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Archive for January, 2010

"I predict a year rife with unsavory rumors. Do not question the Groundhog!" These days, you can text Punxsutawney Phil for his (her?) prediction. Photo by Jeff Swensen, Jetty Images.

We are told never to compare ourselves to other people, but can’t help it. On Groundhog’s Day (the cutest of holidays), I will turn twenty-five, so I’ve compiled a list of quotes pulled directly from the internet to gain a little perspective. Observe:

“When I was twenty-five, it wasn’t that important because I never did it for the money.”

“When I was twenty-five, I was with baby #2.”

“When I was twenty-five and looking for work I was told it was the difficult things in life that are worth doing.”

“When I was twenty-five, I was diagnosed with displasia.”

“When I Was 25 It Was A Very Good Year.”

“I was holding her hand when I was twenty-five.”

“When I was twenty-five, my boyfriend Harry had his drink spiked”

“When I was twenty-five, I learned to appreciate myself as a woman.”

“He asked me what my position was in Jewish leadership when I was twenty-five years old.”

“I had saline implants when I was 25.”

“I had heart surgery when I was 25.”

“I had to have both testicles removed when I was 25.”

“I learnt to read when I was 25 years old.”

“I met my next boyfriend when I was 25 and within 10 months we agreed to have a baby.”


“When I was twenty-five, I was so lacking in self-esteem that I didn’t have the confidence to enjoy my fame or to shine socially.”

“And they have managed to communicate with a profundity that I never thought possible or imaginable when I was 25.”

“I was still a nerd: when I was 25, I played Dungeons & Dragons for four days solid.”

“When I was 25, I hitch-hiked across the east coast for three months.”

“When I was 25, I tipped the scales at 210 pounds.”

“I’m fond of the six months I lived on a sailboat when I was 25.”

“When I was 25 I found a very stable girl,but she was boring.”

“When I was 25, I was named Best Young Chef in Italy.”

A peet-sah py-yah! (This is an actual clip-art I found.)

Now, I’d like to make a few predictions for my twenty-fifth year. When I am twenty-five, I will probably:

… not be growing 100 marijuana plants in my basement.

… not be stuffing implants anywhere.

… use a Sharpie to write phrases like “in a manner of speaking” and “in a very real sense” on the covers of  certain paperbacks and unload 500 rounds on them.

… not really worry too much about it.

What did you do, or what might you do, at twenty-five? (If you were the man who wrote Wild Animus and gave me a free copy on the street, please forgive me for what I must do.)

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While I believe in having my “affairs” in order–as far as when to cut the plug should I go tomato, which songs I’d like played at my memorial service (something by Queen, definitely), and so on–as I approach my 25th birthday, I am not ready to die. Despite being the largest city in Montana, home to two colleges, Billings attracts more old people than young, more lovers of things that remind them of their youth than people who are trying to build a life they will remember, and for this reason, the wind rustling the faded awning of our rental property (my boyfriend and I continue to put off anchoring ourselves down  to a place of our own) sounds increasingly like a death rattle.

Even Billings’ population of twenty-somethings seems largely composed of old-minded types who are generally so weighed down by responsibility that they can’t even remember what it’s like to want to do something fun or go someplace new, and would probably be afraid of it, anyhow, in the way that random immersions into the unknown must be regularly practiced in order not to find change terrifying. In short, even the young don’t have the will to be young, and lack the imagination necessary to entertain the silly–but essential–concept of idealism. Maybe it’s like this everywhere, but I don’t believe that. As proof of Billings’ unusual “oldness” (not an indication of age, but a quality), I look to its downtown.

Street performers are people, too. Some even become world renowned musicians like Amanda Palmer (the words, “vivez sans mort tempe,” mean “live without dead time.”) Photo by Beth Hommel.

I love street performers in other cities, no matter how unskilled or flat-out terrible/misguided/stoned they may be; these brave souls offer a refreshing glimpse of creative chaos on the way to the post office–a sign of the spontaneous, sometimes annoying, forces of life in our structured existence. There are no street performers in Billings, ever. I worked downtown for two years and heard or saw not one banjo player or young woman on a ladder dressed as an 8-foot tall bride, even in the summer. I don’t doubt that attempts have been made, but none have stuck, and I find this a prime example of the readying-for-death quality that this city, despite ongoing beautification projects and “Alive After 5” events, has yet to overcome (on weekends, downtown is dead in the scary, post-apocalyptic sense that would unravel even the most stoic living statue).

“Welcome to Billings,” reads the large, cleanly designed banner on Downtown Billings Association’s home page. “Something Different.” But, as I run errands on a grey Wednesday, I consider the fact that you’d find the same shade of beige stucco composing the Best Buys and Wal-Marts of about anywhere in the U.S. What we need is something truly different, something that cannot be induced by the occasional Nickelback concert or population boom.  But that may be a long time coming, and in the meantime, an increasing number of young people may be considering striking out for more fertile ground–and if too many actually do, we’d better start researching memorial service ideas, because this place is not long for the world.

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Beyond Ryan’s shoulder, I see the soft plaid globe of belly belonging to a man (Southern, I assume for no reason) sitting across the aisle from us, his hairy harm locked in a simian-like wrestle with the bag of pork rinds clutched between his thighs. We’re on a plane heading for Louisiana. Below us, frozen fields have already melted into the fertile greenery that I associate with the beginnings of the world–a lush Mesopotamia compared to Billings, where a cold front is about to sink temperatures to 40 below, as foretold by a cute procession of digital snowflakes on the news.

We pass the sun, the line of the sun in the water that lays, sloppy, like melted snow on pavement; as the pilot announces our descent,  the plane’s shadow skims wetlands that look like someone spilled water on the counter and then smeared it around.

By the time we are strapped into the airport shuttle in New Orleans (we’re headed for a Bourbon Street guest house where we will stay with Ryan’s parents until the four of us board a cruise ship sailing to Central America), the air has cooled to the forties and the sun is gone. We pass rambling cemeteries where the creepy imagery of above-ground burial echoes that of the congested freeway; the tombs and vaults, as crowded as the vehicles passing just a few yards away, almost appear to sit on top of each other. Looking at them–these ponderous, moss-covered monoliths–it’s easy to feel young–which we are–in a place so old, so thoroughly lived in, where there is no true forgetting of anything, no burying of the dead.

As we rocket through the narrow, crowded streets of downtown New Orleans, making a series of unexplained and perfectly legal u-turns, images flash out of the darkness like fragmented scenes in a 1960s art film: an old woman’s translucent white hair just before she closes the drapes, a black man in a purple suit wheeling down an alley with arms outstretched, people crowded around two dun-colored mini horses held by a shadowy male figure, a square of green emanating from a lit courtyard, and like the cemetery, everything looks piled on top of each other and chaotic; the modern aesthetic of sanitized tidiness that has influenced everything from Facebook to Apple products to the architecture of strip malls, universities, and the various monuments of suburban sprawl in most regions of the country is gloriously absent here. The air we breathe carries the density and aromatic complexity of a locker room full of mini horses smoking cigars.

I’m not a very good tourist. I never pay attention to the right things. The next day, while the man busing us to our plantation tour points out the sugarcane fields on one side the freeway, I will watch a teenage boy carrying two gallon jugs full of what appears to be urine walk alone along the other side, and see trailers rusted–some tossed on their sides–with insulation streaming out in the breeze; these things I will record in my journal, while my only note about sugarcane is that it can grow to be 14 feet high.

I don’t always take the right pictures, seek out the right attractions, have the right stories prepared when I get home. When led on a tour through the jungle in Guatemala, Ryan and I will flee our group in order to stand quietly in the green darkness at the cost of a macaw sighting and the chance to observe the distribution of crayons to village children by Americans who believe it’s what normal kids should want; when we reach Livingston, nobody mentions the big red ribbons painted on every lamp-post on every street, even the dark little side-streets, because tourists probably shouldn’t be interested in things like high HIV infection rates in places where they are buying their intricately carved hash pipes and Mayan masks.

It’s true that there is so much beauty in the world–there is so much everything, and it is not always possible to understand how people live or to always be compassionate or to feel certain that the spider with the yellow and black striped legs isn’t poisonous, or to acknowledge that sometimes the reasons we do things may be to make ourselves feel helpful or safe, and that sometimes that’s okay, and also that things don’t have to make sense.

When I was little, I dreamt that I lay in the backseat of the car my parents used to own while we drove home from Dubois in the dark, through the red bluffs with the moon coming through and the shadows of trees moving over me, and somehow I realized that we weren’t going home, we were just going on and on, and the night went on and on with us, everything dark and cool and flowing, and that we would be okay even if we didn’t know where we were or have any friends there.

On the cruise ship, Ryan wears a Hawaiian shirt and doesn’t shave; I smear sunscreen all over myself even though it’s cloudy outside. We’re tourists, and hardly speak Spanish, too busy watching for manatees, waiting for something interesting to happen: a bright-colored bird, a bad lounge singer, dark mangrove forests that remind us of nothing at all except that it must be dinner-time by now, and what’s the hold-up with those margaritas?

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Blogging on!

After a hiatus from Prairietown–and Montana–over the past month, I plan to resume blogging my frozen little digits off in the moderate comfort of my moderately warm home. I’ve spent December and part of January visiting family, applying for graduate programs in Creative Writing, working on a few fiction pieces, and traveling (watch for upcoming posts describing my adventures in New Orleans and Central America). I hope everyone is well in 2010!

Happy New Year from Cozumel!

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