10 January 2004

Saturday night 1/10/04

Ali left today, to begin the first leg of her year-long adventure in southern Africa. I had hoped to talk with her before she left, but apparently she called late last night when I was in the middle of a long teleconference with Mr. Cannon, debating and weighing the merits of these or those names and birthdays for the five main characters in our collaborative efforts. More about that in a moment; the point is that Ali couldn’t get through and my goodbye with her was an email from her when I checked my box late this afternoon, whining to me that the phone was busy and asking about the quotation “Knowing you is like not hitting a deer with my car. I love you.”

Perhaps it was better this way anyhow, for Ali and I are both notoriously bad at goodbyes. The bigger the goodbye, the more traumatic and therefore truncated they become for us. The night I left Grinnell, in August, knowing I wouldn’t see Ali until Christmas – the memory of it still makes me sad. We spent the whole day packing and cleaning my apartment, packing the truck, storing things in the garage at Ali & Adam’s house on Summer Street (I could not have moved out without Ali), and though Cam and Jamie and Adam had all been helping us on and off throughout the day, in the end it was just Ali and me, dropping a final load of stuff off at her house, going to the Dari Barn for dinner just before 10:00, sitting at a dirty white picnic table beneath the tractors, eating fried cheese curds and cyclones beneath the stars, trying not to talk about the obvious & horrible finality of the moment... and finally, Ali dropped me off at my truck still parked outside my apartment on the corner of 4th and Main, and we hugged briefly before I jumped in behind the wheel and drove away, biting my lip the whole way out of town, don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry, listening to the Get Up Kids under the full moon on I-80, and doing whatever I could to not think about how I’d just left my best friend in the entire world.

I’m excited for her now, excited that she’ll be teaching and that she’ll be living away from computers and televisions and malls and all the things that distract a person from the serious business of reading and thinking and writing and breathing. I’m excited for her to write. She doesn’t have faith in herself, but she’s a great writer when she can manage to stop listening to her internal critics. As are most of us, I’m sure.

Yesterday, I took a letter to the post office to send to Lesotho, and the postal clerk hardly glanced at it before stamping SOUTH AFRICA on it. She looked at it again, looked puzzled, and I almost said something about the letter needing to go to Lesotho, which is a country, which is not the same as South Africa, but I didn’t say anything, I just smiled and thanked her. In the parking lot, I saw that the receipt said, “postage to South Africa,” and mentally kicked myself. But I suppose it happens a lot, and anyhow postage to Lesotho can’t be more than postage to South Africa. Then today, emailing a response to Ali’s note about how I was on the phone and where did that quote come from, I realized I had no idea where or when she’d next be able to check her email. In Johannesburg? In a few days, or in a month?

I’m beginning to realize that this is merely the beginning of a year of uncertainty, that this is my initiation to a world of faith in the international postal service and trust that the world will see fit to deliver my messages to Ali. Too, after so many years of relying on the phone and email for near-instantaneous communication, it will take a while to get used to the time-delay of letter writing. Yesterday I wrote Ali a letter, knowing that she wouldn’t read it for several weeks, and yet planning to get up and call her in New York as soon as I finished the letter. I feel like I’m throwing bottled messages into the ocean.

***

Anyhow, I’m back, I’m home, and I’m just now beginning to settle back into my routine here. Jennie sent me home early from work every day this week because the head-cold I picked up around New Year’s was just killing me. When going to work means increasing your elevation by 1,000 feet, the daily commute becomes a sinus hell. The worst day was the first back, Tuesday, when I drove up to Cedar Crest and then back down to Moriarty and then back up to Tijeras and farther up to Cedar Crest again, changing my elevation every three or so hours. I just wanted to kill myself, or at the very least drill some holes in my skull to release the enormous amount of pressure behind my nasal cavities. In spite of all that, I did manage to finish all of the biggest projects hanging over my head.

I’m still not entirely unpacked, and I’m feeling pressure to get that taken care of and to get the house all nice and clean for Cindy’s visit next week, to hide the fact that I normally live in squalor. One great thing is that the addition of my rocking chair and my old lamp and an old painting from Kevin, along with Danielle’s obsessive game of musical chairs with the artwork on our walls, have come together in a beautiful way to make our living room – for the first time ever – actually feel pretty cozy. Now I just need to do the same for my bedroom, and get rid of Danielle’s 500 empty boxes in our big empty nothing room, and the house will be in fairly good shape for visitors. Inside, at least – the backyard gets more holes in it every week, thanks to my Desert Digging Dog.

Last night I had a two and a half hour long conference with Kevin, in which we firmed up the five main characters in our collaborative project. He made fun of me when we talked about it last week, and seemed to think that the naming of the characters was incidental, but last night he got into it and actually ended up making a bigger deal of things like the characters’ birthdays than I would have (though I was the one who insisted we know the characters’ birthdays in the first place). It was exciting, at the end of our meeting, to have a whole page of fleshed-out characters in front of us, kids with names and birthdays and siblings and parents and hobbies and fears. The oddest moment was when the question of legal issues came up: Kevin made some joke about dumping me and stealing all the rights to our work, and I countered with something about needing the artistic equivalent of a pre-nup, at which point K got serious and said, no seriously, we should get it in writing that we share the intellectual rights to these characters 50-50. I agreed with him, because I know he’s right, but it just feels so... I don’t even know what, premature maybe? Or just incongruous. Like, why in the world would we need a legal agreement, why would we need to put this in writing, when this collaboration is just an experiment, just a project? I see that our different reactions say something about each of us as artists, and about the way we see this project – and all projects, really. Kevin’s very idealistic, and very money oriented, which you’d have to be in order to be supporting yourself as an artist, whereas I’m more modest in my vision, more experimental, more process-oriented. Which one of us is the more realistic in terms of this project remains to be seen.

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