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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.

Tag Archives: Illinois

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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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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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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There is a song by the Canadian band Metric (or should I say The Clash at Demonhead?) that I am pretty sure is about zombies. Or falling in love. Or dealing with life. Does it really matter?

If I tremble,
they’re gonna eat me alive.
If I stumble,
they’re gonna eat me alive.
Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?
(beating like a hammer)
Help, I’m alive.
My heart keeps beating like a hammer.

Hard to be soft, tough to be tender….
Come take my pulse.
The pace is on a runaway train.
Help, I’m alive.
My heart keeps beating like a hammer.

-Metric, “Help, I’m Alive”

Being chased and having an accelerated sense of adrenaline is something I identify with in a more emotional way.  Anxiety is a very palpable emotion for me. I have always considered myself to be a deadline-driven person (read: procrastinator) who doesn’t feel really alive about a project most times until the eleventh hour. Change excites and enthralls me, but being out of control leads to being overwhelmed, which soon manifests itself in anxiety. It’s a familiar feeling that definitely varies in severity, a pressure in my chest that would send me to the school nurse daily in the third grade when I was bullied and had a hard time fitting in. In middle school it would leave me gasping for breath, on rare occasion pushing me to almost passing out. Anxiety and me have a long standing relationship, and I don’t delude myself with thinking it’s going to cut me off completely any day soon, although at this point we mainly are ‘it’s complicated’ at best.

Many people live with anxiety. I have found mine to typically be extremely manageable, after a little counseling in my early teens and a lot of group and self lead Buddhist style meditation practices. I, as many do, have a short list of things to keep balance. Eating well and exercise helps a little. Feeling confident in my physical self plays an enormous factor. Being involved in writing and playing music is monumentally significant in my emotional health, second only possibly to being able to anchor myself in a community of friends and family.

My travels to beginning this new chapter in Illinois have currently left me void of nearly all of these stabilizing factors. Not to say I’m off the deep end now, have faith, but it is a strong reminder of how blessed I have become over the last ten years to develop a near system of important behaviors to allow me to live a higher quality of life. Waking up to a dull ache is a strange reminder of times where I was far younger and less understanding of how to take care of myself. The anonymity of being thousands of miles away from home leaves the question of earlier lyrics ringing in my ears as I carry out different chores in a day, going to the bank, getting milk, even talking on the phone to a customer service representative at the electric company. Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer? 

It’s strange how intimidating something can be without a familiarity. Calling the cable/internet/phone/gas/electric companies in my hometown? I wouldn’t ever think twice. But my first call to set up utilities here was nearly as exhausting as waiting on hold for two hours to get through- for no other reason than the company had an unfamiliar name, had an area code that I am not yet familiar with, had a logo that I haven’t seen printed on ads at the home stadium or in receipts in my home mailbox. Each little step some days feels like a mountain, but each flag I place in the summit is a little less weight on my chest the next day.

Metric might be right on with this one- a big part of being alive is the little calls for help. Maybe I’m only telling half the story- for those of you who haven’t listened to the video yet or aren’t familiar with the song, here’s the second part of the lyrics:

If I’m still alive, my regrets are few.
If my life is mine ,what shouldn’t I do?

I get wherever I’m going, I get whatever I need-

While my blood’s still flowing, and my heart still beats.

And so I continue going through the motions until they get easier. The beauty of this all being hard and unfamiliar is that it means somewhere, other places have grown familiar to me. Streets in my hometown of Reno, trees and names of brews of craft beers in my college town, Salem; even bus route numbers in Portland. When a friend traveled to San Diego a couple days ago, I couldn’t hold back my opinions long enough to even count the number of restaurants and sites I knew she had to see.

Surely many people have made far further transitions with far less support. A few generations back, members of my family traversed oceans alone into places where had no roots, no promises, and no shared language. This too will grow to be familiar. Until then, I write blog posts with many words and am grateful for the many friends and family from other homes who drop me messages to remind me that I’m not alone, even when I am.

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A long time has passed since I last posted here, but a new chapter begs for proper attempts at documentation. What is most noticeable to me currently is this: I have made the novice “packing in an absolute rush of idiocy” mistake of forgetting to bring socks.

Much more of consequence has happened in the last week than that alone: I have begun the underestimatedly arduous task of moving one’s self thousands of miles, searched for days upon days with the support of my loving parents to find an available and non-toxic flat, grappled with many emotions the likes of which are unfamiliar upon recognising that I am soon to have residency in beautiful college town Evanston, IL-where I know no one, I signed my first lease, repacked and moved all of the painstakingly prepared luggage from home into boxes, moved the boxes into a storage unit underneath my future apartment to wait until my lease begins, arranged for renter’s insurance, spent time exploring Chicago with aforementioned wonderful parents, said goodbye as they headed to the airport (comforting myself with the fact that they will be coming to visit in less than two months’ time), and packed a backpack and a shoulderbag with clothes to take to a friend’s house in Libertyville while I wait for my apartment- clothes, yes, but socks, no.

So, in the logic of rationing my one pair of slightly-dirty socks for another day, I wandered through the quaint streets of Libertyville sans socks in my Vans. I should clarify, since all my shoes are Vans, that I was wearing these:

they look even better (read: worse) on. – Worth noting: the back of these bad boys is held together with my own DIY shoe cobbling of medical tape.

After walking to a cute old drugstore which had nothing in it that I needed, noting what days 2.50 cheeseburger-with-a-drink-purchase and $500-jackpot-community-bingo nights were (Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively), and searching for a gas station to buy a pint of milk (where I passed out in their bathroom of heat stroke, but that’s another story…), my feet were hurting more than a bit. Coming back to Chris’s and unsticking them from my feet revealed a little row of toe-knuckle blisters and a big red shiner on my left heel.

Through the unmitigated chaos of the last week, I’ve felt more raw than ever. Distance between my best friends and me means little to no communication, not as an insult to any of our abilities to stay in touch, but rather as a reflection of my shortcomings as a person who best relates with just sharing physical space with someone. Going through the wreckage of finding a rentable, desirable, and affordable apartment in Evanston (pick two!) with my parents helped me reach a new level of friendship with them (which I hope is somewhat mutual)- making it even harder for me to not follow them home. Having long, late night chats with my best friend and significant other (how lucky to say both things of one person in a lifetime) in which we realize that a long distance relationship is not presently reasonable for us is heart breaking, even when mutual and rational. Amidst uninvited tears and unwelcome insomnia, I’ve clung to the old AA adage: “A Day at a Time”.

Just as blisters wear off old skin and make it that much harder to endure new growth, a physical transition of 2,000 miles and an emotional transition out of many comfort zones of familiarity has worn me out in many sensitive spots. I have always associated this trying to make it through each individual day as progress concept with 12-Step philosophy, but never truly taken time to inspect the word “recovery” in itself. To cover something again is to take it from a state of vulnerability and provide new shelter, new safety, and even new surroundings.

It is in this spirit that I suppose I keep on. As a caveat, almost every piece of music I own (which as you should know is a stupidly large amount) has been pushing my emotions a little more than I can handle, although music is typically my only surefire outlet when I’m in a hard time. However, I have found a couple pieces that treat me kindly by digging through some of my favorite classical pieces while looking to make a mixtape for a new friend. Here is a link to Antonin Dvorak’s 8th Symphony in G, mvt IV, a piece I have fond memories of playing in high school:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J6rxuqStQA&feature=player_detailpage#t=1625s

Any music recommendations and/or advice with making a long move is well appreciated.

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