Welcome To My Bed

Inverted Frown

I woke up for work yesterday to the news that a member of my extended family had passed away suddenly in the early hours of the morning.  Far disparate from the long battle with illness, sudden death has a curious effect on those who encounter it: not only is the situation surreal, but it subtly disengages you from your routine.  I started going through the morning motions, but stopped immediately and got back into bed.  When I eventually went into work, I only managed to stay for three hours.  After taking care of all pressing issues, I went to the Galleria and walked around with my headphones on.  I bought two pairs of earrings and a new umbrella.  I kept running into an old man who seemed slightly unhinged who complimented my hat over and over again.  When I got back to my apartment, I climbed back into bed and slept some more.

The loss was personal, as we are relatives, but it wasn't so personal that I could claim it as my own.  There are people hurting more than I am.  There are other who need comfort more than me.  So I forced myself to find a distraction.  I watched a tiny open mic that was half comedy and half poetry.  Uncharacteristically, I felt closer to the comedy half of things.  I laughed so loudly that everyone stared at me.  One of the comics asked if I was a comic, and I almost lied and said yes.  Laughter was the opposite of how my day had started, but it righted the ship.  After the show, I went out for drinks with a few stragglers and had a lively discussion that kept us all up into the wee hours.  The evening was glorious and unexpected.  I collapse into bed after the cab home, happily this time.

A friend told me that people should pay me to go to see comedy because of how clear it is that I'm enjoying myself.  It was an odd, but satisfying, thing to hear about myself.  My laugh has been made fun of on more than one occasion--I have a full-force cackle that will incriminate me for better or worse in any crowd-- and I am severely critical of comedy as a genre (shock value humor--meh; "classic" comedy films--mehhh; comedians in general--less schtick plz), but I do love to laugh.  In my weakened state, it's entirely possible everything landed as funny because anything would've seemed funny.  Regardless, I'm grateful for the gift of laughter at the end of a tough day.  Sometimes, the world is bad.  But it can also be hilarious.

More To Look At

Two down, eight more to go.  I've never asked myself to work in sequence this way.  It's is an interesting challenge, putting painting into conversation with one another.  I've used Alphonse Mucha's work as a jumping off point for each of the 8 x 10's because his figures are beautiful and I love the repeated circle motif, but beyond the common ancestry, I'm scared they won't read as a series once they're up on the wall at the galelry.  It probably won't matter to whomever is looking at them, but its interesting to think about unity in imagery for a project that has nothing to do with poems.

I've been sharpening language and playing with the order of poems for a chapbook manuscript these past few weeks, and the anxieties are similar, if not the same.  A lot of the poems deal with my father's passing, which seems to be one of the few things I'm capable of putting in verse since his death.  I don't talk about him much in everyday life (dead dad is a surefire party conversation killer, even if making distasteful jokes about it is totally his style), but he comes up again and again in my poems.

Arranging them as a continuous narrative has proven difficult.  When it coems to death, I obsess over water imagery, the lottery, children's games, the ways in which reality bends so that we can make space for loss.  To have too many lines written about the same cruel stroke of fate is one of my biggest fears.  I don't want to milk a tragedy dry of its meaning.  But I do believe my father being gone is a very important outline that I want to trace.  The space in my life where he was present is an odd one--we hadn't lived in the same place in years, we didn't know each other as well as I would've liked--but his absence is something I think on often.  Being that I rarely saw him at the end of his life, the ways in which he is gone are more metaphorical than anything.  The possibilities for writing the tension between this presence and absence are likely why I keep circling it, and coming back to dip my toes in the same water poem after poem.

Alongside the verses about loss, there are others.  The tone seems consistent throughout the manuscript, which is satisfying.  The poems match each other in quality.  If I had to say something about how the arc of the book works, I'd say that it is about the loss and discovery of many homes.  Which is a constant journey of the self.  We can't be people if we don't own up to the discomfort of feeling out of place, of not being ready for something, of being disconnected from what is meant to be closest to us.  There's a lot of distance in the book.  I want the echoed images to make it clear that even across greats spans, there are things that remain consistent.  That grief is not the only universal in death.

I've not been writing much, but when I sit down to paint, I'm still thinking all of the echoes through.  Mucha's circles help with this.  First layer, they look like the moon.  With each added color, they become menacing or alien or warm or obscured.  They keep being the moon by drawing your focus to them like a tide.  But beyond how they look, they're a meditation for me.  I keep painting circles and the ripples in women's bodies and hair because I need to be reminded that the most complete way to see something is to surround it with your eyes, to keep walking around and around the same scene until some small detail draws you in.

The Bibliography of Loss

I haven't written here in eight months. For everything, there is a reason and season, if not a proper rhyme. My father died in July. Simple as that tiny sentence; bigger than anything I can (or will) ever write here or anywhere else.

Following this, I threw myself into many things. I worked two jobs, spent endless driving hours bouncing between Providence and Boston. It felt best to move more than was comfortable. In stillness, people approach you. Hang at the fringe of a party and someone will ask how you're doing. It's rude not to answer. They're only concerned, and rightfully so. The conversations that accompany losing a parent are unlike any others. Such an experience becomes public no matter what you do or say surrounding it. Everyone finds out. Sympathy becomes oppressive. Pity, pervasive. The faces of friends are suddenly gutted of kindness, deeply hollow, wanting only to drink in as much of your sadness as possible. They can't help it; tasting your loss could make their own future losses somehow easier. You are a walking premonition. A how-not-to guide for grieving.

My best friends have always been books. Like many children, imagining was the greatest escape. It continued to be into the final stretch of my father's battle with innumerable chronic illnesses. I read The Autograph Man; the first scene, I reread three times and cried on the commuter train. Big, wet sobs in front of strangers too horrified to ask. And then I read White Teeth and decided that along with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I had the start of a syllabus for a lit class on the immigrant humor-histories of diaspora. To finish out my comprehensive tour of Zadie Smith, I sat a long weekend with her essay collection Changing My Mind, which had me bawling even more than the novels. Her piece about off-color humor and its place in her family life hit particularly close to home.

I started The Brothers Karamazov and in the middle of it, the end. I haven't been able to push forward more than a hundred pages since. (I blame most of this on having come to the first person interjection of the elder Zosima's call to faith, which should probably just be dramatically staged in my living room with funny accents and stick-on mustaches to expedite the process so that I can say I've made it through.) Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World broke my heart by presenting itself as the first book post-death that I would've bought for my father. Our phone calls where we talked about recent reads are the thing I miss the most. He was an expert on the hierarchies of Herbert's Dune, favored speculative fiction above most things. I feel closest to him now when I find something madcap and unapologetic. I also have my greatest troubles with the future, because he can't bodily be in it. I cry about weddings of complete strangers. The thing I am most proud of is that the first piece of writing anyone's paid me for publishing came out 2 days before he went. That I got to see him smile at our triumph.

He made me a storyteller and storylover. Which made this next one a particularly difficult time, given the elusive presence of the brilliant storyteller dead dad. I picked up Infinite Jest at the end of the summer as a challenge to myself. I hadn't been writing. I hadn't been able to read more than a few pages of poems a week, where my appetite usually went through two or three hundred times as much in the same time. Before. Such an ugly word to think of when talking about a person's life. Foster Wallace wrote the guilt of remembering a better before and the guilt of searching for a better after, and the numbness required to run from both, and the ways we are all bred to expect some escape, and a lot of nonsense about puppet shows and trash and radio engineers and Canada that wasn't even close to nonsense because it kept me from thinking of the hospice and the ashes and the eulogy I wrote mostly about a seagull feather (weeping nearly enough to short out my computer). The power of words lies in their ability to imagine ourselves different. Reading asks us to go somewhere unfamiliar, to trust that the unknown can be good again. I can think of no other conversation I wish someone had started with me in person.

I am (un)fortunate enough to know a handful of people who have done this dance. The I-wish-wouldn't-say-you're-sorry-for-my-loss dance. The please-shut-up-about-it-and-take-me-to-a-stupid-movie dance. All of us are heavy readers. I can think of no other effective coping mechanism. If someone asks about "how I'm doing" in that eyebrows raised kind of way, I tell them what I'm reading. Most seem deeply thwarted by this, but I much prefer sharing something truly useful to harping on a wound that is unlikely the scab over, perhaps ever. Luckily, there are enough titles on my must-read list to keep me distracted for at least six lifetimes.

I guess what I'm saying is I needed a long, deep breath, voices unreasonable and irreverent to talk me out of taking loss so seriously. I come from the future. The thoughts here are hard-nosed, but happy.