Thursday, January 26, 2012

The kids on earth

I've been listening to a lot of Billy Collins in the past few days. I have a recording of him reading live from a collection called The Best Cigarette. His voice is measured and paced, and his words are so familiar that I can have him playing as background music when I work. He was the National Laureate, one of the most poetic voices ever to come out of the United States, yet his work is so accessible. Effortless and calming. He writes a poem called Morning that I love.

this is the best
throwing off the light covers
feet on the cold floor
and buzzing around the house on espresso

Whenever I read a certain author for a few days, their unique style begins to permeate my thoughts. I begin to see things as I imagine they would see things. When I read Etgar Keret, the sharp and anguished voice of contemporary Israel, I feel compelled to do bizarre things just for the sake of doing them. I want to play tricks on everybody that I see, shrink down and hop into a glass of gin and tonic. I want to walk around with a knife blade. All so I can can live like the cutting, absurd characters inside The Nimrod Flip Out.
Thank goodness Keret's stories are served straight up and short. A few pages at the most. I read a story every now and then, then put the book back into the freezer where it lives.

Lately, I've been listening to The Best Cigarette during the day and reading 1Q84 at night. Between Murakami's wrought-iron impossibilities and Collins simple, eloquent observations, my perspective in the past week has shifted. I am less caught up with how things feel, what they might mean, and absolutely entranced by how they appear on the surface.

I get absorbed in very simple things like texture, contrast, light, weather. I find myself staring at things.
A series of storms hit the city this past week. That night we came home from skiing, the city was asleep, muffled and white. Cars had turned into buried shapes, shapes without angles like strewn boulders. There was half a foot of powder on the ground, glazed in a sheath of ice, shimmering and hard as if the whole town was a sort of baker's fairy tale, covered in meringue.

That night we went touring through the narrow streets of Capitol hill, skis hissing as we skinned past the absurdly sized brick mansions. The snow glowed yellow in the sodium glare of street lights.
For the next few days, sealed into the chilled neighborhood, we were handed this little unexpected vacation. It snowed without pause as we passed the time with the most ordinary and satisfying things- listening to music, writing story outlines in freehand, drinking whole bottles of champagne and orange juice in a single afternoon.
After a few days like this, the temperature inched up a few degrees and another type of storm took the reins. Rain began to pound, hour after hour. The snow crumbled into grey slush, which melted into streams that ran ankle deep in the streets. It was impossible to stay dry. Walking the dog was miserable. Driving was still not recommended. Just stay home, pleaded the man on the radio. So we stayed home. It was the only sane thing to do- seek out friends, pour more drinks, let the vacation continue. We're very safety minded. 

I want to watch the rest of the winter go by like this, water in its many forms throwing the city into chaos as we give in and stay in and hang out with each other. Windows in the packed cafes were fogged up and steam was everywhere. There was literally water everywhere.
And then, the very next day, the sun came out bright and hard, shrinking the last bits of snow. Suddenly there was green grass everywhere, and black shadows. Hardly a trace of winter at all. It felt like when someone yells at you all night long, exploding in anger, throwing dishes into walls. And then that person collapses in a chair, falls asleep, and wakes up the next morning smiling. How are you this morning? They ask. Would you like some coffee? Do you want to go for a walk? You hesitate. You want to believe that this peaceful spell will last, but you're walking on eggshells.

We don't trust sunlight.

The city felt like the rubbery rain planet in the Ray Bradbury story, the one that suggests children are cruel by nature. The rain stops only once every seven years. On that one single day when they can go outside,  they shove the earth-kid into a closet and lock the door.  When I ran into friends around the lake, they were doing the same thing as I was: looking around, blinking, grateful but bewildered. Feeling the almost alien sensation of solar heat on our bare arms.
The light and warmth of that one precious day must have stirred something in the atmosphere. In the deep blue evening that followed, as the last of the rain whistled into the gutters, the third storm began. The wind storm. Crystal and Baker Mountain closed down chairlifts as gusts blew upwards of 90 miles an hour.

In the middle of the night I woke up suddenly, sleeping like a star in my bed with my arms thrown out, every door and window banging loudly in the misaligned fixtures of the old wooden house.
Heavy wind is my favorite spectacle. In the morning I took the dog to the beach, where it was almost impossible to walk upright. She ran around like mad, her fur blowing straight up. She was howling like a wild dog. I thought she was going to be blown out to sea, out where the wind was churning white caps out of the normally placid sound. I thought again of the lyrics I'd once shared with Stephen-

trust, devotion 
lust is like the sand where the beach meets the ocean
In a little protected spot between the water and the train track where the rocks had been spray painted pink, we found this. I'm not sure exactly what it was- someone's alter to somebody else- but it looked important.

There was blue glass on top of the alter. Blue glass is a symbol for good luck in love. I read that in a book somewhere. I once wrote a short story that ended with a scene on the beach, two people smashing blue vodka bottles and throwing the pieces into the ocean for somebody else to find. I could never think of a proper beginning for that story.

That morning, I'd been collecting pieces of sea glass to put in the glass jar that lights up, a lantern Will made me for my 25th birthday. He'd given it to me halfway filled with Watauga river glass. I put the pieces I'd found on top of that pile of rocks instead. Good luck to somebody, somewhere. I hope it finds you, and you do good things with it. Try not to fuck it up. It's so easy to fuck it up.
 My mother says I need to swear less but I can't seem to quit- just one more, mom: Holy Fuck, what a week. 


Lee Timmons said...

First of all, what a perfect description of the last week here in the PNW.
Second of all, thanks for reminding me how much fun it can be to read so much of an author that you absorb their narrative voice. Although I can honestly say I don't miss thinking completely in Shakespeare... now if thou wilt pardon me, I must needs reach the toilet before my bladder doth explode...

Steve said...

Listen to your mother.

Heather Ann said...

Sitting with the stillness of tropical rain in Fiji, reading your blog and feeling lost in the narrative. Thank you for contributing to this moment. Love.

elissa said...

Billy Collins... mmmm. (in a good way)

Anonymous said...

That rain?

It's why I left Washington and never looked back.


That said, I miss summer in the PNW--how densely, thickly green everything is, and how, when the sun *does* come it, every plant glows.