Monday, January 21, 2008

A Journal of Disorganized Thoughts, part one

Almost eleven years. That's how long I've been in school. Since fall of 97, after the birth of my second child. I could trace it in the electronic devices I've carried. Walkman to cell phone, then a bulky portable CD player, a much smaller cell phone and finally an exorbitantly expensive MP3 player, something I got myself for the long walks to school, back before the baby. I was walking up to three miles (mostly uphill in that neighborhood) to get to school, and since I frequently could not afford to eat, until I got the job at the kitchen, I often had not eaten and could not until I made the walk home (much worse than the walk there) and sat just inside my door, after I got it open, shaking and waiting for the dizziness to pass so I could boil an egg. The MP3 player came out of my loans, which were otherwise budgeted to the penny. I walked a lot and kept breaking the CD players. They we so easy to break.

I had to explain what a Walkman was to the girls. I threw in an explanation for the old 'party line' telephones.

Do you know what it's like to deal with persistent thoughts? Even when you know it's not your fault that you have them? Like how you're going to fail. I have that one all the time. My inner pessimist is actually about 5'6", and goes for walks in the evenings to sneer at passers-by.

A woman who was never my friend, but whom I trusted, told me that I make excuses for everything. That I never take personal responsibility. If that were true, I'd have beaten my children to death by now. I've had much to worry about. Mom never beat us until she broke us, but she did pick up whatever was handy and flail away, screaming at us to be still. I picked her up, once, when I was twelve. I've always been a big girl and she is quite petite. She bit me. Then she told my dad to administer the spankings, she'd call him at work, not that she never just picked something up and went to town. So we got a spanking from my father and a little extra, just in case or as the mood hit her. I could have been her. I try not to be and it takes as much as I can spare, everyday. Not hitting people when they annoy me is much easier than it was when I began to be a parent (I spent a lot of time walking away to cool of. I loathed being needed. Now it just makes me uncomfortable.) I just have to watch the desire to withdraw.

I fear being at home the way I have been. I cannot make good associations with the idea of being a housewife. It scares me. Everyday I spend home, I live in fear of passing a mirror and seeing her wandering through the house, a wooden spoon in hand, looking for me or screaming, throwing herself from chair to chair as if they were the thick posts of wharf anchors, screaming at me about the black tide she lived in, how it was rising.

God, why am I here? I think about that a lot. Why am I still here? Most of the people I knew from high school are dead, in jail, or miserable and married in some tiny town. I got an email from one, the other day. She's at least bi-sexual, if not queer, (questioning something that we had no name for) like me, and she wanted me to know how much she loved me when we were friends. I told her I wish she had told me. We have so much in common. I remember sitting in her bedroom, watching her, whipping myself with an unfolded wire hangar. Why, she said. Because it hurts, I said. Because that is all there is and I must make myself used to it. She watched me then out of the corner of her eyes. We listened to Skid Row. I wanted to be hard. I wanted to be empty.

I used to fear a descent into memory. I spent all day trying my hardest not to think, because it would only get punished by someone, and trying hard not to remember. To blend. Once that was all I ever wanted. To never be asked anything hard. I like first meetings for that reason. You can talk very little and no one knows you enough to ask the questions that keep bubbling up. My grandmother made gumbo, looked just like brackish swamp water. She'd put whole eggs in it and boil them. Ever so often, one of them would roll up, flashing a quick white curve, and fall back down. It was all gumbo in there, which is funnier if you know that gumbo is leftover meat soup. (As in, look at the package I found in the back of the freezer. That look like meat to you? You boil rice, I'll make a roux. Tabasco or Frank's will send anything down, mostly by making it impossible to taste from the heat.)

It's my story, and it's the only story I've got. I can and have wrote fiction that has no biography in it. None that I could find. But the stories keep bubbling up all over and they're good stories. They're interesting. And I can finally talk about some of this stuff. I wish that they didn't get such a bad reaction. I'd enjoy reading them if they came up in workshop. I wish we got more stories like this. I'd feel oddly as if I were watching a friend.

One of the members of my dissertation committee gave me a copy of Trash, by Dorothy Allison. I can only read a story and a half, two at the most, before I have to go be ill. It wasn't like that for me, exactly. But it was enough like it for me to be torn between wanting to meet her and thank her or curse her. It's like but not like. I know what I'm looking at.

If all goes as planned, I'll have a MFA this fall. And yet my publications will be minimal. I haven't been sending anything out. I mostly make my own revisions, but I am not satisfied that the critique I'm getting helps. And I'm afraid that no one wants to hear my stories. And I'm afraid someone wants to hear them. You get used to shutting the hell up. It's my fault for not sending them.

This has been a window into my gray matter, which is apparently doing some boiling. I will follow it with a recipe for gumbo.

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