Copyright notice

All content copyright 2010 by Chelsea Biondolillo. Seriously.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Philosopher's Stone

The mythologized Philosopher's Stone would be able turn base metals such as lead and iron into the noble metals, silver and gold. Alchemists around the world spent hundreds of years looking for it and while they did, they wrote and wrote and wrote. Procedures, observations, and hopes, all detailed with footnotes and appendices. Illuminations, plates.

I have been given both vague and specific advice about how long I should mourn the transformation of my most recent passionate affair into the quiet, kindness between neighbors it has become. It's one of those losses I'm expected to swallow more easily, since I have not simply lost a lover, but also gained a friend. And it's true, there's a bit of sugar with the medicine. A bit. Didn't I have a friend before, too, though?

This isn't another breakup song.

We are, every one of us, awash in a sea of expectations. Mine are mostly my own. I'm difficult, even still, I'm harder on myself than I ever am on anyone else.

There are days when I can clearly see a path, but the place it's heading changes all the time. Artist. Clerk. Manager. Executive. Cigarette girl. Writer. Teacher. Turns out it's just a road away from right here. What's so awful about right here that I can only ever dream about the next place?

Alchemy paved the way for chemistry. In their misled desires, those proto-scientists documented a few methods of trial and record that are still used today. I wonder what they would think-- if we could dig one up and ask him, how would he feel knowing that for all we can do: space travel, heart transplants, towering skyscrapers, and combat drones, we still can't turn lead into gold?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No. 2: Maillol's merganser

Glaciers take eons to form. One cold winter (or two or ten) is not enough to shape the land in ice's image. Compaction takes time, and a carving to the bone of basement rock too, is long coming. until deeper still, the Earth's crust is cracked as easily as a brûlée by a stern spoon.

But even as it cuts, so too, the water is held. Earth and water: stuck. Stuck.

It is in these desolate, stilled seas that the last of Maillol's merganser can be found. It soars the frozen floes, searching for signs of fish.

The bird can easily be identified by its thick, tapered wings and from below, wide, bronze legs. It's breast and belly are granite colored, and it's back and wings, dark stone. In flight, which is the only way it has yet been recorded, it is both broad and graceful. Always, it searches.

How long this bird has searched is unclear. Only one has been recorded, ever, and it seems to still endure: the last or only of its kind. Its age is unknown or even guessed at. Has it hunted the glaciers since they were rivers rich in fish? Were there once many, saluting the dawn with guttural cries of still still still?

How it continues, this single specimen, with no nest or meal or mate, is not recorded anywhere.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?

According to physics, nothing, as the paradox negates itself. I.e., "an irresistible force cannot exist because it would require an infinite amount of energy which is not possible in a finite universe. An immovable object cannot exist because everything is constantly moving and an object that large would collapse under its own weight and create a black hole" (according to Wikipedia, anyway).

Which is weird, because that's both true and false, here. It takes infinite energy to keep moving in every direction and creates a terrible weight to be so goddamn sure all the time. But that doesn't stop our orbit, nope. Not even for one fucking minute.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

a few notes on Nebraska

(The state, not the Bruce Springsteen album.)

It's hot. Camping in hot, muggy weather is high on my list of Things to Generally Avoid, so I'm going to happily accept the place to stay I've been offered in Lincoln.

It's flat. Like woah. I mean, there are some lovely brief moments of alluvial depression that appear out of nowhere, and occasional small rolls in the land that could almost be hills--but it couldn't be more clear that this was recently (geologically speaking) the site of a sea. The effects of water, recent and otherwise, can best be seen on the grazed land, where the grass is uniformly short. It's so flat that all of the current water meanders in this drought year.

It's covered in corn. I mean, you guys, they are not lying about the corn. It is tall and everywhere. There are also some soybeans, and I've seen one wheat field, but corn corn corn corn corn corn. The sandy, slippery dirt roads that serve as 55 mph thoroughfares all over the last couple of counties I was in--and maybe all of them, I can't rightly say--seem to serve the sole purpose of getting from one corn field to another.

The prairie is full of bugs and birds. I have a lot of feelings about both, so I'm going to hold off on putting anything down on the permanent internet record just yet.

Some fun facts I've learned since I've been here:
  • The Tiger Salamander, once common to the plains wetlands, can live for up to 25 years. 
  • Five different strangulation murders (in the US) were originally blamed on constricting snakes--but constrictors always go for the chest/thoracic region rather than the neck. 
  • A landowner cannot modify/undo a reconstructed wetland on his or her land--it becomes protected land--but no such protection exists for reconstructed prairie. 
  • Marijuana is a naturally occurring prairie plant. 
  • There are 45 species of bumble bees in North America, and 20 of them are Nebraska residents. 
  • Carrion beetles smell just as you'd expect them to. 
  • Scientific data has incredibly rigid limitations.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obligatory birthday melancholia

My 39th birthday is coming up and I am waffling between apathy and anxiety about it. I have often had high expectations for my birthday and have been sad when they weren't met, so I'm trying to keep a lid on that this year. So, on the one hand, it's just a day--I'm pragmatic and know this in my heart. I will be no different on Monday than I will be on Tuesday and all that.

But, on the other hand, it sounds so much older than I feel. Almost 40? Come ON. Maybe it's the starting over, back in school, etc that's contributing to my general disbelief, but I'm not sure. There are some alarms going off, though I doubt it's all the usual stuff. I am not lamenting my lack of babies or anything. Maybe my lack of a viable career. Also, some options have passed me by forever (and I am not being overly dramatic here, I'm just saying). For example, I will never be in the 40 under 20 or even, likely, the 20 under 40. Even my starting over looks different now than it once did. There's less grace, more clawing for a comfort zone.

I am so set in my ways that I make things harder for myself than I am supposed to. I don't act nearly forty most of the time... so that when I do, it doesn't serve me. I don't make enough room for others, I always act the way I act, I am unforgiving. These are the ways of old people, and I am only now learning that they are my ways.

Sometimes my knees feel forty, but only on the three flights to my apartment, and there are times that I look in the mirror and see all these lines around my eyes and mouth--and am both enchanted and appalled. I know I will never have the smooth stomach I once dreamed of, and that the stomach I do have is considered "character," at best. I have a lot of character, alright, and it will probably wind up being my downfall.

I like all the lines on the back of my hands--they are new. I like that my voice stayed a bit raspy, even though I quit smoking nearly a decade ago. I like that I am in better shape, even now, than I was ten years ago. So, you know, don't get me wrong. It's not all bad; it's just all slipping when it once used to be climbing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Ugly Truth

Telling the truth is hard for me.

I don't lie very often, but I keep a lot to myself. You wouldn't know it to spend ten minutes with me, because I hardly shut up--yet my closest friends and a very few lovers have been able to hear what I leave out. (The best among them don't let me get away with it.) It's my birdsong and it sounds like a dog whistle and looks like an eyeroll.

The things I let slip out are meant to entertain and attract. I will say anything to keep you from leaving, if I like you. I want my words, my writing, my antics to please. To retain. Yet I hold back, even knowing that my readers and lovers and friends would prefer it if I didn't. I know this is true. But, you know, I know a lot of things that I am not able to use practically. For example, I recently learned that the Queen of Belgium has a hall of mirrors that is wallpapered with the bodies of over a million and a half Jewel Beetles. It glimmers a green and gold bubbled iridescence, and even the chandelier shape seems prosaic under the glow of all those little bodies. It screams out the labor that was required to create it--a staff of thirty, hunched over bugs and glue.

It is beautiful, but if my own tiny insect collection is any indication, it is also now teeming with dust mites. Even now, her guests, each time they walk through, are being peppered with microscopic scraps of leg as the mites chew the joints in each of the million point six carapaces.

Are you still here?

Today I got so frustrated that I lost my shit. And my optimism. A good friend pointed out for the millionth and a half time that I am too hard on myself. I have only managed to get one new piece of writing accepted for publication since I started my program. And. And. And. Goddamn it.

It feels like epic failure even though I can cite a number of reasons why it is not, if I was say, consoling a friend in the same situation. I don't often treat myself like a friend: I am not fair with myself. I exaggerate; I totally kitchen-sink all of my arguments with myself; I am exceedingly unkind in my judgements about myself. In this way I have a wound that never heals. That same good friend pointed out that it is this wound, and my attempt to close it--even as my broken arms clutch at the seam--that makes me a good writer. My critical eye sees a lot and its distortion, while not universal, sometimes rings a familiar note. I like that. I like it because I can reach others--not because the act of writing fixes any of my brokeness. If I could be put out of the mental turmoil in exchange for a dull life of cube walls and glue bottles, I would not do it.

When Camille Dungy spoke at the University she said she was a better person in her writing. She said she could edit out the pettiness and small-mindedness and be the better self she wanted to be through her poems. I try to be better every day but I often fail. I try to be true in my writing and I often fail at that, too. Too often, I write to please the reader instead of myself. I know too well that there's no pleasing me. I've heard it over and over and over, inside my head and out.

My taste is good, and my commitment, strong. I am stronger than I allow, and better. I know this, too. Just like I know that there is a species of woodpecker that carefully inlays acorns in the trunks of trees for winter storage, one by one in nut-shaped holes, so tightly that the acorns cannot be worried loose by the clawed fingers of squirrels. The holes are drilled first and then acorns found to just fit each one. Fewer than a million and a half to a tree, I'm sure, but no less lovely and more useful by far.

I don't know what I'm trying to say. But it does seem that I could learn something from the damn birds about what to spend my time on, and how that time will be repaid. If I were in the mood to learn anything, that is.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


In art school, I left things untitled that had no obvious name. I felt like a phony and a douche almost every time I forced a name on a piece, so if the name didn't leap, fully formed, I did without. In critique, someone would invariably ask me to justify the *title* of untitled. Like, what was I trying to say to the viewer with my refusal to give them a way into the piece?

That word, refusal, is why I gave up being an artist. Also other words, like juxtaposition and conversation. And more I can't think of because it's late. Because anything I left out was a refusal and any two things I put in we're being meaningfully juxtaposed or were in some conversation that we (the critics of one another's work) had to transcribe and decipher.

'No conversation' was never an option, and I had no words or skills to assert my refusal of that paradigm.

When I refuse, it is awkward and stilted and uncomfortable and you know it's happening. I mentally rehearse asking for feedback, and try to have a socially acceptable response at the ready--one that will give me space to move away and think about that feedback somewhere alone for awhile--once I've gotten it. My unmitigated glare can shut down the conversation otherwise.

My enthusiasm, untempered, can be just as awkward. I will interrupt your conversation with a non sequitur daily, if not hourly, without some complex system of inner filters that always seem frayed and penetrable. And I've asked over-casually in my mind a million times who you had dinner with, rejecting the answer of "some folks" every time. But in my mind, I reject your lie in a way that will allow you space to answer. All in the hopes of a casual delivery, but what comes out is tensely predetermined. And you've no option but to lie more or defend.

This is how a crack forms in any commitment. Why I dropped out of artisting. And my marriage. And the corporate world. It is difficult for me to fit in without practice and repetition. I can learn the words of gracious disappointment or of curiosity in the face of misunderstanding. But they sound learned to my tin ear, not felt. I cannot be gracious under the heat of your stare that says "I can't believe you just said that." Even if your stare is only saying that in my imagination.

There's a near constant near panic to my inner monologue. The sentences in there all end on tremulous little scared notes, high-pitched voices. (Not real voices, she said, reassuringly.) O the histrionics! O the end is nigh! Forsooth, forswear!

All semester, even all year, I've struggled with the fact that my *writing* resists my voice at every turn. (That concept of refusal again, when I know damn well that my voice withers and scampers off at the glare of my pen. I can't believe I just almost said that.) But all evidence seems to point to my voice being more interesting and readable than my writing. There is a chasm of trust that I am afraid to leap across. Yes, this is a synecdoche: for everything, always. What's wrong with your writing is what's wrong with your life.

And writing, like life, is harder than I thought it would be. Or so my poster with a kitten stuck comically in a tree says.

Somehow I'm supposed to learn to trust myself and others and everything this summer. My chest gets tight and my thoughts spiral out hysterically like people out the doors of a theater fire just thinking it. One jump and I'm over the chasm. When I look back, it will seem so much smaller of a space to have crossed, I know this to be true. Everyone in front of me seemed to have hesitated for so much less time than I'm taking. My mind is screaming two things: JUMP and RUN BACK, NOW.

This cannot be subtractively analyzed to a tidy root I might lever out like a wailing mandrake. Neither can I tease it out slowly like a snarl in mohair. Some things are hard and take time. Some things are hard and take time and fail nonetheless. We are supposed to keep trying even in the slack face of it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 15: Tenerife - Anaga north, laurisilva forest

I am recovered almost completely.

Today we hiked through the laurisilva forest on the north side of the Anaga refuge. In our first hike we saw traces of this tertiary forest system that gave way to pine forest and then scrub. But today, we walked through giant ferns and mossy tree branches and heard a LOT of birds and saw many lizards.

I felt fine, but after dinner, I learned that I was not in fact fine at all. So I will be turning in early (again) in the hopes that my last day in town is cramp-free.

For your viewing pleasure, some of today's wildlife.

Laurisilva trail with laurels (natch) and ferns

A rare glimpse down at the sea through the trees

I don't remember the name of this plant, but if you see it, you know you're in laurisilva

Pretty, but invasive

Tenerife Lizard (gallotia gallotii)

Definitely not a Blue Chaffinch

Canary Skink

Canary Gecko

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 14: Tenerife from bed

My view, all day, was of the bottom of the top bunk. Sick sick sick. It's not travel without a little misadventure, right?

OR... Rick Steve's Quick Weight Loss plan: "Drink the water!" (Note: I did not drink the water.)

Today was a lecture day. The rest of the group stayed in as well, listening to policy lectures, so I didn't miss any actual adventures--just a lot of useful information. Luckily I asked someone to record the lectures for me.

In lieu of pictures, here are two Guanche legends from Tenerife:

The devil, Guayote, was jealous of the sun god, Magec, and so he imprisoned him inside of Teide volcano--bringing darkness to the world. The Guanches pleaded with the god of gods, Achamán, for relief from the endless night. Thus Achamán came to fight Guayote. He eventually won, and light was returned to the world, while Guayote was doomed to simmer angrily in the belly of the mountain. At night, he would roam the countryside as a huge black dog, eating people and livestock alike.
During long droughts, all of the people would abstain from food, dancing, and other frivolousness. They would take their sheep and goats to sacred, high places and separate the kids and lambs from their mothers. Then the people would cry along with the upset animals in the hopes of melting the heart of Achuhucanac, the rain god. Several of these special places are still called Bailadero or Baladero, which comes from the Spanish "balar", to bleat.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 13: Tenerife - Teide volcano and more sickness

Some hiking, some nauseousness. All in a day's living out of country.

My queasiness is actually fairly monumental at this point. Since very little instruction happened today, just amazing views of volcanic rock formations, here they are and here I go.

Some amazing roadside striations (of pumice and basalt)

Hiking to the top of an old peak

The view from most of the way up (the island of Gran Canaria can be seen across the sea and through the clouds)

Teide peak

The view of the caldera rim from the almost peak of Teide

More view from the nearly-top. Glittering ocean out there...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 12: Free day, sick day

Today was a free day and many of us were sick. Including me. While everyone else's troubles seemed to be... digestive in nature, mine were of the more fluish variety. I have been shivering and aching all day. We are all really hoping it wasn't the completely delicious yet raw and unregulated goat cheese we ate yesterday.

I gotta climb a volcano tomorrow, so I hope I feel better.

My New Year's Resolutions

  1. Create as many shitty first drafts as possible
  2. Move every day
  3. Read nonrequired texts often
  4. Write more letters to friends