lose a cookie, gain a friend

This morning, as I was returning to Art Camp from the Burlington airport, I bypassed the opportunity to attend a “Vermont Maple Open House” at one of the many maple shops that you drive past to get to Art Camp. I briefly thought about it, on the off-chance that they had unseasonable Maple Creemies for sale (Maple Creemies are a Vermont summer treat: basically soft-serve ice cream made with real maple syrup, served on a CAKE CONE, because cones are awesome.). The sign said something like “WATCH US BOIL SHIT.” I considered this. I’ve watched many a pot boil water over the years; tree sap was something else. Tree sap, like water, is a clear liquid, so maybe not worth parking the car and getting out of the car to watch clear liquid boil and then spend money on maple items.

Last night at karaoke (Eurythmics “Love is a Stranger” in case you’re wondering), one of the Art Campers told me she thought I hated her because I’m so cool. I told her this was not true, I adore her, and what the hell is this warrantless insecurity? Why would I hate her? You have to do something really bad for me to hate you, like be a boorish misogynist who cuts me off in the food line, for me to hate you. A rare thing around these parts, and even then it’s not hate. I hate hate anyway. Hate is a waste of time. But also, don’t rush in front of me to grab food before me–that’s just tacky and a show of poor character. But also, if last night’s mutiny over running out of cookies is any indication of how things go around here…nah, don’t do that. Lose a cookie, gain a friend.

But I get this. I still struggle with my own perceptions of things, post-abuse. That’s the thing that lingers–the mistrust of my own perception of things. I’ve more or less accepted that I am going to wander through the rest of my life constantly wondering about every interaction with others. I am guilty of warrantless insecurity. It feels different now, though. Maybe it’s Post-A (abuse, not asteroid), maybe it’s post-40. Maybe I really am that confident. I have no idea. Kelly S. tells me I come across as really confident, and I believe her, but sometimes I worry that this scares people away from me. My insides are really a bunch of smashed dishes and an old couch smeared with peanut butter and a calf that can’t find its mommy. Like pretty much everyone else who makes art or breathes.

After karaoke, I went to sleep and had a dream about Abuser. In the dream, I had apparently moved into a shitty apartment with him and was trying to move out, and he kept unpacking my boxes and I was rushing around trying to get help to get out of this situation. The apartment, notably, was a really ugly, square Soviet block jobber that was part of a dead shopping mall. Why this dream and why now?

The actual wisdom here is, no reason, doesn’t matter. It will be some years yet until I no longer have getting-away-from-Abuser dreams, and that is okay. The important thing is that I did that in my waking life, once. 

While I did not stop for Maplegasm 2017 or whatever that event was actually called (there were a couple of maple celebrations I did not stop for on the way back–one seemed kind of high end, at the winery down the way–maybe they were serving pancakes? Was it a high-end pancake thing? The “watch us boil shit” event was at a little maple store–definitely no pancakes.) I did stop at a Maplefields to gas up the company car and use their bathroom, which, in the grand Maplefields tradition, contained an arrangement of fresh flowers:

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Which made me feel very special, but also sad for these flowers, who are trapped in a windowless gas station bathroom!

Before that, I popped into City Market in Burlington, where this exciting product was available (and no, I didn’t buy any. It was $16!).

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But I would have if I had a seder to attend. Are we having an Art Camp seder?

Can we have an Art Camp seder? Lose a cookie, gain a matzah?

pigeon funeral music

There are certain topics that are usually avoided at group meals, but sometimes they are not. Diarrhea, for example, is often an off-limits topic in the presence of food, but here at Art Camp, it came up a few times over the past week. Also, the local laundromat. Today over lunch, we exchanged horror stories of filthy laundromat behavior: people taking their kerosene-and-semen soaked bedding, loaded with fifty pounds of cat hair, to the washer and leaving a mess and generally being disgusting in a place where one’s clothing is supposed to be clean.

We have one laundromat in our town, and if you have a car, extra time, and are feeling it, you can drive two towns over and go to the “nice laundromat.” Nice Laundromat is nice, in that the place is clean and swept, oftentimes there is a staff there to be helpful if you need it, and if you drop your chonies on the floor, you don’t need to recoil in horror and/or rewash them. The problem with Nice Laundromat is that they play CONSERVATIVE XTIAN TALK RADIO up in that piece, and frankly, I’d rather drop my chonies in someone else’s boot-borne melted snow puddle w/salt + gravel (a common thing around these parts) than listen to some faceless ass talk about women going to hell for having sex or whatever.

So I opt for the rougher-around-the-edges local joint.

Today, though, I witnessed an act of DRYER DOMINANCE.

A woman had taken possession of ALL BUT ONE DRYER.

(Okay, now this is the part of the story that veers suddenly into CONJECTURE, but here it is: I think she was a witch and she was washing linens after a BLOOD ORGY.)

(Not really sure what happens at a BLOOD ORGY. Maybe CUTTING and then some sort of CHANTING and a SEX THING, maybe? At any rate, if you hold one, you are left with a ton of dirty laundry at the end of it and you are not going to let that sit around and dry up, right?)

We’re talking NINE DRYERS.

And she said hi to me in this way that was like, “I REALLY NEED TO USE ALL THESE DRYERS. I DESERVE IT.” Like she had grown up in a household where there were no dryers at all and in her adulthood she had developed some sort of dryer dependency.

Dryers are warm and I like them, too, but COME ON.

One of her dryers had what appeared to be a wooly sheepskin tumbling around, and for a minute I thought she had stuffed an entire sheep in that dryer. BECAUSE BLOOD ORGY WOULD MAYBE INCLUDE AN ANIMAL SACRIFICE?

I put my chonies in the one available dryer and watched, for the first time ever, all ten dryers go round and round.

Before this, I had spent some time suffering from the most dreadful on-hold music. I had called Toyota about getting a free recall repair on my Corolla. Toyota, DO YOU HATE ME? I have owned Toyotas for 90% of my driving life–be nice to me, Toyota. This was not nice.

I thought “this is music that pigeons would play at a pigeon funeral. For a pigeon that none of the pigeons liked.” It was slow and dirgelike, and had an arrangement that was maybe what happens when you take Spector’s Wall of Sound and mix it with actual feces.

Today at lunch, before we started the conversation about laundromats, a pigeon flew head-first into the window next to my seat. Little buddy was stunned but he kept on, perching himself on the windowsill, looking at us eat our lunches and talk our talks. Maybe he knew we were having burritos. Maybe he was cold. Maybe he knows what pigeon funerals are like. I’ll never know, but it’s fun to pretend.

enjoy with awareness

On Twitter, someone posted a poem by Franz Wright. This poem, which I find charming:threat

Love me or else.

I like that this poem ends with a threat. Or else what? But I also know I shouldn’t love a poem that ends with “love me or else” because that’s an abusery thing to say.

“Love me or else I will maturely handle rejection and find someone else to love.”

 

As a survivor of an abusive relationship, I possess a morbid fascination with other women who were famously in abusive relationships. Sylvia Plath seems to have had the same NPD cycle with ol’ Ted. I am rather fascinated by, but not surprised, that Ike Turner had three wives after Tina. I mean, of course he did. My abuser will have six more women after me before he drops dead of cancer in his mid-forties. His one gift to the world is that he smokes and never sees a doctor.

The thing to do in this tiny town on a Saturday night is hit up karaoke. In an artists community, there are two types of people: ones who get up and sing, and ones who refuse. I am firmly in the singing camp. I really don’t get why anyone thinks that karaoke isn’t fun as hell, but we are who we are, and I am a stage whore.

Basically, there is nothing to say about last night’s karaoke experience besides one M. Badger’s searing performance of “Pony” by Ginuwine, in which he proposed to the horny folks in the room that they jump on it, his pony, in such a straightforward fashion that I didn’t understand why no one took those directions seriously, located his pony, and jumped on it. I could also say that my new co-worker who is also a comedy dude closed out the night with Send In the Clowns, and only hammed it up a little bit, which I found to be respectful. There might have been people at karaoke who were so preoccupied with wanting the clowns to be sent in that they missed their opportunity to jump on MB’s pony. (It happens.)

I decided to take on a challenging song that I could not do a modicum of justice to and that was “River Deep, Mountain High” by Tina Turner, and nominally Ike. Legend has it that Phil Spector paid the cantankerous Ike $25K to fuck the hell off while he recorded Tina and Tina alone, because Ike was ruining the whole thing.

That song is hard to sing. It’s exhausting. If you attempt to emulate Queen Tina in any way, you will walk off the stage winded and tired. If you attempt to honor the intent of the song, you will feel blasted and you will be done for the night.

You have to belt the whole thing.

Belt.

Yeah, I know where that term comes from.

How did Tina sing that song, with choreography, over and over again?

How strong do you have to be to do that?

How strong do you have to be?

How strong?

 

 

The local bookstore sells a line of high-end Austrian chocolate bars made by the Zotter Chocolate company. Zotter chocolates come with fancy, artful wrappers in a variety of foodie-la-la flavors, such as smoked wood and bourbon. I haven’t tried that kind yet. A Zotter chocolate bar costs $6 and lasts me for a good week. I’ll get around to the fancy booze flavors, but I like simple chocolate the best. (I really like Lake Champlain’s rich peanut butter bar, but that is for another time.)

I bought my latest Zotter bar in tandem with the newly-released book Word by Word by Kory Stamper, Lady of the College and acclaimed lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. I first knew Kory back in the ’90s as the BRAVEST WOMAN TO EVER ATTEND SMITH COLLEGE as she spent her senior year pregnant at a school where nobody does that. Smith? Voluntary reproduction in one’s early twenties? Mais non! I used to see her walking around campus with her big belly and wonder how much shit she got for that choice. (Answer: a lot.) (This made her a bad-ass in my estimation.)

Zotter Chocolate is a fitting accompaniment to Kory’s nonfiction tome about lexicographic life, as Josef Zotter, pictured below (he has a chocolatier author photo in the wrapper of his product) not only sells his chocolates with beautiful cover art and a photo of himself greedily cupping his sacred cacao beans while sporting what appears to be a monogrammed robe, but also with no shortage of front matter, explaining chocolate and how you should eat it and why Zotter chocolate is the best. A dictionary also contains front matter; therefore, Josef Zotter and Kory should team up for some cross-marketing since what they are selling is actually quite similar, and everyone likes chocolate and everyone also likes dictionaries.

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Josef Zotter entreaties us to “enjoy with awareness,” which is pretty good advice, and something I will think about the next time I attempt a Tina Turner song at karaoke.

 

 

rebecca didn’t eat her beans

Tonight at Art Camp: GOSSIP. The pleasures. The ridiculousness.

I never nearly dinged a glass and announced to the entire community that Rebecca, after helping herself to a spoonful of tonight’s chef-prepared white beans with garlic and parsley, decided not to eat them. There they lay on her plate, neglected, awaiting their travel into the chicken-slop bin.

Rebecca observed that both lunch and dinner today were bean meals: lunch, remnants of last night’s Taco Night saw the rebirth of frijoles refritos, and then today’s polenta with white beans and kale (kale!) — let’s just say that Art Camp could easily be mistaken for Fart Camp due to the gas-producing meals we’ve had over the last 36 hours.

I have to admit that I have had to cut down on fart foods. It’s hard to not eat when there is literally five feet of snow around you at all times. I will say, The ‘Ont is very adept at shoveling, plowing, salting, and basic snow control (stink-eye to you, Portland, Oregon). But I am still bummed out over all this dumb snow.

I had to dig out my car. The management made me move it so they could plow the spot where I had parked it. Here is L.A.-based painter Harvey O. and his friendly red shovel and my Corolla in the Before shot:

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Harvey shoveled the left side; I shoveled the right side. The snow was literally up to my ass.

Here is the After shot:

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There was probably about a foot and a half of snow on top of the car. Like a big white hat. Check out that Corolla-width of snow indentation.

SNOW SHIT IS REAL IN THE ‘ONT.

For serious, though: you can’t tell Vermonters you think snow is a fakaktah annoyance. They’re wandering through this white wonderland like they just got laid, and meanwhile I’m grouchy and pissy and am spending my online dick-around time looking at houses in Portland.

****

DOWNER POLITICAL STATEMENT:

So, America. Amirite? What was America?

You do know that they really do want people to die, right? That’s actually a goal. Poor people, people of color, the artists and intellectuals who know to name what they’re doing. Gone. Because we’re breathing their air and eating their food and they honestly believe that they are giving food and health care to people they perceive as mere gnats.

These people are also really into calling themselves Christians.

Taking away people’s food and health care is a little slyer than camps. Maybe.

But don’t doubt for a second that actually killing people is not part of their endgame.

 

 

 

commencement

It’s not a big secret that one of my life’s dreams is to deliver a Smith commencement speech. I may not be Oprah, but I’m sure as hell not goddamn Elizabeth Dole, who delivered a legendary turd of a speech at my graduation in 1998. I can sink Dole’s shoddy speech improvising in the shower, but then again, so can you and just about everyone else.

I have to keep publishing books so that someday, I might be offered the job.

When I come back to Northampton, I think of all the things I would say to a graduating class. Things like, you’ll measure time in how many of the same businesses remain in Northampton after ten, twenty years. The answers will confound you: how does the Tibetan things store stay open but not Bart’s Ice Cream? Your need for ice cream surpasses your need for malas and Nag Champa, but enough people live life in the inverse?

Things like: who turns out to be the love of your life may surprise you. It might be someone sitting near you in a cap and gown, someone you might not have spoken to much during school but who will be there, handing you a gin and tonic sixteen years from now when everything in your life is so hard and you don’t see a way out of it. There are so many ways to love, and people to love–don’t overlook the love that doesn’t come with flowers and sex and superlatives like YOU ARE THE MOST SPECIAL WOMAN ALIVE. There is always love, there is always warmth, there is always support.

Things like: One of the tragedies of our culture is that it forbids women to enjoy and treasure the aging process. We are told that we lose our value as we get older, when truly, we gain it. Tina Fey had that line about how in Hollywood, a “crazy” woman is a woman who keeps talking after no one wants to fuck her anymore. And really, more people wanted to fuck me at forty than at twenty. Hollywood won’t tell you that. You get smarter as you get older, you take less shit, you become honest and forthright, you fight for the things that matter than you. The greatest gift of aging is very rarely, if ever, giving a fuck about the little things. And you are still beautiful. Maybe even more so. Wisdom is beautiful. Strength is beautiful. 

Things like: You might have chosen Smith, consciously or unconsciously, because you had a bad experience with a man, or with men, or with patriarchal structures that refused to value your intelligence and your worth. I chose Smith to put 3000 miles between the emotionally abusive man my mother was married to and the miserable house they made together. I chose Smith because a very bad man could call shots in my life and I refused to have any of that ever again. Of course, that did happen again. But not for long. There are plenty of men in the world who are good, and one thing you lose by coming to Smith is they don’t get to be your lifelong college buddies. Or maybe they do. As much as I strongly believe in single-sex education, I also believe in the porousness of the borders of sex and gender. Remember to keep your borders porous, to identify and name harmful structures and behaviors, and remember, graduates who want to have relationships with straight men, that they are as mushy on the inside as we are. 

Here I am blowing my commencement load.

Whatever. It’s my blog, my birthday, my brain.

Ever forward into the mystery I go, we all go, I hope so much that you will come with me, all of you.

xoxo

 

in a dream you saw a way to survive (ducks in the river)

One of the perks of working in rural Vermont is that my work breaks often involve looking at the river. Today, there were two green-headed male mallards and one tawny-colored female in the river. Gotta love species where the female is less dressed up, plumage-wise, than the male. The male mallard was ignoring the female who was following behind him, later having bro-times with another male mallard. I watched them be mallards for a time before repairing to my private quarters for some afternoon naps. Tonight is the Big Raging Party End of the Month blowout at Art Camp. I passed by a few campers in town on their way to procure liquor. Most of the artists go for box wine.

Hey M., last night I dreamed that my brother called to tell me you were staying with him and he was taking care of you and would I talk to you on the phone and I said yes, because I fully intend, in all states of consciousness, to pay forward what E. did for me when I needed her words like medicine so in the dream we talked on the phone and I don’t recall what you said, but it didn’t really make sense, but nothing of L’s abuse would ever make sense, so maybe the subbasement of my battered brain has caught up to the rest of the neurological party. I drew a Tarot card for you after I hauled my butt out of bed and lo, the 2 of Swords, which doesn’t portend much good. When I look at that card, I see myself in the blindfold, holding up two crossed swords, and the water in the background is the Willamette River, and since everything I know about the residents of Greenbeard’s bloody chamber, we’re not actually all that different from each other. 

I have been handed a very good gin and tonic. Writers know how to use liquor.

The two of swords came up a lot for me during my discard period–in fact, during the time he was lying to me about not dating you, he offered to draw me as the 2 of Swords “the next time we saw each other.”

I have to wonder if you take comfort in my mandated-from-every-corner-of-my-life requirement of avoiding his ass for the rest of his life. (He’ll die before me, obvs.) Psychiatrist, therapists, best friends, family, the gynecologist who checked out my hoo-hoo when I was getting screened for cervical cancer (which you should do, if you haven’t already), the support groups I had to join in the wake of all that. Do you not understand the community response that surrounded his abuse and discard? Even now that I’m stable and asymptomatic, I’ll read something at a reading, or a friend and I will talk and something will come up and there is this level of horror that comes through in the other person’s voice–not mine. I still remain somewhat inoculated to the horror of it all. I’ll tell a story about what he did and their response is an emotional 11 and mine’s a 3 or 4.

But back to 2 of Swords: this is just my interpretation, but this woman, disempowered, unable to see, is holding TWO BIG-ASS SWORDS. She can cut a man down with both fists, but she sits still because she can’t see. She can’t see that she can fight, needs to fight, that fighting and winning are within the realm of possibility. She exists in this moment before her awakening. 

Because I live with this ache that I can’t save you or the ones who will come after you, and have come to terms with the limited reach of my influence insofar as my ability to stop abusive behavior in disordered individuals, all I can really do is hope you are well, and that the 2 of swords means that you are occupying the same moment before the blindfold comes off and you swing your swift swords, sister. (The song that goes with this act of sword-wielding is “Yes” by Morphine.)

Have I mentioned that it is fairly warm for nighttime in Vermont on March 1? My windows are open, and the wind is sweet, and the rich smell of petrichor is blowing all over my face and I am still in love with New England all these years later. Geographic first love.

We also had scallops for dinner tonight. My favorite. All in all a great day, except for that dream. I go to Northampton in a few days to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my twenty-first birthday. Maybe I’ll drink a bottle of peach schnapps on the porch of Baldwin House. (Current Smithies would think that was cray-cray, but I suspect those of my age bracket would understand.)