"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."
- Emile Zola
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Reactions to the attacks are polarized. Police activity intensifies. Della’s revolutionary parents welcome the upheaval but are trapped within their own insular beliefs. Her activist restaurant co-workers, who would rather change their identities than the world around them, resume a shallow rebellion of hair-dye, sex parties, and self-absorption. As those bombs keep inching closer, thudding deep and real between the sounds of katydids fluttering in the still of the city night, and the destruction begins to excite her. What begins as terror threats called in to greasy bro-bars across the block boils over into a desperate plot, intoxicating and captivating Della and leaving her little chance for escape.
Zazen unfolds as a search for clarity soured by irresolution and catastrophe, yet made vital by the thin, wild veins of imagination run through each escalating moment, tensing and relaxing, unfurling and ensnaring. Vanessa Veselka renders Della and her world with beautiful, freighting, and phantasmagorically intelligent accuracy, crafting from their shattered constitutions a perversely perfect mirror for our own selves and state.
I went to work and a guy I wait on said he was leaving. He said everyone he knew was pulling out.
"Canada is just not far enough. Mostly Mexico. A bunch to Thailand. Some to Bali.”
He always orders a Tofu Scramble and makes me write a fucking essay to the cook. No soy sauce in the oil mix, no garlic, extra tomato, no green pepper. Add feta. Potatoes crispy and when are we going to get Spelt. He holds me personally responsible for his continued patronage. I hope he dies. I’d like to read about it.
My brother Credence says people who leave are deluding themselves about what’s out there. I just think they’re cowards. Mr. Tofu Scramble says I should go anyway, that it’s too late. I want to but I can’t. Maybe when the bombs stop, or at least let up.
Nobody thinks it’ll stay like this. I call it a war but Credence says it isn’t one. Not yet. I say they just haven’t picked a day to market it. Soft opens being all the rage. My last few weeks down at grad school it was so bad I thought everything was going to shake itself apart. I tried to focus on my dissertation, follow the Diaspora of clamshells but every night it got worse. It’s not any better here—here, there, now, tomorrow, next Wednesday—geologically speaking it’s all the same millisecond.
The gentle rustle of armies crawling the planet like ants. Anybody with any sense knows what’s coming.
I was in yoga yesterday and this girl started crying. Raina, who teaches on Mondays, went over, put her hands on the girl like a faith healer, her fingers barely grazing the shoulders. She closed her eyes and let the girl cry while she breathed.
Everyone was watching like they were going to see sparks or something. I was anyway. I would have liked that. The girl calmed down. Her breath was hard and her eyes swollen. Raina talked about being okay with how you find yourself on the mat and I thought there’s no one here who’s okay with that. If you took the roof off we would all look like little gray worms, like someone lifted the rock; too close, hot bent and wet. Well, maybe not hot because of the mud but that’s still what I thought when the girl was crying. I was glad it wasn’t me.
Credence says if half the privileged white marketing reps in my yoga class voted for something other than reductions in their property tax, something might actually happen. I’d like to see something happen. Something big that wasn’t scary, just beautiful. Some kind of wonderful surprise. Like how fireworks used to feel. Now I’m no better than a dog.
Still, there’s something true in that yoga manifestation thing because I feel different when I believe different things. Only I don’t know how to go back to feeling how I did because I can’t re-believe. When the first box-mall-church went up in the blackberry field I wanted some kind of rampant mass stigmata with blackberry juice for blood. It didn’t happen. It’s not going to. They win; they just roll, pave and drive over everything that’s beautiful: babies, love and small birds. On summer nights with the windows open I hear joints cracking like crickets.
I wake up sometimes and feel the nearness of something but then it’s gone and I’ve started to wonder if it was ever there. Lately, I’ve become afraid that the feeling I used to feel, like something good was waiting, is what people mean when they say “young” and that it is nothing more than a chemical associated with a metabolic process and not anything real at all.
I waited on Mr. Tofu Scramble. He had a date at lunch and they both ordered blackberry smoothies. Vegan. I thought about slipping his date a note telling her that he was a big old cheese eater when she wasn’t around. But who am I to stand in the way of love?
I went into the kitchen and pulled a five-gallon bucket out of the fridge. They stack the tofu in soft blocks at the bottom of a bucket of water. With dirty hands I scooped out the tofu and threw a handful into the blender, little white clay hearts. Then I filled it to the brim with blackberries. I pressed the “chop” on the blender because it’s louder and takes longer and in a second the blackberries stained those little white hearts and turned them dark as a bruise. I left the blender on. It took over the restaurant. Everyone tried harder and harder to ignore the noise but the more they did, the longer I let it run. There should be some price to pay for all of this ugliness, especially the pretty kind; especially the kind you don’t always see.
Mr. Tofu Scramble looked around and I thought, yeah, that’s right, it’s you, you Big Old Cheese Eater When She’s Not Around. His cheeks reddened and his jaw shifted side to side. He started to look so much like a little kid staring down at dirty candy that I turned the blender off. It’s not all his fault. It’s not his fault he’s in love and wants quiet blackberries. It’s just not his fault.
Even Credence fell in love and got married although I think he secretly wants a medal for falling in love with a black woman. Our parents were so proud. Now, if I could only abandon my heterosexual tendencies as uninvestigated cultural preconditioning and move in with some sweet college educated lipstick-dyke bike mechanic, they could all finally die happy.
I’ve lived with Credence and Annette for almost three months now. At first I thought that because Annette was black I wasn’t ever supposed to get mad at her. It was like living with an exchange student that spoke English really well.
“Jean-Pierre, what do they call baseball in France?”
“Annette, do you like macaroni and cheese?”
“Daisuke, how is the rebuilding going?”
Credence has a missionary belief in community organizing. He says, “grass roots” like bible thumpers say Jesus.
Credence and I stopped a Wal-Mart from opening once. It was earlier in the year and it lasted about a minute. Four months of door-to-door organizing, leafleting, town meetings, petitions, land-use hearings, senators, phone calls, cold, free doughnuts, and sermons to the choir in the rain with balloons whipping around our faces in the wind while we chant and people drive by in heated sedans and look confused. Take pictures and send it out to everyone who couldn’t come to the rally.
And it worked. For about a minute. It’s hard to do the same thing twice. It’s hard to feel the same way you did, especially when you really want to. We just set them back a couple of months on their timetable. Chipped teeth, flags, crosses and white sugar.