Wednesday, November 13, 2019

I dreamt that I was in a field on top of the Space Needle. You could see the whole city up there, but I didn't like that there was no railing on the edge, nothing to keep you from falling off. I understood in the dream that I must have climbed a ladder to get up there but the only way down was to drop into a hole that would eventually turn into a slide. You could see it on the maps and diagrams, a long tube that eventually curved gently and led to the ground a few blocks away. The first step was a plummet, though, and we know from my time on the trapeze that while I'm not necessarily afraid of heights I am not even remotely interested in falling through space. I woke up feeling like I had spent years standing there in front of that hole, willing myself to jump, knowing that some day the relief of getting down would outweigh the fear of falling.

 I dreamt that I was on a reality show about making fireworks. Since fireworks are among my top five favorite things I was excited to compete, though it occurred to me just as I woke that I've never gotten around to actually learning how to make fireworks.

I dreamt that I had surgery on my skull, cracking it open all along the top. It took all the hair in a line across the whole top of my head and scraped out a long divot of blood and bone. They patched me back together but no one wanted to acknowledge my wounds. I was embarrassed and sore and angry, but right before I woke up I realized that I could play the staples in my scalp like a piano.

I dreamt there were four kittens and I could choose whichever one I liked.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

I'm not sure how long we've been inside this whale. It's hard to tell time inside of a whale, turns out, and moreover it turns out that time inside a whale doesn't really matter. When you're in, you're in.

They tell you that you should just keep swimming, like a shark, that if you stop swimming you'll drown. You're meant to keep going until you get through. Whatever counts as a motivational speech. And so there I was swimming along, trying not to drown, and along came this whale. You'd almost have to laugh.

I know you think I'm half crazy most of the time anyway, all worst case scenarios and hurricanes for hands, and it is sort of comforting in here. It's dark and warm and sure it smells a little fishy, but the whale's heart is whooshing and thumping and it sounds safe. There's no hurricanes inside a whale. I've been in worse places.

There's no way this ends well, of course. I imagine that eventually the whooshing and thumping will stop and we will become whale fall, settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean in a sudden, deep, expanding silence. The scavengers will come scuttling around and we'll be able to hear them scraping against the outside of our whale, coming closer and closer. Eventually, sooner than we like but probably slower than we know, there will come a crack that makes it all the way through. The ocean will rush back in and there's no swimming down there, only black and rattling bones.

All things being equal, inside of a whale is probably not the worst case scenario. At least in here I can stop swimming.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

We've always known our apartment is haunted, although "haunted" is a little strong for whoever lives there with us. There's clearly another occupant, but not one that's particularly interested in us. We've all cohabited peacefully for years.

One night, before I moved in, I went to bed alone and dreamed that I was asleep in the bedroom when several people I didn't know showed up in the doorway. They all filed over to look closely at me while I stayed very still. Awake, the cat, never one very interested in direct physical contact, climbed onto my back and slept there for hours. I suffer from sleep paralysis fairly often and this was the opposite of that--it felt as though I had been judged and accepted. I never had the same dream again.

Whoever else is living there isn't particularly active. There are some unusual sounds without a clear origin that happen sometimes, and often the origami hearts that hang in the doorway will sway gently with no motivating breeze. The apartment feels inhabited, but no one is popping up wearing a sheet on their head or throwing anything around the room. In college we had the sort of ghost that interfered, and while it made for more exciting stories it's the sort of thing that gets old after a while, and I much prefer the situation we have now. If one has to be haunted, best to be haunted by a ghost that has better things to do.

The cat died unexpectedly in December, and it's been hard getting used to the absence, unlearning the habits of caring for something else, working through the guilt and grief. I'm home by myself a lot, and it has been interesting how much lonelier it feels now that something that was there isn't anymore, as opposed to those ten years that I lived alone and felt just fine about it. Lately, I have been seeing a lot of movement out of the corner of my eye, hearing a lot of noises that aren't there, seeing almost realized faces where there isn't anything. It feels like someone is there. On Friday I came home from work and was sure that there was someone else in the apartment, even though my boyfriend was in a different part of town.

I think the ghost misses the cat too. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

One of the worst things about summer is that my hummingbirds go away. It's better for them, of course, since there are real flowers everywhere and all the bugs they can eat, and that's healthier for them. This summer the crows nested just across from our bedroom window and we watched them have and raise three little baby crows. Still at the end of every summer I get worried that they won't come back.

Mythologically, hummingbirds are supposed to be good luck, bringers of healing, good luck, and joy. The Aztec priests carried a staff decorated with hummingbird feathers that they used to suck the evil out of anyone struck by a curse. Almost everyone across the Americas has a story about hummingbirds as the spirit of people who have passed away.

Anyway, they started showing back up last week. In the beginning it's always the younger ones first, who probably don't know where all the late-season secrets are. In a few weeks they'll all be here, flashing back and forth. The older ones aren't afraid of us at all and it's possible to sit at the window and watch them from a foot away. They could be good luck, and even if they're not they're good luck anyway.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We put aside some of our dignity, carving off pieces, knowing that they might be needed later. It's always in the shortest supply when you need it the most, like very good cheese or tissues at a wedding. I would keep it bottled in jars and hidden all over the neighborhood, if I could. I am always worried that my dignity is going to drain out of me and pool around my feet just when I need it the most--we have a pretty tenuous relationship most days, anyway.

I was reading about flea circuses the other day, about how when they started with real fleas the ringmasters would hitch the fleas to their contraptions with microscopically small gold wire or thread, or glue tiny things to their tiny legs, and set them out to perform. It looked like wizardry but was really just garden variety cruelty. How high can a flea jump? Only as high as you'll let it.

Anyway, if you can find a flea circus these days it's usually built of motors and magnets with maybe a few token fleas hopping around, and these trade-offs seem obvious. Still you would think I'd have noticed when those thin gold wires appeared, when I tried to jump and slammed right back down. I thought I was driving this chariot, but it turns out this chariot is driving me. We're moments away from going out of style as it is, and only history will tell if any of this is magic or not.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Yesterday, walking home from work, just past the window that sometimes has kittens but so inconsistently that it's maddening, there was a box of flowers. You could smell it before you reached it, which was disconcerting itself in a part of the neighborhood that almost always smells like urine and spoiled produce. Inside it was packed with five or six mixed bouquets, wilting slightly, with no one nearby who seemed like they would be in charge of this box of flowers.

I stopped and contemplated it for a minute, sheepishly. What was it there for? Would someone noticed if I took a bunch? Were they there for taking? There are always a handful of other people walking one way or another on the sidewalk, and none of them seemed interested in this box of flowers. As usual, I wondered briefly if I was imagining them.

I left them all there, ultimately. Possibly free flowers don't counteract possibly stolen flowers, and I'm just not willing to take that chance with my agreement with the universe. Anyway, it was nice enough just to visit them.

Monday, August 26, 2019

I know you thought you were throwing that coin into a wishing well, but I regret to inform you that it was actually my heart. I can see how you could make that mistake, but the trouble is that now I have your wish all stuck sideways in my inferior vena cava, and it's causing a bit of a ruckus.

Last week I was early for a dinner. I am always early for almost everything except work, especially in this town where half an hour late still counts as early. There was a park on the way to where I was going so I stopped, spread my jacket on the grass, and opened my book. It had been raining off an on all day and the wind rattled the leaves all around me and raindrops pattered the grass. I couldn't tell if they were new or if the trees had just been holding on to them all day, but the leaves were so dense over where I was sitting that not one of them hit me.

Yesterday I was walking home from the store and met a bulldog who saw me coming and refused to move until I stopped and patted it on the head. I can't say this doesn't seem ideal, in a lot of ways; to just stand firm on the sidewalk, unshakable, demanding affection. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Yesterday afternoon we were on the ferry back from Bainbridge Island. It's rare that it's warm enough to be outside on the deck of the ferry for more than a minute or two to appreciate the novelty, but we spent the whole ride across right at the front, goosebumped and getting in the way of people just trying to take pictures. The top part of the mountain was out, and the city sparkled as we approached it, and I started thinking, "what if there was a natural disaster right now?"

I could picture it in either direction. What if Mt. Rainier just blew, shooting its top right of into the air, raining fire and mud and ash on everything south of us. What would that kind of shock wave feel like on the water? Would the ferry stop or would we just keep creeping closer to the dock? I had two peaches in my purse and a small bottle of balsamic vinegar, which would not keep anyone for very long, and I could see the ferry full of passengers smashing and looting the little cafeteria and all of the vending machines. 

What if there was an earthquake and downtown just dropped into the earth? I could see the Space Needle slowly topple sideways, a thick cloud of dust rising up to hide the rubble, screams echoing across the water. If it was the Seattle Fault that blew, would it drop our ferry down into it too? Would we be stuck in a whirlpool like when Ursula gets mad at the end of The Little Mermaid? 

We agreed that everyone thinks that way and made a joke about it and moved on, but my crisis brain had started and as usual couldn't stop. I was almost disappointed when the ferry pulled up to the dock and everyone was unscathed, as though I had spent that 30 minutes training for a marathon that was canceled at the last minute. And then I took the light rail home and the train didn't crash at all, and I spent the rest of the evening on the couch, exhausted by all the catastrophes that didn't happen.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Sometimes I think about the anatomical models in the Capello Sansevero, two bodies that are a tangle of the whole system of blood vessels built on top of a scaffolding of human bones, their skulls hinged so you can look inside and see all the places that blood lives in the brain. From the 1700's until a couple of years ago everyone thought that they were made of real veins, plasticized in some mysterious old time-y mad alchemist way, but it turns out they're just meticulously constructed from iron and silk and beeswax. Just like real veins.

When I was there in 2008 I was trying to cram myself back together, which is hilarious in retrospect because I didn't know then how many more ways there are to be broken. If only we could run away to Italy every time everything fractured. Those figures looked like I felt, all flensed and exposed, open for every breeze that might pass through, grotesque and familiar.

But then I feel that way most days, and it is remarkable to me that you can't actually see through my skin to the thirteen gnomes running around inside it. I seem to have a face that doesn't show much no matter how much it feels like it does, and I am reserved by nature and usually standing quietly enough that I might be invisible, a foot shorter than everyone else and nervously picking at my cuticles. I don't know that I want to be a billboard but it might be nice to give my gnomes a vacation, to let all the running happen on the outside instead of the inside.

Raimondo di Sangro was the wizard behind the collection of treasures in the Cappello Sansevero, and the rumor was that he could make blood out of nothing. He died earlier than he would have otherwise because he spent so much time working with dangerous chemicals but on the other hand he left a legacy of significant spookiness and wonder. Even if you can't make blood out of nothing it can't hurt if everyone thinks you can.

And maybe that's the trick. Maybe I will never be a billboard. Maybe I will always just be a tangle of iron and silk and beeswax instead of real veins, open and exposed and quiet and still. Maybe it's ok if the only ones who see are the ones that are looking, if the magic is a trick but the trick is magic. 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

There's a mock orange tree along my route to work that I only noticed for the first time this spring. I have walked pretty much the same way every day for the last three years, but this tree is on the other side of the street from what has almost always been my route. Lately the neighborhood has gotten more full of people with cars and my usual crossing doesn't have a crosswalk, so I can't always safely rabbit across where I'd like to. I resent it, a little, all of the cars and the new people and what they've done to my neighborhood. But then there's this tree.

Mock orange trees were introduced to European gardens from the Ottoman Empire when a diplomat in the 1500's came back to Vienna. He brought with him lilac as well, and the two trees have been linked ever since. In the language of flowers mock orange means deceit, which I suppose makes sense since it's not actually an orange tree, although it seems a little rude to lay the blame for that on the plant. Lilacs mean basically everything depending on what region and time period you're in, but they got their scientific name because of Pan, who chased a nymph through the woods until she turned into a tree to hide. He didn't find her person but he did find her tree, from which he cut pieces to make the first pan pipe--because when you've been rejected, why not pause for a second to invent a musical instrument. This seems to me like a much less comfortable origin that just being a tree that smells like another tree, and I'll always pick a mock orange over a lilac.

I have no idea how the tree managed to get to where it is. The part of the road that goes past it runs along the side of the freeway, mostly just full of blackberry brambles and unhoused neighbors--there's nothing even remotely decorative about anything anywhere near it. In the spring I was walking to work and there it was, smelling like orange blossoms and jasmine, seemingly sprung out of nowhere. The flowers have faded now, of course, but I think about how they were there whenever I pass the tree, reaching out through the brambles.

I think of how often it's possible to be surprised.

Friday, July 26, 2019

A big piece of dandelion fluff followed me home for a while yesterday. It was there when I crossed the street, hovering just above my eye level over the sidewalk. We made eye contact, this traveling wish and I, and I watched it float a little higher for a minute, moving so slowly, seeming out of sync with the wind. I turned and kept walking, but a few steps further down the road I noticed its shadow on the ground from just behind me and to the right. It startled me slightly--had my own shadow been replaced by dandelion fluff? Am I really just a wish in girl clothing? That would explain so much--but we were traveling at different speeds and were soon parted.

I don't know where it was going, but I hope it got there. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I read a book a few weeks ago about the last voyage of the whaleship Essex, which was rammed by a sperm whale and sank, abandoning its whole crew to a couple of rickety whaleboats and the ocean. Just when everyone was almost dead they came across a small island that had a small source of fresh water only when the tide was at exactly the right place. Three of the men from the ship decided on this island that being lost at sea is for suckers and they'd take their chances on what barely counted for land, and they watched as their crewmates sail away again. They eventually made it off the island alive but that tiny spring, their main source of fresh water, was never seen again.

Last night I was up for hours, crazybrain spinning like a mashup DJ, layering the Lizzo song that has been stuck in my head with an imaginary conversation about something I'm mad about at work with a series of ludicrous worst case scenarios. I keep hoping to age out of late night worst case scenarios (or, let's be honest, any time of day worst case scenarios) but it never seems to happen, so I still just sit there for hours counting the rats scurrying across the patio below and worrying about what if gravity fails. Last night I plotted and plotted about what to do about an emergency appendectomy this weekend while my boyfriend is uncontactable in the woods, and truly it is both exhausting to be me and to be around me, sometimes.

Surprisingly, sticking around on that island turned out to be the better option than sailing off again, since the cannibalism didn't get going until later. Elsewhere on the island were eight skeletons of people who didn't get rescued later, which must have been a disheartening sight to find once their shipmates sailed off and their water disappeared. Mathematically I'm sure the chances of them being rescued were vanishingly small--almost all of their shipmates would be dead and eaten by the time the remaining whaleboats bumped into civilization again, and the island that they were actually on was a different one than what everyone thought they were on. But civilization was bumped into and the captain of another boat cared enough to check one more place for them, and they made it out alive.

None of the guys left on the island were the guys that wrote books afterward so there's no way to know how it went, but I keep thinking about the feeling of going back to where the water was and waiting for the tide to get to the right spot and it just...never happening. I imagine you'd be haunted by a lot after a whale sinks your ship and you're lost at sea, but it seems to me that there must be moments that would stick more firmly than others, and by any reasonable standard--and my late night disaster planning--that would definitely be one of them.

Friday, July 19, 2019

For a while there it was like being a bundle of nerves in a petri dish, everyone just clustered around and watching to see what stimulus provoked a rainbow or a rat king or a neutron star. I know being performatively exposed is the way of things now, but it came to a place of feeling hollow and forced, a place where what was once a release was now a burden. I have never been much of a liar. And I was ok with having once been good at something that now seemed colorless and dry--sometimes wells go empty, and deserts are their own kind of beautiful. There are other ways to make sense of the world.

But we live in a world where the permafrost is thawing and you can find pretty much everything you've ever lost somewhere, and I guess a solid side effect of going hollow is that there's space for something to be again. Eventually. If it feels like it.

And then Mary Oliver died, and I couldn't stop thinking about the poem that is tattooed on my bones:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Mary Oliver is always right, of course.

So you have been on my mind, is what I'm saying. Last night I had a dream that I was at a party and people all around me kept saying things that I wanted to tell you, referenced over and over articles that I wanted to read and torture and turn back around. In the dream I was filling my pockets with stories, greedy for them like when stone fruit finally comes into season after a long winter of potatoes.

For the moment, I guess the wind has changed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The thing is...

The thing is that there are days where I scare myself with my own shadow and can't call it a metaphor, where I can feel something creeping up behind me and it turns out it's only myself. The thing is that our hands might be folded and still but our blood is still rushing around just underneath. The thing is that our blood is full of plants and animals and aliens and magic and we might never know until they've banded together and formed a resistance party and started to demand a way out. The thing is that I can feel a disaster hovering somewhere close, round and grumbling, and I don't know if it's coming this way or if it's only another asteroid that'll whistle past and pretend we weren't even here.

The fourth rule of fairytales is that there are stories stacked up in the underbrush that you don't see, and maybe that's just because they're not your stories. There are a lot of us, lost in these woods.