Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back to Work


Two nights in a row. Nasty, mean dreams with the same man (from my past) coming at me in different ways with detailed plans of how to hurt and torture me. I'm a teenager again and all the same poisonous feelings I had for him then are tumbling around in my belly, rinsing and swishing, spinning but not draining. The look on his face tells me that he has the same vitriolic cycles going on inside. Our hatred is entirely mutual.

Last night he had me and my best friend in some isolated place and he was playing on my affection for her. I had to be the one to subject myself to his evil plans in order to protect her. I had my cell phone and he knew it, but somehow he wasn't worried. The more I tried to press the right buttons before he snatched it away, the more he laughed. He knew I wouldn't be able to do it right. His disdain was my self-fulfilling prophecy. I couldn't find the right contact numbers in my phone and when I finally did, I only got voice mail. He was right about me.

I never did get rescued. Every moment we experienced was choreographed. By him. I was completely helpless. It didn't feel any different than before. Waking up, I realized that the worst part of the dream was not the fear of harm. It was the fact that I could still feel his hatred for me as strongly as ever, and I hated him just as much.

Hmmm, methinks it's time to work on this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Patting Your Head & Rubbing Your Tummy

You stay at the dinner table until everyone is done. Then you clear your plate and help clear the table. That's the rule. Sometimes it causes tension. Especially when one kid loves the dinner offering and can't stop eating while the other one politely took three bites and now sits with her hands folded in her lap, waiting. Seconds. Thirds. The child on my left begins to twitch. She can't sit here much longer. When will her sister be done? There is an almost audible ticking as the list of things she would rather be doing builds in her head...

...lying in the tub
...running around outside
...anything besides SITTING HERE!!!

Her eyes meet mine. Oops. Sorry. Sit still, self. Sit still.

All at once, Eve starts giggling.
"I did it! My choir teacher tried to get us to figure this out all year and I finally did it!"

We all turn to look at her. Even Lola, her cheeks stretched from within with cornbread crumbs threatening to erupt.

"Rolling your shoulders in different directions," in a voice that tells us we ought to have already known this. Duh. She demonstrates. Her rounded shoulders, the bones moving slowly and clearly beneath the taut, tanned skin of her preadolescent arms, move smoothly. In different directions. The one nearest me is rotating around and around forward to backward, front, down, back, up, front, down, back, up. The other one is moving backwards, back, down, front, up, back, down, front, up. We are all quiet, our eyes flitting from one shoulder to the other, making sure she's not pulling our legs.

The undulating motion makes me think of the giant wolf eel we watched through the glass at the aquarium today, his dorsal fin rippling in the water as he slowly and effortlessly moved from one place to the other. I'm a little grossed out. Eve is over the moon. Her crooked teeth show in a spectacular grin, the dimple on the left side of her face pushed all the way in. She has done it.

In the same moment, the rest of us at the table are all moving our shoulders beneath our t-shirts, trying to do it, too. Bubba and I look at each other, embarrassed to be found out, but Lola, cheeks still distended with dry crumbs, grins as much as she can without shooting yellow shrapnel across the table. This is really hard. A lot harder than patting your head and rubbing your tummy. I look at the tablecloth, trying to focus on the task, but every time I think I'm starting to get it I feel this tugging in my brain. These two sides don't want to work against each other. They want to be synchronized, in agreement.

Maybe it's simpler to do two things that are opposed when you're young. Maybe as I get older my mind craves unity, assent, conformity. The two halves can't bear to be in conflict.

I've heard that free-association writing with your opposite, non-dominant hand is revealing and powerful. Someone told me once, in a writing workshop, that if I just sat down in a quiet room and began writing my thoughts with my left hand, I would discover some amazing truths. Something has stopped me from ever engaging in this exercise. I'm not afraid of the revelations. I'm pretty sure I've resisted because I'm bothered by what my handwriting would look like and whether I'd be able to do it "right" or not.

But maybe tonight after the lights are out and nobody can see, I'll give this shoulder-rotating thing one more try. Maybe.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Revelations in the Strangest Places

Somewhere along the way, I got hooked on HBO's "Sex and the City." I wasn't proud of it. I didn't advertise it. But I enjoyed watching the show week after week. I can't relate to any of the women on a level deeper than the fact that we all have the same alphabet soup of chromosomes. I was shocked and even occasionally frightened of Carrie Bradshaw's wild outfits and, if anything, the show solidified my tenuous belief that I could never enjoy living in New York City.
I wasn't really interested in seeing the movie. By the time the show had run its course, I think that the loose ends had tied themselves up neatly enough that I was sated. The main course was filling enough that I didn't even want to see the dessert menu.
Last week the movie showed up in my mailbox. Bubba's in charge of our Netflix queue and he apparently thought he'd order me a "chick flick" to enjoy while he was away on business. Weighing my lack of interest in the movie against my inherent abhorrence of all things wasteful, (and considering I finished my most recent book yesterday and wasn't ready to start another one last night) I popped the movie in the DVD player.
I found myself wrapped up in the characters all over again. I enjoyed the glimpses of true feeling and the complex dilemmas they were facing. Sort of. About 2/3 of the way through I began wondering just how long this movie was. I also started lamenting the fact that I knew how all of this was going to end up and that what I was really missing were the deeper conflicts and complications that fed into and would persist long past the surface resolutions in these relationships.
Ultimately, I was disappointed and I tossed and turned all night examining the reasons why. I have read enough books and seen enough movies to expect the happy ending. I know that it is impossible to entertain an audience unless you give them something pleasant to hold on to, especially if they are using the movie as an escape from their everyday lives.
I think what I realized is why I love books so much more than movies. Writers can explore those deeper, more intricate nuances of relationships. Writing the words gives the reader more license to find common ground and fillin the blanks. Seeing everything play out before me on the screen is like being spoon-fed my mashed baby peas. I only get what's in the spoon and only when the person feeding me feels like giving it to me. With a book, I can stop mid-sentence or mid-paragraph or mid-chapter and close my eyes to fill in the pictures myself. I can let my thoughts drift off to make other connections. I can underline, dog-ear, scribble notes in the margins to expand on things the author has said.
Books offer me such fertile ground in which to play.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Loud and Clear

Okay, my computer has officially lost the ability to open more than one window at a time on the web. At first I was annoyed and then I decided this was the Universe's way of letting me know that too much multitasking is not good for me. Point taken.

Monday, July 06, 2009


I was lucky enough to spend some time with my dad's wife on July 4th and, while she still isn't quite ready to spend a day cleaning out his study, she provided me with some terrific treasures she found in a closet.

Seems Dad kept a file folder of memorabilia from my childhood, complete with newspaper clippings that announced I'd won a writing contest (!) and letters we'd written back and forth in the years we didn't live together. I had completely forgotten that Dad and I were such prolific pen pals back then and this morning as I read through some of the letters he kept I was absolutely overcome. I wrote, as only a twelve-year-old girl can, of having terrible days,

"...school stinks as far as friends go. My teacher gave us an assignment with only three days' notice and I didn't get it done on time. I came home and screamed at everyone, went up to my room and skipped dinner to get it all out..."

and then promptly moved on to my excitement at helping Mom take on extra work by cleaning her real estate office in the evenings. Dad and I went on, in subsequent back-and-forth letters, to debate the merits and shortcomings of the 'new' typewriters (seems I preferred the IBM Selectrics) and report to each other on the most mundane subjects.

In addition to these treasures, Dad's wife discovered two boxes of slide carousels completely catalogued and loaded with photos ranging from the mid 1960s to 1990, all meticulously organized and labeled as only a Marine could do. I spent the morning looking at images of my teenage father in his flight suit splayed across the wall of my dining room, his face sad and resigned as he played poker and watched the USO shows so many decades ago. I can't wait to continue digging into this amazing treasure chest and see what awaits me...
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