Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Get Lucky

I used to whistle "The Ballad of the Wind Fish" from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening while at work in an art museum. The gallery I worked was large enough to fit a Buddhist temple. An openness that carried and sharpened my whistle. High ceilings. No windows. Few visitors. Only statues that stared wherever I stood and me, whistling to soundtrack the emptiness, soothe the ghosts, glimpse the future. Minutes elongated on that job. I watched the old get older. The paint was dry and had been for centuries. A statue's face was cracked. Time is a vandal. One day I fell asleep walking the marble floor and ran into a fabric covered wall. I could have paced there forever. I walked miles but nowhere. Circled a square room. At best, a dream. A game where the puzzle of the place held an open secret: nothing I make with my own hands will ever end up there. A block away, the art school I attended. One of my former professors caught me working the museum temple and told me something that sounded like the truth, though I still don't know. He said museums are where art goes to die. Still, he sat in the temple for almost an hour and stared into a statue's eyes.

Saying I wasn't prepared for life after graduation isn't true, even if the only preparation I paid any attention was, "Get lucky." Artists came in to talk about the path to success. Less a path and more a lottery. "We got lucky." Four years at school trying (and sometimes not trying) to be the best, but what it's always crumbled down to is this: "Just be the best in front of me right now."

In LA this past weekend my friend drove me up La Brea after dark and told me I've changed a lot since we were in school. "You were kind of a kid, then," she said, which is to imply now I'm not. I'll accept it, but the truth is I'm still making fun of bad dreams.

The darkest nightmare to me is a shipwreck. I snorkeled once in clear waters and could see the entire wing of an airplane 20 feet below me. On the same trip I watched my father climb a rusted out shipwreck and jump off the bow into the same water I'd just seen a barracuda. What possesses us?

My new book, The Three Woes, is out at conferences and festivals right now. You can pre-order it online here: I read selections from it last Thursday at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA. A small dog barked when I finished, and that's good enough praise for me. I wonder if a dog has ever barked at a painting?

I stood in another museum last Friday. A guard came up and asked me to please carry my backpack at my side like a bag of groceries. The same thing I used to say to strangers at the museum I worked. I would have stayed all day and stared at the walls and never seen anything close to the work I make now. My boyfriend claims there's nothing original anymore, that every fire we light is just the same fire over and over again. Well, he's wrong.

I didn't light those other fires. I lit this one.

Monday, January 4, 2016


I'm doing a lot of invisible work (you'll have it on your desk by Wheneversday), meaning I sit and type and my hands are still soft and clean. People say that. Josh says that. It's hard to point at some of my other work as work because it's equally soft. Every once in a while someone will order a pie. The dough is soft. The filling passes soft and arrives at liquid. You hardly notice the work on your hands, and that's fine. Cutting in the butter. Rolling out the dough. All by hand, but really all by forearm and upper arm and back. Push, push, push. It's no one's business and the soreness doesn't last long. Nothing lasts that long, especially the pie.

This time last year I finished writing a small book. This week I'm going through the edits the publisher sent and simultaneously patting myself on the back and covering my mouth because how did I miss that or that or that? I'm reminded a book is like anything else I've ever made. It's mine while I make it, but when I'm done it's someone else's. Let's say when I was 25 I would have had a problem with the passing of ownership, but let's also say when I was 25 I tried cultivating bad habits just to look cool.

And it didn't work.

I held a cigarette like I learned the pose from a cartoon character. I drank bourbon fast. Now I drink bourbon slow if at all. I smoked one cigarette last October because I wanted to keep a cute guy company in the cold. I did what I usually do, what one friend accuses me of doing too well--I pulled out the cute guy's history like I wasn't pulling at all. When I can't do that, when I can't find the thread, I'm at a loss. 2015 was me finding and losing, finding and losing, my own thread. The older I get the less I fear intangibles and so the less pressure I feel to make a scene with my words. I work on a lot all at once, but the stuff I really care about is physical and immediate. I've cycled back around from ideas to objects.

Drawing comes from a different hand than writing, and I've been drawing. This is no indictment of anyone but myself, but I can do a drawing and the same day get the approval of a hundred or so people on the Internet. Wait a month and maybe a thousand people have seen that drawing and approve. Writing takes longer and maybe seven people approve of a story unless that story wins me something, which is to say someone loudly approves of the story and gives you the permission to spend your time reading it. Even a few months ago this would be where I judge you.

Now I get it.

Maybe I should have gotten it earlier, like when I started getting tattoos. People ask what they mean, and I always say something different. Here's the truth time and distance deliver: I got tattoos to give you permission to acknowledge my body, something I neglected for a long time and now can't stand the thought of neglecting ever again. Repeat, the physical, the immediate, the shorthand in the interest of saving time. Typical Taurus.

My hands might be soft, but my fingers are crooked, and deep under the skin of my palms there are points of graphite, unpullable threads, stories I can't dislodge without a knife. The work's not so invisible then, just small and only as long-lived as I might be.

That said, I find new reasons to write. New routines. Coffee, which I never drank until last month, I now make and drink daily. I play records while I try to finish a story for someone who asked nicely. Josh wonders if I can concentrate on telling a story while listening to someone else (Neko Case, currently) tell another story. Good question.

We'll see.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Not Your Future, Mine

I'm now convinced I'll do anything. No switch was flipped. Nothing that instant. More like my sweater snagged on a branch and unraveled me topless. I didn't notice until I was nude. Never in my teens. Never in my 20s. Only a few months into 30, in the woods standing on the end of a dead tree and pissing on fallen leaves, I wondered where I was even though I knew better. I was in Michigan with Josh and two nice, attractive men I met on the Internet. Even if I knew where I was, another question struck—how the hell did I get there?

Being literal, a flight was how I got there. Josh took the aisle because I took the window. I always take the window. If I had a therapist I'd ask what that says about me. Instead, I'll make something up. The short story: I want to see out. I want constant proof the world's limits aren't manmade. The deeper story, the lake, dark and endless, the therapist would ask me to identify when I close my eyes: I want to see what's coming before it arrives.

Two service dogs sat across the aisle. Black labs. They made no noise. No one on the plane needed their help. Someone out of sight and in the future waited for them. I took a nap. When I woke up over Lake Michigan, I looked out but couldn't see the water. Pink clouds erased the descent. Still, I knew the lake was down there, just as I knew Chicago stuck out from one shore and was unseeable from the opposite dunes. I knew from experience. I anticipated. I can't imagine dogs anticipate more than food and love. Maybe the service dogs anticipated a purpose for their training. A need without a face, for now. Josh and I, too, trained or not, hoped for strangers who would embrace us like friends, those two men who invited us somewhere (their place in the city) then nowhere (their cabin in the woods).

Skip the ride into Chicago. Skip the woman with no hair and enough tattoos to make me jealous. Skip going up the wrong escalator out of the station. Skip the brief wait in a community garden. Skip the pie I held as a handmade thank you. Skip all of that. The weather was 70 degrees in November. Chicago was more or less as we left it in 2012, except there was no wind and none of my friends. There was me, and there was Josh, and then, as promised, there was a tall bearded man to collect us.

Where next? I insist on a followable trail of evidence, the physical markers of my life I can use as simple notes for a complex future story. Messages saved. Photos, videos, phone calls. Times and dates. Promises and fantasies. A line exists. I refuse to walk the entirety of that line until I'm off it. Right now, I'm on a train home.

We took a nap in our hosts' bed while they worked downtown. Another blind intimacy. A personless hug. Josh's throat hurt. When he spoke he sounded like Kathleen Turner. My nerves were bad. Worse than I've known them in a while. I worried for two, that's why. I napped and didn't dream. Left all the possibilities out there where they were born. The men's spare apartment. The interaction that started online and now had four bodies instead of a phone. The feeling crawling toward me while I wasn't looking, the feeling that finally caught me with my pants down in the woods. Josh and I have been together almost 12 years. We've observed for so long. We've made a small life of observation. Writing, reading, drawing, making. But now we have to participate, too. We have to touch the world back instead of just letting it touch us.

We have plans. We're getting married. That's just part of it. We'll have the life we want instead of just the life we were given. We'll have that together no matter what else. Blame the train. We flew to Chicago but didn't fly back. We took the long way home. If our plans started anywhere, they started there. We traveled a circuitous route like a witch casting a spell. We threw our hair into the river and circled back a different way than the way we came. We made sure not to cross our own trail or we'd jeopardize everything. We forgot we cast the spell. We forgot we left our home at all until the spell started to work, until anywhere might seem like home just because we were there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Walk Too Fast

Josh and I are noticed in our neighborhood for walking. So rare to see people walk just to walk. We're like stray cats who have as many names as there are neighbors. "The Guys." "The Gruesome Twosome." "Hey, Girls!" "Trouble." We have names for the neighbors, too. Mostly the guys. They're on their porches or in their yards or walking their dogs. Sometimes the guys say hello. I swear I'll wink. One of these days I'll wink. All the names we have for these men end in "Boyfriend" or "Daddy." Sorry. We're creative in other areas of our lives.

I sold some drawings. Good for me.

More walking.

We walk fast, and we walk furious. We thought New York was our pace until we went back in June. Still too slow. Snaking between innocent people just to get to the next restaurant, the next summer sale, the next chance to see someone sing with tears in their eyes. Walking like that is dangerous. I ran into scaffolding and kept running. Metal burned my forearm. Looked like a bruise for three seconds until the purple oozed. People kept a distance. The blood became a shield of personal space. Now it's a scar in lieu of a tattoo.

It's time. Nothing's happened to devastate me in a while, but it's time for a new tattoo. You won't see this one unless I show you. And let me be honest, I'll probably show you. It'll be red, simple, and cute like the rectangle on my right forearm. The rectangle gets so much love. The squares get less love than they used to. The deer collects curiosity. Sometimes confusion. From a distance, one guy thought it was a cockroach.

Upstairs was for rent again. A sign appeared in the yard. A number to call. Still, a woman hugging a clipboard and a stack of paper rang the bell and asked in person. I'm not the landlord. I told her what I could, and she told me a few things, too. She told me there was a leak in our basement (there was) and that the electrical needs some work (it does). She'd not seen any of this firsthand. She claimed clairvoyance and descended the porch without a hurry. "Bless you," she said, with all the weight her voice could gather. "All right," I said, where I should have thanked her. I knew when move-in day came she wouldn't be our new neighbor. Ours was the wrong haunted house and she knew it.

Before she left she dressed down my deer tattoo like I dress it down when I notice it in the shower. Not like when people ask about it. Feels both too heavy and too obvious to explain at a party. But here, like the shower, I can be dumb and easy and not have to look you in the eyes.

The deer has been pierced by an arrow, but the deer survives. He chews the laurel of peace. 

"Isn't that the way of the world?" the clairvoyant said. 

Yes. Duh. Of course it is. We walk this planet. We're wounded, yet we're alive. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Lost in Space

There was a space in my summer, and I didn't tell you. And since I didn't tell you from the beginning, I refuse to tell you now, at the end.


I'll tell you it was good, it was fun, it was easy, and then it was hard. I'll tell you the rest in a short story one day if I want. You know I'm stubborn. I can hold on. Typical Taurus. But I can also burn up. Typical Taurus on the cusp of Aries. If I keep anything to give you it won't be flames; it'll be ashes.

(Note: find a use for ashes. Keep them, spread them, or? Figure out the "or.")

A couple months ago I told you I traveled. What else? Oh, I was sick in bed for three days at the end of July from swimming in an unclean pool or eating at a pizza buffet or drinking beer from unlabeled bottles or swallowing a single bad shrimp. I don't know which was most guilty, but they were all decisions I made over the course of one day, so really it's me; I'm guilty. And I suffered. Boy, did I suffer. The saltines I didn't finish are in the kitchen cabinet going stale.

What else went stale this summer? Turns out not much. I pulled up a bunch of stories I wrote over the past three years since I sent Mother Ghost to my publisher, stories I wrote when I got stuck in places working on The Three Woes. They're still good. Most of them are still good. Some of them are still good. A few of them are still good. OK, the truth. I'm editing, cutting, killing, writing, and rewriting. Look for the resulting collection whenever I'm good and done with it, all right? Title: Slither Bomb. Publisher: ???

Other stuff I kept alive this summer but only just: basil, two cacti, a weird oregano varietal, jade (barely), and an elephant ear. The leaves on the elephant ear are bigger than my head, neck, and shoulders. The next step is something that sheds. People are convinced Josh and I need a cat. We don't need a cat. We walk at night and say hi to every cat in the neighborhood. We say hi to some men gathered on their porch offering to sell us a beer vending machine. Why aren't people ever convinced Josh and I need men on porches? I'm convinced we need those men more than we need cats. There are so many good cats but only just A Few Good Men.

I'm sorry. I couldn't help it.

Some nights in June and July I couldn't sleep. Not when I was sick. I slept when I was sick. Other nights. You know the nights. The outside screams through your window. Insects, not instruments. The ceiling fan stirs every hair on your body. The movement could be spiders. You convince yourself you're covered in legs. If you breathe, the mouths from which the legs radiate will chew your hot skin cold. Leftover fireworks drag your heart onto a familiar battlefield. If you're lucky the moon has no pull on you. Other celestial bodies tugged at your birth. If you're not lucky, if you're a moon baby, you're thirsty all night, your glass is empty, and the moon's a bottle you can see but never reach. Love, too, keeps your mind moving. Perpetual motion. Pleasant exhaustion after a run. Your legs stop. Your heart runs on fumes.

Those nights.

Somehow that's not horror. No matter what it sounds like. A person can be restless and content at the same time. I explore both territories. August is half in the door, half out. The space in my summer could have held a monument three weeks ago. Now it holds a stone. Easier to keep in my pocket. Easier to throw. I don't do either.

These days I look at the stone and love it for what it is.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

LA Again

If Seattle begged for meaning, LA begged for nothing. Two West Coast cities and only the latter feels like a place people go because they can't go any further, because there's an ocean in the way. I said after the first time I visited LA the Pacific didn't seem to attract me like other bodies of water but to repel me. Though in the other direction, toward home, there's a desert to cross. No wonder I'm uneasy there. No wonder.

Back and forth. A spider in a glass. A trap.

But this was my third visit, and the volley I'd found so exhausting before excited me. I talked about magic with Seattle. LA might be the other kind of place, one I've denied exists. Where insane events don't seem guided by your own hand but in spite of it. There's a line in LA, and if you find yourself on it, good for you.

Where I found myself: a reading downtown to surprise a friend who wasn't surprised. The pin in that balloon was another friend, and to be honest, it was her balloon to pop anyway. She flew me out there on a whim. When I failed to be a surprise, I turned to my other role as a supportive gift. (Happy birthday!) It's not hard to support these women, these friends. The reading was excellent. The readers were a unique force. A team.

I traveled alone. Teamless. Arrived early to the reading to secure a chair with a good line of sight to the microphone. Chair secured, I stared at my phone, the Internet. An attractive man (the word is "hot" when I tell you in person, "attractive" here) messaged me something playful, a pun on my screenname. He asked if I saw what he'd done. "From outer space," I said. We exchanged. He canceled his other plans ("just gay shit") to attend the reading with me. After, I waited in line to meet the writers, and he browsed the store. I met the writers. The crowd thinned. The attractive man vanished. My friends and I went outside to say goodbye while they waited for a car. Their plans were sleep. Mine were awake.

The man reappeared in the same moment my friends disappeared. A hand off from security to a stranger. Again, the fear of regret. I was tired. And yet, I had to see him through. My night looked like nothing before. Now it looked like him.

You don't get the rest of the story because I don't know how you'd take it if I gave it to you. Just know this: midnight naked meditation with a sexy film industry man in his personal bathroom sauna in his fun downtown LA apartment can be the right medicine. I had not meditated in years. I had never meditated naked with another naked man. Now, I have. There's your story. When you travel, don't act like you're at home.

Next day, the best sushi I've ever eaten, an all right beach but the best nap in the sun, good friends, ice cream with black olive brittle and goat cheese, gin and tonics and s'mores. If I sought to write my own fairy tale in Seattle, LA wrote a fairy tale for me. (I get it now, Roxane. I do. I get why you love this place like a woman.)

That line I told you about before?

I don't have to say it do I?

I rode it the entire time.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seattle Again

Parsing the details. Assigning value to daily experiences. I eat hotel bacon for breakfast. No meaning for me in the hotel bacon. No meaning in the eggs, the yogurt, the bottle of water, or the view of men washing windows on the adjacent building. No meaning in breakfast at all, a meal I often forgo.

There's meaning in pastry, though. I'll get there.

But first.

I'm on vacation with my family in Seattle. We eat. We have fun. We nap. In the time I find for myself, I look for other people to hold my attention.

A man I met on the elevator in my brother's building had a Shiba Inu on a leash. I knew the breed, but I didn't say so when the other person in the elevator, my mother, asked the man what kind of dog it was. The Shiba Inu, like my breakfast, is not a meaningful personal symbol. It's the man, of course. The man holding the leash. The first Seattleite I met when I arrived and I didn't say a word to him. I let him tell my mother about his dog. We parted. Mom and I took a car down the hill home. Well, hotel home.

I realize now, at this age, it's people. People hold the most meaning. I can't write another story about someone looking at a deer or a snake or a spider, I swear. I'm writing stories where people look at each other.

Late one night, the man from the elevator found me on the, uh, Internet. And that's all I'll say about that. You figure it out. He didn't remember me from the elevator, but I remembered him. There's no value to be found in the social media mechanics beyond the obvious power of a kind of omniscience. Whatever you like is out there and easy to find. Even though you search, what you search for seems more like it searches for you. No, really, I won't say any more about it.


I believed in magic for a while. I believe in magic now, but a few years ago I believed magic had meaning, that it floated around and changed the world all on its own. Well, no. The truth is you, the person, are the initiator of magic. All I'm saying is if a random event seems to happen like magic, it's invaluable to me. Even if I know better. There's a reason adults still love fairy tales. The cruel are punished. The virtuous are valued. Change is mourned at first, celebrated later.

Give it time.

Pastry seems to require magic. But really, it just requires time. The places I find to hold my attention, the places away in Seattle for a moment alone, are bakeries. Not even coffee intrudes. Only me, the occasional cute clerk, and sugar, butter, and flour. I eat. I don't eat alone.  Don't ask me to explain that. I drank expensive ginger beer down by the water three times, and every time I was lonely. Countless pastries, though, and I've been content. Sugar, I bet. There's science there, but let's not dirty happiness with science.

More magic.

I spent a few minutes visiting a man who has the same rectangle forearm tattoo I have. Mine is red. His is black. We met on the Internet, too. The daily experience. The tiny details of interaction. I knew I had to meet this guy or I'd regret it. In the end, there's not much meaning there either. He was nice. I was nice. I walked two miles to the home he shares with his husband and their dog. The man greeted me at a charming gate. He gave me a glass of water. We talked. I sweated. We hugged. I left. I thought maybe I'd assign the experience something more. A story or a feeling. Instead, it lives in the place small twists of the narrative often live. Neat. Cool. Fun. A moment in the woods, per Sondheim.

What else? The trip continues. My mother mourns the inevitable departure. My brother, like myself, is a rational statue. We would be punished in the fairy tale version of this trip. It would be up to the third brother, the youngest one, the stupidest one, to marry the princess, to inherit the kingdom, to tie the story with a bow.

No such brother exists. The fairy tale isn't the one written for us; it's the one we write. Why assign meaning at all? The older I get, the bigger the picture grows, and yet, all I want to see are the detail shots, the close-ups. The big picture is too chaotic and meaningless to behold. The details soothe and distract from the inevitable departure. The only animals I've seen on this trip are dogs, cats, and people.

I look closely.

I work with what I have.