A story that I wrote and that Mandala Journal published.
A house becomes a home through an accumulation, not of time or possessions, but of errors. The hole in the wall from a fit of adolescent rage, the cracked tile where the hammer slipped from your grip and fell to the floor, the stain in the driveway that refuses to be bleached away, the stump of the lemon tree that rotted away under your care, these are the things that truly mark ownership of a house, that make it not just a setting of memories and container for mementos, but a memento in itself. These are things that cannot be repurposed, that cannot be presented as anything but flaws, no matter how powerful the memories behind them. These wounds belong to the people who inflicted them, and no one else will ever be able to comprehend, much less own, their scars.
To the security guard who was the first person in Boston to laugh at one of my jokes, thank you, and thank you for the directions.
To the former student who gave a really awesome panel presentation, I hope you enjoyed it, and I wish more people came, because you did a great job.
To the woman who apologized for calling me a woman, I’m sorry if my response only added to your confusion, and hope that you can use that confusion to good purpose.
To the British woman with whom I discussed guns for the better part of an hour, thank you for reminding me that American culture is as unique and interesting as any other, and not some kind of control culture against which other cultures are measured. It’s so easy to think of being in an armed madhouse as normal.
To the man at the hostel who talked to me for no reason except to plug his panel talk, I’m sorry I didn’t go, because it’s clear to me that this was really important to you, but there were other things that were important to me, too.
To the flustered waiter in the hotel restaurant, I hope everyone tipped well and no one made any bizarre or impossible demands, although I know the reality was more or less the opposite.
To the man who told me I was in the wrong bathroom, then leered at me with equal parts disgust and arousal, you’re probably right, but I like urinals, so you’re just going to have to deal with it.
To the woman who found my nametag, thank you for saving me fifty bucks at a time when I really don’t have fifty bucks to lose.
To the lion sculpture outside the restaurant by the Hynes Convention Center, I thought you looked really cool in the snow and I want to get to know you better.
To Boston, it was weird not having to miss you, and I hope I didn’t make it weirder than it had to be.
Around. You’re not my mom, okay?
I’ve been working from home while looking for work outside the home. Mostly this involves data entry, taking psychological tests, and doing Google searches for a dollar an hour. Sometimes it involves usability testing on websites.
I’ve learned that there are still people who not only take IQ seriously, but feel the need to get on soapboxes about it in the debriefing for a study on something totally unrelated. I’ve also learned that there are companies that get paid by other companies to pay people to Google certain things and click on certain results, causing certain changes in the search results in the process.
Also, I’ve learned that this kind of work is really emotionally draining, because you end up in a situation where you could always be making money and always be getting closer to paying that electric bill. Life becomes a struggle to pull yourself away from your work ethic, followed by a struggle to get back to work when you’ve finished doing the dishes or making tea.
I’ve begun work on a lyric essay on alien abduction called “Ascension.” It’s incredibly pretentious and obscure and unenjoyable unless you’ve studied abduction narratives, but that’s been really liberating, because it means that I don’t need to worry about making it publishable or relatable or accessible. I also ended a draft on an essay about Florida, then started essays about EPCOT and Brattleboro, but it’s clear that I need to go back to those places to rekindle enough memories for a pair of full-length essays.
Let me get back to you on that.
I can’t afford it, but I’m still going. I’ll be the sober, effeminate one.
A poem I spent about half an hour on while brainstorming something else.
1. Overruled by time, Florida
Rose out of the sea,
Its beaches littered with jellyfish.
2. How many summers will Florida spend
Walking down the strip,
Holding a check it has forgotten
That is has not cashed?
3. I went to the beach, and stared west
At the lights of blank hotel rooms.
4. In winter, a glaze of frost
Darkens the sleeping oranges.
5. Locked up at night, Florida
Is a storefront of pine
6. Love in Florida, or do not love.
7. In Ecclesiastes,
It says that Florida
Will be the house of God,
But God had other plans.
8. The aloe brightens,
And the ferns unfurl,
Before the hurricane.
9. I am not averse to Sleeping Beauty.
I, too, woke up in Florida.
10. Once in Florida it was so hot
That you could cook on the blacktop
And people stayed home
11. When the moon is full in Florida,
The sand is white, and the sky is dark blue.
The houses, too, are white.
12. An abandoned town in Florida,
A bird slamming against a plate glass window.
13. In the midden, amid the bones of deer and the clamshells,
Are human bones, scored by human tools
For human purposes.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been working for Barnes & Noble. It’s a great job, but it’s absolute murder on my sleep cycle. In the past couple of months, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my body clock, when I reset it, resets to sleeping from dawn to early afternoon, and that this is the schedule that’s “natural” for me. The world, of course, has other ideas, and like all people with sleep disorders, I’ve had to make compromises.
Last week, I had several morning shifts in a row. These ran into the early afternoon, and they’ve left me with a problem similar to one I faced while teaching morning classes, namely a sleep schedule that is both bizarre and unhealthy: I’ve been falling asleep in the late afternoon and waking up at midnight and waking up after midnight.
I’m almost tempted to stay this way, at least for a couple of weeks. Waking up in the middle of the night, when the house is silent and the neighborhood is utterly motionless, is always a strange and compelling experience. Doing so in winter, when the air is cold and wet and diffuses the light of the streetlamps, is doubly so. I’ve been going for long walks at odd hours, cradling a mug of hot tea in my hands. I’ve sat on the back porch, writing and gazing up at the silhouettes of the pine flatwoods that line my neighborhood. I’ve lain in bed with the lights off, letting myself be half-asleep, which is a much more enjoyable feeling than dreading that you won’t be able to get any sleep before your 7:30 AM shift.
At the same time, I miss falling asleep at dawn. That may seem like an odd reason to reset, but dawn has always been calming to me. It feels safe, and the light that slips in between the slats of my blinds is warm and gentle. Falling asleep in the afternoon is a simple thing, you just drift off. At dawn, though, it feels like the prelude to a dream: the birdsong punctuated by the occasional loon call; the faint, unreal light; the crickets in the summer and the occasional frost on the window in winter.
This is a self-serving post; I’m writing it to motivate myself to stay awake. I hope it also suggests something: that the time of day when we do something isn’t arbitrary, that it influences how we do it and, to some extent, what it is. Falling asleep at dawn is not like falling asleep at dusk is not like falling asleep in the afternoon. The same goes for writing–I see a lot of writers insist that a particular time of day is the only time of day to write, usually based on the evidence that it’s the only time of day when they can write, and this leads me to wonder whether, perhaps, this might simply be the only time of day when they can write what they write the way they write it. It makes me wonder how much my own haphazard day planning has shaped my writing, and certainly led me to plan a stricter regimen in order to see how it affects my work.
Yesterday, I went thirty-one hours without sleep. I passed through alternating periods of exhaustion and exhilaration. My body demanded food, recoiled from it, then devoured it with no conscious input on my part. I paced madly for an hour, then could barely get out of the chair for another. At one point, I became consciously aware of the different kinds of tissue in my arm. I finally gave up the ghost and fell asleep at eleven, then woke up at six in the morning. I’m still tired.
I’m doing this because I’ve had it with my circadian rhythm sleep disorder. I’ve done this before for the same reason, and each time I’ve just gone back to my old cycle a couple weeks later. The odds that this time will be any different are so low that I won’t even go into them.
So why do I bother? Frankly, I’m bored with the night. It was kind of fun for the first two or three years: I really enjoyed being able to skip the hottest parts of the day, being able to get groceries at less crowded hours, being able to take night busses without worrying that I might fall asleep and wake up bereft of my cell phone and wallet. It was also really wonderful being able to see what the world looks like without people racing through it all the time, and to have Taco Bell as a breakfast option in the years when I didn’t have to worry about my blood pressure. At the end (beginning?) of the day, though, it just gets old after a while. It gets old having every doctor’s appointment or meeting with my advisor be a bizarre sleep deprivation ritual. It gets old having to go through the process three times a week on semesters when you have morning classes, or not being able to have lunch dates. It gets old having to worry about rickets.
So I’d like, just this once, to cling to the fantasy that this time will be different, and that this time I’ll keep up the current schedule. Who knows, maybe it’ll actually stick, and I can live a normal life, or as close to one as is possible in academia. For now, I’m a little tired, but I’ll make it to midnight.
1. Fiddling with Rainmeter or foobar2000 does not constitute “productivity,” nor does it constitute “hacking your life.” It constitutes tinkering with Rainmeter or foobar2000. The hours that you spend getting everything just right so that you can open a document in 1.36 fewer seconds than before will not pay for themselves, especially not since…
2. You will never be satisfied with your Rainmeter desktop. The same for foobar2000. The same for RocketDock. This time is not a one-time investment. You’ll find something wrong with your tinkering later, which is how you’ll discover that…
3. Productivity can be a huge time sink. No, really. It’s probably the most seductive form of micromanagement that there is. You can blow a lot of time on your to-do list, especially when new apps come out practically every week. It’s really easy, especially because it’s “productive,” and it’s kind of fun to focus entirely on yourself and the minutiae of your daily life. Speaking of your daily life…
4. You need sleep. No, really. You need sleep. Those bags forming under your eyes? That’s what they mean. Stop fiddling with Astrid and get some sleep. You are not a role-playing game protagonist who only needs to sleep to refill his or her HP, and…
5. Just because it doesn’t cost money or take up space doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthless knick-knack. I have a thing for knick-knacks. One of the banes of my minimalist phase is that I found it really hard to get rid of some of them, and even threw out “useful” items to keep them. Even I, however, will acknowledge that most people just have too much useless crap in their houses, and a good deal of it is in their hard drive.
You don’t need another alternative to the Windows 7 Taskbar. I know it saves you two seconds of time whenever you go to open a Word document, but really, you don’t need it. Similarly, you don’t need another note-taking app. You’re not going to check it, any more than you checked the other one. You also don’t need that custom launcher, or that alternative to the default alarm clock on your phone, or that fifth to-do list. These things aren’t making you more productive, or efficient, or whatever you want to call it. They’re making you the digital equivalent of a person who owns a tactical pepper mill.
Now that that’s out of the way…
6. Top five lists kind of suck. They strip away a ton of context. You’d never know, for instance, that I started using all of these things because I knew I’d have to be completely self-directed this summer, and needed a note-taking app to help me, and that I wasn’t sure I could really do that. Nor would you know that I’d actually had some success with Astrid, once I stopped dividing my time between it, GTasks, and a notebook on Rainmeter. Top five lists aren’t popular because they’re effective means of communicating information, but because they’re an effective way to reduce blogging to a series of comments on buzzwords and soundbites.
I’m very good with mazes. It’s a talent that I’m quite proud of, not because it’s particularly useful or rare or interesting, but because I’m not really good at any other kind of game. I have never successfully completed the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and even the Daily Jumble can take me over an hour to complete. I am terrible at video games, worse at chess, and can’t even understand poker, but I can solve a maze just by running my eyes over it for a little while. This assumes, of course, that I can see the maze, and that I’m solving it with my eyes and a pencil. If you place me in a labyrinth, I will quickly get lost, unless of course you give me a map.
Recently, a friend of mine informed me of a very obvious trick for solving such a labyrinth, one that is so easy I’m surprised I haven’t heard it before. All you have to do is put your right hand on the wall at the entrance to the maze and leave it there. As long as you do not take your hand off the wall, as long as you follow every path and turn every corner to which the wall leads you, it’s only a matter of time before it leads you to the exit.
This is more or less how my thesis is going. For the past four months, I’ve had my hand on the wall, and it’s been a frustrating, time-consuming, emotionally and sometimes physically draining journey. I’ve hit a lot of dead ends, and once or twice I’ve let go of the wall and ended up going in circles for days or weeks at a time. But I’ve also hit a lot of points where, had I not kept my hand on the wall, I would have spent hours, days, even weeks agonizing about which path to take. I would have never gotten to the end. And I’ve wandered into some very interesting grottoes and sculpture gardens hidden deep within the maze, far away from the “optimal” path to the exit.
Of course, this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of revision, which is the truly grueling, painstaking part of the writing process, when putting my right hand on the wall and blindly following it is the last thing I should be doing. I wouldn’t have even made it this far, however, had I not learned to do just that: to ignore myself, to let the story lead me, to stop worrying about finding the most efficient route and start worrying about getting to the other side. Now I know where I’m going, and I can work out the kinks in my path on the return trip.