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!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chapter 1 of my accursed novel

That is what I have come to call the project that I have worked on intermittently and/or has sat in a drawer, on my computer, etc. for the past 25 years. I think that should I ever finish it, which I probably won't, maybe that will be the title. My Accursed Novel. For now, to have something to post, and maybe even get some comments, I think I will serialize it here. I would especially like comments such as "it's not so bad . . . ." But criticism, particularly the constructive kind, but whatever, is also welcomed, nay, highly encouraged!


I am a woman escaping.

Maureen looked around at the room that had become her "halfway house". A sterile, quiet, beautiful motel room with a white wood desk. She felt like the battered women she had spent two semesters working with as a volunteer at the shelter. She was grateful for a moment of peace, the breather. Unlike those women, what was chasing Maureen was not going to come bursting through the door with clenched knuckles and a red angry face. It would come out of her own mouth, and so she tried to remain silent. It would conjure in her sleep, and so she hadn't slept in days. This space belongs only to me, she thought, only to me. The way the ducks and the ice own the river in the winter.

I am a shaman, she scribbled quickly into the notebook she had picked up at Walgreen's on the way over. I have come back from walking death. I heave been empty among my own bones and felt nothing. Not numbness. That has its own feeling. I am empty, fleshless, and now I dance because I have come back and because I have bones that creek and bend that have reconnected themselves in the right sequence and because I am not a bee pollinating dandelions, attaching myself to other people. I've come a long way to get here and tonight I can finally sleep in a strange bed.
Freedom is its own squandering. It's why we probably need marriages and church and school and government. Left with absolute freedom, we sit in a stupor, our minds racing over the things we could be doing, while we sit inanimate in indecision. Or we flit from one thing to the next. From tv to dancing to praying to singing to writing to whatever comes next. Our free self becomes an adolescent sleepover at the house of the family with neatest stuff. We know our freedom can't last forever, and so we try to do everything at once and pretend our freedom has no limits. And so we never get around to what matters most.

Jack Kerouac would have called it her Sansara self--this false world. But eventually, Maureen tired herself out and began to feel lonely. She got up from the bed, where she had been lying down and scribbling in the dark, and turned on the lights and the television. She put her sweatshirt back on, but not her pants and stepped quietly out of her room and went down the hall for a soft drink from the machine, careful not to let the door close completely behind her, as she had left the key somewhere under a pile of clothes and notebooks and whatever else was in her backpack. She went back to her room undetected and closed the door. She could hear someone else's television through the wall.

Motels like this were where you came for illicit affairs and she thought about meeting someone in the hallway. She focused on one of the men she had seen earlier at the ice machine. She slipped her hand inside her panties and began to imagine what might happen if . . .

She removed her t-shirt and leaned against the side wall. She felt sexy and melodramatic and unreal, like a character in a play. Maybe Blanche DuBois. She looked own at the round white parts of her breasts cupped by the lace, lighted by the moon. She wanted all of the men she had ever been in love with, who had not loved her in return, to be there now, to see her sitting in the half-light, half-dressed. She picked up the remote and turned off the television and laid back, running her hands along her body. She was torn between her sensual self-exploration and the desire to get up and write some more of her thoughts down.

Masturbation, it occurred to her, as she rubbed her hands over her belly, is like a form of meditation. You have to empty your mind of day to day things and focus on your breathing, your clitoris, your hands. It's no good if you conjure a conversation you had last week, or a Jerry Lewis movie, or start making a grocery list or worrying about your unpaid phone bill. With a partner, there is always someone to focus on, someone to pull you back. But alone, you need a Buddhist's self-control to stay focused.

She picked up the remote and turned the television back on. She turned sideways on the bed and propped her feet against the wall for balance, so she could still look at the television while she touched herself. All cheap motels have a dirty movie channel, she told herself, and when she came upon channel 43, she put the remote down and focused on the movie on the screen, thinking again about the man at the ice machine.

Maureen got up and looked outside the window. This was the kind of motel room women disappeared from. A busy, urban road that had narrowed into a slightly rundown section of town, it was nestled a long driveway's length from the road. It was not too far from the lake and still had a sign advertising color televisions in the room.
Once inside though, the room was suprisingly clean. There were a few cigarette burns on the bedspread and some permanent ink stains on the formic and faux wood desk. It was not the kind of hotel with its own stationary and a pristine bible in the bedstand.

The mysterious second door led not to an indoor lobby with a whirlpool, the way it might at a Ramada Inn, but to a cement balcony that, were it not lacking a ladder, might just as easily have been a fire escape. Maureen stepped out the back door and eased herself onto the cement. She sat with her back to wall, her knees arched, and feet flat on the cement. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. Without realizing it, she began talking outloud, answering people she would see later in the week, or replaying conversations that had already happened. She sighed and "shushed" herself, leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes once more.

Maureen could hear fighting out in the hallway and someone pounding on the door of the room next to her. She started to lift herself from the balcony, to go back into her room and lock the door. Instead she relaxed her legs and sat back down. After a few minutes the manager came stomping down the hall and the noise subsided.

Eventually, Maureen became bored with her self and wanted to talk to someone. She ran down the list of people she knew, pacing slowly around the room. It occurred to her that of all the people she knew, she didn't feel close enough to any of them to call and talk to them about what had happened.

She started to take inventory of her "friends". Who could she call now? She tried to think of someone she would want to talk to right now, or someone she could crash with while she decided what to do next.

Monday, January 07, 2013

December Reflection

December--when the weight of an entire year bears down on you, forcing you to confront your feelings about all of those things that you’ve been trying to avoid or spin or pretend didn’t hurt you all year.

It doesn’t take an arbitrary date to make you start writing a list of resolutions or reflections. Yet I never pooh-pooh arbitrary days. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. and so the arbitrary holidays, new years’, millenia, give us the license, the pause, to stop and reflect on our lives. But it’s no accident that every religion has a winter holiday, that most cultures start the new year in the winter, even though winter, cyclically speaking, is the time of death, and not of rebirth. We think we look ahead to the new year, but it’s the death of what passed us by, what we missed, what dragged us down, that garners our emotional attention. In the darkness of solstice, there is no where to look but back or in.

When you’re in pain, you always feel like you’re the one who’s been hurt or wronged, but it’s hard to distinguish, especially at those moments, who is the perpetrator.

Is there really one perpetrator, or do we just pass the pain back and forth? But where does it come from, when one minute you feel happy and optimistic and ready to take hold of the world and the next there’s a dull ache, a sluggishness in your walk, and a quiet slowness to your words, written or spoken. I refuse to believe it’s just chemicals bouncing around, that we are reduced to science and that our actually feelings are results of that, rather than active triggers. But I also find myself lashing out at people and confused about which came first--the anger or the sadness? Am I angry all the time because I’m sad, and am I lashing out at people arbitrarily? Or am I upset with someone’s, leading to the sadness? Is the anger “just” or not?

It seems like there should be one event you can point to and say “that’s why.” But it’s hard to tell. Is it the disjointedness of living in a world that contradicts everything your heart tells you is true?

The world that tries to sell you on war and violence and not to pay attention to the dead children and wasted lives of the enemy, who would kill you in a moment, they say, given the chance. The false dichotomy of your life or theirs. Better dead than red. Live free or die. But no one says it’s worth dying to live in peace. It’s worth being killed if you don’t have to become a killer.

A culture that tells you that consumption is good and money is important, even when you know in your heart that it doesn’t make you happy, that the pursuit of it sucks your time and your life way and makes you feel like an empty shell dragging itself down beige corridors trying to stay numb until it can catch a glimpse of sunlight, sleep as long as the body says, play, have sex, eat when hungry, dictate its own needs on its own time.

A culture that tells you that beauty is the most important thing in the world and then makes sure that what’s considered beautiful is nothing like you.

Or is the feeling of inevitability? That everything is pushing you toward this world that you didn’t create, don’t dwell in spiritually, and yet must pass through and make peace with? Is it the contradiction of your rage against fear, hopeless odds, being told not to rock the boat, not to make a scene, not to stand alone and face consequences alone? This is what happens when you must be silent but cannot. And so you turn on yourself.

Is it daily life? No money. Constant struggle and worry. Seeing that world is becoming a harsher place. Fear that not only will no one help you, but that no one will help anyone. Fear of being left out. Not loved enough. Not loved as much as other people.