An effort to stay afloat while determining which way is up

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Ever Aloft

I was drifting, yes, but I had a trajectory.  My mind was full of grids and vectors, my heart cautiously lightened with the hope of obtaining a new plan.  I knew of a landing point where I might find that plan.  It had been a deceptively short journey fueled only by the blind mechanical movements of my courageous legs, who brought me to the aircraft as I continued to assure myself that this time, I’d be able to figure it all out.  A tangled swath of lank hair streamed away from my wind-burned face as I descended toward that world I had aimed for, the knuckles of my fingers dry and gnarled from clutching tight the whole way to my pathetic bursting bundles wrapped up in twine, those value-less yet indispensible things I must always carry with me.  Cities jumped in and out of the mist as I descended.  I held tight with numb hands to my bundles as the wind buffeted past and I descended.  My mind inactive, everything on auto-pilot, ever in transit.

 
Upon touching down, I looked around to find a jumbled, empty version of the places I left, like a ransom note constructed of an entire town.  Where I expected discovery, I find repetition .  Where I expected challenge, I find tedium.  I set myself afloat to find some slot in which to fit myself, but touching down here I find I’m just as confused as ever about which direction to take.

 
Welcome to Calais.


It’s not that I don’t like this town.  There are some truly lovely parts of it, and it is filled to the brim with welcoming people and interesting history.  My job is going fairly well.  The teachers and students are nice enough to me, and to tell the truth they require a ludicrously small amount of work from me in exchange for my salary.

 
And it’s not that this place isn’t beautiful.  The beauty of it is simply superficial when you are experiencing it alone.  It all seems pointless when there’s no one to share it with.    This whole time I’ve known that outside of songs, love is not all you need.  I’ve known that women who depend on their relationships are weak, and that unless I want to be one of those weak women and regress the population, I’d better get independent, fast.  And yet, coming here alone has made me realize how much of my new concept of “home” lives with Mark, and how much I want to return to that home.  All I know about what I want to do with my life is that it involves him, which rules out a lot of possibilities I had previously considered.  How annoying.  I had expected more strength from myself.   What bitter disappointment, then, to find that all this time I have been taking part in some dull, predictable love story.

 
The whole point of this “adventure” of mine was to stall for time.  Time to figure out where my life should be going and experience to point me in the right direction.  I was stalling for time in my job last year.  I was stalling for time in the Peace Corps.  I was stalling for time in college.  My entire adult life is essentially one titanic effort to dodge that stupid, age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  And so, with these new developments in what I do and don’t want in my life, I drift as aimlessly in France as I did in America, always subject to the whims and inconsistencies of the wind.

 
I don’t know what I should be or what I want to be.  I don’t know what to do with this life that I’ve got.  My only idea is to sit in tree tops and catch more of the thin, lacey sunlight that strains to find this city.  You see, the sunlight you find here is not the same character you see in other parts of the world.  In  Phoenix, the sunlight hammers on you as you step outside, a solid presence binding you in a comforting, near-mummification of heat.  In Denver, it dances and whirls elegantly around you, sparkling off lakes and city structures.  But in Calais, it flutters down insubstantially, occasionally draping over the gray and forest green color palette of the city, only to slide off seconds later having warmed nothing at all.  I want to sit on the highest branches of the tallest trees and gather it around me like gauze, like tule, so I can finally make something substantial of it.  I want to forge the watery sunlight here into something brilliant and useful.  I want to gather it all to make a bright and shining craft light enough to lift me back off the ground.

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Wrenched by Toto

Well, I had been sleeping, finally sunk down into the body surrounding me and floating on the darkness, until I was reawakened rudely by some inconsiderate explosions from the computer screen, these directed at Mark and his need for constant entertainment.  I turned to my other side, wiping small amounts of drool off of my face, to eventually see an episode of Family Guy come into sleep-blurred focus on the screen across from the bed.

Now, I tend to enjoy humor rooted in intelligence, rather than jokes created for shock-value and in-jokes that make people feel special because they remember obscure bits of pop culture from the 1980’s, so it’s safe to assume that I do not enjoy this show very much;  however, on this night I had been jarred out of the complex sequence of launch codes required to fully journey my way into dreamland, so while the gears and switches were being reset to hopefully restart the process, I had no choice but to listen to this episode.

There was some kind of flashback scene in the episode requiring a cheesy, dated feel, so of course the writers choose to play that staple of 1983, Toto’s “Africa” to get the right atmosphere as well as some cheap nostalgic laughs.  I, of course, couldn’t laugh because the moment the song started I wasn’t in my bed anymore; I had been wrenched out of my bedroom and my country and time itself, back a year and a half ago to an open-air dance party celebration in Hamdallaye, Niger.  Cement below our feet and thatched roof above, we milled around the chair-encircled courtyard, swimming in the yellow incandescent light of the night with sodas in hand as we talked and joked and celebrated our achievement: we had all survived three months of training to become Peace Corps volunteers.  Prior to this night I had never even heard of the song “Africa”, but standing then on the red soil of the continent it sings of, that was soon about to change.

Our silly American dance party was fast becoming a silly American karaoke party as ipods were whipped out and hooked up to the stereo.  Performances were typically over-dramatic and chock full of nutty fun as my friends sang off-key and gesticulated wildly to songs like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “She Wolf”.  Then Heather stepped up to the microphone and did what she always does best: with bravery, skill, and honesty, she told a story.  She had talked about how long ago at some college party, she had heard and been inspired by this next song, and knew that one day she would come to the place it spoke of, and maybe take some time to do the things we never have.  Cue Toto.

It was cheesy.  It was also true.  Most importantly, it meant something, damn it.  It meant something to Heather then, and upon hearing the song again on an unremarkable night in my unremarkable bed, it means something to me now.

One of the few consistent lessons I’ve learned in my life is that most of the experiences you think will be the great, meaningful monuments set in stone in your life’s timeline will come without pomp and ceremony, and they will fall disappointingly flat, while other more inconspicuous moments will in retrospect come to mean more to you than you ever thought they would; these moments are almost always inextricably intertwined with cheese.  Hearing that song again, laying on my side forced to endure a cheesy 80’s montage on a sub-par TV show in place of my own fantastic dreams, I felt the same thing Heather felt those years ago.  I don’t care what it takes, I have to go back someday.  Call it the thirst for adventure, or maybe affluent American naivety, or something as cliche as “trying to find myself”.  The simple truth is that I saw too many beautiful places and  met too many beautiful people to let that world rest unexperienced and unexplored in my life.

I know its cheesy to listen to that song and find inspiration in it, but I won’t let fear of sentiment stop me because on that night it became meaningful to me.  All things meaningful are by nature cringe-inducingly cheesy; I have come to embrace this fact, as I would rather lead a meaningful life than a cynical one.    I will have to wait until after this year’s France program, but, harnessing the power of as many cheesy cliches as possible, with god (and Toto) as my witness, I vow to return one day to that place, to once again see my sneakers stained by its ancient red soil.

“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”

Totally Justifiable Reactions

“_____ you Ernie, you _________ ________ ___________”

I can’t understand why society frowns on my urge to scream profanities at elves.

I was sitting,  tired-numb in the stagnant air of my morning commute, paused at the crossing of Broadway and Evans when my path was crossed by the likeness of this Keebler Elf plastered on the side of a semi-truck, hand upraised in the friendliest posture with that smug smile of his, as if inviting me to give up on the spot.  After all, it would be so easy, and it would feel so good.  Given that it was too early for my mental filtration unit to be put into place for the day, my first and only reaction was to scream profanities at Ernie until he went away, sort of like a terrier barking at a mailman.  You can easily fill in the blanks above.  This was the first time I realized that I am having some serious chocolate withdrawal.

Mark and I decided on a whim to embark upon a home exercise program called “Insanity”, after an embarrassing weekend when we tried to kick a soccer ball around and wound up stumbling around after ten minutes like a couple of asthmatic hedgehogs.   While Mark has dropped out after a day-five tantrum sighting foot-pain as the cause, I am determined to finish this project 100% and feel as good about myself as I did in Africa before I leave for France.  While I am happy to be getting back into a healthier lifestyle, I have discovered that exercising six days a week and counting calories religiously has produced some unexpected side effects.

First of all, I have clearly become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome.  I have developed an uncanny attachment to Sean T., the hairless, booming, muscle-bound purveyor of the Insanity program which is holding me captive each afternoon (Sundays excluded).  In any other arena of life, if I met Sean T. I would find him to be obnoxious, overconfident, overzealous, vain, and a little mean.  Like many of the permanent human installations you find in gyms, he has a bit of an overbearing, macho persona.  He pours water over his head with little to no regard for the people around him who could slip on his puddles.  He screams at unnecessary times.  Despite all these traits which I eschew in the real world, in the twelve square feet of my allotted living-room work-out space, I find these annoyances motivating, and even endearing.  I have been manipulated into thinking that this man can lead me into the promised land, if only I try hard enough.  “PUSH HARDER,” he yells at me with no regard for the acoustics of the room, and instead of retorting that he is not my supervisor, I do, in fact, find myself pushing just a bit harder.  I even miss him on Sundays when I should be enjoying the day off.  This, however, is not the strangest of consequences I have discovered after beginning my healthier lifestyle.

Almost every night now, I dream of eating something horribly unhealthy.  When I was living away from Mark, I had fairly frequent sex dreams to compensate for that lack in my reality; just like those times, I am now having graphic eating dreams to compensate for the lack of horrible, disgusting, delicious food in my life.  The odd part about it is that, similar to the sex dreams, these food dreams are usually good enough to stave off the cravings I’ve been having for the day.  When I dream about pizza on Thursday night, I won’t even think about it again until Saturday.

There’s a plaaaace for uuuuus…

The need for food has not only conquered my unconscious thoughts, but has invaded my waking mind as well.  At least once a day now, I find myself drifting into odd, food-centered daydreams.  Yesterday, pulling out of the driveway on my way to work again, as my brain began its usual routine of thinking of the places I would rather be going than my school, I began fantasizing about an amusement park similar to Six Flags, but made entirely of chocolate frosting.  All roller-coaster cars and attractions completely covered in frosting.  Mascots of hollowed-out chocolate like those weird and slightly gruesome Easter bunny statues.  When I shared this fantasy with Mark, he seemed disproportionately shocked, but is it really that strange to combine the two loves of my life into one glorious chocolate Mecca?  On another day, while accomplishing some menial task, I began construing my life as a version of West Side Story where I was Tony and Maria was cake.  I was singing the songs out loud before I thought about what this could look like to an outsider.  This daydream I have prudently kept to myself, although the songs have remained stuck in my head for days.

I’m two weeks into this routine, and taking bets on whether this will get easier, or just weirder.  All I know is that, like Lon Chaney Jr. on a full moon night, people should keep their children away from me because, for now, I can’t promise 100% to keep my chocolate-triggered profanity in check.

Happiness Put on Hold

I had it.  For one joyous hour it was mine. I celebrated with wine (which I’m trying to learn not to hate), called all my family members, and rejoiced in telling everyone the news about moving to France.  A teaching position was offered to me somewhere in Lille, sometime next October, and for the one hour after I heard the news, nothing was going to get in the way of that romanticized quintessentially French lifestyle I had dreamed of since high school.

Enter: my nemesis, the telephone.

"You're mine now, bitch."

The phone and I have always had something of an animosity toward each other.  Apart from the fact that the interface on this phone is horrible and nonsensical, I have always, upon hearing any telephone ring, been gripped by apprehension.  The two main subterranean roots at the foundation of this apprehension seem to be 1) my professional grade awkwardness concerning all forms of social interaction; and 2) the fact that (apart from family calls) bad-news telephone calls hold a majority over good-news telephone calls.  This particular phone call was not from my family; it was from my doctor.

Apparently, the routine check-up that I got as a part of my Let’s-Take-Advantage-of-Our-Health-Care-Before-It-Runs-Out-in-Two-Months spree turned up some “abnormalities” which need to be tested; abnormalities which could be essentially nothing, but could also be something frightening enough that I am reluctant to say it out loud.  Suddenly day-dreams of croissant-filled mornings and leisurely bicycle rides and day-trips to Belgium are rudely invaded by hypothetical scenarios where my savings has turned to crippling debt while I struggle endlessly to pay for  treatments worse than the disease which roots me to this spot and keeps me from accomplishing in life the things I have set out to do.

I just came back from a colposcopy, which is just as painful, uncomfortable, and shudder-inducing as those consonant clusters make it sound.  I know chances are good that this turns out to be nothing bad at all.  Given my age and history, I’m sure the statistics can tell me that I have nothing to worry about.  But despite all the reasons I shouldn’t be worrying, there’s nothing that can stop me from doing just that.  Fear never listens to logic, no matter how rational the mind in which it is contained.  It is an unruly, spoiled child running rampant in the recesses of the brain, messing everything up, moving things around where they’re not supposed to be, and generally running the place whenever it feels like as it screams all the while at the top of its annoying little lungs.  Unruly, spoiled children never give in to reason.  This fear will be my house guest in the coming weeks as I wait for results, and once again I will defer my celebration of my new opportunity, and put my happiness on hold until I am certain that this teaching position isn’t just another addition to the long list of “almosts” in my life.

Contingency Plans

I’m terrified.  I’m the kind of terrified where you’re afraid to move at all because for some reason it feels like all your inner organs in your abdominal cavity are no longer attached to anything, and if you move they’ll all just tumble out somehow.  The kind of terrified that dissolves all mesentery tissue.  The kind of terrified that places a small nuclear warhead just behind your collarbone when you’re not looking.

I’ve never been without a contingency plan until now.

One week from Sunday my doom will be sealed.  Acceptance emails for the French teaching assistant program will be delivered in the first week of April, and as the deadline approaches, I am becoming ever surer that none of those emails will be delivered to me.

It’s not that I hope to define my whole life through this one particular program.  It looks like a hell of a lot of fun, but missing out on fun is not what paralyzes me with that flash-bolt of terror.  If I am not accepted to this program, I will be completely directionless.  I won’t be working toward any kind of goal.  I’ll just be adrift here in the north, with all family members and friends located many hundreds of miles away.

I desperately need a backup plan.  So far, the best one I’ve come up with is to go to Disneyland and develop a scheme to steal the Indiana Jones robot located in the Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride.  Beyond living the dream of having my own robot who looks exactly like Harrison Ford to do my bidding, I’m not entirely sure what the long-term advantages to this plan are.

I never said I worked well under pressure.

Other plans involve hiding in small, dark spaces and pretending the world ended about 16 months ago.  Or maybe I could collect a bunch of lizards.  I really have no idea.

I don’t know why I’m so insanely petrified by being directionless for a while.  Other people seem to accomplish it all right.  It just seems to me that if you choose to simply exist, like an inanimate object or a machine, without moving yourself toward some kind of greater goal, there would be nothing keeping you alive.  To live is to grow and change and move.  I can’t already be out of possibilities by age 23.  I can’t stagnate yet.

If, on the other hand, I can gain possession of Robot-Indy and a rag-tag crew of lizards, our possibilities together could be endless.