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If this is the only thing I am good at I will keep mining the words. I will hack at them with what mental strength I have that my arms do not share.

Everywhere is ugly. The ocean turns ugly, the palm trees turn ugly, the most beautiful old cathedral turns into yet another building you have to walk around to get to where you want to go.

Picture the male university professor. I have him stuck in my mind. He is tall, bearded always, shabby but neat, well spoken. He leans against the front table in the room, always, he sits there listening, nodding, looking for more people to tell him what they think morality is and is it real or did we just make it up and is there a god and what do you think about what this German philosopher had to say 500 years ago please give me 12,000 words double-spaced by Friday at midnight to my email.

I miss him, this authority figure who had all the answers and so many more questions. Your brain would never travel that far down a path otherwise.

I was 17 when he announced to the class full of college freshman, “There are two very strong writers in this room.” I don’t particularly know why he needed to say it — doesn’t that make the other 50 people feel bad? — and of course he went on to point us out — doesn’t that make us feel bad? — me and another girl, both of us quiet little mental philosophers who enjoyed listening and reading more than anything else.

Something Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal made me stop and think, I am listening to her, reading is listening. Writing is speaking. Hello, hello.

I want to write a book. I want to make a movie. I want to learn guitar and make music. These things are beautiful to me, like old cathedrals.

He tells me I don’t need to be so hard on myself. (Trust me, I’m not.) But what if that effort, that little mental push, is what draws the line between the successful author and the professor?

At forty he speaks with the mouth of a 16 year old and it is not good anymore. Not because of age but because of repetition. He is saying different things but with the same tone, and it is all meaningless and a waste of trees. But who are we to judge? Does anything matter? Is it only important because life will keep going after we all die? If not, what other reason is there? Maybe she is not a believer but is searching for some kind of enlightenment.

It is only good until people have had enough of it. We are filled and then become empty again.

In my dream I am a witch with a broomstick.

Count the lines in the corner of her eyes. Can you read them like tea leaves?

God did not do anything. Sit down. Look at everything that has been built and destroyed because of us. We will go on making things until we cannot even when other people have had enough of it.

 

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It is dark and 1 am and the cat is sneezing somewhere in the kitchen. The blinds are slightly open and I keep seeing this ghost of light fly from the top of the doorframe to the ceiling. At first I thought it was the cat but then I realized there’s nothing there to jump on.

It’s 1 am and there’s still traffic outside; there are too many people here so they never sleep and always drive their cars. People are always busy but I never see them get anything done. Everyone says they’re creative or musical but I don’t see it. What the hell are people doing here? I look out the window to see my car parked on the road, taking up whatever piece of cement it can.

I don’t know what people are doing out there, but the blinds are closed now and the cat is sleeping on my pillow. It’s so expensive to live here I don’t think people have time to do anything but work to make money and then use the rest of their time spending their money on things that are easy to buy: fancy cars and expensive clothes and whatever health or food thing is popular. Do people even talk to each other? I don’t know. I’m remembering this one time a grown woman from here recorded herself crying on her laptop and sent it out. I don’t think that’s the way to deal with sadness but maybe it’s the easiest way. If you send picture proof you don’t have to talk about it or think about it after you push a button.

It is not worse or better here than elsewhere, not yet. It is almost December and the tourists still come to take pictures of the palm trees. The palm trees are still lovely. And now they are covered with lights and giant decorative snowflakes hang down from them in a place where it never snows.

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“You should go to the moon,” he says. “I’d go to the moon. And Mars. Did you know it takes two months to get there? Or it takes four years if you don’t leave at the right time. So you’d have to leave at the right time.”

He is sitting on top of a table swinging his legs. He needs a haircut. He is excited and scared and smart and I love him.

“We’ve done all the tests,” he says. “We tried the needle one with the string and it swung and it said it will be a girl. My wife is doing good, she’s happy, she’s healthy, we’re all doing good.”

He is going to be a father, this man. I walk away and write poems about him on flashcards. I think about how he has changed me as a person. I think about him being a father.

“I wanted to be a guitarist,” he told me. “A musician. Now I’m sitting on this table.”

Years later I see him again, with a tiny pink sweater thrown over his shoulder. His baby girl is growing up. Is he still growing up?

“What do you think it would be like to leave? To never see your family again? What if I didn’t hug my father goodbye? Do you think I would regret it?”

“I wanted to go to the moon,” I said, “when I was younger. Now I just want to see as much of this planet as I can. I haven’t even seen much of this country, not yet. How much time do I have? Why is it always going by? Should I hurry?”

“Juxtaposition,” he said from the table. “Do you know what that means?”

The moon is far away now. He is far away now. Mars is farther. I still remember what juxtaposition means. The flashcards are duller and the pencil is smudged but the words are still there.

 

 

“…I work hard, do a lot of push-ups, a lot of sit-ups, get made fun of, sniff benzodiazepines–” He pushes one nostril closed with a finger.

“–Barry!”

“Hey, you asked. I wouldn’t tell just anybody this, you asked.” He’s pretty drunk. The overly-bent bill of his super-American baseball hat makes his thin horse-face look even thinner. I flick at the hat with my fingers.

“How often do you get your hair cut?”

“Every one-and-a-half-weeks,” he says, taking off the hat to show his ‘do.

“Wow.” The sides of his head are shaved, while the top is a bit longer. He’s got golden-brown hair under that hat, and a tattoo on his chest. And on his side. He shows me both after another beer.

“This is a wolf. And this is a quote from the bible.”

He asks me to dance with him, and I do, feeling it’s my duty as an American citizen. He is an Army man, after all.

He twirls me around a bit, and does some fancy twist with far too many moves for the amount of gin tonics I’ve had.

“Is this what you do, go out on the weekends and dance with girls?”

“I don’t know what a weekend is, anymore. I just have off days. And, no. Not really.”

He spins me again, and once I recover, I ask him more “meaningful” and “deep” questions about his life. About being in the Army. About how he likes Korea. About his hat.

At some point, later, after the dancing, I laugh to myself, thinking about how quickly I’ve become the English teacher who hangs out in the Westerner neighborhood, who drinks on Friday nights and dances with American Army dudes. Typical. Typical. Wonderful.

But it’s more than that. It’s the first moment we saw the group of “Army dudes” walk into the bar, forearm muscles out, baseball caps on. It’s how wrong we were, so quickly. It’s how all people, if you give them the chance, might just be good, interesting people in your life. Even if they wear sleeveless shirts.

Epiphany. A sudden realization of great truth. My little brother learned this word when he was like ten and went around for the next six years of his life (he’s currently sixteen) saying, “Epiphany. A sudden realization of great truth.”

I’m not saying that is what happened to me, a sudden realization of great truth, but, the truth snuck up on me, at least.  Or I was ignoring it, as it approached, attempting to wish it away, the fact that I’m missing something. You can tell yourself that you’re happy and whole, and do everything possible to keep up the ploy, but eventually, if you’re honest with yourself at least part of the time, you’ll find the truth for yourself, or someone else will accidentally shove it in your face, and, bam. Epiphany. Maybe.

This is about friendship. This is about people. This is about life.

This is about me, and relationships and reciprocation and a lack of both. Something missing, or everything.

This is also a little about heart-break, or -ache, feeling a little of the magic of other people disappearing, feeling that that will never come back.

This is about love, and not understanding what love is, and loving someone who loves someone else, and loving a few people who don’t love back. Missing all of that.

This is about place, location. Wondering if I’d find this somewhere else, with a different city and a different group of people. Wondering if this is just another aspect of life, that this happens everywhere to everyone, wondering if I should feel wise instead of foolish.

This is about choices, about choosing people. Choosing to hang out with those who make you feel happy with yourself, or at least feel something, not like something’s missing; not empty. This is about choosing the right people, about letting go those who make you lose your people magic, even though you don’t want to, even though you wish you could keep them.

This is also about personhood. Being a person, being independent. But missing something. Being a person but not feeling like a person, not being treated like a person.

This is about life, of course, because everything is. This is about learning. And this is about truth, if it even exists.

Nothing like an epiphany, not quite. But, at least, understanding.

 

 

 

A few days ago I woke up and somehow almost immediately decided that a good way to become a more active Instagram-er would be to take one picture every hour — sort of a documentary of a day in my life, in pictures. It went well… for a few hours, anyway.

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“8am #adayinpics”

A hotter-than-normal Michigan summer morning, therefore, fan on full speed.

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“9am #adayinpics”

Eggs for breakfast with the morning email scan-through.

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“10am #adayinpics”

Tiny potted plant gardening.

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“11am #adayinpics”

Running work errands, sweating profusely, examining the beautiful city I live in.

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“12pm #adayinpics”

Heading back home, stopping to admire the potential of a once-abandoned building that’s already being realized.

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“1pm #adayinpics #resume”

Working on my resume, attempting to create an image of myself on paper that shows my own potential.

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“4pm #adayinpics #walden”

A resume rest and Walden in the living room.

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“6pm #adayinpics #naptime #hidinginsidethehorribleweather”

Finally retreating back to the relative comfort of my bedroom and box fan.

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