Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Poem Saga

Sometimes I like to go back and revisit what I've written in the past and share them with you, dear readers. I send out this one tonight in dedication to what I am becoming, and the past that I am starting to learn never lies dormant.

I have left this piece almost entirely how it was when I wrote it last year for a creative writing class. It's one of my favorites because for me, writing is about moving on. When I can write about something, I am leaving it behind.

I didn't leave this one entirely behind, though that is a story for a different entry. Until then, enjoy a little piece of how I crafted words just under a year ago. I dedicate this to those who inspired it, and to the artist I was, and the one I am becoming

The Last Poem (Or My First Experience With Mortification)

It was the last official poem I wrote- in rereading it later, I realized that it was so awful, I would need to seek professional help before writing a poem again, especially if I wanted to call it such. Oh, there have been song lyrics since, and cute messages in cards, but nothing that I would ever try to pass off as actual poetry. As a matter of fact, I have worked hard to keep my written talents as far from being associated with poetry as I possibly can. Because I am afraid that if anyone hears these two in conjunction, they will find it.
Because that last poem, that last awful expression of prose and my soul, is also the first time I was published.
At the time when I wrote it, I had just broken the heart of the first boy to ever care for me (with the exception of my father and my best friend, but that was a much different kind of thing). I was suffering from the melancholy and regret that comes from knowing that you’ve wounded a friend, a confidant, and an all over sweet soul. The guilt wasn’t so bad, most of the time, but it came spinning in with the scent of Macintosh Apples, the kind of smell they bottle up and sell as pillow sprays and car fresheners at Yankee Candle. The aroma sent me back to the first time we spent together, in the mall, smelling those candles and laughing, and despite my deep commitment to the idea of moving on, that he was the wrong guy, they always took me right back to his arms.
So I sat down and threw my feelings into verses, desperately trying to capture the emotions spinning around within my heart. And in what I believed to be a logical move, I submitted my work to a poetry contest, where the top three winners won monetary prizes, and the top 100 were published in a coffee table book.
The poem, I should warn you, is long gone. I read over it again, later that week, and knew with complete certainty that it was absolute dribble, and dumped it from my computer hard drive right then and there. My attempt to express myself was much less a doorway to my soul as it was a ridiculous replica of some of the great poets, only lacking the symbolism, life experience, and skill that they possessed. I vowed at that moment to leave the poetry world on the curb- it was a place I clearly didn’t belong.
But the people at the website, for some reason, felt otherwise. Maybe it was a dry season- maybe only 100 people actually submitted. Maybe one of the judges had already made the link between apples and lost love, and my submission brought him back to a time when he too was young. Or maybe they figured that I was young enough to want to buy anything that had my name inside, as the coffee table book was offered to me at a discounted, and yet still ridiculous price, but whatever the case was, they chose my poem to embody one of it’s pages. They sent me a letter proclaiming the good news.
“Congratulations!” it exclaimed. “Your poem has been selected!”
I thought I might die.
Here I was, an aspiring writer, being published for the worst thing I had ever created. The broken heartedness I had so carefully been trying to depict was now mine. I wondered how I would ever survive such tragedy that had befallen me. It was enough to push me into other hobbies, to try to draw the pen from my hand exclusively.
Oh, time has passed, and now I am back on the writing front. But I am mortified to think that maybe someone purchased this book, that maybe it is sitting on a coffee table somewhere, with the page next to mine dog-eared where the owner’s own work was published. Someone may have read this thing that I have created, this beast that is not only reminiscent of the first time I knowingly crushed a spirit, but of the writer who I so badly wanted to be. It’s enough to make me consider a penname, in reality, because I am afraid that one day I will write something truly poetic and profound, and someone will pick it up, and see it through tainted eyes.
“Isn’t this that girl who wrote the poem about the scent of apples wafting through the wind?” they will ask.
Perhaps it is a right of passage, a young writer’s mistake.
Or perhaps it is just proof that the pen is a powerful tool.
And maybe, just maybe, it is an understanding in my soul that some things can't be taken back, no matter how hard you try. That sometimes, once the words are out there, there is no making right what you've wronged.
Either way, it’s a carefully woven tale, one filled with irony, and tragedy, and deeper meaning.
How truly poetic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Risky Business (for Jim)

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."
-Ernest Hemmingway

We never know how long we have. We only know that we have a short time to get things done here on earth. Tonight, I write in memory of a man who used his time wisely, and who made a great impact in the time he was given. 

Last friday, I lost a dear friend named Jim, whose passing is a point of grief that I can not explain. He was the kind of man who always had a smile, a high five, or even a hug for anyone who needed it. He was calm and patient, and he was capable of doing things that others struggled with. He didn't know everything, but he wasn't afraid to learn, or to ask for an answer. He was the kind of person who knew how to make his own opportunities instead of being stuck in the ones he was handed. 

I will miss Jim being in my life. But I am already feeling an unexpected bravery from his example. In so many of our talks, he would talk about going for what he wanted, about taking chances. He knew how to take a risk, and he always encouraged me to take my own. It's something I can already see starting to push me. 

Lately I've been contemplating the meaning of life, of what's important and what isn't, of what's necessary and what's a lie that holds me down. I want to know who and where I am supposed to be, and I'm scared of squandering time getting there. I'm afraid of being too afraid to take risks. I don't let others in, and I don't get close. I don't go after things that I want if they seem too far away. I am afraid to fall on my face. And I'm already seeing what I've lost, in this reflection of my own time through the mirror of a life lost. The world is a little grayer in this sadness, but my short coming is crystal clear.

And so tonight, in honor of the memory of someone who lived to the fullest in every moment he had, I have resolved that I will take the risks that lie before me. I will take a chance on that which can hurt me, and give myself freely to the idea of change. I will not be limited in my walls of safety- the doors are open, and I'm freeing myself from them. I will not be scared to speak my mind, to tell those important to me how I feel, or what I need. 

Starting tonight, I am going into the risky game that is life with all my spirit. I want to live a life like Jim's, and I don't want to miss out on time. Life is too short to squander on safety. 

Goodnight Jim, and thank you for teaching me this. You will be so missed, but you live on in my heart, and so many others. And I won't be afraid anymore- you always told me not to be. Thank you for believing in me- in this time of missing you, I am finding the courage of believing in myself. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gratefully waiting

"Instant gratification is never soon enough."
-Meryl Streep

Last night I got into an abnormally long line to wait for a DC headed Megabus, just to find that traffic delays in New York City were making the running vehicles very late.

The people standing around me in line buzzed with chatter about the delays. I watched one young man approach one of the waiting workers and ask her for a number for customer service, so he could complain. She gave him the number, but warned him that their satisfaction department could not change the traffic pattern. He angrily stormed away.

Many others complained about their wait time of an hour or more, of the engagements they would be missing, and of how terrible it was to be stuck outside. Some glared angrily around at the workers, while others pouted quietly. A general unity seemed to form around the lines, as if the ridiculousness of the situation was a bonding factor between the heated personalities.

I watched quietly, considering the true craziness of the bus situation in my head. True, the bus had assigned me an appointed time that I had scheduled against. Yes, it was getting a little chilly, and my bag was starting to leave a small imprint on my shoulder. Yes, my shoes were a little wet from standing on the water soaked pavement that serves as a loading zone.

But the traffic patterns are out of anyones control. And I payed a very small fee to be able to ride in the first place, a fact for which I was very grateful, considering the short notice of the trip. In fact, I was happy to be able to be going at all, and a bus that was falling behind hardly seemed to a reason for an uprising.

More and more, I find that people today are not happy to have to wait for things. Lines are something that stores are trying to eliminate. Shipping gets faster and faster. Businesses open earlier and close later then they have in the past. Halloween shopping starts in September, and Christmas shopping starts the day after Halloween. The whole world is impatient to get what it is they want. They are more than anxious- they are demanding.

It's bad practice, of course, because the things in life that most matter do not work on a human time table. We do not control when it rains and when the sun shines. We do not choose when to fall in love and when to be done with it. We do not get to pick when we are born or when we will die. Many big factors are out of our control.

Maybe this is what causes people to make such demands of the inconsequential. Maybe we are all just afraid that since we don't get to choose the timing on the big things, if we can get the little things done, we will come out ahead. Maybe the control factor causes us to lose our patience when life slows us down, because we can slowly feel it being pulled away from us.

Whatever it is, it's catchy. First a few people complain, and then a few more jump in, and then a few more jump in, until everyone is tense. Even those of us in line who weren't complaining felt tense and cross when getting into our seats, causing everyone to jump at the driver when a few hours later, he informed us that he'd hit his driving limit and needed to switch with someone else.

Looking back, the situation almost seems comical, but it actually makes me sad. Waiting in line last night didn't have to be such a dramatic event- the weather was a little rainy and cold, but it wasn't a terrible night to be outside. Yes, the bus arrived late, but the seats were comfortable, and everyone had a nice trip to relax. And all destinations were eventually met, for less then it costs to go out for a nice dinner. There was a lot to be thankful for. And yet the general attitude was negative, a reflection that will likely cause the company to lose business and have to address the complaints of impatient people.

And I can't help but think that maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe the opposite of impatience isn't patience- maybe it's gratefullness.

Last night I saw what I don't want to be. No more impatience- from now on I'm going to try being grateful for what I'm given, even if I have to wait for it. Because I know that if I don't get my act together now, one day I'll be the kind of person who throws a tantrum about traffic. And really, in a life that's already based on uncertain timing, there can't be a greater waste than that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No news is news too

In a society of ever-sharing humans, there is a bombardment of information that tends to hit us on the head daily. We are an over stimulated people, forever being informed of what the media deems important for us to know. It's on TV, it's on the radio, it's on the newspaper you read over the shoulder of the person in front of you on the bus. It's reflected in bad sitcoms and political protests, in the music of the artists they play over the speakers at Starbucks, in the billboards that line city highways and inter passes. The news is everywhere, and the news is mandated by someone, somewhere, trying to decide where the truth of humanity lies. 

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun, so after the while, the news becomes old news. And after a while, old news turns into no-news- that unfortunate state where something is happening, but we aren't thinking about it anymore, because it's a weekday, so some hollywood couple is breaking up, some teenage starlet is doing something controversial, and Snookie is doing something stupid. 

Take War for example. When a war starts, it is the foreground of all news. It's everywhere, buzzing with the latest death counts and who is winning and what the point is. But after time passes, people don't want to hear about the war anymore. It becomes a back page story, then a footnote, until finally it's a filler for when there is no food poisoning scandal happening anywhere. It becomes no-news. 

But no-news is news too. Because it's happening, whether we know it or not. And I don't just mean on a global level. 

Let's domesticate this for a minute. No-news is the kind of thing that happens in relationships all the time, no matter what the parameters of them are. It's no-news when a parent decides not to tell their grown children that they are losing their house to debt because they don't want them to be a financial problem. It's no-news when a wife decides not to pass on to her husband that she's been feeling very ill lately because she knows that he has a merger at work. It's no-news when one best friend decides not to verbalize that they are struggling with things in their life because they are afraid their friend will become annoyed and walk away. This no-news issues may seem dramatic, but they happen. Daily. And most of us are part of them. 

Our world promotes the idea of self respect, self pride, and personal strength. We hold tight to the idea that success is not being a burden on anyone, and we strive, toil, and pray to make that goal. We want our independence from everyone else. We want to be the kind of people who never need to rely on anyone- who always have the choice to be no-news people.

But again, no-news is news too. And no matter how many times we answer "nothing" to the daily what's ups of life, there is always something going on. We are people, and we are dynamic, and things are always happening, whether they are old, or new, or just more than we know how to verbalize. 

Before anyone feels condemned, let me explain. I used to be the queen of no-news. I am the kind of person who is capable of internalizing all kinds of pains in my life and turning them into apathy. I've held more secrets then even I want to think about. I have mastered the art of sharing select details to pacify people's need to know me while holding tight to my own secrets. It's something I'm not particularly afraid to admit. And in my darkest moments, I'm even a little proud of my ability to hold it in. I've committed to changing that, and it's made a big difference, but it's still sometimes easier to just keep it to myself.

But in my life, I've met my matches. I know many others too who have mastered the art of no-news. We pat each other on the backs and give each other "space" in an attempt to respect the boundaries that we so understand. We know things are going on, but we know that the other person wants their silence. So we give in and accept the "nothings". And we keep each other close- it's a solid understanding. 

The problem with no-news is that you can only get away with it for so long before the effects start to manifest themselves. Eventually, the parent is going to lose that house, and there may not be another place to live. That wife is eventually going to have to deal with the effects of whatever is plaguing her, and the husband is going to find out, merger or not. Friends will eventually figure out that someones strains and stresses are happening- whether it's a slip of the tongue, or a problem that follows them around. And if the kids, or husband, or friends really do care, they're going to feel hurt that the other didn't let them in in the first place.

I'm beginning to wonder about the destructive behavior of holding things in, beginning to feel the full effects of it. Once, in high school, my class was instructed to write fortunes for fortune cookies. I wrote "He who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders walks slowest." Maybe I wasn't that far off. 

However, the comfort of no-news is that all of our troubles are not hidden from our wonderful maker. And He knows our struggles, not matter who we don't tell. And if we let Him in, he takes care of all our no-news, and our old news, and our big news, and our breaking news, and everything else. And often, if we asks, he puts others in our lives to share our news with too. 

So if anyone needs to share their no-news, I'm here to listen. And I challenge all of you to be the same, this week, this month, this year. Because no-news is news too, and we all have the ability to be there to listen to those we care about. So the next time someone tells you nothings up, and you know a little better, press a little further (Don't drive them nuts, but be available). The chance to share may be the beautiful beginning of a friendship you didn't anticipate, or something even btter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Great(er) Expectations

"So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?"
-Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail

We all have these expectations of what life is supposed to be. They start from childhood, from the first time that we pretend to have a house or a job, or be part of a social group. They aren't the same for most people- there are many details that create the stories of who we are to be that factor differently into every tale.

Expectations are a funny thing- they aren't always set by the person who they are laid out for- actually, by the time we all start to realize that things are expected of us, most of us have already been told what those things are by society, by our family structures, and by the people we most want to impress.

For some, that means schooling- the more education, the better. College, grad school, and then maybe second and third degrees. The more the knowledge, the better in life they are. For others, it's a family that is important- the more kids, the better. While society does have social norms that factor in depending on such things as location and income, there is a certain need to procreate that seeps through some people's vein with a certain venom, stinging the heart until there are little feet in the house. Still others, which we pretend don't exist, expect to be in gangs or groups of destruction because of their location or social status. Or even because of their family life... these expectations seem more dramatic, but are based out of desires for acceptance and survival- the same as all other life expectations.

I am at a point in my life where my friends and I are just starting to take hold of these social norms- we are just starting to understand the implications of such expectations, and how big of an impact they have had on things that we have already done, and are just starting to do. I don't know what to do with this knowledge, but I almost feel like Solomon penning about the dangers of knowledge in Ecclesiastes- the more I come to know, the less I realize I know at all.

For example, I know what is expected of me by my family, by my society, by my job, and by my friends. But I don't know what I would have done if those expectations had not been settled into place. I don't know what I would have taken hold of if my life had suddenly opened up to freedom and I had no one to expect anything of me. In Water For Elephants, the main character finds himself orphaned, homeless, and failing out of school. In desperation he jumps a train and joins the Circus, and that's where his life leads. It isn't easy, but it is a life that he loves and chooses, and accomplishes many things in.

Realistically, I would have never joined the circus (can't deal with clowns). But I don't know what I would have done. I have ideas sometimes- dreams that play through my mind about how things would have gone. But you can never be sure- a truth which is actually somewhat troubling. I wonder if these things that I have dreamed of doing are the life that would make me happiest. I wonder if I am disillusioned by what others want for me. I wonder if we all are just marking time on this earth (and no, I don't think I am the first to think these things, yet still, I think them all the same).

But I take comfort in what my mentor told me when I explained all this to her- God's expectations for us vary so differently. All He wants is our submission- our surrendering of our life to Him. It is one of the hardest things to do, and one of the easiest, at the same time, because it's the ability to let go of everything we've ever been for the freedom of what we might become. I am comforted to know that my earthly life is not in my hands, and that I will know what God expects from me when I start to realize His goals for my life. And that's a blessing, because those are the only expectations that once I fulfill them, will actually make me happy.

Donald Miller, one of my favorite authors, wrote a book about getting up and leaving life and expectation behind called "Through Painted Deserts". In his travels, he finds God and all that he can become in Him, and his world is rocked radically. And in his example I find truth- that when your heart is talking, you better tune out society and listen in, because the universe is siting before you, waiting.

It is my goal in life to find God and let him rock my world. No matter what it does to the expectations that those in my life set before me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Disposable people

"Someone out in nowhere land is listening tonight."
-Jeff Sack

I used to love paper dolls as a kid. They were less maintenance than regular dolls because you never had to brush their hair or clean their clothing. They were cheap enough that if they got ruined, buying new ones was only an allowance day away. They were compact enough to fit into any bag that was coming along for a car ride in large numbers- forget being limited by shape and size restrictions... I've got an entire party along with me. And they weren't the kind of dolls that you had to worry would feel neglected or unloved if you didn't have enough time to play with them again and again. They were paper- recyclables. They were disposable.

If you went to a public high school or got your degree from a college that requires you to meet in a classroom, you've probably experienced another phenomena that I like to call "disposable people." This is what happens when people find out that their might be a utility in making friends. The idea that every person is actually a being with feelings and a life story becomes secondary to the idea that every person has some kind of worth. And unfortunately, we grab on pretty quickly to those who most compliment the life style that we live- everyone has an ultimate goal in friendships. When those goals either come to pass or come to fail, we let the friendship go. We throw it away- we only wanted the benefits in the first place.

With Facebook and other social networking sites being a meeting ground, there is a huge craze going around- collect the most friends. This is where we decide to friend people we don't know, and have no intention of meeting, and really have no interest in talking to, because it makes us look like one of the popular kids. There is an unspoken popularity contest that goes on- somehow, the number of people who want to be involved in our virtual representations of life weaves itself into our self esteem. I don't care if I know all 2000 people- they all want to be my friend.

Across the united states, there are movements about bullying. Kids, and adults, for that matter, are being pushed around by those who are bigger, stronger, smarter, or more well-liked then they are. Recently, a study revealed that these antics were usually not about a specific dislike for the person on the receiving end, but instead, a growing necessity that the bullies feel to be liked. As though if they do not pick on the ones who are easy targets, they are less in themselves. It's a serious realization that the bully is a victim too- not of unusual cruelty of others, but of a self-dislike that is so strong, they need to have someone else seem weaker than them.

We all want to be liked, in one form or another, by someone somewhere. We all want to feel important- worth something. We want to know that we are needed in some capacity, and that if we fall down, that others will be there for us to pick us back up again.

But people don't save us from loneliness. We ourselves have to go through that alone. And if people are disposable, just paper dolls to us, then I don't want to play. Keep the party to yourself- I'll stay home and update my Facebook, where the people who actually do care about me can comment and react. I don't want to be the kind of person who makes friends because they are worth a utility to me. I want to make friends with people because I like them, because I connect with them, and because I want to share things with them. I don't want to feel my self worth through how others see me.

Maybe it's the rant of someone who never had 2000 friends. Or maybe it's just a general feeling from someone whose tired of seeing people thrown away. I'm tired of watching suicides of people on the news, tired of watching broken hearted people walk with their heads down, and tired of watching people that I actually care about fall apart over people who didn't matter in the first place. I find it to be a lesson that we all need to discover in ourselves, and not a problem that someone else needs to deal with, so here is my conclusion:

If we think of people as disposable, we will always be lonely.