Woman-monster

“A woman in the shape of a monster

a monster in the shape of a woman

the skies are full of them”

Adrienne Rich, Planetarium

I want to learn the star-stories again. This weekend Orion hung over us as we drove back through the pass. A warm spring with hint of summer in her teeth, dirty snow at the road edge, a garden of ink. I want more mythology and scraped skin and calluses. I want to become a monster.

I tell stories in a scattered way. If it’s a story I know, I throw in names and places without reference points, I assume the audience knows the path and I barge forward. If it’s a story I’ve been told, I forget names almost as a matter of course. Is it Perseus or Theseus? It was Andromeda chained, not Ariadne, right? Ariadne was the princess with the Minotaur, the woman who gave the spool to unravelling, the lover of Icarus, right? Or Theseus? The names jumble and I remember bright slashes instead of the whole tapestry.

I am at a job right now where I feel I’ve become dumber. I push papers and I make sure contracts are signed and I don’t know that I’ve learned anything that’s really that noteworthy.  On Monday I’m changing to a new place, and I hope I get to dig in to technology again, to learn how things piece together. Is it strange to want to learn programming languages because I feel like it helps me write? I don’t really want to program anything. I don’t really care about databases. But I like the syntax, I like the logic.

LeavenworthPimpsqeak

This weekend, hiding away from the strong climbers, I chatted with another new boulderer about poetry. “It just doesn’t feel active enough” I heard myself say as I tried to figure out the first move on a V0, and it felt like I was reading a script. Why aren’t I writing? I say that it feels to dull on the page, that it’s not motion and I want motion. And yet, when given the chance, I spent most of the day standing still, watching other people move. He was excited to find out more about the poetry scene in Seattle, but I feel like what I told him was all old news, the world as it existed three years ago. So much has changed. And I say it’s because I’m climbing, but here I am, working on something a child just tried. I’m no climber. (And my ego rears her head, and she stomps me down into small pieces, and I am nothing, this is a farce, girl what are you doing here you foolish not-even-woman.)

And yet. And yet, when I read in January, I looked out and saw the friends I’m used to seeing in the gym. And I stood and I shook and I stumbled and I loved it. How is that not active? It was more exposing than a heel hook with torn pants would have been. And stop yelling at yourself. Breathe. Put your hand on the rock and just fall when you have to fall – no one is judging.

It’s so frightening for me to give voice to want. To say, out loud- This. World, I want This Thing. But I feel a yawning opening toothy want inside me, and it’s crawling out of my throat whether I feel ok with it or not. Want. I want. I want to become a monster. A star woman. (I am shrouding this all in metaphor, I know. I am still evading. I am still refusing to claim anything as mine.) The problem with wanting is that you risk undoing. You risk losing. A goal is something I can fall shy of. A goal is something I can miss, I can fail.

All I thought I wanted was a book of my own. Something that I created, put in this world, in other people’s hands. That feels less important now. But I can become a monster who is not a book, and this is not failing.  I am not writing a book. I am hanging up that piece of me for now, and that’s ok.

My goal—to fall. To fall and fall and fall and fall.

AWP and Finding my Footing

AWP in Seattle. Oh boy.

I now understand the glazed expression of fear that crossed my friends’ faces as I excitedly talked about AWP coming to Seattle. Have you ever been…? Of course not.  Travel is expensive, registration is expensive, and vacation was nill.  But this year, my city! How wonderful!

Except. Sort of.

I suspect it’s very different to go to a different city, to stay in a hotel crammed full of writers and to stumble around an unknown city and brush into people equally jet-lagged and out of place.  My city means– I know where my bed is, and it is oh so close. I want to say that AWP was frustrating because of this– my desire to crawl into my own place, but that’s kind of a lie.  Especially because I crashed with a friend two of the nights of the conference.  I think, really, it’s that– I don’t belong at AWP anymore.  A few years ago, I’d have come to the conference ravenous, devouring panels and readings with equal vigor.  I’m hungry these days, but for other things. I found myself dozing off in one panel, my mind working through a boulder problem instead of catching onto metaphor. I found the ache in my body from walking around the city in low heels frustrating.  I thought I better not have a blister, it will make my climbing shoes hurt.

This would make sense if I were some strong crusher– someone who doesn’t get spit off of V2 boulder problems, who isn’t afraid to lead 5.10s.  I’m not an amazing climber. And yet. I’m hungry for it.

There were wonderful moments during the conference, of course.  One of my favorite moments I recorded on video– my friend Nicelle reading on the boat as a troupe of runners came in.  Of course I helped organize an off-site reading that took place on a boat, the perfect venue to serve as both water and poetry support for a run my friend organized.  A reading in a conference room isn’t enough for me? Apparently not.  I’ll try to embed the link of me reading on the boat.  The piece is old, the venue strange, the audience small.  

Glass Slipper Off-site reading from Alexis Vergalla on Vimeo.

I caught up with a friend that I met in Mexico yesterday, and again today, and in talking to him I felt more at home than I did among the MFA crowd.  When did this slip happen? I feel more inspired to organize climbing adventures and to throw into a Women’s Climbing Group than to organize readings. Partly it’s that I’m out of touch– I don’t know the names of writers and I spend so long on my computer that by the time I tumble home I want to be moving.  Still, other people juggle jobs and writing– why can’t I? Because I don’t want to. I want to move, I want to play with lights and photography, I want to wake up early to hit the road and experience something with my body. 

I will never forget Chris Abani asking me to put my hands out, place his palms on mine upturned and ask– what is your first thought. You’re touching me. He said, you think with your body first. It’s why I was unhappy in California, it’s perhaps why I’m happy in this beautiful city of rain and sun.  It’s why I make bad decision around men, it’s why my current photography series circles around my own form.  It’s why I’m going to stop writing this now, change into a climbing top and leggings and meet my friends at the gym. I’m not amazing, at anything, and I have so much further to go before I can attempt any big wall anything, before I crush a bouldering problem that’s mildly difficult, before I can lead routes I want to climb.  But I’m hungry for it in a way that words no longer fill.

 

On Rilke

I have very vivid dreams, but one of the dreams that has lingered the longest, besides the nightmares, was a confrontation with Rilke’s angels. I was in a dark bar with long wooden tables, sitting across from a man I was seeing, and two old women sat at the far end of the table.  The women were wrapped in scarves like old Russian peasants, and they quietly talked in the way people talk when they’re really listening to other peoples’ conversations. The man and I were talking about God, and he said that he believed in him. I shook my head sadly, I knew that we were at an end-stop—there was nothing he could say to convince me God exists and there was nothing I could say to convince him he was wrong.  God felt wrong—it wasn’t what we meant, but it was what we were talking about.  What we really meant—a difference of opinions without anywhere to go, without a way to bridge the gap. I was so sad—looking at this man, knowing it was over, although we hadn’t said it yet. The women turned to us, and at that point I knew they were angels. They were women but men at the same time, old and young, with eyes that refused to blink.  They were dark and light and terrifying—they saw into my bones and shook their heads. They knew everything about me, every single thing that I hid, every single thing that I was afraid of. None of it mattered. I was transparent and small and nothing.  You know they said. And I knew. Your father would be proud, by the way they said. But this isn’t why. Keep going. And I woke up sobbing.

At the time, I reached for the man beside me, and he held me, unsure where the tears had come from. I said, bad dream, I saw angels, and left it at that. How could I articulate the loss that filled every part of my body? Later, much later than it should have been, we reached the moment of un-bridgeable gap. And despite knowing it, the truth was a difficult thing to slam into. The truth hurt, in a bone-shattering-heart-breaking way.

I think it’s time to re-read Rilke and rediscover his beautiful destroying angels.  Maybe it’s time to re-read ether books too—dive back into the void.  Last time I had my colleagues at my side, I was in school and the safe hands of my professors.  We toed the edge, we peered into darkness, and we brought ourselves laughing back with pitchers of cheap beer and late night swimming, with spirit walks up the scrubby mountains and Cold Stone dates. Making real art scares me—the membrane between myself and the world thins and I’m afraid I’ll take a step too far and end up lost in esoteric sculptures and essays. It’s even scarier to do it in relative solitude, but I think maybe that’s the next step for me.  Restarting this blog is part of it—the dry run and literary exercise. I’m practicing my scales, remembering how to link word to word.

A new angle

Exit 38 - Far Side, photo credit Dan Silverberg

Exit 38 – Far Side, photo credit Dan Silverberg

After taking a long hiatus from my blog, I think it’s time to come back from a slightly different angle.  In the past I’ve used this space to talk about art and writing—this made a lot of sense when I was immersed in books and surrounded by artists.  I still write and read, I still paint and draw, and I still love my artist friends, but the people I see most frequently these days are climbers.  I had a friend last night ask if I owned a pair of heels—I realized he’s rarely seen me in anything besides sweaty climbing gear and whatever I throw on to get to and from the gym.

I hope that my climbing world and my writing world collide in to each other soon, and I have high hopes that my friends will come see me read with Kelly Davio, Nicelle Davis, Maggie MK Hess and Sierra Nelson at the Hugo House on Dec 10th. Writing has always been a way to make sense of my world, and I don’t think that will ever change.  I think, though, that to return to writing I need to write about the thing I dream about now—climbing.  My body has always played a large role in the way that I perceive, and therefore played a large role in my writing. (What is your first though?/You’re touching me.) Climbing seems a natural extension of this—and it isn’t surprising that I find joy in learning to trust what my body is capable of.  Last night I finished something tougher than I’d ever climbed at the gym.  I’d been working on the route for a few weeks, always failing at the same spot.  One of my best friends was belaying me, and I came off, again. I called down to her One more try and took a deep breath.  Back on the wall, something just made sense, I shifted my weight, and moved through.  The rest of the climb wasn’t a breeze by any stretch, and I came off again near the top, but I finished it.

There’s poetry in climbing—when it’s right, there’s a sequence that flows with your breath.  It’s hard and it hurts and sometimes you fail. But sometimes, when it’s all working, you find yourself in the most incredible places.  Although I was terrified at the time, the place where I go in meditation is a section of Groundhog Day in Leavenworth. The climb itself isn’t incredibly difficult, but we found ourselves off-route and on something stiffer than I thought we’d be climbing.  My partner was belaying from above and I had to climb to him, laying back on a thick flake while I took out the gear he placed.  I suspect it wouldn’t be scary to me now, but at the time I felt exposed and scared.  It was mid-morning, with summer sun against the rock and swallows kept soaring in and out of crevices.  That moment: birds and sun and rock—alone. That is my zen place. (In looking at the route online I can’t find any information on a flake, and the grade is something I’d be very comfortable leading now—just shows you how scary something can be before you understand it.) I climb to find those moments, where everything clicks and you move forward.

I think it is very fitting that the day after I read at the Hugo House with a dear friend from grad school I will hop on a plane and fly to Mexico to climb with a new friend. Body (text) to body (climb). I’m scared to read the piece I’ve selected, and I’m scared to get to Mexico, speaking whatever Spanish I’ve managed to learn in a month, to climb on stone that’s different than anything else I’ve been on, with a person I am only just getting to know. Yet both decisions make sense to me. Maybe I’m trying to make my body into a poem—learn to move with sequence towards what scares me.  One of my first notebooks in grad school has the simple phrase risk everything written on the first page, underlined twice.  So here we go. Risk it all.

Photo Essay

Memorial Weekend was gloomy and rainy until, of course, we went to the gym to climb.  Then the sun emerged.  Still, friends and dancing and breakfasts and coffee.  The days are starting to feel like they last for days, sun barely down as I get ready for bed.  I’m trying to get to sleep earlier, to rise earlier.  Stretching and a little yoga this morning with my housemate, coffee and oatmeal, and now headed off for coffee with my aunt.  Falling in love again again.  I know I am always joyous when I’m writing here, but isn’t that better than dreary and sad?  There is so much to enjoy in life, despite the way we (as people in general) can crash into each other with disasterous results.  I am writing letters again during the slow periods at work and sending them to someone I know is worth the time.  I am keeping my room clean(ish).  I am writing more.  I am reading more.  I am taking pictures.

Approximation of Music

I am having difficulty.  Music is such a huge part of my life, but I can’t seem to write about it.  There’s something akin to taking a picture of a sculpture– the two dimensional space isn’t enough to capture the volume and heft.  If I could capture what music does perhaps I wouldn’t need the music.  Still, I’d like to articulate what it is to find the right song for the right moment.

Music has always been a large part of my life.  I cannot count the number of grungy loud punk and ska shows I went to in high school.  It was always more than just the music though–we piled into cars with our uncertain teenage selves and danced ourselves sweaty.  We tumbled into all night diners for french fries and muffins (and, memorably, the mixed vegatables at Louise’s. But only the once).  I met the boy who would later be a man I loved at a battle of the bands and I dyed the wall pink with my freshly colored hair the next time I saw him and the first night we really talked.  I don’t remember the bands from either night with any sort of specificity but it was always more than that.

If anything my love of music has become stronger, and the music itself matters more.  My love has evolved, as I would hope anything would over a decade.  I am no longer the girl who blasts The Aquabats and Inspecter 7.  I listen to things now that I would have never given a chance then.

I am attempting a project.  An essay of collected vignettes, moving through genres.  I have a suspicion the form will change as I work with this, but I need to convey what music is to me.  Here is an early draft of one of the sections.  At best, any of this will be an approximation.  I think a mix cd will have to accompany the finished piece.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

************

I am in the passenger side of my roommate’s car.  We have Hercules and The Love Affair on and we are singing along but the music is too loud to hear anything.  I am dancing as best I can beneath a seatbelt, writhing my body against the constraints to the heavy pulse.  We are returning home and he swings around the traffic circle at the corner by our house but instead of pulling beside to his parking spot he keeps the wheel cocked to the side and we continue to turn.  Again and again, we loop. Four, five, six times, my seat-dancing arrested with the centripetal force, my singing caught into laughter, the music vibrating down my backbone.  He finally cuts the wheel back but we aren’t returning—we are tearing up the hill and away.  At each intersection I expect another spin but he has other plans.  We crest the hill and to our left is the park, sleepy with night.  He pulls the car to a stop and as he slowly begins to K turn I think we are retreating.  Then he has pulled forward where I thought impossible.  I feel the wheels bump over the curb and the path seems too small but we fit—there are swings to our left, the dark fields to our right, the park expansive.  We should not be here, and he turns the music even louder.  I am laughing too hard to speak, the park passes on either side—this is where dogs are walked and children run and we are a car tearing through the path, the music more than can be contained within this small space, our faces lit by the dashboard light.  With a second bump we are over a curb on the opposite side, the path has spilled out and we are back on the street, careening home.

Later I ask how did you know we would fit? How did you know it wouldn’t just end in the middle of the field? and he grins. I didn’t.

Making Tea

japanese float

While my telling blows aimed off at illusory skies you made tea, today’s not at all imaginary Earl Grey.  Which is the most magical thing of all, my today friend. Not making a big to-do, making tea.  

Hélène Cixous The Book of Promethea

I’ve forgotten most of the French I knew, but I remember French class in high school with Miss Wub.  I made a lot of chamomile tea and drank it from a plastic yellow mug with Emma.  We had to choose “French names” and I remember happily slashing the accents over my chosen Thérèse on grammar quizzes.  The next year I wanted to switch to Mona but it wasn’t a French-enough name, so I became Monique Thérèse.  

Now I find myself reading translated French and wishing I could remember enough to read the original text.  I also wonder what happened to Monique Thérèse.  She was so young then, sipping her tea and juggling her bags and books, pink Doc Martens and an old army coat thrown over the chair, hair chopped and dyed, makeup too bright. 

I’m reading the submissions for Moravian’s Lebensfeld Upper Writing competition, and so far they are all beautiful.  The work might need editing, but they are so full of vulnerability and insecurity I can’t help but find them beautiful.  I tried to explain it to a coworker, the pages strewn about me in the break room, but I ended up rambling about burnt sugar coatings.   What I meant to describe with my metaphor: the golden sugar cage I made once for a cake.   I dripped the candy over a bowl and let it harden, and the cage sat above a white lilly cake I made.  At least, it was supposed to.  I don’t think it worked as intended.  But that’s what these stories are: latticed words that hover close above, touching down in places.  Easily shattered.

I know that I’m not that far away from these students.  Their work is beautiful to me because I can see all of the steps I took along the same paths, the ways I was terrified and self-delusional and egotistical and shy; the ways I still am all of those things.  

Oh Monique Thérèse.  If I could go back and tell you anything, I don’t know that I would.  You have to make your mistakes, you have to write your terrible but heartfelt poems, you have to hurt and love and dance and laugh.  And you have to forget French.  I’m sorry, but I’m not at all.  Enjoy your tea.