17 May 2015

Games for One Player: Rainstorm

Headache weather came and found me this weekend for the first time since I've moved to Minneapolis. This is a meteorological phenomenon and a psychoemotional one, usually common to my climate. The headache is not acute, but harder to shake for being so hazily dispersed. It disguises itself as a part of one's personality, as if it had always been there and planned to always be.

The novelty of a new city and the funny little life I've established in the apartment I've rented but not yet filled with my furniture or household—a sort of treehouse life, a child-hiding-in-the-backyard-bushes-with-things-pilfered-from-the-attic life—have kept my spirits high for weeks. But today, the last warm one before a predicted cold snap, some gray humidity crept in so gradually that I didn't think to pin my lethargy on the weather; indeed I often don't notice the connection until afterward.

One could argue that this attitude shirks responsibility anyhow, although it is true that low-pressure fronts have not only physical effects such as joint pain but demonstrable neurochemical ones: for one thing, they cause the adrenal gland to slow down its production of cortisone. For me, though, it's helpful when I can convince myself with a glance at the forecast that neither the world nor I are likely to be stuck in featureless gloom forever. 

I couldn't muster up that argument this afternoon. I wasted hours of time on nothing in particular, supposing that two events I was planning to attend later would serve to make me feel I'd made some use of the day. Then both were canceled, and I chanced a reprieve in the drizzle to get out and try to save the evening and myself.

When I don't know what to do with myself on days like this—when I am profoundly bored not by the world but by the irritating fact that I am the filter through which it must pass—I try to put myself into a book, or into the sound of my guitar, and when those things don't help, I often go and put myself into a movie theater. 

A movie in a theater can serve as an excellent reset button for the soul. You are dispersed into the big dark among a small crowd of people who ask nothing at all of you in exchange for their presence, their benign population of this soft realm. The relationship among you all is almost that of children at a slumber party, in the moments when everyone is finally too tired to talk but hasn't yet fallen asleep. 

For two hours, your mind is overtaken by images and sounds for which you can in no way be held responsible. It is a nap without the risk of oversleep or bad dreams, provided you choose a film correctly; besides, it is more restorative and makes for better conversation when someone asks about your weekend. The movie needs to not be bad in an upsetting way—for me, that means no gratuitous bloodshed—but it does not especially need to be good. Its only job is to absorb whatever you would like to have leached out of you.

I saw While We're Young, Noah Baumbach's newest, and liked it as much as I was expecting to, which was a small to medium amount. (I would prefer he never make a film without Greta Gerwig, and I am by this point in life fairly bored in all mediums by male leads with grand and grandly frustrated artistic ambitions; this man always has a more practical and/or less artistic female partner, and I always wish that for once she were to be allowed to be the impractical but artistically pure one in this eternally recurring relationship.) But it didn't push the reset button for me; when the lights went up I still felt that I had done nothing with my day or with life, and I decided to walk the four miles back from the theater in the hopes of seeing more of the city and becoming tired enough to sleep.

The road was nearly suburban, a long straight ribbon laid over sedate hills. I felt the presence of lakes somewhere in the blocks beyond—the sky seems to sprawl and deepen over them—but wasn't sure how close. (I'd taken a bus down.) After a mile or two the idea of this walk started to seem as boring as any other idea I'd ever had, but I let a bus pass me by anyhow, planning to wring a little deliberate suffering out of the evening if nothing else.

Then my mood shifted and the rain started at once. It is sometimes delightful to realize one has been tricked by the brain, as much as a magician revealing his secret or a mystery author her red herring. Ah yes—of course it was the low front all along

I would have been happy to be soaked through for a block, a little less so for two miles—but just as the drops approached maximum size and velocity, I spotted a house in the process of being built and tucked myself up under its unfinished porch. 

This was an excellent way to spend 20 minutes: sitting in the soft dirt, watching rain hang in curtains from the raw eaves and form rivulets in the rocky soil underneath them. There was nothing definably useful in the pastime, but I felt I had very elegantly solved the problem of how to spend the day well—that somehow I could share in the credit for engineering such a neat match between my sudden need for shelter and this unbuilt house. I worried a little about someone sending a squad car by to investigate my trespassing, but I already tend to feel innately suspicious going on foot through leafy suburban neighborhoods, so my probable illegality didn't trouble me much. 

When the rain let up a little I crept back out and headed on toward home. I played a little hide and seek with the storm clouds, tracking my speed and direction against theirs: of course, a cloud can move at the same speed as a person, if it wants. This realization seemed nearly wondrous to me. 

Feeling favored by the heavens, I went out of my way a little to walk along the curve of Lake Calhoun before going home. The sky above it seemed to be expanding rapidly, pushed apart by novel cloud forms. The water and every manmade surface shone lavender. 

When I reached the lip of the lake I was surprised to find that the soaking rain hadn't much impressed the earth: with every step my boots left white footprints, dry sand under the thinnest shell of wet.

11 April 2015

Early Reports from Minneapolis

Note: Having gotten the job mentioned in the below, I'm striking out for Minnesota soon; I wrote these fragments late last month, on a visit.

I'm sitting in the extraordinarily comfortable and serene Hennepin County Library, Northeast Branch, after having spent the last half hour or so of the morning rambling around the neighborhood, feeling as alert and at large in the world as a ghost just returned after a dark hiatus of unknown duration. I walked down little streets with little workingman's frame houses crowding up to the sidewalk, very like a neighborhood adjacent to the one I grew up in and would walk through on my way to poke around a massive blackberry thicket I'd found and treasured. Silent houses, nearly empty streets, a space for large sunlight and blessed ghosts.

I climbed up a railway embankment: someone had gone to much trouble, perhaps recently, to carve stairsteps into the dirt slope, but by the time I reached the top I could tell it was nothing official. I stood on a small and obsolete trestle hemmed by stone railings in the classical style, the rail bed entirely overgrown. It could have been a good place to sit for a long time, but the air was brisk and nearby I spied a seeming shelter built from bungee cords and deadwood. I heard no one rustling, but I erred on the side of not disturbing someone's Saturday morning.

When I'd climbed back down, the train cars on the adjacent trestle began to stir and pull away. This was a great surprise—such unexpected animacy in the stilled world. It would, I thought, have been easy to have tucked myself into a nook on the end of one of those cars. Ten or twelve years ago I might've run back up and done it; the train still hadn't taken on much speed by the time I turned my back.

If I am returned to the sunny earth, to this anonymous body, from where am I returned? Myself, I guess, but from some strange and artificially lit room I never inhabit quite by choice. This is a way of saying I have been interviewing for jobs. It looks like I'll get one of them, if nothing goes wrong, and I am truly pleased about it. But it has been taxing to live so close to the surface of myself for so many weeks, holding my thoughts and motions gingerly, packaging and repackaging the product of myself. I've never felt it sounds right when I talk about myself. (Or: I've never felt it sounds right when I talk.) I become so bored and disappointed with my subject matter it takes a great hoisting of the will to not stop midsentence.

In these weeks it has been hard to get out of bed. Harder than usual, I mean. Anxiety drapes itself over me, its fur prickling, its weight immobilizing. This is of a different species from dread, because it also pulses with a hope it daren't express with any larger gesture.

It lifts. But there are so many ways to be slowed down. Even joy can do it, even the feeling that overtook me this morning on the empty streets: the impulse to stop and stand and let the moment gather itself around you. To see how big it will become, how many things might be collected by its gravity into its blessed orbit. In fact I did stop two or three times. Among the things gathered in the glow were three tranquil dogs; a building for a construction company called LaMere that was muraled with cherub-cheeked construction men and trucks as plump as loaves of bread; some kind of factory built a long time ago from mostly windows; and, waking me a bit, a line of cars whose wheels played the segmented concrete road in washboard rhythm.  

So much sun makes me drowsy. Although I've been lingering in bed mornings, daylight's also been shaking me free of sleep vigorously and early, whether I've slept enough or not. (I never have.) Then, afternoons, it catches up with me and I'm flushed of all vitality for hours. Before then, therefore: time to quit my sojourn in the library and head back into the day.

A little Baptist church has placed a motto on its sign: "Just Believe!" It keeps me laughing all the way up the hill to Windom Park.

Today I am of a mood to delight in all the ways we lumbering magpies have chosen to decorate our homes.

One house I pass has—built from plaster, I guess—what looks like an altar or creche greeting visitors beside the door. Inside there is a tableau comprising two gape-mouthed Elmo dolls. One is riding a horse from an entirely different toy universe.

At the next house the yard is decorated with football-size stones, which someone has swabbed with purple paint and glitter like Easter eggs.

At the next someone has made an abstract sculpture of a tree by paring away all the living parts of a tree. Its remaining limbs reach heavenward, in an attitude less beseeching than vengeful.

And so on.

Now I am sitting at the crest of a sunny hill on a bench that, simply to please anyone who passes through, has been hung on short chains so as to rock back and forth. Within my view lies a toppled snowman on bare grass; his carrot nose is perfect. His many-fingered arms stretch out as if he has accomplished some pyrrhic victory; he will melt away exulting.

I won't hear an unkind word about a world like this, not today.