Diary Sessions: Part 1


When I was last visiting my parents in April, I brought all my old diaries back with me and realized…they’re kinda amazing. I was in such torment over everything. Now, I don’t want to invalidate the feelings I had as a kid, because I went to a small school full of awful little children being awful to each other (I think a lot of us can agree on that regardless of where we grew up)…but it’s cute to see how I described this torment. I thought I was such a grown up and was just so dramatic sometimes (not much has changed on that front, probably). I also had the habit of getting myself into ridiculous situations out of sheer boredom.

So. As I was reading my first diary from 5th grade (age 10 was a particularly ridiculous one for me) I came across a few lines that I wanted to share. My comments are, obviously, in italics.

November 4, 2003 — Study Hall We didn’t have study hall. I don’t know who I thought I was tricking other than my older self, but surprise! I have not been tricked….

I wish I could finish a diary sometime but I never have anything to write about other than my problems and I don’t have a vivid memory Spoiler alert: I have three diaries full of “problems” and vivid memories sitting directly in front of me that were written from ages 10-18, plus a few half-filled ones somewhere else.

Sometimes I read peoples diaries who have died already and I wonder, how did they not get writer’s cramp?

At the moment all I want is a friend (single tear). Megan isn’t a friend and never will be because if she even tries I’ll die. Okay, hold on there sister. A little less drama please. She probably wants me to die. I want  her to die. Gosh, diaries are just so private! Not anymore. I am making no sense, even to me. I don’t get it either, you tiny murderous child. 

Cramp! Will write later. I guess I wasn’t like those dead diary-writers who never got “writer’s cramp.”

“Shane is so annoying…sometimes I want to tell him he is an ass and slap him across the face. That would be very rude though!” TO. SAY. THE. LEAST.

Then, later that day, (there are several entries from the 4th of November…I must’ve been channeling my inner dead diary-writer) I wrote: If someone asked me if I don’t think girls’ body parts are fair compared to boys’ body parts I would tell them that girls can get breast cancer, they get a period, because of their period they have to wear a tampon/pad, they get breasts, because of breasts they need bras, blah blah blah. I would be very open about that sort of thing. I really don’t think it is fair…I miss being a little kid and not having to worry about maturity. Oh, kiddo. If you think that’s unfair, you have no idea what you’re in for. Also, though, I love that I already wanted to be super open about the female body. 14 years later and I haven’t changed on that front. #BabyFeminist.

November 5, 2003 — Early in the Morning

As I was saying last night, all you have to worry about when you are really little (You are a child. Please just embrace that and stop feeling so woeful about your old age) is whether or not your friends will share crayons with you. Whoa boy. Times have changed. P.S. The worst thing that can happen is having the same pants as the same person who didn’t share crayons! Ba-dum-chhhhhhhhhhhh.

Then I described some weird incident where a girl named Morgan asked me if I was smoking on the bus and I said I wasn’t and everyone else said I was. What the fuck was wrong with these children?!

Sidney is so sickening (Hello, RuPaul) sometimes. When I was at the drinking fountain she kept bumping me. I almost turned around and said, “Sidney, is something coming to attack you?” (Zing) Seriously, that girl has some kind of problem. See, she sits right in front of me and always wants to use my stuff. I, being the generous person I am, never let her use it. HAHAHAHAHAHA that was actually pretty good.

A few lines later, I made some weird joke about George Bush being the leader of all the girls who were mean to me. I don’t know, y’all. I don’t know. #PoliticallyActive10YearOlds

Dad had surgery on his wrist. He’s gonna show us his cut. What’s so gross about a cut? I don’t know — who are you asking, exactly, and why are you so sure they’re going to argue with you about this cut business?

The next few entries are just me calling everyone I know a “jurk” and a dope, the latter of which I must’ve picked up from my father. After that, it was all about how I was in love with Jesse but he loved Janelle, and then I “made Megan talk to the hand.”

Okay, y’all. I think that’s all for now. Trust me, there’s plenty of material here for next time…

 

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Freeman, Past and Present


Some of you may have heard about the most recent school shooting, this one at Freeman High School in Rockford, WA (near Spokane). What most of you don’t know is that I grew up there, know those people, and attended Freeman Elementary and Middle Schools before transferring to a high school out of district.

Freeman is, as I’ve always half-joked, conveniently located between two wheat fields (just take a right at Bessie the Cow); more accurately, it’s a small school district with about 80 students per grade level, and many of those students come from farming or working class families. The great thing about small communities like that is they’re tight knit, and people take care of each other, as many families have known each other for generations: their fathers were friends, their daughters played soccer together, her brother married his sister, they opened up a store together, etc etc. It’s a really beautiful thing because it feels like everyone is a family. Except when you feel like the very distant cousin from Mars.

I transferred to a high school in downtown Spokane after 8th grade because I was often isolated, friendless and miserable while at Freeman. I was that Martian cousin, ostracized by my peers and occasionally their parents. I was always different — being outspoken, liberal, AND feisty isn’t the best combo if you want to avoid conflict at a conservative school. Sometimes I sought conflict because I didn’t know what else to do; I lashed out verbally at times, because I never fit in with the cliques that formed as early as first grade. Truly, I felt uncomfortable, out of place, and desperately unhappy for most of my time at Freeman. Children are horrible to each other no matter where you live. Teachers and parents, too.

The world changes so quickly. All three of the schools were remodeled shortly after I left. Students come and go, and a lot of my old teachers have retired. Perhaps a lot stayed the same. Perhaps it’s still a home full of family for some students, and a place of isolation and despair for others.

As I write, I can only think, “I don’t really know how to do this.” I don’t know how to convey both my sympathy and my memories all at once. I don’t know how say that my heart is broken for the community I grew up in and that I look back at my time there and feel ill and vulnerable, just as I did when I was 8. I can’t explain how uncomfortable I am with my conflicting feelings. I can’t cry over the beautiful memories I had there, because none really come to mind. But I can cry for the fact that there is something very, very wrong in our society when these events keep happening in different settings all over this country. Barely anyone knew where Freeman was, even in my neighboring town of Spokane, because it was quiet and small. Now, CNN is reporting on it.

I will never sympathize with someone who hurts others. But I can, perhaps unfortunately, empathize. I don’t want to make Freeman out as a horrible place…it is no more deserving of tragedy than any other place on this earth. But I see this combination all too often: a child obsessed with revenge — obsessed with school shootings — attacking the place they’re supposed to call home.

They released the boy’s name within the past day or so. He looks a little familiar, but his name doesn’t. I probably don’t know him at all. Maybe I just know the look on his face, as it reflects that of so many school shooters before him. He’s a child. He’s a child with the strength of an adult, weapon in hand. It’s no one’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault. I don’t know where to place blame, so I let it float out in the air hoping it’ll eventually land on something.

I was bullied in school, but I never did something like this. I wasn’t obsessed with school shootings. I wasn’t allowed to be obsessed with guns. Guns aren’t exactly uncommon in rural communities like this, and I remember children joking about using them when I was little, too. Everyone grew up much too comfortable with weapons. I was terrified of them, but my peers didn’t always seem to be. We can’t just say this boy was a wacko, because that ignores the real problems we need to face in this country. We can’t blame this solely on mental health problems. He was suicidal, but most suicidal people don’t try to bring others down with them. He took liking guns to another, more dangerous, level. Perhaps the fact that he had access to a gun is less important than his desire to use one to hurt others at such a young age, or perhaps that access to guns is what caused that desire in the first place. These problems are widespread across our society, and we need to find ways to teach our children that violence of any kind is just not the way to go. And we need to teach our children to stop treating each other so badly. Children, as I’ve said, are horrible to each other. But they don’t have to be. Not if we teach them how to love just a little harder.

I don’t know how to convey my feelings. But perhaps if we were a little more honest with ourselves about the complexities of these situations, we’d find more complex and effective ways to prevent them.

Summer Vacations Are Over


I just realized I’ll never have three solid months off for the summer ever again. And if we’re being totally honest, I’m not that sad about that. I never really loved summer vacation.

I grew up in a pretty rural area, but it wasn’t so rural that everyone else lived in a rural area….if that makes sense… Basically, I lived on 8.5 acres and my neighbors lived far away, but just a couple miles down the hill was a large development where tons of people lived pretty close to one another. We all went to school together, but I didn’t live close enough to them to spend hours upon hours every day making friends. I was a little bit of an outsider. While they all walked to each other’s houses every day in the summer, I stayed home with my sister and played in the yard, or did work in the little orchard we had, or made up stories by myself. My parents worked a lot, though they definitely did make efforts for me to have play dates with the other kids. It just wasn’t the same as living ten feet away from your best friend like all of the other kids did.

So my childhood was a little different from most kids’. I never minded much when I was little, because I didn’t realize there was an alternative. It helped me learn to entertain myself, and I got really comfortable being alone with my thoughts, which I think is super important and a little rare these days. I transferred to a high school in town when I was 14, and the same thing happened — I didn’t live near any of my friends, wasn’t able to just drop by. I loved high school and was really happy, so this wasn’t much of an issue, it was just different. My house was never the meeting place, because my house involved a 20 minute drive out of town.

Sometimes I drive through neighborhoods and see all the kids riding their bikes together, or walking to a corner mart, or just playing outside on someone’s lawn. I don’t know if I wish I’d had that childhood, really. It would’ve been nice to be able to be more social if I’d wanted, to have the typical high school experience you see in the movies where the best friend drops by all the time. But honestly, I’d be a different person. Those sorts of experiences change and shape you in ways we never really expect, so I don’t know who I’d be today. I’m sure I’d be lovely, but I happen to enjoy myself at the moment and I’m not terribly willing to change that.

So I didn’t care much for summer vacation, because summer vacation meant a lot of time alone. I’ll bet if I had those three months now I could find some really awesome things to do with some pretty awesome people, but I’m so excited to start my new job and make friends in this new city that there’s little that could make me want three months off of school or work.

It’s nice to be excited like this.

Home


No feeling matches this
stirring in my bed, expecting to be at school
then opening my eyes and…home.
Where every moment feels slowed down
a bubbled sanctuary from the world
as nothing touches me but softness —
the hugs of my mother
the quilt of my youth
the cat sitting on my face.

Champa


If words were fragrant
my poems would smell like champa flowers.
Heady, deep and sweet,
they smell like —
The moment I knew I would grow up
My daydreams of adventure
The dark room I adopted in my adolescence
The isolation I felt as I became someone no one else had known
The reason for my faith
My future.

If fragrances were words
the champa flower would be Shakespeare.
Songs to Krishna
carried on the breeze like soliloquies
depicting his lotus eyes
whispering softly —
I could feel you before you were real
I looked for you and found nothing
I waited for you, and you came
I love you like I’ve loved no other
I’ve seen you, but I was blind to all else
I know you like I know myself
I carry you deep inside
I thank you.

There ends part 4 of my childhood poetry series, which describes more my adolescence/early adulthood and less my childhood, but which is a huge transformative part of who I am today.

Porches Are For Brownie


I’m all for smiling
but that woman is baring her teeth at me.
Why, Giada? Why? They…sparkle…
And Ina, I know that France
with its shops and street corners, berets and baguettes
is enchanting
but why must you tease me like that?
Hey, you. Sandra Lee
What’s in a name? You might as well be called
Sandra Dee, with your spiffy cooking ideas and
adorable cocktails.
Why does your outfit match your kitchen?
And who told you to put moss on that table?
As a “centerpiece”– more like
centipedes are gonna crawl outta that moss.
Paula! I love you, boo!
Needs more butter.
Rachael Ray, with your EVOO, you do realize that
fine dining establishments have
adopted that
on
their
menus
right?
Bobby Flay, I don’t wanna barbecue with you.
And Masaharu Morimoto, you iron chef you,
that’s some scary seafood, bro.
But I watch you all
and love you all
if only to pass beautiful afternoons
on the porch
playing cards with my grandmother
with sizzling steaks and — “I wish you could smell this”
existing quietly in the background.
Porches are for Brownie, my grandmother.
Porches and The Food Network.

 

So concludes part three of my childhood poetry series. Cheers, and all my love to my grandma, Brownie, whose delightful ring of “Cappy, darling!” brightens my day every time I call. xoxox.

I Grew Up So Well


I may be up at 2 a.m. and it may be because I finished editing a short story I’ve been working on for a year and I may have just submitted it to my university’s literary journal so I may be having a mini heart attack but also may be feeling so accomplished that I can’t stop jittering. Y’all, I actually finished something. Conceptualized, drafted, wrote, edited, re-edited, ruminated, re-re-edited, and…submitted. This is real life.

And it got me thinking…I had the best childhood. (How’d this thought train happen? I wrote something! –> Reading as a child helped me write –> one time I wrote a crappy story about Cleopatra and my mom loved it –> My parents were so supportive –> My parents had such eclectic taste in everything –> I practically came out of the womb singing Neil Young.)

When I say “best childhood” I don’t mean “most innocent” or “happiest” necessarily. I mean I had a childhood that I look back on and appreciate, because I accidentally was a pretty insightful kid. And everything I did then, everything I was exposed to, has made me pretty awesome (if I do say so).

Want an explanation? I present you with a series of poems from my childhood, which you will receive every other day for as long as I can come up with them. They will all be first drafts and will probably be written in the middle of the night, so feel free (gently and lovingly) to offer criticisms and ideas.

We’ll begin with BLOCKS.

I drag Pops’ box blocks, dead like wooden bricks
across the oriental carpet (red spirals from somewhere I will dream of later)
and — thunk — drop rubber zoo animals from their cloth prison, only to box them in again
within the lifeless block-walls.
The harder they come the harder they fall
Jimmy Cliff sings, high and warm, as lions leap upon giraffes, teeth tearing through tendons and muscles, spurts of blood hitting onlookers.
Years later I will remember this carnage fondly
if only to laugh at my morbidity as a five-year-old
and to rent a copy of The Harder They Come
which was about drugs
according to Dad
and I didn’t know that meant violence, too, because drugs are always paired with violence
at least when desperation gets involved,
so we document it in movies that hurl knives against the TV screen.
Age 5 doesn’t allow for true understanding of desperation, but I must’ve seen it
because I replicated it
with lions
in my house.
Peace often followed, as the lions
sick with remorse and giraffe flesh
bathed in the sun, rolling in the red tide of a rug born somewhere I’d never heard of.
As all I couldn’t comprehend washed over me
heavy accents filled my ears
and mondegreen* stole my understanding, turning every sad lyric into something pleasant.
Them a loot them a shoot them a wail shanty town.

*mondegreen is the mishearing of a word, usually within a song.

I Am A Child, Neil Young


I’ve finally learned what it is to be a child.

Being a child is crying because you want something you can’t have, even when you don’t even want it anymore. It’s lip quivers for no reason. It’s doing things you know are wrong because you want to.

Being a child is awfully like being an adult.

Being a child is total confusion. Figuring someone else knows all the answers, and that maybe one day you’ll know them too. But then you’re an adult and you still don’t know any of the answers so what have you been working for this whole time? That’s when the lip quivers start again, only you’re an adult so why can’t you pull yourself together and fake it?

Being a child, though, was also fun. And that’s what we miss when we decide we’re adults. Who was the poor bastard that pulled 18 out of a hat and told us grow up? Now you’re an adult and therefore expected to understand the world and yourself, and you’re going to stop having a good time. You’re supposed to work and hate your job because everyone else does. But we all like fun, so why so serious? Why do we mandate that once you’re an adult, once you can stress-smoke until you puke, you have to hate everything and be cynical and just generally frown at everything?

I am a child, I’ll last a while.
You can’t conceive of the pleasure in my smile.

I refuse. I refuse to pretend that I know things. I refuse to drink things that taste gross (I’m lookin at you, Americanos) because I’m an adult and supposed to tolerate — no, accept — the bitterness of life.

So hey, I am a child. I cry when I feel sad. I cry when everything is beautiful, so beautiful that I’m overwhelmed and I think is this all in my mind? Is any of this even real? I cry because maybe I’m nothing, maybe all of this is nothing, maybe there’s no reason for me to bother smiling when everyone else swallows, grits their teeth, and looks the other way.

I’m Peter Pan in a world full of Captain Hooks, but I will feed you all to that crocodile and whistle on my merry way. And you’re not going to tell me no. I’m an adult, after all.

Brownie


Is she not the loveliest woman you've ever seen? The picture came out blue for some reason...but the beauty's still there.

Is she not the loveliest woman you’ve ever seen? The picture came out blue for some reason…but the beauty’s still there.

My grandmother turned 93 years old on Friday. 93 years old. Can you imagine? The wonderful and terrible things she’s seen…

She was born in 1920 in Delaware. Her mother died giving birth to her, and she was raised by her aunt and uncle (who she thought were her real parents until apparently she overheard that they weren’t but kept it a secret for a long time, poor darling). I’m named after her uncle, Charles Brown, who she called Cappy because “he was the captain of their ship” meaning their house, as he was not a sea captain but in fact a fruit farmer. She’s told me stories about the Depression, when times were especially tough since he didn’t have a set salary. Once, he brought a cart of apples into town to sell, and she watched as he brought the whole cart, still full, back that evening. No sale.

We can’t imagine what people went through back then. They saw the worst of times, and they bucked up and worked harder. My grandma got a job at Woolworths on Saturdays for 20 cents an hour in Dover. “Wasn’t that generous?” she laughed to me today, in her beautiful, high movie star voice. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about her — she was raised in Delaware in a time when everyone spoke like it was Hollywood. At least, that’s what I think. She has that beautiful, eloquent East Coast way of speaking, but it’s something I’ve never heard in anyone else; her accent is unique, even apart from my grandfather’s. He was from New York, son of Germans, and I’ve never heard anyone talk like he did either.

Pops and Brownie, we call them. Pops passed about 4 years ago, into his 90s, and Brownie carries on in her blue Keds, jeans and light long sleeve shirts, her lovely slender fingers worn with age but still as soft as they were when I was a toddler. Edna Brown, you darling woman. My sister has her nose, her fingers. I have her height, I suppose — she was 5’9″ at her peak, though I don’t know how much age has affected that. She played basketball in high school when very few girls ever did, went to nursing school and had a career when that was probably pretty rare, and voted for the first female Episcopal priest. My grandmother paved the way for so many women, in her small way.

She met my grandfather — I forget where or how — when she was in nursing school (I think…the stories run together sometimes, and I heard them when I was so little) and they went to a movie together. Apparently, Pops had fallen and bumped his knee quite badly a while before, and in the dark movie theatre, he told her to feel it. Her hand on his knee, inspecting his wound, she realized her friends were walking by and thinking she was being rather bold in the movie theatre, touching the knee of this handsome young man on their first date. She’d laugh whenever she told that story, and it might be my favorite one ever. How my grandparents got together…seconded only by how my parents met (in an elevator, where my father, gregarious and friendly as ever, thought my mom was cute and asked her which floor she worked on. He returned later to ask her on a date. They went sailing and then to a movie with a group of friends, and in typical idiot-boy fashion, my dad sat on the other end of the group, all the way across the row from my mom).

She taught me to play Rummy. She and I sewed a yellow fleece poncho together — I still have it, though it makes me look a bit like a duckling, especially when I put the hood on. She taught me to knit, and we’d eat Cheetos and drink ice water on the back porch in the summertime. Chee-toes, she calls them. We went to the flower nursery together; she’d look at potted plants, and I’d stare into the pond at the koi fish and name the pretty ones (original names like Goldie and Chocolate). We’d watch Paula Deen together and cringe over the pounds of butter she’d add to her food. Giada De Laurentiis (granddaughter of Dino De Laurentiis, movie producer and my father’s old boss) and her huge, scary smile usually made us click to the next channel almost immediately. We made red velvet cake together in 7th grade, and I’ve never been able to make one that good since.

All my favorite presents are from her. They’re little, random ones: a recipe keeping book that I cried in happiness over; a book of Emily Dickinson poems that I devoured in a few days. I nannied this past week and the little boy asked me what the best present I ever got was…I could barely explain. He wouldn’t understand. No one would understand. My grandmother understood. Cooking and reading…Brownie definitely understood.

I forget how deeply I love my grandma sometimes, because I don’t see her often anymore. But then I remember all these amazing times we had. I have my name because of her adoptive father. I have my height because of her (and my father and grandfather). I definitely got my fingers from someone else, cuz these babies are not slender. My nose is my mother’s. I am a combination of everyone who came before me, but I am ambitious and I am strong, just like Brownie was. I wish I had twenty more years with her, but I wouldn’t trade these last twenty for fifty more.

Happy Birthday, Brownie. You’re sweet and lovely and you make me smile, and I’ll always be your “precious child” even if I am a bit of a ding dong sometimes.

This will be mailed out to her, as computer literacy did not grace my grandmother as it did me — ha just kidding, I can’t do anything but type on this thing anyway. I might accidentally be as old a soul as she. I did get my love of Emily Dickinson from her, after all.

Those Imperfections


I like listening to records. My generation, for the most part, has missed out on this simple pleasure. There’s just something so amazing about putting the record on the player, moving the needle over it, flipping the switch…hearing the imperfections of those old records. After a while, you memorize the exact placement of each scratch, you know just when the guitar solo will go out for a moment and then surge back on, the product of a tiny scratch or mark.

It’s surprising that a person like me, who likes organization and perfection and who strives so much to be perfect that it’s becoming a problem, loves those little imperfections in life. I hate when things don’t go the way I plan, so why do I love when my music gets all fuzzy and screwed up and dust gets on my record needle and makes George Harrison’s voice go all wonky? Why do I cling to the scratch on my Julian Casablancas CD that causes a skip?

I didn’t know where I was going with this post, didn’t know the answer to any of these questions, until I wrote that last sentence. Those imperfections have become predictable for me. The records in my dad’s cabinet have been there my entire life. I grew up with them. I know that they’re old, so I know that they’ll be a little fuzzy, a little scratched. I take comfort in that. I take comfort in knowing exactly where Julian’s voice will skip out in “Out of the Blue.” Those imperfections that I think I love…they’re totally predictable, and in that sense they’re perfect. So maybe I don’t love imperfection as much as I thought I did ten minutes ago. But I do know this: I will always love fuzzy records and scratched CDs.

And for a while, you could comfort me and hold me for some time. I need you now to be beside me while all my world is so untidy. – George Harrison.