These Cats Have Character

November 11, 2018

 

My Dad was a fan of items — ornaments, decorations and tchotchkes– that he described as having “character”.  If I brought home art from school, the highest compliment would be when he looked at something and determined it had character. Out in the world,  he would have a certain amused and admiring tone as he picked up whatever thing had caught his eye, said, “now this X has character.” I am sure he bought these honeycomb cats for their character.

My dad had a respect and care for objects that– with all love to my husband– I can say I don’t see much in my current life where even expensive electronic items are flung about and the disposable nature of anything inexpensive is emphasized in how it is treated.

I have this very distinct memory of my father sitting at our dining room table, carefully sliding the decorations out of their envelopes, and assembling them  with a precise  gentleness. Which is probably why, so many years later, they are in remarkably good repair.

 

How many years, exactly?

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Something else my father did was put dates on things, as if he knew that one day someone would become nostalgic and wonder. It’s hard to say — does this look like 1980…or 1960? Do the colors look like funky 60s colors, or neon 80s colors? The 1980s  would coincide with my childhood. But doesn’t it look like 1960? In which case he would have bought them during his first marriage, and a decade later packed and carried them into his new life, and eventually his second marriage. That’s a lot of years and travel for these little black cats.

 

View from Our Window as the World Burns

November 10, 2018

This is the view from our kitchen window at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. If you are searching for the sun,  direct your eye to that speck of muted brightness behind the palm tree.  It’s easy to look right at it because the air acts as a filter.

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The city smells like a campfire. Not a campfire that you can escape by walking a few yards toward fresher air, but a campfire that is everywhere when you step outside, that seeps through your drafty windows and under the cracks in your doors, finally settling into your head as a dull ache and in your eyes as a gentle sting. We are surrounded by the areas we are luckier than — Thousand Oaks in one direction, Malibu in the other.  I heard on the radio that school where I sometimes teach a screenwriting course is being used as an evacuation site. As devastating as both of these fires are for the people in these local areas, apparently neither as destructive as the fire that continues up north, near a town called Paradise. I’m planning a trip to Northern California for early December, but as I research routes, I see the roads we hope to travel have all been closed.

I’ve felt adjacent to the line of fire in another sense as well this week. The fire in Thousand Oaks has overshadowed the event the happened just a day before the fire began — a dozen people were shot and killed at a bar in the same neighborhood. Friends have been posting memories of eating at the location over the years. The roommate of a friend’s daughter who attended Pepperdine was killed.

The Thousand Oaks shooting redirected my gaze from the shooting that took place exactly a week before, at a yoga studio in my once-home of Tallahassee, Florida, where one of the victims was a student in the same FSU English Department that I belonged to.

Not me. But close to me. I want to put my arms around the world and say, sorry.  Sorry for your loss.

 

Who Ya Gonna Call? Gumbusters

I just got back from my summer travels. First stop was New York City. I got to see some family and friends I hadn’t seen since my last trip five years ago. I stayed in Manhattan but traveled almost every day to Brooklyn, which gave me a chance to check out some day-to-day action in the city.

One day I saw this guy; IMG_4440

Once I saw it, I became aware of the myriad dark blotches on the sidewalks and streets and realized they were old gum. Kind of crazy. I’ve never noticed that in LA — maybe because we have less pedestrians? Though now I need to look more closely the next time I’m in a neighborhood with more foot traffic.

Who pays this guy?  The sidewalk in this picture doesn’t seem to be associated with any private business. Maybe he has  contract with the city. I found this video online, but it doesn’t address that question.

Technical Exercise and Random Thoughts

I just watched a minute-long video about how to embed a photo from Instagram, and here is my photo.

 

The beach is a pretty common Instagram-type photo subject, though probably slightly less common than cute animals and food. I’m not a very industrious or creative Instagrammer.

I went to the beach to breathe in and out and not think too much about the future, but ironically, this photo, to me, feels like looking down a “road” with the future rushing at you, in the form of roiling clouds.

I’m thinking about the future these days. And the past. Probably because I’ve been writing a lot of “personal statements” for applications that ask me to describe life experiences that have shaped my worldview and made me utterly unique and invaluable to a writers room or workshop or the human race — in 500 words or less. The process of sorting through all my experiences in the search for meaning and uniqueness  makes me both philosophical and morose.

In other news, I thought there was a marching band practicing outside my window, and a couple having an argument on the street, but now I realize it’s all coming from the neighbor’s television, which has powerful speakers. As does our television, since a friend just gave us his old surround-sound set up. Truthfully, I hate both our and our neighbor’s excellent sound quality. It’s too much. It’s the audio equivalent to those super-bright car headlights that increase the driver’s ability to see ahead, but blinds everyone else.

Writing into the Void

The other day in yoga class I realized I was crying. Not sobbing or anything so undignified, just that very quiet and ladylike kind of crying where you’re going about your business and you suddenly realize “oh, there’s water leaking out of my eyes…” If you  happen to be in downward dog when this happens, it’s interesting because the tears drip over your forehead and into your hairline, which is technically “down” but which you are conditioned to think of as up, so it’s like gravity is reversed.

As I hung there, watching tears drizzle onto my yoga mat, I tried to determine the source of the overwhelming sadness I was feeling. My EQ is not the highest, and I’m prone to delayed emotional reactions, so when I feel something, I’m often unsure if it’s in response to something that just happened, or something that happened weeks or months or years ago (which as you can probably imagine my husband loves) and I have to sort through the possibilities.

This day was December 2, which is my dad’s birthday, but he’s dead, so I thought, “maybe I’m sad because it’s my dad’s birthday and my dad is dead.” But it didn’t ring true. My father has been dead for eight years and while I always think of him on his birthday, it’s more a tug of nostalgia than the deluge of defeatedness I was experiencing.

I then considered whether I might be sad because of cancer. This one time I had cancer, and the surgery took place during the first week of December. My cancer friends talk about being emotional around their “cancerversaries.” It makes sense that one’s body might remember and react to that major trauma.

But no, I could feel that it wasn’t exactly it.

And then I thought about my own upcoming birthday. About how each year I inexorably grow older and fatter and less flexible and how the possibility of reaching certain life goals grows more remote.

The tears were falling a little faster. Yep. I was getting to it now.

My overwhelming sadness, I concluded, was not about illness or deceased fathers, or starving children in Venezuela or anything noble. It was, in typical fashion, about me. My ego. My thwarted aspirations.

And the trigger was not in the distant past. It was couple things that had happened that very morning.

The first requires a little background: A few months ago I actually finished a short story, so I did a small round of submissions. Many lit journals these days charge a couple bucks for an online submission, which I’ve come to terms with. It’s about the same as postage would be, it allows them to print a hard copy for their readers and maintain their database.  I seldom pay to submit to competitions, but in this case I’d  run across an upcoming themed anthology whose topic was so perfect that I forked over the fifteen bucks.

My story was selected for the anthology,and I received a congratulatory email. For some publications it’s a point of pride to offer a token payment, but others, like this one, offer only contributors copies, which, okay, I understand, it’s about as hard to run small press as it is to be a writer. The publishers said they’d be contacting us to get our addresses for our contributors’ copies, and noted they would also offer their writers a certain number of copies at wholesale price – five bucks instead of ten.

A month or so later, I recieved an email saying the anthologies had been printed and providing a link to the “wholesale” sales page. The email didn’t mention the contributors’ copies, and did not ask for my address. I waited a week or two, then wrote and asked about the copies. After several days, I received a one-sentence reply saying, yes, they would be sending contributors copies. The email didn’t offer any details about when, nor did it request my address. After another week or so, I sent a friendly reply, along with my address to spur things along. I received no response.

For some reason, on this morning, I’d thought, “oh, what-the-fuck, I’ll spend a few bucks and order a copy, just to see how it turned out.”  But when I clicked on the link there was no sign of a “wholesale price.” I sighed and paid $10 just to have it over with. Then I thought to check Amazon, and saw it listed there for $8.

I felt pathetic and ridiculous.  I’d worked a hundred hours on the story, essentially paid to have someone read it and then paid for the product. Not only had I not asked for payment, I’d ended up paying them – on both ends!

Probably due to the decreased self-esteem of the moment, I then broke my absolutely-no-social-media-before-noon rule and opened Facebook.

Fucking Facebook.

A friend had posted the latest from the LA Weekly. Once our local champion of alternative topics and long-form journalism, LA Weekly had been purchased by some secret axis-of-evil group who immediately fired ALL of the editors and all but one staff writer. And now they’d posted this ad on Twitter:

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Yes, an ad for new “contributors” who want to write, photograph or film about their town for a lark—not money, because, look at the picture – no one is WORKING — they’re just goofing around with their phones and tablets. What fun! Anyone  with access to a touchscreen should “contribute” to a publication about Los Angeles that won’t even pay  someone to help them spell “Angeleno.”

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot of sympathy for miners and factory workers and old school P.R. people—anyone who’s trained to do something that used to be worth something, and now isn’t. When what you have to offer is worth nothing, it can make you feel like you’re worth nothing.

That might make you angry.

Or it might just make you super-duper-spring-a-leak-in-your-yoga-class sad.

After yoga class, I headed to the library to return some overdue books. This library has an attached coffee shop that sells fudge, and, no surprise, I was in prime fudge-eating mode. Before the woman at counter pared off a slice, she reminded me that their fudge costs $5.99 for a quarter pound. I told her to go ahead and hit me.

Three dollars later, I held my eighth-of-a-pound in my palm and thought, “This piece of 9-volt battery-sized chocolate has greater monetary value than anything I have written in the last two years.”

All my life I have adored libraries and entered them with anticipation. But on this day the endless shelves of books seemed not wondrous, but needy and pathetic, Mystery after mystery, thriller after thriller, memoir after memoir, all begging for someone –anyone — to choose them and give them a pity read. For free.

I was overwhelmed by all the books — not just in this single library but in the world. Millions of books. A Mount Everest of books, landsliding over everything — once revered classics getting squashed under The Hunger Games and Eat, Pray, Love and twenty-seven volumes by Lee-fucking-Childs and every self-published book on Amazon.

Sometimes I beat myself up for not being a great-enough writer, a fast-enough writer, a writer so in tune with the frequency of the universe that my work floats above it all with an angels’ chorus behind it.

But on this day, despite my sadness — or maybe because of it — I was kinder to myself: My lack of value, I thought, is not my fault, it’s just a result of where I’ve randomly landed in the queue of existence. I exist in a moment where there are more books than there have ever been before, more screenplays, more web-series, more magazine articles, more think pieces, more poignant, personal, political or inane observations on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Tumblir/Snap Chat. I happen to be someone driven to write at a time in history when the people who want to read or listen are outnumbered by the people who want to be read and be heard. Everywhere, people are desperately throwing their bottled messages into an ocean of bottles. I am just one of them. My angst is not unique. It is the angst of the bottle-throwing masses.

You know that inspirational quote (I once saw it on someone’s Facebook page)“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” 

A variant popped into my head: “What would you write if you knew it everything you wrote was destined for a fucking void?”

Maybe it was the fudge sugar hitting my bloodstream—but I felt something loosen inside me. You know how a bad situation can cross the line into being so-bad-it’s-hilarious?  I crossed the line. My writerly despair was hilarious. I was hilarious.

What would I write if the world was ending?
if all ink turned invisible after three hours?
if I was alone in an underground bunker and everyone outside it was a ravenous, illiterate zombie?

What would I write if climate change was real and none of it mattered?

Whatever the fuck I wanted.
The truth.
This.