It’s A Slow Night, and Here’s An Extra Letter Back To You


There’s an extra post this month because I was feeling a weight on my chest, a play I have to call, a calling I probably should take.

Liz Gilbert had a journey to countries that started with I’s.  Cheryl Strayed had a 1,000 mile walk.  Helen Macdonald tamed a hawk, kinda.  I sit on social media cheerleading the stories of everyone else’s life, when I can catch them.  Thanks to the algorithms and analysts (I can say that; I’m an analyst) it takes a lot of detective work to find your stories, read you all like a puddle of tea leaves, wonder what I can do to help, to connect…

It appears I can’t connect.

Not right now, actually.  

On a repeated collection of not right now’s, actually.

The majority of my days are spent watching everyone else’s life like a stalker or a cat-lady in hair rollers with her “stories” on the tv, or picking up the phone and pressing the power button to see if folks who don’t remember me miss me, or hoping to make my life hip enough one day a week (yeah, Instagram, that day is Saturday and you know it), or finding a way to bond with yet more technology that will be passé tomorrow to everyone but me.  Why?  Is it just a dry spell?  Or is this nature’s/God’s/the muses’ little way of saying, “Quick, while no one is watching, let’s go kill some time until they return.”

There’s something that doesn’t settle well in that, though.

*****

When I was at Missouri State and minoring in history my women’s history professor assigned us some unconventional activities in addition to the stacks of books we had to read.  We had to attend a political event in the city, and at one point we had to write a paper about a female community leader that inspired us.  The leader could be dead or alive, but the assignment required sitting down and interviewing someone who was or knew about that person, so that we didn’t keep our heads stuck in books.

I chose my mother.  She was influential in her community, and she inspired me.  I carefully formulated some questions and new a couple of them would be controversial:  Mom’s family (including me) was never enthusiastic about her having a business out of her home.  We touched on that (that’s for another blog), but there was one answer to another question that blind-sighted me and I didn’t expect it to.  I asked my mother why she started her business; was it because she loved people and/or loved farming so much?

Nope.

She started her business because she didn’t want to be one of those moms that guilts their kids to come home or visit more often, and the business would be where she could put all of that passion.  (My father should have come up with a similar plan, just saying.)  I stopped short when she gave me that answer, and I think of that answer when I feel alienated in my life, wondering if the lonely times are a good time to walk away from what the rest of the world thinks is brilliant so that I can have a place to put my passion, too.  Problem is, that approach only solves half the problem.  What about the next friend or lover that walks into my life?  Do I just wait for them to leave?  Is it the life of a monk or recluse that I have no choice but to have?

Last year a friend of mine pointed out to me that the things I like tend to feed my loneliness.  “You have to admit that writing and reading are group stuff.”  And when they are group stuff, they have disappointed, with some rare but not consistent exceptions.  Here’s the rub:  give up the reading and writing for bars, coffee shops, parties, clubs if you want to avoid being lonely.  Find friends.  Seek out group stuff to do.

I try.  And then I realize that it ain’t me, babe, and I’m lonely in a room full of people.  I’m lonely wanting someone to read with, cozy up with on the phone or on a couch:  “Listen to this” and no one wants to do that.  I’m lonelier at parties.  I’m an introvert:  one person at a time, please.  I’m an introvert that tried to grow and include a bunch of people in my life and now have to heal when none of them want to talk.

I thought social media would cure that.

It’s made it worse.

And going back to writing to kill time until either the previous crowd returns or a new crowd shows up is slowly killing me.  I keep coming up with plans for social media to play nice, but then I realize the playing nice is to make the rest of the world more comfortable and hopefully draw them to me.

The plan shouldn’t be “in the meantime.”  The plan shouldn’t be a “fix.”  The plan should be to remember who I am, to remember the people and passions I love, without apology.  The world is too cool for that.  The world doesn’t stare at its phone waiting for text messages, notifications, Snaps.  The world has a life.  I don’t have one of those.

I have things that I love and people that I love but I don’t have a life.

Pardon me, then, if I put the phone away.  Pardon me for posting less…we, you and I, have hit an impasse where I’m sure a show that’s streaming on Netflix or a term that I don’t understand on a hashtag is better than my re-tweet or share.  I’m fine with that.  You have your passions and I have watched them and had them too for a while and now I have to go back to mine…not until you remember me, but permanently.  I need to read a book without guilt, and I need to write a book and about 50 short stories that I have ideas for just to see if they are viable.  I need to stop pressing the power button on my phone in hopes of seeing something besides the lock wallpaper:


(An example of the current wallpaper.  And he’s getting old fast.)

I’m not curling up in a cave somewhere.  I’m not closing my accounts, or ignoring communication.  But there’ll be less checking.  I’m connecting in the way that I had hoped I would.  I just wanted connection.  I’m going to try reading a while, now, on sites like GoodReads and WordPress and magazines.  If you want to talk, I still have that fancy email feature all the kids rave about, and if you’re lucky enough to have my cell number and it’s an emergency, call me and leave a voice mail.  If it’s not, text.  Comment.  Message.  I’ll still check all of this stuff, but not nearly as often as folks have grown accustomed to or…enjoyed.  I gotta have a break if you’re gonna take one from me.  I love you all, but I gotta find me again, so I stop losing myself to keep people who don’t stay.

Be well, and find your passion.  ❤️ I will see you here again as soon progress is made.

#NightstandChronicles #Sixteen #DiscoveringPrince


This is the part of my life I call “catching up with popular culture.”

Questlove was on one of my favorite podcasts, Fresh Air, this week, talking about Prince and his childhood.  He talked about being duped by his parents into thinking classic rock was current stuff, and when he started elementary school the other kids and his teachers snapped him out of that quick.  I have a similar experience when something big happens in the music world; I was raised by parents and a grandparent who loved country, classical, and Tom Jones, so my experience with blues, hip hop, metal, and rock keep entertaining people.

So, confession:  my exposure to Prince was pretty minimal.  That’s the guy with the symbol for a name, right? I would mentally acknowledge, but I never listened to him much with the exception of “Purple Rain” (my favorite part of that song is the high notes at the end…some disappointingly shallow aspects of me admitted now).

Then Prince died and I decided to listen to all his stuff on my iTunes subscription.

Holy fuck.

(To be fair, the same thing happened when Amy Winehouse died.)

That playlist wasn’t enough, and I rented the movie “Purple Rain.”

Holy fuck redux.

So, yes, I’m a music moron, but imagine “discovering” this stuff later, with different references leading up to it, a discovery that lends a different flavor profile to this wine called Life than what everyone else has.  I may be a music moron, but when these geniuses dawn on me, they dawn bright and warm me fast.

Rest in purple, Prince.  Thanks for your cultural and creative permission slip. 💜

*****

As to what I’m reading and writing these days, now…

I am crawling through H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, because I can.  I open the book in bed or in coffee shops and read until the unbelievable prose draws me up short, like reins on a driving team, and then I re-read paragraphs, or look up and stare into the walls or out the windows around me, processing.  The writing is so good that I can’t even get to the stage of “wouldn’t it be great to write like this”; I just sit in a stupor, like I do with exquisite liquor or food.  I don’t want to fly goshawks myself, but if I’m to learn any lesson from this book it’s that if the writing is good enough it doesn’t matter if your reader wants to do what you’re doing or not…they’ll just appreciate your voice.

Which takes me to my writing (I’m reading other stuff too, but we’ll expound on those some other bright day).  For years I float in and out of these cycles of writing on what folks will read based on subject matter, and I’m painfully aware that my life is pretty quiet to be writing on.  But over the last few weeks, particularly after visiting a local piano bar and hearing a song from my days of moving from Ohio to Missouri (“Walking In Memphis” by Marc Cohn–I was just starting to get my musical sea legs) I felt was though I got the point that all of the self-help writing books spit at me:  write what you know.  The writing what I know will lead to writing about what I don’t know with somewhat of a foundation, so there’s no chance of resting in a comfort zone.  I need that support system of giving up my past in words, and I’m enjoying the process.  It’s more interesting for me to re-read, anyway.  So, H is for Hawk is another permission slip.  Hawks and Prince.  Who woulda thunk it.

Task time is freed up, too, because I don’t have to job search anymore.  The next phase is to work on getting published in some other form than this long-winded blog that you so generously spend your time reading.  That goal won’t stop the blog, but I’ll share where I’m headed here.  Hopefully it involves a better understanding of music.

Every day.🎶

#NightstandChronicleNine #Bookworm

  
Since there’s a “No nails in the wall” clause in my sublease at home, I am utilizing my work desk shelves (every cubicle has one) to build a bookworm.  At first I thought I would do it just for the summer, but I got carried away with cutting out the circles out of multi-colored cardstock and now I have no choice but to make a never-ending worm, one that in the wild would rival the lifeforms of the tree groves and mushroom patches in the forest.  I added three more books to the links this month:  “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “Life After Life” by Karen Atkinson, and a re-read of “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg.  I try to read the Goldberg book every year, and sometimes I succeed.  Reading books on writing helps me to keep the pen moving.

Currently I’m almost invested in three books and the articles in The New Yorker, a sad fact that nothing is probably going to light me up for a while after “All the Light We Cannot See.”  That book is my favorite of all time, a declaration I have never been able to say before, and a distinction I’m still getting used to.  Curse the writer that makes a masterpiece look easy and read easy; now I don’t want to read anything ever again.  Still, I’m trying.  In addition to The New Yorker I am also trying to read:

  • A biography of Flannery O’Connor;
  • “The Book of Unknown Americans”
  • “Some Luck” by Jane Smiley

Smiley is a full-circle read–I saw her latest in the racks at the Carlsbad library, I met her four years ago at Litquake, and I’m going to Litquake this year.  I don’t want to repeat history, but I find joy in seasoning the present with it.

*****

Speaking of writing, I’m steeping in my writing side lately.  I’ve found that I am a better person when I do, like remembering to take vitamins and get enough exercise.  The average human is obligated to perform several bodily functions to keep from breaking down, and writers can add scribbling to their list.  At least, I can add scribbling to my list, or I get crabby and emotionally constipated.  (It’s okay if you say the analogy means I produce shit as a default–enough shit produces flowers and fruits on the farm, so I can take the analogy a step further.)  Since the weather has been hellish, and I am trying to save for a trip to San Francisco in October, I’ve been staying away from the usual San Diego jaunts and writing at an air-conditioned Starbucks on weekends.  So far it’s a lot of organization and sorting, but I’m calmer, and I’ve even got some creativity squeezed in.   

Here’s to expanding on that with the timing of the next post. *raises iced coffee in a toast*

#NightStandChronicleEight #BeachReads

  
San Diego has taken a turn for the worse and exchanged its regularly scheduled dry heat for something from the Midwest.  Drinking water is less of a priority, but the clinging to the preciousness of “it’s a dry heat” as a feel-good option no longer applies.  On Wednesday I went to a game at Petco Park and, despite the fact that the temperature in the seats and on the field never rose above 80, most of us were roasting and sunburned through the haze.

If the beach wasn’t crawling with people (most folks from Arizona, and I don’t blame them, as the dry heat argument never meant much to me either) I would be camped there with an umbrella and my stack of books.  Word on the streets is Penguin is offering a contest with two beach chairs, a blanket, a tote, and books; of course I signed up, but I’m still covered if the prize doesn’t fall into my eager arms.

Yes, Life After Life is still there, and I am back to being distracted by the library–therein lies the reason for the delay.  My little summer bookworm at work is growing by leaps and bounds thanks to the library, but I thought I would slow things up a little and I’ve been reminded a lot lately of the segment of Invisible Man called “Battle Royal” when it’s packaged as a short story in the college anthologies, so I checked out the whole book.  It’s killing me to read and speaking to me to read and I know I will never know what it was/is like to live, so I am reading it.  It makes me angry.  I wish it made more people angry and motivated true change.

In the sidelines, too, are Life After Life, All the Light We Cannot See, the latest issue of The New Yorker, and a sample of the Harper Lee book that I am still debating on reading.  I hear it’s poorly written and therefore a fascinating study; part of me would love to know what my university professors thought of it.  If I were to take that whole book to the beach that would probably take me right into the sunset just reading to gobble the probabilities.  

Here’s to cooler climes, and a longer bookworm…*raises Sea Breeze*.

#NightStandChronicleSeven #IndependenceIsComing

 
June, the time of year when most library and summer schools try to engage kids (and sometimes adults) in the fine art of summer reading programs.  When I think of summer reading programs I think of big circles of construction paper of all colors tacked together in a long line to create a book “worm” of everyone’s reading efforts.  Because I miss stuff like that and because I miss teaching, there is the ultimate surfacing of that nostalgia in my day-to-day life–I’m making a bookworm for my desk at work.  I’m already taking ribbing for it, but not for the reasons you may think.  Mostly the jabs are because…I’m a reader.  Not many people read at my workplace; in fact, it’s pretty rare that any workplace I’ve found sports readers.  Everyone’s social instead–virtually or in meetspace–and without a car I can’t keep up with that.  So, here in the cultural desert, I shoot for my own inner garden, complete with worms and maybe to include butterflies (depending on how comfortable I start to get with my drawings).

Food for the worm this month lie in the following morsels:

  • Life After Life continues.  I try to shoot for a hundred pages a weekend, depending on if I get a three-day weekend, which I have in some measure lately.  The book has gone from “enough of the starting over already, let her live,” to the “holy shit” phase.  Chapters are short and there is plenty  of negative (why not call it positive, cries my mother’s optimism) space, which creates addictive gobbling of the pages.  I’ve gone from shooting for a hundred pages a weekend to limiting myself to a hundred pages a pop because I have to give other things in my life a turn at the wheel;
  • Such as All The Light We Cannot See, this year’s Pulitzer winner.  Yes, I’m guilty of the snobbery of reading Pulitzer winners, but because it saves me the time of looking for the books with the largest collection of best reviews, but I bought this one because Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan loved it, last year.  The Pulitzer thing was just a bonus, and there’s more–the guy got his MFA from a college about an hour from where I grew up.  There’s hope for me yet.

I picked up two more books yesterday at the San Diego Public Library: an earlier story collection of Doerr’s (author of All The Light We Cannot See) and a slim volume of thoughts on reading in the age of distraction.  If I wasn’t writing this piece to you right now, on a distraction by way of blog, I would be reading that book, so it’s irony that we have this morning, in a luscious slice.

#NightstandChronicleSix #ReadingWeekend

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May, and the longest weekend in it:  Memorial Day.  My father also used to call this weekend Decoration Day (yes, he’s pre-WWII material, and raised by old folks in his own childhood), and I’ll digress here for a little personal history of my childhood Memorial Day routines.  The first visit was usually to my grandfather’s grave in Stryker to add/change flowers, and, after my grandmother died, hers too.  Then we would travel south to my uncle’s grave, distinctive to me because he was a long-distance semi-truck driver and had a picture of his beloved rig etched into his tombstone.  That was our long weekend then.

My long weekends now are usually alone; the brother and sister-in-law usually escape to a casino/resort and I stay here to keep tabs on the cat and own the joint for a few days.  (See said cat, Bob, in picture above.)  I purposely prepared for this weekend too; despite the fact that I have enough books to keep a nest of silverfish happy for a decade, I used the last two library visits to get five more books:

  • “Lila” by Marilynne Robinson
  • “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver
  • “A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan
  • “Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick
  • “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd

Do you suspect, dear reader, that I will get through them all?  My college literature classes are a decade and a half behind me, and I tend to savor literature rather than ravage it these days.  And, yes, a couple of those are repeats (hat tip to you, Ms. Kingsolver, and to you, Ms. Egan), but I needed “comfort food” too, and they looked so delicious on the library shelf.  My eyes are bigger than my brain, but I won’t hold that against me.

Why no trips of my own or travel with the extra time this weekend?  I’m exhausted.  I need something to reach into my brain and soothe it, like a fellow writer or reader might.  This is the land of movies and beaches and drinking and entitlement, and I want to hide for a weekend, just once.  I want to hide and believe in fictional folk for about 72 hours.

And I also want to remember.

#OnTheSurface #NightstandChronicleFour #Gatsby

  

It’s been a month of deep crushes, crushes that couldn’t be resolved in requited love.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m reading works reviewed by Fresh Air contributor Maureen Corrigan, and this month the Carlsbad library contributed with her latest book on Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” called “So We Read On.”  Sometimes Corrigan can be a little narcissistic in this book (“Look what I did!” is always a red flag for us Midwesterners), but the sheer amount of love for Fitzgerald and Gatsby lit me up like I used to be lit up at university.  I would walk out of my literature classes at Missouri State (then Southwest Missouri State) floating a little.  The campus wasn’t naturally beautiful (the pretty campus in that area was College of the Ozarks, south of Branson and nearly on the Arkansas border), but I would read great stacks of books by Camus or Dostoyevsky or Austen  or Melville and go into the classroom on a commonly-known bland canvas and walk out of the classroom into Disneyland.  My heart on fire; after re-reading Gatsby, and reading Corrigan’s book, I felt like I got to go back to those classrooms for a little while, a fantastic vacation of the mind from the conservative, unimaginative desert that I live in.  Summer on Long Island!  Boats!  Roadsters!  Slinky 20’s dresses!  And either Cole Porter or Jay-Z, depending on if you watch the Coppola version or the Baz Luhrmann version.

All of this was tuition-free, too; the Corrigan book was from the library and I had the rest of the materials already.

There is a general belief here:  “Why do you need to escape San Diego?  It’s beautiful here.”  Maybe I feel this way about San Diego in parallel to the reasons Nick feels about New York; oh, yes, I can’t argue with the glory, but it ain’t my glory.  My kind of glory isn’t plastic building blocks that lock together or captive killer whales or brewery after brewery.  (Sadly, the only beer my body won’t reject is stout…a small portion of what’s concocted here.)  Well, then, the argument returns, what about that beach, that ocean…with the rest of the millions and no shade?  Ugh.  I need forests, fog, tolerance, green methods of getting around.  My sun, like Nick’s glitter, blinds and stupifies after prolonged exposure. I need my brain coaxed out of this bleached sand assault.