Spine

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Tonight, I was sitting on the curb drinking a glass of wine—AS WE DO HERE IN CYPRESS PARK, LOS ANGELES—and thinking about the city vs. the country. I’ve read a couple of things lately that have emphasized the difference. Don’t be impressed by my nocturnal musings, please. I was thinking about my immune system. And I was thinking about my skin.

Apparently kids who grow up in the country have stronger immune systems. They’re exposed to dirt, bugs, and swampy muck, and the result is an immune system that can withstand a lot of outside nastiness, unlike those milquetoast city kids who are running our financial centers of industry!!! But cities have their demons, too, and all the pollution of cities is really hard on your skin. Wrinkles. Cancer of the eyeballs. The usual suspects. Anyway, I was just sort of emptily musing about these different places and the various degrees of trouble/salvation they hold.

And then I just thought: whatever. The fact that we even have this dichotomy—city vs. country and all the nuances in between—is amazing. I don’t really care if I’m breathing in a little pollution right now. It’s so incredible that I’m sitting here with my feet—OKAY, MY BIRKENSTOCKS—planted on concrete that covers dirt that covers pipes and water and the army Beyoncé is slowly building underground. It’s pretty incredible that I can see the moon and a few sad stars and that there’s also an electric light over my head. I love that it’s dark out but I can see two teenage girls sitting on the stairs of the school across the street and gossiping. I love that I can see a few ants milling around. And I love that there is such a thing as the country, and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful, and I can see it whenever I want, because there are also things like Rental Cars and Airplanes and Jobs that Pay and Credit Cards For When You’re Really Desperate to Get Out.

AND THEN!!!!! (Never talk to a fiction writer if you want a short story, unless you’re talking to a flash fiction writer, in which case you may have to lean over to hear what they have to say because they will be laying on the ground because most flash fiction has no spine. YEAH, I WENT THERE.)

Then I reached down and touched the concrete.

About a year ago, maybe more, I wrote a flash fiction piece (I AM NOT IMMUNE TO SPINELESSNESS) about the end of the world. Fine, fine, I’ll link to it, go ahead, twist my arm. It was about a mother, in a space station, who watches the world split in half. I felt very emotional when I wrote it. I felt, deeply, how sad it would be if that actually happened. I know that sounds like an obvious thing to say, but just think about it. Ehhhhhh? Are you imagining it? The little grave you dug for your parakeet when you were 7? The name you scratched into that tree and then, embarrassed, tried to scratch out again? The last batch of recycling you threw away, thinking somewhat guiltily that recycling old birthday cards feels wrong but hey, are you supposed to save them all forever?? ALL OF THAT GONE.

And then a couple of weeks ago, I read a submission for Cicada (a hip cool teen mag I freelance for) about…a girl in space watching the world end. In both pieces, the world ends in flame. In both of them, humans watch it happen with a particular gaping nostalgia-tinged grief. And when I say “the world ending,” I mean the world LITERALLY BEING DESTROYED. No zombie apocalypse or global warming happening here. I mean the planet physically blowing up/burning up/cracking apart.

When I stroked the concrete I thought for a second that maybe I was stroking the spine of the planet. Like it was some big animal that we’ve all forgotten about. I actually whispered something to it. I wanted it to know that I remembered it. I just couldn’t bear the thought of Earth not existing anymore. I mean, it’s so amazing! And yes, it has been the unwilling—unwitting?—stage to so many horrors. And all we talk about are those horrors. And we should talk about them. But all this time, under us, has been this great sleeping animal. And I feel like me and this other writer were probably feeling the same way when we wrote those little pieces. Like, we really haven’t appreciated the Planet-ness, the Globe-ness of this earth enough. And the whole thing will probably split open someday. And won’t that be awful. Won’t that be the ultimate sadness.

Human Raising Her Head to the Universe

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Oh, my little site, how I’ve neglected you! And if you think I’ve neglected tori dot gov dot com, you should see my actual journal—poor empty baby.

Like everyone else in the world, I have been very busy. I have been traveling so much, it’s like I think it’s tax-deductible or something! HA! HA! HA! IRS, YOU’RE NOT LISTENING, RIGHT? I’ve been struggling to stay on top of work while simultaneously moving forward with “work”—excuse me, MY LEGACY—which would be the most difficult and highly-ranked gymnastics move in the Olympics if I had anything to say about it. I’ve been editing a dissertation about Ecclesiastes (not mine). I’ve been reading a little book called The Grapes of Wrath which is a really great book to read in California, because you will end up watering the drought-ridden soil with your own unstoppable tears! Steinbeck, WHO KNEW YOU HAD IT IN YOU?! And I recently made a spreadsheet only to discover I have nine different sources of income. You say freelancer, I say TRUST FUND.

I’m only here tonight to make a brief point and also to ease my soul of the burden of having an un-updated website (NOT BLOG). Ahem. Tonight, a favorite album reminded me that it’s so easy to go through life with your head down: focused on your work, your friends, your love, your goals. But one of the things I like best about the world is, well, it’s a WORLD. In a UNIVERSE. And there are certain—shall we say—pieces of art that, I find, have the effect of gently opening me up to the world around me. And it feels insane. It’s the best type of vertigo. These particular books/albums/government secrets thrill me in a very specific way, reminding me that there are so many places to go and so much gorgeous unknown stuff in the world. And it’s not just about geography, but about time, too—people in the past! Can’t forget about them! And speaking of time, what about tesseracts? Which reminds me, I really need to re-read all of Madeline L’Engle— who was one of my favorite authors as a child—because I suspect that going back to her novels would feel like a little personal time-traveling of my own.

I can’t tell you what exactly I’m listening to right now that’s opening up my world/memories/perceptions like this. Because it’s cliché, and because you have to find your own stuff. But only a handful of art gives me this feeling. It’s worth seeking it out. And in my experience, that sort of perception-opening-up, human-raising-her-head-to-the-universe experience mostly only happens after midnight—or if you find yourself so lucky as to be sitting outside somewhere in Europe. Or when you’re counting your millions, but that’s a story for another night.