March 25, 2013

Wingtips and wingspan

I spent five hours watching planes take off on Saturday.


I found a spot among the B-twenties gates, directly in front of one of the runways, and stared at machines taking flight like a bug-eyed goldfish from an aquarium. The week’s adrenalin had worn off and my body was giving in to the flu. I sipped my coffee, tapped my foot to the beat of the mp3 shuffle and waited for the aspirin to kick in. It never did.


I discovered my absolute favorite part of the take-off. It wasn’t the acceleration, even though it feels awesome to be glued against the seat when you’re a passenger. It wasn’t after the landing gear is remarsupialized, wing flaps adjusting, axes finding balance. It was that one perfect moment after parting with the ground. They differed in size, weight and trajectory, yet in that one second they were complete, immediate, power. Absolute vector. DurĂ©e pure.


I spent five hours watching them. It never gets old. Except the Dulles-bound United at five o’clock made me cry. It took all I had not to change my ticket and forfeit my savings, just to feel my baby’s arms around me again. I was one flight away from home, and desperately jealous of all the faces behind the windows that would fly over Greenland and Cape Cod and a shitload of blue water, pick up their suitcases and their lives where they left off, while mine was still in a state of suspension. Or so it feels sometimes.


Frankfurt Airport knows more about me than it should. I think of it as that casual acquaintance who just happens to be there on the Friday night when you get absurdly drunk, share more than is appropriate, and end up puking all over yourself. They don’t hold it against you, but you still wish that it would have been a closer friend that held your hair and took you home. You don’t really want to make eye-contact, but you work together or some such so you're fucked.


Frankfurt Airport is ridiculously huge and always under construction. If anyone ever tells you Germans are organized, kick them in the shin and tell them to go visit this place. Signs point in wrong directions, transfer counters tend to open and close randomly, and sometimes you are made to go through security twice. They are just as messed-up as anyone else. And that’s fine, they should be allowed.


Yes, I have been in Heidelberg before. These cobbled stones are not new acquaintances. Yes, I was up at the Castle, too. Yes, I have a picture of myself in front of the library, from another life. Thank you for your presentation, I will send you those book titles I promised asap. My year in the States? Um. It was awesome. This project would not have happened without it. Thank you again.


I never saw so many cuticle-biters in the same room.


I was reminded of how much I love my work.


I would like to think I am a compassionate person, yet some people’s life stories put me to shame. I have a long way to go.


I learned that people still find me as abrasively fascinating and ambivalently intimidating at 33 as they did when I was 3, 13, and 23. They don’t know what it is, but they want a piece of it as much as they want to run away. It is as unsurprising as it is annoying. I am an acquired taste. Or is it basically the archetype of human experience, and I am just babbling? Either way, there were a few who did not mind. Bless their souls.


I took my fever into the cabin and my claustragoraphobia out the window. The blinking red wingtip light might have been the pulse of my own heart, a private navigation device between continents that I madly wished to graft onto one another.


Airports are the happiest and saddest of places. Departures, arrivals, transits, intersections, cancellations, stopovers, delays. I love them because they are messy. They are not mechanisms of clockwork precision, not at all. They are always-already adjusting to chaos, trying to put the puzzle together even though pieces fall off the board every second. Their flaws betray their human origin. They don’t even try to make sense of the situation. They just try to make it work.

March 8, 2013

Sorry for not writing, I've been writing

I miss this blog.


I miss the black and white, the fonts and titles, commenting, and hitting the “publish” button. Hanging out here feels like coming home from work, tossing the keys into the key bowl, and just sprawling on your cozy couch and taking a nap. It’s comfortable. A no-pants zone. It’s home.


The reason I have been MIA is that I started writing my dissertation. After six years of research and reading, I wrote the first ten pages. Five thousand words. I am no longer producing proposals, sales pitches, promises of what I will do somewhere down the line. I am writing. My ships and sailors and whales and harbors are coming together.
Deep breath.


It might not sound like a big deal, but it is a very big deal to me. Everyone has their own m.o. when it comes to these things. There are people who write all the time, edit all the time, tweak and toss into the trash can all the time, and keep moving. Unfortunately, I cannot do that. I hate rewriting, I don’t really do drafts, and I only start writing when my thesis is absolutely clear in my head. Also, I admire my supervisor so much that I would never present her with anything short of a human sacrifice when it comes to mentoring my work.


I would be lying if I said that this little breakthrough occurred without the assistance of the universe. I pursued a few different paths in these last few months, which could have taken me in different directions. Some doors were closed (nah, this ain’t for you kiddo), and some opened with fanfare and fireworks, a stick of dynamite that blew the end of the tunnel out and kicked me in the ass. Go. Run.


Five months ago I was shifting books from one pile onto another, transcribing notes, printing and downloading, and feeling quite lost. I had scattered ideas and a collapsing structure, but no thesis. It was impossible not to notice that the six years of pure research and no productivity had coincided with the crisis in my personal life. Living with my parents again, freelancing instead of waking up every morning and going to an actual job like a decent person, my synapses were throbbing in a big neon sign, I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE. I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE. I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE.


In ten days’ time, I will be presenting my newly minted ten pages to twenty other cultural transplants, heretics of nationalism and goofballs of transdisciplinarity, at one of the oldest universities in Germany. I won’t lie. I cried when I found out. It won’t be my first conference, and it won’t be the biggest thing I’ve ever done. But the timing of it… Holy crap, if that isn’t one big wink from the universe, telling me I am right back where I belong, right where I am supposed to be, I don’t know what is. And I will also go shamelessly ethnic on people’s asses by saying that I loved my lover for being an American when I shared this with him. I come from a hard-working family and have always had every possible kind of support in everything I did, but I swear to God, that loudmouthed, fearless, unadulterated FUCK YEAH of hard-earned, well-deserved success… No one knows how to celebrate the way Americans do. You guys rock.


So, in ten days’ time, I will be a travel bug again. I have been missing planes and airports and languages and exchanges, and I am so overdue for another international utopia moment. I also miss this blog, and I promise to write more soon.