Suicide Girl Is Here

I’m sitting in my best neighborhood coffeehouse, it’s 3:00 p.m., and I’m writing in Word because this place has no WiFi. (I’ll post this later.)

Right now I’m thinking, Is that blond boy with the modified mohawk and Keen bicycle messenger bag Colin?

I feel urgent, wanting to write this post. I don’t know why. For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the girl the blond boy has just joined. I wish I’d brought my camera. I want a picture. I don’t know why. I’m worried about her, this beautiful girl with the nose ring, black eyeliner, and skinny purple jeans. The only reason I’m here is because I hoped she’d be here.

Something’s unfolding with her in a big way. But this is probably just me creating a story. I realize this about myself. I understand the difference between fiction and reality. Most of the time anyhow.

Today she’s smiling and engaged in her conversation with Blond Boy, who may or may not be Colin, but who is definitely not her usual after-school companion. So which one of the two boys is Colin?

I truly want to know if this Colin is going to break her heart. Or, if Colin is going to help her to not commit suicide. I suspect she’s suicidal. But then, again, I can’t know—maybe she’s only a drama queen.

I first noticed this girl, who is a writer and a reader, a few weeks ago with her usual companion, the boy with the white plastic belt and falling-off jeans. In my day (yikes, am I that old?), their topic of conversation was a taboo subject. But these two spoke about it as if about whether or not they’d smoked cigarettes that day. I was seated next to them. I admit that I was caught off guard, shocked you might say.

She said, Congratulate me, I didn’t try to kill myself today.

He said, Congratulations, jeez, I’m really proud of you.

Something, something, something that I don’t remember, and then he responded, But if you want to keep the pills down wrap them up in gum…

I know, right? The conversation was so nonchalant—scarily so—and maybe I would have set it aside as the latest in teenage-angst talk except that a week later the girl, who has porcelain skin and eyes the color of spring, sat at this community table writing a “Dear Colin” letter. Bruises ran up and down her arms, and an industrial-sized bandage wrapped her left wrist. A novel sat beside her: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Oh, here comes her usual companion but with a yellow plastic belt and a female buddy in tow. I peg the group as creative/hipster outsiders like Molly Ringwold in “Pretty in Pink.” I’m glad to see the girl clowning with her friends even though she’s none of my business.

Actually, I do know the “why” about all of this. I suspect that my prurience has everything to do with my desire—my anxiety, my internal steam build-up—to discover the idea for my next novel.

End of an Era

threefriends11I’m coming at you live from a cafe called Three Friends. As a sign of my mood, sitting around a coffee house rates as positive.

Yesterday I received my first paycheck in a long while. Thus, my writing grant time-off officially ends.

It was great while it lasted. Too bad I had preposterous hopes during that time, namely that I wouldn’t have to work a day-job ever again, that I’d land that publishing deal, that yadda yadda yadda…

threefriends3I won’t dwell on the only-ifs like I won’t dwell on the fact that my time-off was supposed to last until July, 2009. Bloody economy.

Officially, I’m now an Instructional Designer. A fancy term for writing training material. I found an ongoing contracting gig with a family-run company that manages outsourced documentation projects for a certain gynormous software corporation.

I made it out the other end of my turmoil, and I’m no longer depressed or panicked. In fact, in the spirit of positivism for 2009, let me count all the ways my new gig is good:

1. First and foremost, I’ll still have time for fiction. I’m predicting that the new gig will be part-time with full-time spurts, and I’m predicting that because of its deadlines, I’ll become more efficient all around.

2. I’m astounded at how well it pays. (Thanks to bottomless gynormous-corporation coffers.)

threefriends23. This is a better fit for me than the salaried job I left behind, which enervated me in the biggest way even though it, too, was part-time, from home. (Key word: “salaried.” Meaning: still enmeshed in a corporate culture with its 1-on-1s, meetings, boss politics, and performance reviews.)

4. I can take on as much or as little work as I want, which means that I can still take writing sabbaticals and travel if I want. (In fact, I might have to go on another mini-writing retreat here soon!)

5. This is going to sound backwards but finding this gig halted my desperation to land that publishing contract now. I can go back to taking my sweet time, concentrating on craft and my next story.

6. I’m used to living lean — I’m pretty simple anyhow — but a little leeway will be nice. I love summer sandals! And a pedicure now and then? Heaven!

On Boundaries and Floating and Grounding

I. On boundaries, or, the lack thereof

Anyone who read yesterday’s post and who’s familiar with me might have thought, yikes, not another one of Lisa’s moody-writer days.

So it was. But it was also more than that. For months, I’ve felt untethered, which might explain the impetus to adopt a dog back in June. What could be more grounding than picking up poop? And I might be in need of grounding because, well, let’s examine all the ways in which I have no boundaries:

  • The big one: no job. No need to get up on a schedule, so I don’t. No automatic begin and end brackets to the day, or the week.
  • Not a mommy. There are oodles of women out there who don’t work in the traditional sense, but they’re raising kids. Talk about a grounded existence!
  • Single at the moment. Relationships provide boundaries. Go to bed nearabouts the same time, get up nearabouts the same time, eat dinner together, stuff like that.
  • Funky sleep cycles. Since I have no schedule, over the course of months I fall asleep later and later, and sleep more and more fitfully. This goes on for awhile until I wake up, as I did yesterday, exhausted and undone. Then I reboot myself back to 11:00 p.m. to begin the insidious cycle again.
  • Iffy personal hygiene and general dishevelment. Shower? If I feel like it. Hair? What about it, it’s naturally curly — it’s supposed to look like this. Clean clothes? Bah, no one’s going to smell me today. Makeup? Come on now, don’t be like that.

II. On floating, or, my weird day

I know exactly zero people with my lifestyle: living alone and working from home. There’s the folks who work from home but have families/significant others. Then, there’s the folks who live alone but leave home for work. Either way, they bounce themselves off their boundaries each day, and aren’t boundaries a fundamental source of comfort and security whether or not we care to admit it?

This is what I’m talking about, this floating sense of living outside everyday reality. Yesterday, I felt bizarre with it. And it didn’t help that atmospherics from the atmosphere lent the air a post-apocalyptic orange haziness.

I thought to accomplish one task — just one, the easiest. So, I brought a research book I’d already read and highlighted to — you guessed it — a local cafe. Fat City Cafe is a classic neighborhood greasy spoon (est. 1974) with green leatherette booths, a counter reminiscent of an old-time soda fountain, and walls covered with signs and license plates.

Unfortunately, sitting around a cafe dosing on humanity and eavesdropping on others’s boundaries, didn’t ease my floaty-ness. I tried to chat with the cute guy who worked there, but that didn’t ground me. And instead of browsing the highlighted text for possible inspiration, I stared at the colorful walls. I left after a turkey sandwich and coffee, and stepped into the orange haze to float my dog up and down the block.

Home again, I slept hard, and I mean hard, for an hour-and-a-half. Woke up with headache. Floated around the apartment. Scratched the dog’s belly. Prepared sugar-free, fat-free butterscotch pudding and ate every last bite while watching second-season “Weeds” episodes.

III. On grounding, or, I’m working on it

At the end of the day, what did I learn? Nothing. I know that I created this writer’s life of mine. I own my choices in doing so. I own the consequences of those choices. For now, because I’m writing in a boundary-less bubble (image works for me), I’ll have days like yesterday. I’ll write funky posts on this blog. My emotions will rollercoaster more than I consider normal for me. It won’t help that I’ll continue inhabiting fictional worlds much of the time.

Who’s life isn’t a work-in-progress? In this, at least, I’m no different than anyone else.

Ode to a Neighborhood Cafe

kodigoodbyesign.jpgAn era has ended, and I hadn’t realized I was in a mini-funk until today.

I previously mentioned Kodi’s in this post. Alas, Kodi’s is yet another independent coffee house to bite the dust. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m at a loss. I mean really, how can a coffee house closure mean so much?

The answer is complicated because it relates to an internal conflict I face each writing day: I’m prone to restlessness (with routines), rebelliousness against “the man” (which means against myself since I’m my own boss), and nocturnal habits (yet I don’t write well at night). 

The challenging part of my writing life is what I call “being a good girl,” which means me — the restless, rebellious, nocturnal woman — fashioning a work week around dull and clean-living habits. This requires more self-discipline out of me than the writing itself!

Unfortunately, to pseudo-quote The Shining by Stephen King: All work and no play makes Lisa a dull girl (with a blocked brain). I have to work with my restless, rebellious self, not banish it. I’ve tried banishment: disaster. Thus, my optimal writing life must also include room for impulsive, procrastinatory, random people-time, which pacifies my bad-girl tendencies just enough to keep me balanced, happy, and writing (happier still).

To this end, Kodi’s was the perfect outlet and therefore crucial to my writing life. Kodi’s was a neighborhood coffee house with a crew of regulars — at least one of whom was sure to be lounging around when I entered — and an owner who became a friend.

Last Thursday during the wake we held after Kodi’s final day, I realized that I wasn’t the only discomposed regular. Our talk over beers and fancy alcoholic coffee drinks revolved around the next nearest cafe and whether it had plush chairs and decent mochas and friendly baristas and WiFi.

My writing life aside, our conversation got me thinking that in our rush-rush-rush, depersonalized world, the break-up of any family — even our rag-tag crew of Kodi’s eccentrics — is ample cause for a mini-funk. I’ll find a new outlet to assuage my bad-girl tendencies; however, I wonder how easily I’ll find such a merry and welcoming coffee-house community.