some.days.

Some days I find twenty dollar bills in the laundry.

Some days, I find plastic tubes relieved of their chapstick.

Some days, I find lint and dog hair and besogged receipts left over from lunches long forgotten.

Some days I find love letters and shiny change and missing guitar picks.

Some days, I’m the hero. Some days I’m the villain. Some days, I’m grateful for the treasures hidden in the laundry. Some days I curse the inside-out-socks, the forgotten pocket mementos, the unending cycle of dirty/clean, dirty/clean, dirty/clean.

Some days I find humor in the trap. Some days I find pity.

Some days there’s poetry in the detritus.

Some days, there’s just debris.

Some day I’ll miss all this.

Some day, I’ll wish.

I’ll wish for lint and change; dirty socks and broken toys; receipts and notes; ruined lip gloss and rogue guitar picks.

Some day.

safe.harbor.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

–John A. Shedd, 1928

Ships in harbor aren’t necessarily safe. I know, I know. It’s a metaphor. ANd it’s just a saying. And it makes a really good point. Despite my disagreement with it’s main premise, it’s one of my favorite quotes. In fact, it’s because it’s not completely and unequivocally true that I like it.

The first thought brought to mind when hearing or reading Shedd’s poignant words, is a cozy port wherein a sturdy ship is snuggled close to shore away from the elements, away from war or saboteurs. Rocking gently in lazy waves and bumping melodically against a dock. Its passengers carefree, its cargo safely stowed away.

It’s a nice image even if you know that’s not what ships are built for. After all, ships can’t be out all the time. There is a time and place to moore oneself to a stationary spot. But, as with all things in life, nothing is guaranteed. Which brings me back to my original point: ships aren’t necessarily safe just because they’re harbored.

In 1915 a passenger ship rolled over and sunk while tied to the dock on the Chicago River, killing 844 people. Just this past week, a ship in port was damaged by Hurricane Sally. And, lest we never forget, the ships damaged or destroyed while moored at Pearl Harbor. There are dangers great and small, man-made and of natural origin, that can bring a boat down no matter where it is. There is a weird, morbid brand of comfort from this information. Knowing that there are no guarantees. That you have no control and things might just happen whenever they’re supposed to happen no matter what you do or where you go. Whether you take to the seas or stay in one place.

Still, I understand the appeal of staying in one place. Not risking anything. It’s nice, the feeling of being tethered to a dock. It gives you a sense of security, a sense of grounding that makes you feel like, “Ah okay. We made it.” It can also be fun and anticipatory to be there, waiting to head out into a new adventure. That prelude to excitement you can only get right before you embark on your journey that is, sometimes, more adrenaline-inducing than the journey itself. You are still safe and free to wonder at what could be. You could still decide to stay put. You have options before you set off.

To stay or go.

But staying doesn’t mean you’re going to be safe, so if you’re already aboard the ship, you might as well go. After all, that’s what ships are built for.

no.reason.

About once a month, I eat my lunch in the cemetery.

It’s not planned. I don’t have it written on a planner (okay yeah, I don’t even have a planner…): “Lunch at Cemetery, August 24th @ 11.45am.”

But there are days when I can’t think of what to eat. Days I can’t fill an hour. And I find myself driving through some fast-food abomination of a restaurant, and my car, as if on auto-pilot, ends up in front of my mother’s tombstone.

I don’t get out of the car. I just sit there, parked next to the little, rolling, shadowy hill, looking up at the tombstone, the little crooked angel statue leaning, almost sympathetically, against it. I sit there and eat and think and cry and wonder when it will stop hurting and simultaneously hope the answer is never.

 

dark.light.

dark.light.

The fireflies used to lead us down, single-file, through the woods. Onto the bridge. Over the lake where Kelly tried to save the fish she couldn’t bear to see die after one of the campers took to long on the release part of the catch & release policy. Past the amphitheater lit up paranormally, as if the light was coming straight out of the core of the wooden slab benches and the cross itself. Past the empty cabins that would soon be filled with campers who had found their way back by the light of the fireflies.

The sound of a firefly darkness is a thing I can’t describe with words. Maybe not with paint, either. Nor song. Maybe it takes all these things. The sound of the silence that isn’t really silence–if you listen closely, you hear the bullfrogs down by the lake and the buzz of insects you don’t want to know the names of and the shuffling of shoes through the dirt and the sniffling of someone trying to stop crying after leaving the tabernacle and the rustle of campers reaching for their new friends’ hands. But for some reason, your brain still lets the silence claim these sounds. They belong to it, they are right at home with the silence and the dark.

The dark that isn’t really dark. There are stars in the sky and that ephemeral glow of the cross that seems to come from nowhere and the reflections of it all in the lake and, of course, the fireflies. The fireflies that belong to the dark. The fireflies so small and dainty that you can only notice them when it is this dark. So dark that you swipe three or four times before you make contact with your best friend’s hand. So dark that the lake seems magical in the way it can grab onto the smallest of light and propel it back out into the world to be seen. So dark that the light is almost an offense.

Only in a dark, silent night like this, do you even notice the fireflies. Only here, as you make your way back to your empty cabin from the joyous tabernacle, do you realize how amazing the smallest contrast to your surroundings can seem. How little you actually need, to find your way back to where you’re supposed to be. How big the light can seem, once you quit being afraid of the dark.

lost.letters.

lost.letters.

Remember when people sent actual letters? On paper? They had to know how to craft sentences and piece them together in aesthetically pleasing ways. They spent all day–hell, maybe all week–stitching together their thoughts because they had to make them good. Whatever they were going to say was going to take days or even weeks to arrive at its intended target’s doorstop, and the reader would’ve been looking forward to these thoughts for a long time, and you did not want to disappoint.

And besides that, after everyone died, the letters would remain unless they were lost to fire or flood or ritual sacrifice of some kind. Even the literature of dead writers who have their works published into the annals of our history end up with said works (on which they toiled away for years and years) still end up in anthologies next to letters they wrote during their lives. They were that important, that sacred.

Letters allowed a writer to say things without interruption. The writer could craft an entire story of thoughts and feelings and summary without someone interjecting or questioning, without expecting an immediate response at all. The writer could purge her soul, thoughts, stream of consciousness onto the blessed purity of the page, knowing there would be a reprieve, a delay in response resolution. Sometimes that is all we crave, that space between the purge and the resolution.

And maybe that’s the real problem these days. When things can be sent so quickly and responses demanded just as immediately, the messages somewhat lose their meaning. Easy come, easy go. Because let’s face it, these days, no one takes the time to write letters. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone can have a thought and send it near-simultaneously to whomever they please. Just stepped in dogshit? You can tell the world about it via text or Tweet or Instagram or Facebook or Whatthefuckever. And it can all be deleted and lost in an instant. Denied. Delayed. Validated. Shunned. The options are endlessly maddening.

But, I have this friend. He has always known how much I like old things. He knew maybe I’d been born in the wrong decade, or maybe that I’d lived too many decades already. We used to go antiquing together, and talk about different time periods. Sometimes we’d go to museums and we’d just wander and stare, wander and stare, without really having to talk too much. It was like that. That kind of friendship.

And he’d bought a box of old things someone had no use for anymore. Then one day, he had no use for them, either. So he gave them to me. And in this box, were letters and letters and letters. All from the era of World War II.

“Maybe you could read them and write a story. I bet they’re really interesting,” he said.

“Did you know any of these people?”

“No. But look, don’t they just look like they’d be interesting?”

They do look interesting. But I haven’t opened any of them yet. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll be too envious of the simplicity of life before the internet. Maybe I’m afraid of the drop in my gut when I compare those letters to my own terse, unthought-out texts. Maybe I’ll be ashamed of the sloth Convenience has hammered me into. I used to have actual thoughts. I used to be able to write letters. I used to be able to sit, patiently, waiting for the thoughts and feelings to come. The ingredients for a good letter.

I used to write letters.

 

 

scary. things (part.two.)

scary. things (part.two.)

“Let’s go around and everyone say their name, where they’re from, why they’re here.”

“I’m Becca, I’m here by accident, I thought I was taking a writing class and I’m absolutely terrified to be here.” 

“Great!” 

 

It’s astonishing how quickly you get comfortable with a group of strangers when you’re all thrust into the same uncomfortable situation. The writing class I’d signed up for a month ago was cancelled due to low enrollment, and the center had called me a week prior, asking if I’d like to take another class that was at the same time on the same days, but would be improv in the morning, and writing in the afternoon. I said No the first three times the admission’s person asked. But at the last minute, right before hanging up, I’d blurted, “Wait! Okay I’ll do that one. The improv/writing one!” I figured 1.5 days of writing instruction was better than none at all. And hey, maybe I could just be late to the improv mornings, or make up some excuse to only come in the afternoon. After all, I’d already booked and paid for the hotel and train ride. I’d been looking forward to this. But there was no way in hell I was interested in doing improv.

By the time I realized, on the first day of class, that I’d been accidentally put into a third class option–the all day improv class–I’d already emotionally bonded with my five fellow hostages and couldn’t imagine starting over the next day with brand new people who hadn’t traversed my awkward dance activity with me. Hadn’t encouraged me through a round of gibberish. I’d already learned important aspects of my fellow weirdos and I didn’t feel right saying, “Um, excuse me Second City people… I think there’s been a mistake. Please put me in the other class where I’m going to have to bond with new people who already bonded with their own people.”

There was some legitimate panic. I’m not an actress. I can’t even lie very well. I was making the decision to stay in this class so far out of any comfortable activity I’d ever decided to take up, but I was terrified to do it.

One of the first things our improv teacher for the weekend told us was, “You are all going to be okay.” I’d be lying if I said I believed him when he said this. I was pretty sure that if there was such a thing as dying of embarrassment or discomfort, even if no one had died of that yet, I would be the first person in history it would happen to. Medical people for years to come would study it, the Becca Syndrome. Poor lady died in the middle of a black and green film room that was inexplicably air-conditioned in the middle of fucking winter in Chicago while trying to come up with a new, funny way to portray the sad side of a fish market. The textbooks would offer a little picture of me in the corner in black and white, looking, myself, like a dead fish too petrified to move. Medical students reading about my tragic demise would laugh to cover up their own insecurities, the worries they had about their own mortality when facing uncomfortable situations in their sought-after profession. What if an elderly person or a baby pooped on them? What if a really ill person pre-quarantine spewed blood all over their face? What if they were asked a hard question during medical rounds that they couldn’t answer or were asked to perform a procedure that, done wrong, would surely kill the patient? Would they die of Becca Syndrome?!?

Luckily, Sean, our instructor, was right and everything was okay. We all made it through the three days without any of us dying. There were two or three times I thought, this would be a good time to burst into tears, but luckily, I was able to refrain from doing that as well.

So, in the absence of a desire to move classes, and with a newfound sense of camaraderie with my classmates, I stayed. I decided to see how this all works, this improv bit. How do people get onstage and somehow, coherently create one scene together on the fly. How is this sausage link made. How do people become so comfortable with themselves onstage. Maybe you had to be born with certain criteria that I lacked and always would… but maybe there were tricks you could learn. Maybe by being here, I would learn how to let go a little. It was worth a shot, anyway.

 

 

stop.touching.

A writer friend and I have a joke (that maybe isn’t really a joke) about how, when we’re too happy, we can’t write anything worth reading. For us, there seems to be some kind of lock in our brains that is only wrenched free by pain or complicated emotions. And it’s not like we’re unique in this regard. Think of all of your favorite songs and books and stories. Sure, maybe some of them are happy. But I’d wager a guess that most of what we think of as the best in literature and music has at least a hint of sadness, loss, grief, pain.

Why does our brain hold onto pain so readily? Even in memories? My earliest memory is of baking cookies with my mother in our tiny kitchen in the first house I ever lived in. I remember her scraping the cookies off the cookie tray and setting them on the cooling rack. As she placed the last one on the rack she said, “Don’t touch that tray, it’s very hot.” I don’t remember not believing her. I don’t remember being angry at her, or wanting to prove something to her. I don’t know what the thought process in my noodle-brain was, all I know is that I reached out immediately and slapped my hand, palm-flat, right on the tray and then proceeded to scream my freaking head off.

It was a perfectly good day. I was baking cookies (I loved cookies!) with my mom, and then I went and ruined it by purposely burning the shit out of my hand after being told not to do that very thing. Just to see what it felt like, maybe. Just to see if what my mom thought of as hot would be the same thing I thought of as hot. Maybe I was unsure if we all perceived reality the same way, maybe I wanted to have a frame of reference for when my mom said something in that stern voice again in the future.

Maybe I was just an asshole kid trying to make her mom mad.

I told this story to my writer friend one day, after he explained that, sometimes the trouble I find myself in is a result of me saying things in real life that would make great lines of dialogue in stories, but probably shouldn’t be said to real people in certain situations. I try it out to see the reaction. The “writer in me” can’t help herself, God love her. She just keeps saying and doing things to see what it feels like, to evoke some sort of emotion, to be able to write again. Maybe I’ll never get over this whole, touch it just to see if it’s as hot as everyone says bit. Maybe I’ll never tire of trying on personalities and borrowing others’ emotions so that I can spin them all into sad stories.  Maybe I’m still an asshole.

 

 

get.lost.

get.lost.

I’ve written previously about my proclivity for getting lost. Unlike some people, this doesn’t cause me too much anxiety, I just factor Getting Lost Time into my commute. My friends are no longer surprised when I’m late, or have some zany story by the time I finally do reach my destination. Just a month ago, one of my friends stood outside his new apartment, calling me five minutes before I was supposed to arrive, because he knew he was going to have navigate my dumb ass around his neighborhood so I could find him.

Last night, I was driving to a gig at a venue I’d actually been to before, and still somehow, I was able to get lost out in rural Midwest America. The sky was overcast, just bruised to hell with rainclouds and a sad-looking horizon warning of shitty weather. I wasn’t in a bad mood, per se, but the sky wasn’t making me particularly jubilant, either.

Another thing not making super excited about the commute, is that many of the roads aren’t marked where I was driving. Also, halfway there,  my GPS stopped talking to me. Also, even if it hadn’t, history predicts I still would’ve missed that road I was supposed to turn on. Also, when the GPS did  start talking to me again, it kept telling me TURN RIGHT over and over again when there was not a damn road in sight for miles and I really didn’t want some farmer to shoot me for driving through his field.

So I just kept driving straight into gray skies, looking for a place to turn around.

When I did find a place to turn, I had to immediately pull over (you can do that on old country roads, because no one else is on them) because the sky that had been behind me this entire time, was insane. It felt like God had finally gotten fed up with all us wannabe artists down here and was saying, “Look, that’s cute. But I can do this better than you. Here you go, enjoy.”

It felt wrong to take a picture, like I was stealing someone else’s work. Or like there was no way in hell the picture would ever live up to the real thing, so it was sacrilegious to create this mockery out of the sky.

I mean, I did it anyway. But the pictures really don’t do it justice.

For a little while I just sat there. I’d built enough Getting Lost Time in, I wasn’t going to be late. And when I drove back the way I came, I got to watch the brilliant sky the entire way.

Maybe sometimes you get lost so you can arrive at your destination from an angle with a more appealing view.

 

do.that.

do.that.

I used to go to bars and while the band was playing, the singer singing, I’d think, “I could do that. Why aren’t I doing that? I could do that.”

And so I did that.

Today, after trying to write a freaking novel–just finish one damn novel–for the better part of the last 3.5 years, I went to a book reading by an author who had already finished her novel. In fact, she’d finished more than one novel. She was articulate and intelligent, charming and well-spoken. As she sat in her stool on the little stage, answering question after question as graciously as possible, even when one idiot in the back asked her, “Why should we learn about math? Math is stupid and we’re just here to have fun and it’s idiotic to have to learn about it?” I thought…

“I could not do this.”

Right now, my friend Emma, who lives across the pond and is my biggest writing cheerleader in the world, is reading this thinking, “BECCA YOU CAN DO THIS!” and maybe cussing at me a little bit. She was the one who saw the advertisement for this event (yes, from the UK, someone this event landed in her orbit before mine) and sent me a message, “This anywhere close to you?”

I will fully admit that part of the reason I even went to this event was out of a small amount of guilt I knew I’d feel if I didn’t go and she asked me, “So. Did you go?!?”

Also, the fact that someone across the globe saw this event, thought of me, my geography, and sent it to me was maybe something I considered a sign. Add in the fact that it was being moderated by a literary magazine I’ve been stalking (and am currently submitting stories to) and yeah, I figured maybe the universe wanted me to go.

But maybe the universe has the wrong girl. I don’t have a fellowship from some fancy school. I can’t take six months off to travel around a foreign country for “research.” I don’t have three hours a day to devote completely to my writing in a room I can consider my office. I have two kids, a full-time job, a husband, and a band (because, if you remember the first part of this… I really DID DO THAT).

Towards the end of the Q&A session, someone asked, “So how long did it take you to write this book?”

The author laughed. Said she hated this question. “It took a long time, people never like my answer. I’m slow.”

I rolled my eyes. My idea of slow is nothing like anyone else’s idea of slow.  I thought to myself, “She’s going to say it took her 18 months, or at most, 2 years, and I’m going to puke. Right here in this conference room, I’m going to puke all over myself. Or maybe I’ll just burst into tears and run out of here like a crazy person.”

She said, “It took me five years. I started a first draft, finished it with the main character being totally different. And after I finished it, I had to start all the way over and change everything.”

I bought the damn book and waited in line for her to sign it.

When I got up to her I said, “I’m really glad you said it took five years to finish this. I thought you were going to say something like two years and I was going to cry.”

She laughed. “Are you a writer?”

“Aspiring.”

“It definitely takes longer. Especially if you have other things going on?”

“Like two kids and a full-time job and a husband?”

“Yeah, like that. Who should I make this out to?”

I told her my name. She started writing.

“One of my friends took ten years to write her last book,” she said.

“Donna Tartt only writes a book a decade, I think.”

She smiled and handed me back my book. “Exactly. It takes time.”

I thanked her. Waited til I got out to the car to open it up and see what she wrote.

 

For Rebecca, 

Good luck with your novel – take your time!

Okay, okay EMMA.

Maybe I can do that.

pull.over.

Sometimes I get restless and develop an itch to drive up the river road here and just watch the Mississippi chug by. The midpoint of this trip is usually a woodshop I like to stop at before turning around and heading back home. The shop has lumber from different wood mills around the area, as well as little scraps of misshapen wood, interestingly sliced branches, reclaimed driftwood, and tree stumps you can imagine being turned into chairs or yard signs or any damn thing your heart could think up.

Also in the shop are creations other people, more talented and handy than I, have carved into intricate wall-hangings or furniture. Really magnificent pieces of art that take into consideration every knob or imperfection in a piece of wood and make those little things other people might think of as flaws, into a feature of the work. I like to wander around and look at it all. At one point I had convinced myself I could do some of it, too (much to the chagrin of my family, when I brought home a backseat full of weird-looking wood… out of which a weird-looking bug crawled and infested our house at one point).

I’m not sure what is so calming about walking around all the milled wood, the different varieties, the colors, textures, densities, and shapes. Not sure why I am so interested in seeing all the planks lined up, one after the other. Or seeing all the furniture someone else has already crafted. All I know is that, when I’m driving up the river road towards this place, I am in a hurry and I don’t slow down, I don’t stop and pull over on the side of the road, where there are many places I could pull over safely, and take pictures of the sun slicing off the water, or the bluffs baring themselves to the sky. I tell myself, “Yeah yeah, that’s great, I’ll take a picture on the way back.”

I’ll feel better on the way back. And I will slow down and pull over.

Today when I went to the wood shop I was met with a surprise: it had been cleaned out.

Not totally cleaned out. It was still there, it was still operating. But all the artwork I’d admired last fall was gone, as if its creator had quit showing it there. The back of the building, which used to seem like a labyrinth leading to a treasure hunt of furniture and that perfect scrap of artsy wood for whatever the hell it was I used to imagine I’d make, was organized and clean and held nothing but giant, tree-height planks of wood. No scraps, no cutesy signs or old chairs. Nothing.

I might be the only person in the world to be saddened by order.

I left the building, it having nothing I wanted to look at now. (Plus if I bring home anymore wood, my family will probably kill me.) Got back into my car. Drove back the way I came, fully intending to pull over somewhere and snap some pics. To slow down.

The sun was out, the weather was perfect. But there was nowhere safe to pull over on that side of the road. Sometimes life is just like that. You want to slow down and take it all in because you didn’t before, because you were anxious to get to a place you weren’t even sure would be there when you arrived. And now you can’t.

There’s nowhere to pull over.