Katmandu

26 Apr

The world falls out from under you.

They said you were prepared for this. The drills, the talks, even the seismological understanding. But apparently your buildings were put through no such rigor, born at a different time.

You are buried now.

You know help will come. It’s come before, to find people under the rubble of the lives they thought they’d prepared for. It’s all a matter of how angry you can be – will your heat show up on their scanners? Too much cold, uncaring detritus around is the real threat. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

This is what they prepared you for.

You know that elsewhere, feet still walk on firm foundations, the blessings that come with their more monotone landscapes. Fewer ups and downs, no sharp shadows at twilight to make you wonder about the curves and edges of the world around you. Safety.

You know you will be on their commercials. What – a week at most, this time?

Send help.

Send money.

Send you.

No – not that last one. It’s too dangerous for that last one. You risk other people’s lives and business meetings.

You understand.

They will try to sacrifice. Ten dollars, ten cents. Any little thing helps, but you will not be dug out of here with the shovel of other people’s well-meant quarters. Lives are bought in time and effort. It’s a pity now much you have to pay for that, nowadays.

But still, you understand. You understand why they can’t send more. They need that money. For their bread. For their gas. For their kid’s new start-of-school pencil box. These are what they build their foundations out of, and who are you to deny someone else what they need to ensure their world rocks a little bit less when they hear of disaster and misfortune?

A teacher calls about a scraped knee.

A lover calls to break a heart.

A boss calls to kill a career.

The news chatters in the background about an earthquake in Katmandu.

They will gather their children with their sturdy new pencil boxes close to them and clutch at the steadiest thing they have, eyes watering over with gratitude at this small foundation, while they wonder – what if that were me?

You wonder what it would be like to be clutching that pencil box right now.

Beside you, your hands try to curl into claws but they can’t because the debris of ages ago’s poor planning and yesterday’s shit luck prevents you from moving. The world crashed into itself, a byproduct of trying to stand up straight on too unstable a spine. It’s the way it’s always been. It will be again, somewhere.

It’s just you, this time.

You imagine that out there, the world is still shaking for you. Fear, anger, desperation at the rubble that provides too much metaphor for how humanity has built itself. They will fight for you, out of their own emotions.

You smile, a quiver of hope small enough to force its way past the crushing deoxygenation.

Maybe it will be enough, those other people’s movements.

But for now, you are still.

“Anger is bad.” No.

8 Apr

Life is short, live it. …okay.

Love is rare, grab it. …eh, sure.

Anger is bad, dump it. No.

Absolutely, definitively no.

Anger is an emotion. A typically unpleasant emotion, but that does not make it a bad one. Pain is also unpleasant. Pain telling me that my hand is on something hot and will burn beyond repair unless I move it is pretty damn useful. I wouldn’t call that bad.

I also wouldn’t call the roaring, screaming indignation that rises to your throat in anger because you are being raped or mugged bad, either. That anger makes you fight back. That anger tells you that something is wrong, and you should fight for your life in response. I would not call the sick, hot refusal that makes people jump into a fray and push back the monster attacking a child or kicking a dog or berating their wife in public or tearing your friend to verbal shreds a bad thing, either. Dump the anger, and you dump the potential for action.

I would know. I too was taught that anger was bad. So when I was molested, my anger turned to shame. Stuck in a shitty, degrading home life, my anger turned inwards and I defended my sanity with sharp knives on my skin instead of sharp words at my parents about maybe finally fucking owning up and dealing with themselves. Because hey, anger was bad, right? But these slashes here, they weren’t anger. They were despair. Guilt. Repentance. Better to be sad than to be angry, right?

Better silent martyr than screaming monster. Forget that there might ever be a middle ground. There could be no middle ground. Speaking up meant talking about my anger and anger was bad. I needed to dump it. So I did. Straight into some scars.

Perhaps it would have been better if I’d just kept on being mad and went ahead and yelled. It’s usually easier for people to hear you that way.

Anger is what leads to court cases and criminal convictions. Anger is what makes people go on in the face of someone telling them they can’t. Anger knocks down, and anger gets back up.

Anger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. What you do with the anger, that’s where the value judgment lies. Action can be good. Action can be bad.

When there is nothing to change or salvage or address or fix, letting go of anger can be the correct call. Siphon it out as energy for something productive. Breathe and let it fade. But don’t just dump it into a rubbish bin and pretend that you’ve actually dealt with it at all. Anger exists for a reason. And dumping anger isn’t the same as getting rid of that reason.

Don’t put your anger in a dumpster if you still need it for something else.

Anger is not a bad thing. It what’s you do with it – or don’t do – that’s the issue.

Just ask my scars.

Resurrection

6 Apr

Yesterday was Easter. As someone who know longer identifies strictly as either Catholic or nondenominationally Christian, the day does not hit my life as hard as it used to, back when Easter meant something like bunnies and chocolate and uncomfortable pretty dresses, weeks of waiting and a vague feeling of having made it somewhere when the trumpets played during the very last song, adolescence and jeans and strangled, crying prayers and final, desperate relief at sunrise. There was victory to it, back then.

There is some misgiving around it for me, now. I can look on it as a part of my family history and my life narrative, but not longer a part of my personal legacy. There would be less truth about me, if I went and sat in an Easter pew, now.

I am glad for those who can celebrate Easter with no taint of regret or guilt or hate or distrust lurking in the low notes of those Sunday hymns, whether the tinges be from wider eyes and disillusionment or vision shut down from hatred of the part of the world that isn’t you.

I belong to the former category. It’s a long story, but mostly boils down to my refusal to accept that what a group of arbitrary essentially-white men decided together in a randomly located room before the microscope was anywhere near invented is absolute truth about the universe at every single moment in time.

Call it doubt. Call it skepticism. Call it science. I don’t really care. It is where I am at, and I do not feel the need to try to force anyone else to try to be there. I claim no label because I do not presume that I know enough about the universe to say that yes, I am capable of finding absolutely the right one and yes, you should absolutely use it too.

I am not a god. I am not even a physics nobel laureate.

So instead, I have settled loosely upon allowing Shakespeare to describe my doctrine, with that Hamlet line, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Science revisits and retests and grows and revises itself. Discards and discovers. Describes everything with an ever-expanding vocabulary. And as someone who grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy, who grew up writing sci-fi and fantasy, I am willing to clinging to a last little bit of hope that there’s some kind of magic out there, in this very wide place of existence.

Maybe it’s a network of universal consciousness. Maybe it’s a god. Maybe it’s the ridiculous self-trick that is the human mind, the reason that while I claim no religion I will still pray to the God that I muttered tearful little prayers to as a child because sometimes it’s nice to pretend that someone like that is maybe still listening.

Or maybe it’s just gonna be more science being really damn cool.

Whatever the case, yesterday was a day about celebrating resurrection. And even as the lovely little heathen I have become, I too could appreciate that feeling of a breath of fresh* air as a tomb opens and something you thought was dead walked out.

In my case, a character I spent five years writing and whose dead horse I thought I’d thoroughly bludgeoned beyond any future salvageability just up and showed up in the back of my mind and started talking and generating plot and apparently having a story again. And she’s not a character I’d heard from in a loooong time, outside of edits for that infernal manuscript of hers I swear I will finish cleaning up this year and finally send off into the vastly frightening, teeth-gnashing world of oh god please traditional publishing agents take on my book.

This character – Mariasa – she’s the closest analog of me I have in a character. Sort of. I’ve written short stories where the MC’s were also me, in some way, but I tended to be more self-aware about that. I wrote the short story because I needed to fling my emotions or my imagination into some other scenario so they could sort themselves out there. Or I was just playing pretend in words. That’s what we writers do, you know.

But Mariasa – I started writing her story when I was 14. I wasn’t super conscious of what I was doing, within my writing. I was just doing it. So I went along for about five years, pouring dreams and hopes and personality and adventure I couldn’t extract from my own life into this character. She was my soul, out having another life somewhere. And I didn’t realize this until about three years after I’d finished that first draft of her story. There is a line, in my development as a writer. “Before the time I realized that I’d used parts of real humans to shape many of my characters” and “After the time I realized that many of my female MC’s were basically alternate versions of me and that oh god so many of the male protagonists are based off of a certain guy friend and I should probably go smush my face into his and see how that goes.”

Ah, college.

Anyhoo. Mariasa. She lived in my head for so long. I would sit at my windowsill with my notebook in my lap and my dog at my feet and I’d loop the same 40-minute CD for hours and stare out my window at the world beyond it and it was really only a matter of how fast I could move the pencil to keep up with how fast Mariasa was traveling across her own world having adventures. She was the story I could just sit down and write. No writer’s block. No uncertainty. I’d sit down to pick up where I’d left off and suddenly have a backlog of five more scenes in my head that I needed to move Mariasa to. She was my great story.

And then I finished it. And I was 18, and my world and mental health simultaneously started to crack. Probably causative, that. But this meant that for five more years, Mariasa’s story stayed ended. I got stuck in this endless loop of editing. Because of course it was never good enough. Fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Grow into a different person with altered values and more knowledge and greater exposure and fix it again.

Over. And over. And over again.

Locked into a life structure of my own where I come up against the same brick wall again and again and locked into an editing loop where I’ve continually tried to smooth over the same set of passages while repeatedly stalling and not getting any further, I’ve been frustrated with the staleness of the same words and the same sort of life I’m writing them in, and I’ve been at the stage of “I just want to finish the damn thing” for a while now.

And then I went to Europe.

There was a lot of fresh air in Europe.

Mariasa’s story is one of adventures. I went out and had some adventures. Parts of me long quiet woke up again, and the other chatter that’s routinely bounced around in my mind and made it impossible to be properly productive, properly imaginative went silent. There was room for the quiet little voices in my mind that murmur about adventure to wake up again. I guess it makes sense that Mariasa would wake up, too.

And it’s a desperate relief, this resurrection. Because it means a part of me that I thought might be dead forever is coming back to life. Or at least did long enough for Mariasa to come out of whatever tomb in my mind she’d been hiding in.

She’s older now. Which is good, because it means that she’s grown. She’s got the light I build her character from but there’s spark to her now, too. Less worried about “good,” more able to make hard decisions. But still, as always, caring really damn hard.

She’s slipped on her sweater and the first pair of shoes in reach. She’s ready to go into the world again.

I’ve started her story – not sure if it’ll be a short of a full-blown novel as well, but I’m letting her decide that. This isn’t a story with an agenda. This is just a story.

Mariasa woke up. Apparently we’re going somewhere.

———–

*Okay, I know any air coming from a newly unsealed tomb around the time of Jesus would have been anything but fresh. Whatever. Pretend it’s the shiny Hollywood version. We’re talking metaphors here. Deal with it.

Adventure In The Great Wide Somewhere

7 Mar

I have always wanted a Tardis. I have not always known the name for it as such. But to see all of time and space – and, if Dr. Who is any precedent, to have uncountable many adventures while doing so – is what I have, and will always, desperately want. I want it so badly it hurts.

But I was not always a Whovian. The seat of my yearning was not always a mad man with his box. No, my wanderlust came with other names – a wardrobe, a letter upon my eleventh year, a snag on my finger in the bookstore with an oath to follow, unicorns with amulets, wrinkles and tesseracts. My mind has always been an amalgam of Ella’s who have more adventures than their Char’s, Wilma’s who make incredible wishes, Sara’s who create kingdoms out of attics and words and poverty, Mary’s who find gardens tucked away in, well, space and time.

It’s always been books, of course.

Sometimes people seem to think that books make people sedentary dreamers. Perhaps this is true, for some. But for me, all it did was make me yearn for adventure in the great, wide somewhere.

I’m going there on Sunday.

There have been so many, many times in my life when I’ve had the thought, “I wish I could do [something].” But there’s always a barrier. Time. Money. Health. Sanity. Money. Energy. Money. It’s hard to make our own adventures in a world where experience belongs to the old and expediency to the wealthy. It grinds a bit, settling for the smaller scope and pretending you feel like you’re doing something more. There’s always that answer to keep us in our place, “Now’s just not the best time.”

I’ll just wait until things in my life become more certain. Then I’ll know better what I’m dealing with. Then I’ll be able to better move around the pieces.

This is reasonable. This is good. This is clear, logical, totally appropriate thinking.

But I personally realized that unless I was suddenly very, very lucky, I was never going to go anywhere. There was never going to be a “best time.” There was probably never even going to be a good time. I wasn’t ever going to be able to have it all. I was going to have to risk something. I just needed to figure out what I was willing for that to be. Money. Job security. Time. Not feeling alone. Absolute certainty that everything would work out.

Adventure means risk. You’re going to have to be willing to lose something. That’s what all those books I read growing up had shown me, right? You want the world. What are you willing to give it in return?

Sure, adventures aren’t inherently about taking stupid risks. I mean, we’re talking about my wanting to go exploring, not saving the world from the forces of evil. I can at least make the risks I take calculated.

And so I am. Five months ago, I saw something that I wanted. A bookstore. Of course, a bookstore.

In Portugal.

But… it was the bookstore, in a way. We’re not talking corporate white walls with B&N logo slathered everywhere (though B&N is lovely and I buy books there and that’s all well and good). We’re talking… well, we’re talking about that library that Belle found in the Great Wide Somewhere. Bookshelves on the scale of glory. Red carpet and graceful bannisters and dust hanging like history in the light shafts, giving the place an irrefutable air of magic and tales as old as time.

It’s called Livraria Lello, by the way.

I found the place while doing random internet browsing. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular. I was just flick flick flicking, procrastinating my time away while breathing between grad school apps.

And then there it was. The most beautiful, magical bookstore I had ever seen. Because it looked like the one I had grown up dreaming about. The one that I had always, always wanted to be real.

It was a bit like finding a wardrobe.

But… Portugal. That was so far away from ocean-locked United States. It would be soooo expensive to get there.

Sigh. Put it on the mental docket. “Places I desperately want to go before I die.”

*PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC*

YOU DON’T KNOW WHEN YOU’RE GOING TO DIE! YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT AND EXPECT TO ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO EVER GO THERE!

Holy moly, Anxiety Man! You’re right!

Sometimes my mental demons have a point. Knew there had to be some kind of reason I keep them around.

So. I sat there, staring at my screen. Doing some calculations in my brain. Thinking about time and energy and money and certainty and dreams.

And I’m going to Portugal tomorrow. And then France a few days after that. And then a few days more and I’ll be in Ireland, where I’ll be volunteering with that project I’d wanted to be part of since something like a month after I left Burning Man. The one about art and community and fire and redemption.

You know, things that sound like magic.

I am going adventuring, tomorrow.

Sneaky things, Tardises, when they go looking like plane tickets.

Live long and prosper.

27 Feb

As the vast bells of the internet are tolling, Leonard Nimoy, the once and forever Spock, is dead. Gifs of numerous episodes are spreading through Imgur and Reddit, clips from Simpsons episodes and Big Bang Theory appearances are retweeting their way across twitter, and celebrity after celebrity after news site after commentary blog after cooking blog after Facebook wall are sharing their remembrances and goodbyes. Everyone’s got their memory to claim – even the LA zoo, something as far in my mind from Star Trek as can get.

And honestly, my first response to all these shares and reposts and drudging up of decades-old publicity photos was to be rather angry.

How dare all these people take a figure’s death as a means to their fifteen seconds of limelight! How dare they try to re-associate themselves with a man that many of them hadn’t spoken of in years? How dare they all take Spock’s death and tie it to their own paltry claim to momentary fame?

And then I realized how goddamn idiotic I was being and got over it. Because all these sudden up-croppings of old memories around Nimoy and Spock – well, they’re all amazing.

A man is dead and people across time and space are talking about his life. Here is a man, this trending hashtag says, who did something. Look at all these instances people remember. Here, as Spock. Here, as a guest. Here, as an ordinary man. Here, as a hero who happened to be spotted having a good time at the goddamn L.A. zoo.

And imagine that – leaving this world as someone solidly appreciated. Imagine if the world’s response to your death was to well and truly miss you, so much that they cling to remnants of your existence by talking about your clever lines and generous nature, by posting pictures of your proudest moments and your happenstance smiles.

I think this is one best kinds of mourning.

But to be fair, it is one of the best of men to mourn.

When You Are Raised In An Outline

17 Feb

I was raised in an outline.

No, not under a rock. Yes, I was sheltered, but not quite in that sort of way. Rocks prevent you from seeing the sky or the grass or the wind or the stars or the storms or anything, frankly, that isn’t already under that rock with you.

No, I could see more than that. I knew what else there was. I saw the stars and the storm and the lust and the poverty and the decisions and the choices and the birth and the death and the lifestyle and the beliefs and the very different ways of breathing out there. From my own little prescriptive outline, I could see all these other formats. Most I considered mere variations on the theme and format my limbs were propped up against. While I made my points in A-B-C some other person with really the same main header even if they said it differently was arguing for it as I-II-III. It was all right. We were really writing the same essay. We just said our oh so neat and oh so powerful five paragraphs differently. But we each still had our patterns, our expectations of our personal rise and falls and the great shape that our lives and humanity were supposed to take.

Everything else, the remainder of non-outline chaotic confusion, I just assumed was a deviation. An outlier. Those were not-even-essays where the structure had gone horribly, horribly wrong. They clearly didn’t work. They babbled. Said nothing. Destroyed their own sentences or tripped up their points later. There was no way anyone could consider them valid. There was no structure. No logic. No empathy. No – anything. No, this could not be a sufficient response to what the world, I assumed, expected of us all. This, as my outline out-dolers had told me, was unacceptable.

Imagine my shock and utter confusion when I discovered that these rules and regulations, this structure, this expectation I had molded myself to and excelled at filling – that it was not the norm.

I was the outlier.

I was the deviation.

My expectations were wrong.

The world was easier to get by in than that. It was crueler, more inattentive, it cared not for courtesy or protocol or forethought for one’s fellow humans.

Get your words out on the page; it matters not how.

So many babbling idiots – I understood then why the world so often wrote in blood.

But still – my ink, it glistened so.

I Am In A Room

8 Feb

I Am In A Room

I sit in a room that is silent.

Yes, there are cringes and twinges of floorboards

and pipe songs and even the echo of someone upstairs,

but the cosmos is always ringing a little.

It is silent.

My mind makes its war in the room –

plastering memories along the molding of the floor

and hanging dead hopes from the high ceilings

and using the walls to buttress itself as it catapolts

its knives and leers and cocky little smiles,

knowing that I on the couch could have done better.

There is no noise in the room;

I am breaking.

The ground is a minefield.

I cannot move from this spot for fear I shall explode

one of its tricky little pitfalls,

and trip the explosion it’s loaded in my brain

with the fire of one toe placed wrongly.

It’s not a dance.

It’s not a limp.

I do not move.

I am silent.

I breathe.

The one defiance against death,

this slow, meaningless rise and fall

that is the only assertion that I still am

within this tired, still un-noise.

I make no sounds.

But I make change with the room.

A dollar-fifty oxygen,

a 23-year exhale.

Or something like that.

The math’s never really made sense

and I am too quiet to ask.

Maybe I am being shortchanged.

I really don’t know.

I am in a room.

And the room and I are silent.

The cosmos is ringing.

But this room has no door.

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