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Words, My Blanket (freewrite)

Really loving something becomes wrapping yourself in it, cloaking or even shrouding. My bedroom’s debris of dog-eared books and library receipts, uncapped pens and torn sheets of paper, surrounds and precedes my physical self nearly as much as the clothing I choose to wear and the food I eat. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been wrapping myself in words, tucking pages into every spare moment and lines into many conversations.

I am done with college, and I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve been able to have an immersive four-year education and a couple short-term jobs in the things that I am so drawn to that I can’t help but surround myself with them: books. I have been exposed to and informed about ways that leverage in the world of media can be used to help foster diverse listening, understanding, and subsequent necessary action in the “real” world, the three-dimensional one simultaneously mimicked and created/predicted in print or screen media. But I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with words in the long term, or even next, or even now.

A couple months ago, I took drawing back up for the first time since middle school, an era when my near-constant comics production that kept my hands inky and cramped. I hadn’t realized how much I missed drawing—the very process is calming, and it helps me two-dimensionalize and crystalize thoughts that are (hah) longer than a tweet and shorter than a short story or essay, a type of thinking I’d been having trouble processing for awhile. My wrists are happy to be ink-smudged again, and I’ve had the joy of tidying up my own mind by drawing, but also of getting to have a couple friends use my drawings to explain a concept to someone else, or get a small work commissioned as a tattoo or art piece, or bought as an object on Threadless.

I love drawing because I know I can’t draw well, so all I can do is draw as expressively as possible and try to process and convey whatever message I mean to discuss as effectively as I can. I’ve made some friends through drawing, and I watch in awe as they draw a man with five antlers, or a huge woman on a tiny pony, or a beard that becomes a waterfall, or something else that’s arbitrary but based in the layers of an image rather than in the conveyance of a string of words with noun and verb like my two-dimensional, Times New Roman brain chooses to do. Where visual artists draw a picture, I find myself trying to draw a sentence. Even when I try my hand at visual art, I can’t help but keep functioning by the code of words and narrative.

For awhile, I’ve felt like I don’t have much to write. I miss the feeling of scrawling or typing lengthy, careening threads of texts and then finding that bit, the piece worth keeping that helps make sense of some concept or experience previously left hanging unprocessed, but I don’t want to just write and write to fill air, and I don’t expect anyone to value my work inherently, as if just because it’s there it is worth sharing and lauding and discussing and possibly even paying. I just keep a notebook of small thoughts, and tell myself I’m thinking drawing-sized thoughts right now. And it’s okay. And if I have something that needs to be written, I can write it when the time comes.

Never once have I regretted choosing words as my focus in developing a personal skill-set. I want to find long-term work in editing or marketing of books, and I don’t see that as in-conflict to my love of reading or writing at all. Rather, the opposite is the case: reading is an eternal bolster and source of wonderment. I have been happy and honored every time I’ve spent eight hours buried in a savory text, pulling or pushing punctuation, jotting out review lines, or helping writing become more concise and able to better convey its thoughts out on a journey in a world where things are often skim-read and misconstrued. Anytime I start to yearn for career paths that are less competitive for postgrads, or jobs that perhaps pay a bit more at an entry level, I can’t imagine hanging up my plum-colored velvety cloak of words. I can’t see myself being as happy in an environment in which two-dimensional, monochromatic print won’t be expanding and twisting and molding my mind every day, wrestling and merging with old thoughts and adding buttery, flaky layers to the way I look at every mundane thing I encounter in a day, the bristled upholstery on the bus or the milky edges of the clouds, the facial expression of the woman next to me in the checkout line or the wind-burned lines in the face of the man on the street corner.

To wrap yourself in something is to commit to it with the certainty that it will transmit warmth back to you in exchange for your devotion, your body heat. I’ve wrapped myself in words and they’ve showered me in tiny crystalline gifts of understanding, but I am still wondering how tight I need to cling, how much further I have to go and longer I have to wait, until I find an economically sustainable long-term job in words. Until then, I’m taking refuge the only way I know how—pulling the words in closer.

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Flora + Fauna

Flora
What reminds me of where I come from. A forest that is more coniferous than deciduous will appear more black than green from a distance—I didn’t realize it until I moved away. Each scraggly pine tree lends lopsided grace, and branches mesh like dark lace, sunlight streaming through uneven gaps and pockets.

Fauna
What brings warmth and a pulse. I rest my hand on my dog’s back, nestle my fingers into her downy undercoat and feel each of her shallow breaths. We stare ahead at the doe who gazes at us from inside the thicket. What we can’t tell the animals in words, we try to tell with calm, slow breaths, and a lack of rapid movement.

Flora
There’s not much to eat around here because it’s pretty cold. Well, except raspberries, right off the bush. Come to think of it, I would choose eating raspberries off the bush over chocolate any day.

Fauna
I love living somewhere where a) there are still squirrels and b) they’re thin and fit, and they still scurry when we approach them.

Flora + Fauna
The key, I think, is to make the calm of the forest and shore a portable state of mind. Easier said than done, especially when living in an environment of brick and beige, harsh rectangles where we don’t seem to belong. It’s letting winding branches take their own shapes regardless of place—how many times has a scrubby potted plant softened and relieved a stark office, making it more of a home for somebody?

Clearest Vision

It’s a small yellow house, probably just one floor, with rust-red shingles and hedged by the fuzz of a slightly overgrown, lush dark green lawn. There’s stained glass in the window and a small quilt depicting an orange chicken hung over the oven, small stacks of books on every end table and thick rugs beneath my feet, between my toes. Some days, the house is by the lake, other days on the edge of the forest. Sometimes in between the two, a comfortable medium. Inside the house, the heat from the tea seeps through the clay mug between my hands, warming my fingers without scalding them. The dog is asleep on my feet.

I can be on the water without thinking about what’s to be done in the house, and I can read without wondering what’s to cook or what’s to be cleaned when I’m done. I open the door for people and let them in, and open it again to let them out. The clearest part of this vision, though, is that I don’t feel empty when the people leave, or nervous when they’re there. I feed the scraps of my scrambled eggs to my dog, alone in my small yellow house, and I don’t, for a second, need the validation of anyone else’s approval to lift my head and see the sun.

Skeletons

There are lots of skeletons in my closet, but they’re tiny, mouse-sized, scattered across the hardwood. I notice them, lift and examine each, then try vainly to bury them, rearrange them in order of time, importance, supposed “topical relevance” to my day.

 

I go to the kitchen, spread honey on a slice of bread, and eat anxiously, standing barefoot at the counter, and ponder how to avoid my skeletons—I go to the grocery store, shut my laptop, flip my phone face-down, go back to my closet, open it, shut it, open it again, ignore the knock on the front door (can’t say who, nervous to find out), feel my heart rate rise, feel a sagging weight behind my eyes, a heaviness in my shoulders, lean against the door, sit down in a slump, and eventually degrade into a restless sleep.

 

It is my mother who shakes me awake. I feel achey, as if I hadn’t slept. She helps me stand, but I make her pull all my weight. The closet door opens a crack. My sick heart revs, a tiny car on a steep hill. I fear the white bones, the skeletons on my closet floor, but as I look through my hollowed-out, sleepless eyes, I see they’re tiny. Mouse-sized skeletons scattered across the hardwood.

Pledge

I pledge allegiance to blue and white, not red.
Reflected in the axis of the horizon, the sky mirrors the deep waters, waves tipped with thin dark ridges and air brushed with wispy clouds.

I feel most whole with a roof over my head that isn’t static but rustles and waves and lets warm, clear light shine down between a hundred thousand green maple leaves brushing gently against birch and pine.

I stand with the family united by bare feet, fleeces and running shorts, holding plastic glasses of tap water, the others who can breathe the deepest and laugh the loudest when the air is clean and lake-sweet and the breeze is cold,

The others who plod straight into the kitchen with sand and dirt between their toes, those who have called in sick to spend time at the lake but have been put in their place at the hands of nature, forced to hide inside by winter winds, the owners by necessity of four-wheel drive and fat-tire bikes,

Those who may work in an office or store but live in a patchwork quilt of forests and anti-suburbia, the home of hot wild rice and tiny breweries, where the cheers are as loud for bluegrass music as for rap, where the whole town floods as one to the shores when the water freezes over or the air gets ‘way too hot’ at eighty-two.

Where I lay my head to rest in bed and the smell of bonfire and mellow night drifts in my window.

Where I lay my head to rest, shut my eyes, and feel the peace of home.

Scabs

Your scabs are elegant because they are outward signs of you mending and regenerating, creating soft new skin without even thinking about it. While you’re busy being angry about your inability to finish a task for work or dreading calling someone back, while you’re regretting the choice you made last month, without even knowing it, you’re subconsciously reconstructing yourself, and your ‘big’ worries are trivialities compared to your body’s own constant maintenance of what is vital, what keeps you alive.

 

I’m not going to tell you to find someone to hold your hand even when it’s callused or scabbed. You’ve already been told that, and that doesn’t mean it always goes well, or will provide what you need.

 

Instead, I’m going to tell you to learn to respect your own scabs, to find elegance and utility in the way your calluses grip a pull-up bar or coffee mug. To not think twice before wearing shorts when there are chain grease stripes, scabs and bruises on your legs. It’s far too easy to fear someone else’s split-second judgment about your scars or calluses or the shape of your muscles. But, while someone else may shake your hand for five seconds, you wear and carry it always. You are the one who watches your fingers nimbly hop the keys of your keyboard as you type, lift the spoon in your breakfast each morning, and gently comb out your hair each night. As you work to modify yourself with your mind, recall that your body is doing the same, and respect your scabs.

Writer’s Block

I want to write about the time I was bold and courageous or the time I was tender or the time I was a burnout junkie with no story at all. I want to write about the time I had long willowy legs and an elegant face with big warm eyes. The time I ran down the road in the night, a streak lit burnt orange in the black by streetlamps and stars, unbuttoned coat billowing behind me, running towards someone or maybe away and taking everything in, not just every sharp breath insular to myself but everything around me, every brick in the walls and every gritty brick corner of the cobblestone sidewalk or the smoothness of the tar road. I want to write about the time I was in a room full of people and felt everyone, connected and warm, or, better, the time I was with one person and felt that person was everyone and they felt it back.

Instead, I’m going to have to write about the times I’ve had. Like the time I got jammed in the plastic sliding door of the train. Or all the times I sat half-awake on the edge of the couch as we all just talked and laughed. Or the way snow looks when it gleams and sparkles under the midday sun or the way water catches light or the way eyes dart down when their owner has something to say that he doesn’t want to express or the soft downy coat under the smooth, otterlike outer coat of many midsized dogs. Or what it’s like to be anxious to show someone a story or play someone a song and how even if they don’t feel it they’ll still smile and come to dinner. Or what it’s like to sit next to someone on the train and find that they know my favorite things and will talk about them of their own accord, or, better, can sit there saying nothing at all and maybe I can just glance at them sideways a few times and feel warm.

I’m going to write about the time I ran down the street with my coat buttoned up, every sharp breath insular to me, to get to your building faster. There is burnt orange light above me, but the stars are dim in the city and I can’t feel the road’s texture under the cork bottoms of my shoes. That’s all right though, because there’s an odd comfort in how the air in your stairwell’s smell is a musty-clean sort of familiar, a combination of paint and dust and paper. There’s comfort, even, in the painfully bland eggshell walls, especially in the way the people inside crumble far less easily than they feel they will. I sit down on the couch, slide my feet out of my boots and cross them beneath me on the cushion, and pull out my notebook and pen.

Easter, Peeps, and Non-Believers

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Awed confusion tensed my tender, pale five-year-old face. My hands sunk into their respective sunflower-print pockets and my whole tiny body sagged. I slumped backwards into the swing behind me, not daring to look up at my mother.

            “I knew Santa wasn’t real, but you didn’t say anything about the Easter Bunny.”

            (Yes. At one point in my life, that was something I had to have clarified for me. I am not making this up, I promise. I would rather tell you a story that makes me look more intelligent instead of less. Sadly, that is not the case.)

            Alas, we return to where I forlornly drooped on my swing, swaying listlessly in the warm summer breeze. My mother had left under the pretense of fixing a snack for my sister and I, but in some contrived way I felt she was uncomfortable about the revelation she had just led, no, dragged me to. My sister, Zoe, was drawing hopscotch on the driveway with pink chalk, blissfully oblivious to the fact that her own parents were lying to her about benevolent, jolly, now literary-seeming characters that delivered seasonal gifts.

            Well, that explains why some people get tons of toys for Easter and some just get a couple Peeps, I thought, trying to re-orient my mental schema to cover for the lack of an Easter bunny.

            The wind toyed with my blonde ringlets. No, I didn’t write that wrong, and I’m not delusional. I see what my hair looks like now. I know that it’s brown and fluffy. But as a small child, I had child-star-quality blonde ringlets. They played beautifully off my red sparkly Mary Janes and the fluorescent pink band-aids that lived eternally on my forehead, mending my habit of tripping and falling into potholes.

            Anyway, the wind swept a pendulum of curl in front of my face. I brushed it aside. I had always felt my parents were infallible. They always knew what to do and would never dream of deceiving me. Presumably, neither of my parents believed in the Easter Bunny, seeing as they (gulp) were him. But Easter reminded me that my dad believed in church while my mother did not. Who was right when my parents had opposing views? The intelligent, soft-spoken doctor who spun me in circles when he came home from work, or the strong, clever artist who had raised me with love and had spent every waking minute with me for my first four years?

            I traced a line in the dirt with my red sparkly Mary Jane. I really, really wanted to go swimming in the lake. It always made me feel better, except the day it gave me some kind of weird itch in the small of my back. Things would make sense if I could just go for a swim. I stood up and padded into the house, climbing the steep, creaky basement stairs to the kitchen.

            “Mama, can we go to the lake?” I asked nonchalantly, leaning my forehead against the kitchen counter she was slicing apples on.

            “Uh, I was thinking we could take Molly for a walk in Hartley Park,” she said, not looking up from her slicing. Molly rolled over on her doggie bed, ears perked sharply to alertness at the sound of “walk.”

            I slumped to the table and plunked down on the bench. It was occurring to me how little I really understood. I gazed forlornly at the microwave. How do microwaves even work? Is there fire in there, or what? But it hit me that regardless of whether or not I understood the microwave, it worked for me. And someday, like finding out the Easter Bunny isn’t real, I will learn how microwaves work, and hopefully even how love might work or important stuff like that. I sat up. A walk in Hartley Park sounded nice.