Thursday, October 28, 2010

the esthetic of lostness

As a child I thought I loved flying. In retrospect it comes clear that what I loved was the sensation of leaving. Apart from leaving, everything else about flying is varying degrees of unpleasant from the tightly packed seats to the recycled air to the officious security guard digging through my carry-on bag.


To say I hate this city does not begin to name the tightness in my chest, my throat, the pressure behind my eyes.  I fell in love in this city. Many times. I wore every colour. I cannot bring myself to look directly at the ghosts though they find me when I sleep. I try to shut them out, close my eyes, close my mind. Afterward...  I promised myself there would never be another winter in this city, never ever another winter. But here I am. 


And I have never felt afraid of the dark at night -  but sometimes the darkness of November mornings makes me tremble. I am riding public transit because I do not remember how to drive in the snow, do not want to remember, do not want to take anyone else's safety in my mittened hands. A small child sits across from me on his mother's lap. I take in his lovely face, his long dark lashes, his focus far away. The mother talks on her phone. (She is secretly a robot.) Her perfume feels like an assault. Her boy rests his forehead against the cold glass, dreamy-eyed, his breath fogs the pane, and I watch as he sticks his tongue out and begins to lick the vapour off the filthy glass. Revulsion. I want to scream at the mother to make her see. I do not.


The first time I noticed that my sister was mentally ill and not just rebellious she was fourteen, I was eighteen. I stopped by her bedroom door to tell her to turn her music down and she looked at me warily and told me she had just fallen into a furnace made of ears. I thought at first she was dreaming and almost smiled, but the picture this brought to my mind was somehow pure horror. What the hell is a furnace made of ears? I forced a laugh anyway and closed her door. I wondered, I wonder, all the time which of us was ill and why.

Do these thoughts follow me because I am foolish enough to keep reading Wally Lamb? I have four other books (and nine other days) packed in my bag. I could choose better, I know I can do better.


Impulsively I change my plan and get off the train downtown. I have somewhere I am meant to be, something I must not be late for, and still the force that propels me forward does not care about these things. Pull my scarf higher against the biting wind. I walk two blocks to my old apartment building, stand on the sidewalk below and try to find my window. Count the floors, count the windows across, count my breaths and count my boot-steps and count my blessings. And cannot find my window, cannot tell which one it was, cannot find my 23-year old self looking out from anywhere up there. Tears. I do not have time to go backward, only forward. I have somewhere I am supposed to be, I am late, I am much too late. Frozen lashes, frozen footsteps. I hate this fucking city. I am only meant for going forward, I am only going forward. How is it so dark, how is the world so wide awake in the dark? 


The tiny one-bedroom apartment feels enormous because I am alone in it, more alone than I have ever been, and for the first month I am using milk crates for furniture, pillows on the floor. Shopping one day at a time for an apple, a cup of yogurt, anything I do not have to cook because I do not own any dishes. (Fifteen years later I still eat like this.) I am haunted in this apartment by what I call the Dread. I call myself Intrepid, pretend I can slay the Dread. I am not afraid at night, I am only afraid in the mornings. 

The sliding door to my patio freezes shut and I spend an entire Saturday afternoon chipping away the ice so I can open the door to let in the winter air, pewter-coloured clouds and grey cotton skies. Upon opening the door I find it is too cold to leave it open after all and am forced to shut it again. It freezes closed immediately.

My neighbour bothers me. He waits for me to leave in the mornings so he can time his exit to match mine so we will ride the elevator together. I want to be alone in the elevator because I am still convinced at this time that elevators are soundproof (which it turns out they are not). 

I am lonely here, achingly lonely. But there is no more sleeping on anyone's couch, no more sleeping outside in October, no more physical danger. I have climbed another step on Maslowe's hierarchy. I can now afford to be heartbroken and it is a relief to think about something so luxurious as this.

But the numbness returns. (Small cracks run through it.) I bite my lip, taste my own bloodlessness.


That was 1995 and the distance between then and now should be wider. In the winter in this city there is no space to take a step, take a frozen breath. I hate everything in this city, I hate everyone, I hate everything I have touched here. I am frozen. This could be true, it might be. It probably is not.


In the airport the security guard insists I remove my mittens, show him my hands. My hands are cold, will not move fast enough. He is impatient, my rings are slipping off. People behind me and before me all lining up to show him their hands. Hands hands everywhere and none of them are yours. I am tired, blood-tired bone-tired, and I wonder if I understand anything about where I have come from. I am counting the days until I will be home. Counting backward from nine. And I am counting my decisions forward, one, two, three.



Saturday, October 23, 2010

tumbling in turmoil

The grey berber hallway that leads from my dentist's office to fresh air is long and narrow with several doors on either side. I have never stopped to read the plaques on the heavy doors to find out what other offices exist in this hallway. I just know that my dentist is at the very end. Yesterday, giddy with dental grit and raspberry fluoride, I left there somewhat elated. It is difficult to explain how much I love having my teeth cleaned and how much I simultaneously hate it, how joyful I feel upon leaving knowing my teeth are perfect and that I do not need to go back there for another six months. 

The combination of this joy mingled with raspberry fluoride (and the long, narrow, grey berber) created an irresistible temptation. I knew it was risky, that someone could come out any one of those doors with no forewarning and I could kick someone's glasses off their face or perhaps I would be offered a contract to join Le Cirque du Soleil. Anything could happen. I took my chances. Looked both ways and did what I was longing to do... a cartwheel.

What happened was this. Someone
did come out of one of the doors, only he came out walking backwards still talking to the people inside that office, and in doing so missed most of my spectacular feat. All he managed to catch was the landing which he interpreted -- as a testament to my grace -- as me falling from somewhere.

I do not know if he had a clear mental picture of where I had fallen 
from... perhaps from between the beige fiberglass squares of the suspended ceiling. Perhaps from the sky. What he said to me was, Oh my god, what happened, are you okay? I tried to answer him with the same degree of good faith but was abruptly choked with repressed laughter in the face of his worry. He let go of my arm which made me realise I had begun to lean on him and so I swayed a little drunkenly while I told him, I'm fine, really, I'm fine, and then choked again, tasting stifled raspberry giggles.

I turned to reach for the bag that I had leaned against the wall for safekeeping during my acrobatics and dissolved a third time as I bent to retrieve it. This time my saviour started to laugh too. The fact he did not know what was funny made me laugh harder which made him laugh harder and he walked me the rest of the way down the hall, both of us roaring, and out into the world. 


Sunday, October 17, 2010

If only I could throw away the urge to trace my patterns in your heart, I could really see you.

I have been thinking about Buddhism since my cab ride. What I did not tell the cab driver, what I am not telling you either, is that there's a specific reason I wonder and a specific person I know who is of great significance - but denies it. There was a journey taken to find him, a movie made about that journey, and when he was found he was completely disinterested. This is how I know him, as disinterested in who he might be. Maybe that is what Buddhism really is, ironically, that kind of detachment. (And indeed there are times my own interest in who I might be is probably too self-involved to be borne.)

Although I admire and appreciate the tenets of Buddhism I would make a lousy Buddhist. I see exactly what is meant by the notion that we invite our own suffering through wanting, through seeking pleasure, through seeking immortality, through seeking material gains. And I agree that it is these behaviours that have always cost me the most. Yet still, when I try to picture what I would be like, what life would be like without these behavious I cannot picture what is left of me.

I find it hard to believe I am nothing but a sucking hole of want, and yet, there it is. I find my happiness internally too, but plenty of it is external, and I cannot imagine myself separate from my physical body, apart from my physical wanting for heat and coldness, spice and sweet, sharpness and softness, for passion and lust and exhaustion. How could I live apart from my desires?

And it isn't only the physical hunger for sensations and the touch of People. It's things too, probably the least defensible of my desires. I do like things. It's why I want books instead of the stupid Kindle. I like the weight of things in my hands, I like their density and gravity made real by their weight. I like to run my hands along the bed frame -- which was once the side of a barn -- tracing and counting the nail holes and the way its history seeps into my dreams.

Truthfully though I like the idea, very much, of being completely internally driven, it strikes me as a bland existence, one without longings and passions and aches. Is something wrong with me that I treasure not only the fulfillment of want --but also those aching empty places? Here quite starkly lie these aches, coiled and waiting, here below the hollow of my throat, here beneath my ribcage, here behind my eyelids. The times when fulfillment is lacking seem such a small price to pay, and if I learned to live without hunger what would become my purpose?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I'll tell you why I'll never get used to it.

Tonight after a meeting (at which I did not particularly belong) I took a cab because it was raining and later than I expected it to be, and I do not like driving downtown because driving prevents me from thinking. I never know whether I am meant to sit in the front of the taxi with the driver or in the back seat. I chose the front. The driver immediately started talking to me in French. About the rain, about the threat of winter in the air.

I asked him, in English, why he assumed I could speak French and he answered in French, Because I know you. You are the girl who wants to cry. I had no idea what he meant and I did not know what to say. I wished I had chosen to sit in the back seat. I wished I was home. I said nothing.

Then he told me that we met once before, years ago, just like this but in Montreal. Did I not remember? He had been driving a taxi and just like now, I was taking a ride downtown at night. At first I did not remember but he was insistent. And the timeframe was exactly right. (Still... it made no sense to me that he could remember a fifteen minute cab ride more than five years ago. Who has a memory like this?) He had enough details of the encounter that I began to remember it, however, vaguely like fragments of a dream-- and coming sharper into focus.

The mutability of memory always alarms me because I like to think my memories are sacred unchangeable -- which they are not.

I sat in the back seat that other time, that other cab ride. I was a newcomer to the city then and I was tired the way you feel tired when you have recently moved and cannot find the street you are looking for, cannot find a job you want to do, cannot find your underwear and cannot find your favourite teacup. I was so tired.

I asked him something like... what he would say if I just asked him to drive around in circles for awhile so I could cry a little before going home. I remember now he turned off the meter and said he would drive until I asked him to stop. And then, because he was so kind, I no longer needed that at all. I was fine, I was just tired. Sometimes I have no real idea what I need.

It seems backward that this memory is his instead of mine, backward because this seems like something I should have remembered sharply. Backward because he should not have been able to recognize me more than five years later, in the dark and the rain on the other side of the country and completely out of context. Backward because it was he, not I, who had behaved remarkably. I am grateful this man gave me back this memory because it was one I should not have lost, one I should have been thankful for in the first place and treasured. Instead he saved it for me -why?- all this time. And then gave it back. He said, No you are not the girl who wants to cry anymore, and I said, No, I'm not.

And then we talked about Buddhism and Colin James and his children. I had nothing to give him in return for his gift. He would not let me pay his fare. I gave him the loose tea and silver ball I had just bought downtown, still wrapped in tissue paper, and the full-minus-two package of cigarettes in the pocket of my raincoat, and he let me touch his cheek for a moment - so this time I will remember.


Sunday, October 10, 2010


And it turns out that the thing I find myself most grateful for this year is my sister-in-law, the beautiful Megan, who is almost, almost exactly between me and J in age. Old enough to be soooooo cool for J to shop for back-to-school-clothes with, young enough to understand my need for tattoo touch-ups and for me to sit exactly between her and her own mother, a bridge between Shawn and his stepmother. We can all provide a bridge, we can all provide a destination. Sometimes I am surprised, no, not just surprised, but completely and utterly taken aback by how much it turns out that I love people. If I had had this kind of upbringing I would have been a completely different person.


(This is an addendum to what I said above that makes me less perfect the way I am, far less perfect. After we got home from Thanksgiving dinner I went for a walk alone in the rain and went to the corner store in the dark where I impulsively bought a package of Benson & Hedges cigarettes, the ones I liked when I was 22, and found a dark staircase by the coffee shop which was closed, and smoked alone in the night.

I had this lonely feeling that I recognized that went with the cigarettes and so I took the second cigarette to the air pump at the gas station where I sat with a small group of twentyish guys who invited me to a party. I said no, sensibly, to the party, but accepted their companionship and felt stupid about being in a place where I'd be invited to their party in the first place, and smoked the second cigarette down to nothing and walked back home in the rain.

I have no good reason when I act like this, none at all.)


Saturday, October 09, 2010

L'émoi passe et c'est toujours la même chose

The BB has taken on co-direction of my play this semester and the relief this brings is immeasurable. She is domineering and artless and her presence lends me substance like heels or weapons make a person more convincing. I am grateful beyond words for her power. I can whisper things to her at the desk and she will translate them into formidable orders no one dares defy and I need never raise my voice. She will deserve all the credit when we're done for though I can lift and paint and create and dream, I cannot shout, I cannot lead. I need a front man and there she is.


RW is campaigning in a way that is meant to land us in Ireland in March. This interferes with other dreams but he is both insistent and persuasive.

I used to take this role with my ensemble as the one who sought and booked and confirmed and organized trips, but I have no idea what drove me then because it was not the love of the stage. It was something more competitive, which is - for me - rarely a motivator. For RW I sense the motivation is travel, spending St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, and not fame -- and maybe this is why I can tolerate him in the way I cannot tolerate a lot of performers.

In the theatre years ago I learned to breathe diaphragmatically, deeply to the core and refilling from the middle outward. There were many hours spent lying on the floor in those blackened spaces, hands to belly, in and out, listening to my breath and searching for my centre. At first there was frustration when I could not find it, much as I could never find a pulse in my wrist. It makes you wonder if you're dead. When I finally found that place I was so pleased... after that, I could always find it again in a moment with one inhalation -- and just like that, breath becomes steady. I count, I count, I still count. And these many years later I still sometimes count the depth of my breaths, picture the centre filling first when I feel I cannot get enough fresh air.

RW wants to go for tea -- and though I want tea more than I want to go to Ireland, it seems sensible to accept the first invitation if not the second. When the order comes up we take the wrong cups. He sips and tells me that my tea tastes like soap. (It has cardamom and ginger.) His tea is tepid, and mine is hot, hot enough to scald my tongue and the roof of my mouth. This is the way I want it. (It occurs to me to wonder why I seek extremes when the world is so completely filled with people who are fine with everything at room temperature.)


Friday, October 01, 2010

foreplay and hardware

Shawn is building something. I'm not quite sure what it is but I'm interested. We went to the liquor store and the hardware store on the way home from work. The guy who rang through my bottle at the liquor store was 25 and flirtatious.

At the hardware store, Shawn spent literally forty-five minutes mumbling to himself and taking imaginary measurements in his head while digging through bins of things. I like the hardware store very much in general but I was thinking about my bottle of wine sitting in the car and wishing he would hurry up.

Back at the hardware store, Shawn handed me a greasy bit of pipe and asked me to hold onto it for him - and it was this that caught my attention, the tag on the greasy piece of pipe that said lubricated shaft. Seriously. Inspired by the pipe, I took it and I wandered off to play an impromptu Hardware Store Porn Game which involved finding signs and tags that said pornographic or suggestive things and taking pictures of them. Shawn told me I was juvenile and smiled like a wolf.

It was surprising how many signs I found. I started with the low-hanging fruit first, of course, the nuts and screws and studs, and worked my way from there to tongue & groove and couplings and 3/4 inch nipples and so forth. Hmmm. At the end of my tour I had sixteen pictures and had nearly forgotten about my wine. These are my priorities. I'm a simple soul.