Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I wish I had a boat

Sooth, I know not why I am so tired. Slept 10 hours last night, after a bubble bath and a 45 minute meditation; got up, did yoga, poached an egg, wandered down to the beach and fell asleep on a rock for an hour. Some doofus was using a table saw on the ridge behind me. I drive all this way to get away from industrial noise, and there is a table saw at the beach. Blarrrgh.

I really wonder if there's something wrong with me, that I sleep so much. It weirds people out, but I've been like that since I was born. Sleeping nine, or ten, or ten and a half hours a night is not unusual for me, and if I don't get enough sleep, trying to function like a normal human is physically painful. Perhaps I should try some sort of cleanse, or fast, or exercise, or homeopathic something, but I don't know what, and I don't want to mortify the spirit to a greater extent than it has already been mortified, lately. I am on vacation, dammit, I'll sleep if I want to.

Usually it seems to me that when I fancy myself in a desperate situation, and am clamoring to whatever powers that be that I need a little help, here, the powers that follow me are irritatingly smug and tight-lipped about it. I remember in Mexico, when I had returned to find a psycho landlady who had not yet vacated my house and was demanding excessive money from me in payment of imaginary debts, and the former love of my life was living with somebody else, and I was melting down about all of it, K. told me that my guides were in the room. One of them, she said, had his arm around my shoulders, and was patting my back and shaking his head. "He says that this is nothing at all compared to the battles you're GOING to fight," she said. This was not entirely comforting.

This time I've been asking for advice, and they're actually being nice to me. The night before last they didn't say anything, but gave me something blue to breathe in, which felt all nice and soothing and opened up the top of my head. Last night it was orange, like coals--I don't know what effect that is supposed to have. I don't feel fiery. I just feel tired, and like writing and writing even though I don't have much to say.

Last night, brother-in-law and I were discussing the vagaries of my extremely conservative parents. The last time I went to visit them with C., my mother had RENTED a cot and set it up in the office for me to sleep on, so that I didn't sin in her house. She gave C. the best bedroom, with the Nantucket decor and the private bathroom. At least he didn't have to sleep in the garage. When Mom showed me the cot, I started laughing in incredulity, and even Dad joined in. "Your dad has a clue," said brother-in-law. "Once we all went out without the two of you, and said we'd be back in two hours. After about an hour and forty-five minutes we were ready to go, and I saw your dad checking his watch so that we didn't surprise you." How sweet. After all, I am THIRTY-SIX YEARS OLD.

The only thing worse than having your parents put you on a cot in the office, however, is suspecting that this is a relief to your boyfriend. I mentioned this, and brother-in-law said, "Serena, you rock." Do I rock? I feel like I'm just perpetually messing up, because I sleep too much.

Sometimes I want to live the life of a character in a Robertson Davies novel--erudite, eccentric, argumentative, contextualized somewhere between great art, great scholarship, and academic uselessness. This afternoon I picked up "Murther and Walking Spirits" and curled up on the big cuddly couch in the baroque, sage green reading room of the Belfast Public Library. It's little short of a miracle that this library is here. It's suspiciously brand-new, light-drenched, well-furnished, Internet-connected, and freshly painted in Martha Stewart shades of butternut, cream and sage for a public library in a town of 6300. Maybe I actually did die, driving home last Tuesday. Maybe I just went plowing through a red light and into a huge truck, and this is the Bardo.

I don't know what to do with myself.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Crossing the border

into Maine, the car suddenly started smelling like Deep Woods Off. It kept smelling like that--I had the sun roof open, and I wondered if maybe the Maine government dusts the whole state with Deep Woods Off to keep down mosquitoes. When I pulled up to my brother-in-law's apartment, it was still there. I mentioned it to him, and he got a quizzical look on his face and said, "Maybe Deep Woods Off has a 'piney fresh scent.'


Belfast has an organic foods co-op, and a big Victorian-ceilinged library with free Internet access, and a few too many galleries. The chicken-processing plant closed last year, along with the fish-processing plant, and the harbor is full of yuppie sailboats. My brother-in-law is here designing high-end townhouses and condos for a new development. My brother-in-law's business acumen is looking sharp to me.

Even the library smells like Deep Woods Off.

My brother-in-law has tactfully provided a piece of floor for me to crash on, and a very comfortable boat mattress, and a hand-me-down quilt from his mom. I suddenly had a flashback to the month or so I crashed on the floor at B. and V.'s loft in Oakland, in 1996 I think, after getting smeared into the pavement in my SF ghetto, dumped by my then-partner and having nowhere else to go. I wonder what happened to make me the sort of person who goes through periodic crises and ends up crashing on people's floors or couches or spare office bedrooms for longer than a week. I suppose it's that persistent willingness to risk absolutely everything on an irrational compulsion. I can understand why people try to dissuade me--too often, they're the ones who have to mop up the wreckage.

Then again, the time I got stranded in Austin and stayed with my friend Carlotta for a month or so, she invited me to go with her on road trips to her parents' vanity farm in Canton, and to her uncle's fiftieth birthday party, and out to poetry slams, and was sorry when I left again, so at least I'm not a terrible house guest. Not the kind of house guest who complains that the couch makes her back hurt and the mayonnaise is all wrong and there isn't any sugar and she hates honey, and the cat is staring at her and she hasn't slept in four days. And she forgot her toothpaste and she doesn't like mine.

(Do not compare yourself with others, lest you become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself...)

Had a Moment yesterday evening, after driving eight hours and walking around the waterfront at high tide, and meeting a couple of daddy long-legs which don't freak me out as much as they used to, and chatting neutrally with brother-in-law, when he said "...and I got some single-malt Scotch, thought you might need it" and I suddenly gasped as though I had been shot, and said no I wasn't okay, thank you. There was a long silence, and brother-in-law said, "You don't have to have any Scotch if you don't want any." I pulled myself together, and made both of us one of those fabulous salads with corn and tuna and artichokes and haricots verts that I learned to make from my French boyfriend. It's one of those things that keeps my welcomes fresh.

My friend K. in Canada says, "You are mourning what you wanted, not what you had" but that's not true; I miss C.'s actual presence, his actual self, the actual intimacy built up over thousands of minutes together. He once put a pill on his tongue, stuck it out and said "Say bye-bye," and I thought this was hysterically funny, even though I didn't think it was funny at all in first grade when boys did stupid things like that. It came to me that having your skin ripped off isn't even the hard part--it's all those hundreds of thousands of minutes afterwards when every bit of your life is impregnated by absence. I feel like a faded, childless widow, being dutifully cared for by a tired brother-in-law who has also got a business to run.

My actual lips taste like Deep Woods Off. It's weird.

That vanity farm in Canton was slightly disturbing. Carlotta's mother bought it with the proceeds of selling her clothing boutique in Dallas, and she decorated the main estate house and each of four smaller houses with antiques from the local flea market, each in a different theme. I slept in the Hummingbird Bedroom in the Derby House. When we arrived at 11 PM, all the lights were on in all the rooms of all the houses, and all the dining-room tables were set in matching service for twelve. The living room of the Derby House was decorated with Kentcky Derby paraphernalia--riding crops and horse portraits and large tomes of racing statistics. The back bedroom where Carlotta slept had an enormous mural of a desert painted on all four walls, with cacti and mountains in the distance, and a four-poster bed made of fence posts. Little vignettes were set up in every corner--a place for young mothers to chitchat over tea and knitting, a place for a solitary writer to while away the afternoon with lemonade and a journal, an Irish Lodge for fourteen boisterous soccer players to sit up all night with Fritos and horror films, before crashing under matching plaid blankets in the bunk beds all round the room. And as you explored the increasing detailed wonders of every room in every house, you realized that NOBODY LIVES HERE--all these rooms are set up for imaginary people who never come to stay. Carlotta said that when she and her siblings were little, her mother would follow around after them, putting all the cushions and lamps and charming arrangements of books and flowers and musical instruments Back In Place, in the elaborately casual way they had been before real live children messed them up.

Carlotta said, furthermore, that her mother periodically gets bored with the theme of each house, tears everything out and redecorates again. Her brother lived in the Derby House for awhile with his first wife, but they had to leave because his wife said it was like living in a museum. They weren't allowed to have their own dishes or furniture or possessions or lives; they had to keep the tables set all the time. Carlotta's mother said exactly one thing to me the whole time I was there; she said my hair ornament was "cuuuuute." And we all went shopping at the antique flea market.

I liked staying in the Hummingbird Bedroom, though. It had an iron bedstead with hummingbirds on it, and a hummingbird bath with books about birds stacked up on it, under the hummingbird lamp, and antique white dresses hanging on the wall. The mattress was all poufy and new, and there were about twelve pillows on the bed. Carlotta said her mom bought all new mattresses after one of her mom's friends mentioned that the aesthetic details were perfect, but the mattresses were old and thin and scungy. It was a lucky place for a tired gypsy to rest.

When we went to her uncle's fiftieth birthday party, Carlotta didn't even introduce me to anybody before she disappeared into the thicket. She said later that she knew I'd be fine. I was fine, but it wasn't easy. For an itinerant artist I'm sort of shy. Her uncle showed me his art collection and his wine collection, and I provided temporary Interesting Person conversational material to various stranded aunts and co-workers. It was just after 9/11, and I was just about to move to New York. I said, "New York could use some healing," and some pilot said, "You would make a profit on that?" I forbore to ask him whether he'd fly a plane for free, camp out in Central Park and eat out of trash cans if flying planes would help the wounded, and said, "It's about survival." My sister later said that the only proper response to that is to look the person in the eye and say, "Yes."

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Women on Walls

Biking around the pier in Red Hook last weekend I found another one. It was almost a physical shock. The last one I found I never photographed; I was driving, and literally slammed on the brakes and backed up to have a look at it, but I didn't have my camera on hand and was lazy. There was a third, perhaps, practically a palimpsest of peeling paint in the shape of an intricate face, just around the corner from the gallery, which I passed every day and almost took for granted. Then one day they started renovating the building, and before I knew it the entire wall was gone.

I had just been to have a look at the BWAC show, a pretty show, a nice show, of pretty nice art done by pretty nice people. It was a very lovely day. I was already, I know, bracing myself for the shock of breaking up with C. Putting out roots, grounding in the world outside of us, outside of him.

Now, a gift. My cup runneth over, and the memory card on my digital camera; when I came upon the next one, I was almost angry. Now I had to erase something.

Paper. They're made of paper, and ink, and pencil. They're cut out with exacto knives, probably. I guess they last a few months, depending upon the weather. The weather in New York State will eradicate a stone building in twenty-five years, unmaintained. They are not remotely like any other street art I've ever seen.

I don't think I want to know who does them.

If I weren't an artist, I might be a journalist. There are interesting things literally around every corner, magical things, just waiting to be discovered. It's only the Thing in me that won't be ignored or put aside, like carrying around a boulder in my gut, that makes me an artist first and an observer merely as a supplement to it. It's not enough for me to just discover things; I have to chew them up and transform them. Some days I wish I could put this boulder down.

The artist must be a man, I think; probably not an attractive one either, probably not a young one. Some of the faces look sad, others more than sad; they are distraught, destroyed. The one I didn't photograph was of a bride as a decaying corpse. Immediately I thought of Mexico, of course, but the level of detail, creativity and artistic sophistication goes well beyond any iconic Katrinas.

Later in the day I called C., who had promised to invite me to a movie later, and didn't. It is, of course, the Rule to never, never do that, but something in me needed to push it. Lately he has been treating me like his paper-doll, junior-high-school girlfriend--holding my hand, taking me to movies, telling me he loves me, chatting about neutral things. But he doesn't make love to me, he doesn't plan a life with me, he tries to separate out all the essential things and put them in boxes while waiting for a miracle, which he doesn't believe in, anyway. And I was watching my dreams disintegrate like a paper woman on a fence.

So I went ahead and pushed it, and now I know, and now I can move on. Yes, it was like having my skin ripped off. No, I don't regret it. I don't believe in settling for whatever you think you can get, instead of going full steam for what you want. Settling just means that failure is assured.

I got to sleep the last two nights by creating a blue bubble all around me, an egg really, full of blue light with a golden shell. The blue light was for healing, the shell was to keep out hostile things. It's like the oxygen tent my daddy made for me when I was three and had come back from the hospital, after being treated for severe asthma. I cried because I missed my tent, and instead of explaining that I didn't need it anymore, daddy the engineer solved the problem. He strapped an umbrella to the back of an upright chair next to my bed, draped a sheet over it, and placed a humidifier on the seat of the chair underneath. The sheet was over my whole bed, and the hum of the humidifier blanketed my world and let me sleep.

Next week I will go to Maine, I think, and visit my brother-in-law, and find a body of water, and sit next to it without moving for days and days. Then I will come back to the city, and figure out how to get business loans, or artist grants, and maybe find a place where I can live and work at the same time, so that I don't have to pay two rents. None of this will be easy. I could fail horribly. I could use up every cent of capital and go into terrible debt and be alone my whole life and die in the gutter.

Well, okay, then, here I go.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


C. screamed at me. He said, "I don't want you. Go home."

This is what a nervous breakdown feels like. When a truck makes a loud noise in the lane next to you, you start screaming, full throttle, the scream that you never scream unless you are physically assaulted by a stranger with a flamethrower. When you have to stop at a red light in the middle of an intersection, you start crying and leaning on your horn. When you go to the bank to deposit money, you can't add the numbers "55+55+55+60." They just don't make sense, all those fives and then carry the one and you have to add it to another five and then there's that six in there, two sixes what is that? it doesn't make sense.

I have a problem, I have to get six big packages to FedEx and FedEx won't pick them up and they won't fit in my car. I have to get a crate shipped to Los Angeles and the shipping companies haven't sent me the price quotes even though I've been calling and emailing. I have a client booked at 4 PM and I have to cancel but I can't cancel because I need the money. But I have to cancel because it is irresponsible and wrong of me to do any healing work on another person in my present condition. And if I try to drive again there is a strong possibility I will end up in jail rather than at the shop.

I have a number for an Interfaith counselor but I'm not sure I can use the telephone properly or make it into Manhattan for any reason, let alone a counseling appointment.

I spent 81 minutes on the phone to Canada last night and 169 minutes on the phone to Austin, how many minutes total is that? Does it work out to something even? I called C. and he said I was drunk like his crazy brother. I was drunk but saying I was like his crazy brother was going a little far.

If I put my head in the oven like Sylvia Plath the building might blow up and hurt the neighbors. There would be no-one to take care of the cats. If I put my hand on the cat while she is purring it sort of calms me down enough so that I can sort of sleep. But when I was sleeping I dreamed that I had my best paintings in a gallery, in the window, and then someone pressed a button and the walls all shifted and big schlocky slick abstract paintings were there instead and mine were gone. Then I woke up and had more ibuprofen and more water, and when I went back to sleep I was trying to get on a picnic table floating down a canal, but there were too many other people and when I stepped on the whole thing started to sink.

I used to think I was a strong person but I was evidently wrong. People tell me "you are acting like a child." All my nerve endings are on fire. I'm doing the best I can. This is evidently not good enough. If I do something to get myself put into the hospital things will be worse in the hospital, they are not nice to you in hospitals, it's cold and it smells and they don't give you enough blankets and the lights are fluorescent, I had better avoid hospitals. I feel like I need to be in a hospital for people whose energy fields have been ripped up from top to bottom and they have no defenses left and are just wandering around tweaking and jangling like stun guns. I need someone to put the psychic equivalent of a wet blanket on my energy field.

When my friends tell me things like "you will be okay, this is happening for a reason, you made yourself vulnerable, you are not crazy, I love you" this helps while they are saying it. It continues to help for a little while and then the tweaking jangling thing comes back. I can't have my friends around all the time constantly repeating these things, they have lives and responsibilities and I am being self-absorbed to be tweaking and jangling like that.

One of the neighbors down the street, an old guy who hangs out on the sidewalk drinking, asked to carry my bag when I got home and I walked past and he said, "Well, I tried" and I burst into tears and apologized and said I'd had a very bad day, and he carried the bag and said he feels like he doesn't want to get out of bed in the mornings and he just turned fifty and maybe we could be friends, and he held onto me until I stopped hyperventilating and sobbing uncontrollably, and told me his telephone number, and he did his best but it was still a drunk old guy using my hysteria as an excuse to put his hands on me and I put up with it because anything else would have been worse.

I read a girl's blog where her boyfriend broke up with her and she said she hated herself. This was very difficult to read, it was like watching a train wreck, I am different from her but this doesn't mean I think I'm better. I don't hate myself at all. I did the absolute best I could. I fell in love with someone and I loved him and loved him and loved him. We would be together awake all night and he would rub his nose back and forth with mine. He said he was happy and that he always wanted to be this happy and I thought this would be easy because I would always keep loving him like that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Bad poetry

how I wish I could have given you
a song without myself
dropped it into your soul as a bird between two mountains
bathing in the moment of tremor in your eyes

this noise, white noise, ecstasy in which to lose
the poetry of an empty room
how easy to be where no-one says goodbye

--fragment of crappy poem written in college, about which an ex-boyfriend said, "That line about 'the bird between two mountains' Has It--the rest is terrible." The only thing was, I'd lifted the "bird between two mountains" schtick from the title of a Georgia O'Keefe print on the wall in front of me, and thus I thought of it as cheating.

The sentiment is still valid, if klunkily expressed. The poem was, of course, as most of my poems then were, about some dude upon whom I had an unreciprocated crush. I had enough wisdom to know that if a crush is unreciprocated, it's best not to push it (see "If I could only stay asleep," below). I still wanted to give him something, but was hampered by living in a flawed vessel--me. As I recall, I left him a funny note along with some money I owed him for an art project we collaborated on. It gave the dictionary definition of the word "sport," complete with all the more esoteric, social and biological meanings of the word, and concluded, "Thanks for being such a sport." I ran into him once afterward; his eyes lit up with what seemed to be genuine pleasure at seeing me, but I was way late for work and hurried on.

So go look up "sport" in the dictionary, if you want to know.

Things this week have been difficult. C. and I need couples therapy, if we are to remain a couple at all, for a Big Huge Issue which will pretty much torpedo the relationship in nothing flat, if nothing else happens. C. of course is highly resistant to couples therapy, so we are at an impasse. I have considered:

-moving to Maine, crashing with my sister's in-laws and starting another massage therapy practice from scratch;

-going back to Mexico, although it's getting more expensive every day and most of my friends there have moved elsewhere;

-shutting up shop and signing up for the first temp agency which will have me;

-taking out another whopping student loan and going for another useless graduate degree;

-going to South America, what the hell, I have a couple of friends roaming around there, though I'm not at all sure where they are;

-killing myself.

None of these options are particularly practicable. I'm stuck with what I got. C. seems pretty hip on "maintaining the friendship, whatever happens," and I've nodded and listened sagely and so far refrained from saying, "Are you a COMPLETE IDIOT? That's NOT POSSIBLE." You don't have a heavy-duty, up-all-night-talking-and-snuggling-and-making-out kind of love affair, you don't have this state of affairs last for over a year, you don't go into business together, you don't walk all round your community holding hands and looking starry-eyed till the most cynical playboys are staring after you in awe, and then say, "Well, that didn't quite work out. Let's still be best friends." People don't DO that. At least I don't. C. thinks that when I point out this obvious fact, I'm "holding a gun to his head." Whatever.

I have been discreetly researching good couple's therapists, so that if and when C. realizes that he is, indeed, a complete idiot and is about to lose the love of his life, I can whip the phone number out of my wallet and book us for Monday at 3 PM. I have been setting up an account on ebay, and signing up for PayPal, so that I can start trying to unload cumbersome possessions and turning them into cold hard cash with which to run away. I plan to start researching small business loans, so that I can move shop elsewhere and not have to temp for a living. I should probably incorporate, so that if the sucky economy continues for the next five years, the corporation can go gracefully bankrupt and I'll still have enough capital to escape to South America.

It's hard to know what to do with yourself when you feel like a flawed vessel--like the person you want just doesn't want you, not in the package you're in. This is why women go bulimic by the hundreds of thousands. Somehow, men seem to be mostly immune to the feeling. I've never known an ugly guy who seemed truly aware that he was ugly--they just think all women must be frigid bitches for not wanting to have sex with them.

I know this isn't about me at all, but it doesn't help much. It doesn't change things. When you're closely connected with someone, their problems become your problems; their blocks become obstacles to your freedom. A good friend recently said, "Relationships aren't for people to achieve happiness; they are so we can become more conscious." Consciousness is painful and we want to run away. Ergo bourbon, tequila, oversleeping, going to the woods and not returning phone calls.

Usually when I feel like this I ought to go to Course in Miracles meetings and don't. The last one I went to really annoyed me and I didn't go back--everybody in the room but me got connected with the inner oneness of everything, and got all touchy-feely and blissed out, and I sort of went along with it, and even did some break-dancing to entertain them. But later all I could think about was a bunch of ugly guys putting their hands all over me, and stopped thinking of CIM meetings as safe havens. Probably I should go back and bitch them out, to test the validity of their epiphanies. They might even like it.

However, this evening good ol' David Duvall on WQXR quoted Alan Watts at the end of "Reflections from the Keyboard," and so CIM got through to me anyway. The quote was something to the effect of, "We forget that the past and the future are abstract concepts, and the only thing that exists for us is the eternal present." Presently I am on the couch with cats and computer, and the air-conditioning is on, and WXQR is playing something modern and dissonant, which I quite like. I can deal with that.

Courtesy is All

What I did today was bitch out Planned Parenthood. I felt much better afterward.

Gloria Feldt
President, Planned Parenthood
434 West 33rd St.
New York, NY 10001

Dear Ms. Feldt,

Recently, I received a letter from you, under the auspices of Planned Parenthood, which began, “I am deeply troubled by your decision not to renew your annual membership to Planned Parenthood ...and I fear that I may not have adequately explained to you how much you’re still needed.” The letter goes on to enumerate the many wonderful things Planned Parenthood does for the community, none of which I have any quarrel with whatsoever. The problem I have, and the reason I am not sending you any money at this time, are your fundraising tactics.

Sometime late last year, not even a year ago by my count, I sent Planned Parenthood some money. I am self-employed and I do not yet make enough from my work to cover my basic living expenses. Having enough money to pay for even basic preventive healthcare for myself is still a distant dream.

After sending my check to Planned Parenthood, I received another request for money, practically in the return post. I was irked. The phrase “annual membership” implies that funds will be requested, and donated, annually. It might be permissible to send information updates every six months or so, but sending them more often is pushing it.

I continued to receive letters in the mail from Planned Parenthood at least once a month or more. It became clear to me that every cent of my original check was being spent in dunning me for more money, and not on providing healthcare for needy women such as myself. Not once did I receive a thank-you note, or any information which might be beneficial to me personally, such as a list of clinics in my area which provide affordable gynecological exams.

Other non-profit organizations to which I have sent money do not behave in this way. Oxfam, for example, sent me a very nice postcard thanking me for my donation, and limits their repeat requests to once every six months or so. In my opinion, this is the way civilized people and institutions behave. I do not wish to support an institution which uses my money to harass me, however beneficial their purported purpose.

If Planned Parenthood cannot show more restraint in their requests, I must regretfully request that you take me off your mailing list entirely. I know you need my money; please offer me something positive in return.