I was making a second cup of Earl Gray tea, waiting for the water to boil. Thinking about my essay. How I feel stuck. How yesterday I thought it might help to go back to the compilation of Best American Essays from 2005. How that only served to make me feel like there’s no way in hell I can ever write an essay.
Something about those essays’ voice. The people who wrote those essays. I notice the voice is calm. I notice that right away. I flip to the essays I especially liked. Ted Kooser’s Small Rooms in Time. Melancholy, I wonder if one always gets melancholy for first wives and homes and places we had our children. I can’t imagine starting life over with a new spouse and thinking back to these homes. Anyway.
Then I flip over to the baseball guy, Roger Angell. How he starts out with a memory of peeing in the garden of a wealthy famous person, a baron or something. I flipped to the essays I didn’t read, just to see how they start. The ones about cooking. The one about a dog. The about David Sedaris’ boil.
They’re all so concrete. That’s the other thing about them. Their voice and their, what’s the word I’m looking for? The first paragraph immediately grounds you in reality. Is there a word for that?
Then I’m thrown into a tizzy. I’m thinking now of my essay. Do I have a voice?
Ese, pronounced just like Essay. Ese, dude. Ese is what the vatos say to each other, or used to when I was in high school. Oye, ese. It means you, hey you. Ese vato. You, vato. Hey you, vato. Orale. I like those words. I like that I know what they mean, how to use them. Orale ese, you sapo’d out.
I remember this guy Charlie who worked behind the desk of Fort Marcy rec center in Santa Fe. He wore thick, thick glasses, had reddish hair, one of those light-skinned vatos. He poured all his energy into his body.
Fitness. You could tell he wasn’t used to female attention. I realize now I gave my attentions to anyone, I didn’t discriminate on the basis of looks. What was I looking for? Friendship, I guess. I never slept with him or even made overtures to sleep with him. But I did glom on to him. I insisted on him riding with me on 20-mile or 40-mile bike rides.
I insisted that we both register for a running/walking race in La Tierra. He was the runner, I’d be the biker. Two-man race. He was so much fitter than me, he must have felt like he was training a novice.
We did eventually do the race together. It rained that day. We did poorly. I blew it on the bike. I still can see rain dripping from his bangs down his face. His glasses completely blurred as he stood there waiting for me. Like he was peering into fog, Where is she?
What made me think of him was how he was an artist and I was an artist. He once told me he wanted to do a show called Sapo Art. Do you know what sapo means, he asked me. Sure, I said, it’s like when you throw a basketball and it swooshes into the hoop without making even a sound. That’s sapo. You’re right, he said.
The Sapo Art show was going to be art that came easily. Graffiti art, art that you just sit down and spout out. Nothing you labor over, just easy art.
I went to Spain before we could do our Sapo Art show. It took me almost the whole year to finish the one drawing I really loved. It’s four small panels, each features an ogre that in hindsight looks like a prototype for Shrek. I wrote a poem to go with it: My Monster Eats Small Children.
I was the monster. I was so lost in Spain. I didn’t know what I was doing, just that I was there. Was I a writer? Was I an artist? Was I a drunk? I didn’t want to be who I was, that’s for sure.
I still think of that ogre drawing as Sapo Art, even if it took me a long time. It came easily, I just couldn’t bring myself to produce. I remember one time Almudena came up to my piso and asked what I was working on. I showed her. Dibujas de puta madre, mujer. “De puta madre” was one of those words that means exactly the opposite of its literal meaning, like “bad” when you want to say “good.” You draw like the mother whore, was the literal meaning.
Ese, dude, I really need to just let this essay come out of me without worrying what David Sedaris says about boils. I guess it’s becoming a little a bit clearer what I want to say. What experience it is I’m trying to recall without coming out and being literal about it. I wonder if I’m just scared that whoever it is I am is not the person I want to be.