Adoration Revisited, part six

Welcome to Not Knowing How: Adoration Revisited, a capsule newsletter by Lisa Locascio Nighthawk in sixteen parts. Names have been changed. The version of events is my own.

It is strange to me that I have so little of my Smashing Pumpkins collection now. I cannot remember ridding myself of it. What happened to my CDs and records, t-shirts, my folders of cut-out articles, the Billy pillow Moira made for me, my videotapes and DVDs and posters? I had two massive subway-style single posters for “1979” and “Ava Adore.” The former hung on the ceiling of my bedroom. The latter lay mounted on posterboard beneath my bed.

I had a poster from which Jimmy had been removed, like an unlucky general from Stalin’s Russia.

I was never much of a shoplifter, but I deftly stole a few small promotional objects from record stores, little cardboard displays with album art.

Before I began this newsletter, I hadn’t really felt the loss of my collection, but now it haunts me. The t-shirts in particular. I had so many, most of them ordered sight unseen from newsprint catalogues in which band merch was organized alphabetically by name and there were no pictures, only abbreviated descriptions. I loved to visit record stores, especially those that carried bootleg posters and CDs. Anything unauthorized promised to be unique and thus even more desirable.

Did I give it all away? Throw it out? Why can’t I remember? I retain two small framed prints, one of the cover of Adore, the other a piece of promotional art for Machina, both signed by the band in my presence at meet-and-greets. These last weeks, my family has been staying at an Airbnb near my apartment, one strangely stripped of its art, the walls decorated only with sturdy black screws. I leant them several unhung pieces from my apartment to help with the strangeness of this choice, and so this holiday has been overseen by Adore.

“Tear,” this week’s song, is like Billy Corgan himself a whole bad mood vibe. I like the way the chorus threatens and taunts.

Do you know the way that I can?

Do you know the way that I can't lose?

Do you know the things that I can?

Do you know the things that I can do?

“Tear” is contradictory, elegiac, recriminatory, triumphant. Like me this week. My maternity leave ended and I returned to work. Part of this newsletter’s purpose is to bridge the transition from the unboundaried time I spent caring for my baby and myself back into the structured world of my career. My goal is to keep the ethos and power of the former within me, within my writing, as I am claimed again by the latter.

I wanted to finish my latest novel revision before my baby was born. I have never been able to shake my dumb optimism that the completion of my latest writing project will be fleet and simple in a way that none that came before it have been. But the arrival of my child catapulted me into a new, delicious kind of time, more fulfilling and alive than anything I had ever done, except write. Yet I also felt like I had forgotten how to write—a fear that had long preceded the birth of my baby, that stretches back to the abusive job I held after my first novel was published, to my mother’s terrifying illness, lengthy hospitalization, and sudden death, and then to the pandemic years when I dedicated myself more fully to my jobs than any other part of my life, including my writing, because work seemed the safest thing to do.

A few weeks postpartum, I began a fun evening habit of nihilist monologue followed by an exhausted crying jag. My husband wiped the memory from an old computer, stocked it with only a word processing program, and encouraged me to begin a journal. The first entry, from September 16, begins:

This morning, after I confessed my generally shitty feelings about my writing process and creative state, [my husband] proposed I keep a writing journal for the next three months.

In those three months I made twenty-six entries in the journal. It helped me to have something to do, a way to write, while trying to figure out the problem of my bad feelings. I had tried endurance, and what I can say is that endurance alone is not a solution. I can’t say that I have solved my bad feelings, but I have successfully actually written a few things. New parts of my novel. Ideas for the next novel. This newsletter.

I look back in my writing journal:

Some memories coming up for me: the night I spent in my mom’s bed with her when I came home after her diagnosis in May 2017. We watched some scenes from Around the World in 80 Days, “Blue Danube” or maybe “Beautiful, Beautiful Copenhagen” playing and her long golden hair was on the pillow and I thought then and think now how wonderful a person my mom was, how kind and lovely, and how unfair it was that this would happen to her. She smelled so good and sweet and was in her beautiful nightie. I think I told her I had these feelings and she comforted me. I remember when I woke in the morning she was gone.

In my childhood I watched The Neverending Story. Only once; I have never wanted to see it again. I remember the protagonist Sebastian, his dog-like white dragon, the Childlike Empress. Mostly I remember the scene where Sebastian’s memories of his dead mother, depicted as large clear marbles, are taken from him.

For every memory that I keep, crystalline, safe, thousands are lost to me. I can summon the feeling of my life with my mother, her sweet presence, the afternoons and evenings we spent watching television together in the study, for example. I recall individual moments, like when she insisted on showing me The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I absolutely didn’t want to see it for some reason—I think I wanted her to go out with me, and she wanted to stay home. The maudlin thing to say is that now, of course, I would watch that movie with her on a loop for days at a time. But what am I forgetting? The study only became our television room after I went to college, comparatively late in our life together.

One evening this week as I washed a mountain of breast pump parts and nipples and bottles with their special sponge and set them to dry on their special rack, bits of the conversations I had with my mom about people she never met returned to me. I had used all three of my breast pumps that day. Although my supply is generally good, I become distracted with frustration when I pump and receive no yield. It feels like a special kind of wasting time. A metaphor for, or perhaps just a direct statement about, creativity, I suppose.

My mom listened as I told her about people who transfixed me, spinning out the details of their days, fears, goals, fantasies. Was she interested? I thought she might just have been being kind to me. But when she was dying and my partner was visiting her alone in the hospital, she mentioned to him a secret that he had told only me and I had told only her—a violation of trust I didn’t consider a violation because to me there was no difference between my mother and I. He was shocked, a little upset but ultimately forgiving, and I should have felt guiltier but all I could summon was wonder at her memory. At the fact that she had listened.

When someone endeared themselves to me through long friendship, like Moira, my mom was unfailingly loyal to them. And when someone betrayed me, as my best friend Mila did when she led the sixth-grade bullying campaign against me, my mom taught me to never forget.

One day in 1996, in what I didn’t know were the last months of our friendship, I helped Mila’s family with their garage sale. I was eleven, excited and fascinated to be involved in a garage sale. That year, at my request, I had visited a few in the company of my babysitter. I loved the voyeurism inherent in looking through a stranger’s stuff.

Several branches of Mila’s large family lived nearby, and the garage sale was a group effort. I do not recall most of what was sold, only that I demonstrated an immediate aptitude for sales, or at least I thought so. Mila’s aunt was a talented jewelry artist who specialized in hand-tied necklaces, simple lengths of fine thread with ovoid pearls separated by tiny knots. I wanted one of these necklaces so badly. I let myself imagine that I would be gifted one at the end of the day in thanks for being such a great part of the sale. I didn’t have to help, I thought, proudly: I had chosen to, which made me even more a part of the family than I already was as Mila’s best friend.

Mila had her aunt’s fine motor skills and a way with Sculpey, the craft clay to which our art teacher had introduced us. Some objects she made were also sold in the sale. Like her aunt’s necklaces, I coveted my friend’s skill with crafts. The gift of handiwork seemed connected to their brand of femininity, delicate and fine. I knew I wasn’t like them. I told too many stories, stories that had gotten me in trouble with Mila’s mom. When I told Mila about going to see The Birdcage with my parents, Mila’s mom called and told my mother that she found it inappropriate that they would take me to see a movie that depicted the life of a gay couple. When I told Mila about an assigned book I’d loved reading, her mother led a campaign to have it banned at our school on the grounds that its depiction of the civil war in El Salvador was inappropriate.

I wanted Mila’s mother to like me again, as she had when I was small. I had tried to endear myself to her by addressing her by her first name, something I’d read about children and adults doing as a sign of mutual respect, which prompted another call to my mother. Maybe if I had some talisman of their family I could be more like them. Lovely, cunning, small.

My hope for the necklace motivated me to sell harder. Towards the end of the day, when there wasn’t much left on the tables, I arranged some Sculpey objects made by Mila’s younger sister, who was in kindergarten, next to a little sign I made: The Art of A Child. I thought this was funny, but I also thought it might inspire someone to buy them. When I showed Mila she rolled her eyes. “No. No. No,” she said, immediately excited, laughing nervously as she crumpled up my sign and threw it away. My sense of humor was praised at home, but it seemed to disturb Mila. When the garage sale ended and it was time to go home, I was of course not given a necklace or anything else, although it had occurred to me, as I watched the roll of bills be counted, that I might be offered a cut of the proceeds.

Once, when we were invited to play the drums in music class as part of a “rock band unit,” I summoned the whole of my bravery to try out a beat. Maybe I smiled to deflect embarrassment, maybe I smiled because I liked it. Mila never let me forget it. “Lisa thought, Yeah, I’m actually getting this,” she told anyone who would listen, every day for months, like it was the funniest thing she had ever witnessed—my blip of confidence.

My self-regard at eleven astounds me. Of course it was primed to be destroyed. I did not have an instinct for self-preservation. I didn’t see the algebra unfolding in Mila’s head. So in the months following the sale I told her happily about becoming a witch, about the spells I crafted in my bedroom, about my desire to have a wand and make magic. It did not occur to me that my magical initiation could make me a target. Would be leveraged to make Mila popular.

You see, I didn’t know anything about garage sales. My family never got rid of anything. Although our house was always beautifully maintained, clean and organized, when it came time to empty it to put it on the market, I discovered that apparently the only items that had ever been thrown away were actual trash. Homework, not only from my and my sister’s elementary school years, but from my parents’ as well, lay in cabinets alongside old notebooks, well-loved paperbacks, carefully saved souvenirs from our many vacations. I could describe this world of saved things further, but writing about it makes me feel bad in my body. I loved every object, was glad to see them again, and I had to dispose of them.

The decade-long initial sorting that lasted my entire first marriage. Every time I brought that husband home we did some clearing labor. He helped me bring stacks of photography books about the English royal family to our local bookstore and shove miles of expensive European magazines into trashbags. I sorted and sorted and sorted clothing and jewelry and tchotchkes and scarves, my own, my sister’s, my mother’s, and I took boxes and bags places to donate. My father hired a local Catholic hausfrau to help, a woman who once implied my mother was “sayin’ a novena” that our elderly cat would die.

We found that no one wanted furniture, especially not furniture built to hold collections. I found a man online who would come and buy things, including a white grandmother clock that was the remnant of some long ago conflict between my parents—my mother had accepted it in repayment of a debt by a friend I incorrectly remember as a nun—and he seemed like a good resource, but my mom was put off by him and told me not to sell to him again. We offered stuff up for free on Craigslist  and strangers came and took them from our garage. Some of these objects had belonged to my great-grandparents.

I watched our possessions go, promising myself I would remember all of them. That we would never be torn from each other. Their stories would live in our family, in my mother and I, in our long memory.

Telling my mom everything must have been a habit I learned at the earliest possible age, when I first started going places without her and coming home again. Some of my memories from that time are clearly reconstituted from photographs, which doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Others are rooted in feelings to which I have pinned images. It is true that in 1994, when I was ten and my future husband was six, I visited his hometown on the rural coast of northern California, that we shopped at the grocery store where I have since bought ingredients for countless meals I have prepared for his family.

I remember watching the storefront recede through the rain-smeared back window of our friend Lalena’s car as we made our way back to our rented house. But I only remember the image of the store because of the feeling the moment bore, quiet and irresistible, a dreamy presence that embedded itself in my blood and waited there to take me to him two decades later.

Still I love driving the coast in heavy gray rain. I will do anything to get out in it. This week I took my baby to stand on an empty beach with my family. We stood and watched the swell. Salt spray on our faces, rain filling our empty hands.

Thank you for reading! This is the sixth of sixteen installments of Adoration Revisited, which will be released every Friday between December 2, 2022 and March 17, 2023. If you enjoy my newsletter, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. And I’m always interested to hear about your obsessions and memories.

A last note: this week I’ve seen other Substack authors offer profuse apologies for including subscription buttons in their newsletters, which I’ve done in a kind of haphazard way without thinking it would bother anyone, but if it landed poorly, sorry!