I am standing in front of a 4ft glass phallus that sits on a white, block pedestal in the center of the room.
I am in a garage or a warehouse in Lawrence, Kansas, somewhere near the Kansas University campus. It is high-ceilinged and industrial with exposed pipes and reclaimed, paint-splattered wood. Blades spin inside the chrome cages of commercial fans, shoving the thick heat through the sparsely attended event.
Paintings, sculptures, and other creations smother the walls. A dress made from plastic bottles hangs on a vibrant pink backdrop of Indian fabric. A nude woman is drawn lying on her back, breasts jutting into the air like volcanoes. A young man behind me is having his brain waves read by a professor’s invention. A television screen blurs in and out of colorful circles—blue, brown, yellow, purple—measuring degrees of relaxation and anxiety, how close he is to achieving the feeling of being immersed in the now. How close he is to flow.
Orange is piped from the base of the phallus through its center like a neon urethra. Blue fissures are captured in the shaft. My cousin, a PhD student whom I’m visiting, motions with his glass of wine toward a laminated index card on the pedestal. “Check out the price,” he says.
“$9,000,” I say, and deliver a crass joke worthy of our graduate setting. When he laughs I feel an adolescent sort of satisfaction. My cousin is young, cool, charming and well-liked on a level my inner middle schooler has never reached.
He introduces me to a girl from his cohort. Her brown bangs hang in heavy, sweat-slick clumps over her blue eyes. She talks excitedly about research or clients or practicum. I keep looking at her eyebrows, their impeccable definition. The arches point like teepees, like a clown’s.
“So, what do you do,” she asks and I rattle off something about nonprofits and marketing.
“And…” My cousin nudges my arm with his bony elbow. He isn’t drunk yet, but almost.
“And what,” I ask.
“She wrote a book!”
“Really!” Her eyebrows jump and dance.
“Right, yes,” I say, dismissing her interest. I’m convinced my book can only be special if it’s huge, living outside of my laptop, printed and bound on shelves. “I wrote a book. It’s not published or anything yet. It’s just…”
“The book is so good. She’s going to be famous,” my cousin says and I wonder if youth and enthusiasm are in direct proportion to one another.
A shout and a cackle from the professor interrupt us. “We did it,” she says. “We did it!”
We turn and see the entire television screen behind us moving in concentric, tie dye shades of purple. The subject in the chair, the brain wave-reading contraption crowning his glistening head, is in flow. The professor claps, does a little dance before running stubby, wrinkled fingers through her gray, gray hair.
I read an article about Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men’s, Peggy) in New York Magazine in which she claims that being an actor isn’t anything special. She is normal. She goes to bed late, worries about “stupid shit”, and watches Scandal.
At the Golden Globes, she sat at a table with Megan Mullally, Mike Tyson, and Helen Mirren. Being ‘not special,’ and presumably unknown, she introduced herself to Mirren.
Helen Mirren’s reply: “I know who the fuck you are.”
I am home, sitting on the back patio reading. The rain has mostly passed and the sun blinks in and out of view between the trees. Green summer leaves flit along the branches.
“Watch,” my daughter says as she grabs her jump rope and trots down the back steps. “I’ve been practicing at school.”
“Yeah,” she giggles as seven-year-old girls do. “You have to watch me, okay? I’m getting good.”
She plants her feet in the wet grass and grips the pink jump rope handles in little fists. When the rope swings over her head to kiss the ground, one foot makes the leap, the other tangles in the rope’s path.
“Wait, let me try again,” she says and collapses her face into concentration before swinging the rope again. One foot leaps, the other foot tangles. “Okay, hold on. You read your book and I’ll tell you when to look at me.”
“Okay,” I say, and begin to read until I hear her.
“I’m doing it!”
I look up and she’s skipping, one foot after the other over the rope as she moves along the lawn.
“I’m doing it, mom! Do you see me?”
“Yes, I see you,” I say. “I see you!”
(This post was written in 2014)