Monday, August 16, 2010

Flight and pursuit

“Travel is equal parts flight and pursuit.”

It’s a line I’ve quoted numerous times since first reading it in Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, and I’ve thought over it even more.

Truth be told, my perplexity comes in that it sometimes (or often) feels as though I’m fleeing more than I’m pursuing. From what? That which is considered the familiar, the norm, what I’ve grown into for twenty years… my hometown, my background, memories, the fear of being stuck or complacent, a continuing sense that something is… off. Not quite right. Missing.

What are we really pursuing, though? What if we don’t know? Does pursuing the unknown and the unfamiliar count as pursuit – if we don’t know what it is we’re chasing?

At first, I was unsettled by the idea that perhaps I am just fleeing, running anywhere but here… but isn’t a lack of a destination still a destination, a vague hope though it may be? Perhaps in pursuing that which has of yet been unfamiliar, we are truly pursuing that which we hope will be familiar for us – that fit that hasn’t quite been met, that puzzle piece (or two or three) that’s been missing. I may not know what I’m running to, but I know what I’m running from, and that in itself is flight and pursuit, destination-less though it may seem. Isn’t it?

They say happiness is a journey, not a destination, yet people can’t seem to stop themselves from the destination mindset, can they? Take, for instance, Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. It’s a charming and intriguing idea, really, but certainly not a recent innovation. That universal search for happiness will always be a best seller, because it will always be relevant and identifiable.

Take, further, Eat, Pray, Love, a bestselling book turned movie – and a fantastic movie at that (I have to hang my head in shame here and admit that I have not yet read the book, but I’m hitting up Borders ASAP for a routine hangout session). As we filed out of the theater this afternoon, slightly gushing, I chuckled at the fact that we seemed to be in a swarm of women- of all ages, too. Not surprising. The response: “Well, we can only get stuff like this in movies; it never happens in real life.”

A reasonable and common response, yes. Still, I can’t help but think that that is not at all what Elizabeth Gilbert was going for when she chronicled her story or when the movie was produced. Aren’t we pulled in by a sense of understanding and commiseration, empathy? Such stories are popular, I’d think, because we enjoy the possibility of putting ourselves in those shoes and having a similar happy ending. Because our lives don’t fit into a neat two-hour package, though, we tend to write it off quickly. “Such things aren’t possible in real life,” we think. Sometimes, though, they are. Every once in a while, if you keep your eyes open, you’ll see it happen; you’ll even be a part of it.

Say, for instance, you accidentally make eye contact with a handsome young foreign fellow on the metro platform, waiting for your train. You enter the train, followed by a swarm of bustling old ladies (what was it, a Red Hat convention?) and sweaty tourists, pushed into the center of the car – and there he is, just boarded the same car. A smile? No, that couldn’t be directed at you… wait, yep, there it is again. Definitely looking at you. The nice septuagenarians gradually empty the car from stop to stop as the man glances over their wide-brimmed sunhats and visors, ultimately leaving you standing side-by-side as you near the door of the car. Fancy that, the charming fellow has struck up a conversation (go ahead and bend to the stereotype as you appreciate the Hispanic accent) and, as you exit together, requests your phone number.

Or, better still, someone closer, more meaningful. Share a bowl of Asian noodles for dinner and appreciate the fact that you both fail miserably with chop sticks, then move on to frozen yogurt as you make your way to the nearby fountain, getting lost in conversation. Others aren’t so fortunate, though, and here’s a homeless man looking desperate and hungry; luckily, you had untouched food leftover and the time and care to sit with the man and hear his story, in doing so helping him and better appreciating one another. Dessert over and man fed (and hugged, incidentally), the sun is setting and it’s a perfect night for star gazing. The city lights are too bright, though, so you strike treasure with a pond in the suburbs, a wooden bridge leading across to the perfect little island, complete with a bench, willow trees, and grass just right for stretching out and staring at the stars. The weeks continue with meals on the balcony, miscellaneous gallivanting, conversations at the fountain, and returns to the enveloping peace of the island.

No, I’m fairly certain such things don’t just happen in movies. The trouble is, it seems, that we get so caught up in everyday life,attempting to force it into something it isn’t, that we miss out on such moments. Or, perhaps, we forget magical little moments like this in the midst of this "everyday life" and they fade until they become stuff of myth and Hollywood (or Bollywood, if you’re more musically inclined). Yes, maybe some were meant only to be isolated instances… but others have greater potential, I’d hope, if only we’d allow for it.

Whatever the case, in the spirit of the day, I’d concur that it’s a balance that’s needed… and for some of us, that requires a bit of flight and pursuit – even if we don’t quite know what it is we’re pursuing. What’s more, the drama-packed yet neatly tied Hollywood storylines don’t mean such things are too grandiose for real life. On the contrary, let’s put an end to this rambling with another quote, this time from E. M. Forster:

“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

There's a plumber in my bedroom

Get your mind out of the gutter.* Geesh. People make such assumptions these days.

Really, though, in the morning, my room will welcome a plumbing crew, ready to tear up my carpet and cut a hole in the floor. It’s only fitting, really, as the room has also welcomed firefighters in the past (the fun of chimney fires). You see, my fine sense of misadventure is not only applicable when I’m travelling; it follows me everywhere. Usually my time at home, though limited, is rather uneventful – not to say boring… ahem – and pleasantly interspersed with biking, playing soccer with my beastly chocolate lab, or reading on the porch swing. Every once in a while, though, something happens to spice it up… like a pipe leak.

Please, someone explain to me how a leak in the basement requires a plumbing crew to hack up the floor of two bedrooms on the second story? That is, however, apparently the case. And of course, though the house includes 6 bedrooms -being, originally, a 5 child household, planned and built by my stepfather- the leaking pipe has kindly chosen to wreak havoc on the rooms of the 3 children still here (for the moment)… aka, the most difficult to clean out.

[Note: The leak made its unwelcome presence known in my stepbrother’s room, certifiably the messiest of the house... probably of most houses. The originating pipe, however, is apparently accessed just beneath the wall that separates my room and my stepsister’s… well, her closet, to be precise, which is (was) packed with enough clothes to stock a small Salvation Army outlet store. Meanwhile, the clearing out of my room corner on the opposite side of the wall involved the moving of an antique wooden dresser, paintings and a stone bust (art class relics), Ghanaian wood carvings, a trunk of books, and various odds and ends I have yet to organize since my return… and, of course, important things like a jar of nutella and Abuelita hot chocolate.]

The bright side – because really, there always ought to be something in there to enjoy – Dani and I, thus forced into cleaning, have relocated to the center of a now exceedingly cluttered room and are rediscovering the ‘90s in the form of jean jackets, a koala bear fanny pack, a secret map we’d created with places like “Oddskinbodskins,” and, one of my personal favorites, a barrel of monkeys.

*gutter: That is, the metaphorical gutter, of course. Pun definitely unintended. Terrible.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Misadventures in the boonies

“All that mankind has done, thought, gained, or been: it is living as in magic preservation in the pages of books.”

-Thomas Carlyle

Earlier this week, while bicycling to and around a local reservoir, I found myself with little choice but to ride directly through a massive swarm of bees. With some effort, I pulled my eyes from the gorgeous view of the water to my right in order to turn a corner, at which point I was confronted by the huge, buzzing cloud. The group not only spanned the pathway, but was too close to allow me time to stop.

I ducked. I peddled as quickly as my already-worn legs would allow. I yielded to some less-than-ladylike language when my upper back seemed to briefly catch fire. Movie scenes flashed through my head, from escapes into mud (I did have a reservoir on hand if necessary) to the fate of Macaulay Culkin in “My Girl.” After that fleeting moment of terror and some vaguely frantic, one-handed swats behind me in an attempt to shield my unprotected back from further onslaught, I was happy to find that the damage was limited to one sting.

…Anti-climactic end to the story? Most likely. I peddled along to finish the loop after breaking for lunch on the pier, enjoying a much less eventful trip: no more bees, and no angry Canadian geese as had been previously encountered (Did you know they hiss? Silly things.). Regardless, the very idea of the story made me want to retell it – I rode my bike through a swarm of bees! The lack of a suitably dramatic ending may be a bit of a letdown, but I still had an inexplicable need to relay the story.

This little episode brought to mind something I’ve debated about for some time – the apparent presumption of writing. Truly, one must either be writing for oneself (to remember, to purge, to vent, whatever) or for another, and most often it seems to be the latter. Does that not then require that others should care to hear what it is we have to say? Or perhaps run on the assumption that we have something worth saying, or that we have the authority and the ability to say it properly?

As an avid reader, I fully condone such presumptions if they are, in fact, necessarily involved in having the self-confidence to write with the hope and expectation that others will read it (something I struggle with, being that, at root, I can be ridiculously lacking in self-confidence, frankly). Not only can reading inform, inspire, and question, but it can also – and perhaps most importantly, at times – reassure the reader that someone else, somewhere and sometime, thought or felt very much as we have. And with that, a magical little bond is formed between the author and the reader, regardless of time and place.

When it comes to writing, though… inspiration is there. A sense of responsibility to speak out is also often there, at times hand in hand with inspiration. Years upon years of reading and a nerdy love of words have provided a substantial vocabulary base with which to get my ideas across. But what could make one think others should take time out of their busy lives to listen? Sure, everyone has the right to speak… but how about the authority? The know-how? The presumption?

Blogging and other media developments have made it all the more interesting, of course. After all, publishing something online is free, simple, and fast. It is a curious creature, though, that much is certain. My blog from a semester’s interning in DC was, frankly, inspired by a $50/week salary for 1 blog/week (thank you, TWC). My blog while living and interning in Ghana for two months was also inspired in pursuit – and receipt – of a Dickinson grant to support the endeavor. And this one? Well, this one is just because… to keep me on my toes, provide an outlet and perhaps spark a discussion or, better yet, an idea or different perspective. We shall see.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confronted by a Fox enthusiast...

*Note: I a registered Independent (no, it doesn't mean undecided - it means I vote for the person, not the party, resulting in a split ticket); b.certainly don't intend to make a habit of posting about politics, but when the need strikes, it is unavoidable; and in a very Fox News-oriented household and town. Ah, and d.can only answer some things with the below. Fair and balanced? Hopefully. haha

You have every right to disagree with me, and/or my generation. Every right to think we’re too inexperienced and thoughtless, basing our ideas upon the presumption that we know enough to properly validate them. Here’s the catch, though: regardless of your dismissal of an individual or an entire generation, we still make up a vast voting demographic. Thus, while you have every right to dismiss us, we have every right to dismiss you, and in doing so, elect someone else in your place. That much you can neither debate nor deny.

Some dismiss media outlets like Fox News, declaring them unworthy of attention due to their obvious conservative bias. Others dismiss the very thought of dismissing Fox News, avowing “Now, I can’t believe that.You’ve gone too far, Kate, they think, heavily bearing down upon me. Up until this point, I disagreed but listened; now you’re just being absurd. Thoughtless. How like your know-it-all generation. You don’t have to say it; I’ve read it in your eyes and heard it in your incredulous tone. I took Elie Wiesel’s advice and looked beyond the words to see that which is unspoken. You lack any semblance of respect for that which I have to say? Why, that’s okay. You will, however, find yourself terribly frustrated by the voting outcomes in the very near future, should you continue to disregard those who hold different views.

I’ll say the same to both sides: you may think the opposition is completely off its rocker, but the fact is that a substantial portion of the voting population is in that opposing camp. Feel free to dismiss Fox – but in doing so, you forget that a large part of the country not only follows it, but agrees with it. Feel free to act like I’m crazy when I inform you that others dismiss Fox as a valid news source – but in doing so, you ignore the voice and power of those who fall into the aforementioned category. You’d prefer to write me off as a presumptuous youth? A semester in DC, a few classes on politics and media, and a bit of time in Africa has falsely made me think I have a valid opinion and experience base, you think? That’s fine; after all, the only thing that suffers there is my pride. Still, you forget the maxim – as you have a right to dismiss us, we have a right to dismiss – and unseat – you.

The only thing that truly upsets me in this conversation is the knowledge that I can do so little. I can sit and debate with you that not all Muslims are evil condoners of the 9/11 attacks – and I will – but you, who have never met, much less come to know, any Muslims, are set upon the idea. Well, none of them have come out nationally to condemn the actions, you say. Bull shit. You would condemn the entire “nation” (so you say), claiming it the responsibility of the innocent to defend themselves from the guilt of the wrong-doers? What have they done to deserve this? How can you speak against a people you do not know? In doing so, you only continue the thoughtless hatred and intolerance. The extreme is not the equivalent of the majority – in politics or religion. Just as Ann Coulter does not represent the Republican Party (thank goodness), the likes of Al Qaeda do not represent Islam as a whole. In fact, many observant Muslims will be the first to tell you that they do not consider people in such groups to be true Muslims. Yes, perhaps you have the right to dismiss those you disagree with as unimportant and thoughtless – but you do not have the right to judge them and proclaim them guilty, murderers, barbaric.

It is this lack of understanding that prolongs conflicts such as those now being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our unfamiliarity with the factions and the religion caused us to frantically lump them into one massive enemy, thereby inspiring those innocent but claimed guilty to rise up in revolt. How dare you demonize we who have done nothing to offend or injure you or your own, they demand? And reasonably so. “Innocent until proven guilty” – what a farce. We claim ourselves a nation that welcomes all, tolerates all, but never has that been the case.

What, you thought we’d reached that point? That magnificent sign of a truly developed country, where all are equal? It is time to step out of your box, get your head out of the sand. Wishful thinking, my friend, wishful thinking.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

There's grass in my loofah

As I stood outside the shower the other day, brow furrowed and contemplating which of the four pink razors occupying the ledge had originally belonged to me, I thoughtlessly picked at the large nonsensical sponge known as a loofah. Grass – the cleanliness of my loofah had been violated by grass.

Perhaps it was from a few barefoot games of badminton, or from making myself at home on the ground to lay back and stare into an impressively starry sky. Or perhaps the loofah had come into contact with a relatively dirtier sibling, one of the owners of the dubiously unclaimed razor collection. Whatever the case, there it was: grass. In my loofah.

It’s the darnedest thing, really. Nothing goes untouched. Bits of life and living are tracked everywhere, inescapable. That’s the beauty of things, though, isn’t it? How dull life would be if I undertook no adventures or misadventures, no discussions held or challenges battled, no debates contemplated or thoughts sent whirling about my mind.

Sure, a flat tire in the midst of a road trip may be a bit troublesome – but finding within ourselves the ability to solve the problem was a huge ego boost, and we had some laughs along the way. And no, I suppose not everyone views the ability to argue as a positive sign in a relationship, as I do – but it signifies individual passion and a vital level of comfort and respect between the two that allows for disagreement without utter mutiny.

Humor, imperfections, and misadventures are and should be a part of everyday life, and welcomed as such. So what if there’s grass in my loofah – I’d rather experience what the world has to offer and suffer the ill effects than see nothing and go unscratched.

Here’s to bringing those signs and traces of experience along with us, wherever life leads.

In the beginning...

Oftentimes, kids grow up hearing those quaint little stories about themselves at a younger, more innocently entertaining age (those times when the idea of kids saying the darnedest things is an essential element of cuteness, rather than the bane of parenting). My own childhood quotes, coupled with the likes of “Who turned the dark on,” include most importantly the infamous “I have all these words in my head and I just have to get them out!”

Now an English major, I’ve continued this trend in a manner my vocabulary skills now label “verbosity.” Still, this love of words hosts and indulges my disturbingly unavoidable habits of observation and thought as I wander through this game of life… together with an occasional smattering of pictures, which allows for a splash of color and a bit of photographic evidence.