a rip in the fabric

After eating my breakfast, I unroll the sleeves of my LL Bean flannel robe, tugging them to cover my arms, and notice a give in the fabric on the left side–a give in a place I haven’t noticed a give before. I suspect that I’ve simply had a moment of weirdness, a moment when I perceive reality differently than usual, an out-of-body sensation, but I glance at my elbow and discover a hole. The fabric has ripped. I hadn’t imagined it. There’s now a gap in the otherwise intact flannel. Is there a spring sale on winter robes? If I order now, I could have it delivered by Tuesday. Only $79 + shipping + tax. I pause before adding it to my cart. Do I need a new robe? Is this one repairable? Apart from one elbow, the robe is intact. Better than intact. Soft, warm, comfortable. Eunice likes to play with the tie belt–not to be confused with the modesty ties, attached inside. Of course I could keep the tie, toss the robe, and get a whole new Scotch plaid flannel robe by next Tuesday. But where would my old robe go? Could it be recycled? My mother would cut it into strips and make blankets or rugs. I could send it to Savers and hope that someone would buy it, patch it, and wear it for a few more years. I roll up my sleeves and decide to think about it tomorrow.

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I’ve been rolling around this word, plucking it out and placing it at the center of conversations since the beginning of the new year.

So yeah, it’s my usual feeling in January. Post-holiday blues, inversion sick, state legislative session angst, all of that stuff. But piling on the pandemic–with omicron cases propelling Utah to #4 then #3 in the nation–coupled with the ban on mask mandates, combined with not enough tests available to enforce “test-to-stay” policies in schools, and the weight feels unbearable. Even when I repeatedly test negative on my rapid at-home kits, I question the results. What about all of those false negatives? Perhaps I caught the virus yesterday, and it hasn’t yet had time to manifest itself. Maybe I’ll catch it next week. I don’t care. But I do.

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new year; old me

I just can’t. I just can’t make the effort to do anything better, different, more meaningful for my long-term health and well-being. I just can’t. 2022 enters with a sigh, which is better than no sound at all. I suppose. I had hoped (expectations) that I might have reason to care more about my neighbors, global warming, then pandemic. But I care less about everything: my health, my friends, my family. Resolutions? For the faithful, the worthy, the ones with energy for the future. I have none; I am not; I have none.

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When I learned that I would be interviewing Alice Sebold in November of 2007, I picked up copies of her two books: The Lovely Bones and Lucky.

I couldn’t bear to read the first one–a fictional account of young girl raped and murdered who narrates her story from heaven (?). And when Peter Jackson made the movie version, starring Stanley Tucci as the rapist/murderer, I couldn’t bear to watch it. I did, however, read the second one–a memoir of Sebold’s rape at Syracuse University. She recounts, in excruciating detail, her brutal assault but also describes the unlikely apprehension of the rapist and his subsequent conviction.

Our interview at a downtown Ogden hotel lasted all of 30 minutes. I found Sebold difficult to draw out. I’d ask a question that invited further commentary–such as her mention of the rapist who described his victims as sponges–but received not much elaboration. She seemed eager to get through the Q&A. I eked out Beyond Death: A Conversation with Alice Sebold, though the introduction is probably longer than the actual interview.

Re-reading what I asked and what she answered, I’m struck by the fact that her fame–which brought her to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference and offered me the chance to meet her–came from the rape. The rape led to the memoir; the memoir led to the novel; the novel led to her fame. The rape sold her books.

I cannot possibly imagine the pain Sebold endured–and probably continues to endure. And I would never begrudge anyone the right to write about their personal experiences. But I’m struggling with this information, as well as the tortured syntax of the headline (come on NPR!): Alice Sebold apologizes to the man exonerated in the rape that her memoir focused on

Now the black man, who Sebold (a white woman) misidentified as her rapist, who served 16 years in prison, and who 40 years later has been exonerated of the crime, this man paid the ultimate price. Would we have learned about his false conviction if the proposed movie adaptation of Lucky hadn’t uncovered problems with the trial? And where is the actual rapist? Sebold has apologized. It feels too little, too late. For both of them.

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now this is a word that sounds like what it means:

definition of hackneyed

The word came to me as I contemplated my writing, the M-D piece in particular, and I thought perhaps I could revisit that story and my more recent experience re-reading M-D, and then I thought that old experience (reading M-D) for the first time and my discussion of M-D in general had grown hackneyed. but as I write this I’m wondering if it’s simply the phrase that’s hackneyed. or is the drawing of parallels between one’s life and a work of literature just overdone. and then as I ponder the use of a word with its definition, is this not hackneyed as well? I recently read a book that used that technique a lot. and while I liked the book, I kept focusing on–okay, obsessed–on the author’s use of the technique that I’ve become so fond of.

But it’s a good technique! When I define a word, I anchor my writing in reality; I establish a common ground for my reader and me; I create a shared spaced where we can explore the narrative together. Ugh. (need gagging or puking emoji here). I went too far…

But it’s a still a good technique, in spite of its hackneyed overuse (redundant phrase?).

And I wonder why I can’t write. Entangled by words. I entangle myself in words. My words tangle me. They are tangled words. Tangled are my words. Words entangle me. Words tangle.

definition of tangle

I thought that by creating an account on Medium and posting something above my usual blather I could achieve some semblance of “writing.” Maybe by putting it “out there” I might elevate this process from more than an occasional morning spew of words to an actual interaction with readers not granted special permission to view my blog (another story there…). I think one person liked it. And I shared it on Twitter, which garnered a like from one of my friends. But why do I care? Why must I put “it” out there? Put. It. Out. There. PUT IT OUT THERE.

To “put it out there” on Medium, seems facile (resisting the urge to define here but see below). I don’t have a quick list of “how to know if your[sic] obsessive” or “why I color-code my life” or “what to do about your cluttered inbox.” I changed the title to Are you obsessed too? to bait the clicks. If I turn my crazy-ass habits into a handy list perhaps I can publish them.

definition of publish

Ah, the second definition is intriguing–save for later? Publish or save draft?

screen capture of WordPress page

Recently, I copied then pasted my list of dreams written on an unpublished WordPress page to Notes. It felt surprisingly satisfying to delete that draft page. Tidying. (See obsessions).

definition of facile

’tis but a gameā€¦a hackneyed, tangled, facile game.

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).

I label my emails. I color-code and file them. Nested, rainbow-hued stacks of tidy texts that belie the disorder I feel every time I open my inbox. My efforts to control the uncontrollable, unstoppable, unrelenting onslaught of messages from the grid.

But see there? I’ve created a three-item list of words that begin with “un.” I like threes: a sense of completion, symmetry, zen. Feels good. Still I’m compelled to return to that three-item list and reorder the items into alphabetical order: “uncontrollable, unrelenting, unstoppable.” Ah, that’s better.

Fortunately, Gmail automatically alphabetizes labels and sub-labels:

Chrome bookmarks do not do this automatically so I periodically have to “sort” them.

I use verbs for all of my tasks in my Google Calendar: draft self-study, contact references, send agenda. But there again, they’re not alphabetized. So change the verbs or change the time of day I hope to complete each task so that “contact” comes before “draft” comes before “send” comes before “write.”

And the colors in the calendar must correspond to the colors in the email. The contrast between categories sufficient to indicate categories: center, department, college, university, etc.

The kitchen fridge list? Alphabetized. Lower case verbs begin each item. The home screen on my phone? Alphabetized. Nine items per screen.

My friend’s daughter washes her hands obsessively; my daughter used to pluck out her eyelashes, I chew my nails, dig at scabs and zits, pick at the dry skin of my heels until I bleed.

I make sure the three elements in that list are parallel and alphabetized by verb.

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two mornings writing

and a partridge in a pear tree. how many words count as “writing”?

I watched a colleague write page after page in a spiral notebook during a poetry reading. was she responding to the poet with her own poems? was she taking down his words verbatim? was she putting pen to paper for something to do while listening? I mean how many notes can a person take while listening to a poet? is this a passive aggressive way to show disinterest? write while someone else reads? because surely, listening to poetry requires a certain attention that writing page after page of your own words surely elides.

I’ve forgotten how to let words like “elide” show up. or perhaps I’ve simply not provided space for such words to sprout, as they do when I allow for a gap in the conversation, a place for the word to slip through. where the light comes in. lift the hands from the keys. still the voices around and within. and exhale a word: “elide” or “amorphous.” and watch it bloom in the air. a-mor-phous: multisyllabic gift to the blah meh doh chat text of the grind that is work con-ver-sa-tion.

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I read this piece in Brevity. Like the writer, “I feel unsettled, fearful, and unmotivated. Rudderless.” But not just about writing–which has sailed so far off my horizon that I’m not sure I’ll ever catch it back. (sea metaphor?) I’m swimming–another activity which has drifted away from me–but barely treading the water, keeping my head above the waves.

Last night I dreamt that my lone mouse, a single rodent pet, had given birth. Somehow a mate had appeared and the two conjured up babies. I awoke to the chirping sound of the female mouse–was she hungry, thirsty? No, I thought. She’s telling me to relocate the male, so he–or she–would not eat the babies. I searched my room (apartment?) for a box or container to house the father mouse. I taped a torn cardboard box but awoke before I figured out how to pick the right mouse and how to lift him out.

I drink too much. The empty bottles lined up next to the hotpot that I tell myself every morning I will use tonight when I make myself a cup of tea at 8 pm rather than continuing to drink glass after glass of wine. Red, white, sparkling. It doesn’t matter. I chug them all. And every morning I chastise myself, vow to quit TODAY. I wrestle with the reasons I provide: you’ll just have one or two glasses tonight; you’re not as bad as some people; you simply can’t give up drinking because you’d have to give up all the associated things (dinners out, cocktails with friends, etc.); you need something to take the edge off–something to round the sharp bits that never quite leave after a walk, a yoga session, a massage, a romp in the sack, a conversation with someone who gets it. Lost my thread there…I simply can’t give up drinking, I tell myself, because you like it. Even when you count all of the calories and carbs, wake up dizzy and woozy, remember your behavior from the night before, realize that you really do need it to get through the day, the week, the month, the year, the rest of your life. And then I think perhaps…perhaps one day I won’t feel that need. Maybe it will float away, and I’ll swim again. And write again.

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I signed up for an essay writing webinar with Medium, called “How to Write an Essay Everyone Wants to Read: 5 Steps to Craft Meaningful Personal Narratives.” Of course I have no essays in progress, no drafts of anything I want anyone to read, no ideas whatsoever. And yet, I continue to think that if I just had the right nudge I might break through this block and start writing again.

Meanwhile, I’ve thought about various words:

languishing – especially my ex-mother-in-law’s existence after my ex-father-in-law’s death two years ago

controlling – particularly my own experience trying to control others and my spouse’s attempts to control my behavior

letting go – the flip side of controlling; recognizing when to stop trying so hard, beating myself up for not living up to my expectations, living in an “if-then” abstraction, hoping for change in myself and others, staying in the moment.

I seem to either admire or fear the tough ones. But I’m wondering if their toughness hides a lot of pain.

Update: I took the first webinar but canceled the other two. And I did not submit any writing.

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Reading an article in the WaPo–sent as part of “The Optimist” weekly–about a newly opened plant in Iceland. The Climeworks Orca will capture CO2 from the air and thus help offset carbon emissions. Fine. But this statement caught my attention: “perched on a barren lava plateau in southwest Iceland.” The article goes on to describe the massive plant–the biggest of its kind–and the incredible contribution it will make to “direct air capture technology.” Great. But who determined that the lava plateau was barren?

More later…

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