July 10, 2016 § 2 Comments
Edvard Munch. The Storm
As a very young woman, I liked the word “regret.” I liked the way it sounded, its Frenchness. “Je ne regrette rien” comes to mind, of course, but I don’t think it was that song, more swaggering and maudlin than I would have appreciated at 18, that drew me to the word. I see it in print: black on white, the discreet letters with that fat g in the middle. Everything regretted (still desired) lurks within that g. A Google search gives me: “from Old French regreter ‘bewail (the dead),’ perhaps from the Germanic base of ‘greet’ (weep; cry.)”
Regret also sounds like my own first name, though I didn’t realize that until I started writing this. Mostly I liked it because it was a signifier of a lived life and of melancholy, and while I had plenty of the latter—and stubbornly clung to it—the former was still a mystery. One cannot regret without having done something, unless one regrets doing nothing or not enough—and even that seemed oddly appealing to me at 19 or 21: languid, somnolent, poetic. Sometime around then, or perhaps a couple of years later, I read Henry James’ great novella The Beast in the Jungle, which is all about the life unlived, death-like regret, and how it can be created, piece by piece, by a longing for beauty, mystery, the sublime.
I had a longing for beauty, mystery, the sublime. It was the part of myself I was most proud of. I thought it would take me to the tops of mountains, the depths of oceans, distant magical cities. I wouldn’t be so foolish as the man in the story, though. I knew that, just as I knew that I wanted to write with as much breathtaking poise and discernment as James, albeit with a bit more sex. And I haven’t been (as foolish, I mean). I have been differently foolish. This is not the place to list all my mistakes, especially because even now I can’t tease out what were really mistakes and what is the ongoing mistake to consider something a mistake. But I am well acquainted with regret.
It is corrosive, unrelenting. It is a constant yammer, the obverse of the self-consciousness of youth, which thinks itself so different as to be monstrous, while regret knows one is so similar as to be banal and will beat you about the head for it. Regret is neither generous nor kind. I associate it with those travellers (in fiction as in life) who fasten on strangers and pour out their resentments and self-pity, hour upon hour, into a time stretched to forever. At best, this is comedy. I think of Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt because she looked over her shoulder. I was never a bible student so I assumed religious people knew what this meant and only recently discovered that there is a bit of discussion about it. Did her action reveal her longing for what was left behind (including her daughters), or did she merely suffer the effect of gazing upon the face of the destroying God? What does salt have to do with it? The story of Lot’s wife’s is akin to the Orpheus and Eurydice story. An utterly human reaction, glancing back to make sure she really follows, means the rule broken and the wife lost.
When I first read them, I found these stories unfair. Not that I didn’t understand they were metaphors; I still found them unfair. It takes age to bring a different perspective, to see the clear and present danger of too much looking back and therefore the need for such tales, opaque as they may be to young readers. The implicit message is: trust God (or the god). I don’t, actually, but I admit I ought to trust something; would be happier if there were an area of life, loosely called the spirit, where I could let go and believe that if this is not the best of times and circumstances, it’s the only one I have and therefore, by default, the best. It is a time infinite until it is over, minutes upon minutes upon hours, and who can say any of us deserve more than this unfathomable magic?
There is a place for regret, perhaps the place I imagined at 20; the older person, standing by a window looking out at the rain, mind touching lightly upon wrong turns, wrongdoing, feeling a shiver of sorrow and something else, something ineffable and French. The older person is beautifully dressed, in a spacious and well appointed library, standing on two healthy limbs, looking at a landscape that does not include leering demons, crazed assault rifle murderers, mutant giant insects, unnamed evil from beyond the stars.
My library is not spacious (it is also my bedroom and work space). There’s no room to stand by the window because boxes of jewelry-making supplies and old notebooks are piled everywhere, and the windows are dirty anyway. And if I did look, because I do look, this direction or that, inside and out, what I see too often is leering mutant evil from beyond the stars.
I regret that.
Ode to the Unbroken World, Which Is Coming
It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
A mother wants to feed her daughter,
fathers to buy their children things that break.
People laugh, all over the world, people laugh.
We were born to laugh, and we know how to be sad;
we dislike injustice and cancer,
and are not unaware of our terrible errors.
A man wants to love his wife.
His wife wants him to carry something.
We’re capable of empathy, and intense moments of joy.
Sure, some of us are venal, but not most.
There’s always a punchbowl, somewhere,
in which floats a…
Life’s a bullet, that fast, and the sweeter for it.
It’s the same everywhere: Slovenia, India,
Pakistan, Suriname—people like to pray,
or they don’t,
or they like to fill a blue plastic pool
in the back yard with a hose
and watch their children splash.
Or sit in cafes, or at table with family.
And if a long train of cattle cars passes
along West Ridge
it’s only the cattle from East Ridge going to the abattoir.
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.
March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’m feeling sad so I will write about what I love.
The full moon on an empty road in the country, late at night, when I’d walk out on the light-drenched road, empty of cars or other walkers, aware of every movement in the underbrush and trees. The stream was to my left, down an embankment: sometimes rushing with rain, sometimes quiet. Even when there was no breeze and the stream was dry, I could hear the moon tuning the earth, a thrumming surroundsound like crickets—and maybe it was crickets, except that I also heard it in the winter.
But mostly it was summer then. I walked barefoot. The road ran gently downhill and around a bend; I was walking into a bigger bowl of sky. I didn’t care if the moon was a rock or a goddess, or if there was a difference. Her presence pulled at me. I used to make wishes on a full moon.
I wish I had my house, the mountain at my back, the deer in the roses. I wish I had that little slab of concrete porch where the mint grew wild and we’d eat steak and corn, bowls of string beans, homemade ice cream.
Not in the winter, though. In the winter, I stayed in the city, worrying about the house in the snow and rain. I waited for my birthday in March, the shock of turning 39, 40, 45. Life was still a package to be unwrapped, the great, terrifying gift in Plath’s poem.
What else do I love?
The dead mice of yore, whose little lives made mine so much roomier.
Daffodils, their shape and color.
The word “daffodil.”
My darling friend from France. “She brings tenderness to our life,” said Charles. “I’m tender,” I said. No, I didn’t say that. I was feeling that special kind of happiness you feel when someone you love is appreciated by someone else you love, and you think how easy it is to do nothing but love all day and all night.
Fitzroy and Mouchette, who, like every great couple, are exponentially better as a pair than individually. He’s a big lug, she’s a slim girlchild; they remind me of every older brother, little sister I’ve ever known, but feline so married as well (we pretend). I turn in delight from one to another; her snowy paws and black/white zigzag nose, his humped rug of a back, his forehead that smells of chocolate. He puts a paw out when he wants me, flexing his claws. She sleeps on my back at night like the child who never leaves home, or a very dedicated bodyguard.
Lola’s rage when she attacks Mouchette, her tail stiff as a toilet brush. Mouchette wails in warning, but when Lola doesn’t come, doesn’t dispute the territory—my boudoir where Mouchette rules and is imprisoned by her own fear—Mouchette goes looking for her. The enemy is seductive. Hate is as sticky as love, but with the unfocused strength of youth.
Love is so old, it often falls apart. You have to glue it carefully. It hurts to look at.
Glass, stones, pearls. I made a crystal necklace that sent a school of light-fish swimming around the room, and Fitzroy watched the new mystery.
The sound of the wind turning corners.
Jaden and Jack and Daniel. Hannah and Myles and William.
Grilled asparagus with lemon.
Imagining America before the Europeans came, especially the abundant forests and rivers.
Portugal, Ecuador, Crete, Argentina, the Arctic Circle and all northern places where the ice is disappearing. My stubborn belief that I will see these landscapes.
My mother’s library.
My brother’s photographs.
My sister’s garden.
Charles, for loving me when I am unable to love myself; for loving the cats like children, which makes them more like children; for loving his music and never minding, as I do so much, whether there’s any reward for effort. For being pure of heart.
Language, which will still be here when we’re all gone. Language and music, gifts for the next brainy species.
I used to understand that fear was love inside out. That was when I was tender. Before.
A Birthday Present
What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?
I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking
‘Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?
Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.
Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’
But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.
I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.
I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,
The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!
It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.
Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.
Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,
The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.
I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified
The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,
A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.
I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,
No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.
If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.
But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.
Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million
Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–
Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,
Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.
It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center
Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.
Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.
Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death
I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.
There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter
Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.
March 23, 2009 § Leave a comment
On November 5, in Union Square, there were tee shirts, sweatshirts and buttons proclaiming: Change has come. Well I guess so.
I’m moving to Florida soon, unless money starts falling from the sky. It’s kind of exciting when I forget about sorting and packing and leaving New York—my city, the only city I’ll ever call home—leaving Philip and my friends. I’ve been here 25 years, but before that I moved around a lot.
The sun, the beach. The quiet. Not having to live alone anymore. These are good things. I can put my mind there, but I’m not there yet. I don’t want to sort and pack, sell and give away, go to my various doctors to get the questionable bits checked, or do my taxes. I want to lie on my bed in the spring sunlight, my laptop radiating through the pillow it rests on, write and surf. I want to enjoy what I have while it’s still here—take walks in the neighborhood, go to museums, have dinners with friends.
And though I kind of want to go, I really don’t want to leave. I’m angry at the world, which could care less. I was angry at myself, but that was unproductive. To be angry at the financiers, Wall Street and the banks, Bush and Greenspan—why bother? It’s not like I’m waiting outside a cold prison in Russia to hear any scrap of news of my beloved. I’m not in an Iraqi marketplace looking at bloody body parts flung among the vegetables. It can always be worse until you’re dead and opinions differ as to whether it can get worse then.
Personally, I’d prefer no afterlife. It’s hard enough moving to another state. Dead, I wouldn’t know anybody and the jackals would sniff me out. People like to say all your loved ones—like my departed brother—come to greet you, but how likely is that? My living brother won’t even come to New York.
I’m going to Florida as everyone else flees. Land of abandoned houses (some now home to colonies of bees), hurricanes, highways, strip malls, Republicans. At least my vote will count more.
There’s no income tax in Florida. No 20° weather, no 4 a.m. drunks fighting or singing under my window. And in June, in New York, the subway fare’s going up 50 cents, with likely worse to follow.
Worse to follow in Florida too, no doubt. But if the system collapses, as so many like to predict, and the seas rise and eat the beaches just to make sure we get the message, I’ll move inland and live in a crumbling lego house with the bees.
Or not. But no afterlife. Seriously. Give mine to somebody’s cat.
“I am going to St, Petersburg, Florida, tomorrow. Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can. I’m sick of the job–it’s a thankless one and full of grief. I’ve been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor.” ~Al Capone
“I turned my home state of Florida into the Land of Xanth. “~Piers Anthony
“Xanth is a land of centaurs, dragons and basilisks, where every citizen has a special spell only he or she can cast.”~narrativeandontology.blogspot.com
March 22, 2009 § 1 Comment
Death has been on my mind. Natasha’s Richardson’s accident was heartbreaking; a close friend of mine was working with a member of her family, which is not much of a connection but it lit up my own memories of her performances. I also saw Liam Neeson on Jon Stewart a few months ago, and went through the requisite envy—Natasha Richardson has everything—that one remembers at moments like this.
The flip side of that is I’ve been feeling desperately unhappy about my own life: a stalled career, no money, a 9 year love affair that is a perpetual misery machine shot with moments of transcendent joy, hours of quiet happiness—the seductions that keep one from turning off the machine.
I have health, loving friends and family, brains and talent. Nonetheless, there’s a part of me that thinks: I know nothing of Natasha Richardson’s inner life, but if it matched what one saw from the outside, 45 years of that seems better than 145 of my own life.
This isn’t about fame or a sexy movie star husband. It’s about depression, which has systematically wrecked the many opportunities I’ve had. It’s about my father, who taught me that the way you deal with severe pain is to kill yourself. My mother taught me that you deal with it by tapping your inner strength, and that’s what I’ve been doing for 54 years. The appeal of my father’s way is you don’t have to keep doing it over and over. I remember a little wooden placard he had, the kind you buy at a tacky gift shop. Written on it was, “If at first you don’t succeed, to hell with it.”
I was struck by that not just because it appealed to a kid’s natural anti-piety, but because it seemed so in character for him, and I hadn’t consciously recognized that part of his character before. My father rarely talked to me so any tidbit I learned about him was powerful. Any connection was powerful. I didn’t believe in that slogan, and still don’t: I’m more of the school that if you don’t succeed after trying for 54 years, you should strongly consider saying to hell with it.
I’m not talking about my particular goals. I know I didn’t try hard enough in my career, didn’t do what people told me to do and what I told myself to do. I didn’t try hard enough to walk away from a hopeless romance. (No, not hopeless. I can’t even say that now. Seemingly hopeless.) But the reason I didn’t wasn’t laziness, though I have more than my share of that, but depression. I’ve never liked that word, but none of the good words—despair, anguish, terror—carry the same implication of longlastingness. I have to trust you know the ferocity and multi-dimensional nature of the beast. I’ve spent at least half my life’s energy fighting it. When I read about women juggling family and career, I relate. Tending to the demands of relentless needy creatures is wearying.
Everybody’s beast is different, though, and what I can say about mine is that it’s never been that flat, affectless grey goo that so many people describe. I’ve been in that place, now and then. It was restful. Not pleasant, but restful. But I can see why it results in suicide so often. If nothing is reliably differentiated from any other thing, even death loses its mystique and becomes as harmless-looking as a sleeping pill.
Death has never looked harmless to me. I first encountered it as a murderer taking those I loved. I’ve never gone a week without moments of joy or contentment, without appreciation of the beauty of the world that death will steal from me, sooner or later. So I have to do things my mother’s way and manage to enjoy life even though the demonspawn upstairs are going crazy and may soon erupt.
You know language is inadequate when this translates as ‘hope.’
February 25, 2009 § 1 Comment
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live?
— from Ash Wednesday, by T. S. Eliot
(Ash-Wednesday). Up and by water, it being a very fine morning, to White Hall, and there to speak with Sir Ph. Warwicke, but he was gone out to chappell, so I spent much of the morning walking in the Park, and going to the Queene’s chappell, where I staid and saw their masse, till a man came and bid me go out or kneel down: so I did go out. And thence to Somerset House; and there into the chappell, where Monsieur d’Espagne used to preach. But now it is made very fine, and was ten times more crouded than the Queene’s chappell at St. James’s; which I wonder at. Thence down to the garden of Somerset House, and up and down the new building, which in every respect will be mighty magnificent and costly. I staid a great while talking with a man in the garden that was sawing of a piece of marble, and did give him 6d. to drink. He told me much of the nature and labour of the worke, how he could not saw above 4 inches of the stone in a day, and of a greater not above one or two, and after it is sawed, then it is rubbed with coarse and then with finer and finer sand till they come to putty, and so polish it as smooth as glass. Their saws have no teeth, but it is the sand only which the saw rubs up and down that do the thing. Thence by water to the Coffee-house, and there sat with Alderman Barker talking of hempe and the trade, and thence to the ‘Change a little, and so home and dined with my wife, and then to the office till the evening, and then walked a while merrily with my wife in the garden, and so she gone, I to work again till late, and so home to supper and to bed.
–from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1663
I was driving a 69 Chevy Nova 370 four-barrel with mag wheels and a dual exhaust. It’s a kick-ass car. I took the muffler out so it sounds like a Harley. People love it. I was staring at myself through the window into the driver’s side window; I do that all the time. I’ll stare into anything that reflects. That’s not a flattering quality, and I wish I didn’t do it, but I do. I’m vain as all hell. It’s revolting. Most of the time when I’m looking in the mirror, I’m checking to see if I’m still here or else I’m wishing I was somebody else, a Mexican bandito or somebody like that. I have a mustache. Most guys with mustaches look like fags, but I don’t. I touch mine too much, though. I touch it all the time. I don’t even know why I’m telling you about it now. I just stare at myself constantly and I wish I didn’t. It brings me absolutely no pleasure at all.
–from Ash Wednesday, by Ethan Hawke
As for me, I went to the beach and it was sunny and breezy, the waves breaking with fine force, sweeping over the sand, lacy foam sparkling, white and blue and deeper blue, and my thoughts were chasing each other, dates, places, deadlines, choices, and I’d jerk my gaze back to the waltz of blues and think you’re an idiot not to be captivated by this and then the wheel of thoughts creaked around again; I had that stony feeling I get after hauling myself up from mucky hateful despair, just barely not resenting the existence of beauty.
I’m in the dim house now repenting my lack of joyousness.
February 24, 2009 § 6 Comments
I’d like to meet the man who invented sex and see what he’s working on now.
~ Author Unknown
My sex life has waned along with the economy. The correlation is obvious. Of all the turn-ons I’ve ever heard of, financial anxiety isn’t one of them. Escaping from anxiety is, of course, a classic motive for mindless fucking, but my lover and I seem to have worn out the escapist thing for the time being. “It is what it is,” he keeps saying. What he means is, “I’m finally ready to face what it is, even though the ‘is’ is a lot worse than a few years ago when I couldn’t.”
It’s okay to take a break. We have stuff to do. But just because my sex life is on pause, sex doesn’t go away; others are doing it; I have to stop and think why I’m not, and what’s left to want. I need to write about it to remind myself not to worry. Too much of my worrying happens when I’m not looking.
It’s a truism that people use sex to get lots of different needs met, and my greatest need when I was young was to know. Specifically, the longing to know about men was intense and overpowering. My father died when I was 10, a suicide who was scarcely more available when he was living. I wanted to experience the full range of men, to gather and categorize their glamour, and also, eventually, to dispel the excess. As the shrinks say, I needed to learn to self-regulate.
The laconic boys of my teenage years were such utter mysteries that every morsel of knowledge gained was a treasure. I regarded them with awe. Even the ones I deemed unattractive were more attractive than I wanted to admit. Many other girls had it easier—knew more boys, chatted and joked with more confidence because they didn’t see the opposite sex as beings of light and terror—but I also thought they didn’t know anything.
My first lesson was that sex (on the first, not-necessarily-date) zooms you past male defenses. It did so especially then, in the 1970’s. It surprised boys into intimacy in a way that being a ‘girlfriend’ wouldn’t have. For whatever reason, my willingness didn’t slot me into the category of slut, or not most of the time. Sex was my gift—offered freely, for my own pleasure and to see what would happen—and gifts evoke a whole different response than structured exchange.
In my 20’s, I had to deal with all the usual things sexual wanderlust brings—shame; the need to create a philosophical rationale for my behavior; and jealousy, mine and others’. It was exhilarating and then it was boring. I can understand how for some, tilting against or fitting oneself into social norms can be a source of lifetime intellectual fascination. But I was interested in special cases: as in, everybody is one.
I wanted to know secrets. Among women, that’s not usually too hard: sit patiently, ask questions, offer cake, withhold judgment and most will tell you the good stuff. Men are more of a problem. Often, they don’t know what the good stuff is and/or think it’s dangerous, so you have to fuck them silly.
But whatever you learn, there’s so much more beneath. And if you learn that, there’s twice as much. I suspected this about people in general from a young age but preferred not to dwell on it except when I was writing fiction, when it was a technical problem. But in matters of love, it’s the thing that pulls you under.
We want love to be difficult. There’s no possibility of romance if every door swings open. What do you do when it’s too difficult; how do you decide if you’ve reached that point? What scares me about myself is that though I’m a woman with many interests and identities—writer, friend, daughter, sister, stepmother, aunt—sexual or ‘partner’ love is my ground, my true north, the heat I would seek if I were a heat-seeking missile. And the men I love are not easy. Being in a many-partnered situation (adultery, polyamory, whatever—I hate all the words) insures that new levels of weirdness will appear. You wake up in the morning and there are seven extra floors in your brain, inhabited by invisible women and argument; and you have to take it in stride, make the coffee, get your work done. To do otherwise would be saying, all those passionate promises were nothing but sexual hysteria. Actually I can’t handle anything. Take your reality and shove it.
Life is hard now. There are uncertainties I can’t write about here, except to say they involve others’ pain and desperation, and cause me a different kind of desperation, and then there’s my financial loss, which, although I’ve been writing about it for months, I have yet to fully absorb. But I still value desire, still imagine it as the secret path away from the horrible and towards the true, as if the true were never horrible. The truth often is horrible, but desire is like water. When it evaporates, the seemingly vanished is in every breath you take. When it freezes, watch your step. And when spring comes, there no escaping it.
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
~Henry David Thoreau
O lyric Love, half angel and half bird, And all a wonder and a wild desire.
February 23, 2009 § 4 Comments
Yesterday I went to Wordcamp in Miami, a WordPress conference at the Mayfair Hotel in Coconut Grove and listened to a presentation by Jim Turner about how to make a living blogging, and another by David Bisset about the new WordPress brainchild BuddyPress (buddypress.org) which is a platform for building your own social networking site from a WordPress multiple user blog. The latter sounded fun and gave me visions of starting the next Facebook and owning reams of personal information that would allow me to rule the world, but unfortunately I can’t even start an MU site, since very few of my friends will start or stick with a blog. And even if they did, I’m not sure they’d want to be associated with this one.
The advice on making money was about attaching oneself to a corporate PR department, pitching your ability to reach the online universe. (For a fulltime position, expect a salary range of 30k-100k). Most of the attendees were techie experts of one kind or another, or considered themselves such. Turner was asked whether Fortune 500 companies would hire a blogger for this kind of work and he advised to steer clear of the big guys, because in that kind of company, “you submit a post to one editor, who shows it to someone else, who runs it by a third, who sends it to legal, then back down the chain and by the time you see it again, it’s unrecognizable.”* I’ve had freelance jobs where the same thing happened and I was working for a solo professional. Turner was also asked how to have your blog show up on Google and suggested writing good content. I like a man who sticks to the basics.
* this is not a word-for-word quote, but as I remember it.
The focus was on success yet I felt far less fear of the future than I do in New York. The Great Depression of the 21st Century, the Clusterf*ck To The Poorhouse as Jon Stewart so memorably calls it, seemed to exist elsewhere, though I have no doubt everyone present was figuring it into his plans. Certainly driving around Miami and later through Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, we saw lots of empty storefronts, the kind where the sign is still up, and the plate glass window and dusty floors have a distinctly confused look, as if the whole business including proprietor collapsed into a black hole one afternoon without warning.
My husband says that kind of gathering—Wordcamp, not the empty storefronts—makes him feel like he’s allowed to be young, not finished yet, to be the explorer and not the authority. I’ve been feeling that way for some time. My heart’s Mickey Rourke and my body’s a collection of symptoms waiting for the inspiration of disease, but my imagination has been weirdly rejuvenated, even cosmically charged, and I would like to formally thank all the gods and powers I devoted myself to in my adolescence. Since then, I’ve fallen into rationality, but maybe I’m getting my reward for that long ago surrender.
After the conference we went to Fairchild Garden and got intimate with the Ficus Banyan trees*, which are no longer allowed to be planted in Miami-Dade county because they destroy indigenous species. You can tell that just by looking at them—how they spread out, branches growing aerial roots down to earth, adding trunk segments like extra rooms, porches, illegal apartments. Left alone, they can cover several acres. In the city, they’re notorious for breaking pavement and sidewalks, sewer systems; one woman had a tree emerge from her toilet, like the tackiest of horror movies. I don’t know the details on that story but I like to think she was away from home for a few months and returned to find the tree fully dominant, admiring itself in the mirror over the sink while tender roots cascaded into the bath.
*Ficus benghalensis, family Moraceae.
ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Portuguese, from Gujarati vāṇiyo ‘man of the trading caste,’ from Sanskrit. Originally denoting a Hindu trader or merchant, the term was applied by Europeans in the mid 17th cent. to a particular tree under which such traders had built a pagoda. (From my Spotlight Dictionary.)