whenever someday

Trying my hand at blogging my mind.

Vulnerabilities.

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There was once a girl in a poetry class I took to pad up my master’s program credits. The class was on ekphrasis, and everyone in there was an MFA, except for me. Almost everyone in there also considered themselves serious poets and would have bored, yet snarky discussions about moods. This girl was really a woman who had a child and wore combat boots and short, short hair. She was possibly the most serious of all the students in her self-regard as a wordsmith and in her interpretations of others’ output. She was no one to fuck with; she was a large reason I rarely opened my mouth in class.

The first day of the course, the instructor, a kind, inoffensively pompous poet herself, had us gather in pairs, in an effort to form bonds of trust, I imagine, as we would spend the rest of the class writing and sharing our poetry. Wendy, her name was, sat at my right; she turned to me sluggishly and drafted long breaths to relay her vast writing experience and search for the sublime in all she endeavored. Her process was evolving, she felt. Her eyes, framed by black-rimmed glass, were cast down, and she flopped her head from side to side as she spoke about what she hoped to gain–and selflessly give, of course–in this class. Her speech ended with a tight little smile, indicating it was now my turn to regale her with my various writing accomplishments of yore as well as my raison d’etre.

Unaware of myself, I blithely mentioned my degree pursuit in the publishing program, and my purpose for taking this course. 

“An…ee-lek-tive?” she drew out my last word, eyes wide, her inner eyebrows forming a pained caret. Then she gave me that tight smile, blinking her eyes cartoonishly, and faced the front of the class, never speaking to me again.

She wrote well, and spoke her written words in dynamic volume; she gave her opinions of classmates’ work sharply, decidedly. She wasn’t a bully; she was absorbed in her own potential. I still felt self-conscious before reading aloud to the class because I was afraid of her inevitably pointy feedback. But there was no need to worry–she refrained from saying anything to me or about my writing.

In future recollections of this class, I didn’t really give Wendy a second thought. The instructor was encouraging, as were most of the students, and I think fondly on that quarter.

About a year and a half after getting my degree, I decided on a whim to attend a community yoga class in an up-and-coming part of town. I was house-sitting for a friend down the road, and felt guilty about eschewing adult responsibilities like taking care of one’s body. That’s really the only reason I do it these days, not unlike my mother’s bidding.

I walked through the door of the little studio, and Wendy was there, speaking in a concerned tone about a back injury to the receptionist. I thought about bolting, but instead I signed in and quietly took a mat to the little room they used for those without much money. I didn’t look up when she entered the room.

It was only two of us in that class; our instructor was overweight, out of shape, and probably high, and directed the flow from her little bolster on which she perched for the duration. Wendy was careful and contemplative in her movement; protecting her body, she didn’t stretch its limits. The instructor knew this and didn’t push her.

After class, Wendy turned to me in a glimmer of recognition and we reminisced briefly about the poetry class. She left the short conversation with a smile and a nod. I smiled back and rolled up my mat.

I must have been in a good mood.

Clouds on Queens.

A weirdly optimistic missive I wrote in October 2012, after months of searching for work, amid several failed interviews…and right before that one random late-night response to a Craigslist gig that now keeps me in stockings and gin in a quiet flat in Queens.

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During my college years, I kept pretty much to myself. The institution as a whole intimidated me; I viewed college as something to get through rather than something to help me build skills and networks, especially since I changed majors (from music to nothing for a while to finally English literature). I focused on my classes and projects without looking up from my books very often to see the world outside. But my grades weren’t fabulous; I guess because I didn’t really know why I was there. University clubs and Greek life surrounded me; so many classmates were doing interesting things outside of their schoolwork in seemingly impenetrable groups. I never knew how to pierce that bubble, and I didn’t really want to. I wanted to make friends, but didn’t know how. Still I have trouble with that.

I did find something outside of school, however, and as soon as I discovered it, it ruled me. As my time at the university came to an end, I did better in my classes, grade-wise, but I couldn’t wait to unload the burden that was scholastic responsibility and live life as a dancer.

I became obsessed with dance in my small college town. There wasn’t a university club yet, but a community of dancers who met every weekend during the nights to dance together. It was small, and I was one of the youngest there, but I didn’t care. It was a way to express myself without words, and I sorely needed something to balance my dull school life.

It wasn’t until someone asked me to teach with them full-time in New York that I really understood what I wanted to do without anyone else’s agenda pushing me—I wanted to be in New York, where there is an abundance of creativity and just the right level of anonymity for everyone to feel comfortable being themselves. I went to New York to teach this dance, but really, it was a way to get to the beginning of my life.

I don’t regret how it all happened, but I do wish I had put some things into place before leaving undergrad. Such as relationships with teachers whom I respected and with which I jived. I was too shy to ask about writing programs or how to better my skills—what’s worse, I didn’t know to ask these questions period. But that’s what professors and instructors are for, I realize now, whether they agree with that statement or not. It is so important to inquire of your teachers their opinions, career paths, and how they received their educations, as well as anything else you need to understand what it takes to find your own way.

The great thing is, this questioning doesn’t stop at college. Through doing what I love creatively, I have developed a vast social network, thanks to my passion for dance, which attracts various people from all walks of life. This includes, but is not limited to: consultants, managers, doctors, teachers, students, musicians, etc. As I’ve said, my shyness can be a hindrance and paint me as incurious, but networking doesn’t have to be a soulless, self-serving venture: just merely talking to friends or friends of friends may help you find more information about your fields of interest.

There’s no proven method for getting on your way in life; so you may as well employ the whole toolbag, starting with the people you know. This requires talking about yourself while at the same time asking questions of others, not an easy task for me. But, from what I’ve experienced, people want to help each other, and there’s nothing wrong with surveying your social network and seeing what happens, because, as my mother loves to say, “you never know.”

Flaking paint.

Writing, particularly free associating, is not difficult. I haven’t written anything in well over a week, and I feel terrible about it. I’m aware that my last post was terribly dull; I thought it was maybe because I had nothing overwhelmingly exciting to write about, as my days consisted of staying inside, looking for jobs. But I’ve weathered a flurry of activity in the past week—I still have nothing to say.

But I’ll write anyway. Maybe something great will come from these mindless phrases I write while scanning the woodwork of this coffeeshop. I remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was a freshman in high school. I hated the book, but I remember the narrator telling one of his students to start writing. Write about this building in the town of Bozeman, Montana. Write about every single brick in painstaking detail. Don’t stop until you’ve given everything to that brick; after that, move onto the next brick and describe it to its literary death.

I’m still not sure what the point of the whole exercise was, but this guy is making millions of dollars off this self-indulgent philosophy-lite bestseller, or so my more well-read friends like to say. Not that I expect monetary fulfillment from scribbling my every weird thought down on a laptop, but maybe this guy is onto something in that writing about something to death will force new thoughts out, past the choking sieve of our insecurities and self-doubt and into the observable world.

For example, there’s a water pipe extending upwards from the radiator here. My back presses uncomfortably between a corner of brick wall and the end of a bench as I lift my gaze towards the top of the pipe. But the bottom first: the pipe is painted black, like the radiator, until it hits about four-and-a-half feet. There’s almost of foot of forest green paint on top of the black; both are cracked through with jagged white lines that form misshapen squares. The appearance of lumpily coated, peeling paint makes a more extroverted me want to touch the chalky texture, just to see my fingers come away with flecks of brittle…material. I don’t know what paint is made from, I realize.

And then something interesting happens. The green gives way to what looks like wood. I’m not sure if it’s paint or some kind of paper application, but it’s striated, like the grains in the wooden benches here, like the giant support blocks holding the cafe’s roof from crashing in. It extends upward close to seven feet, marred only by a few splashes of off-white pigment, a nod to the wall’s last paint job. But it, too, is peeling at the top, in large strips. Like tree bark shedding. Exactly like it. Underneath, bright mint pops through, and the rest of the pipe above flakes a mildewed cream.

The top of the pipe is routed to another pipe running half the ceiling’s length by an L-shaped connector. The naked ceiling pipe is rusted, and it always will be.

Pictures of success.

A friend in college gave me a mixed CD of music from the ’90s, with one unfamiliar song from 2001; the band was Rilo Kiley, the song, “Pictures of Success”:

I’m a modern girl, but I fold in half so easily/ When I put myself in the picture of success/ I could learn world trade or try to map the ocean…It must be nice to finish, when you’re dead…

I’ve had it with you, and Mexico can fucking wait/ And all of those French films about trains/ Because I’m not scared, but I’d like some extra spare time/ I’m not scared, but the bills keep changing colors…

Call it latent angst manifesting, but the dark song spoke to me: the lyrics are just the right combination of girly, angry, sweet, and disaffected. The melody coasts along, sweeping into blending guitar harmonies. I played it over and over again in my little dorm room, but being that I’m an incurious type, I never searched for more music from the band until recently (about ten years later). That’s when I discovered a delightful piece of information: the girl who played the love interest of Fred Savage in the awesome gaming movie Wizard was the lead singer of Rilo Kiley. Her name is Jenny Lewis.

The Wizard, 1989                                         

2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her modern incarnation is a far cry from the hi-jinks of Troop Beverly Hills, but I’m so wowed that a little actress I looked up to when I was five turned into a talented woman by whom I’m still awed. It made me think of another redhead that I always admired in films: Robyn Lively.

My dad bought the VHS tape of The Karate Kid, Part III somewhere in the early ’90s there. Daniel-san’s girlfriend, played by Robyn Lively, was young, nice, pretty, and sweet—I wanted her to be my babysitter, and I also wanted her gorgeous curly red hair. And then there was the whole Teen Witch craze (“Top that!”) that in my five-year-old mind made the actress even cooler. I looked her up on IMDB to see if she still made movies; however, she seems to be doing more TV. And after scrolling down her filmography, I was shocked to discover I had seen her pretty recently and had not known it.

Teen Witch, 1989

That’s Robyn Lively on the right. No, seriously. 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That suburban power-mom hairdo completely threw me, as well as her disgruntled, contorted face of pure indignation. How did they even think of her for that role, kind, lovely, calm Robyn Lively? Versatility must come with age, because I never remember her in a role that demanded such pettiness, and yet she pulled it off so well.

Looking at the career arcs of these two women makes me wonder what I’ll be doing ten years down the road, and if I’ll love what I’m do. It used to be quite easy to point to people and say “I wanna be like that when I grow up.” But here I am, grown, and struggling to find a simple role model. I guess my criteria have widened from just “pretty” and “sweet.” And “nice hair.”

Rhymes with rats.

In the last few nights, the ch-ch, ch-ch sounds coming from our south-facing bedroom wall had become slightly unbearable. I kept thinking it was a restless dog of the next-door neighbors, or that they were doing some wall engravings. Last night, A and I discovered it was neither of these things. And though my conjecture was a rat was in the walls, I wasn’t too far off.

While having a rather serious discussion regarding our dance relationship, we were continuously interrupted by agitated scratching sounds and the occasional muffled “squeee!”

“I don’t like to assume”—Ch-ch, ch-ch—”where I’m going to be led next”—Squee…squee—”because it’s not my idea of tan—”—Ch-ch, squee!

Annoyed by the unsolicited intrusion on my all-too-important sentiment, I stomped toward the wall from which the interruptions spewed and held my ear to it.

This was a bad idea for many reasons. First, the image in my head (a lone rat, perhaps, lost in the walls) exploded into a million vermin, suffocatingly crawling and squirming past each other in a crepuscular frenzy obviously surrounding food. Second, the intense squeaking multiplied several times in volume, sending a harsh chill down my body. Third, I no longer wanted to sleep in this room, ever! Rats, rats filled my mind in every nook and cranny. I had never before now understood Winston Smith’s deathly phobia of these rodents that some of my primary school friends had kept lovingly as pets.

“In your case,” said O’Brien, “the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.”

I motioned for A to put his ear up to the wall, and he followed suit; his eyes soon widened as big as mine. Hypothesizing that if it were a rat’s nest, then they’d be all over the garbage, A flung back the curtains to expose the view down from our second story window of the lighted trash can area. Clean as a whistle, so to speak.

But then swoosh! A furiously flapping black blur screamed across our view—a bat! we exclaimed at the glass. It circled around a few times before landing somewhere to the right of our window. We ran over to the wall to listen in again, I guess because we could now picture what was actually happening on the other side (a million bats), which was inexplicably more calming than the idea of a million rats.

Terrible decisions.

Vincent Van Gogh — Olive Orchard, 1889

We did a wholly uncharacteristic thing the other evening and dined at Olive Garden. In our neighborhood, the closest hope of a food source is a mall, and Olive Garden was not only a prudent choice in that situation, but a forced one, as the Chevy’s next door had moved out and landed a cooler location, near the tourists in SOMA. I’m against big corporate food as much as the next left-leaning, establishment-eschewing, source-wary girl pup from Oregon, but I also remember from high school outings the call of soft, fluffy, salty breadsticks and weak salad doused in a sharp, tangy dressing.

We chose to dine in the bar, where on the big screen Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were smashing the final balls of the US Open around Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing. Two sets Murray, one set Djokovic, and it looked like the Serbian would topple the Brit in the present set. They had been playing high-caliber tennis for four hours; I instantly felt shame at my own laziness and restaurant choice upon hearing this fact.

We browsed the menu, shocked to find the pasta prices comparable to those of some of our favorite eateries in New York. Because we had no other options for dinner, apart from Wetzel’s Pretzels, we resigned and ordered a glass of Riesling between us, as well as  a meal of lemon-herbed chicken. The first course of salad and breadsticks was presented by our pitch-perfect bartender, and I dove through them, determined to suck nutrients from the plasticized cabbage and carrots and those glorified hotdog buns shrouded in butter and salt. Of course my standards have certainly changed since 16, but jesus, it was the whitest bread I’ve had in a long time. The main course soon followed; the pasta, the chicken, the poor vegetables, even, were drowning in butter.

We watched the game, a fierce battle until Murray overtook his able competitor in the fifth set, but I kept looking around, noticing the hefty amount of patrons tapping away on their mobile devices, almost all of them iPhones. A man and a woman behind us, dressed up as though on a date, slouched over their phones, engrossed in information too important to ignore. In another dining room across from the bar, a family of six busied themselves with scooping seconds and thirds for themselves from the dishes in the middle of the table. But the father, a rotund guy, his head couched in neck rolls, was falling asleep in his food. His nose seemed inches away from his plate, his arms about ready to collapse. I held my breath, and wondered why for so many minutes, his family did nothing to rouse him, even though his wife kept glancing at him. Then he straightened suddenly, and I realize that all that time, he had been studying his iPhone closely while the mother of the children had orchestrated the dining and conversation throughout. She had been engaging with the kids at the dinner table while he had been browsing the internet.

I know that was just a singular snapshot of this family, and I hate high horses, but really. That was a sour picture of American family life that I hope never to emulate. The prices alone are enough to dissuade me from eating at these bland, abiotic restaurant chains, let alone discouraging visions of crumbling family values. Damn this high horse.

The person I put out.

I recall that I was the typical little girl who like to sing, dance, and wear tutus. My mother famously blackmails me with a tape she made in 1989: I’m jumping around, singing to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” breathlessly. It’s a real hit at family reunions.

Although I still dance from time to time, I feel removed from that child. I am missing the curiosity and freshness with which I viewed my immediate surroundings back then. Now that I’m 28, I think I know it all, that I’ve been everywhere, seen everything, and experienced good and horrible times with good and horrible people. But even I know that I’m brashly presumptuous in that thought. There’s so much more out there than me. So many more interesting, fascinating modes of life and fantasy and journey that I dismiss too easily. I’ve really got to watch that.

Being back in California must make me nostalgic. I was born and raised in Southern California (LA and San Diego), but San Francisco’s not that far off. The eucalyptus trees are my favorite—the smell, the sway, the elegant bark. Bushy scrub oaks herding across brown hills. The occasional palm tree and wild succulents. And the figs.

I discovered figs at my cousins’ hacienda in Oceanside when I came back for a California visit at 13. A fig tree caught my attention in the sideyard, and my cousin plucked a fruit and popped the whole thing in his mouth. I was a bit more careful, tearing at the leathery, foreign flesh with my teeth—inside, the fruit glittered pink and red. It was so sweet. Earthy, as well. My cousin spat the stem on the ground and went off to find the rope swing at the canyon, but I stayed behind and bit into another fig, and unknowingly discovering a lifelong obsession.

I bought some Black Mission figs last night and relived that inaugural tasting each time I bit into one. My partner says his mother peels them first, but I rather like the initial pop of the skin at your teeth’s edge. I tend to focus on lots of sensations lately, as my jobless mind ain’t so busy. But I suppose it can only be a good thing, slowing down and taking in what I can before I get too cluttered with life. It would be nice to regain that surprise and wonder I felt as a little girl at simple things. Maybe I’ll start with food, an endlessly fascinating subject.