Candles Always Cry

And Other Stories

Category: Half of Myself

Corner of Santa Monica & Highland

With the window down I feel exposed.

The man on the pedestrian stripes walking past my scarred car

he can see me eating yogurt and raspberries with a spoon

out of a size large yogurt container

while I wait at the light.

He can hear the music playing on 98.7 FM

LA’s rock alternative,

he probably knows the song.

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I Am Witness

If I have a destiny, it is to be a witness

A blue hat

The sky that stretches over all of us

Distant but present

Silent but listening

It’s a curse

To see the things I see

To see everything as a symbol

To cry for a single tree like it was every tree

To tear for every old man

That misses the bus

To see both sides of every story

To feel his anger and her dissapointment

Her guilt and his insecurity

To think that somehow made me immune

To my own petty fears

Only it was more so

To take the whole world to bed with me

And wake with it pounding in my head

To be freer and more confined

To fly further and fall harder

Knowing I’m alive from the breath

On my side of the glass

Where more often than not

When the darkness comes

All that I can see through the glass

Is my own reflection

Guide to Madness

The rain is the color of instant coffee
A No Parking sign leans at an angle somewhere between 45 and 90
Nothing else is certain
The orange pixelated letters announcing the upcoming bus stop
Are blurred
The truth of many conversations
As a unit, is background noise
It’s raining only at the edge of the awnings

Madness is a popular word
People are proud to be mad
And prouder still to know that they are
Madness means different
Or it means entertaining, to watch
It means neurotic New York Jews
Drug induced genius, tormented artist,
Justified, worshiped, voracious need.

Madness is the space between what’s true
And what’s unknown. The interpretable space –
As David Foster Wallace would say
The never-quiet fears and hopes
Fears of the hopes
The always in question, in flux
The stay up at night, alone in a crowd
Driving down a dark highway, with a heart broke

But enter the filthy, the hopeless
The survivors of suicide
The unsuccessfully mad
The person you once knew who is no longer herself
This is unacceptable madness
This is tragedy that no art can justify
She had so much potential
This is perversion, waste of a life

The space between normal and broken
Between conformity and a self
Between the beginning of your mind
And the end of you soul
There’s more there than every
Beautiful sunset and child’s smile
Every distant star and mathematical discovery
It’s easy to stay.

Two Six

She sat on the second floor patio in the faded deck chair, fading herself in the low hanging sunset. The beginning of evening blew around her and she pulled her cardigan a little tighter. She sat, leaning over, knees apart, hands clasped together. She dropped her head so that the sunset clouds disappeared and the peach tile of the patio floor rose up to meet her. Rocking softly, she shivered again at the touch of the wind.

She had only her thoughts and the view of the neighbor’s yard and the pool down below. A bird landed on the electric wires between their yard and the neighbor’s, calling to its mates. Was it slang? she wondered, the short, four letter sounds the bird made. It flew up and over the neighbor’s garage, flapping and nearly barking. The electric wire swung back into place, or was it her imagination? The weight of a bird shouldn’t be enough to move it.

She went inside and came out a moment later with a book and the last of a pack of frozen raspberries. She had left the raspberries out last night and now they had congealed into one block of tart raspberry ice and she sucked on it and opened the book to page 263. The words entered and started small electric explosions in her brain, one after another, sluggish at first and then taking over more and more of the neural pathways, until a shadow fell across the book just a page or two in. The bird was back, circling low above her, blacker now against the bluer sky. It dipped and then rose again and she noticed a strip of white in its black feathers. Maybe it was getting old.

Raspberry juice dripped onto the page in the book, kissing one word pink. The word was ‘one’, and then the pink bled a little onto the next word ‘shoulder’, and down a little, icing the top of the word ‘why’. It could have been any word, she mused. Which word would I have chosen? She examined every word on the page, each one an isolated unit, connected only to the word above it or below it. Only said, I am, dark box, every coffin, how, silly, who, whore, me, him, her. The words took turns on the runway and slunk away when she realized their nakedness.

She closed the book with a sigh now because the words were gone, and looked at the square patio tiles again, stained with rain and the time she ate chocolate ice cream out here. She looked up to the sky and it was the grainy color of a VHS film with unsuccessful stars beginning to show, like a man’s three day stubble. She looked again at the yard and the pool but nothing had changed.

She could still taste the sweetness of the raspberries and see the last of the sunset and breathe the crisp air and hear the sounds of a Friday night restaurant and the all of it – the beauty of it and the normalcy of it and the nearness of it and the loneliness of it – it hugged her and then left her.

The arriving night took all the words away, and left only the cricket to sing, and the bird that came even though she couldn’t see it, and left her with her hands clasped under her chin, holding it up.

A tied man cannot unbind himself, she whispered too quietly for the stars to hear.

Journalism Rules from David Foster Wallace

Wallace probably made a terrible journalist. At least the essays I’ve read of his so far are ridiculously detailed and personal and more like a really long journal entry than a sober, informative journalistic report of a particular event.

Which is why it’s so much fun to read.

The essay I just read is called, “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain STuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness”, sixth essay in the book, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

(If that doesn’t give you an idea for Wallace’s penchant for wordiness and maximalist sentence structure, you’ll probably be bored by the rest of this post.)

The essay is about the Canadian Open in 1995, or more specifically about the pre-tournament, the week before the televised event, in which 128 qualified players play against each other for the top eight spots. Wallace follows Michael Joyce, a star-material tennis player.

Wallace doesn’t follow any rules that I can discern. He uses footnotes and parenthesis and brackets to say what he wants to say, and comment on what it is he is saying, and then wanders off onto tangents that keep branching out further. He doesn’t follow chronological order, and sometimes rambles, sometimes educates, sometimes narrates.

Wallace goes into incredible, relentless detail about everything. He spends pages describing the techniques of certain players, the play-by-play of the games he watched, the weather, the clothes that the players are wearing, Joyce’s reactions, Joyce’s tics, Joyce’s facial expressions, Joyce’s hair.

He spends an entire paragraph discussing the bathroom for the media at the event, as a footnote to his description of the endless lines at the two public bathrooms, in a section about the general atmosphere at the event.

“I learn by the second day to go very easy on the Evian water and coffee as I’m wandering around.”

(He talks about Evian water, one of the many sponsors of the event, all throughout the essay. I can’t help but read into it a conscious attempt to bring to our intention the pervasiveness of marketing and branding and the consumer society, mostly because of his own essay on television and U.S. fiction, earlier in the book, which describes the fiction-writer’s use of pop cultural references.)

He doesn’t only talk about himself, he talks about himself as a journalist and is completely candid about his weaknesses in that regard, and in all regards. About a tennis coach that he describes as, “one of the coolest people I’ve ever met”, he confesses in parenthesis, “(so cool I’m kind of scared of him and haven’t call him once since the assignment ended, if that makes sense.)”

The parenthesis is in a footnote which begins by describing this particular coach who was mentioned as an aside, and then goes on to discuss the relationship of coach and athlete after a lament about the difficult, lonely, and insane lifestyle of the pro athlete.

He zooms in on the smallest details, feeds you on them until you’re gorged on the colors and the feels and the tensions and the humidity of the moment, and then zooms way out and talks about free choice, or mastery, or athlete-as-ascetic and themes that are cultural, sociological, national or global in scope.

The level of detail is remarkable – as is the amount of fascination he must have had to notice it, and attention he must have paid to retain it, the energy he must have had to write it and share it, and his belief that somehow we would find a week’s worth of one sport in one town through one man’s eyes as fascinating as he did.

What if he saw the entire world that way? What if every person he met, every stop at the traffic light, every short trip to the coffee shop, had that kind of intensity and that many angles, and held that level of interest for him? What kind of capacity for life (as an observer) at least would you need for that?

(It’s fascinating to me because I can imagine it. That’s the way I am to some extent, and I’ve always felt like it sets me apart. It’s not about the amount of space in the brain, or even the amount of depth. It’s just this voracious capacity to see everything as it is, and then see it also as a symbol with meaning, and unconscious intent, and as a cultural, spiritual, local, global, mental incarnation of something ultimate.)

That, and his disregard for rules, and his waterfall of words, should make for some hyperactive reading, but either I’m hyperactively attuned, or there’s this rhythm that he has, where he moves between peak points of intense visuals, to more relaxed troughs of insightful commentary, with breaks of personal and comedic tones in between, that kind of lulls you, so you’re coasting instead of flailing.

I feel like you could possibly get high on him.

All in a Day

So many amazing things  happened today that I have to write a list:

  • I woke up with a headache which inspired me to make an appointment to get the root canal I’ve been avoiding
  • Almond butter smoothie with the addition of cinnamon. Yumm.
  • A potential new client
  • I discovered lynx, how to disable CSS, and how to SEO grade a WordPress theme
  • The best Mediterranean quinoa salad ever, made by moi
  • I bought a basil plant because it was only 50 cents more expensive than fresh basil, and could possibly outlast the fresh basil. No promises.
  • I spoke to my little sister and heard about her baby and her Canadian emergency room visit
  • Sent in job application that’s been stressing me for weeks
  • Dinner with friends at La Siene
  • Thirty Fifth drink at La Siene (aka sake bourbon lemon amazingness)
  • Talked about the 21 species that are the exceptions to the rule that females invest more than men in reproduction, with my super-rational-smart-athiest friend, while sitting on the front lawn int he middle of the night
  • Being happy

Thank you to the powers that be.

Poets and rain and death were meant for each other

Megan, when you drive, leave more space than usual. The roads are wet, and the night is dark. Watch yourself.

Okay, mumbled. If I must.

Door closes. Car drives off. Only the blond hair visible through the streaked window.

The steady rhythm of the windshield wipers. Back and forth. Back and forth.

The light in the kitchen the only one still on. The dishes still drying on the rack on the counter.

A red light is smeared across the windshield. The green lights aging ghosts that smother the eyes for a briefest moment.

The vastness of the cars so far down the road the lights so bright the children so tired and whining a soft whimper.

In the shop an old man with his chess game and green army pants and memories and a bottle.

It will bring them together the sudden despair of the old man, the freshness of the night’s wind in the creases of his skin, the father prowling in the house looking for a day when the camera was new and the children were young, and the blond girl in the car driving under the watchful green and red eyes of the traffic lights.

He foretold it, the father, and when the blue Prius halted before the old man in the headlights, and the Black suburban with the girl braked too suddenly, the sirens and the gawkers came quickly, and the father was roused from staring at himself in the mirror, looking for an earlier version.

The man in the army pants and the bottle cried and hiccoughed and no one told him that silence was the only acceptable answer right now. The police chief took off his cap and wiped his bare and wet head, and wrote words down on the white pad he was holding, and was conscious of his pot belly and thought that he needed to exercise more. The first cop on the scene was blond and pimply and he did nothing until the captain stuffed the soggy notepad into his hands and told him, go.

The girl from the Prius stood at the corner, near the closed restaurant where hundreds of people ate brunch each day with aged wine and french pressed coffee, but now the windows yawned black, and there were no silver tables or chairs, and she stood there and smiled.

The cop with the pad came to her. She smiled and offered him a smoke. Her hand shook so bad the flame sizzled  in the rain and died right before she lit up.

He apologized.

She said things to him then about angels and energies and fate and life meeting at this corner with death and how she wanted to learn how to surf and that she lived in Los Angeles but never saw the beach, and that poets and death and rain were meant for each other. Then she started to cry and the cop lifted an orphaned hand to her and then turned his back to her and walked under the awning to escape the rain.

Three Four

Like morning, or like the danger of empty rooms, the days flow like an angry river, thrashing the shore where fallen trees and mossy debris lie in drunken piles, waiting only to be soothed by the water’s desperate hiccups.

Strips of foam leap in scattered places where the invisible wind twists its lips into a crude kiss, blowing and blowing, again and again, and the water is never exhausted but always puckers its many lips in kind, expelling white froth into the morning.

It happens all the way down the miles of river, as long as the wind won’t let up and the trees won’t stop stuttering, begging for mercy maybe, or singing in morbid praise of the wind’s tireless flogging.

But that’s far, out where the hours are raw, and tomorrow is long gone, and the only reason to keep breathing is because each moment is a war between silence and death.

Here, where it’s just lamplight and dirty coffee, the night time is reminiscent of ancient stars, and down below, here and there, the creatures of the night pray for morning, and the deep snores of angry children are music, and loneliness is the only melody the stars think to share.

The mountains are guardians, not walls. They carry houses and roads and lights in the night that draw a mural on the horizon, and give you more world in a minute than one heart can take. You stay away from windows, full as they are of both promise and confinement, and remain in the only place the escape is not larger than you.

 

Passover in Detroit

Written for my school newspaper and published here.

Home is Detroit. More specifically, a suburb right outside it, just past the long, empty stretches and vacant buildings visible from the freeway, past the soiled gas stations that are mostly out of order, and past 8 mile, where a Metro PCS is hawking cell phone service for only $40 a month.

Spring hasn’t come yet to Detroit, despite a brief heat spell a few weeks back. The trees are still bare, waiting nakedly to show off their green, and the skies are still gray over the one-story house where I grew up.

Spring break conveniently fell on the same week as Passover this year, so I was able to spend the Passover holiday with my family.

Over the course of the eight days of Passover, Jews commemorate their exodus from Egypt, where they were slaves to the Egyptian population thousands of years ago, with festive meals, ancient rituals, and special prayers.

In my case, there were also family members to fight with and reunite with.

Family for me, as it does for many, brings about mixed feelings. I’ve changed since I’ve moved to Los Angeles. Seeing the familiar house, watching my father make himself a cup of coffee, hearing my mother’s laugh, listening to my brothers say the things I used to say and no longer believe–I’m suddenly reminded that I might be more a stranger here than I’d like to admit.

The last day of Passover, I’m in the synagogue listening to the priestly blessing, when the priests bless the congregation in the name of G-d. In the men’s section, the men stand in clusters with their children, each family covered with a prayer shawl.

I remember the first time I was too old to stand beneath my father’s prayer shawl and stayed upstairs on the balcony with my mother. From that vantage point, all I saw were the white shawls dotted throughout the red-carpeted sanctuary, moving to the tune of the prayers. I thought they looked like angels.

Standing there as an adult next to my mother, the familiar words roll easily and I stride through most of the prayers this way, letting their familiarity take over, and listening to it take me over.

Passover is not supposed to be just a commemoration of a historical event, but an opportunity to relive those events.

Everyone has something that is holding them back—bad habits, insecurities, a sense of entitlement, a feeling of resentment. Maybe it’s a wound, a fear, guilt, or self-talk they’ve repeated so many times they’re now trapped by their own identity.

Passover is the chance to both escape and embrace opportunities. It’s a time of rebirth and freedom from the past.

I’ve heard this message, or a version of it, so many times that I usually ignore it. The promises of rebirth are tantalizing but ultimately disappointing. I will always be me, with my genes, my insecurities, my family drama, and my emotional baggage.

I will always be the ugliest of the four sisters, the awkward kid who was too smart for her own good. I will always be the one who wanted too badly to please, who grew up with the values of an ultra-orthodox Hasidic household, and who is the middle child of nine.

So who am I fooling, trying to believe that I can break through?

But then the voice of innocence intercedes again, begging me not to be so cynical, and to believe in the future. And for a moment, while the cantor chants, and my mother in the seat beside me adjusts her glasses, I do.

When the prayers are over I say hello to all my mother’s friends who have always seemed old to me. Now they seem older.

That afternoon, my father and I sit at the dining-room table, mulling over a 200-year-old text and discussing free choice. He sits across from me holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee in his hand, his seventh or eighth that day. He says that a humble person recognizes that even his accomplishments are thanks to G-d.

If you can’t take credit when you do the right thing, then you can’t be accountable when you do the wrong thing, I counter.

We go back and forth for a while, evenly and rationally, without getting very far. What I truly want is for him to assure me that people can change, that we are not predetermined, and that the Passover message of breaking through limitations is true. I never do get him to say it.

But back in Los Angeles, I’m not ready to let Passover go just yet. I know that despite the layers of frustration and resignation, I really do believe in the power of change. If not, how did I get here, where the sun is rarely discouraged and the people say “amaaazing,” from the corner house in a wilting suburb of Detroit?

I’m glad I look like my reflection

It’s what I saw in the window of the coffee shop as I entered.

Inside I was shredded, I was yesterday and tomorrow, I was stungunned by blue eyes, and guilty and broke, but not so broke to have hit bottom. I was something to some people, but nothing to myself. The things that mattered couldn’t matter, and every music note was so sharp that I couldn’t tell it apart from beauty, and more than anything, I wanted there to be someway to make it stop.

The reflection had short brown hair and a face that was both innocent and honorable. She approached herself and almost smiled, a bag over her shoulder, a blue and gray striped scarf stark against fair skin and naturally pink and pale lips .

“One tall coffee,” I told the girl behind the counter. She saw the girl in the window, and I wasn’t her. She talked for me. I waited for my drink, I was invisible. The people moved through me. Their faces and their hair color and the books they read and the short black dress of the girl behind me and the carefully chosen boots.

The boy on the couch opposite me sighed. Another in an artfully ripped wife-beater and tired military high-tops walked with shoulders rolling in swag.

The green-aproned barista called my name but even the coffee couldn’t reach me. I was stashed away in trees, in closets, under bangs, under covers, somewhere where being human wasn’t so desperately isolating.

There is far more to feel in this alternate reality where I am right now. The music isn’t louder but I hear it more vividly.