if i carry homesickness and heartache in my gut, i carry rage in the skin under my arms. it slithers just below the surface and occasionally likes to set off little flares, little fires everywhere, you could say, that need to be put out and smothered before they grow out of control.
“rage” maybe isn’t the right word for it, though, because it’s more this compound of restlessness, disappointment, resentment, sadness, and frustration. the whole thing put together often feels like anger because it feels like fire, maybe because there is indeed anger laced in there, too, anger at all the things that are out of my control, that keep me in this sinkhole of a life despite my best efforts to escape and stay away.
or so i rage on days when it’s too difficult to keep myself from sliding off this ledge. on better days, i remind myself that, no, i am not in the same place i was last year — hell, i’m not even in the same place i was three months ago. i remind myself that things happen slowly, that it’s better for them to happen slowly. easy come, easy go, after all, isn’t that what they say?
and then there is this: my therapist assures me that my anger, right now, is good, that, underneath anger lies hope. after all the years of hopelessness, of quelling even the possibility of hope, the anger is a sign that something inside me is alive and wanting more, recognizing that more is actually very possible. she assures me that this is a good sign, that the work is in channeling this into something positive, something good, something forward-looking.
she reminds me, not everything that seems negative and frightening and dark takes us to bad places. we get to decide where it takes us. we have the power to turn all that energy into a force for good.
but then there is also this: it’s tax season, and we’re in overdrive at the office, and, every day, as i sit in goddamn miserable LA traffic, i ask myself a thousand times, what the hell am i doing here? it’s a familiar despair, and the image that comes to mind is of a wolf slowly dying because it’s licking a piece of ice, except it’s not a piece of ice — it’s a knife frozen in layers of ice, and the wolf is bleeding to death as it’s lapping up its own blood.
gruesome, isn’t it? apparently, it’s one way eskimos would kill wolves, and it’s brilliant and macabre and kind, all in one.
i want to go home, i want to go home, but what i mean, what i’m grasping for, is not a place, it’s a feeling. i want to go back. but back where? maybe to the first time i heard stevie nicks, to watching the snow fall outside the window with a paperback folded open in my lap, to the moment before i tasted alcohol, to virginity and not really knowing that things die, back to believing that something great is still up ahead, back to before i made the choices that would hem me in to the life i live now. a life that i regret sometimes, i think, only because it’s mine, because it’s turned out this way and not some other way, because i can’t go back and change what will happen. what happened to her.
nostos algos — home pain, the pain at the utter core of me. (julie buntin, marlena, 91-2)
how can i describe the horrible pleasure of being not good? even at fifteen i wasn’t dumb enough to glamorize marlena’s world, the poverty, the drugs that were the fabric of everything, but i was attracted to it all the same. i always wanted more, more, more; what i had was never good enough. instead of public school, i had to have concord academy, with its courtyards a whirl of fall leaves, my initials monogrammed on my collar, the textbooks full of whole worlds of language i was desperate to understand. and yet, how easily i’d replaced my desire for that place with my desire to fit in seamlessly in silver lake.
perhaps that was why i was so afraid of the terrible electricity, the terrible self-rootedness, that overtook me those sleepless nights, when i slid my hand down my stomach, below the band of my pants, and discovered a need that was completely my own. with it had come the sense that if i surrendered to that edge-of-cliff feeling, afterward i would be transformed. i would belong to myself in some new way. every time, i stopped too soon. (170-1)
being an adult — it is not the same. it is not, actually, anything like what we wanted, what we imagined for ourselves. but, marlena, mostly it’s better. sometimes i’m so grateful it feels like a miracle. for the dumbest things — a cup of hot coffee, a funny text from liam, that i can read george eliot again and again, every sunday afternoon, that i hate my body less, that i love my mother more, that i still have time to choose. the colors are less sharp, but i’m glad i’m here.
you’re trying too hard to convince me, i imagine she says.
i forgive her for being a skeptic. she’s still eighteen.
the thing is, marlena, i’ve messed a lot up. but every day i get to try again. (246-7)
this is my fourth attempt baking this potato brioche, though it’s only the third attempt i’ve baked. the first attempt was a total bust, a combination of lazy technique and an inability to understand my new ingredient (potato flour), and it landed with a thud in the trash can after one bite of one slice. the second loaf was a fiasco in san francisco, still a victim of kind-of-lazy technique and an inability to understand potato flour, and that also ended up in the trash, though not before it was ferried down to los angeles with false hopes that it could somehow be consumed.
the third didn’t even end up in the oven, went straight into the bin.
the fourth is what you see here, and it was the most optimistic attempt i made. i cut down the amount of stupidly fine potato flour and replaced it with regular all-purpose, gave the whole thing a little more liquid, and finally managed to get that smooth, glossy ball of kneaded dough. the first rise went well, and it rose slowly overnight in the refrigerator. it gave out gas when i punched it down the next morning; it was malleable, allowing itself to be shaped into a loaf pan.
it rose nicely for two hours in a just-warmed oven, but then i left it in there for too long, went to do a quick market run as it was still rising, after the two hours had ended, and, when i got back with my groceries, the nice dome it had been forming had collapsed. it never revived. and so we have this, this still dense loaf that would be acceptable had i been attempting to make a loaf cake, not a brioche loaf.
we ate it, though, buttered it, slathered it with jam, ate it with eggs. it was okay, fine even. it wasn’t brioche. i haven’t gone for attempt number five yet.
restlessness is in my legs, in my knees and calves specifically. sometimes, my legs ache so much i can’t sleep — when i was younger, i attributed that to growing pains, but now — now the pain is a mystery, something that haunts me and tethers me to wakefulness when i want so badly to sleep.
the plus side to tax season means overtime, and overtime means overtime pay, which means traveling. i make a list of all the places i want to visit, and i break that list down into three parts — short-term travel plans, mid-term, long-term. i think about my allotment of vacation days this year, how to break them up and parcel them out, attaching them to long weekends, so i can take more trips because, for me, that’s better than one long trip the whole year. i need to get away from los angeles as often as i can, and that, surprisingly, honestly, has nothing to do with los angeles itself — i’m a restless creature, and i have a world i want to see.
sometimes, i think the thing that bums me out most about getting a rejection is the knowledge that that is going to sit with me but the person who rejected me won’t think twice about me. i’ll bear that sting and flail a little or a lot, depending, and it’ll hurt me, and i’ll remember it, especially if it’s about a position i really wanted, that i would have been great at, but the rejection for them was just an email and they’re going on with their business as usual.
sometimes, i think the thing i’m most afraid to be is forgettable.
because what counts? what makes a life count? some would steer me towards faith, towards religion, saying i need god, i need church, i need that god-based community. others might point towards a career path, towards work that makes an impact in some way. others yet might say it’s people, it’s finding that partner, it’s having that family.
i still don’t know the answer to that question. all i know is, for me, it’s not quite faith, it’s not religion, and maybe it’s more community, just community, than anything else. it’s work that means something to me, work that says something, comforts someone, resonates in some way with some fellow human. maybe it’s love, not love in the romantic sense but love as love, the love that sustains all manner of relationships, the love on which we build homes and families and communities, the love that drives us in whatever work it is we do, that compels us to make the sacrifices required.
and, sometimes, yes, i think i’m a sap for thinking that, but i think i’ve also hit that point in my life where, if i’m a sap, i’m a sap, so be it because, when i look back at the people who have meant the most to me, the decisions that have brought me here to this point, the work that keeps me going even when i want so much to give up and quit, underneath all that, there is love.
hope is a funny thing, and i’m still not sure what to do with it. i’ve spent much of my life trying to resist it because, to me, it still often feels like a lie, the quintessential human delusion as agent smith says so pithily in one of the matrix movies.
it’s been a dry few months, by which i mean, holy shit, i feel like i’ve been creatively tapped. i rerouted energy into starting a food zine, yes, and i did launch it, though i immediately started feeling pretty ambivalent about it, am ready to take it down and tear it to pieces, which, maybe, is why i can’t really say i’ve been writing. i can say, though, that this dryness has been adversely affecting me.
maybe this is hope, too, though, this continued attempt to try, to challenge myself, to keep coming back to this space and creating content for it and trying to see where this year will take me. maybe it’s not about big, grandiose plans and ambitions sometimes, but simply the act of coming back to the page, the kitchen, the camera, of coming back and showing up and creating something new. it doesn’t have to be a full-blown book or even an essay; a blog post will do.
and this is hope, too — trying out soulcycle for the first time, continuing to go to pilates (even at 5:30 in the freaking morning), trying to eat better (and failing) (and trying again). taking care of myself is hope; working twelve-plus-hour days and thinking about future travels are hope; and they count just as much as showing up at my writing desk and doing the goddamn work that might not yet pay the bills but actually means something.
so let’s do this — let’s keep going. let’s keep practicing the thing that fueled much of my 2017 — i’m going to take whatever it is in me, whether it’s brokenness, rage, joy, whatever, and keep turning it into art.