I know this is a poor substitute for a regular post, but time constrains me. In February of 2004 I was two months away from my sixteenth birthday and three months away from leaving Native State forever. During this time I made observations on a disfigured classmate, heaped praise upon my sister, recounted an interview for an aborted attempt at going to Russia as an exchange student (my parents shot that down out of the gate), included scant notes on political developments in the U.S., and first began to recognize my own moral relativism in the aftermath of a failed prank.
February 1, 2004
Scarred Boy looks drastically different since we last met. I once remembered that his skin was pure white and unusually smooth, like a baby’s, one might venture to say. Now, though…well, skin grafts can only do so much. Scarred Boy’s cheeks are rough, corrugated, and deeply scarred. Have you ever seen that furled, billowy icing on cakes? That’s what his cheeks and arms and throat and hands look like. Except that his face is now a collage of the deepest reds, purples, and pinks. His face is bloated, as if two fleshy sacks were hanging off the side of his head. They look like if you touched them they’d burst.
I would not have had the courage to come back to school after that. Scarred Boy’s laugh, once pleasant and bouncy, is now scratchy, and, if truth be told, downright diabolical. Once my enemy, once my friend, I can’t begin to imagine what Scarred Boy’s been through. And I don’t know where he pulled all that bravery from, but it’s honestly more than I could do. I know people say that all the time to be sentimental and make themselves look deep, but I mean it; I wouldn’t have come back to school.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Naturally, we’ve stocked up on snacks. Pie can crawl backwards now! And, on top of that, she’s starting to make sounds with letters! God, I love her so much. I hope that my daughter can be like her. My mother is a bit concerned because Pie is in the bottom 10% of weight and bottom 25% of height for her age (7-8 months). Pie is healthy, however, so I conclude that she’s just petite.
She’s quite chubby, so she’s healthy. The doctors say so, too. Anyway, her small size underscores her big soul; in addition to being unusually tiny, Pie is unusually spirited!
February 5, 2004
The woman who interviewed me was a nice, polite British lady. They do, however, have to be extremely careful with who they allow to do things like this, and once the questioning began, she absolutely grilled me. I haven’t been so nervous in a long while.
She pounded me on what I’d do if pressured to drink or smoke. Almost everyone in Russia drinks and quite nearly the entire population smokes. Honestly, I’d be fine around the smoke, but I couldn’t do it myself (smoke, that is), and I certainly couldn’t drink. In fact, I was so nervous that I’m now worried that the interview didn’t go well.
And all of a sudden, Russia has become a very popular destination, so much so that new spots have had to have been opened up. It is becoming very competitive, and we have to get my application in as soon as possible. I’m going to pray.
February 7, 2004
Pie is crawling now. She’s such a little explorer. It’s remarkable how quickly she’s learning! Just days ago she could only crawl backwards and now she can move forwards, too. And now even two weeks past she couldn’t crawl at all, but instead merely hold herself up. She’s been sick these last few days, though, and so of course is a bit frumpy.
Mom and Dad went out to dinner tonight, and so Babysitter Woman came over to watch the baby. Babysitter Woman is about twenty years old, and she works at Pie’s daycare (her mother runs it) and is very nice, in addition to being extremely good with the baby. The two seem to be on a wavelength.
Babysitter Woman and I were discussing this, and we feel that besides my parents, we are the baby’s favorites. No one, of course, can hold a candle to Mom, but we still feel that we have deep, meaningful connections with Pie.
February 12, 2004
Well, an injustice was allowed to take place today. Powell, my brother, abandoned a pair of shoes about a year ago, leaving them under my bed. Today when he saw me wearing them, he tried to take them. When I wouldn’t give them back, he took a very expensive book and threw it so hard that the binding broke. More tomorrow. Tomorrow’s Friday!
February 13, 2004
I read the rest of The Crucible today. The ending was so sad that I was crying. I wasn’t sobbing, but tears welled in my eyes. It was extremely emotional.
Mom did not, much to her disappointment, get the job. This comes as a bit of a shock; Mom scarcely ever fails. Mom doubts that she’ll apply for the other Deep South State position, so we’ll probably not be moving. I’m not really sure how to feel about this.
February 15, 2004
Mom is making her chicken noodle soup today. Oh, I can’t wait for it. Last night was great. We got in the hot tub at eleven o’clock at night (Powell and I) and looked at the stars. It was very beautiful.
February 17, 2004
A precedent today. More tomorrow. Kerry pushes on.
February 22, 2004
My parents delighted and excelled in draconian punishments, which is why I was caught so off guard by their reaction when I was discovered perpetrating an act of mild vandalism. I presumed my actions would provide them the excuse they needed to implement the kind of radical sentences I'd long anticipated, but instead they did almost nothing. What I regarded at the time as a lucky break served in retrospect only to reinforce their inconsistency and general lack of maturity.
Last night was so fun! We had an awesome time. And if we had been able to leave it at that, I would’ve gotten away with all of it. Last night, we ding-dong-ditched everywhere, even a policeman’s house. It was so fun. We threw newspapers at people’s houses, and ice, too. What a rush!
And then we threw newspapers into the Fat Guy’s backyard. And we got away with it. But then this morning, we had to admire our handiwork. Newspapers covered Fat Guy’s yard. Laughing, Blonde Cousin and I threw more over. And that’s when the Fat Guy came out. We tried to get away, but he saw us, and the man’s had problems with me before so he recognized me.
Anyway, one of the idiots, either Blonde Cousin or Powell, told Dad that the Fat Guy caught me. Blonde Cousin, you see, got successfully away. The Fat Guy climbed over the neighbor’s fence to reach us. Then I picked up his yard for him (this didn’t take very long at all; I’d say a minute) and proceeded to walk with him to my trashcan. And then Dad came outside.
The Fat Guy himself actually was very nice about everything. I think I misunderstood him. Apparently he works in the public school system. He’s very nice. I feel bad about what we did and I would even if the punishment were lifted. I have to write a three-page essay about society. That was the Fat Guy’s idea. Quite frankly, given his past actions, I can’t believe that he didn’t call the cops outright.
Dad seemed more upset than the man himself was, but he’s since seemed to cool off with it. He now doesn’t seem angry at all. He told me that I had been very irresponsible, but then Powell and I mentioned a story that he regaled us with earlier. While building play sets in his late thirties, my father used to defecate into boxes and leave the boxes in front of mail boxes in wealthy neighborhoods. We all laughed at this, and it weakened Dad’s argument a bit.
My punishment is uncharacteristically mild; I have to go to bed at nine o’clock and I only use my computer for homework. I have to stay mostly in my room, and this is for a week. And that’s it! I am relieved to say the least. And yet, I feel soiled somehow, and, ashamed as I am to admit it, it is because I got caught that I feel bad. I’m going to pray and go to bed.
February 28, 2004
We have off of school this coming Tuesday. That’s because it’s “Super Tuesday.” On that day, ten states, including this one, are holding primaries or caucuses. John Kerry is expected to win all of them.
February 29, 2004
Today is another stunningly gorgeous day.
Oh, how we awaited winter
How we craved that Arctic blast
Oh, how we awaited winter
But now its time has passed
Oh, how we awaited sledding
Oh, how we awaited snow
Oh, how we awaited winter
But now it’s time to go
The Earth is roused from its longer slumber
The sunshine streams now through the clouds
The ground, devoid, now blooms its wonders
The birds, alive, renew their sounds
And as we shed our heavy skins
Baring what’s been deep within
Our hearts and souls they seem to spin
How it feels to know the breeze again
Caressing my uncovered arms
How it feels to know the sun again
That warmth for so many months barred
How it feels to watch the birds take flight
Basking in a shower of light
And as the Earth begins to come alive
I’m feeling what I can’t describe
A hope, a wish, a dream, a prayer
A song I sing, a love I share
The Great Fast is ending
Lent fades away
That glorious day
A saving of souls
A righteous new way
The people with the Earth did hunger
As winter waged its icy plunder
And now the people all rejoice
Jesus saved us with His choice
And as God rose Him to new birth
So now He resurrects the Earth
That was a poem that I’ll call “Spring.”
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Seeing as it's been nearly two weeks since my last post, I figured I'd check in to let everyone know I haven't checked out. I will be coming at you with a full update soon, but that can't happen tonight.
The City of Fate is busy. I suppose it makes sense that I'm busy, too.
The City of Fate is busy. I suppose it makes sense that I'm busy, too.
Friday, June 17, 2011
I was pretty sure it was her.
Wielding a camera, she swung onto the stone bowl of the fountain to take pictures of the people frolicking within, giving me a brief glimpse of a soft face framed by shoulder-length auburn and gray hair.
I approached from behind and a skinny young man with unruly brown curls pulled back into a very long ponytail cast an expectant look my way. I'd read about him for years, of course, though I didn't know his name and he didn't know mine.
The woman was right in front of me now, and I reached out a hand and tapped her on the shoulder.
"Hey," I said, breaking into a smile.
She looked confused for a fraction of a second, and then her kindly eyes lit up.
Though I now live in the City of Fate, Jo(e) knows more about this metropolis than I and so it was she who picked our meeting place. The park is an auspicious location, a tree-ringed circle whose northern gateway is a 77-foot-tall marble arch. The focal point of all this is a fountain into which visitors freely roam.
Plunked in the middle of the Island's famed artistic district and packed with everyone from foreign tourists to musicians to beggars, the park is ideal for ambling about.
"It's nice to finally meet you," Jo(e) said. "This is my son, -----."
"Shaggy Hair Boy," he said, acknowledging his pseudonym with a roll of his eyes as he shook my hand.
"You know, I think it's actually weirder meeting you than it is meeting her," I said to him. "I've been hearing about you for years without ever actually talking to you. Does that weird you out at all? That thousands of people around the world read about you all the time?"
"You kind of get used to it."
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Jo(e) publishes a compelling and deservedly popular blog in which she recounts her life as a professor, mother, citizen, and thinking human being in the Snowstorm region of Northern State. Jo(e)'s family and friends, along with other members of her community, play a pivotal role in her story but are protected by pseudonyms and strategically discreet (i.e., faceless) photos.
If the tactic seems familiar, it probably should: I stole the method from her when she inducted me into Blogger more than three years ago.
We've been having an ongoing conversation, first through correspondence and then through blogging, since I was nineteen years old, and for a moment I was concerned that after nearly half a decade of writing we'd have nothing to talk about. I needn't have worried.
Jo(e), like me, is an insatiable chatterbox.
"So, you have to tell me about American Idol," she gushed as we strolled through the park.
"Oh, that," I said. "That was such a weird experience."
"I knew what you were really talking about when you wrote that post," she said. "It killed me not to say anything."
"Yeah, I know," I acknowledged. "But they made me sign a confidentiality agreement and I kind of didn't have a choice."
"So," she looked up hopefully. "Can you talk about it now?"
"I guess I could tell you a little."
Then it came to me.
"Okay. Here's something really insane, but you can't repeat it to anyone ever."
Her eyes widened as I began and she gasped with suitable dramatic flair at all the right moments until the story had carried us around the park and to the exit.
"Wow," she said. "I can't believe it works that way."
I shook my head.
"I was on the show and I kind of can't, either."
After our walk through the park it was off to find somewhere to eat. This proved to be a bit more of an adventure than we had intended.
Jo(e)'s method of navigating a city, you see, is not like most people's. While someone else might do something crazy like consult a map, she prefers to wander around musing about where she might be.
"I think we're on Canal Street," she said at one point. "Or maybe it's Broadway. I don't know. If we keep going in this direction we'll eventually hit Chinatown."
When after a number of detours we finally did reach the part of the city known for its Asian cuisine, the question of which restaurant to patronize drew considerable debate. At least from one of us.
"What do you guys think about this place?" Jo(e) asked.
"It's fine with me," Shaggy Hair Boy responded.
"I'm down for whatever you two are down for," I chimed in.
"I don't know. How about that other one across the street?"
"Sure," Shaggy Hair Boy said.
"Definitely," I chorused.
"No," Jo(e) concluded. "Maybe this one..."
After twenty minutes or so of intense one-way disagreement as to where we ought to dine, Jo(e) decided that her parents should be called in to resolve the dispute.
"Do you have them?" she asked as Shaggy Hair Boy held his cell phone to his ear. She turned to me. "My parents love this place called Joe's. Or John's. It's something like that. They'll tell us how to get there."
Shaggy Hair Boy looked over.
"Mom, they're saying not to go to John's. They hate that place."
"What? Where are we supposed to eat?"
"Grand Pa said to just follow the Chinese people."
After all of the deliberation and the calling of relatives for advice the establishment we eventually chose was selected, like most things that day, completely at random.
"Hey," I noted. "This place looks good."
We sat down, managed to convey our orders to a staff that barely spoke English, and then spent the next hour or so discussing everything from our summer plans to our family histories to, of course, our blogs.
When you meet an anonymous blogger for the first time and all the pseudonyms slip away, it's a bit like completing a jigsaw puzzle. For years you've slowly deciphered the meanings behind people and places, but much of the truth remains unsolved, many of the pieces frustratingly hard to place until the blogger slides them into their proper positions.
"So that's why you call him With-a-Why," I said, the answer now obvious as Jo(e) explained to me the pseudonym she employed for her youngest child. "It makes sense. And Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter is..."
"My beautiful, smart, wonderful daughter," Jo(e) returned with a smile. "It sounds a little ridiculous but that really is what I call her."
"Same thing with my sister," I said. "We do refer to her as Pie."
"What's her real name?" Jo(e) asked.
"------," I answered.
She smiled again.
Shaggy Hair Boy, Jo(e)'s friendly 20-year-old son, proved how spot-on his code name was when the conversation turned to it.
"You know, I think your hair is actually longer than mine," I observed.
"When it's wet it's really long," he said, twirling a strand of it in his fingers. "Some parts of it are nearly down to my waist."
"Do you ever think about cutting it?" I asked. "Mine is just so long now that I don't really know what to do with it."
He shook his head.
"I don't ever want to cut it. Ever. I've actually had nightmares where it gets caught in something and I have to cut it."
Jo(e) nodded in affirmation.
"It's probably been about six or seven years now since you've had a haircut."
Returning to the park once we'd finished our Chinese food proved to be a journey of nearly Columbian scope.
"It's around four o'clock, we're downtown, and traffic is running this way," Jo(e) said. "Which means that we should head down Canal Street."
"No, that can't be right," I contested. "The park is to our north and the sun sets in the west. We should go this way."
"How can you tell that the sun is in the west?"
"It's afternoon. The sun is always in the west in the afternoon. And look, the shadows are being cast that way."
"What are we, navigating by the stars?"
"Um, you guys?" Shaggy Hair Boy interrupted. "We have a map."
He figured out the way back within five minutes, and, of course, Jo(e) and I had both been wrong. Go figure.
When we at last did arrive at the arch and fountain, Jo(e) wanted pictures of us posing in front of the water.
"You both have such gorgeous hair," she effused. "This will look great, the dark curls next to the blonde waves."
Shaggy Hair Boy and I were perched perilously on the lip of the fountain when Jo(e) called out, "Strike a pose! Act like you're balancing!"
Shaggy Hair rolled his eyes.
"How are we supposed to act like we're balancing?"
"Put your arms out or something!"
He gave me a knowing look.
"Classic blog photo," he said.
After a little while Shaggy Hair tired of standing still and took a great leap into the fountain.
I considered for a moment, then strode over to Jo(e) and emptied my pockets.
"Can I leave my stuff in your purse?" I asked.
"Sure," she said. "We're going to get some great pictures out of this."
"There sure seems to be a whole lot of artifice going into capturing this authentic moment."
She chuckled but didn't dispute my claim as I bounded into the fountain to join Shaggy Hair Boy. He was conscious neither of me tip-toeing around nor of his mother calling out for the two of us to dance, his eyes instead focused with shark-like intensity on the stone floor beneath our feet. In an instant something glinted from under the water and his hand shot out like a torpedo.
He looked up and saw me.
"Come here, come here!" he shouted.
I walked over, taking care not to get sprayed (he had no such compunctions and was soaked completely through), and stared at the coin in his hand.
"What year were you born?" he asked.
"In '88," I answered.
"Oh," he replied. "I need to find a '91."
The specie before us was dated 1994.
"I think it's cooler that it's foreign," I put forward.
He looked around as if we were conspirators in some great heist.
"Well, I'm keeping it," he said, and with a single movement the pilfered cash was stowed away in his pocket.
This was in line with his tradition, apparently endorsed by family and friends, of bringing home from the city things found on the street en lieu of store-bought presents. Just before we jumped in the fountain he'd done a quick inventory with his mother.
"Mom, do you have the rubber bands?"
"What about the hair ties?"
"But the paper clips. Did you remember the paper clips?"
She looked at me, her eyes holding more amusement than exasperation.
"I think I'd draw the line at dirty syringes."
When we were out of the fountain and Shaggy Hair Boy was comfortably air-drying in the weak sun, there was one more picture to take.
"We'll stand in front of the arch," Jo(e) declared. She gathered my long blonde locks into her hands and released them behind my shoulders.
"There," she pronounced. "Now your hair will all be going down your back."
Shaggy Hair Boy was about to snap the photo when Jo(e) abruptly removed her arm from around my shoulder.
"Oh, yeah, you're probably right," I noted. "I'm way taller than you."
"That's not it," she said as I extended my left arm across her back. "I just didn't want to block your hair."
I couldn't help smirking.
"You are absolutely ridiculous."
After five hours of talking and eating and wandering around, it was time to part.
Jo(e) and Shaggy Hair Boy walked with me to the intersection of Fourth and Grove.
"It was so great meeting you," Jo(e) said as she pulled me into a hug.
"Me?" I asked. "Please. I wanted to meet you more than anyone. You got me started."
"You'd be welcome to come stay with us in Snowstorm City. Any time."
"Oh, thanks," I said. "I don't know when I'd ever be up there, but I'll let you know. We have to do this again."
"Definitely," she said.
"Alright," I responded. "I guess I'll talk to your later."
We shared one last hug, and then they went their way and I went mine.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Now, more than ever, I have to remind myself that everything is going to be okay. It's not that I've been hurt here. It's just that this city is so big, its humanity so vast, and in that impersonal expanse I've gotten a sense of a world that is overwhelming. There is so much out there, so much more than anyone could ever fully know, and it seems that it would be so easy to get lost in the hugeness of it all and find that you've somehow become separated from yourself.
My life was unsettled when I started this blog, but the immediate future has become even more unstable since then. I will graduate in six months. I can't tell you where I'll be in seven.
I've been conscious of this uncertainty for some time, but now I've brought it with me to this volatile metropolis of raw humanity where people are constantly pressed together but talk surprisingly little. You'd think that they'd talk more. Squeezed against each other in underground trains, compressed on street corners and in grocery stores, it really is odd that they don't acknowledge each other or make some effort to reach out. I guess I've always felt that way, though.
Whenever I am too awed by all the possibilities that lay before me--by prospective peaks of success and lurking pits of failure--I remind myself that I am doing the best thing I could possibly be doing. Interning here was a wise move and the experience I am receiving under Literary Agent a valuable asset.
The internship is going well, by the way.
Since starting it several weeks ago (via computer in Southern State) I've solidly confirmed my suspicions that publishing is likely the only industry where I'd be able to find professional satisfaction. I never achieved that in journalism, even though I have quite a knack for reporting.
A good contrast between this job and the others I've held is to look at my work ethic. For the longest time I thought I was just lazy.
As a journalist I'd be chronically careless with deadlines, unresponsive to superiors' comments and requests, unreachable by phone for days at a time (which in the world of online news is essentially a request for unemployment), and notoriously bad at responding to e-mails. If I'm being honest about it I probably should have been fired several times over this year alone and likely only kept my position as an editor because of a skill level that far surpassed my peers'.
That's another thing that bothered me about journalism: I put in astonishingly little effort but always managed to coast on talent. It made me feel like less of a person.
My work in publishing has served to redeem me in my own eyes.
Certainly, natural ability plays a part--as Literary Agent told me when we first started out, "You either have the instincts or you don't"--but now that ability is going hand in hand with genuine dedication.
"Literary Agent," I said in an e-mail sent around midnight last night. "I just finished the manuscript you gave me. I'm attaching a reader's report with my notes. Since I have Monday off and my schedule on Wednesday is going to be restricted, I'd appreciate your giving me some things to work on over the weekend. Thanks."
That was me, requesting extra work for the weekend. That's insane. If my boss at Student Website had asked me to put in more hours on a Saturday I would have given him a tongue-lashing followed by a lecture on the virtues of boundaries.
This morning Literary Agent called me with news that my weekend might not be as productive as I would have liked.
"Listen, BB," he said. "I think it's great that you're working so hard, but we honestly only account for you being available a few days a week. I literally don't have any assignments for you."
When several hours later he e-mailed me a manuscript he'd forgotten about, I was actually happy.
Of course, not everything has been daisies and sunshine. Literary Agent has a propensity for brusqueness online that, whether borne of an unfamiliarity with Internet etiquette or a sincere lack of caring, can be disarming. Today, per my request for more work (which I still can't believe happened), he told me to send him links to pictures of furniture for our new office. When I quipped (jokingly) that I was a horrible interior designer, he told me that I "wouldn't make it in publishing" if I was only willing to do the things I loved and refused to "chip in" on more mundane tasks.
I can be pretty chilly when I want to, and the message I sent back was succinct: "Literary Agent: I assume that any assignment you give me is important. You gave me this assignment. I will send the links."
Another minor annoyance is Self-Important, a literary agent at Book Agency who doesn't look a day older than our youngest intern. Everyone knows a person like this. In her twenties, with ironic black-rimmed glasses, a hugely annoying up-do, and a permanent scowl on her face, Self Important has decided that as a recent college graduate with a marginally prestigious job she and everything she does is of such significance that anything outside of it is simply not worth her time.
It's all very serious.
We interns learned this last week, when Self Important sent one of our number, a young woman, to the post office with a package bound for Serbia. Just in case you've never seen it, the post office in the City of Fate is gigantic, a great marble and bronze colossus inside of which could comfortably fit any other city's largest museum.
When the intern, inevitably, given the incomplete instructions Self Important provided, sent the item using the wrong priority, the four-eyed twit was quick to express her annoyance.
"That's why I told you to ask if you had any questions," she said, not looking directly at the girl but employing a tone of voice that implied the intern's error was an incredible act of stupidity.
"Self Important, no," said another agent, one just as young but apparently not infected with the inflated ego that is endemic in professional youth. "That's not even a question you would think to ask. That wasn't her fault at all."
So at least the others aren't blind to it.
Any slight negatives aside, I love the job and the more I learn about it the truer that love becomes. Did you know that a huge portion of our professional energy is spent getting editors tanked while asking them to buy books? How awesome is that? Any occupation where you get to read manuscripts all day and go out for regular dinner dates is a winner in my book.
In light of our need to wine and dine, Self Important's apparent displeasure at the socializing in the office seems misplaced. Does she not get that we're cultivating important skills?
My biggest remaining concerns are finding friends, finding a job, and finding a gig, and I believe that the first will come with the last two.
I have a busy few days ahead of me; tomorrow I'll read a manuscript, Sunday I'll head to an audition, and Wednesday I'll have a job interview. Those things, along with what this household is like, can all be detailed later, though, as this post has been long enough.
This is the city I now call home. Hopefully by the time I leave it will feel that way in more than just name.