bus melodies

Today behind and to the right of me someone started playing a guitar and, eventually, singing a love song to an absent Eugene. The singer sounded so much like my kindergarten teacher I only turned my head far enough to see the guitar, early on, to confirm it was a person sitting there with a guitar. I didn’t want to see the person, liked imagining it was Mr. Hayden–Mr. Hayden who would sing to us, once for everyone’s birthday (even for people like me, locked up in summer songlessness, for whom he threw unbirthdays), for every letter, for the days and months of the year…which melody is still, either to his credit or my foolery, the way the months of the year show up in my head when I have to count through them to see how far away a given date is. Mr. Hayden who, when a sudden and vicious fever of 104 tore me away from our much longed-for holiday party right in the middle of it–my crafts abandoned on the table, me unallowed to return from the nurse’s office to get them, crying, very ill and furious that I’d been ripped out of the revelry–showed up at my house in the early winter dark, my holiday crafts (ornaments, a picture frame, a glittery card) finished for me, the glitter in place and the glue dried. He brought cookies, and wished me well, and though I wasn’t allowed to rise from the couch where I was buried in blankets in the living room, my dad took him up to the train room, which leapt off the vault-ceilinged living room where I lay, and I could hear this man who had brought me cookies in the night being impressed with, delighted by, my dad and the world he had built up there, and I was so full of love it hurt and I passed out into dreams fevered with happiness.

So this guy on the bus sounded like my kindergarten teacher, and I carefully didn’t turn, imagining him preserved, with his vaguely 70s-ish curls and absurdly large hands. I heard him stop playing when the woman next to him asked him what smelled so good and he said it was his hand lotion, he wasn’t sure what was in it–lavender and shea butter and olive oil, maybe, he said–that one of the moms at the preschool he worked at had given him. Then my stop rang and I stood and had to turn and the guy with the guitar was the guy in the earrings and the ladies’ coat last week, and the coveralls before that–he who glowered at me when I pulled out a 3DS; whom I considered taking out a book in front of just to look like someone he wouldn’t think was poisoning society with my frivolous pursuits. And I thought, it isn’t fair, how you decide so quickly what breaks the world and what makes it; it isn’t fair that you withhold your praise from people who are so quick to idolize you just for thinking of them when you don’t have to. I hoped he didn’t break the hearts of little kids who talked about playing on their parents’ iphones. And I really hoped Eugene loved him back.



Where do you come by such certainty? All your life, you said?”

It was an urgent question, Ziji thought. Perhaps because Hsien lacked that sureness?

He saw his friend trying for an answer. Daiyan said, “I do not know. I should not be like this, if that is what you are asking. Is it not possible…can a man be born into the world to be something, for something?”

“Yes,” said the old man. “But even if he is, it doesn’t always happen. Too much can intervene. The world does what it does. Our dreams, our certainties, crash into each other.”


Riding in in the blue light, reading of empires long gone, wondering if we all feel a little excused, a little thrilled, by stories like these, forgiving us in advance for our excesses since we, too, will fall, in the same blue light, and stories will be told of us too, read too early, by strangers.

bus angst

Guy who may actually identify otherwise on bus–pearl earrings in both ears, manicure, a shapely cut to his ladies’ coat–shot me a dark look as I sat. I am unhappy that I don’t carry any visual cues of “ally” with me anymore. I had hoped the short hair would help but it doesn’t seem to. Not with the peacoat and skirt. And yes I know, yay, assumptions aren’t being made on physicality–but if I can advertise to people who often feel oppressed, innately and without my even having to take them aside and announce it, that I was for them in some way, I want to. And even beyond the obviously more important issue of discrimination…he glared when I took out my 3DS, too, as he whipped a slim novel out of his bag. And I felt the impulse to fold the DS away and take out my huge tome instead, and prove to this stranger that I wasn’t some brainless twit (or at least not one who doesn’t also read) contributing to the downfall and de-lettering of society at large…

It doesn’t matter what he or she thinks of me. It never has, not any of the people whose approbation I desperately wish to acquire in the five or ten minutes of my life that I know them. But I hate not getting it all the same. In the same way it’s easier to tell strangers some things than people you know well, it’s easier to believe the approval of strangers might make you feel better than the rarely granted and quickly, casually withdrawn approval of people you work to please all your life. Their praise comes and goes with the tide, and always will, affected as it is by the moons of all the rest of your life’s actions weighed into it, pushing and pulling: things you’ve done; words you’ve said–and things you haven’t done and words you didn’t say. Strangers can only judge you in the moment. And I wish, I wish I’d get a good verdict.

congratulations, you’ve made me uncomfortable

You can’t buy my attention like this. You also can’t cop so heavily off Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and expect people not to notice. But nevertheless you have my attention and you have copied almost whole lines of dialogue and you’ve left me both distrustful and resentful of a slowly-dawning public consciousness vis-a-vis a disease that was personal to my family generations before people had a name for it.

Good job.

true north

Years ago I saw Meg Hutchinson perform this song for her parents. It was in a hot crowded basement full of people a little younger than her, at her dad’s summer writing workshop, and I was sitting a little to the side and behind her parents, so stealing glances at them as the song progressed wasn’t something I was afraid of being caught doing. They sat in camp chairs, not especially far from one another, and until the song revealed as much I never would have known they weren’t still together. I watched their hands, the ones near each other, dangling down between their chairs. They were so close; I so wanted them to entwine. Both of them were gray and thin and not sheepish about it; they looked older than they really were and they looked so happy. But the song said otherwise, or at least that it had been otherwise for a time, and–my loyalties already won by the father, who’d thought to remember my application story as the first one and as having to do with 9/11; I wanted to be remembered–I was completely and irrationally furious with this woman I didn’t know for ending a marriage I’d never known and causing hurt to her daughter I also didn’t know except for these songs she was just then playing for us.

Their eyes shone by the end and I had the decency at last to be embarrassed at my marital voyeurism. After the set, as we all filed out and as my mind boiled over trying to imagine how it would feel to be so…raw, so exposed, to people who knew you so well, and how it would be go to home with them (which one?) and to sleep somewhere familiar after years on the road and years more to come, my roommate declared brashly as we passed the father, “Your daughter is amazing!” And I seethed at the breezy thoughtlessness of the remark; she threw her amazings out for everyone with little regard to whether they were amazing or not, and I imagined this guy could tell that and would take it as the friendly banter it was, rather than the hard-won earnest accolades his daughter deserved. And I hated being lumped into the thoughtless approbation group, walking alongside my roommate as I was. I hated, too, that it wouldn’t matter much even if my roommate had remained silent and I had cobbled together the courage to say something heartfelt and meaningful–what did any of that family need from me? Not a word.

Most people there had parents who no longer lived together and some of them mentioned how envious they were of the family we’d seen; how they could still come together and be civil and even warm with one another at events like this, and still part ways back to the lives they’d extricated from one another. There was a lot of envy there. Hutchinson mentioned, between sets, how she’d gone to this same workshop, the whole school even, run by her dad, and I couldn’t imagine how it would have been to produce all this honest stuff under the eye of people from whom, just because of your age, you are by default holding back honesty from, sometimes, just to have secrets, just to have something. The opportunity for envy existed, there, for me.

But when the workshop ended, my parents came–with the dog, whom they tasked with sniffing out my location–and I saw them from my window, high up, the two of them strolling through the dewy grass in the first gasp of July heat, the beagle kicking up rainbows as she plowed forward toward the delighted cries of my peers down below, and I thought that there might be room for envy from them all toward me, too. Because my parents had come, both of them, all the hundreds of miles up here to get me, and brought the dog and made a trip of it, and told historical tales of all the battlegrounds we passed on the way home, and how the cities we rocketed through had risen and fallen and risen again. And I thought maybe the price you pay for being so open and raw–for being raised by two talented people who are so open and raw with each other, and who raise you to be the same–is that everything cuts, and there is no obscuring padding of vagueness, of allowance, of separate views and lives and destinies, to soften the blow. Perhaps, I thought, those two I’d seen in the basement listening to their daughter sing about their parting, had shared too much. There was a limit. And while that in itself was sad, I was grateful to know, and hoped I’d learned.

And I was also glad my parents hadn’t reached it.

the stature of her spirit

But then when I came to write this,” and he tapped the paper on his knee, “when I came to write the passage about the castle at night, then I realised I was describing one of the things I had seen in the dream. Radiko at night, in the rain, in the dark, before sunrise. I saw that. I saw it in broad daylight two hundred miles away. Why? How? What does it mean? I don’t know, I’ve given up asking. I have no right to ask. I’ve forfeited my rights. I lived in my mind, in my emotions, in my vanity, I lived in the world I made, and made the rules for it. I chose to dream. But then when you wake up you have lost your citizenship in daylight. You have forgotten what real things mean. You have forfeited your rights.”

“Had one ever any rights?”


Less all around, he thought, coming back down from the Old Quarter to the river and walking up the boulevard under the trees by the bright water. Less cash, less strength, less time to live; less of a man to stand up against the storming of the human world and the universe at his mind and body, the storm of light and wind and sensation and passion that never ceased, never rested, until death; for the walls of a building, a prison, were dust in that storm. He felt peculiarly slight, light, insubstantial as he walked up the wide street by he river, a flickering thing, exposed, uncertain. This mote, this speck between the sun in its gulfs of light and the earth with its long shadow, this was himself, Itale Sorde, and he was supposed to withstand the entire universe in order to remain himself; not only that, to do his job; to be a part of it. It was a strange business to be a man walking in the sunlight, stranger than to be a stone, or a river, or a tree holding up its branches in the July heat. They all knew what they were doing. He did not.


If this was her world, she was strong enough to live in it.

…For any act done consciously may be defiant, may be independent, may change life utterly.

But one can only act thus if one knows there is no safety. So she thought, that Epiphany night, looking up at Orion and the other stars. One must wait outside. There is no hiding away from storm, waste, injustice, death. There is is no shelter, no stopping, only a pretense, a mean, stupid pretense of being safe and letting time and evil pass by outside. But we are all outside, Piera thought, and all defenseless. There is no safe house but death. Nothing of our own building will protect us, not the jails, nor the palaces, nor the comfortable houses. But the grandeur of knowing that, the pride and grandeur of being on one’s own at last, alone, under the enormous and indifferent sky, unhoused and unprotected! To be nothing, a girl, confused, grieved, frightened, foolish, shivering in the January frost, all that, yes, but also to learn at last the stature of her spirit: to come into her inheritance.