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the eighty-ninth key

…to a body beauty and to a soul wisdom and to an action virtue and to speech truth, but their opposites are unbefitting.

When my last serious relationship ended, I found myself unable to listen to music for weeks.

As I graduated from undergrad and drove a car my belongings south to my childhood home, I set down my pen. I packed up my typewriter. It is now gathering dust in a closet 2000 miles away.

Over the summer after  I finished high school, my sketchbooks went from being ravaged daily to forgotten for long, impossible stretches of time.

With leaving middle school, I abandoned a passion for short stories and the romances of characters.

Growth merits change, and in my own bones, it fuels abandonment.

This is a result of remembering.

My ability for memory is poor in many ways. I forget names on a pin drop; I grasp for theories, names of songs, recipe ingredients, and lines from poems like a child stretches for the string of a balloon they accidentally let go of in a room with high ceilings. These things are in my head somewhere, floating. It is their presence that I feel far more than their absence. They are merely, quite often, out of reach.

For the first time in my life, looking back on the remnants of my avoidance to muses and passions, I see the sense it has made in prolonging the pain of leaving- leaving family, leaving friends, leaving lovers, leaving familiar lifestyles, cities, and sceneries.  Art is so intrinsically tied to things that one loves. Some of those arts, for better or for worse, I’ve never been able to pick back up in the same way. I never felt a passion for Slam again after leaving the moment of the people I workshopped with in high school. I felt no passion for acting after leaving my middle school drama club- a group from which I made friends that are still some of the closest humans to me in this world.

In the last year, moving to a new place, starting this chapter, I had so few roots that it has been hard to grow at all. When I couldn’t listen to music, it was because every song reminded me in some way or another of a love that had been changed- painful either in reminding me of a happiness I no longer had access to in the company of someone close to me, or in reminding me of the new loss that had come in, vacant and hungry, to curl up and linger in my empty new apartment. The catharses in my life betrayed me, with the surprising sting of acid in paper cuts. I could not see how much I hurt in tiny ways until I squeezed the fruit of art in my bare hands, and it seeped into each little line of my hands.

I’m calling myself out on this tendency of running from muses, by learning to be forgiving. Not for others. It has always been easy for me to forgive almost anything of others, but not of myself. I am finishing books I previously loathed myself for skimming. I am writing and writing and picking up the metaphorical and literal pen like a bat that only makes strikes, like a bowling ball that rolls straight to the gutter, and telling myself that it is okay sometimes to not produce work at the caliber that I strive to. I am hoping to talk more in classrooms full of theory that move faster than I do. I am playing my ukulele, singing in keys that my voice doesn’t stretch to, and often getting very frustrated. All of these things are insanely frustrating. I miss doing things I was great at, and doing them at levels that were easy.

This is a process. This page is proof. That blog posts and NaNoWriMo projects and songs and poems can be rough drafts– and maybe even sometimes nothing more. They can live as a rough draft and still get airtime.

I have not played a horn in over 7 months, since I left Oregon. And in that simple lack, I ache deeply. There are still parts of me that fear reaching for what I love, to remember what I am missing. I have yet to write a full poem in this state that does not fall to shards. But those things will come with time, because I have always felt them ebb and flow within my life, and the notebooks under my childhood bed have just as many skipped pages as prolific ones. Those muses have never left me, even when I refused to return their correspondence, and averted their eyes in passing.

This January comes not with a hunger for newness and change, but with forgiveness the old acquaintance I have forgot in recoils of nervous sadness. I am growing from childhood, and the strings are within reach more and more times again, to pick up where I left off and openly create. Please bear with me. Inside me, there are stories yet to tell, words to grip my paws around, and songs to exhale– all beyond measure. It takes time, it takes forgiveness, but I am working to be an instrument that can get them from there to you, if you will only listen.

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Note: the following post is as scattered as its title, if not moreso. It was written in multiple iterations, mainly thumbtyping via my phone on the L during December finals, but I think its artlessness is probably best left alone.

As with many of my recently graduated peers, it seems that my first year(s) after undergrad have manifested their existence as an expanded existential crisis. And this makes sense.

The educational system in America, especially should one take the opportunity to pursue higher education, pops you in its mouth like your five year old self is a candy store jawbreaker, and spits you out approximately 13-17 years later. Mazel Tov. You now have- if you’re lucky- two pieces of multi-ply paper on which your name inscribed in cursive. And yet, aside from an odd middle school elective or two, education itself has taught you very little about functioning as a Capitol-A-Adult. There were no take home assignments on how to budget for groceries, manage gas and electric bills; how to properly use a non-stick skillet as to not damage the Teflon coating. No reports on how to be an informed voter, no pop quiz on how to iron a dress shirt starting from the back pleats, no multiple choice test on with what regularity you should be bathing/shaving/dusting the ceiling fan blades/purchasing new shoes/throwing out the onion in your fridge.

So, you soggy little jawbreaker. You are worn down a little extra on the left side where education stuck you in its cheek. Your stripes show in a thumbprint of endurance, achievement, and recklessness. And now life takes you on like a game show contestant and most tasks that you assumed came naturally to the species known as ‘Grown-Up’ are now a Russian Roulette of trial and error. You get a day job, or a night job, maybe both. You are likely underpaid. Paychecks are simultaneously disappointingly inadequate and inspiring of the elation you’d get a decade ago from a bag of arcade tokens.

And yet I, for one, am learning what a misguided hope it is to think that more education offers any reprieve from this anxiety. With a complete absence of structure, a sincere drop in positive reinforcement, and a resounding lack of normative behavior, Graduate School is a glorified summer camp. You sign yourself up for a few hours a week of activities at a time, read books in dusty, unfamiliar buildings; you forge awkward friendships by circumstance, and try to look occupied whenever anyone makes contact with you. There is an observable lack of campfire songs, but otherwise, much of the social cues are indistinguishable from when you were twelve and had to pretend you knew how to canoe. Except with more namedropping of dead white men.

I am self-aware that stylistically, for the sake of a need of catharsis in diary posts, and out of habit from listening to many Lutheran sermons in my life, I am prone to ending posts with a hopefulness. But this one needs time. This process is still being written and I know not what to make of these Odyssey years, other than many cups of tea.

Finally, a functioning uke post!

I have eaten through all Thanksgiving leftovers, therefore, it is now the Christmas season. That’s how it works. Happy holidays, this might be better if you look at something other than the video while you listen to it. Might I suggest this image of a corgi with a bow on it’s head.

Edit: I cannot remember whether or not I said this in the video, but my familiarity with the song is from Sufjan Stevens’ “Hark!” album (of a genre I affectionately coined as ‘Sufmas’). Hat tip to my friend Leanne, I know this one’s one of your favorites.

-A

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Chicago in the Wintertime is a particularly good spirit animal for the mentally disengaged. It is cold- not only in the heartless way that requires you to force lack of eye contact with literally dozens of panhandlers on the daily as to not be putting yourself in an unsafe situation- but also in the way in which I now wear a complete Patagonia supersuit of an outfit underneath my street clothes on the daily. Cold is nicer than hot in many ways. Food, shelther, and hot drink (or alcohol, for that matter) go a long way towards alleviating it, whereas it takes much air conditioning and melting popsicles to mask the sting of a hot desert summer. And still, with the plentiful layering and consumption of much tea and cocoa, this winter is getting to me more than most- even though it has yet to even truly begin. Any native of a snowy region, be it Home Means Nevada or upstate New York, will stick to their guns about winter not being Winter until a first snow hits hard. But not a single part of me feels as if this is fall, in mood or in weather. And for that, I blame Stasis.

Cue the sixth-grade paper Webster reference:

stasis, sta·sis/ˈstāsis/Noun:
1. A period or state of inactivity or equilibrium.

After having made the much-written-about but little-understood “transition” of moving to Chicago/Evanston for school, the chaos seems to have suddenly subsided. Less like an ebb and flow of tide, and more like when airplane tires suddenly touch back down to tarmac. Having ‘planned’ mentally for the months in between my program acceptance letter and my apartment lease, I conjured up so many dreams of what being here would be like that they seemed to take on a life of their own. Romanticized evenings of watching the sunset from a library nook, of cooking for new peers in an eccentrically decorated apartment, of the way co-habitating with a lover in a new apartment becomes elegantly choreographed.  So, with all these plans in mind, I loaded all my belongings into a car, drove them down the coast, then loaded the winners of my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Packing Needs into a handful of suitcases and few with them halfway across the country. And since then, it’s gotten real.  There is no lover here to dance with. The decorations are as sparse as a lack of pocket change and creative energy, and the kitchen is famous for dinners for one. I am reminded of how friends, like furnishings, are things that take weeks and months of time to properly acquire in quality.

And thus, the inactivity that is composed of much activity, the equilibrium that comes of much imbalance.

If this were a 100-level Comm class instead of my personal blog, I might delve into the ways in which the term has salience in Classical Rhetoric. The Greek/Roman uses of the term stasis, which differ greatly from my own current conundrum, can be loosely interpreted as ways in which you get to the meat of an issue.  In debates and courtrooms, there were four different techniques defined as useful to get to the crux of an argument. Fact, definition, quality, jurisdiction. They work kind of like different moves in Moral Kombat to beat up your opponent until you get all the fallacies on the table and a big K.O. right in the middle of the Agora. Or something like that.

Thinking about being in a state of being ‘stuck’ as a chance to deconstruct and refine my life is optimistic to a fault. Conflating the two terms is ridiculous- to equate inactivity to the tools with which one asks useful questions. But maybe a moment of standing somewhat still is what it takes to see the other conflict spinning around, to begin to deconstruct the noise, to have my ears left ringing after the loudness of being somewhere new.

A friend told me tonight to “keep it real” – a phrase used all the time in passing with my friend’s on the West Coast (best coast). It’s fairly hard to do exactly that, to try and live outside of a lifetime of idealized fantasies about what being in my twenties would be like, and to actually just be in my twenties. I’m less than two weeks away from a birthday, less than three weeks away from finals, and less than a month away from heading back to my homeland for a reprieve from this Chicago cold. I’ll have a chance to thaw out. Until then, here’s to trying to take the freeze in stride and trying to use it, to ask the questions, and to put the things that stand in the way of happiness on trial.

-A

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It is November now. I have Internet again at my apartment thanks to some very generous neighbors below me who I bribe with baked goods. Thus, I will now resume blogging short and lengthy recounts of random and significant things in my life. Get stoked.

Currently, I am exhausted. This means I should go to bed. But first, I want to just revel in how nice it feels to be physically tired. Mental exhaustion is my new roommate. I wake up, read, write, eat, go to class, read, write, and sleep. This seems to be the basic itinerary for graduate education. On occasion, I will squeeze a beer or a jaunt to a club in before ‘sleep’; on the daily, I will apply sparingly breaks for toast, ukulele, and working on a fiction novel. Yet aside from rare instances of dancing ridiculously, I am exhausted in my head before my body even has a chance to wake up.

Today I had opportunity to do some hard manual labor. Mindless, bottom feeder work. I sometimes get my wires crossed, that it was this kind of work that zapped my time when I was in high school and undergrad. It seems easy to pawn off responsibility on the less desirable forms of labor. But truth be told, it is work like this that makes me a hundred fold less useless at the rest of the academic requirements. With a window of time that spans weeks and weeks, I will still find myself unmotivated, and largely unsuccessful in creating quality work. It is the crunch, the budgeting around a menial responsibility that fuels me immensely. Consider my attention span (or rather, lack thereof) to be the unstoppable force. No matter how exciting or promising the project, how invested I am in its fruition, it will simmer on a backburner and be approached with low effort until, cue stage left, some ridiculous responsibility serves as the immovable object.

It is sudden and inspiring. With a sense of drive and immediacy, I feel alive, and tackle the intellectual venture with voracious mental appetite. It makes no logical sense. The best deconstruction I can do is just that my sense of something being a challenge is highly developed from the intensity of my high school workload. If I can complete an assignment no problem, where is the self joy? The elation of having proved myself in a situation of odds-against?  School is and remains my priority, but is a halfhearted mandate until an arbitrary amount of discord interferes with my success. Then, game on.

Here is to remembering what it feels like to find motivation and be alive. I have been re-blasting my cheeseball productivity indie-dubstep playlist, and have written more pages in the last 24 hours than in the last 24 days preceding. Tomorrow or in the days ahead I will hopefully be able to construct a more insightful composition of what my life currently entails, but for now I am going to revel in the exciting aliveness of sore muscles and healing burns, and hopefully sleep like a rock.

My best to all who have wandered their way into keeping up with my strange life–

-A

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I’ll hopefully be able to get to a computer soon and make format edits, but here is a smartphone update from my still-home-internetless life on how furnishings and such are coming along in my new place:

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I love powerlines. I photograph them at any opportunity (the pictures above are from my Instagram). Rather, better put- I love lots of things, and powerlines are one of them. I love the sound of trains. I love falling asleep in the car. I love peppermint tea with honey, the way raw string beans snap when you eat them, and long, hot showers. I know, recognise, and acknowledge that many people would say ‘love’ is far too strong of an emotion to assign to these things, these little loves, mis amorcitos. But I am also absolutely certain that it’s a disservice to simply describe them by the word ‘like’.

These little loves tie me to the familiar, tuck me in at night. More than that, they break the monotony. Possibly the downside to the way my processors run is that there is a certain white noise to living. My brain flies at a million miles a minute, rarely taking pause. The little things that catch me are often literally breathtaking to me, even if they don’t seem outwardly remarkable for any particular reason. They’re the perk of when other things blur, of when my memory eludes me of months at a time, of when I mix up details and make them up to fill in the gaps. They act as catalysts. They pull the lynchpin and give me a moment of REAL.

Snow Patrol has a somewhat creepy teenage romance song called “Spitting Games” that I am absolutely in love with. Some of the lyrics in it are spot on about the relative beauty of these momentary fixations:

But after that the floodgates opened up
And I fell in love with everyone I saw
Please take your time I’m not in any rush
And it’s in everything I ever write

-Snow Patrol, “Spitting Games” (in at 2:00)

A close friend called me out the other day on my habit of writing the world in a very romantic way. She jokingly challenged me that I could probably romanticize anything if I tried. The truth of it all is that I earnestly see so many situations in such light. I could possibly trace it so some strange psychological quirk, or at least anchor it in a measurable shift of dopamine or serotonin inside my skull. But regardless, the symptom is unchanged- these beautiful little loves that ‘open the floodgates’ and inspire such a glow to the world.

My father has a mantra: “change is the only constant”- but these are constants too, amidst and despite the change. I still love holding hands. I love good eggs and toast. I love train tracks, I love tendrils on grapevines and rows where plants line up in groves. I love architectural crosshatching on bridges and high ceilings, and I love not sleeping alone. I love collecting quotes, everything about Aaron Sorkin’s TV shows, and listening to a very certain list of incredible music through good headphones.

I remember the first time I learned the word “submerge” for an elementary school vocabulary list, and how over the course of the coming weeks I said it a million times in my mind, smiling at its conveyance, at its sounds. I found a way to include it in stories and journals, even through high school, with words like “fluctuate” and “immerse” and “ineffable”. When I would read poetry, of my own writing or others’, I learned to hold the words in my mouth, taste them, love the way they fit in my teeth and against my tongue. Words, moments, fleeting images, and symbols alike- these are things I keep in my pocket. They are my constant, not secret but not flaunted, like a smooth found pebble one holds for luck: portals to a place of peace.

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