was willing to share, and in the end, that had to do. I assembled my image of him, my vague idea of my roots, from the bits and pieces she offered on her own. He was tall, quiet, older than she — “An an old soul, like you,” she said — peaceful and spiritual, but with a penchant for adventure. They rode a motorcycle together up the California coast the summer before I was born. He was a drummer, beat out a rhythm any time his hands were free, on any surface he could find, did it unthinkingly, out of habit. He was striking, she said, handsome and exciting and new and everything her life back home was not. He was her escape, until he escaped her, or she him: I never knew whose choice their parting ways had been.