Days I’ve Watched Myself Move

Days I’ve Watched Myself Move

It’s a Saturday afternoon around 3:15 pm.  I had arrived promptly at 2:45 to begin my nine-hour shift at the restaurant.  Table 24 looks at me; it’s apparent they’re ready to order, which would make sense since they’ve likely been waiting for their hungover brunch for two hours now.  I waddle sheepishly toward the young pair, who are accordingly outfitted in last night’s trousers and bundled from naval to throat in fleece armor.  The female’s hair rests atop her head in perfect asymmetry between coordinates A and B: two glossy pearl earrings.  I am forced to bear witness to this same sort of disheveled beauty that plagued my teenage interactions and left me handicapped and shrunken at the sight of starry-eyed softball players in sweatpants.  Still, she speaks sweetly, her bumbling beau the less attentive of the two.  I speak softly and calculated: but my speech, as usual, is delayed.  I am leaning to the right then fidgeting with my hands behind my back, yet also tucking my hair behind my ear.  But maybe—maybe I should move back to center.  “For our brunch special today we have—“ I can’t seem to say the word “eggs,” mostly because they’re both staring into my eyes and I’m just sort of blinking and turning away in response.  Sometimes when I do get the words out—“How would you like your eggs cooked?”  They happen like this: “owwoo lie eggs?”  They stare in confusion, I’m just happy I said anything, and I have time to recover with a smart-sounding excuse like “sorry, the acoustics in here are sometimes a bit screwy.”  They believe me and each let out a sympathy laugh that is more like a grumble and I walk away with the left foot first:  step, together, step, together.  Hands hang at my sides, until I decide I can’t have them just hang there, so I clasp them tightly behind my back—fingers laced, or maybe just hands cupped…

My hands are the least and most awkward part of me because I can make them do the most and occupy them often, yet I am also forced to deal with them when there is nothing there to hold, touch, move, or place.  I must make them mean something when they are not performing their regulatory tasks.  I suppose when not in use, they still engage in the most menial of nerve responses.  For instance, my fingers touch each other when they’re nervous, which is often because I’m not good in my body.  What I mean by not good is I feel intensely uncomfortable with the idea of being inside this body that I’m supposed to control and move with grace, appendices in tow, immediate frame moving subtly and communicating presence, womanhood, sexual prowess.  Despite the ways in which my hands deter from my executing elegance in movement, I can still engage them more than any other part of myself, contorting them in all sort of ways without incurrence of stress fractures or muscular wreckage or even mere humiliation at my inability to pose, exact perfect stationary position or flawless inertia.

My whole body is not unlike my hands.  I fine that I am often viewing my stance and positioning as awkward when I am ultra aware of my actions.  The questions stands, though, as to whether my heightened sense of consciousness actually limits or expands and increases my ability to enact intentional self-oriented movement.  It is seemingly a silly question, and even as a religious critical thinker and dissector, the question of calculated and rehearsed movement only came to the fore of my mind when the superficial functions of my job as a restaurant sever seemed to come down to me moving and others watching my movements.  I started thinking more about my movements, signs, signals, and motions once I’d moved to DC in June.  Increased time spent alone, which is exactly what happened to me as I started work at a restaurant and friends started work that revolved more so around a daily grind—the typical metro riding, morning grogginess, late afternoon angst—sort of schedule.  All of it gave me time to saunter slowly down busy streets and those more quiet and examine all the physical nuances of my walk—the curves of my hips, how much I chose to allow my arms to swing—the way in which the wind blew my hair and whether I shirked back, viciously forced my hair to remain tucked behind my ear, or spread my arms delicately in an attempt to just exist, to just be with the wind.  I’d start thinking about my decision to stunt cognition, disallowing my hair from its involuntary movement through employing a well-calculated transaction of hand reaching into air and grasping onto something that was moving at no one’s will, really.

capturing-motion-in-photography

In Carl Ginsberg’s essay, “Body Movement, Image and Consciousness,” the thinker and subscriber to the Feldenkrais method of awareness through movement discusses the development of movement and awareness working in tandem with one another to create a seamless sort of cura personalis in which persons can nourish themselves simply by injecting critical thought and deduction into menial motion.  C. Ginsberg writes:

When I erect myself in gravity, I normally direct myself to do so.  I might on the other hand be in a somnambulistic state. […] I can stand up without paying mind to my action and act habitually and probably inefficiently.  On the other hand I can develop my awareness in such a way that my experience of my acting is rich with knowing my self-orientation, my relation to space and gravity, my sense of timing, and I will stand elegantly using a minimum of muscular effort.

As someone who undertook several trial runs of popular childhood sports and recreational activities (and ultimately, failed), I can faintly remember early experiences of learning and adapting to the inevitable marriage of cognition and movement in a less oblique sense than the harmonious cause-and-effect relationship of head and hand which I now experience while walking, standing or sitting still.  In sport, the relationship seemed more elementary, more within grasp.  For instance, I’d cradle my lacrosse stick, amplifying my capabilities, in a desperate unspoken plea of capability, then, all at once I’d say to myself: I will now, in one fell swoop, slow my pace, turn my net to face my partner, throw-catch, throw-catch, and the ball will sail briskly through the milky autumn sky.  Now I have applied the banal, yet fruitful lessons of adolescence to daily activity, which I, by my own will, have hoped to convert from arbitrary to intentional: I will now, in one fell swoop, swing my backpack over my achy right shoulder, furrow my brow, and not just clomp my boots, but really stomp them, out of this small café, because not only do I use their internet, but I use their floors to make sounds and noises that make me feel like one authoritative bitch.

 

I can either spin my awareness as intentionality or dangerous hyperconsciousness.  When aware of the way in which I fold my hands behind my back when walking briskly by flocks of gluttonous tourists I am almost crippled by my attention to every subtle twitch and turn of my inelegant body.  But, when I decide that my steps, the way I open my eyes, the way I motion for a taxi are not just mere means, but are rather standalone, substantial acts and proclamations, I have injected my perceptively miniscule actions with meaning and direction.  Suddenly, I’m walking and motioning with grace and poise, and not really because it even appears as poised movement, but because I believe it to be beautiful, and so it is.

 

Recently, I discovered the redemptive qualities, despite the overuse of cellular data, of listening to podcasts while transporting myself around DC.  As my mind has felt unusually malnourished as of late, it helps to be able to learn about an interesting topic or two while moving myself from here to there.  I’ve become particularly interested in NPR’s new Ted Radio Hour show, in which the host, Guy Rozz, plays segments of several TED Talks, which culminate under a selective umbrella topic.  Rozz, takes a moment to sit with each speaker for a personal interview, in which he instigates a bit deeper into the promoting factors for and their desire to give each respective talk.  As I have possessed a longstanding interest in language and communication, I downloaded the Ted Radio Hour podcast entitled “Spoken and Unspoken” on a whim and found myself beguiled by each speaker’s very personalized and well-crafted hypothesis on everything from alienation and unity through language, foreign dialects, texting, and even a real life application of the subjunctive mood.  And then—the very last speaker’s talk almost serendipitously emphasized the “unspoken” component of language.

Amy Cuddy’s talk, “Does Body Language Shape Who You Are?” may at first seem to accentuate the ideals reaped from overpriced group therapy sessions or freshman year orientation.  But, throughout my second, third, and fourth times listening to Rozz’s interview with Cuddy, I’ve kept my interest in conscious movement at the forefront of my thoughts and it has proven to allow me to intake Cuddy’s thesis on body language and evocation of self.

Rozz introduced Cuddy and her talk: Up until this point the kind of communication we’ve been hearing about is language […], basically things we have near complete control over, but the thing is you don’t have complete control over how you communicate because a big part of it happens unconsciously.

Rozz continues, discussing how Cuddy studies nonverbal communication.  Quite literally, this woman received her Ph.D. in the scrutiny of that which makes me cringe at my own existence.  Cuddy was listed Number One on Time Magazine’s list of Game Changers.  She studies body language in regards to something she calls “power poses,” discovering that after two minutes of high power posing (ie: standing like wonder woman or a reclining CEO), testosterone levels actually go up in individuals assuming self-assured stances.  Ultimately Cuddy, though a psychologist, is a modern day Philosopher and student of the Feldenkrais method: a savant and pioneer of conscious movement and attentiveness to the body.

I’d imagine, though the pressure is more overt when one is placed in an occupation in which her or she is constantly being watched, that being conscious of one’s movements is more difficult when sitting desk-side, in a barometric pressured nightmare of an office, where no one can see you.  There is no accountability for slouching; there is no one to even silently penalize you when you’ve become a lidless, typing machine.  To be watchful when alone is wholly learned: half beautiful, half rigorous.

 

I often find my consciousness especially heightened when I perceive my own movement in congruence with that of others.  My obsession with synchronization is further realized whenever I walk behind or beside a pair of feet audibly hitting the ground on the offbeat of my own personal metronomic steps.  I am currently on the last hours of a week and a half spent in my hometown right outside of Philadelphia.  Before my arrival, my developmentally disabled aunt had just had a traumatic fall and suffered several compression fractures of the spine, and since she was essentially confined to the living room sofa for the course of her holiday season visit (which, incidentally began on my mother’s birthday), I felt inclined to sweetly and desperately plea, at the very last minute, for a transient stay at my childhood home and a heftier-than-usual time-off request from work.

There’s also a slight chance that I impulsively ran from my unfulfilled life in Washington, DC to seek temporary refuge in a place where I could maybe just feed my mind with a some familiar food, perhaps something that tasted, even the tiniest bit, like a pure and untainted version of myself—a self that really wanted something, something with which I’d been terribly out of touch.  My last night was a Sunday night is tonight, December 29th.  I’d already taken the Amtrak just two days ago from DC and back in a single day for an interview for a position with a nonprofit for which the impending victim, I mean “fellow,” was to be paid a stipend that amounted to not even three quarters of the poverty line minimum salary.  I have an interview with a staffing firm on the 31st  and am heading back for that and of course, get back to work again; but most of all, I need to start reconciling myself with the present condition of things and keep moving.

Anyways—synchronization of movement.

My last day home is today, a Sunday.  The weather was both persistent and static all day, robbing every bit of color from our immediate stratosphere.  It had, instead, affixed a perfect penumbra of elusive liquid casting itself into an arc-like pocket within the mostly hazy horizon.  My mother and I had gone to the movies to see Dame Judy Dench, as she gave voice to Philomena Lee, an elderly Irish woman searching for her son who’d been stolen from her while she was forced to perform expiation for her sin, which was plainly and simply, having sex out of wedlock, via performing chores, ruthlessly inflicted by nuns of the Rosecrea Abbey, for years of her young adult life.  Following the film, we fled through the marathon of mist to the grocery store in the pouring rain, where we acquired various ingredients for dinner.  My mom and I indulged in our regular bickering.  I, at my own confession, muttering endless provocations in the form of short, snippy insults akin to her various habits (ballooned, at my will, to a superlative degree), such as the briskness of her step, the sharpness of her speech, or inability to, in the manner of a mesmerized child, listen to one of my twice-told tales.

You see, my mother and I bear uncanny resemblance in regards to our strong-witted mentalities, superficially standoffish attitudes, marrow-deep care for our loved ones and those unknown to us, and our general way of being able to be picked up and set off, stretched between emotional and mental polarities at even the most minutely questionable stare or remark.  At the end of the grocery belt sat the paper bag filled with delicate components to my mother’s rainy day stew.  I lifted it, my hands still rain-sprinkled, my mind still fixed on Philomena and her rigorous journey, wrought on wholly by love, wonder, innocence.  Her movements, intensely intentional, wholly self conscious—each stride in the name of an unproved presence.

I wipe my right hand against my camel, swing coat, which, expectedly, is also wet.  Self-consciously I continue to stroke my hand against my coat while my mother grasps her receipt and folds it into unpretty fourths.  I spread my fingers, and I can’t help but notice how a finger fits in between each finger.  I want to fold my hands now, like I would at the restaurant, whenever I am awkwardly empty handed and blubberishly pleading “How is everything so far???”  Nodding and nodding, with lack of any genuinely interested-sounding response.  My fingertips curl beneath the brown paper handle and wrap around to meet the base of my palm, immediately above the tip of the palm’s triangle.  Scalene, I believe, it is.  The triangle of my own hand contains a right angle and two other angles of unequal measurements.  There is correctness and exactness of my hand, and there is also misalignment and incongruence.  I am enveloped in the 180 degree centerpiece of my least and most awkward appendage as I trudge, head down, un-power-posed, in the grey water parade.

I watch my mother’s feet, the audible clomp of a stylish boot echoes through a parking lot of Honda CRVs and eager Sunday shoppers.  There is wild dissonance.  I watch my feet, as I take three steps then allow the fourth to soar ungracefully over each sidewalk crack.  Still watching our feet: 1. My mother’s first step, 2. Then my first, 3. Mother, 4. Mine.  I am uncomfortable with our disallowance of space and silence.  I come to a halt.  And our walk, then, even unbeknownst to my mother, becomes so much more.  The synchronization of movement is the unalloyed incarnation of Amy Cuddy’s thesis that the prevalence of unconscious communication near parallels the ultimacy of speech.  The synchronization of movement is the verbally unstated physical overstatement of desired togetherness, association, and communion.

 
This is my left foot.  It will now step, I will hear the sound of my boot—the small wooden heel—hitting the ground.  And the sound will not be alone.  I am swinging my left arm, and my right arm lays beside me, yet at elbow begins to hang several inches from my hip and thigh, hand holds bag handle firmly, as fingertips meet the crevices of my palm, angles alike and unalike.  This is my right foot.  It will musically join my mother’s in a fell swoop of sidewalk thrashing—music.  I am besotted with movement, with saying things I’m too afraid to forcibly shimmy from larynx to mouth, a mouth I can’t even move right.  I am bewitched by the communion formed by a step or stare.  I am entirely taken with the sublimity of my and your own ability to verbalize through our precious nonverbals.  Because not only do I walk just to walk; I walk to say a few things.  I walk to move.

Reflections at Francis Scott Key Park

Today I walked by this miniature labyrinth on my way back from an afternoon in Georgetown.  I simply sat for about seven minutes and wrote these lines.  I watched several people walk through and stare out at the river and look up and the vines, their eyes scaling down the sides of the columns.

Image

Reflections at Francis Scott Key Park

This is musical:

the romance and reticence between

my paper and I.

I like the quiet because

of the sounds it makes.

I like it because its sweeping haze

brought me here

to an umbra of creeping jenny—

a silent striker, a perennial genius.

We are resilient animals

when hiding beneath twig and brush.

The jenny’s leaves are the smallest

and loudest sound in this space;

they move rapidly against

a metronome of wind.

This is the way music sounds

when I’m not hearing anything

but the earth resting and rising again.

Rain & Ropes

I have had love for you like rain

like a violent rain,

once it even ruptured my insides;

that was before it poured

I have had love for you for years

it is a painful kind that curves in and out

sometimes I cant see it but I can touch it with

half-hearted fingertips.

It takes half of it to be twisted

half of it to be thrown around,

whipped about like a taut rope

that’s only really breaking strands as a form of movement.

Love like rain and ropes, my love:

this is how we love.

the things that end our lives make them whole,

like loving someone ‘till your swinging,

bound by wind, jumping ropes that emit

little stringed shards;

this is what my body does when I’m

dying for something that loves me so much

I fall apart.

Girl Story

I have wanted to feel pretty for a very long time.  This is how I’ve justified my bad days, because I am working toward beauty.  One more day of commiseration, please.  I cannot leave the house, because my hair, face, and body still await several more hours of primping. 

This is my girl story.  It mostly circulates around the concept of attempting to feel and be 6,000 things at once, to wear masks that didn’t fit, to go places I didn’t like.  I genuinely don’t know where it all begins.  When does one, whether silently to oneself or aloud, declare one’s sex?  Whether the gender declaration is a reality for some or not, I have no idea, but I can’t recall a day on which I parted my awkwardly long arms and squealed “I AM A GIRL!!!!”

In fact, I feel like I came to realize my girlhood more thoroughly and accurately through my revelations of boyhood.  I remember my first crash course in differences between my boyish counterparts and me.  It was Kindergarten.  Naptime arrived after lunch.  My nap buddy was a skinny, bleach blonde-haired boy named Alex.  As I attempted to fall asleep, Alex woke me: “Pssst.”  I looked at him.  He is no different than me.  His hair is short, yes but so is Gracie’s.  He and I play Star Wars together.  He continues, “Reach down my pants.  There’s something down there that girls don’t have.”  No, no there’s not and no I won’t.  My this-would-be-sexual-harassment-if-we-weren’t-in-Kindergarten experience seemed to impact me in a rather rudimentary way.

There was something intrinsically (& outwardly) and fundamentally different between my naptime buddy and I and this would never go away, despite any half-hearted efforts to thwart differences.  I would never have a male best friend, I would never be able to successfully deal away physical or emotional traces of womanhood, I would never successful raise my voice to wild or unorthodox calls and whistles.  I’d always remain a starry-eyed napper, a little girl laying next to a different being, trying to convince herself that difference wasn’t there, and despite its incessant presence, I’d always try to make us all the same.

If there is a personal battle that is more strenuous than trying to equalize something that is not meant to be equal or the same in any way, it is mindlessly trying to perfect one’s physical appearance.  What I learned from the next phase of girlhood:  It is only an awkward phase if you allow others to define you as awkward.  The real problem with the awkward phase is that we have handed our existence over to someone else; we have handed over our freedom.  There are several ways in which my Philosophy education has made my perceptions of myself wholly a thing of the past.  I owe most of these warding off techniques to Albert Camus.  My girl story took form mostly throughout a number of depressing years in which I had zero ownership over a life, which I was neither creating nor living.  It begins when my looks and ways were only bad because I allowed them to become tangled in the world, which, if we are realistic (I say realistic and not cynical, for a reason), is an unfree one.  So here is unpretty me tangled within our unfree world.  And that’s when the hand that drew Sisyphus comes in and defines absurdist philosophy as an unlikely joyous reaction to the stagnant.  He says: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become to absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”  So if self-creation is rebellion in the face of the unfree world, then my girl story, my self-loathing begins with me in a very stationary state.

By now, hopefully, have a vision of me in a Catholic school girl uniform, sitting down, legs crossed at the ankle, with a swarm of manic, lip-glossed tweens shouting obscenities, making me feel worse and worse about myself by the minute.  This is an exaggerated picture of the goings-on of my adolescent years.  The whole picture is more complex.  The truth is, some kids really are mean.  A girl story is not simply a one-dimensional depiction of an awkward girl willingly being picked at.  In my girl story, I am pummeled on several occasions by mean boys who really did grow up to fight aggressively with cops and underage bars and girls who really did continue settled, content, and sort of sleeping while aware in their childhood suburban home.  People were mean to me, but the person who was meanest was me.  I was likely my biggest bully.  I did all the looking in the mirror, and the pseudo face painting and caking on of unrealistically shaded face makeup.  I did the stomach sucking and occasional dirty dancing.  A girl story is only right if a girl takes the time to sort it all out and realize she’s the one who’s in control.

But when she realizes it, she turns her shirts inside-out and paints her walls green, dyes her hair with a fatal outcome, goes to record stores, and selects her new favorite tunes from Urban Outfitters message boards.  By this time, by the time I’d made a whole slew of exterior alterations to myself, I’d deciphered more clearly the difference between men and me.  I’d redirected the prettiness ideal to something both unique and self satisfying, but also appealing to my male counterparts—friends that wouldn’t stay friends, and others I’d just stare at while making my way through a crowded mall or city street, on some sort of secret prowl for anything that would make even a semi-pithy attempt at garnering my attention.  All the while, I’d gloss my lips and line my eyes, like a little pretend beauty, then I’d burn my pretty curls with electricity and fire.  In my girl story, I thought I was a thing that could be played with and pulled at: a small child, a wind-up toy, a human heart.

One’s perceptions of humanity change and grow, just as mine did with age and education.  The world becomes smaller, one may travel more, one may consistently encounter those she serves food to in a restaurant setting while at a bar on a Friday night, one may care less about birthdays, take time for granted, find the neighborhood next door to be less breathtaking and more commonplace.  The world is smaller, people are both better and worse, and beauty hasn’t looked the same in years.  It doesn’t even smell the same anymore and it doesn’t wear its hair the same, either.  Perhaps it comes with suffering, watching the physically beautiful falter and completely screw me over, or perhaps it comes with genuinely feeling uncomfortable as a sheep in a wolf’s clothes (see what I did there?).  Whatever it is, though, whatever sort of strange guise or wrapping I’m cloaked in or whatever sorts of perceptions I’ve developed regarding others and their boy and girl stories, I know I’m ready to unbind others and myself.

The girl story doesn’t extend, hopefully.  If time tells, it just goes away.  I recently closed my girl story at points of ellipses.  And it was at these points that the woman story began.  It’s here where the declarations occur.  I am not shy, as I was in my girl days.  Arms are parted, heart full, I am brimming with belief, excitement, and pride.  I know when I am different and when I am the same.  My gender is not my story, but it is what gets me from story to story, my catalyst, the recurring segue, my womanhood.

Stream of Consciousness: The Middle

It is an occasion when a diner will ask his or her server anything about herself.  Rarely, do they open a door and whistle, beckoning my humanity to come out.  Here humanity, here boy.  It is rarely fun: bearing the “can I get’s?” and the “give me’s,” but then, as if out of some discreet pocket of air, I’ll receive a “What do you do?” and the heavens split right down the middle and light befalls us—an aura covering table 23.  Somehow, someone knew to ask what I do or what I want, what my passions and dreams may happen to be.  It is so brilliant that it almost seems to cancel out the following interaction that occurred at table 44 about two and a half weeks ago.

Father and daughter talk amongst themselves…

Father: “Should we ask, I don’t know.”

Lowly server (me): “Everything alright over here.  Are you all finished?”

Father: “Yes.  May we ask you a question.”

NB: This is all occurring after the gentleman told me that I should inform management that we have to do something about the room temperature maple syrup that causes the piping hot French toast to lower in temperature when it is poured atop the texas toast-y delicacy.

 

Me: Sure

Father: Do you have another job?

Me: I freelance write, which is my passion, but this is the only job I make money doing.  Why?

Father: Because we were just talking amongst ourselves and wondering how you could possibly make enough money as a waitress to live in a city like Washington, DC.

So these things sometimes happen.  I almost rather they are outright into heir debasement of me rather than closeted, discreet, huffy breathed, and blaming me for an undercooked something or other.  That guy tipped me about 40%.  It was the worst I’d ever felt about an overtly extravagant tip.  So back to “Here humanity, here boy.”  There is something very important that comes forth from being thrown into a life state that allows for expression, only if it is stifled by the impetuous wants and needs of others.  And believe it or not, regardless of how one may read my general tone, that something important is not boundless heaps of cynicism.  No, it is an achy urge to devote one’s time and efforts to extracting and encouraging the revealing of others’ humanity.  I want to name every face, or better yet, allow every face to name itself to me.

Odd as it is that the very people who cause me grief each day have helped me to want to aid and assist others in feeling whole, it’s a backwards recipe that certainly works for me.  It was in feeling suffocated that my truest loves in life arose to the front of my mind, battling off ideas and goals that had once held precedence because perhaps they looked better or would help me to move on more swiftly to a better post graduate degree program.  It’s not that bad—the middle—the mental or even physical place in which everything is a maybe, every move is impermanent, and every waking hour comes with something unexpected, unwanted, or unplanned.  I like the middle, at least more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is in the middle that I have regular panic attacks over rent payments, bemoan my erratic work schedule, and fight with my mother on the phone, but it also here in the middle that I can take a long walk in trail of sunlight I’d otherwise not be able to bask in until it was well faded, within a clump of bustling, uniformed workers; it’s here that I can submit a poem to a journal, fingers crossed, wondering and hoping that maybe this is the middle’s end, at least before the next middle, the next time I decide to thin before I do, to consider, to stop somewhere between this and that—whatever this is, whatever that is, I don’t really know, not now.

Wildness

Sometimes I think about myself as a tiny child, wild and messy and conquering things, climbing stairs on all fours, beating my chest, yelling geronimooooo as I’d hurdle off of furniture and fling myself down railings like a happy, yet controlled little beast.  I lose my wildness constantly just as I lost it when I came to an age of reason, as if such a thing really exists.  The only thing I’ve reasoned since then is that to be under control is overrated and while listening is good, some listening is just an admission—to servitude and docility.  But to behave is often to don a cloak of little color, to be, as it were so grossly marked and wrongly defined some time ago, an adult.

Behavior is an oddity, because surely the Capitol Hill Moms Society, many of whom I wait on at the restaurant, forcibly smiling and placating their snotty, animalistic, screeching children, sort of like this: “Hi, buddy!  Oooo look mac and cheese!! Tasty!”  But I think of the moms who sport expensive accessories and flaunt Obama 2012 bumper stickers and disproportionately large bike racks on their Honda Fits and dress their kids in Fair Trade beanies and dark wash jeans and baby Toms, I think of them and their odd techniques, their definitions of how to keep a child, how to make the child do, say, be.  They are so wildly mistaken.  This is where it starts; it starts at the women who pretend their doing something of benefit for the future generation.  But here’s the thing, those who revolutionize don’t form public policy from a social studies textbook.

If the Capitol Hill Moms Society keeps pushing behavior, then from where does the wildness come?  And when it comes, will kids be afraid of it?  Will they say: “What I this I feel?  This master morality, this inclination toward the Thelma and Louise?  Why do I feel as though the edge of the cliff, which I was once cautioned to turn from, only begs me, ‘come child, this is where you say yes to life.’”

 

There are times when the reward reaped from a risky, unpremeditated action is so grand that the act itself does not even skirt the baseline qualifications for misbehavior.  Let’s take a cripplingly bad hangover.  You’re eyes don’t want to open, your body aches and your esophagus brims with bile and other unsettling remnants of glucose.  You feel like there is an oversized snail swimming about your insides to and fro emitting a fermented slime that causes a feeling somewhat similar to being stretched out against a slowly turning, upright wheel, limbs hooked tight to the edges, eyes fixed open to a blurry edifice you’ll never reach.

There was, of course, a caveat.  You learned it in middle school, high school, too.  You learned that drinking coffee, that taking a cold shower are merely fabricated remedies, and do not, in fact, “heal” a hangover.  You learned there’d be no real cure but time, perhaps interspersed with a few healthy dry heaves and a 12-pack of ginger ale.  But you were caught in celebration last night.  It was 2:30 am and you needed that shot of bourbon.  You were pursuing a wildness that is both real and necessary to your being.  For our dry-bellied friends, the un-imbibers, that may mean reaching out to a long-lost someone or beginning a relationship with a word or a cute, unimposing shrug, or attending an anime convention because they really like anime and it does and should not matter whether a parent or a friend is condemning of the wild act.

The hangover takes place in many forms.  Often, it feels remarkable—snails don crowns and sprinkle fairy dust throughout your insides.  It is only when facing the general public, those who sit on thrones and wag index fingers and grimace, that the bile may erupt.  There is rarely any component of the wild act to be feared.  It is the dawn, what one should encounter upon waking, that throws us, that bars us abruptly before we hit the road and elicits in our minds a montage of things that could go awry.  Often caught between I want to and I would want to, if…, we lean toward what we deem to be a comfortable choice, a choice without repercussions, when in actuality, that safety, that comfort, is a fear of committing that which we were taught not to do—not to borrow trouble, nor test waters, but rather watch them ripple gently, unperturbed, just simply performing a stationary dance, like the human breath, or the feline purr.

Behavior is a highly scientific, and, what’s more, medical term.  It conjures up thoughts of labs, monkeys, mice on wheels.  You must behave; you must not misbehave.  It is highly detached from our being, and merely a step within our daily activity .  But wildness, wildness is a component of myself, not merely my actions, but my whole self.  Often, though, it is an unrealized component.  For me, wildness was something I’d subdued and even barred off for years as I focused on “being good.”  I stayed the course of what I’d perceived as goodness: not drinking, not smoking, not having sex, not talking about sex, not talking about much of anything I was thinking about, getting good grades. Before I continue, let me clarify misconceptions before they begin to occur:  There’s nothing wrong with exhibiting traits that are classifiably “good.”  What there is something wrong with, though, is aiming to please and get through life, unmarked or unbruised, to an extent where one begins to wholeheartedly dismiss a large component of self that actually craves the seat of the pants, the skin of the teeth.

It’d be a seamless anecdote if I brought in the time I went bungy jumping in Nepal and detailed the mind-numbing freefall.  You know the anecdote: AND THAT’S WHEN I FIRST FELT TRULY IN TOUCH WITH MY WILDNESS: WHEN I TOOK THE LITERAL PLUNGE, OFF THE BRIDGE AND INTO THE UNKNOWN.  But truthfully, this is not when I first confronted and embraced my wildness.  There was no first time, it simply happened, because as I grew and mere goodness left me with only more questions, I gradually allowed wildness to be, pleading it to come forth from the recesses of my soul.  Recently, I’ve felt the hangover more frequently than I had for years.  I am not often happy, but I find that when I am, it results from moments, events, or conversations in which I am deeply in touch with my wildness.  I am discussing unorthodox business ventures, I am drinking pitchers of margarita, I am not as quiet as I used to be.

I might spend an evening cracking jokes, inserting dry humor into already uncomfortable conversations, singing loudly, discussing the benefit of having cats in ones life.  And to boot, I might do this all shamelessly.  This is wildness.  As a young adult in a world of questionable, questioning young adults, I am stepping out, consuming, risking the hangover, the mind warp, the high, the decline.  And although I’m swearing and discussing bodily functions, I am not misbehaving.

I am wild.

I am reflective as I ponder how I will one day “teach my children” to act.  How will I teach future sprouted generations of me how to bar natural inclinations, how to sit still without going crazy, without suppressing a need to dance.  I have no idea.  I don’t know if I can successfully execute the best of all worlds, without being perceived as a mother who dresses in kimonos and hair curlers, keeping a home brimming with fumes of marijuana, decked in finger-painted murals.  How will I raise small humans, fully in touch with their wildness, without losing my mind?  Perhaps they will have to spend a few years sitting still, for my own sake, at the very least, but I will tell them each day about how the day will come when they’ll be in the corvette hair waving in perfect follicular patters, like a miniature tunnel of fall leaves, and then, then they will spread their arms, let go of the wheel, and invite wildness to take hold.  Then they will say yes to life.

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In the meantime, though, before I create new life, I’ll stack building blocks onto my own.  I’ll trust myself, ridding my mind of the harrowing fear of misbehavior.  For I’ll know, it is the fear of remaining stationary, of being without being, that is most threatening to a full and flourishing life on earth.  I will break open the lock box and be as the great god of wine: a little brunette, freckled Dionysus: unafraid, close-mouthed, fixed in an unrevealing smirk, open-eyed, wild.

……Therefore I am

“Why do we wake up, roll over in bed, and suddenly enact our own miniature one woman marionette show?  Why am I, like a machine at work, moving toward this table of individuals I’d usually glance over, smiling and staring doe-eyed and beginning: ‘Hi folks!  Good evening! How are you?’”

My least favorite combination of too-often employed words is: YOU THINK TOO MUCH.  If there’s one form of expression kids and even adults are taught to not do too much of, it is to think.  Even feeling is permissible in large amounts.  The other day I was at it again, outpouring too much, so really any bit of, my thoughts.

The given response: “Leah, you think too much.”  And all at once, I felt totally full of rage, my perceptions of humankind surmised to something altogether negative.  Not only have we no more “Great Thinkers” or even the tendency to employ the term, honor the individuals, but we no longer cherish, admire, or merely regard thought as essential.

I think a lot, and although, as in the “you think too much” incidents, it may be marked characteristically perilous, it is my most favored trait.  I am most fully alive when on my own—executing a mental dance, praying over supposed scenery, which really shows itself to me as just another component of myself.  Aloneness is where the dance happens.  And I am pretty good at being alone.  I did it often as a child: usually in the “running away” format (to the backyard, in the grocery store, at the mall).  I loved a lot of humanity, sure, but my truest love, from very early on, was a world with which I would forever acquaint myself, and rarely produce any clear-cut decisions.

Philosophy was an obvious program of study for me, but again, my mere interests would herald “realistic” responses and naysayer’s jabs positing the things I loved as “dead” or “dying.”  But I didn’t care.  Even absurdist philosophy was all about living and life.  It encourage rebellion in the face of a barring universe.  It encouraged intelligence in the form of action.  Even in a seminar room, I was feeling like Sysyphus—preying on my truths, aware and in admittance of a world I am consistently ceasing to conceive.

I find myself wondering when being an intellectual became pretentious.  When Camus distinguished existentialism from pretentiousness and established thought as an act of claiming one’s freedom rather than a muted, loathsome passivity he was regarded an intellectual.  So, I guess I, too, am (shamelessly) an intellectual.  As my good man said:

An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.

I am a thinker.  Thought is my breath.  How else is one to live?

What it did for me I’ll never forget, but what it did to me in the moment, I’d like to try to forget. I bring you a post and general topic I’ve wanted to tackle for awhile: Leah Writes on High School

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

(I’ll come back to Vonnegut, but part of me is still thinking I just let Kurt get some words in there before me since he tends to have a way with thoughts that most cannot express).

*Begin romanticized imagery and language now*

I was a proud 17-year old that fine day on June 6, 2009.  My skin was a deep shade of fake brown, my hair made as straight as I could get it, and I looked in that mirror and thought, “It’s over.” Pause.  Now, as the tears welled up I went from one version of, “It’s over” to another.  It was over.  High school was about to be finished.  I was sad.  I’d never make the morning drive again, hear the bell ring, I’d never experience any of it after that day.  But then I remember that moment when I realized, on a different level, “It’s over.”  Everything I’ve faked, felt uncomfortable with, struggled through yet triumphed through, everything I’ve hurt, everything that’s hurt me.  This is all over.  That is one of the feelings I will never forget.  Knowing that some of the hardest years were about to be put away and if I wanted to I could lock it all away and recreate it.  I could tell my kids I was the prom queen, that I dated lots of cool guys, that I made so many amazing friends.  Now I know I’ll probably just tell them that I ruined a play when I was 15, skipped gym class almost every week to go “meet with teachers,” and was most intimidated throughout my four years by my biggest bully: a 70-something year old choir directing nun.  But still, I thought that was it.  And liberation day only marked the very beginning of a long process of realization and understanding of what exactly went on from 2005-2009.

I’m going to begin at a place with which most of us are eerily familiar: the exterior.  If anything makes preteen and teenagehood easier, it’s wearing the right things and looking the right way.  Some of us don’t always do this.  Okay, some of us have never done this, even when they’ve tried.  Alright, let’s not beat around the bush, I was a disgrace.  I was just coming out of a summer spent at Shakespeare camp (I’m warning you, when it rains…….) where I experienced my first kick of being fully convinced that I was some sort of free-spirited hippie and had all the rights in the world to wear whatever I damn well pleased.  I wasn’t dressing myself in clothing I liked, I was like a statement-making bulletin board–I would continue this for years and years.  So, my favorite look included a random ass t-shirt with a belt around the thinnest part of my waist and many beaded necklaces, usually bought at a thrift shop (trend-setting-14-year-old-leah), accompanied by some like patchwork jeans or jorts.  And the best news was, I didn’t even enjoy these get-ups.  Splendid.  THEN, I did something, I did something to my beautifully-fresh, young, freckled face that would define me for the rest of high school and even the beginning of college (until I could at least escape from anyone I’d known during these dark times).  I developed the worst trademark for myself.  Alright, I’ll tell you, I essentially spackled the holy hell out of my naturally pink lips with yellow-y concealer (for men, this is women’s under-eye cover-up makeup).  No worries, though, this eventually morphed into a trend of glopped-on light colored-mood ring, opal-y toned lipgloss.  I applied it so many times a day that in retrospect I am able to say that it was absolutely obsessive-compulsive.  I carried it in my skirt pocket at all times, along with, uh, nothing else, and I sometimes went to the restroom for the sole purpose of applying my lipgloss.  Looking back, this is the defining factor for why I now know that I was not okay.  A simple overly-regimented lip treatment may not seem like that much, but when I play a matching game with vivid memories of lipgloss mania and significantly negative life events, well, it all seems to play out as one awfully harmonious transformational time in the life of leah.

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I remember freshman year, though, as also being one of the most beneficial years of my entire life.  Although they may not be so present in my life anymore, I established my first ever real group of friends.  This would forever change then entire course of my highschool years.  For the first time, I was going to dances and going out on the weekends with friends.  Things were looking up, even though I was looking like the makeup aisle at CVS gone wrong mixed with a bad Limited Too ad.  Then…………..my friends started dating and I started, um, going to bed at 11 instead of 10.  The relationship bug infected most if not all of my friends, but the fact that I seemed incapable of heralding attraction at this point wasn’t the biggest worry of mine.  In fact, looking back, I was much more apathetic towards guys and relationships than I gave off.  The biggest annoyance and scarlet letter-like mark of loserdom was the fact that I was one of the very last girls to have her first kiss (Ok, this is, in fact, quite the opposite of the scarlet letter, I understand that a little hormonal prude in Urban Outfitters jeans and a flannel shirt who had never dreamed of being kissed was not nearly the same as a guillotine-going adulteress).

While that did eventually happen for me at a whopping sixteen and a half, I’ll always remember the year that followed with mixed feelings.  This was the year I lost myself big time.  Sure I could say that I was both swarmed in and surrounded by non-ideal relationships, but the truth of the matter was that I was a sad teenage girl who, unlike many, did know what she wanted out of life (and on top of it, had already been through many things people twice her age would never experience) but was too afraid to push everybody out of the way and go get it.  There are times when I still wonder what would have been different if I had lived this particular year-a year where I simply went from static to downward sloping- differently.  But I lived it in such a way that I followed blindly, I conformed my beliefs and attitudes to those around me, and frankly I rarely vocalized in the way that many know me as being infamous for now.  I had also taken a year-long break off from singing, something I’ve only now become comfortable to express my love for and embrace.  After a period of time with a nun who, all jokes aside, jolted my confidence, which was already in the tank, into the damn ground.  I believed I was both incapable and unsuited and I turned away from a form of expression I loved, and like I said, have only been able to rejuvenate within the last year.  Out of that open elective spot where I’d usually be singing, though, came the opportunity to embrace another talent.  It was through my creative writing class that I’d meet one of my best and most influential teachers: a spunky young lady who taught me that the metaphysical stuff I was writing was not weird, but was in fact pretty cool.  I credit the 50% of my current college major that is writing to her, and honestly, I credit some of my sanity to her as well.  Writing was the silent weapon of my self expression, particularly as I was not expressing much of my true self in the vocal sense throughout my entire third year of high school.  I tried to write poems about love, family, stories about friends and nature. But what came out instead were some of the best things I’ve ever written and ever will write: several stories about losing loved ones, vague poetic pieces about what it was like for me growing up, poems about the “picasso pieces of my mind,” a screen play about an alternate cyber universe, almost anything escapist, and finally, a final piece that I was supposed to read at the unveiling of the 2008 creative writing class literary magazine.  This one was a stream of consciousness reflection about a car accident I had been in just 2 months prior that was still having great impact on me.  As I shall breeze by details, it wasn’t so much this reading that was my penultimate test of strength, but it was stopping some friends at the time from blackmailing me via recording my reading.  I’ll never forget putting my hand out and telling them “NO.”  I don’t care how small it was.  I had done it.  This had meant something to me.

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I came back senior year confused as ever.  I felt overripe and overdone, like I was long ready to leave, like nothing made sense, like I made no sense to anyone.  But, I was starting to make sense to me.  I was starting to grasp the fact that I was damn weird, ready to leave from day one of that last school year, and uncomfortable about past choices I’d made mainly because I had just spent 3 years fairly aware of myself and my desires, but never voicing any of it aloud.  And I am one vocal mother effer.  I remember focusing really hard on school that year, focusing on getting into schools.  I started dressing in ways that I genuinely loved.  I loved my style, my hair, my makeup now looked like it belonged on a human being, although there was still a lot of it.  My relationships, though, were fizzling out and I hated it.  I hated it mostly because I felt it but I tried so strongly to force everything to feel okay.  I felt like I was growing up in double time, and I felt like everyone else was not.  On the bright side, I felt an inexplicably strong pull toward a university that I visited on a whim, a place where I’d go one to meet a partner for life and 3 to 5 outstanding lifelong friends.  I had no idea what was in store for me, yet I had an idea that there was something that was next to come.  I had “This can’t be it” syndrome.  And I felt confused and angry and wished I had spent my last 4 years differently.  But I didn’t.  But you know what?  At least those 4 years of unassured angst and insecurity were over and done with by age 18.  Most don’t get that lucky.

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So I stood on that day of graduation and honestly, I was sad, yes.  But, most of me took a deep breath and thought, “I got through that.”  I remember being so thankful for experiences, friendships, classes, teachers, but I was happy to be finished with that old skin, a hard shell that just wouldn’t crack until I left my mom and sister crying on August 23, 2009 and stood in front of a university chapel where I’d play an ice breaker in a circle that literally beheld some of the best gifts I’d ever known and gifts I had never known: a few people who helped me be me and who loved me.  And you know what Vonnegut, I’m getting closer and closer to that day when I will wake up and realize my high school class is running the country, but let’s rest assured that the other members of the graduating class of 2009 will be waking up to know that the one running the country, as least in a not-so-executive-branch kind of way, is me.  And on June 6, 2009, I thought to myself for the first time ever, “I got through that.  I can do things.  I can do big things.”

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So no, I’ve chosen not to use my men in black mind erasing tool to disregard all thoughts of anything high school because 1) they don’t sell those on ebay and 2) even if I had them, I’d still keep these memories.  I’d even keep the one of me slipping on a wet floor and crashing into the wall of the cafeteria in front of the seniors freshman year, or the missed cue during opening night of the play sophomore year, or the intense embarrassment in realizing my first kiss was a well-played set up of events because some young ladies don’t realize that it is in fact not normal to make the boy wait 1 month to kiss you after you’ve initially started dating, I’d even keep the worst ones, the fights, the tears, the last time I ever talked to her and her and her.  I’m not letting these memories go away.  They are such a critical part of me and let’s face it, they’re the ones that’ll matter most to the four years I will always remember as the time wherein I developed most, during four years where it seemed like nothing took place in me at all.

Years later, that is what I am most inspired by: the silenced version of the now very audible me.

peace, love, and ongoing musings about things that are forever impactful on one’s life,

LR

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We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.Eleanor Roosevelt


Crossing my fingers that I’m just as interesting when writing from Pennsylvania as I am when writing from South Asia…Presenting: Leah Dissects the Meaning of “Home”

Three days ago my sister arrived home from a month of crash course college life at her soon to be locked-in university in North Carolina.  She was less than enjoyable as she returned from what they dub the “Summer Experience.”  She was sure to ready herself in the fetal position on the sofa almost immediately crying out “I wanna go back to school.  I hate it here.  You don’t understand.”  In retaliation I clicked my tongue and and wagged my finger, “Ah, young grasshopper, but I DO understand.”  Clearly after 3 years of radical mood swings, trying to grasp the true concept of home, going from about 12 friends to 1 who still resided close to my hometown, spending hours in the house staring at walls, thinking “Why am I here?” (that one may have been a bit dramatic but let’s ride with it), I was certainly the first person to understand.

I have this wild and unquenchable jealousy for a select few of my friends who experience equal amounts of joy and glee when at school and at home.  For myself, and as I know for a few others, I cannot say the same.  Facebook often notifies us of the radiating happiness of almost each and every individual as they finish finals and set out for winter break.  My deplorable news feed reads like this (at least in my mind): “Going back HOME, 1 month, back to the 215, 631, 610 (this part is the absolute worst to me because, come on, you are not a rap song, and moreover, nothing is cool about me saying like ‘going to visit my long-lost friend, *enter their social security number here*)’.” Bottom line: every across-the-board university vacation time leaves my head spinning with a single question, “Is something wrong with me?”

Abington, PA is not the most boring place in the world (There’s still like towns in Iowa that have it beat out, right? Ok, I jest).  That’s not the problem, but here IS the problem.  It is small.  The physical smallness may not be the problem, either.  To me, though, it has become the smallest place I’ve ever been.  I’ve exhausted this place.  I’ve ran through its parks, gone to its schools, gone to its target (Seriously, in middle school I would do this for fun), gone to its mall, gone to its churches, its single bowling alley, its bakeries, restaurants. I’ve even had 3 jobs here 1 boyfriend (whatever, some of us go through teenagehood more apathetic than others), about 6 hospital visits, I haven’t counted but I’ll round it to maybe 12 theatrical performances, I made honor roll here (all without my mom donning one of those bumper stickers, go mom!), I won some art contest in grade school here I think, I beat up a boy at my summer camp here, I wet my pants during music class in kindergarden here, I went to family engagement parties, too many funerals, and birthday parties here.  I loved it here.  And now, I respect what I loved, what I experienced, but I don’t want to be here.  And you know what, that is okay.

Home is taken far too literally, in my opinion.  And let’s face it, not to exert my opinion, but I think this statement holds much truth overall. “I want to go home,” says Sally.  Well you know what I want?  I want Sally to explain to me what that means because I want to go home too, in my mind at least.  I hope that I can always be “home.”  Usually I like to use quotes, well in general, but also to enhance my points, but here I will put my old childhood acquaintance, Laura Ingalls Wilder up against my devil’s advocate-style of argument as I copy and paste her curious quote and then throw out a few questions:

“There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.”
― Laura Ingalls WilderLittle Town on the Prairie

Alright, let’s start here.  You haven’t even defined home for us, Laura.  Now, as my definition would read as being akin to my own life, I’ll give you one from the zen teacher himself, Tich Nhat Hanh (I’ve been really into him recently, and you should be too), “Your true home is the here and now.”  So, not to judge Laura Ingalls, even though I’m about to, but her books tend to read as if the exemplary home is the “little house” on that dang prairie.  Maybe my negative energy toward my physical “home,” my little house on the dang street where everything looks the same and I’m frankly a cranky 21 year old who’s bored of it, will channel into something good.  Maybe there is comfort for me.  Why shouldn’t I compare it to me getting worked up, and in a sense, angry, about women’s rights? For as confusing as I may sound right now, I have drawn a conclusion that my dread of this house, this neighborhood, this town, is exactly the thing that has pushed me to broaden my own definition of home.  What’s my here and now?  Well, I’m here in my home in Abington, PA, but I’m also happy, in love, focused on friendships, focused on pushing myself.  Yet, there is no comfort for me you say?  All the time I spent dreading home, I somehow learned to appreciate it more, in the sense that I appreciate what it has done for me.  Do I appreciate sitting around realizing that there really is very little to do here?  No, I don’t.  But I was able to configure a long list of things I’ve appreciated, and I think that’s pretty good.  So, where’s my comfort?  It’s in knowing I was to keep moving and going, in knowing I grow comfortable out of challenging myself to experience DIScomfort.  In knowing when I travel, I find myself saying, “Let’s go home,”  in knowing I just spent 6 weeks abroad in South Asia and although inside my physical home I felt hot, tired, often cranky, and uncomfortable, I still felt “at home.”  It was my here and now.  But I am comforted to know most of all that “home” is not simply this house.

So I hope my sister Hannah feels at home as she begins here four-year long venture of education, friendship building, heartbreak, and happiness at High Point University, but I also hope that through her whining, crying, and bickering, she learns to make her own list of things she can appreciate about this place we’ve been conditioned to view as the one and only “home” and what it has done for her.  But, I hope she also realizes it’s okay to dread and become frustrated because home, above all, is in the mind.  And maybe, in mind, she’s still at school.  And maybe, I’m still in Nepal.  And maybe, my mom’s “home” is still back when I was sixteen.  But let’s be real, it’s probably not.

peace, love, and writing about scattered thoughts,

LR

PS: Here’s a shout out to my one and only remaining friend in the Abington area, but greatest, and strongest girl I’ll ever know on the day after her 22nd birthday, Rachel J! (This was appropriately filed at picture no. 22)

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