Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Travel Journals: Minneapolis-Chicago-Indiana, September 2001

I'm pulling this out of my archives. It's a piece of writing that I've never really done anything with--my travel journals leading up to September 11, 2001.


Travel Journals, September, 2001


Again (and always) at the bus station, feeling out of sorts. Uncertainty over small things—whether or not to check my larger bag (I have 3 bags including snacks—1 over the limit); will I get a seat to myself where I can stretch out to sleep? I don’t want to be the last one getting on the bus. Maybe I should just go home and scrap this trip. When did I become so ill at ease with the world? Two drunk men hover around the bus terminal. One wanders in, stops inside the door standing still and weaving. Through the doorway, our own gazes are fixed, impatient and hopeful, waiting to board our bus. The man assumes we are staring at him, pauses, begins shouting at us. Why are you all staring at me? I didn’t do nothing. I DIDN’T DO NOTHING. He mutters and crosses from one side of the station to the other.

Earlier another drunk man passed through the terminal, escorted by security. There was no evidence he’d done anything wrong beyond his obvious mental and partial physical incapacitation. The cop “steers” the man over to the lockers for some reason. I thought I saw the cop slap at the man, but in peripheral vision, hard to say who smacked whom. The cop is trying to get the man to use a locker, but the man is having difficulty. Hell, I’m sober and I had a hard time using them. The cop starts yelling at him impatiently to just follow the directions and the man becomes more and more frazzled, more desperate, starts yelling “mind your own . . . mind your own . . .” More slapping. Really, it’s more like swatting and I can’t tell who started it, but it’s making me anxious and my sympathies fall with the man being slapped as he struggles with the locker. Suddenly the cop grabs him and starts throwing him around, throws him over a table, handcuffs him and takes him away. I can’t figure out why he had to be in this guy’s face in the first place. I never know what to do in these moments. I want to yell and tell the cop to leave the poor guy alone. All I can manage is to seethe passively, muttering “fucking cops”.

The originally scheduled bus is overloaded, so they call in a second bus. Drivers are called in the middle of the night and we finally leave at 2:00 am, an hour and forty minutes later than scheduled. Damon Wayans does not hassle me about my bags and I manage the much-coveted back seat of the bus, which has three seats rather than two, in which I can stretch out and sleep through the night trip. I watch the Seattle-bound bus next to us fill up like a clown car, wondering how they’ll fit all those people into that bus. I start to feel anxious for them and finally settle into my own seat, grateful and sleepy.

After five hours of intermittent sleep, Chicago—where the trains make the streets shake and everyone pretends not to notice. I walk down from the bus depot, down Canal Street, which I always think is the coolest name ever for a street. Down Jackson. Down Wabash. Already too exhausted and restless to land anywhere. It’s always unbearably humid when I’m in Chicago. People must sweat here even in February. My jeans weigh down my legs, making me too heavy to walk, so overweighted that I become weightless, like an astronaut in a heavy suit, clumsy, unnatural. I’m completely paranoid that I will get sick—get a cold—out here on the road and be miserable for the next 10 days. An abortive attempt to eat Jerk Chicken pita and read arts papers. The unbearable humidity and lack of sleep make this the wrong choice of cuisine. Abandon heavy spicy gravy meat and move on to the lake. I wander around the Art Institute. Look at the Surrealists. Sit in the CafĂ©. In Grant Park I stretch out, backpack under my head, and sleep. I pride myself on my ability to sleep anywhere—on a bus, by the lake in Chicago. It feels so good to stretch out in the grass after a night scrunched into bus seats and 6 hours of walking the city. I take off my shoes and curl my toes into the grass, feel earth beneath my sweaty, soggy astronaut jeans.

Back at the bus station, I can’t help but wonder why they abandoned the much larger shelter on Clark and Randolph, right in the middle of the Loop, for this small, crowded, out of the way station. Ten or 12 blocks from the lake, at least 6 blocks from anywhere to get a sandwich or a bit to eat. The old station had a Burger King, a gift shop, several levels to explore. You had the sense you were in the city, not hanging among warehouses in an even seedier area of town. Too many undesirables at the old station, I’m sure. The new station is constantly filled to capacity with lines of people passing through, waiting for connections that never arrive.

Hammond, Indiana. GI housing and power plants. Towers like giant monsters everywhere. Like those dress maker dummies, only huge. Mutant, foreboding. Angry women with their hands on their hips. I haven’t been on terra firma since I got on the bus. Interstate 90 from Chicago into this first part of Indiana is like being on the el trains. The highways are all built above ground like one humungous overpass. I start to feel a bit seasick overlooking roofs of small houses but completely unable to determine anything about the land we’re traveling above. Once again I have scored the less crowded of two buses and have a seat to myself. There are even empty seats on this bus, unlike the one that everyone else was struggling and fighting to get on only 15 minutes before mine. Smugly, I stretch out, take off my shoes, and rub my feet as I look out the window and scribble. More power plants. Domes and pools. Indiana must be the Newark of the Midwest. Dinner stop coming up in Elkart, home of the mini-motor home.

Indiana is unimpressive. I made a good choice leaving Chicago at night. This is the “old economy”—smokestacks and lighted towers. Social realism, Soviet style art glorifying the unity of the grime-covered workers. Glum lifeless apocalyptic future of automatons working beneath a permanently hazy gray sky.

Indiana must steal or gamble away all of its road funds. This is the worst maintained toll road I have ever been on. What do they do with the money? For all of the ugly sprawl of mall areas, the conformist monoculture of chain restaurants and department anchor stores, neon is a friend to both the insomniac and the night traveler. Miles of dark highway with nothing to gaze upon, save for the reflected headlights in the opposite bus window and intermittent glances at the moon leave you stranded and suspended, lacking any concept of time and geography. Signs of life outside the window, distant from the highway, anchor you, keep you from drifting too far. It’s not quite home, but so familiar nonetheless.

10:30 pm. The Ohio Turnpike. Another new state.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Memoir of my mother

I am teaching a class on writing, specifically on memoir writing, through community ed at Minneapolis Public Schools this summer and so this is something that I started writing in my head as I was thinking about the class. It doesn't have a title yet. I suck at titles. And who knows if I will go anywhere with it. But this is the beginning, a kind of tribute.


This is what I remember. My mother died 2 ½ years ago now, although embarrassingly, I can’t remember the exact date. It was somewhere between her birthday, October 16th, and Thanksgiving. I believe it was around the 13th. It was on a Sunday morning about 9:30 Central Standard Time. Despite my imprecision, I can say that for the first two years at least, time for me, stopped, which is probably why the date is so imprecise. My measurement of time stopped. I didn’t realize it, but the person against whom I measured my sense of time was now gone and so time literally stopped. For the next two years, I couldn’t remember what year it was and so consequently, how old I was. I was perpetually 45 years old, which was the age I was when she died. I even had a hard time remembering how old she was when she died.

She said to me once that she still didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life and that now it was nearly over. This was a few years before she died, before she even got sick.

In response to my requests “Mom, can we go to Disneyworld, New York, California, Fill in the Blank next summer? She would always reply “I don’t know, I could be dead by then.” And she was always around. So I didn’t really take those threats seriously.

I told her she should write her memoirs, her history, in the time she had left. But she said she probably wouldn’t.

This is what I remember of my mother, scattered: and collected from various memories that she told me about her childhood, mixed with memories of my own. Of course now that she’s gone, thankfully, I don’t remember any of the bad parts. Those are intellectual memories now, not emotional ones. I have forgiven her for all of the “bad” memories and they have no hold on me anymore. I have only funny memories, good memories of her now, as saccharine as that may sound. I don’t mean it to. It’s just the way it is.