Wanderlust

Wanderlust

Hear the chimes, did you know that the wind when it blows
It is older than Rome and all of this sorrow
See the new Pyramids down in old Manhattan
From the roof of a friend I watched an empire ending
Heard it loud and long, the river’s song
Time marching on, to a mad man’s drum

—Bright Eyes, “Cleanse Song”

Some days I wonder if the world has become too small for us to bear.

It’s spring break, and by all rights I should be out of the city and off to fairer pastures. But by my own failings, I’m still here. I’ve barely left the apartment, even. I haven’t gotten anything constructive done. It’s just unusual that I have the opportunity to travel without taking it. I am a wanderer at heart.

It’s something my parents instilled in me with childhood trips abroad. I was seven, the first time I met my homeland, and in my head it’s still an exotic place. I was nine when we went to Italy, a blur of crumbling buildings and ostentatious churches. At ten, eleven, twelve it was Hong Kong, Taiwan, Geneva.

It comes from my high school years half-lived out on other continents, always moving. As a consequence, I feel at home in any hotel room. My heart beats to the rhythm of the road. Continue reading

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When It’s Spring and the Ground is Stirring

When It’s Spring and the Ground is Stirring

I remember living sometimes, when it’s spring and the ground is stirring. I remember people—their footsteps hard against the packed earth. I remember mornings of flower blossoms and seeing girls out in their summer clothes, just slightly too soon. This is life: a fleeting progression from youth to age, just slightly too soon. It’s all we have. And yet, and yet…

It’s not that I wish for more. I abhor the slow track. Spring is the dying time in my mind. It is the heartbreaking loneliness. It is the bitterness of retreat. But that’s not true: what I’m picturing is protracted winter, instead. Like the winters when my parents left me. The ones that meandered into April and then May. Continue reading

Legacy

Dad and me

I was, apparently, a hella out of it baby who slept lots.

Dad died three years ago, this morning. 6:47 am, to be exact. I was awake for it, by some betrayal of my body, staring at my phone as the minutes counted down. The battery died before I got there, cheating me out of the most self-indulgent memorial I can fathom (besides, of course, this). I remember the exact time because I can still hear the doctor’s voice pronouncing it; somewhere, it’s still echoing in my ears. And in that place there’s a pathetic fallacy: eternal late winter without the hope of spring.

But, here and now, I know tomorrow will be warm, at least.

Continue reading

Giving Thanks

I’m thankful that I woke up this morning, with my feet still buried in the earth. I’m thankful for the time ahead and time behind, and the time that stands to sway.

I’m thankful for my weird little family that’s made from odds and ends and misfits and just whatever was left. But that doesn’t matter, really. I’m thankful that half of you put up with me and you’re not even blood.

To my Sister: I’m sorry you’re stuck with me, but don’t think I’m not grateful for all you do. Remember: I make you look put together.

(To my parents: I miss you. Rest well among the stars.)

I’m thankful for my extended family: all the hundred million of you, all around the world. Thank you for walking this path along side me. I’ll be better for you, I promise.

I’m thankful for those absent friends who still consider me one of their own, even though I’m now so far away. And to friends present: thanks for putting up with me. You inspire me every day.

(I’m especially thankful for my asshole best friend to whom I say: Ace, you’re a turd. I hope you read this and cry.)

And finally, I’d like to thank those who (I feel) wronged me. Because it’s hard to thank you, but you deserve it the most. Because without you, how would I ever improve or change? Thank you for breaking me, so that I could rebuild stronger, better, kinder. I’ll do better for you. I promise I will.

An Open Letter to Myself

I actually wrote this back in January, I’m pretty sure. But I needed a reminder today.

There is a morning to the way you think.  Even if it’s one that you’d rather not acknowledge for how exposed it looks at high noon.  The world is pitiless: full of sun and harsh against your eyes.

But there is no purpose to your misery.  Your misguided dislike of the universe in general seems justified at first, but then you remember that this is the universe where an old friend was stumbled into you on the train last night: literally falling into your subway car, fresh off the L.  You never knew that he was so close to you.  And his stumble will set off a whole new chain of events in your life.  Then those events will, in turn, branch out and bring to you yet more and more beginnings.    

This universe is the one where you found out that boy you’d written about for pages and pages actually knew your name, which is in itself an astonishing thing.  And in this society you live in, no matter how bad it gets, you at least are allowed a few years to accumulate debt. To get your bearings and think. So use this time, and sit in heated rooms in the winter, and roam the streets every summer, and think about music and sound and other miracles of human consciousness.  Do not be so preoccupied by living that you are unable to see life, for at any moment this could be taken from you, or the Milky Way itself could become lost and ourselves within it—just a speck in the great cosmic firmament.  You, girl, live in an age that is in between that past greatness and whatever it is to come.  There is no better time to be alive.

Hearth

I don't remember what this is called.

A work in progress: one of the last meals Mom ever made. I’d gotten…whatever this is because I thought it looked cool. She thought I was an idiot.

Mom never cooked with measuring cups, or really any tools that told her how much of anything she was using. And diligently, I’ve more or less inherited her style.

My brother-in-law took me grocery shopping on Saturday. We spent 200 USD and the fridge at this apartment was full for the first time I can remember. He seemed astounded by it all but, admittedly, it was at my instigation. This was the way I used to live: shopping happened every couple of weeks and it was for a family of five. A full house, if you will.

I guess I forget that now it’s just the three of us, and we’ve been eating most of our meals outside the home.

Which means I usually eat garbage. While it’s something you think you’re aware of, it struck home again that eating and eating well are such a privilege: food and time are both money.

But I’ve been fortunate enough to have the time lately, and, thanks to my sister’s job, have the purchasing power to buy soybean paste and fresh noodles, fruit and dark greens.

So I’ve been trying to remember what I know (knew?) about cooking. Like I said, I’ve inherited my mother’s style, but I can’t actually remember all that she taught me. And by that I don’t mean just her recipes or any specific dishes, but the things that I learned without her speaking: how her kitchen varied wildly from efficient to scatterbrained; how we used to eat burned meat because she was checking her email and not the stove.

I do wish I remembered more of her recipes. Not really the fancy stuff, but the simple things I sort of vaguely recall from when I was a kid and she’d make dinner for us after coming home from work. She never showed me these things really: there was always time. It wasn’t like either of us were going anywhere.

Strangely, even though I associate most of the cooking with Mom, I think my sister and I learned more specific things from Dad. Mom didn’t suffer fools in her kitchen, but Dad enjoyed teaching us: it meant he didn’t actually have to do any of the foot work. Instead, he could direct us around while we did all the chopping and stirring. That was probably actually the ideal food prep experience for him.

So it’s Dad I remember whenever I make fried rice, following his orders as he (figuratively) stands behind my shoulder and advises me on how much oyster sauce I should use. For Mom it’s more a measure of capturing her spirit. She was an infinitely pragmatic cook: always adapting to circumstance and incorporating new tricks. And even when she found a recipe, she never followed it exactly.

So I’ve been trying to find Mom while I have a fridge full of things to practice on and two or three other people who are forced to eat my results. So far, it’s going well. Most meals have been frankensteined from what I remember and a quick glance online to see what other people are doing. Using this method, I’m proud to report that I have not accidentally perpetrated a poisoning.

I’m sure, at least, that my parents would be proud of that much.

In Which I Make a Commitment and Review The Way Way Back (Kind of)

I seem to have this trouble with commitment. Not in the hand-holding face-licking way (well, I do have a problem with face-licking in that no one seems to want to lick mine) but in the way where I need to run up against hard deadlines to write. Which is dumb. Because if I just wrote and edited a bit every day I’d have to have some sort of actually readable piece of writing right now. I don’t know what it would be, but it would be something: a fantasy novel, a travel log, a stream-of-consciousness cookbook.  An unmarketable book of sad poetry with illustrations in blood. Whatever. I want to produce something instead of just indulging in my  constant consumption of words and other stimuli.

So I’m going to make a commitment to…blogging. Yes, it sounds as stupid to me as it does to you. But I don’t have an English or writing class on my schedule next semester, so I’m going to need some way to keep building my chops. And who knows if I can actually follow through with this commitment because I’m failing Camp Nanowrimo pretty spectacularly right now. But still, I am determined to freaking write at least a hundred words on this blog every day until the end of December or I’ll…

I’ll…

Whatever. You get the idea.

“The Way Way Back” written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (“The Descendants”) starring Liam James as the Awkward Adolescent and Sam Rockwell as Cool But Directionless Older Guy

So day one. Yesterday I my sister took me to see The Way Way Back which, in my opinion, was a remarkable movie. It was a trope-filled, if not hackneyed, buildingsroman/coming-of-age deal and if I were seventeen again I would be posting pictures of Liam James (who played Duncan, the lead) on my wall, because if I’ve got a type it’s dark-haired, pasty, and Hollywood awkward. But neither he nor the vaguely-indie cinematography is what captured me about the film. The screenplay did. I had to keep chewing it over and over in the back of my mind. I love how it was essentially a YA novel in movie form and it did it much better than the actual movie-izations of actual YA novels.

Synopsis: “An awkward yet intelligent young boy begins to make his transition into adulthood over the course of one transformative summer in this bittersweet coming-of-age comedy-drama. Sensing that he’s drifting away from his mother Pam during a summer vacation with her, her domineering boyfriend Trent, and Trent’s daughter Steph, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) gets a job at a water park, and gains some much-needed self confidence under the guidance of happy-go-lucky park employee Owen, who approaches life from a fresh new perspective.”

Well, isn’t that lovely. But.

The synopsis doesn’t really do justice to the film. For one thing Duncan, our hero, isn’t really a “young boy.” That descriptor makes me think he’s seven. He’s fourteen: one of the most painful ages I can remember, and he is quite “awkward yet intelligent” I’ll give you that.

But  The Way Way Back leaves its synopsis far behind in one respect: the movie deals with its characters complexly. Of course, some would disagree. Susanna, the movie’s psuedo-love interest, treads dangerously close to manic pixie dream girl territory, for example, and Owen’s obviously complex past is never properly explained. But imagine these characters as they appear in the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy and they start to make sense. He doesn’t see Susanna’s kindness or her motivations clearly. He sees her as an attractive, slightly older girl who pays attention to him. He wouldn’t think to delve into his mentor’s past, either: being self-absorbed is the default state of a fourteen-year-old.

That isn’t to say that our protagonist isn’t picking up on the complexities of the world around him. Duncan sees the nuances of the character relationships between the adults of the film. And to the credit of the screenwriters: all of these complicated relationships are subtly laid out far before they explode.

And explode they do. Because even though Duncan takes notice of their lives, he still doesn’t understand the maddeningly complex motivations that drive the adult characters. His mind is still straightforward, like a child’s. He doesn’t understand how his mother can’t just fix her problems. Duncan doesn’t feel her loneliness or know why she might sacrifice her son’s happiness out of fear of that loneliness. He doesn’t understand why all the grown ups regress to adolescence when they spend their summer at the beach. But throughout the movie, Duncan is learning to deal with the world complexly, and in my mind he’s learned the first lesson on the road to adulthood: grown ups aren’t infallible. Not even your parents.

That isn’t to say the film has a simplistic view of parents. For one thing, all the parents are divorced and not without their own struggles. But there is sympathy: it shows in how Susanna’s boozy, “bad” mother can still love her kids, even if she doesn’t always go about it in the right way.

For all of its hackneyed tropes, I still wouldn’t say that the movie has a traditional heroic arc, where our protagonist leaves home, slays whatever metaphorical demons he needs to, and becomes a man. For one thing there’s no underworld, no beast to slay. Well…maybe there is, but Trent drives the car and our hero still doesn’t get a chance to stab him by the end of the movie. For another, there’s no reward at the end of the film: nothing definite, anyway, other than a physically dubious trick on the slide of a water park. Instead, our protagonist is only just embarking on a journey into complexity, which is one we all take in our formative years. And while that might not be something to celebrate (Holden Caulfield spends a whole book fearing the impure adult world) our hero has made it so far without really losing his innocence. And, as implied by his overgrown boy of a mentor, our hero has many journeys yet.

But don’t fear too much for him, or the loss of innocence that awaits him: there is a moment at the end of the film that shows that, while adults make poor decisions, they sometimes make the right ones too. And through that moment the audience realizes the brilliance of The Way Way Back: almost every character changes by the end, not just Duncan. The changes are not quite noticeable at first, because we’re watching through fourteen-year-old eyes, but they’re there. And here’s the second Catcher in the Rye reference for today: the journey into complexity is not a one-way fall from innocence, and at the end of his novel J.D. Salinger uses a carousel to represent it. By doing so he shows that the journey to complexity is actually cyclical:  made ’round and ’round as we humans continually spin to and away from innocence. Duncan, our boy hero, may just be on his first trip through this cycle, but every character, adult or adolescent, is in fact on the carousel as well. None of the sympathetic characters is static. And sitting in the audience we too realize there is a ’round and ’round motion in our own lives. We’re all on that journey, that carousel,  of constant  development. Which means we’ll always look at the world ever more complexly, while still swinging back to innocence. I’m okay with that.