The kid-scrawled chalk on the sidewalk reads, “Free Hopscotch —>,” and the squares stretch all the way up the block.
I’m laying on my back with needles in my limbs, trying to relax. The ambient music in the acupuncturist’s office is massage/day spa/yoga music — the kind where the singer repeats a single foreign phrase endlessly, and when she’s done, she does it again. The problem with such music (she said, as though there were only one problem) is that my brain cannot focus when there’s something to translate. Of course I have no idea what language this is (which somehow makes me feel slightly racist?), and so my brain approximates.
I breathe in through my nose; out through my mouth.
In through my nose…
…out through my mouth.
You are a young man in love, and this morning you’re meeting a particular young girl for coffee. She’s lovely, and your elbow rests on the table, chin in hand, head cocked to the side. You are listening, really listening, and gazing upon her with admiration.
I know this scene is meant to warm my heart. You are oozing sentiment. In fact, your adoration seems calculated for public benefit. Look everybody! Now this is a Guy in Love!
I consider knocking your elbow out from under your chin, but instead do my best impersonation of a wistful smile. “Look at that,” I pretend to think. “Oh! How I do recall the days when my own love was budding and new.”
I’m sure I’ll see you around a few months hence, perhaps the day after you dump her via text message.
This is my version of a genius list Zan did a few days ago, entitled “Things I sometimes imagine against my will.”
-Feeling someone’s breath on my ear, and looking up in the bathroom mirror to see a ghost behind me.
-Being pushed onto the subway tracks by an insane person.
-Dead people sleeping in the basement, until they hear me descending the stairs, whereupon they scuttle to their hiding places.
-A hand shooting out from underneath my parked car (my bed, a low table, the basement crawl space) to grab my ankle.
-The hand grabbing my ankle is attached to a dismembered arm.
-Prison guards pulling Hank from my arms while he yells my name.
-Having one of those surgeries where they think the anesthesia is working, but it isn’t.
-It turns out the robots want to enslave us.
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
by Susan Faludi
I read this in college and it completely changed my worldview. A feminist is a person who believes in equality between the sexes — so it turns out I am a feminist. This came as a surprise to me at the time. Also, it looks like there’s some seriously, concretely unfair shit going down for women, even in the U.S. I had no idea.
The Gift of Fear
by Gavin De Becker
It’s a waste of time to be afraid all the time. Trust your instincts to tell you when something is genuinely amok, and when they do, take immediate action.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade
by Thomas Lynch
This book by a poet who is also an undertaker helps me remember that being happy, or at least aware, is the best use of my time. It also gave me perspective on assisted suicide, and the ways individual anguish can eclipse you, needlessly.
Years later, this passage still sticks with me:
“Here was a young man who had killed himself, remarkably, to deliver a message to a woman he wanted to remember him. No doubt she does. I certainly do. But the message itself seemed inconsequential, purposefully vague. Did he want to be dead forever, or only absent from the pain? ‘I wanted to die,’ is all it seemed to say clearly. ‘Oh,’ is what the rest of us say.”
The Four Agreements
by Don Miguel Ruiz
I’ve mentioned this book before, and if you’re feeling adrift, it’s a good little system to help get you grounded again. I wrote more about it here.
It’s not a work of literary genius, but it’s clear, it’s a quick read, and it fills you in on all the financial stuff your parents didn’t teach you.
Learning to Love You More
by Harrell Fletcher, Miranda July, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Laura Lark
I like how Miranda July seems to have always tackled the next most interesting thing, and she’s built a pretty inspiring life that way. This book of projects reminds me that it’s always a good decision to let your interests guide you.
Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior
by Judith Martin
An anthropology book on my own culture, and the reasons behind the societal contracts we’ve made. Now when I’ve pissed someone off, I usually know why.
Otherwise: New and Selected Poems
by Jane Kenyon
Jane Kenyon’s poems make me feel keener, like I can smell better and hear things more clearly. I read them when I’m feeling muddled to help me re-focus.
Now! Tell me which books changed things for you, because I think it will be interesting.
More small differences between Buenos Aires and home:
-You leave your garbage on the curb in bags for pickup each afternoon.
-And yet, the garbage cans are wire boxes on poles, presumably so wild dogs and cats can’t reach the contents.
-I’ve seen at least three women in see-through white skirts wearing black G-strings.
-Milk for your tea comes steamed.
-Bookstores don’t have prices on the books, you have to ask.
-It’s unusually difficult to get change for large bills.
-They sometimes spray perfume on your purchases.
-Milkshakes are just milk blended with whatever flavor you’ve requested.
-At one local grocery store, there’s an express line for the pregnant and disabled.
-All the playground equipment here is still mildly dangerous. Working sea saws and merry-go-rounds, hard dirt ground so the pain shoots up your legs when you jump from the swing.