Richard Teaches Us About Time

•May 3, 2012 • 4 Comments

The first time I saw Richard, he had dragged the construction barriers on Coal out into the road and was standing in front of them, blocking traffic, smiling, and waving an egg timer in the air.

A few nights before, I had awoken to the sound of eerie chatter in the alley, someone having a conversation with themselves in a child’s voice, and then hysterical, manic laughter. The laughter went on and on. It was, I thought, the quintessential sound of mental illness. I figured it was just a passer-by, until I saw the crazy person outside the apartment next door. (What is it about that kind of insanity that makes itself so instantly known? The mismatched way he dressed in clothes that were too big or too small. The way he moved his hands, like birds trying to escape from his body.) He peered at my car as I drove by. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether he actually lived there, or if he was homeless and had decided that spot in the alley was a good place to settle down.

Stuck in the traffic jam, there was a strange moment of recognition. I wanted to yell at the people honking their horns, “Hey! That’s my neighbor!” I thought about trying to coax him out of the road, but realized that, while I recognized him, he wouldn’t recognize me. And he looked excited and harmless, waving that egg timer, like he was trying to teach us something about time.

Over the next few weeks, I was only vaguely aware that he was next door. Abstractly, he became known as “Crazy Neighbor.” I noticed that he had an affinity for trash cans, shopping carts, things that rolled, which was charming, at first. Then I was woken at four in the morning one night to the sound of trash cans (multiple) being rolled through the alley. I looked out my window to see Crazy Neighbor dragging my trash can back behind his fence. Then he came back into our lot with a piece of wood and started banging on my bedroom wall with it. In the stillness of the middle of the night, it shook the whole apartment. My next-door-neighbor ran outside in his boxers. I ran outside in a bathrobe. (Which is admittedly a stupid reaction on our parts to our insane, probably PCP-addled, unpredictable neighbor.) But Crazy Neighbor was already back on his side of the fence, pounding on his own walls and opening and closing the lids of the various trash cans he’d stolen. Since he hadn’t vandalized anything, or stolen anything of real value, we didn’t do anything about it.

That afternoon, my next-door-neighbor called the cops because Crazy Neighbor was in the alley with his pants down. After that, we learned that he had been turning his neighbors’ power off, throwing hydrogen peroxide at people, threatening to kill his landlord (who was in the process of evicting him, a long, painfully bureaucratic process,) and other not-so-innocuous-after-all shenanigans. We learned that his name was Richard, and that he was a diagnosed schizophrenic, bipolar, meth addict.

I’ve lived alone for about a cumulative three years, and I’ve never felt nervous to be in my house alone. I’ve never been afraid of my neighborhood. I lived downtown for a year and a half on a street that some people might find vaguely unsafe, and walked or biked around at all hours of the night. Nothing sketchy has ever happened to me in my twenty-four years of living in Albuquerque. Not to say that bad things don’t happen, but I maintain, stubbornly, that it has a lot more to do with bad luck, projection, and interaction than with socioeconomic location. Because Richard was insane, his motivations were a mystery to everyone but him. As a friend suggested, maybe to him, the trash cans were mini space ships full of microscopic government robots controlling his mind. We will never know. But his irrational behavior made me nervous. I didn’t think he would come and murder me, but I suspected other strange things would happen.

Instead of making any real decisions, I like to wait for signs in my life to tell me what to do. After a couple weeks of neurotic hyper-awareness and being woken up in the middle of the night to Richard screaming or laughing or pounding on something or (most upsettlingly) using power tools, I put in my 30-day notice to move out of my apartment.

Even though Richard was a scraggly, loud, crazy, drug addict man, there was a strange innocence about him, too, which was, again, a mark of deep mental illness. He would tie things to his fence, decorating it with junk he found around, fake flowers, wind chimes, a smiley face umbrella, and light religious candles around the perimeter. The decorations would change often. I mentioned Richard in an earlier blog and said there must have been someone taking care of him. There wasn’t. He seemed to have slipped through every (huge) crack of every system there was, and I marvel at how he was able to function at all.

Richard did teach me something about time. I learned his routines, how he seemed never to sleep. I knew that there would probably be trouble on trash nights. I counted down the days of the month. I paid more attention to my surroundings than I had in years. At one point, my mother asked me how things were going with Crazy Neighbor. “Richard has been reeeeaaal quiet. I hope he’s not dead.” I realized that I hadn’t seen or heard from him in over a week.

I learned a few days later that he had been arrested for indecent exposure and had enough charges accumulated by that point that they kept him in jail. Instead of an institution or a group home or any of the places he should have been in the first place, he’s in jail now. Simultaneously, his landlord finalized the eviction, packed up his stuff, and changed the locks.

With peace restored, I’m packing up my stuff as well, glad that Richard so encouraged me to get on the road. Time to go. Time to go.

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Passwords

•April 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

This is a guest post by my good friend, Christian Gunning, who was looking for a home for this piece of creative-nonfiction-by-a-geek.  His tech-ier side can be found at his blog, Life in Code.

 

Secrets.

When conversation runs itself dry, when sex is neither a logical nor reasonable option, when the night grows thin and old and dry– what then does one do with oneself? This is an age-old question, once answered with ritual and campfires, later with drugs, tv, money or reckless self-abandon. But really, when left to the horror-flick walk-in meat-locker of one’s own mind in the late, quiet evening hours, what options are there? 

One is prone to wander, if there are places to wander. 
One is prone to wonder, and doubt. Lord knows there are always things to doubt. 
One is prone to stare at the refrigerator. 
Which holds a piece of paper that contains a string of letters and numbers, written in bold, clear text. As if they meant something. 
Which they do. 

Haven’t we all run away and hidden in a secret place, if just for a while? 
If not, do so now. Try it. 
See if anyone can find you, if anyone cares even to look. 
Why bother? You’ll come back eventually, right? 

This is molten heart of a secret — no one else cares. 

Meaning is in the eye of the beholder; we all learned this somewhere, sometime. Whether in the arms of a beloved, in the thrall of a precious album, book, or lecture, or perhaps face-to-face with mortality and divinity: if we are lucky, we see beauty and magic and pixie-dust *somewhere*, and ask not to be judged too much about the _where_ of it. It is ours, singular. And there is power in singularities, where ever they may be.  

So why would meaning and power reside in a string of letters and numbers? This, my friends, is modernity. Post-modernity, if you like, or even ex-post-modernity. This is the present, the early 21st century. This is an era of both exposure and of secrets. And it pays to tell one from the other. 

The other molten hear of a secret is that it’s bearer is the only one that _can_ care.  

If others could share, then maybe they would, but they can’t, so they won’t. Are you happy now? 

The amazing thing about passwords is that they’re yours by virtue of their very existence. They have no meaning other than their secrecy, their criptocy, their abject inscrutability. How many secrets do you hold within your breast that __don’t matter__? And how is it that we, you and i and everyone else, have built a society around little bits of data that no one gives a fuck about, except that they do? 

English has a word for this meaning-without-meaning. Entropy. Properly speaking, one might refer to ”informational entropy” in the Shannon (who worked for Ma Bell back in the government monopoly days) sense of the word. Very different from the dirty-room, time-to-sweep-the-floor sense of the word. It indicates unexpectedness; one might interpret a maximization of entropy as, ”totally fucking unexpected”, at least in the informational sense.  

Dear reader: I’m torn over whether I should give a fuck about you. Are you interesting? How interesting? More interesting than the WiFi password written in clear block print upon the fridge? Prove it. Can I predict your response to this sentence? Do you make the same replies when prodded about god and country, sex and children, money and politics, energy and environment, word for word, over and over? Tell me something I don’t know. Say something different. It doesn’t have to be right, but I sure would like to care. 

The Sleep Myth

•March 5, 2012 • 8 Comments

 

I woke up in the middle of the night last night (and let me clarify, I usually go to sleep between 3 and 5am, so “the middle of the night” falls accordingly,) and was appalled to find that the daily post on the Writer’s March blog was already written and posted by 7am.

Most of the successful writers I know wake up (freakishly) early and often write first thing in the morning.  Every writing professor I’ve had has sworn by this schedule.  What the hell, writer friends?!  How do you do it?!  I often worry about this, since I tend to write very late at night before bed, and I’ve never been able to develop a proper regimen.   

When left to my own devices, my natural sleep schedule seems to be to go to bed around dawn and sleep into the afternoon.  A couple summers ago, when I was unemployed and housesitting for a friend of mine (meaning no job, no rent, no time committments,) I quickly fell into this schedule and watched the sun rise every day before bed.  Now that I’ve graduated and I no longer have classes in the morning, I’m gravitating back to this schedule, but I’ve been having a hell of a time sleeping through the night.  I often wake up for a few hours before being able to fall back to sleep.  I fill those hours doing mundane tasks, like the dishes, shuffling around in ugly old lady socks with the grippy things on the bottom.  I often make tea and read or write until I can fall back to sleep. 

I was starting to feel really crazy until a friend of mine sent me an article about the myth of the eight-hour-sleep.  Turns out, before industrialization, it was perfectly common to have “biphasic sleep,” sleeping for four hours or so, waking up for a few, and then going back to bed to finish your rest.  When spaces had to be lit with candles or fires, it made sense to stretch out your night of sleep to fill the darkness, and people’s sleep schedules were flexible to these seasonal changes.  Once the industrial revolution hit, people’s work schedules no longer catered to these long, fractured sleeps, and spaces could be lit with electric light.  Thus, the myth of the eight-hour-sleep was born.  Waking up in the middle of the night, which, for people with strong circadian rhythms, may be completely natural, is now diagnosed as “maintenance insomnia.” 

There may be some advantages to biphasic sleep.  For one thing, with biphasic, or polyphasic sleep patterns, you spend more time in REM sleep, so it’s easier to acces and recall dreams.  This is definitely true for me, and probably explains why I have such vivid dream memories.  (I often lose track of which memories are mundane dream memories and which are mundane life memories.)  I also find that I feel more aware and inspired between my first and second sleep.  Slight sleep deprivation seems to remove some the ego and leaves you to experience sensory perception without your pesky intellect getting in the way.  One 16th century doctor’s manual suggested that couples try to concieve after the first sleep when people “have more enjoyment” and “do it better.”  Makes sense to me. 

For the most part, careers these days require a solid eight hour sleep, and an early start time.  I’d love to teach some day, but I can’t really imagine working on that schedule.  Am I doomed to be a failure for life because I can’t grasp the sleep status quo?

Creatively, cultivating this biphasic sleep might be a great thing.  Much of this post was written between my first and second sleeps.  Since I’ll probably never manage to be a true morning person, this may be the key!  Maybe I can be a real writer someday after all! 

***The photographer responsible for that photo can be found here.  And they have prints for sale!

On The March

•March 2, 2012 • 6 Comments

Now that I'm free to leave, I settle in and put things on my walls.

It’s hard to catch up when I only post once every six months, and so many important things seem to happen in between.  I’ll spare you all the details.  Here’s the rundown:

I went to visit my best friend in New Orleans in the middle of the semester and it rekindled my lust for the road.  Everything felt possible and I wanted to cut off all of my hair.  Instead, I went back to school and drab routine and forgot about a lot of the inspiration I found in a new place.

A string of strange events occurred, including a tree falling on my car and my knee cap dislocating from my leg.

I finally graduated from UNM in December.  I wasn’t sure I would survive it, since my burning hatred of that institution made me want to self-destruct.  Thankfully, I was able to turn off my brain long enough for them to put a Bachelor’s of Creative Writing in my hands.

I got comfortable.  Being free, I finally made peace with Albuquerque and being alone and settled into my apartment, putting things up on the walls.  Just in time to leave.

A mirror. She changes with the seasons. This time she's a little nervous, maybe sad to be saying goodbye to her hometown for a while.

This complete freedom and the fact that I am accountable only to myself leads to a terrifying infinity of choices, which leads to inaction.  But I’m caught in the stifling gaze of Albuquerque.  Twenty-four years of expectations and perceptions.  If I don’t get out of here for a while at least, it will swallow me.

So, here I am, stuck in the real world with the abstract conviction that I should be doing some kind of “good work,” and I don’t have school as an excuse for my laziness and indecision anymore.  I made a resolution that I would read something, write something, and play an instrument for a while every day.  So far this has been going fairly well.

Why do I think you will care about all this?  I don’t.  The thing is, I’ve joined this thing one of my writer friends started up called Writer’s March.  Think NaNoWriMo, but less scary.  It’s a month of personal writing goals and challenges.  My goal is to write creatively for at least an hour a day.  High school style journaling doesn’t count, (though I still do it, and believe that consistent documentation of the surrounding goings-on is crucial,) but I thought I’d go easy on myself and say that blog posts do.

I can see why blogging has become so popular.  The format is organic and comfortable.  You can jump from topic to topic without commitment.  It encourages you to pay attention to your personal impressions of and reflections on the world and organize those creative thoughts with the knowledge that you can easily synthesize them and put them in front of other people.  (The inescapable exhibitionism of the writer.)  I know that a big part of Writer’s March is to train yourself to just sit the fuck down and write.  This is something that I’m notoriously bad at.  Even now, as I write this, I am balancing my laptop on my head as I dance around listening to The Clash and eating pizza.  Blog posts allow you to unleash your inner ADHD child, taking impromptu photographs, doing research, finding youtube videos and links as you neurotically tab back and forth between wordpress and your dozen other open webpages…

Desk companion.

I hope that it’s a steady incline, and that in a few days I will be on my way to a new story, or that I’ll have completed some serious revisions to old, discarded yet salvageable work.  I hope, too, that I post more often on profound and inspiring topics.  But don’t be surprised when they’re similar to this one and I talk about what kind of cheese I bought at the grocery store between laments of my existential crises.

Temporary and Transitory

•August 21, 2011 • 1 Comment

I have come back to my apartment in Albuquerque, and I am writing this post because I can’t seem to leave the house, I’m a pot of coffee in, and I keep telling myself to write something but I can’t seem to start or finish anything.  I just keep staring blankly at the middles.

Living room with new couch and desk.

It’s good to be in my own place with only my things around.  The first night back, I lit candles, made dinner, and listened to jazz records.  I keep talking about people who know how to “live well,” which involves–among other habits–the simple (and admittedly somewhat bourgeois) elements of good lighting, food, and music.  This new category of “people who live well” sits beside my abstract “person I can travel with” (who I have yet to come across) and I find myself on the lookout for these people constantly.  Meanwhile, I’m busy falling in love with people I shouldn’t love, who don’t fit into either category, and who are usually unavailable for one reason or another.  In short, I am out of a relationship for the first time in seven years, I am lonely, and my loneliness leads me to stupidity and desperation.  Here you go, world, my sitting-in-a-dark-apartment-in-silence confession.

Due to my inability to stay in one place, I spent the summer up in Jemez Springs, and was there for the entirety of the Las Conchas fire, the largest wildifre in New Mexico history.

View of the fire from Los Alamos

The smoke for the first few days looked like an atom bomb had gone off, and it settled into the valley at night when the air cooled and stilled.  It was, literally, suffocating.  The fire burned for over a month and the forest was closed for most of that time.  I went stir crazy and fixated on the missed opportunities of living up there during a season that the town was in stasis.  That was when everything began to feel especially temporary and transitory.  I became desperate to take advantage of people and places which would soon be gone.  (The return to town was looming, and my graduation later, and then leaving New Mexico all together, plus my sense of instability and possible doom in the world.)

I took a drive up to Los Alamos to see the fire damage.  Some of my favorite vistas were full of charred, toothpick trees and burnt ground.  I went down to the Las Conchas trail, one of my favorite places in the world, and the river was so full of ash that the banks had built up a sludge of blackened mud.  The place (a place that I spent every summer of my childhood, where my father says he wants his ashes scattered; a place that taught me part of what New Mexico is all about, and where I feel connected,) felt fragile.

The caldera pre-burn.

I’ve been joking lately that we should call our generation “The Apocalypse Generation,” but I’ve been starting to think that it’s not such a joke.  I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that the world will change in a significant and difficult way within our lives, and I see this manifest in a desperate need to seize the moment, stay versatile, and not plan far into the future amongst my peers.  When I looked at the burned Jemez Mountains, I remembered again that the things I love may be temporary.  I may lose them at any time.  That a certain immediacy should be celebrated and an acceptance of letting things go.

I want to do a million things.  I want to know how to do everything there is to do.  (The Meadow, by James Galvin, is largely to blame for the existential crisis of needing to gain “skills”.)  I don’t feel like I seized the moment of summer.  I didn’t catch a fish or an animal or ride a horse or harvest anything or build anything or fix a car or even split firewood.  So, I have unfinished business there, and I am already plotting on how to go back once I graduate this winter.  If society collapses, the country will be the place to be (The cities will most likely disintegrate into Escape-From-New-York-style gangs of roving subway mutants and will be generally hopeless pits of despair with high rates of mortality.  Only the “skill-less” will be there.) and I’ll need to know how to live there.

My last semester starts in two days.  One semester of this apartment and all the possible epiphanies and insanities of solitude.  (See: paragraph two.)  Then on to the next thing.  Last time I said that maybe the answer is just to keep moving, and don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want nothing more than to settle into a beautiful house in a beautiful place with a garden and a baby and a dog, but I think that answer really is in the transition, one million of them if necessary.

 

Times Like These

•November 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

Again, it has been too long.  But inspiration to write is a luxury that tends to be absent in times of crisis.  It returns when things settle.

Here is an incomplete list of things that have gone on since my last post.  Things that should be said before moving on so as not to leave a three month long vacuum in my life.

1) I got my van!  If you recall the camper van photo in my post on that topic…my van looks nothing like it.  My van looks like this:  It is beautiful, sturdy, and requiring much love before being habitable, but already when I crawl inside it, I feel safe and happy.  If you know my penchant for escape, then you know why.

2) I went to Europe!  The plan for this epic trip was in the works for  about a year, and I wish it weren’t so, but in the wake of other things, it has come, gone, and already feels distant.  So at least let me briefly immortalize it here.  I went with my mother, starting in Warsaw and going to Krakow, Prague, and Paris.

I must say, Poland impressed me.  We stayed near the university in Warsaw’s reconstructed Old Town, and everyone around us seemed stylish, intelligent, and optemistic.  For a city that had to be completely rebuilt in a country that has experienced crisis after crisis, there was an incredible air of self sufficiency and pride.  Some of the best food of the trip was eaten in Warsaw and Krakow.  Krakow was more classically European, but far more touristy, and its people seemed more worn out than in Warsaw.  I would go back.  I could even stay.

Prague has become the tourism hot spot of Europe, and it’s obvious why.  Prague is ungodly beautiful.  Almost too beautiful.  Fairytale beautiful.  But the Czech know it and charge for it, and the center of town is crawling, I mean literally crawling with tourists.  Still, good things came of Prague.  The John Lennon Wall, for one.  Look it up.  An old man playing a hurdy-gurdy, for another.  Look that up, too.

And Paris.  Paris, Paris, Paris.  It’s not a lie, people.  Everyone loves Paris because it really is THAT AWESOME.  I don’t care how cliche it seems to love Paris.  I have decided that she is worthy.  Somehow, she has managed to be one of the best loved cities in the world, see millions of tourists a year, and still keep her soul.  My only complaint, after my brief stay in New York poisoned me forever, is that people in Paris walk really slowly. Otherwise…it’s pointless to name the reasons I was grateful to be back there.  We stayed for a week, and even though it was the end of the trip, and we were tired, it was not easy to go home.

I’m not going to try to pick and choose any photos here, but they’re all up on ‘The Facebook’ anyway.

Soon, when I am less distracted, I will feel a physical, painful longing when I think of Europe.  It will last until I go back.  And I will go back.

3) Contrary to what I’ve been saying for the past while, and probably proving me as a fraud, we just signed a year lease for an apartment in Albuquerque.  After returning from three weeks in Europe, it was starkly evident that we had to get out of this house.  It’s winter time now, cottonwood leaves, crows, and visible breath.  We still don’t have a kitchen, a hot water heater that works for more than a couple hours a day, or more than a single space heater in the bedroom.  Mutual breaches in contract, I feel, have released us anyway, but at this point, there’s really no choice.  It has become a dangerous psychological environment.

The apartment in Albuquerque is cute, retro-chic with old linoleum and green carpet.  To know that I will have a stove and a shower and a heater within a week fills me with indescribable relief and thankfulness.  (And for that, I am glad that I’ve had to live this way.)  I can put the garbage bags full of clothes in a closet, the food and dishes in cabinets.  Hopefully, I can write again.  I have decided to go back to school in January, and it is close to campus, close to my closest friends, close to what I consider the elements of my real life.

I blame place.  I always blame place.  When I saw recently that my old New York roommates now want to move to Brooklyn, I wanted to scream because against all rationale, I believe that a different place could have saved us.  I believe that now.  Whether it is irrational or not, place plays a huge role in the falling apart and the putting back together.

Sometimes I think the key is just to keep moving.  To move, and move, and move.  Well, here’s to hope for a year of staying in one place.

Care-taking. Taking care.

•August 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It has been quite some time since my last report: realizing that I needed to buy a camper van so that I could travel and live about the country unhinged.  (Unhinged most likely has a psychological connotation here.)  This destiny is near!  I have two possible vehicles at my fingertips, and I hope that soon one of them will come home with me.  More on that later.

Last time I posted, I wasn’t in Albuquerque.  I was up in the mountains in a cabin next to a river.  This time…I’m up in the mountains in a cabin next to a river.  It’s a different house and a different river, but I live here now.

It’s not quite as luxurious as it seems.  The pros are, I get to live here:

The view from the backyard.

If this looks something like Jemez Springs, New Mexico, that’s because it is.  I spent every summer in this mountains from age eight to fifteen at music camp, and I’ve hiked, hot springed, and camped here countless times.  Part of growing up in Albuquerque was growing up here.  I’ve had a lot of happiness, peace, and revelation in these

A few steps down the road.

mountains, so the allure of moving up here was strong.  Being a writer, I imagined it would all be sitting in the hammock, composing  songs and working on a brilliant novel.

The cons:  The house we’re staying in is being gut renovated.  No one usually lives up here, and so that’s how we found ourselves in this place.  To care-take.  Take care.  Keep an eye.  By the time we moved in, there was supposed to be a guest quarters and a kitchen ready for us.  Of course, time is fickle when it comes to remodeling, and neither of these things are close to being done.  We have a bedroom, a bathroom, a refrigerator plugged in outside, and a camping stove.  The rest of the house, the very large house, is essentially a shell.  For some reason, they painted the outside of it pink.  It looks like this:

It could be beautiful. Now it's pink.

Roughing it for a little while is…fun…or something, but we’re looking at the middle of September at the earliest for the kitchen, and the rest?  Who knows.  Not being able to prepare real meals with real appliances is taking a toll on me.  As is not being able to shower because the solar hot water heater is temperamental/broken.  As is living in what amounts to a hotel suite with another very autonomous human being and not even being able to go to another room.

I know last time I said I had no interest in getting another apartment anytime soon.  I still feel that way, when I really consider it.  But I realize now that I’ve been living in other people’s spaces for eight months now with no agency or investment into my environment, and that’s taking a toll, too.

To keep busy/keep my financial options open, I got a job at the bar up here, Los Ojos.  It’s up and down, so far.  It’s a restaurant job.  What did I expect?  I also spend my time taking care of these beings:

The Lump

Two cats also share our room.  (Four of us in one room.  It’s a party.)  They started out with normal cat names, but they were renamed The Lump (yes, I realize that this is a usurped name, but it is the only thing I can ever think to call this guy.) and Cabinet Cat.  Cabinet Cat could not be pictured here because he is terrified of everything and lives in the bathroom cabinet.

TJ

This inbred-looking monstrosity lives underneath the deck in the backyard.  I go to feed him every morning and he crawls out, hops around, and makes strange, strange sounds of happiness because he’s too old to bark.  He’s decrepit.  He may be somewhat brain-damaged.  But he is a genuinely joyous creature, which is probably what has allowed him to stay alive all this time, floating around the neighborhood surviving off of hand-outs for years.  He’s very low maintenance, is probably the happiest among us, and I actually quite enjoy having him around.

Pretty tree.

I also have a greenhouse and a lot of outdoor plants, including more tomatoes and squash than two people could ever reasonably consume.

Also, baby sunflowers sprouted today!

Greenhouse residents.

Things will progress.  We will be delivered, or we will fail and murder each other with axes.

Either way, our motivations can be summed up in one sentence:

We aren’t paying any rent.