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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Day 162: A Hissy Fit and The Things I Need

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 21

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

other: a blogger (Holly Michelle Current) mentioned my story, “Red,” on her blog

I spent the week before Christmas at my boyfriend Paul’s apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland. On the twenty-second, I packed up all of my clothes, snacks, technological devices, and Christmas presents and drove down to Richmond, Virginia to spend the holidays with my family. It wasn’t until much later, when I got out my computer to put on my Pandora Christmas station, that I realized I’d left the power cord to my laptop at Paul’s place.

What followed was, I’ll admit, a hissy fit. We tried the power cord to my mom’s computer, but it didn’t work in mine. We called my brother, the tech guru, but he didn’t have a cord that would work with my machine. Paul was at his parent’s house in North Carolina, so he couldn’t mail me the cord, and I didn’t have a key to his apartment – not that I’d even consider driving back up to the DC area with the atrocious holiday traffic.

So I pouted and whined, and my voice reached a shrill, obnoxious octave that few people besides my mom and brother have ever heard. Of course, there was no one to blame but myself, and that made it all the worse. I felt really stupid.

I knew I couldn’t survive without my laptop for a week, and besides, I had tutoring sessions scheduled with Sergey and Natalia (my Ukrainian tutees) for the days following Christmas. The only solution was to spend fifty bucks on a new power cord, which is what I did.

All-in-all, I was upset for about forty-five minutes. Then I just gave a big sigh and said, “it’s only money. And a year from now, this won’t really matter at all.” I got over it and moved on.

*   *   *

When I told Sergey about this incident, he told me I shouldn’t have even wasted forty-five minutes being upset because life is too short to spend it worrying about things that can’t be changed. “Just be sad for one second,” he told me, “then say, ‘ok’ and do something else.”

“Hey, at least I was only upset for forty-five minutes,” I told him.  “Some people would have let a thing like that ruin their whole day.”  Then I explained to him the meaning of the phrase, “it’s all relative.”

Of course, Sergey is an expert at packing for trips. He is constantly traveling back and forth from New York, where he lives with his family, to Moscow and Kiev, where he has offices for the company of which he is the CEO.

I asked Sergey about his packing regimen. He said that, first of all, he’s realized that if he has enough clothes for three or four days, he will have enough for any amount of time. “I have pieces of clothing that can be put into different costumes,” he said. (This is when I taught him the phrase “mix and match.”)

He also said that he always puts the power cords for his devices in his suitcase first. Good advice, Serg.

“Every time before I go,” he said, “I imagine my new place and me there doing something that I am going to do. It helps me to realize if I forget something or not.”

I told him that I do that, too, sort of. Every night when I was in high school, and often when I was a teacher, I would lay in bed and imagine myself going through my upcoming day. It helped me ensure that I had done everything I needed to do for a smooth and successful day.

Post hissy fit.  Me and my brother making God's Eyes for the Christmas tree.

Post hissy fit. Me and my brother making God’s Eyes for the Christmas tree.

Today I am packing up and heading back to Paul’s apartment for a week. This is going to be my life for a while: floating between Richmond and the DC area. Not as crazy and floating between New York and Eastern Europe, but still, I’m going to be living out of a suitcase for the next three months.

This morning I took a walk and started thinking about all of the things I needed to bring with me to Maryland.  (Sparkly tights for New Years and my bag of flax seeds were at the top of the list.)  I hate to over-pack, but on the other hand, I don’t want to forget something important.

As I let myself back in the house, I thought of Sergey’s advice, and suddenly, it seemed to be about more than just packing for a trip. It seemed to be about life.

Imagine yourself in your new place. Imagine where you will be – or where you want to be – in the future. Imagine yourself doing something there that you want to do. Do you have all the things you need to make this happen successfully? If not, where will you get the things you need? Better start gathering them now!

This morning, as I pack for my week at Paul’s, I’m going to think about the things I might need for a bigger trip: my journey into the future.

Assignment:

Imagine yourself in the places you’d like to be in 2013, doing the things you’d like to do.  What sorts of things (material, spiritual, intellectual, or emotional) will you need there?  What will you need to do to get there?

Day 161: Paint a Cheetah Blue, or, Mix Tape 2013

Day 161: Paint a Cheetah Blue, or, Mix Tape 2013

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 11

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

Today I asked my mother what she was going to do today, and she said, “I don’t know… Maybe paint the cheetah?”

She was referring to her golden cheetah statue, which she found in someone’s apartment after they moved out. Why in the world anyone would move away and leave their beautiful cheetah statue behind is beyond my comprehension, but my mother, as an apartment manager, has scored a variety of quality items in just this way.

It’s a job she never imagined herself having, but it turns out she really likes it.  She has a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities, and she gets to spend a lot of time out at the properties instead of sitting at a desk all day.  It’s a good balance.

“What color are you going to paint the cheetah?” I asked. I wasn’t sure how I felt about my mother painting him a different color.

“Oh, I don’t know. Blue, maybe. Or purple. I can just keep painting him different colors every once and a while.”

I guess we’re all looking for ways to mix things up.

Soon this cheetah might be blue.

Soon this cheetah might be blue.

Earlier today I was talking on Skype to my friend Kaila, who recently quit her job in New Orleans to move to Italy for a few months and spend time working on her art. (You can see why we’re friends, can’t you?)

“My goal is to never have a nine to five job again,” Kaila said, and it hit me right then that perhaps that might be my life, too. I have two jobs right now that I can do from anywhere, and they are both pretty flexible as far as days and hours. I had thought when I started this year of writing that eventually I would have to go back to a full-time job at a school or a university, but now I’m realizing that maybe I don’t. I can keep creating my own mix of random jobs forever. And I can make sure to add in a healthy portion of writing to the mix.

Kaila is trying to make sure that art is a large part of her mix. Her plan for now is to sell her art at all the local art markets in and around New Orleans, as well as start teaching yoga or meditation or other wellness classes.

I told her it sounded like a great idea, and she told me this was why she’d been excited to talk to me. Because I understand. And I do. Kaila and I are in the same sorts of boats right now: leaky, creative boats of our own making, but boy is it fun to be out on the water instead of stuck on land!

Of course, at times this new life of mine has been hard on my ego, especially when I imagine what other people might be thinking about me. Maybe things like, oh, that Eva, she had a good, stable career, and now she’s just gone off the deep end and is living at her mother’s house trying to be a “writer.” So sad.

“I’m sure your Christmas was like mine,” I said to Kaila. “With family members frowning and asking, ‘now what exactly are you doing? And where exactly are you living?’”

“Yep,” Kaila said. “Because, of course, from the outside, I had this nice life and this good job, and now all they see is that I’m broke and barely scraping by.”

But the thing is, Kaila hated her job. For years she was absolutely miserable. We used to get together for coffee in New Orleans, and she would sigh when I asked her about work, her pretty face falling into a look of utter despair. Now she seems full of energy and optimism. I asked her about her future plans, and she laughed and threw her arms into the air. “I don’t really know.” But she sounded happy about it.

What’s crazier – quitting your job and moving to Italy to make art, or staying at a soul-sucking job you hate because you’re afraid of what other people think?

I know that not everyone can – or wants to – have a random, mixed up, abnormal life like mine or Kaila’s. But every now and again you have to stop and ask why you’re doing the things you’re doing. If the answer has anything to do with what other people think, it might be time to reconsider your priorities.

And if you decide that the stable, normal life is what you want, that makes sense, too. Even I’m looking forward to eventually having a little bit more stability in my life.

Just promise me this: every now and again, go on a trip or take a class or do something strange and out of ordinary. Find a cheetah and paint it blue. Because you gotta find a way to mix things up from time to time.
Assignment:

How will you mix things up in the New Year?

Day 158: An Animal House Christmas

Day 158:  An Animal House Christmas

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 51

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

other: I found out that I will have a poem published in Emerge Literary Journal

This year, Christmas at my mother’s house was a zoo. Literally. My mom has a cat, Zoe, who is, unbiasedly, the most beautiful feline in all of the world. Then my brother brought Roddy, his Chihuahua-Pomeranian, who is, unbiasedly, the most ridiculously adorable canine in all of the world. And we are also pet-sitting my mom’s friend’s canary.

In review, that’s a cat, a dog, and a bird, all under the same roof.

The animals were actually pretty good while the company was here.  Zoe got annoyed with Roddy’s rambunctious and dog-like behavior, so she mostly stayed in my mother’s bedroom, and Roddy was too busy trying to jump on everyone’s laps to even notice the bird, whose cage is set up in the living room.

Of course, things were zoo-like for other reasons, too. On Christmas Day my grandpa, aunt, uncle, and four cousins came over. Add to the mix some cups of spiked eggnog, and things got a little crazy. My mother decided to put us all to work in the back yard. Soon, Uncle Pat was up on a wobbly ladder, sawing dead branches from a tree while Grandpa wandered off into the woods with an ax to demolish some rotting stumps. My brother tried to teach me how to chop wood for the fire, and as I wielded the ax above my head, laughing maniacally, my cousins eyed me nervously and murmured about all of the accidents just waiting to happen.

But soon the excitement died down. Yesterday Grandpa drove back to his Senior Living complex, and my mother went back to work, and my brother and Roddy went back home, leaving me alone in the house with the cat and the bird.

And now, things are getting interesting.

Zoe, lounging on my mom's bed

Zoe, lounging on my mom’s bed

This morning I was sitting in the dining room, trying to change my entire novel from present tense to past tense, when I heard the bird cheeping frantically. Canaries are supposed to sing, of course, but they don’t if they are stressed.  They only make a pitiful cheeping sound.

I walked into the living room, and there was Zoe, sitting in front of the cage, staring at the canary.

“Kitty, what are you doing? Are you being bad?” I asked.

She turned to me, blinked once, then turned back to the bird.

I retreated to the dining room.

Cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep! came the bird’s frightened call a moment later. I rushed back. I thought maybe Zoe had stuck her paw through the bars of cage and was clawing at the little bird. But no, the bars were too narrow for that, and Zoe was just sitting on the couch, staring into the cage with an intent expression on her face while the bird hopped around nervously on its fake wooden branch and pooped out of fear.

And then I began to think about just how insane this whole situation really is.

The cat and the bird stare each other down.

The cat and the bird stare each other down.

First, look at it from the bird’s perspective. He is trapped in a very small cage, staring directly into the evil yellow eyes of the thing he fears the most. He cannot escape, and he has no idea when the nightmare will end. Every second that goes by is killing him slowly on the inside. He keeps hoping that somehow the cage will open and he will be able to fly away to freedom, but of course, this will never happen. Poor bird.

Now look at if from the cat’s perspective. She is inches away from something she wants desperately, and yet there is no way for her to get it. The bird is right there, hopping annoyingly inside its cage, looking so plump and delicious, but she cannot reach it. Every second that the bird lives on is killing her slowly on the inside. She keeps hoping that somehow the cage will open and she will have the opportunity to make a grab for what she wants, but of course, this will never happen. Poor kitty.

It makes me wonder – which one am I?

Am I the bird, trapped with my own fears, feeling anxious and unable to fly? Or am I the cat, staring at the things I want but feeling frustrated that they are just out of reach?

I am probably a little bit of both.  But of course, the cages are only in my mind, and if I work hard, I can make the bars dissolve.  I can fly away from my fears.  I can reach out and make a grab for what I want.

My mom's golden cheetah in his Christmas hat.

My mom’s golden cheetah in his Christmas hat.

ASSIGNMENT:

#1  If you were an animal, what animal would you be?  How would be behave?

Day 152: The Recent Past, or, Feeling Tense

Day 152: The Recent Past, or, Feeling Tense

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 1

# of agents queried: 0

other: I found out that I am going to be published in Compose

 

Today I got an email back from an agent. She said she liked the concept of the novel.  She said, “the world you created is vivid and your characters are distinct, but I found some inconsistencies in the tense (sometimes the text is in past tense, then it switches to the present.)”

She says if I revise it, she’d be happy to review another sample.

I know this should be good news. She likes the concept and the characters. All I have to do is fix the tense. The problem is, I don’t see a problem with it.

The story is told in the past, but in a past that has just recently happened. Observe the difference:

The distant past: Once, when I was ten, I was sitting in the back seat of the car listening to my Amy Grant cassette tape on my Walkman and singing “Baby Baby” out loud at top volume. My mom made fun of me and said I should never sing in public. And for a long time I didn’t. I was embarrassed of my singing voice.

The recent past: On Wednesday night Paul and I went to H Street and met up with some friends at karaoke. I love karaoke and now have very little shame when it comes to singing. Luckily, Paul is pretty shameless, too. He sang Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” then joined me and my friend Layla on stage for a ridiculous rendition of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”

Notice how, in the recent past, there are past tense verbs like “went” mixed with present tense verbs like “is.” But it makes sense, right? Because some of the statements I made are still happening now. I wouldn’t say I “loved” karaoke because I still love it. I wouldn’t say Paul “was” shameless because that would imply that he is no longer shameless, or that I am no longer dating him, or that he is dead. And none of these things are true.

So this is the way my novel is written, and I think it makes sense.

I suppose though, it doesn’t matter whether or not it makes sense to me. If it doesn’t make sense to everyone else, I’m going to have to change it.

But the thought of looking at my novel makes me shudder. I’m afraid to revisit it . I’m afraid that I’ll realize it sucks and this will confirm my fears that focusing on writing was a terribly stupid thing for me to do. I want to start writing something new, but that, too, feels overwhelming.  I’m feeling stressed out.

Paul singing "Poker Face" at Kostume Karaoke.

Paul singing “Poker Face” at Kostume Karaoke.

This morning I went for another walk in the sketchy park near Paul’s house. Again, he begged me not to get raped, and again, I said I’d try not to, but this time I had very low expectations for my own enjoyment. I already knew from my walk the previous day that the park would be trash-strewn and full of weirdos doing drugs or waiting creepily for children at whom they could peep.

The walk started out as I expected: cold wind, heavy gray clouds, a stark, muddy landscape broken only by white Styrofoam cups and red fast food wrappers. The creek was brown and swollen from the recent rain, and scraps of trash clung to the branches hanging low over the churning water.

Two crows landed on the scabby wooden bridge that arced over the water. I took a cautious step forward, but they didn’t move. These were tough city crows. They weren’t afraid of me. I took another step. I was so close I could stare into their glossy black eyes. But they weren’t used to this much attention. They flapped their wings and took off.

I headed towards the playground where some teenage boys were smoking weed and halfheartedly tossing a football. They waved and hooted at me and then seemed surprised and giggly when I actually walked towards them. I had to – they were standing near the entrance to the duck pond.

Once I was close, I smiled and said hello.

“Oh, hey.” They nodded their heads politely, looking slightly embarrassed. “Good morning.”

I walked on the paved path around the pond, breathing deeply and trying not to feel overwhelmed. Everything is just so unsettled and uncertain. I’m going to stay at my mom’s house in Richmond for January, as a change of scenery, but then what? Will I go back to the Cape? Will I start looking for a real job? Will something actually happen with my novel?  What will happen with me and Paul?

This morning, Paul asked me if I ever get nervous about my biological clock and wanting to have kids.

“Of course it worries me!” I told him. “I’m a thirty-one-year-old woman! It’s something I want, and I’m not sure if I’ll get it or not. Of course I get nervous!”

It’s hard not knowing the future. It’s hard not totally understanding the past. It’s hard when the present seems to slip by so quickly, and I feel like I have so little to show for myself.

As my brain was crowding with these thoughts, I suddenly, I noticed something standing among the cattails by the edge of the water. It was a beautiful blue heron, with a long, sloping neck and thin, graceful legs.

I came to an abrupt halt – what was something so beautiful doing here in Hyattsville? I gasped in surprise. The loud intake of breath startled the heron, and he lifted off, tucking his long legs underneath his body and spreading his wings.

That’s when I noticed that there were seagulls circling overhead. And Canadian geese floating regally on the other side of the pond. The geese hadn’t been here the day before — I suppose they were having a rest before continuing on their journey south. Maybe the heron and the gulls were just having a snack before flying on towards the ocean. We were all a bunch of creatures who didn’t actually belong here at this sad little pond.  Or maybe we did belong here for the moment, no matter where our journey would take us next.

When I got back to Paul’s house, I chirped, “that was the best walk ever!”

“Are you just saying that?” he asked suspiciously. (He was a little annoyed the other day when I wrote about how horribly depressing his neighborhood is, but I would just like to publicly state right now that I like Paul a lot, and his depressing neighborhood in no way affects my feelings for him.)

“No, it really was a good walk,” I told him. “I saw crows and a heron and geese and teenagers smoking pot.”

Paul laughed. “All the wildlife you could ever hope for.”

I was glad that I had revisited the park and found some beauty in an unexpected place.

In the afternoon, I sat down in front of my computer and opened up the draft of my novel. Should I just make it all in the distant past tense? The present tense? Time is such a tricky thing to figure out.

But I think I an ready to revisit my novel after all. I know it’s far from perfect, and as I begin to reread it, it will probably depress me. But I bet sometimes it will surprise me with little bits of beauty. I bet, in the end, it will win me over. And hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, an agent will feel the same way.

 

Assignment:  

1.  Create a character and list his/her favorite karaoke songs.

2.  Write about something that happened in the recent past. The tense makes sense, doesn’t it??

 

Day 149: The Saddest Park in All of Maryland & A Building Not Built for Humans

Day 149:  The Saddest Park in All of Maryland & A Building Not Built for Humans

 TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

# of agents queried: 0

 

This week I am staying at Paul’s apartment in beautiful Hyattsville, Maryland, just outside of DC. Wait, did I say beautiful? I meant the opposite.

Yesterday morning, I decided to go for a walk. As soon as I announced this, Paul seemed worried.

“Don’t walk that way,” he said, “or that way.” He flung his arms in various directions. “You can go to the University of Maryland campus and walk around,” he said. “That’s fairly safe.”

“Last night I drove by a park,” I said. “I was thinking of going there.”

Paul’s forehead wrinkled. “That park? I don’t know. I never go in that direction. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but I think you’d be safer just walking around on the Maryland campus.”

“It’s nine-thirty in the morning,” I said. “And it’s a park. How bad could it be?”

Paul continued to look at me with concern. “It’s kind of sketchy around here. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

It was a nice sentiment, but being a naturally optimistic and independent person who hates living in fear and loves walking in parks, I declared, “I’m going to the park! See you later.”

Outside it was unseasonably warm and misting rain. The sky was gray, the ground saturated and muddy. My hair immediately went limp in the soggy air, and my cheeks began to feel dewy. I walked out of Paul’s depressing compound of brick apartment buildings and down a trafficky thoroughfare, eventually turning left into the park.

Running through the middle of the park was a creek, and I walked beside it, looking at beer cans submerged in the murky water and soiled underwear and saggy condoms washing up along the muddy banks. A few squirrels chattered among the trees by the creek, picking their way around empty Cheetoh’s bags and other clumps of trash.

Maybe the park wasn’t scary, but it certainly was the most depressing park I had ever been to. A man stood near the playground, smoking pot and staring at me. Perhaps Paul had been partially right. This was not the pleasant morning stroll I had been imagining.

But still, I continued on, through the parking lot, where several cars sat, the people in them staring forlornly at the empty playground. I hurried past them to the paved path around the man-made duck pond. The pond was littered with trash, and its water was sludgy, smelling of sulfur and sewage. A few ducks paddled lethargically near the reeds, and I scanned their little bodies for signs of mutations. It made me sad. This could have been a nice place, but people had thrown their trash all over it, and now the only people who frequented the park were druggies, potential child molesters, and me. I said a soft goodbye to the unfortunate ducks and hurried back to Paul’s basement apartment, with its parking lot views.

*   *  *
Later in the day, I decided to do a little Christmas shopping. Again, the neighborhood failed to thrill me. The roads were filled with traffic as I drove past strip malls, each shop blaring with neon red signs. I passed institutional-looking apartment complexes and the hulking buildings of Target, Best Buy and Home Depot, each sitting on their own giant parking lot. I stopped at Target and underneath the harsh florescent lights I wound my way through the aisles of stressed-out people, grabbing what I needed and then hurrying back to the car. There was a traffic jam getting out of the parking lot. I was only two and a half miles from Paul’s apartment, but it took me twenty minutes to get back. “Come on, people,” I found myself muttering. I could feel my jaw clenching and my shoulders hunching. Everything here was so ugly and cramped, it was already affecting my mood.

Later, Paul and I drove to dinner and discussed whether or not to go to Zoolights on Friday. This is the event where they string up Christmas lights at the zoo and you walk around drinking hot cider, oohing at the pretty lights and watching the nocturnal animals. It seems appropriate for us to go since we went to the zoo on our first date back in early November. Plus, I love Christmas-time events, and I especially love the zoo.

Sometimes people give me shit for loving the zoo. These are the snooty people who start talking about how zoos are so sad and depressing. And, yes, I acknowledge that zoo cages are not anywhere near as good as nature, and that those wild cats do seem sort of bored and depressed in their small, barren cages. But my love of looking at wild animals usually overrides that sentiment.

As we drove past the ugly strip malls near Paul’s apartment, I asked him, if he ended up getting a permanent position at the place where he now works part-time, would he continue to live here?

“Oh no,” he said, laughing.

“Oh good,” I said. “This place is horrible and depressing.” I kind of couldn’t believe that Paul lived here now. Only one day, and I was already feeling the affects.

ugly

Today I took the Metro into the city to have lunch with my friend, Sarah. I met her at her office building in Chinatown, and we walked to Busboys and Poets for sandwiches. As we were walking, I kept noticing the buildings on H Street. Above the first floor restaurants and shops loomed floor after floor of small, depressing apartments, each with their own tiny balconies two feet wide and five feet long. What could you even do on those balconies, I wondered. There was hardly enough room for a chair, and the view was of the street.

Lunch was delightful and delicious. After lunch, Sarah and I walked back to H Street. The wind was kicking up, trying to force us into the busy street while we waited for the walk signal. We stopped in front of the Government Accountability Office, where Sarah works.

“So this is your office building, huh?” I said, looking up at the large, ugly brick building with its slits for windows. If I hadn’t known what it actually was, I might have guessed it a prison, or a low-income public school.

“This beautiful piece of architecture, you mean?” Sarah joked.

“Yeah…That’s exactly what I was going to say.”

“Apparently it was built to store documents,” Sarah said. “Not humans.”

“That entire building was meant for documents?” I asked.

“That’s what people say. It means we don’t have very good heating or air-flow.”

“Well that sucks for the humans who have to work there,” I gazed at the building. It spanned nearly the entire block and was five stories high. Perhaps if I looked into one of those narrow windows I would see a small, poorly-ventilated office with bland, cream-colored walls and a thin, gray carpet. And this was where hundreds of people spent the majority of their day, everyday. Perhaps it was where some people spent the majority of their life.

I said goodbye to Sarah and walked against the wind towards the Metro, riding underneath the city back to beautiful Hyattsville, Maryland.

*   *   *
As I was driving away from the Metro station, I thought, geez, this is no place to live. It’s overly-crowded and overly-depressing. There’s no place to roam. No place to see the beauty of nature. It makes me wonder:  we built these cages, these ugly habitats, and we put ourselves inside of them. Why do so many people stay? The cages aren’t locked.

I guess sometimes I do find these human zoos to be a bit depressing.

Day 146: It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye, or, My Brain Needs Some Wiggle Room

Day 146:  It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye, or, My Brain Needs Some Wiggle Room

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 3

# of agents queried: 1

other: I wrote a very short story 

I’m leaving the Cape for a while. Tomorrow I’m driving down to the DC area to spend time with friends (and with a certain okcupid penpal.) Then I’ll head to my grandmother’s house in southwestern Virginia. For Christmas I’ll go to my mother’s house in Richmond, where I’ll stay until the end of January.

Which means that I’m taking a hiatus from trivia hosting, the wine job, and my in-person tutoring. On Wednesday night I went to host trivia, knowing it would be my last show for a while. The usual suspects were there: the guy who looks like a plump Keanu Reeves, the old man in a Santa hat who calls himself George Bush, the autistic man who wears a Dr. Seuss hat and goes by Uncle Sam. Also, one of the wine managers from my wine job showed up, which was exciting because for months I’ve been begging the liquor store people to come to trivia.

The show went well. People seemed genuinely excited about trivia. Uncle Sam was wearing his bedazzled Spider Man t-shirt, which is my favorite of his outfits, and someone actually offered to help me carry my equipment to my car, which usually never happens.

At the end of the show, the wine manager, whose face was now flushed pink from beer, tried to pressure me into going out bowling with him and his friends. “I don’t think I can,” I said.

“Fine,” he pouted. “I’ll see you next week, then.”

“Well…actually, I’m going to be out of town for a while – for the holidays,” I told him. I didn’t want to say for how long I was actually going to be gone.

“See you next year, then!” he said, stumbling off to the bowling alley.

George Bush had won trivia, as usual, so I went to give him his gift certificate. He gave me a hug, and I knew I had to break the news. “I just wanted to let you know,” I said, “I’m not going to be here next week.”

“You’re not?” He looked alarmed.

“Someone will be here,” I assured, “but it won’t be me. I’m going on vacation.”

“You can’t leave us. When will you be back?”

“Oh, soon enough,” I lied.

“Bye, Eva! See you next week!” Uncle Sam called, waving to me and strutting towards the door.

“Bye!” I shouted back. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he wouldn’t.

 

*    *   *

One person who will not be affected by my long vacation is Sergey, since I tutor him on Skype and can do that from anywhere except my grandma’s house. She doesn’t have Internet, and I’ve already prepared Sergey for the fact that I won’t be able to Skype with him when I’m there. He took it surprisingly well, considering he gets upset when we have to miss one day of tutoring.

In case you weren’t aware, I currently tutor Sergey for an hour a half every day, seven days a week. This is his idea, not mine, and in fact, I had to talk him down from three hours daily to one and a half.

Yesterday I was talking to him, and I said, “Well, I know you have a flight to Moscow tomorrow, and I’m driving to DC on Sunday, so we might not be able to talk until Monday.”

He frowned. “I can do tomorrow. It will not be problem.”

“Really?” I asked, although I don’t know why I was surprised. He once tutored with me after a 10-hour flight, when he hadn’t slept for over thirty-two hours. Sergey is hardcore about his English lessons.

“Yes,” he said. “I will do it.”

“Ok,” I said, even though I’d sort of been looking forward to a two-day break.

The other day, in between tutoring and working on writing math curriculum, I put on my coat with the fur-lined hood and took a walk on the quiet residential street that leads to the bike trail. I watched squirrels skitter in the brown leaves and crows balance on naked tree branches, flapping their shiny black wings. I thought about how, only a few months earlier, I’d ridden my bike down this road every day in shorts and flip flops. The trees had been green, the sky blue, the bike path overflowing with tourists.

Back then, when I first moved to the Cape, my days had been long and empty. I would sometimes take multiple walks, or multiple bike rides, a day. I’d lay out reading at the beach for an hour, then come home and sit in the back yard, eating frozen yogurt and watching the bees fly in lazy figure eights over the grass. It was sort of nice, and sort of terrifying. I worried that I wasting time.

So I started collecting little part-time jobs to keep myself from feeling totally useless. First trivia, then tutoring, then math curriculum, then the wine job. I started a blog with a self-imposed deadline – a new entry every forty-eight hours. I felt like I needed some structure.  I needed to feel like I was being productive.

Now my days are short and dark, and they fly by so quickly. Every morning I tutor Sergey, and sometimes Natalia. Then I work on math curriculum or query agents. Then go to one of my various part-time jobs. I barely have time to write this blog anymore.
The thing is, I filled up on jobs so that I would feel productive, but they are keeping me from being productive with my real job, which is writing.

Sometimes I talk to Nikki about feelings of “false productivity.”  We want to be able to come home at the end of the day and feel like we accomplished something.  But we don’t always stop to think if what we’re accomplishing is what we really want to spend our time doing.  Handing out wine samples and hosting trivia is fine and all, but it’s not my passion in life.

My passion is writing, and in order to do that, I think my brain needs those long hours of nothingness. It needs a loose structure to give it some creative wiggle room.

In the summer, after a long, empty day of taking bike rides and eating frozen yogurt and watching the grass grow, I would suddenly be struck by an idea. It turned out that my brain had been working all along.

So I think this vacation of mine is going to be good. I need to gain back some of that free time so I can let my brain stretch and play. I’m thinking about only doing blog entries three or four times a week now so that I have time to work on stories, and perhaps a new novel. I’m also going to put my foot down with Sergey. I plan to tell him that starting January first I can only tutor three or four days a week. He’s not going to like it, but after all, I didn’t take this year off to talk to Ukrainians – that was just an added bonus.

And I’m not going to burn myself out on writing math curriculum either. That will always be there for me to do. What won’t always be there is this glorious free time. I can’t let it scare me anymore.

 

Assignment:  

Spend and hour sitting in a chair and watching the squirrels in your back yard.  See what your brain does.

Day 143: Romancing Darkness

Day 143: Romancing Darkness

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 1

# of agents queried: 2

other: here is something I wrote for Burlesque Press!

Yesterday, around six-thirty, Nikki asked if I wanted to take a nighttime walk in Nickerson State Park.

“It’s dark out,” I said.

“It’ll be fun!” She grinned, and I said okay.

We got into the car. Already, it was pitch-black outside, and the park was deserted. We parked in an empty lot, and Nikki switched on her one, small flashlight.

“This is scary,” I said as we walked towards the trail. My eyes struggled to adjust, picking out the shapes of lanky trees looming all around us.

“You’re the one who likes the darkness,” Nikki said.

“No, I like the concept of darkness,” I corrected. “I like macabre stories and gothic costumes. But I’m afraid of the actual dark.”

“Well, come on,” Nikki said, beginning to walk along the trail. “We’ll be fine.”

“Oh, I know we will,” I said. “But I’m going to be scared anyway.”

We walked for a moment in silence. The woods on either side of us were strangely silent, too. I thought about the times I’d walked this trail in the daylight. Normally there were birds calling from the treetops and squirrels rustling through the underbrush.

“I don’t know why I’m afraid of the dark,” I said after a moment. “I’m not afraid of anything in particular happening in the dark. It’s more of a general fear.”

I looked upwards. The sky was a dusty gray, contrasting against the black shapes of trees stretching their limbs.

I started telling Nikki about how, my Freshman year of college, I used to go out running at midnight. “I didn’t want anybody to see me running because I thought I looked weird,” I explained. “So I would literally wait until midnight and then go running down Richmond Road. And Williamsburg is a small town. It’s not like there were a lot of cars out or places open. Everything is dark and deserted after ten o’clock.”

“But Williamsburg’s pretty safe, isn’t it?” Nikki asked.

I glanced to my right, at the deep pocket of dark, silent trees. “Well, I don’t know. There were a lot of rapes that year. I remember my friends getting really mad at me for going running by myself at night because they thought I was going to get raped.”

Suddenly Nikki stopped in her tracks and the beam from her flashlight faltered. “Eva, I can’t walk anymore.” Her voice sounded strange and cold.

Instinctively my heart clenched in my chest, and I threw my arms around her, frightened. “What is it?” I asked. Had she seen something ahead on the trail? Had she heard something in the woods?

“I don’t know,” she said. “You said rape, and now I can’t get that out of my head. I think we have to go back to the car now.” She turned around and begin to walk quickly towards the parking lot.

My heart began to pound, and I followed her. Before, my fear of the dark had been a hazy blanket, falling lightly over everything, but I could still see through it. Now, however, it had been packed into a solid and specific form that hovered just beyond the corners of my eyes. Even though I knew the actual chance of someone attacking us in this empty park was practically zero, I was now ridiculously frightened by the possibility.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling stupid and inconsiderate. “I shouldn’t have been talking about that. I ruined our nighttime walk.”

“No, no,” Nikki said. “You didn’t. I thought I’d be okay with walking in the dark like this, but the farther we got away from the car, the more nervous I got.”

“Well, if there is a rapist out there in the woods, waiting for girls to walk by, he must be really bored,” I said, trying, as I often do, to diffuse the situation with a poorly-made joke.

Nikki attempted to laugh.

We got back to the car, and I felt the tension in my shoulders loosen. We drove to downtown Brewster and took a walk on the sidewalk, with car headlights illuminating our way and multi-colored Christmas lights twinkling at every house we passed.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA

Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA

When Paul came to visit last week, we spent some time exploring Mount Auburn’s Cemetery in Cambridge. We wandered past crumbling mausoleums and old, broken headstones. In the biting cold of late afternoon we examined elaborate tombs and sad stone angels and the markers of babies’ graves. I wasn’t afraid. I find cemeteries, especially old ones like St. Auburn’s, to be beautiful and peaceful and gothically romantic. This is the type of darkness I enjoy – the solemn and mysterious beauty of death.

As we sat on a stone bench in front of a small, leaf-clogged pond, Paul glanced at his phone. The cemetery was closing in twenty minutes, and the light was already beginning to fade from the sky. We began to make our way along the narrow path back to the entrance. It was the blue of dusk now, and my eyes strained to keep the world from growing blurry.

“This time of day is so strange,” I said, shoving my frozen hands deeper into my pockets. “The way the color drains from the world.”
I pointed at a slope covered in English ivy. “I know that’s green because I saw it as green earlier. But now that the light is fading, the color is going, too. Now it’s just a shade of gray. Everything is losing its definition. It’s getting harder to see what everything is. It’s like a dream.” My voice was becoming soft and dreamlike, too. “In my dreams I’m always straining to see things clearly, but I can never quite get them in focus.”

“That happens to me in real life sometimes,” Paul said.

“Maybe we are always living in the dusk, metaphorically,” I said. “We’re never really seeing things as they truly are.”

It was really getting dark now, and the world had lost its color almost completely. I saw a small, black form – a cat maybe – scamper across the path and disappear behind a tombstone. I was frightened, but I didn’t say so. I started walking faster, suddenly worried about getting locked into the cemetery over night. I loved this place dearly during the daylight hours, but now, in the darkness, it had become something else entirely.

Tree Line (summer) by Christopher Caroll (2011)

Today my friend Chris shared a link to an artistic essay he’d written on darkness, called “Romance in Black,” The essay appears in Drain Magazine and is accompanied by his artwork. Chris writes that these works represent his infatuation with “the colors of darkness.” He wanted to create an image that “induces the same psychological response that I perceive whilst looking at darkness.”

And I think he succeeded. The pieces illustrate to me, not how the Nickerson woods actually looked last night, nor how St. Auburn’s actually looked last Friday, but still they give an accurate representation of how I felt in both instances. He has perfectly depicted the way the color drains from the world as the light fades from the sky, leaving behind morose shades of black and gray and sometimes a sickly bluish-greenish-brown. He has shown the way that simple objects grow hazy and disconcerting in the darkness, as if there is something ominous hidden in their shadows.

When really, the only place where ominous things are want to hide, is in the dark corners of our own minds.