I’ve been (as the kids say) hella busy – away on madcap adventures involving all manner of hilarity, including but not limited to visiting Knights Templar retirement homes and rambling along behind Victorian flower fairy hunts – in the presence of Queen Victoria. Or at least, a re-enactor portraying her.
My favorite kind of fun! For instance, this weekend I was – check it – riding on the very same carousel you might remember from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. No, really.
I’ve made a point of avoiding the city centre for weeks now, partly because of the hordes of tourists, but mainly because of my latent anxiety over living in a socially constricted town (more on that later).
Today I deviated from the rule because my old pal insomnia was calling out for a dose of herbal sleep meds. Walking along, much to my surprise, what did I encounter?
On the corner in front of Holy Trinity there was a band called playing at enthusiastic volume for the gathered crowd. I watched with delight while my son sighed next to me, anxious to get on to the next errand.
Six years after moving away he still openly grieves about leaving Portland, but the truth is that he never much cared for the aspects of that life that were most important to me.
Standing there in the pallid, sweaty light of August in England, I could smell the band – though of course I do not have functional olfactory perception so what I was actually experiencing was a haunting, a ghost, the sensory memory of singing in public.
In a daily life sense I am about as introverted as it is possible to be and still function, but the stage is something else entirely. Whether the audience is big or small, hostile or celebratory, the best part of my odd job has definitely been performing.
Touring: long drives, cranky passengers, setting up and breaking down, irregular access to food and baths, crying or laughing down the phone to the people left behind, glimpses of old friends, either too much or too little time to accomplish what needs to be done, a near constant feeling of being lost – I love every last bit of the experience.
That is the one thing I have not been able to recreate here.
I miss having practice sessions in my living room. I miss sitting on my front porch late at night singing with friends. I miss the zine release parties, events at Reading Frenzy, dropping into the IPRC, making things and performing with friends
I still travel all the time, but I miss life on the road.
The band was playing later at the Portland Arms and I paid the cover charge, then stood at the back enjoying the particular and fleeting joy of watching live music.
I went over to Bacchanalia to surreptitiously purchase sparkling water and chocolate (shh, don’t tell) and the fellow at the desk asked Doing something spicy tonight?
I recoiled in shock and exclaimed No! Not in Cambridge!
I opened up the files from last summer to look for a photograph of an old friend from junior high but, although I have several hundred images from that trip to Seattle, there were none of him.
Then I remembered that the only time I saw him was one late night on Capitol Hill, when he heard my peeling laughter from down the block and came over to say hello before departing to play Pac-Man at Pony.
Or something along those lines.
During our email exchange about the accident anniversary Mash asked why I didn’t visit last summer, and I replied truthfully that I did not see any of my old friends.
Jeffrey got a handful of evenings of karaoke (I watch, he sings). Marisa came up for the opera. I spent an afternoon with Stevie, Anna Ruby, and Erin Scarum. Byron One, Two, and Three were all nearby, but snagged no more than twenty-four hours of my time to split amongst the group, never contiguously. I had dinner with Stella and Al. I ran into Scott one day on the sidewalk in front of Bauhaus, but we didn’t even sit down for a cup of tea.
I would like to say that I spent more time with my offspring, but I only ran into my grown-up daughter randomly one afternoon in Portland at the Zine Symposium. I snatched a few days with my son, in the middle of his visits with grandparents and friends.
The main reason for the trip was a funeral, and I did go back to the county for the gathering of the clan.
I stuck around only for the afternoon.
I certainly wanted to spend more time with mother, grandmother, and cousins – but the situation was simply too complicated and painful.
We all mourn in our own ways. Last year I sought the solace of the strange.
By dinner time that day I had been deposited, funerary attire still sprinkled with the ashes of my aunt, at the big rock show known as the Block Party. I met Laura, previously encountered as a Crescent DJ, and her pal Jody, someone I had only befriended days before, to watch bands I had never listened to play for a massive crowd of strangers. When that ended I went downtown and stayed out all night with the Himsa kids.
That formed the pattern for the rest of the summer. I hung out with Mark Mitchell and went to the Bus Stop. I deliberately though unconsciously surrounded myself with friends, but they were all new, with no shared memories of my aunt, no need to talk about growing up together.
It might seem counter-intuitive to lament the suicide of a junkie by disappearing into the nightlife of the city of our shared youth, but from the distance of a year the whole thing makes sense.
Most of my new friends have faced the same sort of dreadful damage my aunt sustained, but they somehow managed to stay alive. Several have kicked serious drug habits. They were all, without exception, willing to accept my precarious and perilous self at face value.
They didn’t ask for or need anything at all, and I had nothing to offer.
Last summer I took a break from being trustworthy, mature, and responsible. I needed the vacation.
Of course the new friends I made are now entwined in my life and other relationships.
But for that brief, precious, decadent summer – they let me laugh.
I had my coin purse open to fish out the obligatory pound coin to recognize his essential genius, but the panhandler caught me unaware.
For the first time in a four year long daily nodding acquaintance, he decided we should have a chat.
Why? I have no idea.
What did we talk about? Everything: life, love, longing, loss, publishing – you know, the usual.
During the course of the conversation he confessed all sorts of transgressions with the calculating gaze of a conman, but here is one essential rule – never con a con.
I’m impervious. I stared right back and said You are a healthy strong person, you work for your money.
He tried the line about an abusive stepfather, and a long-suffering mother, but I replied So? She could have protected you. She chose him.
-Well, but my father beat her….
I broke in So? She chose that too.
-She was my mother, and I loved her, and I hurt her more than I can ever explain.
I shrugged, again: So?
He tried a few other pitches for sympathy and I delivered a monologue familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to hang out with me at a family funeral, namely: yes, your mother and father fuck you up. More often than not you love them anyway, and the devastation is enormous. But that is no excuse. Not for anything. Ever.
Life is meant to be lived, not lamented.
Most of the mainstream, ostensibly successful people I know would crack in this kind of conversation but street thugs and junkies are not just immune; they’re entranced.
His facade dissolved and I saw the real, raw, true person hovering just underneath.
Without any hesitation he slipped posthaste into a slipstream of hilarious observations and frenetic ideas and plans, admitting along the way to a privileged childhood and a university education superior to my own in all respects.
What did he get from me? I’ll tell anyone who really cares how much I dislike this city, and how much I miss the Northwest. I am completely upfront and uncensored about the ruins of my romantic relationships, growing up in poverty with cancer, and even what I do for a living.
The fact that this happens more easily with homeless addicts than the shiny academics I normally hang out with might be worrisome, if I were a different sort of person.
His dealer man was lurking about glaring and eventually we said goodbye.
As I departed he said Do you smoke? I replied truthfully I’ve never smoked anything, and I never will.
The final Himsa show is tonight at El Corazon.
RIP to the Seattle band I’ve had the most fun drinking with (especially after funerals).
I tried to poke around and figure out the allure of Facebook but only managed to stumble across a review of Lessons in Taxidermy from someone who hated the book.
Fair enough. But, rather than evaluating the literary or social relevance of the work, this reader points out that the narrator is not likeable.
Oh, how delicious – and accurate.
The narrator of the book (and this journal) is a carefully organized construct, a simulacrum, making specific points using traditional storytelling methods. None of which are designed to endear; in fact, my profound lack of interest in such matters is one of the major themes of the work.
Then there is the real person typing the words: a disheveled sarcastic harridan. Talk to me long enough and I will say exactly what you do not want to hear, and guess what? I don’t care.
I am ethical, honest, tenacious, and smart, all of which are attractive to the right audience – but even the people who love me would have to admit that they don’t particularly like me. I crave both complexity and clarity in all things, and while that might be alluring, it is never easy.
I am not nice.
I’ve been running social networking sites since the dawn of the web, but my particular interest has been marginalized groups and/or professional (translation: geeky and technical) resources, and always always always the point is community organizing or social action.
This means that I have only a limited understanding of sites like Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, etc. Personally I use them to keep track of the occasional friend who only communicates via those channels, and as publicity tools when I have something to promote. Other than that, I never bother to login and would certainly never trawl around reading random things. I don’t really get what other people use them for.
Myspace is the most annoying because of all the random band clutter, and also because it is so obviously a meat market. I rarely even bother to look at my inbox there because I have to wade through so many sketchy messages from random sleazy men.
Of the various options the best current site is certainly Facebook, but that is because it has clean design principles – something most of these start with and then lose as they become corporate (so watch out, FB friends, it is surely around the corner). However, lately I have received unsolicited unwanted attention even on Facebook, which up to now has only bothered me by encouraging high school nostalgia.
Exactly what does a stranger think they are going to accomplish by sending a message in all caps informing me that I am gorgeous? Do they honestly think they will get a date out of the encounter? Do people really do that?
When you live abroad there is one critical thing you must never, ever lose:
Your passport. The visa inside is quite important too, but without the encompassing proof of identity it is very difficult to establish the rest.
At the moment, my son has no passport.
Given the fact that I am in fact compulsive about keeping track of such things, and have already looked in all the obvious places in a shall we say rigorous fashion, the logical conclusion is that the object has gone missing. Or to be more specific, it has been stolen.
How much is a newish U.S. passport worth on the black market these days?
Replacing it will involve incredibly tedious trips to the embassy in London, a task I really do not enjoy. I would invite my other child along for a lark but she isn’t anywhere to be found (kind of like the passport).
Someone recently asked after her whereabouts and I was shocked; I replied She is a grownup, why would I know?
The fellow in question hectored the point in the bantering, hostile fashion I encounter more here than elsewhere. Quick tip: criticizing my parenting skills is never, ever a straight path to my heart. Let alone my nether regions.
The panicky freak out really only lasted as long as the anniversary. I never stay upset very long – I am too busy thinking about campanology, or whatever, to indulge messy emotions.
I’ve had mild reactions to the anniversary more often than not in recent years, so will presume my emotions were at least influenced by the oddity of hearing from lots of misplaced old friends lately.
By the time I finished drinking my tea yesterday it was back to normal programming (including watching the Rockford Files), and today has been entirely delightful. Mostly I wandered around letting friends feed me meals I think of as uniquely American. Like pancakes. For dinner I had steak and mashed potatoes, fondly remembering good times with Mash and her family, going to barn sales on Fox Island, listening to 45’s, rolling around on a new carpet shrieking with delight.
I remember a little store on the bay where we bought beef jerky and malted ice cream, and visiting a derelict cemetery just above. I remember an ill-advised effort to play tennis in which I bashed my own wrist rather than the ball. I remember a road trip to her grandparents lake cabin, and dinner in a diner where we played pinball.
I remember decency, and laughter, and love. I am lucky beyond words to have met that family, and to remain friends over the course of a tricky twenty-five years.
PTSD influences moods, thoughts, and behavior, but for me it is primarily a physical (or physiological) experience.
My essential optimistic can-do attitude was never reduced by trauma; I was changed irrevocably by the events of my early life, particularly what happened on August 1, 1988 – but I was a determined person when I went up that mountain, and remained so when I came back down again.
Some people drug themselves, others ask for prescriptions, many find solace at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
I run errands, fill out paperwork, ride my bicycle.
The adrenaline is going to flood my body regardless of what my rational brain would prefer, and I have learned that it is best to just keep moving.
I cycled furiously about moving large unwieldy objects from one place to another, cooked, cleaned, opened months of unread mail, indulged all the obsessive desires that soothe my damaged brain.
When I ran out of tasks and trials I decided to go to the movies as a final effort at distraction – strangers, in public, normally scare me in these circumstances, and that keeps all the rotten stuff from spilling out.
Except I didn’t reckon on the fact that I am a lot healthier than I have ever been in my entire life, and that I am on friendly terms with everyone who works at the movie theatre. I feel safe there.
I had a three minute charming conversation with one of the cute youngsters at the counter, turned away to walk to my seat, and the panic struck without warning.
I started to shake, Logical Mind watching with detached criticism reminding me that I find it humiliating to lose control.
It is really too bad that Logical Mind is running a federation instead of a dictatorship. My limbs were in open rebellion for a period of time I found intolerable, though nobody around me seemed to be paying too much attention.
Panic attacks are intrinsically private, and underscore the solitary nature of existence for everyone. We really are all alone, no matter how much we try to connect, nurture, provide.
When the fright chemicals finally subsided I turned to Byron and said: I’ve spent my entire life saying I am fine, and now I am surrounded by people who refuse to believe anything else even when I ask for help. True or false?
He shrugged dismissively. True.
I had elected to see the sort of film where the audience laughs throughout, then people start to bicker as they leave their seats. While my main criticism was that the lead was too preciously hip (oh look, he lives by Jaguar Shoes), various other threads of conversation were sparked by the movie.
Mostly I was still fixated on avoiding a return of the panic, and convinced that if I could just make it to midnight everything would be fine again.
Circumstances intervened and I fell apart while crossing the Jesus Green, and ended up sobbing hysterically I want Marisa! I want Mark!
Byron is not especially interested in being a sensitive caring person and he pointed out that none of my friends really take care of me, or want to listen. He said that Mark would just make fun.
I replied That is fine! I don’t want to talk! I just want to be distracted, I just want to forget!
Going along with the theme of the movie (and probably in reference to the fact that my younger traumatized self was a lot more voracious and erratic than the protagonist of the film) he went on Plus Mark wouldn’t want to sleep with you. Marisa probably would though!
This just made me cry harder and wail I want to go home!
Where is that, exactly? I brought most of the people I care about along when I moved to this country, but this place is not my home. The other people who love me all live between the Cascades and the Pacific ocean, but that does not make the Northwest my home. I miss the peninsula of my childhood, the landscape of the Puget Sound, with a wrenching urgency – but it is not, could never, be home.
The accident took away so much – breaking bones, smashing brains, delivering a death blow to youthful idealism.
If I learned anything, it is this: there is no home except what I carry inside me – good, bad, or indifferent.
Twenty years later I can still taste the blood, but I am alive. I was not destroyed, merely diverted.
There is no way to guess what would have happened otherwise, and that does not matter.
Happy twentieth anniversary to us.