coney island of the mind

Welcome to the Big City.

"The true New Yorker secretly believes that anyone living anywhere else has got to be, in some sense, kidding."
-John Updike

"But it's the truth even if it didn't happen."
-Ken Kesey

"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
-George Bernard Shaw


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wish i didn't miss you
letter to myself
bold as love
you're excused
spring in harlem
zack & my purse
the old place
leap and the net will appear


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big bad cat
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Thursday, October 17, 2002
bold as love

6:30am: Rainy day. Beautiful, miserable rainy day, rain coming down sideways, bedroom windows so wet they look like they're melting. Cold rain, quiet rain, wanna-stay-under-my-favorite-pink-blanket-all-morning-and-sleep-and-read-my-book rain. I sit in the blue light of the early morning, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, pulling the sleeves of my nightie down to warm my hands. Landlord hasn't turned the heat on yet. Radiator is ice cold. Gotta call him today.

7:40am: 125th Street Station platform. Joan Osborne singing in my ear: "i'm as bold as love...just as bold as love..." Two stories underground and still rain manages to fall onto the tracks. Not drips, but fat streams of rain coming from I don't know where. I stuff my dripping umbrella into a plastic bag and slither onto the packed train. No one around me gets wet because of my genius usage of the plastic bag. Unfortunately, not everyone is as smart as me. The guy pressing his pelvis into my ass and the woman with her armpit in my face are both holding their dripping umbrellas right over my new brown corduroy pants. Great. I wonder why I'm so courteous. Forget these people, just turn up the Walkman, "i'm as bold as love...just as bold as love..."

8:40am: Brooklyn. Wolfing down an egg before my 9am student, the first of four in a row (students, not eggs). Won't have a break again until 1pm.

9am to 1pm: Tutoring. Four hours of students with varying degrees of apathy and aptitude. Going over papers, correcting grammar, talking about what makes a sentence, using my "WHO...IS DOING WHAT...TO WHOM" chart. I explain a comma splice, not using that term, talking about a train, how a sentence is like one car of a train, how a comma is not strong enough to hold together two cars of a train, it needs help. I teach this same lesson to all four of them - not because it's planned but because they all have the same problem.

We read through their papers line by line. I watch them write, rework sentences, make corrections, add detail. As they do, I steal glances at the big floor-to-ceiling windows, the rain still soaking everything outside, the light still dark, just blue and green and brown. In here it’s fluorescent and yellow, hurting my eyes. I want to be...where? Home? Somewhere else, I think, but this place isn't so bad today. It’s warm and dry and everyone is in the same damp mood. It's a nice, thick silence, good for working, for writing. For teaching.

1pm: Two hour break. A book to finish reading and one of Zack's pieces to critique before class at 6pm. Another student coming at 3pm. I am fried from the four in a row. Outside, the rain is still pouring down. The wind is whipping tree branches around and around, thick drops of rain soaking everything so much I think I've never seen streets so wet. It looks cold outside - I don't know for sure, haven't been out in hours. I should read. I should edit. I put the Walkman on and curl up on the green polyester sofa by the window. ("i'm as bold as love...") Its too warm in the room, makes the weather outside look like a dream. ("just as bold as love...") It's too wet out there to be so dry in here. ("i'm as bold as love...") Its looks too wet to ever be dry again. ("i'm as bold as love...") It's just that one section, the one near the end when she sings it over and over. "i'm as bold as love...just as bold as love... i'm as bold as love..."

I call the landlord about the heat. I check email, singing as quietly as I can manage.

3pm: Juan arrives. My last student of the day. Juan is my best student, the strongest writer. Juan came to this country from Ecuador two years ago, spoke his first word of English two years ago. He does the comma thing, too, but I explain it to him just once and he gets it. I ask him to look through his paper and check all his commas. Do they belong there? He looks at each one. He finds every damn comma splice. Fixes them, too. Even uses the little "WHO..." chart I showed him. Sometimes he corrects with a semicolon, sometimes he adds a conjunction, sometimes he makes two separate sentences. He does great. We make it all the way through his paper in under an hour. He's packing up to leave. I ask him if he has to go outside now. He says no, he's going to the library. I say good, its miserable out there. His eyes open wide and he laughs aloud. "Miserable! You called it miserable outside! The weather!" He laughs. I realize he's never heard that expression before. "You so funny!" I laugh, too. I tell him its something people say, but he credits me with it anyway. I don't argue too much.

4pm: Last stretch before class. I sit alone at a table near the back and continue marking up Zack's paper. "Tear me to shreds," he’s said. "I want you to." So I tell him everything, all my thoughts, even the little ones. There's writing on every page and a cover letter, too. Its a full page long, single spaced.

Back to the green couch to finish the book. The author is coming to class and we each have to bring three questions to ask him. I like the book. There's poetry and prose, sometimes on the same page, in the same story. It's good. It surprises me. I know the guy and didn't expect to like his stuff this much. Still have a quarter of the book to go. Many tutoring sessions going on, lots of talking and noise. Zack arrives. His presence is a constant distraction, like the kid I know I shouldn’t sit next to in class but do anyway. Zack is fun and I want to play and laugh and I don't have time. I gather my stuff and go next door to the cafeteria. They have slices of my favorite vanilla cake on Wednesdays. I buy one, sit down at a table, and read. Corey comes in later, says hi. He sits next to me quietly, watching the news on the overhead television and letting me read. I finish all but the last short story.

6pm: Class in the English department lounge. What little daylight there's been all day has disappeared. It's nighttime. The lights inside are dim. We sit around a table, just us five students and our teacher and the author. We ask questions. He discusses one of his books that has a subplot built around the movie, "A Place in the Sun." He talks about Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, how at 19 she fell in love with him and stayed in love with him forever. How the night before each of her weddings she'd call him and say Monty save me, save me from doing this. Monty was gay, of course. He loved her but not like that. Monty loved James Dean, who was bisexual and fucked lots of famous directors. James Dean didn't care who knew. Monty cared. The author talks and talks and talks about Monty and Liz, talks about them for at least 20 minutes. I don't mind. I'm fascinated. Who knew James Dean liked dick? But our teacher wants to talk writing. He brings the discussion back to the book. We ask questions, we discuss his method, we discuss his writing. We thank him and he leaves. We workshop Zack and P. for an hour. I talk a lot. I have lots of suggestions. I hope they know I wouldn't bother if I didn't like what they'd already done.

8pm: Eleven hours of school done. Zack walks me to the subway. "Thanks for writing so much," he says. It's stopped raining, must've just stopped in the last hour, just before I came outside. I missed it, the glorious, huge rain that fell all day. Zack is happy. Flatbush Avenue now looks as it always does, even dry, as though I dreamed the rain that soaked the windows of the writing center all day. No need for an umbrella now, no clothes getting wet and dirty, no umbrella being pulled apart by wind. The walk to the subway is uneventful, easy. I missed all the drama. No rain dripping two stories underground as I wait for the A train heading home, to the city, uptown. I walk the length of the platform to the very end, so I can get on the last car. No one's there, so I can sing. Just a little, very low. Walkman on, song cued, I sing along with Joan.

("i'm as bold as love...just as bold as love...i'm as bold as love...")

9pm: Home. Heat is on. This hiss of the radiator is loud, soothing, lovely. The sound of heat in New York City. I take everything off, into a hot shower, washing the day off my shoulders. Into my favorite yellow cotton nightie, stretched out on the leopard print sofa, toes tucked under my favorite pink blanket. I flip on The Bachelor, my guilty pleasure at the end of my longest day. And I'm still humming. It won't go away.

("…just as bold as love...just as bold as love...i'm as bold as love...just. ask. the axis.")

Monday, October 14, 2002
Just do it, you whiny bitch.

So, I'm 90% sure I'm going to do this. Try to do this, I mean.

But as Yoda says, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Some cold, hard facts:

50,000 words in 30 days = 1667 words per day.
My typical 10-minute writing exercise nets me about 600 words.
Therefore, 1667 words per day = 3 writing exercises a day.

Shit. That ain't bad.

And the point here is quantity, not quality. Just get the words down and don't worry about how good (or fucking awful) they are. And I do have to get some stuff down about Violet. And I can't keep putting it off. And I really, really want to do it. And even if it all sucks, I'll know a helluva lot more about her on December 1st if I do this then I will on December 1st if I don't do this.

I am so doing this. I don't even know why I'm going through the pretext of pretending not to have decided. I think my inner slacker wanted me to do her the courtesy of at least pretending to be conflicted.


I'm off to figure out how to teach punctuation to a bunch of college students with a crippling dependency on commas.

my pimp hand is strong

I've really been trying not to do any quizzes, but I liked this one, bein' as how I live in Da Hood and whatnot:

What box do you get put in?

brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, October 13, 2002



i just gotta say it

It's my fucking blog, after all. I won't keep my mouth shut any longer.

I want you all to think of the biggest, most recognizable landmark in your hometown - the Golden Gate Bridge or Sears Tower or the London Bridge or the Eiffel Tower or the Space Needle or whatever you got - and then I want you to imagine a plane crashing into it. I want you to picture thousands of still-alive people screaming and crying as the structure burns around them, people you know, people you work with, people you love, people you are married to. I want you picture that structure crumbling, falling into the ocean or the river or straight down into the ground and I want you to picture the deaths of those people happening in real time. I want you to picture your city shut down for days. I want you to imagine not being able to enter the city because it is under the protection of the armed forces. Then I want you to picture the place where the landmark used to be. It's empty now. You no longer see the Sears Tower when you fly into and out of your hometown. You have to find a different way to get into San Francisco because the bridge is gone - in fact, its at the bottom of the ocean, along with the lifeless bodies of thousands of people, or maybe no bodies at all because they all burned into nothing, ashes that are carried by the wind into the lawn in front of your house, ashes that sit on your grass or on the lovely bush of yellow roses you're growing by your porch. I want you to imagine that you smell the burning of that disaster every time you step out of your front door for months. And then I want you to tell me that there is no need for war. Maybe then I'll listen to you.

I know it wasn't Iraq who arranged for that disaster. I know that there are lots of people who live in New York who turn out for peace marches, who oppose the war, who sign petitions and sit for peace and all that. I know there are probably even people who lost family members that day and still who oppose the war. but do I understand them? Fuck no. I'd love to hear what they have to say. They might be the only ones who could make me understand.

Did I always feel this way? Nope. I used to think sitting for peace was a nice thing to do. Now I laugh at the idea. Sit there, sit there while a plane crashes into that landmark and see what good it does. I'm a democrat, I'm a liberal, I hate bush, I think he's an idiot. But I don't oppose the war. I want to be alive tomorrow. I want my city to be here in 5 years.

What I do know is that I will never, ever feel safe in this country again. I will never, ever believe that it is impossible for a man to arrange to attack the city where I live, to send something here that will sink New York City right into the sea. I close my eyes and I can so easily see all the land gone, see millions of people drowning in the water, see the rest of the country looking at their televisions, at the huge hole in the new map of the United States where New York City used to be, saying my god, my god, why didn't we do something to prevent this? If I could go back to September 10th or September 1st or 2001 or 1998 and order some sort of attack that would have prevented what happened here, would I? Fuck yes I would. Is there any way that I could have convinced you then of what was to come? Would you ever have believed me? How do we know today isn't September 10th? How do we know that the attack on us isn't coming tomorrow? Maybe you know, but I sure don't. Maybe your city is still intact. Good for you. Mine isn't.



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