Great

188395.jpgI read somewhere that this is the most depressing week of the year.

This fact is unknown to everyone I met yesterday, who chatted happily about their recent travels to Asia and California, about how they love snow, about how beautiful it was, how they never get cold, actually.  I liked the “beautiful snow” business, and I moved away from the spoiled rich kids chatting about their relaxing on various lovely beaches ingesting hallucinogens, and got busy writing, dumping out my own blech on innocent slices of paper.  I almost didn’t hear the “I never get cold,” and I didn’t use it to think about how I was wearing wool socks and boots and my feet had been frozen the moment I stepped outside, and wouldn’t be warm again until I was back in my bedroom with a fleece blanket wrapped around them for thirty minutes.

It was known to me, though, later that night.

How should you feel when your country has been taken over by a lying, abusive monster?  I don’t think you should feel great.  If you feel great, you’re probably doing something wrong.

If you feel like there’s no reason to live, though, you probably should take you “as needed” meds, see your doctor to consider upping the daily one, watch comedies, build your lego buildings, scheme a way to get on the goddamn elliptical again, go for a walk no matter how stupid cold it is.  (This is my to-do list, and it’s going okay.)

Sunday morning, I successfully passed the Chinese tourists taking photos in front of DT’s building on Wall Street.  And I admired George Washington’s statue, his snowy cape and cap.  I was only five minutes late for church.  A guy sat next to me and kept pulling out his phone to type on it, while the priest baptized babies, censed the altar for communion, and I was overall able to resist wondering what the fuck was wrong with him.

I was somewhat improved.

I decided I would get lunch.  The door of the vestibule they put up in winter had a big hole smacked in it, so the wind, which blows powerful from the tip of the island down there, over the water, in a way I never knew wind could be cold, the wind could get in.  I opened the second door.  Picked a sandwich, popcorn, a banana that I knew it was likely I would not eat because who wants a banana when you can eat popcorn?

I took the food to the guy at the counter.  It’s a good day to be inside, I said.  Yeah, he said. What happened to your door, I saw it was busted?  Oh, he said.  Yesterday this guy bought some soup, then he yelled and threw it on the ground and broke the window out.  Oh, I said.  Damn.  Yeah, the other guy said.  Just another day in New York.  Right, I said.  Well, I didn’t think I was doing that great, but at least I haven’t thrown any soup or broken any windows lately.  Yeah, right, the guy said.

I took my lunch out and down the street, and I thought, I love this town.

Everyone in New York has a perfect right to flip out.  I never, never use mine, I always crumble internally, in every sense, but I like knowing I have the right to flip out externally, and someday I might.  I think actually it would be good for me, but it’s a long-term goal, like crying at a funeral, or telling someone that I think what we are doing is not only useless but counterproductive, and it’s making me crazy.  Yeah?

I went into another place for coffee.  Staying warm?  I asked the woman there.  She had blue hair.  Oh, it was so cold when I came in, she said.  It was like fifty degrees in here.  Oh, man, I said.  That’s awful.  Yeah, it’s kind of warming up now, kind of.  You need one of those vestibule things, I said.  Yeah, we do, she said.

I thought I’d wise up and take at 4 train because the R wasn’t running, but no, the 4 wasn’t running now, and the R was, except it skipped my stop, and I said to the woman with the baby, It’s always a mystery, isn’t it? after the conductor finished his both quiet and mumbly explanation for what the train was going to do.  It is, she said.  It’s an express now, I guess.  I guess, I said.

I got to writing place, put away the dishes, swept the floor (I help with chores for a discount), felt so much better.

What is a mental health problem, what is a spiritual problem, what is a reasonable reaction to terrible things happening, things that need intervention, action… after a reasonable period of mourning….

I don’t know.  From my first shrink visit twenty years ago, I was told, you’re moody, you have to watch, though, your lows don’t get too low.  You gotta watch that.  You can enjoy the highs if you can tolerate the lows.  Too depressed, nothing spiritual seems real, and super happy, everything is spiritual, everyone is Christ, it’s all good.  Your mood, so arbitrary, so chemical, you know it is, makes things real, or unreal, and I tread water in between times.

The priest talked about being your true self, about religion being about being free.  I’m a slave to my thoughts, to my judgments about myself, what I should have accomplished, or, to mix it up, how the world should have treated me, and hasn’t.  I don’t even know what I mean by “the world.”  I have an amorphous sense of anger.

Seven kids were baptized.  Two cried.  One immediately stopped crying when handed back to his parents.  One priest asked, before each baptism, “Name this child,” which I found striking, and the other priest, post-splashing, anointed and then kissed the kid on the forehead.  I wished so much that someone had kissed me right after I was baptized, the pastor, I think that would have been so nice, but of course, everyone kissed me, I’m certain, my mom and dad, my grandparents, all of whom were there, even my Catholic grandparents, who had once expressed concern that adopting Lutheranism threatened the state of my mother’s soul.

Even one set of my great-grandparents were there, down from their farm.  It was the only time I knew them to come to Kansas City.  Well, to go anywhere but their church, in the bustling metropolis of Lancaster, a town whose population has hovered around 200 in the last hundred years.  (Last census it was actually at an all-time high: 298.)

They made sure my dad was confirmed in the church, and they were there when I was baptized, too.  My great-grandmother was sharp and chatty, my great-grandfather was a wry, slow talker.  I don’t understand anything about them, or their lives, living in a cracker box house that got dragged out of a creek, through stupid Kansas winters, shooting and eating goddamn squirrels during the Depression, now that was a Depression, capital D!  But they loved me, and they showed the hell up, and I bet they kissed me.  I bet they did.

Image: “Girl’s hand,” Auguste Rodin, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lost

walll-2004-55This is where they keep the stars.  I look up, while driving, balancing my life at 75 miles an hour and my eyes wanting stars.  To the stars though difficulty.

The highway to Lawrence becomes a main drag of Lawrence, 23rd Street.  I couldn’t have told you K-10 becomes 23rd Street because I had never thought about it before, I just zoned out, past all the things I knew were there, and when I got to the sloped right turn onto Massachusetts, I took it, and was in Lawrence, Lawrence is Mass Street.  Once I got on K-10, I stared, searched the radio, sang with the song I found, switched to a CD, sang with that, started to think about things.  What was going on with me, anyway?  Dark, dark.

Since the election, in the darkness of fall, winter, in my new job, where I have all this idle time, where my heart isn’t immediately eaten upon entering the building, I’m more lost than I’ve felt since I started teaching.  What am I doing in this job I am overqualified for, making no money?  Why do I still live in New York?  What is my plan?  I remember I thought maybe I needed  year to let my heart grow back, fully, from all the people who fed on it, or gnawed at it.

I knew they had been working on K-10.  My parents reminisce about driving K-10 when it was two lanes.  My mother’s car was always breaking down between Lawrence and Kansas City.  She had an MG.  The way the generations improved, I bought roadsters, too, but reliable Japanese ones instead of British ones that were barely cars in the sense of the word “car, a thing that goes.”

My K-10 was four lanes, and my car only broke down once, the clutch went out.  It was no one’s fault,  just wear and tear, thank you, you Japanese.

I saw an exit for Ottawa, a real exit.  Huh.  They never had that.  Who did they think they were?  Then there was a sign for Haskell that I didn’t understand.  A Haskell highway or something?  A sign for UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS.  Okay.  The sign used to say KU NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, which is where you can see Custer’s horse, stuffed, if you wanted to see something like that.

Then a sign that said 23RD STREET.  Wait, what?

What is there in Kansas? my New York student said.  We sat in a room full of outdated computers missing cords and printers that were not hooked up, on the top floor of one of the worst high schools in the city.  We had a magnificent view of a huge park on that side of the building, and a great view of Manhattan on the other.

Well, there is this town, Lawrence, that was founded by abolitionists, and all the streets are named for states.  The main street is named for Massachusetts, because that’s where they were from.

Huh, my student says, because this is better than writing his final paper on concepts of utopia, I mean, what isn’t?

I kept flying down K-10, I wasn’t sure what time it was, the clock in the car is set to not daylight savings, and is 20 minutes fast, or some other outrageous combination that means I have no idea what time it is.  Should I be there?  There was a fence on one side of the road.   Sometimes it was two lanes instead of four.  Where the fuck was I?  Weren’t those lights up there Lawrence?  Wasn’t it that thing on the horizon, all those lights?  Wasn’t that Lawrence, abolition, my little abolitionist town?  Wasn’t that my town on the hill?

When I got to a sign that said Bob Billings, I thought, oh, shit, that’s where my friend lives, on what I think of as the far edge of New Lawrence.  I think I went too far, but how?  The next exit said 6th Street, and I veered off there.

I turned right on 6th Street because it felt like my town was to the right.

I have no sense of direction, just a sense of where Lawrence is.

“What the fuck is going on?” I kept saying, because that’s what I do when I am outraged, and alone, and never did it occur to me, at any time, to pull out my phone and look at a map.  When I’m lost or frustrated, what I want to do is go, go, go, until something makes sense, not consult anything, certainly not consult anyone.  I also could have called my friend, who was patiently waiting for me in one of my favorite bars in America, and knew where everything was in Lawrence because she fucking lives there.

No, I was listening to the radio, singing with it, and periodically saying aloud, “What the fuck is this?  What the fuck is THIS?”

None of the street names made any sense to me until I got to Kasold, then I was like, okay, I’m in Lawrence, that’s a Lawrence street, and nowhere else.  There aren’t any other towns of any size in that part of the world, it wasn’t like I could be anywhere else, but strange things were happening. My route was gone.  I kept going, going, seeing grocery stores that belonged in Kansas City, not Lawrence (Kansas City is Hy Vee, Lawrence is Dillon’s), a frickin Wal Mart (which Lawrence never had and shouldn’t have, obviously).

Finally I saw Maine.  It was going to be okay.  I saw the worst Chinese restaurant in the world (circa 1998).  I saw Florida, I would get to Massachusetts eventually, now.  It was going to be okay.

My approach was ruined, though.  Rather than South Park (where they used to steal the sign constantly when the same-named show began), City Hall, the Watkins History Museum’s big fat red glory, the Granada, where I used to be a whore, the Replay, I was beginning at the wrong end of Mass, with the candle store, the bar where we watched the basketball championships one year, and Free State, where my brother once picked a tick off his hand and squashed it, during lunch.

The wrong end, but it was still Lawrence.

I turned on 9th Street, I parked, I went into the bar, and my friend was sitting there, with the world’s most kind and reassuring, beautiful face, and a cocktail glass empty save a sliver of lemon peel.

“I got lost!” I said.

“Oh no!” she said.  “I should have told you!”

Who can tell you you are going to get lost?

Many people love me and would like to tell me.

The city’s there, somewhere, the town, and there’s a new way to get there, and I hate it, but we can find it, and they’ll be happy to see us when we get there.

Image: “The Storyteller,” Jeff Wall, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

See

skullTEASERrev.jpg

With what rapture/with what rapture/gaze we on these glorious scars

How dark has it been?  Dark.  Again this week when I went to church, I had the feeling we were all sitting there, thinking, really?  This is still happening?  The priest said, we never thought a woman would be publicly humiliated the way women have been this year.  Yeah, we didn’t think so.

Someone was nasty to me at work, and I stood there and took breaths, and just walked away.  I can’t ever argue back in the moment.  I just had to not have myself in the same space as someone making my job unpleasant.

I realized I hadn’t gotten paid, and the process of trying to get paid, every step of it, I felt as an indictment of me: you don’t matter.  You don’t matter at all.  In a huge bureaucracy of people, you don’t matter.  No one cares if you can pay your rent, or buy Christmas presents.

This isn’t true, but the people I dealt with to try and fix the problem didn’t help me talk myself out of it at all.  No one simply said, “I’m sorry.”

Someone asked me to work an extra hour, at the end of a very long day.  “Okay,” I said.  I should not have said okay, I was very tired, crabby, but I don’t know how to say no to things at a new job.  I envy people with kids because they can say, “my kids.”  I have to give this vague, “I have plans,” because having kids is the only reason people can give for having any life outside of work.  My student was sitting there folding a fortune teller from a blank piece of paper.  We were done meeting, and she was making the same thing I’d made when I was in third grade, and writing numbers and fortunes in it, on the pointed flaps.

I sent myself home.  Played guitar, “White Christmas” over and over, I found a solid arrangement in a good key.  I sat and patiently stuck popcorn through a needle, for strings, for our tree, and then hung the strands.  The tree is in a corner, so it saved me some work decorating the back.

I bought groceries.  I’m one of those people who, when depressed or anxious, doesn’t want to eat, so buying groceries for me, is always an action of optimism and faith.  That, and when money is tight, the grocery store is one place I can buy things without fretting about if I should be buying them.  Yogurt, cheese, ice cream.  The comforts of dairy.

I’d like to do something to convince everyone that I matter.  I’d like to not be ashamed of the ways I have protected myself.  If I were truly a hard worker, a good person, I would be able to work whenever asked, do tasks that strike me as meaningless, without my stomach clenching.  I hoped my bullshit tolerance would go up, with age, but I think it’s going down.

I don’t know how much of this darkness is mine, I always do have a time of mourning a family I didn’t have, this time of year.  And the news, daily, frightens me, or crushes me.  It feels like nothing that came before meant anything.  Freedom of the press meant nothing.  Acting with dignity meant nothing.  Being an adult meant nothing.  Respect was overpriced.

When I was able to drag myself out of the apartment for coffee (coffee being 90% of the reason I ever leave the apartment), a man on the street said, “You’re beautiful.  Such pretty eyes.”  And my barista said, “Did you do something to your hair?  It’s all wild!”  This was the perfect thing to say to me, as Beaker and Einstein are my hair idols.  And the next day, the woman who sat in front of me at church turned at the end of the service and said, “You have a lovely singing voice.”  All of those people helped.

In New York I sing instead of dancing.  There’s nowhere I reliably like to go dancing here. I sing, though, either in the basement piano bar, or in the pew above ground, where just on the other side of the stained glass, Alexander Hamilton spins in his grave.  And a block down, George Washington’s statue stand with his arm out, his hand out.  He didn’t want to be king.  People said that made all the difference.  Some people want to be king.  Washington holds his hand out toward the stock exchange, and its tree, not toward the old church where I am going.

My students remain a bright joy, fretting though their problems that are so much like every college kid’s problems, but bearing, I know, a weight of darkness more than most of us carry.  I can hardly bear knowing that they have been abandoned by the people who should love them most.  I can’t believe it, when I sit with them.  I can’t know it.  Do you know how much it takes to get a child taken away from his parents?  I only have a small idea.  My own parents struggle still to convince me they love me, and I am lovable, and even with all that, even with them doing well, I am only almost convinced I should be respected, that when people are dismissive or ignore me, this does not mean something about me that I have always feared is true, I am not important, I am a girl, too young, now too old, too poor, my voice too quiet, lazy, bad with money, selfish, just an okay writer, too sweet to date bad boys and too bad to date sweet ones, too iconoclastic to work for a big bureaucracy, and too methodical to work for a sprightly place.

I know no one sticks those thoughts in my head, I know it is my choice, to some extent, to let them fall on the soil and grow.  They do grow.

I like to think there will be this time when nothing has offended me, nothing is wrong, nothing hurts, nothing is in the process of healing.  No, we are being wounded, and scarring over, and being healed, all the time.  In the darkness we feel the cuts and the healing more, when we can’t see.

The lessons today disappointed me, as I read ahead to see our portion of Isaiah was not one of the best bits, surprise, because that is one of our best bits, Isaiah, and the gospel was about Joseph’s dream telling him he should marry Mary, not that it was the right thing to do in anyone’s eyes, in anyone’s eyes it was madness, anyone’s but his, in his dream.  That story was a good one, after all.  That one was good.  In darkness we dream.

Image: Untitled (Skull), Piotr Uklanski, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lyric: Charles Wesley, in our hymnal, “Lo, he comes with clouds descending.”

 

Circling

dt11571Nothing happened in the opera.  People fell in love, and then money was a problem, then, in my favorite part (spoiler) a pretty girl dies of exhaustion (not as good as TB but not bad).  We all sat and watch someone else be irresponsible.  Fall in love, get thrown into jail.  You could do that!  Well not you.  You can watch.  All these obviously uptight people sat quietly in the dark as characters did stupid things, so we could want to do them, or feel we had done them, or wonder if we could.

Except the Italian couples who sat near me, I assumed they sneaked away somewhere to fuck at intermission.  They came back and the woman sat in the man’s lap and they rattled on saying nothing I could understand.

I was at the opera in time to admire the old-lady jackets and gaudy jewelry in the gift shop.  The opera, though marketed as this thing for rich people, is actually trashy at its core.  Like New York, with all its aspirations to refinement, is always is a little salty, sweat and spit and hard w’s.

I also had time to pee, which was so unlike me.  I had time to wait in a long line, look with distress on the plastic straight from CVS soap dispenser on the counter of the opera.  I had paid $25 for my ticket, but my ticket was worth $250, you see.  As was I.

There were two intermissions, the first one I used to pee again (I wasn’t feeling that hydrated, but I suppose I was), and then to sit in my seat waiting for the chimes at any moment, I couldn’t believe how long it took, finally the woman sitting next to me came back also, and I asked her about it.

“It’s a really long intermission, isn’t it?” I said.

“It is,” she said.  “Thirty-six minutes.  It’s awkward when all the acts are different lengths.”

Which made me wonder how many times she had seen this opera.

These are the people at the opera: young couple on first and last fancy date; monthly double date with women wearing pants and men in work suits; the New Yorkers you see in movies except not beautiful people, just regular looking people; music nuts; Europeans.

Which was I?  All I could be was “music nut,” but perhaps I was more “likes to dress up,” and “feels taller in beautiful buildings,” or “open to salvation through art as offered.”

The staircase circles as a hawk does, under the glitter light fixtures and the Chagalls.  I stopped on a landing to tell a woman I loved her dress, the dress was black lace with mysteriously starting and stopping nude lining, and she said she loved my dress, too.  “You have to do it up here, because you can, right?” she said.  “You have to pull out all the stops.”

“Oh, yes,” I said.

Between the last two acts, the readers that show the words in English said, “SHORT PAUSE,” telling us to stay put, we were about to do more ritual, sit tight.  Wait.

My favorite thing is the sets.  The Puccini is fine, I prefer Mozart operas for music, but Puccini, sure, is sex on the beach.

The lead wore a leather jacket in the first act, and it made me sick with lust.  Or maybe it was his enormous lungs.  Who has lungs like that?

There was a guy in our row, past the young woman, and he looked at me in such a way I thought I could have talked to him and probably gotten a drink, if I felt like talking to someone, so suddenly I didn’t at all.

There are two patches of the gold, of the ceiling, of the opera house, places where it is flaking and looks as bad as a the ceiling over the subway stairs, where it slowly falls in, blisters and flakes in on us.

I ran into a friend at the second intermission, and it reminded me of the first time someone I knew saw me on the street in Manhattan, and I thought, this is what it would be like to belong here, for this to be a place to you, and not a dream.

My dress was strapless, and it felt too bare.  I kept my jacket on, except when the curtain was up, and the house lights down, when only the woman sitting next to me could see my shoulders were bare.

When Manon died, in her lover’s arms, in the wasteland, her hair mussed, we held our breath before we applauded.

Image: necklace, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Metropolitan Museum of Art.