Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Terrifying Parallel

Her pores are deep and personal. On her right shoulder, a scab; sometimes she scratches herself raw.  You see the scab when she Fouett├ęs. You see her ribs, frailty, the sad, straining eyes of an artist striving for perfection.  Then, because you  spend hours writing and rewriting (shit, all of it), because you have a scar from when you buried the Bic pen in your wrist, because you know what it's like, Christ, you know what it's like; you cry.  

This is why you go to the movies.  You want to feel.  With her performance, Natalie Portman reaches between your ribs and rips out the sleepless, eatless nights.  The parallel is terrifying.  Haunted and red-eyed, you draw perfect circles and splatter them with paint.  You write stories that you hate.   She's a dancer; you're a painter, a writer, a photographer.  You're an actor.  You're dying to get it right.  Just this once, you want to get it right.

Black Swan is a two hour film that's over in fifteen minutes.  In Requiem for a Dream, director Darren Aronofsky masters time; in Black Swan he transcends it, taking you to the place where art lives.  The score rattles your bones.  Tchaikovsky's original Ballet Suite evaporates the theater, leaving you alone with a screen deep enough to be a mirror.

On the car ride home you rest your forehead against the window, watching the film on closed eyelids.  You run to your room and turn on Tchaikovsky.  You close the door.  You write:

Black Swan is a terrifying parallel.
Forgot about the theater;
See the film again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A letter to J.D. Salinger, to be read with the pages slightly bent, on the train from Rutgers to Penn Station

Mr. Salinger,

You created me.

I thought of Hemingway. I thought of Eliot, Faulkner, and, bless my heart, I thought of her, that patron saint of women going to college in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Sylvia Plath. I never read her; She just seemed like someone I should think of. According to my father (a reliable source, who, no longer interested in teaching literature, drives to Pittsburgh and drinks with Jewish politicians, returning most nights to his study to write, not type, but write, what I imagine is the tired, parenthetical commentary of someone stuck looking out a window), she committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven.

Curious, I turned the dial on

our gas stove to 400 F and jammed my scalp into the wrinkling air.

It wasn't even hot. Two disappointing minutes later, I retracted my scalp. Plath, it seemed, had the luxury to dedicate an entire evening to dying, a luxury I desired, but, on my student budget, couldn't afford.

My luxury was detachment. It was a privilege especially for, but not limited to, those on student budgets. Like a plastic bag in the wind, I brushed over the pavement in an anonymous train of fence posts and carousel horses. Shuffling along, observing much, experiencing little, I bumped into Holden Caulfield. Our connection was instant. You know what they say: when a body meets a body coming through the rye...

I was a 5 year old in an 18 year old body. I watched Nickelodeon cartoons. A lot of kids smoked when they were bored. I didn't smoke, though the habit came highly recommended, and I liked to watch my classmates roll cigarettes. In the honors program I encountered boys who quoted Nietzsche but who never slept outside, and girls who, despite their Goodwill-thrifting,kept their heads in the oven. They were phony, and I was phony for thinking they were phony. Not wanting to judge, unsure of who I was, I did what any girl with a father subscribing to the Times Literary Supplement would do: I stopped eating.

I was a lot like my father. The less I ate the more I looked out my window.

It was in this rib-caged state that I read Franny and Zooey.

"It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so--I don't know--not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid, necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless--and sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much as everybody else, only in a different way."

She was right, Franny, God she was right. I kept reading.

"You raved and you bitched when you came home about the stupidity of audiences. The goddam 'unskilled laughter' coming from the fifth row. And that's right, that's right — God knows it's depressing. I'm not saying it isn't. But that's none of your business, really. That's none of your business, Franny. An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's.

I started eating potatoes.

"Seymour'd told me to shine my shoes just as I was going out the door with Waker. I was furious. The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damn well wasn't going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour. I said they couldn't see them anyway, where we sat. He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and so I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again — all the years you and I were on the program together, if you remember. I don't think I missed more than just a couple of times. This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and — I don't know. Anyway, it seemed goddam clear why Seymour wanted me to shine my shoes when I went on the air. It made sense."

Then, finally, I cried.

"I don't care where an actor acts. It can be in summer stock, it can be over a radio, it can be over television, it can be in a goddam Broadway theatre, complete with the most fashionable, most well-fed, most sunburned-looking audience you can imagine. But I'll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. Don't you know that? Don't you know that goddam secret yet? And don't you know — listen to me, now — don't you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy."

J.D., your book changed my life. It fed me, shinned me shoes, and pushed me on stage. It saved me. I'm not a poet, only a freak user of words, but I keep writing, if only for you and for the fat lady--If only for Christ Himself.

I know you're still there, reading the December issue of The New Yorker, riding the train from Rutgers to Penn Station. I hope this letter finds you, because you always tell the truth, because you can look at beauty and not want any of it for yourself, because you saved me, because you're a slightly-balding man who deserves a letter from a slightly-starving girl.


C.C. Welsh

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Resolutions for a Classy Lady

I just closed the cover on what trashionista.com calls the "face of chick lit" : Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. The book, for me, was a throw back. In high school, I went through a Jane Austen phase, a three month period where I read Pride & Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park. I also watched the BBC 1995 film adaptation of Persusasian enough times to have Wentworth's last speech engraved on my eardrums:

"Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant."

For me, Wentworth, not Darcy, is the quintessential Austen hero. While in England I stayed in Bath, the city where Persusian takes place. Standing before a Roman townhouse was a statue of Jane herself, brunette and bonneted just as I imagined her.

Bridget Jones's Diary is undoubtably a nod in Austen's direction. It's in the spirit of Bridget, as well as in the spirit of every Austen heroine (except the annoying ones that spend 10 pages talking about ribbon), that I pen this list of resolutions to aid in my development as A Classy Lady:

will maintain ballerina posture

will refine laughter so sound less like llama

will not vandalize bathroom stalls with mantra "Live, Love, Fuck"

will cease theft from Goodwill

will take calcium supplement

will cease use of word "legit"

will buy less lattes

will buy less, in general

will fit back in size 2 skinny jeans

will get 8 hours of sleep (per night, not per week)

will write or paint every day

while writing or painting, will not open Facebook tab on Firefox

will stop talking in doorways

will stop pretending diet soda is okay

will stop making fun of hipsters

will read more Dostoyevsky

will read less James Patterson

will, at all costs, stop talking like Bob Dylan

will manicure nails

Will use Bath & Body Works products

will watch more black & white movies

will cease pursuit of men who look like Che

These I seal with a kiss.

Friday, December 3, 2010

stuttering fool

I'm an ink blot, an out-of-tune piano jarring C-sharp. Dog-earring the pages of your book, I spill coffee on your IKEA armchair. I'm a ballerina tripping over Converse. When I talk, it is always too loud. I stutter. My fingers grease your car window. That night, I squabbled Beatles lyrics in the radiator mist:

Day After day, alone on the hill
the man with the foolish grin 
is keeping perfectly still

It was your favorite album until I scratched it.  You told me a million times not to clean your records, that you would take care of it, but that didn't stop me from scrubbing the vinyl with steel wool.  Now, the song buzzes and skips.  Paul McCartney sings with a stutter; his blackbird is an angry cockatoo.  I wanted to buy you a new record, but gave the money to a man with a styrofoam cup instead.  

 The night you turned twenty-three, I was climbing a mountain of Brillo boxes. I didn't know it was your birthday, or that you were alone.  When I found out, I started to draw you a picture, but stopped when The Simpsons came on.  

I never finish anything.  My canvases are half-painted, stories half-written.  Half-empty glasses litter my bedroom, waiting to be spilled.  

 I don't apologize for missing your birthday, or offer to wipe the window of your car.  Instead, I give you half a yellow moon.  Shoelaces untied, I race you to the top of the hill, pointing as I stutter "s-s-sky!"

But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,
But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The air is cold and wild

In the woods there are two stone lions, the kind that rich people keep by their doors.  One is missing a head.  Rain streaks their bodies, crooked lumps that squelch the earth like gravestones.  They say that if everyone died today, it would take 20,000 years for all traces of humanity to disappear.  

New York will be a jungle, not of concrete ,but of fat, slow growing trees.  Magnolias will bloom in the local Wal-mart. Across the street, a parking lot will sink under leaves, shit, and dead animals.  A fawn will be born where my bedroom used to be.

Someone dumped a TV by the side of the railroad tracks. 

 My parents just bought a new TV, one of those sleek, 2D screens that take up  a whole wall.  The first movie they watched on it was 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

They didn't watch much TV after that. 

 The Railroad Crossing sign reminds me of a crucifix. 

 I wonder what Jesus would think of TV. Except for saturday morning cartoons, I don't think he'd watch much.

The railway tracks are where I go when I want to escape, listen to Bob Dylan, or get run over.  I like the open spaces, the lines that go on forever like the perspectives I used to draw in art class.  The air is cold and wild.  There's no grocery store architecture, only ruins of a time before fences.  I'll be a ruin too, someday.  They'll dump my bones by the tracks next to the TV, all the while wondering why I never got rid of the crayons at the bottom of my purse.
I keep the crayons for two reasons.  The first is so I can draw sunsets for waitresses.  I'm too poor to leave a tip, so I leave sunsets on the napkins instead.  I hope the sunsets help them forget that they've been working for six hours, or that their shoes are too small, or that the woman at table 11 is a vegan bitch.

I also keep the crayons in case of emergency.  If a guy shoves a gun in my ear and says "draw me a sunset or I'll pull the trigger", I'll whip them out and draw him a sunset so beautiful, he'll die looking at it.  His gun will clank on the pavement where, 20,000 years in the future, a dandelion is bobbing in the wind.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

fashion is a fairy tale

"It's a story," I say.  I should be looking at the camera, but instead stare at the bone trees.

"Why is it a story?" asks Jing.

"Because--" I found this scarf under a marshmallow sky, walking with people I don't remember.  My cardigan scratches like the carpet in my dad's study.  My mittens came from a peddler.  They were twelve dollars, but he gave them to me for five.  He said he liked my smile.  My coat is black with gold buttons that remind me of winter in St. Petersburg, of ballerinas and officers who don't shave.  I've never been to Russia, though I'd like to go, someday.  "Because it has a beginning, a middle, and, like the books you read over and over, no end."

I don't know if my response is documentary material.  I should have referenced Twiggy, or Jimi Hendrix's band jacket, still lingering on the runways like a purple haze.

Jing interviews Nick about men's fashion.  He says it's evolving.  Prep schools now ply dumpsters for uniforms.  Tommy Hilfiger has five o' clock shadow: "These ain't yo daddy's khaki pants."

  After the interview, I read Slaughter House Five.  It's the only book I can reread without getting bored. Underlines and exclamation points jungle the pages.  I draw a sun next to my favorite quote:

There was a party where everyone smoked and spoke like Dr. Seuss.   While there, I painted the quote on a strip of canvas. 
The words remind me of stories in big, paisley books: the great fairy tale of fashion, a story where everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

tuna fish: my first post

Indiana, PA is a small town where grocery shopping is a profoundly social experience. I used to watch the cart-boy roll steel caterpillars across the parking lot, secretly pledging my love as my mom listened to Mrs. Duntley talk about the new pastor, or the price of lottery tickets, or how nobody made their own pie crust anymore. The cart-boy drove a red truck and mowed our lawn every Thursday. His dad, Fred, painted our house. His mom's family owned Donitellos, the Italian restaurant that my parents said was good even though they didn't have peanut butter sandwiches.

The Historical Society said that Jimmy Stewart grew up in the house next to mine. I didn't believe them. Jimmy Stewart never lived in Indiana. He grew up in a world where "As Time Goes By" drifts out of Ingrid Bergman's window as Alfred Hitchcock reads the Evening Post in a phone booth, scanning headlines about cowboys, diamonds, and stone women who crumble when men dare to say "I love you." This is where Jimmy Stewart spent his childhood; not in some dopey gingerbread town, but in a city made of cigarette smoke.

Like Stewart, I grew up in somone else's short story. Because I went grocery shopping, I knew everybody. I lost my first tooth, graduated high school, and got drunk knowing everybody. When I woke up, the entire neighborhood said "good morning, you're looking thin."

I watched movies and dreamed of other worlds. Sometimes, I went to the coffee shop and read about people who took drugs. The Barrista's name was October Surprise. It used to be Cole, but he changed it because he's a sociologist and wants you to think about things like gender identity. I complained to him about the editor of the campus paper who cut my articles to make room for Dr. Hatcher's Hair Laser Removal ads.

"Print is dead." He shrugged. "The sooner newspapers face reality, the better."

I didn't agree with him. I liked newspapers because they were ephemeral. The idea of someone reading my article one minute and wrapping their tuna fish in it the next made me swell like a hot-air balloon.

Print will never die. I'm starting a blog because I can't reach people in China from the back of a coffee shop napkin. The Internet, like a good movie, connects me to other worlds. No English professors will teach this blog in their classrooms. It is my sincerest hope, however, that they use it to wrap their tuna fish.

I can't turn the pages of Google like the pages of an old book. Nor does my computer smell anything like my copies of Alice in Wonderland (cinnamon, grass, and dry paint) or On The Road (apple pie and the inside of a rental car).

Reading print is like looking out a train window: the view is always changing.