Things I am grateful for this morning:
I am only a couple of entries away from 1000 posts on Living the Liminal. I thought it might be interesting to pull links together from the past in a kind of retrospective.
Seven years seems so small when listed like that. Yet, the me I was in the August of 2005 seems like a lifetime ago in some ways. And, as I was writing this, I ust realized that I really am an entirely different person than I was back then, literally and on the cellular level:
Every one of us completely regenerates our own skin every 7 days. A cut heals itself and disappears in a week or two. Every single cell in our skeleton is replaced every 7 years. (Stanford)
And this isn’t just an arbitrary seven years as I have just recently passed the 42 mark of my life which is a multiple of seven, as was 35. Seems like we should develop some sort of ritual for our seven years “regeneration”.
I have a fascination with deserts and there is a me, not the me that I am, but the me that I am not who is gaunt, burnished a deep golden brown by the sun, utterly self-sufficient, needing little, reflecting not on theatre history and theory but on the shape of shadows, the angles of light, on the deep places inside the human that are revealed by the punishing landscape and the unrelenting insignificance of one life in the face of the world, the universe. An insignificance that makes each life all the more important.
I am not that me, but that me is me.
I love the smell of autumn. I love the smell of decaying leaves, the air as it nips at your skin with cool breezes and the promise of winter. And while I like looking at a snowy landscape, I am far more in love with the promise of winter than actual winter.
Like cities. The promise of cities is intriguing, sometimes even intoxicating to me. There is a me, not the me that I am, but the me that I am not who thrives to the rhythm of the urban threnody. The crowds the music the chaos the people the darkness the opportunity for sin for adventure for coming face to face with all the glorious freedoms and destructions that we visit upon ourselves in the pursuit of love, desire, peace, fear, need. To sit with the tired and the broken in a subway care or a late night diner. To listen, really listen to the stories that the city has to offer and not flinch. To trade starlight for the bright lights of the big city and the hopes and dreams and comedies and tragedies that make up all those stories. To revel in being cheek-to-jowl with all that humanity has to offer: the food, the art, and the culture as well as the cruelty, the kindness, the desperation, and the glory that we make of ourselves.
I am not, however, that me. But that me is me.
I think, and I am fully aware that I could be projecting another me that is not really me but a me I want to be, but I think that one of the reasons Hawaii in general and Kauai specifically reverberates so strongly with me is that it reflects far more the me that I actually am rather than one I would like to be. The lushness to the land and the sea speaks of plenty. Life relaxes here, it does not fight. The vastness of the sky and the ocean speak of similar recognitions to the desert: you are small, the universe is big, but the islands embrace you even as they show you your insignificance. And then there is the soundtrack of the ocean and the wind and the birds and the waves and the trees and even the people. I want to open myself to those sounds, to the world.
I know that life there is hard for many, I understand that if I were to move there someday, I would struggle to make ends meet and deal with life not a tropical island fantasy of life. I truly do understand that. But I have never lived or visited any other place that holds such strong sway over me. Over, perhaps, all of the varieties of me that live in the shadows or alternate universes. With those others (the desert one, the city one, the Iceland or Alaska one, the married with children one, the working in a record store and giving up ambition one, and there are many more), I can imagine what I would miss if I were that me. With Hawaii . . . I don’t know. Yes, it would not be perfect and yes, I would still need to do the job of being me, of shaping me, of embracing me and all my foibles, issues, desires, struggles, etc.
But I think I could be me. There. In that place, and in a way that I have not managed to discover or make for myself anywhere else. Place matters. I truly believe that. Finding a place to call home won’t solve all my problems like magic, but finding a place to call home could offer me the breathing space to, finally, relax and put my proverbial feet up and take a deep breath and be, more truly, more completely, me.
This week has been a rough one. Between the heat and moving, I’ve felt completely out of sorts, lost to myself. Like I’ve been watching my life from a distance. Unable to focus, it’s taken me much longer to start getting the new place in order and the old place cleaned up than I had hoped. Finally turned in the keys today after sweeping and mopping #907 yesterday. Something about this move has been more difficult than merely moving around the corner should have been. Maybe its just the sheer number of times I’ve done this. Maybe I’m getting a bit too old for this moving crap.
The heat has also be pretty brutal, and I’m waiting for my management company to put in my air conditioner. I requested it yesterday morning but they may not get to it until tomorrow. Hopefully today, but I’m not betting on it. Because of that, the apartment has been fairly uncomfortable and I end up not wanting to move at all while I’m there.
But today I almost feel like myself. Not quite all the way, but a bit better and can sense myself coming back. Which is a good feeling as I was starting to get worried about myself.
The past couple of days I’ve been dealing with some PodCastle work and am now caught up as much as I can be. Tonight I’ll try to get the rest of my kitchen and bedroom stuff organized and put away. Tomorrow I plan on doing some grocery shopping and maybe picking up a few things I need for the apartment (the additional bookcase and baker’s rack will have to wait a while as I need more of a cash flow before getting those, though I’ll be keeping an eye on Craigslist to see if anything decent shows up). For now, I need to leave the cool of the library to do something for lunch.
Just on the off chance you feel like buying me a housewarming gift, I would love one of these utensil holders, spoon rests, or bowls from Etsy – preferably the colored versions.
I’ll leave you with this Tiny Desk Concert from The Civil Wars for no real reason other than I’m really digging this band lately.
This morning I am grateful for the opportunity to have made a good friend. Though we are now separated by geography, his intellect, curiosity, kindness, and passion for theatre will always remain a part of my life.
I am grateful for coffee and my french press.
Things I will miss most about my current apartment:
- the view
- living on the top floor and thus having nobody above me
- the built-in dresser unit in my bedroom
- the view
- the prodigious amounts of light that we get with windows facing the north and the west
- being high up enough that only the loudest of drunk undergrads can be heard as they walk by
- the level of intellectual discourse I share with my roommate (this one is a bit of a cheat because he’d be leaving even if I were staying in this apartment)
Things I will enjoy about my new apartment:
- having a full bath instead of just a shower
- having trees outside of my windows
- keeping the place as tidy as I want with nobody else’s mess to deal with
- being able to put my futon against a wall instead of in the middle of the room
- a more “cozy” feel to the place
- I will not be dependent on other’s to renew my lease next year and will hopefully not move until I leave Pittsburgh
We tend to think about ourselves, our identity, as a noun. A thing. A quantum of personhood. It is, however, not all that deep to realize that it may be more advantageous see our identity as a verb, a process, a doing. We are what we do. But we are also, I think, where we are. The places and environments in which we spend our lives are as much a part of our identity as any activity (writing, researching, directing, playing music, etc.) that go into making us who we are. I’m not saying that places merely shape our identity. Rather, that places constitute, fundamentally, part of who we are as people. Whether through extending ourselves into certain spaces, or certain spaces extending themselves into us, place becomes as much who are are as our emotions and actions.
Which is to say:
I miss Kiva Han.
It’s been around three weeks since my favorite coffee shop in Pittsburgh closed, and I’m still feeling—yes, I know it’s a strong word—bereft. Like a part of me is missing. Kiva Han, even before I’d moved close to school, was a warm and inviting place, a space where I could get good breakfasts and go upstairs and get an always surprising amount of work done. In the last few weeks of my first semester, I would often get up at 6:00 am get down to Kiva by 6:30 – 7:00 to be the first one in. I’d have breakfast, coffee and write for several hours. After moving closer to school, I became even more a regular. Yes, I liked their food, and yes, I liked the people (still miss Ruthie a bit after she left the place to go live in New Zealand for a year), and yes, I liked the fact that I’d become such a regular that, when their credit card machine wasn’t working one morning and I had no cash on me, the owner told me to just bring in the money for my breakfast the next time I was in, since I was in so often. But the real feeling of loss comes from Kiva as a work space. The upstairs, while it would often get way too hot in the winter, was even when full, quiet enough to work and yet still have the white noise of the music and conversation from downstairs. I tried working downstairs sometimes, and it was possible, but it was really the corner by the window on the second floor that was “my” spot.
Having a place that can, for whatever reasons, produce a kind of flow in my research and writing, is, I’m realizing now that I’ve lost it, hugely important. Home can be good for some of the time. I like my apartment and I like my room. But there was something about Kiva that lent itself to a mental flow that I find hard to achieve other places. Certainly none of the other coffee shops in and around school work. Neither does the library (though I may be spending more time there as an ersatz solutions). In addition, none of the other coffee shops have full kitchens or make real food.
The real loss, the real pain, however, comes from the fact that, quite simply, Kiva had become part of my identity. Part of who I am and now it’s gone. This is, of course, not unusual. Places, activities, knowledge, people . . . everything that goes into creating the story of who we are—the story we tell ourselves anew each and every day—are never fixed. Never static. Continuity is less a fact and more a trick of perspective.
Still, I really, really, wish Kiva Han was still a continuity in my life and identity.
The greyness of ok. Of getting up in the morning because I have to, because I have set goals for myself and I am striving to fulfill them. I don’t seem to take much pleasure in the things I do, even the things I ought to . . . no, things I do enjoy . . . everything just feels muted. Soft pastels. Grey shades.
Moments occur, moments of laughter. Moments of joy. When Hope came downstairs when Jay was reading her a bedtime story, came downstairs just to hug me good night. Yeah, that was a lovely moment. Times spent with friends and family, moments of grace. Laughter. Safety. Love.
And I feel . . . sometimes deeply. I get weepy while watching TED talks sometimes, or seeing moments of beauty and grace in this world. I find myself wanting to cry at moments of honesty and connection. So it’s not like I’m shut down, not by a long shot. I feel . . . I just don’t seem to feel entirely connected to my own life, to my own possibilities. Everything is ok. But ok isn’t enough, is it? I mean, it’s so much better than bad, so much better than pain, so much better than complete emptiness or depression. It’s so much better than so many people’s lives. But . . . no, I can have more. I deserve more. I don’t know why or who, but the ok-ness seems connected to a lack of faith in myself . . . not that’s not quite right . . . or maybe it is. The thing is . . . the thing is that I stopped believing, not in myself, but in the potential for me to be someone greater than myself, in the potential to take the me of now and go meet the me that is even better.
I’d forgotten that I am invited, by anyone, to do anything:
So here I am, wondering, what next, how to take the grey of ok and paint my life in brighter colors, splashes of vibrant blue and orange and crimson and yellow; how to embrace potential, change, growth, challenge, and creativity with excitement and energy; how to stop being tired, stop being in physical pain (mostly the muscles in my upper back and neck, and on a very regular basis), stop settling for bad skin and the 20-30 pounds of too heavy; how to stop settling, period.
Look, yeah, the alienation bit, the loneliness, kinda sucks at times. Sometimes worse than others. There’s this quote which I absolutely, one-hundred percent grok:
”Loneliness isn’t a need for company, but a longing for kindred souls.” Marylin French
Yeah, I see other people who have found their groups of kindred souls, especially creative kindred souls and I feel jealous of what they have because, for whatever reason, I haven’t really found my creative kin and god how I yearn for that: to have other artists to create with, to inspire, to challenge, to make me come alive with ideas and problems and anxieties and solutions and beauty and art and to collaborate and make things that mean things and that mark this world in some real and important, even if small, way. Partners-in-crime. Compadres.
I’ve been waiting in the grey for them to come along. To spark the sky with either sunrise or sunset instead of this dreary, fine, ok fog. But that’s not working. And time is ticking. Ticking. Ticking.
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day”
No more waiting. It’s time to start painting in the colors of my life, going outside the lines if I want to. I know I need some help to do this and that it won’t happen overnight and that, as Jen texted last night ODAAT (which, if you are like me and had no frakin’ clue what that meant, it’s “one day at a time”).
If I had the hair to comb, this would be the song I would leave you with:
But I don’t. And can’t really comb my hair in any style (which, I’ll be honest, is the worst thing about the whole bald thing: you can’t fuck around with your look). So instead, I’ll leave you with song I’ll hopefully feel, deeply and intensely, sometime sooner rather than . . . well, never.
I’ve been putting off writing this essay all day because I am rather frightened of putting these thoughts into words and putting those words out to the world. But I have done nearly all my other work for the day and I need to maintain my current goal of writing 500 words every day. So, here goes.
I think I’m broken.
Stop. Hold on. Let me back up to how I was originally going to start this essay as if formed in my head this morning at 7 am while I was struggling to get motivated to get up . . .
The thing about Hawaii is that each and every morning I was there, I was eager to get up, to see the sunrise, to feel the wind, to smell the air. Each and every day I was up early and excited for the day. I’m sure that the time change had something to do with it, even Joya, who is decidedly not a morning person was getting up early. I’m also sure it was the newness and excitement of being on vacation. Still, days when I’m genuinely excited and looking forward to the day are . . . well, let’s just say very, very rare.
So that’s where I was going to start. A safe place, a positive memory. So why start with “I think I’m broken”? Because, I think it’s true and I think I need to work on fixing it before I go back to Hawaii because if I don’t, if I go to Hawaii and find that, after the newness wears off, I go back to dragging myself out of bed each and every morning instead of embracing the day and feeling excited . . . well, I just don’t know what I’d do.
Now, what do I mean by “broken.” I honestly don’t quite know exactly. I know that I’m not clinically depressed: I can laugh when I’m with people I care about and trust, I can deeply enjoy books and movies. I am able, despite the fact that I am never actually excited by the day, to get up and to work and to create and to get some regular—if not enough—exercise. I have started playing my guitar again and am thinking of even attempting an open mic night before the summer ends. I am very happy with my new apartment and feel so much more positive about my surroundings on a daily basis because of it. Although, while I say “very happy”, I’ll be honest: I don’t know what that means. I certainly appreciate my new apartment and even love it in some ways, but happiness . . . happiness seems like it’s something other people do. I have moments of joy, moments of laughter, and moments of great contentment. Most of those moments have to do with being around people I feel safe with and who I genuinely like/love. But they remain moments. Happiness . . . happiness . . . I don’t think I know what that means. At least not in any kind of real, sustained way.
“Are you happy,” Emily asked me when we met for lunch while I was in RI.
“I’m working on it,” I replied.
We talked more, though she was asking most of the questions. At one point, she asked if I’d considered getting help. The word “drugs” was mentioned. She wasn’t the first to have mentioned getting help. Joya had suggested, several times, that I might benefit from either talk therapy or, possibly (and she would broach the subject carefully), some combination of drugs might be in order. I wouldn’t hear of it. I mean, it’s all my fault: I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t exercise enough, I don’t maintain a decent creative output, I don’t meditate, I don’t do yoga, I don’t seem able to find the right group friends who will spark me in the right way.1 If I just did all the things I ought to do, I’d be happy. Right?
“Are you happy?”
I’m reminded of the scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when, after breaking up with Annie, his character approaches a beautiful looking couple and says that they look like a happy couple, very much in love, what is their secret? The woman responds, “Uh, I’m very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say,” and her partner follows her with, “And I’m exactly the same way.” But, as much as I might find that scene amusing, it’s cheap and cynical, and exactly the kind of defensive maneuver that . . .
No. Wait up. Hold on. I’m avoiding the issue.
The issue is I’m lonely. The issue is I can’t remember the last time I woke up genuinely excited and looking forward to the day. The issue is that I am constantly struggling to do the things I love to do and to be the person I know I want to be. The issue is that I prefer staying in my apartment, alone, because the feeling of being alone in a crowd when I’m surrounded by others is getting to be so heart-breakingly difficult that I sometimes want to cry while walking down the street and watching all these people, this whole other species of beings that seem to have figured out (or at least that’s how I am perceiving them), how to do this life thing.
The underlying issue is this: I’m lost. Lost in a mind that hasn’t let me be fully me in a long, long time. And I’ve gotten used to living on a level that denies me full access to my love of self and of others; to my love of my work and my thoughts; to my courage and desire to be a force in this world instead of running away from it.
As I write these words, with the plan of posting them in public view on my website, I feel sick with worry about my mother’s response, about my father’s thoughts—not that they will judge me or think ill of me, but I don’t know how to face their concern and love in this matter without reading it as pity—no, that’s not quite right either. It’s their sorrow I am terrified of.
I’m also worried about the fact that my colleagues in the department may very well read these words, colleagues who I respect as students, historians, academics, and scholars but who are not, for the most part, close friends. I don’t want people to know, especially people I’m not close to, that I don’t have my own shit together and that I’m not fully and completely capable of being as completely self-sufficient as possible.
Also, this means that I am making a commitment to try to change things. That I am, in public, committing myself to get better and to make an effort, no matter how uncomfortable that effort might be, to regain the me I distantly remember from a long time ago.
But really, the resistance and the pain and the tears of writing this, of posting this for all to see is that I am, here and now, admitting to something that is the hardest fucking thing in the world for me to admit:
I need help.2
- I console myself with the thought that at least I’m not blaming the universe for just being a harsh an unfair place like I spent most of my twenties doing. At least there’s that. [↩]
- I’m staring at this damn blinking cursor trying to work up the courage to post this and my mind is already thinking of ways to back away from some of what I’ve just written, to pass it off as nothing but too much wine and a lonely Friday night; that I’m being self-pitying and self-indulgent and that my problem is that I’m just lazy and think too much and I just need to work harder, exercise more, get more sleep, and it’ll all be better, I can fix this all on my own, really I can. Really. There’s nothing really wrong with me at all, forget what I just said. Of course, I need to post this for back-pedaling and disclaimers to mean anything. Still staring. I guess if you’ve read this, I have, at some point, hit Control+Command+P. [↩]