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I’m not so impressed with this apocalypse.

This bloody disarray of bodies is… unconvincing
a little overdone a little heavy on the
– where did that blood come from exactly? –
scatter effect;
the mechanism of injury isn’t clear particularly given the big picture.
(What was the big picture?  Blast? Tremblor? Laser strafing runs or just a single big
Incoming wave?)

 

By this I mean, the buildings are just gone, bare dirt and rocks except for the spot where We Woke Up or
Our Story Began,
In the distance futuristic spires rise out of place,
supporting a theory of something like aliens and lasers
but
then why is this balcony littered with bodies and one
slid a long distance, streaking blood?

 

If I walk long enough through this wasteland
the landscape forgets itself and I come across an elephant making her way
trunk cheerfully lifted,
head swinging,
along a path.
Consider the fact of a path, a worn path through brand new desolation.
Consider it, for a second.

 

Or consider a hallway leading off a ruined hockey rink
with a bare powder blue floor where the ice once was,
now melted,
and when did the air have time to take on
a musty moldy quality if the tidal wave
invasion
earthquake
just happened? –
and cheerful vendors down that hall sell everything from
paper lanterns to
gulab jamun to
comic books.

 

If I want a better view, to try and reconcile the inconsistencies,
or find survivors
then I push off hard from the ground.
And it’s effort, but I can feel resistance
like the kind you get when you put the backs of two magnets together
pressure
like that under my arms and as with a magnet all I need to do is just keep that stable
and maintain forward momentum using that to get high up over the disconcertingly unexplained ruin of a city
in bare dirt surrounds;

 

chagrined to enjoy the realization that I can finally fly,
possibly at the cost of millions of lives
to better survey a disaster
I’m not sure I buy anymore.

The Ugly Thing

Image

 

Sometimes at the gym when I deadlift I look down at the floor and there’s a pattern of droplets there on the rubber mat. I have no idea how they got there. I don’t remember sweat rolling down my face, or any other part of me.

Maybe I drooled.

Maybe I peed.

I was lifting; who knows.

*

I have, in the past, gotten the bar almost up to height on a bench press and hollered “SON OF A BITCH” because I’m about to drop it on my face and I really don’t want to and a moment of rage at the very possibility of failure is what gets the bar that precious inch and a half higher.

Then I rack it.

The guys lifting around me don’t blink.

Mostly they don’t yell either although it does happen once in a while.

*

I’ve been annoyed when some jackass repeatedly, for every rep of his every set, does his Oly lift and then basically drops the bar from nipple height, causing most of the gym to shudder with the impact.

On the other hand, once I got 285 up on a dead, and about halfway down my shins that was it. I was done. Hands, arms, everything. I dropped the bar.  It bounced. It was loud. Sometimes lifting to failure means that you fail. Gravity being what it is, weights tend to fall down.

I’ve slammed the bar so hard onto the power rack after a squat I swore I was going to knock the power rack over.

*

The guy in the nice polo shirt shook his head when I asked if they were getting bumpers along with the other new free weights the gym signs said they were getting. “No, we’re not.”

It was a weird tone of voice.

“How come?” I asked, mostly to find out what the tone was and he finally looked up from the paperwork he’d been doing while he talked to me. I wasn’t a member of his gym. I was there helping a friend lift.

“Because frankly, that kind of lifting attracts a certain… element,” he said.

I blinked. “But I’m that element,” I told him.

*

So this is what I’m told.  As I look into other gyms they say “no chalk.” “No bumpers.” I’m given vague, nonsensical reasons why, like “that’s our policy,” or “we don’t want to clean up chalk,” or once in a while someone is up front with me. They don’t like this… “element” in their gym.

Or as one guy said “we feel that kind of thing intimidates our gym clientele.”

*

I intimidate you. With lifting.

Let me get this straight. I am 5’4″ of strawberry blonde perky tits and chubby ass doing my sets of 5×5 deadlifts with a smile on my face because goddammit deadlifting is FUN and when you need some chalk I loan it to you and if you need a spot I’ll jump over there, and pretty much every other guy in the gym would do the same with some encouraging “do it, you can do it, get it up there” patter on the side, and I’m intimidating?

I call bullshit.

Let’s catalogue what you find intimidating.

1. Big people

2. Big shouts and noises

3. Sweat and other bodily fluids

4. Grimaces and veins popping out

5. Chalk

Here’s the reality.  People are intimidated with people who are being other than acceptable standards of beauty. They’re intimidated by hurt, by struggle, by someone around them pushing their absolute limit and they’re intimidated by the signs and sounds of human failure.

They’re intimidated by pudgy chicks lifting heavy and sweating — or whatever it is I’m doing — on the floor.

By mess.

By ugly, real stuff.

*

Dear Gym People:

I say this with love and affection.

If you are intimidated by people lifting weights, by sounds of struggle or victory or effort, if you’re intimidated by sweat flying and people who are loud, powerful, and who don’t fit some standard issue notion of sleek “normal…”

You got a lot more to worry about in life than us.

Kate

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I actually never wrote about the Spartan I ran year before last.

I guess in part because I didn’t feel like I had to say what I was supposed to say about it.

*

First off, I say “ran,” like I actually ran any of it, which I didn’t.

I did get through it.  Sort of.  For a while I had a medical truck following me like some kind of EMS vulture. Like I was going to go down any second and maybe I was.

Folks, I wanted that empowering moment. I really wanted that TV moment, that video moment of HELLS YES I AM DOING THIS. I wanted… what do they say?  “You’ll know at the finish line,” like somehow I was going to have some huge revelation about myself.

*

Okay, here’s my revelation:

Shit talking myself as I’m trying to do something kills me. Kills. Ends. Finishes.

I caught it way too late in the race. Because I was fat and slow and did some stuff really strong but mostly stumbled through it, burpees on burpees. I was alone the whole time, which totally sucked. I mean, I was alone except when people kept pace with me for a while then passed me. I think I was one of the last couple of dozen people in.

Anyway, I was on the top of this major hill, and I came out of the trees fucking aching, hating myself for the terrible showing and having flashbacks of failing firefighter agilities, and looking bad in my clothes and fuck knows what else. And I heard my voice, this litany of how I was fatter than everyone else and slower than everyone else and how I probably didn’t do all the burpees and cheated or something at the spear throw jesus fucking christ I thought. Like the hill isn’t steep enough and the mud isn’t thick enough.  Like this isn’t hard enough without this constant soundtrack of you suck you suck you suck going through your head.

Like every time I failed it was some kind of sick, twisted, wrong triumph.  Hah, see, you suck. I knew it.

Up at the top of the hill, I shut that voice up. Like I just… I shut it up. I said shut the fuck up, voice.

Look around yourself. It’s a gorgeous fucking day, you’re covered in glorious mud and you’re hiking in the woods. You got this far. Even if you didn’t get any further you got this far. You came all this way, why not fucking enjoy it?

Look around yourself. Woods.  Grass.  Nature. Shut up. Have fun. The fuck.

*

Any one obstacle was doable. The race itself was doable; I did it. I did it in shape far worse than I’m in now, undermedicated, with none of the cardio prep I should have done.

What I carried away wasn’t some sudden insight about how awesome I was.

What I carried away was how much, just how much I stood in my own way.

*

In the end, knowing that is probably worth the price of admission. I know these days that in the gym I just… don’t allow that shit in my head. Anything about fat, anything about weak. Anything about how I’m not here enough or not trying hard enough. I say “I believe in victory” a bunch of times, I listen to my music or watch the guys around me lay everything out, draw my inspiration from them.

Clear my mind of anything but the task at hand.

Just you and the iron, I think.

That’s it. Nothing else.

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Johnny realizes it’s not just a simple run-in with the law…

So as we were singing Johnny of Brady’s Lea tonight, my daughter pointed out some rather disturbing math.

See, when the silly old man runs to the king’s foresters, and tells on Johnny?  Seven men hear him out, and they ride, and it’s seven men who show up to arrest Johnny there.

And our man Johnny?  Well…

Johnny shot six of them,
And the seventh he wounded sore.

Okay?  He was a badass.  A bona fide, poaching badass. Because “Monymusk” puts this ballad at around the mid-nineteenth century, and Johnny was a poacher, not a nobleman. Which means this one badass dude probably shot six and wounded a seventh forester with a muzzle-loading rifle and at best a couple of crappy pistols.

Badass. Just saying.

But here’s what Lili found troubling. Johnny shot six foresters and wounded the seventh, right?

So explain to us this verse:

Johnny rode his great grey mare to a thicket in the wood
H
e’s left behind a blood-red trail,
And they shot him where he stood, they shot him where he stood.

See the problem?  Six men down. Seventh wounded.

Who is, my daughter wants to know, this “they” the verse is talking about?  Which they?  Who they?  Even if that seventh forester managed to stagger up and ride after him, how is there a “they” shooting Johnny?  Right?

Anyway, we figured it out.  Zombies.  Zombie foresters. Which also explains the significance of the blood-red trail, we figure. I mean, at that point with blood everywhere, discovery by zombies was pretty much inevitable. Next time, cross a fucking river or something.

Meanwhile about this last line:

And they shot him where he stood…

Clearly there was no shooting.  There was dragging from his grey mare and devouring. Seriously. I don’t know, man.  Anyway, this is the lost last verse of Johnny of Brady’s Lea and the Zombie Foresters of Aberdeenshire:

Now Johnny’s great big bow is broke
And all his brains are et
The zombies gae to Monymusk
To sup on all they met, to sup on all they met.

Mid Term

So I look at it this way.

If I use a hopeful sort of math, I’m about midway through my life.

I have a fair amount of stuff I want to do, still. I have a sense of getting my shit together in an existential as well as practical way, and part of that was making a decision that probably has been too long in coming.

I got meds.

I’ve had depression that’s ranged from mild to life-threatening since I was in high school. It’s disrupted my life over and over, and although I’ve developed amazing coping mechanisms for dealing with it, got very good at arranging and maintaining my life around it, it’s been this huge, inconvenient elephant in my room for a while. A long while.

Don’t get me wrong, I like elephants. It’s just, as far as big creatures or big emotions go there’s a time and a place, and yes, I can live in a house with a huge enormous elephant in it and vacuum around it and things. But in terms of my life, as a house, in terms of who I am, doesn’t it sound nice to just have the whole of my life, my house to live in and maybe I can visit the elephant but not have to constantly fight my way around it as I go from room to room?

I wondered if I’d miss it. I got used to it, it was who I was.

I got used to the big emotions. I got used to rage and sadness, to a lot of things I assumed were simply as they should be, accepted them as part of my personality or fought them constantly to keep my relationships, life, work stable.

Sometimes I succeeded, a lot of the time I didn’t.

I worried about my art, I worried if I stopped feeling so much all the time I’d be a terrible writer. I worried I’d lose whatever spark my writing had that made it good, real, truthful.

Frankly?  I made a dozen excuses because I was used to something and having my shit together, the idea of being okay and whole and in control was a little scary.

*

So how is it?

It’s good. It’s a change.  There’s no elephant, I have a whole house to move around in, and suddenly my palette of emotions has opened up to include more options. I can be briefly annoyed, I can lose my temper, I can cry at a TV ad, I can choose a moderate lack of response without stuffing a whole lot of emotion under the surface that will explode in my face or someone else’s later.

Self destructive impulses are largely gone.

I don’t have a horror of being a bad person. I actually contemplated shoplifting because I didn’t care about being a terrible person if I did. I wound up not shoplifting because rationally I don’t want to live in a society where people do that and it’s just not the right thing to do. Logically, intellectually. You know? Without a lot of emotional crap attached.

Writing is different. I’m better mentally organized, and there is exponentially less emotional risk to the act itself. I don’t care about X reader. I don’t care if it sucks the first time around. I see organizational problems as they happen and sometimes I go back and edit now faster. There’s much less emotional baggage.  Writing is writing, and when it’s fine I leave it and when it needs fixing… I fix it. No big deal.

*

Is it that huge a change?

So, yeah. It is.

I held off writing about it in part because of the stigma, in part because ironically my impulses to overshare are diminished, and I wasn’t sure it was really anyone’s business or if anyone needed to know so much about me, or this thing, this struggle.

But for those of you thinking about it, particularly artists and writers, particularly those of you with high coping skills who have gone too many years with this big huge elephant standing around… it’s worth doing, if you can manage it.

I like the new living room.

 

 

Spent the evening last night with my buddy Matt at the Black Rose in Boston.

The Black Rose is a funny place. I used to go there when I worked across the street at the big financial place, trying to reconcile myself in three piece suits and nylons every day, trying to tell myself that working in a big financial institution wearing three piece suits and commuting three hours home and back every day on the train was somehow being an adult.  That is, a better person.

Walking into the Black Rose was a reality check.

Look, it’s a tourist trap. It’s smack dab in the middle of all the tourist BS downtown, right off Faneuil Hall and it’s not run by some Irish family as it has been for generations — like many other pubs in Boston — it’s run by a “Hospitality Group” and it’s not a pub where I walk in and people say “oh hi, Kate, where ya been” and I’ve had pubs like that in my life. Like the Poet and the Patriot in Santa Cruz where on a given night I knew most of the people around me and there was a good chance someone would just pull an instrument out and we’d start singing and playing, impromptu.

The Black Rose isn’t like that.  It’s not small and cramped and smoky and romantic.

It’s a big fucking pub, two stories, with tourists.

But this thing happens there.  Almost every time I walk in it’s different, and there’s some new experience that’s as much about the patrons as the bar itself, it’s a weird, magic, unexpected thing.

Like last night, when I told Matt look, it’s Monday in fact it’s a holiday Monday, likely it’s dead but we’ll see what’s up, and so we took a cab over and walked in and sure enough it was all quiet but the thing about pubs is there’s no loss ever in terms of pubs because that’s where the beer comes from.

And halfway into the first pint this guy gets up on stage with a guitar, which is fine and I think nothing of it because a guy on the stage with a guitar is not four people with fiddles and whistles and your goddamn Uilleann pipes, right? It’s just some guy and a guitar but music’s fine, and there was beer so no complaints there, I was mostly just happy there was going to be some kind of music.

About then, the guy opened his mouth and started singing.

*

Let’s go back for a second and remember what pubs and music are all about. I was thinking about this the other day, about what constitutes leisure and how if you work on a farm or in a factory or even in an office in a pair of high heels and itchy nylons and it all feels less like clothes and more like drag, how you spend your day having your sense of self eroded. But you do it because money has to happen and you’re not captain of your own time and at the end of the day you want to be with people who don’t make you feel like shit about yourself. And you want to be entertained.

Sure, there’s a whole group of people who go and listen to Irish music in pubs because it’s a thing and maybe they’re like… 12% Irish by ancestry and it’s some kind of connection. And they like the music and it’s also just what that generation of people do, because we went to too much Ren Faire and listened to the Pogues and got Celtic knotwork tattooed on us and it was just kind an incidental part of who we are.

Or some of us grew up steeped in folk music, the Seegers and the Guthries and Dylan and the Dubliners and the music of social change is a theme, a constant in our heads even when we’re long past the generations of the Troubles, or factories and lockouts or maybe we actually have in our own times been locked out, or walked out, and look, almost every story I write is about prisoners in jail or whalers and sailors, or the working class. I don’t think that’s some kind of coincidence.

And at the end of the day, we love some internet but we also feel a need, a desire to get the fuck out of the house, to connect with people, drink beer and be entertained.

So we go to a pub, and maybe it feels right for a variety of reasons but what we look for is connection with a bunch of other people, strangers and friends or both, and entertainment that echoes who we are and what we think and believe and know, and that’s how we get, somehow our sense of self back, in some small way.

*

Terry Brennan got up last night and owned the stage and everyone in the room. He’s got a perfect, certain voice and he knows all the standards, and so did the crowd. “4, 3, 2, 1!” he yelled and so we banged on the tables and clapped our hands for The Wild Rover and it’s good when the table almost falls over and the empty pint glasses dance around.  That’s when you know it’s a good night, when instead of — okay, I just have to say it I’m sorry I’m going straight to hell — a bunch of hipsters stand around being cool at the small local Irish pub and completely fucking drown out the little seisiún going on with their asinine chatter, the people in the bar make total idiots of themselves doing something completely not like dancing and banging on tables and belting out “Sweet Caroline” like their lives depended on it.

But not just that. Most of us also knew the Fields of Athenry and sure, we have Dropkick Murphys to thank for that in large part but that was Brennan’s version. Not the Dubliners, not DMs, it was his, and we all sang along and that song?  It fucking means something and for a second even the people who’d never heard it before in that bar got that.

Because we all sat together and either sang or listened and that was a real, shared moment.

And that’s what the fucking pub’s for.

A Gentle Commerce

Remember Snoopy and the lawn chair at Thanksgiving?

That’s me putting up my awning over my booth. The hilarious thing is these contraptions are always called EZ-something. EZ-Up. EZ-Build. About the only EZ thing about it is how EZ it is to take a chunk out of me while I fail to get clicky things to click and shady things to cover.

Protesting “I got this, thanks” is stupid and also dishonest and also possibly lethal, so when veteran boothies come over and offer to help, I say “yes please.”

I also now know to go over and help new booth people set up theirs before someone loses a limb or an eye or something.

*

Some gigs are really swank. This last weekend I was in a park with soft, cool grass. A guy sat in a nearby gazebo and played show tunes on an electric piano, and Bach. Eager high school volunteers helped me carry all my bins of yarn and helped me put up the awning. They came by to solicitously ask me if I needed more cash – later I realized that they meant change – and filled up my huge water bottle with ice and tea for fifty cents. They put face paint on kids and arranged soccer games and one of them turned pages for the piano playing guy in the gazebo.

Apparently only I found the fact that they were wearing red T-shirts hilarious.

Another gig was in a barn at a county fair. The booth was about half the size advertised, and when I got there my booth neighbors handed me a rake.

To muck my space out with.

No really, sheep crap.

That weekend it was thirty-five degrees in that barn, all day. Rain poured down outside all day and we stood and shivered and tried to look chipper and welcoming for the pathetic trickle of customers walking through. Sven told the story over and over of how I’d nearly torn the poor festival director’s head off. The director asked me right after I’d mucked out my booth how I was doing. “How are you doing, Kate?” he’d asked.

Sven liked to make a scary face while he told the story.  “This is my happy face,” he quoted me saying to the guy, with a snarl.

The woman manning the stall – sorry, booth – next to me left in tears midday on Saturday. She let me keep her tarp, which was stapled up on the back side of the stall, sorry booth, to keep out the sheeting, icy rain.

Around 4pm Sven came around with plastic cups of surprisingly good red wine.

I saw Sven and his wife at another festival recently.  We exchanged the kind of hard, heartfelt hugs you exchange with old friends.

*

I see many of the same vendors over and over now, at markets and festivals. Some of the same customers, too.

Some boothies at first seem a little standoffish.

At one market, the director waved me into a new spot, a choice one with a parking space in front of the spot and instead of carrying my stuff, or unloading then reparking then coming back, I could just unload straight out of the back of the truck and leave the truck parked there.

“You can’t park there,” a woman said when I pulled the truck in. “That’s Darryl’s space.”

“The director said I could have it,” I told her. “It’s just for today.”

“That’s Darryl’s space,” she insisted. “What happened to Darryl? Is he okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “he’s just not here this week. Hi, I’m Kate. I’m just here for this week, normally I’m over there.” I pointed.

She came and shook my hand, while right then the guy on the other side walked over. “Why is she in Darryl’s space?” he wanted to know.

“He’s not here this week,” the woman told him. “This is Kate. She’s okay.”

“But not as cool as Darryl,” I grinned. “Someday I want you guys to love me as much as you love Darryl.”

“Give it some time,” she answered, finally smiling.

Sometimes they seem a little standoffish at first but I found out that some of these markets have been going on for years. Some festivals, for decades. It’s a big, erratic family. In time I’ll fit in.

*

When it’s slow, boothies admire and covet each other’s wares. We shop.

I traded three skeins of lace yarn for a huge bag of handmade soaps, lotions and balms.

I traded some DK weight for jars of spice including espresso salt and some Ras el Hanout to go in my coffee.

*

A woman stood in my booth looking at sock yarn.

I’ve learned a lot about sales, in the last two years. I’ve learned on the one hand I never want to be that hovering, pressuring, guilting salesperson. On the other hand, I have to make my day out there worthwhile.

I’ve learned there’s a rhythm to every person’s visit to the booth, and each is a little different from the next. I’ve learned that it’s about making friends, first. Sales will follow. Sometimes it’s just about hearing someone’s story, or telling my own.

She stood there, wavering. Indecision of some kind, and there’s a way of touching a pretty skein of yarn people have when they want it, “but…”

I asked if she was a knitter, or a crocheter. That’s how I usually start off. That makes the weavers smug.

She said she was. She said she was just learning to knit socks, she said. She’d had the same pair on the needles for months now. She should finish them.

“If you finish those socks, you could knit more,” I grinned. “And then more, and more.”
“I’m having a hard time finishing, although I really want to knit socks, I want to knit some more socks…” she confessed and before I could ask if it was just that she was a new sock knitter and maybe she needed some help, she said “my friend was teaching me to knit socks. She died, and I couldn’t finish.”

So I thought, maybe you leave that alone. Maybe you just say wow, and I’m so sorry, and give condolences, and ask about her friend. But sometimes I say too much or I say other things, and so I said those things and also “you could just put the socks aside,” I said. “Those are some pretty emotionally laden socks. When you’re ready you could knit some other ones. And then go back to those, or not, and that’d be OK.”

She thought about it. “I think I’m done with the other ones for now,” she agreed, and bought herself some new sock yarn, in a bright color. She said her friend would have approved of it, and walked out of my booth with a package of new sock yarn under her arm.

Smiling.

*

At the end of the day, the bread vendor comes around. He has huge, round, crusty loaves of bread in his arms, awkwardly caught in his hands, too many really to carry although he does a great day’s business. His booth is always thronged with customers.

“Who’s taking the cinnamon raisin?” he asks. “Who wants sourdough?”

We all get a fresh loaf of bread to take home.

Or sometimes it’s a bag of garlic that didn’t sell, or sometimes I send someone home with a skein of yarn they were admiring.

We make our final trades, we all ask “how’d you do?” solicitously.

“See you next week,” we say.

 

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