Andrea Coller's Blog
(note to the reader: i wrote this last monday, in my little notebook as i sat downtown on a pretty day, drinking coffee in a cafe. i would not bother posting it, but it does document one of the rarest of rare things: andrea having a good day.)
the oppressive, cutting winds seem to have finally ceased, and i can not locate a cloud in the sky today. it's still quite cold, but then again, it is february, and in new england, blessings are to be counted for each day that does not contain an ice storm, or a wind chill below zero, as has been the case for the past few days.
i've never thought much about my mood being connected to the weather, as i have always kind of enjoyed thunderstorms and rainy days and such... but there's just something about the mid-winter cold that just gets to me- and the past few freezing days have just happened to coincide with a few non-tragic yet still annoying bad incidents. today, though- my day off- has been wonderful so far. (and just as i wrote that, i'll have you know, i spilled coffee on my ivory sweater. oh, well.)
i slept in. i woke up to sunshine and warmer temperatures. i found everything i needed while shopping, and spent far less for it than i'd imagined i'd have to. and so, on this occasion, my "bad news blog" will be positive- and i would like to salute all the little things that made me smile today.
1- my ipod shuffle. (as apple has decided to get rid of it, i treasure it even more.) it's like my grumpy little child. we have a relationship. she's been in a terrible mood for the past few days, getting stuck on only the saddest, most melancholy songs, and no matter how i skipped around, she only landed on the somber songs, or ones that i didn't feel like listening to. her overachiever sister, the nano, doesn't get out too much, cause i'm afraid of breaking her, but it got so bad that i almost switched. today, however, the shuffle started out with one of my ultimate feel-good songs, grey eye glances' "halfway back," then moved on to warren zevon's "i was in the house when the house burned down," then treated me to a delightful mix of 80s pop, including "you spin me." my little girl had a good day.
2- webs. (www.yarn.com) the greatest yarn store ever. i have become quite knitting-obsessed lately, partially due to my incapacitation and the horrid cold, and partially due to my friendship with an AMAZING knitter, teresa. (read her knitting blog at knit.liquidgirl.org, knitting fans.)
but anyways, webs is apparently a very famous knitting store and warehouse, and as luck would have it, it is in walking distance to my house. my search for "burnt orange" yarn had previously been unsuccessful, as the color that i had picked out and purchased somewhere else for a tidy sum had been deemed "tomato red" by one person, and "netflix red" by another. however, as soon as i walked into webs, with its AMAZING selection and good lighting, i believe i was able to find the perfect shade. in fact, there was so much selection that i literally had armfuls of yarn. and knittters are such wonderful people, that at one point i let out a little whimper of frustration, and a nice woman and her daughter asked what was wrong and ultimately helped me make the right decision. and anyone who knits will appreciate that i was able to get roughly 700 yards of great quality yarn, a set of circulars, and a nice set of double-points for just under 50 dollars. webs, i salute you.
3- last, but most certainly not least, i salute one of the greatest graffiti artists of our time, jasmine.
in the second stall of the downstairs bathroom in thornes' market, there is graffiti on the inside of the door. it stands alone, a black scrawl on a spotless white background. read out loud, it reads, "Jasmine and Leon- been together for three years." but jasmine, you see, was thinking outside the box. she substituted numerals for the boring, spelled-out numbers, so it reads, "Jasmine and Leon, been together 43 years." so i was given a mental picture, a movie of an elderly woman, perched upon the toilet, daydreaming of her husband. she is inspired. she reaches into her oversized old lady purse for a pen, fishes around, and pulls out a ball-point pen from its neat place in her checkbook. she stretches toward the stall door, struggling with all of her might to proclaim her love to the world without falling off of the toilet. (and in my cruel vision, she does fall off- but no one sees, and she's not hurt. i swear it.)
i laughed out loud. thank you jasmine, thank you leon- may you have 43 more happy years together.
shadows are creeping over the mural painted on the brick building next to the parking lot. i want to take another nice little walk before the sun goes down. it does make a difference.
it IS the little things that are important- music, hobbies, laughter... and sunshine. don't underestimate the impact of sunshine, and a little less wind.
I enjoy simplicity. Things that are un-complicated. Non-dramatic. Yet I seem to have developed quite the talent for stumbling into craziness- situations that demand explanations which begin with, "It's a long story, but," and end with, "I guess I'll tell you the rest later."
So I feel as though I'm perceived as one of those people who constantly brings drama around herself, the kind who oh-so passive-agggressively creates "situations" and "scenes" out of an otherwise ordinary life. But you know what, people? It's not that- it's that I'm JUST that unlucky.
If you were to run into me out in the wild and ask me how I am, I'd likely state the apppropriate preamble, then launch into the latest cancer/dating/work/artistic "situation," and after a few minutes, you will look at your watch, or make eye contact with your next customer, and I will say, "I guess I'll tell you the rest later."
I don't mean to do it. I just know a lot of people, and am horrible at keeping in touch, so when I see you, I want to get it out. And oh, I forgot- I'll probably tell you I'll call you later to fill you in on the rest, and we'll catch up. I will then forget, think of it a few days later, and assume that you hate me now.
I'm no drama queen. Maybe I used to be, when I was very small, before the varitable cornucopia of drama that is cancer was heaved upon me by fate. (It won't help my argument when I tell you that my parents used to call me Little Sara Bernhardt.) I loved a good fight with my siblings, where I'd let them bully me, then I'd get to cry and play the victim. "Oh, fates! Why have you possessed them with such enending cruelty? My Barbies are headless! They'll NEVER see their dream house again, NEVER again experience the majesty of both working and being served at the Barbie McDonald's! Ohhhh!"
It went away.
The moment something truly, truly awful happened to me, the urge to create a scene, to cause worry to others for the sake of attention, evaporated from my mind. Now I say things like, "Please don't worry about me," and I actually mean it.
So you see, it's not that I'm overdramatic anymore, it's really just that I'm very unlucky and bad about keeping in touch. So humor me if I'm eager to tell you everything while I have your face in front of me.
Cause like, if you wanted to, you could call me too cause I don't get many phone calls these days and it kind of hurts me but not really you know, I GUESS I'll be all right...
In other news...
It's snowing here in Northampton, and it probably will continue all day. But it looks pretty, and light, and powdery, so I'm half-contemplating bundling myself up and making the trip downtown to get coffee anyways. I do have coffee in my house, but it's not the same. There's no paper cup with plastic lid, and no favorite seat at the Haymarket. Ah, well. It's already been a productive day, and it is barely past noon. I woke up, immediately wrote a new song, did my taxes, showered, and blogged. For real. I could drool on my futon and watch E! for the rest of the day, and still feel really accomplished. So maybe I'll save myself the potential frostbite.
Oh, New England winter, so pretty, yet so cruel...
Last Monday afternoon, I was at my favorite seat in the Haymarket, innocently drinking my large dark roast with soy milk and Splenda, when I came to a realization. It was about my novel. Now, my novel isn't something that I spend a lot of time talking about, so I'll apologize if the territory is unfamilliar. But since you all seem to be perfectly okay with my revealing WAY too much information at times, let me introduce you all to the idea.
I'm writing a novel. That's it. (If you ask me about it, I'll likely tell you, "you know, it's the Great American one.")
Anyways- the realization. Well, there were a couple of realizations, to be fair. The first realization is that the novel will never be finished if I can't come up with some sort of structure for it. (I know. Duh.) I'm not a big believer in outlines, so I basically have an enormous list of chapters that I've written, and chapters that I wish to write. As I was looking them over, I realized that the "chapters that I've written" list centers on all of my wonderful, eccentric, peripheral characters, and when I looked at the list of "chapters to be written," nearly all of them concern my protagonist, Ilsa.
Ilsa scares the fuck out of me. She grew up overweight and unhappy, then was struck with a mysterious illness, which turns out to be just about the worst case of Hodgkin's Disease EVER, and spends the rest of the book recovering.
She's the one they're all going to say is me.
But she's not. And the painful thing, the reason she scares me so, is that when I visit the pain that she goes through, I will be revisiting all of the awful stuff that I've been through, that I try my best to just forget about. Still, the circumstances of her life may mirror my own, but she is a completely different person. I will argue this with anyone, any time.
Realization number two: no one is going to buy that argument.
Which is fine with me, and something I just have to accept as a writer. Often times, when I say that I'm writing a book, people assume that it's going to be an autobiography, a memoir for the ages, recounting all my dramas, medical and otherwise. This is something that I will never, EVER do. Not just because it would be terribly torturous to re-live endless stem cell transplants and near-death experiences, but because I know that it would be full of lies.
"Lies?" you ask. Yes, lies. Untruths, exaggeration, hyperbole- whatever you'd like to call it. I've caught myself before, saying that I've been sick for ten years (more like 5), spent months in the hospital (3 weeks at most), and had several brushes with death (only one major). Why did I say these things? Probably because that's how it felt. And it's not my intention at all to exaggerate, just my instinct. But is it the truth? Absolutely not.
Which brings me to something that's been bothering me. Now, I'm not one of those current event bloggers, (and maybe it's not even a current event anymore), but I need to talk about James Frey.
I haven't read the book. I've heard that the writing is incredible. And I've heard that he is a liar, an exaggerator, a teller of untruths. This bothers me immensely, and I feel as though I am one of the few people in the world who has any sympathy for him. His book, his memoir, is his personal history, as he sees and feels it. Is his exagggeration in telling the story of his near life-long struggle with a horrible disease any different than mine would be? Apparently, James Frey only spent one night in jail, not months, as he said. I was only in the hospital for three weeks, not months, as I said. Would I be hung out to dry the way that he has been? If I told you I was in the hospital for months, and you found out that it was only three weeks, would you call me a liar?
You'd probably just shrug it off and say, "Oh, it must have felt like months." That's how I feel toward James Frey. 'That's what it must have felt like.' And this is his memoir, HIS truth. How dare I judge his struggle? A personal history is the truth as seen by its author. And just because his disease is alcoholism and drug addiction, he is judged more harshly. His disease was no less self-inflicted than my disease was. The problem with his situation is mostly in the way society views addiction, which is sad, and the thing that makes me feel sick to my stomach when some self-righteous person on television tears into him. All I can do is watch him and think- that could very well be me.
Okay, now someone please kick the soap box out from under me.
Anyways...I realized that it was the writing of Ilsa's story that I had been avoiding, and I then delved into one of the most difficult parts of her story. It was a small beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. I felt good that I had done it, but it was a VERY hard thing to do.
Of course, I know that nothing good comes easy, especially for those of us who seem to catch all of the bad breaks. When you get a potentially fatal disease, you spend a lot of time thinking about the things you'd leave behind. And to be completely honest, my novel is the only thing that I really worry about, besides my friends and family.
I know it sounds like one of those stupid, pretentious writer things to say, but my characters are living people. Whether they exist in some parallel dimension or simply in my head, they only seem to communicate their stories through me. Even Ilsa, who is so like me that it sometimes hurts.
But the hurt is the thing that needs to be pushed through, and I guess that I've just got to apply the methods that I've learned to push through the physical pain to the mental bullshit.
And whether I get hit by a bus on the way to work tomorrow or die peacefully in my sleep at 127, I want to leave my characters safely in this world. And my own story can be distorted, they can all take Ilsa, slap my name on her, and assume that she is me. Because even though that's not reality, it may become more real with time, until no one remembers the difference- the truth.
Whatever that is.