30. Mr. Softee’s Song

On Thursday, the weather spiked into the mid 60’s and Mr. Softee returned to the streets of the northern Bronx. Everyone could hear the poor speakers of the ice cream truck emitting that all to familiar childhood nursery rhyme. One person who anxiously awaited behind the screen door of their house said, “That song reminds me of a jack-in-the-box.”

All of the heavy wooden doors were pulled open on 227th street. Every resident, of each house, stood either behind a cracked open screen door or on their respective verandahs with loose change and singles in hand, slippers sheltering toes. 227th’s residents, who’d barely seen each other over the course of the winter, especially because there was no snow, reacquainted themselves. The adults asked common, perfectly impersonal questions for the sake of passing the time. The children, who made friendships based upon age and summer, screamed at one another from house to house.

“I got a new bike for Christmas!”

“For real? Lucky! I got a skateboard and some rollerblades!”

“Will you let me try them out? When it gets hot enough?”

“Of course! We’re gonna race all summer!”

And those children could not wait.

It was 9pm when Mr. Softee finally turned onto 227th street. Most people only waited half an hour and all of the children who had crept to peek outside, through the legs of their parents, were not shooed to bed but allowed to of receive their first ice cream cone for the year.

The truck looked the same — as the children had remembered from the summer before; as the adults had remembered from flashes of their youth — white, boxy, a rectangular opening that could be closed by sliding glass back and forth.

The residents of 227th, rushed to the middle of the block, spilling into the street, waving dollar bills in their hands.

“One at a time, one at a time,” said the ice cream truck driver.

Parents conferred with their children, spouses double checked with each other. Everyone knew what they wanted: cones and milkshakes, sundaes and ice pops.

Mr. Softee didn’t leave the block for an hour. Not because the lone ice cream dispatcher couldn’t fulfill orders expeditiously but because he had been able to serve everyone so quickly and had some time left over (his route was complete) before having to return to the ice cream truck depot. The same neighbor who made the connection between the ice cream truck and the jack in the box, invited anyone who wanted to hang out for awhile to come sit on the stairs leading up to her house. About thirty people came, chocolate smeared around their mouths, maraschino cherries falling into laps.

Those who congregated on the steps, shared stories about how they felt when they were growing up. The wars they’d seen. The love they’d experienced. The scraped knees and sunburnt skin. They spoke of the escape from boundlessness only to fall into more boundlessness. The children who’d been allowed to stay up, remained silent and ingested these stories just as they swallowed their ice cream. The adults laughed and sometimes, when the conversation had taken an unexpected heavy turn, the adults administered respect by way of silence.

Eventually, the driver of the Mr. Softee truck said, “It’s getting late. I’ve got to go.”

“Yeah, you’re right!”

“Man, it’s way past my bedtime.”

“Kids why didn’t you tell me it was so late? You’ve got school in the morning? You need your rest.”

Mr.Softee turned off the music from the truck — which had been playing all along — although the song was unnoticeable when everyone was talking. The driver waved goodbye, all of the residents of 227th street went back into their houses, and went to sleep.

29. On Letting Go [Blue in Green]

The hardest part about losing a lover is figuring out the line between letting go and forgetting. Sometimes the two terms, the two actions, are used interchangeably. And to use those two terms as each other — to say letting go is the process of forgetting, once you’ve forgotten something you’ve let it go — reduces the feeling of loss into an unhelpful binary of good versus bad. Instead, I think, letting go is carefully storing memories in chambers of the mind where they do not hurt you;forgetting is creating a new reality in which the past does not exist.

I had a hard time reestablishing an equilibrium after the departure of my first great love. We met at a distance — he was a resident of one state, I another — and we separated in the same fashion. Perhaps that makes the situation all the more complicated. The only way in which I could allow our love to survive was through a long, arduous process of keeping memories so active they became a part of my reality. Because of our choice to enter a relationship, knowing well that there wouldn’t be a chance of us living in the same place and thus disallowing us from taking advantage of the reminder that is close physical proximity, my first love existed as a memory in motion, a feeling, an ephemeral being who I had to remind myself was real.

So when it ended, when he and I parted, I was not leaving a person, but the memory of a person. It was the death of a spirit that told me to keep moving. That if I moved quietly enough, with my heels always pressed to the ground and if my unwavering hope never concerned itself with faltering, I would someday catch the spirit of the love that he had created within me. And he would be something I could grasp at once and forever. If we remained steadfast enough, our states of being would join into one.

When it ended I had to sort through a handful of moments that outlined us as a couple. There was no day-to-day interaction between us. Our relationship was punctuated by bi-monthly visits, which were tremendous in the way those visits defined the entire dynamic of our relationship. I sorted through moments some people might easily forget. I clung to the days of brightness and fury and I didn’t have the option to forget, although I wanted to (although I tried).

I deleted him digitally; I placed cards he gave me, in a box he gave me and hid it; I stored his emails under a label and archived them — I made him less immediate. This would have worked if he were an immediate person to me. But he wasn’t, of course. His pneuma somehow etched itself into mine. My thoughts would wind to him not out of laziness or self torture, but because he had become just like any thought that precedes an action and my heart was still thoroughly entrenched in love.

It took months to realize he was still with me and that my futile attempts at forgetting were wearing on me much more heavily than I would have liked. I wrote him out of me. Writing him out like I am doing now. I circumscribe him with a pen when the sensation of loss becomes too great. I wrote him into stories and characters and poems and I even wrote him into people I knew. If I brought his memory into a tangible something, then I could break him apart and store him in a chamber of my mind. There are file cabinets situated in my grey matter occupied by only him.

***

Here is an example of letting go:

 One summer he went to China and when he returned, I surprised him at the airport with his parents. We stayed at his parents house for a few days before going back to his apartment. It was early August, and the air was balmy, and the bottom floor of his parent’s house had a way of capturing light so even after the sun had descended their house was still full with lambent light.

He was different upon his return and perhaps I was too. We spent the first few hours of being back together, apart. He was preoccupied with playing the piano; I was trying to find words to explain the changes that had happened to us. He was known for playing the piano rather crassly — slamming on the keys, uneasy transitions, graceless — and, at times, he did not sing well. I didn’t often have the heart to tell him to slow down because he was exposing a part of himself through his music and my opinion of his art was irrelevant. But I remember sitting in the television room of his parents house, dazzled by the soft folds of daytime hours. And I heard this really tender sound. The song began as a fall, if that’s possible. I imagined walking down a spiraled stair: having my name called from above me and walking up; then having my name called from below me and moving down. The song undulated freely and for the first time, his musical voice became very clear and very painful. That song cycled through beauty effortlessly and I felt oppressed and before he could dance his fingers on the white and black keys again, I left the house sobbing.

If every person is an incarnation of God, if our intuition is really God speaking through us: God was telling me our love had already crowned.

He found me crying and I could see in his eyes he didn’t have the energy to console me or to extract my feelings from me. I said, “What was that song you were playing? It’s so beautiful.” He told me a story about his experiences in China, and he asked me not to cry, and he said the song needed lyrics. He asked me to write them. Despite numerous efforts, the words never came and the song, for better, exists without a voice to cloud its message.

28. Marjorie and Gregory [excerpt from a short story i’ve been working on]

Marjorie,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been so distant. You’ve been making my favorite meals every night for the last month. I should have said ‘thank you’ for being so loving. Things have been difficult. Not with you but I’m sure I’ve made you question yourself. Please don’t question yourself; I love you. It’s been work, Marjorie. I’m run down and I don’t know why but I know every reason why. I hope you read this in the afternoon- I hope I didn’t wake you this morning- I hope your dreams are keeping you safe. You are too good.

I have to bring justice today. They’re giving me as rifle and a mask. Like the mask is enough to make the rifle disappear. Like the mask is enough of a barrier and so powerful my actions are no longer my own but the actions of a just state.

I am looking at you now and thinking about all of the things I haven’t had the courage to say over the last few weeks. I see that your face has pressed itself into a smile and I can’t help but think you’re beautiful.

I want to tell you everything (really, I do), but what is there to say? Why does everything and nothing seem to produce the same silence within me? Why does everything and nothing push me away from you? Why do the events in my life always get categorized into everything, something, anything and nothing? I feel trapped.

I’m thinking about all of the times you sat on the sofa, in the spot you always sit in, looking at me with those almond eyes that I hope to never forget. And you waited for me to talk. And you waited for me to be better, to open up, to tell you the truth. And all you got from me were a few grumbles and a lot of silence. And I’d see a little glimmer in your eyes that wasn’t hopeful at all but a sheath of a twisted sadness. I looked at your face and read all of the memories you tried to recapture to justify my distance. Every word of mine became a journey that I wasn’t ready and am not ready to travel. But I have to. It’s my job. That’s a fucking terrible excuse, but it is.

I’m going to be lined up with other executioners, cloaked, holding a rifle and have to shoot at a man. My rifle might have the fatal bullet. It may not. I’ve been thinking in terms of what might and might not be. I don’t think there is an answer. And that’s why I haven’t spoken. I don’t want to give you an answer that’s not actually an answer but just words that have the ability to pose themselves as such.

I want to lay in bed and wrinkle with you. I want this morning to be yesterday’s morning and yesterday’s morning to be the morning before. And each subsequent day to be the previous morning until there is nothing but light.

I didn’t have the words on our wedding day to write my own vows. That was one of the many things I did to hurt you. That’s 25 years old but I still think about it because I am confident you still resent me for it and I can’t blame you. On some days, as soon as I wake up, I come up with a lot of different words that could be vows. After awhile none of them make sense. I’m thinking of some vows now but “I’m going to be putting a bullet in a man’s head” are the only words that tell me something concrete.

I have to go now because it’s almost dawn, it’s almost time. I just wanted to tell you, for all of today I won’t think about you once. I can’t. I don’t want to drag you into this mess and distort my image of you. If there’s anything that mask can save, it’s you.

I will be home around 7, if traffic isn’t too bad. Whatever you make will be perfect and I will say thank you and talk as much as you want.

Yours,

Gregory

27. Slack-tivism

For those who believe neo-colonialism is not real, for those who blame the victim, for those who wear wrist bands instead of ideologies, for those who are programmed and waiting to repeat words that demolish realities, for those who think race is a card, for those who think gender is an excuse, for those who sail on the wings of good intentions but aren’t courageous enough to exist as goodness, for those who think guilt is a burden, for those who rally at a pride parade but wince at the sight of two men kissing, for those who find subjects interesting but fail to accept the real lives and real faces that interest them, for those who’ve taken one sociology class and think they’ve got it, for those who claim reverse racism is real, who think it’s not about anything except for class and status, for those who tell some of the bravest voices in the world to stop talking and start doing something:

Show me where Uganda is on this map.  Show me the magic of assigning facelessness.

 

I’ll wait.

26. Circling

If Margaret had stayed when Jeffery asked her to. If Margaret had stayed under the covers, hadn’t quickly put on her clothes, hadn’t written her happiness into indifference, hadn’t left him naked under those blankets, hadn’t ignored the way he couldn’t look at her. If Margaret had said years of her daydreams and REM induced realities finally culminated in him seeing her. If she had said, you saw me and I felt beautiful. If she had said, I didn’t know all of those clothes were getting in the way of what we were meant to do. If she had said, pour yourself into me maybe Margaret would know their friendship circled into completion. And when complete, Jeffery and Margaret could find a very specific point on the perimeter of the circle to retrace the curve of what they were meant to be.

25. Sounds and Silence

A taxi driver said to a passenger, “In other countries you can listen.”

“You think?”

“Yes, there are too many people trying to speak here at once. And what makes it worse is that there isn’t any space for the words to go. So they pile up and you’re always bumping into them.”

“I know what you mean,” said the passenger. “When I went to the country I didn’t crash into anything and I didn’t have to say anything. I noticed the sky, even. It was pretty.”

“I’ve never been able to listen in the country of this country. The words are hiding places. I mean leaving the borders of this nation. I mean going somewhere else like, I don’t know, some remote part of the world no one’s discovered yet,” continued the taxi driver.

“Sir, I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world like that,” said the passenger.

“What makes you say that?”

“I think people have spilled into everything. I think even the quietest place is just waiting for noise. Maybe the best we can hope for is a place that has the least amount of words already created waiting for us to stumble into them.”

“The car is filling up. What you just said is collecting in the front seat next to me.”

“Is it?” said the passenger.

“Yes.”

“I didn’t mean to crowd this space,” said the passenger.

“Me either,” said the taxi driver.

 

24. Mucilage [Part 2]

It took a week and a half to arrive. Macy abstained from moving over the course of that week and half, not wanting to miss the delivery-person. The vial of molecular glue fit in the palm of her hand. The packing smelled like grapefruit and the label spelled out “CAUTION.” Macy put on her favorite outfit — well tailored, narrow-legged blue jeans; a floral blouse with snaps at the nape of the neck; crimson Mary Janes — and walked the two and one half miles to Washington Square Park.

Macy stood in the center of the park, next to the newly constructed fountain, unscrewed her molecular glue vial and poured it on the right side of her body. The fabric of her clothing fused to her body and there was a tingle. Well, that is an understatement. There was a tingle that vibrated into a pain comparable to the motions of the sea: swelling and breaking, unstoppable. Macy carried her pain in the ridges of her forehead, with the quiet of one well accustomed to discomfort — wincing but consistently pensive, for pain requires a concentration not necessary for other sensations — there is the strong desire to understand the intricacies of why one is in pain, how misery can be aptly translated into language. It is not until Macy shuffles through the deck of her vocabulary and touches upon the word hurt that she acknowledges the transformation occurring with her body. Pain cycles through pain, a tactile sense building upon itself. A shaking. A thought. A trembling.

She does her best to not scream, as she has now found her word and knows what to say and how to say it. But to speak would counter her desire for completion . So she tips to the side — arms jauntily fixed, her legs quaking, tears forming a puddle on the tiny ledge created by her perked cheeks — and tries her best to look around.

Washington Square Park is filled with lunchtime visitors. They are the same people you would see in Central Park, or sitting on the benches in Union Square, or humming around the salad bar at Whole Foods. They were people looking for other people to notice them.  Macy beheld a few — ‘She has a smart jaw’ , ‘He has the hands of a builder’, ‘They are married to the idea of each other. I can see it. They won’t touch hands in fear their ideas may be undone by the lacing of real fingers’  — but couldn’t choose who she found the most captivating. All of the people poured stories upon the grounds of the park and Macy feared treading too long.

 

23. Mucilage [Part 1]

Macy read an article on a tech blog about super glue. Not krazy glue but molecular glue. Glue that causes molecular fusion between two items. She thought about when she was a child and squeezing milky white Elmer’s glue all over her left hand. Then she would take her right hand and rub it all around so the sticky paste formed an even layer of protection on both of her hands. Pulling her hands apart, Macy would wait for the glue to dry clear and until her fingers were mostly inflexible, she’d meticulously remove the new layer of skin she’d added. Skin removal was most satisfying when she could pinch the glue skin at the base of her hand and slowly pull it off in one go. If Macy was careful enough, if she didn’t feel the itch of impatience, she would have two perfectly gossamer imprints of her hands. She liked how much smoother her hand felt after removing the glue. Macy collected her best imprints over the years and kept them in a box labeled “Height Chart” because her parents never took the time to write half inch lines on the wall, marking how much she’d grown from year to year.

And in the way Elmer’s glue had satiated her childhood desire to leave shadows of herself, this new molecular glue could satiate the growing desire to be a part of someone other than herself. Macy, of average attractiveness and build, of moderate intelligence and understanding, found the crux of young adulthood and adulthood to be one with a lot of consequences she couldn’t easily handle. For example, she couldn’t decide upon a job so she applied for them all. She couldn’t decide what to eat for dinner, so she ate nothing. Every decision in her life was bound to the extreme binary of all or nothing and Macy, more often than not, went without.

It stands to reason, of course, that love is one of those items on the list of What A Young Person Should Accomplish because up to now, most instances of love had been invalidated by proper adults as “puppy love”. Macy never had puppy love but she knew she wanted a relationship with someone she could show affection. So when she read the article about molecular glue, she knew someone had made something just for her. After a few hours of navigating the Skid Row avenues of the internet, she ordered some.

22. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections 4 The Man @ Alabaster Books

How many letters can you write to lovers you never had?

*

He hands you a slip of paper and a black pen. You consider what to write. You begin writing the first letters of the author’s name you mentioned to this man, who you don’t know but are made nervous by. This is the same man who asked you if you needed any help navigating a bookstore double the size of your childhood bedroom. Because you are independent, because you have learned how to suffer quietly, you say no and browse the shelves without taking notice of this man’s face. He may have smiled or might not have and you continue to look for One Hundred Years of Solitude. How fitting. But then you realize, you cannot figure out if it’s filed under Garcia or Marquez or, perhaps, a special section for authors with two names.

Eyes scan the shelves. No luck. You turn, cheeks rouged with embarrassment, smile and ask for the man’s help. Maybe it’s the newsboy cap that makes him look so young, or the way in which he perks up and does not judge you when you speak, that makes you consider yourself ready to tackle loving someone. Maybe it’s in the way he says we probably don’t have it; popular books like that go quickly but looks through the stacks of books piled on the floor anyway. And when you ask him what the last great book he read was, he says sometimes I give people my opinion and then they don’t like the book and then those people come back here, reselling the book I just suggested. Maybe it is one of those things that make you feel secure enough to be honest with a stranger and you are.

You forget the titles of books you’ve read more than once, you misplace the names of authors you discuss frequently. Your mind goes blank and all you see is a person in a newsboy hat that you want to impress. So you start looking through the shelves with this man and he begins suggesting books and soon you’ve got 5 books laying in the nest of your arms. Books you have no intention of buying. Books that were not on your list but you take them, as if only to say even if I don’t like them, I will return none of these.But then you remember you want something, want a specific book and you ask for Lorde and he asks you who that is. So you sum her up and he says wow, can you write that down? 

And here you are, with a slip of paper and a black pen. You handwriting is awkward — hands shaking, the letters written fatter than you usually make them. After writing Audre Lorde you momentarily consider scribbling down your number or a smiley face or whatever contact information brave people give to strangers they want to know. But you don’t because he could already have a partner, or is asexual, or would be freaked out by your forwardness. You hand him the slip of paper and look at the ground. He folds it and places it in the breast pocket of his dress shirt. He says given your taste, you’d love this. He hands you The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. You say you have too many books. He helps you decide which ones you should wait to buy. Interestingly enough, you keep The Corrections and Midnight’s Children by Rushdie.

*

How many letters can you write to lovers you never had?

*

You decide to read one of the books in a week and return to the bookstore, hopefully when he’s there. If he isn’t, you will be persistent in your attempts. One day you will be successful. And you won’t be shy. You will come up with a list of books he hasn’t read and you will write out your intentions in the margins. After the titles and names and ISBN numbers, he will see you words, your identifying numbers. You don’t know what you’ll say, but it will be succinct and surprising and a creation all for him.

[author’s note]

Due to several days of illness, I have missed posts for the last few days. Because I haven’t the energy to write/transcribe those posts onto this blog, I’m going to extend the lifespan of the 365 project by approximately 9 days to compensate for the writing that was not posted. If a day should come when I have both the time and energy to share the lost 9 days of writing, I’ll do so. Sorry for that, few readers. Expect 2 posts later today.

21. How Writing Works for Me

1. Read a lot: Not to stroke my own jealousy or envy. Reading would completely useless if it was only about setting up columns of comparison. I like to constantly remind myself that I love getting lost in people’s worlds and there is beauty in living outside of myself.

2. Carry favorite notebook and pen everywhere: Sometimes this is inconvenient because my moleskine is too big to carry in a cute purse, but it doesn’t matter. Unless I’m planning on getting wicked drunk (and even then I’m uncomfortable leaving my stuff at home), I won’t allow myself to be found without them. I never know when I’m going to see or think or hear or smell something that will once again properly [re]connect me to the cycle of the universe.

3. Write unabashedly: Sometimes I write stories or poems or sentences that I know don’t sound right or have no meaning or are really crass. But I write them because I think them. And I have to get used to not devaluing my own thoughts.

4. Write sober: There are some people who insist that drugs help the creative process and I’m not one of them. When I start bringing something into creation I want to see every detail — I want to see the glimmer of a coin, hear the lilt in a voice, the intensity of a character’s sadness. I’m one of those people who gets way too cloudy headed when my system is full with intoxicants.

5. Write honestly: I was pretentious as fuck when I was teenager. Not outwardly, judging, shi-shi pretentious but I possessed a quiet pretense which caused me to write really florid sentences that meant nothing. I was enamored by beauty  in a completely superficial sense. I loved words not worlds. When people asked me what I wrote about, I would say nothing. Intentionally or not, that’s what I did write about. I don’t know when it changed — maybe during the hellish breakup with my only long term partner — but I stopped with the bullshit and insisted upon keeping it real. I am not a person constructed out of words, as I wanted to be. I am a developing story, a story already in motion. And I unburdened myself by trying to hide my life from my art.

6. Look up: Sometimes the ground is too crowded with other people’s thoughts.

7. Be brave: I find myself a bit too timid at times, too desirous for quiet. And it’s not always the best option in my personal life, but it’s okay to want to be safe within the confines of one’s life. It is not okay, though, to crave safety when in the process of creation. I learned, the hard way (as many people do), that I had to drill into an emotion, into a moment and suck the venom out of it, if i want my writing to evoke any sort of genuine emotion. The thing is, I don’t think it’s ever possible to write about any one thing completely. I don’t think there is a bottom to how I feel about any given thing. Meaning: when I let go the fear of feeling, I can write about anything from every imaginable angle. Basically, I can hide as much as I want with people I interact with, but I would be doing myself a tremendous disservice to allow that fear creep into what I make.

8. There are characters all around: Every person I’ve met (meeting doesn’t necessarily mean speaking. I am talking about people I’ve taken the time to observe) has had a beautiful quality to them. A quality worth preserving. I try to keep aware of that at all times and this is where my handy-dandy notebook comes in. I like making lists of observable traits and incorporating those traits into characters.

9. Listen to music: I can’t even begin to explain how many songs and albums and bands that have gotten me through writers block and accompanying malaise.

10. Be me: I have problems. A lot of them. I also have some pretty awesome qualities. At the end of the day, I’m one person inspecting everyone else while simultaneously getting to know myself. My greatest accomplishment, thus far, is writing about the very thing I know best: myself, duh. It doesn’t mean that everything is about me. It just means that I feel okay about inserting things I know, people I know, places I know, anything I know within a narrative. I was terrified of writing about things that lurked close to home and it was reflected in what I wrote. My writing was pretty but inflexible. It was made for no one but me because I was the only one able to break it apart. When I stopped taking myself so seriously, just went with being a human, I started writing human things. Subjects that were taken from the experience of one human but could be applied to a lot of different humans. And I feel no greater satisfaction than when someone reads my writing, or I read someone else’s writing and the only words that can be uttered are “me too.”