Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Moment Before

A couple months ago I found out that I was awarded a residency in Seaside, Florida to complete the final edit on the book that I wrote over a year ago about my time spent in Russia. The book, a sort of humorous self-deprecating look at the forces that drive us to run away and the strength of self that lets us find our own definition of home is entitled, "90 Days in Moscow; Looking for Life with More Theatre and Less Drama."

I wrote the book in a little over a month while tucked away at the cabin my grandparents built before they passed away. During that time I did a lot of sitting in front of the fire and tried my best not to burn down the house. I made the five mile hike out and back on the solitary gravel road leading to the cabin just in time to catch each evening's rusty winter sunset. And I drank copious amounts of red wine.

It was one of the best things I ever did, almost as rewarding as the trip to Russia itself. But in the days after my return from exile, I set the book aside and got to the business of life. Finding a place to live - and not just a place but a city and state, getting a job and acclimating myself to a new life, one that didn't involve palm trees.

It took a while and so for a while the book sat, in the nifty secret drawer under the black leather chair my mother bought my for my birthday.

I would play with it now and then, pick apart passages. I would work and rework sections until I could no longer tell what was trite and what if anything was inspired.

The parts I liked the best were the parts that felt the most honest. Those were also the parts that were clearly the most self-involved, more like cathartic journaling than actual narrative, and so they would get squashed.

Then last summer, I was accepted into the Artist Inc. program through the Metropolitan Arts Council and I became surrounded by all of these people, as motivated and confused as I was, only they had backgrounds in fields I could never dream to attempt; painters and sculptors and photographers and musicians. They were all so generous and kind and at the same time I found them, I found myself letting go of the past and feeling free to challenge the future.

I decided to apply for this residency, almost on a lark. I never actually thought I would get it but I thought it might be fun to apply. But I got it.

And so, in four months I will be traveling to Florida to do nothing but write and finish the book I started all those months ago in the quiet of Missouri winter and I have to say, I am terrified.

I have this thing, this beast of 90,000 words and it looks like a book and it reads like a book, but I have no one around to say, "Yep, that is a book." And when I have polished and shined and buffed this sucker to every edge of my literary capabilities, I have this feeling that I am going to look at it and just scratch my head and say yet again, "Is this a book?"

I am not sure why I felt the need to write about this today, but if this blog is good for anything it is for airing all of that neurotic narcissistic insecurity that makes me obnoxious, that makes me me, and that I think, makes you and me pretty much the same.

So for the sake of putting it out there to the universe, here is the intro. Let me just say, and it irritates me so to admit that every advisor I have ever had has been correct, but the intro was/is a bitch. Writing about getting screamed at by Prima Ballerinas, being broken up with in the shower, finding dead bodies in the metro and discovering the joy of doing the splits for the first time in my late twenties, these things are easy. Writing about the hell that was leaving LA, a little bit more exhausting.


“Prepare to depart the moving walkway.” The electric hum of pulsating rubber tickled my toes and for a moment I remembered why I loved this place. It was the smell of stale coffee mixed with the sweat of overworked, overtired businessmen, family men and people on the run. There was - and it is acceptable to say this because it was, in fact, LA - a kind of Hollywood magic in this place.

Oh sure, I would grumble in hushed tones about the endless security lines or the TSA officials riffling through the underwear in my carry-on, but secretly I was fantasizing about all those people and stories buzzing about the hallways and airport corridors. I could float above the disgruntled crowds on the tangible feeling of anticipation that hung in the rafters and the joy that came in the anonymity of strangers, the sounds of families reuniting or lovers saying goodbye.

I even loved the fact that every time I made it through security, I would inevitably be running forty-five minutes late and making a movie-style break for it in whatever entirely inappropriate footwear I had chosen for that departure.

Today was different. The screaming jet engines felt far too loud and my claustrophobia was raging at an irrepressible level. The personal bubble I used to protect myself when the heat and toxicity of the outside world became too much seemed to be defective and every shrieking child made the bony part of my skull, right behind my earlobe, feel like it was going to crack in two.

This time when I went through security, I eyed the guard and wondered how many world-weary travelers he saw in a day. It was difficult to judge. He caught people at the good part, when even in the midst of anxiety and agitation there was excitement, faces staring off into the unknown, waiting for life to take flight.

Still, I am sure he had seen his fair share over the years, and from the way he stared at me as I dejectedly attempted to yank off the hiking boots I had idiotically double knotted, I may have ranked amongst some of the worst.

I had spent a lot of time in airports since the day I left for college. It was never as simple as a winter holiday or summer vacation because I always seemed to be running, either away or back home, from some sort of drama, left behind in whichever city or relationship had just reached its expiration date. Every time I let my passions get the better of me, there would be an opportunity to take off, if only for a few days and then there would be an airport, a gateway for renewal.

I hoisted my heavy duffel back onto my shoulder and prepared to follow the automated voice’s instructions. My legs did not want to move but modern technology would no longer accommodate my exhaustion. I caught a stranger’s eye as he was ushered past me in the opposite direction. It wasn't hard to register the look of pity he exchanged with his wife.

Clearly the airport was no match for the kind of storm I was leaving behind.

I felt the hot tears streaming down my cheeks and I desperately wanted to close my eyes and count.

Sometimes, if I breathe slowly enough and I count, and if no one interrupts me and I ignore the flush of my cheeks and sweat of my palms, I can pull myself out of an attack. But now when I closed my eyes all I could see was the moments and sound bites from a year or more of bad choices, swirling and darting behind my eyelids like those fire flies I was so fond of chasing as a child on my grandfather’s farm. At once I saw it all and I saw nothing, pieces of moments that individually were humiliating and heartbreaking but combined drained me of all will and strength to move.

The low drone of the crowd was too much and I dove further and further inside of myself, away from the reality of the busy terminal. The backs of my knees were aware that I was standing, planted in the middle of the corridor. My shoulders understood the weight of the heavy duffle and the sharp edges of its red leather strap. My body knew that it was pointed in faux attention to the row of TV monitors listing arriving and departing flights.

But my mind was too busy chasing fire flies.

The speckled glow in my mind grew before me into a blinding neon yellow. It was one of those tacky light-up bar sign, the kind sports bars mount all over the place to give you a point of reference when the room starts to spin from one too many pitchers of beer. And tequila shots. And tumblers of whisky.

Below the light was a mirror and for a fraction of a second I could see my face; the sallow complexion, mascara stained cheeks, and bloodshot eyes of someone who was on a mission to burn her world to the ground. My eyes met hers and I could feel the heat of drunken rage. That’s when the chair went flying.

There was a heavy thud and the stabbing pain of my toe brought me back to life. I looked down and around quick enough to see that a burly man with a luggage cart had barely knocked into me but it had sent my bag crashing onto my foot. With that I started to cry, hard.

I am sure there were plenty of people starring at me as I began to pant and hyperventilate but I just couldn't care. I wanted to collapse right there in the middle of it all, to hell with my dignity, it had been shot for quite some time. But then I looked up and I saw it.

Gate 21 departing to Saint Louis. It wasn’t much but it would do for now.

I would go on to Chicago and London and then finally to Moscow but for now this was all I needed - an escape from another mess, another chance to start over.

I just had to get out of LA.

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