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We watched the ocean from a window upstairs. The sky was blue and the water bluer, shining through the pines. I listened to their conversation, but didn't offer my thoughts; I was not there for that. I crossed my arms, held a smile that would say nothing. Watched the sun laid out across the waves. Beyond the trees, the sails of a group of kite surfers flew in arches, looking like levitating fingernail clippings, neon-painted. Summer absurdities. My father opened the window for the breeze; his hair glistened, tiny spears of frost, softly prickly. I know him best through memory.
Words itch in my skull, telling me to write, to write it down; they spill down my throat to press at my chest. They flash across my vision—a thunderbolt—or scurry at the corner of my eye like spiders. They are only words, I whisper: reassurance. I sit at my desk; there is no comfortable position. The words are discomfort droning bee-like under my skin, they are a mouthful I can't swallow. Pen to paper, I mutter, There! Do it! but they wait for passion, not for the motions my hands remember how to make. I won't say it.
Tonight, the river shone like a pot of glossy blue-black ink; ripples passed reflected lights back and forth. We walked, and while the memory is silent, I know we weren't. We watched our shadows grow tall as streetlamps fell behind, our black hips swaying before us and fading to grey as the next light approached. Steps beside us led down into the water, which slurped loudly at the stone. We walked quickly enough that my hands were throbbing with blood, the skin uncomfortably tight. I stretched my hands above my head to feel them drain. Wind brushed past my cheek.
I don't like describing tastes or smells; a rich enough vocabulary doesn't exist for it. I find myself describing a taste in terms of the other things it brings to mind. That is never precise enough; it seldom comes close. I want words like we have for vision: pale, yellow, shining, bright, striped. "A weak savoury-sweet with spots of sour." Once in a while, though, the smells seem to fit together perfectly, so that I can say, "It's like the sour aftertaste of milk at the back of my tongue," and the description is neither cloying nor vulgar—just right.
Don't look at me. Don't talk, don't stare, don't ask. Don't give me your undivided attention. Forget me when I turn away. I want to be so big that you don't even notice me. I want to whisper like the unseen wind and to watch you while you think. Tell me your secrets; I will write them on myself and they will wear away with the years. Underestimate me. (I hide myself in truth, wrap myself in my mistakes, leap in the shadow of my most careful failures.) Don't look for me while I learn you. I build myself alone.
I have read paintings, where the image is coloured with phrases. A stroke of dialogue here, a smile inked in adjectives there. I look away, and when my eyes return to the page, they are amazed to discover that the picture has melted into letters. When I draw, I draw a story. I draw with thin sketched lines, with bones showing through the skin. My shadows don't hide from the light, but emphasise; limbs stretch and twist to say what they must. The pen scratches and catches on the paper; it wants to form words. I draw as a writer.
Begging and shouting are not the same thing; it seems obvious, but the number of people who don't grasp that fact amazes me. To beg is to plead sincerely, even pathetically—it could almost be a whine, but begging is more graceful, more humble, less demanding. It is a request that acknowledges one's inability to fulfill a need. To beg is to ask without expecting one's wish to be granted. I say, "Speak softly." I would like to hear what is behind your voice—what you seek to hide in volume. I would like to know you beyond your words.
The path between the car park and the front gate smelled today like cinnamon—not the cold, sharp scent of the solid sticks, but the sort that's baked warm in bread and sprinkled on snickerdoodles. Usually, the path smells as you would imagine: like asphalt and the city and, faintly, dirt and leaves. Today, it was as though it had grown bored with its uniform and had thrown it off in the sunshine. I wonder: does the path hold its resigned city scent late at night, when no one is around, or could I then smell jasmine and overripe peaches?
Memory laughs at us. I don't remember what I should, but remember instead things of no consequence: the veins on the slimy bottom of his tongue, a curved, white stomach, the feeling of sweat landing with a plop on my collarbone. I remember smiling as I remember a detail of the statue of Orpheus in the museum basement (his lips curving in a graceful bow). I remember my fluttering stomach when I very nearly told her—. I remember sunsets, colour bleeding into cold night, and I remember the way your voice cracked when you said—the words are gone.
There is something threatening in the bleeding pastel-pale glimpses of Impressionism. In that world, one can never look closely enough to understand; the picture will never come sharp. When the clouds become Impressionist paintings, all but a hint hidden beneath a layer of I-don't-know-what, I can't turn my back to them for fear of being consumed. This is what worries me: that beneath their vagueness, their pleasant blandness—or perhaps in it—there is a monster that will inhale me, defeat me. I can't fight against fog, nor can I run away. It can follow me wherever I will go.
I have woken into that dream where everyone else on the planet disappears. (It's warmer than I thought it would be, and a little less quiet.) I look out of my window when it gets dark, and no lights shine through the windows in the building opposite mine; the only sound along my hallway is a radio that has hummed along, just audible, all weekend. Left to myself, I realise that I need to learn to iron clothes. I don't need to think before I jump or shout in joy. I will feel alone when I need to buy groceries.
The worst part of death is not the body, not the ashes we curled our lip to touch nor the rotting of flesh from the bone deep within the ground (try not to think of it; try to believe that a box will separate your loved one from decomposition), but the finality. It is a badly written conclusion: loose ends are left hanging and the mystery is not solved. The worst of it was not tipping her into the ocean and the wind, but knowing that the last copy of the manuscript was burnt. I will never read another chapter.
I hesitate to share my emotions; I fear, sometimes, that they will wear down to shadows of themselves and then to nothing, as though the minds that hold the knowledge are thumbs rubbing my heart smooth. I don't much mind losing annoyance or hate, but I never want to lose beauty. When I find a beautiful thing, I want to devour it and write it in myself. To share what I love would be to diminish it—and me. I try to build myself up with beauty. I will one day be large enough that death itself can't hold me.
Although I want to live forever, I would rather be good than safe. The best way to learn is not from books; I will have to see everything for myself. It's dangerous to go, I know, but I want that danger; I'll have to hold it before I can erase it. I want your trust, too, your acknowledgement that I can make good choices, even when they wouldn't be yours—but I don't need that, Dad. I only need my own conviction. In the end, it will be my gambles that bring immortality; caution will give me only eighty years.
There's a peculiar pain in not knowing what my body is trying to tell me. I recognise the dullness of need and the twitching of muscles that usually keep still, but not their meaning. It's difficult to remember the things I do day after day, the thousand tiny things that make my world function. Have I eaten today? Have I slept? What does the pressure behind my eyes mean? I would like to understand the language my body is written in, to read myself. Would I understand the world better if I could? Would laughter still answer all its questions?
A boy I know, he's odd—eccentric, he'd like me to say, but it's a calculated strangeness. He has a need to seem different, as though the natural differences between us all aren't enough. Sometimes they're too much for me. I'm not sure he knows the difference between "what I…" and "what they do not…." His brother has an assistant's memory: meticulous, not given to exaggeration. He won't allow himself to see what could be; he defines himself by others. They both always know what to wear, do, be (even when they won't). I wonder if they see their similarities.
We drove down to the pub, not entirely comfortable with each other, I think. I was wearing shoes. None of us knew what to do when we got inside, where to go, how to act. We talked too loudly about things we shouldn't have said at all, even before buying our drinks; we smiled too much and eyed the attractive bartenders, then laughed at each other for it. We weren't solicitous; we were sometimes crude; we misheard, we misspoke, we might have tripped once or twice. We spoke too seriously and didn't agree. It's good to go out with friends.
It's embarrassing to be told I know a lot. That's what life is for, I think: to learn, to understand. I try. I struggle. I never know enough; I never feel I know anything. I always fall short, because there is always something more I could—or should—have known. Every new insight just shows me how much I'll never understand. If I'm understated about what I know, it's because I'm ashamed that this is all I can do. This is all I have. I can't take the world apart to see its nerves, to feel its pulse. I'm sorry.
It rained. Now, the marbled sky is vaguely pink. I'm not sure where the clouds get their colour; this city is not a twenty-four-hour city. Earlier, the oil rose from the pavement with the rain. My shoes tracked grit that crunched with each step. Flecks of watery mud landed on my hands. I like to stand on my balcony when it's raining, to feel the drops run down my neck beneath the collar of my shirt, to breathe in city-in-spring, to watch rooms glow around me while I stand in the cold. I shiver; I feel I'm part of something.
Eternity is too long. Nothing I do will press me so deeply into the world that I won't fade away. Even rocks crumble. My flaws and my strengths will be written over if I am remembered at all, and I will become nothing but a name, or an exaggeration, or an old photograph at a flea market—or not even that. I can almost understand procreation: it is the desire to exist, a million times diluted, in the curve of wrist-to-thumb on some far-future creature. I don't want eternity if I will be nothing but a drop in a lake.
A fear of heights is less a fear of falling than it is a fear of jumping. The sort of person who thinks that he might fall, who shies away from the edge, has a kind of death wish; he understands, if not consciously, what it is to want to die and simultaneously to want desperately to live. He is made of contradictions. He wants something that he fears, hates, could not admit to wanting. I am not afraid of heights, or of myself: I am too well-grounded for the wind to lift me. I have faith in my weight.
When I write, I can feel my brain uncurl. I only have so much of it wound around inside my head, the string nestled tightly into a ball. It's an awful thing to cut a thought off, to allow it to fall into nothingness and go uncomprehended. The string is cut in sections too short ever to be of use, and my brain has been diminished. I should write through to the end of every thought—but then I'd miss the ones that, teasing, run past. I'm afraid I will one day find myself struck dumb, my words all gone.
Expectations colour too much of my perceptions. When I reread a book, characters I found annoying who later became appealing are no longer so bad, and characters who failed to live up to their potential aren't so fascinating; my preconceptions make the characters change. Although a book is rewritten every time it's opened, it would be an interesting exercise to read a favourite book later in life with only my own ideas changed, with the book as it ever was. If I had three wishes, I would like to make myself forget my favourite books and then read them again.
It's strange to realise that people you always assumed were confident and even a little arrogant are actually self-conscious or timid. It's unpleasant to know that things you said jokingly were understood to be serious, that comments you wouldn't even have noticed dug beneath their skin and caused them to question themselves and their happiness. It's an awful thing to have power you didn't know you had over others, to be able to change them with a thoughtless word. (It seems invasive, somehow: what right do they have to force me to change them when I wouldn't if I knew?)
It more than annoys me when people condemn others for having or doing something they themselves wouldn't refuse—say, making a profit. There's nothing evil in wanting to have the best things life can give, and the best things only come with money. There's nothing evil in trying to get as much as you can—it's only robbery if no one has any choice but to buy your product. If you want a company to sell its goods for less than they cost to produce, ask yourself if you'd stay in business if you could only lose money, never gain.
I do not want to make money, to be successful and active outside the home, because these are a man's goals and men are more important than women; I want them because I find more value in those goals than in traditionally female goals. I think that some people mistake cause and effect: traditional "men's jobs" are not more important because men worked in them; men worked in them because they had the power to take what was best, what was important to society, what increased their power. Traditionally male goals interest me for themselves—not what they stand for.
The strangest thing about this place is the noise. A constant sprinkler-like buzz lies beneath all other sound, if you listen. At twilight, I hear birds calling sharply to one another from high in the silver-green gum trees, and crickets, and rustlings in the bush nearby that could be small creatures but could just be the wind. Even the machines in the buildings I pass seem less muted here, not quite tamed to a background role. California has made its own world and will not share it. Here, the hum of life has bled into the atmosphere—it is Perth.
It's strange to me that music is so important to other people. Of all my senses, hearing would be the easiest to lose. I know the world and myself through sight and touch: when I walk, my hands follow the wall and my eyes roam; I don't entirely understand what I can't see, can't touch. Pleasure comes through scent and taste: I love summer for its bursts of smell, and winter for its lack; good food is a code for memory and beauty. Passion is made of those four. Sound—sound is just surface. I might not notice the loss.
I borrowed a book from the library; the last time it had been checked out was in 1999. So few people seem to read books for pleasure, or to admit it, but the libraries and book stores are always crowded. Even when it closed at eleven, Borders was never empty. I doubt that was because of its café. I'm sure not everyone at the library is there for the computers. So where are the people who read, who don't just say, "I would if I had time"? There is never enough time. There is only the time you set aside.
I'm not always particularly careful with my money. I'll buy a $10 hot chocolate or a $40 magazine, spend $5 on a piece of chocolate. But sometimes, especially when I don't want what's being sold, I'm afraid of buying it. I'm afraid that I'll be talked into it, or that I'll buy it the way I sometimes buy things I dislike. I become afraid of it, really scared, as though giving in this once, buying this one item, would erase my personality. I think my soul is bound up in money. I would be no one if I had nothing.
The Tip Jar