Friday, October 22, 2010

conversations are easier when you control both sides

this is a true story and im only slightly ashamed to tell it. here is a little insight into one neurotic writer's mind:
so a couple weeks ago i noticed this cute boy hanging out at my favorite coffee shop, joe bar, and i couldnt stop looking. but this sort of thing happens to people: they see someone who hangs out where they like to hang out and they take notice of him cuz they find him attractive. now, a normal person (if those exist) would most likely say, 'wow, hes cute. maybe i should talk to him.' or 'gosh, hes good looking but im here to do some writing and hes with a friend so ill leave it at that.'
i, on the other hand, find myself totally fascinated with him and let my concentration on my work go slack because im (only somewhat surreptitiously) watching him, without any thought of caring if im noticed or of introducing myself. three times on three different days, always in the evening, this happens. it takes me a while to realize why i cant stop looking over at him, like worrying a loose tooth. its because he looks like a grown-up peter pan. i mean, its also because of the fact that he decides to sit directly in my line of vision every time. hes an artist of some kind (im almost positive he goes to cornish), in all likelihood an actor or musician, (which i 'know' cuz i can see the performative aspect of his interactions with people and his reaction to my gaze), and i think he kinda likes it. of course, because he notices me noticing him, he looks over more frequently than he otherwise would, checking to see if im still checking him out, as if compelled to scratch an itch. im amused by this, but not necessarily encouraged to make his acquaintance. i feel like i already know him at this point. i have made a study of his clothes, his movements, and his manner with people. i feel like i can tell if he likes someone he runs into by his body language. note: im never close enough to hear his voice, but i feel id almost recognize it.
and then this week i see him at the wildrose (it was taco tuesday and i was meeting a bunch of friends who live on the hill) and it changes everything. okay not everything. but it ups the ante. cuz now i wonder if hes queer. before he just looked like someone i should know somehow. now he looks like someone i could potentially date. and thats when i start mentioning him to the friends im drinking with and blowing this thing way out of proportion. before he was just an interesting study, pulling at my imagination like a child pulls on your pant leg for attention. now its a full blown crush. and it gets out of hand enough that he prolly hears me talking about him (hes at the next table for christs sake) and i keep joking about going up to talk to him. he even gives me a perfect opportunity to do so, he takes his time getting his bag from under the table and putting it on right in front of me at the moment that all of our friends have left the vicinity. but he has his back to me and i cant muster the desire to break the fourth wall. cuz right now he is a character in my head. once i speak with him he gets a life of his own. and im not actually ready for that. and thats when i realize its not just that he looks like peter pan, he looks remarkably similar to the vision i have in my head of one of the main characters in a story im writing. this boy could be my robin. ive created a folder on my hard drive of downloaded photos of celebrities that approximate my image of this character, but i havent found an exact likeness that fits right. this boy is extremely close. not quite genderqueer enough in outward presentation, but seeing him here in this queer context, i realize he is one of the closest things ive found. put him in a fishermans sweater instead of a lumberjack shirt, and he would be spitting distance from my robin. its a bit hard to take.
so the next afternoon i happen to be in the neighborhood of joe bar and decide to go sit for a while and write before taking myself out to a movie (nowhere boy, see previous post) and i start mulling over this boy being my main character and how to handle it. and how i really need to introduce myself when i see him next, cuz otherwise im bordering on creepy. but how would i introduce myself to my own creation? so i do that thing where i start thinking up what i would say to him and then i wonder how he would react, so i start to write a scene between the two of us as if i did walk up and say something like, 'you look like this character in my story'. and of course it feels perfectly normal to be putting words into this real live persons mouth because its so like putting words into my characters mouth, and also, a lot easier than actually interacting with him. note: im high on caffeine at this point. im also feeling a little dirty cuz this is basically fantasizing about this person, and amused at myself because the interaction on paper doesnt go particularly well, just as it wouldnt in real life. and at some point i have to stop writing to go to the movie, annoyed that ive completely ruined any chance of ever being able to step up to this real live person and naturally introduce myself. not that knowing him was ever really the goal, its just once you give yourself lines for real life you either deliver them like they were rehearsed, or veer from the script so widely you sound like a moron. (and by 'you' i of course mean me.)
i watch the movie and am inspired by john lennon as a teenager and need to write some stuff down, so i walk back over to joe bar, buy a beer and sit in a corner. and i cant find my fountain pen. its the only thing i write with anymore and i used it in the movie theatre and im afraid i lost it there. so i rush back over, borrow an ushers flashlight, despair, leave my email address with the attendant in case it turns up, and go back to search my bag again, hoping i overlooked it. i had. im so relieved my hands are shaking slightly. ive had this pen since i graduated high school and have logged hours upon hours of writing with it in the last fourteen years. i just got it back into working order two months ago, at the same time my writers block dissolved, and i would prolly have a breakdown if i lost it.
however, crisis averted and boy sighted. had to walk past him on my wild goose chase and now the adrenaline over the pen is spiked with seeing this person i was intentionally writing myself into contact with a couple hours ago. but i go to calm down, drink my beer and write about john lennon reminding me of my thirteen year old self and how neglectful of that young person ive been. i decide on paper to start being more willing to express myself, (ready or not) to be more impulsive and just do things, not merely think about them. and now im high on purpose and passion and living life (not just watching it) and being a writer (not just talking about it) and now i have to leave to walk home and eat something before having drinks with friends in the cd.
at this point i have caffeine, adrenaline, and alcohol, john lennon and my 13 yr old self, robin and my made-up version of this boy all creating a bit of chaos in my head. so before i walk out of joe bar, knowing this is a bad idea and the exact worst moment to do it, with my pulse hard and flushing my cheeks, i stop just behind the boy and tap him on the forearm. he interrupts his conversation, turns around and i look him in the eye and say, 'hi, my name is ray.' i extend my right hand to shake his, which he gives in a somewhat limp-wristed manner just like robin would do and says 'im murmhumurner' in a voice i very decidedly do *not* recognize. and i say, 'trevor?' and he says, only the slightest bit louder and more distinctly, 'charlie.'
and whatever i was holding together, falls apart. 'charlie,' i say, 'its nice to meet you.' and i nod to his friend, adjust my satchel on my shoulder and walk away. not 'you look like someone i should have known once,' not even 'i feel like ive made enough eye contact with you now that you should at least know my name,' not what i actually wrote in my notebook, just 'nice to meet you.' i prolly had a scowl on my face, even. the scene had ended before it began. i am simultaneously proud and disgusted with myself for this. i went right over to the smoke shop nearby, bought myself a zippo and a pack of cigarettes and walked home while smoking a nat sherman. note: im not a smoker. and then i drank enough whiskey at the twilight to feel the need to check my jeans pocket upon waking the next morning for the credit card id used to start a tab. and now im blogging like a maniac.
and this, my friends, i call a success. and none of it has anything to do with that person named charlie. never did.

again, by heart.

multiple things in the past couple days have inspired and motivated me to finally, really, actually blog. and not just put things ive written up in this space once in a while, but actually post with frequency, even regularity.
one thing was watching joseph gordon-levitt sing on youtube, (i know, i know) because it reminded me of just needing to put yourself out there, and because it brought me to this totally awesome website. which kinda seems amazing as a community and collaborative outlet. please check it out, if only for the short movie 'morgan and destiny's eleventeenth date: the zepplin zoo.' its pretty marvellous.
another thing was watching nowhere boy which i knew i needed to see, despite whether it was good or not, simply to reconnect with my idol from when i was thirteen. it did that. i dont think i agree with the review of the movie in this weeks new yorker but thinking back on it now, it wasnt a particularly good film. it was, however, a portrait of a passionate teenage boy who needed to step out of his life and into his art. and it did, thankfully, remind me of myself as a passionate teenage tomboy with nowhere to put my artistic energy. cuz it made me realize ive been feeling that way for all the years since then and its time i stopped pretending im not a writer.
cuz the thing about being a writer is that its actually a really lonely art form. (hence my tendency towards performative, collaborative art forms like theatre and music) i was really lucky to spend the past three weeks alone in a house in order to write more. i ended up getting some work done, but mostly just spent the time pretending i wasnt a writer by pretending i wasnt alone and spending way too much time on facebook, youtube, hulu, gchat, and netflix. but this week joe and john helped me realize that if im gonna be on the internet that much trying to both express myself to others and find some sort of interaction to work off of, i should be doing it here. i should be putting my stuff up for people to respond to it. thats the reason i write anyway, to tell people stories and start a conversation. having one or two people im accountable to doesnt seem to do the trick. having an audience, making the act of writing into a performance, hopefully that will be the kick in the pants ive needed to get past the bullshit excuses im really good at making up and actually practice my art.
so heres the deal: for the month of november (nanowrimo) i vow, right now, in front of you all, that i will publish a blog post once a day. it might be something im interested in that day, it might be a snippet from something im working on, it might be anything, however it cant just be a link to something or an idea that only takes up the 420 characters allowed in a facebook status update. the point is to go beyond the more trivial ways of expressing myself i get caught up in and frustrated by on facebook, but with more community involvement than just my notebook. and yes, i realize that is what a blog was made for. i just havent ever figured out how to fully engage with it and have it work for me with actual regularity.
so here we are, blog. next month i will strive to be a writer with discipline, fella. i wanna be your steady date. i wanna hit record (or publish), and then hit it again. again, by heart.
keep me honest, folks. i need you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Consider the considered lobster

living in new hampshire with ro and eli this august really made me think about my food politics and why I am vegan, which was awesome. It meant that I partook in more non-vegan things than normal, because they were still within the parameters that I feel myself keeping now. Namely: can I see with my own eyes that the food is produced locally, sustainably, humanely and hopefully with some love and understanding around the value of life? If so, i'll eat it. Which meant I did things like drink goat's milk from the farm nearby after having met the goats and heard the 13 year old son tell us about them. He was pretty proud even if he professed to hate living on a farm.
In talking with ro about carbon footprints and processes that are bad for the environment I was made more aware than previously of the fact that vegan eating isn't necessarily that much better for the environment if you are eating processed stuff, and not just Quorn fake chicken nuggets, but soy milk and tofu even, which tend to be made from soy beans grown on huge monoculture farms and require a ton of processing—water and energy consumption and such...
all of which I know and have had to let go of on the grounds that 1) I dont really eat that much processed stuff (i've never been that into 'fake meat') and 2) at least i'm not participating in the inhumane treatment, killing, and wasting of animals. I want to never partake in that huge corporate factory farming economy in any way, if I can help it. Which means that, no, I wont eat the 'cage free' eggs from whole foods if they cant tell me what farm they come from, and no it doesn't matter if you bought an organic 'free range' turkey from costco for thanksgiving i'm still not gonna partake. One, 'organic' and 'free range' have somewhat uninspiring meanings these days and two, costco? Really? Can we get any more removed from the sources of our food?
Until I know the owner of the chickens (or they are mine) and can buy a turkey i've seen alive and enjoying life before becoming our dinner, I will refrain, but thank you for the offer.
So, with these thoughts in mind as well as conversations with ro about fishing, its sustainability, and the history of the seafood 'industry' in new england with local guys and their boats out being careful to maintain populations, I decide, if im less than 100 miles from the coast of new hampshire and we can find a local lobster guy, I should prolly test this whole working-within-my-vegan-politics-but-eating-non-vegan thing. Push the envelope a bit past goats milk.
So, we find a roadside store that is owned by the guy who actually fishes the coast and runs the lobsters over fresh and they live in a large, well maintained tank at the store, and we buy 3 chick lobsters (for $5 each!) and take them home to eat. We have done a bit of research and decide to steam them in a big pot, which is supposed to be tastier than boiling, but I want to kill them quickly first instead of making them die slowly of heat. Cuz I hate the idea of boiling them alive anyway, but boiling is one thing, and steaming them to death seems like quite another.
And I know everyone says lobsters dont feel pain like we do, and I believe that. They dont feel pain like humans because we have evolved to a point of self-consciousness which means we tend to also have mental anguish attached to our pain. But crustaceans, tho they dont have the same kind of nervous system we do, still have some kind of basic way of feeling stuff so that they can get along in the world, and all living things react to a sensation that will be detrimental to themselves in order to survive. Even plants, when hooked up to diodes, show electricity spikes when you break off a leaf. Is this pain in the sense that we use it for ourselves? I dunno. But it stands to reason that lobsters, as animals, know when they are being hurt and are going to die. If you pulled the legs off a spider you'd see it squirm, this can't be any different. Because I feel this way, I wanted to basically chop thru their main nerve center (i.e. brain) and kill them as quickly as possible. The idea of being witness to their death felt so much better than just putting a lid over them as they expired.
So, when we were ready with the pot on the stove, I took the first one out of the fridge, rinsed it off, handed it to ro who held him on the chopping board with a towel, took a chef's knife and held it pointing downward with the tip poised above the back of his head. then I poked the knife all the way thru till it hit wood, and then pulled the handle downward, thru the front of the head, right between the eyeballs, with a motion like I was pulling a slot machine lever. Then I watched the poor thing struggle and twitch and take a good 30 seconds to actually stop living. It was horrifying and made me sick to my stomach. Everything i'd read about this method of killing lobsters said it completely severed their nerve center and they died really quickly, like close to instantly, tho sometimes their was a twitch or two left in them right after. This guy, however, was still moving and breathing and would prolly have been saying some profound last words to us if we had any lobster communication skills, and it was incredibly painful to watch. And I tried my damnedest not to take my eyes off him the entire time. There in front of me was what looked like an immense amount of suffering at my hands, it would go against everything in me to ignore it. But my god, it was hard to watch. I witnessed his death with an aching heart, an overturned stomach, a catch in my throat and the itch of tears behind my eyes. And there were still 2 more to go.
The second one went quicker, but still seemed to linger longer than I would have ever wished on any living creature, so by the third one I must have looked a bit despondent, cuz ro offered to kill it. She picked a spot on the back of the head for the tip of her knife that was further back than I had gone, and no sooner had the thunkchunk of the knife finished its path thru the head than this lobster flinched once and was dead. I was so grateful to not have to hold it still as it slowly kicked its last that I almost cried in relief. Or despair. I had been cutting in the wrong place. Well, not wrong, but not optimal. Which means I could have spared the suffering of the first two had I done it correctly. Forgive me, lobsters, for I know not what I do. My god. A humbling experience in every way. If I ever kill again, which I will have to decide if my heart and soul can handle taking another life before trying, I vow to know exactly how to do it in the quickest, most humane way possible, preferably after having watched it done right by an expert. Given that I am the child of a father who says a prayer for every dandelion he uproots, i'm not so sure at this point if killing, let alone slaughtering, are within my realm of ability. Not physically, mind you, but emotionally and spiritually. I guess, as long as I did it with a spiritual mindset in a way that honored the creature, I probably could. I'm sure the entire time those 2 lobsters were leaking their lifeforces out onto the table, every second found me praying for their suffering to be over. I was also extremely aware of the fact that their death was to further my life, to nourish and sustain me and my friends and in that way at least they didn't die in vain. That amounts to prayers of gratitude in my book.
By the time dinner was served my body and emotions had calmed down enough to be prepared to enjoy the experience of eating this animal, of feeding myself with an (until recently) living creature, to partake in the process of turning its flesh into my own.
I systematically took apart my lobster and found every bit of meat in it, remembering that I had to chew a lot more than I do when eating plant matter, which made the meal a meditative process for me. The searching for and working to exhume the morsels, the tasting and chewing and contemplating and swallowing all succeeded in humbling me further, even as the massive protein high cam into effect.
We hadn't really bothered with anything in the way of side dishes for the meal, and I was glad of that. There was nothing to divert my focus from my meal that had once been its own entity enjoying a life in the atlantic, catching, killing and eating its own meals.
As traumatic as the lead-up to this sounds, it was a delicious and satisfying meal. The biologist in me really loved looking at all the different parts of the creature and I appreciated getting to interact with the carcass as a whole. not that I really needed a reminder that I was eating an animal, but just to be aware of it as an entire being. So often people eat something like chicken nuggets or even just buy ground beef, or boneless, skinless chicken breasts—pieces of meat that look nothing like the animal they came from. We are good at distancing ourselves from the sources of our food here in america and I remember appreciating the opposite of that in china, even if it made me feel a little queasy to see a turtle on a plate that looked like it could get up and walk away. Getting to break into the lobster shell with my hands and fish out the flesh was a very intimate way of dealing with this animal while treating it as food. It was a bit of a scavenger hunt and a way of really deeply knowing 'he who is now your dinner.' no shying away from this process of eating an animal, not at any point from start to finish.
And it wasnt even finished. After we had gleaned every bit of meat out of the lobsters' shells, we boiled them overnight in the crock pot to make lobster broth, the smell of which was very strong and permeated my dreams. And then, of course, there were the dishes. And the lobster pot took some scrubbing. I waited a while to do the dishes, and at that point I was ready to forget the fact that my dinner had been alive, but the reminder was there in the smell of the leftover cooking water and the hardened scum on the pot that was much more pungent and stubborn than any plant matter could be. My stomach thought hard about turning again, but the only thing that could make the evening's meal harder to cope with would be to throw it up, so I resisted the urge, plugged my nose to the smell of crustacean death, and dug in with soap and water.
The house ended up smelling like seafood for a couple days, tho I doubt ro and eli noticed. Animal food is so much stronger in flavor and smell than plant food and I forget sometimes how finely calibrated my senses are now that I deal only with more delicate ones. When others wouldn't notice the bacon fat or even butter in something, I find that it has a really strong showing in my mouth. Which is not to say its gross. On the contrary. If I smell something with meat in it cooking I will invariably say, 'wow, that smells good.' cuz it does. Animals and animal products taste good. Show me a vegan who says they don't miss cheese and i'll show you someone who is either a liar or delusional.
Cuz yeah, in case you missed this part, im just gonna put it out there again: lobster is delicious! Really tasty, almost sweet, and really succulent if you cook it in salt water cuz it retains more of the flavor and tastes a bit like the sea. It was very obvious to all of my senses that I was consuming something oceanic. And I loved it. I came to the table with an almost religious reverence, not just for the life taken in order to eat, but for the simple scrumptious decadent delight that is fresh steamed new england chick lobster. I sat deconstructing the carcass with meditative thoroughness, not just to interact fully with this dead animal, but to delve deeply into the full sensual experience of my food. I consciously chewed each bit, not just for digestive purposes, but for gastronomic ones as well.
If I went into this endeavor with the desire to enjoy the experience of eating a lobster, I believe I succeeded. If I went into it to be fully present with an animal as I killed and consumed it, made it my food, I succeeded. If I did all of this in order to test my ability to take a life and incorporated it into my own, i'm not sure whether I passed. if I went in hoping to god I enjoyed the experience more than I abhored it, the jury is still out. If I wanted something to test my vegan parameters, I found it. If I wanted an experience I will remember for a long time, I got it. If I hoped to know if I could do it again in good conscience, i'm nowhere near sure.