Tongue-Tied

I used to think that writing, of all the myriad creative pursuits in existence, was one of my admittedly few latent skills. My parents encouraged the poised pen in my hand as much as the paintbrush in my older sister’s. I spent countless hours contentedly scribbling and eventually typing all manner of poems, short stories, diary entries, and meandering prose. But for the past few years I have struggled to come to terms with, what I consider to be, a crippling inability to articulate my thoughts.

I’m not sure exactly when I realized that I was not a great writer; I think my first inklings of ineptitude arose in college. I was the lone art history buff amidst a sea of English majors. I liked reading and writing, but I never independently pursued either as much as I thought I should, what with the multitudinous responsibilities of burgeoning adulthood. At some point I stumbled upon the opportunity to write a monthly column in a local magazine about my life as a line cook in the hospitality industry, but what first gave me titters of vain excitement at seeing my name in print devolved into a weirdly apathetic anxiety from deadline to deadline. While my best friend, a hilarious and extremely articulate English major, offered to read my work before submission, I hoped for additional support and an editorial sounding board from the guy I was dating. He was also funny and silver-tongued (I have a weakness for such qualities), and he could write circles around me. He was also a little bit lazy, and quick to crankiness when anything superfluous to the bare minimum of work and school demanded his time and attention. Whenever I asked him to read something I wrote, he found excuses not to or blatantly procrastinated until I gave up and turned my assignment in. I knew there was something he wasn’t telling me, and one drunken Sunday evening I confronted him about it with slurs and accusations. He got frustrated, and finally blurted out that while he thought I had good ideas, I didn’t have the fundamental skills needed to write well.

Though that incident happened many years ago, it still affects me, and I still think about it whenever I sit down to write anything, whether it’s an academic paper, a blog post, or a run-on sentence riddled with commas, like this thing I just wrote. Since I returned to school for my master’s back in 2013, I’ve turned an increasingly critical eye to any string of words I cobble together. I second guess myself at every turn, and obsess over fixing poor writing habits I believe I’ve hardwired into my brain. For example: The tendency to be overly verbose and craft unnecessarily long clause after clause. I thought such flowery, elaborate language was poetic, but it turns out that mostly it’s just vague and lacking in substance. Graduate school hammered the principles of basic rhetoric into my head, which in simple terms couched straight-forward exposition; or, to paraphrase several of my professors, “tell me what you’re going to prove, prove it, and then tell me what you just spent the last 10 pages proving.”

And I know what you may be thinking, that the venue determines the content and its structure, that an academic paper is not a poem, or a blog post, or a press release. And you’re right. I know that. Objectively, I know that despite my misgivings, every page I conquer improves my writing, if only a little bit at a time.

Perhaps I’m just feeling low and generally inadequate, and attacking my writing is an easy, go-to meal for my internal imposter monster. I am now fully immersed in the job hunt, since my fellowship finishes at the end of June. And, infuriatingly, I feel less qualified than ever as I sift through the meagre postings allotted to my field. No matter what I accomplish, I’m not two seconds from the finish line before I berate myself for not accomplishing more. Even in the midst of a project, I have a hard time truly focusing in on the task at hand, and constantly find myself thinking of the 10 other things I should have already done.

I know I told myself that I would stop making this blog a dumping grounds for my negativity. I resolved to make it less Debbie Downer.

In truth, when I sit down and think it out hard, the real demon at play here is my inner critic. Ugly and mean, it latches on to every diffident quiver that pulses from my psyche. My lack of self-confidence is what holds me back, and boy, that’s the most frustrating realization I’ve probably ever had. It blankets every choice I make and step I take, and while I occasionally find glorious moments of unshackled freedom, they are fleeting.

But I digress. At this juncture, the writing I’ve pursued professionally to date is disappointing. I’ve become so hyper-critical and unsure that everything I craft comes out strangled, clunky, and lacks flow. I’m unpacking it here because I want to officially acknowledge the extreme of over-editing oneself. I don’t eschew the necessity of clear, cogent writing, or the need to edit. I just want to take it back a step, and let my natural voice come through a bit more. Even academia could benefit from some looser lips, some ascot disheveling (metaphorically speaking, of course).

 

Current reads: Though I’m close to the end, I still haven’t finished Wild Sheep Chase. Instead I picked up The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. His lexicon is inspiring. I’ve also been re-reading one of my favorite graphic novels, Y: The Last Man.

Current Jam: “Bat Face Girl,” Hotel for Strangers

Maturation; or, Self-imposed Edits

That word looks/sounds so much like mastication that I can’t remove the correlation in my head. Every time I see it I think of saliva, and then I think of cows, and Laffy Taffy. So much goo.

Anyways, I’ve been cleaning house on here a bit. A less cluttered interface, a less syrupy, seriph-y font, and some serious privatizing. A bulk of posts from a serious chunk of time (that’s as specific as I’ll get) are practically cringe-worthy. Pardon the vanity, but I don’t want people to see that side of me anymore, that in truth was less of a subsection than the lion’s share of my personality. God, I was such a mess.

I considered deleting them, in a feng shui-esque process of shedding things that no longer give me joy. But my mouse hovered over the trash icon, and I couldn’t go through with it. I guess I still need them, as reminders. There’s an overused quote that comes to mind, which I’m going to paraphrase because I’m too lazy to open a new tab and google it (WOW)… It goes something like “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” I don’t want to lose my past, no matter how embarrassing it is. Becoming is a series of iterations, and every iteration evolves from its predecessor(s). No one magically becomes what they want. All those old “yous” are mile markers showing you how far you’ve come.

It reminded me of this artist I’ve been interested in lately, Ethan Hayes-Chute. He recently wrapped up a DIY inspired installation at MIT, called List Projects. I wasn’t able to make it to the exhibition, but the review I read fascinated me. Mira Dayal, for Hyperallergic, described the installation as deadpan, “domestic assemblages” of incongruous items clustered together, representing Hayes-Chutes’ projects in process. Epson HX-20 computers, supposedly the first laptops (? – [citation needed]), punctuated the show. Their printouts from tight rolls of paper resembled receipts, the quintessential throw away. Hayes-Chute utilized them as physical representations of the messy in-, between the idea at point A and its final form at point Z.

Another show, which I was able to catch before its close, explored the residue of projects by previous and current artists-in-residence at Artists Alliance, Inc. AAI, a non-profit which supports emerging artists and curators, runs the gallery space Cuchifritos, tucked into Essex Street Market. The show, Collected Works: A Brief History of Artists Alliance Inc., was an installation by LES Studio Program resident Alison Owen and curated by Sanna Almajedi. Owen culled a collection of remnants from AAI’s archives, its studio spaces and stairwells, to capture experiential life within their community. Items ran the gamut from color negatives and a page ripped from a phone book, to painted tiles and paint tube lids. Equal parts quirky and curious, it jived with my naggingly insistent obsession with ephemeral minutiae. I still need to parse out how seemingly inconsequential details impart deep meaning into our lives. Partly because, I think, I associate them with temporal blips, a millisecond of space-time fabricated into a paint chip, or something… An idea which is entirely in keeping with my personality, and yet simultaneously aggressively opposes the value I place on the (often lengthy, languid, intensely intentional) creative process. Or does it?

I don’t mean to say that the creative act is never frenetic. It’s just that I, personally, feel compelled to fight it, because my innate impatience often wins over a project’s successful completion. Thus lately, I struggle to arrest my restlessness in the face of fabrication. I fought it just a second ago, while I was trying to finish one of those sentences in the preceding paragraph. I’m doing it again, annoyed, trying to quickly wrap up this post and beat ahead of the encroaching fatigue.

But things worth doing take time, don’t they? Even milliseconds, itty bitty paint chips, are only tiny parts of a grander vision.

Without further adieu, I shall push the rambling aside and get to the goddamn point, already. As this new year still sniffles in its baby britches, I’m characteristically taking stock and vowing grandiose change. A lot of people scoff at new years resolutions, equating them with guaranteed failure. But I don’t know… I’m coming around to them; I think it’s admirable, not quixotic, to strive to be better. So I vow to clean house; to pick back up those little pieces of me I cast aside, and re-imbue them with value. True, they’ve been shed, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.

Mmm, that’s a realgood cheesy thought to end on. See y’all later.

Current Reads: Wild Sheep Chase by Huraki Murakami, and the occasional Robert Lowell poem.

Current Jam: “How to be Alone” Allison Weiss

Musings near Valentine’s Day, now that it’s far from timely

Friday, February 12, 2016. 10:35 a.m.

The planets aligned: Not only did I have health insurance again, but I finally got off my ass and scheduled a doctor’s appointment. My last lady exam was over a year and a half ago, so I decided to get the ol’ cash n prizes inspected; ya know, make sure the last visitor didn’t make a mess of the place. (Isn’t my gentility becoming?)

The nurse practitioner was a nice middle-aged woman named Lynn. She wore a yellow gold wedding band, and her natural nails matched her wispy hair in a brittle but appealing way that reminded me of my mother. She had a daughter about my age. We talked about my medical history, what the heck I was doing in central PA, and anodyne topics such as the weather and… the differences between the weather in PA and FLA.

As always happens (at least with me), the conversation took a slightly forced, slightly awkward turn when she began her examination. I know, I know, I’m an adult. Breaching the nethers is just part of the gig, like a toll you pay for having sex. I suppose I’ve become a bit prudish as my twenties fade from view.

You’d think that I’d blush at the breast examination, the pap smear, or when she shoved half a hand up there to check my ovaries. Nope… I wasn’t exactly elated at the intrusions, but I projected demur stoicism as best I could. Instead, I was caught off guard at the very beginning, during the innocuous hunt for anomalies in my lymph nodes.

She placed her hands on my neck and started massaging, gently poking around. Despite myself, I closed my eyes, leaned into it, and nearly let out an audible sigh. Funny how electric touch can be, how instantaneously it elicits a response, whether positive, negative, or just murkily confusing.

I had not been touched in such a familiar way in a while. I guess I was craving contact. Any contact, to keep the northeastern winter’s chill at bay. Perhaps the intimate doctor-patient relationship, bolstered by the sharing of an occasionally dubious medical history, encouraged honesty, in all its manifestations…

Whatever the reason, my visceral, unabashed reaction startled me. I hid my… discomfort? Confusion? Shame? As best I could, folding it into the accepted embarrassment accompanying a gynecological exam. The nurse didn’t seem to notice; if she did, her medical professionalism held sway. Kudos, Lynn.

When she finished, I was deemed rose-cheeked and healthy. I started to giggle as I walked to my car, joking to myself that that was the most action I’d see for Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, November 7, 2016, 1:51 p.m.

I turned 30 in March, a couple weeks after this interaction and the birth of the post attempting to document it. The time period that followed wrought the healthiest romantic relationship I have ever experienced, untold professional development and success, and the slaying of a chunk of financial debt.

I look back at this unfinished post, review this blog I abandoned for nearly a year, and as I start typing again I see comforting stasis, and necessary change. I still treat this as a place to foster creativity, to explore the nuances of my daily interactions, and to clear the clutter of my mind. I no longer treat this place as a dumping grounds for my negativity. I’m trying for something more productive.

I don’t know how often I will write. Likely only when the mood strikes. For now, I just wanted to share that story with you, to reminisce on the absurd amusement I occasionally get out of commonplace exchange.

Current Jam: “Send my love (to your new lover)” Adele

Clever chaos

Yeah… yeah… that’s it… that’s how I live my life…

I… have to share this story with you, gentle readers. Mainly because it exemplifies the occasional idiocy under which I operate. Ok, here we go:

My buddy Dan’s birthday was coming up. Well, in reality it had already passed, but he went out of town, so we were having a small, belated celebration. Since I only moved here a couple of months ago, I still don’t know my PA friends all that well. I haven’t gleaned the nuances of their personalities yet, at least not enough to feel adequately informed when purchasing them gifts. But this, at least, I knew: men love carrot cake. Practically all men love carrot cake. (I don’t know why, either, but I swear, start a poll amongst your Y-chromosome-bearing buds: it’s uncanny). I knew for a fact that Dan fell into that majority, because I asked him a few weeks back (the topic came up in conversation, and I made a note of his answer). Well, I worked at a European style cafe over the summer, owned by a girlfriend of mine (check it out here; and if you’re ever in Gainesville, Fla, GO TO IT IT’S GREAT!). She happens to have an amazing recipe for carrot cake, so naturally I stole it (for good, not evil! I swear!)

Since all of my jobs happen in the later hours of the day, my circadian rhythm is a few hours later than the typical 9-5-er desk jockey. So I concocted this cake in the wee hours of a Friday morn, trying and failing to refrain from eating a sizeable amount of the batter. As it baked away I danced around my apartment, attempting to work off a massive sugar high. I waited until the next evening to frost it, since Em, Dan, and I were planning to meet up around 8 for scary movies (and cake! Little did Dan know…. mwahaha). I intended to take out the butter and cream cheese to soften while I was at work. Unfortunately and predictably, I forgot, scatterbrained as I dashed out of my house, already 5 minutes late. By the time I returned home I had a few short hours to get everything finished. I had planned to bake a loaf of bread while I was icing away, so I preheated the oven before jumping in the shower, and placed the butter/cream cheese on the stove to shake the fridge chill off. Squeaky clean, I returned to the kitchen, slightly dismayed but not all that surprised: they were still a long ways off from becoming adequately warm. Then, I had what I thought was a Eureka! moment: I decided to place the packages of cheese, with the wrapped sticks of butter on top, on the racks in the pre-heating oven, only for about 30 seconds! I cracked the oven door, silently congratulating myself on a life-hack-well-done…. until I reached to take out the first stick of butter, which swiftly rolled out of its paper and onto the floor of the now 425 degree oven.

I imagine Benny Hill playing on my life soundtrack as I panicked. Despite the idiocy that got me into this predicament, I am mildly proud at my subsequent quick thinking: I grabbed a pair of tongs from my utensil drawer directly adjacent to the stove (look at me, efficiently organizing my kitchen!), and after 3 attempts, removed what was left of the butter blob, slammed the door and turned off the oven, all without igniting the puddle of fat pooled beneath the heating elements. I glanced guiltily at the loaf of raw dough patiently awaiting its tasty metamorphosis. There would be no freshly baked bread tonight. Not without inciting a neighborly riot from the smoke filling my apartment and the caterwauling of my well-meaning detector. As my heart rate slowed, I actually looked around to see if anyone witnessed my slapstick (guys…. guys I live alone). And then I said, aloud, “Ya know? I’m kind of glad no one saw that, because that was pretty embarrassing but… I’m gonna tell that story later, because it was actually pretty funny.”

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I did manage to salvage what was left, and that turned out pretty fuckin’ BOSS, if I do say so myself. *wipes dirt off her shoulder…. then steps ankle deep in a puddle of muddy water.*

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Current Jam: “Quiet Little Voices,” We Were Promised Jetpacks

So stressed I’m about to snap.

That is all. *eye twitches, sucks on cigarette*

Current jam: “passenger” Iggy Pop

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^side note: I used to keep these composition books all through high school. I would write in them, draw, paste in funny crap I found on the interwebs (in the days before tumbler, I feel old). I used to doodle little cartoons of me and my friends. Well, I updated mah look, I guess you could say. Huh, I should show y’all before and afters of moi et mes amis… Noted.