It’s Hot Up Here
New York City, like most of the planet, has been enveloped in a heat wave for the past couple of weeks. Until around 4:30 this morning, at 82 degrees and 68% humidity, I’d managed to avoid turning on my air conditioning (I know this sounds pompous, but fuck it: I figure it’s the least I can do for the earth). But yesterday, walking to and from the farmer’s market, I heard or saw a half dozen ambulances, and not counting Covid or other catastrophes the only other times you experience that here are during heat waves—heat stroke victims who live on the eighth floor, say, and can’t afford to own or run an air conditioner (55%-70% of our incomes are spent on rent here). Friday evening I was pulling garbage to put out for my co-op apartment complex (only 17 units, could be worse with a super on vacation), and even with help and being fully hydrated I had to stop to get more water, rest, breathe. And I had to wear a mask for the smell, and latex gloves (that became filled with sweat), so that didn’t help. The air quality is bad, too. Oil, engines, machines. I awoke in wee hours today, as I say, hearing my 88-year-old mother’s words on the phone yesterday, “Don’t die,” and broke my vow. Sure, I’ll live another day in the mid to upper 90s, but to what end?
Calm My Ass
Scrolling through the ol’ Instagram at 5 AM as I drank ice water and waited for the cool air to kick in, I came across an ad for a popular meditation app. There are three signs, it flashed up in meaningful words, that I might be “emotionally detached”:
- Neglecting your needs or depriving yourself of pleasures
[Warning: lack of parallelism coming up. -ed.]
- You are numbing yourself with social media, food, or alcohol
- You feel inadequate and alone
So…Tuesday? Because isn’t this everyone on the planet who is guided by love, at this point? (Note: All kinds of five-star ratings and quotations came up, too, encouraging me to “face my fears” and “become a new person”…by, what, shutting off?) I mean, did you watch the eighth Jan. 6 hearing? I think Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) summed up the week’s news well with this tweet:
This app ad got me realizing that in fact I don’t want to be peaceful. Far from it. I want a fire in my belly. I want to feel engaged, alert, excited. I’m tired of feeling tired, sick, inert. This world is on fire. I want to make the dogs bark.
Question from a friend and blog reader: “All your blogs have a very specific rhythm and pattern. Is that intentional?”
Answer: Yes. [Shakes head.] (Also, No. [Nods.])
I also responded, “I’m not sure it’s pleasing. I play with moments.”
I think a voice one “hears” in a letter or blog (which for me is a kind of letter) is as particular as a speaking voice. I think there is an expectation with writing that writers will mix it up a little. Certainly, in my speaking voice, I can become a little bit Southern (from my Virginia background), or a little Midwestern (my folks), or randomly Cockney (natural mimic), depending on my mood and who I’m with. But really, Lisa O’ has one speaking voice. And over time, I’ve developed one writing voice, and I find it only varies when I am writing, say, dialogue for characters. I think it’s okay. (I knew a wonderful professor, Andrea Lunsford, at Bread Loaf who introduced herself at seminars by saying, “As my granny used to say, ‘Andrea, you have a loud but by no means pleasing voice.'”) I mean, you always know it’s a Keith Haring work, or a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, no signature required. And I don’t think you have to be that level of genius to have your own style and say many things within it.
A few years ago, a friend’s son (and he’s my friend, too) and his boyfriend at the time visited my home in Queens. He later told me that I had a very specific aesthetic. When I asked what it was, he paused and thought (we were standing in the Brooklyn Museum, looking at the Judy Chicago installation “The Dinner Party”) and he said, “Dimly lit whimsy.” He smiled.
I think that describes me, my life, my talents, and my writing, too.
Dimly Lit Whimsy
I play with moments. My home aesthetic is born of arranging found and received objects, such as cards and gifts and rocks and pins and books, into vignettes. I play with moments, dimly lit. (I’m not sure I illuminate anything.) Each item in my place came to me at one moment or another, and I assemble and reassemble these moments on my shelves like a story, as I do in my mind, or in a blog post. If I make any “art,” this is about it. I’m not sure there’s any there, there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. I wish I were capable of greater depth, of making real art, for example, but I’m limited to the appreciation of, and at best the arranging/displaying of, the art that others make. (Flashing Sign #3, in red, “inadequate and alone”; very few people see it.)
Whenever I look at pictures of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico, however, I find myself dreaming that I was that person, content with one lovely stone, a clean old bone, a simple wood slab of a table, white walls, bright natural light, maybe two wooden chairs, a desk, a sculpture, one painting.
The way I live, in reality, couldn’t be more the opposite of that. I’m not entirely sure why. Something about a need to feel cozy, to not lose a single memory.
When I started blogging several years ago, on Blogger, I made it my weekly task to hold in my mind all the disparate things that caught my whimsy and use the writing task to arrange a sort of pastiche/synthesis (since the post-modern world is essentially collage) to see if I could find the connective tissue (sorry—mixed media, mixed metaphors) to somehow point to solutions for the troubles of the world. It all came down to education. Everything does. Not merely knowing a lot or being smart, but rather making connections among the things we learn to try to do something with it, to use it, to put in service to something.
I’m not sure that I accomplish anything, and yet I persist, as I’ve noted before. I had a high school friend who always introduced himself with his IQ, 185, and when I reconnected with him decades later, he was still doing that, as if stuck on a tape loop. (Am I stuck on a tape loop? See also, “feeling alone and inadequate.”) Where do we find the inspiration to grow and change?
Dimly lit whimsy: More and more I find myself writing in the dark. Less and less to say. Amidst so much chaos, so much violence, so many opinions, causing, ironically, so much isolation, where to? And like me, I suspect we all desire not so much “quiet” inside ourselves as stability in our outer lives.
I believe this is important. Without stability in our most basic living, it’s hard to become outer directed. And if we don’t create a stable center and combine with a contained fire of purpose, the nihilists win.
In the meantime, as that fucking app reminds us, we eat, we drink. Possibly we read. We watch the January 6 hearings. We vote. Stream a show to binge watch. But there has to be more inside us. And it wants to come out.
So here’s a call to action, to us good, caring folks who need to get off our asses and do what needs to be done, somehow. Right after this heat wave passes.