Friday, April 8, 2011

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

I like perfume. Generally I tend toward a musk or a spice, something of the earth. Vanillas and tobaccos and cardamoms and leathers. I like musky, even musty I think, like if an old library dotted with handsome brilliant women studying in massive oak and leather tufted reading chairs under the warm light of tasteful photographer's lamps, smoking pipes, and having pomelos for lunch was a scent, I'd wear that. Some kind of a high note that's bright, balancing things at the end. 

I have cute toes and I smell good. These are some of my best selling points.

Of course, I didn't always smell awesome. I did some time in my twenties with my lips wrapped around small glass pipes and my nose stuffed with rolled bills. There are all the regular horrors of crystal methamphetamine that everyone speaks of: rotting teeth, insanity, bruises, bleeding gums and so forth, but I, by the grace of something kind, did not suffer these atrocities the likes of Breaking Bad. I loved the stuff. I did. But the intoxicating scent of sixth grade mimeograph paper, the wet purple ink out of the ditto machine that swirled around the pipe transformed itself once it made its way to my lungs, through my blood, and up out of my blotchy pores. 

People on speed reek.

My armpits stank of something acrid, rancid, something like a sad New Jersey alleyway, too late to be night, too early to be morning, the leftover booze and vomit of loss by a dumpster, and then mixed with biochemical waste from a lab. Even the dog seemed shocked by it. Maybe especially the dog. 

And this got me to thinking this yesterday because I gave up coffee for about two weeks. Then my friend came and collected me in the morning and we went to chat about so many things and I ordered myself a gorgeous cup of drip, a light roast, and proceeded to get so tanked on the stuff, the rush of it slammed into me, up and around everything not unlike my old vice. First there is the sensation of the world getting Windexed. Everything is brighter, more pronounced and funner. Life goes to 11. Then slowly thoughts begin to move too fast to latch onto, distinct and then gone, my mind like a greased pig. Albeit a delusionally intelligent one, each thought mistaken briefly for genius. I imagine, or I suppose during this state I know, the world must see my singular specialness, my coffee induced crown of beauty and class. Even sitting there in Old Navy spandex. Now, this is only coffee. That's how rock and roll my system has become. 

And as we have learned from Tony Soprano, there is a rise, and there is a fall. And also, there is a smell. In the shower as I crash right in time to head into work, I scrub the remnants of indulgence from my body, the same magical fetor from my twenties, downgraded in this, my triumphant middle age. And I wonder: Is this what dogs smell when scared people walk by them on the sidewalk? Is perfume not just about attraction, but about masking the stench of fear? Did we formulate it in times of less bathing to mask not only a simple unpleasantness, but is that unpleasantness about fear itself? Do we retract from stranger's scent in the mall because it's too intimate, too much to know about a person, too much to face in ourselves, that we are actually so terrified it seeps out our pores? Our mortality just wafting through public space for anyone to sense? 

Gus always knows when a person is scared of dogs. He hates it. He growls and barks reinforcing the thing in the poor stranger, a terrible cycle creatures play out. Prey. Hunter. Scent. Even on San Francisco sidewalks. Even ladies with perfume. 

I'm off the coffee again, but it tastes so good. Maybe a decaf on special occasions, just half the insanity on the side, please.

Sara Elise

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nina Simone - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I watched the earthquake in Japan on the internet. 

Then I stopped writing here. I watched those images and then had nothing to say, as the real estate of fear all of a sudden seemed like a thing I had never seen at all. Like any fear I had ever experienced was so microscopic, so infinitesimal, so utterly unnotable next to what I was seeing, I could not type in the wake of such a thing. Well first, I could not actually understand the scope of it. Like all footage of devastation afar: Haiti, Libya, Rwanda, Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Lower Manhattan. I cannot imagine these things. And yet I have to, because even looking at them, I cannot understand. And does the fear come during the thing, or just after it when your mind realizes it is still alive? Are you afraid as the ocean goes vertical, as it undulates in a sheet, the planet itself unhinged and angry, moving over itself and everything in its way, your home, your son, your garden? Does the fear come after the impact of the plane, the implosion of glass, the first blood soaked co-worker you see careening toward a water cooler, dazed and parched, insane? Or does the fear come in the moment, when the stone buckles, when the fire roars, when the guns crack? 

Watching footage of the unimaginable is the actual limit of the imagination. You cannot smell the sewage or the plastic melting. You do not feel the temperature rise, the air heavy, stuffed with panic and death and sorrow and radiation and poison. You cannot touch the broken edges of lost wine goblets, cars opened like Pepsi cans, or the wet regret of loss. You can try to imagine it, but you will fail. Maybe even if you are there, you still have to imagine it, because how could you ever open your mind that wide?

Your heart, maybe. 

Anyhow, finally I came back, afraid. Even here, safe, warm, and alive, an organic pink lady apple still kicking flavors around my lucky mouth. I am not afraid so much that the next apocalypse will be mine, but more afraid that I will never be able to rise to the occasion of each one belonging to us all, each tragedy an epic, each bereaved mother a Demeter, and every morning our duty to go out into the world and honor the fire in our belly. No matter what the ocean does that day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nick Gilder - Hot Child in the City

I tried Bikram Yoga like 12 years ago in a skanky community room someplace in Noe Valley. A second floor joint with the rankest carpet in the wealthy enclave. The smell was so nasty, something like mushrooms and ass. Desperation let me push through the foreboding scent greeting and try anything. That's the best thing I got from the darkest place I've been. I got so miserable that I would try anything. Fear dissolved in the heat of my self-imposed hell. So dramatic. Eh, there it is. I'm wearing a fur coat right now. Not to brag.

It's kind of amazing to go back to the hot room in the total absence of desperation and how fear came right along again. 

Imagine you are in a hundred degree room, trapped, for an hour and a half. One person talks. You listen. You try to do what they say. The instructions are bordering on impossible, often painful, but you cannot speak. You eye your measly 16oz of water like a sad hound. The sweat pours off your body, a small river falling off the tip of your nose. You cannot leave. There is no leaving. You gulp your heartbeat down. You are a rhino in a room of gazelles. This is your brain on fear.

It is 8:15 on a Wednesday morning and you are at Bikram Yoga again. 

Imagine it again: you are in a room, sheltered from the cold and rain outside, the room is hot, assisting you in the stretching of your tight muscles. You have time to hurl the ropey things out over the bones, ripping through the poisons accumulated in the stagnation of routine. A woman guides you through a series of movements, eventually moving each and every muscle group you can think of, plus ones you didn't think of. Because you forgot you had them. You sweat toxins out of your skin, move out the blocks and make room for possibility. 

Same place, 12 years later.
Also, smells better.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Peggy Lee - Black Coffee

I've been waiting out the various issues I shared with you regarding my gratuitous reproductive system, sigh, to no avail. No period. Whatever. I sally forth. In this span of time in which I have taken, I will now cover a few things have occurred to me:

1. Committing to writing this every day is not realistic. I just wrote a whole long explanation of why, but then read it, highlighted it, and pressed delete. There it is. I can't do it. Period. There, that was scary. 

2. Maybe all those feelings I was having were just real live feelings having nothing to do with a monthly cycle. I'll take that up privately, but just so you know, the notion has tumbled upon me several times. Often inconvenient times, as feelings seem to disregard any kind of schedule. Pesky, to be sure.

3. Doing a thing that scares me is different than doing a thing I do not want to do for reasons other than fear. It is different than realizing I am scared and just being in fear. Experiencing fear is a wholly different situation than acting in spite of that experience. For instance, let's say, hypothetically speaking, that I encounter a person who I do not know, say a person making me a cup of coffee at a Folsom Street establishment as I stand next to an old friend. Let's say we watch them prepare each cup with care and expertise and the smell of fresh mint and ground cinnamon beckons us from the brew across the counter from this individual. Let's assume this hypothetical experience is in 2006 and I have just returned to my beloved San Francisco from a vibrant but difficult New York that has kicked the shit out of me. Assume I am in the place of incredible hope and relief, a pink cloud of delight with my home, each moment precisely new and perfect. My heart is wide open to life: a mishmash of whathaveyou that life serves up. And let's say, in this state of emotional apex that the stylish person my making my coffee is telling a story to the girl next to him in which a gentleman features. He refers to the gentleman, conveniently right as my friend and I are about to take our coffee from him, as a kike, and then hands off our perfect, steaming, warm cups of bliss, now topped with this word.

Now, this word, I imagine in this story, might bring several feelings to a woman with a last name such as my own: Seinberg. But feel free to insert any number of names I feel adoration for: Greenberg, Cohen, Bernstein, Shays, Kries, or unassuming ones like Smith or McMullin hiding a Jewish mother's name in the patriarchal nomenclature chain of command. The word brings up rage, to be sure, but also, shame, humiliation, bitterness and, let's imagine, fear. The fear wouldn't be about everything that is happening packed into that moment, but also a whole history that word lugs around with it. Jews weren't arriving at Ellis Island in droves simply because they really enjoyed a boat ride. Like other words you are familiar with, a culture can pack up bullwhip welts, towering piles of bald emaciated bodies in striped clothing, bodies tied to desolate fences beaten to death under huge skies, strange fruit in the trees, machetes yielding whole rooms of bones, all into 4-6 letters. And in the face of such words, sometimes a person freezes up. And enduring is not the same as doing one this every day that scares you.

It is no better or worse, 
it is simply not the same. 

And in this story, which maybe you guessed by now isn't the most hypothetical story in the history of stories, I didn't do anything that scared me. I was just scared. I am not having a judgement here about my lack of ability to say anything to the guy (and to this day I have no idea what I would say), I have just been thinking a lot about fear.

So there is being in fear.
And there is acting while one is in fear, moving toward it.
Shaky voice, teary eyes, racing heart, moving toward it anyhow...
People call it courage.

Sara Elise

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yes - Owner of a Lonely Heart

I've been waiting for the hormonal siege to provide me a respite so I could trust my reporting here. And while the armada of little estrogen bitches have not provided me with any material relief in the form of the dreaded red wave, endorphins from an hour of sweat seem to have shown up bearing a white flag for a moment. I take this opportunity to escort you back to Monday evening. 

I took myself into a room full of people. Surrounded by stomachs grumbling, blood rushing, stories evolving, and time passing for each of us, I did my best to settle in. I stared at the ceiling, slowly arriving in my body, scanning the thing curiously as a kind of emotional itch pricked up. Something familiar, but uncommon.  Something rising up from just above my hips, a low rumble, a current gathering itself for a whitecap. 

What is that?
What IS that FEELING?

I Top Ten catalog the thing:

1. Location: Rising in from below belly to chest.
2. Register: Like a bassoon.
3. Texture: Wool. Herringbone. Vintage and thick. A lined winter cloak.
4. Color: Aubergine. But greying.
5. Expression: Bored. Boring. Pained.
6. Velocity: Looks slow, but the long stride of it fools you when it overtakes everything.
7. Theme Song: Hope There's Someone - Antony and the Johnsons
8. Meal: Celery sticks
9. Age: So small
10. Best quality: Honesty

Oh. There you are. 

It's been quite some time. I am such a social person, love people. Enjoy my time alone. The nature of time passing, the world searching out freedom, time and again. Tension, peace, commencement. I like watching the world, like the passing badlands by the window on a road trip. I like being here, alive in the world. And after so many difficult years, I even like being here in this body with its problems and disappointments, and its attendant wonder. I suppose I tricked myself into thinking I had outgrown this particular feeling. Outgrown it or reserved it for massive occasions like death or betrayal or profound illness. I don't expect it to just mount me in a room full of people like a rude dog, panting, frothy fur in the corners of its mouth, lipstick out. I don't expect it at all.


I felt lonely. Out of nowhere, right? But then you realize you'd heard it following you for quite a stretch, maybe even miles. You saw shadows out of the corners of your eyes so you thought you'd sing a little louder, fix your coffee darker, pull out old photographs. You realize maybe you'd ignored the emails you got from it regarding its impending arrival, your spam filter set to denial, filing away polite warnings and alerts into a dusty folder. Then you remember that time last week, the knocking at the door and how you were so tired. Who knocks at this hour? Fuck it. The outtakes of the week's nightmares revisit you while you stare at the ceiling in your room of folks, the feeling named and alive, back of your throat, tickling your stupid tear ducts by your conveniently blind eyes, no need for old Doc Freud to figure those out. 

And even in the silence of your own mind, you feel embarrassed by it. The loneliness. Your own fragility finding its way to your waking mind so easily. How have you done this? Managed to leave yourself so alone? Are your friends with you? You have chosen them each day for so long, and have they really chosen you back, or are you just a bad habit, a boring cigarette dangling from their pretty lips? Is this the voice of your ovaries? Isn't it enough to just feel the thing, but now you have to berate yourself about it as well? Buddhists call it the second arrow, because the first one killing you just wasn't enough, right? Gratuitous misery.

It happens fast. The arrival to the realization. Or slow if you count all the signals I ignored on the way. Or right on time if you believe in that kind of thing, which I do.

Anyhow, I thought I'd tell you about it, because that's the scary part, once you tell yourself.

Sara Elise

Monday, February 21, 2011

John Lennon - Woman

Every month, all the time, since I was twelve, I am afraid to go out in the world amidst my own body and its chemical undertakings. Known as Premenstrual Syndrome, existing within this recurring loop of delusional misery is somewhat fascinating. In a dreary kind of way. All day a hum of unspent ranting and irritable musings bubbled along my veins, surging through me as the hormones also began to attack my sense of depth. I broke a jar of gooey stuff, squished a weird part of my arm into a welt, tripped on the sidewalk. I felt alternately weepy and enraged with not a whole lot in the middle. Some forced smiles, a battalion of gratitude practice, a dull desire to earn my way out of my own chemistry.

It's such bullshit.

Someone want my uterus already? 
Because I'm really not using it for any good over here.

Sara Elise

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Billy Joel - Moving Out

Here's some things I learned yesterday: not everything I do that's scary is interesting to write about. Also not every scary thing I do is appropriate to write about. So let me just punch the fear clock this morning by letting you know I did one thing at work that was frightening and one thing in my personal life. Just trust me on this and we'll move on. Great.

Here is what I thought: 

* The world would easily provide me with a wonderful array of terrifying things to choose from on the everyday path of my existence.
* I would recognize fear as an emotion and a sensation enough to make note of it.
* I would not have to manufacture any stunts in order to comply with the rules I have set up for myself in this project.
* Anything that struck me as scary would make for interesting reporting. 
* I would be willing and open to sharing all discoveries here on the World Wide Interweb.

I thought a lot about when I was younger and I seemed to do daring things on a more regular basis. I would pack up my car and move to a place I'd never been. Now, looking back, I realize that while this is an exciting event, a scary event, and most assuredly a recurring event that changed my life fundamentally each time it happened, the moving was far less terrifying to me than the staying where I was at any given time. Moving meant that things had become intensely socially awkward, romantically tragic, or emotionally mired in the muck of mild but manageable depression. So while moving was, in fact, doing something scary, the larger truth was that it served as a massive diversionary tactic for my mind, and more importantly, my struggling and troubled heart. Moving was what some folks call, "pulling a geographic", a common delusional attempt to avoid the problems you have ultimately packed up to take in the car with you. Because YOU are in the car. You are driving a deathtrap machine, Fugazi blaring, Black Sabbath, Public Enemy, and uh, James Taylor, and you're singing along to every lyric, high on denial and flight. 

Generally, that feeling was akin to paradise for me. 

It turns out that fear manifests itself, for me, in a wide array of physical sensations. There is a feeling of velocity whirring behind my breastplate, a heat that rises to my cheeks, a rosacea blooming across my face telling the tale of my little terrors. My face stretches in strange ways when I talk and I have trouble making eye contact. Even today in meetings, when I force myself to voice an opinion of dissent, no matter how insignificant, my cheeks burn. I also begin to feel myself drifting into two. There is the rush ruling my internal reality, and a floating that takes over the external. The sense that I am making choices out of a clear agency evaporates like that alcohol laden hand sanitizer and I begin to experience the world happening to me rather than having the feeling that I making choices for myself in the world. And when this kind of detachment settles in, the autopilot switches on, and for periods of time from seconds to entire conversations, I float adrift, waiting to return to myself, my sense of acting from the heart, not reacting to this fear. I watch myself in my life, trying to fly the kite into the storm and shock myself back to honesty when the lightening strikes. 

That's part of the thing I think, that fear can serve in wonderful ways. Any emotional experience can, right? But what I'm searching for is to show up and actually experience it, let it come for me and fix it some green tea in a well lit reading chair. Be a friendly host, because most fear, if I look back, has served me quite well. 

Today I will walk out into the pouring rain, a rain similar to the one one I crashed my car in on a freeway in Northern California in 1994, rubbing the scar from that day on my skull, and I will try and recall what that felt like, feeling the car get away from me, spin over the yellow lines, watching the minivan approach, and wondering what all the noise was.

Sara Elise

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Patsy Cline - Walkin' After Midnight

Monday through Friday, my alarm goes off at either 4:45 am or 5:00 am, depending on whether or not I am traveling to work with Ginger, my same-sex lover, and conveniently, my co-worker. I did insist, briefly, on not "dipping my pen in the company ink" in case you were wondering, but I have a Libra rising and was powerless against her phenomenal hotness. 

Call it a bad idea. 
Call it astrological destiny. 
Call me shallow. 

Regardless, we both have to be at work at 6:00 on Mondays and Fridays, so I hop into the passenger side of her black pickup on those mornings, delivered to commerce in a sleek butch chariot. Wednesdays and Thursdays I head off to get some exercise in before my day commences alongside most of the rest of the world at 9:00. Tuesdays, well Tuesdays, I'm on my own. This means I leave my house in the dark, on foot and alone, by 5:25 am. Half the year that means I wind through some dicey territory in that darkness by myself. That kind of hour is for folks rising early, and folks still awake. 

The streets on my route smell like the night at that hour and not the morning. The bakeries are rustling, but the scent of bread isn't rolling out quite yet, pillowy and bold with carbohydrate promises. Coffee houses are locked up tight, roasted beans sequestered behind glass, their heady wealth waiting to dazzle the morning rush. Those smells of morning don't punctuate my commute. My walk is peppered with sidewalk displays of vomit and feces, people sweating off last night's bourbon, thick clouds of weed and cement walls lined in piss. 

I come up from below ground at Mission Street and 16th. It's exactly a half mile from there to the door of my job. It takes me about 8 minutes to walk it. Some days I don't think much about the walk, I daydream about the cup of coffee I'll make when I get there, a slow drip Sumatra I like with a quick pour of organic Half and Half. Or I'll wonder about how everyone might be doing in Egypt or in Dillon, Texas. Maybe I'll be lost in ruminations on philosophy or something more interesting, like rehearsing what I might have said to Spaulding Grey that time I found myself standing next to him in line at a bookstore on Thayer Street in Providence, RI, struck dumb and mute by his presence, which we would lose in the world within two years. 

But some days, like today, I hear every one of my footfalls, and listen for everyone else's, too. Some mornings I am not generous or naive or sunny. I am at the ready, keys woven between my fingers just in case the guy behind me twitches wrong. Sometimes my eyes dart so fast back and forth, they feel like heavyweights bobbing and weaving in the ring, up high on the balls of my feet, looking for every feint in the dance. My fingers pulse, my neck throbs, and every man on the route is my enemy before they are my fellows. Some mornings I have the history of every lone woman walking to work on my back, every lady who never made it to her next paycheck, never made it to pick up her kids from choir practice, never brought home dog food for Gus, a cattle dog mix waiting for her by the door, wagging his furry tail. Some mornings my walk is electric with the current of fear, knowing from the television what people are capable of, but not having been truly tested, having no idea what I am capable of. Some mornings I think about Ginger still asleep at home and take comfort knowing I have left no doubt with her about what is important. 

This morning was one of those mornings where every step felt spring loaded, an insistent section of the journey to safety. I looked at the sky at the last crosswalk wondering when the day would come, like it does every year, that I would stop beating the sun into the world. That it would watch over me again, my ruling planet, and escort me through the streets I love, wishing the people well, getting to my paycheck under a big blue sky. Turn me back into a friendly citizen of the early hours.

Walk safely.

Sara Elise

Monday, February 14, 2011

John Lennon - Watching the Wheels

My friend Dana Clark has been watching these baby hummingbirds on a webcam since January. The nest is in Southern California. You can tune in and watch the eggs turn from blips the size of Advil into tiny birds. The mom comes to feed them, her long beak shoving food into the babies little craws. You just tune in whenever, listen to the lawnmower from the neighbors, the cars down the block, kids yelling at a dog. And you watch real time when the baby birds begin to flap and flap. They're hummingbirds, right, so they flap fast as hell. But they stay put. They can't fly yet. 

I'm afraid of that. 

I'm afraid of spending my whole life having all it takes, the wings, the feathers, the nest all warm and waiting. I'm afraid to have everything I need, and to just cling to the nest, my wings alight, and my little feet, stuck. Born to fly. It's not the flight that scares me, it's the stillness.

Today I sat still. I didn't manage it for very long. Three minutes. Five. Some days I just try to count to ten and keep my thoughts only on the counting. I made it to six once. But in the time I kept trying, I sat for thirty five minutes that day. 

Dread is not the same as fear, 
but they are cousins.
And today I walked through dread.

The birds flew away, and there's a whole new nest to watch now. 

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sara Elise

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vic Chesnutt - Coward

I heard somewhere along the way that a person oughta do one thing every day that scares them. This is an act of embracing life. And this act will bring a person to their truth. That person is free to back away from it, and will, because living in truth constantly is exhausting. Smiling at fear, offering it your hand, a warm palm leveling itself to sure panic, well, that is too arresting an act to practice, isn't it? 

Isn't it?

But I guess I'm going to go ahead and try anyhow. I imagine some hilarity will be had, a mountain of useful failure, a sure portrait in cowardice, and moments of success.  And perhaps, finally, some things so amazing, that I suspect neither failure nor success will even be the issue. 

Speaking of courage in the Brown Daily Herald on March 24, 1995, the writer Ray Bradbury said

Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. 
Build your wings on the way down.

So here's the project. I am building my wings as I go.  Every day for one year, I will mindfully do one thing that scares me. I am not an adrenaline junkie, so this will not be a collection of Xtreme tales of Whoa. These things might not scare anyone else. And that's fine. 

My first act, 
of course,
is writing this.

Sara Elise

PS: On days I do not visit the keyboard, I will catalog my terrors and report back dutifully to whomever I might find here. It's nice to have company while you're scared.