Friday, July 25, 2014

In the rough.

It was the summer before life started.  Or, at least, that’s what I thought then, when I was so young that I thought life begins at a particularly well-timed intersection of choices and dreams.  I was lying with my stomach flat on the pavement of an empty parking lot.  The ground was still warm in spite of the fact that it hadn’t seen the sun for hours.  Outside the parking lot, trees and hills climbed up the sky, towards the moon and the stars.  I didn't believe in heaven.  I believed in fairytales.  After I left that parking lot and that small town, every story I would ever write would carry the hard heat of that pavement in their words.  I never could make magic or even wishes come true.
For some years, everything I would ever try to love, I would love in stubborn opposition to that place that I had climbed up and out from, like those trees that had climbed up to touch the stars.  But the truth is that everything I’ve ever loved, I was already in love with that night on the hot pavement.  I had already fallen for hard things, rough patches, tough choices, and the way the air feels after a summer storm breaks.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


F words coming from my lips.  Like Fuck and Forever and Fought for something.  They say nice guys Finish last so why the hell would I want to be nice?   I want to be First.  Make that my F word.  Put me on your middle Finger and point me out.  Stop telling me I’m not a good person.  Stop telling me I don’t deserve a nice guy.  There’s no such thing as nice.  Everyone is terrible.  And everyone deserves to be touched gently, to be held dearly.  I deserve what you deserve: to be loved with sweat and teeth and mad hope.  I want F words like Friendship and Family and Forever.  And I don’t give an F about what you think I don’t deserve.  I say hard things with an easy smile.  And you think that makes me easy.  But honey, at heart, I’m still that sixteen year old with black painted Fingernails, middle Finger to the camera and heart set on happily Forevermore.  F-words.  Hard things.  Like hard Fought Forever.  Sweetie, I’m Fun because I don’t give a Fuck.  I was seventeen once.  I put my Finger up enough For life.  Flipped so hard and I landed on my Feet.


:  able to discern objects at a distance   
What is there in space?  Planets and stars.  Galaxies.  The Milky Way.  Your way.  Be mine.  Get close enough to trace my constellations.  Don’t you feel the gravity?  I don’t even want the world.  I just want to be someone’s.  Wish upon a falling star.  When you’re going down, where do you land?  What are you looking for?  In space.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Where am I in love?

In undergrad I had a professor who’s advice to a writer faced with writer’s block was to “write through it.”  I find myself applying that phrase to the hard times and tough questions life poses.  I write blogs to get myself through the day.  I write in order to make sense of my life.  I write to hold onto who I’ve been and map where I’m going.  I impose a narrative on what Joan Didion called “the shifting phantasmagoria” of my actual experience. That is why writing usually helps.  Writing makes meaning out of things which, if left on their own, may very well seem senseless.  Writing lets the writer pick and choose instances from their life, order them in a certain way on the page and then say, “Look, that’s what it was all about.  See how what happened then affected what happened later?  See how it was coming all along?”  

After writing a whole nonfiction thesis about my life, writing has come to feel like a pick-your-own adventure story in which my life is the adventure and it plays out the way I choose it to—on the page.  Only on the page.  I think a lot about where I choose to end my thesis.  At the point in time I placed the final period.  I ended things where it looked like they might work out.  

Time, however, moves forward long after you type that last period, hit save and print.  Though, I think, that is one of the reasons I have always been drawn to writing.  I like control.  I like being able to leave things in the moment before they fell apart, in the moment that was so heavy with hope that it would later break under the weight but right then you thought you could bear, thought you could hold it forever.   

I am writing this now to mark the point at which I was reminded that time moves forward no matter how many periods you place on a page, no matter how much you write or want or try to hold onto something.  There is a grand delusion that both the beginning of summer and new love can create of timelessness—or, perhaps more accurately, of being impervious to time.  When the days are long and bright and warm it is somehow possible to forget that any other sort of days ever existed or might ever exist again.  The world will be sweet forever.  Of course, the days inevitably shorten and cool, autumn falls and winter slips in soon after.  Winter, which brings with it the bitter cold reminder of impermanence, of mortality and darkness.  There is a certain predictability in loss, even though you never see it coming.

I wanted to write this to talk about how I don’t know how to write anymore.  Upon meeting someone new last weekend, a mutual friend said, “Molly is one hundred percent writer.  It’s who she is.” What I mean when I tell you I don’t know how to write anymore is that I’m not sure how to be who I am anymore.  At the time, I smiled and nodded my head in what was perhaps real or perhaps feigned modesty.  But privately I thought maybe it’s not a good thing to be one hundred percent a writer.  I know myself as I write myself to be on the page but I leave things out.  I rearrange myself to be a good story.  

And what good is it to be “one hundred percent a writer” when you’ve graduated with an MFA, have no published works, no real job prospects and a bunch of people in your life that would rather not be written about?  Am I one hundred percent a failure?  What good is it to be so very much a writer than you sometimes have trouble being in the moment?  Am I one hundred percent a misfit?  Sometimes when I am in a crowd of new people—like at a party—I find myself almost inherently removed, taking notes in my head about who they are and how I can use them to illustrate how the world can be and who I can or cannot be.  

Sometimes I don’t want to know people in real life, only as I will later write them to be on the page.  Sometimes I don’t want to let people know me in real life, but I elate in being known on the page.  On the page I can tell you anything.  I can talk to you about rape without crying, sex without demurring.  I can tell you about puking on my shoes and washing blood out from between my toes and how long the bruises took to heal and I can sound strong in my vulnerability.  You won’t hear my voice crack.  You won’t hear what I don’t say.  

But am I one hundred percent myself on the page?  Or am I one hundred percent the person I write myself to be?  Where am in the words?  Where am I in my nonfiction?  And where am I when I step away from my computer and back into the world?  And where is the truth?  Who am I? Who am I off the page?  Who am I outside of my head?  Who am I in love?  And where am I if I am in someone’s arms and I believe it will last and I write it as if it will?  Is it summer?  Where am if I am never entirely in the moment?  Is that what it means to be one hundred percent a writer, to never be entirely anywhere?  To never feel entirely attached to nor entirely separated from anyone you’ve ever loved?  How do I be myself off the page?  But aren’t I already that person if I’m writing about it and I write nonfiction?  And how do I be myself in love without becoming the love?  Some things you can’t be one hundred percent because you can’t put them on the page.  Where do you put love?  And where am I at my best?

Thesis Writing 10

The long months of winter had taught me forgiveness, something I had never really understood before.  My whole life, I had run from what had happened to me and when I had discovered that it is impossible to run from pain itself, I had tried to kill it with sex and drinking.  I had never understood when people talked about forgiving and letting go.  And the truth was that I couldn’t let any of it go because in spite of everything, there was love.  But I had learned that I could forgive by accepting people for precisely who they were and for the ways they were able to love me.  And I could love them back.  And I really meant it. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Empty Things

You crack an egg, the yoke slides out.  The egg is just a shell.  Like broken promises and words someone didn’t mean.  You collect sea shells at the beach.  Lovely little empty things.  You say you’ll want them to remember the day by later.  But they’re not the waves or the sun or the sand or the way you smiled and you can’t hear the ocean in them or the words that weren’t empty then. 
You collected shells at the beach on Christmas too.  You still keep them, still remember.  And that’s why you know better than to cry too hard or love too much.  It’s all the same.  The way things break.  The eggs you make to show you care, the way the yoke slides out and the way you hold the shell in your hand.  It’s all the same—the promises, the words, the way you collect memories like shells: lovely little empty things.  Waves break against the rocks at the beach and you collect sea shells.  You break against hard things.  And you collect the shells of love and promises because you’ll want to remember anyways.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Slouching Towards Something

We were riding backwards on the red line “L” in Chicago.  I could see the downtown skyline growing smaller in the distance as our backs hurtled towards Evanston.  My friend was telling me that he found he had more trouble taking risks as he grew older.  I laughed and said I considered myself a thrill seeker—in the form of life experiences.  He said he related—that was why we were friends—but I was not quite twenty and he was going on twenty-eight.  “I used to put all my chips on the table every time,” he said.  “But eventually you realize that betting it all and going broke isn’t as thrilling after you’ve done it a couple times.”  My friend was debating quitting his job to move to another state to be with a woman he had only known for one weekend.  It would be a bet on love.  “You’ll see,” he told me as the “L” rattled onwards uptown, past the second stories of Edgewater apartment buildings that all looked similar to my very first apartment which I had rented with my very first boyfriend the summer before.  I shook my head.  I was going to be different.  Things were going to work out for me.  I was going to bet all my chips on adventure, travel, art, and Love.  I was going to thrill in every risk and every payout.  And if I didn’t, then I would do it all over again.    

I couldn’t understand the moral of my friend’s story.  He told me about studying film in college and then moving to LA to “make it.”  He had even made a movie.  Now he was in large amounts of debt, renting a room in Chicago and working as a street canvasser.   He had bet on a dream that was very similar to my own and he had lost.  He kept telling me that he was happy anyways because dreams aren’t real.  But dreams were still real to me.  I was about to quit my job and move out of my prized Lakeview apartment to spend a month in California with my boyfriend before going to England together for the fall semester.  I was going to visit Prague, Vienna, Istanbul, Paris, Edinburgh and many other places and I was going to get closer to the picture I had of the person I was supposed to be.  And I was going to live happily ever after.  And it was going to happen that way because I couldn’t see any other alternative.

It is difficult to picture how things can fall apart until you’ve seen it happen to your own life a time or two.  It is difficult to picture how a broken heart feels more like a broken lens through which you must still attempt to view the world until your boyfriend of three years tells you he is gay and you cry until you throw up.  It is difficult to imagine getting raped the same day you pose for your French visa picture.  It is difficult to imagine running back to Paris because it seemed like the thing to do and then running out of money and having to sneak onto trains and sleep in bathrooms.  It is difficult to imagine moving to New York for graduate school and taking the first full-time job you are offered because you are desperate and suddenly realizing that most of life is not filled with art or travel or adventure and those chips that you had placed on the table when you were twenty aren’t there for you to bet with now. You already used them. 

I haven’t thought of that conversation I had with my friend in Chicago in years, but recently the memory came back to me.  I finally understood the moral of his story.  But then I remembered that he did in fact quit his job in Chicago and move across the country to be with the woman he believed he loved after one weekend together.  I kept in touch with that friend for a while and I saw him when we both moved back to Chicago a year later.  His bet hadn’t worked out, but he had gotten through it and I think that was the point.  There is a second moral to the story of growing up and finding it becomes harder to take risks.  I think the moral is that you still should.  If you don’t, nothing happens.  Life stays the same.  You stay the same.  All of my lost bets and failures have taught me the price of loss.  Idealism and impulsiveness have high costs.  But they have also made me someone I am proud to be—not because I succeeded, but because I failed and I moved on.  Maybe if you have nothing to move on from, you stop moving forward. 

For a long time I have believed that my life in New York would be one particular way, on and on and on…  And it wasn’t that I was particularly happy about it, but I had accepted it.  Now I think of the person I was years ago on the “L” in Chicago.  I was going to be different.  Maybe now the best choice I can make is to be the person I used to be.  Maybe the moral here is to learn to bet on yourself.  And I don’t mean, don’t fall in love or don’t take risks.  I mean, you should do it—but only if you trust yourself to be able to get through it, regardless of the outcome.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On Time

“Change happens quickly,” you said.

I ripped the cilantro with my fingers, sprinkling little pieces of it into the bowl on your kitchen table.  Green stuck beneath my fingernails.  The smell of it clung to my skin.  The last time I made guacamole, it was Thanksgiving 2012, in another apartment that wasn’t mine.  And I had been thinking then, of how often I had made it for my mother and brothers that summer—how I would cut up a lime and put some of it in the guacamole and use the rest of it in rounds of gin and tonics that I kept pouring myself as I mixed the avocado and tomato while some song that made me sad in a good way played on my mother’s CD player in her kitchen where the floor is always a little sticky. 

I bought Coronas for you and I because now gin makes me sad in the wrong way.

Change is a haunting thing.  Change is full of everything that is gone—ghosts that hover over the beautiful now, watching and saying without speaking, “I know who you were.  I know.”  What has passed is present in its acknowledged—or unacknowledged—absence.

After the meal, we sit drinking and telling each other stories of who we were.  I think I have an understanding of who you were—a perceptive reader’s comprehension of story.  I have arranged and rearranged the narrative in my head to create a character.  And I want you to know me so I lean forward in my chair, rest my elbows on my knees and tell the stories that I never take the time to write.  We are not linear narratives.  Time mixes like metaphors.  First I am a child drinking out of my mother’s Pepsi can, which she has used as an ash tray and my mouth is full of cigarette ash.  We agree we don’t like smokers.  I joke, “I never inhaled but for a couple months I thought I looked good holding a cigarette.”  I don’t talk about walking down Second Avenue in the East Seventies, passing a cigarette back and forth with a struggling musician I used to know. I tell you about a friend who will come to visit.  And I think of how I drank wine in the Mediterranean sun and jumped naked into the sea.  I was always the type to jump in.

I called my mother the other day and told her how you give me bagels and peaches to take with me to work.  I told her how nothing really scares me anymore—not even ghosts.  And I was always haunted anyways.

Change happens quickly but when we dance together, I look at you and catch glimpses of how I thought the world would be when I was young and lost in books and dreams.  Really, you were present in your absence.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Home is What Your Heart Knows Best

Last Fourth of July I went back to Wisconsin for the first time in a year.  I took the subway to JFK and drank two double gin and tonics at the airport bar.  On the flight I ordered another gin and tonic—one shot only this time.  After I gulped it down and there was nothing but ice in the small plastic cup on my seat-back tray the flight attendant placed another shot sized bottle of gin on my tray and winked at me as he drifted off down the aisle.  I poured the gin onto my ice, mixing it with the melted bits.  I drank that too.  I was drunk when I got off the plane at O’Hare in Chicago.  The Midwestern summer air was just as I remembered it—warm and easy.  The humidity must have been low that day because I could feel the presence of miles away corn carried on the breeze that brushed my arms.  On the drive from O’Hare to home I stared out the window at the highway and the farmland that stretched out on either side.  The closer I got to home, the more the ground climbed and rolled on all sides of me.  I could see forests and barns and creeks that I knew by heart from years of looking at them from the car window.  By the time I reached Wisconsin, the sun was setting pink and orange and brilliant all across the sky.  I was sobering up, with a faint headache.  It started to rain lightly and I watched the drops trickle down the window, in front of the pink horizon.  Even with the windows up and the A/C on, I could smell the wet fields and the hot blacktop highway. 

It’s funny how when the world breaks my heart, I always want to go running back to the first place that ever broke me.  Maybe it’s because it was the place I learned resilience.  Maybe it has something to do with the intimacy of pain.

There’s nothing I like about the place I’m from but somehow I love it anyways.  I love the way it feels to drive a mere thirty miles an hour down the street while listening to pop radio.  I love walking through the same grocery store that I used to go to with my mother when I was young and small enough to ride in the shopping cart.  I love the whir of the ceiling fan at night over the kitchen table while I drink a glass of wine and tell the same jokes about the same people that my mother, my  brothers and I have been telling each other for years. 

But maybe I don’t love all those things.  Maybe what I love is the feeling of having a home.  It has been seven years since I’ve felt like I have a home.  Sure, there have been places where I feel at home.  In fact, I am very adaptable and I can quickly feel at home almost anywhere.  But the meaning of “home” is different.  I felt at home in Cannes, in Canterbury, in Chicago.  I can feel at home when I’m living out of suitcases—which I still am, for the most part.  But what I mean is that I can let life become routine, I slip into patterns, I grow to prefer to stay in bed and watch Netflix—regardless of where the bed is.  But Home is more than routine, more than Netflix, more than the place you adapt to.  Home is closeness—like the way summer afternoon air presses against a Midwesterner’s skin, like the heated air that stays too long in the same place in the winter.  Maybe home is not where your heart is.  Maybe home is the place you know by heart.  Hopefully, hearts can memorize new places. 

When I think of the things I get homesick for, like the dirty brown lake where I used to swim and eat potato chips, it is not the lake I miss, it’s the way I knew it so well.   Of course, that was part of the reason I left.  When I am home, all I ever want is to run away.  When I am away, all I want is a home to run back to.  And so I listen to 90’s country songs when I’m alone and I drink too much and I romanticize the place that taught me how to break and how to wave my bruises like a banner on Independence Day.