We cushion ourselves from reality with things. Tangible objects like nice furniture and down comforters. Expensive flatware and big screen TVs. We hide behind niceties and social norms that we openly despise and secretly have in a death grip. Our cushions keep us warm at night and cool during the heat of day. We mask our stinky bodies with European perfume. Even when we die, we make it as civilized as possible, delaying decay until we are six feet under and no living human being has to come in contact with us again. Our cushions will not be pried from our desperate fingers even after death; the rigor mortis is that strong.

What would we find of each other, if say we stripped down to the core of who we are? If we let those things we call “life” but which serve no purpose simply melt away? What if we let go of everything that no longer or never did serve us? What would be left? At first, it would be scary. But after the inevitable fear would subside, because it will, there would make way for true exhilaration. If we all let everything go and retained only those things that mattered, the world might be little less full. Not empty, just not as cram packed of meaningless, sad customs and the expectations they bring.

How one decides what is needed is another story. There of course must be the question of value. Some say they could not live without football but in fact football does not fill your lungs. Exercise though, the act of physically playing football could be made a solid argument. If football lets you feel the energy that is you, then I say certainly you could not live without football just as a yogi could not live without his practice. But does football bring the galaxy to your intestines? Does it radiate out your fingertips? If it does, then yes, one could say life without football is a life not worth living.

This philosophy might result in minimalism but it might not. It might beget a stark room with a single lightbulb dangling from the cracked ceiling but it might not. It might result in a very cozy situation indeed. Letting go of what you don’t need simply means more room for what you do.

Skibbereen

February 12, 2009

Amon had a bad habit of crawling out of the woodwork, much like a slithering centipede except with more deliberation and a bit more creepily. The truth was Amon was no more creepy than you or I, minus his impressive knowledge of all things violent (classic horror films, war, local car wrecks) and his freakishly long fingernails that had begun to yellow and curl under over time.

In reality, he had lots of good things to say. We met in a pub (his word, not mine) while looking over a map determining what our next day’s adventure should be. Neither one of us had any idea of what we were looking for. Our relief map showed us every crack and crevice we couldn’t care less about but told us nothing of what we might.

“May I make a suggestion?” Amon’s rickety voice blurted out over the Celtic fiddles of the pub. I recognized him immediately as the man who, as the innkeeper told us, more or less lived in the hostel where we were staying.  He was the man that caused the girls to grasp their robes tightly to their throats. The man whose roommates must have said “uh-huh” and “that’s nice” and “oh, really?” about a thousand times while being regaled with one of his epic tales. He was the career backpacker and he was frightening for that reason. He was doing what we were all doing and hoped not to be when we were his age. He was our idea of failure in human form.

We looked up to see him standing there in his immutable suit. Gray tweed over a white button-down shirt so old there was no need to press it.  The creases and pleats had memorized their positions. Gray the color of an Irish sky 86% of the time. That meant 86% of the time Amon was practically invisible against his backdrop. A pale green tie grazed his gold belt buckle and his left hand held a weathered briefcase which was bursting with his life’s work: travel guides, bus tickets, maps scribbled on with directions and addresses.

“Sure, why not?” I replied but Amon had already slid in next to us on the booth seat and was tapping his thick, grimey nail on the map.

“You must go to Skibbereen,” he said. The town was several hours southwest of where we were and even further away from where we probably were going. Nonetheless, we sat and listened to Amon tell us about his time spent in the exact middle of West Cork.

“The town’s name means little boat harbor, did you know? ”

We did not.

Amon told us how Algerian pirates had caused the town to prosper, bringing in their looted goods from around the world created quite the economy. And how the pirates ran things for some time and on the nights the pirates returned the town celebrated with a pig roasted with rosemary in a drum. He told us about the Great Famine and deaths and where to see the mass graves at the local cemetery. He told us a 12-year-old boy had overthrown his father’s murderous greed to become the town’s founding member and how he met the relatives of this boy and they tried to give him a goat but he refused it on account of not having the proper shelter for such an animal.

Amon’s Skibbereen was larger than life. He showed us maps and newspaper clippings from his briefcase which confirmed his stories but somehow they weren’t as interesting in print. Maybe it was his accent or maybe it was the Guinness, but hearing Amon speak of this place, his country, made me wish I was part of it.

“If you go, say,” Amon said,” buy a lotto ticket. It’s the luckiest town in Ireland you know.”

Early the next morning, our backpacks strapped to our backs, we squeezed down the narrow corridor of the hostel on our way to the bus stop. Amon was already awake, already dressed for his day in his gray suit. We side-stepped past each other in the tight hallway.

Amon tipped his hat and we were on our way.

Regan’s Reasons

February 4, 2009

Regan was the kind of girl who would make eyes at the altar boys during her own mother’s funeral. I know because I’m the one who kicked her when I saw it happening and gave her a look; the kind of look a mother would give except in this case she was the one in the casket.

Why Regan had to insist on flirting with the boys now was beyond me. She should just stick with at school or during mass. But not now. When God AND her mother were watching from heaven. I silently asked God not to blame this on poor, dead Mrs. Burke. Regan was thirteen years old now and should take responsibility for her own trespasses.

They weren’t even anything special, really. They lit the incense and handed it to Father Walsh. Any idiot could do that. They sat together at lunch and drew that stupid emblem on every surface they came in contact with which I’m pretty sure is a sin anyway. How could she possibly even be interested in somebody who was a founding member of “Knights of the Altar” ?

The thing is, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t. Regan just liked to see them snuff out match after match trying to light the incense but were too nervous now knowing her steel-gray eyes were on them. She got joy over watching them fumble with the pages of their hymnals; making them sweat something sinful in their heavy robes. Regan loved that they looked like fools doing their best to remedy her own mother’s poor soul.

Regan was ruining her own mother’s funeral on purpose. She had always hated her. And truthfully, she had her reasons. But ever since Mrs. Burke accidentally inhaled her own car’s exhaust that night in August, Regan’s reasons seemed to grow.

Nelly Furtado = World Peace

January 23, 2009

The Cubans had been hogging the pool table all night.

“They got some shit to settle,” the guy with the tattoos all over his face told me. I think his name was Jake. “The Cubans, they’re on the right. They’re playing the Mexicans.”

“Why?” I asked. I wasn’t from this town and was suddenly very glad for that.

“Dunno. Territory. Girls. Whatever gangs fight for.”

I wouldn’t have minded so much if either of the gangs were any good at pool. They just kept pushing the balls around awkwardly. When someone actually hit a ball in a way you could hear, everyone snapped back to the game looking very hopeful. As if they too were sick of this stand-off. Like they didn’t care who won, just as long as it ended. There were other people that wanted to play. Other people with scores to settle over bar games.

I had never been to this town which was the point. Some days you just have to get in the car and drive. Sometimes you just want to tie one on in a foreign land. But air travel is expensive. And there’s so much weirdness right were you are.

Jake was either a rock star or a tattoo artist. The only two jobs in the world that allow you to have a tattooed face. Turns out, he was both. He was divorced. Probably because of one or both of his occupations. I didn’t ask.

“So how long is this gonna take?” I asked.

Jake laughed at my naivety. “Well,” he started, “it’s been going since I was old enough to see over the bar, which is when I started drinking. That said, for ever I would imagine.”

I was one of about five women in the bar. One of two people without a Mohawk. I was in over my head.

I should have known really. We hit the strip in this town and found several bars. With their country anthems and blue jeans, they were what I already knew. I was in the mood for something different. We were about ready to hang it up and head back to our anemic hotel room when we heard it. The unmistakable throbbing of techno-metal. We followed that bass down the street and around the corner into Oblivion. No, really. That was the name of the bar.

It’s always weird when having a mainstream appearance (i.e. colors other than black, minimal piercings, a smile) makes you the odd one out. Here we were. I requested Nelly Furtado. A perfectly ironic insult to this anti-everything crowd. The DJ played it though to my amazement.

The Cubans started tapping their toes. The Mexicans began nodding their heads. The perpetual game of pool came to a stand still as the dance floor was flooded by everything imaginable ethnic group. The great equalizer turned out to be Nelly Furtado.

We played pool with our noses in the air.

For the Hell of It

January 23, 2009

****The following is a draft of a personal statement to be included in graduate school applications. It was written for a specific university and is not a generic fill in the (blank) as it may suggest. I took a slightly different approach to it than the books on “How to Write a Personal Statement” claimed one should be written. They were pretty snooze-tastic if you ask me.

I remember the night it happened. I remember standing in my closet with one sock on, one sock off, being supported by crutches due to a broken foot. I hovered there staring at the hanging clothes my mother had bought me for job interviews. Tonight they would serve a different function. I was going to dinner with a theatre professor, my director, his actress wife and a man representing the Kennedy Center. In other words, with people who had been involved with theatre longer than I had been alive. Somehow we were destined to come together that night and dine on burritos.
I guess I know how it happened. In the spring of my sophomore year of undergraduate study I began work on a play for a course I had taken on a whim. I had no idea I would spend the next two years writing and rewriting the script or that I wouldn’t complete it until the fall after my graduation in 2008. Three playwriting courses and a public reading later, my university theatre decided to produce my play during their regular season. This is how I found myself desperately trying to select the proper attire to mingle with theatre folk. As if the right outfit might trick them into thinking I knew what I was talking about.
The theatre world seemed to embrace me, a reluctant participant. Don’t get me wrong. Having a play produced has been one of the greatest achievements of my life. My theatre professor, who is a playwright himself, graciously took me under his wing and fiercely advocated my success for which I am eternally grateful. The theatre has taught me so many things. It has taught me the meaning of thankless work. It has shown me the importance of economy. It has twisted my words in beautiful and unexpected ways. But most importantly it has shown me where my true passion lies.
I realized this on opening night, the same night of my all important dinner where these intense, vibrant people would talk of their passion, the stage. They would look at me when they talked. They included me in their conversations and I nodded a lot, all the while feeling like an intruder. I knew I possessed the same passion that they did, it just had yet to find a home. In the words of W. Somerset Maugham “after submitting myself for some years to the exigencies of the drama I hankered after the wide liberty of the novel.” I know exactly how he felt. Thoughts of drafting page after page of prose preoccupied my mind while I labored over stage directions. I longed to discuss creative literature and writing philosophies with my own colleagues, to thrive in an environment of like minded people where I felt like an insider rather than an imposter. I am dying to hone my craft to a level of sickening perfection. I believe the MFA program at the University of (Blank) is the perfect place, the home for my passion, my missing sock.
As my grades reflect, my last few semesters as an undergraduate were my best, due to the solidifying of my academic goals. By the time graduation rolled around, instead of feeling relieved I felt a deep desire for more. It was as if someone in the cinema had pulled the fire alarm right before the climax. Continuing on to a graduate program became something I simply needed to do, the logical next step. The University of (Blank) MFA program’s encouragement of students to explore various genres of creative writing is one feature that attracts me because nothing, particularly in literature, is ever isolated. As of late, I have been especially interested in creative nonfiction and the memoir. Writing my play required extensive research that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a thrill to find intriguing bits of truth and fashion an elaborate story around them. A workshop course I took on writing the memoir led me to appreciate the genre and experiment with it in my own writing. My creative writing sample is a reflection of this new obsession.
The collaborative environment, the climate of a writing community is essential for me to evolve as a writer but it is also one to which I will contribute. My experiences in theatre will allow me to bring a unique voice and point of view to share with my fellow writers. It has so greatly affected my prose and this will be brought as a benefit to enhance the group. I’ve been forced to explore the intricacies of language in a way that even my English courses didn’t demand and I need to share these experiences with others. I love to write. I’m serious about it. Since my graduation I’ve begun submitting to journals, magazines, anywhere I can. Some people have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and they have to line their shoes up a certain way every night. It’s kind of like that for me except I write. While I don’t view getting an MFA as a necessary career move, this will be an opportunity even if for a moment to focus solely on my writing and making it better. I know I will be strengthened as a writer and editor as well as a listener and collaborator. All are qualities which I need to be successful, to find that damn sock, and wear it with pride.

When this is over…

December 3, 2008

I’m going to lower myself to a sitting position on the ground then stand up. Repeatedly. I’m going to pick up everything I can possibly carry-books, the remote, laptop, coffee, camera, folders, the paper, jars filled with buttons-at the same time. Carry them from room to room and deposit them in a random fashion. I’m going to set things down one at a time. Maybe I’ll pick up something new while I’m at it. Simply because I can.

I’m going to go to the grocery store, by myself, and push a cart. I’m going to pick items off the shelf and examine them closely. I will scrutinize details and be picky, take my time. I’m going to take a bath.

I’m going to drive my car, my car with a stick shift. I’m going to push in the clutch with my left foot. I’m going to drive all over in my car that I have not been able to drive for months because I miss it. I’m going to dance. Alot.

I’m not going to be afraid to walk in the snow. In fact, I’m going to LOVE snow. I’m not going to be afraid to walk in general. I’m going to have a snowball fight, make a snow angel. I’ll enjoy winter instead of being held captive by it.

I’m never going to sit in a wheelchair again. Unless of course, I need to. I’ll never use the handicap stall even if I’m the only one in the restroom. It’s a sacred place intended for those belonging to a sacred club. One I’m dying to be out of.

I’m going to run. Everywhere. Walking is cool but running is better. I’ll run through town. Miles and miles of just me running. I’m going to pick up a sport, something good like base jumping. I’m going to clean the bathroom.

I’m going to go to the store and park at the far end of the parking lot. I’m going to find the parking space furthest from where I want to be and park in it. Then I’ll walk across the lot to take care of my business and savor every step.

I’ll live

November 15, 2008

I was thrust into this world unwillingly, as we all are, and without warning. One minute I was walking around on two legs, minding my own business, the next I was lying on the bathroom floor cursing myself for not being able to put one foot in front of the other without collapsing. It happened in a second. In a bone-crushing second when, ironically, I was supposed to be having fun.

I twisted my ankle, or so I thought. The emergency room told me something different. It’s a fracture. What’s the difference between a fracture and a break? Nothing. I was given the boot, the cold, shiny crutches, an excuse from work, vicodin. None of that really prepares you for the next 6-8 weeks.

You’re young, you’re healthy, you can’t do a damn thing on your own. Cooking is hard. Taking a shower is hard. Picking up the pen you dropped is hard. Cleaning, hard. Carrying a book, impossible. Reminding yourself it could be so much worse, that you are actually lucky, really really hard. I can’t wait to feel an itch on my nose and scratch it while I keep walking. Scratching and walking at the same time. Brilliant. As for now, anything that requires the use of hands must be done in a stationary position. Multitasking? Out the window.

The worst is other people. Strangers mostly. The way they unabashedly stare at your defect, like you got some explaining to do. Wheelchairs have become a relief. They give my arms a break. But then they stare even more. As if they haven’t seen a 23-year-old being pushed around the grocery store in a wheelchair before. I want to motion them in, like I have a secret to divulge, get them real close. Then spit in their face, punch their skull. Punish them for having no shame, for somehow resisting socialization so magnificently.

It hasn’t been all bad. You are excused from pleasantries. You don’t have to apologize for anything, even if you are at fault. Most people apologize to you. They don’t expect much from a broken person. And the guy at the checkout in the wheelchair, obviously for good. There is no healing for him, this is it. His life on wheels. He smiles at me like I’m on the inside of something, like even if for this moment I understand. Because I think I really do. I’ll never look at him the same again.

Oxymoron

October 15, 2008

They are asking me to write a brief intellectual autobiography.

Then, could you quickly roast a turkey? We’d also like you to grow a forest by next week. And while you’re at it, just go ahead and figure out the meaning of life.

Who am I kidding. Who spends over $20,000 a year to go learn how to be a pretentious, whiny, no-name word-peddler who can only be considered talented while existing in a terrarium of equally under-skilled “writers.”

I can do that here. For free.

But no. Not only do I choose this career path, if you can call it that, but I choose to go into extreme debt for it. I am determined to end up in the poor house. One way or another.

So I sit, racking my brain for the most unique, yet professional, exciting, yet acceptable way to say that I have little to show for my academic endeavors and I want to continue riding that fine line know as mediocrity at your esteemed institution.

Hmm. I may be on to something.

I started reading them, one by one. These pathetic little last-ditch attempts at altering fate. People desperately clinging to some delusion that just maybe that smile from the gas station attendant meant more than that or that possibly the Hooters waitress was being more than dutifully friendly. Maybe.

You served us on Wednesday around 5 or 6. Your eyes and smile are unbeleiveable. I gave you my card and you said you would call, I’m still waiting.

How long will he wait? How many waitresses will smile before he realizes you can’t read waitstaff the way you can read people in the real world? How many waitresses have unknowingly broken his heart? A thousand. Into how many pieces? A million.

His beer bottle was sweating and so was he. Makes it hard to get a grip. She was cute. She was 19. She was cute because she was 19. Skin doesn’t stay that pink forever. Her nose was too big. She had a really stupid haircut, he thought. He didn’t get it. He was too old. But he wasn’t too old to wait. For a while, anyway.

You wearing a blue top almost bumped into me with your cart in the freezer section, I was wearing a blue polo with a white strip. I really like your hairstyle and your nose peircing and wish I would have taken the opportunity to give you my number, hopefully I’ll be able to see you again sometime.

He kicked himself all the way out of Woodmans. Why didn’t he just talk to her? Why is he such a wimp? He wasn’t buying anything weird, his cart was filled with what you would expect a polo-wearing wimp’s cart to be filled with: frozen pizza, mountain thunder, lunch meat, pop-tarts. Nothing she could have judged. She was buying tv dinners.

He went back the next week. But made sure to shower. Shaved himself clean. Smelled nice. You know, just in case.

And they go on like this, virtual page after virtual page. Long lost lovers who never even knew it searching for their soulmates completely unaware. I can’t help but wonder how often this approach works. It seems the kind of people who would get hung up over a smile from a stranger would be the only ones to read them. The people who are aleady doing the posting.

August 24th (sunday night) I seen you crying in your van at the park you had your windows rolled down , I heard you form distance sobbing , I still think about that night , you crying , I wanted to come up to you and ask you if you were all right. But I’m shy. I think about you often. You were in a Gray Dodge Caravan , I remember the look on your face , when you looked right up at me. I still wonder today. How you are doing? If you read this please let me know your ok.

And before I knew what I was doing I was responding. I thanked him for his concern. I assured him I was fine. Just sorting some things out in my head after a long week, nothing serious just exhaustion. I told him he was kind, he was a good person and had bad grammar. I thanked him again, told him not to worry and said goodbye.

Maybe I just didn’t want him to worry anymore. The thought of a stranger worrying about another stranger made me so happy inside, but he needed to be free of it. I needed to be free of it. These games and stories we make up in our heads hold us captive but they keep us responsible when we have nothing left. Sometimes they are so much easier to bare than the simple truth that a smile is just a formality or a glance wasn’t meant for you. It’s much more exciting the other way.

Around 2:15pm, you were leaving with a friend as I was walking in. Your smile shot me through the heart, perhaps you felt the same.

The Best Part

August 3, 2008

You go out into the world to acquire all manner of habits and learn all sorts of languages, but the one tongue you neglect most is the one you’ve spoken at home, just as the customs you feel most comfortable with are those you never knew were customs until you saw others practice completely different ones and realized you didn’t quite mind your own-

Andre Aciman

I can’t wait to come back and I haven’t even left. While the planning is exciting and the doing is exhausting, it’s the returning that reveals what the leaving was really all about. It’s after you come back from a journey that you can see what matters, what you remember the most vividly.

It’s always the stupid things. One random walk home after the bars when nothing in particular was discussed. One cup of coffee that you burned your tongue on so badly it prevented you from enjoying dinner. One innocent observation made by a total stranger who knew you only in one context but that summed you up so well you wondered why no one else ever noticed or bothered to ever say it.

You remember how they are different from you. The people you meet or, more accurately, smell. They smell more differently than they really are and it’s this smell that makes them so frighteningly unfamiliar. It’s not that they are any more dirty than you, they are just dirty in a different way. Different toxins secreted at different altitudes is all. But at the end of the day, a pesticide is a pesticide and you smell scary to them too.

When it’s all over, you come home and it feels better than it ever did before you left. Now you’re all cultured and worldly and you cling to your corner of the earth with more ferocity because you see it’s worth defending. The things you scoffed at now seem quaint. The mundane things you do everyday are now sacred tradition. You are no longer a poor, culturally-schizophrenic American. All along, you’ve had what you thought you didn’t and all you had to do was miss it to see it.

You set out to see the world, to learn of its ways and make your impression. As it turns out, its your world that impresses you.