Monday, November 7, 2016

Cast Off Your Burdens

I'm thinking about that song by Five Iron Frenzy, "A New Hope." I wasn't at Columbine when the shooting happened, nor did I attend the school. However, the community of neighborhoods branching away from the school district were intertwined enough that everyone knew someone who had been at the school that day; someone who was trapped in the room with the gunmen, or someone who lost a friend. A teacher who knew a teacher, who couldn't recover. The impact of widespread fear and sadness over the crime (what other word do we have for these happenings?) that took place at Columbine was distinctive to me as a child. That's what I was, when it happened, a child. There was panic, and a sheer level of brokenness on the face of every adult I looked up at as we watched the news, spoke in the streets, attempted to regain a sense of security through community.  It was the first time I felt a sense of chaos-- unpredictability and an acute realization that nothing is sacred, and nothing is safe.

Don't worry, I'm not about to reinforce tragedy by making it the topic. It is merely the foundation of a train of . . .

The feeling isn't just mine, and I'm not the only person who has ever felt the shudder of confusion form into grief or outrage, depression, and then resilience. It reoccurs each time a sandcastle is wrecked with the tide, a roof leaks in a rainstorm, a car breaks down, a friend is lost, a negative word is spoken. We receive, perceive, internalize, deconstruct, and respond. There's a pattern; stages of grief, aren't enough though. They don't capture the full potential of our composition as we are rendered into the naturalistic existence and occurrence of life.

There's something else, something after, that we carry with us when we pass through an experience that riles and stirs our unprotected angles. In the absence of something, we feel attacked, we know we are attacked, we recognize a word I've heard as "weakness." I think this has been poorly defined to us. A mistake has been made in our use of language, or even our language itself. In the chaos we are not given to define where a strength has formed, not been told to look at what people can't see we took with us. The intangible result of tangible actions exists, though. If we are here we stand after, and we can choose to sharpen our sight with the hallmark of beauty left by what we loved.

Fear might have been someone's intent, but I am not content to walk away carrying that. I see everywhere muddled messages and a distracted body. A lens out of focus. But I want to be in focus, in this moment. I want to see those multi-faceted shades of meaning rendered to anyone's success story, to the perpetuity of something more than the darkness of myriad ill-famed tragedies. Just to observe one person's intangible boon in action, is a victory-- but why stop there?  Why not compile the wisdom of what is overcome, form the comfort we desire, to treasure what is sacred and safe to us in this moment?

And in this thought, my "weakness" becomes hope.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

...But I'm Not A Soldier

Sleepless night's know my absence when I leave a trail of blank pages and trackless steps. And I'd be inclined to say that a night of sleep is a good thing, except that so many of them consecutively choke the voice of the mind, which begs dreams for tangible wreckage. But I find myself conscious. What a strange thing, one form of darkness yielding to another-- and I've been waiting for you to awaken. Less than patiently. In that "other" form of darkness, I streamed constant words of an outside existence into you methodically, hoping that when you awoke, you'd be directed toward the bread crumbs, leading to the exact moment we parted ways. Somehow it seems to have worked. I remember what a smile looked like before it cracked, and what a heart whispered in between its beating, and the sound of inspiration when it hits raw matter. I have thoughts to spill everywhere, and time to spill them. I have struck oil, only the syrup rushing to the surface is not oil at all, it's hope. I have soul. And I may not be a soldier, but I'll put up the good fight.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Miniature Jurassic Park ?!

There's a rather large reptile sunning on the backyard deck. He's found a hot spot on the splintering wooden boards and appears to be bobbing his head to, "hear comes the sun," which is currently gagging its way out of my speakers. Pandora, I asked for Paul Simon, why did you give me the Beatles? But the reptile seems pleased with the music choice (thanks Pandora). His brown body is speckled and cracked, he looks like a miniature crocodile. Think 9 inches-- big for a lizard, small for a crocodile. He looks so pleased with himself, or maybe he is just mean-mugging the deer currently trying to consume his shady resting place.

In any case, I admire his approach to life. He has time, and with it he has made a conscious, choice to stand in the sun, warm himself, relax. I find that empty time on my hands is spent chasing after the next thing I should be doing or accomplishing. If we are lucky enough to allow a few minutes of unscheduled time for ourselves during the day, don't we usually try and fill it with something? Just so the silence of time doesn't allow our thoughts to surface too prominently. I know I do this.

A day of nothing planned, I've experienced so many of these this year. I did my best to appreciate them, and recognize that eventually my sojourn would be over, and it would be back to the fast lane; to work and bills and life. And now that I'm burgeoning back into normalcy (if there is such a thing), I am confused by empty time. All or nothing, in  my head. If I have a morning free, but an afternoon task, I find little and unimportant jobs to preoccupy my time until the afternoon.

I'd rather be like my lizard friend (I guess he likes Pink Floyd too) though, and appreciate what it is to do nothing. No TV, no cleaning or cooking or eating or drinking or sipping (for that matter)... just soaking in life. There is so much of it around us to be felt. My skin doesn't absorb and use sunlight the same way my new friend's does, but I can still appreciate the warmth, the silence, and the free time. Thanks little guy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Eclipse

I'm watching the sun give way to a flickering of fireflies. They hover over the lawn, illuminating patches of faded grass-- the end of a season. Another ninety-degree day slips into a cool breeze and hails September weather. I'd wear a sweater, but I'm eager to embrace the chill forming on the back of my neck. Fall is birthing an irresistible heir-- new beginnings.  And I welcome her.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

SunRise

It verges on murky this morning. I woke up to darkness and somehow found the sun. But even through its rise, the spread of color piercing the darkness, a listless grey hangs in the distance. I could turn and embrace its presence, as it almost looms behind me, but I'm drawn to brightness. My eye is captivated by a neon spread of pinks and orange, of burning white light that brings tears from glancing too long. Still, I know that shade of darkness, perhaps threatening rain, lurks like some unknown monster in the space out of the corner of my eye. I can't even look at it directly, more just feel it watching me, watch the sunrise. It plans to interfere, to comment on focused attention, and I plan to deny it. Even as it would eat every inch of color, every patch of white light,  I will ignore it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bumpkinville!

Okay, so that was kind of a dramatic headline. But I want to talk about small town living.

After seven (rough estimate), months of being bedridden, I have finally reached the physical health and stamina that allows me to engage in the world outside my bedroom (sigh of relief, and at last!). Having relocated to my parents, I find myself in Georgetown, a bumpkinesque small town located north of Austin. If you want to understand just how small this town is (and also if you've know Denver well enough to know the reference, sorry for being exclusive), just think of Auraria campus. The Georgetown population is roughly the same (last I checked), in population as the Auraria campus. Boom. Big for a campus, small for a town. So small.

What makes Georgetown especially unique is that half of it is, what I would call, a very picturesque retirement community. That's right... old people. Everywhere. And not that this is a bad thing, but just based on what I see when I go out into the downtown "square," it is probably 3/4, 65+. Upon first returning to Georgetown, I was relieved by this. I didn't go out often, usually just to the doctor's, but being surrounded by old people ( is this politically incorrect to say now?), kind of comforted me. I was relieved by the lack of pressure we so often allow ourselves to feel when immersed in our peer-group (don't act like I'm the only one who feels this way, and also, sorry for all the parens today).

So that being said, I spent several months blissfully living surrounded by everyone else's grandparents. As a teetering, feeble 25 year-old, I sort of fit right in. But then the unexpected happened, and I started to recover... and then I didn't fit in. What you must understand, is that if this small town population is mostly elderly people (there is the term I was looking for!), then the percentage of the population that is my age group is very, very small indeed. This has not stopped me, however, from venturing out into Georgetown, and trying to make friends. Here is what I have discovered:

Living in a small town, nay, living in Georgetown, is kind of like going to that family reunion you have never gone to before.

See, and this is why I, personally, have never gone to one. Let me further expand: I have a rather large extended family, most of whom lived near to each other, while my family lived on the opposite side of the country. Driving out to make visits once every year or two proved awkward; everyone knew each other and had inside jokes, and nothing made any sense. Aside from these somewhat sporadic visits to various family members, there wasn't a lot of contact with the extended family. In fact, we didn't even go to family reunions when I was growing up, and many of the members who did, I had never even met. In early adulthood my mom started taking various siblings of mine to the family reunions, and I always opted out. Awkward (yes, I'm a coward, but I'm certain some of you understand exactly how this feels when you are younger, and the awkwardness established during childhood doesn't exactly wear off when you become an adult. They still have their jokes, and stories, and memories to share, and you have some foreign looking pot-luck dish you can't identify).

If this example doesn't hit home, I'll give you another (back up!). Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY has had this experience when dating at least one person: Think of when you first started dating. Remember when you FIRST met all his/her friends, and how they sat around making a thousand inside jokes and then explaining them to you through chokes of laughter and expecting you to find it equally hilarious. Awkward. You had to sit through them laughing for extended minutes (10-15 at a time), and smile, to show you were engaging everyone, sometimes laugh, but mostly not laugh because everyone knew you didn't know what they were laughing about. It's kind of painful, right?

The point is, this is Georgetown. Unlike the family reunion, everybody has dated everybody else. And like the family reunion, I am the odd one out. Like your BF/GF's friend circle, everyone knows everything about everyone else (because they went to kindergarten together, or babysat each other, or went to school with your parents...etc.). And you enter the scene realizing that there is not a single person who doesn't know everyone else. There is noone you can talk to who doesn't know anyone you would talk about. No bar you can diss, no person you can tease (make fun of  #cough). This is why the south is so polite in speech. Everywhere either is, or started out as a small town, where everyone knew everyone and had to speak ever so kindly or they would be the subject of much gossip (even over nothing).

So what I am discovering is that crass northerners (says the girl born in Mississippi), have no place in southern, small towns, and the only conclusion I can reach is that I have to at least move to the nearest city. Before everyone here knows me, and before I make a silly gossip of myself-- or even worse, make myself the subject of other people's gossip!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A New Kind of Patriotism


I'm trying to decide how I want to frame this. Being an expat is somehow hallmarked within a culture as unpatriotic. Leaving your country to live in another, for any reason, creates a strange, unspoken, interpretation that one is apathetic toward their native land. In China, as foreigners, patriotism for our homeland was never reinforced within a playing field of international peoples. I may have been in China, surrounded by the Chinese, but expats gathered together and made a culture of their own; a culture not defined by roots tied to any country. We were united in that we all decided to live somewhere totally foreign to us. It was a choice, and often the only characteristic of ourselves that we knew for certain we had in common with one another. 

I sat one night, at a rooftop bar in Dongcheng with a group of expats I was meeting for the first time. It was dark and cool outside, and per the usual, there were no stars to be seen across the murky expanse of pollutants that layered into a wall between myself and the sky. I looked up occasionally, despite the knowledge that there was nothing to see, just to remind myself that the sky was actually there, and so were the stars, and the moon-- up there somewhere.

There were women from Brazil, South Africa, men from France, Italy, the list goes on, amounting to about 15-20 people; not more than two from the same country. I had never been surround by so much diversity (in the purest sense). And it was a strange thing to be among total strangers, but know that these people were the people who chose to connect on one commonality: the expat factor. And yes, that is a real thing. I sat and listened as they made jokes and spoke in several different languages at the same time. It was complex; cultures all so different, accents that varied drastically, all colliding into one another rapidly. I couldn't keep up. Simultaneously, the scene, on whole, as it stood before me was simple; just people talking to other people, foreign people. 

I distinctly remember realizing that I was the only American in the group, and hearing all of them crack jokes about America, I quickly began to realize how other countries viewed my own-- and their own, for that matter.  I remember hearing several jokes about Americans, and as I did, flashing back to what one of my friends told me before I left for China: "remember that you are an ambassador, not just of yourself, but of your country. Everything you say or do represents where you come from. Try and keep this in mind when you decide how to represent yourself."  I might be paraphrasing a little, but the over-all point I want to make, is that those words were 100% accurate, and 100% relevant. I sat and realized that these expats felt very differently about America than I did, and the only way I could change/impact their perception, was by bringing the best side of myself. 

As I tried to keep this perspective in mind, I felt something that would not have been stirred in me were it not for these circumstances: patriotism. I don't mean to say that I did not love and support my country prior to leaving it in order to live in China. I mean that I'd never been so inspired to check myself at the door and be, in every way I knew how to, the best side of America. I wanted to show them, that behind the stereotypes and impressions, not all Americans are that stereotype, and further, that stereotypes are rarely the best side of any country. 

Being back in America, I can't shake that sense of patriotism. I wish I could extract it from myself, like sap from a tree, bottle it, and give it people. Not because others lack patriotism, but because, much like Pandora's box, once this side of patriotism has been opened within oneself, it can never be locked away or closed again. Feeling the way I do (having playing no large role in what American's might consider patriotic acts, such as serving in the military), I wonder: how do soldiers feel when returning home? What kind of patriotism do they feel, and how does it differ from my own?  I have such a vastly different perspective from such a small experience, but it changes (very much), the angle at which I view, and think about, so many things.

For example: Sports. Football! Now hang with me for a bit, I know this seems like a wild tangent, going from patriotism and soldiers to sports, but I promise it isn't. 

I almost never watched any sports prior to leaving for China. Football season always irritated me. Perhaps because I grew up in a family that didn't really follow pop-culture trends (not a positive or a negative, just a fact). Listening to people get feisty over which team would win; watching all the adds on TV;  realizing that a large portion of the year would be devoted to football parties; bars always being packed full with shouting men who bump into you repeatedly with the excuse that the game is on and they are excited-- that stuff drove me nuts (arguably petty, but hand with me a little longer).

Looking at America under a new lens, I see football as something American's have created so much culture around. Americans come together, fairly united in the sense they are all watching the games together, showing support and enthusiasm. We have formed a tradition, one that some 90% (no source for that stat, I made it up and I don't care), of Americans become crazed and excited about. The conclusion? Watching football is patriotic!!! America + NFL = patriotism ! BOOM!  If this is how everyone views football, I do not know. What I do know, is that football has become some kind of patriotic ceremony in my mind, and I have begun to try and understand the game better, following along compulsively, shouting at the television, talking to friends about it, getting involved. 

This is the positive, albeit mildly twisted, form of patriotism I have adopted, in order to cling to the sentiment I discovered while talking with expats in China. I love America. I want to understand and learn more, be knee deep in its goodness, and that reflect all the best sides of it to others. Can this catch on, like a disease? I don't mean to be a lemming football fan, but I genuinely enjoy knowing that tons of other people are all doing the same thing, generally at the same time, and with a similar amount of verve. We have shared enthusiasm. 

On the flip side, something else has recently caught my attention, and is the reason I bring football up while discussing my new found form of patriotism (bringing the tangent home here!). I caught my first game recently, on TV, and was disgruntled when, right before a commercial break, the following message came on: "this game brought to you by Hyundai, proud sponsor of NFL." Yes, this is about money. Well, sort of. 

My sense of love for my country, and all things AMERICA has transformed into a larger part of me than it ever was before-- A sense of patriotism is something that I hope to believe is in all Americans, and that transforms or grows, depending on our circumstances and experiences.  And I watch the professional football season kick off, and enthusiastically enjoy the patriotism involved in participating in the football season, I pause and consider that billions of dollars are poured into football by companies who want to sponsor the game, and my heart sinks. Not because I don't enjoy it, obviously, and not because I don't want others to enjoy it. 

I'm bothered because I wish (Oh God I wish), that those same sponsors would pour an equal amount of money into our veterans. And while I love that Americans have football as such a huge uniting cultural element (in our contemporary society), I'm also saddened, that we are so capable of devoting money and time to such a strange form of entertainment, but not to soldiers and veterans, not on the same level. And as my new sense of patriotism stirs in me, I wonder: where America's patriotism is headed? I don't mean just as individuals, but as a unit. 

I'll cling to mine. I'll also watch football, and enjoy football, but not without some aching sense of duty, that we are a country of people capable of greater patriotism than just superbowl parties and flatscreen Tvs. We are capable of representing the best aspects of our country, especially within its borders. We are capable of loving our country, and also making our country what we love.