Contrary canary

“when you cut a hole into my skull / do you hate what you see / like I do”

I met someone last night and was immediately drawn to them. I began cataloguing all the things that were wrong with her so that I would stop noticing her. Her flat, weirdly colored and weirdly shaped hair. Her beige, boring complexion. Her ugly, hairy striped sweater, her lowrise boot cut (boot cut!) jeans, in 2019. I liked her boots. There’s a pass, neutral colored and suede-ish. I wanted to stop noticing her, to deem her unimportant and unworthy of my attention. Do you do that? Does anyone do this? Can I spend a minute, a moment, inside someone else’s mind because I need something, anything, to prove I am not dysfunctional ?

“they say the hearts and minds are on your side / they say the finish line is in your sights / what they don’t say is what’s on the other side

Is it because I want the other person to be an asshole, so that I can continue to be an asshole? Is it because I don’t know how to live my life, how to spend my time, if I’m not resisting something or denying something or fighting against some force, some feeling? Am I so hopeless? God forbid I meet someone and let myself like them and easily befriend them and have no tension in my life. For once let myself be absent of antagonistic feelings. If I ignored the contrary canary that lives in my ear, who could I be then?

Coded meanings

I like to pretend I’m floating in a current of warm air. Not wet or humid, not dank, but temperate, dry air. And wherever I am it’s dark, and I’m floating, and I’m weightless, but I’m not afraid of it. This is a good reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m going. What I will return to. This weightless feeling, this nowhere to go, nowhere to be feeling, this stance of existence.

Two people said to me yesterday, “life isn’t fair.” One said it in a mocking way, belittling the people who go around expecting life to be fair. Another said it in a sad way, as in, of course we want life to be fair, but it is not, and such a shame, but here we go.

And I thought carefully about these words, “life isn’t fair.” Because certainly having 2 people say it to you within the span of a few hours is important. Is more than a coincidence, is something to note. Pay Attention: This is Important.

“Life isn’t fair.” But what does fair mean? I did a google search for the definition, and I get dumb words like “legitimate”; “equitable”; “just.” And then I when I go down the rabbit hole, of breaking down all these other words, I get even further into nowhere. I get “impartial,” which only loops me back to fair. When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who would not let us use a word in its own definition. We had to be able to really define the words; we had to be able to actually explain their meanings with other words unrelated to the original word. This felt important. I see it is not a lesson taken seriously or taught widely among the writers of dictionaries.

Fair. There is no meaning out there I can find that satisfies what these people were trying to say to me. I guess in my mind, fair means, balanced, a balance in the universe; a giving of getting; a repayment in kind; what someone deserves; unbiased; open; flexible. Maybe it was a message to stop fighting. Maybe it was a message to keep fighting. Maybe it was a message not to fight so hard. People get less than what they deserve; people get more than what they deserve; some people don’t even know how to measure or claim what they deserve. Some of us deserve nothing.

deserve: do something or have or show qualities worthy of (reward or punishment)

Life must be more than rewards and punishments. Life must be more than doing and showing. Life must be nothing, really, if we are to survive it.

Life isn’t fair, so what is it? If equilibrium doesn’t exist, then what does?

To do writing

It’s funny that burnout is getting all this attention now, a couple of days after a coworker named it to me. Our sense of burnout. And it was cathartic to have a name for it. This perpetual feeling of lack. This constant sense that I just have a little more to do before I can rest, but I feel always like, miles to go before I sleep. I took 2 weeks off of work and that was just enough to forget the rhythms of my week. The motions of my routine. It was too much for the students who over rely on me, who are convinced they are incapable, who are frozen by fear of mistake. I remind myself I don’t owe them anything, but then who does? I worry their parents don’t realize what they owe them, and I worry these emerging adults will continue to wander–zombies in the land.

And so I’m back at work because they need me and I hate being needed, more than any of the human emotions, but I’m back to it and this is why I am burned out. Extinguished from the need. It’s too much work. Physically and mentally. It’s too much reading, too much negotiating, too much sorting and measuring and weighing. This is not my forever.

So Friday I tried to get the Hmong food but they were closed for the weekend. I ordered Chinese instead and went home and ate two big bowls and read my book until the words blurred. I know it’s not the best self care but I also am learning how I get Before The Egg Drops and all that will save me is sleep and salt.

So I subscribed to this Sunday Soother newsletter because now I see myself as burned out. And I tried this Morning Pages thing, free writing first thing this morning until my mind ran blank, dripped dry. It asks for 3 pages, and I did 3 baby journal pages, which maybe is cheating, but felt just right. I am the Mexican Goldilocks. I try to remember to breathe or whatever. This anxiety lying in wait in my gut. Put it back to sleep, I think, but I know something has to give. I have to stop or I have to let go or I have to quit. Something will not last this year, but I have to, I have to last, I have come this far and done this work and so the only thing left to do is to make my edits and turn it in. Call it done. Work less. Show less cares. Be less accessible. Cover the walls with ivy.

Let some of the things go.

2019 Letter

Still so much rage.

It’s been a long first week of the year. I’ve had a period, a hangover, a 12 hour flu (or maybe it was the old bread I ate), I’ve read 4 books and slept many, many, how many is too many (?) hours. I tell myself I am purging. Expunging, even. My body finally able to sort out the toxins I’ve acquired from the past year and expel them.

I’m reading Emma Cline’s The Girls and I am triggered by her apt description of being 14, of being a girl trying to be seen the world. I don’t want to remember this: “I waited to be told what was good about me. […] All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.” 

I don’t know why my mother gifted me a subscription to YM Magazine. That was maybe the beginning of the end. Of finding my own way through womanhood. I thought, well, I know, she did it because she felt inept at guiding me through, disappointed in how her mother had done so, but it wasn’t right. I remember sitting in my room with whoever I was calling a friend at the time, reading aloud letters to the advice columnist and hypothesizing about the meaning of the word blow job. “It’s a sex thing, right?” “What do you think it is?” Is this why she bought me the subscription? So I wouldn’t have to ask her, what is a blow job?

Parenting is fucked up.

I didn’t need it, but I try to forgive my mother, who was born in the early 60s, of thinking it was what all girls needed. How badly she wanted me to know what the other girls knew, even if that knowledge was false. I sometimes think of all the things she can do expertly that I’ve had to teach myself or learn from others: roast a chicken, plot and grow a garden, change a tire, sew upholstery, 
sew curtains, repurpose furniture: strip, sand, stain, paint. pickle, can, stew. 

Maybe things I will never learn. She has the strongest hands I’ve ever seen. Farm hands, she called them. Meaty, short, stocky, strong. Her rings looked misplaced there, like her fingers would break them, or eat them. [you in danger, girl]

Like, how utterly self-reliant she is, yet how codependent she lives. I try to understand her and I try to forget her. We, my siblings and I, can do none of the things I listed. Not one of us four. What are those odds? What was her theory of mothership? What was her philosophy, her teaching statement?

I’ve forgiven my father for forgetting his Spanish. I can forgive her this.

I read Jill Soloway’s She wants it, and at first, yes, I did want it. I sat down to the opening pages of Soloway describing parenthood and morning with her son and I was in. But then, she shifted, and I started to pull back a bit: “What if everyone just told all college boys that, due to the stress of living on a planet suffering from the gigantic mental illness of misogyny, a lot of girls disassociate when they are learning how to have sex, so please, check in with them a lot to make sure they are still there and consenting?”

And isn’t this, isn’t this the rotten core of white feminism? That the world is this: man v. woman. That women, whoever they are, are the victims, and men should know better. Let’s teach men, whoever they are, to know better. Fuck that, man. We all have to know better. Yes, we all suffer from the gigantic mental illness of misogyny, and we all have to recognize that we are probably all disassociating as we learn to have sex and we have to check in with each other to make sure we are present and consenting. Sex is not something that happens to women, as much as women would like to believe this, as much as women have internalized this lesson. Sex is something that happens with us, because of us, for us, just as much as the person(s) to whom we consent. Sex is actually something we do. We do the sex. We have the sex.

This is what’s up with white women; with feminism on instagram; this is why rape culture continues to exist, because women won’t take responsibility for their part, either. You want sex to be different? You have to learn about it, and you have to talk about it, and you have to do something about it. Stop having sex with fuckboys (fuckfolx?) and learn to have sex with yourself. Then go out and change the world.

And then I read Soloway from a side eye. Not sure where she would take me next, and as it turned out, she took me nowhere, left me nothing. I could not believe, what a psychopath. I shouldn’t say that. But if only gender were so simple. And maybe it is, maybe it is that simple, when you’re that privileged and so many worlds are so accessible to you.

We went to the EAA Aviation museum yesterday. I wanted to die.

It felt like a concept from 1988, put into place in 2000. I’m sure it’s much older than that. I’m sure the doors have been open for 30 years, but god. It represented everything I think is wrong with this country and how much work we have to do in this part of the world. There’s a whole room, an entire “hangar” devoted to WWII. A big world map on the wall with flags over each country, representing the sides. Ally and Axis. Jesus.

how many wars have there been since WWII

There was a small display case full of Nazi memorabilia. Souvenirs from serving soldiers who ventured into that part of the world. No explanation as to why they chose to preserve it, or maybe why the soldiers took it in the first place. No poetry to mesmerize us about the dangers of evil. How evil is like a flame, you know it will hurt but you can’t look away, you’re drawn right in, the train wreck, the car accident, the bad TV. I know it’s bad, but there’s something I want. Something I’m not supposed to see. Nothing to remind us of what the world became. Nothing to explain to children or anyone, as if we all still know everything we need to remember about WWII. As if those lessons are still being taught, still exist, are still accessible. A display of Nazi artifacts but nothing about the Tuskegee Airmen. A small display of Hiroshima R&D, but nothing about the people who died or the after effects of the bomb in Japan. Can you do that? Can you be that kind of museum? I guess so.

One small section devoted to female pilots. A case devoted to Amelia Earhart from 2012. They haven’t even bothered to update the exhibit, in this golden age of girl power. Nothing about Ruth Law. A brief mention of Bessie Coleman, nothing about Willa Brown. I was obsessed with Amelia Earhart in first grade. I wrote a book report about her. Then thought it was fortuitous when I ended up at Purdue, but later I read a biography of her and was disgusted? shocked? not surprised by the author’s evidence that she had not learned proper navigation skills. And since then I swore off Amelia Earhart, who planned to land on such a tiny island without the proper knowledge and preparation.

So I’m at the EAA and there’s this outdated exhibit and white men’s faces all around me, and no people of color and hardly any women and the warning sign about parental discretion advised outside of the Eagle Hangar because pilots or flight crews or someone painted naked women on the noses of planes and omygod parents, naked women, warn your children, the body of women always suspect and corrupt. And I wanted to burn the place down, this empty, cold museum filled with planes but nothing else. No heart or soul or thought to who should be coming here and what the story should be and what we should be talking about now, in 2019.

The flaws of it, you know.

And this is middle America, all these white faces, mostly men, with some women too, because women can do things, especially when the men aren’t around, and the protection of the children and the delirious…the fantasy of living in the world alone, like, this is it.

And if I turn this into a letter to you, it’s much easier to write.

Give me space

Say what you want about doing things, but I almost always prefer not doing things. Maybe not exactly that, doing nothing, but doing something without turning it into a thing.

I like being in bed and listening to the quiet. I like sitting on the couch and watching the snow. I like sitting at the bar and eating the food and talking to no one. I like walking to the downtown library and spacing out, zoning out completely, while I do it. I like losing a sense of time and losing myself in time. I like having to really think about what day it is. I like detaching here and there.

I don’t know if it works as a reminder for what is or isn’t important or for what matters or if it does anything like that. It has always felt good to pull into myself that way. Pull away and feel loose in my body, loose in my skin. Like I’m floating a bit. Floating in the warm pool of me. That’s always been really important to me. As a sentient being who knows I’m going to die someday, this has remained important to me, that I can return to this warm pool of me, this place where I exist and can be. Where it doesn’t much matter what day it is or what time it is. All that matters is that I can breathe and move without pain or extraordinary effort and exist.

But I’ve just begun thinking recently that maybe that’s exactly right. Like not only is it okay for me to be that way but it’s also exactly the right way to be. And I wonder what it would be like if I could establish a foundation of feeling content, if I could return to this warm pool as my base whenever things start to feel wrong. And then I think of course I can, of course I should, maybe that’s all mental stability is, is having a home inside of yourself, a sturdy one that’s always there, that the wolf can’t blow down. That no amount of anything can tear down. And maybe I’ve been building it this whole time, all this time just wiling away, tooling away at my house inside myself. A space of content.

Here it is.

Girls, all types

I always feel this way, after I’ve been home, and it doesn’t seem to matter which home I visit or how long I’m there or who I do or don’t see. I’m left feeling like I screwed my head on a notch too tight or a notch too loose, this feeling that’s indescribable but always comes. And I know I’m not alone in this. I know lots of people come from homes that affect them in this same way. Especially as people get older and detach more from their original homes, they can relate more easily to this feeling I’m feeling.

At first all I could think was of my brother and how to make up for lost time. I started making plans immediately and I started having the conversation with my therapist in my head about my need to make plans, but then I saw myself, falling back into that old pattern, becoming her again, that girl, that sister. Oh, it’s okay, I’ll make everything okay. Everything is okay.

I understand that I come from one of those families, where the onus is on the younger generation to keep the family intact. I do not come from a family that respects their elders. The power has always lived with the youth, but I’m frankly quite tired of having all the power, of bearing the responsibility, of being the glue. You want glue, you be the glue. It takes more than good will to have a family. I want a family of choice with people who try.

Sometimes I’m so suddenly confronted with my old selves.

And I didn’t even mention my brother in much detail to my therapist. Just his job and his age and his downtown apartment. And I wonder sometimes if she can sense all the things I don’t say but she never asks me about those things so even though I like her I know I’m doing the wrong thing by continuing to see her. It’s second nature now to lie with her, like it has become with so many others. And I get bored and I lie and there she is again. That girl.

I try to appreciate how loss I become in the unstructured time. I try to appreciate how free I feel when I can enjoy being home on my own again because I’ve paid my dues and I’m all done. I wonder what it would be like to have that kind of family. If such a family exists, without checks and balances, debts and dues.

We walked in the dark and the snow and I miss the mountains but I didn’t hate it. Walking slow, walking quick, taking the scenic routes. It doesn’t have to be anything other than mine and just because of that I’m thankful to have it back again.

And now I’m this girl.

I stretch out the days, sitting up long into the night. I sleep away most of the morning. I eat odds and ends at weird times, whatever time, just because I’m hungry. I look up from the fireplace and the sun is gone, the lights are on, and I’m still here. I tell myself to lose myself like old times, but that feels so irresponsible after everything I’ve tried to find myself.

1912, you can’t go home again

The size of the mountains surprised me. It has been too long. The suddenness with which they jut from the earth. Their craggy faces stretching for the sky. This place is always in me, you know. We drive at night and I let my eyes trace the edge of the mountains, their crowns circling the city. Unless I know what street I’m on, I can’t tell the direction. It’s been too long and all the mountains look the same to me now. I’ve forgotten their names and their places. They are familiar in their strangeness.

My dad pulled into the apartment complex and I felt my body release. Whatever journey tension I had acquired in my back and shoulders flushed at the sight of the green gates, of the copper signage, of those cream colored angles. I don’t know how to describe the feeling, maybe it’s like a homecoming. Is this my home? Are you my mother? A familiar place. The smells and the sights and the shapes of things, 20+ years and still here, not waiting for me, buildings can’t wait, can they, more like a being present for me. Rising out of the city scenery like the mountains, jumping out to meet my eyes. Just when I’m convinced I don’t know it anymore, there they are. The most familiar sight in the world. You old so and so’s. Here is where I learned to swim, here is where I started my period, here is where I learned all the important lessons of my life. This place keeps my memories, like a separate chamber of my brain, or maybe it’s my heart. A hallway I forgot existed. It haunts me. It is always on my mind. It is always lingering just there.

I shower in the hot water. I shove my face into a Bounce scented towel, all the summers of that smell. My brother and I would unzip our suitcase and out it poured. We would be enveloped in that smell. I would always cry a little bit at the unpacking of the suitcase. My mother even commented on it. That smell. Our clothes folded and tucked neatly inside. And how I would hoard that smell, wary of the wear-off and what that would signal. What does it mean?

My great grandparents were born here, on this land, and their parents before them. I wonder what kept them here, what it was like when their country became another country, in 1912. What did that feel like? Could you imagine? Never leaving home but having your whole country taken from you? Never leaving home but being told where you live now. Every day told where you will not live. Maybe that’s what this is, this ache or this sense I carry around with me, this feeling–not of being left–but of never having the chance. Never doubting you would stay. Despite everything, you stay.

What is the physical sensation to stay? I can tell you, I carry it around with me. This is my home inside of me. Where else would I go?

What if you are the constant and everything else around you is the nomadic? That’s how I feel about this land. It calls to me like it has secrets to tell me, only to smile slyly in my direction when I ask. This land that is always, while all the people ebb and flow around it. Wypipo with their car washes and their golf courses. And us in the middle, doing the work. To be permanent in a land of transience. And they want to build a wall. And the children die. And it could have been them, my grandparents, what if it were your grandparents? Sitting on the other side of that line and told no? Makes me sick, breaks my heart. So much of it is nothing, so much of it is chance. Whims. We live in a world of whims. We live in the land of whims.

I know this place. I know this place. It’s all the lines on my palm, the lines on my face: growing out of my skin and my thoughts. The age I conceive. The shadows at the corner of my vision. This land is my land.

Maybe it’s that we know the lines are fake. Not fake. We know the lines are…temporal. The lines are organic just like you and me. They decompose. They disappear. They know no master. They report to no man. Know no now.