Wednesday, June 17, 2009

.: and here i am again :.

well, it has been quite a while since i have posted to blogger. it was not at all intentional. just life taking over in serious places. god, i make that sound like i had a heart attack or something. of course not. only, i got so busy with my thesis that i forgot for a second all of my own personal endeavors. i think that happens to people sometimes. 

i want to now post a story that i wrote a while back. i get different responses it so it. i hope you take the time to read it, for it is one of great emotion. it is about the struggle to be an artist and peace and madness at the same time. some of you may understand, some of you may not. but i hope you enjoy.

Well, this is where I start. Is it a beginning? I could start with the uncanny day my mother popped me out, that day being Christmas. Imagine that. I have the same birthday as Jesus. But I don't think I want to start there, because a lot of mistakes have been made since that day. I want to start with a day that I remember. 
My days somehow run into each other. I wake up, usually sometime after 9 a.m. (yes, I am a late riser), feed my cat, check my email (even though I never receive anything of importance, of substance, from a friend, I mean), rub my eyes, clean the tile counter in the kitchen with a dirty sponge, slip on my Uggs to keep my feet warm (our apartment is FREEZING in the morning), yawn, sniff and blow my nose. The usual, you know?

This day is somehow different. This is the day a friend lent us a car. Imagine that. A car. The us I refer to is my boyfriend and I. We live together in a one-bedroom flat in San Francisco, in Haight Ashbury actually. We live a block away from the once Janis Joplin house. I walk by it almost every day and imagine Janis, Jimi and Bob sitting on the porch, strumming an acoustic. That was the 60s. Now it is a children's center. Somehow drug use and alcoholism lends itself to community activism. Imagine that. Today we call off work even though we aren't sick. My boss whines.

"Not today, Layla. Not today. Sal and Tobin already called in sick. I am here by myself."
"But I am sick," I say. "What do you want me to do?" I hang up the phone and turn it off. I don't call back. 
We decide to take a road trip down South. Eric, my boyfriend practically yells through excitement.
"Fuck it, let's drive all the way to L.A." 
"No," I say. "Too much money. Let's just drive. Then hopefully when the sun sets, we will be at a beach so I can take a photo."

We drive through the park to the expansive horizon of cars, beach, ocean and surfers. Stark noon light hits the white sand and reflects off of the foaming waves as we turn onto Highway 1. I can't seem to suppress the smile that I feel stretched across my face. Is this happiness or is it California? I laugh out loud and Eric turns to me. I can see his beaming eyes.

"What?" he says, but he knows already. We continue down Highway 1 to Fort Funsten. We decide to get out and survey this novel location. We walk through a small field to a path, where a sign loudly reads 'JUMP WITH CAUTION'. I feel alarmed at first, but realize by the photos that it meant not to jump to death, but rather by hang-glider. We continue to the Fort and lean on the railing that hangs over the beach. It seems almost a mile to the waves and those walking along the water move like ants. A strange loss of reality grips me at this moment because of the depth perception that I feel while looking over such a steep precipice. For some reason, the events on the beach seem separate from my existence, like I am looking through a peephole. I begin to feel dizzy and then tell Eric I want to go. Our mint green Volkswagon GI glistens in the parking lot as we walk out. I shoot small video clips on the road and laugh through the breezes of salt and fish. The car sings the lyrics of Modest Mouse and I stare to the sky as the sun captures the movement through the treetops. The air through the window feels chilly, but the heat of the sun keeps us warm. 

"Come on," I say. "Say something funny. What should I write about?" I ask. "Damn, look at that. It's a huge cliff," Eric says. I look over at the cliff and the beach beyond and then think of the small building we had just left behind called "English Pub". How good a Guinness would be on the beach in California. 

I moved to California for school. I enjoy the beaches and mountains, and the idea that I can snowboard and surf in the same day. Graduate school seemed the appropriate outlet for a girl who had too much talent and too little money.

My life here swims laps over the tainted years in Pennsylvania. I do not speak of child abuse or alcoholism or suicide, I speak of a tarnished relationship with my father. Somehow California became my simple life. The sound of the waves and the physical distance between the two states calmed me.

We pass signs that say "drifting sand" along a trail where a woman and a horse lazily walk. The speed of the car stops the horseback rider as a photograph would.  Days like this make me human again. Despite gas prices as high as $3.07 (damn California), we forge on with a powerful sense of freedom. Heart of Gold, by the talented Neil Young, resonates with the excitement of the moment. We finally reach Santa Cruz, and the boardwalk feels plastic against the plush seascape we had passed that afternoon. From a distance, the ferris wheel sits still as stone. The streets remain empty and it seems as if the town exists only because of the few volleyball players on the beach. I see the blood pumping through their veins as they jump toward the sky to spike the ball. Is this what they do in Santa Cruz? Play volleyball and eat ice cream? 

I lean against a pole and wish I could enjoy the same lifestyle. Though I know the residents of Santa Cruz don't actually eat ice cream or play volleyball as a career, it seems appropriate to imagine this in my head for a few moments. It would be delightful, spending days on this warm beach, enjoying the sand in my toes and the power of volleyball to whip me into shape. But at the end of the day, these players go home to jobs, as I will tomorrow. 

We park the car and head toward the boardwalk. I take photos of the tops of palm trees against the sky. The boardwalk looks completely empty, and then I realize that it is the off-season. The sun begins to move past 2:00 above the horizon, and by 3:00, I will have missed my sunset. 

"You know what?" I say. "Let's get out of here. I really want to be on a smaller beach when the sun sets." 

Eric stares at me, nodding his head okay. We jump into the car. I buckle my seatbelt and chew on some Macadamia nuts. How exciting. I feel suddenly that we are chasing the sun to Monterey. I am not sure why I am counting on the end of the day so urgently except for the making of my final photograph. There is something about the last moments of daylight in photography. It is a brick of time between dusk and sunset where the sky resonates purple when translated to film. It is magically beautiful and sedating. I smile at the idea of recording the last moments of this day. On the way to Monterey, we pass silhouettes of tractors and artichoke plants harvesting. For a while, we wonder what crop spans the acreage before us until we spot (actually, let me rephrase), almost run into, a huge red sign stating "ARTICHOKES NOW GROWING!" Sunlight reflects from small patches of water dispersed over the land, reaffirming that we are still close to the ocean. Shadows fall across the road as we arrive in Monterey. 

I am totally relaxed except for the grumbling in my stomach. The sun sleeps over the bay and the clouds reflect pink off of the flat, calm water. I grab my tripod from the car and set it up. I shoot a sailboat. It feels less dramatic to me than anticipated, as if there should have been a burst of fireworks as I press the shutter. 

Maybe my life revolves around this moment, this instant moment of satisfaction followed by a letdown. Maybe my father and I could have understood each other if I had remained an editor. At least I was making salary and benefits. At least my job had a title in the workforce like his title of doctor. At least I was working for a huge corporation. At least I could get a raise. Eric ushers me to the crab house. I walk to different spots and shoot the last light of the day. 

"I'm hungry. Can we please go?" He looks at my camera and rolls his eyes. "Okay, just one more shot," I say.
"That's what you always say, and it's never just one more shot," he retorts before turning and walking toward the restaurant door. Okay, okay, I mutter to myself. I throw the tripod back into the trunk and run to catch up with him. 

We sit at a small table and watch the pink clouds disappear over the hillside. Hundreds of sailboats line the harbor through the window next to us. It feels quite romantic and subtle. The sun sets on the earth and rises on us.

We order whole crab and calamari. I like the idea of eating buttery crab with my fingers. I tell the waitress that we are excited to have calamari in Monterey Bay, as it is well known, and she blurts out that this is a local's place. We look around and see middle-aged couples looking mostly like tourists.  "Local's place," grunts Eric under his breath. 

I go to the women's restroom. Tacked on the wall above the toilet is a wooden fish with measurements such as seen on a ruler. In white letters through the center, it reads "size does matter". I laugh and wonder if a similar fish sits above the toilet in the men's restroom. 

As we munch on calamari, we overhear the waitress say, 
"I've been around these parts since '64." Eric hails her to our table. "Did you go to the festival?" he asks, referring to the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where Jimi Hendrix smashed and burnt his Fender (Eric loves Jimi).
The waitress shakes her head no and laughs. 
"Nooo. I thought they would be 'round forever, and then they just died," she says. We sit staring at her not knowing what exactly to say. She picks up the empty plates and leaves. We look at each other and Eric shakes his head again.
"Local's place," he mutters. At least she still laughs through all these years, I think. She is content at being a waitress in Monterey Bay. After all, she does live by the ocean.

"I'm going back the way we came," says Eric as we step into the car. It is funny to think about going back. We drive in this circle, which we call the California coast, and now it is dark. I breathe and relax. The food in my stomach nourishes me. And I do not hear the buzz of underground trains. I do not watch as a streetwalker spits on my tennis shoe. No dirty fingers or track marks, nor the stench of piss at the doorstep of my workplace. I do not hear my cat scream to me about how she wants to get laid as she goes through heat. No more screaming to myself in my head that I am thirty and still broke. After all, we did pack lunches to save money. 

I left Pennsylvania without a career. Or at least, not one that suited my father. I quit my editor job to be a waitress. I hated the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the newsroom on the thirtieth floor. And the twenty-ninth floor. It is strange as I look back now, and the lights are what I remember to hate the most. I am sure there were other things to hate at that job, but not the people nor the constant looming deadlines. Perhaps I hated my boss or the smell of the building. But what stuck with me the most was the sadness in Emme's eyes, because she knew after twelve years at the company, she would never leave. She would arrive at eight a.m. every day, have a one-hour lunch break, take a few phone calls, count many numbers, file much paperwork, and then leave again at six or six-thirty sometimes. Or even seven. But she never smiled or laughed, her back slumped over slightly from sitting in a poorly cushioned desk chair everyday, and she always carried a pen behind her ear. Emme was the newspaper's accountant. 

She sat in the cubicle two down from me, the one in the corner, It did not face any windows, so she did not see natural light much during the day. We had lunch together sometimes, at a small Thai restaurant a few blocks away. Usually we both got chicken curry. 

I read and reported about gold and silver every day. It was a commodities paper, one of great importance to individuals who tracked their riches on the New York Stock Exchange. But they already had money to track. I had only a dream.

So I left. I put my two weeks in and bounced. I had saved a small amount of money, but not enough to support myself for long. Eventually, I had to move home, much to the dismay of my father. He never understood why I left that job and he never agreed with it. Somehow my title of oldest daughter no longer stood for something. My family dynamic had changed, and I felt as if I didn't understand it. I picked up a camera and took it into the Pennsylvania woods to be alone. To cure myself. I began to do this almost very day. The remote silence of the trees against the click of my camera shutter grew familiar to me. I waited tables and made pretty good money, enough to find my own apartment and pay for it. 

"You should be working," my father would say to me in the middle of dinner, as if I wasn't supporting myself already. He shook his head while he stuffed buttered carrots into his mouth. 

My father's black hair glistened beneath the hanging light that lit the table. I stared at the course salty grays that showed his age, but his eyes showed his fatigue. His appointments for patients began at seven a.m. sharp and often he worked twelve-hour days. He appreciated the healthy meal served to him by my mother every night when he finally made it home. 

"I have a job," I snapped back and then stamped my lips shut to negate an argument. This went on at dinner over a time period of several months. I only ate dinner with my parents once a week, but somehow my ungodly career misfortune always slipped through my father's teeth. 

"You put your mind to it and you can be anything you want," he'd say. "I did it." 
Each time he said 'I did it', I think about my birth. I was conceived out of love, as my parents did meet in sixth grade (my father gave my mother a homemade valentine of pink and red construction paper). I was born on Christmas, the same day as Jesus (maybe my father needed a reality check). My father applied for grants and scholarships and entered medical school (but that was the sixties, and I wonder perhaps if they let almost anyone into medical school at that time). And then come more children, my brothers and my sister. I grew up feeling tall, because for a long time, I could put my hand comfortably on my brother's head. But he grew up, and so did the others. We grew up. Then I stopped growing, and they kept growing. At least in my father's eyes.

There was never any glass throwing or screaming in my parents' household, only an eerie silence that I sometimes thought needed a bit of glass shattering. Someone should scream to my father that not everyone was like him. I am not a doctor, I am an artist. Live with it. 

I left Pennsylvania to become a famous photographer. I always say that because it is what my father would want. I entered school to polish my skills. I reached California and touched the sand. I cried. I laughed. I had my first paid photo shoot. I made a lot of money (which I of course quickly spent, but don't tell my father. Then he could really say 'I told you so'). 

We drive in silence and only respond to the quiet pulsing of 'Dark Side of the Moon'. The streetlights fly by in rhythm with the music. The city looms ahead. We arrive home, sleep, and alas, our day has reached its end. 

I am back on the bus on my way to work. The day of frolicking in the car is over. What is it about this life as I now experience it that my father once did? Perhaps it is the reality of reality. Reality reminds me that life is never easy. He used to say that too. He used to say a lot of things.

At my house, I feed my cat and check my email (you know, thinking I might get some email of importance, of substance). My email is empty. Only junk mail. But I don't fret. I'm okay.

1 comment:

  1. good story , you're a brave girl .something in your style of to write remembers me the dinamism full of life of Jack Kerouak .