The Only Thing I Have

I finished The Only Thing I Have yesterday. I didn’t think I would like it, only because I bought it from the ‘buy this’ feature on my ereader* at night when I didn’t want to figure anything out. I don’t remember the last time I read something I hadn’t read about before.

It’s good. It’s hard to read a book of stories so short, and they all feel a little regular and then aren’t anymore, which is maybe why it’s not exactly great to read all at once. But it’s good. One review said the stories relate because of how easily and with what expertise the characters deceive themselves which I would never have said, but I am generally deceiving myself most of the time.

(*A thing about it– I used to have a kindle but got it wet somehow; it wasn’t too bad but I couldn’t read the words on the top right edge, like I’d dipped the corners of all the books I owned in water. Instead of getting a new one I got a kobo just to feel a little better. I like it but for one thing: it doesn’t tell you how many pages are left in the whole book while you’re reading, just how many pages are left in a chapter. It’s hugely disorienting. I have never not known how soon a book would end.)

“In the Very Near Future” was the best story. It’s a very good story. In the beginning the character goes to a psychic who tells her

I want you to be near trees. At least once a week you must spend some time at the base of a large tree, preferably cedar, and you must get out near the water as much as possible.

I wanted to talk to someone who would tell me to do the same. How stupid. ‘How easily I deceive myself,’ reviews say, I can make it to the bay on two feet. There are trees where I live. That generally has nothing to do with the story, which is maybe about carrying what we’re scared of or that children are terrifying– not themselves but that they have to exist and be kept safe– or about relying on someone else to change your life.

She pushes a finger into the soil and then puts the finger in her mouth and sucks the soil off. She picks the pot up and scoops soil into her mouth. Grains of sand scrape her teeth. She goes to the kitchen and pours a glass of milk and washes down the last of the grit…”Are you going to change my life?” she says to Blue Eyes and moves a slip of hair away from his lax face.

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Weird things happening in my spam folder lately. Alerts for gifts always go there somehow, like I don’t deserve it. An email from a college friend I haven’t seen or heard from; I worried to click the link, which seems to be the website for a German furniture store, but who knows. I won a giveaway, what a strange thing. An email from Santa Claus. A bunch of emails from Sherri, Sherri sending me content for my blog. One from the mouse found trapped and dead in my office the other day hey Julia WOW is this hard to believe!!One the saddest story I’ve ever known. One from Blockbuster. Hi Dear I am Mrs. Hiedi I am dying. An email from a childhood friend who I think at some sleepless sleepover confessed she’d been assaulted, a memory my brain can neither confirm nor deny; the email confirms or denies it, down at the bottom. An email from the city in the middle of the country I always think of as hell on earth asking me to stop by. An email from my legs **WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO LOSE* get up and goxxxxxdon’t stop 4ever! One about a dishwasher in the house we don’t have. One from Bruce Springsteen ATTENTION PLEASE: WE ARe born to run One a long and running list of all the jobs I’ve applied to but didn’t get, one about the latest in networking/optimization/end-of-life care —-DEATH w/dignity!!!- Links to where I left the mustard seed necklace, a pile of garbage, fake passports and 1000000000dollar$, a game you can only win if the conversation is meaningful for both parties, an exactly eight-three degree day. One to buy strong pharmaceuticals that promise an end to embarrassment for rest of time. Unfiltered J()Y a milli0N Grey dove$$ the prefect w*eddingthe song in your Hart I’m sorry I’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry to the end of the earth

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Two Thanksgivings this year, one pulled off astonishingly with friends and a nine a.m. call asking how to cook a turkey, and one with Daniel’s family, with his ninety-one-year-old grandfather. On Veteran’s Day this year a neighbor came by his house with an apple pie to thank him for his service and we didn’t do a thing. He said that I believe in myself, not telling me to but said it like a fact. As we left he patted both my cheeks and told me I was beautiful, and I was so glad to have been there.

I don’t remember a lot of Thanksgivings somehow. This Thursday, we cooked all day and brought everything to the table at the same time and danced and danced and I said at some point I’d never had a better Thanksgiving. My brother said he remembered good ones and I maybe did just say it because I was proud of us, and happy to have ended up here, and glad to be happy. Maybe it wasn’t really true; there are a lot of Novembers. I had grandparents too.

I had a grandfather and a grandmother and I know we sat around tables and my grandfather told stories, had the best stories, but I lost that all somewhere. I do remember the time we flooded the bathroom in the basement and my grandmother said we knew better, and being in the backyard on a playground set with someone I was told was also my grandfather, who had a small baby boy. I remember weird things and not-so-good things, but not because it wasn’t good– I know about deep wells of love– but somehow my head just lost it. And how sad and strange it is to not know enough.

It’s lucky and scary to get to choose our families now, a little bit. I know, reasonably, that it’s not making substitutions, and that this is not how memory works, but: what if I’ve just layered and layered so many of my own fine choices all this way to where I just chose to stop remembering, like there wasn’t enough room. I came from people who lived long miraculous lives and we knew each other anciently but I just let it go. What can I know about choosing or making a family if there’s a whole flooded basement I forgot.

It’s a joke in my family, how little I remember, and I always think of it like a joke. Today I feel a little bit unmoored.

* * *

Current state

Ah ha! Do you want to hear my election story? No, probably not. Me neither. We walked out of the restaurant in downtown Oakland and heard two pops, which, I love Oakland with my whole heart and know that I have always felt safer here than really anywhere, but still, what do two loud pops mean, so we walked quickly, but the girl on the corner told us that Obama had won and so it was probably just fireworks and we high-fived. The ticker on the radio station where my friend works (one note, quickly, my friend ends her text messages with an “x” often, which I love, which I think is an answer to all my problems, stop using smiley faces or exclamation marks, just “x”), anyway, the ticker around the building says OBAMA RE-ELECTED.  Then we went to a bar where a man dressed like Abe Lincoln said he had been dressed like Abe Lincoln for 10 days, and we both marveled at how we were here in Oakland on this night. Then we went to see Cat Power at the Fox who was beautiful and perfect and lovely and I don’t know what happens next, I drank too much, and usually when I drink too much I feel horrible the next day, not just physically but really, emotionally, like I am a terribly bad person and I should never speak to anyone in the world again because I will only do bad things, this is how I usually feel when I drink too much, I don’t know why, but today I feel maybe a little bit of that somewhere, but mostly I feel good about the world and my future and that maybe I have made good choices.

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Two things on hypothetical technologies

1. How a Videogame God Inspired a Twitter Doppelgänger — and Resurrected His Career

3D adventure game where you have amnesia and wake up in a gigantic museum where every room is devoted to a year of your life.

I also love the idea of playing a character who is PRETENDING to be blind, so you have to keep bumping into things to not arouse suspicion.

“Maybe it’s just friendship inside the cube,” Lucas offers. “Just the word friendship.”

2. Notes Toward Apps To Reconnect Me (And/Or Other People) with (My) Childhood

App that uses Google Maps API to require user, at a certain point in the middle of the afternoon, regardless of what “important” thing user is doing, to go outside for an hour. GPS functionality enables app to verify that user has gone outside; if user has not gone outside within five minutes of being asked or if user comes back inside more than five minutes before the hour time limit is up, app “takes away your toys” (randomly deletes entertainment apps from the user’s mobile device) and/or blocks access to user’s email and messaging apps (“time out” mode).

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Places I’ve Lived: A Photograph, Worry, a Ribcage

Where have you lived, self?

A photograph of the yard of a house, A mountain, Alabama; A roll of film in 1986

Monte SanoIn a photograph I am small in a snowfall that hardly counts. I didn’t live in this yard or this house; my self before I knew trees and snow or memories lived here, but I never did. Kindled by the smell of bark or soft ground I sometimes think it is a faint awareness of what came first, but there is no way. I am only ever in the basement of this place, though these days I want, and am bound to (maybe) always want, children on a mountainside, trees, neighbors.

The future (believed by a seventeen-year-old boy), Adolescence, California; a heart, two hearts
Adolescence In this house we were married, we took off all our clothes, we were grown but still in love. We were smart and knew ourselves and each other, and made dinners and breakfasts and were still in love. We were tender and we walked through our halls and we fought and had time and were in love. We were good and honest and knew each other and we stayed in love.

Different skin, Los Angeles; self esteem

Screen shot 2012-10-26 at 4.55.27 PMLet’s just live in a different skin every day for four years. It’ll be fun, we thought. We don’t live that way anymore thank god.

Inside of worry, Oakland; Un-wrung hands

Screen shot 2012-10-25 at 11.44.20 PMYou can not have a job or know where you stand but still live somewhere. This place was ten times bigger than I could manage and ten time smaller than is necessary to exist, the steps could take years to climb and the earth could fold in on itself a hundred times in one morning. I meant to learn something here and instead kept learning and forgetting again and again and again.

Between a ribcage, San Francisco; My whole self

Screen shot 2012-10-26 at 4.59.20 PMHere I nearly thought I had stopped existing. I thought maybe everyone who had said they felt their heart would burst had meant it absolutely. I could stop the way it ached, I thought, by swallowing my love whole, but I would need him in the world to lean in to. I wanted to live in one place where we were the same and one place where we stayed the way we were, knees touching. That night I moved into my ribcage and never really left.

Everywhere we never lived; A host of other lives

Screen shot 2012-10-26 at 5.25.48 PMEveryone is having the same conversations. On the water we had the same conversation we’d had every night for months with someone else, as they likely had every night with someone else for months before. In a lot of other lives we scatter ourselves on the face the world to make a tower some place new. In other lives we are still always saying what a little more or a little less space could mean. We stay here and in the quiet of our home say how we could move a little north while our neighbors say the same.

* * *

Q & A

Q: So how do we let go of the need?

A: Today is a good day! Don’t stay inside, don’t buy a thing. It’s a rare one though; each day something seems to be calling to me, the shiniest gift on the shiniest raft in the shiniest ocean, every sudden shortcoming new and novel. We all have these ordinary insides. “Oh Charlie,” she says, “Oh Charlie, what if I just need a little bit of sparkle?” How can you possibly keep up? You’ve got your finger on the pulse, you think, then someone’s carrying a tiny bomb in the crook of his heart. Ka-boom. You think you’re gonna need to fill what’s left with the things you’ve bought.

Q: What’s a man to do?

A: A long time ago in France a man carried the messages of his fathers and grew to teach swallows to carry what he wanted to say. Unraveled thousands of years of migration, patterns built into their blood. But Europe had pigeons and couldn’t go to war on swallow-time; thirty years to fill an imaginary need. We can go on inventing ways to carry all we want to say or we can just say it. Swallow, or just spit it out, I’d say.

* * *

color of a dog running away

At the table in the trees the woman looked at me and said that once she needed to decide everything she knew that was true about who she was. Things she loved without question: a color, water. This is unfair, I think, to have to name the things you know with no doubts. I don’t know how to be so honest.

I am a branch; I know that. One of my biggest worries is that I am generously hollowing out what I no longer need, and I’m not sure I will know to stop. Growing, besides; it is my body with caves and growths, and if we slide together for the rest of our lives, I wonder if they keep scraping at the depths forever. But that is how I am unlike a branch, too, because I am allowed to decide. So I am not a branch.

So I am one who learned to say that must have been hard, I did learn to say that. In the grass I stopped being relentless, clumsy, sharp-quilled, and pulled the gates down to let the crowds run out. It is good to open up the space and not be the one to fill it. That is something I learned, some way to be better.

I think it is okay to not know how to describe the color of what you think may be unfolding, and decide it is the one thing you may love without question.

* * *

A sponge or a fist

Sometimes I used to think Why did people ever start new blogs? Why not just keep using the same one. And then at some point I was very embarrassed about everything written here, and thought that’s maybe why. Or that I am different than I used to be and don’t need to be reminded. But I have written at least one post here every year since this place was created (which is not that many years and in 2010 I wrote one thing); it would be sad if I didn’t write something this year I guess.

This has been a year of wanting to write again. I kept a journal sometimes. I wrote some short things elsewhere. I tried this book, but I tried it when I was depressed and I just stayed depressed and then I stopped and then I stopped being depressed. But I was not giving it my everything.

Have you read Mr. Bridge?

1. Love

Often he thought: My life did not begin until I knew her.

She would like to hear this, he was sure, but he did not know how to tell her. In the extremity of passion he cried out in a frantic voice: “I love you!” yet even these words were unsatisfactory. He wished for something else to say. He needed to let her know how deeply he felt her presence while they were lying together during the night, as well as each morning when they awoke and in the evening when he came home. However, he could think of nothing appropriate.

So the years passed, they had three children and accustomed themselves to a life together, and eventually Mr. Bridge decided that his wife should expect nothing more of him. After all, he was an attorney rather than a poet; he could never pretend to be what he was not.

That is the whole first chapter. It is a great first chapter; I love it very much. Somewhere here is the story of Mrs. Bridge, what a sad sad book and was so good for me to read young (here). I don’t have much more to say about Mr. Bridge; it’s just the latest thing I read and loved. It isn’t the best thing I’ve read this year. The best, actually, I know, which is sometimes rare. But the best thing I read was There but for the by Ali Smith. In 2009 I wrote a post called There but for the. Here is a screen shot if you don’t believe me

Screen shot 2012-10-04 at 5.01.40 PM

I think I published it and then moved it back to drafts at some point because I was embarrassed of it. There but for the is very, very good. I don’t know why it was the best, it just was, I felt that I was better after reading it.

The best sentence I read though, or the one I remember the most:

When he saw me fall behind, my grandfather would stop, wipe his brow, and say: “What’s this, what’s this? I’m just an old
Obreht, Tea (2011-03-08). The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel (Kindle Locations 493-494). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

When he saw me fall behind, my grandfather would stop, wipe his brow, and say: “What’s this, what’s this? I’m just an old man—come on, is your heart a sponge or a fist?

It’s from The Tiger’s Wife, which I also liked on the whole, but that sentence is what has been scratched into everything. Which is it? Is my heart a sponge or a fist?

I don’t know, truly. This is not a promise. But here, right now: I want to try to be lighter, to not make it so heavy, to be more sponge-like and less like a fist.

* * *

Shapes of houses

We crawled in our apartment hand over foot so took to the a new house in a flourishing. Four times the necessary space. I stood at one end and he stood at the other and we talked in loud voices until we were hoarse and never heard a word.

We wanted everything king size. King size! A kingdom. The tinier we could be. To reach for the table, for the floor, for the edges— the length between one and the other was hallowed. We’d lost a longing and gained it back while we hollowed out the places we fit and felt delicate. Outside the world stayed the same but with our newfound smallness we saw the strongest man in the world, the tallest buildings ever built. We could be lifted and carried to tops of the towers. Somedays we never spoke and let the dead air take up all the space.

Of course if we’d stayed curled in the middle of our things we’d never have noticed. The thickening. Each minute we were closer to passing through doorways and noticing the walls beside. A step aside. A little stumble. Soon feeling hands and knees I didn’t own sidling up my ribcage; we slithered and snaked. Those are the shapes of houses. We grew into it. We shape our houses until they shape us.

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