Friday, November 17, 2006
The CityI'm sitting at Caffe Trieste in Sausalito and, truly, life doesn't get better than this.
You can keep your fancy hunky lovers and your villa in the south of France. I'm sitting here with free wi-fi, granola with fruit and yogurt, people surrounding me with conversation, and San Fransicso hovering across the bay, enshrouded in fog like Janis Joplin in an ostrich boa.
I don't know if I've discussed this in these blogs, but I've always felt that cities are primarily masculine or feminine in nature. Los Angeles is complex, multifaceted, difficult to penetrate, and -- if you are tenacious enough to discover enough of them -- greater than the sum of her parts. If you look at any one of her qualities, she's disappointing. If you live there long enough and probe deeply enough, and have enough patience to work through all her issues -- there is a sum there that is greater than her individual attributes.
Basically, LA is one of those women who provide a certain amount of surface glamour, give little, and require a lot of work to maintain. There's a word for that kind of woman.... oh yeah, that'd be the word "bitch."
New York, on the other hand, is masculine in the extreme. You walk up out of the ground from Penn Station and WHAM, you are walloped over the head with the power of the city. There is no attempt at discretion or coyness. New York is linear, aggressive, filled with phallic testosterone-juiced upward thrusting. From the subways to the skyscrapers to the throbbing atertial flow.... I rest my case.
Then there's Paris. Paris is, of course, extremely feminine, but in a different way from LA. Paris is the woman of elegance, all done up for the occasion, coifed and perfumed and gracious. There is no false step to her; every motion is refined and cultured and honed by centuries of being seen in public. Even the word "ettiquette" belongs to her. She is the kind of woman that men (a certain type of man, at least) fears, worships, takes care of, reveres.
San Francisco is more my style. Let me rephrase: San Francisco is my style. I come by this equation somewhat honestly; my father was born in his house on Cole Street in 1909, his family settled in the city in the 1800s. I've always run away to this place to find myself. Whether it's DNA or just temperament, when I breathe the air in this place, it's the perfect oxygen for my body.
San Fransisco is also feminine, I think. But it's got an unapologetic masculinity about it, too. It's a city with agendas and grace, with purpose and indulgence, with commerce and art. It's a writer's city, a misfit's city, the city where people who don't fit in anywhere else magically fit in. It feels warm without being cloying, it's open without being sappy and vulernable. Like New York, it's filled with magical niches and world-class everything -- from food to opera to art to writing.
San Francisco is what would happen if New York and Paris fell in love. Maybe in the early Barbary Coast years, this would've seemed like a tempestuous affair... but by now it's more the marriage of many years. San Francisco has been through her turbulent adolescence, has been pummeled by loss, has weathered some years. She has seen some interesting shit.
Am I hopelessly in love with this city? You betcha. Do I often wonder why I chose to leave it to go to grad school in LA? Actually... I don't. That was the road I needed to travel and it was a good road. It gave me a number of years of a good marriage and two kids who enhance the planet in more ways than I can count.
In the absence of regret for my choices, I do ache for it when I'm back here, though. I ache that I can't be here more, while at the same time revelling in all the moments I can visit. If and when I move back -- I caution myself -- I won't necessarily be happier and my various items of baggage won't miraculously disappear. On the other hand -- and I know this viscerally -- when the time comes I will, simply, be happier. I may be just as fucked up, but I'll be happier about it. I'll be in the place where the oxygen content more perfectly matches my blood, there won't be so much friction between me and my environment.
I love my life in LA. I love roaming streets where I have decades' worth of stories lurking on every corner. I know everyone; the high maintenance bitch thing is an attitude, rather than an actual presence.
I adore my friends down there. Our circle is solid and sweet and soulful and creative. I have created and discovered and nurtured a Northern California lifestyle in the midst of the Southern California metropex. It's true: my friends down there are the "my kind of people" I love so much up here. It's not that it's all here and not there. I have found the niches, I have found the moments of true art, I know where the soul is and I love it for its scarcity. Like rare gems, finding the soul in LA is an artform in itself and it's highly gratifying when a moment or a place is uncovered.
Maybe being up here... where every radio station is good, where every restaurant is intoxicating, where every conversation is worth unabashed eavesdropping... would get old. Maybe the great thing about LA is that it does take a little work and the good stuff refuses to be taken for granted when it's found. On the other hand... when it comes time to leave... I think I'll be ready. At some point in my life I will have earned the ability to be with my kind of people, in my kind of place and not have to work so hard.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 8:46 AM 0 comments
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Meanwhile, back in 8th gradeI had a truly awful moment last night. The kind of moment that makes me wonder if there really is any hope for us as humans, in terms of emotional health. The awkward pain we endure in simply growing up is so searing at times, it's amazing we can ever get out of bed in the morning.
Here's what happened:
I have a dear friend from Jr. High in town. (Back in the day it was Jr. High, not Middle School.) Because my karma has not seen fit to let me leave the sucking vortex of the town I grew up in and left as quickly as legal means would allow, I now live within 500 yards of my high school's goal post and pass my Jr. High many times a week.
The Jr. High was a hell hole. A vampire den. A place of the most intense misery and humiliation ever devised. It was multi-cultural, which in our day did not (sadly) mean we were all enriched and enlightened by the unique qualities that the other cultures brought to the table. It meant that there were about two white kids for every 50 of everything else and that it was open season on whoever was dumb enough to stay standing at the end of each day.
Not only was I cursed with being white, I was cursed with being smart. As this was my third school in as many years, I was figuring out this one fast though. Just, duh, don't be smart. Do not ever be smart. Shut up. Don't let a glitter of comprehension flicker through your eyes at any time. Don't answer questions and keep the grades on the top of your papers hidden.
I was doing OK with the not being smart thing. It was much harder not to be white.
Gym classes were a nightmare. The black girls would put straight pins into the ends of pencil erasers and stab us in the legs as we walked through the locker rooms. They were HUGE 9th graders, amazonian in size and ferocity. In my memory they were the size of linebackers, beautiful in their hatred and dominion over us.
In the midst of this, I had a small group of friends. True to the demographics of the school, I had one black friend, a Filipino friend, a girlfriend from Saudi Arabia, one from Trinidad (of eastern Indian descent) and a hispanic friend.
I also had Phoebe.
Phoebe and I met in the library. We started laughing about the Pied Piper of Hamlin, for reasons I will never remember but in a moment that I will never forget. I have no clue what struck us so funny but within minutes of our first conversation (so my memory goes) we were convulsed in that type of laughter usually reserved for funerals and other completely inappropriate situations. It was laughter that, for me, had needed to come out for 10 of my 13 years, at least. Pent up, strangulated laughter. Laughter that explodes from the inside with a force so powerful it's scary... and then even more funny.
We were immediate best friends. She was, truly, my first best friend. No one had ever gotten me like she got me. She was SMART. She was a misfit. She was SOOOOO cool about it, too. She was the first person I ever knew who was as geeky as me IN EXACTLY THE SAME way as me. The kind of person who reads, and writes, and has a weird take on the world, and is able to laugh at all of it, including herself.
Phoebe was magnificent. She got me through.
Now. I must've hit some kind of puberty while we were friends. Because Phoebe had two brothers. One was our age and for some reason he didn't resonate too much with me. But she had a younger brother who was 10, I think. Maybe 11. And -- god help us all -- I thought he was the coolest thing on the planet.
He must've been my first big crush. And to this day I don't know what it was. Especially now, when I see what 10/11 year olds are like... I don't get it. He was cute, in a little brother way. I don't remember much else about it. Except my liking of him was a constant and continual source of fascination and acute embarrassment.
Everyone knew about it of course. Like, hey, this was ME we're talking about. Could I keep anything a secret back then? Of course not. Could I hide my feelings, squelch my passions, keep it cool, keep anything copacetic? Hell no. This was the beginning, my friends. All my patterns started here. With my inexplicable fascination with Phoebe's younger brother, Colin.
I endured the taunts of my friends. I prayed that Phoebe wouldn't abandon our friendship because of the oddness of my fixation (she didn't). I spent hours with my stomach in knots hoping that Colin -- in all his 10 year old wisdom -- wouldn't know that his older sister's maladjusted friend was completely obsessed with him. I'm sure he did.
And I endured all this, because that (it turns out) is simply what I do.
Nothing happened, of course. Colin went about his life eating PB&Js and doing whatever kids did before video games were invented. Sadly, their family moved to an adjacent town (about six blocks from where I'm now living) and Phoebe went to a different high school. We drifted apart and years, decades, went by.
But, thanks to the internet, we reconnected awhile back. Phoebe found me and we've seen each other once or twice. She's on the east coast, married with a child. And I'm here, so whenever our paths cross, we try to hook up.
Well, this weekend she's here. And we've made plans to see each other this afternoon. She was going to leave her daughter at Colin's house in Fullerton and come up here for tea this afternoon. It sounded like a good plan.
But when we talked last night, she said that Colin really wanted to see me. Would it be possible for Chris and I to drive down there for our visit?
Hmmm. Interesting. Well, sure, I guess, I said. I'm thinking that's kind of weird that he'd even remember me, but sure, we could drive down.
So she says here's his number. Call him up and figure something out. She and her daughter were exausted from a day at Disneyland... we can figure out a plan.
I jot down the number while I'm parking in the grocery store lot. The kids and I go in and do our shopping. We jump in the car and head out to the next errand: dropping off a check at the drum teacher's house. It should be noted that throughout this evening we'd been talking about various indications of love and I made a comment that every time I'm falling in love I stop being able to eat. Dunno why, but my stomach usually knows something is up before anything else does, and I just stop eating.
So we're doing errands and the kids are quizzing me on who I can eat around and who I can't and while Chris runs the check in I decide to call Colin and set something up quickly.
God help me. The second he answers the phone there is only one thought in my head, which is "Wow. Your voice changed!" I kind of start stammering through that and then it all goes to pieces in incredibly rapid succession.
I'm talking to him while Chris comes back into the car. Not only have I made the comment that I can't eat around people I'm falling in love with I also mentioned, while introducing these people that we'll be meeting today, that I had a big ass old crush on Phoebe's little brother, when he was younger than Jack is now.
SO. They kids LOVE that they know so much about their mother. They start going crazy.
I'm trying to talk to this guy ... a MARRIED GUY, a GUY WITH A CHILD, a GUY IN HIS LATE 40'S NOW... and they start making moony eyes, sighing "Oh Colin" under their breath, and then opening the door to fake-retch out the side of the car.
It's funny. It's hysterical. It's gut wrenchingly ironic.
And... it's not.
It's horrible. It's acutely and painfully embarrassing. It's KILLING me, actually.
Here's this guy who I really don't know from Adam. Never did know him. Don't remember him as anything other than a completely weird object of desire. And my kids -- who are OUR ages when we knew each other -- are killing me with their antics.
Suddenly, wham. It's 8th grade again. My friends are laughing at me on the playground. I'm caught with my pants down. I am on the PHONE with this person, whom I don't know, who may TOTALLY not have a sense of humor, who didn't ASK for this phone call, who is getting an earful of shrieking laughter and blatantly audible stage whispers as I implore my kids to shut up... did he ask for this? God no. He's just this person living his life. And here I come with all my crazy baggage handing him a big bucketful of chaos when he answers the phone.
I hung up quickly, tellng him we'll have to try this phone call again. Also, I had to explain why he was hearing other voices simultaneously saying "COLIN... oh COLIN..." and then making vomit sounds in the background. I had to tell him I had a big assed old crush on him. And that my kids are making fun of me. And it's so chaotic I just cannot tell what he thinks about any of it.
Oh my god. It was terrible.
It was so funny.
And it was so not.
It brought up every single thing I'm going through these days. I feel like I've evolved not one little bit from 8th grade when it comes to men right now. I'm a misfit. I'm a freak. I have cooties.
I'm standing in the hallways with a wide-eyed look on my face, clutching my books, wondeirng how in the world I will ever navigate through this maze. How will I talk? How will I survive? How will I ever, ever, ever not be a total geek?
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:40 AM 1 comments
Friday, November 10, 2006
Tantric bloggingI have been thinking about these blogs recently and wondering why I'm suddenly writing fewer of them.
The contrarian in me thinks that the thrill started to be gone when my friend Tom figured out my formula. Once I'm figure-out-able, it's time to learn some new tricks.
This feeling started around late August, when I started this intense sprint/marathon of activity. It wasn't so much that I was insanely busy (which I was) -- it was also that there was SO much to write about I got backed up and found that the moment I had time to write up something that had a occured to me a few days previously, there were two other ideas competing for top priority.
As my grandmother would say, in her Polish accent: So much, too much. There was so much to write, so many thoughts and synchronicities. So much to do. Too much to even start.
And then there's this other thing that's been needling my psyche. What's the next project going to be? It's been a year since AIJ came out. People are starting to ask: now what? And -- now that I've proven that it's possible to squeeze a book out of the thin air of an overbooked schedule -- what am I going to do next?
This is what I'm afraid of. I'm afraid that the blogs have been giving me enough satisfaction that I'm sated just enough. I get my ya yas out here, sporadically but consistently enough that there's no more oomph left in me to make the words link together into a big sprawling storyline. I get to smoke these little cigarettes in a slightly euphoric post blog state JUST often enough to be happy.
I'm always a huge fan of going for the gusto in any way and every way possible. But maybe I'm kind of shooting my wad here. And maybe I need to hold some of it back in order to go for the bigger bang.
So I'm thinking of trying something out. Since I've been living with this concept of Going Without for way too long, I'm used to the idea. Boy, I hate this idea. But maybe Going Without with a higher goal and purpose is better than getting any old action simply to slake the thirst.
Tantric blog writing. Enough to get the juices flowing -- both from a giving and receiving standpoint -- but holding back a bit and saving it for the lollapalloza finale down the line a little bit.
My first thought is "man, that sucks." And the second is "Yeah, right." But maybe it's what's necessary to service the higher good. Maybe I try to save a bit on the side to work on something bigger/longer. Something we don't have to call a novel, yet, but something that may very well look like a longer piece of fiction.
So let's see how it works: shorter, quicker, more frequent bursts from my keyboard. Less fleshed out, more impressionistic. Sketches. Thoughts. Moments.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:10 AM 0 comments