Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Met the Devil Last Night

I didn't think I'd last a year here.  I didn't think I'd survive a month, to be honest, and a year seemed so impossible that it wasn't even worth contemplating.

But I did it.  I survived a year.

More than a year, technically.  A year was August 1st.  But now is when it really feels like it's been a year.

Maybe it's because I'm so deeply entrenched in school work and all attendant school things.  Maybe it's because I cannot help but contrast where I was last year with where I am this year.  So many things are different.  That so much could change in one year seems almost unreal, and I keep waiting for the bubble to pop, the dream to end, for someone to catch me out, and tell me that it's really not real, it's just a simulacrum, and what's really real is that androids do dream of electric sheep.

It's a juggling act, this whole school thing.  I keep waiting for the balls to drop, because it seems like they must.  It isn't possible to keep doing this.  But then someone throws in another ball, and instead of it causing panic and fear, it's just exhilarating, and I keep juggling, the new ball seamlessly going round and round and round with the others, all flashing colors and infinity trapped and balanced in my hands.

I'm doing too much right now, and I know it.  But I don't care.  I love it.

So last night I was walking home from the bus stop.  It was late, about 9:00.  I was on the phone with my mother, and we were talking about stuff.  Life.  My sister's soon-to-be-over pregnancy, at the end of which I'll get another nephew.  My dad's birding trip.  My brother coming out to visit me in December.  All my little projects and daily triumphs and failures.  Y'know.  Life.

I turn from one street onto another, and pause.  There's a stranger standing on the opposite corner.  It's an odd corner on which to stand.  It's more a curve than a corner.  Why stand there?  Then I shake myself, and realize that it's a stupid question.  Why not stand there?

I walk past the stranger, who is just a darker shadow among the tree shadows.  Can't see the stranger's face - he's wearing a black hoodie - but I see sparkling flashes where his eyes must be.  He doesn't move as I do.  Doesn't turn to face me.  I may as well not exist.

I'm past him now, down the street, still talking to my mother, not thinking much about him.  He was just an odd figure standing on the street corner.  No reason to think more about him.  Just someone waiting for someone, something.

Later in the evening I'm watching my two cats play.  Well, mostly, I'm watching my five-month-old kitten rending a roll of paper towels which he had managed to wrestle into submission, and then occasionally stop rending, dart over to my three-year-old non-kitten, attack her, and dart back to the paper towels.  Eventful.

And it occurred to me, as I watched Julius with the paper towels, why I feel now like it's been a year.  And it's none of the good things I had thought.  None of the positive changes I'd made in my life.  None of the good things that have happened to me.

It's because it's been a year since I lost my Nard.

No, not marbles.  Those were lost a long time ago.

Nard.  Or, more accurately, Nardley Boo Rugh.  My cat.  My Doodle-Noodle.  My Noodles.  My Doo.  My Nard.

It still hurts so much that I can't talk about it, or even think about it, without crying.  I had Nard for 10 years.  My fluffy Nardabeast.  And last year, October 16th, he ran out the door in a strange bid for freedom, and I haven't seen him since.

I called a pet detective.  Twice.  Yes, they exist.  No, not Ace Ventura.  I bought a wildlife camera and monitored the areas the pet detective had determined might contain him.  I went out twice a day, every day, for four months, with food and my computer to check the data.  I set traps.  On November 4th, I got a picture of him running in front of the camera, but that was it.  The last proof I had that Nard was still alive.

And I remember, the night he went away, a man standing on the corner in a black sweatshirt.  Just standing.

It must be the devil, because when your heart breaks, and refuses to heal, because part of it is cold, shivering, wet, scared, hungry, and longing for home - who else would be standing on the corner, waiting for you?  Waiting to remind you of the part that you lost, and the night you sat there, with the door wide open, the cold air blowing through the apartment, sobbing, because you knew, somehow, that he wasn't coming home.  Who else would remind you of all those prayers you made, all those times you asked God to send him home, safe and unharmed, and how they went unanswered night after night?  Who else would remind you of the day you strove to forget?  Who else would remind you of the worst thing of all, hope, the hope, the long-buried hope, the desperate hope that he might come home, that one day there he'd be, sitting on the mat, waiting to be let in.


I thought I'd stopped hoping.  I thought I had convinced myself that I wouldn't see him again.  But I was tempted, tonight, to sit there with the door open, just in case.  Just in case it wasn't the devil.  Just in case it was something else, someone else, and he'd come home tonight, just walk in the door, tail held high, and leap into my lap and start purring and demanding food and love, in that order.


But I didn't.  Because I knew he wouldn't.

Only the devil makes you hope for things that never come.  So I must have met the devil last night.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dreams

Last night my subconscious brutalized me.  I woke up shaking with rage, and texted my boyfriend, telling him that it was a good thing he had been called to work and wasn't lying next to me when I struggled out of unconsciousness.  I would have hurt him.  I'm fairly sure the pillow was begging for mercy.

The dream itself has dissolved, and is nothing more now than a series of unconnected, totally randomized images, and it is no longer possible to even reconstruct the dream.  It is (mercifully?) lost, has faded back into my subconscious, and at this moment, almost 24 hours later, the raw, burning emotions engendered by the dream are . . . well, shit, they're still there.

Caustic.  My dream flesh feels flayed, peeled in long, apple-skin strips by the application of corrosive remembrance.  The anger, the humiliation, the confusion, but most of all - most of all - the helplessness.  The inability to change what was happening.  Watching it happen, like some gleefully-demented cameraman, zooming in on the tears on my dream cheeks, while simultaneously feeling the tears as they dripped off my chin.  (Yes, the pillow was wet.)

I knew I was dreaming, knew that while every agonizing emotion the dream laid out for me was forcing me into a paradigm of fear and distress, it wasn't a real experience, wasn't really happening, was just a bunch of neurons firing in specific patterns.  But I couldn't stop it.  Couldn't wake up.

So I watched myself suffer.  And rage.  And storm.  And weep.  And the cameraman took a delighted interest in capturing all those frailties of the self that one attempts to keep unexposed.  Unflattering camera angles of one's soul.  Exposing every ounce of insecurity, every broken effort to maintain composure, every stumble and faltering step towards sanity.

How could I do that to myself?  It's bad enough, participating in the dreadful antics one's subconscious is capable of forming, but how could I direct those antics, knowing full well that while telling the cameraman to make sure to catch the frizzed, tangled hair and raccooned eyes, the sloppy t-shirt and hastily-clutched blanket, I would be shrinking with mortification, wishing I knew where my pants were so I could put them on and gain a semblance of control over the situation.

I used to think the worst dreams were dreams of remembrance.  Dreams where a particular humiliation or anguish were re-lived, re-played, re-experienced.  Dreams where every stupid, pathetic, sorry act I had committed had to be endured, knowing perfectly well how the situation would end, but unable to change a single thing.

Those were terrible dreams.  But then I learned how to manipulate my dreams, and started fixing things.  I'd stop the scene halfway through, and say, "Wait a minute.  This is wrong.  I don't like this.  Let's reshoot it.  Take it from the top, but instead of making that decision, let's do this instead."  Then those dreams became good dreams, because I could change those memories.  Yes, I wouldn't be able to change the past, but at least it wouldn't haunt me, and would really become a different country.  One that I never had to visit.  Couldn't even get permission to enter.

But a victory for me is always - has always been - a loss as well.  Yes, I gained freedom from the past.  But now that I can construct my dreams, now that I can engineer special torments, I have unleashed on myself a truly malevolent creature.  It's funny to think how much I must hate myself to do to me what I do in my dreams.  There must be something terribly wrong when I welcome dream-death.  I've died so many times in my dreams that it's a relief, it's calming, it's knowledge that the death is just a segue from a series of well-constructed horrors into wakefulness.

Last night, watching myself direct the torments - so beautifully and perfectly designed to torment just me, to hit every nerve, and exploit every weakness - I couldn't help wondering why I couldn't stop myself.  Why was I so eager to destroy my dream-self, to leave me a pitiful, huddled, wretched creature, fighting for an ounce of self-respect, a soup├žon of dignity?  Why am I my own worst enemy?

I know I can't be the only one who does this.  I refuse to engage in any real metaphysical speculation (yes, you adulators of Lacan and Freud, I know you're there), because to do would only legitimize my neurosis.  And that I absolutely refuse to do.  But I know I can't be the only one who torments myself while sleeping.

Of course, it's little comfort knowing that when it's time to sleep again.  Because that's the thing about being in your head.

You're completely alone.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It Is NOT About Free Speech

Okay, somehow, people are mightily confused about this whole Chick-Fil-A controversy.  I'm tired of arguing about it in multiple forums, so I'm just going to write this, and then be done with it.  Any further arguments are going to be redirected here.

Statement 1: Do your research people.  The LGBT community and its allies aren't up-in-arms because Dan Cathy made a bunch of ignorant, Jesus-infused, intolerant statements.  While it would be great if those statements were never made, and while it would be great if people woke up and realized that it just doesn't matter what kind of sex your neighbor is having, because it's truly none of your damn (or damned) business, the problem isn't with the statements.  It's with his actions.

Statement 2: Dan Cathy has taken the profits from Chick-Fil-A and donated over $5 million to a series of organizations which are seeking - on a grand scale - to criminalize the LGBT community.  This isn't about just saying some hateful shit.  This is about actively trying to make homosexuality illegal.  This is about - I swear - trying to "export" homosexuals from America (oh, wait, does this sound familiar?  I seem to remember hearing that this was a solution proposed by a group of people trying to figure out what to do with all the slaves brought to the United States by the South. . . .).  This is about promoting inequality in a way that is reminiscent of, oh, I don't know, the subjugation of women, immigrant populations (and I'm not talking about modern-day immigrant populations, like Hispanics, but the Polish, Irish, Czech, Chinese, etc., etc., etc. populations - you know, WHITE people), or even, wait for it . . . yeah, Jews in Nazi Germany.  (For the record, Hitler hated homosexuals, too.  They got pink stars.)

Statement 3: In case this has totally escaped everyone's attention, the institution of marriage predates Christianity, and um, yeah, other religions have marriage and weddings and engagements and all that crap as well.  I promise you, Jesus does not define marriage.  I've already ranted about this in a prior post, so I'll restrict my comments to this: call it what you want, but homosexuals have the same right to express their love as you do, and in the same manner in which you do.

Statement 4: Let's talk about sex, baby.  You might not like thinking about male-on-male, or female-on-female sex.  But you know what?  The thought of your iceberg-like, Puritanical, uptight, utterly frigid sex offends ME.  I cannot imagine anything quite as sad, or offensive, really, as the pathetic attempt at emotional and physical connection you try and dignify with the epithet "making love".  However.  I don't go around making soapbox statements about how offensive you are.  And I certainly am not trying to make you illegal for your ridiculous and sad attempts at coitus.  I leave you the hell alone, because, well, really, it's not any of my business.  And how I have sex isn't any of your business.  And how John and Jake have sex isn't any of your business.

I'm digressing.  Let me reiterate: the Chick-Fil-A controversy isn't about people saying ignorant and prejudiced things.  It's about attempts to discriminate against part of the population.  It is no different than being discriminated against because of your sex, race, religion, or even mental ability.  It's discrimination.  It's about the promotion of inequality.  It's about attempting to maintain a status quo that should be overturned - like the suffragettes did.  Like the civil rights movement.  Like Gandhi in India.  Like everyone who recognizes that you are really no different from me, and how you treat me and how I treat you should be equal.  We're people.  Humans.  And the only reason we've managed to come this far as a world civilization is by recognizing that different is not evil.  It's just DIFFERENT.

Nota bene: I realize that much of this post is incoherent and incomplete.  It's because I'm fuming.  Perhaps, when I've calmed down, I'll revisit it, and make it more concrete.  Until then, however, I'm done talking about this.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

All Good Dogs Go to Heaven

Tobias "Toby" Singer, 2001-2012
Today Tobias "Toby" Singer went to his rightful place in dog heaven.  Bone cancer and the unfortunate gene-curse of pure-bred golden retrievers finally claimed one of the sweetest dogs I've ever known.  Even though he went blind three years ago, and his exuberant nature was somewhat dimmed, he never became a mean or cranky or bad dog.

He really was a good dog.

A sweet, loving, frolicsome dog, full of the joy of life.

My memories of Toby will always be of a happily-bounding four-legged beast racing towards water.   He was always the first one in lakes and rivers, beating me only because he had four legs and I had two.  At June Lake, every year, he was the only one who went in with me the moment we arrived at the beach, and stayed in with me until the end.

Or at Lake Arrowhead, where we'd put on his doggie life-vest, and he'd jump off the boat into the water, all four legs splayed, tongue lolling, and a giant dog-grin on his goofy dog-face.  He'd stay with us in the water for hours, and even learned to climb the ladder back onto the boat.

Or when we'd go on hikes, and he'd go up the streams and creeks with me, while normal people walked the paths, wading happily through 50-degree water just like it was bathwater.

He wasn't the brightest dog I've ever had, especially by retriever standards.  Not for nothing did he earn the nickname "Two-Neuron Toby".  I have vivid memories of Toby repeatedly smacking himself in the head with "Kong", a piece of rubber at the end of a rope.  He'd hold the rope end in his mouth, and swing his head back and forth rapidly, causing Kong to bash him about the skull.  Not Pulitzer-Prize-winning behavior.  But he was clever enough to know the difference between his toys, so you could tell him to "Get Big Bone!" or "Go get Red Bone!", and he'd bring you the right toy.  Even after he went blind, he'd bring Big Bone or Red Bone to you, and wait patiently for you to throw them, then stumble off after them, after listening for the thump when they landed.

And oh, Lord, did he have some disgusting habits - especially his eating habits.  Dessicated fish heads, ground-squirrel road-kill, snot-encrusted tissues - they were all manna to him.  I will never forget my dad smacking him on the nose to try and make him let go of a squashed, dried bit of squirrel nastiness he had found on the side of the road.  It was clenched in his jaws, and he would not let go of his prize for the world.  We were all convinced he'd get the plague or rabies because of that particular foulness.  And his breath - if the pits of Hell were to open up, I'm absolutely positive they wouldn't smell nearly as horrid as Toby's fetid mouth.

But Toby's overriding personality trait was his purely sweet heart.  He was the only dog we'd ever had - of a long line of dogs - that had never bit my sister.  That was saying something.  All dogs before her - Annie, Scout, Pockets, Banjo, and even Winston, our other retriever - had tried to take a chunk out of Lindsay at some point or another, responding to her nervous energy with some of their own.  But not Toby.  He adored her.

Even at the end, when he was obviously in pain, panting with the agony of the bone-eating tumor on his leg, he was a sweet boy, nuzzling up to you for love, or backing into your legs, which was his way of asking you to scratch his back.  He never complained, never snapped, and came when you called him, just like a good dog should, levering himself painfully off the floor, and limping over to you.

He really was a good dog.  And we will really miss him.

Good-bye, my Toby-dog.  I'll see you eventually, running through the fields after birds and coyotes, and then we'll splash through lakes and rivers together again, and maybe, just maybe, I'll finally beat you in.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Barbarian Camps in Life

It would be fantastic if someone could tell me why life must be so very, very complicated.  What is it about life that must - absolutely MUST - sneak up behind you, just when you're walking blithely down the street, whistling Adele, and shank you?  Why, why, why, why, why?

No, I'm not frustrated.  I'm confused, irritated, nervous, and at this particular moment, full-on scared.  I wish I could understand why things can never follow a straight line, even when it seems like they are.  And yes, I know, I know, any line that you follow for any significant distance actually curves, because of the curvature of the earth, yes, yes, yes.  I know that.  But stay with me.  We're on a metaphorical plane right now.  If you create a path that should follow a straight line, why is that, all of a freakin' sudden, there pops up a curve you didn't know existed?

Okay, time to reveal some serious geekishness.  You know how in some games, like, for example, Sid Meier's Civ 5, you're happily modding a new world, and then you set out to play it, and all of a sudden, something appears in that world that you absolutely DO NOT remember putting in?  Like a barbarian camp that appears in the several-square-space that you explicitly reserved for your starting city that should not have ANY barbarian camps in it, because barbarian camps + starting cities = very slow advancement. This happens to me quite frequently, is terribly obnoxious, and is an outstanding example of what I'm talking about with regard to life.  A stupid freakin' barbarian camp has appeared near my starting city, and I was not prepared for it, and I just lost my worker.

Now, I'm not going to lie.  When this happens to me when I'm gaming, I will straight out quit the game and start a new one.  Yes, I know, I'm a lamer, but whatever.  I don't care.  I didn't spend all that freakin' time modding the perfect world to get taken out in the first 20 turns by a god-damned barbarian horde.  The crappy thing, though, is that in life, you don't get to start over.  You have to deal with the barbarian horde, and . . . and . . . and I don't know how.

Okay, yes, I've now written four paragraphs without explicitly discussing what the spine-shanking I've recently experienced actually IS.  But unfortunately, this time, I won't/can't do it.  I mean, I'll talk a bit in vagaries about what has sort of happened.  The details, though, are reserved for those few demented souls who have season passes to the full-time crazy that is me.  Count your blessings.  Those season tickets reserve for you a place in Hell, somewhere in the River Styx Condominiums, probably next door to Chris and Satan. You don't actually want them.

So, in vaguest terms, the curve-ball I've encountered is this: I recently discovered (like, yesterday morning), that I am apparently the same person that I was 13 years ago, before I ever got married, divorced, moved across the country twice, no, wait, three times, found myself, lost myself, got accepted to grad school, found myself again, lost myself again. . . .  It appears, to all intents and purposes, that I haven't actually GROWN in all that time, just submitted to the same Katie Paradigm over and over, like a tetherball.  Why the tetherball goes back to its abuser continually baffles and frustrates me, but it seems that I'm no smarter than the tetherball, only in this case, I'm both the abuser AND the tetherball.  I guess that's a metaphor that fell down, but I'm sticking with it.

What do you do when you think you've grown, but discover that, to all intents and purposes, you're still the same person you were when you were 18?  Isn't part of the joy of growing up knowing that you will NEVER have to be 18 again?  So why don't I get that joy?  I don't want to be 18 - 18 was awful - and while I'm not keen on 31, it's certainly better than 18.  I think people who rhapsodize about their teenage years are full of shit.  It's a terrible part of your existence, and the best thing that life can do is rapidly move you away from those years.  So you can see why discovering that I'm still the same feckless, reckless, selfish, unutterable bastard that I was when I was 18 is disconcerting, to say the least.

So what's the deal, life?  I thought you were supposed to cure people of their very worst traits and characteristics, and instill in them worthwhile and useful ones ("This'll give you character!").  I know that life doesn't necessarily change people's core personalities, but it's definitely frustrating to think that all those things that I'd thought I'd left behind aren't, in fact, traits and characteristics that I can snake-skin shed, but are rather permanently welded to my core self.

I don't know what to do with this knowledge.  I could ignore it, but that would be very Katie Paradigmatic indeed, yet if I can't change it (see core personality, above), then is there any point in fretting about how very worthless my core personality seems to be?

I'm giving myself a headache.  I've achieved nothing by setting this on digital paper, but I'm not going to delete it.  I'll break the paradigm.  Instead of ending the game, and starting a new one, I'll let this game sit for awhile, and see if I can't find a way to make it out of the mess o' shit this barbarian horde has created for me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Self-Definition and Relationships

Relationships are strange things, aren't they?  The thin, tenuous threads that bind human existence into a delicate, almost nebulous whole, linking every person to another - no man is an island, and all that - they're strange threads, and perhaps the Greeks and Romans had it right.  The three Fates weave us all together, and to pull on one strand of the web is to inevitably disturb strands elsewhere, strands which might not even be immediately linked to that one original strand.  Man is a social creature - who said that? - and even those of us who prefer their own society most (if not all) of the time still have pangs of . . . pangs of . . . something . . . anyway, still have pangs for the company of their own kind.

I've never been particularly comfortable in the company of my own kind - it's almost always awkward, frustrating, painful, difficult, disconcerting, and just downright anxiety-inducing - but there are times when I become acutely aware of how much I sometimes dislike being alone.  Not always, certainly - being alone is often preferable to being with people (see awkward, above) - but there are times when I absolutely crave the company of another person.  Never crowds - more than a few people turn me into a plastic version of myself, all smiles, charm, and extroverted falsity.  And (my apologies in advance to those of you who fall into this category), there must always be something a little off about those people with whom I spend any significant one-on-one time.  I don't mean that they are - or should be - deeply disturbed, but people who skew to normal inculcate feelings of inadequacy and despair in me, because I couldn't be normal if I tried, and I wish - oh, how I sometimes so much wish - I could be normal.  So it follows that if I spend real time with anyone, they must have "issues".

It is ineffably strange to me that people should be so dependent upon each other, and that they allow other people to define who they are to such an enormous extent.  I mean, I completely understand that without other people, one cannot be an individual.  That is, one cannot define oneself as something unique without having something else against which such a definition could exist.  Fine.  But the lengths to which some people go to avoid having to define themselves independently at all never fails to shock and sadden me . . . until I realize that, really, I'm not much better.

I mean, I could go on and on (and do, especially if you put enough beer in me) about how pathetic and stupid people are, allowing themselves to be defined by "the media" and "political and societal pressure" (I become very categorical when drunk), and how they should just "be themselves" (see, for example, the deeply disturbing article in Rolling Stone on fraternities at Dartmouth).  Never mind that I'm ignoring the gaping chasms of insecurity and fear with which most people struggle on a daily basis, or that I'm completely dismissing the need for relationships which aren't tainted by the spoiled-milk, "something off" tendencies I have in my own relationships, or that most people choose not to darken their everyday existence with the probings of diseased minds.  It is a bad habit of mine to examine the relationships of people around me - for the most part, healthy, functioning relationships (and I don't just mean romantic, but friendships, familial - whatever) - and dismiss them as being too "typical" (I'm using lots of quotes today.  At least they're not italics).  And then I look at how I define myself, and shudder.

I do have to give myself a little bit of credit here.  At least, for once, I'm recognizing what the hell I'm doing before I've done it so completely that there's no going back.  My ex-husband used to call me (and still does) "experiential", meaning that I never learn anything just from hearing about it, no matter how many life lectures I attend.  (Although, really, let's be honest here.  I attend just about as many of those voluntarily as I do my actual academic lectures.  I really don't like listening to people tell me what to do - or know.  So stubborn.  Anyway.)  I have to experience it, and if I don't, I won't believe what I've heard.  Stove is hot?  Really?  Still have to touch it to see if it's true, and I can't blame my burnt fingers on anyone but myself.

Anyway, ambling away from the point here.  The point is this: that I'm just as guilty as everyone else for using external methods of self-definition.  For me?  It always has been, and probably always will be (shameful) men.

One might chalk this up to daddy issues, but whatever.  It doesn't matter where they come from, what matters is that I still - after all this time, dammit - do it.  I have recently entered into a relationship where I've discovered that some of how I'm now defining myself is directly attributable to the person I'm dating.  Which is troubling, because I thought I had managed to excise that particular behavior-tumor after my divorce.  Apparently not.

Not that all of it is a bad thing.  This newfound obsession with pool, for example - that's good.  Ditto my renewed determination not to waste any more time, and actually start writing again, for fuck's sake.  But I've also noticed that I'm thinking about things - big things, future things - that I wouldn't be thinking about were it not for this person, and while they aren't bad, I just have to wonder how much of them are coming from me.

So there's my failure.  I use relationships - romantic relationships - to define me.  Not that I'm not my own person - there are things that are me, and me exclusively - but I always take something from each relationship I've been in, and add it to my personality, which is becoming more cluttered with each passing day, and is seriously making it difficult to exist comfortably in my own skin.  Emilie Autumn's "What If" really does exemplify the frustration inherent in one person containing so many damn contradictions, and the fact that she never answers her own question - what if? - indicates that I'm pretty well screwed when it comes to reconciling those contradictions.

Yay!  Hypocrisy revealed!  It doesn't change the fact that I'll still rant and rave about stupid, pathetic people using external methods of self-definition.  But I'm guilty of it, too.  I'm guilty of relying on those delicate bonds between humans, which, some might argue, is really all that makes life worth living.  Perhaps I should stop fighting it, and just give in - give in gloriously - to the intoxicating pull of the chemistry which exists between two people, and enjoy the results as much as I enjoy the results of the fermentation of yeast.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When A Bad Dog Went Really Bad

Ceri - January, 2007 - March 5, 2012
Even though it happened over a week ago now, I still haven't found a way to talk about it.  It doesn't seem like it should hurt that much, but it really, really does.  So much, in fact, that I've adopted my I-can't-deal-with-this strategy: I stop thinking about it, shove it to the back of my mind-attic, and pile furniture and boxes and old clothes and roller skates and everything else I can think of on top of it, so that it doesn't emerge.

Last week - March 5th, to be precise - my Ceri-dog had to be put down.  My Bad Dog.  Doggie Face.  Monkey Dog.  But mostly my Bad Dog.

Ceri was a bad dog.  Just how bad was something which was continuously being revealed - even though I had her for four years - and the depths of her badness were sometimes pretty amazing.  But last Sunday, March 4th, she became too bad for this world, and on Monday, she had to be put down.

I found Ceri in a blizzard.  No exaggeration.  January 8th, 2008, I was driving home late from work - this was when I lived in Lake Arrowhead, CA, where blizzards actually happen - and was completely focused on just making it home without crashing/sliding/drifting/dying.  Somehow, though, I managed to see this little black speck, sitting patiently (something, I came to learn, which was extraordinary with Ceri), waiting.  I realized it was a dog, and wondered what the hell any living thing would be doing outside and not actively trying to find shelter in a blizzard.  I stopped the car, opened the door, and the dog took off.

I'm ashamed to admit that that was perhaps the one time in my life when I decided not to chase an animal which was clearly in need of help.  I put my own selfish considerations (I was dressed for the office, not animal-hunting in the snow) ahead of the dog's welfare, and continued on home, which was another quarter of a mile (so about 5 minutes in those conditions) away.  I arrived safely, went inside, and thought about the dog all night.

The next morning the snow had stopped, and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, the plows had actually managed to get out and clear the roads by the time I needed to leave for work.  So I was driving to work, up the same street where I had seen the dog, and who should come trotting out in front of my car?

It was clearly a sign.  So I got out, whistled, and the dog trotted right up to the car, and hopped in, just like she knew who I was, had been waiting for me, and couldn't wait to get started.  (It was always a sure-fire method of capturing Ceri when she would escape, and take off for wondrous parts unknown.  Simply drive by her in the car, whistle or call to her, open the door, and she'd jump right in, dreams of freedom and escape forgotten.)  I took her home, put her in the spare bedroom/my office, gave her food and water, figured I'd deal with the potty damage when I got home, and left for the day.

We named her Cerberus, after the black, three-headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades.  It never really seemed that appropriate, although she was a fairly good guard dog.  So we called her Ceri for short (soft s, like sari).  But that didn't really matter, either.  She pretty rapidly became Bad Dog.  She even responded to it.

And holy hell, was she bad.  She destroyed over $1,000 worth of shoes, ate blinds, peed on everything, and couldn't hold a poo to save her life.  She jumped fences, killed small creatures if given half a chance, and tried impressions of a mountain goat on our fifty-foot-high back deck railing.  She ate poos straight from the litter box, scattering litter all over the floor, made noises like a horny monkey when excited (my brother still does the best impression I've ever heard), and was a true escape artist.

But, the thing was, she was the sweetest dog I've ever seen.  She would look at you, lick your face (often smelling like cat poo, which was delightful), pant, smile, and you'd forgive her.  She was bad, but it wasn't intentional.  She was just . . . Ceri.  She existed in her own Ceri world.  Which is not to say I didn't get mad at her.  I did.  But I forgave her.  Over and over and over.

When I moved to Virginia, I couldn't take Ceri.  I would be living in an apartment the size of a glorified shoebox (okay, slightly smaller), and didn't have a yard.  I'd be gone who-knew-how-many hours a day, and Ceri would go completely nuts for even a second in such a confined space.  So she stayed with my ex-boyfriend, who eventually took her with him to Arizona.

We thought she'd be happy in Arizona.  A nice big yard, people who loved her, and lots of outside time and attention.

I got a text from my ex the evening of March 4th.  Ceri had gotten out of the yard and killed a neighbor's cat.  Shock mingled with suspicion.  How had that happened?  Had it really been an accident, or was she let out on purpose?  I felt grief for the family, knowing full well what it feels like to lose a pet.  Shock was rapidly compounded by shock.  Ceri was running up and down the street, threatening other animals and people alike.

Ceri?  My Ceri?  My Bad Dog?  Ceri had never threatened another human in her dim little life, unless one counts being drooled on and panted at a threat.  What had happened?

I still don't know.  I don't know what circumstances caused Ceri to change.  Once my ex had caught up with her, and had subdued her, and I heard how she had been changing over the months since they had moved to Arizona, he had already made the decision to have her put down.  Attacking cats was one thing, but attacking people - it wasn't something which could be tolerated.  Even the vet was supportive - it would take months and months of behavior therapy to rehabilitate her, and even that wasn't guaranteed to work.  My ex was living with his girlfriend and her three small children.  It wasn't a risk he could take.

So the morning of March 5th, he took her to the vet.  She was put to sleep.  Just went to sleep.  For the last time.  And now there's a giant Ceri-shaped hole in my heart, and enough guilt to fill an ocean.  What if I had brought her with me?  Would she still have changed, have snapped?  What had happened?

There are some things you can forgive, and some things you can forget.  I'll never forgive myself for leaving Ceri behind, and I'll never forget my sweet doggie-faced Bad Dog.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Writer's Block

"The night was sultry."  And so begins - or ends - one of my all-time favorite movies.  That's right.  Throw Momma from the Train.  It's a fantastic movie, and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.  It really is hilarious.  The premise behind that line is the whole notion of writer's block, and for the writer who finally manages to craft it, it's a struggle to come up with the perfect word to describe the night.  He's finally indebted to a woman he's been conscripted to kill by one of his writing students for the perfect word, and it's enough to get her thrown from the train.  I don't seem to have that kind of difficulty with my book.  No, my own problem is that I'm drowning in the middle, and can't seem to get beyond the first moments.

The other problem, one which I've recently discovered, is that I don't like how my book begins.  It starts off very slowly, and tries to explain entirely too much.  I think, and I'm not sure how I feel about this, because it literally means throwing away almost five years of work, but I think that what I really need to do is to start the book with a climactic moment, and then tell the rest of the story in flashback.  I can see so many dangers inherent in that, but I know that I'm not happy with how the book currently takes three chapters to build up momentum, that I'm willing to take the risk, and dive right in.  I remember having this conversation with a professor awhile ago, and he cited William Gibson's Neuromancer as a stellar example of a book which just plunks you down in the middle of a situation, and leaves you to figure it out.  That was, of course, just what I objected to in the book, and I consciously strove to avoid that kind of thing in my own book.  The downside of that conscious striving, though, is that despite the prologue's violence, and an interweave of similarly violent moments, the first three chapters proceed so slowly that I feel I'm dragging the entire book down into a morass of sludgy time.  There is an urgency which is lacking, and which is so necessary to the book's successful telling of the story, that I'm willing to attempt a Gibson-esque style.

Of course, a further, not inconsequential, problem with the book is that I've been writing it over the last five years, and that the original premise on which the book was based has shifted and changed substantially enough that I'm not sure I'm still writing the same story.  I began it as an undergrad, and my disgust with the systemization of education in a way I found problematic was the catalyst for a book where higher education as it now exists is destroyed (along with organized religion, yay!).  Since then, I've sort of drifted from that premise, and I began to think a few years ago (while I was out of higher education as a student) that the way in which education was systematized wasn't really that problematic.  It's ironic that now that I'm once again well indoctrinated into it ("it" being higher education) - as a grad student - I'm once again seeing the things that irritated, frustrated, and catalyzed me as an undergrad, and they are irritating, frustrating, and catalyzing me anew.  I think, though, that I'll be able to write a more balanced book, one which acknowledges the virtues (few as they are) of systemization, while still destroying education as it currently exists.  (Another benefit of writing the book from a middle-point is that I'll be able to avoid all those beginning moments where any resemblance to Harry Potter might potentially exist, simply because the book is about institutions of magical learning.  I'm not venerating or celebrating them, people, I'm fucking destroying them.  If I go into the story with a few of those institutions already destroyed, I'm fairly certain no one can accuse me of aping good old Harry Butthole Pussy Potter (thanks, Cartman).)

Writing has again become something I want, but in a much more focused and substantial way.  I've been thinking quite a bit recently about where my life is going, and what I'm doing with my time, and I realized that - for the first time in my entire life - I'm truly free.  Absolutely, completely, and thoroughly free.  And the words of a song by Powerman 5000 - "Free" - have been haunting me lately: "Living so free is a tragedy, when you can't be what you want to be."  I am free, in a way that I've never before been, and if I'm free, why am I still hanging on to an ideal of living to which I no longer truly subscribe?  More Powerman 5000: "All the time wasted, stolen back, innocent,/ You won't get a second more, so move it along."  Why not risk everything I have for what I truly want, when I have nothing to hold me back?  (Side note: if I were to ever get a tattoo with words (an idea which I've been against), then it would be either that line about living free, or a line from Seal's "Crazy": "We're never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy."  (And another side note: while I do like the original, I prefer Mushroomhead's cover.)  But those are just side thoughts.)

The thing is, graduate school, professorship, the quintessentially safe route - it no longer really appeals to me.  While part of me still craves stability, and security, and all that other biologically-driven crap, I'm beginning to feel again.  Really feel.  Actually feel.  Of course, feeling for me can be a very dangerous thing - it has the potential to lead to very stupid decisions - and I have to question the impulses that feeling creates.  But at the same time, I have to wonder - now that I've intellectually validated myself (which, let's be honest, is in large part what grad school has been for me), what am I doing?  I won't argue that it might be a very stupid thing to throw away security on a risk so great that it has almost no redemptive value, but . . . well . . . why the hell not?

I'm 31.  I'm not getting younger.  I remember thinking that I'd definitely be published by now.  And not in some musty academic journal that will only be read by a handful of scholars, but published in proper books, sharing bookshelf space with Terry Pratchett and A. Lee Martinez and Raymond Feist.  And I'm not even close to being there.  All of my time is being spent on a pursuit which is becoming, daily, less palatable to me.  Do I really want to spend the rest of my life thinking about what might have been, or should I just chuck it all in, and really go for it?  Especially since, and this is incredibly important to me, no one can be hurt by this decision except me.  If I fail, then the only person that I take down is me.

Of course, I'm terrified.  The thought of chucking it all in, of getting rid of safety and security and a clear professional path with tiered levels of income and a degree of freedom and intellectual appeal, and of stepping off the path into the wilds, without a map or even a compass, is truly terrifying enough to send me scurrying back to the path gratefully and obsequiously, willing to lick the boots of even the most arrogant, god-complexed professor (don't get me started).  But then I look at what I'd accomplish on that path, and balance that against the possibility of fulfilling a dream in the wilds, and the path's accomplishments pale in comparison.  Just the knowledge that I'd be doing what I truly love, even if I'll never be as successful as I could be in academia, is enough to push me further into the wilds.

So now I'm balancing terror against safety, of a dream against what is my current reality, of only potential success against actual success.

Of course, all that potentiality depends on me getting past my sultry night.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is real life?

So I was just watching an episode of Scrubs.  It's from the second season, and it's the one where they get Jill Tracy to do the cover of Colin Hay's "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin".  It's pretty amazing just how much that particular line - not even the entire song, just that one line - really epitomizes my attitude towards my life, and how, surprisingly, that hasn't changed, despite the fact that I am, by anyone's estimation, participating in what could absolutely be called "my real life".  I mean, I am walking a very specific path, towards a very specific professional destination, am in an actual (albeit new) relationship, and am doing all those things that generally qualify as "real life".  Yet, somehow, I'm still waiting.  I feel as though I'm just playing a part, and what I'm doing at the moment isn't really what I'm going to do, or - and this is the important part - what I want to do.

Apparently this "crisis of faith" (it doesn't deserve capitals) is a common thing in graduate school.  At least, so I've been told by the professor with whom I've discussed it briefly.  It's the whole why am I here, what am I doing, do I really want to do this thing?  I guess it typically comes later in the journey - third or fourth year, rarely first - but it isn't uncommon.  It does as much to weed out potential PhDs as the actual application process.  I don't know how other people deal with it, but since my first semester here - nay, since my first day in this state, I've been wondering if I haven't made a truly colossal mistake.

I don't know if you remember (and why would you?) but at the beginning of my first semester, I was asking these questions, but with a different bent, i.e., that hadn't made a colossal mistake, but that the admissions committee had.  I began questioning my enjoyment of what I'm doing from the very start, but attributed it all to failings on my part - I wasn't smart enough, or motivated enough, or something-enough, and did not fundamentally belong in grad school.  But once I beat back those feelings - somewhere about mid-semester, after I got back my first paper, with an A and lots of solid commentary - and realized that the work itself wasn't hard, and that I could perform at the level required/imagined, I still had to find a way to cope with the feelings which hadn't disappeared, and which were, because of their non-disappearing state, very troubling.

Those feelings have plagued me from the end of last semester, and have worsened during this new semester.  They're terrifying, because they're not feelings with which I can reason (yes, I know, that's the whole point of feelings, but usually they're explicable in some fashion): boredom, frustration, irritation, disinterest, and general ennui.  I have absolutely no interest in what I'm doing.  And that is a serious problem.  It's not even that I'm not passionate about it, or that I don't love it - I actually don't like it.

It's hard to put a finger on exactly what it is that I don't like about it.  The reading is intellectually challenging, yes.  It raises interesting questions, yes.  It is thought-provoking, absolutely.  There are moments when I am genuinely interested in what I'm doing.

But seriously?  Most of the time, I would rather do anything else rather than read.  I mean anything.  Clean my apartment with a toothbrush and bucket.  Bathe my cat.  Count the resulting scratch marks from the cat bath.  Volunteer for electroshock therapy.  Get a lobotomy (and no, I haven't been reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest again).  Anything.  In fact, the amount of actual work I have put into this semester is shockingly low.  So low, in fact, that I don't think I have ever put this little effort into anything I've ever done (yes, there are lots of italics being thrown about.  It's necessary right now).

And here's the most terrifying part of it: I don't care.  I mean, aside from a certain degree of professional and personal pride, there is nothing else that keeps me going to class, and participating in a minimal amount of intellectual work.  I don't want to quit, because I don't have anything else at the moment.  But that's the only reason why I don't want to quit.  It isn't because I love what I'm doing.  It isn't because I'd trade my arm to be able to do it.  It isn't because it's satisfying, or challenging, or even interesting.  Perhaps, in a larger context, it is.  But in this specific context - as a graduate student in medieval English literature - it isn't.  Books which I may have picked up independently of any class are books I now boycott.  Today?  Instead of reading a book which might, by any account, be something I would normally enjoy, today I went and spent three hours playing pool.

So I have to ask myself: is not having another plan a good reason to be doing this?  Is not having something else that I'd rather be doing reason enough to spend the next six years in graduate school?  Is not having the testicular fortitude to pursue my true passion (writing) reason enough to settle for this path?  Is being 31, and scared to take a chance on something that really matters to me, because all those previous "chances" ended in fiery train wrecks and burning buildings, is that enough to keep me doing what is safe and respectable?

I don't know.  But if I still feel like I'm waiting for my real life to begin, then what happens six years from now, when I'm 37, and I'm still waiting?  I guess that's why this is a crisis of faith.  But this isn't about having faith in something or someone else.  This is about having faith in myself.  If I don't admit now that I'm not really doing what I want to do, and that what I want to do is very, very scary, and risky, and so without guarantees in any way, but that it's still what I should be doing, and I shouldn't continue to piss about and waste time doing something because it's the rational and sane thing to do - if I don't admit that now, then will I ever?  Or will I just steer blindly through graduate school, still waiting, and become a professor, and still be waiting, and then die, and never have started my real life?  Is it better to take the risks than to always wonder what could have been?

I really, really don't know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Life in Music

My life has a soundtrack.  This became abundantly clear to me the other day when I was thinking about the fact that although my musical taste has grown - evolved - since I was a kid (like a real kid, 10 or so, since  I'm quite old now), I still like much of what I did then, and that music has always had an incredibly evocative power.  It works both ways - I hear a song, and it immediately recalls an event, and an event immediately recalls the music I was listening to when the event eventuated.  Everything in my life, major or minor, has a song attached to it.

Because of its evocative power, music also has the ability to change my mood, and so, in a sense, has scripted my life.  The right song at any moment can literally flip my mood switch from insanely-up-and-happy to suicidally-depressed.  It's eerie.  And now that I've grown to appreciate greater diversity in my music (like, yes, I have to admit that I like Hollywood Undead.  Even though so much of me feels like I shouldn't, I do, and even though I know I should be fundamentally offended, I just can't be, and have to laugh at lines like "when I start drinking, my dick does all my thinking"), I have an even wider range of music to flip the mood switch.  And my moods dictate my actions and behavior, so . . . domino effect.

There isn't any music which is exempt from that soundtrack, either.  I grew up on the piano, and played the flute in junior high and high school (yes, for a while I was a band geek, but unfortunately don't have any cool band camp stories), so even "My Sharona" will make me think of my hideously-uncomfortable band uniform and the time I got in trouble at Magic Mountain, whence we had gone for a music competition, and a friend and I broke off from the rest of the group and almost missed the bus home because we were busy flirting with older boys we had met (we were 13 at the time, so had raging hormones).  Then there's all the classical music I learned at the berating hands of my piano teachers, or those show tunes that I'll still sing in the shower (I am totally a shower-singer, because I never sound as good anywhere else, so be thankful you don't live with me), or all the folk songs that my mom and dad used to sing to me when I was little, and which I can still break out for a four-hour car ride to pacify my nephew (and my sister).  I walked down the aisle to Pachelbel's "Canon in 'D'" because my parents did, and have tender memories of my dad sitting on my bed and belting out hilariously-off-key renditions of "Summertime", "Old Man River", and "House of the Rising Sun", with my mom finishing off with her beautiful "Loch Lomond" or "Today".

I can listen to music from my youth, like U2 or INXS or Spandau Ballet or Missing Persons - stuff I started listening to when I was about 10 or 11, because my dad listened to it when we would go off on climbing trips in Joshua Tree - and I can vividly recall what I was doing.  Like, the summer of my twelfth year.  That was a big year for me.  I got my first U2 CD (War) - officially mine, so that I would stop stealing my dad's - a new climbing harness, and a 15-year-old boyfriend who was friends with the guy who lived down the street.  He was an idiot, but he was 15, and cute, and that was exciting.  I remember that almost every night I would play U2 or INXS or Missing Persons quietly on the stereo in my room to muffle any noise that I might make as I slipped out the door, down the hall to the laundry room, through the door into the backyard, and then through the gate into the front yard to meet him.  Then we'd go off and behave like perfect delinquents, breaking into the yard of an empty house down the street to go night swimming, or steal cars, or make out.  The music was important, because my sister's bedroom was just down the hall from me, and she had ears like a bat, and a squeaky-clean conscience, and wouldn't hesitate to report my absences to my parents.

Or the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, when I had my first real boyfriend - Danny - who had an awesome CJ-7 Jeep, who taught me all about the proper way to off-road, make sandwiches, and kiss.  That was the summer that Live released their first album - Throwing Copper - and even now "Lightning Crashes" makes me think of those wild nights at Deep Creek, where we'd go night-swimming, and try not to drown under the hot summer sky.  Or "I Alone", and how we'd look into each others' eyes, grab each other by the arms, and then jump off the cliffs and scream all the way down into the cold, dark water.  Or the first time that we made love, listening to the entire album, song after song, lying there, holding each other, not wanting to get up and break the spell the music cast over us.

I remember the night that Danny broke up with me.  My dad and I were in Durango, on a climbing/rafting road trip for my fifteenth birthday.  We had just pulled into the hotel, and the strains of "Marvin, I Love You", from the Doctor Demento show that we had caught driving through the mountains, were running through my head when I called him.  I remember the rain pouring over my head and the words "Danny, I love you" drumming their way through my soul.

High school was awful, and I cannot listen to No Doubt's "I'm Just A Girl", Nine Inch Nail's "Perfect Drug", Metallica's "Unforgiven II", PJ Harvey's "Down by the Water" - my dad and I would make up new lyrics to it - or Joan Osborne's "Spider Web" without cringing in recollection of all the horrible things that happened between my freshman and senior-ish years.  These songs evoke so clearly the humiliation, rejection, anger, and frustration of those years, the lucidity of which not even time mercifully dims.  To hear them again is to relive the flustered misery of hanging on to the edges of all the "groups", desperately wanting to be myself, but also craving the security of inclusion.

The Specials, English Beat, Reel Big Fish - those bands are inextricably linked with the dancing, wicked blue-green eyes of Joe, the handsome, clever surfer boy from Anaheim, who was poor but ambitious, and made me love him in scandalous fashion.

Then there were the days in transition, when I met Brandon, who introduced me to Dave Matthews, the Playboy Mansion, and the Marine Corps.  The songs "Jump Right In" by The Urge and "Circles" by Soul Coughing elicit memories of the long drives from Lake Arrowhead to Camp Pendleton, the traffic in Orange County, the long ocean vistas off the 5, the MPs on base with their propensity for ticketing wildly, and the silhouettes of all the helicopters in the flight wing as the sun sank behind the hills, softening and blurring the dilapidation of the aging base.

Then came my husband, and with him an explosion of musical knowledge and experimentation.  Three-quarters of the music I now call my favorite is because of his delight in exploring new and old bands, and passing along his discoveries.  Not a memory of my time with him is without its musical equivalent.   Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe will always be perfectly matched with those early, heady days in San Clemente - the beach, rogue cigarettes with the smoke curling in the salty air, never-ending skies, 7-11 nachos, Snickers and Butterfingers, and running half-naked, laughing hysterically, from beach police.   Korn - that's the long, terrifying drive from California to Ohio, and never again will I be able to listen to "Falling Away from Me" or "Make Me Bad" without remembering Cal, the friendly Texan Penske rescue man who so desperately wanted us to abandon our 25-foot moving truck and come stay with him while we waited for his son, who was apparently the only person within a 50-mile radius who knew how to fix "them computer-chip trucks".

Ohio State days are laced with  Rammstein, Slipknot, Mudvayne, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Fear Factory, and  Nothingface.  Going to classes under the gray, gray skies, watching the bodies grow from tiny, blind balls of fluff to sleek, gorgeous, fascinating cat-beasts, playing "Icewind Dale II" and "Neverwinter Nights II" and "Fallout II" and "Civilization III" with freezing fingers, a new obsession with cross-stitching, college-football-Saturdays, and reading piles and piles of books - each moment is trapped within the crystalline structure of musical memory.

It was when we moved back to California that my husband started constructing his "HfN" series - "HfN" meaning "Hard for Nard" (Nard was my nickname then, and "hard" because, up until that point, I'd only liked music which dwelt on the edges of truly "hard").  He's up to HfN 33 now, and each album has become symbolic of where we were - where I was - when he created it.  HfN 5, that's a tough one to listen to now, because that one brings up those early days at Cal State, when I first learned of the band Deadsy, and fell in love with "Asura" and giggled at my husband's assertion that "She Likes Big Words" was really and truly my song, and hated every second of my job and masochistic boss, and wondered if we had made a terrible, terrible mistake moving back to California, and if we would ever be happy together.

When we first separated, that's when he sent me HfN 28, starting with Rise Against's "Savior".  It was like a fast-forward to the future, and even now can make me sob: "It kills me not to know this, but I've all but just forgotten, what the color of her eyes were, or her scars and how she got them. . . .  Seldom do these words ring true when I'm constantly failing you. . . .  So tell me now, if this ain't love, then how do we get out?  'Cause I don't know.  That's when she said, 'I don't hate you, boy, I just want to save you while there's still something left to save.'  That's when I told her, 'I love you, girl, but I'm not the answer to the questions that you still have.'"

When I left for Virginia, I left to the strains of Five Finger Death Punch's "Far From Home", from HfN 30 - "I can't seem to find my way home.  And it's almost like your heaven's trying everything, your heaven's trying everything to keep me out.  All the places I've been and things I've seen, a million stories that made up a million shattered dreams, the faces of people I'll never see again, and I can't seem to find my way home" - and Linkin Park's "Waiting for the End" from HfN 31 - "Waiting for the end to come, wishing I had strength to stand.  This is not what I had planned.  It's out of my control. . . .  It's hard to let you go.  I know what it takes to move on.  I know how it feels to lie.  All I wanna do is trade this life for something new, holding on to what I haven't got."  They were both songs from his soul, but they resonate within my soul, and I wonder at times if we're not still linked somewhere, in some broken version of our heaven, and if we'll eventually find a way to be happy there together.

I'll never forget a moment of my life, captured as each is by the delicate fingers of music, held in embryonic stasis, ready to be born again with fragments of an introduction, or the faint strains of a refrain, or even the echoes of a lyric, trapped and made mundane in some banal discussion of trivial life.  My memory of my existence will always be filtered through the music of that moment, which manages to lend a fragile beauty to even the ugliest remembrance, and, in that way, to redeem it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I DO judge you when you use poor grammar.

Over the last few weeks, I have spent a fair amount of time engaged in arguments with a friend about language.  Specifically, proper vs. improper usage of punctuation, "adverbjatives" (that's his, not mine), prepositions, and all the other pitfalls and minefields of modern American language.

Now, before I go any further, those of you who are howling in the background, "But you're a PhD student in English!", shut up.  I know that.  I know that my expectations of "proper" language usage are probably much higher than the average American.  However, I also think this gives me the ability to discourse knowledgeably on why "proper" language usage is so important, much like a computer programmer can discourse knowledgeably on the difference between C++ and Python.  The difference between the computer programmer and the hapless student of language is found in the seemingly-esoteric nature of programming: how many people actually know enough about the differences between C++ and Python to even discuss them (C++?  Is that extra "+" an accident?  And Python?  You mean Monty Python?), and then further, to have opinions about them?  Not bloody many.  So when a computer programmer offers his opinion, the layperson accepts it.  Not so with the student of language.  The minute language becomes a subject for discussion, anyone and everyone feels competent to discuss it.  If I hear, "But language is always evolving!" one more time, my brain might literally explode.  However - and this is an important "however" - it is far, far easier to develop a valid opinion of programming languages than language usage.  Yes, dammit, I said valid.

Now, I do not pretend to be a paragon of perfect speech.  Frasier still has a few-up on me.  I break the rules - frequently.  I split infinitives so often that bits and pieces of them litter the floor near my desk.  I happily incorporate words unrecognized by the OED into my speech all the time.  And I swear.  Often.

Yet my spine twitches when someone says "ain't" in an un-ironic fashion.  The ending of sentences with prepositions makes me a little violent.  The flagrant disregard of "ly" on the ends of adverbs leaves me cold.  The colloquial speech patterns of the South make it difficult for me to remember that just because they sound like total, unrequited idiots does not mean that they are.

The thing is, just because you use language doesn't mean you're qualified to speak about it as though it's something you've given a great deal of thought, and something you understand intimately.  I use my microwave every day (that's an embarrassing admission, but there you go), yet I would never presume to speak about what actually happens when I push the buttons, because I really don't know ("You mean it isn't magic?  There aren't little people in there roasting my food over very hot fires?").  And that whole "language-is-evolving" argument has become the reason for each and every bloody-awful lazy spelling mistake, or punctuation abuse, or sloppy grammar usage.  Yes, the language is evolving.  Apparently, what it is now evolving into is a morass of muddy, incomprehensible, and thoroughly-confusing attempts at communication.

I guess people want to return to an age where "as long as you understand me" is good enough, and where the beautiful subtleties of the language, the exquisite confections of construction, the perfect pairing of thought and written expression, are utterly forgotten.  Where it is no longer possible to appreciate the incomparable elegance of Nabokov's Lolita, or the haunting spareness of Graham Greene, or the lush images of Milton.  icanhascheezburger rules the day, apparently, and being able to understand something - even if only at the crudest level - is all that matters.

I refuse to believe that the only purpose of language is communication of immediate and shallow thoughts.  I'm not making the categorical statement that just because something is easily understood means that it's not complex, or worthy of careful thought.  No, I'm categorically siding with Heidegger, and saying that language creates thought, and that it is an expression of yourself in the purest form.  If you do not have elegant and subtle linguistic abilities, then how can you possibly construct elegant and subtle thoughts?  If you do not have the linguistic ability to construct a complicated sentence, then how can you construct a complicated thought?  Philosophy, for example, relies heavily on an understanding - an intimate understanding - of the relationship between thought and language, and that is certainly why so much of it is devoted to the exploration of that relationship.  How we think is inescapably influenced by how we speak.

So I guess, then, my point is that by not understanding how language works, we're shorting ourselves on our ability not just to communicate at a level higher than Koko, but also on our ability to create, to imagine, and to fully realize ourselves as independent, living, thinking human beings.

So there.  I'll judge you when you use poor grammar, because I'll be wondering if you are too lazy, sloppy, or just out-and-out unintelligent to realize that you're expressing yourself in the crudest possible way, without giving any thought to how you sound, and how other people will perceive your expressions.  I'll judge you because I'll wonder if you're incapable of coming up with a clearer, more accurate way of expressing yourself.  And I'll judge you because I won't be able to help but wonder if you really are only capable of communicating on the level of icanhascheezburger.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NCAA vs. OSU - WTF?!

My last post was disgusting.  I mean, seriously, if I had come across that post on someone else's blog, I would have bitch-slapped the blogger.  It was pure self-pity and a morass of nastiness on all fronts (sorry for the mixed metaphor).  However, since I cannot quite bitch-slap myself, I'm offering up that particular pleasure to anyone who actually read that piece of total manure.  Takers?  Text me.

Anyway, this piece is not about me.  I won't be writing about myself again for a long, long time.  It's just an exercise in fatuous self-debasement.  No, this is about college football.

OSU received their NCAA sentence today.  Before I discuss the actual sentence, I would just like to say that ESPN's Mark Schlabach is a wanker.  He thinks he's clever, and he thinks he's objective, but mostly, he's just a pedantic wanker.  Typical Mark Schlabach: "To be honest, I'm surprised the NCAA hit the Buckeyes as hard as it did. I figured The Ohio State University was immune from the kind of punishment that might cripple a program in recruiting and severely sully its once-pristine reputation."

Piss off, Mark.  What is this vitriolic hatred that sports writers seem to have for Ohio State?  I've never understood why it's a program that draws such viciousness.  But it does; whether winning or losing, sports writers, from The Sporting News to AOL cannot seem to resist the urge to beat the hell out of everyone's favorite team to hate.  And why the hell is that?  What does OSU have that other major programs like Texas and Florida and USC don't have, that makes people just ache to pour the hot lead down OSU's throat?  Oh, right, it used to be that OSU was a school with integrity.  I forgot - people love to hate the good guy.  Wankers.  The lot of 'em.

Anyway.  So, despite the fact that OSU vacated all its wins for last season - effectively making it almost impossible for us to beat Michigan in wins in my lifetime, thank you so f***ing much - got rid of Jim Tressel, returned Bowl Game revenue, and eliminated five scholarships over the next three years, the NCAA still smacked OSU with a one-year postseason ban (which means no bowl games, no Big Ten Championship, no National Championship (not that that was a real possibility, anyway)) and the loss of three further scholarships.  Oh, and Jim Tressel?  Yeah, he won't be coaching college football ever again.  The NCAA also bitch-slapped him with a five-year show-cause penalty, which means that any school that wants to hire him would have to write a detailed report as to why they had to hire him, and what they're going to do to make sure he's a good boy.

Okay.  Seriously.  I have to ask: w. t. f.

Now, before you get all preachy on me, hear me out.  First of all, I have nothing but contempt for the players involved, disgust with Jim Tressel, and a general, all-out sadness and frustration with college football as a whole.  I mean, I watch college ball specifically because it isn't pro ball, because it isn't riddled with all that problematic Michael-Vick-should-be-banned-from-existence-dog-fighting crap.  I like to think that I'm watching a game that at least tries to use spit and polish when shining up their morals, that at least pretends to value sportsmanship and decency and good 'ol proper ball, and isn't a venue for moronic drama queens whose last good idea was before they took their first hit on the field, and had all sense and sanity knocked from them.

Honestly, ask anyone.  I was so pissed off about the whole thing that I refused to watch any football this year, didn't watch last year's Sugar Bowl, was appalled that OSU allowed the players who had done the deed to play, didn't completely kick them off the team, and do their own housecleaning.  I'm still bitter about it all.  I mean, what kind of totally unappreciative, fan-hating, spoiled bitch sells their Big Ten Championship ring for a f***ing tattoo?  Who does that?  The tattoo should read "F*** you, OSU fans!"  I would so love to hurt Terrelle Pryor in ways that have not yet been invented.  I would dearly love to shake Jim Tressel and ask him what the hell he was thinking.  I felt betrayed by the whole thing.  Not betrayed the way I did when we lost two consecutive national championships.  Not betrayed the way I did when we lost to Indiana - Indiana! - when we should have trampled them into little pieces down the field.  No, I felt - feel - betrayed because my faith in the entirety of college football has been seriously damaged.

However.  That being said, I still think that the NCAA is just being punitive.  Yeah, there should be penalties.  Hell, yes, Ohio State should undergo some kind of judgment.  This, however, is just more vitriol for a big program that finally managed to get caught doing something disgusting.

I don't want to hear comparisons to USC, either.  As far as I'm concerned, what went down there was far, far worse, and the fact that ass-head Pete Carroll got off scot-free, and is now coaching the Seahawks, is an abrogation of justice on a major scale.  USC got what they deserved.  OSU got far and away more than they deserved.

You know, it's this kind of thing that makes me really reconsider all those criticisms out there about keeping college ball in the hands of the NCAA and not privatizing.  I'm not saying that I'm up for privatization - I think that would be such a mistake, for so many reasons - but I do think that, to allow the NCAA to materially hurt the school this much for an infraction of this scale - essentially, the coach not reporting what he knew to the NCAA - is just ridiculous.  I mean, this is not the Third Reich.  It is not necessary to so destroy a school's reputation that they'll no longer be able to recruit efficiently, or keep any coach worth his salt away from the team (I'm not sure how I feel about a burned-out Urban Meyer returning to coach OSU, but it doesn't matter anymore now, does it?), or impact revenue which gets used, b-t-dubs, to fund stuff other than just football, like, oh, I don't know, academics.

The whole thing just makes me want to throw my head back and howl.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Abjection

I should be writing a paper right now.  Two, papers, actually, although one is really just an extension of the other, or, perhaps more accurately, the first is a condensed, more succinct version of the second.  Whatever.  I have approximately 35 pages of writing due Friday and Saturday.  I have, of course, not yet committed a single word to paper.  It's 5:30 AM on Thursday, the first paper is due sometime Friday (8-10 pages only), and nothing has managed to transmit itself from my brain to paper.  And yet . . . and yet, the panic, the stress, the sweat-inducing, stomach-cramping fear that should be there, isn't.  It's just . . . missing.

I would be puzzled that by that, were it not for the fact that this is something I have come to recognize in myself.  It's called "I'm-So-Unbelievably-Terrified-That-Nothing-Bothers-Me Syndrome".  I have, as Terry Pratchett so often puts it, gone through fear and out the other side.  It is behavior that has characterized my life so much recently that it's difficult for me to remember what it felt like to have actual emotions.  I don't have emotions anymore.  Everything is all shrink-wrapped and cotton-balled into stillness and muted distance, and I just skim through things without really feeling anything.  It is utterly bizarre, and if it weren't impossible, since it would require me to have feelings, I would say I'm getting a little bit tired of it.  I kinda miss those manic days, where one moment I was on top of the world, and the next dwelling somewhere on the ocean floor with scary-looking fish with light-bulbs on their head for company.  You know what I'm talking about.  The moments of sheer delight and exhilaration and joy, and their cousin-moments of despair and depression.  Yeah, those.  I don't remember what they're like.  Do you?  Would you mind reminding me?

I tried writing the other night.  Not what I was supposed to be writing - because that would require me to confront the fear and do something positive to extirpate it - but a piece of fiction I've been working on-and-off-and-on for the last, oh, like, six years or so.  It was shit.  I mean, pure and utter shit.  Here's a sample.  I should be too embarrassed to put this up, but see above re: emotions:

The cliffs were a dark, unbroken line against the icy blue sky.  Raging at their base, the waves unceasingly crashed into the black rocks, occasionally loosening a piece of the cliffs and tossing it about in an orgiastic delight of destruction.  It was only a matter of time before the cliffs were totally claimed by the sea, and as Azara stood atop them, she felt the ephemeral nature of her own existence.  Alternately squinting through the wind – a cold, bitter wind, that ate through her clothes and chapped her skin – at the sea below her, and the ship sailing out of the harbor, she ceased to be aware of personal time, and existed only in the time as it was told by the cliffs beneath her, the forest behind her, and the sky above her.  Her fur cloak whipped about her, occasionally catching her cheek with its stinging tail, and the grass snapped at her ankles, welting them with thin, red lines of gentle poison.

Are you embarrassed for me?  Thanks.  I was pretty disgusted when I re-read it in the cold light of day (I wrote it at something like 3:30 in the morning).  It's so emo-filled and adolescent-girl-reeking and all those other horrible things I hate about most fantasy writing.  It should be burned, if it didn't mean burning my laptop.  I would be indignant, too, but it makes sense, really.  I can't feel anything, so how could I possibly write?  I used to be a good writer.  I could wrap adjectives around nouns, adverbs around verbs, with the smoothness of caramel around tart green apples, combining phrases into sentences of beauty and pure pleasure.  Now?  Well, you see above you what I can - or can't - do.  It would be depressing beyond belief, were I not still shrink-wrapped into abstraction.

I think I know what's causing all the fear and loathing in Charlottesville.  The thing is, there isn't a damn thing I can do about it, and for the first time in my life, I can't run away.  I mean, really, I can't.  It would be an admission of failure on such a colossal scale that I may as well just end my life, and since that isn't something I'd ever do (since I truly believe it is the most selfish act one could possibly commit), I'm stuck.  I have to find a way to work through this.  All this malaise and fear and bizarre blankness isn't something I can escape; it's something I actually have to deal with.  That makes me a little grumpy, actually (yay! an emotion!), but aside from momentary grunts of grumpiness, I forget about it.

Every so often I remind myself how lucky I am, hoping to precipitate a reaction.  Nothing.  Then I'll remind myself how spoiled and selfish I am, and that catalyzes a brief guilt-and-shame reaction, but then I return to my normal state.  No excited electrons here.  Every time they manage to briefly get excited to a higher state, they fall back to a more stable, less-excited, totally-blank state.

I know that part of it is the loneliness.  My inability to really make friends is getting in my way.  But the thing is, relationships require so much, and I don't have anything to give.  I just don't.  Not as a friend, and certainly not as a girlfriend.  It would mean shifting the focus from me, and, well, that's scary.  I mean, that opens up new fields of rejection, and it means putting yourself out there, and having people judge you, and I get enough of that shit in grad school, thank you very much.  I mean, it's gotten to the point that I vacillate every time I put up a fucking post on Facebook.  So if I can't open myself up to rejection there, and if I don't want to be pulled into a needy, dominating, please-feel-sorry-for-me-and-help-me relationship (the only kind I seem to be able to have, fucking savior complex), I must remain alone.  But honestly.  Someone else's emotional baggage?  I don't even want to talk about mine, let alone yours.  But people get offended if you just want to have an occasional hang-out-and-chat-and-maybe-drink kind of relationship.  The thing is, if they got in my head, they'd stay there for three seconds, and then start looking around desperately for the flashing red exit sign.  See?  Rejection.

Okay, I'm tired of this.  I'm done talking about myself.  I'm going to go and work on a paper.  It's on abjection, funnily enough.  That might be what made me start thinking about all this.  I'm doing such a good job of abjecting myself, although, in my case, it isn't unconscious.  I know precisely what I'm doing.  Sorry if I've disgusted you, or depressed you, or caused you to feel any emotion other than joy.  It's the danger of reading these posts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Are you enjoying grad school?

I realized this evening, while sitting in a contemporary lit criticism and theory class, and not paying attention to a word that was being said, that, aside from my last desperately-worded post (which has resulted in many kind responses, and I thank everyone sincerely for their empathy and concern), I haven't said a thing about grad school, and I've been here and fully participatory (although that last term might need some extra defining) for about six weeks now.  If you compare my last post with all my posts leading up to the start of classes, where enthusiasm and excitement and nervousness virtually leaked from every pixel, there's a stark disparity there, and I think that deserves some explanation.  I mean, not three months ago I was confidently singing the lyrics to Linkin Park's "Waiting for the End" - "I know what it takes to move on.  I know how it feels to lie.  All I wanna do is trade this life for something new, holding on to what I haven't got" - and now I'm wondering where I went wrong.

So far, grad school has been substantially different from what I had expected, and has caused me to spend a great deal of time re-evaluating my ambitions and intentions.  It hasn't been different in an I-don't-like-it way; it's been different in a way that I had thought I would be protected against by my healthy little hoard of self-confidence and sometimes-arrogance.  It's, um, it's hard.  And not in ways that I had expected.

That's the thing that gets me over and over.  It isn't quite what I had expected.  I didn't think I would be so cravenly terrified of speaking in class.  Me!  Afraid of speaking!  I'm the person who opened up any class discussion going.  Now I sit in silence, only occasionally venturing opinions, and I second-guess every last thing that comes out of my mouth.  I didn't think that I would be so anxious that I might say the wrong thing, or make a comment or observation that would be labeled or thought of as "undergraduate-like".  I didn't think that I would have forgotten how to read critically, and ask questions, and really think about what I was reading.  I mean, this is all stuff that has been second nature to me for as long as I can remember.  There were very, very few undergraduate papers that I ever got back - either at OSU or CSUSB - that didn't have something-like-an-A on them, and the first paper that I got back here had a B+.  I nearly fell apart.

I didn't think that I wouldn't get any real feedback from my professors on my performance, in some way or another (aside from that B+ paper, I have struggled to divine whether what I'm saying is good/bad/stupid/appropriate/not interesting enough/utterly dull/sparkling from my professor's faces, because it's all I have to go by), or that I would live and die in a comment they might tangentially make about something I said.  I never thought I would care so much about what another person thought of me, and that I would shrink into myself because of the possibility of their disapproval.

It has impacted my enjoyment of school to the point that I now hate reading.  Me.  The person who has always had at least three books by her bed, and prefers to spend her time reading than doing anything else.  I go to such lengths to avoid it now that it's ridiculous.  My apartment is immaculate (and yes, those of you who know me, you understand what that means).  I have memorized the dialogue to virtually every episode of Frasier.  I walk to and from school, 2.5 miles each way, every day, just to string out the time where I'm not working on something for class.  I hide in bed, terrified, when I should be reading.

Apparently, what I'm going through is not unique.  I guess there's this sort of thing (I hate to qualify it by calling it a "disorder") called "Impostor Syndrome".  It's where people who are in challenging (in many different ways) environments are continually afraid that someone will discover that they're a fraud, that they don't belong, and that they should vacate their position.  It's particularly prevalent in academia (big surprise) - I guess even faculty deal with it.  It helps to know that other people suffer through this, but it isn't making it any easier for me to get over it.  The thing is, these people really do have long lists of accomplishments and successes, not virtual train wrecks of academic and professional careers (like me).  They went to schools like William & Mary, Duke, Dartmouth, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley, and on and on.  They didn't go to OSU.  (This was my first experience telling people I had gone to OSU, and getting a look that had nothing to do with their football team.)  I know that I absolutely have to break through this, or my career in academia will be over before it's really begun, but when I sit in class, and listen to what other people say, and watch how the professor responds to them, and then listen to the drivel that's coming out of my mouth, and see the look of polite puzzlement on their face . . . well, it's a little bit difficult to try and access that self-confidence and arrogance that used to be there.

The thing is, there is a deep, deep well of insecurity in me anyway, which is why I have the self-confidence/arrogance mask, since that's the only way for me to get successfully through life.  Just applying to grad school took an enormous amount of courage: I was putting myself "out there" in a substantial way, asking to be judged and accepted, which was something I had never really done.  Mostly, I've preferred to hide from that kind of exposure, and the fact that I was accepted was fantastic, but then just opened up a whole new Pandora's Box.  But for some reason, I feel completely destabilized by grad school, and putting the mask on every day, just to get through classes, is becoming increasingly more difficult.

So I guess that's why I haven't written much about grad school.  I keep wondering if I should be here.  The words that Dr. Braden said when I met with him in his office - "We accepted you because of your writing sample" - and the fact that I was a wait-list . . . these things keep going around and around in my head, and I just wonder if I really do belong here, or if it wasn't just a mammoth mistake on their part, and at any moment, they'll find me out, and ask me politely and as kindly as possible to just get the hell out, and clear up some space for someone who really deserves to be here.

But hey, aside from all that, it's pretty cool.