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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.

follow me on Instagram: @ohnewfree

Today I was talking to my friend about graduating college – a thing he and I both are going to experience here pretty soon – May 5th, 2013, to be exact. He was telling me his post-graduation plans, and I was keeping quiet about my own. I don’t really know yet where I’m going go, what I’m going to do. I also told him that the more college classes I take, the less intelligent I feel.

I think there’s a lot of different ways you can take that statement. It can mean that I’ve realized how unintelligent I am, or how bad at college I am – But that’s not what I meant.

I meant that the more college classes I take – the more information I take into my brain, the more subjects I get exposed to, the more history I find out about, the more people I learn about that I previously didn’t know existed – the more unintelligent I feel. I’m graduating from college soon, but I don’t feel like I know very much at all.

As my graduation date approaches, I’m beginning to wish I would have double-majored. Or took a third minor. Or majored in Theatre, or Linguistics, or French, or Biology. I’m not done learning – I don’t think I ever will be. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I know enough – like I’m intelligent enough.

Sure, I could keep going to school for forever – for the rest of my life. Maybe I would do that, if it didn’t cost thousands of dollars per year. But people don’t go to college to learn, they go to get jobs.

So, in order to keep learning, without going to college – what do I do? How do keep experiencing things in my life  which will improve my understanding of the world? Or the universe? How can I feel like each day is improving the person that I am?

Do I just have to find a job that I like? That makes me happy? Do I just use my college education for what it’s meant for: getting a higher-than-minimum-wage-paying job?

Do I travel? Do I meet and talk to new people as often as possible? Do I read books and blogs and listen to podcasts and radio programs and watch cool movies?

What do I do?

Once they had me that scrap of slightly-thicker-than-normal paper with my name on it, what do I do?

So, here’s the sitch. (I’ve always wanted to say that in real life but the proper moment just never comes up.)

Recently (about six minutes ago), I was walking down the hall. Well, OK, the hall was actually a sky-walk (one of those tube-y things on college campuses that connect buildings so no one actually has to set foot outside). Anyway, there I was, walking down the hall/sky-walk.

I’ll admit that at that moment I was being one of those people who walk and text on their cell phones at the same time. I was trying to, anyway. I don’t really text that much, let alone walk and text at the same time. We are talking high-level functioning human stuff, here.

Even better that I was texting this guy from Saudi Arabia who doesn’t really speak English. He’s in the English language program at my University. Basically, we hang out sometimes and, er, talk. (We are “conversation partners”. It’s all rather fancy.) So, when I text him, I can’t be all: “lets meet 2morrow 4 food-age, bro!”, or, “wassup homie?!” — you know, my typical text language. Yeah. I can just imagine the confused stares that would bring about.

OK, so there I was, doing all this multitasking, when suddenly, a wild college student appeared! AKA, a thirty year old lady in fancy pants (dress pants, you might call them). I was gaping (I’m sure looking all intelligent) down at my phone when I heard,

“Do you have a pen? – I could have?”

Me: uhhh… wait what just happened? “Um, I don’t know….”

So then I dig immediately into my (rather tiny) purse and spot the four pens that are hanging out in the bottom underneath my keys and my magic gum (I’ll tell you about that another time).

I have a brief mental moment of consideration. These are like good pens. Not those little BIC ones that are found on every floor of every room in every building on campus. These are my Pilot G2 babies. I have a red and a black and a green and a blue (for every occasion!). Should I give one of these to this random person – fully knowing that not only have I never seen her before, but I will certainly never see her again, AKA, this is me giving away my pen. I mean, she didn’t even say that lame thing that people say when they’re all like, ‘hey, can I borrow a piece of paper?!’ You are not going to be giving it back, though, and both parties know this.

So, I did my little purse-digging, briefly (hopefully not too long) stared at my little pens, and looked back up at her with a sad face, saying, “No. I’m sorry!” And then she walked away and I clutched my pen-containing-purse to my chest and ran quickly away in the opposite direction. The End.

 
Does this make me a horrible person? I don’t think so. The only reason I ask this is because just before I was walking down that sky-walk/hallway I had been in a Philosophy class. Dang you, Philosophy.

I feel like this is sort of similar to those situations when homeless people/others ask you for change while you’re walking down the street, and you don’t want to give them any – for whatever reason – so you go and pat your back pocket, shake your head like you’re surprised to find nothing there and go, “Sorry, I don’t have anything. Must have left my two rolls of quarters at home today. Sorry!” (I’ve even done the back-pocket maneuver. You think I’ve ever kept a wallet back there? Nope.)

What really gets me is that I messed up my text message because of it! I’m supposed to be helping this guy with his language skills, and I go and send him the following: “So how about we meet tomorrow after your class tomorrow and then maybe go to the farmer’s market?” Tomorrow. Did you get that? Well, then again, maybe that helped him.

Maybe this a life lesson: Don’t attempt to walk and text at the same time, Jenni. It’s just not going to work out for you.

Whatever. You still can’t have my pen.

 

 

1. Read your Book.

No, seriously. Really. Read it. Sure, your professor may have assigned 35 pages for tonight’s homework. I know, that’s a lot. And, it’s probably boring. Biology? Psychology? Philosophy? I know, I know – going to long, boring lectures is one thing, but, reading? No way! At least skim it, OK? Soon you will master the technique of reading as a college student – headers, bold words and phrases, key terms in the back of the chapter. You paid enough for that book – you might as well use it!

2. Don’t Skip.

No, you don’t have to go to class. I know – freedom! It’s great. You can just stay home, sleep in, play on the computer, generally lounge about. Tell your parents class is cancelled that day, or make up some other excuse for still being in bed at noon. One more perk of being a college student: You don’t actually have to go be a student in college! But, take it from me, a once serial-skipper. Skipping class just isn’t worth it in the end. For one thing, there’s the guilt. Yes, it will hit you. Gee, I probably should have went to class. It’s only an hour and fifteen minutes! You couldn’t take an hour and fifteen minutes out of your busy stare-at-the-computer-screen schedule to go to class? And, if you skip once, where does it end? I didn’t go to class last time.. and now I have no idea what’s going on in class this time.. sooo, I guess I’ll just stay home – again. Going to class is always the better option. Sure, you have to get out of your pajamas, but you get to go educate your brain! Ask yourself this: why are you signed up for classes, anyway? Why are you paying lots of money/taking out lots of loans just to not go to class? Don’t skip! Seriously. Don’t.

3. Make Friends.

College is different from High School in that the people there are educating themselves by choice. You have to go to High School – not so for University! The college crowd may not be what you expect, either. There are older people there. Like, your parents’ ages. And, they’re cool! They’re interesting! Of course, there are younger students as well. But these people are not just the folks that happen to live in your school district – they’re from all over the place! Different cities, different states, different countries. They have different accents than you do. Different experiences. Different stories to tell, different lessons to teach you. Getting to know these people is one of the greatest rewards you can glean from going to college. Sure, you’ll get an education and a piece of paper with your name on it – but the people you’ll meet along the way are worth more than your degree. Talk to them! They are people, too! Colleges and Universities are full of the sorts of people you want to be friends with. So go for it.

4. Explore.

Ah, the college years. The socially designated time to figure out who you are, what you want, and how you’re going to get it. Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want to eat for lunch today? All very important questions. College is definitely the place to explore. That can mean literally explore, like, wander around campus and find the best smoothie place. And, it can mean explore yourself, like, do I even like math? Do I want to be friends with those sorts of people? How do I want to spend my time here on this planet? And, it can mean explore your options. What sort of job do you want? What things do you like learning about? What do you want to research, or write about, or get involved in? If you’re confused about any of those kinds of things, college is the place to figure them out. There are people who have that job. They want to help you figure yourself out! You don’t have to know right away what you’re doing. It took me almost two years to figure out what I even wanted to Major in. Explore, explore, explore. It’s what college is for!