The other night, I ate a meal cooked by people I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I should help them, what they were cooking, or what they were saying, at least part of the time, because they occasionally spoke to each other in Hebrew. At first I thought they were speaking Hebrew to keep something a secret, like their opinions of me or the exact location of their jewelry and valuables, but later, I realized with some excitement that they were saying things like “the eggs are burned” and “our son is annoying, get him out of the kitchen” or “take out the trash” or “did you remember to put my underwear in the dryer.” I too would like to use a language other than English to convey banal questions and instructions to my spouse. The only things I can say so far in Hebrew are “thank you,” “hello / goodbye,” “no,” “girl,” “boy,” “woman,” “man,” “cook,” “read,” “write,” “run,” “swim,” “dog,” “egg,” and “apple.” I don’t know how to say “does this food have meat in it,” or “please,” or “where is the laundromat.” Meanwhile, at the house where I had only just met the people who were cooking for me, my children and their children shot each other with Nerf darts and played with chinchillas, even though they—the children, not the chinchillas—did not share a language. Playing with Nerf guns and the softest animals in the world obviates language.
Dream: I’m sitting on the conveyor belt. It’s moving forward at its maximum speed of 8 miles per hour. The person in front of me announces that he has won an Olympic medal. The strap is visible around his neck. I can’t see what mint the medal is, and if it’s a bronze medal I won’t care, but it may be a gold medal, so I sit up straight with good posture and act like someone who also has a medal. The only thing around my neck is a chain with a car key on it. The key is black and it flips open like a switchblade. I like the way it opens very much. I close it and flip it open with the little silver button, for fun. It can be stored compactly when it’s in my pocket. It can ignite a 2.5-liter engine. These engines are manufactured in the factory in Shanghai where I’m sitting on the rolling conveyor belt. I have the key so that I can do quality control checks on the engines once they have been mounted on a chassis and inserted into a car. The key can turn on any of the engines. It will render most aspects of quality control meaningless, but I am not motivated to make waves or to complete my job in an ethical way. I am only motivated by my paycheck. I press the silver button again and again. The man in front of me turns around and we look at each other. His medal is silver, like the button on my key. I’m relatively impressed.
I moved to Israel. The hotel where I’m staying ran out of falafel last night. I ate a carrot for dinner, with hummus. I did not go to the dinner buffet. The head waiter, Abed, likes my children, because they are well-behaved. Many of the other children who come to dinner throw spaghetti noodles at the walls and slap their parents. He sends plates of fruit upstairs with us after dinner: pears, yellow oranges, something that looks like a plum. Soon, when we move to a house, I will be able to cook my own food again, if I can remember how. I will not be able to rely on Abed to make sure I have fruit to eat when I am lonely in the middle of the night.
Dream: The first elevator is the size of a master bedroom. It goes from the ground to the sky and back. The second elevator is the size of a dorm room, and rises only half as high as the first before returning to earth. The third elevator is the size of an IKEA elevator; the pattern of ascent and descent continues. The fourth elevator is the size of an elevator. When it stops, I get out and go into the next one; it’s the size of an accessible shower. It feels small. I disembark and push the button to open the next elevator. It’s no bigger than a single shower stall. This elevator ride is dark and upsetting, but it feels good to get out of it. I look for the next elevator. The button is in the shape of a cherry, and it flashes when I push it. The new elevator arrives. It’s the size of a dumbwaiter, and opens like one. Inside, where I will barely fit if I contort my body, it looks cozy and inviting. There is a candle burning in a recessed alcove. It occurs to me that the ride on this dumbwaiter-elevator will be very brief, if the pattern continues, and evidence suggests it will. I bend down and start to climb inside, arms and head first. But someone wakes me up before I can see if I will fit inside the small, romantic elevator, and where it will go, and whether the candle is scented or not, and whether it was the last elevator in the series, or if I would have been offered another elevator the size of a Christmas present.
In third grade, a girl hit me in the face with a tetherball and knocked me down. Her name was Vanessa and she had three ponytails. After she and her friends called me a bad word and walked away I stayed where I was, lying on my back and looking up at the sun through the fingers of one hand. The color of the sunlight going through my skin was pretty great. It was the color of ripe papaya flesh, but I didn’t know that yet. It was almost the color of one of my least favorite Crayola colors, Atomic Tangerine. I never liked that crayon because when you draw with it it looks nothing like the wrapper. From where I was, lying on the tetherball court, I could see the kids from first and second grade walking to the cafeteria for lunch. They were sideways and small. They sounded like windup toys. I have never been in a fistfight but I think I would like to be.
Dream: Someone has made me very angry. I go up to him and poke him in the chest, twice, in his ugly blue shirt with its embroidered logo that says “Golfing!” I tell him to get out of here, but we are standing in the middle of nowhere, in a brilliantly hot desert on a hill above a blue sea. If he gets out of here, I will have to watch him walk away to make sure he really leaves. “If you think you can tell me what to do,” I say, but before I have a chance to issue a threat I see him swimming far off in the sea in all his clothes. He is the size of nothing, but I can still see him, no matter how far away he swims. He waves his hands at me and I wave back.
Between Sunday and Wednesday of this week, I wrote nineteen poems. Last week, I wrote six stories. The week before that, I wrote a very long essay. It was weird. To make up for how strange it was—for how irresponsible it seemed—I then made a list of the things I’m writing that have been unfinished for more than a couple of months. I hoped the list would give me a sense of obligation: either finish these things or abandon them completely, but in any case do something with them. I don’t like making lists, but I do like deleting things. It was a big deal.
I learned a lot from my list. The main thing I learned is that in 2012, which was in a real sense the year I started writing seriously, I wrote over 200 things that never made it past the third line or sentence. In 2010 and 2011, I wrote almost 300 poems, and one of them was good. Last year, I cleaned up after myself; there are no drafts, just finished things, that I could do something with now if I wanted to. 2014 was the year of half-built projects. Everything from 2014 is an enthusiastic burst of unbridled intention that stops dead in the middle of a sentence or a line. According to my computer, which has never lied to me, I never modified any of these files or even opened them again.
The thrilling conclusion to this story is that I went ahead and deleted everything I wrote before 2015.
Anyway, here’s a typewriter
Because I haven’t been home a lot in the past two weeks, I’ve been having a lot of original ideas. They might not be good ideas but they’re ideas. In my house it is impossible to have a thought other than a thought that is about the screaming noise that the people and animals in my house are making. If there are any jobs out there that hire people who have a lot of thoughts about screaming, I am an ideal candidate. I will get the job done but it will be necessary for me to work from home if I am to complete the task.
I watched the movie Flicka last night because I was given no choice in the matter by the children who hold tyrannical sway over my destiny. In the movie Flicka, the actors who play the parents are the same age as the actors who play the children. The girl in the movie briefly dresses in drag and enters a small-time rodeo to avoid writing an essay about ghost horses. The movie is a commentary on the uselessness of creative writing programs. In the end her dad types an essay up from the notes in her composition book and emails it to the high school (email@example.com), where Elmore Leonard is probably the principal and Thomas Pynchon the janitor. Everyone loves her dad’s essay. The girl’s horse also gives her a fever and the two of them enter into a symbiotic relationship characterized by low-pitched moaning. The music at the end is exactly the same as the X-Files music except for the last two notes in the phrase. This movie is about the serious consequences of not knuckling down and finishing your essays. If you live on a huge ranch in Wyoming and you don’t finish your essays, if you are not inspired, your horse will turn into E.T.
Dream: I don’t have dreams anymore but if I did they would all be about how much I would like to be able to sleep again. The dream I had last week, which I remember fondly because it was a dream and that means I was asleep, had to do with lying in a pool of cold water at the bottom of an ornate staircase where two houses met in the middle of an otherwise empty field. There was no one around for miles. I got out of the water and walked away from the stairs. I was too tired to climb them just then. Nothing made a sound for a thousand miles. The sun wasn’t too bright to look at. I stared at it for what seemed like hours, on the verge of free thought and enlightenment, until I woke up and discovered that I had left the lamp on the nightstand on all night.
Dreams: For the past four nights, I have dreamed of making a friend. In the first— and best—of these dreams, a woman I had been dream-friends with for a dream-lifetime succumbed to a mysterious illness. Together, before she died, we did all the things she wanted to do one last time. She wanted to eat rocky road ice cream at an ice cream parlor, swing on a swing, travel to Seoul to sample the cuisine, and ride a tandem bike. She wanted, also, to own a dog, but I cautioned her against this decision. The dog would live long after she passed away, and who would care for it? “You’re good with dogs,” she told me as we flew home from Seoul, gas masks dangling due to a harmless technical malfunction. I flicked the mask in front of me and reminded her that no one is “good with dogs.” I reminded her that it takes years of hard work and dedication to train a dog, and that any dogs she had seen me with were just such well-trained animals, and that this had created in her mind an illusion: that I was somehow gifted with animals. She wasn’t giving the dogs enough credit. As I spoke she looked at me with a pained but patient expression on her sick face. She supped at the oxygen mask, defying the flight attendants. I recognized at last that I was wasting the pittance of time that remained to her on my trademark pedantic logic. While technically accurate, it benefitted no one. In my dream I dreamed of a life turned over to art and mystery. And then we got her a medium sized dog, one that, like us, was old. Someone had already done the hard work. It was trained. It did not make a mess on the floor or chomp its leash or our fingers. My dream-friend, Sandra, grew frightened of her impending death. I took her to a playground and pushed her on the swing until her backlit face disappeared into the sky. The medium-sized yellow dog never barked. It sat next to my foot and yawned.
Sometimes, now that I live in California, people will tell me about my aura. It’s always people that I barely know. When I was walking through the neighborhood this morning, a woman told me that I was not centered. She said it would be easy to find my center. At the end of the leash she was holding was one of those small white dogs with yellowed fur around its eyes. The kind with fur that looks like a very old rug. I ran away. It was socially acceptable to run away because I was wearing athletic clothing and running shoes. Another time, a woman told me that she could tell by holding someone’s hand whether the aura was clear. I did not offer her my hand. It’s anybody’s guess whether my aura is clear. When I got home from walking and running I spilled kale juice all over the floor. While I was cleaning it up I wondered what was going on. And then I remembered that I was not centered, and cleaning up the kale juice seemed like no big deal by comparison.
Dream: I am on a field trip to the top of some monument in Paris. Whatever monument it is doesn’t make any sense, because it’s surrounded by extremely tall skyscrapers that all look like the Chrysler building, which is not in Paris. To get a better picture of the urban scenery, I have to stand on the ledge. A dizzying sensation overwhelms me, and in my own dream I look at myself and assure me that it’s fine to be afraid of heights and that I don’t have to go up high anymore if I don’t want to. I go downstairs to the restaurant and eat green beans and drink water and beer. This is one of the best dreams I’ve ever had.