Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Long Overdue “To Do”

I write a lot of “to do” lists. They’re pretty much always the same—and I pretty much almost always still forget, or neglect, to do half of the things on it. But I still get a little thrill when I draw a line through one of them, marking it off: Yoga. Laundry.

One that I haven’t marked off in far too long is one that makes the top of the list nearly every time. That “to do” is “Write Grandma E”—that is, my Grandma Exckhardt, my mother’s mother. Aside from the fact that I’ve run out of stationary for the first time in a decade, I don’t have one good reason to not mark this off the list every time. Especially since every time I do mark that off the list, and drop that letter in the mail, I feel really happy.

This evening, while on the phone with my dad, he rather politely reminded me of this neglect, hinting that maybe I hadn’t been in touch with Grandma recently, and that maybe, just maybe, that might hurt her feelings. My heart lurched as soon as I realized he was right: When was the last time I had written Grandma?

It’s been months.

When we got off the phone I paced around my kitchen for a minute, feeling awful. Should I call now? But no, it’s too late—I’ll probably just wake her up. Then I thought, I’ll write her a letter right now. I’ll mail it tomorrow; she should get it by Saturday.

This plan didn’t seem good enough, either, so I vowed to myself that I’d call tomorrow, either on my lunch break or as soon as I got home from work.

Whether your line of thought right now is either “Wow, calm down” or “Geez, can’t you even take the time to call your own grandmother?”—I don’t really blame you for either. On the one hand: Calm down. I can rectify this. On the other: Can’t I take the time to call my own grandmother?

I’m bad at keeping in touch. If it weren’t for Facebook and email, I’m sure plenty of people would forget I even exist. I’m that bad.

But: my grandma doesn’t use the Internet. She also doesn’t live in Chicago. She lives in Muncie, Indiana, and she and my grandpa spend the winters in Florida with my aunt. Hence, the importance of the letters or phone calls. Neither of which I’ve been doing.

You should know something about my Grandma E: She is thoughtful.

And when I say thoughtful, I mean thoughtful. One year I told her how good the birthday cake she made for my party was, and she made the exact same cake the following year. Based on one offhand comment! Because she knows how much I love devilled eggs—and hers in particular—she makes some every single time she knows she’s going to see me. Every time. Even if she’s not hosting the get together. She does it because she knows I love them. She has done this for years.

There’s nothing that’ll really make you feel worse than acting less than thoughtful to a person who is always thoughtful to you. Know what I mean?

But it’s more than that. Because there’s another thing you should know about my Grandma E: my mother adored her.

Well, duh—that’s her mother. But, whenever my mom talked about her, whenever my mom was around her, even as a kid, I could feel not only the love between them, but also the respect that my mother had for her. They had a special bond, perhaps not unlike the bond I felt with my mom.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Mix Tapes: Casual As You Are, Gets Hard to Say

Last night, Maps & Atlases and White Denim played at Lincoln Hall. I hesitate to call a show perfect—what does that even mean, perfect?—but this show felt perfect, to me. Both bands sounded excellent, and the bar was stocked with $3 Budweisers and Halloween candy. Clearly, key elements to reach perfection.

I loved how humble the lead singer from Maps & Atlases was, thanking the crowd after nearly every song and just coming across as genuinely grateful to be playing.

And his voice! His beard! It's a win. So here's a song, not from last night, clearly, as I was not in Seattle:

In contrast, White Denim came on, and did not stop. Like, to breathe. There was no time for multiple thank you's. They just kept going, one song into another, sounding incredible on every track. The lead singer managed to have his glasses on for probably two songs at most before he was too sweaty, and they all just played so hard and put their fucking all into every song.

And then this happened (to clarify, this is also not from last night, but another great live version):

It was so beautiful, I swear I was hearing it in my dreams last night. I could still hear it when I woke up this morning. I will say, the dudes were dominating the audience last night, but the women I did see in the crowd were feeling it. And by feeling it, I mean the chick who was full-out spastic dancing, hair everywhere, for the entire set. I loved it. (And no, I'm not talking about myself, here. I was more subdued in my joy.)

In completely unrelated music listening, I fell in love with this song today and have listened to it probably 10 times already. Is Lulu James the most beautiful woman ever, or what? But more importantly: her voice. The beat doesn't overpower, either. It's just enough.

"Use me as your guide to the right path without the cracks (don't be reluctant to)":

And finally, because it's always best to end Mondays on a sexy note, let's listen to The Weeknd be really fucking blunt:

I like a man who gets right to the point. "Just don't call tomorrow asking what did I do."

How Do You Know Who You Are?

“How do you know who you are?” asks artist and author Maira Kalman in her book, The Principles of Uncertainty. I’ve not read the book, but I’ve been a fan of Kalman’s work since I first saw her blog, “And the Pursuit of Happiness” for the NYT. So when I saw this post about her at Brain Pickings today, I was once again struck by her musings.

It’s something on my mind today, this question, “How do you know who you are?”

Ten years ago today, my mother died. I dread the approach of the 29th of October like nothing else. It’s coming up, I think. Is there any way to get out of it? It’s silly, really. Well, it is silly and not silly all at once. On the one hand, it is only a day. To be blunt: my mother is still dead, every other day of the year. It’s not really any better or worse on this particular date, now is it?

Nonetheless, it is still a day—the day—that, ten years ago, marked the worst day of my life. At one moment, she was here, and the next, she was not.

So every October 29th, at some point—sometimes at multiple moments throughout the day—I feel it all over again. I feel the exact feeling in my stomach that I felt 10 years ago, when I heard a nurse say, “Her heart did stop.” It is a swift kick in the stomach. When it happened this morning, I was rubbing my eyes, convincing myself to shake off my sleepy feeling. And then: BAM. I felt it.

Thanks, October 29th. I’m awake now.

After my mother died, I began thinking of my life in two parts: before Mom died, and after. Things were one way, and then they were another. I also began to think of myself in two ways: how I was before Mom died, and how I was after. It’s really no wonder one day can seem so monumental! I’m thinking of my entire life split in pieces from it.

How do you know who you are, when you are mapping so much of your identity from this loss? I hate it. I want to stop. I think of ways to stop. But it doesn’t really work that way—instead, the elaborate daydreams begin. It’s a little game I play in my brain, where I wonder what my life would be like, what I would be like, if my mother hadn’t died.

It’s a dangerous game, this game of what ifs and if onlys—and I’m tired of it, quite frankly. Of course, it might seem completely self-absorbed that, on the day of my mother’s death, I’m asking all these questions about myself, and not her. But while it’s about me, it’s still about her, all the same.

Of course I am not the same as I was when my mom died, and thank God for that! After all, I was a teenager—18, just starting freshman year of college. Now I am closer to 30 than 20. And so when I think of the question, “Who am I?” it ties into this day so perfectly because on this day, when I particularly miss my mother and feel the utter finality of her absence, I think, I never knew my mother as an adult. She never knew me. And who in the hell am I, anyway?

I don’t always have the answer to that, but I have an idea. Sometimes it changes. Sometimes I like the answer. Sometimes I don’t.

But if my mother taught me anything, it was this very important lesson:

You can be pleased with nothing when you are not pleased with yourself.

So what if I don’t have it all figured out. So what if I can’t always exactly pinpoint the answer to the question, “Who am I?”

Today I am a woman who misses her mother. Tomorrow, I will still be that woman, but it will no longer be this day, and maybe I can think of something else. All I can really try to do is be pleased with the honest answer to the question, “Who in the world am I?” and maybe, just maybe, if I’m pleased with it, it’s not unlikely that she would be too.

Like Kalman says:

What would happen?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Mouse

Someone wise—maybe my cat, or more likely Eleanor Roosevelt—once said to "do one thing every day that scares you." 

It really is a great idea. So that's why I'm doing it, right at this very moment. No, no, that one thing that scares me isn't blogging. (But maybe it should be, and then so many of my thoughts and feelings over the last several years wouldn't be splashed all over the Interwebs.) 

Here's what I'm doing: I am typing this while sitting on a cushion on my apartment floor. 

Why is sitting on my floor scary, you might ask?

I'll tell you why. It seems I have a new roommate. 

This past weekend, I was having a rather terrific Saturday. I slept in until almost noon for no reason, other than the fact that I am a GROWNUP, dammit, and I do what I want. I talked to my dad on the phone. I did some laundry, which always leaves me feeling smug and pleased with myself, because that's a perfectly normal reaction to an everyday task that I put off for no reason every week, RIGHT?

My wonderful Saturday continued when I decided to try a new, more advanced yoga routine. I was having so much fun with all the crazy angles and falling down on my mat with side plank variations that I was grinning as I stepped back into downward dog. What a great day! I was thinking—yes, I was actually grinning, thinking positive thoughts while doing yoga on a Saturday, what the hell—and I looked back at my feet. 

Right at that moment, a mouse scurried out from my front closet, across the room and into the utility closet.

So I did what any reasonable adult would do in that situation.

I yelped, grabbed my phone off the coffee table, and immediately texted several people. While perched on a stool with my legs in the air, of course. I'm sitting in my sports bra and yoga pants on a stool, sweating, and texting people that I saw a mouse. 

Uggh. And I thought I was annoying with all that positive thinking before! Now it was official. WHO AM I?

I got off the stool, because this whole thing was stupid. It's a mouse, Alison! I'm now thinking to myself. Don't be a fucking ... GIRL ... about it. 

(GASP. I know we're all shocked by that sexist rhetoric that went through my brain. But: It happened. Dammit, society! This is your fault! Gender! Ok. Moving on.)

So, I got off the stool. And I promptly put on my boots that were sitting by the door, because I was scared to be in my bare feet. 

That's right. I was now sweating, grasping my iPhone for dear life, staring at my utility closet in fear—while dressed in a sports bra, yoga pants, and boots. To make the situation more ridiculous, I started chastising my cats.

"Layla! Mufasa! There's a mouse! Go get it!"

Layla was hiding, likely because all my frantic jumping around and perching on a stool freaked her out. I looked at Mufasa. 

"Mufasa! THE MOUSE!"

From her perch on the living room chair, she looked at me, blinked, yawned, and stretched out on her back.

Thanks a lot, assholes. 

To make a long story short, I called my landlord, and he came over and set up some traps for me. There have been no more mouse sightings as of yet. But I'd be lying if I told you that I haven't been taking giant leaps past the utility closet, or if I pretended I didn't yelp in bed last night because I was convinced the mouse was on my pillow. (It wasn't a mouse. It was my cat's paw.)

Yesterday evening when I was doing yoga I think I was actually holding my breath for the first 15 minutes, looking back every other pose to check for the mouse. What did I think it was doing, hanging out behind me and eating popcorn? And as it turns out, breathing is sort of, you know, important when you're doing yoga. So I cut that shit out and just focused on my yoga.

I was getting a little tired of the nonsense. Specifically: my nonsense.

Because spotting the mouse came at the end of a weird week for me. I was feeling out of sorts for the better part of last week. Insecure. Moody. Anxious. Then I see this mouse, and my first reaction was, well: "EEEK!" and then, heart still pounding, I'm already judging myself. Telling myself I'm not supposed to react in a certain way. Good lord. Of course I was a little freaked. Does anyone anticipate seeing a mouse run across their 2nd floor city apartment in the middle of the afternoon? 

What did I think I was supposed to do? Immediately catch the mouse, then release it to the wild, all without feeling at all nervous? 

Enough! Let's all give ourselves a break once in awhile, shall we? Because in all seriousness, I think it is a wonderful idea, to do something every day that scares you. It's just that sometimes, that thing is simply recognizing that you're afraid of something in the first place. And after recognizing it, just accepting it. Here goes: I was afraid of a mouse. WHEW. We all feel better now, right? (I hope it's at least somewhat clear that I'm thinking about other aspects of my life than just a mouse at this point.) 

So tonight I sat my ass down on this pillow on the floor to write. My butt hurts. But dammit, I am showing that mouse who runs this house. Since I've done this, maybe tomorrow I can do something really amazing. One day at a time.

Of course, I'm directly facing the utility closet. If that mouse comes out, I'm ready. And we're gonna have a chat about this living situation. 

This post is part of a little writing experiment inspired by Ray Bradbury, to "conjure the nouns"—read more details here. Or, just wonder why I wrote so much about THE MOUSE.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Poetry Slam: At the Same Old Stand Buying Bagels

By Frank O'Hara

In placing this particular thought
I am taking up the cudgel against indifference
I wish that I might be different but I am
that I am is all I have so what can I do

as the hero of the hour I might have one strange destiny
but it is all mixed up and I have several
I can't choose between them they are pulling me aloft
which is not to say up like a Baroque ceiling or anything

where is the rain and the lightning to drown or burn us
as there used to be
where are the gods who could abuse and disabuse us often
when am I ever in the country walking along a lane plotting murder

you would think that the best things in life were free
but they're the worst even the air is dirty
and it's this "filth of life" that coats us against pain
so where are we back at the same old stand buying bagels

I think it would be nice to go away
but that's reserved for TV and who wants to end up in Paradise
it's not our milieu
we would be lost as a fish is lost when it has to swim

and yet and yet
this place is terrible to see and worse to feel
along with the purple you have contracted for an awful virus
and it is Christmas and the children are growing up

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Mix Tapes: With the Lights On

So, it's Monday! Who feels like weeping? I know you do:

I first heard this two weeks ago, when I was spending my typical Wednesday at the coffee shop, and I do not exaggerate when I say I listened to it six times in a row. I sneaked a glance over my shoulder by the last few times—does anyone know???

Finally, I had to stop it. Those final, "I know you care!" repetitions were making me want to start slamming things around and yelling.

"I know it wasn't always wrong, but I've never known a winter so long..."

It's a beautiful song. And maybe it won't make you want to slam things around your neighborhood coffee shop, but I think it's a safe bet that pretty much all of us could relate to it on some level.

Anyway, now that we're done crying, let's listen to something a little sexier, shall we? And I promise it's not the new Lana Del Rey.

Oh wait, it is!

Now my main question is, is my girlfriend singing, "You can be my full-time daddy" or "my photon daddy" or "my futon daddy"— or is it none of the above? I kinda hope it's futon daddy, but I think that's unlikely.

Either way, I just love it when she sings, "Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble, but I've got a war in my mind" but especially when she sings, "I'm tired of feeling like I'm fucking crazy," because girl, I feel you, I really do.

Finally, and speaking of sexy:

Yep. Happy Monday!

The True Test is in the Doing

Wow, the Rainbow Chronicles are looking sad as fuck lately, aren't they? Two posts in July. Five posts in August. One in September! One! Inside, my soul is dying. I’m totally failing my role as the narcissistic essayist if I’m not inundating the Interwebs with all my thoughts and FEELINGS on at least a weekly basis. My man E.B. would not be proud.

I’d like to say that I’ve just been so busy chasing my rainbow lately that I haven’t had time to post, ha, HA. Or, we could talk about how I haven’t had an internet connection for about a month. Apparently, one of those helps when you’re trying to, you know, WRITE ON THE INTERNET.

But hmmm...that doesn't really excuse the lack of posts in July or August. Anyway, I’m a terrible blogger, blah blah blah, etc. etc!

In the meantime, with all the non-blogging, I spent a week in Cape Cod last month, and have been doing all the reading I apparently do when I’m not spending hours dicking around on tumblr, reblogging photos of macarons and cats and yoga poses. (But seriously: tumblr! Neat! I like it!)

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about writing, which is not nearly as good as actually writing, but I suppose it’s a start. One new trick I’m doing is writing on my phone notepad every day, writing really silly things that probably no one should ever see, but I’m a glutton for embarrassing myself, so here’s an example:

So yeah, mostly just rambling weirdness, but at least it's keeping me from tweeting every thought that runs through my head. (But seriously: twitter! Neat! I like it!)

I also read Ray Bradbury’s book, Zen in the Art of Writing, which is just jam-packed with great ideas that I should really do, and not just think about doing. I posted about it on my tumblr last week, speaking of how much I love tumblr. It’s short, so I’d like to repost it here.

Conjure the NOUNS

Ray Bradbury, in his book Zen in the Art of Writing, recommends that writers put down a list. Lists of titles, long lines of nouns. He said that “These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface.”

His list went something like: THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE DWARF. THE ATTIC.

Lots of circus themes. Lots of old people and creepy shit.

He said he would run through his lists, pick a noun, and then write a long prose-poem-essay about it. As he was writing, this THING would turn into a story. Brilliant stories, as a matter of fact, because he is—was—Ray fucking Bradbury and of course they were brilliant.

I decided to give it a go. What would be on my list? I had a few ideas, a few NOUNS.

Things that were on my mind, that were “hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.”


So far I have written about the air mattress and the dentist. Both are a little creepy. Both started as a poem-prose-essay thingy, and both ended as such.

It’s hard to be brilliant when your NOUN is AIR MATTRESS. And when you’re not Ray Bradbury.

Still, I love the idea. I’m gonna keep trying it.

“Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness,” wrote R.B.
Now that this idea, to conjure the nouns, has been planted in my head, I can't stop thinking about it. As I'm locking my door when I leave for work in the morning, I think about it: THE STAIRWAY. THE APARTMENT. THE MAN ON THE BICYCLE. 

So that brings us to the next aspect of R.B.'s advice: the doing. The actual writing.
The seemingly obvious tactic a writer should take in order to produce great creative work: A writer should write, duh!

He wrote: “You have been working, haven’t you? Or do you plan some sort of schedule for yourself starting as soon as you put down this article?

What kind of schedule?”

When I read this, I felt so sheepish that I actually put the book down and looked around, as if I’d just been caught naked at work or something. The cat stared at me, yawned, and rolled over. No one was there. No one cared that I haven’t been putting in the work!

Nobody but me, that is. So I went on to read:

“Something like this. One-thousand or two-thousand words every day for the next twenty years.”

Planning for the next twenty years feels juuust a bit daunting, but ok, R.B. I can write one-thousand or two-thousand words every day. Watch me!

So, last week, I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier than usual, vowed to myself I wouldn’t hit the snooze button for the entirety of that 30 minutes, and went to sleep blissful, ready to wake up and write something genius.

Well, it’s nothing genius by any means, but I did sit down to the computer, and I wrote something.

At the end of his essay, R.B. really hit me over the head with why it might be useful to take his advice. He wrote:

“Let me assure you I speak of all these things only because they have worked for me for fifty years. And I think they might work for you. The true test is in the doing.

Be pragmatic, then. If you’re not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try.

If you do, I think you might easily find a new definition for Work.

And the word is LOVE.”

I’m not always the best at following advice, but I guess now is as good a time as ever. So, I’ve started my R.B. Training, as I’ve decided to call it, right now, this very minute as I type.

He’s right: ‘The true test is in the doing’—so I am done with the restlessness, the days and weeks pass by that I create nothing.

I’m ready to put in the work.

So every day, I plan to write some more. It might just be a run-on sentence typed on my phone about pigeons. It might just be a silly little blog post like this one.

But sooner or later, maybe something wonderful will appear on the page. I only have about a thousand words left to go.

Every day.

For the next twenty years.