First, some good news: the first chapter of The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures was named a finalist for Fourth Genre’s Michael Steinberg Essay Prize! I’d post an excerpt, but I’m still working on actually getting it published somewhere, so the curious will have to wait.
It feels like summer today. Lawnmower in the distance, fluttering curtains, susurration of leaves, chatter of birds and squirrels outside my third story window. Right now I’m doing research. Not the kind that requires library or internet or the kind that necessitates phone calls home to ask who taught me to suck the honeysuckles that grew along our backyard fence or whether it was a tire or a wooden monkey swing at that one house we stayed in that summer. Nor is it the kind of research that winds up with me on the floor amid stacks of notebooks or letters dug out of cardboard boxes from the hall closet. Today’s research involved plugging in an ancient (like over a decade old) laptop (time capsule) and meandering through its contents.
Some things it contains:
& Poems and fragments of poems. Some of them about ex-boyfriends. A snippet:You like to save things and glue them together. You believe in the integrity of aesthetics, in a finely crafted argument, in intellect, in feeding your body whiskey and donuts in pursuit of a life of the mind, spareness, your muscles pared down like the end of soap.
& A bartending resume which includes the item:The Upstairs Reub, Northfield, MN. Beer, Long Island Iced Teas, Screwdrivers, Popcorn. College kids thumping the floor. Busy busy busy. Also deejayed during construction worker happy hour.
& A document titled “Impossible Questions and Crazy Answers” from fourth graders at Gunsaulus Academy:Why do we have a mouth? To make our faces look fancy. How do you live without eating? You grow a beard and every time it rains you drink from it and pretend it’s soup. How did God get here? He flew like a bird. Is good luck real? In your dreams.
& Research notes on anti-lynching campaigns in the 1930s, African American soldiers in World War I, Frida Kahlo and the North Star
& Scraps of ideas, images, overheard dialogue:old man on the elevator plaid jacket with a coat of arms, cane, speaking of Irish doorman with the heavy scars on his face but always smiling as much as he could smile that is with the face the way it was “I’ve got two gone. Oh, well, the moving finger writes.”
& My Nancy Drew monologue. I love Nancy Drew. From that one:
Coincidences abound in River Heights. Clues shimmer in the grass, like pastel Easter eggs, hastily hidden, easily discovered. They come in the mailbox, over the telephone, the ground is always soft where the thief crawls in the window. I notice things, chance across hidden trap doors, caches of treasure, smuggling rings. My world is ordered, precise. Tomboys have short hair. Mothers and aunts are plump and concerned. Delicate features denote gentleness. And villains? The ragged scar, shifty eyes, pinched and twisted mouth. They can’t escape my gaze. It is the gaze of the righteous and beautiful.
& Assorted letters to friends and family and one to my landlord asking him to fix a broken kitchen drawer
& My screenplay about waiting tables
& Phebe’s monologue from As You Like It
& A poem called “Get Up, Red Cat” by a second grader named Anthony:
& A feminist take on The Twelve Dancing Princesses I wrote for Evanston Children’s Theater
& A string of words from a cut and paste poetry kit I made for kids:grass drum eat together dress tie whale fur pretty squirrel toy rage rocket lemon
So, that’s what was cartwheeling through my brain ten or fifteen years ago. It’s been an interesting exercise in much more than nostalgia, this looking back, remembering what I was concerned, preoccupied, obsessed with. I’t’s clear certain images and themes have continued to bubble to the surface in my writing, teaching and thinking.
How about you, friends? Do you ever rummage through the miscellany of your days past? Do you find it useful? Illuminating? Cringe-inducing? Let me know!Omar Khayyám, translated by Edward FitzGerald
19 thoughts on “squirrel toy rage rocket lemon”
I love this. I just rifled through an old folder next to my desk–like a REALLY old folder. Press release for Weetzie Bat, some truly cringe inducing letters I wrote in college, a bunch of half-baked ideas for scripts and stories. But I did find a poem that surprised me–not because it is particularly well-written (it’s not) but because it brought back a flood of memories about the time I lived in New York with my severely bi-polar roommate (undiagnosed, but in hindsight I am 100% sure).
Here it is:
MONTAGE OF AN AFTERNOON IN HARLEM
Standing at the window barefoot
You touch the glass.
Outside is the street, the stoop.
Heroin. Blood. Needles.
They pass easily from hand to hand.
“There is no reality outside of myself.”
You imagine you are Temple Drake,
Osmossing with the street life.
But if there is no evil, nothing is good,
And you cannot be a fallen angel.
Wrapped in your red velvet loungecoat,
You are sure you want some other place.
Paris, where people drink red wine and speak French.
Nevada, where they built something out of a desert.
A man, where a woman sometimes goes.
You imagine books by other people are yours.
You scratch words in a leather bound book,
Hoping that the black loops
And curves you etch on white paper
Will wind their way through one another
To create something beautiful.
A portrait of yourself, as you see yourself.
Thanks for this! Yes, reading old works rekindled memories for me, too — and also I noticed images that continue to recur in my writing. For example, even back then I was apparently drawn to cephalopods.
Love it!! I recently re-read a bunch of poems I did for my literary magazine in college…shudder. A few were actually full of images that delighted me, because they reminded me of things I had forgotten. Others were just upsetting. I love digging in the past, although still trying hard not to let it infect the future…
If you figure out the trick to that, I’m sure there are folks who’d like to know. 🙂
Ok, maybe I’ll get to that basement IF there is anything even close to this there…sigh…thank you Maia, you have a beautiful brain and heart!
Well, right back atchya. I’m sure there are treasures in your basement!
Maia, I recently found an old solo piece that I performed in like 2000 called, “Confessions of an Ex Fag-Hag”. All these years I thought it was terrible and that I am such a better writer now. Well I really liked it! I’d change a few things of course but in general it was really good and very honest. I think I may have lost some of that honesty and it helped me to read it again.
Oh, I like that idea of learning from younger versions of ourselves.
I guess that I should write an excerpt from my “writings” just to make sure the playing field is even…let’s seee…
Excerpt from Journal Entry from just before my 17th bday:
“I better crash so I can stay conscious at work (selling shoes at a department store) tomorrow. It’s funny how concerned I’ve been and how much energy & time I’ve wasted on stupid things and now I know who my husband’s gonna be – all I had to do was grow up to get along with my family & I really CAN be myself. Concept…It’s so great to feel like I can go into this year feeling like so many things have come full circle & yet so many are just beginning. Tonight really set my optimism for this year instead of dread and hesitation. My new haircut has also given me an added boost of confidence & excitement!”
Heart eyes, heart eyes.
Hm, yeah. There’s something exciting about seeing where your impulses took you before there was too much “taste” or “training” to get in the way of your ideas.
On another note, I was just at Gunsaulus Academy yesterday!
Writing always is better with a dog nearby. Seems like a good working area.
I’m one of those people who thinks almost everything is better with a dog nearby! Levi doesn’t always appreciate the writing, though, when it’s a sunny afternoon he thinks would be better spent at the park.
Found this blog last week, and finally was able to read a post. I always find it interesting how people can get through their old things, but I never realized that someone could look in their past with an old computer.
My favorite part is the fourth graders impossible questions and weird answers. I will probably be quoting that when I have “serious” conversations with my friends.
Thanks, Amanda. Enjoy those “serious” conversations. 🙂
I live in the past … a timeless world we passed through when we were once joined with reality: part of everything around us, free of word thinking, within the world of imagination … the entity those ‘positive thinking’ preachers tell us is necessary if we want to be joined with … the universe. don’t they know the child within us … and those memories we have stored … are the stepping stones along the path that leads back to where it all began … joined with the universe … the mind of the child … a place where if we return to we that we will know for the first time? Thanks …. Lks
Thanks for reading and commenting!
PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR WRITING SUCH A SLOPPY LAST SENTENCE BUT, I WAS BEING KICKED OUT OF THE COFFEE SHOP SO I HAD TO FINISH QUICKLY … WHAT I MEANT TO SAY WAS …. …
…. joined with the universe … reunited with the mind of the child … knowing what life is for the very first time.
oh well … this little poem lost all its momentum. the point is; ” … we shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time.” t.s. eliot said it a lot better than me. ks