Monday, March 30, 2009

Sending Pages Out to Dry - Episode 5 of 5

The gay couple who renovated Prichard House never found my sobbing story, but a cold-nosed developer with an eye to multi-use stumbled across it and took it home. Unable to decipher the handwriting, the dips into vague poetry, she gave the book to her teenage daughter who read, understood and wrote a paper on it at The Padeia School and then used it as the basis for an editing project in Accelerated English. She is now an editor at Simon & Schuster.
At the same time, a poetry major in Long Beach tripped over the corner of that collection, dug it all up and wrote a thesis that eventually secured him a job at The Atlantic Monthly.
Not all the Virginia-Highland books were found but one was discovered by a friend of a friend who’d met my old roommate at a meeting of The League of Women Voters. The friend took it upon herself to give the book the roommate who read it avidly, against her better judgment. Then she burned it, singeing off most of a really dreadful home permanent, which forced her to get a decent haircut, something that so changed her spirits and attitude that she met the man of her dreams, married him and was enrolled in law school before the year was out. All of this I know be I wrote it. For the first time, the voice inside that had led, then left me with a void to fill, became my own.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sending Pages Out to Dry Part 4 of 5

The thought energized me again. One the way back to 3rd Street, I swung into the Midtown Post Office and mailed the oldest books to a high school friend in Long Beach, asking that they be dumped on the shore. Long Beach was the only part of New York in which I’d ever felt at home. I’d discovered during the course of this day that I’d had had a sympathy with the older books. Or the younger me. My arms hurt; my fingers were cramped from holding the handle of the plastic bag; my back ached. All I now wanted for those girlish purple scrawls was a decent burial.
The books still remaining were the most recent, those from Pershing Point. When they’d kicked everyone off the Point, I moved further down the street, figuring if I stayed on Peachtree, I could still live the Point life, which was one of meals eaten in cafes with friends met passing by. At the Point I had relaxed and considered myself home at last. When the eviction notice had come, it hurt so much my only balm was an open heart. I could relive the days spent there by setting them down.
I stood at the demolition site, in fascination with the way the building was coming down, brick by brick. It had been built to last. As had I. I tucked the last of my books between deconstructed walls. I had become what was written.
Across the street is the only ice-cream parlor in town that sells Bassett’s pistachio. I hurried over and ordered a double.

It was dark and very cold when I finally reached the high rise. Only the suburban books were left on the shelves and a midtown journal I’d fnished the week before New Year’s. I tossed the suburbs down the garbage chute and shredded the final book burning thepieces in the bathroom. At last I was playing with matches.
Later that night I dusted the void where the books had stood. The bravado hat had kep me going all day was gone; the voice leading me along my route quiet. I cleaned with a mix of Pledge and tears, past thinking of what I had done, knowing only that never had I felt so empty.
Winter passed and an aching, fickle spring took its places and for a long time I waited for the signs and clues that my abandoned books had been found. I no longer lay in bed reading but cleaned steadily, every week, as I had once been taught. One day I washed the walls and did the windows. Another day I turned out the closets and painted the bedroom radiator a bright red. For myself I took up running and by the first heat wave was up to three miles. I ran mostly alone but sometimes my steps would catch up or slow down and I would talk to strangers.
Finally, months after the event, there came another Saturday of note. Late in the afternoon while resting after stripping the floors, I drank iced tea and watched the sun glow red against my bookshelves. A friend had given me a new diary, brocade cover---very gaudy and satin. It made me laugh just to look at it. I picked up a pen. Only this time, instead of my writing to the book, the book wrote to me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sending Pages Out to Dry Part 3

First I took the subway south and then east four stops to Little Five Points where I walked half a mile to the house on Candler where I’d live with Hugh. He was the man in the gilt-edged book --- the one who, without knowing it, had taught me what it was like to be on the receiving end. It had taken me one summer to die of the heat and discover that painful as it is to love unrequited, to be loved unrequited is not much better. I lack the good manners necessary for such an advanced state.
A woman from the duplex next door was sweeping her porch.
“Hugh around?” I asked, leaning the shopping bags against an open Herbie Curbie.
“They moved,” she said, bringing her sweeping to the sidewalk.
“Oh?” Ho ho.
“Last fall, when Betsy was still pregnant.”
“Well,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Great,” I thought. “Now I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.” I rummaged through my bas and extracted the blue book, dropped it into the trash bin and waved goodbye.
Back on Moreland Avenue I waited for the #48 to Ponce-Highland, near where I’d rented a roach-filled, though air-conditioned studio on St. Charles after leaving Hugh. I left those books on the front steps and forgot them.
Then I walked the half mile east to Virginia-Highland intersection around which I’d lived off and on since 1979. I left the appropriate books on the front steps or backdoors of each apartment-now-condo that I’d rented, mostly alone. Finally, I made it to the last building where I’d lived with a friend who avoids me. I left three nothing books beneath one of the tulip-shaped lawn chairs flanking the property’s very straight path.
A passing #45 bus slowed down when I waved and I rode it through Midtown to Peachtree Street, transferring at North Ave., to the new north line of the MARTA subway and within minutes was up near Lenox Square and standing in front of the house on Prichard Way where, five, no six years ago, I had my downfall. This was the journal I wrote to keep sane, and the memory of it was in my bones now, not in my head and certainly not in this book. Ferocity is never written.
The leather-bound journal I buried in the wood across the street from the big old house was filled with the confusion of a love neither requited nor unrequited but simply and innocently attempted and ultimately aborted. I heard it crying after me as I hurried away, but I was now much too light to turn back.
With half the books returned, I was both high on the action and fearful of the consequences. I had never left more than forgotten pan or pair of curtains behind, and so almost turned back even this late to gather the books, but I was too tired and glad of it. I had sent my pages out to dry. Irrevocable action.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Here!

Blossom time
to wash the car
buy a new box of tissues
refresh allergy meds
change flavor of cough drops from cherry to green tea

all the rain was for this
a new snow storm of petals
sent out like pages full of poems

Use these weeks for walking
before the heat creeps in and stops us cold

I will dash home now
and open all the windows

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Want to Live Here Episode 53

You’re probably wondering if I ever did finish cleaning Abigail’s apartment. I did. Without Judith seeing me (or maybe she avoided knowing), Susan opened the back door and together we packed away Abigail’s books, records, photo albums and clothes. She had little else. When we were finished, Susan handed me $50. “Judith says you’ll be leaving the complex.” I admitted as much and confided that Kevin was introducing me to a neighbor who rented rooms in a Victorian on Argonne Ave. I’d be leaving after the new year.
“I kind of made a fool of myself over Abigail’s accident,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” said Susan. "That detective came and talked to me about Abigail’s boyfriends and her life after Kevin. Not that I could tell him anything. I won’t forgive myself for that, you know. Sisters should know about each other. We do know each other’s weaknesses. If I hadn’t been so disappointed in her for leaving Kevin, though I understand it now, I would have known what she was up against.”
“Up against? What do you mean?”
“Don’t you think she was trying too hard to play that freedom game? We’ve all been playing it. I do. Before I got married, I acted like I could do whatever I wanted with my body because it was mine. I didn’t always realize that because it’s mine I should be careful what I do with it.”
“So how did getting married change that?” She blushed.
“Actually, it wasn’t marriage that matured me but getting pregnant. It’s a cliché, I know, but having to take care of the baby made me take care of myself. After that I couldn’t help but think back and compare how I tended to myself with a baby to the party years when I was empty.
“I don’t feel empty. Not physically, anyway.”
“I’m not saying this well. The baby was more of an excuse, or a reason to love myself better. Like training wheels. After I’d had nine months of really thinking about what I had and what I owed my own body, I kept on thinking it. You probably won’t need that but I did. And maybe Abigail did too, because in the end she died without having found a reason to take care of what she had…herself. She died thinking she was in love with a man who had used her and who didn’t want anything to do with her. John (Boker) told me every time he questioned Ken Eberhard he got a little closer to the truth of that relationship until he finally had enough to believe. Eberhard couldn’t wait to get out of Abigail’s living room and her life. He wanted her gone but he didn’t kill her. He didn’t do her any favors.”
“He might have saved her life.”
“Yes. If he’d cared even a little bit more about her than himself, he might have insisted she go to the emergency room.”
“Though if she’d cared about herself, she might have taken herself.”
“Except her car was in the shop.”
“So she called you.”
“And she stopped there. She could have called me and she didn’t. She could have called Ricky. She could have told the answering service what had happened, or gone next door to that couple.” “But she didn’t do any of those things.”
“She didn’t worry about herself enough. She was a trained flight attendant but she didn’t care about saving her own life.” “Are you sure we aren’t making excuses?”
“Maybe we are. Maybe we’ll continue to make excuses until we run out. I just come back to the one. She did almost nothing to save her own life and that behavior did not start when she banged her head on a glass table; it happened long before.”

Why Parades Make Me Cry

I look like a real tubby in my new uniform but I was actually wearing at least two layers of sweaters, including a very thick white knit affair belonging to my older sister. Also, because that particular Kennedy-era St. Patrick's Day was one of the wettest, coldest, sleetiest on record, my mom stuffed me into two pairs of tights and an extra pair of socks. It's amazing I could move at all.

But I will never forget leading (with best friend and nemesis, Eileen Celey) our school in the NY St. P Day Parade. Traditionally, the lead school is right behind the NYPD mounted police. I'm quite sure it was the rain, snow and sleet that kept us from slipping in the inevitable horse manure and for this I am grateful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sending Pages Out to Dry, part 2

Over the years, I had vowed then forgot to keep the volumes to similar sizes and shapes. Journals written in my teens were tall and narrow. I stacked these together and admired their uniform neatness. Poor years tended to be small. I’d gone through many of those $2.98 “Nothing” books and even one or two blank paperbacks. There were two heavy and expensive Record books covered in green canvas and leather bindings. These were the result of jobs where I’d had access to office supplies. A few of my diaries had been typed and put into loose-leaf binders. Funnily, I never re-read these.
If I couldn’t burn the books, and I didn’t see how I could without setting off the smoke detector, many I could toss them one by one down the garbage chute. I rearranged them again and sorted by geography.
These I wrote in Pershing Point, five books in two years, and I’d be there still if the demolition hadn’t started. Most of the Atlanta arty groups are still in a tizzy over the loss of that old hotel; the point was the only inexpensive block near the arts center.
The other pile represented Virginia-Highland, a saved neighborhood the look of which had grown too cute while the rents grew too high. I never could make any money.
The big green one I wrote in Prichard House up by Lenox Square. A small blue book from Little Five Points caught my eye next and I opened it. What a pretty handwriting I have, but very hard to read. This book was devoted to a love affair that had turned out to be important because I’d learned about being loved for a change. Reading it reminded me that I’d forgot what that felt like.
“The thing is,” I thought, throwing all the books back except the blue one and shoving a chair in front of the doors, “won’t I always need to be telling myself what I have learned?” I stretched out on the freshly vacuumed rug and turned slowly through the gilt-edged pages.
For the next week I talked to my best friend; my therapist; my sister; to all the people I never heed and whose advice I can for that reason hear. I told no one who is stronger than I. No men. Men are always telling me to go for it and I never want anyone telling me to do what I secretly want to do. The people I talked to convinced me not to throw my books away.
“You’d be throwing yourself away,” hey all said. “That’s your history,” said my college roommate in California. “It would be a waste.”
I yessed them all, agreeing up one side and down the other.

Which is probably why, on the following Saturday after doing a triple load of laundry on the worst day of the week, I walked up to the bookcase, took out all the journals and dumped them onto the rug. There was a voice telling me what to do. It was in me but I’d never heard it before. It was stronger than I and it told me to do what I’d made sure no one else ever would.
I took the Virginia-Highland books and the Little Five Points books and the two from Ponce de Leon and put them all into two plastic bags. I took the big green one from up near Lenox and slid it into my backpack with the five from Pershing Point tied up in a bundle.

to be continued

Sunday, March 15, 2009

With apologies to William Carlos Williams

I did not steal your grandmother’s silver iced-tea spoons
but I do have them. 
They were in the box you packed and placed with mine. 
I’ve kept them, along with the lipped saucepan you loved so much.
I love it too. When you’re dead,
I will hang the spoons from fishing wire 
and listen to them chime.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring Will Not Be Fenced

What is it about rebellious beauty that must beat itself against chains? In this horrid little corner of an underground parking deck I have found full blossomed peaches caught up in fast-food wrappers. This morning, a red bud, planted here by what level of optimist, is nodding as if at the doors to heaven. Camera ready.

I could squeek my canon past the barrier but why bother? Half of this bough's beauty lies in her impudence.

Sending Pages Out to Dry

I've always liked the title of this story more than the text itself. I'm hoping that in retyping it and thinking about letting go of what is captured in words and between covers I will experience something new.

Most Saturdays I sleep late then spend the rest of the morning in bed reading and making a shopping list. But on this Saturday I was up and cleaning the coffee was half-dripped. By noon the floors in all four rooms were wet mopped and the living room rug vacuumed. I’d not remembered to eat, so I stopped cleaning.
But I didn’t read the book in my lap or eat the cheese sandwich, and the cup of coffee on the wide chair arm grew cold as I relished the look of my living room, now that I’d got rid of the cinder-block bookshelves.
My new bookshelves weren’t real wood. They were nothing expensive or fancy, but they were over six –feet tall and held, in addition to all my books double-stacked, the little doodads and framed photographs; the old cheese box covered in stiff red Chinese paper; and the long trailing ivy. The new shelves made the room very cozy and pulled-together.
Still, something seemed wrong, again.

In the bottom of one bookcase is a set of doors hiding two deep shelves. I’d stacked my journals in there, all fifty-five of them. And as I sat with Gone With the Wind (the paperback I’d bought soon after arriving in Atlanta from New York, to make the natives think I was one of them) and the uneaten sandwich and cold coffee, the doors to the bookcase, not very secure, opened and one of the diaries fell out.
I rose and pushed it back in, slamming the door fast, but just as my hand let go, the doors opened again and three more books fell to the floor.
Just yesterday, the fifty-five books had been in their own suitcase. They’d lived in the antique trunk I received for my twentieth birthday thirteen years ago; in the pine chest Grandpa made in the late 1940s. I’d even kept them on open shelves, which had been a mistake because people would read them. Or try to. They’d been in boxes under the bed. They had eventually outgrown every spot.
Now I took them all back out of the bookcase and piled them around me on the red rug. “Why don’t you just burn the bunch of them?” I thought.
But the books represented my whole life and while I often wondered how I’d get them out in case of fire, I’d never dreamed of purposely destroying them. But what if I did destroy them? What if I could and if I could, what would happen to me? If I really missed having these journals, I could rewrite them and then I’d have a distillation of the last twenty years. Wouldn’t that be something?

to be continued

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Want to Live Here Episode 52

“Should we call first?” I asked, removing Detective Boker’s card from my purse.
“Let’s just go,” said Kevin. “I’ll drive.”
We should have called first. It took us two hours to find the detective, exiting City Hall. He didn’t look all that pleased to see me but when I introduced Kevin, his eyes darkened with curiosity.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, directing us back into the building and toward a bench where we sat down and Kevin paced.
“I have some things I want to show you. But first, I need to clear up something my boss, my ex-boss accused me. He said I’d called you and told you he’d been in Abigail’s apartment with her. But that wasn’t me. I haven’t talked to you since Christmas Eve when you came by. That is the only time I’ve ever seen you or talked to you.”
“I got a call from a woman identifying herself as Nora Cahill a couple of days ago,” he said, pulling a small notepad from his jacket pocket. “Let’s see. Today’s the 30th, December 26. In the evening.” He tapped a finger against the notepad, closed and returned it to his pocket. “Are you saying that wasn’t you?”
“It wasn’t. I don’t know who it was.”
“I’m not sure it matters,” he said. “Are you here to tell me your boss lied?”
“Well, I’m not sure what he lied to you about. He claims he went into Abigail’s apartment at her request and fixed her window blind. That may be true. Sometimes when we’re walking around, people drag us in and, if something doesn’t take too long, we deal with it. Ken--- Mr. Eberhard, I mean, was inspecting the complex that day. He’s in the process of buying it, you know.”
The detective nodded. “That’s what he said.”
“And I’m sure he introduced himself to various people. Well, I know he did. Mrs. Mason said he shook her hand and of course, Mr. Lowe, who used to own it but lost it, would have met him. But I don’t see why Abigail would have known he was buying the complex just because he was wandering around, much less invited him in unless she knew him.”
“Couldn’t she have known about him from Stephen and Nan?” asked Kevin. “Or Mrs. Mason? Or even Tim?”
“I guess. But it didn’t make sense.”
“Show him the photographs,” said Kevin.
“Of course. Look at these,” I said, rummaging through the envelope for the snapshot of Abigail and Mr. Eberhard. “That’s her and that’s Ken. This picture was taken last summer. Clearly, they knew each other.”
“Looks like it,” said Boker, pushing his fedora further back on his head. “But it doesn’t prove he killed her. In fact, the post mortem was pretty clear. She did hit her head against the table. We dusted for fingerprints and found a thumb print beneath the edge. Just where it should be if she’d hit it and pushed herself up.” He mimed the motion.
“When did you dust for prints?” I asked.
“The 26th. Early.”
“When I was at Belle Vue all day.”
“And they didn’t tell you?” asked Kevin.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Judith doesn’t want this to be about anything but a sad accident.”
“Which it is,” said Boker.
“But Eberhard did lie about knowing Abigail. He knew her a lot better than he said,” said Kevin.
“That’s true,” said Boker. “But not admitting you’ve had a relationship with a woman is a far cry from whatever it is you think he has done.”
“I think he left her there to –"
“To die? How could he possibly know she would die? She may have been fine when he left.”
“Even after a fall against a heavy glass table?” asked Kevin. “Didn’t he have a responsibility to help her? Call an ambulance? Make her call me?”
We both looked up at the escalating anguish in his voice.
“Someone should have done something, but no one did. Is that it?” Boker was not unsympathetic.
“She did try to call the office,” I said. “Kevin, I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I really am.”
“Is that why you’ve been poking around the townhouse?” asked Boker.
“The townhouse, her file at Arborgate. Her files at Belle Vue. She used to live there, you know. I suppose that’s how she met Ken.”
“And he’s not saying.” The detective stood. “Do you mind if I keep this?”
Kevin spoke first. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to think,” he said. “I’ll be in touch.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Lenten Observatory

Entering week three: am i taking my life and the work I take money for seriously? Can I regain my boss's trust in me?

I'm going to revise my tortured little weekend blog with a little context and a simple update in week three of my Lenten observation: be more mindful, take your life/self seriously.

Taking your own life seriously means the showing yourself the same respect you show someone else.

It may be an easy matter for some people to live where they like, find the work they want to do (or at least understand the compromises they've made) and at least try to turn their dreams into a reality. It hasn't been easy for me.

My boss made a comment a few weeks ago ("I don't think you took this assignment seriously.") that's started me on a 40 day meditation to determine if I really didn't take her assignment seriously and more, if the reason I'm not where I want to be (on so many levels) has to do with not taking myself seriously. So I decided to pursue that question by becoming very mindful at work, especially in the area where I'm chronically weak: proofreading.

As the mafia man said, ( when you’ve betrayed someone’s trust, you must work hard to regain it. one step is to fix the process. Proofreading does depend on process. But process must be mindful. Spell check is useful but not mindful. Reading each sentence as if it were the only one is mindful. this is what i mean by serious.

After a week of new processes, I thought I'd turn in a 0-error layout. I did not. So I sorted out the absolute errors (word that should have been plural was singular), company style errors and subjective changes. The good news is, I made no errors of fact, two errors relating to consistency and two misuses of semi-colons. I'm giving up on semi-colons. They're too tricky. One template error when I didn't catch the difference between Garamond and Garamond Pro.

A scattering of tweaks made me realize editors must edit something. they just have to and they just will.

I'm personally pretty pleased with this and can atttibute it to an unusually, and very Lenten-like, reading of the layout.

But it's not enough to win back anyone's trust. And it's only week two. Tomorrow I'll offer up another layout. Will I take myself seriously enough to offer this one the same blinding read? Someday, perhaps I won't even have to ask. For now I'll say, I hope so.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent - Late starting

Ooops. I missed the start of Lent and have failed (miserable sinner) to post this year's "focus."

Although I'm more of a recovering Catholic, I've always appreciated Lent for the time it demands of us to focus on one thing and take the time to understand the change we choose, through an examination of conscience, to make.

A month, or 40 days, is exactly the time required to change a habit and isn't habit just another word for carelessness? heedlessness? lack of seriousness?

Many years ago I decided that the lenten obligation did not have to mean giving up something I loved or took pleasure in, like chocolate or bread or alcohol (such cliches and i'm pretty sure they're tied to diets); Instead, I could embrace a quality I lacked and, through meditation and awareness, modeling, acquire it. I liked this idea a lot and it helped me become more gentle with my failings and myself.

I also like choosing interesting vices to give up. Like gossip. One year, while still working at the little art college on peachtree street, i announced that i was giving up gossip and it generated so much interesting conversation and debate that had us defining gossip and pointing it out and re-phrasing, that a half dozen of us were involved. Made the month go by very fast and we all learned what we needed.

This year I'm embracing seriousness. I've been 'challenged' here; accused of not taking something seriously that I thought I was. Being told you don't take an instruction/order/assignment seriously is, to me, like being told, you're not a good mother or a good person. Not fighting words, per se, but confusing. I mean, of course I take it seriously. But after a couple of day of thinking about it, I realized...maybe...I need to think about what serious means as much as I thought about gossip.

So that's my Lenten observance. Wonder if i'll get any art out of it?