Notes toward an Autobiography

I have developed a new obsessive-compulsive behavior. Before I can read a magazine, I go through and remove all the blow-in subscription cards. After that, I go from cover to cover and tear out any advertising (or advertorial) printed on stock heavier than the rest of the magazine, typically cologne/perfume samples and tobacco ads (I’m looking at you, Marc Jacobs).

Then I may read the magazine.

* * * * *

I have traveled over 6,000 miles since August 15. Only 2,200 of those miles were by aircraft. The rest were by car. I love driving. I love to travel by car. Air travel makes me stressed out and cranky. I dislike being close to people I don’t know, and I have a secret fear that I will be strip-searched by TSA, or, at the very least, that the metal detector will go off even though I have dutifully removed everything from my person that may contain a metal. Driving for travel is like being Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: you say who, you say when, you say how much.

* * * * *

Whenever I do fly, I’m as neurotic as when I read a magazine. I have three primary fears in life: being hungry, being cold, and being bored. Being on an airplane exacerbates all of those concerns.

Here is a list of the non-negotiable things I have to carry with me into the cabin:

a neck pillow
a zip-up sweatshirt (in case I get cold)
a bottle of water
some kind of nutrition bar
a bag of candy of some kind, or a salty treat
my iPod
my Nintendo DS
at least two books, but usually three (in case one is boring or poorly written, and also to cater to my unpredictable reading tastes).
(in some cases, I substitute a magazine like Spin for one of the books)
my laptop

Partly this is because I’ve rarely flown on flights shorter than 3 hours (see driving, above), and these items are often used in conjunction with each other. For instance, the iPod goes on at 10,000 feet. (I find it an especially useful form of stranger repellent.) Then I sleep or play games or read.

I do not talk to other passengers, and I never, ever, disclose that I am a writer. It’s just too risky.

I always sit by a window. And before I get on the plane, I like to have tomato juice.

* * * * *

On one of my recent flights, the man next to me made the stations of the cross while we took off.

* * * * *

I have only once really believed I might be about to die while flying. It was, I think, on one of my flights to Phoenix/back. Right after we lifted off and were making our ascent, the plane arced and pointed down. I mean, down. I didn’t hear that weird plane-diving whistle sound, but the other passengers and I all leaned forward involuntarily. We flew at that angle for about ten seconds.

They were the longest ten seconds of my life.

When the plane flattened out and began to climb again, I looked over at my seat neighbor, who, like me, had been staring out the window, as if that could help. “Holy shit,” I said. Her eyes, round and wide like jet engines, said the same.

* * * * *

In an unrelated story, my niece is, at this very minute, at school, dressed as Lady Gaga for Spirit Week. I had no part in cultivating this action, but believe me when I say it delights me to no end.

How did she do Gaga? A long, blond wig and a dress made out of dollar bills.

Note to self: Halloween.

Countdown to Mexico: 3 days.

Last night: dreaming of running out of pesos.
Dreaming of bacterial food, of getting lost in Mexico, misunderstanding the taxi situation.

I did not sleep well.

Three days until Mexico.

This won’t be my longest international trip. I spent 22 days in Europe when I was 16 and two weeks in Belgium when I was 18. What can do for two weeks in Belgium? I’ll tell you: Antwerp, Oostende, Brussels. My mother’s small hometown and all the family you can imagine.

Watching American movies on TV with my cousins. Laughing at a joke, then moments later they laugh. The subtitles were slow.

Learning one word in Flemish: wacht. It means “wait.”

A project idea.

A tentative first poem that is surely garbage but a step in a direction, toward something.

Slowly coming back to writing. Like doing too much cardio. Feeling tired, but not tired at the same time.

And then, the name of the film my main character is making in my novel: Phantasmaorgasm.

The Compulsion to Repeat Sounds

C. Dale linked to this article, in which a self-professed life-long lover of poetry laments the reduction of poets writing what he calls “rhyming verse.”

It always irritates me when I hear this discussion, not because I think rhyming is lame, but because people are obsessed with repetition when it comes to rhyme. And they want the nursery rhyme meter, too, because it’s soothing.

Am I being overly critical of patterned rhyme? I will admit that it is difficult to do well, but that done well, it’s an interesting (and significant) element of a poem. However, like in free verse, there are hundreds upon thousands of practitioners who do not understand how to incorporate patterned rhyme into their work effectively.

I think it’s also just as egregeous to refuse to look beyond rhymed verse. Any of us who limit our experiences of literature are not being responsible readers.

But then again—is it wrong to thank him for reading in the first place?