I recently took a solo trip down the California Coast and back. On this trip I opted to try staying in youth hostels for the first time, specifically those being part of Hosteling International. I had no idea how I’d feel sleeping in a dorm-style room in a bunk bed, but I figured, what the heck.
There’s a degree of loneliness that affects me when I travel alone, which is why I haven’t done it very much. The idea of coming to a place filled with people at the end of the day seemed like a good idea. This turned out to be an accurate guess. Even though I barely interacted with the other hostel guests, it was cozy to sleep in a room with others. I always opted for the top bunk, because I figured if I’m going to sleep in a kid-like situation, I may as well go for it.
The last night I stayed in a hostel that was divided into small cabins, as they sometimes are. When I first entered my cabin, there was no one there. After a while, a man showed up. He was dressed in rain gear even though it hadn’t rained in days. He lay down on the couch and sighed heavily for a long time. Being alone in the building with him made me uncomfortable, but I went ahead and made my dinner and kind of ignored him. Then a couple showed up, they seemed retired. The wife was very friendly and introduced herself and her companion. I retired to the living room to read.
They ate their dinner, at which time the couch potato got up and went to the kitchen and got into a very animated conversation with them. His conversation had a liberal sprinkling of conspiracy theories. After a while the couple went to their room, and the c.p. went back to laying on the couch and staring at the ceiling.
Then another man showed up. He wandered into the living room and said to me, “Where’s the TV?” I thought he was joking so I said “Oh darn!” but then I realized he was serious. He went to the kitchen, ate his dinner, and then joined c.p. and me in the living room.
At this point they both began to talk about themselves and I realized that both these men were unemployed and perhaps homeless. They had enough money to live in youth hostels but seemed to be drifting. For a while I engaged with them but then I went back to reading my book and just listened.
They were both very disgruntled with their lives and the state of the Bay Area, where they had both come from. They both seemed vaguely racist. C.p. was especially ranty and seemed to believe he knew everything. He mentioned that “Asian money” was what was ruining the economy, as the Chinese were buying up housing in the Bay Area by paying cash over the asking price, thereby also driving up the housing prices. TV guy mentioned he had gone to some tech conference in Silicon Valley, even though he was a car salesman. He complained how he couldn’t understand anything at the conference (why did he expect to?) and that he was the only white man there (he didn’t seem to care there were no women).
At one point, TV guy referred to me as “this young lady” and I wanted to punch him. I was about 20 years older than him.
I thought, how many guys are there like these two? Falling in between the cracks, floating around with no particular idea of what to do with themselves, seeing the world as conspiring against them? Did these guys vote Republican? And let me tell you, I’m up to here with know-it-all, bitter white guys.
This isn’t who I thought I’d meet when I signed up to go to a youth hostel. They started to discuss tech in a paranoid way, not understanding a goddamn thing about it. I’m sure it occurred to neither that there was a tech person in the room, i.e., me, because they had very rigid ideas of who was tech and what tech was. I didn’t want to listen to their griping anymore so I said, “Please excuse me, I’m going to go to bed.” At which point TV guy said, “Oh sorry to bore you”. Not in a hostile way, in a sad way. And I thought, you aren’t boring me, you’re repulsing me. Good Night.
My room had four bunk beds and I was the only one in it. I slept on the top bunk anyway. After a good nights rest, I rose early and went home. Home to Oakland, my world of diversity, artistry, tolerance, feminism and yes, tech.
Lately when I wake up in the morning I feel sad, like a baby. I remember being in my crib and waking up from naps, crying for no reason. I remember when T. was 2 or so, he’d wake up from his nap crying, too. You wake up, there’s no one there, and you feel sad. It’s a step up from waking up anxious or in a panic about my mortality, which is how I was waking up many mornings for quite a while.
I’m alone a lot. A lone … what? Not ranger, that’s what my Dad calls himself. Or he used to. I’m not sure what lone thing I am, but being alone always turns my thoughts towards my own insignificance. I think about how I’m not young anymore and that I will pass through this life and not leave my mark. No offspring, art no one cares about — this is my legacy. It’s no different than the legacy of my rabbit, or my ficus tree.
Is that why I feel sad when I wake up?
I need to be a lot stronger — mentally, physically. I need to get to the person I used to be, in some sense. Confident, a bit cocky even.
Today I accidentally ended up by the railroad yards near the refinery in Richmond. There’s something about the sight of trains — long freight trains, with cars of different shapes and purposes and logos emblazoned on their sides. There’s something about them that makes me long for something I can’t define. When I was 23 I drove cross country alone and took many photographs of freight trains running parallel to the freeway. Who was I at 23? A naïf, a dreamer, wandering about the country with no idea what I wanted other than to be an artist. Here I am, many years later, and I never became an artist. I make art, but I go to work like everyone else.
Last night I wandered through the crowds of the Art Murmur. I always think I’ll see someone I know and I never do. No one sees me. I’m a shadow, a figure in someone else’ dream.
Today I went to the Art Center to see my drawing hanging in the show, among a hundred or so artworks. It’s not a great piece, just something I created to be in the show. It’s easy to miss.
I come home and think, how long will I live in this house? Will I grow old here? Will I be like my neighbor Claire across the street? She was old, she died, and I knew nothing about her other than she praised the gardening I did in my front yard. She had a stern demeanor but she only said nice things to me. Then she was gone. She kept an immaculate house, it sold quickly, and now someone else lives there. It’s like Claire never lived there. Will that be me?
This rain, nourishing and debilitating at the same time.
I’m haunted by Ghost Ship. Weird, isn’t it, that it had that name? It really became it’s namesake.
At night, between sleep and dreams, I think I was in the fire. Then I realize I am not dead, I wasn’t in the fire, I wasn’t even ever in the building.
This tragedy has very much affected me on a personal level. All those artists — I didn’t know them. I could have known them. I could have been them. They were beautiful, they were creative, and they were trying to find a way to be in a world that doesn’t value who they are and what they brought to all of us. They didn’t think about safety codes because, but who would? They lived in a beautiful space, and artists have been living in warehouses for decades.
I look at their pictures and miss them, even though I didn’t know them. Their names and faces are becoming familiar to me.
In the past, I drove by the Ghost Ship and thought how I would like to go in and find out what it was about, but never stopped.
Everything I do seems insufficient. Yesterday I went there. I couldn’t get closer than a block away, it’s all cordoned off. K. went with me and I brought a sign and flowers that I left at the memorial. I had a surreal moment when I saw people photographing what I wrote.
I read other peoples notes. The ones that really got me said, “I kept calling you and you didn’t answer.” I feel so sad, so endlessly sad for all the victims and their loved ones, and helpless in face of the tragedy and sorrow.
This is the note I left:
“Every artist creates
a world that has never
been seen before.
Here we lost many worlds –
an entire galaxy –
and are left with
a million broken hearts.
Rest in peace,
my lovely friends,
whom I’ll never meet.”
When October rolled around, I started cutting back the stand of fennel in my backyard bit by bit. The bees loved the flowers so I didn’t want to discourage them, but I also didn’t want a dispersion of hundreds of seeds as happened the year before. Everyday I would cut back the umbels that were transitioning from flowers to seeds, always checking to make sure there weren’t any anise swallowtail caterpillars that I was throwing in the compost heap.
After doing this task day after day for weeks, you can’t blame me for not checking too closely for caterpillars when I cut down the last bit of fennel.
The next day, there on the ground, was a caterpillar foraging through the fallen fennel (alliteration not intended). Argh! I thought. What do I do now? For several days I would go out in the neighborhood on a hunt for fennel and bring it back to the caterpillar. On the fourth day, I decided to put it in a jar. I thought as long as I was feeding it, I may as well enjoy the benefits of seeing it turn into a butterfly.
After a few more days, the caterpillar seemed pretty unhappy. It wasn’t moving much. Then it stopped eating. I felt very sad. I had tried to save this little creature, but it seemed it wasn’t meant to be. When I told this to friends, they reassured me that at least I had tried.
After not moving at all for a day, I was sure when I checked on it the following morning that it would just be lying curled up on the bottom of the jar. It was kind of curling up, and looking kind of brown, but it didn’t seem dead.
I happen to be sitting next to the jar when suddenly the caterpillar started moving like crazy. I saw that its skin had crack near its head and a bright green chrysalis was emerging. What the hell! I didn’t realize that the chrysalis emerged from inside the caterpillar. It wiggled and wiggled for about five minutes, and I managed to get it on the blurry video. When it stopped, I though it was just resting because it seemed like it hadn’t completely emerged. But it didn’t moved again.
I had always heard about how caterpillars become butterflies, and I found out several years ago that in that process the caterpillar completely liquifies inside the chrysalis before reforming into a butterfly. I’ve referred to it here. That is all very crazy. Now it’s gotten crazier. This same creature starts out as a caterpillar. Then, inside, it starts becoming the encasement for its future transformation. This literally bust out of its skin. Then it liquifies, reforms as a butterfly, and bust out of the chrysalis.
How does such a thing evolve? I didn’t realize that something that we all know about from an early age was so complicated and bizarre. Can you imagine if at some point, you wiggled out of your skin to be a mummy? It’s so weird. I have to admit, watching the caterpilalr/chrysalis actually made me feel a little queasy.
Once upon a time, when I was young, I would see things in the external world as signs. The world spoke to me, I just had watch it and pay attention. Even after I stopped believing this, E. would still say how she saw things as signs. Then she stopped talking about it. If you read the entries for Crows and Hawks Playing, you’ll see that many adults believe that natural events are signs for them personally. I’ve responded, as gently as I could, that its kind of absurd to think that other animals exist solely to convey coded messages to us personally. I mean, that’s really the height of egocentrism. If you scroll down that page to March 12, you’ll see that I said this:
I think that it’s very easy to see other creatures on the planet as being symbols for our interpretation. I know I have had these feelings and interpreted experiences I have had in this very way — that a certain animal was conveying a symbolic message for me.
But as time has gone by, I have come to think that this type of perception is erroneous. Wild animals exist in a world of their own experience, on their own terms. They don’t act symbols for us, any more than they do for them. It’s somewhat humbling to realize that, to most of the elements of natural world, we as individuals are unimportant, if not completely below their perception.
If we peel away the layers of symbology, interpretation, and magical beliefs that we impose on nature, there’s a world that is amazing, stunning, and unbelievable just the same.
But, ha ha! I saw that caterpillar as a sign. Ironies of ironies!
I know, I KNOW, that the caterpillar didn’t pop into existence solely to give me a message. Yet when I experienced these bizarre transformation from a creature who seemed to be dying I did actually think, well, there’s hope for me.
I have been slowly and painfully relinquishing my hold on a life that I dearly loved for a while now. I have to keep telling myself that I can never have that life again, but it’s hard to move on because I can’t imagine that I could be that happy again. K has said that this is a narrative I am telling myself. I think it’s more that I lost my narrative. That narrative was: yes, I suffered a lot in my life, but finally I got the happy life I deserved.
Well, so, that isn’t my story. So I don’t know what is.
Being a anise swallowtail caterpillar must be a happy, easy life. You crawl around in the sunshine eating tasty fennel all days long, getting fatter and bigger and feeling good. Then one day you don’t feel so well and you keep eating but it gets hard to move. Your skin starts to bother you. Then there’s something wrong with your mouth and you can’t eat anymore. Then your legs won’t work and you’re just stuck, feeling more and more uncomfortable until – bam! You have the uncontrollable urge to bust out of your skin. And that’s the last thought you have before you lose consciousness.
My story isn’t really parallel to this — especially the lost of consciousness, thankfully — but there’s certainly been many stages of discomfort that seem to be ending only to be a seque to another form of discomfort. And it seem to go on and on and on. I think: never mind happy, will I ever even feel comfortable again? It’s been such a long time.
It’s almost winter. That butterfly could emerge in the dead of winter, when it is so cold and there are so few flowers that it may not survive. Or it may never emerge because the conditions just aren’t right. Or it may wait until spring and be just fine.
So, yes, I am succumbing to a very old cliché and thinking that maybe, just maybe, something really great will come out of me from all this discomfort. I won’t go on with the metaphor about emerging butterflies because it’s just too corny and hackneyed to say. You know what I’m feeling. I think it’s called hope.
For the eight year or so, I’ve constructed the World’s Tiniest Sukkah. No, not like a dollhouse sukkah, but one that is human sized but really small. It only seats two people.
I love the holiday of Sukkot. I love having this sort-of house that is kind of like a make-believe house. Like a being in a tent, you’re outside and inside simultaneously. It’s a liminal space. It’s also a week-long meditation on impermanence. Life itself is a long meditation on impermanence, which becomes more and more obvious with each passing year, so really at this point in my life it’s just a pointed reminder.
It’s a dwelling space that is only has to last a week, which means it can be very fragile. This year I thought a lot about the word “fragile”. (Thanks to J. for mentioning this word, as I previously had been using “flimsy”.)
I often hear the word “fragile” used interchangeably with “weak”. As in, he’s not doing so well, he’s really fragile. I hear it a lot in reference to old people. I’m sure I’ve used it this way to.
I can’t think of a way to use the word “weak” that isn’t negative. Weakness is a negative concept. I don’t thing fragility is necessarily negative.
I think about flower petals. When I describe them as fragile, I don’t mean they are weak. I mean they are transitory. They aren’t going to last. They’re not meant too. We may try to protect it or sustain it, but we are fighting it’s nature.
In this way, fragile can mean special or even precious. We need to appreciate what is fragile because we may not have it for very long.
Since the all the brouhaha erupted over a certain presidential candidate and his boasting about sexual assault, I have been following the feminist response very closely. Between @feministfightclub, #pussygrabsback, and Kelly Oxford’s #notokay, there’s a lot happening where women are coming forward to say, yes, I was sexually assaulted. And frighteningly, they were often young girls when it happened.
If you are one of my three regular readers, you know that I had a couple of close calls this year of being precariously close to be assaulted or worse but manage to escape unscathed and untouched. Since then, I have become flinchy about certain things — mostly, walking around at night alone and wearing short skirts at night. It’s shitty that I have to think about this stuff. It’s shitty that I’ve lost a feeling of safety I had, and moreso bravado — something along the lines of “I dare anyone to fuck with me.” I’ve thought that if this is how I feel, as a middle-aged women, from just a few close calls, I can’t imagine how it feels to actually be sexually assaulted. I keep thinking, thank god it never happened to me.
Then I started thinking, if a million women wrote Kelly Oxford to say that they are sexually assaulted, how did I magically escape this happening to me? How was so lucky?
Then I remembered. I wasn’t so lucky. There was no magic. I’d been assaulted.
At first I remembered one time. Then I remembered another. Then I called my best friend E. And while telling her about this, I remember yet another.
All three times I was in public. Once I was walking up Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when a man stuck his hand up my crotch and ran away. Another time a man masturbated against me on a crowded train. The third time, I was asleep on a bus and the man seated next to me threw his coat over my lap. He was creeping his hand up my thigh when I awoke.
All three times, I told no one. Until now.
I believe now that are no women who have not been sexually assaulted — just women who don’t remember.
Recently I went to look at M15 again. It’s been a while, but I have seen it probably a couple of dozen times at the Chabot Space & Science Center. I realized I’ve look at it so many times that I actually forgot many things about it.
For example, it’s 12 billion years old. The entire universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old, so M15 is *hella* old. I mean, come on, it’s impossible to even visualize so much time. It’s got about 500,000 stars in it. It’s 34,000 light years away. That means that when I look at it, I am actually looking back in time 34,000 years.
It’s the last fact that struck me. The telescope had become a time machine. Then I thought: how is it I can look back in time 34 THOUSAND YEARS, but I can’t look forward in time for even 1 second? I mean, that just seems crazy.
I brought this up with J. and apparently he’s been pondering this for decades. He also had quite a lot of information about the topic, such as the idea the on the sub-atomic level, there is no time. That is, on our level of scale, if you film something and play the film backwards, you can see that it is backwards. However, on the sub-atomic scale, if you film the motion of particles and reverse it, it looks the same. He said that based on what he understands, the main reason we sense time is because of entropy. A tree doesn’t become an acorn. Ashes don’t become burning wood. He also said that we perceive time as motion, but it’s really a dimension like space.
I pondered the last idea for a while. I guess it’s not possible for me to really grasp that time doesn’t have any motion to it. I thought of how if I try to see it like space, I get caught up in the idea that how could you possibly see all the points? For instance, now I am sitting and typing this, but in a moment I’m going to walk to the kitchen and get some water. How could a being perceive all the almost infinite individual points of time involved in my standing up and walking to the kitchen?
Then I realized that we don’t perceive space that way. When I look at the floor, there are billions of atoms. I don’t see them. I don’t see the molecules. I don’t even see the individual planks of wood unless I focus on it. I just see “wood floor”. I see where the floor meets the wall, where it is under the rug.
From this I can imagine that if I were a being who could perceive time as I perceive space, that is, not a thing of motion, I wouldn’t have to see every millisecond or even second. I would just see certain forms or shapes of time, certain delimiters of time. It’s still not possible for me to picture it, but it gives me an idea of how it could be. However, the kind of being would live in a place where time was another static dimension would be so different from how we are. They would evolve differently, exist differently, perceive differently. It’s hard for me to conceive of this place, but it’d be just as hard for them to perceive of time having a trajectory and motion.
You can read more about spacetime here, with more science and less nerging.
I dreaded this trip more than anything in a long time. I’d have to think very hard to remember when was they last time I dreaded something so much, if ever.
The dread was worse than the reality, at least so far. Things have been okay. And yet, the creepiness is present, and it reminds me of all the meanness I associate with this place.
This morning I was walking back from the laundry room to my Dads place, a distance of about thirty feet, when I heard a man say “oh wow”. I looked to my left and so someone sitting in a very large pickup truck in the parking lot across the street. He was far away so I bet he didn’t realize I could hear him until I looked over. But the he looked at me in a way men look at me in this horrid state, that is, in a very predatory way. I only glanced over at him for a second and then looked ahead and went back to my Dads.
Let me remind you, I’m in a quiet, boring retirement community.
I went out ten minutes later to check the laundry again–it had been almost dry–and now the pickup was in front of my Dads building and the guy openly staring at me in the creepiest possible way.
I again had no idea how to react. I’m washing my Dads underwear and this guy is acting like a rapist.
So I just didn’t look at him.
I saw the truck parked over there later and I thought, that guy fucking lives there? So this is how he acts towards his neighbors? And also, it’s very likely I’ll see him again.
In which case I’m still not sure what to do except ask him if he’s available to wipe my dads ass.
I realized that Florida is the opposite of sex. All the things that I associate with sex — happiness, pleasure, intimacy, joy, nice sensations, love, affection — and, well, sexiness — they aren’t here. And because of that, I lose myself, my sense of self and my connection to my body. When these creepy guys look at me, I suppose they are thinking of their version of sex, but it’s not. It’s anti-sex.
Later I was at the library and this young white guy with dreads was looking at me. Maybe he thought I was a hippie because of my hair– people sometimes do. He asked me did I make my shirt and I said no but it was handmade. He said I like the birds. Three little birds. And I realized he wasn’t being creepy. I said, yeah three little birds.
He walked away. I left the library singing,
About a thing
‘Cause every little thing
Is going to be all right