Memorabilia, mementos, symbols, emblems, constellations

I once told my friend Tyler that I usually tried to wear something, like a piece of jewelry, most likely, or clothing, that reminded me of myself, whenever I had something arduous/daunting to do, typically a first day of work. I end up assigning a lot of power to these memorabilia. And it seems to run in the family. My grandmother once gave me a pendant that she told me had her childhood teeth marks in it. And I know there were other important things about this pendant, but that was the most important thing that stuck with me because it seemed important to her too.

My dad started wearing a necklace that came from somewhere important, I think after his mother, my grandmother, died, which he referred to as his “bling.” He passed along these miscellaneous boxes of trinkets around that time, that I couldn’t and can’t remember the specific importance of, but felt the overall weight of; he filtered through them once while visiting me in Denver, asking my permission to take a specific emblem.

A necklace was also left in my childhood room once, a pretty bird siting on a gnarled branch, that was bought in either Lafayette or Spain. The certainty behind it is that it was bought by my dad for his mom.


Then there’s the necklace I bought when dad visited me to help me move from Greeley to Denver, May 2011. It’s two glossed-over, preserved, Colorado autumn leaves, and as soon as he bought it for me (my choice), he put it on, and the jeweler watched. You could have called it a “father-daughter moment.” You could have called it poignant.

My maternal grandmother (you know who you are!) bought me jewelry in a certain way for some time; her way was to say, “it reminded me of you!” and smile deeply, after I’d opened the gift. Which felt so special and serene to me.

This feeling, though, of attaching such importance to things–it says something about us, me and dad and dad’s mom. It says how weighted down and earth-bound we are. You have to have little mottos to help you get through that kind of life, things like dad used to say to ease the pain of getting a driving ticket or losing $10 through a proverbial pocket hole: “It’s the cost of living.” I.e., shit happens, and as much as we love our symbols–these stars that connect us from one place and one time to another–certainly there is something bigger and more beyond.

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wind of the summer night

What makes you feel empty and small?

That feeling, of emptiness and smallness, tends to sneak up on me, but once there, can be pretty engulfing. Just a feeling of being belittled or bullied. And it presents conundrums: you can’t really stand up to it because that gives it too much power. So you almost just have to wait until it sneakily goes away, as sneakily as it came.

So in the meantime, I’m listening to beautiful music, which ideally, should help. It helps in the sense that it gives me something else to hold on to. A lyric like: “I’m weary with my former toil, here I shall sit and rest a-while.” But the feeling is still there, as yucky as when it first came.

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“Is it possible really to love other people? If I’m lonely and in pain, everyone outside me is potential relief – I need them. But can you really love what you need so badly? Isn’t a big part of love caring more about what the other person needs? How am I supposed to subordinate my own overwhelming need to somebody else’s needs that I can’t even feel directly? And yet if I can’t do this, I’m damned to loneliness, which I definitely don’t want… so I’m back at trying to overcome my selfishness for self-interested reasons. Is there any way out of this bind?”

Thanks for always asking these things, DFW.

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(i.e., trying to encourage myself to write/complete things I’ve begun)

The thing about anniversaries is that they can never happen perfectly, as people wish, but instead reflect these eyelashes or arm hairs of movement in time that aren’t spherical, that never reliably lead you back to where you were a year or two ago. In a way I find it comforting, but at the same time haunting, since it eludes any control over feeling sadness in any one particular moment, when the bad thing happened, or the good thing, or the exciting thing.

There is the anniversary of you first loving me, or when I was born. It’s not that I’m really all that selfish or all that into myself, but that might be my favorite anniversary since it’s on that day that I get to think about you loving me by taking me to all of your favorite places from birth, counting cars, removing paper wrapping from straws by pressing them into diner counters. This is the one time that I’m grateful for this non-spherical nature of years, because the anniversary of you loving me bleeds into the day before and the day after the calendrically marked actual day, like ink bleeding deep into the seat of a brand new car, trickling even like bright ink into water, through the river of the other days of the year. It trickles even into the day of you dying, blotting that day out like blue ink blotting out a moth smudged passingly on paper.

There is the anniversary of the day you decided to ride a horse. My grandmother saying, “Charlie!” She wasn’t your mother, but she was still terrified. She said something about how musicians shouldn’t ride horses. You were getting really ambitious on that horse though, and it was hilarious and lovely to see your happiness played out in a sound other than music, in an act other than art.

There’s the anniversary of walking around the campus. These anniversaries were always composed of simple acts—you saying, let’s go see your old apartment. Since in years before we’d gone to see your old dormitory which had become the modern languages building, though you could still point out your room, which we walked into once when the building was being remodeled. You were happy, standing there in the rubble, and most of the time now, these days, that’s how I picture you, slipping through these keyholes of memory, trying to reveal them to me, sometimes getting stuck, sometimes passing through.

I wrote this the other day: one problem is that when I use percent change as the dependent variable, my results are pretty shoddy. Thinking to myself: one true thing is that, amidst all of this change, you’re the one who kept all the memories, and I’m the one who received them. As if only you could put meaning to our timelines, the early years, the difficult years. I was always there, waiting to know it, and waiting to hear it from you. So that now, sitting here, I feel possessionless, my hands like watchtowers with no men watching, no people even to watch over. -3/29/2014

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“When God is a child”

I’m not totally sure what I want to say today, just that I want to say something, or that it’s important to say something.  It’s like this:

“I woke up this morning with that itchy feeling I get when I’ve gone too long without writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that she didn’t feel right if she wasn’t writing regularly, that she woke up each morning needing to write, and until very recently, I didn’t really believe her, because it never felt that straightforward to me. … I never felt that kind of imperative to be a writer – or, really, to be anything in particular. Writing sneaked up on me. But now that I’ve been at it for a while, I sometimes get a sense, just the faintest nudge of a sense, of what my friend might have meant. I’m best when I’m writing, even if I sit down at my desk without a thing to say, with only that itch to go on.” –Molly Wizenberg,

That’s where I am today, and most days.  For me, a lot of the time, I feel like I’m picking through rubble, trying to get at the most important things, blue stones.  To echo B.Wainana–“for me writing is all about creating larger circles of chaos, and rebuilding new, lucid structures from the possibilities the debris brings.”

Yeah, that.

So, this memory has rolled around in my head for a while:

When I was young, maybe 9, at my grandmother’s house in Lafayette, I saw an episode of Doug that totally freaked me out and kept me from sleeping on my stomach for at least a year.  In the episode, as far as I can remember, a villain/doctor sneaks into Doug’s room at night and STICKS A NEEDLE IN HIS HEAD OKAY.  Geez, why were kids’ shows so scary?  Anyway, it was bad news; this was also at the beginning of a period of fairly intense anxiety for me that lasted for about a year.  Thanks, Doug.

After seeing this episode, I walked into my grandmother’s living room, expansive and acadian.  You had to step down to get to the living room, which made it feel important to me.  My grandmother was there, practicing on the grand piano, wearing her reading glasses and probably something fairly ostentatious.  (We used to play dress-up in her regular clothes, because they were so fanciful and cool.)  Anyway, my dad’s mother was both elegant and absent-minded–but she seemed grounded to me at times, at least in the way she was able to comfort a child, or at least me.

So I remember totally freaking out about this episode and telling my grandmother and my grandmother finding this song to play for me, called something like “When God is a Child.”  Isn’t that perfect?  It was totally soothing, sitting next to her, as she played this song that she chose intentionally to calm my meltdown.

And I think about that moment and song from time to time, which is probably what she intended.

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I shall set forth for somewhere, I shall make the reckless choice

Talking with my friend of adolescence, LW, and reading her blog posts has brought up some different thoughts for me about “being a teenage girl (in America)”/”coming of age in Mississippi” (sorry, it was too easy).  Skyping, we both agreed that teenage girls are the ones we feel most drawn to now.  They are the ones I usually see first in a room, and the ones I want most often to support without smothering, mostly by telling them some or all of the following: a) you’re not alone, b) you’re not crazy, but mostly c) don’t hurt so much.  or do.  just find ways to bear it.

This particular passage that LW wrote recently stood out for me: “Why do so many young girls tear themselves to pieces…? I mean, we can project an answer to that and say it’s because too much value is placed on being loved. Not loving someone, not being in love, but being loved. Being locked down. Being validated by love.”

And I thought, “Yep.”  Coming of age in Mississippi is basically vertigo: every gaze is heightened, in a glass of foggy summer heat and trees that thunder up.  The palpability of heat and moisture inconvenience escaping reality: you almost always know what’s happening, and it’s very hard to get around it.  And everything feels really fucking important. (That’s a story for another day.)

But what’s even more interesting, maybe, or what’s on my mind right now, is transitioning out of that girlhood phase, the phase where you long to be loved and noticed and cared for.  It’s the phase of young adulthood and early college where you’re told that you have to learn how to be alone and be whole and unbroken and stuff.  Phrases like “co-dependency” and “you have to love yourself first” are used to stave off or judge certain types of relationships and people.

Most of this strikes me as bullshit now.  But I feel that I might not be the only who, as a young college student, went through a period of feeling totally fucked up for wanting relationships as badly as I did or longing/needing that to feel at my most alive.  Fortunately for me, the counselor I saw for several years picked up on this; he talked often to me about how normal it is for people to be together and to want to be together; he helped me to step away from the judgmental language and recognize that the brokenness we bring to the world is totally natural, i.e., human.

Obviously the brokenness we bring to the world is also the thing that destroys relationships–I get it.  But the approach I take now is one of bringing all the brokenness to the surface, at least to the extent that I can, rather than keeping it all buried.  It’s the worst.

Another major change that occurred between my teenage years and now is that I no longer aestheticize brokenness, sadness, pain, in the ways I used to.  Now, having lost, I see brokenness as the way things are in the world. This is also the worst!!

There’s a Robert Frost poem that is basically about this theme (in my mind) but that I can never find.  I need to be reunited with my big ol’ RF book.  For now, though, there’s this:


A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.

This is partly a very “duh” post, but I do think it is important to talk about the language we use and the things we are convincing teenagers and young adults that they need to do in order to be functional and normal.


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Sugary candy and Frank Zappa

Sometimes I find myself doing things I didn’t necessarily realize I liked–small, silly things, like eating sugary candy or having Frank Zappa quotes rolling around in my head.  And I know it could sound very presumptuous, or I don’t know what it sounds like, but I have the feeling or idea that I’m sometimes doing the things now that my dad didn’t get to do.  And those things are both small, like eating gummy bears, listening to “The Planets,” putting on chapstick, and large, like walking across England, making faces at babies in the grocery store, being a grandparent, and telling certain people I love them.  It’s haunting but the kind of haunting that carries you along.

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