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Take Your Ruby Slippers Off at the Door

31 Aug

I’m breathing easier.

I’ve finished unpacking and, although my house is not even nearly complete in what I envision my tiny cottage to look like in the end, I feel safe and secure in the knowledge that I have a home that is just what I imagine “home” would look like.

Those who know me, especially those who know me well enough to have read my manuscript, always tentatively titled “Rabbit Greens”, know that I have always wanted to live in a tiny thatched roof cottage made of stone and set next to a little bubbling brook. I write about it, I draw it, I talk incessantly about how it is what I want, I wake up from moody dreams that reflect the image back to me, over and over again. Have you ever seen the version of the Cranberries song “Dreams”, where she goes ahead and brings home a tree trunk to wash off in her bathtub to reveal her love?  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlMWAl7tIro)

Yeah, my dream home looks a lot like that. And yes, there should, if it was perfect, be a white horse running around as well. Luckily, I am a simple girl and am happy to take a ginger pit-bull mix named Ava…

Anyway, I’m the type of girl that couldn’t be happier than I am when I am isolated in the woods, tucked up all warm and nestled in a one room cottage, all green hills and huge trees fencing me in…I loved the highlands of Scotland for just this very reason. On Skye I wanted nothing more than to stay tucked away in a fisherman’s cottage, eating fresh scallops and petting a striped ginger cat.

But these days, I live in Portland. And yes, on the edges of the city center there are plenty of lush green areas where hippies have sweet little organic farms. But I am not a farmer. I am most definitely a teacher and I’m going to be working in the city center. Actually, if I think about it, possibly one of the most “city center” buildings I could ever have thought to be working in. And I dislike driving. At least as a “commute.” Just for fun? I will drive for hours without thought, just to get away…London and Edinburgh ruined me forever in terms of cars. I want the freedom that only walking and a vibrant community can give you. Cars run out of gas, parking is a nightmare, sometimes you want a beer…my legs have yet to fail me.

With Ava in my mind, I went to work to find us a good home. It had to be in a location I love— Sorry all hipsters, I am too old for the South East…also, I reiterate: I like to walk. And the South East is very spread out. The South West was where I have been living and while it has cute pockets, it left little to do on any given night. The North East felt too industrial to me. But the North West? Just right for me, with streets lined with independent shops ,“box” stores, and trees. Dog parks, community co-ops, and Forest Park (with some of the best hiking trails in the city) on my doorstep, it might well have also been the most dog friendly part of town I had looked at.  But alas and alack, it was still hard going, as Ava is (mostly) a pitty. There is no denying that she is 60 pounds of muscle and excitement. Portland, for all it’s talk of community, can still be mostly talk, and having a pit bull makes you nearly enemy #1. It was kind of disheartening, but I did meet a lot of really cool dog owners along the way, so that was amazing.

Exhausted from searching one day, nearly ready to simply tell my parents that she would have to continue living with them because it was becoming painful to search for a place that was ideally located, pretty, allowed pits, and did NOT allow crack heads, I met Brian.

Brian was out running with his beautiful pit, Coraline. She is a grey, smiley rescue and Brian has a similar grin. He even took it well when I ran after him and, nearly out of breath, asked him where he lived. I am such a creeper.

A long, long story short:

I live in a 1920’s brick bungalow studio apartment with a graciously small back yard and banana tree right in front of my front bay window. Brian lives across the walk way, with his beautiful pit, and next door lives Mike, a man with another terrier. It feels like it couldn’t be a better fit, especially when my neighbors come by and introduce themselves or knock on my door at night to ask how my parents are coping back in New York with the hurricane.

As time goes by and I start to make the place look less like an un-used yoga studio and more like a home, I will post pictures.

Right now I am pretty thrilled with how much it looks and feels like the cottage I have been obsessively imagining for years. I bought myself my first piece of furniture, which is a long wooden table: I have it pushed up against the window so I can write and then, clear it off when I want to serve dinner to anyone who wanders by. I learned a lot from traveling: I know I want to spend my days writing and cooking and having my house filled with impromptu dinner parties. I loved the sense of how important food was in Bulgaria and Romania and Greece. My favorite part of Greece was in fact, the time I spent cooking for everyone. The best memory of that time? When I served Craig and Johanna up a meal of linguine and shrimp, speckled with a mash up of fresh herbs found alongside the back roads and oil and butter and lemon, and as we sat, almost silently, gorging ourselves so that butter ran down our faces, Craig smiled triumphantly: “Now this is how we eat!”

I’m excited to create those memories in my new house. It’s not going to be fancy there, I’m not going to have expensive furniture or decadent knick knacks. It’s going to revolve around the kitchen, that table, and probably all the plants I am going to have growing up and over every corner, inside and out.

Already I have set up a white picket fence around my tiny front garden and Brian says, “Leave it just there, it’s perfect.”

Pin Ups…

17 Jul

My new job is in an office, which may make some people shudder, but it’s actually kind of amazing. It’s a not-for-profit kind of job that pays well. No one can complain about that sort of set up. No one! Plus, I do get to wear *office clothes*. Which, obviously, I love.

As though the universe, or maybe just Anna Wintour, knew about this shift in my life, Banana Republic is putting out a new clothing capsule, based on Mad Men. Since I already dress like it’s 1959, complete with the vodka gimlet in hand, I’m more than just a little excited. I may have even tried making all the men in my life buy cardigans.

I think all of these dresses are amazing, and then I saw an article in Glamour that offered some advice on how to make it more modern.

you might also want to check out this girl’s site, The Vintage Vixen. She’s from Washington, but visits Portland rather frequently in her posts and she certainly styles herself in a way that makes me look out for her on the streets in town, because I think we would be fun friends.

Good-bye London, Hello World

16 Jul

As noted before, I moved to Portland, but I feel like there was a lengthy period of adjustment where I came to terms with moving so far away from what I considered to be “home.” A few weeks ago I came across a letter that I had written just over a year ago, April 23, 2010, the week I left London for good. I had written a love-letter, or maybe it was a break-up letter, to a city I had never thought I would care about at all, but that had ended up stealing my heart. I’d like to re-print that letter here, because while I still feel pangs of heart ache whenever I see London in a movie, I also feel that I am finally settling into my life here in Portland, and I want to really say goodbye to my past.

Dear London,

We met each other in 2005. I got off a plane and went straight to Earl’s Court, which was nice enough. But I didn’t really get a chance to explore you until AFTER I had already been to Orkney and Skye and all through the hills and wilds of Scotland. I think we can all agree now, now that we are such good friends, that you aren’t really able to compete with all the green and purple lush and rolling hills, the beautiful dewdrops on the curling wool of baby lambs, the drunk stagger of a man with whiskey breath down cobblestoned streets…

but that’s okay. You aren’t Scotland. You are London. It wasn’t fair to compare the two.

Because now, I do love you. I love you differently than I love Scotland, but I do love you. Very much so.

And today I spent a great deal of my day doing all the things that made me love you. I got up at 5 am and got dressed up in a pretty frock and rode the #26 bus to St. Pauls. I had a Chai Latte in Starbucks, while I read a depressing novel about an Englishwoman in France. Then I went to St. Paul’s for morning prayer and then mass where they mentioned Daniel and strength and journies a lot and then I climbed all 2 gazillion stairs up to the dome. Then I spoke to a boy who five years ago, when I visited you for the first time with Mick et al, helped me go see John Donne’s death shroud. It was crazy. And I spoke to a woman named Rosemary who told me some interesting things. Rosemary is for rememberence. Remember that.

And then I went to the most magical place in the world: Knightsbridge. And I got my hair cut at Toni and Guy for free and then I went to Harrods and tried on Prada and couture.And looked at bunnies. And applied my lipstick in my favorite bathroom. Then I went to Harvey Nichols and I bought jelly beans and goat’s cheese with *rosemary* and had my makeup done. Then I went to The V and A museum and went to the Grace Kelly exhbit and ate my goat’s cheese in the garden, under the beautiful sun, and watched people play in the wading pool. And then I went to the Natural History museum and looked at all the taxidermy and a few dinosaurs. Then, like a sulky lover, you made the tube on the way home very crowded, like to the point people were crushed by doors, and reminded me why you are a conudrum, wrapped up in a piece of wombat.

I doubt that the way I spent my day would make any other person jubuliant, but that is why you are so beautiful London. If I was the sort of person who loved to party until 6 am every day and then stumble home, wretching into gutters, well then, you would provide that. And if I loved hip art galleries and modern art, you give us that in abudance. Drawing parties? yes! walks on the Thames by Parliment? yes! the Thames with performance art? yes! amazing mexican food? yes! pancakes? yes! boring old, beautifully non-modern art? yes! strange squares with beautiful georgian buildings? yes! a palace, a park, fun times in army barracks, primark, prada, every language under the sun, amazing shows, interesting beers, cheap food, champagne, long tube rides, cute strangers, heartbreak, best friends, long walks, Ally Pally, Italian bakeries, strawberry tarts, the opera, royal albert hall, day trips to little towns, drinking too much, friends visiting, kebab shop at 2 am…it’s all right there!

I love walking down Bricklane and it’s all such a scrambled of kids and old men, with the pretty boys in their suits asking you to come in and try *their* curry and the chefs smoking and spitting and poking their heads out of the alley and smiling at you, “pretty girl”, they say. And then the other boys in suits, the ones with posh accents, heading over from Liverpool Street after work, looking to have some curry and some beer and they travel in packs of two, of four, of six.

Or it’s saturday morning and there are vegetables and used clothes lining the streets in stalls and it smells like bagels. Or It’s Sunday and you can walk ove rto Colombia Road and see Deb selling hats and the flower men in their stalls, yelling out in their cockney accents that you can get “2 fer a fivah!” and maybe get some cupcakes or wander even further and then you are in the petting zoo or go further still and London Fields is there and yes, so maybe it is full of hipsters, but I love to watch the boys play trendy ball while I eat pizza or radishes or a jar of olives. And the dogs…oh god, I love the dogs…Walk further on and your in Bethnal Green and then I remember the day I met Al and I had turkish deligh in this resturaunt we went to. And yeah, sometimes I went as far out as Bow even. Or loop in the other direction and hanging out with Emily in Camden, randomly chatting up guys you should know better about, but then you stay up all night watching old Bob Dylan with their moms. Or spending your birthday confused and bewildered by A levels in a random old man pub. Or exploring a snowy Hampstead Heath with a cranky, yet adorable, film critic and then more old men pubs. And rugby players. And more gin. And fluttery snow under lamp light. You gave me drinks in Sloane Square and nights at a boutique hotel. Starbucks with a BNP member, a broken bed, the nanny mafia…

When I think about it, you have given me so much more than any other place, so even though I had to take all of your pollution, high prices, terrible bosses, and hard water…I guess it was an even deal. You didn’t chew me up and spit me out. You coddled me, you nurtured me, you gave me Kensington for gods sake! Those big white houses and the perfurmery and Coco De Mer…nothing can live up to that. You aren’t souless and I am sorry I ever said you were. I am sorry I ever said I hated you and I would never live in you or even visit you. I was wrong.

You gave me a lot London. You made me feel stronger. You made me realize that you have to give things a chance and try them out for a few months before discarding them, deciding they aren’t for you. You made me experiment, come out of my shell. You made me stay up really late. You made me stop caring about the little things because everything is so fucking big here. Every day is monumental.

I’ll miss you so much and all the people and places in you. I hope you miss me too.

lots of love,

Danielle

p.s. if you could get rid of some of the English though, that would really perk the place up.

The Tree That Bleeds

12 Jul

Are you reading your non-fiction? Read this. Nick is an amazing human being and also, a writer worth knowing about.

Nick Holdstock

Short Story Sundae

10 Jul

Today’s Short Story is from the wonderful Neil Gaiman.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

 

 

 

 

I am not a good feminist

23 Oct

 

 

In fact, most of the time I say that I am just not a feminist. Because, I’m not like these girls, I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of conversation would come after you brashly announce: I only fuck feminist! (Is that even good sex? Or do all the self imposed rules make you feel restricted?)  However, I recently saw this article, Riot grrrl culture is back, but where’s the rage? The author, though apparently too young to have lived through the hard times that were the early nineties, reminisces about how much better it was when girls were super angry at everything and yelled and screamed and wore unflattering clothes. I beg to differ.

I am old enough to have actually lived through that. Been part of that. And I am super thankful that my teen years, really my childhood because back then, I think it was like being a child, took place in the nineties. I got to wear big baggy Jnco jeans and extra large black band t-shirts that hid all my body insecurities and still allowed me to be in style. I watched My-So-Called Life and got to debate about whether having sex in high school would be a good idea instead of having Gossip Girl tell me it would be awesome and glossy or bad and tabloid-y, but who cares because you bounce right back after one episode? I like that Angela was obsessed with the same boy for the entire length of the show and freaked out internally all the time. I’m glad that making zines was cool and that my friends and I wore hand printed t-shirts that declared, “I’m A Freak” and I went to summer art school and screamed and was loud and aggressive at punk rock shows and kicked ass in mosh pits and generally terrorized the establishment. While Kathleen Hannah screamed, Suck my Left One, I screamed, Eat Me Raw bitch! I even made that quote the cover of one of my zines. I like that I watched Doom Generation and had boyfriends with Mohawks and drank Mad Dog 20/20 in parking lots and smoked clove cigarettes and sat around my friend Beth’s house, watching slugs fuck while we talked about how cool Courtney Love was. Yeah, we were angry. Angry at our parents, at our school, at the government (only, not too much because we all really liked Clinton), at everything. But we were angry in the way teenagers were: blindly angry.

This other girl seems to be under the impression that girls my age all knew why we were angry. And I am sure a lot of girls knew why they were angry, the riot grrl scene was really political. And apparently a lot of them were angry at David Lynch and Twin Peaks. (I read the book, The Shape of Things to Come by Greil Marcus and he included a quotation from a riot grrrl zine: “Twin Peaks.” “FUCK TWIN PEAKS,” reads the zine, before excerpting a review: “Laura Palmer is hailed as this year’s breakthrough dead girl. ‘My father killed me,’ she says, but Cooper still gets the last word. With an end like that, there’s really no breakthrough.”) I’m not angry at David Lynch, so maybe, even as a 13 year old girl, I knew I was never going to cut it with the hardcore-feminists. My friends and I listened to Ani Difranco (we loved that she was from Buffalo and felt she really got our “upstate” pain) and yes, I did have friends who listened to Bikini Kill and L7. But  I found myself more in the mopey cheering section, falling head over heels for Robert Smith, Morrissey, and Siouxsie. I still loved to scream and I don’t think I could have gotten through high school if I hadn’t been able to blast the Lunachicks and Hole at my parents, but I am sure that any real riot grrrl would have balked at the fact most of my rage  came from man fronted bands, like the Dead Kennedys. I guess I never lived in a world that could not be shared by men; after all, didn’t men have as much right to be angry at their school, parents, and government as me?

Don’t get me wrong, there are still guys I went to high school with that tremble a little when they hear my name. I could be a straight up bitch that would scream, stab with a spork, or kick you in the nuts without warning. But we were all a little bit more scrappy then. Guys were more like Xavier Red, but now they are more like characters Michael Cera plays.  Who is going to want to yell at Michael Cera? He’s more bumbling and sweet than I was at age 5 and he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy to oppress women. So, we don’t really need to show him who’s boss: we already did.

Back when I was a teenager, yeah, we sort of had the internet, but not really. And we didn’t have cell phones. Watching Clueless was fun because there was a whole world that out in the sticks we just didn’t really grasp. MTV was all about indie music, when it simply meant independent, not whiney, emo, sad music specifically. So, there wasn’t an exposure to the hope that we might all have bright shiny futures one day. We were frustrated and angry because we didn’t really know that there were other people like us, that we could move away from our home towns and have new lives with new friends, that we didn’t have to take our SATs and go to college to have a life. We were pissed off because the country was in a recession and suddenly, nothing made any sense. Our parents weren’t used to the sudden poverty, there were no jobs for graduating kids, and all we could afford was that flannel from Kmart and the occasional CD. We made mixtapes because you couldn’t download music, so it had to pass from hand to hand to hand and get overplayed in  your beat up car. We made poverty cool, we made frustration cool, we made hopelessness cool. We thought nothing was ever going to change, so we made nothingness our anthem. We purposefully did nothing, as a symbol of what was going on. We stole our idea from the British punks, although I doubt we knew it; we said fuck you capitalism, if you don’t have room for us, we won’t be productive. And we weren’t. We didn’t know any better, so we made our ignorance and rage a political statement in itself.

So, this little girl in her article, pretending to yearn for some sort of authenticity, asks: why aren’t people as angry today? I think it’s because suddenly people know. They know that things CAN change. Things ARE changing. It’s slow, but it’s happening. And we also now know that people who disagree with us aren’t going to change because you yell at them (well, okay, Rush Limbaugh doesn’t know that, but he takes a lot of pills), but instead, you have to woo people into changing their minds. We all have internal hope, even in the face of a recession and a depleted job market, that things are going to get better. We have the internet to give us instant information, so that we never feel out of touch or uninformed, trapped in our small towns or small offices, desperately alone. Even when I read about terrible things happening, I still have hope that together, we can collectively make a nicer world. I like the idea that the reason people aren’t shaving their heads and screaming into microphones right now isn’t because we have all turned into boring conservatives, but simply because we got tired of yelling and would rather talk it out.

The True Meaning of Teaching

12 Oct

It’s another holiday day around here, so there are a lot of signs up saying “No School Today,” making me think about all the teachers that are  not having to face a classroom this morning. And then it’s making me think about my time spent teaching, in classrooms and out of them, as well as all the teachers I know.

When I was in Greece, a woman came to stay in the bookstore who was a friend of one of the owners. She was a teacher in California and an utterly adorable women overall. We had lunch one day at my favorite restaurant there, a polish place, aptly named Polski, and while we ate pierogis and falafel in pitas (it was still Greece!) and drank Mythos beer, we talked about teaching. We may not have agreed on every point (and I promise, I’m not going to say who thought what because this is one area I don’t want to have a public debate over), but at the end she sat smiling at me and said, “Well, you certainly don’t lack passion. I can’t see why you aren’t still teaching.” When she said this, I thought about all the areas in my life where I do teach, everyday, every moment of the day. And then I put myself up against other “professional”  teachers (not her I want to add, she embodies what I love about a good teacher!).

I thought hard about one particular teacher, we shall call her “Mrs. Pink.” (I really like Reservoir Dogs, okay?). When I first met her, I really respected that she was teaching autistic students in an inner city school. Talk about a double whammy of difficulty. Less money means less resources and with bigger problems than autism facing these kids every day from every angle, I was so impressed that she went into this school every day and really seemed super passionate about her job. She truly cared about these kids and I don’t have any doubt that she is a great classroom teacher. But something else struck me as terribly terribly wrong about her.

Over the weeks we spent together, I noticed that she had a very narrow world view. A world view where the underprivileged are always right, that being a Liberal is the only correct mindset, and that the only people worth teaching were minorities. This became completely clear when she, being 30, decided that she would no longer speak to a 19 year old girl because the 19 year old girl was Republican. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not Republican. So this isn’t a fight on this basis. But this girl, this NINETEEN year old girl, was sweet as pie, incredibly intelligent, a theater major, able to discuss her political thoughts in a rational and non-confrontational way, and was also dating the most Liberal boy I had ever met (also incredibly sweet and intelligent, I might add). This girl also cooked for us, pitched in if anyone needed any help, and was just in general, really nice to have around. She might have come from a wealthy family, but she was also working at least 50 hours a week that summer, not for her family I might add,  saving up money so that she could travel the world because she was desperate to see everything. In what world is it better to be friends with a snarky Democrat that leaves everyone feeling angry after speaking to them than a genuine ray of sunshine? But the altruistic teacher just rolled her eyes at me and said,” At her age, she should know better and it’s not my job to run around teaching everyone on the planet how to be a better person.”

Excuse me?

How do I even begin to answer this. Let’s start with the first part of what she said, “It’s not my job.”

Well, actually, it is. So what you are saying is that if this girl had walked into your classroom two years ago, when she was still in highschool, you would have taken one look at her and said, “Nope, get out! You aren’t the type of person I teach.”  You wouldn’t, you couldn’t, because technically, it IS your job.

But more than that, teaching is not just a job. It can’t be. Honestly. It’s not banking, it doesn’t pay enough for you to just go and do it for the money. But even if it were banking, I know a lot of bankers. And the only ones who make a lot of money at it, are the ones that have a talent for it, a passion for it. Yes, people are passionate about derivatives. They honestly are. And these bankers, well, they want to talk about derivatives to anyone who will listen. They love to share all the knowledge they have, they love to *teach*. I know far more about banking than I ever thought I would because I have so many friends who just prattle on and on about it, but it’s cute, how excited they get. They don’t care who they are talking to, they just want to talk about what they love. And they don’t get angry or frustrated when they explain something to me over and over again, they just smile and use a different analogy so that it can be clear to me.  A good teacher should not be less passionate about teaching than a BANKER. Seriously.

I think a good teacher is one who can see all the differences out there in the world and not look at it as though it is one big annoyance, but instead like a challenge. I did not agree with everything that cute ray of sunshine said, but that girl is still my friend because there is no reason to be cruel or biting to another human being. It is often more important to be kind than right and the best teachers know this.

The best teachers also know that when you approach a kid with kindness and understanding of where they are coming from, they are far more likely to actually learn and listen to you. I used to teach boys with ADD and dyslexia and they would come bounding into the classroom, knocking over chairs and daring me to try to yell at them and make them sit down, just like their usual teachers did. Instead, I eyeballed them with a bored look and started reading a comic book, ignoring them. Let me tell you, those kids might have made noise for about 5 minutes, but then their natural curiosity got the better of them and they wanted to know who I was and what I was reading and then they had questions for me. So when I told them we were going to make comic books if they wanted to, they settled down. By themselves. And then when we wrote these comic books, I took them one at a time and had them tell me stories that I would write down. And I learned, through stories about drunken santa and throwing up monsters, which kids had rough times at home and the best ways to approach them to learn to love reading.

I can’t help but feel that my favorite, who I will call R here, would not have passed Mrs. Pink’s test. This little white kid knew every racially charged swear word to throw out there, but he could also barely spell his own name. He came from a family where these words were no big deal and from a small town where there were no people that were not white. I am sure, in fact, that he could have lived his entire life without ever really meeting anyone that didn’t look exactly like him– there were plenty of people in that town that didn’t even go into the next city over, not even to shop. Not that it really would have mattered, I was in Scotland and it is not a racially diverse place anyway, not even in the big cities. And from what Mrs. Pink was spouting to me, it’s not worth teaching someone like him because…well, she never really gave me a reason to be honest. She wasn’t very good at arguing her point. But I would guess that it was because his family would just undo anything you tried to work on. I am fucking glad that I didn’t know Mrs. Pink when I was with R. I just plowed along, being super sweet and nice, helping him draw pictures and pointing to letters, demanding to the school officials that he be tested for dyslexia (in Scotland they don’t actually test until grade 6 usually, and he was in grade 4), and getting him to see that reading and writing was not only a short term escape route, but a long term escape route. You have to tailor your teaching to the kids, not tailor the kids to your teaching. It made me so happy when my friend and fellow teacher from that school, Andrea, told me this last Christmas that R, who was now in her classroom, was a fairly good reader, and spent all of his time reading to a girl with Downs syndrome. I know that sounds utterly contrived, but it isn’t and Andrea told me how she was trying to convince R that he needed to work extra hard because she thought he had a future as either a social worker or a special needs teacher. She expressed worry and concern to me that his reading was still not quite good enough to take all the tests he would need to do to get such a job. I didn’t know what else to do, so I bought him a box of books and wrote him a very long letter expressing how proud I was of him. As you can guess, he was thrilled. He’s left the elementary school now, so I don’t know how he’s doing, but I’m glad that I didn’t write him off as a violent little racist, because that’s so obviously not what he is, contrary to what those awful drawings of Santa with the knife might have led one to believe… ha.

I don’t know, this got quite long winded, but I think when you treat a person with kindness, they are more likely to listen to you. After all, if my little Republican friend had only met Mrs. Pink, I think she would have walked away feeling validated in thinking all liberals are insane, cranky, self-absorbed pseudo intellectuals. And I wouldn’t have blamed her. I feel that the true meaning of teaching is setting an example of how you think everyone should live their life by living your life exactly that way. There is no difference between the snarky liberal and the snarky republican, just a lot of anger and a bad feeling in your stomach whenever they talk. And I can’t say that I want to listen to anyone that makes me feel sick to my stomach, do you?

back to america playlist

5 Sep

So, here is my back to America playlist. And I think I did a good job, wherein the songs flow together pretty well and you can loop from the last song back to the first without a problem.   

 

 

indestructible

17 Aug

I am as indestructible as they come, same as the ink on my chest, on the bone, where the scottish flower swirls up against latin words in a script unknown. I am thistle in your side, up against your back when you sleep, and no amount of rain can wash away a pain this deep. And that is what they trade in, they trade in incomplete sentences and a history that cannot be written down, just spoken, sung, spun, by mad men with red beards and anguished knees that have bent over hot coals and icy dunes, with equal measure. I’m going to tell his story, their story, make it up as I go, call this place home.

The people I write for will not read this, they sit across from me, on couches, on pool tables, in fast black cars that bump over winding roads and roundabouts and they speak my language in a bent way that bears no resemblance to what they say is the Queen’s. They yell brash, through the night, they fuck and they fight, and I say, that’s my brother there and what is that blonde doing on his lap? When I curl up at night I want his arms around me and I want you to pound whiskey and pills and go home to your wains and forget what you saw here, just go back the same.

They deal in blood here, in soppy sad tales, in funeral pyres, and dismembered males, in fields of gory washed clean by the rain, and if you asked me why I’m here, I’d tell you the same. I like it that when I cry, the sky rips open and hurls wet wintery ashes on my face, that the leaves smack against my skin and the wind gusts full blown attacks against brittle bones and sends them hurling down the street. I like that when they write they get on stage and whisper sad little embryos of words, delicately picked for their most fruitful meaning, but what I do instead is whip them all together in a frenzy and let them lick their wounds, which drip on pages, on pavements, on gold star days, names signed on pages and pages of beer soaked days. Don’t be specific, leave out street names, make the reader think you’re anywhere, everywhere, timeless and engaged. Fuck you Leith and Great Junction Street and the way that you made me laugh at midnight and curse cold toes on awkward walks home, Leven Terrace where that girl got stabbed and I answered questions, and the meadows at 3 am, when Maria chased down the boy with the bike, a punch to the head and we all said, good night. It’s not daylight, it’s dusk, always dark and that’s why they write dismal failures and they say this city is not a character, not like london, new york, or l.a., but this is the place you can always go to that will crouch around you, wrap you up, leave you shit for shinola, batter you down, with dogs and junkies, and rich girls from athens, there to take a great big pride in what cannot be torn, cannot be rectified. indestructible, impenetrable, we are built on fire and pride.

Words as Weapons: Sharpen Your Claws Wisely

22 Apr

 

When I was a beautifully cruel middle school diva, I perfected the art of the biting letter. That’s right, I could write you, anyone really, a bitchy letter that would leave you in tears. I had some how managed to sharpen my writing skills in such a way that I could hone in on anyone’s flaws, obvious or deviously hidden, and draw them out into the nasty, fluorescent light of day. I am proud, nay, smug, to say that I made more than a few of my frienemies burst into hysterical tears in high school. Honestly, they should not have slept with the boy I liked or called my best friend fat or put mashed potatoes in my hair. Probably. I mean, they probably deserved it. Well, looking back on it now, I maybe should not have given them something to read and re-read and dwell upon and break their self esteem even in the absence of my demeaning presence.

But I did. Because I know the power of words. I know that a girl can forgive her boyfriend for cheating on her. But only if she doesn’t read the emails between the two secret lovers describing the awful things they have done to each other or want to do to each other. I know a wife can forgive a husband that sneaks through the underwear drawer of their au pair because she only has the sneaking suspicion, and wives have learnt to ignore their first jealous intuitions. But to read a letter from the au pair, left on her desk, listing the transgressions against her husband, would lead a her to read and reread and have the images of her beloved standing over a lace bra for a body two sizes smaller. You see, it’s just as they say: your eyes can play tricks on you. You can decide that you have been deceived by what you saw, like a child in a darkened bedroom, sure that the shadows on the wall are creeping demons coming to sneak under the covers, but then shaking it off, knowing that their mind is unreliable, it could all be a ridiculous nightmare.

But a story. But words. When you add words to your fears, it brings them alive. Other people can share the exact same feelings of worry, anxiety, stress, desperation. Or even better yet, you can instill that fear into a person. You can try to create an anxiety that didn’t previously exist. Or you can try and find a flaw in a person and exploit it for all it’s worth.

Like I said, I am the queen of this. For some reason, after years of being the quiet girl in the corner, always listening, paying attention to details in conversations, even when the speaker thinks they are performing an interior monologue to a disinterested audience, I have managed to always know people’s character, for better or worse. The smallest flaw, the piece of a person for which their self-esteem is tied to, is easily rooted out by me, a sex-starved pig in a field of truffles. It’s the curse of a writer, to be able to identify pieces of people that others just don’t notice right away.  Part of me is always hungry to learn every sordid detail about everyone, to assemble a person like a jigsaw puzzle and them be able to break them down into pieces, keeping the useful bits to one side, knowing I can build a person up or tear them apart with equal ease.

However, I no longer write angry, cruel letters to people. Partially, it’s because I’m an adult now and when I get angry, I simply leave a situation or people. But I rarely do because being able to so easily identify the horrible bits of people has a good side: I can also identify the beautiful parts with equal ease. My life as an adult has been about focusing on the wonderful bits of people that others don’t readily acknowledge and finding fast friends in places that are often overlooked. I want to see the good in people. It’s what allows me to ignore my intuition when say, a valuable ring goes missing from my jewelry box and no amount of household searching can find it. Then, when it magically re-appears, as though stolen by fairies and returned after the fae-ball, I dismiss all notions of thievery because I have no proof. Only my unreliable mind’s eye.  And as I said earlier, you can forgive all manner of sins when you only have the hint of wrong-doing. But I also like to think that my lack of letter writing these days is because I am a better writer than I was at 15. Now, don’t get me wrong, the wit and biting tongue I could wield towards other little girls would certainly make a nun blush, but these days, I have honed the rotten delicious skill of removing myself from the direct line of anger and writing pieces that appeal on a more ‘general’ level. No longer do I engage in tit-for-tat, arguments for the sake of arguments writing. I don’t swoop at the low blow or make up silly details, spinning out my fiction into unrealistic lies. I am not M. Night Shamalan. I am Hitchcock: I won’t write a horror story without a million grains of truth to rest it on. And the truth of a character should be as frightening when written out as a newspaper article, with bold, bland, wording fit for a third grade reading level, as they would be with pages and pages of flowery prose propping them up.

And an angry letter just doesn’t do that. It doesn’t reach enough people. Not even an open letter. But fiction. Now that reaches a huge audience. Would you be surprised to learn that a relatively high number of people read  this very blog? It surprised me, but pleased me very much. Because, to quote the imaginary Chaucer of A Knight’s Tale,

I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.

Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to piss off a writer?

I firmly believe that the only people who write angry letters are those who feel powerless, as though they need to justify themselves to the one person who has held something over them. Frustrated that their world is not what they thought it to be (oh dear me, why are all angry letters so sad, outlining the many transgressions against the writer, with nary a cohesive thought, just convoluted insults mixed with a pity me attitude?), they want to have that confrontation, to bait the reader into a fight. And this works very well for 15 year old girls. A letter would cause a crying fit, which brought on a fight, which allowed everyone to say what was going on in their minds. But for adults, especially those with mortgages for houses in sad London suburbs, maybe it’s just best to take a deep breath, burn some incense, and chant your way towards inner peace and acceptance that sometimes it’s just better to leave the writing to the professionals and maybe focus your energy on something more productive, such as cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m sure children can learn to love aspics nearly as much as nutritionally devoid processed fingers of food. However, if you truly wish to cause some serious emotional damage to the recipient of some such letter, and that should really be the aim of an angry letter, might I suggest hiring a professional writer for the job? We really do know our way around words and I promise, we’ll send off a letter that won’t be skimmed through and then discarded idly.

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