The Seductress

Me and the seductress hang out sometimes. She’s been coming around a lot more, lately. She crouches with me on the fire escape and watches the older men who scrouge for bottles, the woman who we’ve only seen on the balcony once, angrily hanging clothespins and disemboweling sheets, the people who never say hello but are sometimes inspired to scribble cartoon whales and hearts in chalk on their brick while we gnaw at our fingernails. She gets drunk with me and whispers sweet-nothing-somethings in my ear. We hang over the edge, sometimes, and peer down into the dark, but it’s not high enough to be worrisome. We’re just thinking.

She rides my bike with me. Sometimes, she takes hold of the handlebars. Sometimes, she covers my eyes and allows me to roll in blissful ignorance, and it’s almost dark. It’s quiet there, and it’s nice. Calm. But then I’m yanked out again, a cruel, hard, and forceful pull, into the light, and the sun comes blaring, glaring down and soaking my shirt and underwear. I stink of sweat and vaginal secretions and I’m unsure as to whether others detect the stench. I squiggle and squirm and try to hide myself inside myself, but it keeps pouring out, pouring out of my pores and into the abyss. There are people in the abyss. They float around, unawares, but I think some of them see me. So I shirk back. Because all the time, I’m terrified of being discovered.

I’ve done all the things they’ve told me to do. I’ve been a good girl, and the regret weighs down on me heavier than the solid metal iron my mother once dropped on her foot in the kitchen. (Bruises make a much more beautiful blue than any sky.) It sucks my breath in and I choke on my own memories, when I can remember to have them. How are we supposed to remember? I have bits and pieces, flashes and incomprehensible and impossible whatevers. I think I lie to myself all the time, but I’m unsure. So she comes around and places a gentle hand on my sternum, just like he does, and she reminds me that she is there. Just in case I need her. She is only scary here. In her element, she is the most peaceful being there can be. Quiet, And calm. And dark.

A Song of You and Others, Who Feed Me, Unawares and Taken Aback For My Boisterous Outbursts

Sometimes, I forget that it might be considered odd to spontaneously burst into song.

I very often appear to be spontaneously bursting into song. But hear me: my mind, in particular, my memory, works in a very peculiar way. I very frequently acquiesce to referring to students I work with everyday as Heeeyyyy because it has been far too long an acquaintance for me to ask their names when they so decidedly use mine within every utterance. But I remember my best friend’s mother’s college roommate’s name clearly, though I only heard it once: Alice. Alice, who I’ve never met, but Alice, who was Katie’s college roommate, lives in the Pacific Northwest, and Katie saw her, once, when she had made the trek cross the country for a moment in the woods with her daughter. Alice. It’s a nice name.

I cannot remember the names of musicians (generally excepting vocalists), directors, actors, the movies they’ve been in or where I’ve seen them before, and speaking of which, I can’t usually remember the movie I watched last night or anything about it. I cannot remember authors, poets, painters, artistic movements, revolutions, or names of paintings, though I have studied such things extensively and with personal conviction and investment. I cannot remember the date of anything, and I continually have no conception as to whether two days has passed or three months.

But my bone structure is made of lyrics. They seep out through out the day, and my tendons vibrate. Lilting, lovely lyrics, full of metaphor and simile, rhythm and melody and rhyme and reason and sometimes treason: they fill me, bursting through the seams, the edges, the constraint of skin and muscle and flesh.  A song of interest is heard twice and known, and known forever: if not lyrics completely, then melody completely, but more often than not, in their entirety. Like Patty Cake, or Miss Mary Mack, stored somewhere deep and unextractable, they are there to stay. I have always been this way, and I do not doubt that I have hundreds of songs, milling around somewhere within my structure, each waiting for their opportunity to escape the darkness of my insides and be heard, once more, in the light of day, where they are to again be illuminated and cherished. As such, every day conversations are likely to set them free: a certain phrasing, choice of words, a particularly melodious sigh will serve as a friendly reminder, and out they pour, joyously summoned. It is just as my conviction that there are only about seven faces in the world, and thus, everyone reminds me of someone else. As frequently as I am convinced that the passerbys who meander unawares are my friends and family, so too do lyrics float from between teeth and pass over tongues, unbeknownst to their speaker, but I notice. And I cannot help but to expound: to, as it would seem, spontaneously burst into song. But it’s not spontaneous at all; it only appears that way.

Really, you are playing a musical game of association with me. You just don’t know it.  But: thank you. You feed me. And those which exist within? They thank you, too.

Everything I’ve ever created has been solitary. Figures float in empty chairs, in barren rooms; shoes lay scattered on a textured something that isn’t quite anything. Illumination appears from unseen sources; no windows, no moon, just dark. Goddamned. Empty space, forsaken and vast, but for the confines of the page, and those are vast, too.

But you cannot reach into my spaces; you wouldn’t want to. They are cold and uninviting. Stricken, maybe, and I am certainly very far away. I have my own moon.

No one calls to me, up here.

 

Fleshy Sagebrush

When I was eight, I wept in the shower because the water suddenly decided that it would not encompass my body as it had previously. I squirmed and squiggled and tried to fit myself into a smaller space of…myself, but I failed. I hit puberty at ten, alerting my mother with a well constructed scream and, again, frenzied weeping, a hysterical pre-pre-teen who’d soaked through the hotel bed sheets. At sixteen, we went to try on clothes: there was a red and black sweater, vertically striped, and again, I wept: the acquisition of DD breasts at age thirteen (and of which I was immensely embarrassed) on a 5’3″ frame , apparently, did not allow for the sporting of vertical stripes. My mother looked at me, at my chest, and said, haltingly, “Let’s, uh, let’s try something else,” to which I responded with more weeping and frantic attempts to pry the skin-tight sweater from my all-consuming breasts, a difficult task, indeed.

My body has always been terrifying to me.

It now seems to be falling apart. I am constantly, almost continuously,  ill. I ache frequently, and sometimes, my back will spasm and force me into strange and painful positions.  I no longer have any breasts to speak of, and, strangely enough, this makes me very, very sad, though I’m not sure why (I frequently find myself cupping my breasts unconsciously; they are somewhat comforting, I think. Warm and fleshy and attached at an interesting point. Perfect for holding). I have eight cavities, my glasses are beyond thick, and my neck is always tight and itchy.

But here’s the thing: I am no longer scared of my body, nor am I particularly scared of what it seems to be doing. If it must fade, then so be it. We all have our expectations, but honestly, I think it’s mad at me, and I certainly deserve it. I’m apathetic. Otherwise, such considerations are entirely exhausting and frequently narcissistic. My resources are depleted and the well is dry, barren.

I think I may be a desert.

In My Insides

When I was a child, I heard whispers everywhere.  All different sorts of whispers: gasping ones, desperate ones, eerie ones: sing songs on strings of breath.  Some came from mouths; others, elsewhere-somewhere unknown, dark and ominous and chilling. There were eyes that shined from my closet, and faces floated five stories up, outside my bedroom window, large and masculine and demanding.

I have always been easily shaken.

Nightmares were frequent, as were breakdowns in the arms of my confounded mother, who knew only to hold me-because what else can you do for a child who is overwhelmed with life before puberty had even hit?  I had been a very happy baby, I’ve been told. I said hello to everyone and I laughed and shook my fat little fists and offered apple slices to strangers. You were a very happy baby, they said. Oh, I said. Well.

My poor mother.

At 5, I wore only skirts. Lovely, frilly things, little pink tights, and I liked matching. I had a little purse with a tea set in it. But then, soon after, skirts were sinful. Bad news, bad consequences. Skirts were cold and unforgiving: no more little pink tights. Tears ran down my little girl chest where my little girl breasts would be and down to my little girl thighs, which quivered and quivered, hiding my little girl sex, and they did not stop.

I Am Not Well

Sometimes, I forget that I can’t stand myself.

But please, spare me the knee jerk reactions: I have been fishing only once and all I caught was my boyfriend’s hat.  I do not require empty compliments conjured up from the abyss, nor do I want them. I want only to be able to breathe, and right now, I am very aware that I am suffocating in my own skin.

Give me a belly full of liquor and I will play the fool for you. I will likely make you laugh. I will laugh, too, and sometimes, I will know why. And then, later, in private, I will vomit up my dissatisfaction and my fear in a haze of regret, probably, and disappointment, certainly, for my abandon. Such things stain the skin and taint the heart. But no matter. I will likely do it again, and again, until I am dead. And then it will truly be no matter.

No. Matter. Sometimes, I feel like I am just waiting. Anticipating.

I am usually very much in control. Or I operate under the illusion that I am.

I have wanted to share, recently. I have wanted to scream all the songs that float in my blood and the ones that are hidden in the tiniest cells and I have wanted, desperately, to be at peace. But I am not at peace. And no matter how much I funnel down into my belly, to either suffocate or expel (I’m unsure of my own intentions) that which I cannot say, it still ends up that I cannot say it. I cannot say anything I mean, or much that means anything to me. It’s pathetic. And exhausting. And has me up, again, at 4:30 in the morning, disgusted and ashamed.

I flat line when I am sober and sad. My face goes stony and my eyes go cold, this, this, I have been told, and I can feel my skin morph and stretch under circumstance, ready for the attack. Gentle inquiries are met with vicious gnashings of the teeth, and dependence is not an option. So still, I keep my secrets and I murder my impulses and I breathe, not for breath, but for control.

I have always been very much alone. This should come as no surprise. I have done it to myself.

You

I am, yet again, apologizing for things I am not sorry for and for things I cannot make you understand. My head hurts and I am tired. I woke up this morning in the dark and could not push myself back into unconsciousness, subconsciousness, whatever.  Dawn just broke and there were wonderful streaks of color across the sky, and you would like to think I am your enemy.  You liken me to everybody else.  It is that wonderful brilliant blue that electrifies every tree and every blade of grass and you could easily tear me apart. You have that power, and you know it.  You can let nothing be for all the wrongs you imagine you suffered at my hands, last night.  Half a box of wine will do that, but that’s not something I am allowed to mention. There are lots of things I am not allowed to do.  I am always waiting, waiting, waiting for you to come around, and the house is cold, dark. Lonely.  There is so much empty space, quiet,  this vacuous quiet space, standing by for something, anything, to roll along and fill it up-to make it useful, necessary, to be allowed to feel a part of something, even if its only purpose is transitory. To talk to someone. But you and I, we know we are never a part. Not of anything now, and not of anything then.  Our houses are empty, save for a few lonely faces, here and there, and we have always lived like this, with this knowledge. Trust is not an issue because trust does not exist.  Houses creak and moan and you tell me: later. Later, later. Always, later. You understand until your seventh glass of wine, and then your eyes narrow, a cat ready to rip out my throat.  You would regret it, I’m sure, but right then, you can almost taste the blood and you lick your lips. I cannot tell you anything about yourself: you have not given me the right. You scream when I take it, anyway, and sometimes your screams do exactly what you want them to: you would play the winner if I gave up on you, you would delight in your prowess.  I would crumble into ashes.  Many things I am disallowed. It is offensive to say: I know you.  You do not like it when I say that. You have your own list of sins and I, mine. There are many things I don’t tell you. I do not hang them out to dry so that they play in the wind for a moment and tickle the skin before they vanish into the abyss, I just do not hang them at all. There are things you do not need to know and things that would only serve to hurt you. So I keep them inside my house, and I do not let them wander. Sometimes, you let yourn wander.  And then, too late, you are terrified by how quickly their little legs can go: you try to shove them back inside, away from the light.  But they have tasted the sunshine. They know it, now, but you pull the shades. Again and again and again, you pull the shades and every trace of memory and every trace of me is left utterly blind, deaf, and dumb and scrambling in the dark. 

I read somewhere once that to treat oneself as two separate entities, that is, as body and as mind, demonstrates a sort of worrisome dichotomy, a split, maybe, within the self.  One, apparently, should be able to say: I am a body, rather than I have a body.

I don’t know anybody who actually thinks like this.

I have espoused this idea only once, and, of course, unconvincingly, because I do not believe it myself.  I thought it might benefit the person to whom (I get to use ‘whom’ here, right?) I was speaking. But it did not. My inability to act as anything but what I am hinders greatly my ability to play the devil’s advocate: my efforts were flippantly disregarded, and rightfully so.

I am an extraordinarily clumsy person.  I have absolutely no sense of my body in space and as such, I am frequently running into things: door frames, cabinets, coffee tables. I do not worry, as other people seem to, about physically harming my body and have, on more than one occasion, caused my best friend to shriek and squeeze her eyes shut as I pushed down onto a pile of broken glass in order to contain it safely in a bucket or picked up a flaming tea-kettle to prevent a grease fire from spreading further. Such things are of no consequence to me, and I give them no thought.

(An aside: I do not like being afraid. But I am very afraid of my mind. I do not trust myself. I stay far away from any drug that might push me into the depths because I am terrified of what I might find.  I think alcohol is a nasty, nasty drug that does nobody no good no how, but it is my drug of choice (when I am choosing) because it is entirely predictable. Whatever  issues it might bring to the forefront are manageable and somewhat superficial.)

Let’s be clear: I understand very well that body and mind are a unit, functioning collectively, each influencing the other. Stress makes me physically sick, as does the gore porn so popular with horror movies these days, and everybody knows that I get extremely cranky when I do not eat and am subsequently prone to what could likely be called temper-tantrums. But I cannot understand myself as being purely corporeal, which is what “I am a body” implies to me.  This is just as absurd as saying “I am a blond” and having that be the defining factor of myself. It’s true, I am a blond. But the fact that my hair has materialized as blond? It’s inconsequential-it has absolutely no bearing on the manifestation of me, except for how I appear aesthetically-and that is just happenstance.

I understand, too, that my body has memories that my brain does not have a firm grasp on, and it reacts accordingly. I have violent reactions to certain sensations, and I do not frequently have access to their precise root, though I may remember a leaf or two.

If nothing else, the boundaries formed to define a human as a human dictate my embodiment and as such, my having a body is but a rule.

Listen: the straight line is not the artist’s friend. Such conceptions I save for the architects. It takes additional tools to achieve such ends. Hands do not make straight lines, nor do I believe they should strive for such fallacies.

Honestly, I am unsure if even rulers make straight lines. It seems many a person (and notably, many a person with seeming much more expertise than myself) is intent upon debunking the art teacher’s favorite statement: There are no straight lines in nature.

I have held hard and fast to this for a long time.

The concept of the “straight line” has a very particular connotation for me: it is complete, unwavering perfection. It is mark-making which exhibits none of the human influence and is not subject to shaky hands, hard days, sleepless nights, or unsharpened pencil stubs.  The problem I run into is that anything, when you look at it closely enough, wavers. There are nicks and ticks and nooks and crannies and and and…

You see? Even a straight line drawn between two rulers will waver. There will always be discrepancies in the pressure placed upon the drawing tool, so that if you examine your line closely, you will see a thin mark than gives way to a thicker, and it will, most probably, dissipate into a thinner one again as you near the pencil-off-the-page point.

My physicist friend had some wonderful insights into this problem. I remembered them yesterday. I rely frequently on his brain functioning incredibly differently from mine for critical analysis of my usually pretty abstract thoughts that have no basis in the sciences, and we have some wonderful conversations because of this.  But, honestly, I usually can’t  understand anything he’s saying.

I do know he agreed with me, though.

I like to live always at the beginnings of life, not at their end. We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life. I am by nature always beginning and believing and so I find your company more fruitful than that of, say, Edmund Wilson, who asserts his opinions, beliefs, and knowledge as the ultimate verity. Older people fall into rigid patterns. Curiosity, risk, exploration are forgotten by them. You have not yet discovered that you have a lot to give, and that the more you give the more riches you will find in yourself. It amazed me that you felt that each time you write a story you gave away one of your dreams and you felt the poorer for it. But then you have not thought that this dream is planted in others, others begin to live it too, it is shared, it is the beginning of friendship and love.

[…]

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.

-Anais Nin