Less

September 25, 2013

You always hear people say, “I never saw it coming.” But I remember thinking, months ago, “I hope Les never kills himself.”

Les is my writing teacher. Was. At the beginning, I was a little uncomfortable being in the same room with him. Such visible signs of suffering.

He was on the cusp of old age, too poor for a car or a smartphone. Wifeless, childless, alcoholic, only one good eye. When I met him he had about three teeth but over the last year he’d gotten good replacement teeth, which I took as an optimistic sign.

The only time I heard him complain was when a bed bug infestation sent him to the ER.

Les was generous.

Every week he brought us candy. That’s what gets me: Imagining him going to the CVS on Rose, buying bags of Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, putting them in his backpack alongside our carefully corrected homework, hopping on his bike. He had a beautiful deep voice, and told us to not to focus on what was wrong with our writing, but what was working. He made it so easy for his students to ignore his troubles.

Oh, Les. Fuck.

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http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-writing-instructor-and-novelist-les-plesko-has-died-20130917,0,2082295.story?track=rss#tugs_story_display

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http://www.nytimes.com/1995/01/22/books/in-short-fiction-674295.html

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Guillotine

September 11, 2013

I woke up suddenly this morning at 3:37. Partly because I was hungry, but mainly because I just realized I’ve met a lovely man who is going to cause me pain.

I don’t know how much — it could be anything from band-aid level to losing a limb — and I don’t know when, but it’s coming.

Then I got to thinking how that’s all love is. Loving someone is like putting part of you under the guillotine and letting them be in charge of the rope. If you are tremendously lucky, you get a few decades before you realize this. Then your dog dies, or your father, or your lover, and the curtain lifts.

Then I started wondering whether love and God are the exact same thing.

Because watching all of us, and I mean all of us, trying to take care of each other, wiping each other’s noses and sharing our last sandwiches — even when we suck at it, even in actual war zones — watching all these hearts doing their stupid blossoming, again and again, under the dead certainty of pain, I’m telling you, it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Off

January 3, 2013

Eric and I are not getting married.

Everything in my last post was true: How happy I was. How right it felt.

But in November something happened. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t my fault, it just happened, like catching a cold or getting hit by a bus. It was strange, and very sad, and no one could have predicted it or prevented it.

So that’s the story. I know I haven’t put in a single detail, but the thing is, it’s not just my story. It’s Eric’s too. And it’s still in the middle.

So for now, that’s all I’m going to say.

Gust

October 27, 2012

October, Los Angeles. Women start wearing boots, Starbucks brings back pumpkin lattes, and people carve jack-o-lanterns. But it still doesn’t feel like fall.

For one thing, the jack-o-lanterns tend to rot.

Fall is the hottest time of the year here. It’s when the Santa Ana winds kick up over the Great Basin, heat up over the Mojave, and come racing down the hills and canyons, right into Los Angeles.

The Santa Anas turn the sky red and shake the fronds from the palm trees. They blow dust in your eyes and make you want to put on Chapstick. Most years, they fan forest fires.

When the Santa Anas are blowing, you can sit at the edge of the ocean and feel a hot wind on your back instead of a cool breeze on your face. It feels backwards, like the god of wind has a hangover.

Maybe the strangest thing is that no one outside Southern California has heard of the Santa Anas. They’re a thing, like the leaves in New England or the monsoon in India. But somehow they don’t fit our idea of autumn, so every year, they just blow out to sea. And disappear.

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Nazarene

October 12, 2012

I’ve been taking pictures of the sign.

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Sometimes they’re really direct.

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Sometimes they sound like something Oprah would say.

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Although if you ask me, this comes awfully close to a complaint.

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And this one practically invites grousing.

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Some make it sound like you won the soul lottery.

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Some are a lot more, well, realistic.

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Sometimes they inspire me.

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Sometimes they kinda creep me out.

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But my favorites are the really loopy ones. Straight rain?

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Parachute

October 12, 2012

I live around the corner from an evangelical church. They have a sign out front where, every week or so, they post a new inspirational slogan. Maybe calling it a slogan isn’t correct, since God is involved. Spiritual maxim? Motivational chestnut?

Anyway, I used to walk by without paying much attention. But one day the sign said, “LET GO. LET GOD.” Something about that just makes me sigh with relief. It doesn’t seem a particularly Christian idea. An atheist like me could turn it into, “RELAX. YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE.”

Or as my meditation teacher put it, life is like a long airplane ride. You have some nice conversations, eat a little food, hold your lover’s hand, watch a few movies, and if you’re lucky see the Grand Canyon. But one way or the other, the airplane is going to crash in the end.

Labor

September 27, 2012

When I was 23, I had a job as an office assistant. One of my duties was faxing.

The fax machine flummoxed me. I didn’t understand that it had an automatic function, whereby you could feed the pages in a quick scan and let it do the slow work of transmitting while you sat at your desk, eating Wheat Thins.

Instead, I stood next to it, feeding it one sheet at a time, waiting for the ludicrous beep, watching the paper get sucked in centimeter by centimeter, getting the confirmation page, dialing again. It was a process whose pace was best described as pre-Industrial-Revolution-ish. I faxed for three hours.

I got home grumpy, vented to my roommates about my terrible day: How maddening the fax machine was, how awful, how sometimes I entered a wrong number and had to start over. They nodded sympathetically, but somewhere between “paper cut” and “error message,” I realized I was telling the most boring story in history.

That was the day I decided to get a more interesting job. And I succeeded. It’s just lately, when I’m working past midnight, in windowless rooms, like Rumpelstiltskin without the magic, that I have my doubts.

Fiction

September 8, 2012

I’ve been having a fantasy lately of spending an entire afternoon, possibly stretching into the evening, lying on the sofa, reading a book.

As fantasies go, this one is so far on the “do-able” range of the spectrum that it strikes me as a little pathetic, and yet deeply human, that I imagined it — added all that mental embroidery: the fragrant drink I will have at my side, the plate of cookies, the degree to which any thoughts but the ones contained in the book will be absent from my mind — when I could just grab a damn paperback already and flop down on the couch.

So yesterday, that’s what I did. I got a pillow and read until it was time to take a nap.

When I woke up evening was coming, and the palm fronds were casting spiky shadows onto the trunks of their trees. The shadows swayed in the wind, just like the real thing, and I was so happy I was there, really there, to notice it.

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Hike

August 24, 2012

We didn’t actually hike 20 miles, because we didn’t make it to the top. Luckily the side of the mountain has lots of beautiful things too. Like this little tree that had been strangled by a big tree.

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This must be close to Fish Creek Saddle, where we camped. I like the names they have on mountains. “Dry Lake” and “Big Tree” and “Poopout Hill.” The mountain itself is nicknamed “Old Greyback.” Isn’t that nice?

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On Sunday we got up in time to see the sunrise. Here the light is filtered through the rain tarp thing, which was hanging up to dry. I can’t decide if the tarp ruins the picture or makes it.

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One of the good things about Eric is that he sings in the morning. Here he is stirring some hot cereal over a camping stove while singing “Boots With the Fur” by Flo Rida.

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Steep

August 24, 2012

I slept on Mount San Gorgonio last weekend. Here’s how it happened:

Eric:  Want to go camping?

Me:   Will there be bathrooms?

Eric:  Not exactly.

I’m one of those people who thinks I’m roughing it when I buy recycled toilet paper instead of the quilted kind. But I thought it over, and decided Eric on a toiletless mountain was clearly better than a toilet in an Ericless apartment.

Two days later, we were wandering around REI shopping for a bed roll and dehydrated beef stroganoff.

Eric:  What kind of shoes do you have?

Me:   Regular.

Eric:  Hmm. It’s a pretty long hike. But you’ll be fine.

Me:   Long long?

Eric:  Nah, like 20 miles.

I added “blisters” under “pooing in hole” to my mental list of things to worry about.

On the morning of the hike, I took a moment to review the list out loud.

Me:   What if we run out of water? What if we get lost? Will there be bears?

Eric:  Nah. Just lemme know if the altitude gets to you.

Me:   Altitude?

Turns out it was a tall mountain. I got a headache. It rained. And somehow, just like Eric promised, I was fine.

Better than fine.

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