Photographing on the Ground in Gaza

Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

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But I am different. I can pick out the day so clearly in my mind, and that marks when the world just flipped on its axis.
(Like this terrifying dream I had last night. I woke up on edge, stiff and tense, unable to calm down and fall back to sleep. A gust of wind came and picked me up, and I was weightless, head over heels, powerless and gone.)
Everything is different in the most subtle way. Do I look and feel mostly the same? Yes. But I seem to weigh more…somehow. I feel more present, and thus am heavier. There’s a stronger sense of gravity that pulls in my daily existence. I am more. There is more to me now than before, and I don’t have the time to catch you up on all that has changed. Either keep up or continue to go at your own pace. I will leave you behind. I have no qualms about that. The strange thing is so many people don’t realize that I’m any different. I probably seem mostly the same. Those recognizable bits are still in there, mixed with the rest, and probably resurface enough to keep everyone happy. But it’s a facade. Kind of. There are just so many people that I live apart from, and they credit my difference to other details, not to June 25. Wednesday, June 25. 10am central standard time. I will never forget that day. I don’t need a throwback Thursday or a calendar reminder to commemorate it. It sits there in my brain. A complete fact. A nugget of truth. Cold and hard. I no longer feel like I did on that day, sucked dry and empty, but I can remember that feeling so vividly, and I think of Richard Fu so often that it is enough.
(He was a part of my life. Every day. Every time. Now I’m doing things and he’s not there. He’s not a part of anything anymore. There are no new jokes; there are no jokes. I can’t stop doing the things, but why do they have to add up when he is only a negative space. It’s stacking up for nothing.)
It suffices to mark the difference in my mind. Me before. Me after. And this may seem overly dramatic and incredibly sensitive of me. Like I’m taking it too far. Like I’m making something out of nothing. But I don’t care what you think. You can never know what it was like that day. You can never know what he meant to me. And that makes me sad, but without that difference of understanding between you and me, I wouldn’t be able to write about it. So you just have to trust that what I’m depicting is accurate. Or don’t. Either way I guess it’s still a decent story. A piece to read. I will never forget that message. The sound of Zach’s voice. Weary and cracked and already a world apart from me. I will never forget that phone call. I will never forget the shock I felt. The disbelief. The strangeness of the whole world, all of it. The bagel I ate. The things I said in between knowing and not knowing. The sense I could not make. The panic. The helplessness. The realization that I am the smallest, most inconsequential being on this planet. We all are. Just one of the billions. We are a fragile bunch. Tie me together, I’m breaking.
I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve critiqued it a lot. I don’t expect you to care or empathize or understand in any way. I don’t expect much of you, or anyone, because I know the walls of our minds are thick and soundproof. It’s a wonder we can interact with anyone other than ourselves, ever. A wonder we can stop thinking about ourselves for one moment. One second. No, I don’t expect anything from you, not when you have all of you whirring on in your mind. Like an incessant air conditioner. Just know, if you want to know, that I am different than what I was before. You can’t see it on me, but it’s there. I’ve absorbed it. In the line of my shoulders, in the valleys of my knuckles, on the edges of my ribs, in the crevices of my ears, along the curve of my knee. I will wear it out–it’s a raggedy tshirt I will never pass onto Goodwill. I feel like I should apologize. I tried to be sorry, but I’m not. At times I feel like I will never be sorry again. Take it or leave it.

chatty Kathy

You ever notice how some people just talk? Just chatter away. I assume it’s like a loneliness thing or a self-consciousness thing. Or some people just don’t like silence. I love silence. I’m very comfortable with silence. Let’s be silent together.

“You’re stranded on a desert island, what is the one thing you take with you?”
“Silence.” -Parks & Rec

I think if you’re going to interrupt the silence it should be worth it. Say something worthwhile; otherwise, people stop listening to you. All the time. Because they assume that whatever is coming out of your mouth is trivial. Because you’re always talking. Your words will carry that much more emphasis if you make room for the silence.

Shit the people I love say. Quotes without context. I’ve been collecting this for almost a year. See how your words can count?

  • D: “I want it all the time. Every day.”
    • SM: “I’m awkward.” D: “No, you’re insane.”
    • “I gotta be right up in something to smell it. It’s a blessing and a curse.”
    • “You can play with them while you’re supposed to be working.”
    • “They took away her mop cause she was being such a c—-.”
    • “So, then when you walk in people are like, ‘hey, did you just get blown?’ And you’re like, ‘yeah.'”
  • T: “Did you see her face? That like ruined my life a little bit.”
  • S: “We probably would have exploded with happiness.”
  • T: “This gets rough at the bottom.”
    • “It makes it burn.”
    • me: “Oh, did you jump to conclusions?” T: “Oh, did you overanalyze something?”
  • T: “I needed a tourniquet. You didn’t even have a napkin”
    M: “You know what they call that: Karma.”
  • M: “I wanted a high-five, but she wouldn’t give me one.”
    • “Count out them singles, T.”
    • “That one baby was trying to climb the fence.”
    • “Why is your nip hard, man? I cut my finger. I’m bleeding.”
  • T: “I have very eclectic taste in music. I’m playing a playlist called Juke.”
    • “Ehh, delete that kid.”
    • “Is that how you spell Tourette’s? This is the first time I’ve seen you look dumb.”
    • “It’s just in the moment of the song.”
  • Not sure: “It feels good on my skin.”
  • DE: “This is why we go to college, so we don’t end up as housewives with dumb fucking hobbies.”
    • “These white people give me anxiety.” Me: “That should be the title of your memoir.”
  • MN: “Change your mind? Regret? I do that too…like when I was painting that pig purple, I was like, fuck, I should have painted it blue.”
    • “You could choke and die…alone…you know, so what do you do?…Throw yourself over the back of the chair. You gotta learn how to do that it’s super important.”
  • R: “is thanksgiving always on the 28th?
    N: no, it’s always on the last Thursday of the month.
    R: who decides when it is?
    C: God.”
  • N: “I always sat on this side of him and then later after I loved him, I realized he had a big huge tooth missing.”
  • R: “Taiwan=paradise of food”
    • “I’m from Taiwan, I can do anything.”
  • L: “This weather makes me want to vomit.”
  • MS: “Almost 30 and not even pregnant. That would be a better show!”

LogRolling_Scheer'sLumberjackShowOh, logrolling happened in my office today: “Did you know I have a little Canadian blood in me?” I can’t make this shit up. And then, I was asked the obligatory: “Are you looking to date anyone? The assistant hockey coach is kinda cute. Seemed interested.” [No, actually, he’s kinda not.]

laugh

I’m a single lady. I’ve been single for a little while now. I fucked up a few times and I needed to take a time-out and figure out what I was doing. I’m still in time-out. Getting a pep talk from the coach. So I’ve had lots of time to think about what I want from people in general, not just people I decide to date.

You know what I really want? I want to hang out with someone who makes me laugh. Genuinely. Throw my head back and feel it in my stomach laugh. My friends claim I am a “laugh slut.” That I’m easy to make laugh. Easy to entertain. Is that such a bad thing? I like to be happy. I have an odd sense of humor and so whenever I get a chance to express it, I go for it. Es okay. I’m not self conscious about it. I have found though, in my experience, that for some reason, laughing at people makes them self-conscious. But it shouldn’t! It should be like a verbal high five. You’re awesome! You just made someone laugh. Go you.

I want someone who makes me feel good. I want someone who doesn’t make me feel self-conscious or second guess myself. I want someone who will take me on a date and do stupid things with me and ask me to come over and do nothing. Kill time. Who will cook for me and open a beer for me and surprise me. Someone who will let me sleep in. I have this great memory from Charleston. Oh, college. One of my favorite memories of Michael. My first semi-adult relationship, I guess. Yeah, we lived together, so it counts. But before that, before we started seriously dating and fucked everything up, we went to college together. And we would meet up at the library late and run into each other on campus and smoke hookah and eat pizza rolls in his dining room. We would go to parties together and play beer pong and drink beer illegally. We even went to the movies together, once or twice. I usually went over on Wednesdays because I didn’t have class until 11am on Thursdays (or was it 10, who can remember?) College. And he always had to get up around 9 or 10 to go to class. One morning I stayed late. Usually I left while he was gone, but that morning I skipped class (it was Brit Lit, alright, which I’d had a million times before. It was basically senior English and every other English lit class I took at community college. And which I took again. in England. WORDSWORTH). Anyway, I skipped class and slept in and was still sleeping when Michael returned. I remember he busted into his room and was so excited to see me still there, in his bed. And I laughed at him and he laughed at my laziness. And then he got back in bed (even still wearing his sock hat. Cause it was November). And we hung out and talked until I really did have to get up and go to my much more serious class on Research for Literary Theorists or something else similarly ridiculously titled. (The only class I got a B+ in all of college. jerks.) There was a time when I really cared about him. When he could make or break my day. I hope he has a good life. He deserves it. If only for that one time we laughed randomly together on a cold November morning in central Illinois.

“Fall in love with someone who treats you how Kanye treats Kanye.”

veintisiete

Came back from a meeting with the Registrar’s office. Was out of breath jogging the 3 flights up to my office, per usual, but it’s getting better. Introduced myself to the student worker who was looking official in the ESL library. “Hey, are you an ESL student worker?”
“I’m not an ESL student, but I am working for ESL.”
“How long are you working for them?”
“For the next couple of weeks.”
“Cool. I’m Alaina. I’m the Study Abroad Advisor. Just thought I would introduce myself.”
“Oh, hi.”
“What’s your name?”
“Clifford.”
Peace out, Clifford, who has obviously never introduced himself to another human being before in his life. The alarm went off this morning, and I thought, ‘no.’ No, thanks, want to sleep, want to lie in my bed and listen to the curtain blow away from the wall and into my mattress. Want to ball up my baby blankets and smell their precious smell and squeeze them to my chest and close my eyes and remember my dreams from the night before. Want to sleep through the song that’s playing on the radio. Want to languidly make tea and scramble some eggs and have breakfast in my pjs on the balcony. Want to. I have nothing to complain about. I have a full-time job that I enjoy, and I am healthy, and I am mentally stable, and I have a home and a reliable car, and food in my fridge. Right? That’s enough. Those are the markers of stability. But I woke up feeling like, meh. Don’t talk to me. It’s passed with a reasonable intake of caffeine. What does my brain want from me? 

The work is starting to pile up and I can see the hours of my day slip away as the job engulfs me. As I become that professional. I will be here for a while. I can see it now. The weeks will fly by and turn into months. The months will become a year, and then two, and then more. I will have more days of busting into my colleague’s office to watch Veggie Tales: Endangered Love (Barbara Manatee) before I head out to a meeting. I will have more days of over stuffing my lunchbox with a meal I’d rather not eat (lunch is my least favorite meal of the day). I will continue to have awkward interactions with the students. I will continue to be the only one in the group to get the pop cultural references of my colleagues around campus: “I’m going to Watergate it.” “What?” “You know, shred.”  (really, Watergate, you didn’t get it?) 

I wish you would say this to yourself: “I still think of you and all the shit you put me through, and I, I know you were wrong.”
So there’s that. There’s your line. I will work, and the space that grows between who I was then and who I’m becoming will crowd out the memory of you, unfortunately. You will recognize me when you see me next, but it will be from across the room, and you will take a moment to second guess that recognition. 
All these different faces we present to the world, why? If you would stop and think about it, you would realize what you see is what you get. In some form. 

duh duh duh

Parenting in America: Choose your parents wisely 

This article is terrible. 

“However, [maybe don’t start a sentence with a conjunction?] there are two worries about modern parenting. One concerns “helicopter parents” (largely at the top of the social scale), who hover over their children’s lives, worrying themselves sick, depriving their offspring of independence and doing far more for them than is actually beneficial. This gets a lot of attention, probably because media folk belong to the helicoptering classes…The other worry concerns parents at the bottom, who struggle to prepare their children for a world in which the unskilled are marginalised. This is far more important.” [gee, thanks for that]

So this organization’s solution is to go in and teach parents informally how to parent, which I get it, is very important. Very, very important. Access to resources is important…how about that? How about revamping our educational systems in general? We need better access to knowledge. Better sex ed, so 19 year olds aren’t getting pregnant and trying to be parents. More money for our teachers and our schools to provide knowledge to children. A different time table for our primary school system so that parents aren’t struggling to find daycare after 3pm or between May-September. How about creating jobs for the unskilled? How about a change in our blue collar workforce? How about a change in the expense of a college degree? How about acknowledgment that a college degree ISN’T FOR EVERYONE and that there are other ways to learn and become successful in the world? How about an expansion of the types of jobs and careers we imagine for individuals? How about the things we expect our children to go in and learn while they’re at school? Fuck division with remainders and cursive writing. How about real math and language lessons from an early age. How about lessons in the economy and real world history and geography and nutrition and how stuff works?

How about those support systems? 

I rant. In a perfect world, am I right?

Not quite

You want to hear a story? You in the mood for a bedtime story? You know what I should be writing about…What I never have. My brother.

I have a brother who is 21 months younger than I am. I can’t even do it now, as I’m thinking the words, make it a coherent thought.

My brother is perfectly alive and well. This isn’t one of those stories. It’s uncomplicated but strange.

I have several siblings, but one full brother. Rodney. Rodney and I were besties from day one. We did everything together. Everything was the same for us. As we got older, people teased us that we were twins, even though he has always had a darker complexion and is now much taller. He was my guy growing up. I did everything for him. Escorted him to and from first grade, waited on him, drove him to school, led him around airports, talked to him about girls and drugs and rock n roll.

We would complete each other’s sentences, literally. He would say aloud what I was thinking. As toddlers, I spoke for him before he could talk. His translator, his ambassador.

But I failed him when he needed me the most. And now we don’t speak at all. We haven’t spoken in 7 years. For a long time it was heart breaking, but now it’s just become another detail of my life. The bone has reset.

I went to community college for two years, which meant by the time I was escaping that hell hole, my brother was also graduating from high school. My brother is the only person I’ve ever felt 100% comfortable around. The one person I’ve never had to explain myself to because he had seen it all. But I pissed him off that year. Spring of 2007. What’s the beginning? Where do I start? I don’t even know. I spent most of that year with him and his friends. My brother and I spent our entire lives being separated from other people, but we had never been separated from one another. We were scared. Even though we never spoke of it. Hindsight is 20/20. I fell for my brother’s best friend then. It made sense to me and the friend. Why wouldn’t we like each other? As similar as my brother and I were…it would make sense for us to hit it off when he and my brother did as well. But my brother was not okay with this. My little brother suddenly turned into an older brother, threatening me and his friend. I stopped. I stopped answering the guy’s phone calls, his texts, and I told my brother everything. I’m sorry. I knew we weren’t healed, but I had no idea the crack I’d caused in our foundation. That fight was only the beginning.
I moved my brother to college that fall. We did a bad job being apart. We didn’t talk, and when we did it was not genuine, full of insults and bragging and “my life is cooler than yours” bullshit. Morales full force. He didn’t have a car, so every break I went to get him. My mom was pretty much checked out by this point, she had been dealing with her own shit for the past 2 years. I had always been the mom in understudy anyway, so it really wasn’t a big deal, but it didn’t help the situation.
My brother began drinking and using drugs to excess his freshman year of college. My brother is brilliant. His brains were the one thing about his life he could always rely on. They had never let him down, not in 18 years. But suddenly, on campus, his brains seemed inadequate. He wasn’t used to doing more than enough. He wasn’t used to being challenged and questioned. It was hard for him to be 18, far away from home, on his own for the first time ever. As it is for all college freshman. But my brother’s foundation was shaky at best, due to all the shit he had absorbed as a child, and he was incredibly unprepared to be on his own. Meanwhile, 2 hours south, I was experiencing the same turmoil. What was I doing at a university. I was too stupid, too sheltered, too inexperienced to be there. But I was used to being on my own, to struggling alone. No one had picked me up everyday in first grade and walked me to the bus. No one had sat me down the summer before freshman year and given me the heads up on high school. No one had directed me to baggage claims in the massive strange airports every summer. I did it because I had to. Because no one else would. Because the world is as dangerous as you allow. (First world problems, but these are the things that consume us.)
I brought my brother to my campus for fall break. He got drunk and belligerent and had to be picked up and forced from a party. My brother tried to pick fights with strangers, with my best friends, with the family I was making, even after I explicitly asked him not to, even after he promised to be on his best behavior. My brother, whom I had saved numerous times from drowning and climbed trees with and shared beds and food with. I used to wake him up from his night terrors. I used to tell him stories when he couldn’t sleep. I always protected him on the bus when he was small and still had that lisp. I lied for him again and again, year after year. My brother let me down when I was at my weakest. I didn’t realize he was also at his weakest, not even when he broke down crying in the back of Bertha, not even when he jumped out of a two story window, not even when he tried to tell me how broken he was. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hear. I knew my only chance of self-preservation was to keep my focus on myself, and if I shifted to him at all, I would lose. Just this once, I needed him to pull through without me, just this once, I needed him to model after me and do it himself. I knew if not, I would fail. I had never been so scared of failing in all my life. I realize now I could have done it differently, but when I was 20, my perspective was vastly limited.
I miss him, my brother. When I imagine the life we should have led together, it makes my heart hurt. We should have ended up at the same campus, we should have hung out at the other’s apartment, gone on double dates, been beer pong champions at every party, drove home for winter break together, maybe gone on one spring break together, studied together, celebrated graduations together. We should have created this massive excellent family in Chambana. So many things we should have done. The people we should be.

We should be traveling around Europe together and texting everyday and talking once a week, but instead, I hear second-hand versions of his life from my mother, or my older sister, who pretends not to care.
I didn’t want to be my brother’s keeper forever, but I didn’t expect it to end up like this. Not at all.