mercredi, septembre 29, 2004

La Lectrice, Part Two

My parents caught on to my obsession, of course, when they saw me reading like a little crazy person. I’m not sure what they said to themselves or what they felt about the whole thing, but what I felt from them was their great pleasure in me and their great pride in the way I didn’t seem to be stuck in any small definitions of childhood- not, at least, where reading was concerned. I can remember them calling me over one time. They had a theory to test- a book for me to read. I looked at the page and scrunched my little girl shoulders when I told them I can’t pronounce those names. I was sincerely sorry, too- as only a child can be sorry. So, they said try the words around the names- just one page- we’ll help you pronounce the names when you get to them. So, on a Sunday afternoon, I read one page- just one page- of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. And that was enough. I waited two more years to go back and finish it.

After one very long day in second grade, though, I arrived home and pulled my father’s 11th grade literature textbook (teacher’s edition) off the shelf. I flipped (for the pictures, of course- I was just a kid) and then settled down to read a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone along with all of my da’s notes on the symbolism of light and dark. (My father’s words were scribbled and marginalized, but oddly enough, they are the ones I still remember. And, of course, now that I think about it, that's not very odd at all.)

Now I was no stranger to Greek myths- in fact, they were my favorite stories. All that sex and violence- every character flawed- every ending at least semi-tragic even if it was a happy one. They were good groceries to my young way of thinking. (Rather like the comic books I found to read on those days when hell came just this close to freezing over.) But the words in this story were different and the ideas, too. Complex and lovely. After I finished reading it, I sat still under the dining room table, that heavy book on my skinny, kicked out legs and thought and thought while the room fell into evening.

Because my father taught them, I had a thing for the classics. I plowed through the complete works of Poe, Hawthorne and Dickens in one year; along with whatever else I could get my hands on. One night I foolishly insisted that I wanted to go to the school with my parents and hang out in my father’s class room during Parent/ Teacher Conferences. I’d gone through most everything readable in that room, so, in an attempt to stave off my impending boredom, my dad rummaged for something new before he headed off to the gym to tell parents why their kids were failing his class. What he handed me was a skinny little paperback which I’d nearly devoured by the time my parents walked in to check on me during a break. “You gave her Lord of the Flies? Honey, she's in third grade!”, my mother said to my dad, shaking her head. He seemed the tiniest bit defensive, but mostly proud when he answered, “Yeah, I did. She can handle it.” Trying to keep peace, I piped in with, “It’s okay, mommy, besides I’m almost done with it. See? Only a third left.” “Yeah. Only a third left.” My dad smiled at my mother coaxingly. And she, still shaking her head, smiled back.

I suppose third grade was when I realized that no one else in my little world was doing this. It was Dickens- specifically, The Pickwick Papers- which tripped me up. I can still remember what that table felt like under my elbows as I clasped my hands together and leaned way, way forward to include all of my friends around me in what I had to say. Something about a funny part in Dickens’ first novel- I know I was très hyper talking about it. They stared back at me. And then went back to talking to each other. (Kids are very efficient communicators, aren't they?) And I understood then that they didn’t know what I was talking about and that they wouldn’t know- not any time soon. It was the first time I understood that what was in my head was other and utterly uninteresting for my peers. The realization is a bright, hard spot of loneliness in my mind even today. It has been joined by a thousand other “you think too much”s since then. I have never figured out a good response to that one. This brain does what it wants to do. And what it wants to do is dig deep and run fast. Tant pis, huh? I cannot hold it back.

Even though the minds behind all those words, all those books, were my teachers and friends- my familiars- everybody's gotta live in the here and now or become awfully lonely. (Well, maybe not. I could shut myself away again with words and become a writer, maybe, but knowing me, I'd miss the here and now. And the girl in me would become awfully lonely. Eventually, she'd say honey, take me dancing, you know?) But I guess that my early experiences being other and outside, really did shape me. So much so, that when I encounter people whose minds move at too fast a pitch (especially when their personalities have some over all kindness and a bent sense of humor thrown in) I really do feel that I cannot afford to let them go.

Don't get me wrong, I don't need people I encounter to be strong where I am strong in order to adore them and love their company. And I know that even if they can't quite match me at one point, they are very likely to surpass me at another. We've all got our strengths. (Frankly, huge chunks of this viewpoint were learned while reading all alone. Books have got some good info in 'em on human beings from time to time, I tell you.) Still, you never know when somebody's gonna feel threatened by your confidence or the ease and joy with which you do what you can do in life. You never know when somebody's gonna decide that your strength and joy is actually snobbery and that you need to be taken down a peg or two.

Don't know if you're thinking it, but I know I have thought it a trillion times- Can't we all just get all along? No, apparently, in a lot of cases, we really can't. That's a sad fact. I don't pull my punches or dumb anything down, but I've learned to dissemble when I realize I'm in the presence of a narrow mind and a pinched soul. Don't know who to feel more sorry for in that scenario- me or pinchy. I just make sure I'm not ever pinchy when I encounter somebody who blows me and what I got way on out of the water. Credit where it's due. There's enough sunshine for everybody. Whether you burn or tan is your business.

jeudi, septembre 23, 2004

Mad Lib(erties taken with Mad Libs) or

The Wages of Love
by H+P and L'O'L

Tom Waits lost his granny on 9th & Hennepin. When he got to the vigilantly vapid neighborhood dive bar he remembered in the Village, he realized what he’d done. He scratched 5 and a half day’s worth of beard on his chin, rubbed his putrescent eyes and figgered what the hell, might as well have a drink before I go looking.
That woman’s stronger’n I am
, he grimaced while throwing back a glass of eminently rectitudinous bourbon. Good for what ails ya. He sniffed and looked around the bar.

Decades worth of candlestick and the ghosts of Saturday night made the place feel like home for people with bad livers and broken hearts. On a little shelf in front of the mirror over the back of the bar were 16 shells from a thirty-ought-six. Waits shook his head and squinted his eyes and tried to think of some tawdry lyrics. Sniffed again. Forget it. Pushing both double jointed hands against the bar, he swiveled on the imperturbable stool and came face to face with a corrosive eyed woman. When she caught him looking, she smiled- all business. “Hey, baby, whatcha doin’ here?” He grunted and as he walked away, threw a, “Baby, I’m not a baby anymore,” over his shoulder.

He stood for too long right outside the door, baking in the stolid sun and a fellow with a briefcase bumped right into him. “I beg your pardon.” This was offered too staunchly for sincerity. Tom scowled and shot back, “I never talk to strangers.” The fellow looked offended and sublimated down the sidewalk. Tom shrugged his shoulders like a hardened guy and thought what you need, my fine friend, is a new haircut and a busted lip. The man didn’t hear that, though and Tom gave up and got down to business.

He found her again, standing in her red shoes by the drugstore. “Oh, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Take me home,” she said. “This is strange weather on the precocial side of the je ne sais quois.” And then, “Who are you?” Tom looked his granny straight in the eye and said, My little turtle poop, you’re whistling past the graveyard.” He nodded his head quintessentially. “Well,” she muttered, “you can’t unring a bell.” “So it goes, so it goes," he said in return and grabbing a flower from somebody’s froward yard, he handed her the last rose of summer.
In his head he sang I’ll never let go of your hand.

mardi, septembre 21, 2004

Procrastinator Slams Poetry

I have been dragging my feet on picking a champ in this poetry contest. Today I faced up to my big reason for the delay. I just can't stand to say to all a y'all crazy people that one of you is better than the others. Even if that is understood to be a matter of my subjective opinion. I feel like a silly primary school P.E. teacher who insists that "we're all winners!" and refuses to let the kids keep score during their games. I am so lame. Especially since I know there are some genuine Competitive Bastards in the bunch who live to compete. And kick ass. And be told as much.

Okay, you're probably not as emotionally delicate as my behavior would indicate I believe you are, so I'll just do it. Do it! This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you. Or something like that.

First off, thanks, my peeps, for gracing my blog with your smooth poetry stylings. I'm gonna treasure your contributions forever. (Always stay as cool as you are and have a great summer!)
Next, I'm gonna break it down for all of you out there in the mutherland: there were a lot of things I likey-ed. A whole lotta things.

For example:

Worldgineer, I like the phrase "young girl king" so much that I am going to write it down and put it in one of those mezuzah thingeys and nail it to my doorway. (Also really liked the tiger thing the other day. That thing just came from out of the blue. That was gorgeous.)

K_sra, whatever you say that was, I really loved "and watching and waiting for all those/ damn palaces to melt". My dear, I wanna bust all your balloons. I wanna burn all of your cities to the ground. (In the Lord.) (Oh, and keep on truckin'.) (Amen.) You're glad and you know it. Clap your hands!

Brian, man, in the first place, the fact that you made your mark two times is just awesome in my book. I am so pleased that you had an awkward social (albeit drunk) moment 'cuz you thought my lines were cool enough to share with others. (And now you know they're not. You won't make that mistake again.) In the second place, I would say when you're cracking me up this much (which I sooooo appreciate), you should definitely take a free pass on using those two lines. Don't you even worry about the mess. It'll all come out in the wash.

Joel, I wasn't kidding with that ROFL business. This impish writing voice is so completely unlike the uber responsible nice guy you've always been, that it was a (pleasant) shock. Plus it made me think of Harry Potter. (My secret crush.) Maybe he'll re-enact this scene in his next film. I can dream, can't I?

Daryk, liked yours so much that I came this close to crowning you the winner. After reading this clever thing I didn't know whether to console you (or whoever that is speaking) or hand you/ whoever a box of Cottonelle Fresh Folded Wipes for that messy second stanza. (I don't think even Worldg could find the device that would make that go, err, smoothly.) Sorry about those mishaps, though.
Third stanza broke my heart. That is very boy suffering there. (I offer empathy if not complete and total understanding to whoever's doing the talking.) And maybe you/ whoever doesn't know what "the royal" means, but I am pleased to see that if you are embarrassed by it, you can shake it off. (New low on my blog, jokewise. *shakes head* Kids these days!)
Oh, and I might point, but I won't snicker.

Lydia, you win. That thing was pretty damn masterful. You landed blows like a prize fighter beating up a granny. (Even though you would never, ever beat up a granny. I mean, you wouldn't, right?) Wow, that's a really vicious image. Cover your eyes, kids. I mean it!

Anybody want a peanut?

Prizewise, Lyds, figgered I'd e-mail you the list for the types of words I need for my free-style mad libs thingey. (Oh, and I just know you're gonna love it. And even if you don't, that's okay. I'll have fun writing it and that's worth something. To me. Most of the time.) I'll stick that thing on my blog here and in the meantime, all you losers (and I say that with affection) can check out some mad libs which are probably way cooler than mine's is gonna be anyway. Damn!

dimanche, septembre 19, 2004

La Lectrice, Part One

I was no faster than the rest. No better at it. I learned exactly when they did, and in exactly the same way. I don’t know what happened after that. I have never known.

But I picked up speed when they did not. As if the pull of the words was intrinsic and all-powerful. Until, finally, my eyes absorbed print everywhere they fell. And my brain retained its comprehension of the words before my sight jumped to the next line and the next and the next. I sat for hours at a time in the tiny Reading Corner in my first grade class room. I read through the shelves of books as if that were my job, as if I were an ass-kicker, forever ruining the curve. I had none of these thoughts, of course. I had no thoughts except for the ones I found in the books. Those and the “Next!” my brain hollered every time I finished.

This happened at home, too. I read constantly- n’importe de quoi- ingredients on the Cheerios box if nothing else was available. When the bookmobile showed up every week, I read all of my books and then all of my siblings’ books long before it returned. My mother took us to the beautiful, old public library downtown and dashed my hopes when she told us we were each limited to ten books per week. So I took my ten in the first few minutes and spent the remainder of each visit feverishly trying to read through other books- books I could not bring home.

My mother, clever woman that she was (and still is), gave us quotas to fill with these ten books. A certain number had to be concerned with some scientific matter or other. A few had to be history or –and I loved this as it felt like cheating- historical fiction. There had to be some biographical or autobiographical stuff thrown into the ten someplace. And the rest were (joy to my childish soul) all fiction.

It was during this tunnel visoned time (when I was consumed with words and books and reading) that I found her. The very first one that I held up in front of my life. A hero. Now, a word on heroes (I don't use the word 'heroine' unless I'm discussing literature) - I do not collect them. Never really have. I admire incredible people but I will not allow that I am small and meant to be small and that others are great and meant to be great. I would rather scare myself silly by insisting that I accomplish incredible things. By insisting that I blow myself away with how incredible I am capable of being in this world. I don’t want to sit back and watch somebody else’s show. I want to live before I die.

But she was too amazing. What she decided to be- what she did- overwhelmed me. She was GREAT as only flawed human beings can be great. In my mind, she has never been replaced. She never will be. This first hero, found when I was six years old, was Harriet Tubman. This enslaved woman became not my North Star, but my South Star, forever shining in the wrong direction. Away from safety and into danger. Not a drinking gourd which might hold all the refreshment and calm that a battered human being might need, but a life broken and spilled out (by conscious choice and with some measure of cold-blooded ruthlessness) for people who still lived where she’d been.

And, my God, she was tough! She did not give a flying fuck (she probably was more of a lady than I am on the swearing) that lacking property, whiteness and a penis, she did not factor into any powerful men’s plans. She did not wait for legalities to catch up with ethics. Didn’t wait for others to sort through moral dilemmas. She saw people oppressed and in pain and goddamn well went for the jugular. How could I not love a woman like that? She didn’t turn her face away for one moment from the suffering of her fellow human beings. Got 300 souls out and away from mind-blowingly de-habilitating oppression. And pretty much lived her life like that. Spent all her money, every month, in the last few years before she died running a home for the elderly and homeless. Acted the whole time like she knew that in many cases, if she didn’t do something, nobody would.

She was a mess. I adore her. Where did she get the nerve?

vendredi, septembre 17, 2004

Wicked Pissah

I am so pleased that my city was ignored by Ivan. When I got back yesterday in the early evening, I went for a walk in Audubon Park. They'd put all the trash containers away in preparation for impending doom and the little rebel dog's biznasty had to be carried for a little while too long. (That was the only downside to the walk.) Other than that though, it was calm and beautiful. Tons of people out enjoying the same hot and muggy September evening in New Orleans. The radio was telling everybody which restaurants had already reopened. This last thing is what lets the denizens of this den of iniquity know that life has returned to normal. (Food is love. Don't let anybody tell you different.)

I'm choosing the champ of the poetry slam tomorrow and then I will get down to the serious business of rewards. So, there's a smidge more time if you had a half-prepped poem in your head already. I have to say I've had a lot of fun reading the stuff you all have contributed and I thanks you muchly.

mardi, septembre 14, 2004

Everything but the Girl

So, an 8 hour drive later, I am safely perched right on the funky line between Texas and Arkansas, in a town appropriately named Texarkana. (The 'ph' is silent.) My room has a fridge, an internet connection and K_sra's rebel dog.

Despite the fine company, I am tired and the cable news is freaking me out. Talking some smack about a category 3 hurricane that hit Nawlins in the mid-60's and left the entire downtown area under 7 feet of water for a few weeks. Ivan is a category four, people. We're talking destroyed property, potential loss of life, serious flooding, and contaminated water that may take a looooong time to clean up. I don't know when I will be able to go home. I don't know what will be there when I do.

And that was the trippy thing this morning. I had to look around at all my favorite stuff and separate the wheat from the chaff. The questions that needed to be answered, for me anyway, were these: What would I be okay with losing? And what loss would fill me with a tearing regret for the rest of my life?

And I know you're probably saying to me quietly inside your head, "It's just stuff, girl. People are the important thing." And if you're saying it, you're right. Of course, you're right. But if anything happens to my art and design books, art supplies, computer, all of my yummy illustrator and photoshop and pattern design software I will really feel that loss. And my dressmaking form. Damn it to crap, I do not want to have to do without her.

I wanted to be a fashion designer from the time I was thirteen. I think it was the fabrics that did me in, back in the '80's. The fabrics and the piled on jewelry, crude makeup (by today's standards), and just general over-the-top fun I found in fashion magazines. You know, back in the days of "body conscious" knits and huge, swimming, Japanese inspired clothes that didn't know what a human body looked like and never wanted to find out. The days of Amazon super models- with muscle tone and the first really famous fake breasts. (I am distracted momentarily by this thought- why is it that some parents buy fake breasts for their teenage daughters nowadays? C'est quoi le fuck?! Back to milder musings...) Whatever did it for me, I do know that my Inner Drag Queen woke up, hollered, "Honey, I'm home!", and gave me a never ending kiss. I haven't been right since. Even during the times in my life when, because I have been unhappy and have not been actively doing something about it, I have retreated into little brown sparrow mode. (Just on my way out that door, if you wondered.) Love being human. Hate to blend in.

Anyway, I ordered my dress form (with its clever collapsible shoulders) from a company in Chicago that has been making them forever and a day. This was years before I found my voice and insisted on my calling and finally fucking well went to design school. During years of hi-fi love where fashion was concerned. Years of strange experiments (the best kind) and much ruined fabric. (I am not sorry.) Years and years of grabbing like a pervert at material in department stores and boutiques and high end fabric stores. Years of scribbling words and pictures about this love of mine. This love that covers psychology and commerce and history and society and culture and art and fear and desire as well as the body of every single person reading this right now. (Most of the time.)

And when I'd finally sent in the measurements (which were a bitch to take because I still didn't know all the things you need to know to take accurate measurements correctly, easily) some guy called me from the factory and urged me to rethink the shoulders. I had, he explained, obviously made a mistake. I was confused. He sorted me out. Sort of. "According to these measurements," he said patiently, "you have a petite torso and the shoulders of a very obese woman." Oh. Right. I see. By the time I'd finished explaining to him that those were my shoulders (no matter what the standard measurement charts might say) and that there was nothing mistaken or obese about it, he was ready to take my word- and my money- for it.

And she's there in my house, all alone, waiting for Ivan to show up. Her white fabric is streaked with grime from many movers' hands. (It's my fault for forgetting to cover her up during some of these moves I've made. White just calls out for dirt, doesn't it?) And I can feel right now while I'm writing this what it's like to put my arms around her petite torso and dance with her. Even though she can't really dance. Not on that heavy metal base. But to lean her and spin her in place...

Tell me I'm silly. I am not ready to let her go.

dimanche, septembre 12, 2004

Poetry Contest

I was going to write something 11-ish yesterday and I just couldn't. (Moment of silence and all that.) Anyway, since I am feeling quite an urge to lighten up and be veddy silly- take a break from heavy stuff, you know?- I decided to hold a poetry slam. Honest + Popular style.

"What does that mean?", you may be asking yourself. And, Yourself, I tell you, I am happy to explain. Except that, never having held a poetry contest (Honest + Popular style) before, I can't really be sure what it'll be like. I'm 'bout to find out. (How bad could it be?)

Also, before you start, I should tell you that I came up with this idea once after reading poetry written by pals of mine. I do not (really) write poetry. I felt sort of bad about that. But I got over it. And having other people write poetry on my site is the way I came up with to laugh at the fact that I can't personally do it very well myself. So, this is also a way for me to get by with a little help from my friends. And now you know.

My personal fave will be rewarded with a mad libs PROSE thingey which I will compose in their honor. (After they've given me the appropriate nouns and so forth.) Sowennyway, I will give you poet types the first two lines and you can take it from there. No rules on structure. You could even combine the two lines or reverse them. Free and easy. Have fun. (I know I'm honest, but now I guess I'll find out if I'm popular. Please, please, please come to my birthday party! This dress is gonna look stupid if I'm the only kid here.)

(Ahem! Where is my dignity? Had it just a second ago.) Start here:

I used the royal 'we'
To take a standing piss

jeudi, septembre 09, 2004

First Cut

The canvas tilts beneath me and, feet secure, I lean back across the hard hull. Salt and cold splash onto my skin and warm under the sun. Even the wind on me is warm. And I am at your back. By your side. You have turned this light thing into a chariot over the water. Out here, lines in hand, you have no doubts. You have not forgotten one single thing about this love. Strength and joy radiating fiercely, you carry me along. And for that, I purely adore you.

It cannot last. Balance relinquished, I snuff my regret quickly (as I never can on land.) Picking my spot, I jump- light and precise- into the ocean. Carefully avoiding ropes and sails. No entanglements. Just the way you taught me. Just the way you liked it. Until the day you walked down those stairs and mistook me for an angel- inside and out.

But I am a real girl slowly treading these southern coastal waters. This is all I have ever been. Too good for you. Wilder than all of them. Still not bad enough. I cannot win. You are a fool. Love bleeds away into the water.

I watch as you stand on one edge and pull the mast upright. Shoulders, torso, thighs- those muscles doing what they do- and I think you are beautiful. Man in his element. I have never found anything on this planet more compelling. Leviathan stirs in the depths below me and I say, “Hush. Go back to sleep.” And to my body, “Be quiet. There is nothing to fear.” And then I am rolling up and down on this beautiful ocean.

Wet fabric clears the water. And wind, overeager with the punch line, jumps at it right away. I watch as you go- lovely, lovely. Wanted- always wanted- by those who mean you harm and ones who wish you well. (I can no longer tell where I belong.) You are shouting to me while the distance pushes us apart. I still my heart and lift my head. Perfectly quiet- to hear your words. (Woman does not live by bread alone.) I realize I am a fool to wait.

I wish it were me you were afraid to lose. I do not give a shit about your cooler full of beer.

samedi, septembre 04, 2004

Keep A Straight Face, pt. 2


I'd noticed her shoes in the morning- one brown, one navy Ferragamo bow flat. She'd laughed when she caught me looking and told me that she had mixed the pairs accidentally. I told her about the time I'd forgotten to take off my huge lion slippers one morning before heading to my 10th grade homeroom. And that's how it started- with me trading one embarrassment for another- always the consummate hostess, even if it was my first week at this place.

As she headed to her desk, I did a fast inventory of her Lafont Paris frames, long, swinging glass bead necklace and highlighted bob. (This last had been lovingly slashed all along the lower line and had me contemplating for the millionth time the sad fact that in most cases hairdressers just will not take my word for it that I want a very wild, rock and roll cut. I look too delicate- too gentil. And they, thinking they know the lady that I am better than I do, always manage to make me look as wild as a Palm Beach print. In other words, only wild- looking to the wildly ignorant.) When I looked at her body, I saw that her striped knit top and linen cigarette pants were neat and rumpled all at the same time. Which managed to make her look very french. I'd been told she was extremely eccentric, but so far, her oddness struck me as harmless and charming.

Later in the morning, she came back and leaned her skinny ass against my desk, wanting to know how I was getting along so far. She carried the lion's share of a neat little "welcome to the office" exchange and I answered on autopilot, my brain concentrating on her strong, flawless jawline. Wow, I hope my jawline looks like that when I'm her age. And then Stupid! You have to start with a jawline like that to end up that way. Ohhh. Right. Man-in-the-moon-face. Never gonna look like that without implants. Mean, mean implants. That's a negative, Ghost Rider. Huh? I blinked back into the conversation just as she'd finished saying something about the weather.

"You definitely moved to Louisiana at the hottest part of the year," she said emphatically. I shrugged and laughed. Stupid Yankee. She started up again, "When I first moved here two decades ago, I kept coming down with yeast infections." She continued, comfortably oblivious to my struggle to keep my eyebrows in place. "My doctor finally told me to stop wearing underwear during the hot months and that cleared it all up." I bit my cheek to keep from laughing and threw a panicked glance over her shoulder to the open door of the nearest partner's office only ten feet away. I knew that if I could hear everything he ever said in that room, he was definitely getting an earful right now.

"You gotta do whatcha gotta do," I said politely, noncommittally. "Well, you know," she confided, "I just got so used to it that I didn't even wear them in the winter. In fact, I haven't worn underwear for twenty years now." She nodded, rather satisfied with how that had all worked out. "You might want think about not wearing them, either," she offered now, leaning in close to my face and dropping her voice chummily. So helpful. Thanks. "You know- if you find that you're getting yeast infections, too." I smiled my best April Marie smile and reached for the ringing phone.