A Drug Called Publishing

Today is my last day of being 26. I have a certain ambivalence about turning 27, and today I lack the old excitement I used to feel about birthdays. I don't think it's due so much to a straight fear of death as it is to a fear of un-accomplishment. I have had some small publishing successes, but nothing big, substantial, attention-getting. I have always felt excited about turning 30, of being more established, of being taken more seriously, and I realize my days of being "awfully bright for someone so young" are dwindling to a definite end, but I think I might feel better if I had something really great out there by the time I turn 30. Something I was proud of: some non-fiction articles, perhaps, or some poetry, or perhaps the book I envision in my grandest dreams. I don't know what form this will take, but I feel, as they say, the relentless pressure of time.

Oh, and if I could be gainfully employed at some point, that would be nice too. I think those are my long-range birthday wishes, because everything else in my life is just about perfect.



A heatwave really makes me want a job. Sure, tooling about my apartment, underdressed and eating chocolate, isn't the nightmare you might be imagining right now, but an air-conditioned workspace is so underrated. Marx never mentioned the value of the freedom not to bake in an oven.

The only place to get online in my apartment is also, sadly, the hottest spot in the apartment. I mean, my study is of course "hot" in the sense that it is "happening," but it is also about 99 degrees in here. Forgive me, I haven't blogged in a week. This heat-wave has had me curled up in Starbucks with my laptop, writing (good) but then coming back here and trying to get online while suffering unjustly from extreme heat exposure (very bad). I sit here, write an email, sweat, look for a job, sweat, consider posting a blog entry, and then leave again.

Things that have happened:
1. My brother turns 18 today. I called and asked him what it felt like to be a man. He said it felt good. He's visiting our grandmother, and over his shoulder informed her that she'd have to do all the cooking this weekend, since he is finally a man, and men get to sit around. Joking, of course. He's a funny kid, no?
2. Peaches returned to me from his conference. I have these little spiky fears about being in love with a scientist when I am not one myself, and sometimes they peak a bit. They peaked a bit. But I'm really glad he had such an awesome time with all the other Teva-wearing scientists. Perhaps if I went to a writer's conference and everyone was wearing Doc Martens, I'd feel really affirmed too. Well, or insignificant, come to think of it.
3. There was a whole theme to last weekend's graduation ceremony/party for my brother. His girlfriend of a more than a year was with us a lot, helping to decorate for the party, sitting with me at the graduation, quietly by his side for the dinners and brunches with family. Meanwhile, I was getting emails from my boyfriend's mom. My mother-in-sin-in-law has been panicking for the last month or so, afraid she's suddenly losing her (adult) son to me, the woman he's lived with for a year. If she could, I think she'd extend a death grip out here and grab him and take him back. But she can't, so he's been trying to show her that she will never possess him, but will remain in his life even while I'm also in his life. Seems rudimentary, but hey, that's family. Back to the graduation ceremony: Elly's girlfriend and I sit, watching him cross the stage, and as funny or exciting things happen, my mom twists around, giving me a big smile. I squeeze her shoulders and tell her I am proud of her. But we have to keep remembering to look at his girlfriend, too, to remember her role in this huge event in his life. We don't share these moments with her because we forget how fundamentally involved she is. But from her point of view, she knows everything about him, all the little things he does that no one else knows about.
4. So, possession. That's my new theme to think about.
5. Also, we're seeing the Boss live in concert in August! I bought tickets this morning.
Alright, off for a rockin weekend. Stay cool.


Dear Diary

Sometimes I just want to post a blog entry all day, but actually have to work up the nerve to do it. I worry that an entry just won't be good enough, especially if I am feeling low-energy or distracted. In those times (like today) I often read more low-level blogs before writing, blogs that have a substantial following and that are more chit-chatty. Facts about their love life, descriptions of their friends. Interesting because the author is introspective, and yet not profound. Not like, you know, my blog is profound. But I sometimes wonder if it's "good enough." (for what? you might ask. I don't know.)

I'm distracted today because tomorrow I'm waking up at 5am, leaving at 5:30, and driving my sweetheart down to the Providence, RI airport so he can fly cheap to a biology conference near Sacramento, California. And after he leaves, I'll keep driving....400 miles, until I get to my parent's house in my upstate New York hometown. My little brother is graduating from high school, and the nine years between us seems to both shrink and expand at the moment of this event. I'm proud of him, and this represents a new step for our family. I'm glad my parents will stop having a kid in the house, and I'm glad my brother will get to taste independence. I think it will be good for all of us. He's having a big party after the ceremony, the first party he's had since he was five years old, and it sounds like he's invited the whole neighborhood, which is awesome. He's always been his own person, but he gets stronger and more true to himself every year. I'm excited to watch him really develop himself when he leaves home. He's the least literary of our family, and the most perceptive, which makes him someone unusually interesting.

Also attending his graduation---and sleeping in my parent's house along with me---are our aunt and uncle, driving up from New York City with our teenage cousin, who they have taken in for the year after she had a falling-out of sorts with her own family in Missouri. She's 17, and became a Jesus freak with a heroin-addled boyfriend; she finally had to move out. Now she's living in New York City with my dominant, feminist, artistic aunt and her husband, who used to be a judge. While those two travel in Spain, my cousin will stay with my mom for three weeks. I can't imagine better, more profoundly different influences for this cousin of mine, even though it's all within one extended family. That's a plus, I guess, to having far-flung but trustworthy relatives; when a change of scene, parenting style, and environment is absolutely necessary, it can happen.

It will be chaos, I expect, and I feel rather spaced out just thinking about it. Being separated from my boyfriend for five days, while it sounds very simple and silly, is actually kind of a big event for us. We haven't spent many nights apart since meeting, so it's kind of like functioning without your other leg. Which can be good, I guess; it makes what you've got that much stronger. On top of this, however, I'll be sleeping in my brother's bed while my cousin sleeps on the floor and my brother sleeps downstairs on the couch; my mother's attentions will be consumed by my loud aunt and my passive uncle, and who knows how my father will be? Happy? Sad? Tense? It's not very predictable. My brother will probably be incredibly happy, which will make being there wonderful, and he's in love, too, with the same girl for well over a year now. Her family will be attend the party too. People will ask what I've been doing and I'll say "writing," they'll ask about Dan and I'll say he's great; they'll ask about our future together, and my job plans. I can just tell them, perhaps, "everything in due time" and "have any career advice?"

A few days later, my brother will turn 18; then the next Tuesday, I'll turn 27, and five days after that, my boyfriend will turn 26. That same day, one of his dearest friends will arrive to spend the better part of the week with us, someone I've never met before. I hope, despite all of my own questions, my uncertainties about the achievability of my writing goals and my professional future, my confusion over my desire for, in equal parts, a.) adventure, b.) happy and stable homelife and c.) no regrets, I can still be charming to all these people, all these people who know so much about me and have their own sets of ideas. Do you know that feeling, when you'd kind of prefer to be a sweet, cheerful backdrop, but the fact is, you have this heady personality, one that is overcome by your dear friend's upcoming wedding and your brother's graduation and your surprising dependence on your partner and all your questions about your future together? You know what I mean? Good.



Today is the one-year anniversary of owning my own car. There was not a single accident, ticket, or missed loan payment to be had in any of the last 52 weeks. Not even a dent. This from someone who put 21,000 miles on it in one year, and in her life has been in more accidents than she can count on both hands. It's still the same good little car I bought and had inspected last June 17, and it never gave me a flat tire or funny noise. Not even a "check engine" light. It's usually covered in snow, pollen, or falling leaves, and yet it has carried me to places both wonderful beyond my dreams and endlessly depressing. But it has always carried me there, even though it didn't always get the timely oil changes and scrubbing it deserved.

Saturday will be the one-year anniversary of living with my boyfriend. We'll both be out of state (in different states), so we won't be able to properly celebrate, but that just means that we'll have to lay it on extra thick before I leave for my brother's high school graduation in upstate New York and he leaves for an evolution conference in California. I can't say that there were no accidents, or that we never had to adjust the roadmap to keep both drivers happy. But I can say that as an experiment, it is wildly beyond successful, a delicious experience, one that has made me happier than I could have ever dreamed. When the lease renewal form came in the mail, we just signed it without thinking or hesitation. Of course we will live here together, we thought. Of course we'll share a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, hopes and dreams, every breakfast and dinner, every bad day and every silly morning. Of course we will now and for years to come. I am so unbelievably grateful for this enduring, fresh-faced love. It gives me all the energy and hope in the world.


Six Nights in the Woods

It's 4 in the morning and your eyes are already open, but it doesn't matter, because the sounds of birdsong are so cheerful and certain, and the diffuse white sunrise light spread through the tent makes a small world angelic. All day now, the smell of earth and pine needles, the intense blue of the sky shattering the line of dark fir trees directly overhead. Climb out of the tent and walk down through the trees to the angular ridges of Maine boulders, where the ocean beats dips in the rock into little tide pools, and every dark edge is lined with barnacles. There is only salt in the air, and no other elements. The air sparkes with salt. Inhale the good taste into your lungs, and you'll find your skin smells of salt the way your hair smells of smoke from the campfire. Lie down on a hot rock in the sun like a lizard and watch the white clouds migrate east.

If you're lucky, you'll bike tall coastal hills until you reach Precipice Trail, where a ranger directs your cliffside gaze to nesting peregrine falcons. Watch a seagull get chased away by the mother's piercing warning call. Later, climb a hot bare mountain and find a baby milk snake tucked into a crevice. On his twisted body, black patterns cover tiny scales of perfect white. In the mornings and evenings, there are moose to be seen. They are eating, standing in a pond and grazing, watching you watch them and then dipping their heads under water again. They come out in the rain and the mist. You see moose tracks later, like some awesomely huge deer, so big it's sci-fi, circling your campsite, taking traditional roads like they own them.

You might also climb mossy rocks in the bits of sunlight that tumble through the forest canopy. And stop sometimes to turn and stand on a steady boulder and kiss your sandy-haired boyfriend. Hold his hand at the brink of a waterfall. During a misty dusk spent at a teahouse, over cappucino and popovers, turn away from the darkening view of Jordan Pond and look into his eyes. They are true.


On Hiatus

But I invite you to think about banana-nut muffins, pug puppies, and what it's like to get lost in the woods. Also, is there any more logical response to the question: "Does God exist?" than "I don't know" ?

I ask you.


Va-cay Blues
I'm still excited about the 160-mile bike trip we're supposed to take soon, but a little worried. Last Monday, I ill-advisedly went for a 30 mile ride in strong winds, and may have put too much pressure on my left shoulder while scaling hills. It has hurt ever since, and driving, reaching for my toothbrush, holding my (very tiny) cat, and even typing have all made me wince in pain for several days. So I don't know. We'll either bike to our destination, then bike around it for a while, or we'll drive to our destination, and then bike around it for a while. I'm about to take a test run on flat streets to see which postures I can endure without a constant dull pain. And I'm very nervous about biking around a few blocks, which should tell you something.


Medicalspecimen.blogspot.com continued

I am ushered into a small room at McLean hospital, famous for the lobotomies and shock treatments of its day. McLean now houses the casually ill, patients who chain smoke and talk outside on cell phones while wandering the lush grounds. I have only come for a two-hour measure of my brainwaves, for which I am to be paid $100. I am seated while Luke, the young lab-coated intern, carefully squeezes conductive gel into the electrodes on my red skull cap. An observing doctor asks him questions. Luke explains how the department attracts the bulk of their studies: "Mostly it's cocaine and crack addicts who really need the money. Sometimes they want treatment, too." He tapes an electrode to my nose. "Some of them don't look like they eat enough, so we make sure to have lunch ready for them when they come in. They at least get that."

He turns on a computer monitor. In the center of the screen there is the word "look." There is a small camera in a corner of the room. I look at the camera and smile. Luke and the observing doctor go outside, and he speaks to me through a speaker. When I raise my hand to my cheek, his voice booms through the speaker: "Keep your hands down, Cedar," but his tone is kind. A white noise machine blocks out all outside sounds. Images flip through on the computer monitor, as outside, Luke watches the electrical activity generated by my brain.

I have been given clear directions: I am only to click the button when I see images that make me think of drug use. But I have a problem. Images keep getting shown to me, in rapid repetition, and I click on the wrong thing. Image #1: A butterfly on a flower. I don't click. Image #2: An eel with its mouth open. I don't click. Image #3: A guy smoking pot, or snorting cocaine, I can't tell which. I click! Image #4: A butterfly on a flower. I don't click. Image #5: A huge shark with a diver in its mouth. I click! But it's so wrong to click! The same pictures are shown to me in rapid succession dozens of times. I always click on the shark attack and the drug user. I wonder what my electrical activity looks like to the outside observer. Later, I think about what an innocent girl I've surprisingly turned out to be. I am deeply committed to regard very few things as truly scary, but when something is very bad for you (cocaine, shark attacks) I know for sure.

Luke goes on to show me pictures of skydivers, knife attacks, lamps, shoes, spoons, and guns. For once, I click buttons correctly. Before I leave, I ask him to take my picture.

So, who knew?

It's the birthday of sex expert "Dr. Ruth," Ruth Westheimer, born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany (1928) to Orthodox Jewish parents. The Nazis came to power, and in 1939 her family decided to flee Germany. But her grandmother refused to go, so Ruth was sent to safety at a Swiss school. She never saw her family again. After the war she moved to Palestine, joined the underground movement fighting for a Jewish state, and trained as a sniper. Eventually she moved to New York, got her degree, and started broadcasting a radio show called Sexually Speaking that made her famous.
Copyright Minnesota Public Radio, 2003

I don't know if you caught that "trained as a sniper" part.
Experiences Enshrined

Blogoddess Bonnie responded to my "Why I'm a Blogger" post and quoted Daniel Schacter: "There may be nothing more important to human beings than our ability to enshrine experience and recall it." I love that. I have to read him now. In the meantime, I have been slowly working my way through Samantha Power's book "A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide." Just a little fun reading. Samantha Power works at the school that I used to work for, and I met her, once, at a party. Briefly. Anyway, this is her first book, and it won a Pulitzer this year. She's only 32 or 33. And from what I've read in interviews, she had a hell of a time getting it to print; after three years of writing and hundreds of interviews, no publisher wanted to touch the thing. Finally one did, and it won the Pulitzer. That's what I consider inspiring.

The book itself is bold, powerful, and swings persistent blows against the United States' lack of action to prevent genocide. "Never again, never again" goes the cry, and the Holocaust museums are shrines in this country (as well they should be). In fact, the museums are the epitome of experience enshrined, and you'd hope that the act of enshrinement would ensure the truth of "never again." But, unfortunately, it did happen again. And again and again. It happened in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, and in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were slaughtered in 80 days. When Bill Clinton spoke at Harvard, he told us about what happened in Rwanda, and I couldn't quite believe it. When Power writes, you believe it.


Endless Sunday
This weekend felt like it lasted forever. That was not a bad experience. We got up at 4:15 on Sunday to help our friends, and got all the laundry and shopping done by 10am. We napped with the cat for hours in the afternoon. We discovered a pond on Saturday, a dairy stand, a wood frog, and Peaches caught a garter snake and held it in his hands. At night there was bike riding: see pictures here. I have applied for a job this morning, written a poem on the typewriter, and done up the website a little better. We are almost ready for vacation.