One week ago, a man stopped traffic to talk to me. It was nothing; it meant everything. It was a moment that made me realize how angry I am over this election, and why. Continue reading
About ten years ago, I purchased a small white foldable hairbrush from a Muji store. It was at an airport, either in New York or Boston, but I don’t remember exactly where I was, nor do I remember where I was going. I do remember picking it out of a bin of brushes, all exactly the same, all wrapped in crinkly clear plastic, and deciding that it was something I should own.
In the past decade, I’ve used this brush thousands of times, and it never fails to please me. I like its color—white, but somewhat sheer, not entirely opaque, better than clear plastic, but somehow very plastic, like the essence of plastic, the epitome of plastic. I like its size—it is small enough to fit in any purse, and exactly the right width to add a slight curl to my bangs. I like its texture—the tongs are hard and scrape against my scalp like little claws. I like how neat it appears, how uniform, how small and rectangular. When it is folded, it takes up just a few inches of space. It weighs almost nothing. It is easy to clean, and so it always looks clean. Even when every else in my car is covered in dog hair and the bottom of my backpack is filled with mysterious sand, the hairbrush remains white as teeth, tidy as a dustpan.
I love this object, and although I just told you why, I don’t really know why. It’s orderly and I’m not. Maybe that’s it.
Here are my goals for this summer:
Spend more time with my best friend. Spend an afternoon lying in the sun and eating pizza and talking until we have nothing left to say, like we used to do as teenagers. (I’ll allow myself one cigarette, but only one, since smoking is much less pleasurable after watching Garrett march through cancer.)
Swim as often as possible. Never turn down an opportunity to swim because I am worried about how much I ate and how my stomach looks in a bikini. Never turn down an opportunity to swim because it’s raining or because I’m lazy or because I don’t have a swim suit. Just swim anyway.
Finish my book. Be happy with it. Remember that this book has been years in the making. Be proud of what I’ve done.
Eat pie. Particularly pies made of berries and cherries.
Go camping. See more of Maine. Climb mountains. Ride a bike through the woods and be afraid, but do it anyway. Nap in a canoe. Pee behind trees because there are no bathrooms way out here. Eat s’mores. Make dandelion wine. Read magazines on the beach. Smell tree bark. Get drunk and swim in the ocean. Be too cold. Be too hot. Build a fort. Watch the stars.
Image: Illustration by Adams Carvalho, who makes being young look so fucking fun.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bats lately, which is due in part to working at Islandport Press (I’m a contributing editor, one of my many part-time positions). Islandport is a small Maine publishing house that has produced many great books, including a very charming board book written by my co-worker, Melissa Kim. This particular book, published in a partnership with the Maine Audubon Society, is about the daily life of a little brown bat. It is cute and funny and full of science and I really adore it.
But it doesn’t sell quite as well as other picture books—sweeter picture books, ones with earth-bound animals like cats and horses. And I’m not sure why. Is it because bats aren’t as cute? Because bats are scary and gross? Don’t kids want to read about the only mammal capable of true flight? Haven’t they heard of Stellaluna? I was a girl who loved bats—I can’t be the only one of my kind.
And now that I’m thinking about them, bats seem to be everywhere, including in my memory. Several years ago, I was visiting a friend in Austin following a horrible heartbreak. I was devastated—filled with a kind of grief and desperation that I hadn’t known before, the kind that climbs from your stomach to your heart and back again, trailing hot fingers of pain through my torso, up and down and up and down. Few things brought me joy, but the bat bridge did.
In Austin, there is a bridge that connects the two sides of the city. The walkway below the bridge smells earthy and strange from the guano, so much of it. Bats roost below, clinging to the bottom of the man-made cavern. Every night at twilight, bats stream out from under their hanging spaces. Hundreds, thousands of creatures, wings spread, chirping, devouring the night. I was so taken by the bats that I went back the next evening, and again the next. The sight soothed me with its strangeness, its utter unfamiliarity. I felt better, watching those bats. Less lonely somehow.
Now, years later, I am married to the man who once broke my heart. I’m as far from Austin as one can be and still be in America. I wonder if I will ever see those bats again—if I will ever need them, like I once did, to heal an aching heart.
[Top image: At Night by Achille Casanova (1861-1948) medium unknown.]
Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life. – Rainer Maria Rilke
I caught a fish with my hands once. It was swimming upstream to spawn in the thaw of spring, which in Maine means mid-May (we don’t have a pretty, dappled ascent into summer, just a mess of thawing ice and a long, painful mud-season that only plays at warmth). Every now and then, a trout would fly out of the river as it tried to make its way up the waterfall, a little flash of black and silver in the air, improbable as a proverb.
I was with a park ranger, and he told me to try and catch one. I waded out into the water across slippery stones. It was so, so cold against my bare feet and ankles. It took a few tries to catch a fish. I would see it coming, watch downstream as it approached, and plunge my hands into the water, groping blindly in the bubbles and blackness. I felt so many fish swim deftly between, around, over my hands. In the end, I crouched down with my numb hands motionless in the water, ready for the trout to come to me. Eventually, one did.
I held it over my head and my friend on the riverbank took a picture. I remember feeling so powerful, as though I had accomplished something far bigger than grabbing a dumb creature out of a river. Then I set the fish back into the water and let it continue its upstream swim, struggling against the current, driven by instinct and desire, rushing toward its chance to mate.
I’m writing this because I can’t write anything else right now. I am smothered by winter and anxiety. And when I read that Rilke quote, all I could think of was that fish. Experience is as slippery and elusive as a fish, evading all attempts to pin it down with language, though that is the job of the writer, isn’t it? To catch the fish. To say something real with the clumsy, numb tools we have.
Spring’s thaw can’t come soon enough.
Above quote by Rilke, image by Barcelona-based artist Elisa Ancori.