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No More I Leave Yous / About The Author

I spent the last week in California on what turned out to be a sort of fact-finding mission about my family, mixed in with some furious groping about my academic future, a rite of passage for my little sister, and the smell of suntan lotion under redwoods — in other words, a little too intense to write about. Also, it was just more of the same: silence within families was the ongoing theme, as it has been lately. An elderly relative on my Dad’s side is not being informed about the mental illness of another elderly relative on my Dad’s side, as these two have always had a rivalry and the healthy relative is likely to gloat if s/he finds out. My preference would be to tell the healthy relative, then lay the smackdown when she starts to gloat. (Pardon me — I meant “tell her it hurts my feelings and the feelings of other family members,” not “lay the smackdown.” See? All those years of counseling to communicate good — I say my feelings good now! All proper goodspeak.)

On top of this all I managed to get totally alienated from my co-workers (what do you MEAN you’d rather fight traffic back into San Francisco and stay in a cheap hotel than sleep under the stars in the Marin Headlands?!) and get in a public fight with my boss, who called me immature after I spoke out of turn at a meeting. When she went for a long walk and was late to the next event, I nervously assumed I’d done something drastically wrong and she was trying to walk off steam… subsequently, the rest of my trip was spent feeling an axe was being held to my neck professionally. (Have I mentioned my depression is the kind they call situational? Hormonal, to some extent, as well, but every chemical reaction has its catalysts. And this, my dear, is why I don’t like to make binary evaluations of any given day.) I had enough optimism to get me through meetings with two Stanford anthropology/education professors on Friday, but said some genuinely stupid things to a third, a dance historian I revere, leaving me to consider my inveterate boobery (and lack of academic focus) as I slouched back to Santa Cruz to watch my sister graduate.

Poor Sly was running around with a blank look in her eyes, a final paper due and mortarboard to buy and two years’ worth of apartment to move out of. Exactly the kind of scene I had been looking to avoid by giving Hampshire graduation the pass this year, but I guess it’s not peculiar to the college: this kind of terminal anxiety that comes of having to strike your tent every four months, and not being sure where you’ll set it up again. All in all Sylvie seems to have her sh!t together more than I did at graduation; still I wish I could have helped her out more Or had more of those screaming-laughing-falling-asleep conversations sisters have at night. But Sly’s got this adorable if somewhat impenetrable case of monogamy going on… they gnaw on each other and growl like overgrown jackal puppies. OK, I can’t describe it, but it’s cute. Kind of compelling.

Then there was my aunt Patti and her husband Bruce initiating me into a web of Uncle Bonsai songs and games with license plates… and my eleven-year-old cousin Jesse gave me a very detailed synopsis of Seabiscuit, which he’s reading… and Dad making the kind of blissed-out second-childhood jokes he’s gotten into lately, laughing his head off as he tried to take candid photos of some guy proposing to a girl, threatening to sell the shots back to them…

They sent me home to New York after particularly despondent goodbyes. At the end I had a long black taxi ride back to my house; the first cockroach I’d seen in years scouting me across the metal countertop and a fridge empty even of the piecemeal lunches I’d started to miss while they were feeding me so much out in California — everything in butter, two and three dishes at a time until I wondered why I kept eating… isn’t pleasure for the mouth a trial for the body?

All of this to say that I won’t be blogging tonight, because I don’t have anything out of the ordinary to say (see “inveterate boobery.”) And I couldn’t even find much from the vaults which doesn’t seem narcissistic or naive at the moment (ibid), especially viewed from the middle of Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, where I’m finding first-person narrators who aren’t the center of the universe and feeling ashamed again that I can’t shut up and get out of the way. But I did dig up the following, which used to be floating around on earlier versions of my website and which was intentionally frivolous and self-indulgent to begin with, even as it managed to capture the desperation I felt when I was going through roughly what Sylvie is. Not that I think my less-histrionic sister will feel the same way. (Extra points if you can find the essay of which this is a parody.)

“How Do You Like It Now, Grandmother?”

(Apologies to Lillian Ross, and Ernest Hemingway, and E.B. White, and all sorts of other people.)

G. Andrews, who would like to be the next Great American Author but somehow only manages to muster petty “features” poop about dancing and pets, avoided New York until it was unavoidable. Her best years were spent in a “rustic” rented bungalow (known as “the Washburn House” or “that collapsing sty of Jughead’s”) in suburban Southern California with her mother, a Scottish roommate and her daughter, no domestic staff, two cats, four dogs, three lagomorphs and a cavy, hamsters, mice, three caged birds who sang for no apparent reason, a couple of hundred imaginary horses, and her twin sisters. Late in 1999, lured by false promises of employment, she moved to New York thinking it would only be for six months. She sent her friends in the city email warning them she would doubtless be crashing in their already over-crammed housing.

“I don’t want to land a job I don’t like, nor work publicity, nor be tied down for more than a year,” she went on. “Want to go to CBGB’s, the Algonquin, protest Giuliani’s homeless policy, ditto his police force, and get arrested. Want to see the great elephant-dung Madonna at the Brooklyn Museum, the one, no two, fine Kander and Ebb musicals and Mr. Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa. Don’t know nor care where Toots Shor’s is. Am going to try to get into town and out without having to breathe the foul soot. I want to avoid the subway entirely. Not liking New York is not a pose. It is only to try to preserve my health and sanity.” In her sig file, she added, “Unh! Spawn! Unh! Spawn! Spawn!”

She was a day late when she drove into Sunnyside, scraping a white car with her rental truck as she pulled into the too-narrow street. She was hauling boxes out of the truck when I found her. She had one arm around a scuffed, dilapidated accordion case pasted up with pictures of They Might Be Giants. She had the other around a purple kennel containing a black cat with enormous tits. Gus had on a grey overcoat, a turquoise plaid shirt with sleeves too long for her arms, a tee-shirt with a Dali print on it, a red skirt printed with snails, striped tights, candy-apple-red vinyl shoes and mismatched socks, and she looked crazed, crazed, and ever so slightly crazed. Her hair, which was tousled and flopped in her eyes, looked like Beck’s. There was a red Cyrillic May Day button on her frayed collar, and a Hampshire College wallet falling out of her overcoat pocket. Gus readjusted her arm around the accordion case and said that inside, along with a sleek 12-bass Contello and two Palmer-Hughes instruction booklets, was the highlighted and chopped-up draft of her college thesis on education, labor, the computer industry, whose title and contents she wasn’t about to reveal to anyone. She readjusted her arm around the kennel and nearly dropped it. The cat’s name, as her I got it in a crazed introduction, was Ralph, and she had big tits and no brains to speak of. Ralph shifted in the kennel, and Gus nearly dropped it again. “Ralph read thesis all way here in car,” Gus said. “See? Don’t ask to read thesis,” she added, giving the kennel a little shake and a crazed look.

“Myow!” said Ralph.

“Thesis too much for her,” Gus said, speaking like Ernest Hemingway, or a Neanderthal. “Thesis start over-ambitious, then increase in absurdity till unabashed hubris makes it impossible to stand. I combine half-assed assessments of future of open-source software with narrow anecdotal evidence, naive Marxist theory of professions. Had to provide gas masks for committee. Thesis is like big, steaming pile of poo.”

“Myow!” said Ralph.

Gus dropped the kennel. “Was trying for no-hit game in thesis,” she said. “Almost. 1-11. I lose.”

Ralph licked her own butt.

“She’s worse thesis than board game about Hampshire,” Gus said. “Worse than Frisbee thesis or posters for science fiction movie never made. Worse than children’s book about tarantulas. Look it up, see for self.”

She let the cat out of the kennel. Ralph rocketed under the couch and stared out with an air of ivory-tower hauteur.

Gus watched her go, and then turned to me. “After you finish college, you know, you’re dead,” she said moodily. “That is, in the definition of a friend of mine who said that having a life meant having a car, a job, your own place to live, and a significant other. If you go to college and the “marketable skills” you learn apply to EVER SO MATERIALLY ENRICHING fields like public health and performance art, well then, you’re dead by her standards.

“But no one knows you’re dead. All they see is the scintillating future they thought you had when you graduated from high school with 1410 SATs and an A- average. Meanwhile, your friends are working for movie studios and not getting paid or working for The Man and contemplating suicide.” Illness had brought Gus’s weight down to 125, but she was still thinking of selling her breasts to someone who actually wanted them, and that would make her even lighter, wouldn’t it? “They can’t yank overachievers like they can pitchers,” she said. “Overachievers have to go the full nine, even if it kills them.”

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