An effort to stay afloat while determining which way is up

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.

Utopian View of the Day

There are few relics of magic remaining after age twelve.  On the eve of the thirteenth birthday, magic packs its bags to depart, so it says, for sunny Aruba and a nice retirement.  It says this to spare our feelings, but we know the truth; it must leave to accompany another child fortunate enough to be born in a time and place which allows it such a luxury as a magical start to life.  After this departure, we only see reminders scattered here and there of the magical world we once knew, but one relic which never fails to re-inspire the mind into magical thinking is music.  If it is in fact possible for anything to be holy or magical in this reality, symphonies are the most magical things I know.

There has never been a time in my life when symphonies were not present.  My father is a professional musician, and some of my earliest memories involve sitting in on one of his rehearsals in huge, vaulted rooms filled with intricate and imposing instruments; or otherwise attending performances of one of the several orchestras he’s been involved in, huddled together with my family in the dusk-lit grass of some amphitheater.  Back when my sister and I shared a bedroom, we could only agree on one issue: it seemed we could only manage to fall asleep when floating above the current of the sounds of Aaron Copeland, or sometimes the Planets Suite.  As children, we knew well the near-supernatural power of music, and this attitude has persisted in my mind ever since.

The magic of symphonic music comes from its physical simplicity.  At its most basic level, it is merely a series of vibrations, layered together like a French pastry,  which goes travelling through the air.  Without the human presence, it would just be a bit of math come to life, only to dissipate seconds later without anyone noticing.  But when there is an ear and a mind to listen, those minimal vibrations can open hearts impossibly complex and worlds unceasingly amazing.

I believe the beauty which these vibrations possess has a definite, physical existence whether it is recognized by the human ear or not, and it is this idea which brings me my utopian view of existence.  I like to think that if string theory were true and sub-atomic particles were composed of vibrating strings, each and every one of these micro-vibrations would harmonize and work together in the same way their macro-cousin-symphonic vibrations do.  Just think if that were true; any place in the universe with any amount of matter would be absolutely filled with all this life-altering beauty stacked and layered into innumerable levels surpassing the most complicated fugue, but so miniscule we remain unconscious of its presence. Nevertheless it would be inescapably there, enveloping us and very truly existing as a part of us.

Continuing this idea, just as most orchestral compositions are incomplete if missing the brass section, or the lead violins, or anything baritone, so the music of existence would be truly incomplete without everything we see and feel being present to contribute to the symphony.  Everything on Earth would have a definite purpose. We, ourselves, as a part of this music of being, would have a definite purpose.

And what if I extrapolated this scenario further?  What if we all moved unconsciously to the vibrations of this molecular orchestra, feeling its effects even when we can’t hear it?  Every movement secretly meaningful.  Every person on Earth dancing unconsciously to the vibrations of existence; to a beauty they’ve never heard but they’ve always felt.

It would be truly magical.

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.

Short Fiction

I thought I’d take a stab at something a little out of my comfort zone today with some creative writing.  It is the first piece of fiction I’ve written since grade school, so try not to judge it too harshly.  I wanted to find a way to create a story that starts at the absolute beginning without any presupposed frame.

 

 

I.

It’s the beginning of all stories, true or false.  The singular line impossibly regurgitated from nothingness, which by itself pulls into existence innumerable other things.  Possibly everything.  Whole worlds created accidentally by that irresponsible line, like the fresh new universes in soft little bodies that a washed-up guitar player and deadbeat-dad leaves to be untended when he tours the Midwest for naïve farmers’ daughters.

All stories hinge on an “I”, and it is indeed an irresponsible place to start, but we all start exactly there.  We think the “I” will affect only us, but little do we realize that our existence necessitates the simultaneous creation of somewhere to exist and someone to exist at.  Well, I guess that second one would be you.  I do apologize for the inconvenience, but now that I’ve created us, I suppose we should know a little more about what that means.

Similar to 99% of the people I know (you see, I am already creating too much collateral damage, implying the existence of all these people I know, the places they live in, their families, etc.; truly irresponsible, this I), I am waiting, and you are waiting with me.  Rural Metro bus number 104 should be emerging from the haze of heat waves reflected off of the mid-day Dobson Road traffic any minute now, and I am waiting to perform an experiment of sorts.  I have created, and now I am hoping to see if I can un-create as well.

The day is scaldingly bright as I stand here next to this downright-useless mesh shade cover over the bus stop, with its metal painted an insincere teal.  I am considering what it is that brings me here.  It is the story of course; my acting it and your reading it.  I am both creator of and slave to the story.

It is a curious feeling to know you have come into existence only moments ago, and yet be able to call on memories dating back to childhood.  Doubtless, those memories were simply a part of my creation, but they are very convincing nonetheless.  You may also be in possession of some convincing memories, but rest assured, we both just got here and I’m sorry to say that’s my fault.  Hopefully this cumbersome nuisance won’t last long.

Looking westward, straining against the daggers of the sun, I can just make out the hulking rectangular prism of number 104.  The flat front.  That is what I am counting on here.

The memories this body holds tell me that I use this bus daily to get to work five miles down the road, stocking books in a retail bookstore with bright fluorescent lights and strangely patterned carpets; a bookstore whose other employees are, on average, thirty years my junior.  This is what the memories say, but it’s not what I say.  I say I was just created here and now, and I need to know if this story is a permanent mess I’ve gotten us into.  I need to know if something created can still be erased completely, or if a scar will always remain.  I need to know if I can undo this annoyance, for my sake and yours.  I can just make out the shape of the driver in the shimmering windshield now. The bus is moving closer.

The flat front of the Rural Metro transportation fleet is what I hope will be most effective about this method.  I can’t jump out in front of just any car.  At the speed traffic is moving, that would probably just cripple me, and then I would have to create even more MDs and RNs and EMTs and every single little piece of equipment stashed in the hospital I would have to go to.  That wouldn’t be fair at all; I’ve already done enough creative damage.  Jumping in front of the bus, however, with its towering flat front, would mean definite cranial impact and, I hope, almost certain termination of existence.  If we both stop existing simultaneously, we can call the un-creation experiment a success.  Actually, we won’t have to.  We won’t be here anymore.

It’ll only be a few seconds now.  The bus is nearly here.  Excuse me while I step out onto the blacktop.  The gleaming metal bike frame mounted to the front of number 104 has caught my eye.  That…. That is going to hurt.  I can’t believe I didn’t consider the bike frame.  Too late to go back now, I suppose.  Nothing to do but close my eyes and remain as loose as possible to aid in the impact.

Seconds slide past.  This is taking longer than I thought.  I can’t possibly have undone this creation already…

The soft, leisurely “kssshhh” of air brakes bringing the goliath bus to a slow, safe stop.  No screeching or swerving or shouts whatsoever.  That’s contrary to predictions.  Worst of all, everything is still in existence.  I open my eyes.

I am sometimes dumbfounded by my own absent-mindedness.  I’ll grant that we did just get to this plane of existence a few meager minutes ago, but I still should have known how a bus works.  Sitting a good twenty feet ahead of me where the passengers are clustered by the bus stop sign, number 104 idles contentedly.  I appear to be ill-positioned for this particular experiment; next time I should put myself before the stop, not after it.  I have made eye contact with the driver, a familiar woman who is looking a bit impatient at my casual stance blocking the rest of her endless route.

Well, what else can we do right now?  I think I have exact change in my front pocket.

As I file in after the last passenger has deposited his money, the driver greets me.

“How’s your day, John?”

“Honestly, I can’t say it’s all gone according to plan.”

“Well, keep your chin up.  There’s always tomorrow.”

The Shapes of Thoughts

Something is different.  Something has definitely changed, and worst of all, the change has come on so incrementally that I didn’t notice it until fairly late in the game.  The cathedral I once inhabited, with its Gothic arches flying up toward the center to meet harmoniously at the apex; with its centrally enormous but not-quite-gaudy red-velvet throne; with its hundreds of trap doors hidden by millions of cardboard boxes all labeled in Sharpie with my own large, untidy handwriting; this place, which was once my university, courtroom, playground, and sanctuary all rolled into one, now seems hazy and unclear.  I seem to have lost uninhibited access to the inner spaces of my mind.

As a child, I constructed my mind as a lofty, vaulted dome encircled by small arched windows.  Oddly, the only piece of furniture it contained was the European-style mahogany and red-velvet throne, raised on a small platform near the center of the back.  This was where my Self took residence, deciding important issues and operating the controls to reality.  Every one of my real actions in the outside world originated from that spot.  Other than that chair, the rest of the room was simply filled with boxes of information and memories, as if someone had just recently moved into the space.  The system of keeping everything encased in cardboard and strewn about the room may have seemed disorganized to the casual observer, but it was always adequate for finding whatever you needed.  The only other defining feature of the space was a relatively thin column at the exact center of the space.  This served as an anchor in times of need.  Whenever I had to memorize large amounts of information for tests, information which could be discarded after use, I freed up space for the temporary information by connecting some of my boxes to the center column with a long rope, and then throwing them out of the windows.  The everyday thoughts and memories would dangle freely out of the mind-space while the temporary information was stored in their place.  After the test, that information could be discarded, and the boxes hauled safely back inside.

The space also had advocates to help me see all sides of any issue and make my decisions wisely.  One was an advocate for logic and reason, the other for impulse and spontaneity.  They would each argue their case in front of the Self’s throne, and a decision would be reached accordingly.  They were identical in appearance, so Impulse and Spontaneity was tinted green, while Logic and Reason was tinted blue to tell them apart.  Honestly, Logic and Reason would win more than its share of the arguments, but no one was bitter about it.

This was how my mind operated for years, and I was thoroughly proud of the system.  However, in the past year or so, something has changed which I have only recently become aware of.  It is a bit difficult to explain.  It is as if the place I once saw so vividly, the place I essentially lived in, is now faded and unfocused.  The colors aren’t as saturated.  The room feels smaller.  The voices of the advocates have become muffled and almost unintelligible.  It’s like seeing a photo rather than being there in person.  It’s like dreaming about something rather than living it.

I want to know what has happened, and how I can get back.

I’ve come up with some possible theories.  My first thought is that it’s simply a result of the march toward inevitable adulthood.  Doubtless, imagination is required for the upkeep of such a place, and maybe only a few lucky adults get to retain their imagination throughout life.  Maybe as mine wanes with each passing day, my Self gets pushed further and further to the extremities of the space, until finally it’s on the outside looking in through the foggy glass of one of the windows.  Or perhaps I simply need to set aside time to exercise my imagination more; I’ll admit it hasn’t had too much excess play time during this last year’s bid to simply not fail at life.  It is possible that my Self’s eyes have been staring at the controls of reality so long and so intently that when they look up from their work, they are unable to focus anymore.

Another possible reason for this change occurs to me.  Could it be that, as I have become increasingly uncertain of what my life should be here on Earth, my mind is simply reflecting my nebulous state?  After all, if I am uncertain of my role in this world, how can my mind be certain of its role in me?  Perhaps the whole space and everything in it will continue morphing until I can decide who I need to be.

There is a third viable possibility to consider.  What if the fault is not in my space, but in my Self?  What if my Self is only seeing things as muffled and distorted because it is stricken ill, poisoned by the year of turmoil and self-loathing? In the past year especially, I have been internally reiterating how much of a failure I think I am because I’m not where I thought I would be by now.  It is not much of a stretch to think that this kind of mantra could turn poisonous to anyone exposed.  It could be that my miasma of negativity, initially meant for motivational means, has finally caught up with me.  Could my Self ever recover from the handicaps imposed by such toxic thinking?

In each of these scenarios, I can hold out slight hope for a return to the old ways.  I can try to strengthen the mind, to heal the self, to allow my space to redefine itself as necessary.  Or if I can never return it to what it once was, maybe I can construct something new to take its place.  Regardless of what happens, there is always hope.  With that thought alone, the colors become marginally more vivid, and the shapes of thoughts just a bit sharper than before.

Hard Pill to Swallow

There is an issue in my relationship which I’ve been desperately trying to hide away for four years.  A big, purple, shiny, naked, lumpy, bulging, ever-growing animal of an issue.  I’ve tried to shut it in drawers, stuff it away into garbage bags, smash it under large pieces of furniture, and drown out its noise with my own mindless chattering,  only to have Mark bust it back out of whatever constraints I’ve put it in and let it take up residence front and center on our bed.  It started out small and manageable, but after four years of festering it has now become too large and unwieldy to ignore.

Birth control pills, or the lack thereof, have been (paradoxically) taking up all of my mental space in the past week.

I’ve always been a very logical lady; one might even say “vulcan-like”.  On more than one occasion friends have compared me to a robot.  That ever-present voice of logic in my brain tells me that oral contraception has been proven to be safe, effective, and not horribly expensive, and yet all the reasonable arguments in the world can’t stop me from avoiding any and all actions which may result in my acquisition of this wonder-drug.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the pill as a concept.  Maintaining women’s reproductive freedom is high on my list of priorities.  I would be ecstatic if every woman in the world were on the pill… except me, that is.

So why this aversion to something so clearly beneficial?

It’s definitely not a desire for children.  I already work with children, and as much as I love my students, I don’t need them contaminating the other areas of my life.  Not yet.

I tell Mark a large part of my aversion is biologically-based, and that is true to an extent.  I am terrified of significantly altering my hormones which, for the past 23 years, have been pretty self-sufficient.  I’m afraid of destroying the balance.  It would be like destroying the Hamburglar’s fragile balance by introducing him to hot dogs.  He would doubtless become addicted to those questionable meat-sandwiches, too, willing to do anything to acquire them.  Soon, he would be operating outside of the law (as he is accustomed) to get his hands on some sweet imported sausages. This would cause him to become classified as just a regular burglar without any Ham-related specialties.  Without his cute, pun-laden prefix, the courts would have no sympathy for him, he would be punished to the full extent of the law, and his life would be essentially ruined.  That’s why you can’t introduce new sub-par foods to the Hamburglar, and it’s why you can’t introduce new hormones to me.  Similar to new foods upsetting the fictional character’s fragile psyche,  new chemicals could upset whatever balance I have going on and throw my life totally out of whack.

Apart from this (admittedly overblown) fear, there is another, much larger reason why I always avoid taking this next step.

Oh, unfunny and offensive cake topper, if only you knew the truth...

I’m more than a little afraid of commitment, and altering my body chemistry for the sake of someone else seems like a weirdly big commitment to me.  Like bigger-than-marriage big.  You can always nullify a contract, but medications can do permanent damage to your body.  At least that’s how I see it.  Of course I couldn’t tell Mark this.  He would argue that if I’m not committed to us after over four years, there’s something seriously wrong.  Hell, maybe there is something wrong with me.  I know 23 is not that young anymore, but whenever faced by commitment here I still cringe away as if you had presented me with something several days dead.  Mark is the only man I’m with, and has been for years, but I feel like this pill will be biologically committing me to him for an extended period, if not forever.  For reasons I’m kind of afraid to explore, I’m still not ready for that.  What if I never am?

Regardless, I have an appointment to see the doctor this week and discuss my options.  After four years of holding out, this thing is finally happening.  There’s no other way I can put it off.  All I can hope is that this lumpy, bulging, ugly purple animal and I can become friends after all.

It’s spring break now.  Instead of alcohol poisoning and heavy exposure to lady-boobs, I’m going to begin a kind of write-a-thon, hoping to post each day for the next five days.  I’m afraid my writing has been declining in quality, so I hope this week will serve as a kind of intensive, back-on-track, self-taught skill-honing course, rather than a crash-and-burn kind of affair.  We will soon see.  More to follow.