My personal library, or the meritoriousness of due-dates (courtesy of the public library)

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I love my personal library because it is always being refreshed and it is informed by the blurbs I read in magazines and books and blogs and the performances I attend. If a work or artist is mentioned which I am unfamiliar with, but intrigued by, it is brilliantly easy to place a hold, which means at some point in the future, that book will enter my stacks. From there it’s up to fate, whether I’ll open its spine to peruse its contents or not, though one factor increasing probability is what’s commonly known as the due-date.

Due-dates are desirable, because we’re all procrastinators, right? The due-date is the secret to life, or at least the key to busting open those musty volumes to see what’s inside. Every 3 weeks the bell tolls; and although there’s a superb chance of renewing, especially the more obscure tomes, it serves as a reminder that the clock is ticking and that one’s reading window is finite. Of course, there is infinite grace here; if a book simply must be returned before one’s time with it is complete, one can place a new hold on it as soon as it’s been put back into circulation. This is a perfect closed circuit, in which books are constantly placed in new hands along with the desire that accompanies an experience which is terminable.

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3 regrets

1. That time when we were talking about rejection and you said you had been dumped so many times that you had grown immune to the experience, I regret not mentioning that you were the only person to ever break my heart.

2. Tonight, when I ran into my playwriting idol at an reading and we gawked at each other like long lost friends, I regret not asking her how she wrote and performed that first piece when she was a nobody back in the day which haunts me still.

3. At the aforementioned event, after reading from her collection of dance reviews/poetry/ephemera, when the author asked which non-linear bits stuck with us, I regret not saying the bit about the reviewer not being allowed to drink wine before the show because it is funny and because laughter is a good way to salve the wounds that arise from appraising the situation and finding myself falling short.

Spotlight: White Girls by Hilton Als

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Whenever I read excellently penned memoirs, I entertain the idea that my own life could be written in a similarly hypnotic vein. Then I remember, being more mouse than girl, that I shy away from trend-setters and starlets; on the whole I have avoided more often than collided with life. But then Hilton Als, in his essay, Tristes Tropiques, describes himself as “half living life so I can get down to really living it by writing it”, and I think aha! just watch me!

My raison d’être is to be where no one notices me like in a bookstore on a saturday night just before closing. Which is where I was when I saw White Girls with its capitalized title, defiant and oddly familiar. Not being able to pinpoint the arc of his story – messy, contradictory, and addled with cultural references – I was drawn to it.

From Tristes Tropiques, “what is grace but the desire to forget one’s body, or share it with others?” Als describes a need, a craving for love which transcends ownership, or even, at times, touch; our search for a “we” or a “I” that acts like a mirror, reflecting back our double, or twin.

He describes a white girl (one of many in the book) he calls Mrs. Vreeland because “she was stylish, and everything she wore was unfussy and the opposite of fashion and what did the first Mrs. Vreeland say about style? ‘It helps you get down the stairs’.”

These days, I yearn for the time to write the essays, poems, plays whose bits rattle about in my brain. When I was young and had the time and money I worked grunt jobs instead of pursuing my craft; I felt that I had no right to write, I had to live first.

Now, I try to imagine what this new ideal would look like. If I wrote all day, would I dress up my limbs and paint my face to go out to the bars and cafes at night?

Because writing often flits between subjective and objective desire. We are so much in our own heads, we have to feel the world’s eyes on us in return, to feel desirable, and to make the isolation of the work worthwhile. When Hilton Al’s muse says, “what readers crave most, what fills them up, is the story of love, and how it ends,” she speaks for all of us who are watching our lives and loves take root and unravel, while simultaneously putting it all down on paper.

Flashdance: what a feeling!

November 11, 2014 is significant for me. Today marks my acceptance into the NW institute of literary arts residency program (quite a mouthful!). My first round of courses will include the study of short prose forms such as flash fiction, prose poems, and brief literary non-fiction, just the kind of thing I’ve been tinkering with this autumn on my blog, Heart Improvement.

I’m quite bowled over by this turn of events. It has been a few months since I started pushing the publish button to see what would happen, to find out how presenting my writing might change me, and therefore transform the world.

When I casually mentioned my blog to a friend who runs a performance venue, she insisted that I come to the shows and blog about them. It was thrilling, like I was on assignment! The first time, I stayed up until 4 am writing my piece, even though I had to wake at 6 for work. I felt that a suspension bridge had unfurled before me, providing the opportunity to connect my imagination with something of merit and weight in space and time.

On the subject of time, I have had the boldness lately to watch movies previously unseen. Thelma and Louise, viewed 23 years after its release, moved me, and filled in pieces of my back story. Like why I purchased for my first car, a turquoise 1963 four door Ford Falcon, and posed behind the driver’s wheel with blue eyeshadow and curlers. And savored the desolation of late night excursions through backwater haunts and train graveyards.

Why did I wait so long to watch a film so seminal and thematic to my generation? I don’t know; though, perhaps like a bottle, waiting brought out the complexities in the wine, and in me, and in our secret, overlapping histories. Why does it take many of us so long to pursue our dreams?

Last night I watched Flashdance, the movie. I had never seen it, though it came out when I was in high school and I was one of the trailblazers who took scissors to the neckline of her sweatshirts in response to it. That movie lodged itself inside of me, sight unseen. I knew it was about a dancer, that she lived in a warehouse, that she worked as a welder. I also may have heard that there was some sex, though I would have turned 17 shortly after it came out in 1983, so I could have seen it despite its R rating.

It is like me to choose the route in the dark where you just have to feel your way. It’s not as if Flashdance is a flawless work of art, but in some ways it was the manual for folk like me, who quit formal ballet and worked as a cook at the OK Hotel, then as an industrial tile baker, living in a warehouse above train yards and fruit trucks and horse carriages with a midwestern photographer, both of us supplementing our day jobs with nude modeling.

And the guy in the movie, he’s really a dud, though he does have the pivotal line, “When you give up your dream, you die.” I guess that’s reason enough for him to exist.

The movie’s climax is the try-out at the stodgy ballet school, when Alex goes berserk and delivers the performance of a life-time, the new-wave music blaring and the old farts’ feet tapping. In spite of the long-shot of achieving her dream (and why she would give up her bad-ass, decadent life-style for the prim world of the academy is beyond me and beyond the scope of the movie), she is going for it with every fiber of her hard body. “Take your passion and make it happen!” It’s a message worth revisiting, or, if you’re like me, it’s not too late to take it to heart.

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A rent in the fabric

A rent in the fabric of her serenity, luminous like the lake she drove past, surprised by its brightness on such a grey day, occurred at the estate sale where she went to collect a stove. She was standing in the nearly empty garage, surveying the wreckage, when a young man said to his companion, do you have a projector? From behind a rusting golf caddy he procured an aqua canister, the width of opened arms. Before her eyes, the man then conjured three aqua legs – a tripod! she said to herself, entranced – balanced the canister on it, flipped the thing 360 degrees, and unfurled a silver movie screen to the delight of his companion. The woman there to collect the stove stood, a witness to the event, dumbstruck by her sudden and desperate need to have this shiny object. The thought weighed on her that had she been in the room at the time of the couple’s discovery, that it could have been her to see it first, except that until that moment she did not know what she was lacking. It perplexed her to assemble the pieces of her desire; the tripod was mechanical, and therefore linked with her scientific father; the aqua-tinted metal stood for her murky, melancholic, water-loving childhood; and the screen itself, generous, a reflector of light like the lake she had just observed. And here it was, before her, but not to be hers. Such is life! She knew there was no changing the outcome, the couple would take the screen, at a bargain price, and she would collect her stove and pine for the unattainable, and thus, perfect item.

She drove home, the gnawing inside her now accompanied by the rattling of the stove in back. She put on the most cymbal-laden CD in her glove compartment and resigned herself to the crashing. She thought of how it had come to be that she was driving around picking up stoves on a Sunday when previously she had been practicing with a band. The dissolution of the band had not been her decision; it struck her now that the others had been laboring under the premise that the band was her brainchild. The band might have been preserved if members had determined that the band was their idea as well. It’s strange, she pondered, how switching one’s perception the slightest can shift things for good. When the option came up, she turned off the main road, and found a side road chock full of bumps and curves. The music caterwauling, and the stove clattering such that she thought it might collapse into a pile of rubble by the time she reached home, she followed the arc of the lake, imagining the banging metal as her rage, boiling unseen beneath her smooth, mirror-like surface.