Silence and noise

I’ve been silent for a long time. Especially here, where my much neglected blog gathers Internet tumbleweeds and spam comments advertising exotic boner pills. In general, though, I have largely shied away from political commentary, or pretty much anything that could result in elevated blood pressure for any participant. When my co-workers, largely older conservatives from the suburbs, gather around my desk (always my desk!) and weigh in on issues with stances that I disagree with, I shut my mouth and put in earbuds rather than try and rock the boat. In my thirties I have become more conflict averse, and chicken shit.

I have been writing in general for my column over at Hobo Trashcan, but to be honest I am kind of embarrassed by my last column, an attempt to write about the situation, written after a couple of sleepless anxious nights with information overload. So many others have written better, more comprehensive and thorough reactions to the events unfolding in Baltimore. And so many have not had their voices heard, for so long. Do I really need to add another privileged white perspective to the mix? (And yes, for all intents and purposes here, in spite of elevated melanin content I am white. I am from Kansas and I listen to indie rock, so brain-wise I am lily-white like a Kleenex.)

Increasingly, though, amidst a backdrop of voices in unison shouting for justice, and constant oversight by hovering helicopters booming at everyone to “go inside immediately!”, I am finding silence untenable. Yesterday’s announcement regarding charges being pursued against officers for the extralegal killing of Freddie Gray was unprecedented. Momentum is on the side of change and reform, but it can’t happen if we all just go back to sleep after the news cycle dies down.

“No justice, no peace.” I’ve heard the calls too. I’m ashamed that people had to resort to rioting in order to get me, and others like me, to hear them.

This Health Department report describes the conditions in which residents in Sandtown-Winchester, a neighborhood away from me, live every day. No, I am not responsible for these problems. And I couldn’t solve them even if given Miss Marvel-like powers and fifty uninterrupted years. But no longer can I just blithely go about my business, thinking of this as “someone else’s problem.”

The little things I can and resolve to do: volunteer with food drives. Go to meetings with people from the next neighborhood over from mine. Listen. Pay close attention to the news. Recognize my privilege and figure out a way to leverage it for good. Advocate for my viewpoint to others who may not agree with me in a calm, reasoned manner. Above all – speak up.

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Of trash and treasure

I recently attended an item swap, which involves people exchanging their unwanted things for other people’s unwanted things. I believe these are also called “naked lady parties” (although there were non-ladies present at this one, and nobody was naked). I acquired several belts, a dress, and a purse.

Tucked away forgotten in the back pocket of the purse are: a thank you card, a list and hand-written directions to a rural location. The list is scribbled onto the back of an empty label template; the first item on it is “GPS” (hence, the handwritten directions). Later, “Fishing stuff” (I love the non-specificity), “Face Sunblock” and “Eye Drops.” On the other side, in different handwriting – “DSW” (for a different trip, or fishing appropriate footwear?), “CDs,” and, bafflingly, “holes.” The thank you card is for the gift of a book, and alludes to exciting and also unspecific creative projects on the horizon.

I am walking around with the purse today, hand-me-downs from the previous owner and all. I’m banking on these totems giving me inspiration to be the type of person who has such a wealth of perfectly good belts and purses that I feel comfortable decluttering, vs. hanging on to things well after they become threadbare. I want to be the one leaving mysterious notes in my wake. Instead of a creepy scavenger sifting through cryptic leftovers from other people’s lives.

I want to stop borrowing things and make my own. (I’m still keeping the purse, however. It goes so well with all my other thrifted outfits.)

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Confessions to St. Valentine

Like most who belong to my snarky, cynical, cold-hearted generation, I am generally in favor of subversive takes on holidays, particularly those with blatant corporate sponsorship. That said, I think I would prefer a little cheesy romance to how I actually did spend most of my Valentine’s Day: sobbing while chasing my cat around the apartment with paper towels and enzyme cleaner, mopping up face- and butt-barf, calling around to veterinary urgent care places, checking my bank account and Mint budget to try and calculate the parameters of my cat’s life. This certainly heightened my awareness of singlehood.

Ironically, all of the time and energy exerted during the course of this drama ended up forcing me to back out of my Valentine’s Day plans: I was going to, no fucking joke, attend a “single cat ladies’ party” wherein we would drink wine, knit and wonder why all the hot handsome single men in the Baltimore/D.C. are not just lining up around the block with roses for us. Lest this post veer into unpalatable bitterness – I am honestly content with being single. This post is not about how I yearn for a Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet in a helicopter and land me in the middle of Buttfuck, Iowa to shuck corn and carve butter sculptures for the rest of my life. I can do these activities on my own terms, on my own plot of land.

No, this post is about how terrible I have been to the one constant male figure in my life for the past sixteen years – my cat, yes, the one who barfed from both ends today. I’ve had custody of him through different roommates, boyfriends, apartments and states. He’s sat there quietly during times of turbulence, always doing more or less the same thing: sitting, eating, shitting.

quark the cat

Here follows a list of cat-mom failures:

– I inherited him from my sister, who moved to a place where she could not have cats, so he came under my care. This one’s technically on my sister, but the rest of the failures belong to me.

– I lived in a dorm my first year of college, so I too had to leave him home, where he and his brother were locked in the basement, and constantly blamed for all sorts of mishaps, like breaking the sump pump, or summoning evil ghosts.

– I moved into an apartment with roommates during sophomore year. One of my roommates also had a cat, and my cat was so agitated by the other cat that he started randomly attacking people. So I made the decision to get him declawed. At the time, it seemed like the least bad option – as opposed to giving him up for adoption, or moving him back home with my parents, who would have quietly dropped him off at a shelter and told me about it years later. Yet every time I mention to people that my cat is declawed, they look at me like I’d just confessed to a minor genocide.

– I moved into a house with no central heat, and lived there through two Kansas winters. He, along with the roommate’s cat, and honestly also the human denizens of the house, were not too happy about this.

– I knit him sweaters. I made him wear these sweaters, too. At one point in time, he had a spiffy plaid bowtie, and also a lobster costume.

– I left for two and a half years to live on the other side of the planet. He lived with a German exchange student for the first year, and then my old roommate for the rest of the time. By the time I came back and saw him, he looked pretty bedraggled and old. He had greasy fur and bald spots. He had stopped grooming himself, or doing anything really, aside from eating and going to the litterbox. I admit, I underestimate animals: this cat, even though he is dumb enough to be startled by his own tail sometimes, is capable of cogitation – and, hence, depression at being abandoned. After I’d had him back again for a month, he was back to his normal self, which confirmed my diagnosis.

– Last year I spent, in total, nearly a thousand dollars in vet visits and bills for the cat. I changed vet clinics, and the new clinic wanted to do a bloodwork exam, to confirm the results of the previous clinic’s exam that had just been done four months prior. It would be another four hundred dollars to confirm these results, that my cat is old as balls and will probably die of some ailment, soon. I declined the exam, and the assistant just gave me this look, like I was Cat Hitler.

– I have been leaving him at home for stretches of time to go dogsit for a wealthy couple. Sometimes I come home coated in strange fur, and I wonder what he thinks.

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Songs & Stories #2: Wye Oak – “Glory”

Anya figured she had about forty minutes to pack her things into a borrowed backpack and leave, before Darren came home. There would be heavy game-day traffic, so maybe yet more time. He might stop by the bar near his work, and then she’d have several more hours to make decisions. But she had deferred plenty enough, and she needed to find a place to make camp before nightfall.

The backpack was on indefinite loan from her sister, along with a one-person tent. That was all the help Nadia could offer her this time. But it was a good tent, light and tempered to withstand three seasons, and only missing a few stakes. “You can always make do with rocks,” Nadia had said, which was true; Anya had been doing so for the past five years.

Into the backpack went all of her clean underwear and socks she could find without holes (six and seven pairs, respectively), two long-sleeved thermal shirts, a baggy sequined sweater, three pairs of leggings, yoga pants. A wool blanket. A plastic bag with bottles of hotel shampoo and conditioner, and two bars of intensely floral soap. Mascara and half a packet of makeup remover wipes. Fifteen granola bars and six packets of goldfish crackers, crammed into pockets and clothes. Two scarves – one gray, for wearability and cover, and one red for brightness and cheer.

Should she take more? She grabbed a silky violet pashmina, bought from a street stall they’d visited in New York last summer. She knew it wasn’t real, that it was a cheap knock-off, but she loved the intricate pattern and luxurious texture. She couldn’t leave it behind, even if the backpack was already stuffed to bursting. She wrapped it like a shawl around her head and shoulders, imitating her grandmother in the only photo Anya had ever seen of her: a babushka in a sepia forest, pale eyes alert and staring directly at the camera.

She wasn’t sure where that photo was. It might have been in the assortment of mementos from the old house, mixed in with Christmas cards and ticket stubs, crammed in the drawer of the big oak desk in the corner of the bedroom. She almost opened the drawer to look, but stopped herself before she got trapped, sorting through memories.

Amid the clutter on the desk stood a ceramic salt shaker, in the shape of a figure skater. It was blonde and rosy-cheeked and earmuffed. Once upon a time, Darren had given it to her; he’d lifted it from the diner where he bussed tables. “It looks just like you,” he’d said. Its colors had faded with time, and it had acquired a few scratches and a chip on its elbow. She shook it. A few grains of ancient salt spilled out, stinging a cut on her palm. She licked the salt and shoved the skater into one of the side pockets of the backpack.

Anya looked out the window, the sun shone low through leafless branches. On both of her upper arms were two yellowing bruises; she had no choice but to bring these. She took a Sharpie from the desk, uncapped it and outlined the edges of her left bruise, correcting the splotchy bumps into a smooth oval. Carefully, quickly, she traced repetitive curls and whorls, working skin and bruise into a pattern like wood.

From the other room, she heard a noise like a garage door opening. Alarmed, she looked up at the clock. The minute hand vacillated back and forth, between 3:15 and 3:16. Over the other bruise, she drew a hasty “X” and let the Sharpie fall to the ground. She grabbed the first coat she could find, a dingy white windbreaker with a broken zipper, the backpack and the tent. She walked through the kitchen towards the back door, and stopped.

On the kitchen table was a manila envelope, containing a long letter she’d typed and retyped again over the past few nights. In the letter she had synthesized five years’ worth of wrongs, frustrations and disappointments. After she had finally finished and printed all nineteen pages, the paper itself had felt hot with anger. Now, she ran her fingers along the surface of the envelope. She’d written “DARREN” on the front in dark jagged capitals. After some hesitation, she rolled up the envelope and tucked it between the handles of the tent bag, and left.

Once outside, she let out the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. It plumed and evaporated in the chilly air. The bright low sun dazzled her eyes as she walked, slow and steady, towards the woods.

This piece is part of a New Year’s Resolution challenge: choose a song I loved that came out in 2014, listen to it on repeat and compose a story. The story may have a connection to the text of the lyrics, or have nothing at all to do with it. In the interest of getting these out before 2016 comes around, I am lightly editing these pieces, if at all. Comments and suggestions welcome, though.

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