cygnoir.net

forty questions about 2007

Here is yet another year-in-review meme. Again, I will get to a proper review one of these days …

  1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before? Traveled abroad for work. Auditioned for a game show. Went on an 8.5-mile hike. Rented my own apartment in San Francisco. Acted in an independent film. Led a team on a year-long project. Went geocaching. River-rafted (or, rather, laid very still on a raft while others rowed). Rode a bike in Golden Gate Park. Sang karaoke, twice at private parties and once at a bar in front of strangers.
  2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I didn’t make them, and I don’t think I will anymore. Every day will be a resolution day, and that resolution is to be happy.
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth? No, but 3 people close to me got pregnant, so ask me again next year!
  4. Did anyone close to you die? No.
  5. Which countries did you visit? Does Texas count? No? Then just England.
  6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007? Better health, less stress, more travel, and a new computer.
  7. Which date from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory? 1 July.
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Reuniting with FunkyPlaid.
  9. What was your biggest failure? Believing that I was a bad person.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Most of the latter half of 2007 I was sick, either from medication or from stress.
  11. What was the best thing you bought? My iPhone.
  12. Whose behavior merited celebration? FunkyPlaid’s, as always.
  13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? The current administration’s, as always.
  14. Where did most of your money go? Rent.
  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My future.
  16. Which song will always remind you of 2007? Interpol’s “Pioneer to the Falls”.
  17. Compared to this time last year, are you: happier or sadder? happier. thinner or fatter? fatter. richer or poorer? richer.
  18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Reading.
  19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Worrying.
  20. How will you be spending Christmas? FunkyPlaid and I spent it with some of our local loved ones.
  21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with? FunkyPlaid.
  22. Did you fall in love in 2007? I certainly did, all over again with the love of my life.
  23. How many one-night stands in this last year? Zero.
  24. What was your favorite TV program? “Pushing Daisies”.
  25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? No, I don’t hate anyone.
  26. What was the best book you read? Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson.
  27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Everything on the Dynamophone label.
  28. What did you want and get? True love.
  29. What did you want and not get? A dSLR camera.
  30. What were your favorite films of this year? I don’t think they came out this year, but I saw them this year: “Borat” and “The Prestige”.
  31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? On 23 February, my team took me out to lunch, and my ex took me out to dinner. I was 34.
  32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Exercising more regularly.
  33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007? Same as always: lots of layers, black and muted colors, silver jewelry, boots.
  34. What kept you sane? Spending time with FunkyPlaid. Petting my cat. Writing in my journal. Talking with my friends. Long, brisk walks. Therapy.
  35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Will Arnett.
  36. Which political issue stirred you the most? On the federal level: Iraq. On the local level: Prop A.
  37. Who did you miss? My parents. Lara. Matt. Michael. Mish. For the first half of the year, FunkyPlaid.
  38. Who was the best new person you met? So many! I can’t even begin to name all the folks at SFlickr and all the folks at Gamescape North. But two people in particular stand out, and since they are a couple I can get away with this answer only if they don’t catch me: Rebecca and Ryan.
  39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007. Go with your gut.
  40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. this is the new year / I’ve been waiting for / this is the new year / I’ve been longing for

year in review

Because I haven’t finished my full-fledged year-in-review post, here is that meme that’s floating about the tubes: take the first line of the first entry from each month for the last year.

January The party last night was a success.

February I am so frustrated with my computer right now.

March How it begins: someone sends a fascinating email or an interesting voicemail.

April The yay: Making it through an all-day offsite meeting and somehow giving a presentation in front of what felt like eleventy billion people but was in all probability only 40 or so.

May I am settling into being mediocre, between genres, unfinished, and not a genius.

June Usually it either takes hours or moments for me to write something here.

July If you are unsure, holding a hand — if you would take a hand into your hand and not be sure — do not take the hand.

August It could have been anything. Any arrangement of words said or sent could have done it.

September I owe just about everyone I know an email or three, my project at work is at a fever pitch, and I’m recovering from a horrible two months physically just to hit Mercury in retrograde.

October She sets the mug on the coaster.

November Since I don’t have the time to do NaNoWriMo this year — but I’m happily supporting those of you who do — I thought I’d try to post a journal entry every day of November.

December My year-long work project launched on Thursday-then-Friday.

would like to know your birthdate

She said, “I would like to know your birthdate, and also other things about you, like if you had a good-luck charm as a child, and if you named it a secret. When you walked home from school, did you touch the trunks of trees in order? Or did you skip home, scuttling over cracks? I would like to know if your eyes were always that blue, what your guts felt like when you first kissed, and if you were the cowboy or the chief. Did you always drink your milk? Did you blush when yelled at? Which freckle have you always had, and which have you lost? I would like to know your first favorite color and all the favorites after that – dogs, songs, shoes, rooms – and if you don’t have time to tell me now, then I would like twice as much time.”

more words

My year-long work project launched on Thursday-then-Friday. I would say that I’m proud and relieved, except plans for its second phase are already underway, which is blindingly common and unsurprising and all of that wonderful stuff but still deflating.

Working in such an intangible capacity every day is so strange for me. It’s been 15 months and I’m still not used to it. When I worked at a library, it was clear when I was doing something, improving something: books got reshelved, people found the sources they needed, sometimes I’d even see the “a-ha!” look and know I had witnessed a connection of knowledge to experience.

And now? More than twenty people spent a year on a project that, if we did it right, most people will never notice.

Selfishly, I wanted more of a result, and although we’ve all received accolades from our peers, I can’t help but feel a little depressed. After all the stress-related insomnia and other impacts to my physical and emotional well-being, that’s it, and that’s all there is, and what was I expecting, anyway?

As you can tell, today has been fairly existential in focus. I want to know what the game plan is, but there isn’t one. I am still naive enough to want to change the world, to leave it a better place than it was when I got here; I am still stubborn enough to be disappointed when not all of my actions are to that end.

I thought as my life went on its trajectory would clarify. Now I am more certain of who I am but less certain of what I do. There is less ink in the pen and fewer pages in the book, but more words to write.

excused

“What it must be,” she began and paused, hands lifting like feathers. “What it must be like, to be that …”

“Free?” he answered. “Light? Unencumbered?”

She thought a moment, then tilted her head and shrugged. “Quiet?”

He reached to cup her elbow without a thought; he had to touch her. She did not resist. Her forearm dropped onto his. They stood like that, facing each other, one arm to one arm, for a long time and did not speak or look into each other’s eyes.

She broke the silence with a cough, then: “Don’t bury me.”

“I wouldn’t,” he answered, eyes dropping into the dark soil around the gleaming capsule. “I won’t.”

refrigerator

The dead woman’s refrigerator is in the space between our buildings.

I call her the dead woman although I admit I am guessing. A few weeks ago, a couple I did not recognize stopped while opening the door to her flat and asked me if I knew her. I didn’t, so I said no, and then immediately wondered if I should have said yes: what does “knew her” mean? I knew her to pass her in the hall and say hello, offer a brief word about the weather, and pet her dog, Kelly. I once helped her call Kelly out of the backyard bushes, minutes and minutes I called the name of a dog of a woman whose name I do not know and now she might be dead.

I first noticed the refrigerator after a Saturday morning of thuds and whacks and grunts coming from her flat. Under the guise of taking out the oft-neglected recycling, I peeked down the space between our buildings and saw the refrigerator.

There were still magnets on it. Magnets pinning photographs. Photographs of people she knew, of a little girl in a school photo, and one of her laughing and holding a cat next to a woman also laughing. They were turned toward each other, almost the same height, and from all I could see, waist-up, dressed the same in plain collared shirts. Scattered across the blank face of the fridge were tiny sparkly star stickers in all the colors of the rainbow.

These things, due to wind and rain and time, are now escaping the refrigerator. I take out trash more regularly than I ever have before, just to note the progress of the escape. The other day, I heard the same couple talking to the building manager about foul play, a murmur his gruff tones interrupted and uncomfortable silence followed.

Her flat undergoes its slow transformation from someone’s to no one’s; smells of bleach and paint mingle with the rest of our more human scents. I wonder if she died inside, and if she will haunt us, and where her dog went.

Some nights, before bed, I stand in front of the dead woman’s refrigerator and I try to think of her name.

mystery solved

Up before the sun: a lovely, poetic, and altogether inaccurate phrase. I love it. I only love it, of course, with this sort of skeptical relish after I’ve had nearly eight hours of sleep. This happens so infrequently that my general feeling about early mornings is that they are specifically designed, like Oprah’s book club, to weed out mildly unmotivated people, leaving behind only those who sink their teeth into the neck of the day with such singular diligence that I avoid them, like I avoid Oprah’s book club, whenever possible.

However, I have just slept nearly eight hours in a row and all in the same night, and so I am unreasonably jubilant, and writing to you all about how well-rested I am, which is possibly the most annoying thing to read first thing in the morning, especially if you are not similarly well-rested, but halfway through November I’m still pretending to try and write every day, and as a result you suffer through smug little entries like this.

Yet I am less than smug; I am befuddled. If I was so easily able to knock down the pins of insomnia last night, why can’t I every night? What was so special about last night, aside from it being after a long workday and a dinner date with my D? Unfortunately, the only difference I can think of is that I went to bed before 22:30, which can only mean one thing: my previous tactic of folding like origami eight hours of sleep into four actual hours has failed.

I’m tackling life’s mysteries one at a time right here for you, folks. No need to thank me. Next up: why does my back hurt all the time when I have such poor posture?

(Courtesy notice: my tumblelog flighty is vaguely more interesting than this place, at least until my work project is over, and maybe permanently.)

saturdays

Saturdays are different now. I have them entirely to myself, and I try to spend part of them in my flat, simply to center myself outside of everything that happens during the rest of the week.

Sometimes I end up working or cleaning or socializing, but I’ve realized over the past few months that the most valuable thing I do on Saturdays is sitting in the window while thinking. I never get bored because there’s a lot going on now, and a lot to process of what’s gone on before.

Lists of hobbies like the kind we see on social networking sites usually do not include “thinking” next to “traveling” and “hiking” and “knitting”. How would one quantify a hobby like that, anyway? We’re all expected to think, but I hadn’t really set aside specific time for it before now.

I accomplished some thinking today. What does that even mean? Writing about thinking seems a little self-indulgent, but I write about feeling all the time. Something I thought about today was how to write about thinking. Now that’s meta.

subtext

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in a bad feeling that I cannot discern how the bad feeling started and I cannot see the way out of it. During these times, I wonder where the existence of feeling lies, and how other people find it and separate it from the actuality of events in their worlds.

I know that I have allowed certain situations in my life to create deep-seated mistrust of reality. I am sure that people are saying words they are not actually saying, and I read more between the lines than is actually there. In a way, I think my background in the theatre has exacerbated this seeking for subtext; in preparing a script, I have been urged to understand what it is the character is not saying as much as what she is saying.

This manner of interacting with the world, of being certain that I do not have the whole story and if I just push further into it I can find the one piece of evidence that will turn its outcome, is unhealthy, and I know it is unhealthy. I see it for what it is, and I long for the days in which I believed that everyone said what they meant all the time.

But when I am chin-deep in the reaction to what someone never said, I can only feel bad, the worst sort of it: because my feeling is illogical, all of my attempts at logic as a way out frustrate and depress me.

So my earnest question for you is: how do you separate what someone is saying from what you think they might not be saying?

voting or not

I just voted, but I’m not going to get all snarky about it like I did last year. Or rather, I’ve already been snarky about it today and alienated someone I care about very much, and that just sucks.

We all have our own reasons for doing or not doing things. I can be fairly condescending about some things I do, like voting, and for the lamest reason: I feel insecure about my place in the world, and so anything that cements that place becomes irrationally important to me.

2007 has been one giant lesson in Accountability For Bullshit I Do When I Feel Insecure. I would rather the year be one giant lesson in 1001 Ways to Eat Nutella, or something awesome like that, but no. We don’t get to pick the lessons, only what we learn from them.

between

Nothing much to write about tonight, except that it’s happening at the end of a long day. When all sorts of ideas have been thought up and punched out of possibility like half-filled balloons, there is only a quiet space between wish and dream.

I could describe my wish and my dream, but they are more posterboard and glue than gem and metal. Nothing fancy, unlike shinier things, and less than loud. But they’re what lines my nest, so I am partial to them.

caching in


my D the geocacher
Originally uploaded by cygnoir
D and I try very hard to plan very little each Sunday, since it is our only day off together. Today we decided to take the new GPS out for some geocaching, and had one success of two attempts. We’ll go back for the second some other time earlier in the day.

Sunday nights here at Le Chateau, so quiet and warm, are cherished times before the workweek begins anew. I always do feel a little sad that our day off together must come to an end, but so grateful that we make the time each week for just us, no matter what.

b0rked

Yes, I have broken something major here, and I apologize for the mess. It will be fixed soon.

Edit: I attempted to upgrade WordPress to 2.3.1 from 2.1.3, and got various errors about old schema, despite all plugins being deactivated. So I went back to 2.1.3 … and promptly lost all my categories. Looks like this site will remain in chaos until a new version of WordPress comes out, or until I give up entirely and go net.dark, which looks more appealing by the minute.

Later edit, after sleep and sushi and more cold medicine: meh. I switched back to my old theme, added a plugin for threading comments, and ran out of steam before tackling the disappeared list of links. O, and I joined NaBloPoMo. So it’s a wash, and now I am going to play WoW with D. Good night.

two of a kind

This will be short, since not only am I hitting the midpoint of this cold, but Zen has diarrhea. She’s still eating and drinking, so I’m not too worried, but still it breaks my heart when she cries and trots off to the litter box. She is curled up next to me right now, where she always returns, and purring. I wish they made Imodium for kitties.

Tonight I’m missing dinner with D at our friends’ house. They’re lovely people who always serve incredible food and wine. I am so sad to be missing out, but cannot imagine heaving myself up to Marin, feeling like this.

Thankfully, I had the luxury of the day off work today. I slept almost the entire time, and am confident that this was just what I needed to start feeling better tomorrow. Tonight, though, my head is pounding despite the cold medicine, and all I want to do is sleepily pet my sick cat.

Back to that, then.

national whatever writing whatever

Since I don’t have the time to do NaNoWriMo this year – but I’m happily supporting those of you who do – I thought I’d try to post a journal entry every day of November. I understand that there is probably a website devoted to people doing just this, but I am too lazy to join it. Regardless, here we go …

November 2007. Ah, how you began, with home-mulled cider and cold-medicine-induced crashing into fitful sleep. The workday was long, but so productive and interesting I cannot complain. Multiple large projects are converging this month, making every day a triage day as I hemorrhage bits and bytes across workgroups.

It is so strange to work in such an intangible field. I use objects to keep me grounded, reveling in their functionality as well as their beauty. Three new additions have become especially significant.

The first, and the most obvious, is my iPhone. D and I bought ours at the beginning of September when the prices dropped, and I have not once regretted the decision. Granted, I love most things Mac-related, as well as most things the least bit shiny, so I was bound to be attracted to this gadget, but it’s become much more than that. Because I could go on for pages about the neatest features, I’ll just describe my very favorite: how the iPod deals with incoming calls. When I am listening to music and someone calls me, the music fades out and I hear the ringer in my earbuds. I tap the little controller on the right earbud wire and answer the call. When the call ends, my music fades gradually back in. This may seem like no big deal, but it is huge for someone who is regularly startled by loud noises. I’m also used to missing calls because I’m listening to my iPod and don’t hear or feel my phone ring – no more!

The second new object in my life is a fountain pen. No surprise there, really; I’ve been collecting them for a few years now, and every once in a while I justify the expense. This, however, is no mere pen. At the risk of sounding like a new luxury car owner, I will venture to say that this provides a whole new writing experience. The pen is an ivory/tortoiseshell Pelikan M400, and I happened upon it over a year ago in Seattle. That trip, I ended up with my Visconti Van Gogh Midi, which is also a marvelous pen, but I still found myself fondling the M400 in stores whenever I saw it. Its appearance is not what I am usually attracted to in a pen – my favorites are dark colors with silver accents – but it is striking in a way that people less interested in pens never fail to notice.

The third object is the smallest and yet most significant. For years now, as I am an old-school D&D geek, I have carried a 20-sided die as a lucky charm. Most of the time, it sits at the bottom of my purse, but during times of duress – like my dental work last month – I hold it in my hand with the 20 up and it gives me something to focus on instead of the pain. The die itself is translucent and sparkly, and I haven’t been able to find one just like it since. While at the Interpol concert last month, D surprised me by taking my hand not once but twice to slip translucent, sparkly d20s into it – one clear and one purple – like my original, only lovelier. The purple one accompanies me everywhere now.

four months

I suppose this is one of those “here’s what I’ve been doing for the past four months” catch-up posts. Unfortunate, but necessary, especially in light of a few emails I’ve been receiving, mostly along the lines of: are you still alive?

I am still alive. And here is the longest of shortest of recaps.

In June, my relationship of 3.5 years ended. It was a surprise to many, including me, but it was the right thing to do. That’s all I care to say about it.

Out of respect for that relationship, I had regretfully severed all ties with someone previously very significant to me, so at the end of June I found myself with a decision to make: let the ties remain severed, and let regret continue to flourish, or tug on the slack line to see if he was still holding the other end.

So I tugged, and you know the rest of that story.

Since his return in early August, we picked up where we left off and then some. The past few months have been a whirlwind for us, packed with dates and parties and travel and games, as well as with plans for our future together. Initially it was surreal; when we had to part ways four years ago, I knew I was losing the potential to have the relationship of a lifetime, and could do nothing to prevent the loss. To have the potential again, and not only to have it but to have it realized, was more than I could fathom. I hardly felt I deserved to get what I wanted, and occasionally felt some guilt for being so happy.

Guilt. Over happiness. Yes, I got over that. I won’t lie; I’ve worried about how to put this all into words without sounding smug or self-important. But there is an element to finally getting what I want that creates the ultimate vulnerability, and I have been afraid to be vulnerable in the face of pessimism, so easily believing that I do not deserve to be happy, that I am not enough.

Then, while watching a movie on Saturday, I was reminded of this quote from Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I could shrink from the expression of this massive wonder. I could do it, and I could remain in the shadows, so careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings by mentioning my own. But what sort of a life is that? I had this love once, kept it quietly and gently to myself, and lost it; how could I ever shut up about it again? I want everyone to have this feeling!

You can believe me or not. You can share in this with me or not. I can’t tell you anything but what I know, and what I know is that we don’t have enough time for fear or resentment or regret. It took me long enough to figure this out, but it wasn’t too late, and for that I am the luckiest person I know.

reclaimed


PA038368_01
Originally uploaded by piglicker
To have and then lose:
to know and then forget.

This is as far as I ever want to be from you again.

mug

She sets the mug on the coaster. The coaster is new but the coaster is a print of a map of a long time ago. There is no condensation; there is no reason to use the coaster. There is habit and there is belief and there is the feeling that when one does something right, right is returned in kind.

She sets the mug, filled with hot water and not much else, on the coaster. The lack of else is because there is nothing to put in it, really; the last of the tea was left out on the windowsill to appease the birds whose silver beaks always intruded before morning. Water is dependable, and it is somewhat free, and as it happens it can be boiled without incident, with only the moment of shrieking before being plucked from the burner.

She sets the teapot on the counter. It is dark and so the birds are silent. Maybe they have been replaced with clocks, or protractors, or other tools that sleep at night. There is no coaster for the teapot, and although she knows the word is trivet, and wonders of its relation to trivial, she leaves it and hopes it will burn.

It does not burn.

The ceramic of the mug, tepid, offers no reassurance to her fingers. It is slick and featureless and would be any mug in any bargain bin. She does not remember it not being in her cupboard, but she does not particularly remember it being in it. Somehow the mug exists separately from the rest of her kitchen, from her hands, from the light and from the water. It could have been left behind by the last tenant. It could have been left behind by the birds. They were always leaving things she didn’t understand: ticket stubs to shows she had never seen, collars of pets she never owned, scalpels and clips and thread of wounds she would not close.

They do not close.

Water for tea is hotter than tears. She knows it, but she fills the mug anyway. If the birds come, then they come. What kind of person would prevent a nest with eggs inside it? Even if the eggs are fists and the nest is an empty promise. Even if.

tiers of debt

I am breaking a cardinal rule I set some time ago: do not post here while annoyed. But I am annoyed, and I have tried lying down, and I have tried having a cup of tea, and I have tried going for a walk, and I have really tried doing my laundry because it needs to be done and yet the laundromat lady decided to close down early tonight and yep, here we are: annoyed.

The worst part about being this annoyed is that I am fully aware of it, so it is not a case of feeling “out of sorts” and then exploding at some small slight and being taken by surprise. No, it is obvious to me that I have been swept up by the perfect storm of too much to do and too little time in which to do it all, and as usual I get into the scrabbling, hissing part of being a moody sort and do not even have the luxury of guiltlessly lashing out at those closest to me. That last part is a joke. Sort of.

The icing on the … storm? Nice metaphor-mangling, there. How about: to top it all off, I have reached my quota of negative interpersonal interaction. The snarling laundromat lady had the dubious honor of filling that already-minute amount, and although she has never been particularly nice to me over the past four months, I relied on her consistency.

But she does not owe me that consistency. She never has. No one owes anyone else a thing, really, despite how much face-time we give to the ideas of compassion and empathy and decency, despite how much we pretend to be these things to our closest friends. I want to believe that if I treat people well, to the best of my ability, that they will do the same in return, but how foolish is it to continue to believe that in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Of course, this is the most cynical reading possible of human nature, and of course, in lighter moods and on brighter days I am more charitable to myself and to human beings in general. Yet it bears examining: how much do we perceive we are owed? How much do we perceive we owe others?

In a broad sense, I construct “tiers” of owing someone proportional to the amount of historical trust given to that person. I am more likely to perceive that I owe a friend a favor than a random stranger, and so far I have survived if not thrived on this general belief. I would propose that friends set each other on similar, if not the same, tier, which is why labels (like “best friend” or “acquaintance”) come in handy; they serve as shorthand for the system.

Yet how do we function when the tiers do not match up? I clearly took offense to the laundromat lady shutting down early tonight. We had a history, so I thought, of her letting me do my laundry at her establishment, and letting me come in at a certain time and leave before closing without trashing the place or offending anyone. She was on a higher tier than I was to her, and it is simultaneously unsurprising and completely frustrating to me.

Of course I tend to think of more private, sensationalistic examples of these tiers, as I have intimate knowledge of being shocked – shocked! – by the resulting behavior, just as I am sure I have shocked – shocked! – others by my own actions. But why the shock? Why am I not learning to accept that wherever there is space between two people, there will be inequity, even barely perceptible as it might be? No two people can mean exactly the same thing to each other at all times; truly, when it approaches this level of compatibility I find myself uncomfortable, certain one of us will do something to destabilize it and it will not return.

I talk about this discomfort from a place of comfort, knowing that I believe in this sort of compatibility whether or not I know I have it all the time, which makes me the worst sort of hypocrite. And yet you keep reading! My self-involved Process must be at least a little entertaining, or perhaps it is the schadenfreude factor. Speaking of tiers …

treading water

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Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly,
originally uploaded by FunkyPlaid.
I owe just about everyone I know an email or three, my project at work is at a fever pitch, and I’m recovering from a horrible two months physically just to hit Mercury in retrograde.

So all you get is a photo that I didn’t even take.

I’m fine, and I’ll be back sometime. Enjoy.

Learning to Count

You learned to count, walking home from school.
You learned to count leaves and sidewalk cracks,
segments of dog crap, cigarette butts, and bugs.

Every moment you could count something
you could put off the moment you would see
the face on the stoop, the hands
with long fingers: the gold ring.

“Beautiful,” he said, and when he said it
you didn’t believe him; you couldn’t believe
a stranger with that in his hands. An enemy.

You learned to count
the number of breaths it would take before
your heart stopped rabbiting your chest. One time
you got to twenty and it hadn’t stopped but it would.

When it was time to tell your story,
you stood up and before so many more strangers
you said you learned to count. You learned
to make it not matter: to postpone the inevitable
walk because all walks led past that stoop
with the face and the ring and what in his hands.

So many times you have told your story now;
so many times that you could say it backwards
and so many times that it is a benediction
of all you never wanted. The feel of an oak leaf
crushed snugly beneath your boot: one. His hands
around your neck: two. The worn locks you checked
and touched and needed to keep you inside: three.

Your story, written by coincidence and
rewritten by memory, no longer matters.
The numbers
no longer matter.
Those things
no longer count.
You see a paper bag on the street
and it is just any other paper bag.
When you get home, no locks will keep you safe.

When you get home, no words will undo it. No one
needs this story anymore, least of all you.
You count the things that mean something now.
One: heart that is certain, brain that thirsts,
body that is clean.
Two: hands to hold the hands of your lover,
eyes to see the sky and sun.
Three: breaths it takes to stop crying. That’s all. Stop now.

You count.

© 2005 by Halsted M. Bernard

golden rule

Generally, I am not big on prayers or mantras or any other set of words that one is encouraged to repeat, absorb, and regurgitate without thinking. Yet running across this today made me a little less cynical, so I’d like to share it with you all.

Prayer to Practice the Golden Rule May I be an enemy to no one and the friend of what abides eternally. May I never quarrel with those nearest me, and be reconciled quickly if I should. May I never plot evil against others, and if anyone plot evil against me, may I escape unharmed and without the need to hurt anyone else. May I love, seek and attain only what is good. May I desire happiness for all and harbor envy for none. May I never find joy in the misfortune of one who has wronged me. May I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make reparation. May I gain no victory that harms me or my opponent. May I reconcile friends who are mad at each other. May I, insofar as I can, give all necessary help to my friends and to all who are in need. May I never fail a friend in trouble. May I be able to soften the pain of the grief stricken and give them comforting words. May I respect myself. May I always maintain control of my emotions. May I habituate myself to be gentle, and never angry with others because of circumstances. May I never discuss the wicked or what they have done, but know good people and follow in their footsteps. -- Eusebius of Caesarea

gravity and levity

I was a serious child. My mother would take great pains to make me laugh, and when she discovered my affection for physical comedy – quite by accident, by running into the door jamb as she turned to leave my bedroom – she cracked me up regularly with her antics. My friend Ryan sends me into hysterics by pretending to fall down stairs, and the age-old joke of someone running toward me, arms outstretched, only to fake-smack into a street sign can immobilize me with laughter.

When it comes to wordplay, I try but have less of a knack than I wish I had. Horrible puns cheer me; ridiculous in-jokes make me splutter. But there is one type of humor I cannot seem to adjust to no matter how hard I try, and that is the humorous insult. I always seek the truth in it before I rely on its lie.

I remember once, not long after moving to San Francisco, when a then-friend told me that his acquaintance saw a photo of me and said I was lovely but that I had the biggest gums he’d ever seen. I was abjectly humiliated, and buried my face in brunch so as not to start crying. My smile, once somewhat augmented by braces, has embarrassed me in its gumminess since I was a teenager. I tried for years to perfect the closed-mouth Mona Lisa smile, but I lack the wherewithal of a poker face, and my giant, equine gums mock me from every genuine portrait of me I’ve seen.

My friends tease me gently; they are so careful with my feelings, while with each other they play rough, and I ache with the knowledge that my sensitivity sets me apart from this loving banter. I isolate myself from this style of humor, telling myself it’s because I take myself too seriously, that I don’t have enough self-esteem to weather it.

These are lies I tell myself. The truth of it is that I have convinced myself that when people joke like that, whether or not they know it they mean it deep down, and I need to watch for this meaning so I am prepared for the eventuality that, like so many occasions before, the digs will give way to true insults and then to resentment and finally to separation.

I was a serious child. My parents split without fighting around me, but I know that in their everyday tone I heard the dissent and the dissatisfaction. I dreamed as a teenager that if only I had been more vigilant, I would have seen it on the horizon, and I could have done something to prevent it. If only, I would tell myself, if only I had understood more, and at the right time. If only I had paid attention to the words that crept around each other like cats with arched backs. If only I had been more quick-witted, or funnier, or relaxed.

I am a serious partner. One of my exes vexed me with his ability and inclination to laugh at everything while we were fighting. I know now that he was laughing at the absurdity of my fears, but I was certain he simply never took me seriously, and I resented him for it. If only, I would tell myself, if only he would listen to what I had to say and validate my feelings. If only he would consider the gravity of my words.

On occasion, my attempts at sarcasm wound my friends. I once thought I was so tactful, but now while my internal censor takes a sabbatical, I have even less of a sense of what is funny and what is mean. Sometimes I can see shades of difference. Sometimes I can’t tell them apart at all. I yearn to learn to laugh at myself, to take myself less seriously, to take others less seriously, but I’m so busy hiding from perceived slights that I don’t discern between arrows and foam.

As much of an aphorism this is, life is too short. Life is too short to worry about this sort of thing, or to worry at all. My vigilance, my insistence that I will Know when someone is about to walk away from me is based on a lie that I have control over others’ feelings and actions. All I can do is be the best neighbor, friend, coworker and partner that I can be, and laugh at what is funny instead of crying over what isn’t.

unguarded

Unguarded, life now is so simple: wake up. Breath comes in, leaves, comes in again. Warmth beside me shifts and sighs. A hand finds another hand, fingers entwine, palms squeeze. Soft words seek through the darkened room, catch in an ear, a companion sigh heaves. Good morning, my love. A turn, a kiss, limbs tangle. Good morning.

Unguarded, walking down any street, arm in arm, steps match and we sway. Straight lines of sidewalk become dotted; there is a path forward together, behind us so many footfalls from time apart. Words bubble up without concern, without censoring. Laughter encircles us like a shield.

I watch him, eyes open, heart open, while he touches and loves and savors the world. I watch him and, unguarded, see the past, the pause, and the present unfurling into the future, our future: I know we know how it’s done.

If you would have told me four years ago just to be more patient, less guarded, that this was waiting for me at the end of a year apart, I would have shaken my head and walked away; I could have never imagined then that now it would be this right, this whole. That makes today all the sweeter a victory. Regrets have no place in our love. Years later, I am finally ready to fall into him again, knowing with all shining certainty that he will catch me. We will catch each other.

first chapter

I wanted to write you a story, but not any story: the best story.

I wanted to write you a love story, but not any love story: the love story that would bolster your faith in love, in how what is meant to be can come to pass.

I wanted to give you all of my words, and for a month now, I have struggled with just how to harness them from my heart and arrange them for you.

So I was patient through all of these days, patient with the pen, patient as it hovered above the page, as my hand shivered and stilled in turns.

And while my head was briefly turned, he began to write the story. Not any story: the best story. Not any love story: the love story.

Eight years ago, I left the life I knew and moved to San Francisco. Four years ago, the love of my life moved to Scotland. And tomorrow …

Tomorrow our hands will entwine on the same pen, and put it to the same page.

This is our first chapter.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.