Sunday, April 18, 2010

3am Despair

The party is raging outside my window, a few stories down. Whistling and shouting mingle with the insistent background pounding--drunken drums, throbbing like a heartbeat from a car stereo.

I can't sleep. I am so frustrated. I shouldn't be awake right now, shouldn't have been awake for the past several hours. But I can't make myself go to bed because I haven't gotten anything done. It feels like a waste of the lost sleep if I give up without figuring out what is broken.

I pin my identity on every problem. Then the problem runs away from me, and I chase after it, because I am tied to it. I grow weary of running, but cannot stop. The problem pulls me onward... When the solution eludes me--slipping through the shadows, dancing in the darkness (like the smokers partying outside)--I feel abandoned and lost. I've come so far, but arrived nowhere.

Meanwhile, the music outside ebbs and flows like the tide, like the ocean. It washes over me, but I can't swim tonight. The pounding waves of sound break over my head. I gasp, and breathe in saltwater. Choking, I kick myself to the surface, just in time for another wave.

The person I wanted to be stands on the shore, silently watching. Is she smiling, laughing even, as I flail? Impossible to tell from this distance, with the water spraying in my face, the salt in my eyes. I want to scream, but the sea rots my voice. Only a gurgle escapes me.

Another wave comes, and another.

Maybe one of them will sweep me, kicking and coughing, into sleep.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Che danno al teatre?"

I've been taking an Italian class with a daunting name ("Intensive Elementary Italian") and a delightful implementation, and tonight's lesson was built around a dialog about going to the theater.

It turns out that in Italy, you don't ask "What are they showing at the theater?" or "What's playing?" or "What's being done?" Instead, you ask, "What are they giving?"

So a play is something that the audience receives, like a gift. The actors and director and tech crew present it to those in the seats.

The people sitting there, dressed in their finery, cleaned up and made up, take in the play. They hold it in their hands, look at it, turn it over and around. They take it home with them. Maybe some of them put in on the shelf, but maybe one girl puts it on her dresser, next to her mirror. Every morning, she sees that gift sitting there. That bright and unforgiving surface keeps showing her a cold portrait. She stares and wonders how the world will see her face, evaluating proportions and angles and colors. But as her vision narrows to magnify the pits and imperfections in her skin, in the corner of eye she catches sight of the play. The story flashes across her mind like lightning, and suddenly her inner climate changes.

She's on the set, and the story is unfolding around her, and wrapping her up in gentle folds. They gave her this play, at the theater that night. She received this story. It's hers now, to keep.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaƮt pas"--and the body, too, has its reasons that reason knows not.

We talk about "listening to your heart" and "following your dreams", but when do we talk about listening to our bodies? We try to dominate them instead: to squeeze them into the shapes we think they should have, to work them till they rebel against our mastery, to feed them only what the researchers mandate, to dress them according to the dictates of fashion.

"Have you heard the word / of my body?" asks the girl in Spring Awakening to the boy who breaks her. But I ought to be asking myself that question. Have I heard the word of my own body? If I don't listen, I will be the one at fault when my body breaks and my soul spills out.

And yet I press on, demanding more and more, unable to understand why I am suffering.

Knowing how to take care of other people, that's easy, compared to knowing how to take care of myself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Downtime [Question of the day]

How do I "deal with" downtime?

In my existence, downtime isn't something to cope with or suffer through. It's something to savor. Those layovers in airports, those long transcontinental flights--those gaps between classes--those train rides: I treasure them. The airport and trainstation, these are a between-places, non-places. Time stops there. Waiting, I am entirely uprooted. I am being transplanted. There, as a million people murmur around me, silence reigns inside me. I open a notebook, and just pause.

The pen-tip touches the paper, but it is waiting, too. Like me: this is a waiting time, and I am soaking it in.

Finally I write. The words seem to slide onto the paper, and gently come to a rest there, instead of tumbling over each other in my mind and spilling out haphazardly in their mad rush from the pen. The page has a curious stillness, when I write at the airport. But perhaps not so curious, if the page is a mirror for my mind.

But curiouser still: Why is my mind still when all around me is in motion? The announcements blare every few minutes. Children squirm and run away. Their parents rub their temples, trying to keep their patience. Grim businessmen tap away at their complicated phones.

I feel sorry for them. They are tethered to the world, even here. But I am cut free, drifting away. I am about to float into the sky! Here, I don't have to pay attention to anything. When none of the sounds are relevant, there is no noise. When none of the motion matters, nothing is moving. At the airport, I am above all the paths I am normally running down, all the rooms where I have responsibilities, all the information I am supposed to retain, all the people to listen to.

This is why I am still, why my mind's surface smooths itself like the surface of a pond on a windless day. Glassy, shining, silken. I am still because all the wind and rain is down inside the map that I am looking at. When I step back, step out, I am no longer hiking the hills, panting and sweating and getting dirty. I am looking at the trail map, and I can see how far I've come.

But looking at a map doesn't give me the blazing sun or the roaring rivers. It can't open the sky for me and spread out the landscape like a tablecloth. It can't sing to me like the birds, and the rabbits never dash across it, even at dawn and dusk.

So I don't stay here, in this un-place, this wood between worlds. But while I am here, I will soak in the silent loudness and marinate in the motionless bustle.