Dec 29, 2006

Time-Fill Redux

My flight back from the homeland was terrifying. I am intensely phobic of flying anyhow, so the frenetic jerkings of an unusually weatherful flight just about spelled the end of me. Forget tumbling to an earthbound doom; at some level I know rationally how unlikely that is. On the other hand, the danger that my heart might explode? Too likely. As the plane bucked to and fro last night I wept like a frightened child, biting down on the corner of my Economist to keep myself from screaming out loud. I shuddered and shut my eyes. I wished M. were there; I thought about calling him and my mother to say goodbye. Ultimately unnecessary, as here I am now to write about it, but still I am more or less certain that I lost a few years off my life last night.

My sojourn down south and my near-death-like experience left me in a foul mood. M. took me to dinner upon my arrival and I spent much time staring at walls. My math percentile on the GRE was disappointing, my writing score even more so. (Writing, by God! Isn't that what I do?) I resented M. for having too much fun in my absence, more fun than he ever has in my presence, enough fun to leave him dead tired and more ill than he was a week ago. I ruminated on not getting into graduate school and laboring at my boring job on into a banal perpetuity. Twenty-four hours away from the oppressive homeland have proved a tonic, though: I feel quite a bit better now.

Nonetheless I have a dreadful case of writer's block. I am trying to finish my personal statement for the graduate program before New Year's and I don't believe I have ever produced such a textbook example of hackneyed tripe. (With the possible exception of my GRE.) It is as though I am following some middle-school essay template. I write sentence by sentence and each is stilted beyond all redemption. What is wrong with me? Have I completely forgotten how to write? Maybe I need to blog more.

Apparently I forgot how to write transitions, so now I will say that we are hosting a big ole New Year's party at our apartment again. Rockstar Friend was supposed to drive up from L.A. to DJ, but he flaked. The news of his treachery came on the same day that Bartender Flatmate (who is also DJ Flatmate) learned that his pernicious new employer had scheduled him to work until 2am on December 31 and then beginning at 8am on January 1st (is that even legal?), meaning in essence that M. will need to man the turntables for more than four hours on end, a feat that will at best try and at worst exceed his abilities. Now he is playing record after record with his headphones on, singing along to the pop. He used to disdain pop, music snob that he is, but he has learned after many an unsuccessful party that the kids want to hear New Order, they want to hear Kelis, they want to hear Outkast, they want to hear The Cure and other hits from 1 year ago or 10 years ago or 20, not the too-hip underground dance stuff coming out of Brazil these days. I think he secretly relishes the pop. Under no circumstances will he play Kylie Minogue or Shakira, however.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is a way to procrastinate, and blogging is among the many fruits of my bad habit. There was a reason why I used to blog regularly during my last year in school, back in those ingenuous days of this website's doomed predecessor. There were always papers to write, and so there was always blogging nonsense to write. Very offensive nonsense, apparently.

My god, it is a million ayem. How am I not sleepy?

A happy end of 2006 to all. For me it was a boring year, a stable year, ultimately a decent year. If all goes as planned I'll be back to blather on the other side of it.

Postscript: I don't know why my post from mid-month is cut off, or if it only shows up that way on my computer. Either way, bugger Blogger.

Dec 27, 2006


The longer I've lived away from this place, the more depressing it feels when I come back to it. There's something soporific about it; somehow I sleep twelve hours a night and still wake up tired. I lost my driver's license a few weeks ago at an "underground house" party, so I can't go anywhere, held prisoner just as I was seven long years ago. At least, I console myself, I should have time to work. I need to work. Goddamn it, why can't I work?

When I'm here my head fills with dark thoughts. There's too much silence and pitch-blackness here, not the busy whirrings and beepings and blarings of the city but silence, the kind of silence that is filled with the ghosts of one's own creation. As a lonely adolescent I imagined grinning skulls and rivers of blood; I thought I was going crazy. I wasn't really going crazy. My madness was only atmospheric, but atmosphere can prove a mighty oppressor.

My boyfriend won't even give me a call to help fill the silence. My first night back here I dreamed he left me for a willowy nymphet with long, straight, black hair, ageless, bathing with her sisters in the surf of some tropical beach. "I'm sorry," he said, "I love you, but life's too short," and walked out to meet her on the sand. I'm not a lucid dreamer, so I did not doubt it was all real, and felt so terribly sad. I woke up in a panic. How pathetic! I was probably whimpering in my sleep. Only a dream, it's true, but this place brings out my worst thoughts, and today I think he ought to die for not bothering to call me.

If I still lived here I would blog daily in order to stay sane and it would make a dismally boring blog.

My parents live in a world that is separate from my brother's, which is in turn separate from mine. I can be in this house with all my family and yet it is as though I am alone. My parents live in an anachronistic, Eisenhowerian world wherein a shot of brandy in the eggnog is too much, where the word "shit" is met with gasps and giggles, where Michelle Malkin is a genius, where ten o'clock is bedtime, where "secular" is a bad word, where Rummy did a heckuva job, where Reefer Madness speaks the truth about marijuana, and where my boyfriend and I share an apartment but surely not a bed--God forbid.

My brother, meanwhile, occupies a penumbral sphere that is like a nightmare within my nightmares. Instead of going to school he works the graveyard shift at a big retail store, making minimum wage. In the morning he comes home and sits in front of the computer, talking to invisible, underage Myspace girls with monikers like **LuVz2Kiss69**, listening to death metal and watching porn with the shades drawn. Then, when he has a night off, he goes to lame, red-cup parties with less-invisible, still-underage Myspace girls, and in order to work up the strength to talk to them he swills long island iced teas, doubtless mixed strong with Ketel One and its kin. Then he drives home, I imagine. And as I've said before, he's dangerously depressed. Fuck, wouldn't you be dangerously depressed? (I know all this, by the way, only because my brother was stupid enough to use the computer in my room without deleting the history, thereby enabling me to find his Myspace page: I am a nosy bitch.)

All of which is a long way of elaborating on my point that my family is so divided and unlike that being here is like being alone.

And yet it's somehow distracting. I can't work. I would work far better at home with all its pleasant distractions--the cats purring while kneading my stomach with their pink paws, my boyfriend spinning records and offering beer, the drunks cursing one another on the street below, my newlywed flatmates yammering in French while cooking dinner. That, I can work with. I can't wait to get back to that.

In the meantime, I am trying to write a painfully long, poorly conceived post in the hope of going to bed soon after its completion and thus avoiding all thought. Have I succeeded yet?

Not yet? Very well: more then.

At the underground house party where I lost my driver's license, I stood in a long line waiting for the bathroom. The guy standing next to me struck up a conversation with me, something about censorship in China. (I love this city.) But soon we were interrupted by Random Guy #2, who for some reason took an interest in my place of origin.

Random Guy #2 (pointing at me): You are from the Midwest.

Me: No.

RG#2: Europe.

Me: No.

RG#2: Manhattan.

Me: No.

RG#2: LA?

Me: No.

RG#2: Washington, DC?

Me: No.

RG#2: Bay area?

Me: No.

RG#2: Vegas?

Me: No...

RG#2: East coast?

Me: No...

RG#2: California.

Me: Yes.

RG#2: Fresno?

Me: No.

RG#2: Central Valley?

Me: No!

RG#2: Bakersfield?

Me: No!

RG#2: I give up.

Me: San Diego.

RG#2: That's basically LA.

Me: No, not really.

Random Guy #1: What a tool.

Later, downstairs, I was privileged enough to hear the following conversation between a couple of meatheads:

Meathead #1: So dude, she was, like, totally hot.

Meathead #2: Like, wow.

MH#1: I know, like, yeah.

MH#2: So, like, whaddidya do?

MH#1: Well, I was like, and she was like, her boobs were like...

MH#2: Fuck yeah.

Now have I succeeded? It's late; I think so.

Dec 14, 2006

The Toil of Trace and Trail

I could write a few boring, er, gripping paragraphs about applying to graduate school and taking the GRE, but I don't think I will.

Instead, in the aftermath of an exceedingly bad coffee prepared by an unpromising trainee, I will write about my absurdly sheltered, weirdly happy childhood.

My childhood was happy, even in the absence of such supposed prerequisites to happiness as friends and TV. For an accurate illustration of my blissful pre-adolescence, look at this photo:

There I am, circa 1992, apparently unaware that I'm wearing bright pink socks with profoundly un-cool, jungle-themed tye-dye shorts.* My classmates shunned me, because I was the kind of kid who brought diagrams of rabbit skulls to class for extended (and unsolicited) show-and-tell sessions, but I didn't fret: I could always count on the neighborhood curs.

The black one to my left was Meeka. The gun-totin', BMX-racin', animal-husbandin' hillbillies across the road owned her since I was four or five, and she remained my official best friend up until adolescence, when I finally realized how crazy "my best friend is a black dog named Meeka" sounded to real people. I'm not sure what kind of mutt she was--probably some kind of lab mix. But she would be at my house waiting for me when I came home from school, and would return to her owners only to sleep and be fed. I talked to her, told her stories, and got in "arguments" with her long after such behavior lost its age-appropriate cuteness and strayed into social weirdness. I also convinced myself that Meeka possessed near-human levels of intelligence, and that she would doubtless save me if I were ever lost or injured.

The mutt on the right is Sheva, the dog my parents let me have in third grade after years of my begging them for one. Believe it or not, she's still alive, albeit a decrepit, betumored centenarian in dog-years. At the time this picture was taken, though, she was barely beyond puppyhood. She and Meeka were jockeying for local dominance, snarling at each other and clashing bloodily from time to time. Their fights both frightened and intrigued me. I observed the dogs for hours every day, noting their body language and patterns of dominance and submission, and recording the details in my journal. As you might conclude, I was a dangerously hip child.

My reading preferences closely reflected my "social" life. Throughout most of elementary school, I was reluctant even to touch a book that didn't have a picture of an animal on its cover. Human interest stories reliably bored me. I read, instead, books like Jurassic Park (a dinosaur on the cover), Black Stallion books (horses on the cover), Clare Bell books (they're rare, sadly, but they had to do with an ancient race of intelligent cats), and especially books about dogs and wolves. I loved Gary Paulsen's stories of sled dogs in Alaska, for instance. And my absolute favorite author was Jack London, whose Call of the Wild and White Fang I must have read at least ten times before I had the smallest inkling of their pseudo-socialist themes.

I glorified these fictional dogs and their brutal lives. I found beauty in descriptions of "gleaming fangs" and "lips writhing and snarling," torn jugulars "spilling life-blood," gnashings and lashings and slashings. In writing my own stories I aped London's style as well as I could. My magnum opus, a sixty-page "novel," contained a series of violent dogfights and culminated with a grisly scene in which a pack of wild dogs kills and eats a panicked doe. Upon which her jugular spills life-blood and the dogs, gnashing their gleaming fangs, slash at her underbelly and partake, snarling, of her soft, warm flesh. What a sweet, gentle little girl I was!

I glorified, too, the "toil of trace and trail," as the oft-overwrought London referred to dogsledding. I romanticized the "primordial urge" that supposedly lay dormant in all dogs; I imagined that underneath, even the neighborhood mongrels who were my companions felt some inborn yearning to be strapped in a harness. I fantasized about Alaska (the Land of the Midnight Sun, in florid-speak) and dreamt of one day commanding a dogsled team in the Iditarod. I would breed huskies, I thought, and find a wolf-dog to be their leader.

This brings me back to the picture above. Meeka, Sheva and Flor (a gentle German shorthaired pointer who is standing behind Meeka) were certainly no wolf-dogs, but I intended to make a dogsled team out of them anyway. I made them stand still, in an upside-down V formation, tied them to ropes, tied their ropes to a central rope, and tied that rope to one of the bricks that my father had left over from building the foundation to our house. Then I cried, "Mush! Mush!" and stomped the ground behind them. They only turned around to watch me bemusedly. I went back to the house and tried to coax them forward with treats, but the dogs just tangled themselves in each other's "traces" until I gave up, a bit disappointed that I'd failed to tap into the beasts' collective memory.

Fifteen years later, I'm blogging at work while drinking beer I snatched from a holiday office-party. O, how things change.

* That outfit is actually not half bad, compared to what I would usually wear in those days. Aquamarine or purple tights with stirrups were frequently worn, along with mismatched socks and maybe a bright green visor. Even worse, I would wear a big, baggy T-shirt with pictures of wolves or cheetahs on it. And god help me, I'd tuck it into the tights--asymmetrically!--such that there were bulges all around my waist. My mother would meanwhile keep my bangs trimmed short--also asymmetrically, as she was not adept at cutting hair. Now imagine being in a class with this freakish child as she's reminding the teacher of the homework she'd forgotten to assign. My classmates hated me.

Dec 1, 2006


My sense of dread is back. I had lunch with my advisor today, and he seemed worried that my letters of recommendation would be the death-knell of my application. Naturally, this made me even more anxious than I already was. The fat, murky question mark that hangs so drippingly over my future looks ever fatter and murkier.

I bought GRE study books yesterday. I opened one up last night and there in its introduction it recommended an absolute minimum of four weeks' worth of study. I'll have exactly ten days. My life, of course, is a sloppy amalgam of near-hits and near-misses (do "near-hit" and "near-miss" mean the same thing? Be damned, you English language), with a good dash of poor foresight thrown in, so by necessity there must be at least one extra confounding force. This time, its name is Sam.

Chris moved out last night, after a month and a half of escalating passive-aggression wars, and lo! Our instiutional alcoholism runs deep, for we have traded a sommelier for a goddamn bartender. Sam, our new roommate, is my boyfriend's good friend from his old high-school bartending days in the industrial Midwest. M. borrowed a car to meet Sam at the airport today, and immediately--in the early afternoon!--they hit the bars.

My worry is this: M. has poor impulse control. Sam, a bartender by trade, will persuade him easily to share his hours, drink heavily, and spin records late into the night. These activities will be particularly likely to occur over the next week--i.e., the zero hour--as Sam goes searching for jobs in bars and M. happily follows. As I am nervous of disposition, their reveling at late hours will mean sleep deprivation and more anxiety for me. Catastrophic exam results may follow.

In the longer term, I worry how this will affect my relationship with M., which is unbelievably healthy for the moment but which could credibly deteriorate under stress.

Even were I to get into the masters program, I live paycheck to paycheck and cannot even conceive of how I would pay for it. So I worry about money. Yes, I know: welcome to the human condition, Penitent.

Looking beyond myself for a moment, I worry too about my family in Southern California. My brother, it seems, is in a depression so severe that his physician warned my parents that he was a danger to himself and recommended that he be institutionalized for a week. He agreed, instead, to some kind of intensive outpatient treatment, but I worry.

My mother worries, but her solution is to pray. To pray very, very hard. I did not want to irk her on the phone and tell her that her prayer, with all its fervor, was far more to her benefit than to my brother's, but I did say: "Medication works. You need to get him to take medication."

Imagining myself in his place for a moment--which I suspect, at its core, to be a psychological world similar to mine, but ten shades darker--I see how group counseling could be oppressive in itself. How the dingy institutional settings, the self-awareness of dysfunction, the judgment read into a ring of strange faces, could depress someone mightily. On the other hand, I told my mother, I have seen what good psychopharmeceuticals have done for my boyfriend and for my friends.

My parents are being idiots, though. "I don't think he should go on medication," my mother said. "He's been drinking alcohol, and alcohol could react with the medication."

"Then get him on something that doesn't react with alcohol."

"I don't know about that. I also think he should be doing the counseling so he can get over his alcohol problem. You know, your grandmother's sister was an alcoholic and she killed herself, and I'm worried that he has her genes. And alcohol is a depressant, you know, so it is probably making him more depressed."

I hadn't known that about my grandmother's sister. My family doesn't talk about such things, at least not with "the kids." But I realized on the phone with my mother today that my parents' teetotaling is so fanatical that it's dangerous. It means they tread in ignorance. That my mother sincerely thinks my brother's occasional drinking is as much of a danger as his suicidal state of mind is plain crazy. Has it not occured to her that alcohol might be a way he copes with his unhappiness, not a cause of it? That it might be a way he copes with a social anxiety that's much worse than mine? That, independent of depression and drunk driving, alcohol need not be a problem? That a single great-aunt with alcoholism is probably a statistically insignificant predictor for addiction? And so on.

Then there's the news. Reading anything about Iraq makes me feel ill. I did not exist during Vietnam and I wonder how it compares. My advisor, who did exist during Vietnam, works at a conservative think tank and he thinks Iraq is worse, that this country has been torn apart even more by this war than in that earlier era, draft and burning monks and 4 dead in Ohio and all. I don't know if he's right, or if comparisons matter.

Well--time's a-wastin', and there's yet more worrying to be done.