Six slow night miles - half trail, half pavement. All dark, barely a moon, just the headlamp and the red blink of my husband up ahead, half mile, then mile, then eventually gone. But there were bats and crickets and frogs and stars. Lots and lots of stars.
There’s a point in every story, usually about 1/3 - 1/2 of the way through, where, if it’s going to start going downhill in a way that’s tough to recover, that trajectory is going to start showing itself right around that marker. If it’s a story I’m attached to (and most of them are, or why I bother with them?), that’s a devastating, almost debilitating feeling. Once in a while I can use brute force to push the story to around the 2/3 - 3/4 mark just to be sure, but often if it started to go bad earlier, it doesn’t get any better. And so I end up with a tall stack of stories all stalled in about the same place. I’ll make myself open those files, still, and try to work with them again, but I’ll get overwhelmed with a strong sleepiness almost immediately that makes it hard to think. Everything feels like I’m looking at it through Vaseline. If I close that file and work on something that hasn’t stalled yet, everything clears. At least until I hit the 1/3 - 1/2 mark on that one, and then we start that cycle again.
Burlesque, pawn shop slumming for new pocket knives and other trinkets, a night celebrating Dia de los Muertos, maybe even in costume? Running Mt Charleston trails, the Erotic Heritage Museum, the Bellagio conservatory, used book store browsing, casual strip grazing (in the foodie sense), roller coasters, indoor skydiving? Another small tattoo?
Must be a November weekend in Las Vegas with friends. Hurry up.
I’ve recommended Tony Hoagland before, but I’m doing it again tonight.
I never say “banged out pages” (though I always like the sound of it when writer-friends say it) because I rarely bang out anything, I’m as slow a writer as I am a runner. But today, I have to say, I banged the shit out of the opening pages to a short story. Three pages, about 1000 words, in less than 30 minutes. Rare for me.
Correlation? It’s a story I’ve thought about a lot but kept at arms length because of its utter peculiarity, a strange bawdiness, no clear, clean way through it, and I didn’t feel like it would ever be received well. Though it felt completely right and familiar to me, and I eventually dug in.
“It is not memory we want, but forgiveness. We rub our hands against the dusk. Out of which sunsets blossom. Out of which your footsteps weigh, but lightly, on my soul, you, from whom relation darts wildly about like a bat in the rafters, gathering the last scraps of daylight held in abandoned mirrors, you, hoisting the heaviness of each failed dream, for it is you I touch as we shift the burden of our desires from one shoulder to another, as we watch the swallow’s flight decipher the landscape, as the scarecrows of feeling are trying on our words, for who can say, now, how many stars are missing?”
— Richard Jackson, closing lines to “Possibility,” from Heartwall (University of Massachuetts Press, 2000)
"I can only speak for myself, but there’s something about writing at night that feels … sneaky. There’s an outlaw quality to it, combined, oddly enough, with a sense of being safe. It has an anaerobic, subterranean feel; it’s as if I’m working beneath the soil, toiling in secret, trying to cultivate something hidden and occult.”
“There are two types of waiting. There’s the the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later—like waiting for the 6:28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there’s the waiting for something you don’t know is coming. You don’t even know what it is exactly, not exactly, but you’re hoping for it. You’re imagining it and living your life for it. That’s the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart.”
“Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually-existing world and its wholeness.”
I do not know what gorgeous thing the bluebird keeps saying, his voice easing out of his throat, beak, body into the pink air of the early morning. I like it whatever it is. Sometimes it seems the only thing in the world that is without dark thoughts. Sometimes it seems the only thing in the world that is without questions that can’t and probably never will be answered, the only thing that is entirely content with the pink, then clear white morning and, gratefully, says so.
Mary Oliver, from Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014)
“Tell me the best fantasy lands aren’t deep, deep conversations. The one you had when everyone else was asleep at a slumber party when you were nine years old on the basement floor covered by a green outdoor rug next to her brother’s barbell stand. Or the one you had on the bus with that boy when you were fourteen who said girls didn’t go out with him because he had a paunch and didn’t play football. And you admitted a few things about yourself that didn’t sound good. Or the one that kept you in the dining hall so you missed all your afternoon classes in college. Or the one that led you to elope. Or the one last week when you talked about how you felt about failing and failing again until one of the children came running in because you’d forgotten dinner.
Tell me, aren’t the best fantasies where you have those conversations you don’t want to leave, like an island, ancient volcano, surrounded by jeweled waters, warm in the sunlight, icy in the shadow of its caves—a place you remember best for being rare, for being far in the middle of the sea, uninhabitable, or unbearably too inhabitable, left before we ruined it.”
Could it really be that only three light sessions of physical therapy have already corrected a four-year-long battle with my right leg and ankle? A hip upslip and scar tissue in the sacroiliac joint from a mountain fall injury in 2010 + peroneal tendonitis aggravated by that and a small deformity in the ankle bone on the same leg has had me dragging that leg behind me every run like a heavy, achy near-dead thing.
After all this time waving it off I finally gave in last month and agreed to 12 sessions of PT. At the first session the therapist re-aligned the hip upslip and used some medieval torture devices to break up some scar tissue, and gave me some targeted exercises for it all. On the second visit there was already a big improvement, reduction already in scar tissue, much less swelling in the ankle, smoother fascia in that leg, and the hip was good. I ran twice. No issues, no aching, I felt like that leg was 80-90% employed in both runs (vs. 40-50% most runs for the past four years). Speed is still complicated some by asthma and probably always will be, but I was about 30-45 seconds faster per mile than I’ve been in a long time.
On the third visit almost no evidence of prior issues, and I was discharged from PT early. “You don’t need me, girl.”
“As I speak, blood is coursing through our bodies. As it moves away from the heart it marches to a 2/4 or 4/4 beat and it’s arterial blood, reoxygenated, assertive, active, progressive, optimistic. When it reaches our extremities and turns toward home—the heart—well, it’s nostalgic, it’s venous blood (as in veins), it’s tired, wavelike, rising and falling, fighting against gravity and inertia, and it moves to the beat of a waltz, a 3/4 beat, a little off, really homesick now, and full of longing. When we first write our poems, how arterial they seem! And when we go back to them, how venous they seem!”
They don’t want to stop. They can’t stop. They’ve been going at it for days now, for hours, for months, for years. He’s on top of her. She’s on top of him. He’s licking her between the legs. Her fingers are in his mouth. It’s November. It’s March. It’s July and there are palms. Palms and humidity. It’s the same man. It’s a different man. It’s August and slabs of heat waves wallow on tarred lots. Tornadoes sprawl across open plains. Temperatures rise. Rains accumulate. Somewhere a thunderstorm dies. Somewhere a snow falls, colored by the red dust of a desert. She spreads her legs. His lips suck her nipples. She smells his neck. It’s morning. It’s night. It’s noon. It’s this year. It’s last year. It’s 4 a.m. It started when the city shifted growth to the north, over the underground water supply. Now the back roads are gone where they would drive, the deer glaring into the headlights, Wetmore and Thousand Oaks, and the ranch roads that led to the hill country and to a trio of deep moving rivers. There were low water crossings. Flood gauges. Signs for falling rock. There were deer blinds for sale. There was cedar in the air. Her hands are on his hips. He’s pushing her up and down. There are so many things she’s forgotten. The names of trees. Wars. Recipes. The trench graves filled with hundreds. Was it Bolivia? Argentina? Chile? Was it white gladioli that decorated the altar where wedding vows were said? There was a dance floor. Tejano classics. A motel. A shattered mirror. Flies. A Sunbelt sixteen wheeler. Dairy Queens. Gas stations. The smell of piss and cement. There was a field of corn, or was it cotton? There were yellow trains and silver silos. They can’t stop. They don’t want to stop. It’s Spring, and five billion inhale and exhale across two hemispheres. Oceans form currents and counter-currents. There was grassland. There was sugar cane. There were oxen. Metallic ores. There was Timber. Fur-bearing animals. Rice lands. Industry. Tundra. Winds cool the earth’s surface. Thighs press against thighs. Levels of water fluctuate. And yesterday a lightning bolt reached a temperature hotter than the sun.
“Get scared. It will do you good. Smoke a bit, stare blankly at some ceilings, beat your head against some walls, refuse to see some people, paint and write. Get scared some more. Allow your little mind to do nothing but function. Stay inside, go out - I don’t care what you’ll do; but stay scared as hell. You will never be able to experience everything. So, please, do poetical justice to your soul and simply experience yourself.”