Hey everyone! With my HHG fellowship from Bryn Mawr, I’ve been doing this all summer! (that’s why I haven’t been as active here on SDS)! Check it out!
The blacktop has been cracked ever since I first took the job here. Over the years grass and clovers have grown over the ridges and onto the black valleys. Basketballs have memorized other paths toward the basket and shoes have learned how to avoid an embarrassing trip-up. The train station platform has fewer cracks and rough edges because the higher-ups are always barking about rules and regulations. The fixes are usually cheap though, some tan-colored epoxy or half-off untreated plywood from the hardware store down the street usually do.
They call me the “Welfare Supervisor” officially. Unofficially, I’m just a security guard that works days at the Primary school and nights at the station across the street. I’m a big guy with a large frame and an unassuming presence to everyone. They used to make me spread my shifts out so I’d never work back to back but now they don’t really care. Along with the offense their PR rep took to the title of “security guard” I guess they lost interest in “humane” hours, but I don’t mind. It gives me something to take my mind off of my own issues. Solitude within the crowd. Silence among the conversation. You’d be amazed at what you can hear people say when you stay really quiet.
There’s this woman. Her name is Hom. She works in the Thai restaurant next to the dance studio in the old YMCA attached to the train station with a brown brick facade that’s crumbling faster than the city planners can keep up with. I go there sometimes between shifts, always ordering the number 7. Over charred eggplant and slightly soggy noodles, I get my one break where it’s not my job to watch people. But as I try to clamp and scoop rather than poke and lift my chopsticks into the steaming sticky rice that comes with every meal I find myself watching Hom out of the corner of my eye. Her son, Jason, who is in the fifth grade goes to the school next door that I “supervise.” They also cover my other territory when Hom drops Jason off onto the 8:06 am eastward train every Saturday, from what I’ve assumed to be visits to his dad. I don’t normally work night shifts on Sunday so I never see him come back but come Monday morning Jason is always there scanning his ID into class. Seems like a normal kid.
I’m telling you this woman gets it. I see the other people that come to the restaurant and I see how they treat her. They make the same face they make when they’re dropping their kid off in the circle or swiping their card to get to their platform. It’s this expression you make when you only acknowledge that someone is there for a purpose, not just to be. We blend into the backgrounds like the cracked plaster walls and purple speckled tiles do in the primary school. Like those epoxy quick fixes and untreated plywood ramps at the station. We become simply quick barriers of our environment to them, and nothing more.
So I sit there on Tuesdays and Fridays with my number 7 and extra sticky rice. I try to smile at Hom and make eye contact when I order but she just looks down at the register. I don’t take it personally. I do the same thing when people have to come up to me.
I sit down at my favorite table in the back that faces her and I see her talking to Jason who’s in the doorway crying, holding a piece of paper. She’s hugging him and I can’t help but admire the way her arms bend when she holds him. The way her hands brush over his hair so lightly and the rhythmic tap of her other hand on his back. She wipes away his tears and I can’t help but smile…
There’s this new guy working at the school, Ed. One of the types who hasn’t learned to shut up yet. On this one day, in particular, he really wouldn’t stop. Going on and on about yadda yadda plans to make it big: quick ways to get some cash. Eventually, he gets it out of me that I work across the street too. I’m telling you I wasn’t trying to tell him I was just trying to get the guy to shut up. The next day he walks over to the desk with this swagger. As he hobbles over he has this big grin with his big teeth and I can’t help but wonder what he’s up to now. He tells me he got the train station job too, that they accepted his application within hours and now he’s working doubles with me. I can’t believe my luck but I don’t want to aggravate any ideas again either so I look down at his greasy face and give him a subtle nod. He grins even wider and slaps me on the back.
“You and I are gonna be best buds.” I don’t want to be “best buds” with greasy Ed. I want to be “best buds” with Hom. I want her gentle hands to stroke my hair softly too. But as the days go on it becomes apparent that there can be no daydreaming with Ed’s constant droning on and on. And so eventually, I realize, the only way to get him to stop talking is to start talking, myself.
“You know there’s this chick I really like.” I figure that’s what most guys talk about, seems like safe territory. Yet for the first time ever Ed doesn’t say anything. I look down at his short frame, towards his greasy face and large teeth that never tuck away and instead I see bright eyes staring back. It’s almost like his ears are wiggling in anticipation for what I’m about to say. I start to feel confident, a warm sensation stretches across my chest.
“I’m telling you this girl gets it. She knows what it’s like to be a speed bump to these people, to be looked over every day. And I’m telling you she has the most beautiful hands. One time she was comforting her son Jason…”
“Wait, she has a son?” He speaks up but I’m not ready to hear him start talking again…
“Yeah but he seems like a normal kid. Anyway, I saw the way she comforts him and I’m like I need to be with this girl. She’s different, I’m telling you. Works at the Thai restaurant in the Y, you know the one attached over here…”
Besides his brief interruption, he stays quiet for the rest of the shift. Even when I run out of things I know to say about Hom and trail off he stays quiet. The days start to pass quicker. Sure Ed still goes on and on about his next scheme and all the bullshit stuff he cares about, but the moment I start talking about Hom he gets quiet. One day in particular he seems extra finicky while he’s listening,
“How about you let me come see her?”
“Let me come with you to lunch so I can see what this chick you won’t shut up about looks like. I’m serious”
“Nah man I don’t know…”
“I’m not going to say anything I just want to see her okay man calm down”
I don’t say anything back for a second, but as I look down at Ed and his greasy head I figure why not show him. Maybe it’ll force him to grow up a little when he realizes his coworker is involved with a real woman and not some bullshit money laundering all the time.
“Alright man, dinner tomorrow. Hope you like eggplant.” I walk away from him toward some kids that are clowning around. I pretend to shoo them as Ed stands still in the background. His shoulders down and his head up, like he’s thinking about something. I bark a little bit more at the group of kids than I normally do. Something about it made me feel good and that warm feeling came over my chest again. I stand straighter and make eye contact when I tell them they need to head home now. I realize Jason is one of the kids I told to move but I don’t care. Seems like an older group for him to be hanging around… but Hom oh her hands and man she gets it she really gets it she knows what it’s like to be a speed bump…
Ed and I get off the next day and head over to the Y. I walk up to the register and order for Ed and me. She doesn’t look up like normal but I know that’s what makes her like me. I bring Ed towards the back and pull up a chair next to mine. We sit and another woman brings over our food. I explain to Ed that this is the best angle of the cash register and therefore the best place to watch Hom. We sit for a little while, he says he likes the eggplant but I don’t say anything back as I scoop up the soft meat and stiff rind. All of a sudden a crash, a loud crash. Jason runs through the swinging door with a squeaky top hinge that needs a good grease. He runs in with his hand in a towel and there’s blood. Ed gets up and his chair crashes over making an even larger sound. Like I’m telling you the dude starts to lose it. He starts to run around like a chicken without his head; I knew he’d find some way to embarrass me. But my disgust is quickly overruled by Hom’s quick thinking. She runs over to Jason and grabs his bloody hand. She drags him over to the sink and starts to clean his hand. The way she looks at him with so much care in her eyes brings back that warm feeling. But right while I’m admiring her Ed starts to squawk in my ear.
“I don’t like blood dude let’s get out of here”
“What do you mean you don’t like blood you’re a fucking security guard” I yell back, pushing his grabby hands away from my arm.
“I thought we were Welfare Supervisors and unless you want me to hurl on you we gotta go!” I know that would only make things worse so I scoot my chair out and take Ed outside the exit where the cherry blossom tree drapes over the caving roof’s eave. He starts to hurl like nothing else and I try not to look so eggplant isn’t ruined forever for me. I pat his back and say some comforting bullshit, looking up at the pink and gray-white leaves falling gently over onto the sidewalk and dandelion-littered grass covered in Ed’s vomit. I think about Hom and how smart she was to help the kid so quickly. What a perfect woman…
We don’t speak about the vomiting accident after but now I feel like Ed has a better picture of Hom when I tell him about her. As the days go on though Ed starts to get quieter and quieter. He starts to have a greenish tint to his greasy face like the day when he threw all that eggplant up on the fallen cherry blossoms. But I don’t mind, I feel like for the first time in my life I’ve found my voice. As the days go on and Ed stays quiet I start to reveal to him my fantasies about her more and more. I start to go into detail about the thoughts I have during the night shift at the train station. I start to tell him everything. But then one day, a couple of weeks after I took him to dinner at the Y he doesn’t show up to work. Super unlike greasy Ed and his money is everything mentality. A couple of days later he shows up at the end of the school shift when I’m about to head over to see Hom and get some grub. He comes up to me but he’s not wearing his uniform and he strangely, if possible, looks less greasy than normal. He’s wearing a light pink polo the same as those damn vomit-covered cherry blossoms and I can’t get that fucking picture out of my head.
“What’s up, Big Ed?” I started calling that ever since I learned he wore two-inch inserts in his Jordans to try to be taller like me.
“Man, not now. I gotta go. I’m quitting.” Now I’m confused. What happened to his money schemes and retiring at forty?
“Why? What happened Ed?”
“Man nothing, just let me get my hat and card and I’ll be out of here”
“Ed I’m serious what’s up?” He looks down at his chunky shoes and doesn’t say anything except for a small movement of his head as if he’s shaking it to say no.
“Ed bro you can tell me anything? Don’t we have fun? Talking and hanging out and stuff…” But then he interrupts me and he looks up into my eyes.
“See dude that’s just it. You won’t fucking shut up and has anyone ever told you you’re the most insufferable self-absorbed bastard in the world? And geez you’re so obsessed with that poor woman you’re like a fucking predator or something!” He grabs his card and hat from behind the desk and turns on his heel. I don’t know what to say so I don’t say anything…
I call off sick on Saturday. Probably for the first time in my life and I know without me or Ed they probably were really struggling down at the station but I don’t care I just can’t find it in me. I pick up a long shift on Sunday even though I’m normally off but I feel bad for the guys that had to scramble yesterday. Yet even the constant sounds of trains coming in and pulling away can’t distract me. Normally I love the sounds of trains. The way they pull into a station and clack and clack slower and slower. The way the brakes by command create a slow creak and a vibrating hum on the platform floor. But today not even the monotony can distract me from the confines of my brain.
I try telling myself that it doesn’t matter. Am I really feeling bad about this greasy guy who has to wear lifts in his shoes and smiles with buck teeth? The type of guy who listens to self-help podcasts and says thinks he’s not gonna have to work his whole fucking life? No, that’s not me. I’m a speed bump. I’m a quiet guy who stands and watches over people who ignore me, who walk all over me. But they don’t know that I hear everything, I see everything, that I know everything.
As the night starts to go on and the trains become fewer and far between. I do my normal thing after doing my checks to keep myself busy. Scene by scene I picture Hom looking up at me at the register when I place my order. She says I know you, you’re number 7, right? Sometimes a squawking bird or an old woman who needs to double-check the train schedule even though it’s plastered literally everywhere will take me out of the trance but I will always restart it and play it over and over again. Maybe it’s a good thing Ed’s gone, now I have more time to think about things like that.
A train pulls in and the platform’s steady vibration takes me out of my fantasy. Passengers get off and do that almost-bump and pivot dance to try to avoid each other as they all head for the same exit. I see a figure of a younger boy with a backpack get off the train but then just stand there as the train pulls away. After a while, I realize it’s Jason. He just stands there for a while and I think about his beautiful mom who is probably cleaning up after her shift at the Y right now. Scrubbing the tables with the vinegar and soap in a reusable spray bottle labeled with some other type of spray. The slightly fermented smell it leaves on the table gives me that warm feeling in my chest every time I smell it.
But then the kid is still there. He just stands there empty on the platform next to the yellow lines. He looks around for a second and then drops his head again, his shoulders slouch so much I think his backpack might just slip off his skinny frame. And as I stand in my usual spot in the shadows of the schedule monitor I realize he thinks he’s alone. He scans up one more time and then looks back down, this time at the four-foot drop down to the train tracks from the platform. Before I know it he gets down onto his knees and scooches on to the ground His feet make a slight thump as he lands on the compacted dirt in between the iron rails.
My heart starts to beat really fast. Is anyone going to do anything? I feel like rushing over; doing exactly what they told us to do in the 13-minute video they made us watch before taking this job. The first thing you do is make sure they can hear you and then you press the emergency button. No wait, it’s the other way around. My palms start to sweat and my throat feels dry. But before I can do any of those things I realize my feet aren’t gonna budge— it feels like they’re epoxy-ed down to the ground. All I can do is watch.
He stands right in the middle of the train tracks for a long time. Then he gets down on his knees again like he did when he hopped off the platform. This time he lies on his back. He uses a backpack as a pillow for his tiny head. All I can do is watch. Someone else has to be seeing this, it can’t just be me, that’s not fair. But then something happens. He stands up. I’m shouting in my head, get up, get up, run away! He picks up his backpack and drapes it over his skinny shoulders. It almost slides off so he has to adjust it. Then as quickly as he got down he slithers back up to the platform. Saliva starts to pool in my mouth and my heart is starting to slow down. But then I feel my lunch coming up and I know I’m about to be sick. I turn away from Jason and puke over the rail onto the oak tree’s bark. The pinecones lying on the ground absorb my bile pretty easily and it’s clear I hadn’t even eaten enough for the day. I swing back around as soon as I can and it’s clear Jason realized someone was there. He looks over in my direction with bright eyes. I’m not sure if he could see me but he definitely could hear me. He starts running in the direction of the Y. His backpack jangles up and down and one of his shoelaces is untied. As he gets farther from my watching spot and the pool of liquid that didn’t make it onto the tree it becomes harder to see him. Only after a minute can I swear I hear the swinging door open to the Y and I know he’s safe, for now. The light that I was supposed to note down as busted flickers back on and under the harsh yellow light and on the untreated plywood ramp I stand on, my vomit has a weird pink tinge to it. Like cherry blossoms.
It started with the unlikely monotony of a toothbrush, a nalgene full of irony pump-water, a tube of toothpaste on its last leg, and an entire ocean. My obsession with routines— supported by the anti-routine nature of living on a boat that’s shape is entirely decided by a formation of tides, winds, and forces completely foreign and incomprehensible to me— with the simple act of brushing my teeth. Brushing my teeth over the side of the boat; carefully spitting far enough into the sea so captain wouldn’t notice those white stains on the hull of his black ship, is one of the first routines that had some aspect of spirituality that I can remember. Something like not knowing where in the world you’d sail to that day but knowing that a foamy spitting contest would always occur at dawn and dusk made me realize those little routines could ground me.
So I’m living and working on an island in Maine I’d never been to before and I have this hour-long lunch break. And every day I found myself sitting in the sandy and bumpy trunk of my Toyota Yaris eating the exact same lunch. Small sandwich, two hard boiled eggs, a handful of spinach, a fruit cup, some chips, and three gluten free Oreos lasted me the full 8 weeks.
And once I’d gotten to that last bag of Oreos I’d walk down the driveway of Back Beach and walk to the water’s edge. Every day the tide would be slightly different and so more or less of the beach’s rocks would be exposed. Some days it seemed like the waves were non-existent and I could walk out past the big rocky points. Other days the beach was so wavy and inland, those rocky points would be completely covered by the gray blanket.
But that was the point. I’d pair such a routine activity, eating the same food at the same time every day, and I’d juxtapose it against the inherent fluidity of nature. Some people seek irregularity in the artificial— never knowing when they’ll wake up the next day and how they’ll get to work. But I found that I like that jaggedness in nature. You see I can accept that we can’t control nature, but our socially-constructed life is oftentimes easier to manipulate.
So this is what I do. I control the small things. Because, then, when big things like the ever-changing tide of Back Beach surprise you with a new look every day you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll relish that change, because at least your sandwich will be the same. And that makes the difference not so scary.
Not only would I learn when I was working at the museum with my head deep into the records and my nose grazing a Ruth Moore novel. But I’d learn lessons like these just by taking a lunch break. And that’s what happens when we realize that life is always teaching us things— just embrace it.
Mariátegui is an individual I was introduced to when I read his essay “The Indian Problem” for one of my classes this semester. I instantly related to a lot of his points and was interested in his takes that seemed to enter a realm beyond what I was used to reading from Marxist European scholars. Mariátegui is one of those names that I now always drop when those anti-capitalist but anti-willing-to-actually-investigate-a-solution people tell me Marx was just a white guy. Mariátegui was a Peruvian intellectual who passed away when he was 35 in April of 1930.
What really stuck out to me is his insistence to use the already “socialist” and “collectivist” legacy of the Incan empire to evolve an organic praxis toward a socialist revolution rather than applying blindly a European bandaid. This is something that we as leftists talk a lot about today; what social conditions evolved past what Marx would have seen and how do we find an appropriate and Marxist formula to push. For example, there has been a lot of discourse over gun ownership in leftist spaces. While I agree that the proletariat according to Marx needs to never surrender their arms to protect themselves against the bourgeoisie and that restrictionist-gun laws in this country have historically targeted marginalized communities, leftists nowadays also recognize the unprecedented change in mass-destruction gun-based violence. Something technically and literally Marx could never have seen. So, like Mariátegui, instead of blindly applying a mechanical transaction, let’s actually engage with Marxist values and the fight to protect the proletariat.
This was also a great refutation of that “communism has never worked” claim that so many of my classmates love to repeat from their fathers (the same ones they disavow for being homophobic/racist, but apparently when it comes to communism they know best). Scholars like Mariátegui prove that societies and peoples, and perhaps even before the Incan Empire but also in Andean communities, have thrived in communitarian (and certainly anti-capitalist) societies for centuries. And that socialist efforts were never able to become communist, thriving states for the most part because of the neoliberal, capitalist, attacks of sanctions and economic warfare of literal fascism. So to the students who tell me that… you’re the ones who are being racist by not realizing that egalitarian societies existed before your white ancestors colonized them for centuries.
It’s going to take a little more time for me to digest and engage with the intricacies of these essays but for now, this is my initial reaction. Certainly, for any young Marxist interested in gaining an un-fallacious perspective on the realities of non-westernized and white socialist revolutions, Mariátegui is for you.
A lot has happened since I last wrote to you all. I finished my junior year of college with a bang and a flash— actually enjoying some of my finals which made it all the more special. Particularly, my favorites were writing about “Commodified Reenactments to Cure Terminal Trauma in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder” and an analytical and creative piece on the legacy of Tupac in Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man” in To Pimp a Butterfly (yes I sadly, but perhaps more concisely, wrote this just weeks before Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers came out). My other Growth & Structure of Cities and History finals were methodical but satisfying. And since then along with feeling grateful for some of the extra awards I also completed a three day training seminar for my big fellowship that I am using to advance my research this summer. It was interesting to see that my project was inspired by a moment I had interning at the museum (which was inspired by a dream about a lighthouse) versus the subject of a paper or a class. If anything, it only solidified the idea that I want to get my PhD in English because hell no I will not stop learning yet.
The day after I submitted my last final I honored my mom’s tradition of reading a non-academic book in one day. This time it happened to be The Backyard Adventurer by Beau Miles. I have loved his youtube channel for a while because his eccentric quirkiness where he develops these rich and nuanced stories from experiences and spaces we oftentimes or otherwise overlook is something I’ve actually found extremely relatable. While his comments sections often contained long winded accreditations about the creativity of the subjects themselves I oftentimes find myself thinking, hey I’ve had an idea just like that one before. His book was great, a little quirky in the grammar department, as I am myself. Here are some of the best passages:
“Then a chunk of dumbarse porridge gets caught in your beard and all of a sudden, the very act of adventuring and expeditioning becomes as routine as home life. A fork in the road, or a rough landing on an unnamed beach in a foreign country, becomes no more or less engaging than having your shoelaces tied by 06:45 in order to make the 06:52 express, putting you at your desk by 08:05 in time to drink your third cup of coffee by 08:30. You dramatise the hum-drum routine of making a particular train, to the point where it takes over your imaginations and desires, much like the tantalising prospect of paddling yourself to a coastline of coconut palms and few people had inspired you years earlier”(28).
“Every time I drive from the city to where I live in the country, there is a moment in the journey where I exit the multilane highway in a perfect arch, slowing to a T-intersection that heads off onto a small country road. Everything industrial and fast-paced seems to instantly slow down and simplify in that moment. I feel the transition every time. Home is then 15 minutes away, up a small road with bends and cracked edges, where overhanging trees make it hard to make out water from shade or roadkill. I tend to take stock of things every time I re-enter home range. I count animals and inspect farmers’ sheds, wondering when or if the owners have seen that their east-facing hayshed has two sheets of iron missing on the southern wall. I watch trees grow and die, notice weeds that colour the paddocks in different unnatural shades every other month, responding to rain and the tilt of the Earth. It’s the best part of the journey as I pinball through the moving parts of my district, navigating towards the bells and whistles of home”(109-110).
“I’ve often heard people say that taking a book on expedition distracts you from the place you’re in. Sure it does, but I can’t fathom how that’s a bad thing, it just loads you up with more comparse points to think about the very place we find ourselves. Animatice of words becomes an immensely satisfying story as the viewer of one scene and thinker of another. It’s a hell of a thing to have two hemispheres of brain conjuring two hemispheres of Earth, ail at water, dirt and sand”(196).
“Besides, I secretly love habits and routine, finding myself constantly using one spoon and a particular cup, and wearing the same four pairs of undies on high rotation. Most of the stuff in our kitchen is used by Helen, or the occasional visitor, and there are parts of the couch I’ve never sat on. At work, running in the deep shade of a room on the wide rubber band of a treadmill with the fan on is utterly fine. My peeve with routine and repetition is therefore riddled with contradiction, resting squarely on my shoulders as a conundrum of perception. I know this”(225-226).
I also read Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour of Europe which was way too close to what I learned in my pre-modern Architecture class this semester but still a good read. I’m a fan of McCloud because of his awe inspiring television series Grand Designs, which is my second favorite show of all time. All four architects that he looked at were ones I did projects on in my cities class so it was definitely good to be reminded of their importance.
The third book I just finished is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The gravity of this nearly 600 page book is going to take a while for me to fully sit with so a review is coming in the future but not now. I read it because all of the literature I encounter in my classes often references this extraordinary work and I knew I had to get to the bottom of this origin.
And so now I’m just living day to day in the garden state until I head up to the Quietside for the next ten weeks. I know soon I will be completely enthralled in Ruth Moore and American literary regionalism only! So until then, I am trying to read those loose ends that I still desire and crave. Between planning for the fellowship, getting IRB handled, and reading these genre-bending, as creative as me types of words, I know I’ll be busy enough.
Lately, I have learned to love to turn my noise-canceling headphones on in my room with my picturesque forest scape and an artificial green-pond moat. I exist within these four walls and in whatever sounds I choose and that feels like the ultimate source of comfort.
I guess there are two parts to this story.
The first one is a call-out for all college-age students. I go to a liberal arts college, an HWC specifically. So yeah I guess it’s safe to say we’re all anti-capitalists here. But as I’ve discovered through my own journey to self-liberation— being merely an anti-capitalist is never enough. Yet when I challenge my peers they seem stuck at that resolution. Yeah, we know the character in this novel is unhappy because of capitalism but what’s the solution? And the moment I propose something, or I guess when I propose a Marxist-Leninist proposition which I’ve found to best suit what makes sense to me, I immediately get push back. In the same words of the Republicans and Conservatives, they claim to be smarter than, I’ve heard the exact same bullshit phrase “communism has never worked in theory.” And then I ask them how indigenous societies survived and thrived in egalitarian societies for thousands of years and were only ended when Westerners imperialized their communities. And that’s when the backtracking starts and the “of course I know that…”
A big problem I have with my school but one I know exists at any liberal arts school is this idea that we are all upset about the same thing but not looking forward towards a solution. We complain anonymously and say we hate our college. But the second anyone tries to make praxis instead of joining in we start complaining about the change-makers themselves. And the majority of the students that push back towards ML solutions are students in the same classes as me who have the same access to materials and education that I do. But then they can say these grandiose condemnations with no issue. They listen to Malcolm, Huey, William Edward, and Angela on paper but in praxis, it’s a no.
How do we convince students to take that next leap? Well, some already have. It’s the students that live the realities where they are not forced to complain about capitalism but fight it.— battling against the inhumane effects every single day. They are the ones who are embracing the ML solution while the others around me would rather read the class readings they don’t even think serve a purpose in real life. Therefore, to me, it’s just telling of one’s privilege when I hear pushback. Those who have to fight it every day get it.
On a separate note, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article I wrote almost a year ago. “Doomed Love for Queer Youth”. With the emergence of shows like “Heartbreaker” on Netflix, queer love has been a point of conversation among my friends and me. But perhaps more optimistically than my reflections on teen love, I’m starting to see some positivity. I’ve realized that the more platonically queer friends I have to love, the more I start loving myself. As I spent one of our college traditions among my friends, the majority of which are queer, I realized that I felt safe. And it’s nothing against my straight friends of course, but something about the fact that my friends have faced similar struggles to me makes it easier. They know that we have deeper stories than our heterosexual comrades. They know our childhoods were even harder to survive. I guess Queer platonic love can save Queer people.
I’m realizing that all those times I didn’t consider myself smart were merely shadows. Thoughts and reflections that follow you and copy you. That reflects your truest forms and simplest motions. I’d hear people tell me about the hours they stay up grinding and doing work and I thought that meant I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wasn’t going to get good grades like them. Yet it took a sign, an agreement that acknowledged my work from the outside to give myself that one sun ray of belief that I was missing. And all of a sudden I believe in myself. And all of a sudden I can honor my strange study habits and love for doing work in efficient increments in the morning. I can honor my hand’s stimming as I get excited about my new literary theory. I can honor wanting to get a Ph.D. and become a professor. All because that one ray of sunlight washed away my shadow and left a golden kiss of belief.
There is this vivid memory I have in my head. After my initial depressive shockwave that took over the entirety of my soul for the first two weeks of the start of the Covid19 pandemic, I was looking for an opposite feeling. And for a while, I found a tiny bit of that. While I did not know that though my position in society would move on, the pandemic and its perpetrators would not. For a little bit of time, there was nothing to do except to run. It was my one allowance outside the suburban walls of my house and pollen-covered grass that seemed somehow more green than ever before. And so I ran and I ran and I ran more than sixty miles for a couple of months before my chronic illness finally manifested into physical form as the stress of my world being turned upside down finally took hold.
I’m running and I’m leaving the dense forestry of the Princeton Battlefield woods and trail. I’m surfacing out into the sunny field after cruising through the muggy and buggy treed canopies, I would run 6.2 miles that day. And as I face North back onto the field all I see is that lightness flooding over the green meadow that glistens and shimmers in the wind. I’m running out of the woods and I see brightness North and now when I remember that memory I see something else. Now when I close my eyes and clench my fists really tight I don’t see the old battlefield and itchy grass but I see all that my future has become since.
That moment feels like just yesterday but there are countless things that have changed since then. Since I ran out of the woods I came out as a lesbian, I started seeing a therapist, one extremely unhealthy relationship ended, and another although healthy and beautiful one, forces me to grieve today. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and then had the nerve to beat it. I became an English major and realized my love for architecture. I had a dream about a lighthouse and for the rest of my life that artificial light has projected a new future. I discovered my own little corner of the world in Maine and made friends with some old people. I loved a dog more than anything I’ve ever loved. I ran a half marathon. I started this very same blog. I became a writer, a Marxist, and a full-fledged comrade. I learned that my anxiety is overcomable. I led a team to the most wins in decades and found my voice on the court. I started taking medicine three times a week and sticking to my bedtime like it’s the bible. I traveled across the Atlantic and across state borders for vaccinations. I found words in maps. I told stories. I climbed mountains and mountains oh my. I swam in the deep, frozen ocean blue— and drove with the windows hand-cranked down.
I faced one time when I was scared of my aloneness and then again. And it got easier.
I am scared of my photos app.
I learned that love isn’t easy. I learned that love isn’t easy and it teaches you so much so at least for that reason, it has to be worth it.
So now maybe I’m a hotshot. A fellow, a published writer. No, that’s not the point, not at all. The point is that in a second I’m back in that memory— coming out of the woods onto the Northern sunny field. And instead of the grass and the empty street, I see this. And I am old and my joints hurt and my heart is currently broken. And I have to tell people what happened and I have to tell myself what happened even though I don’t know what happened: that love is hard and growing up is hard and yet I am worthy of both.
And that I want to teach.
And live by the ocean and be the real-life lupine lady that I read about in a children’s book and then met in person when I grew up. Make-believe can be real and I am a testament to that. Believe me, that run, that day, was something special.
If North is up on a compass then does that mean I am evolving? Following my star? Each year and second getting better or accumulating material? I know I feel better and that seems good enough. But part of me misses that innocence when I ran out of the woods, facing North. How little I had yet to learn, how little I had yet to lose. I’m still waiting for the fog to disappear and the stars to come out to play. And even though I feel okay right now, part of me is still waiting for that North, little light, to come back.
There’s a picture from a children’s book I really like. It’s a landscape in a boy’s figure who seems to be flying over an otherwise solid color. I have dreams sort of like this except the exact opposite. Instead, I fly as an empty figure over a landscape or the gentle curves of a mass beneath me. In this book Neftalí, later referred to as Pablo Neruda, finds refuge from his smallness against his scary dad in things like poetry.
Now I wonder what it would be like to turn Neftalí inside out so he looks like me? Every single night I am flying over the curves and ridges and straight lines and mountain tops and treelines of places I’ve been. If I am dreaming over the ocean then I can at least see the bend of the world curling away.
During the daytime, I am thinking about Metropolitan London and the Shining Path and the Black Arts Movement and 19th Century Romanesque Architecture and gathering a bibliography of “Female Writers of Maine” and working on my short story “The Welfare Supervisor” and saving my relationship, and rotating through my four-cycle lifts for basketball, and this is just an excuse to plan out everything I am doing…
Sometimes I’m scared to fly in my dreams. Sometimes I dread falling asleep and being obsessed with remembering the exact spatial significance of borders. I’ll be put in this semi-familiar place and force myself to remember what tree sits on the right and what house is on the left. It’s funny because the places in my dreams have sort of been hijacked by themselves. I no longer return to my college or the island as they are in real life. I return to the dream versions, slightly different and perhaps more accurate reflections of how I would construct them. But every time I know where the new spatial elements are even though they are parallel universes from reality.
I am a map.
Neftalí is the Dreamer but I am the mapper.
If I could draw perhaps I’d try to visually appropriate it onto paper. But just as the world from reality to dream shifts entirely I wonder if it would too with pen and ink? All I know is rain and shine, I am mapping the real world and the realer world in my dreams and I can’t seem to stop. My fingers are tired of typing, I have tendinitis in my left arm from too much time at the computer working on those lengthy essays but I find myself on a Tuesday and humid evening trying to map out the dual mapped out universes that exist in day and night.
I am a mapper
waiting to seize the map
I spatialize the questions
for which all boundaries and expanses
I choose no place
I choose every place
…if you dare.
Imagine you live in two houses throughout your life.
The first house is an old structure overturned by unkempt ivy and lush moss. It sits in the middle of a dense forest with a mountain view of a deep blue lake. You wake up every morning and go through your daily steps that usually lead to you leaving your house to enter the outside realm. And you cross your doorframe and step onto the soft earth underneath, your feet can recognize the feeling but have not memorized it. When you cross the realm the world around you is different every single day. Sometimes the earth below is muddy, sometimes it’s frozen hard. The trees that escort you out are sometimes full of leaves, oftentimes tall, and occasionally fallen. The sky changes colors too. From time to season, darkness to temperature, the nature around you is already dynamic. Your built environment is built by something that can never be the same and never be still.
The second house is a newly renovated townhouse. The new version of the suburbs, the townhouse you live in, is part of city efforts to make a previously overlooked neighborhood seem hip again. Like in the other house, you wake up every morning and go through your daily steps that usually lead to you leaving your house to enter the outside realm. Yet when you cross that realm; to the outside, your feet are greeted with not just familiarity but memorization. Because the built structure, say concrete or some sort of standardized concrete underneath will not dynamically change and flow in a course of nature. Instead, it remains the same every single day unless nature decides to intervene. Say wood starts to rot or water from the sky creates cracks in the pavement.
This isn’t an ode to living in nature or off-grid or whatever you want to consider. But this is considering how the monotony of metropolitan life is directly related to the literal built structure that holds our bodies. Beyond the obvious lifestyle differences between living in the middle of a forest or a field and living in a city or the suburbs, an additional realm must be considered. The dynamic constant change of nature means the physical interaction you have with your environment is different every single day. Like nature therefore, your own experience evolves to whatever the physical conditions become. Yet if we live in a sterilized and artificial environment that change cannot occur. Instead, life, therefore, becomes inherently stagnant.
So when people ask me if I’d rather live in an urban or rural environment, I often feel like I have to explain that my answer goes beyond the usual explanation of aesthetics or overall feeling. No, for me, I feel that if I lived in a built environment that literally could not change as nature changes, that I would become completely dormant in how I live my life. And at least for me, the joy of feeling that I learn and love everyday; that each sunrise is an opportunity to grow like the trees that we hypothetically worship; for that feeling to be gone I would feel completely doomed. I would feel claustrophobic and fitted into boxes that for so long I’ve been running to escape. So for me it isn’t about where I want to live or how much beauty can exist in urban atmospheres, but where I can survive. Where I can grow everyday.