Tundra, Day 4

Time is tiptoeing by. Today we woke up early and went for breakfast at the Fryn’ Pan, which might be the finest of Perkins-style family breakfast diners. Megan paid $10 to fax a document from Kinko’s, and then we came home. She commenced working on internship stuff all day and I played with Photoshop, read the Hobbit, and laid down eventually to take a nap. I’m working on resolving in my mind that I’m not really here with her, but here on my own in a strange town with a busy family, just sort of haunting the rooms that are the warmest.

I’ve settled on writing my next story based on Laika, the little dog the Russians sent up in Sputnik II. She was one of three mutts trained to be sent into orbit, and perhaps showed the greatest signs of being ready when the time came. She lasted between four and seven hours, her heart finally giving way from stress and a failed cooling unit which practically caused her to broil alive. Happy story? Probably not, but I’m going to adapt it. A lot of people already have, but they’ve left the dog in the story, which I’m not going to do. As a protective measure, I’m going to read some of Samrat’s work to make sure science fiction will fly in his class. Somehow, I’m drawn to it right now and I’m not sure why.

Tonight promises South Dakota steak, which Megan says is among the tastiest in the country, if you like your meat screaming blue. Why not? We’re also stopping by the Falls, as in “Sioux Falls”, which are presently frozen solid and decked out in floodlights and colors worth photographing. Oh, and on that front: the photo of that fuzzy pink flower (go ahead and laugh) I’ve got hanging on the home page is getting published in Fiore, a new Bloomington arts magazine! My first published thing! And it wasn’t writing…I smell a lesson to learn. I have a goddamn expensive keyboard sitting at home gathering dust which, if I were in the least bit intelligent, would be traded for a super-sweet camera, telephoto lens, tripod, etc. Also, it might be worth it to take a class or two on the subject. ūüėÄ

So. Steamroll ahead with plan A:

  1. Write like a frigging bastard for Samrat. Hit that one out of the park, and you’ve got a sweet reference for editing jobs in NYC.
  2. Finish sentence with Londontown. Never look back.
  3. Take more super-sweet photos and get them published in local arts magazines. Get camera?
  4. Try to clear out of Bloomington by mid/late summer. With any luck, a job/internship will be waiting at the other end of this rope

How does that sound? Dodgy? Well good, because I have a plan B:

  1. Write like a frigging bastard for Samrat. Hit that one out of the park, and you’ve got a sweet reference for graduate school.
  2. Get the fuck off of the Londontown project. Take one for the team.
  3. Take more super-sweet photos and get them published in local arts magazines. Get camera?
  4. Send out massive salvo of grad school applications, meaning “work on portfolio”. Attend the one that offers the sweetest deal. Clear out of Bloomington.

And that’s as much as I’ve got on that subject. I might also try and get a super-cool article I wrote on Autism published in some major magazines. We’ll see. I’m feeling good about this shift from student to professional, but that sense of security, when I stand back a bit, looks awfully thin.

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Tundra, Day 3

Went for a walk yesterday in McKennen Park in -15F windchill. While there I began to mentally document several interesting things that were happening all around me. Firstly, untouched snow seems to always be deeper than it looks, especially on unfamiliar terrain. My boots are super-sweet Sorels and being well-socked the toes stayed warm but the blue jeans (wasn’t wearing long johns) started to get wet and freeze around the hem as each step sank in more than I expected. Looking down as I walked, the wind would pick up, propelling light topsnow across the surface. I would move forward, but the ground would move laterally beneath me. Icy pellets swept into depressions and up and over the walkway berm, flaring in eccentric flourishes over the frozen park meadowland. It was easy for me to relate at that point to the disorientation travelers feel crossing a featureless ice field. Looking backward, the footsteps I’d just laid were developing rounded edges and filling in. It would be impossible without a compass to stay on course in a more remote setting. It doesn’t matter in which direction you walk because the ground moves with wind…

And then you start thinking about how cold you are. Rather, you start noticing which parts of you are beginning to freeze. For me, with jeans on, it was my knees that went first. With each step they rubbed against thin denim, and soon began to sting. I recorded this verbally. A little surprised at myself, I began jabbering into my scarf, vocalizing events as they happened. The fingers were next, but only of the right hand as it was holding the camera. The wind bit straight through my Thinsulate gloves. It also pinpointed the chinks in my armor, the widest of which being between the underside of my scarf and my jacket’s collar. Frozen air lashed my neck and I hunched myshoulders and tucked my chin like a turtle. My knees, meanwhile, had started to go numb.

I couldn’t feel them anymore, and the cold had moved up my legs. The fronts of my thighs were prickling, but my shins were alright. I hadn’t gotten any pictures of note and so I turned home, muttering the entire way. The jaunt from front to back lasted a whole 30 minutes.

Later in the afternoon we went shopping for Christmas gifts.

Dave and Debbie went to Menards for awhile, and I made the remaining crew some spaghetti with meat sauce. Eating exhausted Travis and myself and Megan had been exhausted to begin with, so without doing any dishes we all went to lay down. Meg and I woke up awhile later, at 9 or something, as the elders returned. We opened some expensive champagne and then a bottle of zinfandel. Before we knew it midnight had passed and it was two in the morning, and so we all crashed for the night. Before we closed the door, Dave asked us politely to clean up after ourselves if we decide to cook, and we tiredly agreed. In the morning, there was still talk of the dishes thing and after breakfast he washed them himself. My boss Kim, when I had told her how long I’d be in SD, rolled her eyes and with warned me against it. I suppose that no matter how conscientious a guest or host you are, extra people always end up feeling burdensome, at least to some degree.

Today has been slow. I’m watching survival shows on teevee and Meg’s stress is a constant low hum in the back of my mind. Presently I find myself alone in their basement as the world shuffles around above me. Meg wants to visit some friends today, and I’m going to offer to stay in this hole away from everyone so that she can have some time to herself. What will I do? I don’t know. I’m downloading Adobe CS4 and will battle with installing it, I guess. I have a distinct feeling that I will look back upon this trip as a mistake. I hope I’m wrong.

Tundra, Day 2

It is now Day Four. Day Two was a lot of preparation for the Meyer’s move, capped with general tso’s chicken at a relatively fancy Asian place. Day Three was exhausting. We started at 7am and didn’t finish moving them into these fancy new digs until very late at night. We had pizza for dinner from a place that smelled like a pizza place from the late ’80s, which is to say reeking of “cigarette-pizza dough” scent. ¬†Mmm.

Meg, after hours of skull-shredding anxiety, landed an internship at NPR DC’s science desk. She’s switched gears mentally in preparation for the shift, which will put her on the east coast unitl April 24th. Hopefully they’ll LOVE her and ask her to stay on at one of their headquarters either in CA, NY, or DC. It’s going to be a long four months alone, and I feel like this might be a fine time to record those feelings that people feel when people they care about move geographically out of their sphere. Let’s go from near to far.

At the epicenter, here, I am surrounded by people and yet feel a little lonely. There are no bad people here; I can feel their minds, though, like searchlights roving over the various stimuli surfacing in their environment, and I feel like a static piece. Selfish of me? Do I want all the attention? No. Of course not. But I am learning, just as is my MO. Dave and Debbie have a new house, which is a package full of more decisions than I think I’ll be prepared to handle anytime in the near future. Meg began our vacation thinking about school, moved on to the NPR internship, and is now concerned with seeing all of her friends. I don’t really know Travis, but he seems like a pretty cool young fellow; a nice, modern gentleman (if you will).

Where do I fit in here?

I’ve been a pair of hands holding boxes. I’ve been a recepticle for emotional venting. I’ve been a ghost, tagging along behind the warm ones and listening in, but ultimately they pass through me or around me. Is this the path I’ve chosen? It might go back to this mode I’ve either chosen for myself or was born into, that of being the recorder. I record everything. I see it all happen and note it all. I’m constantly occupied with defining symbols and navigating interpersonal interacting, marking courses through logic and studying the data. I don’t feel better or worse than anyone, but I do feel (and have felt ever since I was a small child) that I move on a parallel plane to the rest of the people around me. I have skirted the rules and structures meant to corall folks, to manage them, and the management hasn’t been upset. I move to the lowest rungs from the highest and vice versa, and everwhere I am welcome. I have no herd. If at any point I do, it’s for a basic need: food, shelter, or clothing. That’s what it is; I feel like a nomad. I look people in the eyes as my equal, and am not afraid of anyone because I seem to have withdrawn myself from direct competition with everyone. So maybe that’s it. Maybe they don’t regard me because I ask them not to.

Ultimately, I came here not because Megan asked me to, which is a whole spat that I don’t even want to think about anymore. I came here for a taste of something I haven’t tasted before, and I’m tasting it. It’s South Dakota: there are people that are stuck here, there are people that are comfortable here, there is a sense of camaradie evident…everyone has to deal with this weather together. There is an argument for the snow and winter, but from here it seems like there are plenty of places in the US where the snow is more plentiful and the temperature less harsh.

I have been searching since the plane touched down for something that sets this place apart from other cities, and haven’t found it. When it didn’t jump out at me, I told myself to look harder, that there must be subtleties I’m missing. I refuse to say there’s nothing here because everywhere has something. So far Sioux Falls, at least to lonely me, is a lonely outpost on the near frontier of the Great Plains. ¬†It is of no little significance that I am feeling utterly alone out here, either. That has a lot to do with how I’m perceiving the city, I think. The things that are here, though…financial headquarters, hospitals, slushy streets, science centers, bars, chain restaurants, rows and columns of suburban grid, pretentious neighboohoods invisibly segmenting uptown housing…it all mumbles “…Midwest.” to me, a tired confession that I’ve heard too many times before. ¬†Soon I will become exhausted in my search for texture here, which lends foresight toward my upcoming realization: I’m looking in the wrong place.

South Dakota can’t be about the place because the place is utterly void of undulation, just like much of the Midwest. There is NOTHING HERE, a truth your brain ought to immediately reject. No, brain; this time, you’re wrong. European descendants have tried for hundreds of years to make this place as interesting as it was before they landed, and have failed on a massive scale. But wait. In my frantic search to justify being here, I’ve failed to do just what I had intended to do in this post: start at the epicenter. The epicenter, in any case, is me. The epicenter isn’t this house, it’s not my relationship with Meg or her family; it’s me. What is happening inside of me?

Out of my natural environment, I’ve come to gain perspective that I didn’t have before. I’ve had images in my mind of desolation. I am coming to understand how a body reacts to extreme cold. I’ve been lonely most of my life, so that feeling is nothing new but each time I begin to feel lonely it feels fresh, like I’m lonely but now it’s for a different reason. But no, you feel lonely because you yearn to feel validated in your herd, and when your herd collectively turns their heads you feel empty, denied of that thing which you feel like you’ve paid for. Ultimately, it’s the same reason as all of the other times I’ve felt lonely but, as ever, the players have changed.

I haven’t been out to take pictures yet. When in the presence of Meg’s friends I lost the impetus to snap them. If I go outside, I’ll be doing it alone and I’m not keen on getting lost in this weather in a strange town. I’m relegated, it feels, to the indoors and keeping my head down as they put together this new house and Meg reaches to connect with her old friends. For me, it’s time to reflect and record.

Outside, wind whips snow, sculpting roofs and car hoods, and eddies around light posts and trees. Snow flies forward, up and back down, but only in unfortunate cases does it muster to defy the driving wind.

Tundra, Day 1

Well, it’s not really day one, but how can I be expected to record the first day until it happens? The skinny: I’m in South Dakota. Sioux Falls, generally and Brandon, precisely. This counts as my first time journeying to the Great Plains as a destination (been through Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, etc. on the way to CO). My knee-jerk impression of the place as I stepped off the plane was “this place began as an outpost and still is one”, but in spite of that “out on the rim of civilization” feeling the people here seem friendly, if vaguely questioning of their choice of locale this time of year.

Megan had heavily briefed me regarding her father before I arrived. My resultant impression was that he was an absent-minded man but kind, or at least had so much on his plate (per his design) that often details spilled off, painting him as “flighty” to the uninformed observer. As we walked out of Sioux Falls’ tiny airport, Dave’s green Honda CRV came into view, zoomed ¬†past us, and parked at the other end of the platform. I smiled.

Dave’s a funny guy, no stranger to self-deprecation and a spinner of yarns, which is endearing. He took us to Monk’s, an artsy little bar that I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you visit if your life ever drags you to Sioux Falls. They offer a crazy good craft beer selection and satisfying sandwiches and pizzas which employ above-average ingredients. I met the fellow who owns the place, too. He’s a superb furniture maker whose end products honor the material from which they’re made: sturdy wooden tables, tree core-and-copper headboards, mixed-media statues…all of them expertly crafted and saleable. So Monk’s was a success and we took a quick tour of downtown.

Does the word “quartzite” mean anything to you? SO MUCH QUARTZITE! Sioux Falls clearly has an abundance of it, as evidenced by the several building edifices composed of it and the odd, hulking blocks of it that are sprinkled along the sidewalks. Sprinkled along the sidewalks? Yep. Just hunks of quartzite crowned with metalwork art: swine, horses, buckin’ broncos, and other, more abstract things. This is a people who have more of the mineral than the world demands and thus proudly use it as urban decor, not unlike the residents of Bedford, IN, the “Limestone Capitol of the World”, efface everything with limestone and generally are “of” the rock. Let’s hear it for rocks and the folks that love them!

The Meyers are buying a new house ¬†in the All Saints district of the city, which they are part of “by one house”. The homes there are spacious, well-adorned, and presently capped with snow. Theirs was built in the 1930s. Treasures include hardwood floors, a half-finished basement, two fireplaces, and what look to be ten-foot ceilings on the ground floor. The second-storey master bedroom is approximately the size of a small warehouse, with three south windows and a pair of west-facing windows¬†in the closet. They stole it at present market conditions and happily, once things right themselves, it will appreciate rapidly in such a fine neighborhood. Tomorrow we’ll be moving in.

Today Megan is frantically trying to close out Fall semester. Her anxiety about the chance that we’d miss our flight ebbed on our safe arrival and now is back full-force as she scrambles to complete her resume. Today she applies for an unpaid internship with NPR (either in LA or DC), and is fearful of under-representing herself on paper. I am staying clear of the whole thing.

My MO is to relax. The end of this semester took everything out of me, and I’m now relishing in my total lack of responsibility for what happens during my days. I’m just about to finish the Fall ’08 issue of Zoetrope, Francis Coppola’s literary mag. It feels like a good ol’ boys’ club, but loving short stories as I do, I cannot stay mad him. Gems in this issue are “Fort Apache” by Alan Heathcock and Eileen Chang’s “Lust, Caution”. Interesting factoid: Chang spent 27 years writing this short story. /cringe

So finally now I’m not avoiding writing due to the burdensome nature of doing it for someone else and am just piddling around, making myself happy. After Zoetrope I’m rereading “The Hobbit” as it’s one of the books we’ll be checking out in my Children’s Lit class next semester. Oh, sunny days. I’m also going to begin doing character sketches for my next short story, which I’d like to complete before Spring semester begins. I was accepted into Samrat Upadhyay‘s W401, the highest-level undergraduate workshop IU offers, and I want to hit these next two out of the park. Admittedly, it feels really good to not dread the sound of my fingers on the keys.

Aside from writing, I’m taking a lot of photographs and doing a lot of general maintenance that I couldn’t cram into my schedule in the last month. The good photos are going up on my flickr page and the rest I might put up on my Facebook as a kind of photo-journal for the trip. The rest is just cleaning up my computer, installing CS4, paying a butt-load of bills, and trying to rethread ties to all of the people that I’ve shelved to pursue dreams. One day, I will learn to balance everything, but until then it seems like I’ll remain unfed, unshowered, exhausted and myopic, all toward improving my writing.

The road is long but so am I.

Murtaugh Article Questions

1. Leading with the concert – momentous, joyful¬† moment in Alex’s life

2. Purpose – to paint Alex not as someone with a disorder but someone who exists as well but differently than neurotypical people

3. telling a series of stories related thematically

4. Issue: temporal structure

5. Issue: first draft: language density

6. Issue: Graham: second subject…how do I integrate him (ending, most likely) without using Autism as the connecting thread?