Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Various notes on the body - Monday afternoon

This morning I woke up with a crick in my neck. To be more exact, it’s a soreness. The kind of soreness that makes you think you have meningitis, even though you know you got a vaccine for that before you went to college. The kind of soreness that absolutely prohibits your body from supporting the weight of your head. I strain to move the great, massive, all-powering weight of my head to a place where my spine is straight, where I sit like a dancer instead of an office assistant. This is a great strain.

Yesterday, I went to my brother’s little league baseball game, and the wind was so strong that the game had to pause while dust clouds blew through each inning. When I went to bed last night, I realized I still had brown grit underneath my fingernails. I rinsed my face after the game to remove invisible sheens of dirt, and wished for one of those crocodile nail-brushes made famous in kindergarten classrooms.

Saturday, I spent the hours of 4am to 6am throwing up in my dear friends’ bathroom. My stomach is a strange thing. Though I had spent a good portion of Friday evening drinking beer, such a violent reaction is unusual for the free-wheeling pace of my drinking that night. I blame this bout of illness on some strange turkey given to me by my roommate for my lunch on Friday. Vomiting makes my brain feel as though it is useless, falling a distant second to the whims of my body and its chemistry.

Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not be able to afford myself. A new insurance plan has driven the cost of a monthly medication from $30 to $50, and I’m currently itching my way through my last pair of contact lenses. In a recent visit to the dentist (my first in over a year), I was informed that my wisdom teeth are impacted and have to go. While my insurance covers the cleaning I had, the waiting period on major procedures like that is about 4 months longer than I’m going to be at my current job. Maybe my wisdom teeth are to blame for this exponential growth in my head’s weight. But for now, they stay, due to insufficient funds.

It’s been nearly a month since the Neko Case concert, and I still can’t stop listening to her. I think I’ve been bewitched. My body reacts physically to the song “I wish I was the moon.” When she says that so and so will recognize her because “I’ll be the one with my heart in my lap,” I know exactly what she’s talking about. Exactly.

It is nice enough outside today that I’m tempted to quit my job and try to get the band back together.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Is it symbolic? Dear Reader, you decide.

Last night, I attended a date auction with my roommates. Why o why did we do this? Because my roommate's sister was an item in the auction (definitely the most eligible item, at that). Arriving at Old Chicago (way out in Burbia KS) just in the nick of time, the three of us slid into a booth with my roommate's mother and two sisters. To get my stats right, I should share that, auctionee aside, I was the only hip happenin young single at the table.

I realized I'd made a huge mistake (Gob Bluth-style) in my attendance when, not two minutes into the auction, my roommate's well-meaning older sister bid on the first bachelor on my behalf. This met with hilarity at my table, as I contemplated taking my heavy beer mug and clubbing everyone in the bar with it.

Did my presence at this auction mean I was desperate for a date? I didn't realize this when I signed up to come. I had thought I attended to support my roommate's sister, a girl with more balls than I. After my roommate's mother actually purchased this first bachelor, more out of pity for him than out of pity for me in my datelessness, we engaged in a healthy discussion of why I didn't want to take the date. My roommate raised a good point: the guy was cute, and advertised himself as a guitar player. I raised a better one: I despair at forced intimate situations, especially when they involve me purchasing someone else's time. Why on earth would that be fun?

As things settled down, my table began to watch the auction as spectators only. When the server delivered our dinners, we ate and talked and laughed. My roommates, on the other side of the booth, were sliced in half by falling sunlight (gotta love those longer days). Each time they picked up a fork, it sent a beam of reflected light to my side of the table. I turned to my left to talk to the bid-happy older sister. As I turned back to my plate, I noticed that my roommate had her hand raised at an odd angle.

Suddenly, my eyes were blinded with light, like the flash after taking a picture. She had angled her wedding ring/engagement ring diamond duo just right. We all laughed at her crazy trick - next she'd be burning ants on the sidewalk with her giant diamond - but now, I'm thinking about this gesture. If this were a real piece of writing, and not a blog, I'd turn that gesture into a symbol for the whole night, a burning presence of the pressure on women to be in relationships.

Invariably, the men in the date auction sold for much more than the women. A few of the bachelors ignited a bidding war, and the highest price of the night was paid for one young man (a bartender by trade) at $290. (Not a cute guy, by the way, wayyy too much hair gel and too many strategically placed rips in his jeans.)

The money earned at the auction all went to a charity supporting kids with lymphoma or leukemia, so the night wasn't a wash. But what a strange event. I told a friend before I left on this adventure that I'd give her a full report, and that hell, maybe I'd even write about it. I love to hide behind writing as the rationale for doing ridiculous things. Maybe I should've taken that guitar-playing date...

Friday, April 6, 2007


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about drafts (money too, but that's another story). A friend of mine is working on a personal statement, and this friend is not a student of writing. She asked me for help, as a student of writing, and so I edited her very capable personal statement. I know that she is smart and what's more, I know she deserves a place in any grad school she applies to. With that in mind, I gave her a very serious edit.

When she got my comments, she was upset. She felt that she'd finished the statement, that she had sent it to me for last-minute comma clean-up. I explained to her what it means to draft a piece of work, how I had written around 11 versions of my own personal statement last fall. (Note: maybe this is the reason blogging is inherently crap - a blog is the "shitty first draft" of any piece of writing, as Anne Lamott would say.) I took what I thought was a decently advanced draft, after 5 or 6 incarnations, to a fellow writer, who looked at it, underlined one sentence, and said, "Try freewriting from this to get where you need to." Disappointed, I started over, and over, and over. Finally, I found the one that worked, and I went to town on it, dissecting every sentence. I sent it off, and I felt good about it.

On days like today, when the sun is shining and I am not, I feel like drafting is a great gift and a great challenge. If I am my best piece of work, and my friends/loved ones are my editors, how lucky to have people to underline the good, to encourage me to get where I need to. They don't know where I need to get, I don't know where I need to get, but between us we'll figure it out. All these different incarnations of self: sister, daughter, friend, writer, secretary, supreme blues dancer, chef, driver, lover, courier - all of these are drafts. Some we'll keep, and work on, and some we'll throw out entirely. Others, we'll hide at the bottom of a drawer until we find them, years later, forgotten but full of promise.

Here's something I wrote last Halloween as part of the drafting process: (PS, tonight, I'm really holding out for that teenage feeling. Neko Case is gracing Lawrence, and I have an early-purchased ticket to a sold-out show...)

Why go to grad school? Why spend the money and the formative years?
I write because I want people to know that the streets of Spain smell like garlic at mealtimes. I want them to know how I felt when I climbed a church tower in the small town of Friedburg, Germany, and rang a bell that was the oldest thing I have ever touched with my hands. I want them to know that the weight of the bell frightened me, a shocking two tons. I inhaled dust there and I sneezed, because that’s what happens when people inhale dust. Everyone sneezes. Everyone sneezes, but no one makes the same noise when they sneeze as I do. It’s high pitched and sharp.
What happens when you don’t write? I already know this. I know that you wake up every day, and you take a shower, and you go to work. Work can be anything – a smoky restaurant, a doctor’s office, a messy desk in someone’s reception area. Work is sitting at a computer, staring at a computer, navigating a computer and sometimes – answering the phone. Every moment at the desk is a moment lost, because you aren’t writing or creating. Also, every moment at the desk is a medal, something you’ve won by doing it for yourself. You’ve done it, you’ve survived the life of a nonwriter. You’ve done it, you’ve given your time and your best efforts to a tiny not-for-profit who wants to make your city a better place to grow old in. You’ve done it, you’ve worked out a patient’s problem with an insurance company and saved them money. These things are all victories. Yet every night, you go home and avoid the dull fact that you are not where you should be. You are not writing. You are not documenting or synthesizing things that really matter. Correction: things that really matter to you.
I am a writer. I make drafts. My next draft will be a continuation of academia.