Family, Humor, Memoir, Nashville, Personal Essay, Prose, Writing Life

Christmas Onions 2000

My first Christmas in my first apartment alone, trying to be a big time grownup. I made French onion soup for dinner. I called home to California earlier in the day. I had read a scripture, I told my mom, something about getting my house in order, and I felt I needed to do that, which involved me staying in Nashville for Christmas, again, alone. She wasn’t convinced, but because she couldn’t fly out and physically drag me home, she accepted it. 

I was trying to be so adult. I was trying to prove something, though, looking back, I can’t imagine what. Was I trying to prove that I could withstand severe holiday depression? Was I trying to prove that no matter how badly I wanted to off myself that season, I didn’t need my family to help me not become a statistic?

I called my Hungarian violin teacher after I called my family. He was a big part of my life then as music was a big part of my life. I also adored his stories of escaping communism. Communists used to make Hungarians eat diseased cow meat and chocolate made from blood. Zsolt was also disappointed I wasn’t coming home. He was put off by my choice of Christmas dinner. He said, “Well, maybe you could float an ornament in it and make it more Christmasy that way.” I laughed and felt lonelier by the minute.

God I was miserable then—a miserable sort of miserable that radiated in waves across the country from Nashville to my little city Berdoo.

I was new to keeping my own appliances then, just as I was new to keeping my own household in general. For example, while I had used a garbage disposal many times as a kid growing up, I somehow never learned that putting onion skins down one is not such a great idea. By the time I had all the onions in the Christmas soup pot sautéing with butter, beginning to oddly smell like apples, my garbage disposal was filled to brimming with onion skins. 

I ran the water and turned the disposal on. It growled like an offended demon and the water didn’t go down. It began to spit up chopped onion skins in great belches, making of the sink water a slimy, stinky soup of its own. I stopped the thing. “That was not bright,” I told myself.

I grudgingly lugged my plunger into the kitchen from the bathroom. In retrospect, it is amazing I had a plunger given that, when I first moved it, I hadn’t realized until I was in dire need that toilet paper doesn’t grow on the roll. 

I stuck the plunger to the drain and plunged for dear life. More and more onion skins belched forth from the disposal along with other unspeakable things most likely from tenants past. I sucked everything out that I could. 

The water still didn’t go down. The chopped onion skin and unnamable goo mocked me as it danced its spiral around the sink.

I ended up having to strain all that onion skin and other detritus out of the sink with my bare hand, letting the water slip through, but retaining the chunks that clung to my fingers. I pulled the trash can up next to me and went to town. I think a year might have gone by. 

The sink came clean, the water went down, and the garbage disposal growled happily, its gut no longer sick.

I washed my hands at least three times. I washed the plunger. I raised the plunger over my head and made He-Man muscles. 

“I am the Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe!” I proclaimed to my empty apartment.  

“I am the Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe!” I shouted again just in case the ghosts I lived with hadn’t heard. 

I lowered my plunger and shrugged my shoulders. Shoving the onion skins down the disposal was not the only terrible mistake I made that lonely Christmas. Not by a long shot.

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Writing Advice, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Writers’ Stage Fright

The blogs that are the best blogs are personal, not academic. Those are the blogs that are fun to read, or at least fun to read for me. The reason they are fun to read is because the author is writing for the joy of it. If you can’t write for the joy of it on your own blog, then where else? Blogs are possibly the most low-pressure forum anywhere.

My focus on my own blogs has been twisted. Right now, I need to focus on making myself a writer rather than making myself a viral success. I need to be an artist first. Always first. And I need to begin at the beginning. I need to humble myself.

I know a lot of craft shit. A lot. I have a style. I have a voice. I know oodles of words. I know how to type. I know how to get myself so balled up about a project that laying down the first word gives me a panic attack—literally. 

If I’m writing for the audience first, I get stage fright.

I used to perform often. I was very involved in drama and choir in school. I had two stunningly awesome speech classes. I was a singer. I was and am a performer. Also, every time I am about to perform, I feel like I’m going to die. My anxiety gets full and physical. I have to take long, deep breaths to hopefully slow down my heart enough so my chest doesn’t explode. I have to close my eyes because everything all of a sudden gets bright. My hands shake, hard. I get a little twitch at the corner of my mouth. My knees shake too. 

But here’s the great and weird thing:

When I perform, I am amazing. I don’t want to sound conceited there, but performing and public speaking are things at which I know I am excellent. 

During the speech class, I stood up there delivering the speech with my hands shaking, suppressing my tick, making sure to slow my words, and even though I am going through all that, the performance comes out shiningly.  

After, I sit down and let my hands shake their last shakes, and when they’re done, I feel a euphoria that is so all-encompassing it is impossible to describe. Better than crack, we’ll say. Better than crack.

The difference between performance anxiety before an actual performance and performance anxiety before beginning a writing project is that when you’re set to perform, you must perform. Your cast members, partner, grades depend on it. There is a lot at stake should you fail to act. With writing, it’s different. You can convince yourself all day long that your anxiety is bigger and more important than your need to write. The whole big show won’t be ruined if you take a nap instead. Nobody will fail and be held back if you’d rather play on Facebook. Performance anxiety gets the best of you and stops you in your tracks.

The question becomes, how do you overcome performance anxiety as a writer? I don’t have a clear answer. I remember all the things we’d say to each other before shows: “Don’t be nervous. The audience wants you to succeed,” “Plant your feet and own the stage,” or, my personal favorite, “Anxiety and excitement have the same physical symptoms, so just tell yourself you’re excited.” I like that one because it sounds super wise, but is near impossible to do. 

Perhaps the key is not considering your audience at all in the beginning. There is no stage when you sit down to write. No one is watching you or judging you. If you hate what you write, it need not ever see the light of day. You are totally in control. You are totally free.

Dance like no one is watching, blah blah blah and so on, big saccharine barf.

Conquering writers’ stage fright is easier said than done, but better done than undone.

For now, that’s the best I can do. 

-M. 

Personal Essay

Wild and Considering a Haircut

My hair is gorgeous with platinum curls absolutely everywhere. It can also be the wildest white afro you’ve ever seen. There are frizzy parts and curly parts and parts beat straight from being slept on. When I wake up, I often look like Einstein in dire need of a haircut. 

It’s been getting on my nerves lately. It’s always in my face and sometimes even in my food. It gets caught in my purse strap. It gets under my watch band. It gets in my eyes. It gets in my mouth, even without being food-borne. 

Also, it’s hot under this thing. Seriously hot. I don’t need another reason to sweat and I sweat into this pelt all the time. 

The wildness, at times, is inconvenient, but I do love it. The problem has been that it can’t be wild without being in the way. Wildness is meant for the wilderness, not my civilized lips. 

A common symptom of depression among women is the desire to cut off all of one’s hair. I’ve dabbled in those thoughts many times, but my hair is my glory, like the Bible kinda says, and the Lord himself might weep if I got rid of it. 

I’ve decided to give it an out-of-my-face wilderness all its own.

I’ve decided on a pixie cut, even though I look nothing like a pixie in the face, or, ahem, in the body. I’m more like a bumble bee. I will give it the top of my head and the great heavens above to roam around and howl in. I will put some unnecessarily expensive crap in it after I shower, run my hands through, and let it go. If I’m going to look like Einstein anyway, I might as well not be a shabby one.

I have only a few requirements:

I want something undomesticated that doesn’t even look like it needs to be domesticated. 

I do not want to come out butch.

I do not want to look like a boy, (terrible experiences with that when my mom chopped all my hair off when I was little and every stranger called me a he.)

I don’t want ever to have to spend more than a few minutes styling it, but no styling at all would be preferable. 

Low maintenance baby. Low maintenance. I’m a low maintenance broad who needs a low maintenance do. (You’d think I would be able to type “maintenance” by now with no mistakes, but no. “Maintenance” is a lot higher maintenance than one might think.)

I love the look of wild, straight punk cuts, but I’ve got curly girl, curvy girl, girly girl written all over my scalp. We’ll get as wild as we can. We’ll get as far away from my watch band as we can. Wildness makes no promises.

-M.

Elegy for My Empire, Prose, Still Life Prose

But for the Grace of God Go I to the San Bernardino Greyhound Bus Station at 4:00am

348s.jpgFrom the low, brown hills at 3:00am, urban coyotes sang and yipped their eerie cantata to the full Snow Moon as she presided over an inland California landscape decimated by February heat. The lean beasts are starving, I thought as I crested one of the hills and looked out over the wearily glowing city below.

Down in the valley, the commute crawled. Twenty-five in a school zone, it was all school zone. And what wasn’t school zone was torn up streets, reflective orange pylons scattered unreasonably, disaster preceding a fancy new city bus line that promised to proceed, expressly, from nowhere to nowhere. I reached downtown by 4:00am and pulled into the Greyhound bus station at 6th and “G.” The two corners opposite me were both weed-eaten lots upon which the ghosts of condemned early 20th century houses hulked, listlessly reminiscing to each other about the long-gone days of the city’s glory, when the scent of orange blossoms and the low whistling of Santa Fe trains permeated the predawn air. On the corner next to mine loomed an Economy Inn—the skanky rooms of which you could smell from the street. They did not smell of orange blossoms.

I awaited my friend.

I leaned back in my seat and yawned. The light from the motel sign cast everything in gold. The streetlights added a flickering orange. A damnation on this place of perpetual electric sunset.

To my left, a stocky, bald man in an Ozzfest T-shirt strode back and forth in front of the station’s locked gate. He smoked a butt he had found on the ground and muttered to himself between ashy inhales. His tennis shoes were white as the Holy Dove.

To my right, a teenage Latino boy rode a children’s bicycle to a trashcan on the corner and began rummaging through it with his bare hands. He pulled one store-brand cola can after another out of the bin and rattled them into a white kitchen trash bag hanging from his handlebars. The moon and the motel light caught each one as it breathed briefly in the open air, and cast their multicolor reflections on the boy’s arms. But for the reflections, the boy was dark. His hair, bicycle, and clothes manufactured from shadows. He was attired so as not to be seen, but I guessed very few people looked at him anyway.

Under the motel sign, a passel of brown-haired angels. Each wore tight yoga pants and a hoodie at least two sizes too big. Each had her arms crossed over her breasts. Each flipped her hair on a steady count. Each joked with the others—a stream of swears, gallows humor, how small that last John’s dick was. They were cold. They were obviously cold. In the afternoon, while they slept, it would reach ninety, but now, under the cruel Snow Moon, it was a biting fifty-five.

Their faces were lean, their hands thin and graceful, their legs slim enough to be easily broken.

I flicked my eyes back again to the stocky man still enthralled by demons and the teenage shadow who was on his third trashcan now. Someone, I thought, should write about these. That would be a great help—a harrowing social cry. Someone should write about these, because, “Who needs food when you have art?” say the artists who have never been hungry.

-M.

Nashville, Prose, Writing Life

Itches, Indulgences, Resurrected Love Affairs

curl_of_smoke_by_cuperdy-d4wy7e5I have indulged too much in black cigarettes. I have indulged too much in telling the story of how they remind me of a happier time.

Me, smoking them in autumn outside my favorite place on Earth, Cafe Coco in Nashville; cold wrought iron table; purple scarf from Thailand wrapped around my head; black and white herringbone wool coat wrapped around my body; one, fitted O. J. Simpson black leather glove on my left, non-smoking hand; my red, hard-shell computer case glowing with its white apple on the back, the white keyboard dingy with use. I wrote some good stuff out there. I made even better plans for the even better stuff I would write if I took the time I was taking smoking black cigarettes to lay words on screen.

I’ve remade my Cafe Coco the best I can in my California backyard—the only independent coffee joint I know of around here. I have an outdoor table that gets cold in the pre-dawn hour. I have little house wrens that dive-bomb the seeds I leave for them the way fat sparrows would dive-bomb Tater Tot debris at the Cafe. I have cold, over-sweet coffee. I have my computer, now hard shell purple, but with the same dingy keyboard and glowing apple. It’s too hot for the herringbone wool, but in the cold mornings I still sometimes lay the Thai scarf over my hair.

I have my black cigarettes as much as I want now, no making a trip to the special smoke shop next to the underground club with the seedy mulletted man behind the glass counter. The cigs sit easy on the shelf at the local 7-Eleven. There’s less glass in them, I can feel it in my throat. There’s less clove too. I lick the tips as ritual before I smoke and they are less sweet. Like a love affair resurrected out of necessity, some of the fire is gone. There is too much and too little. There is longing for something new with the same cold heat there once was.

I have indulged too much in my black cigarettes. I have indulged too much in telling the story of how they remind me of a happier time.

-M.

Love, Prose, Writing Life

What Bold Extremes I Have Inside

Sunset in Ojai, CA
Sunset in Ojai, CA

I have wanderlust and I have agoraphobia. I have the life of the party and I have extreme shyness. I have beauty and I have ugliness. I have back-breaking kindness and pitiful hate. I have a tongue for healing and a tongue for tearing apart. I have the darkness of smirking devils and the light of smug angels with halos bolted to their goddamn exalted heads.

I am a lover of the sun but a creature of the dark. I am built for it, physically, but I will pain myself with the sun in the morning on purpose because it’s good for me and I have an unholy love affair with it. My eyes reject it. My skin rejects it. But oh, my stupid heart.

I have gone for days before without saying a thing. I was training in high school and early college to be an opera singer. A bitch of a teacher in those college years once told me, “I think you think you sound better than you actually do.” Later that night, I crumpled on the floor in the music room and cried in front of the mirror. I walked home in the rain on narrow streets where the cars couldn’t help but splash mud up over my shoulders. I got quieter that day. The canary I held in my heart singing died in the mine, hung stiff, upside down on her perch, her feathers black with coal dust.

I can be happy. I can, out of the blue, say, “Weee!” when we turn the car sharply. I can take a friend’s hand and run in a random direction in the middle of a walk, and whisper, “That’s not us. Let’s go!” I can curl up in my bed in the heat, sweat in my blankets until they become stiff with it, blame my friends for abandoning me when I haven’t called them in weeks.

I’m always ending on a bad foot when I’ve got two good feet to dance on, when I’m alone. When I’m alone, I’m a freakin’ rockstar, baby. And sometimes, when the moon is right, with you.

Like that time in Ojai when we watched the sunset from the overlook in the park all full of blooming cacti and bird of paradise and new agers taking themselves way too seriously. And you joked I was one of them knowing out of my bare brain the moon was waxing near full in watery cancer. And I did a little dance for you in the parking lot—the dance of the groovy water moon while the sun set and the park was closing and god spit great gobs of splashy spit on us from above and you smiled and smiled and smiled.

-M.

Nature Prose, Photography, Prose, Writing Life

Sunrise: From Nashville to Berdoo

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Late Winter Sunrise: San Bernardino, Inland Empire, SoCal.

Today I am grateful for the sunrise under which I started my morning writing. In the east it looked like the heavens and earth were on fire. In the west the clouds spread in great pink streaks across a periwinkle sky. These are all common things to say about the sunrise, I know.

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Late Winter Sunrise and Hibiscus Flowers: San Bernardino, Inland Empire, SoCal.

I remember The Phantom Tollbooth and how one of the characters our heroes meet is Chroma the Great. He conducts the sunrise like music. Each rising color makes a tone or phrase of its own. I adore that book and I adore the movie and I adore the image. When I lived in Nashville I would sometimes (OK rarely) take a walk at this time of day and a little earlier. I didn’t have to worry about coyotes and other stray dogs trained to be killers there, not to mention actual killers. But in the hour or so before sunrise, I would walk along and look up at the sky and swear I could hear the planets singing as they moved both imperceptibly slow and unbelievably fast. It was as if I were a voyeur to their sacred praise of the gods and each other, crouched in the moist green, as I was, in a simple, working class neighborhood at the center of the Tennessee valley.

So I am grateful for the sunrise this morning and for the planets’ tender singing. It is wonderful to know they sing and praise and move on their courses everywhere, even over the concrete and brown grass, thirsty coyotes and other stray, unloved dogs.

-M.