A Bit Blue

Ava's blue
spring sunlight bringing up the blue in Ava’s tail

I have been kind of depressed on and off for a little while. I know it has to do with my work, my writing, not feeling connected to a writing community. Feeling under-utilized, ineffective. Last Friday I biked to my prayer place on River Road. I straddled my bike and looked across the river and asked, Why did I have to do everything kicking-and-screaming? Everything. Becoming a woman. Getting a job. Writing. The trees answered. I saw how I had to open a new file and start the memoir again. Revise it through this lens.

These past few years I kept thinking I was on-track, I show up every single morning for a few hours, including on teaching days. Working with what I learned in the MFA Program with the finest teachers, and working on three books with the best editor. Plus essays, and op eds. And still I get in my own way. Still I cannot stop trying to control the draft. Perhaps I’ve lost another year doing this. I know it’s learning, and you can’t just pole-vault over the crappy first drafts. Still. I am so frustrated with myself for being afraid. I am terrified to make a big leap; I don’t actually know how. I push myself, but I haven’t actually thrown myself off the cliff, I just stand on the edge.

My wise friend and brilliant reader said, “Maybe when it’s all down you will feel the freedom to go back in and tell the real story, in that [adult] voice, instead of the chronicle.”

I think she’s right. Though I haven’t been able to see how to tell “the real story,” I keep thinking well, that’s what I’m doing, telling the story! My friend did say my writing was “SO solid.” But so what. Why isn’t it working? I strongly suspect it is because I haven’t identified the very core of the issue until now. Jeez, I hope I’m right. It’s like this: When I look at my life, what is my problem? I am a problem, my very existence is a problem. That’s where, as Mom likes to say, the dog is buried. She was 15 when she had me. My family had a hard time with that. Nobuko, my therapist worked on me to get me to stop using the word “illegitimate” in reference to myself. “There’s no such thing as an illegitimate person,” she said. Near the end of our work she asked, “What do you want?” I said, “An adult life.” She told me I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too. It’s nuts, but I actually puzzled over that to grasp that if I wanted an adult life I’d have to let go of being a child. Stop growing up kicking-and-screaming. I had to view taking responsibility for my life as freedom, not something punitive. Seems like the most basic thing.

A few weeks ago my horoscope said something about taking my rightful place. That went right in. You can interpret a horoscope any way you like. I took it to mean it was high-time I took my rightful place as an adult. This feels right for the memoir, too.

Self-Expression

me-lizards-and-rat-snake
Weener and me

This photo was taken in Michigan and the suntan is hiding the acne, which is actually improving, plus I’ve trimmed down. I am maybe seventeen. I’m pretty when I’m holding reptiles, even though I’m being a ham. Take away the reptiles and I start to look lost and afraid.

I just read this on my daily horoscope –I’m an Aquarius:

“The original version of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers did not chart on the UK Singles Chart until 2009, 38 years after its release. After certain disappointments you feel like no amount of time will resolve issues you have with your self-expression. Unfortunately, you might be right.

Still, there might be a possibility you were just set in the wrong crowd, and that you have given your heart and your creativity into all the wrong hands, bumping into everything but understanding on your way.”

OMG. It was one year ago that I went to Vermont College for the post-grad workshop and Martine Leavitt read my work. I remember whining to Martine, “Nobody understands lizards, nobody understands me.” She said, yes, that’s the story.

So I’m working on this bit (it’s rough, incomplete!) in the memoir, which now has a working title. Iguana’s Dance:

When Grandpa looked at me that summer his blue eyes and worried face reflected pitiful back to me and I knew how sad and disturbed he felt about what was happening to his sweet, pretty granddaughter –because that’s what I was once, sweet and pretty and it made me want to die, the way I’d become so disgusting and how I wore that feeling about myself all over my face along with the zits. Grandma’s expression was concerned and practical. She said, “I know it feels bad and it looks bad, too, but don’t pick, or it’ll get worse. Go lie in the sun.”

So I did, in my bikini with Weener. It had to be a bikini since my torso was so long that every one-piece I tried hiked up my butt crack, plus I had to have a top that tied around my neck and fastened securely around my ribs. Grandma fixed lunch while Grandpa sat inside the screened porch with his feet up, drinking his midday martini. Weener and I basked in the sun, stretched out on the cement ledge that went around the pool and when we needed to cool down we slipped into the water like a couple of crocodiles and climbed out on the other side to heat up again.

When Grandpa looked at Weener, he didn’t see her. I’m not so sure he saw me, either, once puberty got a hold of me. I tried to hide behind my lizard as though it wasn’t really happening. I’d dive down deep in the pool and transform into a lizard, powerful, armored. I reasoned that I must be part reptile since I was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. It’s so nuts how I tried to deny those immense mammalian things sprouting from my body right there practically under my nose.

Maybe I’d lost my prettiness, but what I still had in my favor with Grandpa was “scholarship and athletic prowess,” like on that bronze medal in his drawer. I was on the volleyball team and always getting Honors in my classes including Latin, which he’d studied. Sipping his martini, he would close his eyes and recite, “Sum, es, est. Sumus, estis, sunt.” Then his rumbly laugh warm with pride. I rode high on it.

In my memory I’ve conflated all the times adult friends and relatives asked how I was doing in school and then, “Still have those –what do you call them– iguanas?” I’d say, “Fine,” and “Yes.” There’d be a chuckle and shaking of the head. One time Grandma said, “Oh, she’ll trade the lizards in for boys soon enough.”

But I was quite clear, sitting very still and sober and solid when Grandma said this. Usually when an adult made a forecast about me, my stomach twisted in knots, believing it would happen because they said so. There wasn’t anything else I was ever sure of except that I would never “trade in” my lizards for anything, or anyone.