September 28, 2013

Belated Friday post

It’s a mopey Friday on this side of the world. The kind to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of cocoa, This Year’s Love crooning behind your ears without even pressing play. Flashes from last night make me smile. The red wristband from the concert is going to need scissors to be taken off, that's how tight the security wrapped it. Only one band member got naked this time. Or maybe fishnet overalls don’t count as naked. The rest were dressed like priests. Another gorgeous night of belonging and being out of place. Of removedly admiring being taken care of, and looked after, and reciprocating. Friends, opiates, music aligned perfect and melancholy because unnarrated upon coming home to an empty bed.


It’s a mopey Friday on this side of the world, and I haven’t had my coffee yet. I head out for a walk. I have been striating my neighborhood into perfect routes. I could tell you the exact streets I need to take for a fifteen-minute, thirty-minute, and hour’s walk. It wants to rain out there, but it doesn’t. It is chilly, but I warm up fast, and even break a sweat in this late September noon. I take pictures of underpass graffiti. I have been having bad dreams lately.


It’s a mopey Friday over here, and I run the bath as hot as it will go. The optics of my skin seemingly breaking underneath the surface amuses me, and I watch the bubbles of air cling to my thighs, then close my eyes and feel the droplets of water slide down my shoulders. They meet in the middle. I arrange my body into a zig-zaggy bend, not unlike Marat’s though far less dramatic, where I can just breathe and feel the hot vapors wrap themselves around me. David Gray has been replaced by Take This Longing… because everything depends upon how near you sleep to me. It does really, doesn’t it. I think I will fall asleep before sunrise tonight.


It’s a mopey Friday and I have spent the day in perfect silence. The cinematic reel in my mind’s eye runs faster than the music that’s been playing in my head, a dream/caricature 16 fps of highways and libraries, airplanes and seasons, passion and suspension. Story of my life. Search and wait. Wait and search. Create magic inbetween. Trade silence for a precious howl, without pressing play.

September 18, 2013

The thesis whisperer*

“Why does it take so long to complete a PhD?”


I have an angry response for this. And a funny one. A screaming one. A death-stare one. A self-deprecating one. A non-response. But when it is asked by a smart, well-meaning person truly interested in my work who just happens to not be from academia, I can’t use any of those.

The best metaphor I can give you is that of a bodybuilder. There is that first stage, when you stuff your face and bulk up and get as big as you possibly can. Then there is the training phase, when you work your ass off and get that mofo in shape and a nice form emerges that you fine-tune and finally show off.

I am in that training phase. The thesis isn’t allowed to get any fatter, only leaner. I am streamlining and cutting things out. This will be a separate paper. This is awesome, but it has no place within these five chapters. This piece of tricep-fat has got to go because it’s fugly. Oh, my beautiful thesis, will you check yourself out in the mirror? See how it’s all coming together. Yeah, flex that. Aren’t you happy we busted our balls over that one now?

Then there is that other remark, “Wow, you’re the shit. I could never do what you’re doing.”

My response to that is, not a day goes by that I don’t question myself on that same issue, my friend. There is wisdom in knowing what you can and cannot do, and I envy those who know they can’t. I know I should be able to do this, because this is how my brain is wired and it’s what I’m good at. I know I get off on it and there is nothing I would rather do with myself. But you don’t always feel like getting up in the morning for that warm-up session, and sometimes you can’t get the definition you want no matter how hard you crunch. Self-motivation is a bitch, and you wonder if, somewhere down the line, when the trophies are handed out, it will be reward enough.

Six full years into the process, I couldn’t really tell you why it’s taking so fucking long. I can only tell you how I got here, and how it feels.

It takes maturity. A ripe, sharp-shooting, juggernaut human mind and a heart that’s been around the block. How I write is just as important as what I write. There is that tongue-in-cheek remark by my boy T.S. Eliot about needing to reach beyond oneself into the totality of history if one is to be a poet after one's twenty-fifth year. Many poets (read: pompous asses) take offense at that because they believe that their poetry is solely an expression of their person and that the world is irrelevant. Well, I don’t know anyone in the humanities who got their PhD before the age of thirty, and if they did, I can guarantee you that their work wasn’t ready, that they probably just dipped their big toe into History and the world, and their supervisors conveyor-belted them out as the academic landlubbers that they are. Like them, I was a puppy six, five, four, and three years ago. It just wasn’t coming together sooner.

It takes ages to weed out the sucky books, and there are soooo many. I read at my desk, in bed, in libraries, in bars and cafés. Upside down, sideways, every which way. There are days when your mind is one massive solar flare, and days when you wonder if someone shouldn't just put you out of your misery. You keep looking for the right regime of note-taking and daily schedule, only to find there isn’t one. This thesis could be the single most important thing anyone has ever said about this subject, or a total fucking embarrassment. It’s a thin line between genius and crazy [mediocre being worse than both, of course]. Is everything you love supposed to bring this kind of joy and pain at the same time? Gah!!!

And it does take a village. One of the main reasons I will not only own this mofo but knock it out of the park is because it was never just mine to begin with. The thank-you page will not even begin to acknowledge the hours that other minds – supervisors, professors, colleagues, librarians – have put into this. No diary could number the times that Mom made coffee and lunch, that Dad ran errands for me, and that my sister took me out for a beer and a laugh when my brain produced nothing but farts. How many times can your friends and your partner be amused by your gift of gab about deterritorialization and minority and sedentary vs. nomadic travel and legitimacy? Apparently, infinitely. They feed you and put your pants on the right way around. They take you by the hand when you are lost in thought. They put you back on track when you get off course. They correct, and groom, and love. And they should celebrate and be celebrated.

There are no experiments, formulas or machinery to my work. It doesn’t glow in the dark, blow anything up, or cure cancer. I don’t have a finite answer to most anything. But I can cure ignorance, and create a multiverse of humans treating each other better. That just might be what saves this goddamn planet.
*I borrowed the title from one of many PhD-related blogs out there, The Thesis Whisperer.

September 11, 2013

The slope

I was a latchkey kid. We didn’t have grandmothers to look after us while our parents were at work. We knew how to heat up our lunch on an electric stove at the age of six. The parents would have let us use the gas, but we were afraid of matches back then. We left our parents clumsily penned paper notes before going off to spend endless hours at the unsupervised playground. We would go get our baby sister from kindergarten because there was no sense in our being apart when we could be home together. Back then, teachers didn’t think twice about letting a seven-year-old pick up a three-year-old and take her home.


Or maybe they just let me do it. Because when I say we, I mean I. More or less.


It doesn’t end here. I have a friend who took herself to kindergarten and back at the age of four. It does make one wonder about the raison d'être of the entire institution of kindergarten, but that is neither here nor there. We had more alone time than we would have wanted, and an unmistakable badabum-badabum way of thundering down five stories’ worth of stairs in thirty seconds. In school, you could always tell the kids who grew up in houses from those who lived in apartment blocks just by the way they used the stairs.


I started taking English lessons at the age of seven. Classes took place in an elementary school nearby, and my father would drive me there and back. As I got a little older, I started walking back myself.


There is a slope between the main road and the entrance to my apartment building. Human feet don’t like to follow paths of concrete, so they scuffed a shortcut through the patch of grass. The path would turn to mud when it rained, cake as it dried, and freeze over in December. It was the last part of my walk back home, so close to the door that I already had my keys in my hand as I approached it.


I don’t know what it was about that slope, but it always made my feet turn on the badabum-badabum and canter down it like a pony. It gave me momentum. It gave me joy. Those few seconds made me feel like anything could happen, and I could do anything I wanted. It was the end of my day and the sheer extraordinariness of walking home alone at night made the breeze smell differently. The world was different because a child skipped and hopped on a patch of dirt.


I would love to segue into something rainbowy and inspiring now, like I still feel like a little girl, or I skip down that slope whenever I return home, but that’s just not true. It stings more than a little to be living here again: it was not something I would have wanted for myself. These days, the pony canter is more of a thuggish saunter of the bride of Shrek munching on a pig-in-a-blanket from the bakery across the street. It’s more bathos instead of taking myself seriously. I do still take that path, though, and it does make me smile. Especially when I remember the time it iced over and I thought it might be a good idea to take the shortcut uphill. As an adult. When your center of gravity is not what it used to be.


When I was a latchkey kid, I didn’t use the elevator because I didn’t weigh enough for the electronics to register that there was a human inside the machine and get it moving. You could press the button and hold it until it started, but there was always a chance of the elevator just getting stuck with your little self in it. I don’t use the elevator now, either, but for different reasons: because it’s an awesome way of avoiding the neighbors, and because after sitting on my ass all day, climbing stairs is my only cardio.


I’ve gone round the block and spiraled back to wear the shoes of the latchkey kid again, laughing and biting my cuticles all the way home. Not that my coping mechanisms are stellar now, but I still don’t envy the weight of the world that that kid made herself carry. An artist of killing time, eternally alone, eternally waiting for that someone to finally come home.