Thoughts on identity and clutter from my smartie pants friend Maia. And I’m the one who found The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up on my porch, on the floor, in a pile of dead leaves.

the saltwater twin

Sherlock_Holmes_Museum Not my apartment. Photo from the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London from Wikipedia.com

I want to lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite clutter.                                                                                                       —Freddie Mercury

Grant me the treasure of sublime poverty.                                                                                                                        —Saint Francis of Assisi

Allow me to…

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abba and jp 001 (2) - Copy

When Jim met Alice at the University of Chicago library in 1930, he knew it was love at first sight. She wasn’t so sure…

Scan little birds

Me, chomping on a pen for some reason, in a promotional still for a play at the Organic Theater in Chicago, many years ago

When I started this blog, I had no idea what it would be “about”–and knowing full well that a blog without a point won’t have a ready-made audience, I updated it infrequently. Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I love to gather stories–my own and other people’s.  I also realized I really need a job. At some point, the idea began to percolate–what if there is some way to create a business out of my passion for collecting and sharing stories? And that’s how The Story Gatherer was born. From now on, I’ll be narrowing my focus and sharing stories that I have collected from my own family and my own life to serve as examples of how I can help people to uncover, preserve and share their own family stories.

My fabulously talented and lovely friend Maia is doing great things.

the saltwater twin

photo by tata_aka_T on flickr photo by tata_aka_T on flickr

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”

Five years ago, an essay I wrote won Glamour magazine’s “My Real Life Story” essay contest. Part of the prize package was a chat with a literary agent. That essay was the first I’d ever written outside of schoolwork; prior to that, I’d been a poet and then a playwright and monologuist. But when the agent asked me what I was working on, I told her I was writing a book.

Then I had to figure out what…

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I haven’t updated my blog in 8 months, which is par for the course for me. But I have actually written several posts that I just never published because I didn’t feel they were polished enough for publication. I now realize that when it comes to the internet, it doesn’t matter if something is polished or ready–it matters that it is timely. Blogs are all about getting it out there, not about doing it perfectly. So, today I’ve decided to post an old draft–one I hadn’t deemed ready in the past.  So here it is–some thoughts from the summer of 2014:

 

rodell sanders

I don’t know Rodell Sanders, but I can’t stop thinking about him.  Yesterday he was released from prison after serving 20 years for a murder he did not commit.  He spent much of his incarceration poring over law books and studying legal cases in an effort to regain his freedom.  In a press conference, he said that he sometimes spent 10 to 12 hours studying the law.  He shut everything else out of his mind, and focused on his quest for exoneration.  He wrote the court filings that led to a new trial where he and his lawyers were able to prove that his conviction was the result of false evidence manipulated by a corrupt police force.

I thought of Rodell as I walked to yoga class. The sky was bright blue, cloudless.  A light breeze blew through the leaves so they cast shifting, shimmering shadows over streets and sidewalks and lawns and gardens. I wondered how Rodell would spend his first days and nights of freedom.  I wondered how I would spend them if I were in his shoes.  Would I revel in the joy of finally waking from a nightmare and relish in the physical freedom most people take for granted by running barefoot through the grass, diving into Lake Michigan and swimming as far as I could?  Or, would I retreat into the cocoon of my family home, chow down on deep dish pizza, drink beer, watch television?

Ever since the invention of the steam engine, modern people have measured the eras of their lives against the technology.  “I remember when a horse drawn cart used to deliver ice to our house,” my grandfather told me when I was little.  And just recently I explained to my 7 year that we didn’t didn’t have cell phones we could carry around when I was a little girl.  He then asked if we had trees, or doors, or flowers when I was a little girl.  When Rodell Sanders entered prison, the newscaster reminded, there were no i-phones.

I am thinking of Rodell, imagining that every part of his life must feel like a dream right now. The mind longs to be free, but the body has become accustomed to routine.  I’ve heard of formerly incarcerated people who have to sleep on the floor because they cannot get used to the comfort of a real bed.  It is harder still to shift from living in a place where all of your decisions are made for you to living with endless possibility.  Modern technology is one of those things that offers endless possibility.  When I’m overwhelmed by life, I retreat into the internet, a boxy screen in my hand, a box in my head–a portal into the best and worst places people have imagined.

Each click of the mouse takes us down another hallway, unlocks a secret doorway, takes us up or down staircases to places we didn’t know were there.  Even when all the rooms start to look the same, it can be hard to stop exploring, to stop looking for the magic room in the place with an infinite number of rooms.  It’s more likely to stumble into a dungeon or a closet with a horrible secret, like the young wife in the story of Bluebeard who unlocked a door and could not unsee the things she saw there.  The faces of the people in this place are distorted too, because all you see in there is a reflection–the gaping mouth, the snarl, the inhuman reach of the long arms and claw like fingers.

I’m thinking about Rodell today.  I know he has walked the prison corridors, wrists shackled, head down.  There were no secret doors for him to open–no places he could go beyond the red line, the reach of the guards, the security cameras–except in his own mind.  I imagine the expanse of the backyard might feel like a wilderness.  A city park might feel like another continent.  Maybe it feels safest to sit in one place and explore the virtual world instead of retraining the body to experience freedom.  My yoga teacher says that everything is energy and that the material world is a construct of the mind and we all have the freedom to connect to the collective unconscious.  I doubt you believe that right now, Rodell.  Or maybe you do.  Maybe you know that more than anyone, because you trained your mind, because you won your own freedom, because you survived.

This was a dog I loved, despite the fact that he once forced his tongue in to my mouth against my wishes. He made the world a happier place, and I will miss him.

the saltwater twin

Levi Philosophy is really there to redeem what lies in an animal’s gaze.                             Theodor Adorno

So many things remind me. When I open a jar of peanut butter, and I don’t hear him clicking into the kitchen. When I wake up and don’t have to roll out of bed, clip on his leash and head outside, whatever the weather. When I dropped Thai takeout on the floor and there was no one to accommodatingly gobble it up.

Last week I said goodbye to a dear friend and companion, an exuberant and lovable pooch named Levi. Twelve years ago, my roommate Amy talked me into adopting him. I was apprehensive because he was a pit bull mix. Like many people, I’d been influenced by the media’s portrayal of pits as mean and aggressive. But four-month-old Levi looked more…

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Apparently, people love lists. That’s what my internet search “how to create a successful blog” revealed. It doesn’t matter what your blog is about, if you serve it up in list form, it is more likely people will click on it. with Lindsay 1965(I also read you should include links and pictures, so I’ve added this completely unrelated photo of me chewing on a newspaper, circa 1965)

I plead guilty. I have clicked on some really dumbass lists–lists of things I didn’t even care about, like “15 celebrities who have aged badly” or “10 things you should never refrigerate” or “12 spectacular photographs that will make you wish you lived in Gary, Indiana.” Okay, I made that last one up. But you know the lists I’m talking about. You’re on the internet doing something useful, like checking your bank balance or reading an article about fly-tying, and you see a list and think, “that’s ridiculous. I don’t care about that.” And then you click on it. And you read it. No matter that it is a poorly researched compilation of photos hastily pulled from other people’s flickr accounts, or a rehashing of tired stereotypes (the 10 types of guys you should never date!). Your brain gets a very brief reward for absorbing some pre-chewed knowledge, and then there is an immediate feeling of micro-regret. I say “micro-regret” because you only wasted a few minutes of your time, and there was nothing overtly harmful about the information, but it doesn’t fill the hole–the hole that wants to know, understand, that hopes a list will whip chaos into order and show you how to live a better life.

As the title of this post notes, I rarely update my blog. And as I’ve discussed in my (few) previous posts, part of the reason is that I am not sure that there is anything necessary that I must impart to the world, despite the fact that I ruminate deeply on a variety of subjects and often write about them, but rarely post them. But you’re only reading this because you wanted to see a list. You might not know me or even care about my blog, but you still want to know 10 reasons some stranger isn’t updating her blog. So here goes:

1) Lists. Lists are popular, and I love to read them. But I’m not good at lists. Lists are about organizing thoughts or tasks into manageable chunks. My thoughts do not conform to lists. My thoughts dance in the margins and ramble onto the back of cocktail napkins and spill over to the palms of my hands and make everything messy, inky. My thoughts like freedom, they do not like to stand in line.

2) Everything I think I have to say was written in someone’s else’s blog in 2009. A while ago, I was reading “The Lorax” to my son and I got the great idea that the thneed, the new-fangled garment the Oncler manufactures that causes the eco-system to collapse, is basically the same thing as a “snuggie“. I did a quick google search and discovered that I’m not as creative as I thought. The blogosphere had duly noted the similarities between a thneed and a snuggie, and there was no point in trying to squeeze any fresh thoughts out of that idea.

3) I grew up in a time and place where self-indulgence was discouraged. I remember standing in front of a mirror when I was 8 years old, admiring the fresh new curls in my hair after a trip to the beauty parlor the day I was a Jr. Bridesmaid in my aunt’s wedding. I was wearing black patent leather shoes and a floorlength Florence Eiseman dress and I thought I looked pretty smashing. lindsay wedding cropMy grandmother tsked-tsked me sharply and admonished, “you look very nice. Now let it be. Vanity does not become a little girl.” After updating my blog, I rarely share it with anyone. Self-promoting my blog feels like looking in the mirror a little too long, and I don’t want to be caught admiring my own thoughts too much, lest the clicking tongue of the interwebs come down and shame me.

4) I am busy. Oh so very busy.

5) I am a fickle wanton hussy who cannot stay in love with my own ideas long enough to see them through to maturity. My dalliances and one night stands with fleeting thoughts are hardly worthy of being immortalized forever on the internet. So I have a lot of half-written posts in my drafts folder.

6) I have 2 other blogs. One I also post to infrequently. The other is merely a name and a page wasting free space on wordpress until I take it down. Those blogs need my attention too. So when I think to myself, “I really should update one of my blogs” I tend to spend most of my energy debating which post to devote my time to, and then it’s time to watch the the Colbert Report and go to bed.

7) Did I mention I am busy?

8) I am still trying to figure out if I need to focus on a particular topic or if I can riff on a bunch of different ideas. Here are some subjects I write about (for myself, not for public consumption). Open adoption, kidney transplant, marriage, friendship, lack diversity of roles for women in film, death, consciousness–is it merely a byproduct of a biological process or does it come from somewhere (that one takes up a lot of my brain space lately)–you get the idea.

9) I hate the name of my blog. When I started it, I thought the name would be my screen name–my nom de plume–but I realized I’d actually named my Blog “chimeragirl2010,” maybe the worst name ever for a blog, which gives me another idea for a list! “10 Worst Blog Names EVER”

10) Are you still reading? Good. I really hope you don’t have that empty feeling. And although I REALLY want to leave this in the draft folder, I’m going to ignore the tsk tsking of my inner-grandmother and hope that I can get away with staring at myself for a just a moment longer.

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A week or two ago, my friend Maia Morgan over at The Saltwater Twin (www.thesaltwatertwin.com) invited me to share my writing process as part of the #mywritingprocess blog tour.  The idea works kind of like a chain mail letter–you blog about your writing process and then pass along the prompt to 3 other bloggers in hopes that you will gain some publicity for your blog and to avoid breaking the chain.

I happily agreed to participate but quickly realized I was in over my head because:

1) I hardly ever write anything on my blog.  In fact I have created at least 2 blogs that I literally LOST because I updated them so infrequently and when I went to find them again I couldn’t even remember what I named them.  I assume they have been buried in some mass internet grave for Unknown Bloggers.

2) I don’t follow many blogs, so I am only going to pass the assignment along to one blogger, my friend Derek.

3) When I realized other writers actually have a “writing process” that requires discipline, good habits and careful planning rather than adderall and coffee induced all-night writing frenzies followed by months-long fallow periods (unless Facebook status updates can be considered “writing”), panic set in.  It confirmed my belief that I am not a real writer.  I am merely a person who sometimes writes.

But I agreed, and Maia was gracious enough to ask me, so here I am.

First of all, I must mention that Maia is a Writer–a real one (see how I capitalized it, like a real job?).  Not only is she a Writer, but she is a damn good one.  The best one I know in real life and probably even one of the best ever.  Probably better than 4/5ths of the famous writers you have already heard of and certainly better than almost all of the ones you’ve never heard of.  Some years ago I designated myself her “biggest fan” and am happily sucking up to her with the knowledge that if I put in my time now, I’ll be able to ride her coattails when she inevitably rockets to fame and fortune in the near future.  And I really like her too, which makes me less of a sycophant that it might seem.  You should really check out her blog at http://www.thesaltwatertwin.com and see what all the fuss is about.

So, here goes.  

1) What am I working on?

Nothing.  That is the truth.  I have a million ideas racing through my head.  I have a half written romance novel that I abandoned when it didn’t get chosen as a finalist for a Harlequin contest and I realized I don’t read romance novels but somehow (arrogantly) thought it would be easy to try my hand at a genre that I have no interest in.  I recently wrote and performed an essay about how I attempted to trade cat sitting for a new kidney (it’s not as bad as it sounds).  I love writing down the weird and wonderful things my 7 year old says because they are better than anything I could dream up on my own.  I teach creative writing in jail, home school my son, board dogs, do contract work logging video and try to keep up with laundry.  But no, I am not working on anything.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m going to have to skip this question.  But I should note that this question also induces panic because I realize I don’t even know what genre I want to write and when I do finally figure that out, I most certainly will not have read enough books in the genre to offer an educated answer to the question.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’d like to say that I feel an inner drive to write what I do–that I write from my soul.  I’ve often heard that real writers are compelled to write and that they cannot NOT write.  But as I said, I am not a real writer.  I do not have a practice of writing, although I have written quite a few things–many short plays and monologues, a few long plays, some articles, bits and pieces of novels and some short stories.  The truth is I write what I do because somebody else told me to do so.  The only way I can write is if I have a deadline.  I am utterly incapable of self-starting–wait, that’s a lie.  I am GREAT at self-starting but I absolutely suck at self-finishing.  So I seek out opportunities with deadlines.  I am no good at self-imposed boundaries or rules, so I seek out writing opportunities that limit me.  Last summer I was asked to write a piece about baseball, so I wrote about baseball.  I was approached to write an article about adoption, so I wrote about adoption.  My biggest fear is being told to write whatever I feel like.  I feel like writing about everything.  Ideas constantly flow through my head, sometimes coming to me like visions or paintings completely formed but I cannot write fast enough to catch them and then when I try to sit down and write I get impatient and frustrated as I watch my visions slip away.  I KNOW this happens to real writers.  I know that real writers have to chase their visions inch by inch and that they also get frustrated but that they keep going every day, little by little word by word, page by page.  That’s what makes them real writers.  I believe in my visions too, but unlike a real writer, I do not have the stamina to hunt them down and bring them back fighting and squirming and pin them down and tame them.

4) How does my writing process work?

Here is an internet meme I saw on Facebook a few years back that perfectly articulates my process and why I am not (yet) a real writer.

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Next up on the #mywritingprocess blog tour:
Derek Bell lives and writes in New York City. He has two kids and a wife who he appears to write about, but he’s usually writing about himself. Although he loves his city, he misses nature. Yesterday he planted clover. You can follow his blog, Playing in the City with Trains, at http://dtoddbell.wordpress.com/.

Derek is one of those people I haven’t seen in years but still feels like a good friend, maybe because I stalk him and his family regularly on Facebook, but more likely because we both did theatre in Chicago while suffering at the same day job. Once you have bonded over a play and over the indignities of working with a bunch of nutcases, the bond can never be broken.

#mywritingprocess.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a lovely mellow afternoon with a bunch of women in their 20’s.  They were artists, mostly, and they gathered in my friend Sadie’s living room to work on various projects—painting handmade gift cards, braiding a throw rug, making mosaics.  I was there with my 6 year old son, finally hemming the curtains I bought at Calico Corners in 2004 (I am prone to epic procrastination, but that’s for another entry).  We listened to music, drank herbal tea and chatted.  It was a perfect Saturday afternoon.

I was at least 20 years older than everyone else in the room, and I can honestly say it was the first time I ever enjoyed doing something “crafty.”  I can partly chalk this up to the fact that I have the fine motor skills of a 10 year old boy (my giftwrapping looks like it was done by arthritic chimpanzees), and partly because I really, really suck at anything even remotely involving home décor.  When I lived alone in an apartment I did not hang a single picture on the wall or in any way attempt to decorate.  My lack of aesthetic sense was so pronounced that few people who saw my apartment believed that a woman actually lived there.  Eventually my boyfriend (now husband) stole the key to my apartment and decorated it while I wasn’t home—apparently the sparseness of the place was too much even for him, a man who lived in an apartment gussied up with what I can only describe as “objets d’dumpster.”

But beyond the fact that I am not naturally inclined toward the domestic arts—except cooking, which I adore because it involves eating and fire—I also admit that in my 20’s I was more interested in chatting up boys and guzzling beer than drinking tea and sewing curtains.  For a while I lived with a charming young woman who hosted scrapbooking parties, yoga gatherings and book clubs.  “Wanna join us?  We’re meeting here on Saturday morning at 9 am!  I’m making scones and chai tea!”  I would avoid eye contact and mumble something about having to check my schedule.  But the truth was that nothing sounded more dreadfully dull than sitting in a room full of women hellbent on self-improvement and gluing shit together.

There have been times when I have felt like I lack some essentially feminine gene—the one that enjoys shopping and bridal showers.  The gene that demands that all women have a passion for chocolate and wine and shoes.  For me, it’s rib-eye steaks, India Pale Ale and sure, whatever, I like clothes, even dresses, but what’s the deal with shoes?  This missing gene is why I stood in awkward silence when my friend Julia asked a group of us to weigh in on which fabric she should choose to reupholster her chairs.  This missing gene might explain why I was miserably outcast in junior high, the pinnacle of a girl’s life in terms of where she falls in the hierarchy determined by Mean Girls.  I’m not blessed with natural athleticism either, so I couldn’t get a free pass by being a tomboy, because I wasn’t one.  I was just an odd girl, who liked baseball and antique dolls and memorized old Bob Newhart routines.  I liked the idea of being a girl, but only if it involved some trumped up circumstances to make it more interesting.  I turned my play refrigerator into a jail.  During a pioneer obsession, I had a party where all the girls wore bonnets and pretended it was the Olden Days—but I soon grew bored when I realized it just involved sitting around sewing and drinking tea.  I wanted to be normal, but try as I did, I always ended up saying something regarded as weird.  I thought I knew how to dress, what jokes to laugh at, but sadly, I was always wrong. 

Somewhere along the way from my 20’s to today, I stopped worrying so much about being perceived as weird.  I stopped gauging the reactions of other women and began to (at last) follow my mother’s timeworn advice to “just be yourself.”  Eventually, I began to grow comfortable as a just another goose in a gaggle of women. 

Around the same time, I decided that even if I lack an affinity for home decorating it didn’t mean I couldn’t tackle a home improvement every now and again.  I know what I like, even if I’m not really good at envisioning a completed project (or really caring about things like china patterns or stemware, which my husband discovered when we registered for wedding gifts and I suggested bowing out to see a movie instead) it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy hanging out with some ladies and doing my best to sew a seam straight.

I’ve evolved to the point where I am now eagerly looking forward to the middle of this month when I will be in Iowa for 2 days, staying on the grounds of a convent where I will perform in a play, take early morning walks through the gardens, drink herbal tea, meditate and  commune with an entire community of women.  I had the chance to bow out of one of the nights if I got up early and drove from Chicago to Dubuque, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to spend time with the women in the show and all of the Sisters in the order.  Maybe I’ll even bring some sewing.Image

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