“Americanah”

It’s been 12 days. I’ve walked about 80 miles. I’ve bused hundreds more. Countless to and fro. Countless stops and turns.

I feel this should actually be an addendum to my other blog. The Ireland of that writing has vanished. Vanquished. Maybe it never existed. Maybe it ceased to exist because I chose to write about it in that way. Maybe my imagination was just that powerful. I knew it as I circled St Anne’s in Shandon. The ice cream store gone. Was I just lost? No, I knew it with certainty–in the 5 years passed, it had closed and changed and been reborn. I walked back down the hill. I knew it moments before then, as I walked up the hill, pacing myself behind the other American tourists headed for the same sight. There had been no American tourists in that neighborhood last I visited. I had hardly seen any Americans last I was in Cork. Something was off.

Tourism has boomed in Ireland since 2013. Every Irish I mentioned this to responded with excitement. Ever optimistic, ever pleasant, those Irish. “Yes, it’s so exciting!”

WiFi was available mostly everywhere. Passwords printed on menus and posted in door frames. Tourists with their faces in their phones. Locals with their ears plugged by headphones. Not a single person, from anywhere, bought me a pint and asked if I was on holiday. Not a single person offered their travel story to me, in turn. I did have a nice chat with the German girls I’m bunking with. They are so, so young. I feel decrepit. The hostel common room is calm and quiet, even as people are gathered to watch the World Cup. People sit in small groups or type on their phones.

Something has escaped us. The first time I set foot in Europe, I was 21 and naive and had just seen Taken. I was convinced we were all going to be drugged and raped. The Americans girls in Europe. I was over anxious, overprotective, wary of wandering without purpose. I had a hard time opening up to the other travelers we met on the bus, in the pubs, lying in the beds next to us in the hostels. Everyone had a story and everyone wanted to know, where are you from. Shop owners, bus drivers, everyone was interested in conversation. No one knew when to stop. Anything was interesting. We were all in this together.

I had a brief chat with the bartender at Ned O’Shea’s. I had wandered far into Stoneybatter, thanks to my trusty iPhone, I can now step confidently into the streets of a strange city. I had wandered far only to be told the place wasn’t serving food but Would you like to have a drink with us? I am a lot of things now at nearly 31, but I am not a girl who drinks alone on an empty stomach in a far away town many many minutes from her hostel. I begged off to the bartender and wandered back in the direction I had come. I said to myself, I’ll go anywhere, the first place I see advertising fish and chips. I don’t care. Moments later there it was, on the corner across from the Brazen Head. Ned O’Shea’s.

The Asian bartender gave me a drink menu and I pretended to consider the Smithwicks, the Jameson, the wines. I told her, “I’ll just have a Guinness.” She smiled at me and poured the pint. I pretended to look at the menu, before ordering “the haddock.”

“The fish and chips?” She clarified.

Yes. I sat at the bar and stuffed myself. Another story for another time is how much pleasure I’ve found in traveling alone. Taking the bus, the train, the cab alone. Sitting alone, eating alone, sleeping alone. Discovering alone. All of it. Like I was meant for it.

The Guinness was almost 6€. Years ago, a pint had been 3, 4€ at the most. Now it was the same as the Corona. The same as a sad import. I felt cheated in this knowledge. I felt cheated in all my knowledge. The empty bus rides. The busy city centres. Where had all the love gone? As the pub filled with World Cup watchers and a group of obnoxious British adults, I closed my tab with the bartender and left. She mourned my going, “Guess it’s too loud for you now.” I didn’t realize she had wanted to be friends and I questioned my decision to leave. But it had been almost an hour and a half. And it was too loud not to go.

I tried to see Ireland as I saw it before. What was it before? Something special, something different. Now, everyone is drinking coffee and ordering donuts, having burritos for dinner. Everything I’ve ordered has come out instagrammable. No one has cocked their head at my accent. One person did ask me for directions. Everyone looks the same. You can’t tell one nation from the next. Indiscernible citizens everywhere.

Ireland has come into its own and has joined the modern world. Not that they weren’t modern, before. Just that, I felt, they were committed to doing their own thing and distantly interested in the States. Just like you watch a cute dog at the park or that popular reality show everyone talks about at work. Just to keep tabs. Yet, with the Trump presidency, Ireland has cast off from us. Ireland is fine without us, thanks.

Everywhere is fine without us. We are not what we were before. We’ve let the dirty laundry out. I’ll be surprised if we ever recover from this. If the world is ever interested in “America” again.

I guess that’s what I felt as I walked around Ireland. A feeling like, why wouldn’t the American be here.

Advertisements

How do you say depression?

dep.jpg

Richard died four years ago. The anniversary is quickly approaching, and I think of it now because of this, but I also think of it now because of something else.

I went to a dear friend’s wedding this weekend, and I was reunited with other dear friends. Among the usual chatter of “you look great” and “I’ve missed you” was something else I wasn’t expecting. A “where have you been” feel. When we did the math, I realized it had been years since we’d seen each other. Jobs have ended, classes have started, moves have happened, relationships have sparked.

I found myself confused, disbelieving, it has not been years. But thank god for social media, I can prove myself wrong. The things I’ve captured since I last saw these friends…the time that’s passed. The memories I have of our last time together…it’s been years since.

I left the wedding with mixed emotions. I felt sad, like when will I see these people again? I felt hopeful like, I’ve done something right with my life to know these people. I felt guilty, too, but more than that. There was something burrowing underneath the guilt, gasping for air. I felt a missing. I felt…a lack. Where have I been for two years? How did I let so much time pass without reaching out to the people who once were my life? How did I not spend any time– or even think about spending any time– with the people who I once shared so much of my life with?

So, I reflect on the past two years of my life, and even though Richard’s passing was four years ago, I know the last two years would have been insanely different if he were still alive.

When Richard went missing something inside of me shifted, drastically. Where there had been confidence and hope and belief… a purpose, if you will, there was suddenly a black hole of doubt and grief. What once kept me going, what once sustained me, was drained. Just gone. And beyond this hollow, my shield, my guard, were down. Out.

As my mental/emotional state deteriorated internally, so too did my external world. My professional world crumbled, at first slowly, starting not long after Richard’s death, and then it completely shattered in 2016. I had nothing to keep me going once my job became pointless. I was living, living, living, trying, but then I lost my support system at work that summer. Both of my mentors left. I had been making moves to do other things. I’m always the one with the back-up plan, but I quickly realized I was in no mental state to take on those things either. I had applied to PhD programs, and been accepted, but I deferred first one, then another enrollment deadline. I was in talks to apply to other jobs at my alma mater. I had been referred to first one, then another. I started one, then left unfinished, another job application. I was out of breath. I had used up all my mental and emotional stamina. After twenty some years of running, I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I had prepared and prepared and prepared. But then, Richard died, and my heart took its last shaky step, and then it was like the world decided to take a shit in the deflated space left by my heart. Where once I had felt resilient and capable, I now only felt loss.

I started going to therapy in August of 2016. I started learning about anxiety and mindfulness and meditation. I realized how all my planning to run had saved me before, but would likely not save me this time. With the help of my therapist, I saw how I was only trying to run away from myself this time. As I delved into why I wanted to run away from myself, I got worse.

In March of 2017, I fantasized about falling asleep and never waking up. I dreamt about dying. I had all the hope in the world that I would stop living. Stop thinking, stop breathing. That something would come and put a stop to the hopelessness I was feeling by putting an end to me. Anywhere but here.

I recognized these thoughts as unhealthy. I recognized this as outside of my normal. I found another therapist. I was diagnosed with seasonal depression. I was given lots of reasons for why and how and what to do next. Having a diagnosis helped, but wasn’t enough to cut me out of the black cotton I could feel surrounding my brain. I walked around in a suit of pain. I felt so vulnerable all the time. When I was with people, I was usually drugged. Something to keep me going. When I was alone, I was usually crying or asleep. Something to keep me going. I knew I had to keep living, despite my desire to not.

I look back on that time now and do not see myself. I see her entombed in grief. Entombed in this ugly orbit of hurt.

I didn’t realize it then, but I realize it now: I stopped. I stopped talking to my friends. I stopped reaching out to the people I loved. Conversations were impossible. Text messages were overwhelming. Everything in me screamed to be alone, to be left. To be empty. I had no excuses, so I didn’t make any. Instead, I tried my very best to have a minimal existence. It was so much work to exist in my self, with my self. I had no idea how to exist for others. How to be present outside of myself, beyond myself.

I spent the year trying to escape while trying to be present.

Something is awake now in my brain …I can only describe it as a kind of rebirth. Something that curled up and went into hiding, went off to hibernate, has finally roused. And I am here now, and I am looking around now, and I am amazed at everything I’ve missed. All the time that’s passed since last I was awake to bear witness.

Two years I let that grey wool numb my brain. But I’ve done the work, and I’m back. I can take on the world again. I can be in the world again. I can love and live and hope again. I can feel something else besides me. I can feel and think of someone else besides me. I am free of the trap of my hollow, shallow doubt.

Ideological distinctions

I should write, I think to myself as I reach for the light switch of my bedroom. I slide into bed and fall to sleep. The transition more immediate and instant than a drift. I fall. Consciousness lost in an instant, whatever guilt I felt for not writing about my day immediately lost to the depths of my slumber.

I don’t always have a story to tell, I think, so I don’t write. But I know often this is actually a lie I tell myself. The second I start to write, the second I start to put words to my thoughts, the story comes. In some way, I find the way; it weaves together.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fashion, and how strange it is to watch what my mother always lamented, the comeback of the styles from my youth. Flannel, stripes, high tops. Black jeans. All things I can remember wearing as a child, as the 80s turned to the 90s. That short lived time before the aughts when shirts got weirdly tight and jeans got weirdly loose. How strange it is to see young people walking around dressed like the adults of my childhood. How strange to realize that somehow it’s missed me again, what was too old for me then is too young for me now. Time passes.

I read this about Elon Musk and Grimes, and found this quote best captured the angst I’ve been feeling, as I peruse trench coats, skater sneakers, tshirt dresses and high-waisted jeans from various Internet stores. As I revel in the pleasure of buying whatever I please without having to leave my home. As the fashion I used to dream about, the styles that always seemed beyond my reach, due to my physical location, are now easily accessible with the few stretches of my fingers. It’s not even that the clothes are that necessary to me. It’s more about satisfying my pre-teen/teenage urges — to own the frivolous things I was previously denied access to…

“But, despite all the joking, there was ultimately a sense of deep disappointment in many people’s responses to the new couple, which revealed a nostalgia for a time when political differences translated more securely into differences of taste, and vice versa. What if ideological distinctions still mattered and were not so easily swept away by a levelling torrent of information and capital? What if anything still meant something?”

This is so how I feel…swept up and out by this “levelling torrent of information and capital.” That nothing means anything. That we are losing sight of the things that matter, of our ideological distinctions. I feel this way about our politics, about my neighbors. I can’t even quite describe the feeling. Just that…nothing matters and we are all bloodless automatons buying and clicking and swiping and tapping and recycling…Recycling the fashion and the memes and the pop culture of yesterday. We are tired old souls, is what I fear. How all of this can be summed up by reactions to Musk and Grimes, I don’t know. It’s just this feeling I have that we’ve all become the same. That anything used to mean something, and now…it’s just because we have access. It’s just because we can and so we do.

That the “levelling torrent of information and capital” has helped us satisfy that most urgent of urges, to blend in, to become one, to fit in. To be part of the crowd.

I had hoped the Internet would make us smarter, not dumber.

Water

I love the way my mouth feels after drinking water. You ever notice that? Go in the kitchen right now, fill up a glass with some tap, or whatever is available, and chug. And when you’re done, you take a breath and you have that nice clean, cold coating to the inside of your mouth. And your mouth is just wet, drenched. I love that. It’s so refreshing. I feel so refreshed and hydrated. Full. Flushed.

Water is great. It’s one of my favorite things in life. Cleansing.

Joyyyy

I’ve been thinking a lot about power and privilege. The spaces we create even when we lack. The negative space we create even with the best intention. I recently learned that my great, great grandmother’s family was lost in a Trail of Tears type removal. That she was the only one to survive a death march, a walk to nowhere. I recently learned how close I came to not existing, to not being, and for what price? Out of all that death, what was gained? I find myself not heartbroken, but angry. Seething. Jaw tight, chest ache, seeing red mad.

I wonder then, how we can ever get over ourselves. How do you ever work through the weight of white guilt? How do you ever atone for white privilege? How do you ever stop seeing others as Them as not me, as something to distance oneself from. How do you ever stop thinking of yourself with all the jewels to give, with all the prizes to bestow? How do you ever separate yourself from the privilege you breathe, from all the ability you wallow in?

I’m tired of white people using their white privilege to make me feel bad, to make me feel guilty, for using my brain and my pain to make their world better. Oh, now you realize what you’ve created? Now you see the monster. “Society”; “one foot in the world” … what world? Your world. A world of your making. One we’ve all contributed to; one we’ve all acquiesced. I refuse, I must, I have a right to this joy. I have a right to seek joy and feel joy and be joy. I have a right to sit in the sun with my Chinese man and not feel anything other than joy.

Your white skin

Sometimes when I’m at work all I can think about is how white it is. I sit there and I think this. Immerse myself in the whiteness of the room. Yes, there are people from other states. Yes, there are people from other countries. People with accented English. Yes, there are people with vastly different backgrounds and futures in the room with me. But everyone has white skin. None of them have experienced racism or racial bias or a micro aggression. They’ve maybe been called names, judged as stupid or less than because of their gender or the people they love, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same. And I sit and I think and I imagine…I think about all the things they say are wrong and how different I would feel sitting in that space. I can’t know. I try to know. I don’t know how to get them to know. I declare to them their race? I concisely articulate their bias? I don’t know how to say what they are. So instead I just say something, the thing that comes to mind that makes sense. And I’m not surprised when I’m talked down to in response. I’m not surprised when I’m combatted. I’m not surprised when the white people don’t realize their whiteness.

People are assholes

It’s Mother’s Day and commencement day. I want to write. I want to make sense of this tangle in my mind. But today I am restless. Restless and day-dreamy. Sometimes I make up new words.

The novelty of graduation has worn off now. I found them significant when I was 18, when I was 20, when I was 23. I think it hit me around 25, when I skipped my fifth and most recent graduation, that I realized I had become disillusioned and jaded.

This is the fourth graduation celebration I’ve been a part of at my work. They look fantastic, the graduates, in their make-up and best clothes. The styled hair, the shiny shoes. It’s enough to make you feel like capitalism is worth it, to enable one to look so damn good. To have an excuse to dress to the 9s. To feel special and smart and accomplished for the day or days it takes to celebrate.

The first year I got caught up, wondering who these graduates would become. This year all I could think about was what they had learned, what they had gained, what they have to show for their time. What did they earn in exchange for the dark folds of cloth and awkward fitting caps?

In the years since I’ve graduated, I’ve learned how to cook, how to exercise, how to sleep and spend my free time. I wonder if they learned how to ask for help, how to deal with bullies in the workplace?

Did they learn how to recycle, did they learn how to live on a budget, did they learn how to make time for themselves? Do they know how to manage depression, how to meditate, how to learn a new hobby? Do they know how to talk about race, class, or gender with people they like or dislike?

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m grateful for my mother. She taught me to trust myself, she taught me to hear my voice, she showed me how to be alone.

A recent college graduate asked me the other day, how to get what you want in bed?

I didn’t know how to say the simplest thing, you ask. I didn’t know how to explain that first you have to figure out what you want, and then you have to ask. You also have to ensure the person you’re with is capable of listening, of seeing, of sensing, of asking in return.

I did not learn this in college and neither did she. We do not learn how to talk about periods and sex and babies. About lust or drugs or sustainability or proper skin care.

I graduated multiple times but none of them taught me about fine wine or liquor. I didn’t know how to taste for quality or pairing. I still don’t know if I fully understood my privilege or intersectional oppression. I still didn’t know how I wanted to be seen. How I wanted to be heard. I still didn’t know what I was capable of.

All these things make me doubt the purpose of the graduation ceremony. Of its worth and place in our society. It seems like a sick, cruel joke. Here you spent all this time and effort and money but just wait until you learn you have very little to show for it. Wait until you have to negotiate a salary or barter at a market. Wait until you’re snowed in without power. Wait until the first time you have to do your taxes after buying a home. Wait until you have to choose a new hire from a pool of candidates. Wait until someone looks to you for meaning and guidance.

Wait until you realize how funny it is that nothing is what people pretend it to be and no one is who they’re trying to be.