Steamroll Responsibly

Consistently Inconsistent

To be alone with

I.
The plane is boarding. I have heard the attendant call my group three times, but I have not moved. As soon as my eyes stop watering,  I think. As soon as this stops. As soon as I am better. But it will not get better, won’t seem to go away. I throw up my hands, literally – just fling wrists and elbows into the air as I am sitting there at the gate. The seating area is almost empty; only one person turns the corner of her eyes toward me, slightly bewildered.

Over and over, I hear my own voice in my head. Yelling. Screaming. Why are you so upset? Nothing happened. Nothing happened! But that’s why. That’s just the problem. Nothing happened – nothing ever does. Welcome to the rest of your life.

I get on the plane and keep my gaze down, find my seat, curl up into a ball and let myself be alone. Let myself be unfettered by the crowd of people with whom I am trapped on this giant metal box that is about to be two thousand feet in the air. I am an ostrich now. If they can’t see my face, they won’t know. I won’t be exposed.

II.
The papers on my desk have reached critical levels of clutter. I don’t want to clear them. Almost unwittingly, my head lowers itself to the desk. I am on eye level with the mess, tiny shadows beneath each pile now colossal. I can hear footsteps in the neighboring office and outside the door. I am willing them away. Tears don’t come because I have willed those away, too. Someone is waiting for me at home, but it’s not enough.

When people come in, I have to get up and participate in the world again. They are cutting paper and printing posters and planning things. I do not fit in with them. The phone rings, and I am the only person sitting at my desk. As I answer, I wonder how many ways there are of being alone.

III.
It is late, and I can’t pretend to sleep anymore. I’m sitting in the darkness on my apartment floor, listening to the heat roar on and off, listening to the refrigerator hum. Just listening. I do not remember the last time I fell apart in private.

The places we most try to avoid are the places that call us back again and again, the places that pull us to them. Here I am. Here I am again. And he’s sleeping right here but he’s not here. The only alone I want is alone together.

I close my eyes and I am walking, and I am no where. Wandering halls and staring out smudged windows and avoiding questioning looks, I do not register the people as anything more than pairs of eyes. They barely see me. In public, out in the open, I am hiding in plain sight.

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Sun in your eyes

The problem is that I’m afraid of everything. Always have been. I’m drinking scotch alone on a Tuesday night when it hits me that there’s probably no recovery from a lifetime of cowering in proverbial corners. I try to make eye contact with the bar tender for a second round, but I turn my head when he approaches, shyness prevailing. What is wrong with me? Why don’t I ever know what I want?

It’s some days later when I am sitting in my office not doing work that I realize my cowardice is probably what makes my relationship click. I am afraid of my own incompetence, my potential inability to follow through on the things that make me passionate. But his insecurities are entirely different. What I am attracted to is this: he actually has a dream, whereas I, in all of my ambiguous glory, have never been able to discern from my blur of thoughts what my dream actually is. There is a certainty in his progress that I can’t help but admire. I mean, one of us has to be moving assuredly toward something…and God knows, hiding with my head in the sand from human interaction and failure in any form, it won’t be me.

Switched On.

Summer days feel too long. Life feels out of proportion. I want to break out of July, tear the calendar in half and walk into a different time of year. Wandering city streets, humming sad songs in my head, I feel smothered — heat radiating from concrete, palpably sticky air that festers in the spaces between people in a crowd. It’s hard to breathe. Maybe it’s always hard for me to breathe.

I see a future somewhere else (anywhere else), and I see it with you. I want to see it with you. But I have this unshakable feeling I don’t belong in it. Or we don’t belong in it together. Maybe we used to.

But there’s still one perfect memory in my mind, in this city, the moment I literally couldn’t breathe because we were so perfect. You were so perfect. I like to revisit in my mind saying a goodbye that didn’t feel like goodbye on a crowded street that didn’t feel crowded. The air was sucked out of the world when you kissed me.

If I could stop time there, I would. I don’t know if anything will ever be able to compare. And it kills me.

This Too Shall Pass.

Biking down 4th Street and I am bursting with thoughts and words and they have no where to go. I can’t make anything form into a coherent story, a complete idea. My brain lately is like a light show; I start to follow one color and then abruptly re-focus my gaze on another and everything moves too quickly and haphazardly to register independently. It’s the 4th of July sped up, all the fireworks going off at once. Bone-rattling explosions that make me feel like my eardrums are going to burst, too.

I want to slow my mind down and focus on just one thing, on communicating something…to someone, to anyone, honestly. But thinking about people makes my mind go to all the wrong I’ve done. I’m waiting at the light on Washington, and I feel suffocated. The sun is directly overhead and beating down on my bare shoulders, the humidity starting to feel even more unbearably oppressive now that I’m at a standstill. I can’t turn off my thoughts. I can’t stop hearing L and J and A and C in my head. I feel like I’m too young to have alienated so many people already; maybe it’s my talent. I’ll add it to the list. My resume could use some padding.

The green light doesn’t inspire me much. I’ve depressed myself beyond recovery, and it’s not even noon. There’s construction a few blocks up, cranes and bulldozers blocking the road to the music of grinding gears and concrete being drilled, so I pull onto the sidewalk and realize I’m right in front of Grindcore. Before I can think twice about it, I’m locking up my bike, and I don’t care if it makes me late, I want some caffeine.

For some reason I still can’t identify, I order an iced coffee even though what I want is tea. I’m waiting for the barista to give me change when the drilling noise from outside suddenly stops. The silence is incandescent, radiating warmth as it slows everything down. It’s a brief moment of clarity, but it feels like a year. I’m forgetting about the things I should have, could have said, all the unhappy endings I’m afraid foreshadow the path ahead. I drop coins into the tip jar, and all I hear is the clink-clink as they tumble in; no voices in my head, just the guy behind the counter wishing me a good day.

There’s a pocket in my backpack where I tuck away the coffee cup (wrapped in napkins because I know it will spill, but at least I’m prepared). That’s when the drill starts again, and I start to bike away, still alone but at least I’m out of my own head for now.

fireworks

Why Is A Ramen Like A Writing Desk? [And Other Miscellany.]

It’s a lazy Sunday, and that means I’m splitting my time between ’90s sitcom reruns and whipping up a week’s worth of dinners and snacks in the kitchen. I was also struggling to think of something to write about, because I’ve been feeling uninspired for so long, and I’m lost. Stirring orzo and eggplant together is a casserole dish this afternoon, it hit me that I’ve been reluctant to write for the same reason I shy away from bringing food to pot lucks or baked goods to work. The same reason I invent excuses for never hosting parties and, even though everyone I know has long been privy to my obsession with pie, only a small handful have ever tasted a pastry I’ve made myself.

The short story is this: I feel about my cooking the way I feel about my writing. I like it well enough, but I don’t want anyone else to know about it. So there, I said it. I’m an insecure writer, much in the same way that I am an insecure cook. I’ve been doing both for ages and I like to experiment, but the thought of sharing either my paragraphs or my Parmigiana makes me cringe.

Maybe it’s just the insecurity that all creators feel (but magnified, because I am a self-consciousness superwoman). Anything you bring to life feels uncannily like a piece of yourself laid bare. It’s something akin to parenthood, I suppose, that inherent responsibility we feel to the things we create. So in some ways, maybe it’s natural, but I can’t get over the feeling that I am “doing it wrong”. Baking cookies and writing letters from the editor and semi-anonymous blog posts shouldn’t be nearly this stressful! Especially because, you know, I actually know how to bake and I’ve been cooking for myself for over 5 years and I speak English fluently as a first language…. so that kind of eliminates the good reasons one might have for crippling insecurity. But once again, I find my timidity knows no logical bounds.

Even casual writing about writing – this post – I will hesitate to advertise. I edit and re-edit and read and reread and agonize and re-agonize, and even though I know things aren’t quite perfect, I convince myself to share. Maybe it’s a fruitless exercise, but it feels like a step forward every time I hit that blue “Publish” button on WordPress, every time I let someone sample a lemon square or a spoonful of paneer tikka.

PS: if you’re curious about that baked orzo – try it. you’ll like it.

No bright light surrounding me

I’m crossing Broad Street one evening, and the lights up and down the strip of road are mesmerizing. I purposely strand myself at the traffic island so that I can put my finger on the city’s pulse, watch the vein of lights running toward the horizon. The signal changes, and I cross, feeling like the dark skyline has a hold on me, too. Weaving through crowds, the city feels overwhelming, intolerable. Lamps are glaring and artificial, too bright to be reassuring in the twilight.

——-

Miles away, I am walking in the sun on a beach. Here, I wear too much eyeliner and stay up too late; I’m transformed, more carefree, brighter. Cliched gold sand and crystal water glint in sun and moon light, never dull for a moment, never losing their glamorous appeal. Living in the tropics, everything seems glamorous. Life is slower, all things more beautiful and surreal than I can imagine trapped in concrete American cities. I  feel very far removed from the world.

Pseudo-intellectual party conversations and all-night dancing open new avenues of flirtation. I’m watching these men watching me: trying, and earnestly working to give the impression that they are not trying. It’s an amalgamation of all the wild parties I missed in high school and college. Liberating, captivating…but fleeting.

There’s no point playing hard to get, 
I figured I’ll just sit on your swing.

—-

I wonder if the city is making me a worse person– less sure, more afraid and bitter.

I’m wandering Fairmount just before dark, and I feel strange watching the city dull as daylight fades. Maybe the world is supposed to be like this. I strain to see the sidewalk clearly. I approach a fountain and stare at the water, which moves with an undeniable consistency. The surface is easy to make out in the transitioning light, but what happens beneath is still a mystery. Light is too revealing to be comforting, too certain of itself to be trusted; even where the dark is ambiguous and lonely, stranding me in a shroud of shadows, barely able to make out my immediate surroundings, I have faith in it. Faith in my own senses. The dark is a known unknown, while the light is deceptive, revealing only what it wants to.

When I walk alone, I’m hoping for things unknown

I’m splashing my hand in the water, watching the ripples, and I find myself wishing I had someone to see this with me, the city at dusk, the movement of the water. Sometimes, I wish clarity could come without loneliness.

——

It  is 4 AM, and we are dancing along the beach.  Everything outside this tent is dark, invisible. Maybe it’s not there at all. The loneliness of islands really hits me at this moment.  Darkness is the same everywhere, and that’s both comforting and disconcerting. I turn back to the warm glow of the party, the newly-familiar faces all laughing and looking at one another. When someone else meets my eyes, I’m not tempted to look away. There’s an intimacy in this experience that I already know I won’t be able to describe to anyone later.

When the party peters out and a few booze-driven dancers jump into the ocean to cool off, I’m content to sit under the pool lights and chat drowsily with the others until the sun peeks out from the horizon. Soon the whole sky will be bright and the beach will light up; I realize that I don’t want to see it happen. Even as my less-than-noble friends call me back, urge me to stay, I pull away.

“Watch me swim. Please?” One of them wheedles, and my resolve firms even more.

You keep on trying to make make believe…

I walk up the beach alone, moving slowly west, racing the reach of the sunlight behind me.

There’s no use in me trying to be the things I wanted                                                                        

 And that’s right for me

That’s right for me.

Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.

Disappearing. The only thing I can think about when I reach back through memory is the strong feeling that I was evaporating into thin air. As a child, I would search empty places for an imaginary door or a nook, some space I could enter and become a part of the scenery. As a teenager, I wanted to be invisible. Going unseen would be a shield, a defense that I would give anything to have.

One summer, I went camping. I lay in a field in the middle of Idaho and stared at the sky changing from dusk to night. Dried grass prickled my skin while I watched shadows appear across plains. I was 14, and the world seemed too large, but I wanted to see it all.

To us, the sky is infinite. It seems never to end, too large to be fathomed in terms we can comprehend. When you get somewhere far enough away from the city, you can finally see the expanse of stars that seem to extend into eternity, and it’s humbling and worrying and beautiful.

The moment when we realize how small we really are is a terrifying thing, and, staring into the stars in an Idaho wheat field, I felt that for the first time. Daunting. The world was full and I was empty, and the realization was stifling. This moment crystallizes in memory, salient, an all-caps paragraph in my internal narrative. Watching the moon shift away from a mountain in the distance and slowly come into view, I was blown away by how desolately the light shone, how little it illuminated.

If the moon does so little, what will I ever do? (Are we so unlike the moon, after all? Subject to gravity, we’re tied to the Earth just the same.)

Grasses rustled and the field was dark. There was no reply.