Tuesday, October 28, 2008

real red

I find it's good for morale to get out of the house at least once a day. When you work from home on small projects that interest only yourself and a small band of other oddballs with whom you communicate mainly by text, it can get lonely. Lonely isn't the most familiar feeling to me. Usually the more alone I can be the better. But when I realize I've gotten to the end of another day without seeing another face or talking to anyone but myself, I do feel oddly unmoored, that old feeling of being separated from the world by a pane of thick glass.

So I make up reasons to go out. I seek out errands. The printer needs ink! Fantastic! Bikes away. Sometimes there are no errands. I still go out, to one of the handful of little cafes in the neighborhood. I sit and drink coffee and do the crossword puzzle. No one has to talk to me, I just like knowing there are other people around. I like it when the waitress comes by and asks if I want more coffee and I say yes, please, or no thanks, and she says, sure thing sweetie, OK honey, take care now.

Back when I was dancing, I saw plenty of people. And plenty of people saw me. I always had nice nails and got my eyebrows waxed once a week and my hair cut once a month. I dressed like it mattered how I looked, and that was an interesting discipline for me. Before that I'd worn the same uniform every day since freshman year of college: wife-beater undershirt, jeans, belt, and a sweater if it was cold. It's a style into which I am woefully prone to relapse. I'm already slipping comfortably into the role of local eccentric -- mismatched socks and ripped jeans and my hair in my face.

Poor hair. Hanging in my eyes in those little wisps my mom always said made me look "like a beggar." Brittle and breaking at the ends like a cheap wig. I bleached it too many times, stripping it to bring out the red. It looks brassy in the sun, yes, and cheap, and all the bad things they say about bleached red hair. But in the dark club under the pink and blue lights it was the red like a beacon that had men coming up to the stage -- certain men with their fists full of bills, fives and tens, not ones, whispering, "Are you a real redhead?"

And the answer was yes. The answer wasn't, "sort of". Sort of a redhead. Not as red as my mother, of course, not that wild carrot color, that unbelievable almost pink, but then I don't have her ice-gray eyes either. My eyes are darker and the red in my hair is darker, too. It hides under the nut brown and the copper and the mahogany. You'd have to take me outside and stand me in the sun and turn my hair over in your hand, and then you would see it, yes, red, like rubies and like fire.

But that wasn't the answer. The answer was "yes." Yes, I am a real redhead. And they would sigh -- I love redheads -- and it was couch time.

Before I started dancing, when I was only thinking about dancing, I worried more about my hair than anything else, more than I worried about the fact that I didn't know how to dance. My hair was short as a boy's, and I knew strippers didn't have short hair like boys. I danced in a wig until my own hair grew out to stripper-worthy lengths. I always thought when I was finished dancing I'd cut it all off. That's the way I thought when I was 22, 23, that my life would have lines in the sand like that. Long hair. Short hair. Dancing. Finished dancing. Real me. Stripper me. False self that I will wear like a shield and discard when I don't need it any more.

It hasn't worked out just like that. It turns out that your experiences make you, whether people are calling you by the name your parents gave you or by a name you gave yourself. I own it all, everything I ever did. The memories are mine. Not Grace's, but mine. It will never be finished. It will never be over, not while I'm alive. We don't finish things. There is no finishing.

I don't know if I'll dance again. I can't say. Till the day I lose my waistline or my teeth, I could always go back if I needed the money enough, or if I just felt like it. I don't know if I'll feel like it again. I know I don't feel like it now. At the moment, I want to be naked on a stage in a roomful strangers about as much as most people do, but that could change.

I've taken breaks before, often. I took my longest break after the car accident, when I broke my ribs and pelvis. I didn't dance for a year, and during that year I practiced yoga asana three hours a day and meditated every morning and every evening until the creator spoke to me through the lips of homeless people at the bus stop and I loved everyone in the world, including the most of the world that I had never met and never, ever would meet. That didn't last long after I started dancing again, but I hope I've kept a little of it. Nothing is finished.

I know when it's time to start dancing again because I dream about dancing. I dream about locker rooms, girls who are always kinder to me than dancers have time to be in real life. In the dreams there are bright lights and glamour, in the old sense of the word, too - glamour as something in your eyes so bright you cannot see. In the dreams it is a game. Put on the clothes, put on the shoes, and see who you turn into this time. There is fear, sometimes, but it is the fear of being at the top of a roller coaster, the fear you put on yourself for the pleasure of it. And there is the customer, the money, the blood-joy of the hunt.

I haven't dreamed about dancing since I stopped last spring. It could happen any night, but it hasn't happened yet. Instead I dream other things. I dream landscapes folding into other landscapes; I dream old friends back again, alive again; I dream colors ; I dream sex. I dream riddles I am still solving as I wake, clues fading in the light from the window in the morning.

Sometimes I do miss it. I miss the feeling of being beautiful that you mojo yourself into each night before you walk out on the floor. I miss the locker-room, the crudeness and the rawness of being back there, where anything goes and however crazy you feel you will never be the craziest one there. I miss the money. But I don't miss it enough. Not yet.

And if I forget what I look like, like I do forget, if I forget I have a body and a face, then the men at the corner remind me, like they did this morning as I biked past on my imaginary errands: Hey, mama, hey sexy, eh mami, you looking good, hey beautiful, you got a dollar?

Peace. Peace be with you.

And also with you.

six things you didn't know about me until now

Thanks to the very lovely LiaStarLight for tagging me with the Six Random Things Meme, thus providing me with a ready-made quick and dirty blog entry to satisfy the masses (that's you) while I spend the rest of the week filing various pieces of paper with various people whose job is to make sure people like me file various pieces of paper. If I file all the papers correctly, I get a bag of money by the end of year.

So here you go. Six exclusive, previously unrevealed biographical factoids about yours truly.

1. My blood type is O negative, the universal donor. I have to admit I derive some small, obscure sense of pride from this, even though it wasn't my choice or doing.

2. My Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ, although very close to being INFJ. Though I know MBTI is debatably founded in pseudo-scientific bushwah, descriptions of those types do strike me as accurate.

3. My learning style is visual-kinesthetic. I am almost completely unable to decipher information presented auditorily, which probably explains why I suck at karaoke and struggled through lecture-format classes in school.

4. My first declared college major was chemical engineering.

5. I am a better shot with a shotgun than with a pistol. (But who isn't?)

6. As a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a journalist or a spy.

I am supposed to tag six other bloggers now, but I'd rather take volunteers than call people out. If you would like to pick up the meme now, just say so in the comments section and post a link to your blog. The first six people to pipe up will get linked from this post.

First up: The Crow! (I'm excited about this one...she's a smartie with an extremely random P.G. Woodehouse quote in her header.)

More brave volunteers:
Frank of Vader on Ice
Clever Monkey
Amy and the Fifth Beatle
Jody Ekert of Inside Out Australia

And as a final, special treat, six delightful random things from one of my favorite people on earth, my brilliant and talented friend Pamela at Pamela's Lounge, a blog created to house scraps of prose that drift loose while she writes her first book.

And now I have papers to file. I promise something more substantial by the end of the week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Yesterday I sat in front of the computer for too long, staring at the typed notes and annotations, treatments and revisions, the blueprints of my project, my horrible two-headed baby that nobody loves but me. I stare at it too long, until I see it start to come apart, the overworked materials of it collapsing in front of me, criss-crossed with false starts and dead ends, the integrity of it's structure hopelessly compromised. I saw that I have spent two years of my life doing nothing, entertaining myself, a kid making mud pies. I saw it, finally, the nothing in the middle of it all, the emptiness of my whole enterprise.

I got up and went outside. I left the monstrous project squatting on the desk and walked out into the street where I could see the sky. Used to be I would have sat there at the desk, willing myself to start bleeding from somewhere. It took me a long time to see that my blood is not really going to fix things.

I unlocked my bike from the fence, feeling my pulse pick up as I began to pedal. The evening light was yellow, lying over the whole neighborhood like a veil, the old bungalows wrapped up in vines, the new condos, clean and cheap, the shells of still more condos, as progress marches relentless over us. Maybe that will all be ending now, as the banks all crash. Maybe the condos will stop and vines will grow over the raw steel and the scaffolding. The old houses already look like the holdouts of a lost civilization, and they are the happiest houses anyway.

One peeling cottage leans in on itself, molting its gingerbread, dwarved by pecan trees. In the yard a pregnant girl, belly huge and ripe, waters her garden. The amber-colored light thickens til it is like the light at the bottom of a green bottle. She stands there in her lawn, watering the green grass with her green hose and her dress is green, her skin is green, her hair is moss. She stands there, blossoming and bursting and burdened with possibility. I am in love with her as I ride past. I want to be the mosquito humming in her curtains all night long. And then I pass her with the breeze in my hair and she is behind me, gone.

Nothing is resolved since I left the house. I have no better idea than before how I will go forward or what I will do next. But I am happy. I coast down hills, picking up speed. I remark to myself because no one else is there, that if you could bottle this feeling and sell it --

And of course it does come in a bottle. Ten milligrams a day -- twenty for a tough bad week. My happiness is as natural as a perfect, white factory egg, but it doesn't feel like that. It feels like part of me, ordinary, unremarkable. Which is itself a kind of minor miracle. I remember being nineteen, first time in a therapist's office at Student Health Services. I was there because I needed help not killing myself. Not killing myself was something I'd been working on for years, but it was harder at some times than at others.

They gave me a test to take to see if I was depressed. I filled it out with great suspicion. Doesn't everyone have "persistant feelings of emptiness or worthlessness"? Come on. I can't be the only one to "cry for no reason" and "feel they are hurting or bothering others just by being around"? This is the human condition, no? This was life as I knew it, had known it, for almost as far back as I could think. If other people were filling this test out differently, they were kidding themselves. Is there anyone out there, really, who doesn't "think the world would be better off it they were dead"? Nobody can be that happy.

The psychiatrist at Student Health Services said I should think about medication, but I was unequivocally opposed. So instead we talked about my childhood, everything that ever made me feel like shit. Dug it all up and waded through it once a week for four weeks until my student benefits ran out. It might have helped. I didn't kill myself. Over the next few years I turned down anti-depressants repeatedly from doctors at the Student Center, and later at the People's Clinic. I didn't want to kill myself, but I thought pills were weak. I didn't want to medicate the darkness in me, I wanted to kill it. Pin it down and choke the life right out of it. Beat it to a bloody shit with my fists. Then and only then I would know that I did, in fact, deserve to keep living.

When I met C. and fell in love, then I knew what happiness was like. And it was so sweet, it was so good. When I started to feel sick again, I went to a doctor and I asked for medication right away. He gave it to me. The first weeks I felt sick and strange, like my head was a helium balloon that any second was going to lift right off my neck and float away. Then that went away, and everything was, for lack of a better word, normal. The kind of normal that other people know about, the normal kind of normal. The kind of normal where sometimes you are happy and other times you are sad, but then after a little while you are happy again. The kind of normal that is, in point of fact, amazing.

I coast home. My computer is waiting for me. Nothing is any better than it was, but everything is OK. At the beginning of the project I had the vision of how the final thing would be. Those visions are so beautiful, so strong. You fall in love with them, and thank God, because only love would get you through what happens next. You can't help but fail, finally, if your vision really was so perfect. You can't help but fall short. If you don't fail you didn't try hard enough. That's all.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

masha's baby

Amy Jean is steaming oysters in the kitchen. It is finally October, the brief prime season of oysters and other lovely things. The air is golden and almost cool enough to need a jacket. In a few weeks there will be frost at night, and the fat pecans will start to fall off the trees all over the neighborhood, some nights so heavy it may sound for a minute like hail and the nights will be crisp enough to crack.

Amy Jean's big wolfhound is scrabbling to reach under the kitchen door and pry it open to get outside. When the door won't open she looks up at us with a pitiful whine.

"Masha, where's your baby?" Amy Jean coos. "Where's your baby, Masha?"

Masha woofs and throws her shoulder frantically against the door.

"Masha! Down!"

Masha pretends to lie down, but cannot rest. With her front legs, she drags herself on her belly across the floor to Amy Jean's feet, little whimpers begging please, please, please and help help help.

"Masha, what's the matter?" Amy Jean teases. "Can't you find your baby?"

Masha leaps up, runs, and crashes into the door again. Amy Jean laughs and Masha throws her a bruised look over her shoulder. A missing baby is no laughing matter.

The things is, Masha has no baby. A week ago, she went into pseudocyesis, false pregnancy. All female dogs go through false pregnancies, but Masha's are severe. It's got her tits swollen and her head all turned around. She hunts all day for the babies her body tells her she should have and cries for them all night.

Amy Jean lifts the steamer of oysters out of pot in a wet cloud that smells like laundry and wine. Some people say that oysters smell like pussy, and to the degree that both smell like clean ocean, like salt water and abundant life, then yes. Amy pours white wine into the shallots simmering in the pan, so then there's vinegariness and butteriness and onion in the air, too, and the steam catches in our hair in tiny drops.

A year ago Amy Jean started to talk about having a baby. I was careful not to seem surprised. Amy Jean can have a baby if she wants. She has a real job these days, the kind with Opportunities for Advancement. She has a long-time boyfriend who would probably come around to the idea. She lives in a real house with real furniture. Babies, why not?

She wanted a baby a lot. A whole lot. I'd never seen anything exactly like it. She reminded me of someone terribly hungry, so close to real starvation that they can only think of food and everything in the world is either Food or Not Food and nothing else matters. But because things were not quite right and she was not making quite what she would like to be making at her job and because her boyfriend was not quite ready, she didn't have a baby. Then in June she found out she had cancer instead. The cancer is over now, but the irradiated iodine they killed it with is not good for fetuses and Amy Jean will not be having a baby for a while. Amy Jean is quite cautious. All my girlfriends are quite cautious, and none of us have babies.

"Masha, leave the door alone," Amy Jean says. Masha backs up reluctantly, turns toward the hallway and finally throws herself down on her side in an agony of grief. I rub the back of her neck with my toes. Poor Masha.

I don't think I've ever felt it, that particular hunger. If I had I would know it, right? When I was growing up I always insisted that I was never having babies. The older people would nod knowingly and pat my leg and say you feel like that now, but don't worry, when the time comes you'll want it, everyone does-- a prospect I found only slightly less terrifying than the threat that Jesus would be saving me, whether I wanted him to or not. I want no overwhelming desires, no mystical overthrows of my will, no terrible hunger like Masha's terrible hunger.

I like babies just fine, I swear I do. I love my niece. She makes hilarious faces and endearing noises programmed to make me feel pleasantly protective. She laughs when jiggled and jumps when I jump and registers no objection to being dressed as a woodland creature for her auntie's entertainment. So far, she is perfect.

She doesn't make me want to have a baby, though. Not this year, anyway, or the year after that, or probably even the year after that. I am very busy for the foreseeable future. And if it goes on like that, I will probably never have a baby, and that shouldn't be a tragedy. Shouldn't be. I think.

There's a morality story, though, for women like me, and it's about a woman who always thinks she'll have a baby later when she feels like it but then she wakes up one morning in her early forties and realizes that a baby is exactly the one things she wants more than anything in the world. She has the hunger in her, and it is too late to do anything about it. It is a terrible threat.

Choices are frightening things in themselves. Don't worry, say the grown-ups in my mind. You'll change your mind. Everyone does.

The steam has split the mouths of the oysters into little moues. We crack the open and set them on the plate. Amy Jean goes to the kitchen door, wiping her hands on her skirt.

"Masha, you want to go out? You want to go out and look for your baby?" Masha snaps alert, body electrified with purpose. Amy Jean opens the door and Masha bounds out, barking. She will call and sniff the bushes for an hour for a puppy she will never find.

Amy Jean pours two glasses of white wine. I pick up the platter of oysters, trembling to be swallowed, and carry them to the table.