here goes everything:

12-15-11 : the person from the future


There's this dangerous moment after I hang up the phone when I go to make the bed and I feel how warm the sheets still are. It's especially dangerous if I was up too late the night before, like last night watching Winter's Bone, which I did a terrible job describing to Casey Droege, this morning's wake-up caller. I think I even used reductionist language like “inbred” and “meth country” whereas that movie does the opposite of reducing people's lives to stereotypes. It's so good. Casey recommended a Justin Timberlake movie to me, Friends with Benefits, so everyone should check that out too. I love JT.

The protagonist wishes she could be a child again, if only to be nicer to her mom, but in order for that to happen, she would have to be her forty-something self inside of a child's body, and how freakish would that be? She had been a rigid, self-conscious child, and spent much of her time fantasizing about being a grown-up lady with her own apartment. If she were thrust back in time to, say, the seventies, she would be older than both her parents, and after the sentimental joy of seeing them young again in excellent seventies fashion wore off, she would be, instead of being better able to love them, more apt to feel a pity verging on contempt, a frustration at the bleakness of their choices. What's more, she would be trapped in the same world that made her feel like she was treading water in the first place, a world of bland food, ice and snow, schoolyard violence, and static cling—it would be hard to hold onto her current hard-won measure of stability. Still, it's easier to think about fixing one's life at a distance, rather than starting from where we are today, which would require, at minimum, a commitment to deep breathing and being in our bodies. Our protagonist plays this back-to-the-future game not just with her own history, but with all of human history, wondering how far back she'd have to go to change the patterns that have led us to the brink of environmental collapse. But what would she do if she got there? How would she convince prehistoric humans not to plant crops and invent patriarchy? She would have to learn their languages, she would have to somehow travel the globe performing her little apocalypse narrative, and even if she managed to convincingly explain the situation to every little tribe of foragers on earth, how long would her warning be heeded? One or two generations at the most. Can you imagine not doing something because Grandma said the person from the future said it was a bad idea? It's hard enough convincing people to reuse their plastic bags at the grocery store.

12-14-11 : wolf tits


Tania Katan called this morning from a cafe in Arizona, where I've never been except maybe to drive through, or, oh yeah, go to the Grand Canyon! Tania and I met in paradise, on a beach with sea turtles (I write sitting in my cold apartment wearing slippers and a fur hood.) Thank you, Tania!

If you had everything, you would also have nothing, because nothing is a part of everything. Or maybe it's the reverse: everything is part of nothing. Seems like we could argue about this all day, so I put on another pot of coffee. I suspect more interesting people will be in the “nothing” camp, so I dress like someone capable of finding a date and make a sign that says “NADA” in puffy paint, because nothing is prettier in Spanish. I misread the safety memo, and pack a handkerchief soaked in milk of magnesia in a plastic bag, which promptly leaks and makes a white soup of the contents of my purse. On my way to the meeting place, a man yells “Wolf tits!” out of the window of his Chevy Impala, which I assume is a compliment until my smartphone tells me otherwise. I really hope all this everything is part of some greater nothing because if it isn't, what a mess we're in.

12-13-11 : over the land

This often happens. I wake up before the phone rings, and tell myself I will go back to sleep afterwards. But then someone amazing calls, like Nobuto Suga calling from Japan this morning, and I feel that to go back to bed would be to betray his trust, and so I get up and start writing, even though I don't believe in myself or think it matters in the slightest whether I write or not. I googled Nobuto Suga and was told there is one NS living in the United States, likely in California, but I know this to be no longer true. Sniff, sniff. Also, I managed to not go back to bed.

Slabs of sunlight angle down from various slits in the clouds like searchlights poring over the earth whose inhabitants don't know what hit them. They are bedeviled by the light and shadow both. They shout and plead and run. They are blessed and cursed in turn. In my view from the plane it is plain how impersonally light fingers the land, and yet do those fingers stir.

I stir my cocktail with one gold fingernail and resist saying it or thinking it: I know what God wants. God wants nothing.

12-12-11 : breasts


Ali Liebegott called and was surprised to wake me. She thought I was some kind of faker. No, people, I actually do need you to wake me up in the morning. It's the only way I'll ever accomplish anything. Left to my own devices I would sleep through my whole life. So, thank you, Herr Liebegott, for making the following paragraph possible.

What would Evelyn remember of this time, if she looked back in ten years, if she remembered any of it? Would she think, that was the year I pretended to fall in love? That was the year my first mammogram came back weird? The year I contemplated losing both breasts? Got addicted to painkillers? Explored moral relativism through watching copious amounts of “critically acclaimed” television? She hoped she would remember moving the car for street cleaning. It was the one new thing that made her weeks interesting. She'd never had a car before, never before participated in this dance the city made you do if you had no garage, made more challenging by the fact that she couldn't get a neighborhood parking sticker since the street she lived on was zoned commercial, which didn't mean people didn't live there, only that they had no official right to park there, unlike the people who lived on side streets who already had it easier, so she thought, some of whom owned their own homes, their quiet lives made quieter by abutments of trees. There were only a few streets in the neighborhood where you could park for more than two hours if you didn't have a sticker, and street cleaning on those streets was a real event. People got in their cars and sat in them until the meter maids came, then they started their cars and moved them to the other side of the street, double parked and waited for the sweeper to go by so they could wheel around and coast back into the spots they'd just left. They drank coffee and texted while they waited. It was like going to a party where you weren't forced to talk to anyone and you could leave without saying goodbye. No one acknowledged you outright, but showed you a grudging respect for doing what had to be done. It was similar to the feeling she got when she happened to be walking down the street at the same time nine-to-fivers were walking to bus stops and train stations, caught up in the bustle of being alive, and simultaneously aware of being an imposter in said bustle, with no one expecting her arrival at work or anywhere. There was no reason for her to have a car now that she was no longer pretending to be in love with someone who lived far away. She lived a five-minute bicycle ride from her bartending job. If it was raining, she walked with an umbrella, which took twenty minutes. There was no reason for anyone to have a car was how she had felt in her heart ever since she learned how badly cars were fucking up the planet. Driving now that we're supposed to know better was like saying fuck you to the earth, or I don't care, or, maybe worst of all, I care but it's too late, but she did not want to sell the car. It was cute and maybe it would bring her luck. She knew how to start it now, knew precisely how to baby the engine and feather the gas pedal, how long to leave the choke out, how long to let it purr in place before asking anything further of it. She could imagine a woman having both breasts removed and still being sexy. In fact, she knew a woman like that already, a comedian and mother of two. She just couldn't imagine it for herself.

12-8-11 : my life the novel


Stephen Elliott loves me and thinks I'm a terrific writer! He called from New York where he is finishing up the sound for his movie, Cherry. Can't wait to see it!

Lately my life is like a novel I’m having trouble getting through. The protagonist is unlikable, a forty-something blonde-going-gray with a penchant for wool capes; it’s hard to care what happens to her. There’s no real plot to speak of, only dull ministrations of daily chores and occasional flashes from her dreams, excerpts of sexual brushes with unremarkable co-workers, breasts and cocks and dry-erase boards. Like a lot of writers, the author seems to be hooked on epiphanies and, like a pervert hanging around a playground, searches them out in the most obvious places, usually coming up empty-handed, or worse. Worse being some kind of feelgood moment between the protagonist and a marginally housed man in a wheelchair who is happy to see her because he has just smoked crack. Got a cigarette, pretty lady? She gets to be happy too for a second because her version of crack is being flirted with by a handsome and damaged veteran whose life circumstances prohibit him from touching her beyond steadying her hand as she lights his cigarette. They haven\'t seen each other for a while as he\'s been in jail, so there are a lot of smiles and expressions of concern. His face is swollen, his lips puffy. Did he get beat up, or is it a medical condition? She leaves her cigarette pack on the wool blanket in his lap—she\'s trying to quit anyway. When she turns away from him to keep walking to work there are tears in her eyes. Does he remind her of someone? Her father, or the father from an old television show? The fragility of masculinity? Is she having a One Big Soul moment? I don’t know, maybe there’s something tender going on there, but it’s such a fucking cliché.

11-30-11 : to be continued

Steve Dell was my wake-up caller today. Steve designed this site and facilitates the smooth running of this project. So thank you, Steve, not just for today, but for all my wake-up calls of the past three months. I have other things to get to today, like writing letters of recommendation for a former student, so I will leave you with a short section from Cream: An American Girlhood.

was it something in her childhood? was it something in her culture? did she learn to read from the round stickers on the bottoms of lipstick tubes? did she grow up eyeing the size of a man's billfold? did she grow up noticing her body didn't feel like her own but like a sort of communal jelly that anyone could stick a finger in to ascertain its sweetness?

she could bang into something and not feel the bruise for days.

11-29-11 : summertime rolls


I love Sean Uyehara's blog, which he's been keeping a big secret from me. Click on the link above to read his exclusive interview with Miranda July! Sean and I must've rescheduled his call at least three times. What a good sport you are, Sean! I hope the casual carpool was fun. Someday I hope to write about a casual carpool gone wrong. But I've never even casually carpooled once. Maybe I could interview you?

I'm not so lonely. I have coffee and Facebook. Sometimes people call me out of the blue, boys I was too aggressive for in high school or strangers who want to pay me to pee on them. It's hard to say what passes for a real connection these days. Which one should I call back? I remember one night he took me driving in his dad's car up Sheridan Road to the Baha'i Temple, which looks like an ornate spaceship or citrus reamer, porcelain white and glowing under floodlights. I'd never been in a car with such a good stereo. It was kind of a peak experience for me, listening to Jane's Addiction, Summertime Rolls, the way the song crashed over me and out the window, trailing in the warm air like streamers. We stole coins out of the fountains, like forty dollars worth. It was one of those nights when magic seems just within reach, like perfectly ripe fruit on a tree appears to someone who's never seen a fruit tree. We were so young and already so unhappy, with the exception of these moments that I still remember as having a sort of sparkly glaze over them, cocaine and alcohol having something to do with that, I'm sure. I was in love with him the way you can only love someone you've never touched and should never touch, and he was in love with my ex-best friend but I didn't know it yet. I think I'll call the stranger instead.

11-28-11 : little flower


Sara Seinberg called and coached me out of bed. The woman has talent! You should hire her to coach you to do something you know you want to do but can't find the motivation on your own. Who doesn't need that? Obviously I do, or this project would never have been born. Speaking of this project, either it's almost over, or I'm going to add December. Is the suspense killing you yet?

I've been keeping an eye out for signs and symbols, since in a moment of abjection I asked the universe for help. I woke up in the middle of the night to write down these words: “little flower.” In my dream this was Hitler's pet name for Eva Braun—I actually Wikipedia'd it in the dream. In the morning the real internet leads me to various Catholic Worker communities and Montessori Schools named for St. Therese of Lisieux, who says we are all little flowers, and that all we have to do on earth is to be and to love God, but she was twenty-four when she died, having never heard of Hitler or plastic. The words I did not write down but decided instead to remember were “nothing extra,” as in “nothing is extraneous, everything belongs.” This one's a bit hard to swallow, since everywhere I look there seems to be some stupid thing like the Rincon Tower, comfortless IKEA chairs, or a made-in-China Yeti doll. I guess the directive, then, is to get rid of every unnecessary thing and live in utmost simplicity. But then I remember we are saving the Yeti to be the angel on our Christmas tree. (A Christmas tree? I don't remember Christ saying chop down a forest for me...)

11-24-11 : thanks

I couldn't remember if anyone was scheduled to call me on Thanksgiving so I stayed up until 3 AM on the off chance that the phone wouldn't ring. It did. But it was Jake Wisby, my brother and one of my favorite people in the world.

The heart goes to the town football field, lies down on the fifty yard line, looks up at stars or the still-traveling light from dead stars, there is no way of knowing which is which, just like there is no way of knowing from a person’s eyes when you first meet them whether or not one day they will wish you were dead, even though everything in the universe has already happened and we are just waiting to catch up to it. We must not look like we are waiting, though. We must look like we haven’t a care in the world.

11-23-11 : great idea


Thanks, Ben Berry of North Carolina, my token stranger participating in the wake-up call project, although of course as Mimi Schiffman's boyfriend you're not really a stranger, just a friend I haven't met yet. Since we don't really know each other, I figure it's safe to tell you I'm getting my first mammogram today and I'm scared it's going to hurt like hell. You're supposed to schedule them for right after your period when the breasts are less tender, but either my period is late or I am hopeless at keeping track of it. P.S. I hope it's okay that I linked to Mimi's website, as she is our connective tissue in the body of acquaintance. P.P.S. Maybe I'm a damn fool to post this kind of personal shit for the world to see, but I'm a writer. That's what writers do.

Today I started thinking maybe we could be part-time lovers. I could drive my little car up there once a month and we could catch up, have a few drinks, end up in your bed. I often find that after I break up with someone, the sex gets better, maybe because it's less frequent, the relationship pressure is off but there is still whatever drew us together in the first place hovering about like a specter of disarray. There is the terror of uncertainty, the danger of one of us wanting more, and then maybe the additional layer of one of us already trying to make it work with someone new so it would be wrong, the most utterly wrong thing we could do, and something about wrong always feels so right. Then I heard your voice in my head saying, Sarah, we were always part-time lovers. That was the problem. Why would we try for even less? Less is more, I joked weakly, but that was the old me talking. The new me sees the error of my minimalist ways, but the horny pragmatist snickers, oh, why the fuck not? The whole love-bubble aside, wouldn't it be nice to get laid? Now I'm arguing with myself instead of you. Oh, I dunno, feelings? What about feelings? Don't pretend you don't have them. Remember how sex just unleashes all those horrible needy feelings? Yeah. I guess so. That's why having limits is so good. It gives me a chance to get my feelings in check. Now you chime in again. You say, oh man it's worse than I thought. What happened to the new you? I don't think there is a new you. I think there's a scared-shitless old you who'll say anything to sound like what she thinks a grown-up should sound like, poor baby. I don't need your pity, you condescending fuck. No, no, I guess you don't. You don't need a thing.

Needless to say, that kinda spoiled the mood.

11-22-11 : I'm still sick


Thanks, Kristin Sobditch, musician and girl about town, for getting up early to wake me up and tell me about your dreams. I didn't go back to sleep like I said I might. Instead I worked and worked on yesterday's blog post, and then I wrote this creepy little poem:

there's something caught in my eye I can't see. a darkness filled with slobbery forms. a pendant of light that cleaves the rain. I'm caught in my own eye like a slasher in a hall of mirrors—which girl to kill? which eye to close? which way the sobbing? I only want to make things quiet and right. this can only be done with words. but I traded all my words for this knife.

11-21-11 : materials


Hi, everybody! Today's post is dedicated to Scot Velardo, who called from the ferry on his way to work. I first met Scot at Adobe Books, where he did an interpretive dance, but soon learned he is also a talented singer, painter, and harmonica player. What doesn't he do? Well, he doesn't pepper spray nonviolent protesters! Unfortunately that can't be said of all of us. (Hey, it's not always easy to segue!)

Pity the simple elements forced into compounds. They know not what they do. Pity the compounds pounded into form, machined into bullets, canisters, filled with other compounds. Pity the batons carved from the noble hearts of trees. Pity the steel cuffs, the plastic zip-ties, the plexiglass visors and shields, for these are merely materials, and materials know not what they do. Pity the beloved pepper plant the use of its concentrated extract, sold in capsules at the health food store to improve circulation or sold in canisters to blind and choke and cause a person's skin to feel it's been set on fire. The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose. It's hard to imagine Lieutenant John Pike thought he was giving medicine to the UC Davis students seated quietly with arms linked across the quad last Friday, unless he did. Unless he thought with a precisely aimed application of poison he could cure them of their willfulness, their desire for change, their unhappy childhoods or whatever made them so brave or stupid they would disobey an order to disperse. It's hard to pity the man in riot gear who employs a chemical weapon against a row of seated, nonthreatening protesters, who brandishes the canister to the crowd as if to say Behold, the Power of the State! before unleashing its contents in their faces. It's hard to pity him unless we think he has no choice, has been hewn in a furnace for this purpose, has been kept in a black sack, has not been allowed to think, has been trained for cruelty and nothing else, is simply another material to be pitied its use like gunpowder, or oleoresin capsicum. Perhaps it is so. I really don't know. Perhaps we are all so well-trained to fulfill the roles expected of us that even our moments of quiet heroism and brash villainy are not our own but mere features sculpted onto us by forces we cannot begin to understand, never mind rebel against. Perhaps it is so. But the fact that Lt. Pike plays his role with such flair, like a charlatan or a circus man, makes me think otherwise. His moment in history is but a setting for the jewel of his personality, his, dare I say it, charisma. Obviously it would have been better if he'd put his theatrical talents to use in, say, the theater, or even just playing charades with the family on Thanksgiving—still a possibility, since cops committing human rights violations captured on video and gone viral, fomenting international concern and rage, get sent, not to jail, but home. To sit there quietly, perhaps, relieved of their weapons and badges. I take it back. Pity not the materials, which have no need of it and will surely outlive us. Pity the humans. Pity us all.

11-17-11 : not the same dog


Sarah Cadwallader called from her job as a BART controller. I hope no trains collided as a result of my wake-up call! I've known Sarah since 1995 but before I knew her, I read her transcribed sleep-talk in a zine her girlfriend at the time made after conducting interviews with Sarah in her sleep. I wish I had that to share with you all today. All I remember from that brilliant zine is a mention of Sarah's "blue willie," which she will possibly kill me for mentioning here.

From how high can a kitten be dropped and still be unharmed? Also, what is a lesson without pain? These are the sorts of questions I'm asking today while Nada the kitten keeps jumping up on the table while I'm trying to eat. Before you call PETA let me say I've done nothing but think about these questions, which bring to mind my favorite classroom experience from high school. My AP English class was discussing 1984 and I was asking emphatically arguing with the ending. How could Winston and Julia actually stop loving each other after being tortured? I mean, I understood how one would pretend, one would sign anything, recant anything, consent to anything to make the torture stop, but that was external. Certainly you could save something inside for yourself, put your true feelings in a place that couldn't be touched. I was adamant that it be so, that truth be a fixed location, that love be more lasting than repression. Another kid raised his hand, a really smart kid with glasses, I don't remember his name. Aaron, let's call him. Aaron said, “No, I disagree. People learn through experience. And torture is just another experience. And what it teaches you is this: your beliefs are causing you pain. Think about a dog that loves his master, and his master throws him off a building, and he doesn't die, but is badly hurt, and he limps back up the stairs to be close to his master, and his master picks him up again and throws him off the roof. Again he is hurt but he gets up, convinced that something different will happen when he gets to the top of the stairs, but again, his master picks him up and tosses him off the roof. After just a few times of this happening, our dog is not the same dog. His learning has accelerated, and this is what he learns: my love is resulting in pain, I have to stop loving if I want to stop feeling pain. It's the same in the book, when Winston sees Julia and no longer feels anything for her. He learned to associate her with pain, and decided she wasn't worth it. This wasn't just a convenient thing he pretended to make the torture stop, this was something he learned in his body as a new truth completely erasing an old truth.” As he spoke, a funny thing happened which had maybe never happened before: I realized I was wrong. And that new truth erased everything I thought I knew, and I was crushed open, my heart opened to learning in a whole new way.

11-16-11 : liberty street


Thank you, Roxane Beth Johnson, for getting me up this morning, er, well, yesterday morning. Happy Birthday, Roxane!

Nothing feathers, nothing lilts. Busy parking enforcement officers buzz down Liberty Street in their Interceptors, which I find so cute, followed by the street sweeping behemoth and I peel out from the driveway I'm waiting in to slip into a fresh spot. This and the coffee afterward could be the high point of my week. Coming home after coffee it's cold in my apartment so I leave my coat on and feel the chill settle into my ankles, coffee bitterness under my tongue. I once dated a guy who lived on Liberty Street. Derek. He looked like a gay leather daddy and would sometimes meet me at the German place after work and watch me eat sausage. I have bad habits. I don't understand why I like someone and not someone else and then why feelings go away so quickly. I think I liked that one because he asked tricky questions and when he kissed me it was like a giant fuzzy magnet erasing my brain. But he was in crazy pain from a car accident and had heart trouble besides and was often too sad to enjoy my company. His last girlfriend had cheated on him with his best friend so there was that. And there was not enough of a pull between us. I'm telling you loneliness is not enough. I parked under a gingko tree. Next week when I roll back the car cover I'll have to shake off the gold trinket-like leaves.

11-15-11 : we are fleas


I'm a day behind. Today is really tomorrow. Scott Pinkmountain called yesterday from Wyoming, but I'm pretending it's today. It's hard to catch up when you're a day behind, because who has time for two days in the space of one day?

Disaster is not the worst thing. A disaster could always be worse. The thing worse than disaster doesn’t have a name, but you’d know it when you saw it. Disaster depends on these two conditions: too much of something. not enough of something else. Some elements of disaster may include: news helicopters. hands over eyes. children crying. rubble. basic needs going unmet. abandonment. the feeling that god hates us. unfriendly weather. Enormity of scale is crucial. A fire at a flea circus is not much of a disaster, unless you’re a flea.

11-14-11 : dear jodie foster


Brent Armendinger called from Buenos Aires, a really wonderful way to start the day. But I was sick, so I went back to bed. Now it's twenty-four hours later and I need to post something, so here is the first part of my letter to Jodie Foster. If you want to read something really awesome, click on the link above to read Brent's blog.

The night before last I watched Taxi Driver and the night before that, The Accused. I was thinking about writing you a letter to add to my collection of letters to teen actresses, but after reading John Hinckley's letter to you I decided there was nothing I could say after that, that one could not write a letter to Jodie Foster anymore without being in conversation with that particular letter, that any letter could only serve to remind you of that letter, and I did not want to risk that. Any time you write a letter to someone who is still alive, you run the risk of their reading it. You risk communication, even response. Not that you would write me back if you happened to read a letter I wrote you, say, if a friend stumbled upon this letter on the internet and alerted you to it. But you might feel something for which I would then be responsible, even liable. You are an actress who has expended every effort to appear in control of her image. You have walked off interview sets at the mere mention of Hinckley's name. Perhaps in writing this letter I open myself to the possibility of receiving a cease and desist letter in return. There is something about you in every role I've seen you play that cannot fail to make me cringe in some way and I'd like to figure out what that is. Partly it is that I have been told all my life I look like you and so when I see your face I see certain expressions of my own face, the pretty, the ugly and the cute tomboy or freckled dog I'd like to beat up. But also I think that you exude trauma, that everyone can feel it, not just me. The seventies were a time of people offering up their daughters. Not that there has ever been a safe time to be female, but the seventies in which I was a child and you were a slightly older child was a particularly strange era for the girl or young woman experiencing the cultural backlash against feminism, being told that sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll were the true pathways to liberation and to say no to anything was to make you a total square for life.

11-9-11 : wednesday


Thank you Nona Caspers for waking me up in so many ways over the years and then, literally, today. I am close to finishing this little book about sex work! Or so it seems today when I found my ending which I cannot divulge here. I will tell you it ends on a sweet note, unlike these passages:

she had a special hatred for men who wanted to be dominated for no extra charge. it was such a mindfuck to pretend they were there to serve her. it was too much of a mindfuck, it really, actually hurt her brain to think about it, to pretend to be pretending to be filled with disdain. she wanted to kick them for real. she could feel the kick rising within her as they knelt in front of her and it made her sick to restrain herself and she was terrified of what she might become if she didn't restrain herself.

but mainly she was filled with love. she was a saint, a nurse, a sacred temple prostitute. one time she got in a semantic tiff with a john. you're a real whore, he said. yes, I'm a whore, she said. there was no crossing that language divide..

11-8-11 : big picture musing


I'm doing big picture work right now, organizing work into manuscript form to send out into the world. It's interesting what appeals to me when. I had no idea I wanted to collect my poems about whoring and connect them with a larger narrative of political despair. When you tap into anger you never know what will emerge. I'm also thinking about going away to school, getting a second MFA at one of those places that pays you to go there. I have no idea if this is even a possibility, but wouldn't that be lovely? Anjali Sundaram got me up this morning so all this big picture musing is dedicated to her.

in each room was a little terra cotta dish with the imprint of a leaf. we were instructed to have the client leave the money in the dish and wait until he got in the shower to count it, to never handle money in front of the client, it taints you in his eyes. we were encouraged to read about the history of sacred prostitution, to burn the purest essential oils and sage the condo morning and night. this didn\'t stop us from feeling like whores; it was up to each of us what to do with that feeling. there was an american flag windsock by the front door. we told first-time clients to look for the windsock. after 9-11 too many american flag windsocks appeared and we hung a ladybug one instead. this tiny error may have been the eddy that became the tidal wave of suspicion that led to our exposure, the contrariness of taking down the flag as others went up. not only were we whores, we were unpatriotic whores.

11-7-11 : old work


Phoebe woke me up with the song Wake Up Little Susie, which her little sister used to sing to get her up. I've been reading old journals from six, seven, eight years ago from a time when I was so tortured yet so alive and culling bits of writing from them I'd overlooked before. Here's another one:

I am inside the building and you are outside the building, waiting for me, your tongue unlaced. conversely, you are inside the building and I am outside the building, stiffening. or I am not waiting but trying to flee but something holds me on an invisible stalk, your cock bleating in a pastoral landscape. or we are both inside, moving through its parched hallways. or outside, drinking each other's polluted effluent. or you are the building and I am lying on my back in the basement clutching a stick of dynamite. and when I am the building you cover me with driving ivy and choke out the light. even when the building is condemned we keep returning to it, for the thrill of old habits, to measure our safe distance by the amount of dust accrued on the length of its girders.

11-3-11 : scientific


Must mail rent today. Linda Robertson called and said some lovely things and then I made tea, dumping the old leaves into a glass jar I’m using for a compost bin while the other bin sits on the back porch waiting to be emptied. The old gross bits of food looked almost pretty inside the glass and I thought about how pretty molds are without the smell. Maybe I missed my calling and I ought to be a scientist. Or maybe I am a scientist, going to great lengths to understand the inertia of depression. I admit my methods are unorthodox. I make no charts, take few notes, spend my whole life in the field. My family, if one exists, has long forgotten about me. Rather than just observing myself, I insist on getting inside myself, scraping myself on the way in with the dull scope. Oh, here we are, I say to myself. You haven’t moved much since the last time, and yet your fatigue is heavier than a black hole. Your spine has stiffened into a painful harp and your smell wafts from you, happy to escape its origin. I have nothing to say to you, my self says back to me, and we continue to sit side by side, bearing witness to the needful day.

I opened up an old moleskin from 2003 (from when I used to write longhand) and found this prose poem. Here it is, utterly unrevised:

Men admire the split halves of an ass and call them globes, though they do not spin or teach geography. Rather, they are curtains. Bend before a window and they part, revealing a fat purple seam strung with baubles. The men count their fortunes on the seam much like an abacus. They want to slide the cunt-hole up to overlap the asshole so they can fill two holes with one precisely aimed thought. When I say men, I also mean women, because all women have a sort of man inside them put there by pornography and rap music, whereas only certain men have a woman inside them from cooking shows and NPR.

11-2-11 : we regret to inform you


Today is the Occupy Oakland General Strike. I'm making a sign that says Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can't Lose. Paulie called this morning. I had a feeling it would be him. He said, "You know it's going to get better. This ain't your first rodeo." And then he asked me to link to this song.

I’m thinking about the men who come to your door when your family member is killed while serving in the military, and how, since we’ve all seen that scene in movies, the merest glimpse of two military men on your front porch foretells death. (Do they ever send just one? Do they ever send a woman? Two women, never.) In this age of instantaneous information, it seems cruel to withhold the news of death for as long as it takes a couple of men to put on fancy dress and drive to wherever the family lives just to appear on the porch like massively weighted signifiers. But I guess that’s the point. Other people, people with civilian dead, get the news of life’s fleetingness over the phone (are you sitting down?), but the military will take care of you, acknowledge your sacrifice, sit with you, hold your hand if you permit them to or, if you prefer, function as the monolithic torso of death itself for you to beat your fists against. Okay, I’ve seen too many movies (How did it happen for my cousin? Was it after she got home from work? Were her kids there?) but maybe there is some value in knowing the script beforehand, in knowing the range of response permitted to you, a person freshly acquainted with grief. Too many people adopt a flatness of response, in almost every situation. That’s why we love gangster movies, all that flamboyant emotion caged in a cracking masculine shell. Extravagant weeping widows, all the way to the grave.

11-1-11 : all saints' day

Madeline called and told me about Saint Dymphna, patron saint of those with nervous disorders, whose father cut off her head when she would not consent to marry him. Whew, those Catholics and the things they teach children! Thanks Madi. I can't wait til your website is up so I can link to it.

There is the heart we allow and the heart we don’t allow. There are questions that can be answered and those that can’t, and those who waste their lives asking the wrong sorts of questions. There is the heart in the trenches and the heart on the satin pillow, the heart that collects unemployment and the heart that rises before dawn to start the world’s axis turning. Every thing depends on so much effort. All my life I’ve chosen the easiest path, even when that seemed impossible. Today I saw a sign on a shop door that said NO DOGS ALOUD. As we entered the shop I turned to my dog and said SHHHH, you must be very quiet. It was a shop that sold fitted sheets for odd-shaped beds—round, heart-shaped, triangle, horseshoe. There is nothing a person cannot buy if they have money and audacity. A dog, however, is one tough customer.

10-31-11 : hot pants and small government


I haven't posted in a while. I have several people to thank: Zoe Kroll, Beth Lisick, and Hida Viloria, my wake-up callers for the last three days.

Dang, posting every day is harder than I thought. I have to go move my car and get my Tim Riggins costume together before work, so here are my unedited political thoughts for the day.

Sixteen people are running to be the next mayor of San Francisco, the election is a week from tomorrow, and I am just now sitting down with the voter information pamphlet to read candidate statements. I am tempted to vote for lesbian playwright Terry Joan Baum who closes her statement, “TAX THE RICH—duh!” In fact, I am tempted to vote for all three women I have never heard of, including “life time renter and MUNI rider” Wilma Pang, and even entrepreneur/educator Joanna Rees, who uses “bootstrapping” as a verb, since, with ranked choice voting, I can throw my vote away three times instead of just once. Not that I’ll do that. Of course I’ll study up and make an informed choice. Like just now I was wondering why erotic escort Starchild wasn’t on the ballet so I googled her and found out she’s a he! Not that that should surprise me. I really wanted to read the article “Hot Pants and Small Government” in the San Francisco State University magazine but it was taking too long to load so I just looked at images—wow, Starchild! You go girl! Although I think you’d be a lot sexier if you cut your hair and stopped being a libertarian, obviously you should never listen to someone who wants to change you. But listen to me about this, baby: libertarians give liberty a bad name. Why do they always want to get rid of the parts of government that actually help people? It’s like they’re part of some plot to make Republicans seem sexy and even liberal, but read their platform and all that sexiness goes out the window. I can’t decide if people who want to take away the last vestiges of the social safety net are truly cruel or just willfully naive. You don’t have to play that game, Starchild. You’re clearly able-bodied and well-endowed with earning potential—do you really think people who aren’t should suffer?

10-25-11 : riggins


I was kind of a mess this morning, had to pee, forgot to press record, couldn't understand jessica's name even after she stated it twice. Weird when language breaks down into syllables and the mind can't put them together. Jess is family, sort of. The ex of my step-brother. And a radiant comic now living and performing in New York. Check her out.

There is a soundtrack to the landscape, forming out of nothing like a tornado, forming out of temperature and dryness and pressure systems and trees bowing down. You have arms around you, protecting you. Light jumps from cloud to cloud. Your truck is an extension of your self. When it breaks down, you break down. When it sails down a country road, your heart expands to fill the state of Texas. Bottles explode around you, cheers and flashbulbs. You could get a scholarship-ship-ship. Go to college-edge-edge. Then what. Get a life. What is a life. A life is something you can feel.

10-24-11 : break up to wake up


Miranda Mellis is one of my favorite writers and thinkers, author of the Revisionist and the soon to be out None of This is Real. She got to hear about my break-up, and so do you, though it's true that I'm still in shock, and unable to write deeply.

Our break-up conversation went better than expected, strangely heart-opening. He didn’t try to convince me to keep trying, or excavate deeper into my psyche. I sort of enjoy the raw pain of breakups. Once you’re past the confusion, the anger, the fear of being alone, then you get to the pure liberation zone where you can say anything to each other. Ironically, after giving up all hope of making it work, intimacy becomes possible. I could breathe again, and laugh. “So that was our break-up sex,” he said about the other day. “I wish I’d made you come.” “You should be relieved,” I said. “That’s not your problem anymore.” He was always trying to fix me in some way, or make me see that I needed fixing. He picked me up at the hospital after my surgery and stayed with me for two days, feeding me and lifting me in and out of bed. He gave me such a hard time about not being willing to drop everything and travel with him, even though I was willing, just not entirely able. He would drop everything and drive down to see me, even if it was only for a few hours in the afternoon. In seven months we went on two road trips, one to LA and one to San Diego, and one road meander up Highway One from Bolinas to Bodega Bay. I don’t even want to know the carbon footprint of our relationship, but I’m not going to sell the cute little car I bought to make it possible, not yet anyway. He’s going to find some girl who likes all the things about him that gave me pause, his drunken text messages, his flip flops and escapist fantasies. And I’m going to find someone who engages me on a whole new level. I’ve got a lot to offer, I really do.

10-20-11 : friday night lights


Sona Avakian would make a great football coach. Usually my wake-up callers are happy to dawdle and chat with me while I or both of us wake up slowly. Not Sona. Up and att em, girl! Okay, fine, fine. Thank you, Sona, for getting me up, and for helping me get this grant. I'll try to do you proud, coach.

All I can think about are the Dillon Panthers. About Tyra and her weird mole and Jason’s new emo haircut and Riggins, especially Riggins. My life had become unmanageable so I turned to watching football on television, but not just any football, fictional Texas high school football. Media enters me through the eyes and ears and is even drawn in through the belly where my laptop sits, osmosing heat, sending it to my sutures, the spidery pains creeping through my organs. The NP showed me a picture of my uterus sewn up like a pigskin, ruddy flesh bulged out at the seam, and told me I can never give birth vaginally like (spoiler alert!) Mrs. Coach Taylor does in Season two, Episode one. I think that actress might be younger than me. Even moms on TV are now younger than me, but it’s their daughters I crib makeup tips from. In so many ways it’s too late for me. I know that’s crummy and unfashionable to say in our culture of positivity but you know what, it’s true. I’ll never get to fuck a desperately sexy seventeen year old football player who lives next door and fixes my rain gutter. Also I can never fix my childhood, go back and find parents who say things like “I’ll love you no matter what” and “You’re my girl,” like Coach and Mrs. T. I’ll never be a body moving across a field with a host of other bodies knowing what to do with our limbs, never be a man among men for whom love and violence are separated by the thinnest of membranes, always spilling from one chamber to the next. Hell, I’ll never be any kind of man, never be a girl again, just a woman turning slowly into a woman as if browning on a spit. My grandmother, in her nineties, with skin so brown and loose it tears off her like paper, has various suitors, mostly men who knew her in high school and wanted her badly and never got to have her. Such is the power of the home turf advantage, of unrequited love unmasked, and such is the example of my proud and lonely grandmother, who holds her unsuitable suitors in such glorious contempt, as if she were still young and dazzling like little Lyla Garrity and all those angry Texas daughters exploding with grief in the Friday night sky.

10-19-11 : apologia

Good morning world, good morning Jan Richman, author of Because the Brain Can Be Talked into Anything, and the upcoming novel Thrillbent. Maybe it's time to work more on my apology project, which Betsy Cordes reminded me of the other day. Even if I end up saying I'm not sorry for anything after all.

My college girlfriend made fun of me for the way I said “sorry” with a flat Midwestern O. She was from the Midwest too, but Midwestern Canada, Saskatchewan to be exact, where they still speak some version of the Queen’s English. She said the word “sorry” like it rhymed not with starry but with quarry, and I started to as well, just from being around her and having so much to apologize for it made my chest sore. Now, as much as possible I try to reclaim the old pronunciation, though it’s hard to say at this point which one feels more authentic in my mouth. I’m sari. I’m sorey. The first sails through my memory like a flag on a playground. The second echoes in a cement bedroom. It’s hard to believe I have breath left in me to apologize, but either the wind feeds the echo or the echo feeds the wind.

10-18-11 : mantra

Holly Landsbaum called and said some sweet things from her bed with cats in it. As much as I hate the moment when the phone rings, jarring me from sleep, I love the sleepy conversations that follow. How do any of us keep getting out of bed day after day? Through my informal interviews, it seems some people are wired to leap out of bed, Carpe Diem-style, some people are well-trained, bribing themselves with thoughts of coffee and breakfast, and some people, like me and perhaps Holly, just keep hitting the snooze. I don’t have much time to write today. I have a cashier meeting at Rainbow. Maybe I’ll just write about my dreams.

I dreamed about swimming with snakes, long enormous poisonous snakes that could either bite you or squeeze you to death, the choice was theirs. But I got to the end of the river and climbed out and there was a boat waiting for me that took me through various arcades selling t-shirts, actually clever t-shirts, and I wanted to buy one for my dad for his birthday but I didn’t have the money. I then spent all day waiting in line at the bank to take out my last $20.23. I have to go count the contents of my wallet but this may very well be a fair estimation of all the money I have access to until payday. I’m such a loser. Not so much in general maybe, but right now, yes. Stack of unopened bills, unhealthy obsession with television characters, typing through a scrim of tears, no clean underwear to be had, room like a tornado hit it, twirled it, and took a shit on it. I keep forgetting to call my grandmother to thank her for the earrings she sent for my birthday, even knowing how she gets about stuff like that, like right now she could be writing me out of her will. Last night I told my co-worker I’d had trouble sleeping the night before and she gave me the mantra she uses, a phonetic list of syllables written on the back of a receipt. It’s the basic mantra used in transcendental meditation and you’re not supposed to use it to fall asleep, she said, you’re not supposed to use it to make the time pass when you’re waiting for the bus, you’re not supposed to use it for anything but meditation, but—she winked at me—some people find it helpful in falling asleep. I used it this morning around six, in concert with a homeopathic sleeping pill, and it worked to still the panic in my chest, but I think any combination of syllables would do, so long as it’s devoid of meaning or association. Remember the fake mantras of childhood? Ohwah Tagoo Siam. I Am Sofa King; We Todd It. Said over and over until the cruel meaning dawns on the speaker. I love that moment, when the bizarre becomes familiar, and even better, when the familiar seems bizarre. Actually I’ll be honest with you. I love that moment of destabilization when it arrives through art. In life, right now at least, it’s quite painful.

10-17-11 : rendezvous


This morning's gifts: a wake-up call from Betsy Cordes who has perhaps the most soothing voice in the world, and a parking spot on Dolores from which I don't have to move for an entire week. Not to imply an equivalence between the two. Thank you Betsy! You are better than a thousand good parking spaces.

I’m looking at a postcard of the room Randy and I broke up in. It features a vaulted ceiling, three-tiered chandelier, dark blue and silver flocked wallpaper, and a round king size bed. A pink ice bucket looms in the foreground like a phallic tower. The description on the back of the postcard calls the room “perfect for a special rendezvous.” We were driving home from LA, where we’d gone as a favor to a friend of mine whose fifteen minute play had been accepted by a performance festival and whose actors had dropped out at the last minute. The drive from San Francisco had been surprisingly painless, Randy managed to say the line “The camera was in my vagina” without laughing, we visited my gloating sister and her bloated husband without too much awkwardness, and now we had taken the advice of everyone at last night’s post-production party to drive back on the 101 instead of the horrible straight shot through withered orchards and feedlots that is the I-5.

Somewhere near Las Cruces Randy turned to me in the driver’s seat and said, “Okay, now what?” “Are you thinking it’s time to break up with me?” I asked him and he laughed. “No, no, no. It’s just time for you to talk to me.” “About what?” “About us.” A funny thing happens when someone asks me to talk. Floodwaters rise in my chest, pain spreads behind my eyes, and I can’t say a word. My mouth feels stuffed with pink fiberglass, I don’t know English, I don’t know anything. I’m like a stroke victim—hold up common household objects and I’ll be unable to name them. Randy has told me that if I don’t learn how to share the contents of my heart and my brain, I will never know true intimacy and I’m sure he’s right, but this is also true: you can’t force a conversation that doesn’t want to be had.

10-12-11 : three men and a chainsaw

I can only write for an hour today so I’d better get to it. I had a trio of disturbing dreams I’ve had before. I have dreadlocks, I have a baby, then I’m falling off a cliff. Then Simon Phillips called, and offered me a story idea: three men trying to start a broken chainsaw. I can picture that scene but I can’t write it. It’s Simon’s story and I want to read it. The baby dream may have been telling me I need to get on a more rigorous schedule. Like Flaubert says, “Be regular and orderly in your life like a good bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

The heart lies buried in silt at the bottom of the sea. What we once saw as a dumb valve good only for pumping turns out to be a black box bearing evidence into a future one hopes will understand it. We memorize its coordinates and pass them down. One day hearts will form an underwater ring, rise ancient from sea beds draped in a thousand singing Atlantises. Hearts wait for technology to catch up to them, decode their language. They are ready to reveal everything, but only to those who have proven our devotion.

10-11-11 : late capitalism and early christianity (is a good title having nothing to do with what follows)


Jennifer Eyl called, and I saw a bluebird fly across the courtyard with a crust in its mouth. It was sunny, blue skies. I made coffee, in hopes of procuring through artificial means what Jennifer seems to manufacture in her own blood: lust for life. What is the Greek word for that, Jen? Is it Eros or something even broader? Tomorrow I leave for the &Now Festival in San Diego, Tomorrowland Forever, which sounds like a George Saunders story. That makes today a day of “getting things done.” Laundry, moving the car, packing, having lunch with a friend. In San Diego I’ll be acting in a short play written by Amanda Davidson, called Flesh Tableaux. I play a version of Amanda’s ex-boyfriend, and my boyfriend plays a version of Amanda.

My most fervently held childhood wish was always some version of this: to have two bodies, or to be able to stop time. This was so I could keep sleeping, but still get things done. Every other wish one might have could be achieved through this one, I figured. For instance, you could stop time, rob a bank, then start it up again, filthy rich. One of your bodies could study constantly, make art, achieve rapid success, fame, etc., while the other body rejoiced in sensual pleasures, sleeping eating fucking, that would get it nowhere but would be instructive in other ways.

Now, if it’s true that we are all part of the greater whole, it shouldn’t really matter what I do with my piddly little existence. Maybe Jennifer could be the part of me that gets things done, and I could guiltlessly revel in a world of high thread count sheets and fair trade chocolate. I’d love to not be such a dupe in the cult of individuality that insists I shine my own peculiar light as far as it will penetrate into the unknown. Maybe the craving for recognition is entirely a product of capitalism, the need to distinguish oneself as a person who deserves to be cared for in a society in which so many are deemed useless, unworthy of even the most basic humane treatment. Freedom means different things to different people, but I don’t think the freedom to sicken, go mad, and die in the streets is one we should be all that proud of. What if all I really need is community, and something to do with my hands?

10-10-11 : my main man, dwayne


lissa ivy woke me with a song, a reverse lullaby I immediately wanted to hear every morning. I realized I could have made this project more challenging by asking everyone to wake me up by singing to me. There would likely still be slots available, in that case. Thank you, ivy! I hope this little story about a wrong number (or is it?) is readable without the paragraph breaks. xoxo

The phone rang and again it was that person asking for Dwayne, a man with the voice of a mumbling, sleepy child. I didn’t have the heart to tell him no again. “This is Dwayne,” I said. “This ain’t Dwayne,” he said. “This is some girl. Get me Dwayne.” He was getting tough with me and I felt bad that I had played along. “Okay,” I lied, “I’ll go get Dwayne.” I laid the phone down on the bedspread and walked away from it. For a while I could hear the man’s voice leaking out of the receiver, his muted anger like a poison gas seeping into my apartment. I went back to the dishes and by the time I turned off the water he had given up and it was the lady’s voice I heard: “Please hang up, and dial again.” The next time he called I gave it to him straight. “Look, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. You have the wrong number. There’s no Dwayne here.” “What misunderstanding,” he said. “You mean you’re sorry for fucking with me? Why you do that. Did Dwayne put you up to it?” “I don’t know any Dwayne.” “Methinks the bitch doth protest too much.” Was I really being called a bitch in Shakespearean English? I was floored, impressed, nonplussed. “I’ve never met anyone named Dwayne in my entire life.” “Oh, you’re above all that? Knowing people named Dwayne, et cetera, et cetera.” It was true that something high-toned and straining had crept into my throat, climbing my vocal chords; the caller caught it and threw it back in my face with an exaggerated posh accent. Here, then, was something I had been searching for without knowing it: someone who wouldn’t put up with the merest whiff of bullshit. I was alive with shame, then collapsing into relief with the knowledge that we were on the phone and he couldn’t touch me, couldn’t even see me. There was nothing between us but the thinnest of threads, and yet his voice entered me effortlessly, a hypnotic purr vibrating my chest. “So why you wanna fuck with me, lady? Ain’t got nothing better to do? Your soap opera get cancelled?” As a matter of fact, my soap opera had been cancelled, but I hadn’t watched it in months. Rather than angry and abandoned, I felt guilty and confused. Did Erica Kane still exist in some alternate perfume magnate universe where I couldn’t see her? Was she being punished for my inconsistent fandom? “I said I was sorry. I’m hanging up now.” As soon as I hung up, the phone rang again. “You haven’t heard the last of me yet. And neither has Dwayne.” “I don’t know any Dwayne!” I repeated, but he had already hung up.

10-7-11 : the heart, burning


Amy Rathbone called. When I asked her to state her name for the listening audience she did and then sighed, saying "I don't always feel like being Amy Rathbone." She told me the name she tried to go by in her youth, but I don't remember it, and apparently it didn't catch on. This post is dedicated to all of our foiled attempts at setting ourselves free.

The heart, burning. Burning and falling, falling and burning, with such a long way left to go. Gravity as an internal force, a calling. I wanted a divorce from corporeality, but it wasn’t granted. Instead I got court-mandated counseling on how to stay in my body without destroying it—what a crock! The heart wasn’t going to stick around. Who could blame it? The heart strapped on a jetpack and made for the stratosphere. I received instruction on proper nutrition, and did the compulsory yoga moves. Life without the heart was contemplative and dull, a sewer of niceties. I liked it. Then one day my own heart pierced my chest, home from its wanderings, and I was forever unhappy again.

10-5-11 : not jane

Today's post is dedicated to Farhana Majid, teacher, photographer, and my friend since age 12. She called from Chicago where she was tending to her dog after surgery. McKenzie, please don't eat any more corncobs, okay? Now I'm off to OccupySF to be a participant in the events of my time, even if, as usual, I am running late.

The purpose of the centralized name generator was to ensure that no two people born in the same year would share the same name. Though this was done for homeland security reasons, it had the unavoidable side effect of giving everyone a shot at uniqueness, even if most of us were too invested in conformity to recognize difference as anything other than oppressive, dangerous, wrong. To compensate for the immodesty of our names, it quickly became vogue to go by initials only, and to form clubs based on shared initials. Those who’d been blessed with the simplicity of a plain name became the leaders of these groups, which clung to their plainness as if to the trunk of a great smooth tree just narrow enough to get one’s arms around and weep into its hard torso. I often thought about my place in the hierarchy of strangeness, how just one letter prevented me from being the natural leader of the J group. Why was I Janet and not Jane? And since I was not Jane, why could I not be Jessamine, Jada, or Jojo? Because, obviously, the fact that we went by our first and middle initials did not make us any less concerned with the names concealed by those initials. On the contrary, it gave us another layer to peel off each other, slowly and reverently, or quick and howling like ripping off a band-aid.

10-4-11 : how to die

David Beavers called this morning. He was on MUNI and we got cut off a few times, but I talked to him long enough to find out he recently got married. Congratulations, David! I hope someday I get to read a book you've written. You're such an excellent writer. I may go back to sleep now, but I hope you enjoy thinking about wolves.

The wolf doesn’t perform such calculations, such sly barter. She whelps her pups and learns them. How to hunt, how to howl, how to dig a hole. Somehow they also learn from her how to die, each one, alone. What is it she knows when she steals away from the pack, feeling strange, in need of separation? There’s a smell she wants to get away from, her own smell but she never knows it; she is absolutely free from shame. She’ll dig a hole to bury the smell and end up in it, bewildered. But there must be a long period of pain that precedes that final wandering. How does a wolf deal with pain? Before her death my dog would, on a walk, lie down panting in the middle of the sidewalk. What looked like fatigue was more likely pain, the kind one labors through with breath. I later found out she was badly hemorrhaging. My imagination laboring into a dog’s mind, a wolf’s mind, only gets me so far. All I can see is confusion, the confusion of not knowing what is wrong. Am I any less confused by pain because I have knowledge of its source? On days when pain becomes my job, there is a sort of joy in being mastered, before I start questioning my role, trying to outsmart it. If I could live in that place of constantly surrendering, if I could be the wolf, if I could carry my death within me like a soft key, never knowing its use.

10-3-11 : the long shot


Hey Jovi Schnell! Thanks for getting me up today. If you want to know more about this morning's wake-up caller, check out my very first blog entry, which was a test-blog to figure out how to work this thing (and the only post with an accompanying photo because I got help doing that one.) Today's post is a short excerpt from a story I am writing about a family being sent into outer space because the earth is destroying itself and humans may soon be extinct. You can read the first section of the story at the link above, as illustrated by Jennie Ottinger.

We have been outfitted with seeds. Special seeds coated in silky nutrients to help them grow in any kind of soil. So we are hoping to find soil. One might even say we are praying. In a non-denominational humanist sort of way, of course. Prayer’s efficacy rating being, on some charts, even lower than hoping gives it an inverted sort of power, the ineluctable power of the long shot.

I’ve never had much of a green thumb. The only houseplant I ever managed to keep alive was a zebra plant, and the only reason I remembered to water it was that it was a total drama queen, and when it was thirsty would flop over grasping at its throat like a cartoon plant. Then, about ten minutes after I watered it, it would get right back up like nothing had happened. Our son has a green thumb. He is in charge of the seeds.

9-29-11 : fake rocks


Diane Grenkow and I went to Goddard together in Vermont. We were on-campus undergraduates in a program that no longer exists. But Diane still exists, very much so. She's making apple sauce today. Thanks for getting me up, Diane! Here's more about what the heart's been up to lately:

The heart inserts the metal fitting into the buckle, then pulls the strap away from the buckle to adjust the belt low and tight across the waist. The heart orders a snack box for ten dollars, containing some pita chips and a triangular pillow of hummus. The heart picks items out of the catalog that never changes—what the heart wants never changes either: the curved body pillow, the silk sleep sack, and the fake rocks for hiding eyesores in the yard, though the heart has no yard. The heart would put the rocks in other people’s yards, as a joke, hiding very small things under them, like Barbie telephones. Or even a real telephone, which would ring and the person would look around the yard and think, Is that rock ringing? And sure enough, he would walk over to the rock and touch its thin fiberglass cone-like head, lift it up to see the phone lying there in the dirt, lit up and playing its ringtone song. Hello, the person would say. Hello, the heart would say. This is the heart calling. And everything would go from there.

9-28-11 : I, witness


Corinne Goria called from Palm Springs. She and her boyfriend Accursio live in San Diego, but they wanted to go someplace hot. Corinne was walking through the desert with her notebook under her arm, looking for a place to write, sweating already at 8 in the morning. She described the scene to me: a field of yellow grass, a row of eucalyptus and palms, about a hundred tennis courts, and the mountains rising in the distance. Corinne used to live in San Francisco and we went to SF State together. She is an editor for Voice of Witness, a book series everyone should read.

In the surgical theater, the patient is encouraged to walk unassisted into the operating room and climb up on the table by herself. This is because it will be her last autonomous movement for a while. Once put under, she will be maneuvered into position: the legs secured in a “frog” position, the table tilted so that gravity pulls the intestines up toward the ribs and piles them in a coil like a sleeping snake. Carbon dioxide is pumped into the body cavity to give the implements room to explore and to view each organ discreetly through the fog. When the patient wakes up, she wonders if she was somehow dropped on one shoulder, since that shoulder hurts more than any other place, but it is because all the CO2 gas is somehow trapped there. Who ever heard of gas pains in a shoulder? You’ve got to be kidding me, she slurs on the phone with the doctor. I would never have consented to this surgery if I’d known the kind of pain I’d be in. You have to move around as much as possible to reabsorb the gas, the doctor urges her. Try walking up and down the hallway every hour or so. To think I looked forward to this time, the patient groans, as a time I would get to rest.

As soon as the pain is manageable, the patient has another problem. She is unable to have a bowel movement. This is due to the narcotic, but also due to an instinctive fear the body has of pushing, and ripping internal stitches. The body releases gas and liquid but holds onto its solids, as if going through a gestation period. What of it? the patient wonders. I’m in no real discomfort yet. I’m tired of telling my body what to do—shouldn’t it know what it needs? Nonetheless, the next day the patient takes the leftover laxative from her pre-surgical bowel prep. She then has two days in a row of explosive, painful diarrhea. The next day she attempts sex for the first time, mostly because she wants to know she is still capable of pleasing her friend. The possibility of intercourse is a long way off, but they try out various forms of rubbing and eventually achieve success in the form of come on her thighs. They had tried touching her too, but she felt like there was another body down there, some creepy willful body sewn on top of her own, tearing down each wall of pleasure as quickly as it was raised. It is difficult to get work done, difficult to spell words correctly, difficult to lift anything heavier than a damp towel. Her mind feels dull from narcotic withdrawal. Only her sense of smell is strong, and bothers her constantly. She smells rotting onions and dirty diapers when no one else does. The weather is incomparably gorgeous, hot in a way that makes every living creature want to ride in a convertible with the top down, jump off a rope swing into a lake. The days of her medical leave are ticking away, the days of her grant period, of her whole freaking life, and what has she done? It is a mercy that she has already forgotten the first few days of her convalescence, when she was so querulous, demanding, and rude, or she would find it hard to forgive herself for that, also.

9-27-11 : these categories are based on your preferences


Oh, the writing was hard today. My mind was hard and dull. Marisa Crawford called from New York to get me up and I told her I might write about the categories of my boyfriend's netflix queue, but that felt invasive. Also, I didn't have much to say about it. The categories stood for themselves. I think I just love the line, These catagories are based on your preferences. After a banal struggle, I went back to sleep and had bizarre, urgent dreams which I felt were telling me I had to write, but when I got up all that was left was this string of words:

and then there’s the kind of burning that turns everything to sugar :: dream felt :: trapezes that dangle close to the ground :: anger as rapid as a smell :: combustion is a fast move :: a hand played out

9-26-11 : dog days

It's taken a few days to get around to posting this week's blog. My excuse is that I had surgery last week and have been too messed up on pain pills to know what is appropriate to post. But I've been writing, and now that my head is clear, I realize it isn't all as bad or dull as I think it is. Today's post is for Tara Mulay, defense lawyer (not mine) and old friend.

Frequently I dream of a dog that is not my dog because my dog is dead. That said, the dream dog is very much like my dog, and even has a bad smell as if someone had dug her up from a grave or let her molder in the back seat of a car for a very long time. I take that back, since when she died I traveled with her corpse in the back of a van and it took less than 24 hours for the stink to become unbearable, and it is not this stink that permeates the dream, but a cozier smell, like dead leaves. In this morning’s dream she was a beagle, which was unfortunate, as I have never loved a beagle. I was looking through the pantry for food that might be suitable for a dog. I opened a can of chicken noodle soup and floated it in a bowl of water. She nudged the island of soup with her nose and started eating it. I was feeding her, I wanted her to live, it was as simple as that. Then I dreamed about coats. Summer coats for winter, or vice versa, in fabrics like bright striped sailboats. I was not going outside but others were. It was a cold summer night at my grandmother’s house, I was staying in. The coats all belonged to my mother, with cloth covered buttons that looked like wrapped candies. When I say grandmother I usually mean my father’s mother, she and her things show up more often in dreams than my mother’s mother. And my mother of course shows up wherever she pleases.

Women show up where they please in dreams wearing gowns and tiaras and whatever else is too impractical to wear to work. Later they exist in these dream objects more than in the goods they touch every day: the fur coat worn once a year will be fought over by daughters made craven by various griefs while the plastic spatula with burned notches all down its handle is thrown away without hesitation.

9-21-11 : london calling


Sonya Derman called this morning. It sounded like she was in a factory surrounded by clanging machinery, but she was on a street in London at rush hour! Sonya is an amazing artist studying at the Royal Something-or-Other, but will be visiting San Francisco in February. Thank you, Sonya! Here is something about the heart, perhaps inspired by the street sounds of London:

The heart howls in the street like an ambulance caught in a traffic jam, or like a tender animal caught in the maw of a larger, fiercer animal. The heart howls so loudly and for so long that it is amazing that no one has ears sensitive enough to hear it. Like a child allowed to cry itself out, the heart eventually exhausts all sadness, all grief, all operatic terror, and sinks from its spasms to a place of low comfort. There is a fine distinction to be drawn here in the dissonance between the inner and outer selves, a fine line between mute inconsolable rage and absolute freedom. The question arises: if the heart could be heard, would it still howl? Or would it be draped in shame like the rest of us?

9-20-11 : send in the clowns

Yesterday I didn't write. My wake-up call came late and I used that as an excuse, along with the million emails I had to send and reply to. Liz Hille called me this morning, though, so I have no excuse. She said she'd be writing this morning too, before going off to teach writing, but she also said she was going back to sleep. I hope you are writing today, Liz! Thank you for getting me up. If only we could write in our sleep.

Good grief, the reefs! So beautiful, and home to thousands of species. Once, at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Deb learned about the symbiotic relationship between anemones and clownfish and in the faulty mash of memory confused anemones with coral. She identified with coral, how it sat so still like a brain on the moon, and like a brain had no muscle function but vibrated with a bristling energy measurable in waves. That same week Deb wrote a personal ad. Coral seeks Clownfish, it said. Don’t let my calcium carbonate exterior fool you; I’m sensitive, artistic, shy. Likes include: plankton, zooxanthellae, synchronous spawning. Dislikes: blast fishing, ag runoff, bleaching. Interested in meeting a stripey orange clown, a little entertainer to groom me and tickle me. She got some responses, went on some dates, had some relationships. What happened? Men were always attracted to Deb at first and then slowly turned against her and accused her of starving them to death. Finally she realized the error was one of taxonomy. The playful clownfish needs to be tickled back by the sensitive fronds of a host anemone—coral will scratch it if it gets too close and both organisms may die. No more clowns, she resolved. But she liked clowns. It was an unresolvable situation.

9-15-11 : how the turtle got its shell


This post is dedicated to Kim Pierce, artist, musician, healer, who called me while on vacation in New York. Everyone should have a wake-up call project! Please feel free to copy this idea in any way it would be helpful to you. I can't tell you how nice it is to start every day by talking with someone I love. Now here's a little story about a turtle:

It was so fucking scared. It was totally possessed with a fear of pain that was worse than pain itself. It knew there were predators out there, and sharp rocks. It was so fucking scared and whenever it got scared it would close its eyes and think, if only I could close my whole body. It saw a ticklebug walking by—some people call them roly-poly bugs—and asked it where it got such a cool reticulated shell, but the ticklebug didn’t answer. It was too fucking scared! It just rolled up tight in a perfect little sphere and the jealous turtle couldn’t pry it apart for anything. I gotta get me one of those things, the turtle thought.

The first layer was soft and leathery, similar to the eggshell the turtle had crawled out of so long ago when it really didn’t know what fear was, when all it knew was darkness and instinct and the steaming bodies of its brothers and sisters, nearby but separate. Why couldn’t it have stayed in the nest where it was safe? Why the big bad ocean? Once the turtle tried to kill itself by eating plastic bottlecaps, and another time by swimming into a swordfish. But the death drive isn’t a wish to die as much as it’s a desire to return to the safety of the womb, or, in the turtle’s case, the nest. Alone but not alone. Breathing together as one. Everyone hopes death will be like that. But no one fucking knows. Especially the turtle. That’s why it lives so long, longer even than a human being who lives way too fucking long for its own good, straddling whole centuries, and learns to maneuver the ancient cave of its body armor fear boat through the water. Underwater, though, the turtle’s shell is buoyant. Not such a burden after all. Doesn’t really work as a metaphor. Falls apart in the end, as most metaphors do.

9-14-11 : nausea


Today's caller was Erik Alm, but it would also have been Jenny Pritchett, if the line hadn't already been busy. Sorry for the double-booking! Erik reminded me that I had pierced his ear in high school, and his description of the needle getting stuck and then popping through triggered my visceral memory of that experience. It's amazing to feel a 25-year-old nausea! Thank you, Erik, for your loving words. I don't have much time to write today as I have to drop off my car at the mechanic's (more nausea) so today's post is short and rough, a nauseating memory that just tumbled out.

Why do I remember moments of shame with a clarity that outsparkles any happiness? I remember standing on the corner near my house with my best friend H and a guy who had walked us partway home from school, an older guy named Dave who I thought was alright, but high school was a difficult time to know who was alright and who wasn’t. He was a senior, a big guy with long red hair and a black motorcycle jacket and when he hugged H goodbye he also kissed her, long and hard on the lips, while she tried to pull away. At first I was excited, not sure what was happening. Maybe this was her new boyfriend and she just hadn’t told me yet. Then, as it dawned on me that she was resisting, I felt sick, and ashamed, since, not knowing what to do, I just stood there. When he was done, he straightened up and sauntered away like the monster that he was. Fucking asshole, H hyperventilated and spat. Then I was happy because I secretly hated her and liked seeing her knocked off balance, monster that I am, and then I felt worse than ever, and still do.

9-13 : titles for black snapshots


Ha! I sat down to write today, thanks to my wake-up call from the amazing Amanda Davidson, only to discover I had a doctor's appointment across town in forty minutes. So here is the briefest of lists. I call it "titles for black snapshots":

Helen Keller’s dream. Closed heart surgery. The Inquisition without torches. Jostled camera, interior pocket, purse. The truth about 9-11. Casino in a power outage. Amish porn.

9-12 : barney and fred

It's my birthday! Lynn Rapoport called! Her birthday is a week from today. I'm going for a bike ride and then, later, someone's promised to make an ice cream sundae on my tits! What a great day! But maybe not such a great day for Barney and Fred:

Barney is whispering his secret desires into Fred’s ear. He’s been doing this for a few seasons, in between takes. He says, let’s go out in an ecstasy of violence, Daddy. These bodies which have never danced will convulse with bullets. I’ll shake for you like a radiant ectoplasm, while love spurts from every new opening. Fred’s head is a leaky cavern, and Barney’s words float around in it without finding a place to land. Hmm, he says, frowning at the complexity of life. Hey, whaddya say we get some brontosaurus burgers and go shoot some pool with swordfish instead of pool cues? Wouldn’t that be a riot? Okay, daddy, have it your way. The blond youth feels like he dragged himself through a desert to get to a sea, only to realize the sea is salty, undrinkable, a valley filled up with tears. The brontosaurus burgers are huge, rubbery, and drape over the edges of the buns. Fred feels better as soon as he starts to fill his stomach. Each bite of food works as a weight to take down uncomfortable emotions. Although an emotion, to Fred, is merely felt as a bodily discomfort. Every problem has a simple solution. There is nothing strange about eating to feel better, any more than there is in fantasizing about Betty to get it up for Wilma, or in putting on fresh clothes in the morning to feel clean.

9-8-11 : ultimately forgettable

It was so nice to talk to Erica G. of Rockville, NY, today, who used to be my housemate and co-worker at the Inner Sunset Community Food Store back in the mid-nineties. She taught me words like dungarees and huckapoo, and I once saw her eat almost twenty hachiya persimmons in one sitting! I have to admit our talk was much more interesting than my writing day turned out to be, so today's post is actually a re-worked tidbit from another time. Not every day can be a bald eagle day! (that's a private joke between me and Erica.)

Granted I shouldn’t have been googling myself at all, least of all reading online reviews of my book that came out three years ago, but sometimes the internet is like a dark forest, you know there is a house made of candy somewhere, and you don’t want to go home yet. Nobody wants to hear their work is “well-crafted yet ultimately forgettable.” How could you say that about me, Jane S? You seem like such a nice reader. Your thumbnail photo is so clever; you hold an open copy of Lolita in front of your face so that the lips on the cover are more or less where your lips should be; your eyes above the open V of the book seem like such nice eyes, playful and flirty. But really they’re like the ripe berries on the vine at death’s gate, the ones the vultures always pluck clean. Oh they’ll come back, those berries, they just won’t be yours anymore, they’ll belong to some new Lolita. Yes, Jane S., in a sense, your eyes are ultimately forgettable, but you can take comfort in the fact that they might someday provide welcome nourishment to a scavenging bird.

9-7-11: the abyss gazes also


Today's post turns out to be quite pornographic, thanks to the lovely Amanda Eicher, who woke me up this morning and engaged me in a conversation about inappropriate dreams. Thanks, Amanda! Anal sex and Nietzsche, together at last:

My boyfriend’s dick is too big to fit in my ass. Now, I know what you will say. You will say the ass is an expandable place, if it can push out a big bowel movement, it can accommodate a big dick. I’ve heard it all and I don’t disagree. I just don’t think I’ve ever had a bowel movement as big and as hard as my boyfriend’s dick without crying out from the pain. That’s the goal, right? To do it without crying out from the pain. Or, rather, to do it without the sort of pain that makes one cry out. It’s not the crying out per se that’s the problem, it’s that which makes one cry out. Just like sometimes pain in and of itself is not a problem, and is sometimes welcomed, and even sought out. There is safe pain and there is unsafe pain, though of course sometimes that line gets blurry, and maybe for some people there is no such thing as safe pain. The pain in my ass when my boyfriend’s dick tries to enter it reminds me of the biological purpose of pain—it’s the body’s alarm system going off, letting us know something is wrong, triggering our fear response, which then triggers our fight-or-flight response, all of this animal instinct being filtered of course through our particularly human neuroses and desires. There is something macho people like to say: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I think Nietzsche said it first, but now it’s like a slogan for the Marines or something. Nietzsche said this too: When you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. When I think of an abyss, I think of my asshole, staring back. I think of coming and how I don’t want it to stop. I think about my boyfriend’s finger in my ass and his other hand on my cock. I think of his cock slowing replacing his finger and opening up a bright seam of pain. And even though the pain feels terrible, monstrous, and cruel, if I could be assured no injury would result from submitting to it, perhaps I would be willing to go further. That’s the kind of boyfriend I am. Sweet, submissive, not afraid of a little pain. Unlike Marines who have to build themselves up with Nietzsche quotes. Here’s the thing, though. That quote, it isn’t true. What doesn’t kill us, what merely injures us, forever weakens us. We may build up more strength around the hurt place to protect it, but that’s just it, we need propping up. A bone that has broken and healed will always be more vulnerable to future breaks than the unbroken bones around it. Am I being too literal? Is there some important lesson about the spirit I’m dismissing with this claim? No. It’s pretty to think that suffering makes us stronger—it doesn’t. What makes us strong even in the face of great suffering is another mystery, an abyss, like the abyss of pain, or love. By the way, it’s not like I have some hang-up around anal sex that makes me tense up. I love anal sex. If my boyfriend’s cock were the size of one of his enormous fingers, we’d really be in business. As it is, he cannot fit even the tip of his cock inside me without me squawking like a chicken and pleading with him to stop. I don’t see how we’re going to ford this impasse, unless poppers really do work.

9-6-11: abilene, a paradox


Nobody called this morning! It's okay, I forget things too sometimes. Plus, I was already awake from abdominal distress. Either I picked up a bug in Mexico or my insides have decided to liquidate all on their own. In the absence of a wake-up caller, I am dedicating this post to Megan Pruiett of the Exploratorium, who sent me the call for submissions that led to the following poem. The blog doesn't allow for line breaks so you'll just have to imagine them. Or go to the Exploratorium and read the poem on a plaque on the wall! It's part of an exhibit on Human Social Behavior in the West Gallery!

We wanted, none of us, to go to Abilene. Mother would have preferred to weep silently in the cool dark of her room. Father would have preferred a game of checkers in the neighbor’s parlor, a glass of hard lemonade wetting his hand. Granny would have preferred to sit in her porch swing, stockings rolled down around her ankles, knowing everything there is to know about the world. Baby would have preferred to dig in the dirt with his spoon. I would have preferred to— We went to Abilene. The road was dusty and hot. Mother stared out the window, her neck at a crooked angle. Father drove hunched forward in his seat watching for clouds of steam which would indicate the engine overheating. Granny complained about the heat. Hotter than Hades, she said, and Too Hot for Snakes. Baby cried and hit the back of the seat with his spoon. I looked for snakes out the window, to prove Granny wrong, but all I saw were dead strips of rubber on the road. In Abilene we went to Luby’s on Clack. The vinyl booths seemed sad to me. The hush puppies were soggy, as were the haddock squares. Air conditioning wicked the moisture from our summer skulls and spit it back in the form of Cokes and sweet tea. On the drive home our bellies heaved with the swill of what all we’d consumed. Mother and Father fought a variation on the theme of whose dumb idea it’d been. Granny held her tongue for once and rubbed her shin where Baby’d struck his spoon. Whose fault is anything? I wondered hard and mean. I blame Abilene.

Consider these statements about the text: are they true or false? It is always better not to go to Abilene. In this instance it may have been better not to go to Abilene. Families can really be a problem. Abilene is a perfectly nice town in west central Texas. Group needs are more important than individual desires. Babies are awful and inscrutable. Snakes like heat but only up to a point.

9-5-11: labor day

Today's short little post is brought to you by Brayton Gray of Chicago, Illinois, mathematician, world traveler, and supportive step-father!

The clock stopped. Now I’m trapped in wonder; the edge of my desk is the very lip of darkness. The one true deadline looms, and to manage our fear of it, we create a grid of tiny deadlines along the way. These we munch through slowly, like cardboard mice, our hearts little dashes, or minus signs flashing.

9-1-11: the orgasm museum

Welcome to the Wake-Up Call Project! Today's post is brought to you by Heidi Bartlett, Nebraska artist extraordinaire, who called me at 8 o'clock this morning and got me out of bed. I forgot to ask her what time it was in Nebraska, if they are one or two hours ahead of us. I've been working on this story, The Orgasm Museum (excerpt below,) for a couple of years now, it seems, but today I re-entered it with vigor and purpose. Thank you, Heidi!

The museum itself is solid enough, built of brick and steel, a former textile mill crouched next to a stream. Back when cloth was dyed there, the stream ran indigo, viridian, or blood red, depending on the day’s colorbath. It was mostly young women who worked at the mill, in mud-colored aprons, and folded hats like paper boats. In those cramped New England towns everyone knew life was hard and wanted out. Mill girls dreamed of suicide, of running away to California and becoming movie stars, of marrying rich and sailing to Europe on the Queen Mary, riding high on the waves, but in the meantime they worked hard, and occasionally perished in fires. This much the pamphlet will tell you.

One thing it doesn’t say is what color the stream was on the day of the fire. I’ve always been curious about that but could be it doesn’t matter. Maybe fire turns everything black and white. When the body’s in danger it drops the senses it doesn’t need. Maybe color is a luxury the burning body can’t afford. Picture the scene, then, in grainy black and white; it’s easier to see the past that way anyway. White flames pour out of broken windows all around the main tower and come together atop the roof like an onion dome. Gray bodies appear in the lower windows and topple like dress forms in bridal gowns into the black foliage, the black stream. How many of those girls died without ever having an orgasm? How many girls in those days knew what an orgasm was? If no instrument’s been invented yet to measure a thing, does it even exist?

news image

Jovi Schnell outside her York Street studio



Lately I’ve been plundering Jovi Schnell’s Brain Dump for inspiration. The dump is filled with richly layered phrases like Breath Star, Meme Decay, I’ll Be Gone You’ll Be Gone, and single “words” like Tricknology, Edutainment, and Cassingle. Sometimes it’s the words themselves I’m drawn to and sometimes it’s the cultural meaning behind the words, which I usually have to ask her to explain.

Jovi is a painter who frequently exploits chance as a generative element in her work. She collects dice—including a 100-sided die—and rolls them to determine her color “choices.” She makes use of words as objects in her work, stacking them like building blocks, or cutting them into unreadable strips to use as a border. Sometimes she feeds words and phrases to an online algorithm to generate a new color palate. “Look at this,” she exclaimed to me on my first studio visit. “Can you believe Global Warming has its own color palate?” She never ceases to delight in the newest absurdities made possible by technology; nor does she fail to see the bleak realities hovering at the edges of our teched-out world. The Brain Dump is a series of white sheets of paper on her studio wall that she fills with the words that catch her attention, words from overheard conversations, books, or disembodied voices on NPR. She has a particular affinity for jargon-in-the-making, a desire to understand our culture through its newest forms of language. I’ve never approached language this way, and find it scary and exciting.

We meet once a week in Jovi’s studio, a vaulted white room with diffuse natural light vivified by the paintings clipped to the walls or the easel. Everywhere I look are patterns and motifs: the grid, the knot, the flower, the atom, the arrow, the eye. Her newest pair of dice is wooden, painted. Hand-painted? It’s easy to imagine Jovi in another century, painting the dots on a profusion of dice in her toy-maker’s workshop. I think her romance with the random is a way of tempering the perfectionism that seems to be imprinted on her very cells. When I drag myself in at eleven, she’s already been working for hours. I take a moment to look around at the experiments she’s done in the last week, check for new flotsam on the waves of the Brain Dump. An idea comes and I write about it. If it’s any good, I email it to her across the table and she reads it. Her challenge, then, is to turn what I’ve written into a painting. Her translations defy any notion of “illustration.” Rather, she digests the work and distills it into her own intimate symbology. So far we’ve completed three. I’ll show them to you sometime.

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