Friday, May 20, 2011

Reaching for the stars and shit...


There is a generation here of broken down artists, of barristas and bartenders, babysitters and bachelors of the fine arts and I feel like its fat, flamboyant ringleader. 

The daughter of middle class baby boomers, I have no real fear of homelessness, bread lines or the depletion of Medicare. Instead, I run screaming from confining cardboard cubicles, menial labor, micromanaging managers and long term financial commitments. Like an arrogant protester who's really only on the picket line because he prefers his barbecue grill to the community copy machine, I am still (somewhat secretly) sitting on sidewalks striving for what I want: the life as a full time artist. This is a frightening fact because I am twenty-seven years old and can no longer, really, use my age as an excuse for drifting. Even my mother has begun giving me the "you can't do this forever" look... this stalling, fighting, falling.

It reminds me of an afternoon from when I was a young teenager. I dressed to go running and announced my plans to my parents. "Have fun." They told me. "Be safe!" But this response was not what I had expected nor hoped. They were supposed to tell me I was too small to be thinking of exercise that wasn't backyard play. 

It's scary when we grow up without noticing. 

Last spring, my friend Kelsey told me, "Do it now. Don't wait. It gets harder and harder to conceive as soon as you hit thirty." I imagined a thirtieth birthday party where my uterus falls out, my fallopian tubes retire and move to Florida and my little peach-colored utters start smelling of sour milk. Kelsey was right, I decided that day in the ice cream parlor, it was time I made myself a baby. 

I am very impressionable. 

Usually after visiting with my grandparents, who take pleasure in pontificating such phrases as "What are you waiting for?" and "You kids think you can plan everything!," I'll turn to my husband, Scott and say that it is time. Baby time. He has yet to accommodate such spontaneous suggestions. 

I didn't always accept myself as this self-involved idealist. Sure when I was a kid I believed in the cliches of dreams, rainbow slides and stars, but so did everybody. In the fourth grade, I wrote the words, "When I grow up I want to play basketball for the big leagues." Beside this carefully penned pipe dream, there was my school picture of florescent lasers, a wave of brown bangs and a turtleneck sweater ensemble. Once I got to high school I began seeing the common classroom posters of Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny, Steve McQueen and Flipper the Dolphin as faded fanciful propaganda from the early 90s. The only one that really inspired me was the poster of the black smoker's lung beside the pink non-smoker's lung. The caption read "IMAGINE" or something and probably still hangs on the inside of the athletic director's door.

Toward the end of high school, I started seriously searching for my future career. Retreating to the computer lab often, I'd take several surveys. I was desperate to find any sort of personal passion that did not involve the arts. I thought about law,  government, psychology, but I couldn't imagine myself spending an entire adulthood pursuing any of these. I felt cursed. Years later, now perpetually stuck inside this realm rightly named "the real world", I still cannot enroll in any class or school to further myself as a professional business lady, nurse or landscaper. I hop jobs like bums board trains and I do not really see myself settling down to work forever anywhere. To be quite honest, I cannot completely comprehend how anyone can. How a young adult can say that he/she hopes to have the same job until retirement. To me, that job security looks more like a tediously tiring train ride in a warm windowless wagon. 

My mother is a principal for an elementary school. The union is meeting, she tells me. They're getting ready for a grievance. Of course they are, I think to myself. How could they possibly go day by day, year by year, working in the same building, sometimes the same classroom and be completely content? They're just looking for someone to blame for their boredom, their personal unhappiness, I tell her, don't take it personally, but she can't help it. When I see her Sunday, she drinks three cups of coffee before switching to white wine in the afternoon. My mother is a mover, but she can also commit when it is the right thing to do and, despite the conceived complaints of her employees, she knows that she is very good for her school. This is when I tell her that Scott is probably taking next year off teaching to see if teaching high school is really as horrible as it seems now. I want my health insurance and his bi-weekly pay checks, I tell her, but I am supporting his decision to choose his sanity over the security his job provides. Besides, despite my few semi-serious attempts to get pregnant, we still do not have children. This grants us a little more time for bad decisions. We think. And while Scott is searching his soul, I will be striving to still myself, linger longer in moments and apartments, towns and jobs. Maybe I'll wake up one day with a serious determination to sell tiny knick knack cat statues from a sidewalk cart or go back to school to be something other than an aging vagabond. 

Perhaps my problem is a lack of fear. Maybe a night dumpster diving; busking with my broken guitar; begging pedestrians for pennies and sleeping on a cot in a church basement is what I need to set up a future with reality in mind. I do sincerely wonder what it must be like to want to do something or be someone attainable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A guided tour through my somewhat self-deprecating thoughts.

In our teens, my two sisters and I discovered the comforting glory of food. "Anorexia starts tomorrow." We'd grumble, grasping our swollen stomachs after family feasts and $20 brunch buffets. My family doesn't do buffets, I tell people smiling, after their restaurant suggestions. We can't handle the pressure. 

photo by Patrick Cummings

Do I feel the faintest glimmer of hunger? I should get a coffee. Anybody wanna grab a beer? WHO THE F ATE THE REST OF MY COOKIES? Is my stomach hollow enough to justify filling it with hardly chewed food and gulped down drink? I am going to eat only vegetables. No more processed foods EVER. I need to cool it on the dairy. I should fill my grocery cart with only pickles, parsley and celery. No more corn. No sugar. No more wheat! Maybe I should do one of those lemon turmeric cleanses and send several interior inches out my back door. I know what to do: chew my food. Chew and chew until it is complete mush and slithers down my throat like a slug on a slip 'n slide. Or, simply, eat more like a bird and less like a dinosaur. I am the middle child of a mother who rarely made enough for everyone to have seconds. I was always first to the stove with an empty plate (except for frozen stir fry dinner nights where terribly bland teriyaki sauce drenched rubbery vegetables and wrinkly brown beef strips). To this day, I am still always the first to be finished. If I were a little bird, I would pick at my plate, daintily taking in a few crumbs at a time and sometimes, SOMETIMES I would even be that person who pushes her plate away with an expression that reads, I've lost interest in this laborious act of eating. I will sip my drink. I won't open my mouth like a curved bridge over a river, flooding my throat and insides as though I haven't drunk in days. I will sip, sifting the liquid through my teeth and bathing my tongue. I will stop looking at food as my drug. I will start doing real drugs. That will distract me. I won't be thinking about those avocados or bananas softening in the fruit bowl if all my brain power is used to figure out when I can pay my dealer for more drugs. I don't think cocaine addicts eat much. Actually, I'm pretty positive they're usually waif thin. I could be waif thin and sickly! Get a couple duffel bags under my eyes and frequent, unannounced bloody noses. Have my ribs show through my winter coat and watch as my skin stretches over my bones like a sheet on an old springy cot. I know, I know! I'll stop sitting entirely. Stand all the time. Wear one of those step counters and walk several miles every day. I'll lose those ten pounds and when I do, when those ten pounds are gone, I will be completely happy. I will be enormously successful and confident. Life will be grand, perfect even. No, of course that isn't true. It isn't that simple. My life will be perfect when I lose those ten pounds and when my skin clears up and when I can convince the skin below my neck that it is more Italian than Irish and English and should, therefore, turn golden in the sun rather than this blotchy pink.  Yes. When those ten pounds are gone, when my face is blemish free and the rest of my skin is more gold than silver, then, then I will be perfectly happy. No, I suppose that's not completely true. Really it's all that in addition to when I can get this toe nail fungus figured out and when some nerdy lab rat somewhere invents a pill to shrink my feet to an adorable size seven and my sausage fingers to the size they were when I was six. When I am thinner and prettier and when I'm wealthy and can afford a new wardrobe and earrings that don't turn my earlobes green then, then I will be happy. I will be incessantly hungry with a stomach full of diet pills and a strangely stiff airbrushed face full of botulism, but I will perfect and happy, just like those fucking magazines and movie screens.

If I survive to an ancient age, will I, by then, just be wishing for this fleshy figure back, for this moist oily skin again? For this flexibility to paint my own toenails? When I am old and retired to rocking chairs and crochet classes, will I read this and cry out, "Damn you! You were your own kind of beautiful and all you saw were what society classified as flaws."  I remember when I was thirteen, writing very similar sentences in diaries and along the mirrors of my conscious thoughts. "When I have contact lenses, when my skin clears up, when my braces are off, when I have boobs, when my body doesn't resemble a baby giraffe...then I will be beautiful." These days, I eat like a hungry hungry hippo whenever I am anxious, bored, feeling awkward around acquaintances or when I am home alone with corn chips wedged into the back corner of the cupboard, but besides this habit to pack my mouth like the tiny suitcase of a queen, I am extremely healthy. I am alive. I am happy. I am loved. I am my own kind of beautiful.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


This morning, Monday, May 2, 2011, at around 5:45 a.m., while walking my dog, Penny through the quiet beginning of another week here in Northampton, Massachusetts, I passed a collection of colorful newspaper stands. My eyes caught sight of the headlines like an ignorantly eager fish might bite bait and a hook. "Osama bin Laden Killed by U.S." I read. 

I was a senior in high school when the country was attacked by al Qaida's traveling terrorists. That fall, my class's senior trip to Florida was cancelled, but not without a fight. We had an evening assembly. Passionate parents fought to keep the school trip. "We can't let the terrorist win!" I remember one mother saying in a sudden soliloquy. My mother and I sat in the back of the auditorium, leaning into one another, listening and keeping our comments to ourselves. "This is what they want! They want us to be afraid!" A father declared and a few people clapped in support, nodding their heads and saying things like, "He's right, you know, he's exactly right."  It was an awkward assembly (for no seventeen-year-old wants to be present when his/her parent is anything but silent and invisible). I remember my mother mumbling, "I'm not about to sacrifice my child to make a point." Logan International Airport had not yet regained her trust. That Spring, this same group of proactive parents organized and chaperoned the trip to Florida and I went. By then, my mother and father had decided that a quick trip to Disney World wouldn't, most likely, kill me.  

On September 11, 2001, I sat in the lunch room listening to incomplete and unintelligible stories as they spread around me like haze. Everyone leaned over their uneaten sandwiches. "Twin Towers," I heard. "Flew out of Logan," "New York City," "Pentagon" and "it was terrorists, terrorists hijacked the planes." I was nervous, uninformed. I didn't know where the Twin Towers were and I feared they might be in Boston. My father worked in Boston at the time. I didn't know where his office was in Boston, but I assumed it could be within the walls of one of these burning buildings everyone was whispering about. 

After lunch, in classrooms throughout the school, televisions and computers were turned on and tuned in. In smokey New York City streets, debris fell from the sky like dirty snow. Firefighters ran hoses. Police ran for survivors. Business men and woman ran around in heels and dark suits with faces distorted by horror and muddied by soot. Bodies fell from the sky. We watched bodies fall from the sky and planes crash into the New York City skyline. 

That night, President George W. Bush spoke on national television. "That poor bastard," I remember my mother murmuring when his sullen face appeared on the screen. For the following months, we watched the nightly news, wincing and choking up at the personal stories that began to play. Strangers stood before camera crews showing pictures of lost loved ones and crumpled tissues between their fingers as they rose them to their wet eyes. We watched footage of plastered walls of Missing Person papers in New York City bus stops and downtown subway stations. I remember when they stopped calling the work at Ground Zero, a rescue mission. I watched people in foreign city streets celebrate the attacks of September 11th. Dancing, parading and howling, these people publicly hailed the mass murdering martyrs. America, I learned in that moment, was like the rich, perfect, popular kid who one day got ambushed, defecated on, shoved into a locker and left over night to weep within darkness.  

I must admit that I do believe the murder of Osama bin Laden was extremely justified, however it is a peculiar, guilty joy or satisfaction that stems from the death of this person, even someone as corrupt and blatantly evil as he. Sunday night, after President Barack Obama announced the news, there were celebratory riots and prayer vigils across the country, particularly outside the White House and in New York City.  Across America, many people are smiling and sighing that justice has finally been served, but there are also many Americans shaking their heads and fingers, saying, an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind! and quotes by the renowned American pacifist, Martin Luther King Jr.  I can't say what I believe is right. My husband, Scott is disgusted by the excitement. This morning, while I made my bagged lunch, I compared Osama bin Laden to Adolph Hitler. He can't be alive, I said simply. He just shouldn't be alive. Of course, really, I don't know. Perhaps a formal trial would be interesting and just, but what possible sentence does one deserve for the massacre of thousands of innocent people? I know what my friend, Mark would say without even asking him. As I have written before, here, in an entry titled "Eye for an Eye", Mark would say that Osama bin Laden deserves to get what he did to others. He deserves to be raised high above a cement city street, to the height of the 110th floor of the Twin Towers, and thrown onto a burning ledge. He should be forced to choose between fire and a fall, a death by burning or a death by plummeting into the windy expanse of a fourteen hundred foot drop. 

Lucky for him, the Eighth Amendment of The United States Constitution would prevent such cruel and unusual punishment. However, no matter how he died, he is dead and whether you speculate, criticize or commend the actions of the United States in the raid and killing of this extremely powerful terrorist, all we can really do now is hope that Osama bin Laden does not escape Hell and hide in some hidden compound in Heaven.