Zipper

So here I am sitting in my morning writing spot. Sure, the tables were rearranged AGAIN and, sure, the new arrangement now has even fewer tables near outlets (question: do they not like writers coming here? I’ve noticed the group of screenwriters hasn’t been here in a while… Have they all sold their scripts, or have they found other, better places?), but I snagged a table and here I am sitting in it. I have an hour left before I have to leave for the subway. A whole hour. I’m feeling down, but I’m drawing myself up. It will be better today, I am saying, today will be better. I decide to get down my current ideas, the ones I’m warring against. Jade Park has inspired me yet again. So I begin. I am about to do it. Yes. This is it. Then, randomly, I happen to glance down and notice that the zipper on my pants is hanging open. Um, okay. I surreptitiously try to pull up the zipper—and realize it’s already up. It’s off-track, gaping open, completely broken. Which means I have to go home before getting on the subway, miraculously find a pair of clean pants that fit, and then go back out. Probably I lost at most 20 minutes. Nothing to worry about, right? Maybe for a normal person. But me—stupid me—if I know I have to do something in the near future I just cannot relax until that moment. I think about it. I look at the clock every thirty seconds. I can’t focus when I know I won’t be able to focus an hour from now. The time has been tainted by the future annoyance and I can’t get it back. It’s so frustrating. So I have to go home and change my pants, so what! I am here now, aren’t I? I am in a table near an outlet, aren’t I? But how can I sit comfortably in these pants? I cannot write a good sentence in these pants. I’m exposed. I’m an obvious mess; anyone could see if they looked. I am uncomfortable in my own skin. What literary brilliance can feel safe to emerge when you have broken your zipper? I mean, I didn’t expect any literary brilliance anyway, but surely even that slim possibility is RUINED while I am wearing these pants!

I’m taking a moment.

Perhaps… just perhaps… this is an excuse to keep from writing. Today a zipper; tomorrow a piano could fall on my head. I must write through broken zippers and all other catastrophic events—for instance, zombies. But first I must go home and change my pants.

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Broken

Early yesterday morning—E still up due to insomnia; me just up for a free couple hours before work—I tried to explain why I feel so broken at the moment. Why I can’t write. Why any talk of what to write, or what I’ve been trying to write, is pointless and should be voided from all discussion. I don’t think he knew how to respond. It will pass, he assured me. And it will, I believe this somewhere inside myself. But when you are down in the hole where you can’t see far past your own hand it is hard to remember that you’ll get out of it, you’ll pick up the pen again, you always do.

My grandfather always wanted to be a photographer. He took photographs all his life. In fact, he had a home business doing so—he photographed at least four presidents; he photographed Marilyn Monroe. Still, most of what he photographed wasn’t this. You wouldn’t recognize his name. I don’t think he ever reached the ideal of the career he had in mind for himself. Always, he was struggling. I remember a sour old man in the back room of a small apartment, barely moving from the recliner chair no one else was allowed to sit on. I remember a decades-old disappointment I don’t think I fully understood until now.

I recently found a note he’d written to me in college, when I was majoring in photography. He said he was honored to know that I was following in his footsteps. It breaks my heart to think I no longer take photographs anymore, not really, since snapshots of the New York City sidewalks surely don’t compare to the kind of work he did. In fact, in college I had a self-designed major combining writing and photography, and my love of photography was not so much about documenting the important figures and events of the world but experimenting with portraits of friends and playing around in the darkroom. When I was 21, I could have applied to graduate programs in photography, I suppose, but that was not my dream. I chose writing; I haven’t looked back since. The only person who might be disappointed about this is my grandfather.

When he was older, his eyes began to fail him. He had a fancy camera with fully automatic features, and I think it pained him to use it. When he died the rabbi performing the funeral service didn’t know much about him. He came to us, the family, the night before the service, to ask what he should say about my grandfather—he didn’t even know he was a photographer. I don’t know how it happened, maybe it was my grandmother who asked me, maybe it was my mother, but I ended up being the one person in our small family to give a personal eulogy. I spoke of his photography. I was choked up, but I didn’t cry. I don’t recall a word of what I said that day; I didn’t know my grandfather well enough to know if I said what he would have wanted.

I think of him often, though we lived far apart throughout my life and weren’t very close. I think of his dream, unspoken, held tight in his heart as he sat in his chair before the TV. Something surrounded him, kept him separate from us. I think he thought he’d failed. But does he know how much I admire that he never gave up?

I wonder… What was it he really wanted to photograph? What is it I really want to write?

I might be broken at the moment, I might feel like I’ve failed, but there is something tugging me along, telling me to pursue the dream, to always—no matter what anyone else thinks of me—keep pursuing it. Will I one day be sitting in a chair alone in a room during a family holiday wishing I’d lived my life differently, is that my fate? Maybe. Maybe not.

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Window Seat

windowseat.jpg

E made me a reading spot in the bedroom where I promptly, before he’d even finished installing the lamp over my head, slipped back into Haruki Murakami’s After Dark and full-on devoured it. Even though I was sitting before a sunlit window—here, you can see my new view of the fire escape and parking garage behind our building, and look! we have a tree—I felt the deep night of the story swirl around me. It’s a sliver of a novel, just the right size for me at the moment.

Now that I’m done with that book, I want something else. I’d gone to the bookstore earlier to browse and sat reading in the nice spot beside the Nabokov to cheer myself up, but then I was bad and bought myself something: Granta‘s Best of Young American Novelists 2. I’m going to be good and start reading it, perhaps in my very own window seat, right now.

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Outburst

Amid the news of my beloved college in financial crisis (another post on the subject is in progress) our own personal financial crisis is in the works. The irony of the two happening at exactly the same time is too much for me for some reason; I’m having a hard time handling this. The thing to do is to tackle our own crisis proactively; to face reality and move ahead; I know this. And there are other factors. And when the subject comes up I… well… I freak out. I am not proud of this. Yesterday we were having an IM chat on the subject, some alarming things came up, and I cracked.

All of a sudden I typed that I was going out, smacked my laptop shut (yes, the laptop I couldn’t afford but needed to get because my other computer had died), and burst into tears! Here, in the middle of my weekend writing spot, with other writers nearby! I covered my face in my hands, crying as quietly as I could manage, until I realized I should lock myself in the bathroom until the waterworks were over. I fled to the hallway bathroom and hid in a stall until I could calm myself down. It took about ten minutes. Then I returned to my desk, the only evidence my eyes. They were bright red. I’d dried the tears and blew my nose multiple times, but I could do nothing about my eyes: they still betrayed me.

That’s when I noticed the writer across the room watching me. He kept looking up from his own laptop, peeking at me. I’ve seen him here, though we’ve never spoken. I don’t know his name, and I doubt he knows mine. Still, he seemed concerned.

I couldn’t meet his eyes. I left immediately for lunch and when I returned an hour later, eyes no longer so red, he was still in that spot, still peering at me every once in a while, I guess to see if I’d freak out again. I was—I am—really embarrassed. He must have thought I’d received some awful news, a death in the family, a sudden freak accident. I hope I don’t see him today. What if he asks me what happened?

I am reminded of something I witnessed during a study-abroad trip to a faraway country. I was young; new to the city; so unsure of myself that all the words of this new language I’d learned were buried down deep in my throat and wouldn’t come out when I opened my mouth. I was at a train station, going from the university campus to, I think, buy, of all things, perfume-free laundry detergent at a place someone suggested might have it, since I am allergic to everything else. I was too early for the train. I was waiting on a bench and, across the way, on the platform heading the opposite direction, a young woman was sitting on a bench, too. Not a foreigner, like me. She was probably a university student. There was no one else around. She sat there calmly, quietly, until suddenly—all at once—she burst into tears. Loudly. She was sobbing, shaking, wailing on the bench across the way. She turned away, but I saw her crouched there. I had absolutely no idea what to do. I forgot how to ask “Are you okay?” though it was a simple phrase I could have called across the tracks. Should I have gone over the pedestrian bridge to talk to her? What would I have said? Would she understand me if I spoke in English? I was alarmed, truly at a loss for words. What had happened to make her cry so deeply, so terribly? Then, to make the situation odder, I realized that there were a few other people on the platform with me now, waiting for the train. They could see her crying, surely—they couldn’t help but hear her—but no one talked to her, no one bothered her. It was as if we were all intruding on a private moment and we were just politely giving her some space. After some time, she stopped crying. And the reactions of the people waiting on the platform were just the same: as if it had never happened. My train came; I got on it. But I couldn’t stop thinking of her. Obviously I remember her still.

I’m afraid now that, for the one writer from yesterday at least, I may have become that person. Let’s just pretend it never happened. That seems like the natural thing to do.

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Negato

I was out walking this morning, down the empty sidewalks of Broadway, empty because it was early morning and the shoppers have not yet descended, letting gloomy thoughts of the little that I’ve accomplished so far in this life settle over me. I couldn’t help it. The sky was blue but I didn’t dare see it. I stopped short at the light, Don’t Walk blazing red. Of course I didn’t make it across the street in time. A man on a bicycle came speeding in my direction; he almost ran over my toes. A tour bus turned the corner and I could see the tourists looking down on me in my messy clothes. The light had turned to Walk but I stood there. I berated myself for not doing enough in this life. I don’t know where the time went. I don’t know what I was thinking, really. My daily life is not much to talk about. I work a job. I pay bills, though I don’t know how much longer I can keep up. I buy things, some things I shouldn’t. I eat too much. I write too little. I have no time. I can’t find anything in my apartment. I have to clean the bathroom. I have two novels in boxes. I have a new rejection letter from yesterday. I have few friends, and the ones I do have won’t be mine for much longer because I am too overwhelmed with these feelings to make plans to see them. I have no plans or desire to start a family, so perhaps something is wrong with me there. I am not even really drowning. Things are not terrible, but they are not good. I like to make them worse with the storm clouds and the constant rumbles of impending disaster. What if I were hit by a bus? I stood on the corner contemplating this. If it had happened this morning, my mood hot and thick around my shoulders… what poetic justice.

“Negato” is my super-villain name, by the way. I’ve had it now for a while. Obviously my power is my utterly depressing negativity. I forget all good and focus only on bad. What talent. I can fill a room with doom just by walking into it. I can ruin a day with one swift word. Believe me, you do not want to invite Negato out to lunch. If I were an artist I’d draw my super-villain a thick steel-gray cape, heavy as lead, and around her in the sky lots of ominous thunderbolts. My super-villain has been taking me over more and more often. She followed me here this morning. I must defeat her!

So, who’s yours?

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Reading Aloud

There was a moment, while reading the opening chapters of this book, when I realized I needed to hear the words aloud. All at once, I wanted to share it with E. Though we focus on different art forms, and mostly read entirely different books, we have a similar aesthetic taste, one that complements and builds on the other. The movies and books we love are not always shared by most people we know; he’s usually the only person who understands why I love (or hate) a book or a film or a gloriously colorful piece of subway art. In this way, he understands me. And so, upon finishing this chapter, I knew not just that he would love it, but that it would resonate with him the way it did for me. He would “get” why I had to read it, that chapter, that scene, those words out loud.

So I turned off the television (I tend to keep the TV on while reading; I call it “background noise”; E calls it agony) and I told him I wanted to read him something. He was surprised. I haven’t read aloud in, I guess, years. I am shy in person, but I love to read aloud, love it. I even love giving readings—and I’ve gotten better at the whole eye-contact thing—not because I want people looking at me—I do not—but because I like the feel of the words, my words, in my mouth. It’s all very selfish.

I started reading. E listened while I gave voice to a short chapter about a girl lying on a bed, asleep. Nothing happened beyond that. She slept; we observed. But there were hints at what would come next, hints at unsettling things. (If you’ve read the book, please don’t tell me; this week swallowed me and I haven’t read past that page.)

Then I reached the last sentence. I held my breath. Did he see in it what I did? Yes, oh yes. His reaction was just what I’d hoped for. He was as taken by it as I was. It reminded me how much I love writers, how they carve whole worlds out of nothing. What is more magical than that?

It now occurs to me what I might be missing from my own work: the chance to hear the words, my words, out loud. Part of my process, long ago, was to read pages out loud to myself to work through the rhythm, the meaning, the sounds. This becomes difficult while living in the city—thus my calculated use of “background noise” to drown out my voice so my neighbors don’t necessarily overhear. I only do it while alone. It would be embarrassing, mortifying, for someone to find me reading the same paragraph to myself again and again and again (and again) like a broken, but enthusiastic, record. But maybe that’s why I feel so unsure of myself lately. So lost. I’m all for trying any remedy, homeopathic or otherwise. There must be a way to dig myself out of this creative rut.

Maybe tonight. Maybe I will sound out my story when no one is home, with the TV blaring, the windows closed, the fan on in my face, but I’ll hear them, my words, I’ll hear what they sound like off the page. Maybe I’ll know what to do then.

Or, I will curl up on the couch and keep reading this book.

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