I’m presenting May’s entries together, because they make a nice sequence.
A DREAM, AND A MEETING
I had a weird dream the night before last. As I held my brand new bathroom scale in my hands, the batteries–it operates on quite a few AA’s and AAA’s- sizzled and sputtered. Then smoke burst from the scale and it became warm, then hot, in my hands. The smoke became so thick that I couldn’t see anything in front of me except the swelling, heaving scale. Flames erupted–I was reminded of the Twin Towers on 9/11–the horror I felt was tinged with guilt: I worry too much about my weight. That was what the dream meant, perhaps.
Yesterday I met with the director of the place where I will probably be teaching. I could tell he wasn’t too impressed with me. He liked the syllabus, though, and made copies.
It’s weird: I live such a reclusive life that I was overwhelmed by the newness of everything. I feel comfortable on the buses, maybe too comfortable; I am a frequent rider of the “T.” As soon as I got off the bus I was a lost child. I was passively taking things in, declining to play an active role in my conversation with the director. To say I was nervous would be an understatement.
ANOTHER WEIRD DREAM
I was in some kind of class where I was the only student. Two men stood on a table for a demonstration. Both were naked. The teacher, whose appearance was not particularly notable, pointed a long stick at each man.
“This one,” said he or she (for I cannot recall even the teacher’s gender), pointing at the first man, “is normal. Note how smart and important he is.” The man tensed his muscles. His taut skin glistened.
The instructor pointed to the second man. “This one is fat. He is a slob, a greedy, weak, out-of-control pig.”
The man arched his back. His stomach enlarged as he leaned, until it appeared to amass as I, horrified, watched. Was it some extreme cancer, or–could it be filling itself with air? Larger and larger, skin translucent, the grotesque flesh pulled up and over his breast.
And then, it popped.
Joe died nearly three years ago and I’ve had writer’s block ever since. I feel like shaking myself, calling myself lazy, fat, useless, and weak. I feel like my life no longer has a purpose.
I have asked myself if perhaps I should choose something else to do with my life, but everyone (myself included) feels that I should stay in writing. There is nothing else I can do. I can’t wait on tables, can I? And I can’t wait any longer for some mysterious “change,” some Deus ex machina to swoop me up and bring me to that great elusive Land of MFA.
I had writer’s block for the month of October 2000. It was hell. I did nothing but smoke cigarettes, and cry away the wee hours, because I couldn’t write. I tried picking words out of the dictionary and making them into sentences. I tried writing by candlelight and almost burned the place down. Cripes, I couldn’t even write an e-mail.
My therapist argues that I’m “working hard at improving myself.” Bullshit. This ain’t workin’. It’s barely existing.
In January 2001 the spell broke. I came out of the hospital and plunged into my studies. Suddenly, I had my most productive period ever. It was during those next few months that I wrote most of Breakdown Lane, Traveled. (http://www.breakdownlanetraveled.com)
So maybe there is hope. I’m still waiting.
The day before the first storm I saw at least fifty black birds in an old, far-reaching maple. The tree had been planted years before I moved to this building. My neighbor tried to count the birds on his fingers. He had bitten his nails down very far, and his hands were pink from chewing, like a child’s. Suddenly, the birds scattered and I saw a dark cloud. Maybe it was a rain cloud but I don’t remember if it rained then, or if the rain came the next morning. I had just had supper, a single-serve frozen pizza, and it wasn’t very filling. I had burned the roof of my mouth; my tongue caressed my tender, stinging gums.
“Spring,” the neighbor said. He was like that, always trying to start a conversation. He frequented the bench outside the “B” entrance, where I lived. “Reminds me of the time in Florida when–”
“Yes. I know.” I’ve never been to Florida, in fact, but I wanted to get inside. It was creepy, standing here in the late afternoon with big, smelly old Joe who never showered and smelled of spearmint and dirty socks.
After the fourth day of rain, the water had soaked the downstairs of both “A” and “B” sides, starting with the “B” laundry room and creeping onto the carpet in the hallways. June Norton remarked that the carpet would get mildewy, but no one knew what to do about it. For unknown reasons, Sean, the maintenance guy, sprinkled some whitish powder on the puddles. Norman Eldredge, president of the Tenant’s Association, packed some bags, took a cab to Logan, then boarded a plane to South Carolina, where his brother lived. Folks said Norman couldn’t stand the rain anymore. I didn’t say anything. Tammy tried to tell us the powder was anthrax, but no one was in the mood for that kind of joke. I stopped wearing sunscreen and didn’t bother putting on hand cream. I gave up on the umbrella, too; I wore a waterproof rain jacket instead. But nothing was waterproof by then.
After the eleventh day of rain, things were getting kind of depressing around here. The water had moved up about six feet and everyone had to evacuate, just like that. Cops came knocking on doors and told us to move it. My dog, QB, and I hid in the bathroom till the cops left. We didn’t want to go nowhere. “Shit,” I said. “Fuckin’ shit.” My dog just sat there looking like a dog, and we were cozy, the two of us, having the fifth floor to ourselves. Now QB could bark and play as much as he wanted, with no one to complain. I looked out the window for a long time, staring down through the rain at the traffic light at the intersection of Warren and Lexington, which tossed back and forth like an old guy’s dick, and flashed red, over and over.
When the water reached the third floor, QB and I tired of playing go fetch, and he shredded everything I threw for him, anyway. He shared his Iams Puppy Biscuits with me. They weren’t bad if you put health food margarine on them, or jam. Everything in the fridge got rotten and stinky. I poked at an orange and my finger went right through to the middle.
Outside, the floodwater lapped on the apartment belonging to Paul and Lucille Burkhardt, the blind couple who always tried to milk me for favors, like arranging their 1,000 CD’s or sewing buttons for three hours. The water just reached their window, and inside they had all kinds of expensive audio equipment and fancy vibrators that they kept on their bedside table; I knew this because Bob Cahill told me so.
“It’s so awful,” Lucille had said on the second day of rain. “We’re not supposed to get this much. It’s unfair.”
Paul just stood there stupidly and fumbled in his pockets for a handkerchief. I watched him teeter from side to side, switching his white cane from one hand to the other. He perspired; you could see it under his armpits.
“They didn’t predict this much,” insisted Lucille. “Really. The rain is wrong.”
It thundered on the nineteenth day, and QB was so scared he tried to jump out the window. I grabbed him in time and held him close to me, petting the matted fur behind his ears, and I stroked the stripe that ran from the back of his head down his neck. It was a magic stripe. You could stroke it and wish for anything–except for peace in the Middle East because it would never happen–and your wish would come true. We now had to wade through about four inches of slimy water to get from room to room, and I moved the dog food and Iams Puppy Biscuits to a high shelf in the pantry. Everything looked like ocean. I toyed with the idea that there might be an iceberg below us, and it would push through the other floors, until it poked right into my living room carpet, but dismissed the thought; it was May, after all–how could I be so dumb?
Of course, none of this is true. I made it up. Telling lies is a hobby of mine, when I’m stuck in the apartment because it’s raining and I have no place I’d rather be than home. It goes to show you just how far the imagination can travel when it needs to, when life seems to take a turn for the worse, due to things you can’t control, and wouldn’t want to, now that I think of it. Weather is unfair; why should it be otherwise? Life is never fair, and if you don’t understand that fact now, it’ll hit you in the gut someday, I promise.
The Waltham Public Library is silent except for the turning of pages and an occasional annoying cell phone. I’m seated at the “business reference” section where I can look over the entire room, over the stacks, which are span perhaps fifteen yards, to the reference desk, where now the librarians are busy chatting. I look over my last blog entry, called “Rain,” which for some reason I’ve printed out and have before me. Never mind the technical errors, I tell myself, the piece is pointless and I don’t say anything. I berate myself further: “I can’t write, I never could write, I have no right to write, I am stupid and worthless and life isn’t worth living.” The man at the next table turns toward me–have I spoken aloud?–then quickly he turns away, and removes his glasses. There is a conspicuous click they make as he places them on the table.
“What right did I have to make up all that stuff?” I ask myself. “ Isn’t the blog about me, my mental illness, my reality? What kind of unreliable narrator have I now made of myself?” Glancing at a nearby shelf, I read the topics: Career. Resumes. And a book called 200 Best Jobs for College Graduates. What right do I have…my feet smell, besides.
What right do I have to distort the truth, to lie, to report inaccurately? The man leaves the table and disappears behind a stack. I read the blog entry several times, meanwhile trying to extend my smelly feet well under the table. What right do I have to take up space in this library, to pretend to be a writing scholar, to make noise. I am tempted to rewrite the entry or at least correct the errors. But it’s up on the web now, a cyberhistoric document. What right do I have to change history?
Or, on the other hand, is the instigation of change, of movement, my duty?