Q Line adventures

IMG_0786.JPGI’ve seen the same woman on the Q a couple times now, mostly in the early morning. She sits in one of the end seats, the ones that are only big enough for two people. She piles stuff next to her, as well as on both seats across the aisle, then falls asleep. She either genuinely sleeps through or else ignores the people who try to wake her up to move her stuff so that they can sit down.

Usually, she wakes up at some point and thinks some of her bags have gone missing, and starts accusing the black folks nearby (never white folk, only folk of color) of stealing her bags. I’m not sure why she doesn’t fall asleep with her bags closer to her (or not fall asleep on the train), or what’s even in her bags that she needs to keep such close track of them. Usually everyone on the train ignores her.

Interesting how mental illness plays out. I don’t know how valid it is to compare my experience to hers (probably not at all), but if I was going to run away, be homeless, I’d be the sort of homeless person that thinks she’s invisible–not the sort that thinks everyone cares what’s in her plastic bags (that seem to be full of other plastic bags).

I wonder what homeless people accumulated before our society started throwing out so much half-used stuff.

One morning, a woman got into the traincar, sat down, and in a dejected voice announced that she and her husband were unemployed and homeless and asked (again, dejected) if anyone could help them out. She didn’t look at anyone; she stared at a spot on the floor of the car and spoke in a monotone.

Nobody moved. In New York cattle car fashion, nobody even looked at her.

“Ladies and gentlemen I know this is difficult times but ladies and gentlemen my husband and I is homeless and can’t work and it’s hard being homeless and asking people for charity, for example ladies and gentlemen I’ve been on five trains so far this morning and we don’t have enough money yet for a place to stay tonight.”

In the ensuing silence, everyone avoided eye contact. I caught a few people who, like me, were scanning the car to see other peoples’ reactions.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she started again, and I wanted to say no, please, you’re passing the point of pathetic-but-tolerable and into the hinterlands of “annoying blubberer who is disrupting my train ride.” “Ladies and gentlemen I don’t think you know how hard it is to be homeless in this city and to ask for help and have people look at you like you’re nothing I hope you all know you’re coldhearted bastards with no compassion and that this is a very unChristian nation. Ladies and gentlemen I hope you have a very nice day but you’re all coldhearted bastards.” And with this pronouncement, the train slid into the station and she left, head held high.

Not as entertaining as the drunk homeless guy who started yelling that we all hated black people and that’s why we wouldn’t give him money, and continued ranting even after a (black) passenger told him that race was a false construct that didn’t even exist and he was just using his race as an excuse, and only got louder when another (black) passenger started scolding him for being “a drunkass nigger who needed to sit down and shut up.”

Looking for Narnia

lucynarnia.jpg“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe! thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more moth-balls?” she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.

Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.

Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glipse of the empty room from which she had set out. (She had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe.) It seemed to be still daylight there. “I can always get back if anything goes wrong,” thought Lucy. She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood toward the other light. In about ten minutes she reached it and found it was a lamp-post. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of the wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming toward her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post.”

The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe. Chap. 1, “Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe”

Getting over something, processing something, working something out in my head, is a little like being lost in the wilderness. Not that I’ve ever been lost in the wilderness, but being lost, waiting for something to happen, waiting for something inside your head to change, waiting for something in your heart to heal, sometimes it feels like that’s all there is. When you don’t know which way to go to get out of the forest, all around you is infinite forest.

Sometimes, I manage to find a spot in my head where things feel okay. Where I’m not fighting against everything that Is, trying to make it into something it isn’t. Where I can let go of grief and expectation. Buddhists might call it Enlightenment, these little flashes of acceptance. Maybe it’s like finding your way back onto the map. Maybe it’s like finding Narnia. Most of the time, you open the wardrobe, and all you see is the back of the wardrobe. You try to tell people about it, but they can only see the back of the wardrobe too. And then one day, without even trying, without expecting it, you open the wardrobe, and there’s trees, and fauns, and Lions that aren’t quite Tame.

Most people think of being lost in the woods as a bad thing, a life-threatening thing. And it is, of course it is. But it’s not always losing an arm under a rock or getting chased by starving wolves or failing to start a fire. Sometimes, you find Narnia.

Things I Hate About Depression

IMG_0371.JPG1. It turns into things that I used to like to do and turns them into things that I “should” do because they would be “good for me.” It used to be that I loved to go to concerts; you could not keep me from concerts; I lied to my parents and stole their car and took the bus for hours and did all sorts of things to get myself to a show. Now I’m just as likely to stay home because of inertia, and I have to make myself leave the house because I tell myself that once I’m out of the house I’ll have fun.

2. My insecurities lie to me, and my depression makes me believe them. I think things like “I have no friends,” and I believe it because I’m depressed, when really I have many people who love me and care for me and who want to help me, they’re just not geographically close enough to help me to not feel isolated.

3. It takes me forever to do everything. Simple tasks take twice as long as they should.

4. Depression makes me selfish and self-centered. When I’m depressed, I want to fix it, I want attention to be paid and I need something to be done about it. I flail around looking for answers and things that will be helpful. The problem is, when I’m depressed, it takes over my brain. It becomes the most important thing. I can’t connect to others because I don’t care how they’re doing because I need to fix this first. It takes over everything. I talk about it with my friends. I think about it all the time. It becomes all about me and sometimes I don’t even think to ask my friends how they’re doing.

5. It takes things that used to be fun and makes them horrible. I started crying at a Slackers show a few months ago. Slackers and Pietasters, a lineup I would’ve killed to see in high school. So I go to this show, and instead of having fun with the music, I start thinking about how I’m not here with friends and can’t stop fixating on the couple near me who are snuggling just a little too much, and I start feeling lonely, and the next thing I know I’m crouched down against the wall crying. At a fucking ska show. Fucking fantastic. I then feel stupid and shitty about myself for the next three days, because what kind of person can’t get it together long enough to enjoy a concert?

6. It makes me tired.

That’s enough for now, I think.

Quiet Afternoon

DSC01787.jpgIt’s snowing in New York City today.

Sometimes, there are these little moments when I’m in awe that I live here. Mostly those moments come when the Q train is going over the Manhattan Bridge and it’s 7:00 in the morning and the sunlight is all gold and orange, and you can see the skyline, up close and yet far enough away to seem magisterial. Or when I’m walking somewhere historical, and I start to think about all the other people who walked this pavement before me fifty years ago, one hundred years ago, or earlier that same morning.

But I think that doesn’t say much other than I still like the idea of living here, but not necessarily actually living here. The actual logistics of living here are hard and make me feel unstable. I don’t have a community. I don’t have a job that’s leading anywhere. I don’t have any money. I miss my family.

I’m sure that somewhere down the line, I’ll feel grateful for this experience. It’s definitely exposed me to people and experiences that I would never have had in Denver. But it’s also reminded me of some cruel lessons, like: just because you’ve waited patiently for years for something that you’ve wanted to happen, that doesn’t mean that when you get it, it’s going to last very long or even be what you asked for. And I would rather have regrets about experiences I never had than regrets about not spending enough time with the people I love.

The other day at the store, a woman came in looking for long underwear. She was older, had an accent, was missing teeth, and in spite of the twenty degree weather was wearing sandals and socks. She said she’d loaned $10,000 to somebody who promised her a million in return, and he (predictably) absconded with her money. She also said that she refused to use laundry detergent because it soaks through your skin and gives you cancer. These are the people, the lonely people, that I think I’ll remember when I leave. In a city with so many millions, it amazes me that there can be so much loneliness.

It was a dark and stormy night.

hubble2.jpg“The Black Thing burns unless it is counteracted properly.” —A Wrinkle in Time

People ask me how I’m doing, or what I’m doing, and it’s hard. I struggle to define it to myself, to others. Why didn’t you call me last week? “I was sad.” Why didn’t you turn in that essay on time? “I was sad.” It just doesn’t sound adequate. It doesn’t sound real. It sounds like an excuse, not a reason.

I have a hard time integrating this glumness into my conception of myself. Describing it to myself. I vacillate between seeing it as part of me, enmeshed in my psyche, and seeing it as something separate, like a parasite or a tumor.

I re-read A Wrinkle in Time recently. For those who haven’t read it, please do, but also beware of spoilers ahead. In it, three human children–a brother and sister and their friend–are taken by three magical beings, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, to rescue the father of Meg and Charles Wallace (the brother and sister) who is being held captive on a foreign planet. The planet, Camazotz, is in the thrall of IT, a disembodied brain who controls the rhythms and thoughts of everyone on the planet. Those who resist are psychologically tortured. Those who give in are told that total lack of freedom is a worthy price to pay for total security.

“You see, what you will soon realize is that there is no need to fight me. Not only is there no need, but you will not have the slightest desire to do so. For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble? For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on this planet, I, in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision.”

In the process of trying to find their father, Charles Wallace falls into the clutches of IT. His sister, Meg, rescues him at the end (I did tell you there’d be spoilers) with the power of love (aww, cheesy).

When Charles Wallace is within IT, he is not Charles Wallace. IT speaks through his mouth. IT thinks for him, pushing the real Charles Wallace deep down inside his own head so that he himself can’t speak to Meg or reach out to her. IT says things through Charles Wallace that alienate his sister, things that normal Charles would never say.

What must it have been like for Charles, locked inside his own head? Things coming out of his mouth that, if he was himself, in his own center, he would never have said? Things that were mean and hostile, hurting the people he loved, and who wanted to help him? And meanwhile there’s this voice inside his head telling him that not only is resistance futile, but unnecessary. IT says that IT knows better than Charles what Charles needs. Telling him that all these things that he thought were important aren’t really. This voice that he can’t get rid of by himself. It must have been like being trapped underwater, screaming, but unable to talk to the people on the surface. If there’s a better metaphor for depression, I haven’t thought of it.

Help me, Meg Murry. Help me, Charles Wallace. I’m trapped in the brain of IT. I know it’s telling me lies, but I’m trapped anyway.

…For he was a spirit too delicate
To act their earthly and abhorr’d commands,
Refusing their grand hests, they did confine him
By help of their most potent ministers,
ANd in their most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprisoned, he didst painfully remain…

–Shakespeare, The Tempest (and A Wrinkle in Time)

once there was a boy who had a vibrant glow

sad.jpgborn to lose, i live my life in vain
all my dreams have only caused me pain
all my life i’ve always been so bluuuuuuuuuuuue
born to lose and now i’m losing yooouuuuuuuuuuu
–The Bouncing Souls

The world is so full of stories of happily-ever-after. Our current culture really doesn’t tolerate stories of despair; Shakespeare would never get into the Writer’s Guild of America if he was alive today. I was listening to Radiolab the other day (I’ve been re-listening to a lot of old episodes, in my general efforts to keep myself around things quiet and nurturing), the episode on Space, which includes the story of the sound recording sent up on the Voyager spacecraft and (tangentially) a story that Ann Druyan tells about falling in love with Carl Sagan and marrying him during that process of putting the Voyager together. They got married practically before they ever even kissed each other. How bewitching, how enticing is a story like this? Everyone wants to have that, and it’s so easy to convince yourself that this is what you have. You don’t want to be the person that drives across the southeastern United States in adult diapers to chase after someone who doesn’t love you, no, you want to be the person who professes her love and accepts a marriage proposal all in one breath. We tell ourselves all of these stories, and because we know that they are true, we forget that they are not the only stories out there. You craft fairy tales out of nothing. You forget that most of the time, it doesn’t work like that, that the world is littered with the dust of billions of broken hearts. The world doesn’t owe you any fairy tales.

I’ve been struggling with this, lately. I’ve wanted to move to New York since I was 14, and I think I thought that when I move here, I’d be happy. I thought that if I got a boyfriend, I’d be happy. It’s been hard on several levels, to move here and be so unhappy. I forgot that New York doesn’t owe me happy (not that I expected happy to show up at my apartment door with a welcome gift basket, I know that you have to create your own happiness, or at least create opportunities for happiness to happen, but you know what I mean). Having this idyll of New York in my head doesn’t obligate New York to adhere to that conception. And having the drought of romance that I had doesn’t mean that the universe owes me a boyfriend. Just because I really liked this guy doesn’t mean he’s under any sort of karmic obligation to like me back.

I know all these things, and yet I don’t know them. I have to keep learning them.

facebook-dislike-button.pngI deactivated my Facebook account, and I haven’t been posting on Twitter. Or I’ll post, and then delete it. Recent events have rendered me uncommunicative. And Facebook makes me uncomfortable.

Do I want my mom (FB friend) to know how depressed I am? Do I want Marilyn to know? Do I want random people I only know from shows, classmates, aunts and uncles?

What is this supposed benefit, this advantage, to being “out” and “complete” on the internet? To not withholding pieces of myself? What do I get, besides exposure and violation of my own personal privacy? Not any guarantee that others will accept me or treat me compassionately, that’s for damn sure. Mark Zuckerburg’s argument that we should post our entire lives online, under our own names, presupposes a just and compassionate universe that I just don’t think I see.

I’m writing more now that I’m not reading Facebook.

Facebook is predicated on this idea that our whole lives, attached to our real names, should be open books. How profound can Facebook really get, in that situation? How far are we willing to risk our true selves on a website?

Open and honest Facebooking is predicated on the assumption of an open and honest (and compassionate) society. Why should teachers be honest, when they could be fired for admitting they drink beer? Why should public officials? Why should husbands, knowing their wives will read what they post? Children, in the view of their parents, and parents in view of their children? How much are our relationships really built on honesty, and how much are they built on discretion? Does Facebook make society more tolerant, or less?

Is this why so many people do nothing but post pictures of lolcats and articles from cracked.com? What would they say, if they knew people were really listening? (Or maybe they know people are really listening, and that’s why they keep quiet about everything except the new Twilight movie.)

I am so much more open here, where nobody reads what I write.

In order to be honest with others, I have to first be honest with myself. And really, this fall, I’m just not there.