Sunday, November 6, 2011

Greatest obsessions in recent history ...

Chuck has been scheming. I see a translucent band spread on the kitchen table when I wake up. I pick it up to throw it away and realize it is a strip of tape placed sticky-side-up. There is a matching piece on on his side of the table and two more on the coffee table.

He is trying to keep the cats from climbing on tables when we aren't awake to blast the fuckers in the face with water as a punishment for being, well, cats. I love finding this kind of evidence of the sort of quirky shit that goes down when I'm not around cheering him on. It feels a little CSI. I can perfectly imagine his thought process, this problem-solving, and what he looked like yanking the tape from the roll and carefully spreading it in the danger zones.

Back when he drank I used to find clues to how he spent his drinking nights without me. Clunky headphone cans plugged into a stereo. Eddie Murphy's album sleeve leaned against the shelf. A empty can of Apple-flavored Jones Cola next to the remains of a whiskey bottle. I could trace his night from the exact moment that the alcohol took effect and he decided to mix weird drinks and listen to "Boogie in your Butt." It was almost funnier than actually watching. One of the few episodes of "Growing Pains" that I remember involves Michael Seaver faking sick. In the afternoon the bus goes past his house. Life goes on whether he is participating or not.


I eat eggs on the weekends. Today it is hard-boiled, sliced and on an English Muffin with pepper and hot sauce. The extra egg I grind up onto the plate and spoon it into my mouth. During the boiling process one of the eggs came open and egg white seeped from the shell giving the food a cancerous bulge. I try to remember whether I can still eat this escaped mass or if it will make me sick. I cut it off and throw it away, knowing I probably could have eaten it and not gotten sick. It's probably no different from a poached egg, but the consistency of this awkward bump is thicker, meatier, and skeeves me out enough that I might eat yogurt, instead, tomorrow.


I've also started going to the library on Saturdays. This week they are holding "Sophie's Choice" on DVD, shipped to Duluth from St. Paul. I felt guilty utilizing the library loan system, thinking of all the trouble it would be for a library in St. Paul to receive my request, pull it from the shelf, and mail it to Duluth. Or perhaps it was passed off to a friend: "You're headed north? Mind bringing along this copy of 'Sophie's Choice'? A woman in Duluth wants to watch it and they don't have a copy at the Duluth Public Library." "Oh, yes. Meryl Streep, no problem."

When I requested it on the library's website, a little badge came up mentioning that our tax dollars make libraries possible.

"Do you think they have that badge so I don't feel guilty about using this service? So I'm reminded that I am helping to pay for it?" I asked Chuck.

Then I realized that once again I was viewing something from the wrong angle. I do this a lot. That actually, this was just a reminder of the kind of services that are lost when funding to libraries is on the chopping block.


Duluth, Minnesota is of a size and shape where you can go all day without seeing anyone you know, but you probably won't. Usually when I have social shame it dissolves after a weekend. But I am still reeling with social shame from my own bad behavior at an event in May 2010. Today I encountered the principals -- who surely by now must have forgiven me considering one of them friended me on Facebook and I was assured by a handful of people in his acquaintance that this is not something he would hold a grudge about. Still, here I am waiting for a Smoothie and here he is behind me in line and here I am wondering if I'm incognito with my hair in a bun and glasses and this shirt and he doesn't say anything to me but we aren't the kind of Facebook friends who would play catch up in line while I wait for a Smoothie.

My plans to read in the coffee shop are modified to taking my Smoothie to go, however. All is going according to plan, I'm practically invisible, until one of the Facebook friends I do talk to in public notices me.

"Hey, Christa!" he says.
And his hair is different so I just look at him for a second, then go to talk to him while he tells me about a  project he is working on. Then, not knowing that I am currently channeling witness protection, that I'm on the lam, he introduces me to the man next to him, saying my name loud and clearly and including what I do for a living and I sort of shrink into myself hearing myself named and described in regular voices in public.

And so when my smoothie comes I keep my eyes low and jet.


For as much as I like to bitch about these cats, they sure do seem to understand how to optimize a Saturday. They have managed to take naps on every surface of the main level of our home in a way that is so enviable.


I'm writing a novel. I'm always writing a novel, but right now I'm writing a novel in fast forward. One of those Nanowrimo gluttons. I go back and forth on the the validity of this undertaking. The emphasis on word-count versus content, con. The deadline aspect of getting it all flushed out by the end of the month, pro. Although it makes my shoulder throb and my jaw swell with stress, I work better this way.

There are plot constructions you don't think about the writer grappling with when you're reading novels:

What to do with minor characters? Do you name them and give them jobs or do you keep them vague, like faces in a photograph of full stadium. How do you show the passage of time? The characters are 10, then they are in high school, now they are 42. When do you find time to shower, to read, to start working out again at the YMCA? How do you keep the cats from sitting on the laptop? How do you write the purposeful sentences of the Haruki Murakami, and the self-containment of Jennifer Egan's chapters, the descriptive gore of Ryu Murakami and descriptive non-gore of Joan Didion, all while conveying that this was really fun to write, like Gary Shteyngart?


I'm also reading Joan Didion's new book about when her daughter died and aging. Only in the last pages does she finally concede to kick a reader in the windpipe. I can't stop wondering who her emergency contact is.

Reading Joan Didion is like giving your brain a tuneup. I end up paying better attention to the world around me. A plastic bag is wrapped around a parking meter, art or not art? I just asked a barista to make me a smoothie, she'll have to dirty that blender for just me.


Chuck springs from bed ready. Sometimes he is slow-going, but I'm sitting here wrapped in a robe and slippers and his hair already looks good and he is putting on shoes and when he asks what we're doing tonight I tell him we're eating dinner at Thai Krathong, going to an art show, watching "Sophie's Choice" and then writing.

He's agreeable to all of it, and is ready to start now so I get dressed and put on lipstick.


The restaurant is nearly empty. A group at a table, a handful at the bar, and us in a booth. I order Drunken Noodles, which I've been craving for a year. Each noodle is like fire against my lips. I drink a Thai beer and get a little wonky, then drink a Thai coffee and get full.


The art show is at a friend's house, an old mansion-like place that has too many nooks and crannies to not be haunted. There is a band playing in the living room, moans from the one-woman string section and a singer with a Thom Yorke vibe. My friend J is showing photographs, a sort of Side A and Side B he tells us, some taken on the Iron Range and some in France. There's a washbasin filled with ice and a counter top with soda and wine and a keg in the kitchen. There is no definitive demographic of audience. All of this is very cool and Chuck and I sneak through the house, wondering what doors lead to where, how to get into the basement and what each of these cubbies are for. A little dog wanders through the party and every once in awhile a kid pops up doing something hilarious. One of them has made a sign introducing the show and a program that says "Music Menu" and includes the names of the three bands on the slate.


Back at home we watch "Sophie's Choice," confirming what I suspected: This might be one of my greatest obsessions in recent history. Meryl Streep is amazing, her Polish accent, her fluent German and her porcelain face which is dripping like one of those decorative walls in hotel lobbies that constantly roll water down the surface.


Then we write.


Laying in bed in the morning it sounds like bombs are going off on the main level. "I don't even want to know what they're doing," Chuck says. When I go downstairs I see that one of the cats has shoved a planter off the counter and it's broken on the floor, dirt everywhere. (My extremely educated guess is that this is the work of Orin). I clean up everything that doesn't require a vacuum cleaning. They've also pushed Kitty City into the kitchen, up next to the countertops which means they've probably spent the past few hours using the kitchen counters as their runway.


"All pizza is bad," an old man says to me at the Co-op. I'm standing in front of frozen foods studying Amy's Brand single-sized pizzas.
He has wiry white hair creeping out of every surface of his head.
"All pizza is bad," he tells me.
He goes on to tell me about the paleo-whatever diet and I shoot a look at an employee that says "CALL A BOUNCER!" The employee doesn't notice me.


elizabeth said...

I loved this... thanks.

Sproactually said...

Has any of your novels emerged from a publisher with a price tag on it yet?

And use the library, i pay for it, so I use it. We have a great inter library loan system and they have a van the makes the rounds delivering your requests.

And I know one librarian gives me favored status pushing my request to the front of line. My one taste of rock star life...