a blur of color and light

photo (17) I finally got a new bike. Well, it’s a used bike, but we’re starting a new life together. It’s been too long. The old one was a gift, a half-joke, and cheap, and these last couple years riding it felt too much like work and not in the good, efficient exercisey way that biking should. It creaks in weird places and technically belongs to an imaginary person whose name i’ll keep secret but once she was dreamed as a blur of color and light. She never came for her bike, even in the winters i left it unguarded and snow-covered on porches or sheds, so i kept riding it. Until Tuesday, when a friend sold me hers, loved and well-cared for and a reminder of why people fall in love with bikes. Why i did. It’s dark now when i bike up the hill to work in the mornings, and the moon’s back in the consciousness of the north. This morning, it reflected through broken clouds on the lake, and i rolled onto the little beach, stopping as the front tire hit the water, marveling at the sensitivity of working brakes. Thanks, Kate.

*

I used to bike to work in the dark early mornings, also to make coffee, but without a hill or a lake and no chance or startling a moose on the way, and the Rasputina cover of “Brand New Key” was like my power ballad: “don’t go too fast but i go pretty far.” I had a green and silver mountain bike that got stolen, then an amazing blue beach cruiser, both of which i rode in ways they were not intended to be ridden. Still, they all represented a kind of resistance to cars and dependence and straight lines. Remember when biking was political? When everything was? Even the recently replaced (but still sitting on the porch) bike has a sticker that says “the revolution will not be motorized.” Which is most likely true. But.

*

I tried to find something useful to reflect on relating to 9/11 and nonstop wars and reread old blog posts (now that i’m trying to get back to blogging), and what i found was that i’ve been tired of it for a very long time and rehashing that doesn’t serve much of anything. But i did come across this story about birds getting trapped in the memorial towers of light in New York, and the decision to turn off the lights at intervals to let the birds go. I think it was the only useful thing i read today. I remember something about the realization 13 years ago that whales in the Pacific were vocalizing more and differently because shipping stopped after the attacks. Pay attention to these interconnections, these blurs of color and light, working brakes and moonlight. The revolution may not be anything but that.

useless-smart & squirrel grace

photo (16)

Yesterday was one of those glorious fall days that gives the two-week season its reputation, all gold and red and deep blue, warm where the sun falls and cool in the shade, a promise of something about to change, but not yet. There’s still some new snow on the mountains, offering some definition to elevations that have already faded to shades of brown.

I spent much of the day sitting next to a hole watching for impending collapse and/or signs of changes in c’s consciousness while he whacked a rusted lid that’s older than i am back into place over the septic tank and then cut better and different holes in the tank. A friend came to sit with me for a bit, and asked, watching c’s dirt and oil-stained back twist around with the lid, “does this make you love him more?” I said maybe, even as it made me also hate the house more, and then we reflected on being useless-smart, able to “coordinate” and “facilitate” and edit and revise the shit out of things, but when it comes to not dying in holes, we both find ourselves at the surprised mercy of others, horrified to realize that we might not have thought about the fact that breathing decades of stored-up poop fumes can kill you and precautions should be taken to avoid it. c bungeed a utility fan to the ladder. And I’d been convinced for months that all the bungee cords were mysteriously lost forever and resigned myself to life without them, never to be mentioned again.

Useless-smarts aside, we’ve been negotiating this contrast a lot this summer, the questions of whether a sunny day is a demand that we go out and enjoy where we live or that we stay home and do the work to ensure that the house where we live doesn’t fall apart. Both are important, but i’m far more resistant to one than the other. I’ve been thinking a lot about the pros and cons–though that’s probably too reductive a way to categorize them–of stability and rootedness, and in recent weeks about the different things a season represents. Though of course it wasn’t intentional (what is?), my creative thesis ended up being mostly about finding home, settling in, settling down, whatever you want to call it (edited, revised, validating that i’m the kind of smart that doesn’t do shit for digging holes). Stuff about choices and gardens, about not leaving a place a lot of people leave (one of those essays was just published today on Vela).

This summer, there was a local series of well-intentioned and questionably executed storytelling events focused on seasonal life, with an emphasis on jobs and travel as what defines seasonality. Perhaps because i’m (still) reading Walden and perhaps, as i said later, i have a hard time just liking anything, it left me a little irritated. You can live a seasonal life from a single acre, if you’re paying attention, and that acre isn’t necessarily imaginatively restrictive. Still, i do feel an occasional twinge of nostalgia for the days when i identified with the cranes rather than the squirrels, for not having to deal with the holes. Of course it was never that straightforward, but some things are remembered more easily than others, and the grace of cranes is easier to see than that of squirrels. 

So, right now, there’s this big hole ringed in red fireweed gone to seed behind the house, and other broken things accumulating, and a deliciously stacked woodpile, 8 producing tomato plants in the living room, c’s still breathing, , i’ve got another useless degree and americans don’t read anymore, but now i know where the bungee cords are, and it’s another gorgeous day, my last Sunday (which is a Monday) of the summer work season, and i’m enjoying my day alone in a house i love and hate with bread dough and coffee and this MFA writing habit challenge, which i’m hoping will, if nothing else, get me back into blogging (i think i’ve said that before…). 

Thoreau, who doesn’t annoy me half as much as i expected him to, has c’s tolerance of small animals in built spaces, and wrote

The animal merely makes a bed, which he warms with his body in a sheltered place; but man, having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment, and warms that, instead of robbing himself, makes that his bed, in which he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing, maintain a kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the day. Thus he goes a step or two beyond instinct, and saves a little time for the fine arts.

#yesallwomen

I do this thing with the internet where I read way too much about one thing–a news story and the flood of responses to it, usually–and then spend days filled with disjointed rage at whatever happened and what it says about society and culture and i sputter on and on to c about it, trying to explain both the event and the cultural context (he’s lived in Denali a long, long time, and it’s only kind of America) until, exhausted, i just go back to pictures of cookies or flowers or something that i’ll be able to talk about in public without feeling completely weird, and feeling guilty about the degree to which i’ve chosen isolation and denial over engagement and participation.

But then sometimes i think, you know, that’s a silly thing to think, and really oversimplifies my community as being somehow separate from the rest of Society (and when i say that, i say it like a teenage stoner wearing shoes scribbled with anarchy symbols…do kids still do that?), as if that’s even possible. And just to get to my point, the latest internet black hole i’ve fallen down is #yesallwomen, and the platform the internet offers to the new generation of misogynists, and the women and men who are sharing stories of assault and harassment in an attempt to demonstrate just how common, even universal, it is for women to live with fear and anger about the societal expectation that men will feel entitled to their attention, at the least, and that violence will be a likely result. Fucking society, man. And as i read my friends’ Facebook posts about harassment on campuses and streets and bars, my first thought was bitter and simplistic: and that’s why i’m glad for the lack of public places and populated streets and bars with strangers in them in my life. But then I started realizing what bullshit it is, the way i’ve separated myself from the problem, the way i’ve forgotten.

As many of you know, I used to be something of a regular at the Denali summer dive bars. I’m not gonna say I regret it, or claim it was a waste of time–it was fun, a lot of stuff happened there, i’ve got some good stories. But I was thinking today about apologists, and the way transgressions are spoken of in a place thought of by many as NeverNeverLand, Denali/Denial, and the way actions are separated from context everywhere, and, perhaps, even more so in a place where context is often separated from context. So you do a shot with a guy, someone everyone likes and you think you should too, and later he asks you to kiss him, and your first strategy is to remind him that he’s married, which he declares irrelevant, and persists, until, on a shuttle ride home, he dives over a seat and latches his teeth on to your shoulder, through two layers of clothing, and there will be bite marks in the morning. Ha ha, silly drunk man.

Another night, another man, someone i knew struggled with addiction and general awkwardness, and I felt for him, I wanted him to be healthy and feel comfortable, because that seemed like something a human should want for another human. Once, he told me I was “the best intellectual we’ve got,” and that meant something to me, then, so i’d talk to him. And he thought that meant eventually I’d go home with him, and when I made it clear that I wouldn’t, and that, that night, I was going home with someone else (yeah, i played that card), he turned to leave, and then turned back and kicked me, hard, in the shins, and if not for the drunkenness would have taken me with him when he slammed into the wall behind me.

So I’d mention these incidents, and be met with an eye-rolling, “oh, _____ (insert name of legendary Denali drunk), what do you expect. Depending on the charisma of the drunk in question, there would be an affectionate grin or a disgusted snort. Those were the first moments I thought of today, and then others, and they bore me, and they make me angry.

I remember reading out loud in high school my “autobiography as a writer,” which at the time fit on two sides of one sheet of lined notebook paper, written in pen, because even in 2000, that was how school sometimes worked. I wore shoes scribbled with anarchy signs. And I remember summarizing the stories I’d act out with dolls and sticks and stones as a child, sort of the gestation of my writerly self. There were complicated stories of women’s kingdoms in the sky, where Totally Hair Barbie reigned over a group of flying horses and women who had arrived there via a portal in a closet in a terrestrial shelter for abused women, and they would swoop down to earth on occasion to exact vengeance on their oppressors. “Everyone knows the Ken doll is a rapist,” I remember reading. The girls in my class kind of laughed, and my teacher smiled. I was proud of that line; I knew I’d entered into a more complex relationship with the audience by including it, and I liked the approval. I’m right, I thought. They do know.

And i think now, how the hell did I know? I was and am now surrounded by good men, enough of them that I rarely saw good men as a luxury, but the norm. And yet, I knew to watch out for the Ken doll.

Last i heard of my Ken doll, he was strung naked from the ceiling of a kid i hung out with in high school, who’d taken him home first to film a portion of a group project for English, and then kept him, and then described his fate as a morbid art project, and eventually I stopped asking. The biter retired, is featured on a t-shirt. The kicker hitchhikes a lot. I used to pick him up, but I don’t anymore.

restless

IMG_1323I wrote a little spring poem last week, with a room full of people who were also mostly writing spring poems. It was a guided exercise where we wrote words associated with a place, and other people added words to our lists that they thought matched the originals, and then we wrote something using their words rather than our own. This was in the midst of my last weekend with the thesis, a pleasantly interactive and scribbly evening to interrupta lot of last-minute neurosis. Sans scribbles, my (revised) anticipatory pasque flower place poem:

 

The river is restless. Cold

breeze greets new flowers

in constant push-pull with the sun’s warmth,

the scent of pollen and decay.

Squirrels dance slinky lines through spruce branches.

My clumsy foot

kicks my coffee, a brown stream

over tundra, bound for the river.

 

(Thanks to Nicole Stellon O’Donnell!)

social media: a personal history

In junior high, i’d make one of my best friends sit and listen to me read from my journal. We’d already covered most of the documented territory in more conversational form, but i wanted her to hear the written version: raw, yet unedited, crowded with the run-ons and long parentheticals that still plague me. this was not an exchange of any kind; she didn’t, nor did she wish to read me her murkily constructed secrets. Sometimes she groaned. Often she made excuses to go home earlier than what i knew was her family dinner time. There may have been nose-picking. This was very much something i did to her, and may have had something to do with the eventual strain in our friendship. My journal was not interesting. There were boys and questions about God and extraterrestrial life (often conflated), and i had nothing of what i might now call “voice” that was not directly borrowed from Anne Frank or Anais Nin(how does a pubescent American know what a diary should sound like?), but I was determined to have an audience, and she resented being cast in that role.

And then: the internet came. It made me nervous, and i really believed it was a way for the government/aliens(/God?) to monitor us. But it was also an audience. After a brief flirtation with chat rooms (X-Files and atheist babbling, mostly), i found online journals. They weren’t blogs yet–this was 1999 (after typing this, i learned from Google that “blog” was actually coined in April of that year–but teenagers in Flagstaff weren’t talking about it). But there were online journal sites, and i stayed up late night after night making one on angelfire.com. It was a steep learning curve, and the only time i’ve felt digitally ahead of the game. I taught myself some basic html and started posting, and then i found friends.

I found this network of 3 or 4 strangers who all “knew” each other, at least digitally. i went about making myself known to them. Commenting wasn’t an option then, but you could link your website with theirs, and somehow they found out. The details escape me. Of my first online community, i remember that one woman worked in a pet store, and sometimes she told funny stories about hamsters. The one male of the group was concerned about getting burrito farts in the face if he gave bad cunnilingus (or good?), and suggested that the next advanced mammal have their genitals closer to the belly button. I wrote mostly about Monty Python and learning to drive. The only evidence of my first blog’s existence is this internet artifact: a link page from one of my fans (scroll down to “The Page of Eternal Indecision” (it goes nowhere)). The “voice” is drastically different than how i wrote in my “paper journal” (which you can read more about here). It was performative, hid the fact that I was in high school, tried to be funny and relatable (to an audience of sexually anxious 20somethings).

After the angelfire stage, there was another site, which didn’t require code and you could just hit a button and out it went. I was less silly there, and a little melodramatic. I eventually shut the site down with some closing post about how i had a boyfriend and couldn’t blog at the same time (somehow, maintaining an online presence for my audience of 3 seemed impossible if i were to make our weekly stick juggling dates downtown. So much for having it all.)

Toward the end of high school, i had a brief stint on diaryland.com, where i narrated in specific detail my interactions with a city councilman on whom i had a huge, hopeless crush (perhaps this is the nature of teenage crushes on local politicians), and which would have been a terrible life choice in the age of Google but felt pretty damn invisible at the time. But you can’t be in college and have something called a “diaryland,” and so i learned to import, switched to blogger…and from there, the path was easier to travel. Everyone and their dog was on it. By this point, blogging was a thing. Audience just happened (sometimes with unanticipated consequences (see comments)).

My paper journals have suffered. The latest volume is mostly notes on workshops and classes, menstrual cycles, and an occasional meteorological observation. The internet is letting me do what i wanted to do all along, when i forced old friends to listen to my dull redundant inner truths, and sat down new friends to peruse four 3″ binders of photo albums. Facebook is my teenage brain made public, acceptable, and almost expected as a form of interaction. This is the one area in which i feel almost in step with my generation: the ease and desire to share and be recognized. Over and over and over again.

love’s a feeling like a warm dark stone

WHAT IT MEANS TO STAY HERE
(Wendy Xu)
I lie in a bed and away from all
my thoughts. I pledge all kinds of things
to the moon, how it speaks but not
to me. Giant land snail, you
are my friend. African prairie buck, you king
of going unseen, black horses moving
through the night. The wilds mean
many things and often we go on
into it. We put our precious bodies
in a tent. We have a lifespan and O how
we live it out. I don’t know much
about anything. I drink my coffee and wait
for what is next. My fine house blows over
on a Tuesday and the anthem of what
this means is awfully sweet. Where
shall I wander before I finally
am gone? What do I bring back
in my careless hands to show you?
(brought to my attention by LEC, who said it reminded her of me, so now it reminds me of me too, and staying. As do most things, when it comes down to it.)

———————————–

IMG_2074.1

When i first came to Alaska, i felt claustrophobic in the forest, trapped by scrawny, frizzled spruce trees and dense shrubs that blocked the sky, the horizon. Escaping the taiga was the main reason i jumped then at the opportunity to live and work at or above treeline, where i felt like i could see, move, and breathe easier. I’d always felt uneasy surrounded by too much green, too many shadowed things. The tundra felt enough like the desert–is enough like the desert–to become a home. A few winters here have cured me of the idea that the forest is a green place; green is, rather, something that happens, a brief and showy event, superficial and somewhat overwrought. We anthropomorphize the “lazy willow,” whose leaves turn to yellow by the end of July, finding the whole endeavor not worth the effort. Dig your fingers in and find cold in the earth, wet and blackened. That black, the shadows, the texture and chromatic departure from the gray scale that trees offer, became more like a shelter than a cage. Sometimes the horizon is too much to take in uninterrupted. Becoming a forest dweller caught me by surprise.

A cloudless April weekend in Nome felt uncomfortably bright, and on Monday when i woke to gray skies and haze, i felt a tension i hadn’t recognized dissipate. L said this was the brightest time of year, maybe even the brightest days, when the light is back and the snow isn’t gone yet. I wanted to say how do you stand it, the view from her kitchen table out over the tundra and then the ocean, glaring white, beating in the window, sunlight like some growing spilled thing, creeping into cracks and around the curtain. Not used to it, i felt so small, and so irrelevantly visible in that land-and-seascape. IMG_6422 copyIn the days i was there, the warmth started its work on a small hill just outside the window, and while L worked i gravitated to its darkness. I lay with my book and her dog, face against the dried brown lichens, some familiar, some not. The air wasn’t much above 30˚, if at all, but the hill gathered warmth from every direction, and before i fell asleep i noted the heat distorting the air, radiating up from the dark patch of tundra.IMG_6435I think we crave a certain balance, and what might seem like extremes do balance over time. I’ve had several conversations recently about how manic and exhausting the people seem who have just arrived from somewhere else, and, conversely, how withdrawn and dull the rest of us must seem to them. This must be, in part, about light. Who wouldn’t be a little manic around the light if it didn’t follow the dark, if you just showed up in it with no opposite extreme?

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