Shoulda Woulda Coulda (Story A Day May)

I should be writing something else.

I should be doing something else.

I should be somewhere else.

I should be in the mouth of a volcano, falling in, in slow motion, waving to a camera far above me, a camera documenting that I am brave. I should be inventing the first hoverboard to act like the one in that movie we all watched when we were kids because I used to have a propensity for mathematics and could have gotten a math or physics degree and gone on to be a scientist. I should be evaluating soldiers in the military for their readiness for combat because I almost did that.

I should be getting married. I should be getting divorced. I should be admiring the people in the world who are loving and being loved. I should be in love. I should be in lust. I should hate. I should be hateful. I should be in denial. In grief. In ecstasy. In pain. I should be in a million places all at once because I should be dead and buried with my ashes or my soul far flung.

I should be a boy. I should be a girl. I should be a person who is neither here nor there. I should be religious. I should be agnostic. I should be selling candy on the subways to make up for my sins – that’s not why people sell candy on the subway – isn’t it? – it isn’t – isn’t it? – no, seriously, truly, it isn’t. I should be homeless then – that isn’t a punishment either, not the way I think it is. I should be burning in hell – yes, that’s more like it. But I don’t believe in hell. I should believe in hell. I should believe in heaven. I should believe in purgatory which is by far the strangest and most terrifying thing a body can imagine.

I should watch more TV. I should know more about pop culture. I should do yoga. I should meditate. I should read Les Mis. I should watch Les Mis. I should buy tickets to Hamilton. I shouldn’t date myself in my writing. I shouldn’t identify myself in my writing. I shouldn’t write from personal experience. I should write what I know.

I should take more time to myself. I should know where I’m going in life. I shouldn’t plan to commit suicide at thirty. I should value every day I have. I should remember that I am not myself but only the collection of thoughts of those who have come before and influenced me. I should read more. I should delegate more. I should be more careful with my money. I should be less stringent with my money. I should be more social. I should have more alone time. I should drink more. I should do more drugs. I should have more sex. I should go out more. I should stay in more. I should watch less TV. I should do yoga. I should do pilates. I should stop seeing my chiropractor. I should stop taking my medication. I should check myself in. I should check myself into a hotel. I should run away. I should stay.

I should hurry more. I should do more. I should pitch more. I should write more. I should always, always, always write more. I should never write again. I should remember that I am talentless. I should admit that I am part of the masses. I should give back my feminist card because I’m not good enough. I should be more of an activist. I should be an activist in the first place. I should put my money where my mouth is. I should make more money. I should change professions. I should change careers. I should be a mother. I should never breed.

I should shout at the top of my lungs from the rooftops and fling myself over and fly. I should paint words mile high in the sky. I should start dancing again. I should invent a time machine. I shouldn’t break up with her. I shouldn’t kiss him. I shouldn’t look at them and want to know what it was like to be with them.

I should breathe.

I should scream.

I should breathe.

I should stop. I should start. I should rev up. I should slow down. I should write a manifesto and burn it in one go. I should stop. I should start.

I should breathe.

It wasn’t about us, really

The swirling of all our stomachs at the same time was only the effect of the roller coaster. It wasn’t about our feelings, it really wasn’t. We just needed to get away from the ground, so we took a trip to the nearest Six Flags, screaming the lyrics to songs we barely knew all the way there, and paid the entry fee and found the roller coaster with the shortest line and hopped on.
The separation of our bodies from the earth was what made us queasy. Really. It wasn’t the divorce papers we’d signed that morning. It wasn’t our parents dying. It wasn’t the loss of faith in a childish heaven with pearly golden gates. That never made sense to us, anyway. How could anything be both pearly and gold? White gold wasn’t something we’d heard of yet back then, we were too young and poor. The realization that heaven could still exist for us only came later, dropped like a bomb in our backyards, tearing everything to shreds while we were scrambling to get out of the bathtubs we tried to drown ourselves in day after day.
There is turmoil and there is peace, and sometimes they coexist. At the top of the roller coaster that day we could feel both forces pulling and pushing at us, creating the perfect equilibrium. We knew in that moment that everything that had been holding us down would dissipate in smoky clouds and that we would never need to breathe lungfuls of rotten eggs again.

Jonah and the Cat [Short Story]

Jonah curled up in the closet, the smell of his father’s work clothes wrapped around him. It wasn’t as good as having his pacifier back, but it was the next best thing. Ima had said he was too old for the pacifier, the motzetz, but Jonah didn’t think so. If there were things he was going to get too old for, then he didn’t want to get any older.

He’d gotten the idea of curling up in here from the stray cat that sometimes wandered into their house. Where they lived, the cats always sat on everybody’s window sills, begging for food, and most people shooed them away – “Kishta!” they’d say, making ugly faces. “Go away! Get out of here!” – but some, like Jonah’s father, had a soft spot for the flea-bitten, scarred-up street warriors that had such pathetic sounding mewls. Once, Jonah’s father had let him feed the one-eyed tabby that sat on the shelf outside the kitchen window, where Ima’s plants were. “Aba,” Jonah had whispered, so the cat wouldn’t run away, “Aba, why does it come back after Ima says kishta?” Jonah’s father had said that cats had chutzpah, that’s why. After they’d fed it, and Jonah was pretending to read the newspaper with his father, he saw the cat slink in through the open window. It sat down, right in the middle of the living room floor, stuck out a leg, and started licking it. Jonah tried not to giggle because he didn’t want his father noticing. So he said that he had to go peepee and slid off the couch.

The cat led him to his parents bedroom. It looked at Jonah. It looked at the closet doors. It looked at Jonah. It opened its mouth and made a soundless meow, really as if it knew that Jonah was in on its secret and was trying to keep it from being discovered too. So Jonah opened the closet door and the cat slid right in and settled on his father’s work clothes – big, baggy cargo pants and long-sleeved light-cotton shirts. He was a construction worker, and his clothes all had lots of stains on them, so maybe, Jonah thought, he would never know that the cat had been there.

When his mother had taken his motzetz away, thrown it right in the trash – right in front of his eyes! – Jonah had screamed for as long as he could. His father wasn’t home, though, so this didn’t work. He should have thought of that, but he wasn’t thinking very straight, really, because he was so upset to see the little rubber nipple that calmed him down and helped him sleep when he didn’t want to go to sleep going into the trash with the leftover salad from lunch and the gross used containers of yogurt that his mother was always eating and everything else they’d thrown away since the last time the garbage bags were changed.

His mother didn’t seem to even hear him screaming. She just shrugged her shoulders and turned around and started washing the dishes in the sink. She always told Jonah’s father, even when Jonah was right there, that they paid too much attention to Jonah and that he could do things on his own because he was a big boy now. Jonah didn’t feel like a big boy, and now he knew he never wanted to be one either. Could a big boy fit inside the closet like this? He didn’t think so. The only big boys he knew were mean to him, and he didn’t like that either. If he did have to grow up, he wouldn’t be mean to people. He would be more like his father, nice and funny and smell good. His clothes, even though they were all clean, still smelled like a him and the construction sites he worked on. They smelled a little like sweat, dust, heat and sunlight.

“Jonah? Jonah? Where are you? Jonah! This isn’t funny, come out. Now. Now!” Jonah heard his mother calling him, and her voice kept changing tones, from angry to nice to angry again. It was very hard for him not to shout “Ima!” and run out of the closet and hug her. Because he loved his Ima, of course. She read him bedtime stories every night and she walked to kindergarten with him every morning. But he didn’t want to come out yet because he was angry at her. She’d been mean to him and had thrown away his pacifier and he wasn’t ready to forgive her for that yet.

Once, she got dangerously close to his hiding place in the closet, but she didn’t even think of looking in there. Jonah needed to be very careful not to giggle or meow or anything when she walked near him. As she walked away and he heard her start crying a little bit, he started counting backwards from ten – which he knew how to do – but slowly. Only when he got to zero would he come out. And he wouldn’t tell her where he’d been hiding. It would be his secret. Well, and the cat’s.

Burden

When the ambulance sirens sounded, I turned over and put the pillow over my head. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention, but I was scared I knew where they were coming from and the guilt was eating me up.

He said he would kill her. But he said it every day. Still, I probably should have told someone about how his eyes seemed to have fire in them when he said it this time. But who’d believe me, huh? Everyone here is threatening to murder someone. We’re all angry, all the time, and can you blame us? Living on less than minimum wage salaries, half of us not even knowing English real well, needing to raise our children in a place where they can see people shooting up on ever corner – wouldn’t you be angry?

I paid attention in school, though. I knew that talking a bit nicer would get me places. And that makes me angry also, because we all understand each other here, so why can’t the world try to understand us too? Why can’t they start talking like us, huh? Anyway, that doesn’t matter right not. That’s not the story I’m telling.

The story I’m trying to tell is about how those sirens woke me up and how I thought I knew that what he kept threatening had finally happened. But I didn’t know what to do about it. Someone had already called 911, right? So the cops would show up in a bit, and I wasn’t going to go talk to them and squeal right there in the open where everyone could see. Nah, people who do that end up dead all too quick. But I did need to know if what I thought was happening was actually happening.

I pulled on my sweats and a sweatshirt and checked to see that TJ was still sleeping on the couch. He’s my brother. The kids were asleep, too, and I knew that if one of them started crying, TJ would get up and go take care of them. He was good about that sort of thing. He liked being a good uncle to them when he remembered that there were things to life other than booze. Poor guy.

My face looked nasty without the makeup that I use to keep it fresh, but it was night and no one would see me. So I went downstairs, and walked to where I heard the sirens coming from. Just as I started though, they must have gotten to where they were going because they shut up. My heart was beating so quick that I can’t describe it. I knew where to walk even without the sound.

There were plenty of people outside of the apartment building. This area’s never empty, even at night. Some people live only after the sun goes to nap. Sure enough, I saw the medics sitting around and smoking, and I knew what that meant. That meant that they were waiting on the cops now, that there was someone dead in there and not dead cause of nice old age. Nah, there’d been a murder here.

I didn’t go too close. I didn’t want anybody to remember me. I wanted to wait for the cops in the shadows and tell them that I knew who did it. But I sure wasn’t going to tell them that I could have stopped it. That was my own burden to bear.

Self Censorship

On October 1, I changed the theme of my blog for the first time in three years, and asked you guys if there was anything you wanted to see me write about. ShoutAbyss  posed this question to me:

 How did you decide you are an atheist? Do you out your atheist beliefs or keep them in the closet?

I realized, as I read the comment, that when it comes to my blog, I really do keep a lot of things in the closet. I censor myself. I rarely, if ever, use the swear-words that I use both in everyday life and in much of my fiction. I try not to touch tricky subjects like politics or religion. I don’t share my deepest darkest secrets – or, if I do, I try to mask them in story form or in poetic prose, and I attempt to shield my exact meaning. This last makes sense – there are people who read this blog who actually know me, and sometimes I want to discuss things that they might not know about me and that I’d rather not share with them. This is natural. Anyway, writing about my personal life through other kinds of media is an interesting challenge and I enjoy it.

But why do I censor my politics, my religious opinions, my coarse and often vulgar language?

I think I’m scared. Scared to alienate readers. Scared to have people challenge me on my ideas. To be fair, when it comes to politics, while I have solid ideas and opinions of my own, I don’t feel comfortable expressing them when I’m ignorant of many of the facts. The title of this blog has always, whether you knew it or not, alluded to my weird reluctance to read the news and educate myself properly on what’s going on in the world. I’m less ignorant now, and I listen to NPR and read the New Yorker, and I feel more informed, but I still feel the childish ignorance rise up in me when I’m called to defend my opinions.

When it comes to religion… well, that’s a very sensitive subject to a lot of people, and it’s one that I feel extremely strongly about. I also know that I have various readers who have their own strong opinions, and yes, I don’t wish to alienate them or push them away from me. I’m probably not giving them enough credit – they’re all open, intelligent people, and I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t forsake me because my opinion differs than there own. And yet – and yet I still haven’t written about how I feel on this subject (unless, of course, I have and I’m not remembering it. Which, in three years of blogging, is entirely possible.)

Finally, when it comes to the profanities, I think that I don’t use them because a) yes, they make many people uncomfortable, but also because b) there are stronger, more interesting words for me to use, and it’s a fun challenge to write differently than I speak.

So am I censoring myself? No doubt. Despite all my lovely rationalizations above, I’m still aware that it probably all stems out of fear of being rejected. Approval matters to me a lot more than I feel comfortable admitting. But maybe, in censoring myself, I’m managing to explore some other sides of me, my mind, and my writing.

How about you? Do you feel like you censor yourself on your blogs?

Acceptance

Acceptance is a good word. For starters, it has two kind of “c” sounds, a delicious “p” and a lovely ticking “t.” It’s a fun word to say. I accept the fact that not everyone agrees with me about the deliciousness of words – for which I must, again, thank Fry, S. J. – and so I’ll elaborate beyond the mere clicks of tongue and lips together. “Acceptance” is a good word because it has good connotations. It sounds positive in every respect:

We talk about accepting someone for who they are – accepting their faults or quirks, their weaknesses and passions. We talk about feeling acceptance from others – becoming comfortable with people, being who we feel we really are with them, shucking off the shells we build around ourselves to guard our hearts from strangers. Children are taught to accept others who are different than themselves, to ignore skin-color and race, cultural barriers or freckles.

“Acceptance” also brings to my mind the feeling of my stomach leaping upwards in a sweet rush when I find out that I’ve passed a test to get into a program, or gotten a big envelope from a college. It means being good enough, proving myself both to others and to the inner-critic.

But “acceptance” can also be a horribly sad word. When someone dies, we need to learn to accept their passing – not necessarily for anyone, but merely because there’s no choice. Life can’t go on unless we accept the death of a loved one. Even if we fight it, life has a knack of getting in the way and forcing us into realizing that we’ve accepted the horrible truth that someone we love will never hug us again, never smile at us, never blink or speak or cry. It’s natural, though, to accept this. If we wouldn’t, we’d go mad with grief at every death, every breakup, every parting.

And yet, there’s a part of me that rages at the acceptance, that feels as if it’s an insult to myself and my emotions. A part of me wants to scream out from the rooftops and subject the neighborhood to the keening sounds I hear only in my mind. A part of me wishes to give up entirely, to lie in bed and never rise from it. But that part is stuffed down, hushed up, quieted, because life goes on whether I want it to or not.

Five Words

I’m currently reading Stephen Fry’s Moab is My Washpot, which is the first part of his autobiography. I have admired Mr. Fry for some years now as an actor and writer, and I fell more deeply in awe of him when I listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks that he narrates because of his incredible range of voices, accents and tones. His regular speaking voice is, in itself, impressive as well.

What strikes me most about him when reading his autobiography is his love of language. He loves words for the sheer look of them, the sound they make, the way the tongue feels as it moves to create a consonant in the mouth. Inspired by him, I spent an hour happily reading aloud the titles of books I was vacuuming dust off of – I especially enjoyed titles like The World According to Garp, Smiley’s People, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas because of “Garp,” “People,” and “Vegas,” all words that are fun to say. Go ahead, try them out.

The second thing that Mr. Fry has inspired me to do is read the dictionary. I know, aren’t I exciting? But seriously, I look up words online more often than not, and I never get to see an odd word or two that way. So, in order to kick-start myself, I’ve decided to find five new (to me, that is) words in my big copy of the OED, and use them in sentences:

1. Stephen Fry didn’t suffer from dyslalia when he was young, because there was nothing wrong with his speech organs – he eventually learned to articulate his speech properly so that others could understand him.

2. There was a point in time when I thought my eating disorder was insuperable, but I’m doing much better now.

3. Many politicians are perfidious.

4. The gems in animated films are always so exaggeratedly rutilant. I doubt that real precious stones are every quite so twinkly and red.

5. On the road to Jerusalem, there’s one clough that always reminds me of the valleys by my grandparents’ house in Los Angeles.

___

And that, boys and girls, was probably enough of that for now.