April 15, 2013 § 4 Comments
Let it Be?
It would be odd for me not to experience some kind of existential crisis at least once a month. For April I decided to fixate on the idea that as much as we are feeble and futile human beings, we still have a hell of a lot of choices to make. Often people gloss over this fact and would rather accept no responsibility. Sure, I’ve done it. But then I read Jean Paul Sartre and felt like shit. No, I do not want to live in bad faith, thank you very much.
I had an ex-boyfriend who used to always say to me, “it is what it is”–a statement that sent my blood curdling through my veins. How escapist! How illogical! How fucking annoying! But, there is some truth to it. Sometimes I think we do need to listen to those “whisper[ed] words of wisdom and let it be..
And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be”
Does that suffice? I wish. It certainly is a comforting notion that sometimes we do need to let ourselves off the hook, to put away our tool belts and let it just be. Trying to fix other people will lead you to heart break, trust me. I’ve only done it like five times.
So where do we draw the line? When does accountability or responsibility or loyalty end? And I don’t just mean towards other people; I also mean towards ourselves.
I’ve been faltering and fumbling through life without knowing what it is I’m even fighting for at times. Is it ever okay to give up? To let go of your dreams? People you love? Wherever it is I’m headed, I know I can’t bring this all along with me. Something’s gotta give. And yet my heart keeps telling me I mustn’t let go. I’d like to tell my heart that I only have two hands, so what the fuck should I hold on to? But it cares not for this physical predisposition.
(Sorry for all the cursing today.)
I think what it comes down to is this: How do you want to define a situation or even your self? Do you want to be vindictive or do you want vindication?
I know there’s no clear-cut answer to this. I’ve dreamed of a million revenge plots including putting poison ivy in someone’s body wash, but I can’t think of an instance where I’ve actually followed through on any of my evil plotting (lucky for them) and I’m glad I didn’t.
I don’t think you have to be a lover of words like myself to notice how close those words are: Vindictive / Vindication. Unfortunately we are all probably more familiar with the former. It implies action and pride and the Biblical eye for an eye. But we do have a choice to choose vindication instead. When someone hurts you, you can hurt him or her back. That’s fair. Someone once even said that all is fair in love and war. Maybe for some, but I don’t know if that works for me. I punched a guy in the face once after he disrespected me and I didn’t feel any better. (Sorry, Peter.)
There’s plenty of times that I’ve been the aggressor. I’ve hurt people without even meaning to because in some way I didn’t think that my actions or my words would matter. I had no intention of hurting, but I did it anyway because that’s what happens when you live your life at a comfortable distance from reality or you just go through the motions, as the saying goes. But I’m looking up at my book shelf and that tiny little black book by Jean Paul Sartre glares at me, could probably knock me out if it fell because it reminds me that I’m still responsible. Yeah, it’s a paperback and weights like nothing, I know–I’m making a metaphor.
I think I’d like to challenge myself to pick the latter of those two words: vindication. Go ahead, call me a wuss. But this doesn’t mean I plan to take anything lying down. No, no. This means that when I have a choice to make, I have the option to set myself free. To acknowledge and vindicate–to liberate myself of negativity or bad blood or silly revenge plots. To vindicate is to acquiesce, sure, but I don’t think this is the same as doing nothing. In fact I think it’s doing so much more than any baser instinct would allow for. I think it takes courage to fight a little within, to feel the full extent of emotion or pain before you’re truly exonerated instead of simply slashing someone’s tires or offering them laxative chocolates while you smile at them or kiss them on the cheek. You really wanna be Judas, do you? Well maybe you do.
But I think when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary will come to me. She’ll speak words of wisdom and, hell, I’m gonna let it be.
I couldn’t find a link to the original by the Beatles, but I do love this other version from Across the Universe–always gives me chills. Give her a listen, eh?
April 5, 2013 § 6 Comments
I didn’t inherit my mother’s tall, slim physique. I have my dad’s hair and face shape. I can be aggressive, sassy, and I like competition; my mom gets upset for my dad and me when the Giants lose and I’ve never heard her really raise her voice. My skin doesn’t tan well like my mom’s even though she is more Irish than I am. But I can still hope that people will see her in me in other ways, not just in her bright blue eyes, but in the way she has shown me, as I watch in awe, how to radiate kindness and love in every direction. I have very big shoes to fill, but one day I hope to be able to say: “I got it from my momma.”
Happy Birthday to Mary Lyons, my mother, my idol–the most amazing person on this planet. Your love sustains me.
April 4, 2013 § 7 Comments
*Not just because it is her birthday (well, technically not anymore since it’s after midnight), but because my amazing friend Pam continues to inspire me, I dedicate the following to her in thanks for the encouragement, the hope, and example of bravery she always provides me. This one’s for you, Pammy Cakes!
We Are Made of Stars
It’s a little after 1:00 am and I’m half watching Mankind: The Story of All of Us that was featured on the History Channel. The voice of the narrator sounds like McSteamy from Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s a different actor (I Googled). I’m thinking about fate, even before I arbitrarily selected episode 2 of this particular series and it only makes me feel more like a pawn in a game of chess. This game of life, if you buy that to be an apt metaphor, is so much bigger than any of us imagine, or even stop to think about when we feel like things aren’t going our way. “My way”–as if any one of us really has that much push or pull in the grand scheme of things. And yet we still endeavor to control situations with our small, feeble grip on where our lives are actually headed. It is futile and yet part of our human condition to forge and force our way through life when it could end before I’m even done with this sentence…
Oh, still here.
It’s humbling to realize our insignificance and yet it is impossible to discount that all of us living together here aren’t meant to serve some purpose, even if our short lives are not even a blip on the radar of history–and not just our own anthropocentric perspective–but from the beginning, I’m talking Big Bang. Just one of the many paradoxes we live in and struggle to make sense of. Can any one man hold the magnitude of the universe in his head? Go on, try it. It’s unfathomable. We don’t even fully understand it, not even if you’re Einstein or Stephen Hawking or some astrophysicist in his lab, chugging RedBull night after night and convincing himself that he’s so close to a truly accurate calculation that describes the expansion and potential retraction of the universe. As if numbers can signify all that the heavens represent, what they mean to us both individually and collectively, how they hold us down here and suppress us even as their grandeur, when visible, gives us that incredible sense of freedom if we’re lucky enough to live in a place, like I do, where the night sky is so expansive, you stare too long, it leaves you as breathless as this sentence if you read it out loud.
This episode I’m intermittently watching is about iron. It’s reminding me of a book that was made into a National Geographic series called Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jarred Diamond who contemplates the roots of inequality among humans based on a number of factors stemming from their geographic locations and access to certain materials (I’m obviously simplifying this–I highly recommend both the series and the book, and if you know me personally I have both so please feel free to ask to borrow.)
My mind wanders even further from this idea of iron, and hence steel, and now I’m thinking of Andrew Carnegie. You’re probably thinking I watch too many history documentaries. But, if you care to continue along to find out if there’s a point to these ramblings, consider this quote the McSteamy voice just told me. I paused to write it down:
“Born in the heart of an exploding supernova star, iron forms the earth’s molten core. Larger than the moon, hot as the sun. Without it: no atmosphere, no magnetic field, no life. The fourth most common mineral in the earth’s crust. “
You might wonder what this has to do with anything, but I would argue that is has to do with everything. Me and you, the places we live, the types of relationships we form, our culture, the buildings we live in, our attitudes about life…
How did I get here? Well that’s a loaded question, but I mean, for this purpose anyway, how did I end up surmising that iron has anything to do with any of the myriad examples I just gave? Abide by me just a little bit longer.
If you’ve been reading this blog on the reg, you probably know that I’m a bit obsessed with nature and culture, particularly how we understand these concepts in our highly urbanized world. I wrote a whole thesis on it for Christmas sakes. I should probably be busy editing that monstrosity instead of publishing a blog post that no one might ever read, but as I’ve said, the things we do aren’t always as logical as we’d like to think they are. To hell with logic, I say.
Anyway, why iron? It is a great example of what I’m always arguing–nothing is really unnatural. The Chrysler Building? Totally natural. Even the Coke Zero I’ve been drinking while writing this (gasp!) isn’t something aliens dropped off. It’s not extraterrestrial even though it might be eating up my insides. How can anything be unnatural if it’s all made from the stuff we’ve been given on this planet. It is simply reformulated, that’s all. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be cognizant of a real attempt to do things “naturally” in ways that benefit our planet and ourselves. Yes, I sometimes drink Coke Zero, but I don’t drink non-organic milk and I always recycle. Gees. But seriously, I am all for going back to the basics. And I’m only drinking this Coke Zero today because I’m hung over (still) and I was craving carbonation without calories. Swim suit season is upon us. And that’s about as logical as I get.
Okay, the iron! So after the Bronze Age when people became more sophisticated with extracting metals to make tools and weaponry, iron was a big deal. (No, I won’t digress into how iron products are made.) It essentially changed the way people lived and certainly made warfare a lot bloodier. If you lived in an iron-rich region you definitely had the upper hand. And here’s where I make a flying leap from that tid bit of Jarred Diamond’s argument to Andrew Carnegie–Pittsburgh Steel magnate. Carnegie, I’m sure most of us know, took iron and carbon to create an even stronger material: steel. Imagine what the New York City skyline would look like without steel? It simply couldn’t exist. Thanks for the skyscrapers, Andy! Pretty cool. But here I do need to digress for a second or several. We got the steel thing down, but let’s remind ourselves again, what’s carbon? And here I turn it over to Wikipedia:
“Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is present in all known life forms, and in the human body carbon is the second most abundant element by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen. This abundance, together with the unique diversity of organic compounds and their unusual polymer-forming ability at the temperatures commonly encountered on Earth, make this element the chemical basis of all known life.” (my own italics)
How extraordinary. We are made of the same stuff as skyscrapers. We are made of stars. When we die, our bodies (until people started putting them in those ridiculous caskets) go back into the earth and can become something completely different. I realize this process takes a lot longer than I’m going to make it out to seem, but just imagine for our purposes that maybe you’ll be part of a new building that becomes the epitome of an architectural style that doesn’t exist yet, or a fossil fuel in a guy’s vehicle that transports him cross-country to see that girl he decided, on a whim, was the one he couldn’t live without. Or maybe you’ll just be the graphite shaft on someone’s new golf club, but maybe you’ll get him or her that hole in one and they’ll treasure you forever. I call this Catholic reincarnation. (*note to self: Make a will that says I don’t want a casket like a Cadillac. Wooden box or cremation, please.)
I’m clearly no scientist and a novice historian at best and perhaps my oversimplification of the processes above might annoy some who know more about all this than I do. But like I said when I started out, I’ve been thinking a lot about fate and about the purposes we serve in each other’s lives. Last night I celebrated my dear friend Pam’s birthday and we had a conversation over our Pinot Grigios that went somewhat similarly. Not the iron part, but the relationship part, particularly the relationships we have with ourselves. We talked about how so often we have to keep ourselves in check because when things go “wrong” we jump to find the solution somewhere else. People often end up in relationships because they think that will fulfill them. Sometimes people define themselves based on a skewed vision of how they think other people view them. They think that they need to fill their lives with a job, or house, or car because that says something about their status in life. We’re all guilty of this at one point or another. Unfortunately the most important relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves, and too few of us take the time to nurture that one. If you cannot be happy alone, I’m convinced you will never be happy in a romantic relationship. If you can’t be with yourself, why would anyone else want to? Immediately this causes an unnatural dependency on the other person and a recipe for disappointment, and dare I say divorce.
Later in the night when Pinot Grigio turned beer and birthday shots, our earlier conversation came back to me when Pam generously brought to my attention that I, as I so often do, was putting my energy and attention where it didn’t need to go. My friendship with Pam is one of fate I’d say. As unlikely a pair we may be, she has taught me a lot about life that I didn’t know I already knew. I know that we both will continue to have trials and many more errors, but if any of us do have a purpose on this planet, I think it might be to take care of each other, to benefit from the company of others without having to depend on them. But in the best friendships, you know you could and at times you should.
I also think the only real push and pull we have in this life is with the relationship with ourselves and that the bonds we make or break with others is based on the former. Maybe the guy I have a crush on doesn’t see me that way but could use my company because he’s going through a rough time. Maybe my life-long friend betrayed me because she bottles up her unhappiness and unleashes it in the wrong way and directs it at the wrong people. If I keep in mind the perspective that I know myself, know my limits, know the stuff I’m made of, maybe all of this is okay. Maybe it’s just all push and pull and if you’re strong enough, you can take one for the team or turn a negative situation into a positive one.
What I mean to say through all of these disparate thoughts is this:
From the raw materials of the earth to the happiness we spend so much time looking for in our lives, everything we need is already here. All of the answers to our questions lie within ourselves–we only need to unearth them and sometimes rework them. Life is full of wonder and I’m sorry for those who choose to live it at a distance from what it really is, relentlessly looking outward for the things you can only find within. The next time you feel lost or disconnected remember this: We are made of stars. Really! We are.
March 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
I came across the audio from this presentation on a TED Talks podcast one sleepless night. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone speak so candidly and yet eloquently to the psychological danger inherent in the expectations of being a creative person, i.e. a writer.
I’ve shared this with a bunch of people and posted it to my Twitter, but if you missed it and are at all creatively inclined, I urge you to spend 20 minutes of your day listening to Gilbert speak and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a little bit of the weight of the world lifted from you as I did.
March 13, 2013 § 3 Comments
This challenge was part of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction series. The instructions for round 10 were to “Leave a Message After the Beep”– write a story in the form of a voice mail message that could be read in under three minutes. Here’s a link to the winner: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/09/173722517/sorry-for-your-loss?sc=tw&cc=share
Unfortunately, it was not me. But here’s my entry:
Howling at the Wind
“Hey, it’s me. I’m glad you didn’t answer cause that would’ve really freaked me out. Your phone is over on the desk in a plastic bag with your wallet and a pack of cigarettes. I knew you were smoking again, jerk. Well, I’m drinking again. So, there. It’s some cheap vodka. Really terrible. And Wonderful. Anyway, I’m at this motel by the hospital. I can’t go home and look at all of your shit. And I feel like you’re still in there, in the hospital, I mean. Like, I’m just waiting for them to release you to me and you’re just gonna stroll out of there and say, “hey, sorry babe,” and then I’ll forgive you. So I wanna be here just in case this is wrong because it feels really wrong. There’s one of those old style box TVs in here and some really ugly curtains, but I wanna be here…Your mom tried taking me home yesterday. I couldn’t stay because our bedroom smelled like you–you’re everywhere. And nowhere. Murphy won’t eat his food; he just walks in circles at howls at the wind. It’s weird how he knows something is up. The storm is still pretty bad…You know what I thought of today? Remember that time when I was living in the city and you made me go to your friend’s birthday party downtown in the snowstorm? I was so mad at you. The FDR was a mess and you were driving like an asshole because we were late. I wanted to kill you that night. I keep wondering if you were scared this time or if you were just your usual cocky self, smoking your cig, and showing off how fast your stupid car is. God, you drive me crazy. What am I supposed to do now? They want me to pick a suit for you. I think that’s insane so I’m just ignoring everyone. I know they’re gonna make me get rid of your stuff since that’s like part of the process or whatever, but I won’t. They can’t make me. You don’t mind if I keep it all, right? I know you don’t. But not your car. Or what’s left of it, I should say. I really hate that thing. I don’t even know where it is, actually. Alright, I’m really tired but I’ll be here so call me back. I love you.”
March 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
Well, I seem to be onto a little mini-series as of late. Here’s another snippet about last year when I traded city streets for country roads and chaos for solitude.
On Leaving New York
As I walked onto Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport, my boots clanking with their new soles that I just got from a repair shop a few blocks away, I felt as if I were walking down giant plank towards the water’s edge. Clickety-clack clickety-clack went my boots taking on a rhythm of their own, as if their new soles actually had some soul–something I felt I was sorely lacking those days. I had recently accepted the inevitable. I couldn’t afford to renew the lease on my apartment that I had previously paid for with graduate student loans. I would be leaving the city to live back upstate for who knows how long.
At the end of the pier finally I reached the railing and looked over, feeling a bit like Rose DeWitt Bukater on the Titanic with no Jack Dawson to save me from impending doom. But in all seriousness, I did feel that day as if I were a woman on the verge, on the verge of something I couldn’t quite discern. I dreaded going back to the town I grew up in, walking into my uncle’s bar and having ten different people ask me the same question I had no answer for, “so what are you up to now?”
My thoughts wandered to how odd it was that older versions of those ships docked next to me would’ve had a plank, like a small portion of the wooden pier I was standing on. Walking the plank. I imagine Captain Kidd, supposedly having lived on nearby Pearl Street, might have directed men to walk to plank toward their impending doom. It occurred to me, then, how the planks of legendary pirate ships resembled our diving boards of today’s swimming pools. Joyous laughter of children and an enthusiastic, acrobatic leap into the water is quite different than what I was feeling. Why is it that so many things from the past that represented something so disdainful have been reworked into something we consider enjoyable and harmless? From planks to diving boards. It’s like candy cigarettes. I’m not sure whether to call it an absurd coincidence or simply grotesque.
Maybe this is true of the city, too. Critics of modern urban spaces have likened places like New York to a theme park. For me, in a way, it has been a sort of giant playground. But I don’t think we have to settle with just one idea of the city in this way or any other. New York has an uncanny way of becoming like a character in your life. I will soon be boxing my books and packing my clothes and leaving this place behind for a while, but I won’t be without the memories of it. I’ve got the stamp of New York City on the passport of my persona. As Conor Oberst sang, “some wander the wilderness, some drink cosmopolitans.” Well, I endeavor to do both.