April 20, 2020

A Preamble

Friends! To begin, thank you. To expand, a letter about the ones to come:

"Time doesn't exist in the Q," Mary says to me. If it does, she is drinking a quart jar of draft cider mixed with two shots of tequila at three o'clock in the afternoon - a concoction that she calls sun tea - and moving in and out of the shade off of Main Street in her briefs: sunburnt and hungover and effervescent. I haven’t seen her in two years and now we’re both home, with her residency cancelled and my employment terminated. I hear her voice skip down the street as I pass the Post Office, quickening my step in its direction.

On the news they say that dating apps have experienced a substantial rise in messaging but say nothing about the merit of the United States Postal Service. They bring on a professional to warn against getting too serious too fast but are silent in regards to the dangers of privatization. All of my digital platforms keep telling me how to communicate digitally. To ask, What are your plans tonight? Or say, It’s okay to be sad.

I am sleeping in my childhood bedroom and wanting to be both in love and alone, cursed with remembered pubescence. Meanwhile, everyone is playing Animal Crossing. People in metropolitan areas are fishing virtual fish and selling them at the store while my brother and my parents and I are taking turns shooting pop cans off the fence. If I were Matisse in 1941 and accepting visitors I would say to them, "Basically, I enjoy everything; I am never bored."

When I was young and would complain to my mother about having nothing to do, she would tell me to run laps around the house. I reference this often as an anecdote about when I used to appreciate physical exertion, but I am realizing that it is perhaps more useful with self-reliance as the moral. In essence, that is what this newsletter will be: my laps around the house, my letter in the mail, my underwear on Main Street.

I tell my mom about this project and she says, " I hope you have enough to write about. I'm sorry we don't have all the bells and whistles here... but of course, all the bells and whistles are closed." I am with my family in the country. I see more deer than people in a day. I find that it’s the familiar voice ringing from two blocks down that soothes my longing, not What are your quarantine goals?

I abhor the taste of virtual fish. I fear getting too serious too fast. So this is my best solution: to land where I have permission and to receive without request. I want this to be a correspondence, a conjuring of those voices I miss. I want this to fuel itself from week to week; I want to be in love.

These are my dispatches from the pandemic.




May 3, 2020

Gem State Waters

For my co-captains:

Spring is here and Idaho wants to kiss. It knows it shouldn’t, of course, but it looks too good not to. Idaho is young enough, is fit from its work at the grain elevator, and only chews tobacco, never smokes it. Idaho has strong lungs.

It’s the green season and three years since I’ve seen it. All the tones and textures are layered like opium den carpets across the hills and Zach disagrees about its beauty. “It’s land man-made,” he tells me, “people out there in combines making money off it. There should be trees. Where are the trees?” He thinks it foul, like the smell of laundry detergent wafting from the homes of strangers and into his nostrils unsolicited.

MFK Fisher writes about what she calls Sea Change. Sea Change being something we all know about, something in our blood that understands the tugging of the moon and the tides of the ocean. It is any action, once inconceivable on land, performed calmly and comfortably. It is anything powerful and strange that occurs in us when living out of sight of the shore.
Where I grew up is always a point of confusion in my relationships. Palouse is my hometown: roughly 1,000 people on the Eastern edge of Washington. Garfield is the neighboring town where I went to middle school and where my eldest brother lives now, his family of five contributing to the total 618 residents. Pullman, where Washington State University resides and where I worked all my summer jobs, boasts the nearest bowling alley, shopping mall, Wal-Mart Super Center, and Starbucks.

I use Idaho and Washington interchangeably because, mentally, I know when I cross the border. I grew up camping on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River, with many of my happiest days and nights spent in Idaho. I lived in Moscow for a year out of college; 20 minutes away from my parents, it's the Gem State’s locational equivalent to Pullman and its superior in every other regard. There’s Deary too, with about 520 residents and easily one of the best restaurants in a 32-mile radius. Potlatch has Floyd’s Market, Fiddler’s Ridge, and the old swimming hole I would sneak off to at 16.

Idaho is in stage one of its reopening, permitting 90 percent of businesses to unbolt their doors this month. It wags its finger about proper protocol, but never shut down the gun shops that claimed to be “essential.”

My boat has crossed the border into Gem State waters. I may be at sea but I can sense it: the divide reaching down to the earthen floor. Surrounded by land and none of us can see it, possessed by our own primitive and invisible needs. Fisher writes, “That voyage was the one that made me most mistrust myself, alone to face sea change. I was full of a slow misery of loathing for what was happening to make all the people around me act as they must.”

Idaho is standing too close. Its smile is naked and predatory: simultaneously acknowledging and dismissing my fears. It’s wearing buffalo plaid: clean and proud and broad chested, with freedom on its lips.


May 18, 2020

Lilac Tinted Bandana

For my far-away friends:

I’m on the phone with Emma. I say something like, “I was in The Moscow Building Supply and everyone was looking me. I know that I always say that but this time it was true. People’s eyes were locking onto my eyes… like the amount of contact has been magnified.” To which she responds, “I was in line at the pharmacy with my mask on, and there was another lady with her mask on, and she made eye contact with me. I could tell she was smiling. It’s real. It’s depth as well as frequency.”

There is a certain romance to the facemask, in my opinion. It gives more importance to the subtleties, the nuances of interaction. What we can communicate with a flash of the iris or a slight shift of the cheek is now more intimate.

Tom Robbins wrote a book entitled Skinny Legs and All, which Rachel has been insisting I read for months. I like Robbins, I do. He is an important author in the way that he depicts women as having real sexual feeling – groundbreaking! – but also makes it very apparent that he considers that to be the most important personality trait of any female character. That is not to say that his male characters are less horny, just more complex.

A recent study from 2019 explored these hedonic questions: those of intimacy and ambiguousness, not of Tom Robbins’ cheap sunglasses. After partially obscuring the faces of subjects, Javid Sadr and Lauren Krowicki had participants rank the appeal of each one. What they found was that fifty percent less face produced forty percent more attractiveness; that reduced visual input increased perceived beauty.

Along with a personified Can O’ Beans, Silver Spoon, Dirty Sock, Conch Shell, and Painted Stick in Skinny Legs and All, there is the Shoe King of Long Island, also known as Joshua “Spike” Cohen. Robbins informs us on page 129 that this character “was twelve years old before he ever saw a human toe other than his mama’s or his own.” Apparently, Spike’s mother’s family fled Russia on foot with only their thin leather street shoes. By the time they reached Germany, every Cohen family toe had to be amputated as a result of severe frostbite. Spike’s sparing experiences with feet in their complete form thus stemmed an obsession for those lower appendages of women, and then for their shoes as well.

I’m in Mary’s yard and I’m wearing sneakers. A big white truck honks from the street on the school hill and I wave. “Who was that?” she asks, turning around in her lawn chair. I tell her that I have no idea, that recognition in general is often a problem for me. I cannot tell anyone’s age and, whether from poor eyesight or anxiety, rarely recognize a face out of context. “I don’t know a single Aquarius who doesn’t experience face blindness,” she tells me.

Tom Robbins is a Cancer. A website tells me that his color is “white with silver sparkles,” that he senses the world in unusual ways, and that if you had to describe him in one word that word would be “intimate.” While all of this is undeniable, the website fails to mention that he can rarely be surpassed in imagination. I will not attempt to do so now, but I will say that I understand Spike’s situation a little more clearly than I may have before this pandemic. I rarely consider the facemask itself, instead I ruminate on what it’s protecting. I wonder how we will value the lips, the jaw lines, the grimaces, the crooked teeth, the freckles, the enthusiasms, the multi-colored beard hairs, the dimples, the wrinkles, the expressions, the blemishes after this journey.

Gary is a man, older than me, who lives below the Palouse Yoga Studio. He is wearing pink-framed reading glasses and is hard of hearing. Seeing me, he adjusts his lilac tinted bandana and yells “MASK-IT OR CASKET!” I can tell that he is smiling.


May 25, 2020

My Favorite Ghosts

There is a specific temperature that Robby's shower reaches that unlocks a memory of his younger self, also showering. He suggests that our being inside is firing up old neural pathways gone dormant: the now empty sidewalks of the mind full to bursting with memories, like weeds finally free to grow through the cracks.

I don’t cry much but, when I do, it is reminiscent of that final desert scene from Holes: the one where it rains at Camp Greenlake and the great-great-granddaughter of that awful gold-toothed racist never gets to look at the treasure. Except that I have begun crying in my sleep, waking up to inexplicable sorrow – the dreams usually gone but the feelings lingering like ghosts.

I’m on my hands and knees cleaning the tile in front of the toilet, where, I am convinced, all men will pee at one point or another. Then I am on Rue de l’Abreuvoir with Holly and Rachel and Harrison. Everything is a cold pink, that low blush of exerted cheeks. It’s so vivid that I can hold the feeling there even as the cobbled streets of Paris turn back into old linoleum.

Whether it is because I am again walking the hills of my earliest memories or whether it is because I suppress too much of my emotion, I am constantly being soaked by the showers of recollection. History inserts itself like a Kissing Kate Barlow interlude and waking feels like sleeping.

It’s April 5 and pale spring sun sifts through the blinds of my childhood bedroom. Celebratory cinnamon rolls are being baked in the kitchen and Washington light is grinning through its blue bulb, forever masquerading as wintertime. It is my first morning in the house since my two-week quarantine and, as I wake, I get the distinct feeling that it is Christmas day.

Apparently, lower atmospheric pressure means lower temperature and lower temperature, in general, means more precipitation. This is what my body has been experiencing. It has nowhere to be at any specific time and rarely a specific thought to think. It's less pressurized and infrequently overheated. All it's clouds are moving around, they're making funny shapes.
I wonder whether this is okay, to not know whether I am seeking the memories out or whether they are seeking me. People pull weeds! People have jobs! People don’t care about the 1965 1st Perennial Classic Edition of Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies a Swan! People keep some neural pathways dormant! People carry umbrellas!

Here, it's raining. I am taking Polaroid snapshots of my favorite ghosts. I am turning the shower's temperature dial.


December 4, 2020

Bisexual Bundt Cake

At the Horseshoe Inn in Burns, Oregon we all three wake up slowly: the tiny trashcan full with old half-sandwiches and empty 40 ounce cans. Frost covers the expanse of grass at the center of the motel’s half circle and, as the sun is just rising through the curtain, she briefly wraps her arm around me.

In my hometown, I am twenty-six and watching my way through stacks of queer VHS tapes. The Midnight Cowboy soundtrack plays in the background of my summer months, bringing with it the shape of the word “gay” on a woman’s dyed lips… the shame of a heavy club foot.

Winter now, my hair is thin and dry and lazy. It stumbles loosely down the paths of my neck paved one morning by her fingertips, lines of soft shadow cast by a yellow sun through lace.

In 1972, three years after the release of Midnight Cowboy, a mother writes in to Life magazine with a revelation. “I have started sewing decoration to the end seams of all my son’s shirts,” she says, “and now he’s great about tucking in his tails!”

Somewhere else, a video of a young model circulates the internet. She delivers a bundt cake to her unwitting parents, setting it down in front of them and standing back expectantly as they read the pink frosting aloud. “I’m… bisexual?” the dad announces. Everyone cries.

Me? I’m up late and thinking about the Wachowski sisters and complexity, about the way a leather dress fits a body. A black cotton t-shirt, weighted with guns. I’m wondering whether my sexuality will always be trimmed with that same erotic wrong-doing, whether I will continue to tuck it in.

This letter is my bisexual bundt cake, my queer movie, my visible decoration… just as unnecessary and, with any luck, just as therapeutic.