Weekly Writing Challenge: (Changes) In An Instagram
It was 2011 – the year of the Arab spring. Not a day passed without more news of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. A friend of mine was about to board a plane to Egypt. She was going to spend a year in the middle of all the chaos studying Arabic and trying to stay alive. Unlike people born, raised and suppressed in the Middle East, she had the luxury of choosing whether or not to face the turmoil. She was aware of this and it’s probably why she didn’t back out in the end. This isn’t about politics, though. Not about injustice. It’s simply about someone’s life changing.
We were standing in the kitchen, snacking on left-overs, a bag of chips and a small container of peanut butter with chocolate chips that we’d just bought at Whole Foods. College dinner.
“Do you think they’ll let you go?” I asked her.
We were both on spring break and I was visiting her for a couple of days.
“There’s so much going on right now.”
She shrugged. “I keep checking the news – so far, I don’t know. I really wanna go, though. It seems to be the place I should be right now…”
I reached for a chip and we were quiet for a while.
I was about to board a plane, too. I wasn’t headed for a conflict area (unless that’s a term you’d apply to the European Union; I guess, some people would). After studying abroad for a year, I was going home – whatever that means. I wasn’t sure then, I’m not sure now. I stood at the check-in, hoping several things: that I still had enough money in my account to pay for my extra suitcase, that my entire luggage wasn’t overweight (obesity is a serious problem among luggage of all sorts, people should be much more aware of it), and that they wouldn’t have me check in my guitar so it wouldn’t get smashed by potentially overweight suitcases somewhere along the way. Thankfully, all this hoping kept me too busy to fully realize that I was just handing over my life (that I’d managed to stuff into two large bags and a bag pack, god knows how) to the well-dressed lady behind the desk in front of me. So I stood there, smiling blankly, watching my life disappear behind her. I might have seen one of my friends cry from the corner of my eye but I successfully ignored it, even as I went to say my good-byes.
“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asked into the silence. We had quietly moved over to the sofa in the living room.
It was my turn to shrug. “I would really like to…I don’t know, either. Let’s hope so.”
People always talk of hope when there’s nothing else to hold on to. It’s usually about the time they rediscover belief and prayer.
She looked at me: “You should try.”
I looked at my hands: “We should try.”
And we sort of hoped together.
I was probably the only person on the plane that wasn’t relieved when we landed. I didn’t applaud the pilot. I usually don’t because it really makes me feel silly. That day I didn’t because it really made me feel all sorts of things. As I waited in line to have my passport checked I simply started crying. Someone asked me whether I was playing the Cello, pointing to the guitar on my back, entirely ignoring the fact I stood there sobbing as if someone had just abducted my child or my puppy or even worse: both, and that I was just two breaths per second short of hyperventilating. People never cease to amaze me, and not always in a good way. “It’s a guitar” I mumbled while cleaning my glasses and double-checking whether I could see things in full color to make sure I hadn’t just landed in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t. I stood, in fact, in the middle of plain, old reality: close to broke and about to move back in with my parents, at least for a while. A seven-hour flight can certainly change things.
My friend had to spend the summer waiting for news. News of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. News of the program that sponsored her studies.
Eventually, she e-mailed me “I’m going to Egypt in fall!”
I e-mailed her back: “Come visit then – I’m half-way home for you!”
Although I still felt uncomfortable with the term home.
I spent my summer waiting, too. Waiting to feel — real.
I subscribed to the New York Times newsletter to stay updated with the situation in the Middle East. To make sure my friend was studying Arabic and staying alive at the same time. And because I was looking for something — real.
I also got a side job: to occupy me until classes would start, and even more important, to earn some money. So I worked. I bought a ukulele. My grandmother passed away. I wrote a couple of songs. I went to my grandmother’s funeral and squeezed my mother’s elbow. I moved into a small apartment. Fall came and I still found myself cleaning my glasses from time to time, double-checking whether I could see things in full color. Just to make sure I wasn’t part of a movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Only sometimes, it still felt like it. And I wondered what could possibly change that.
Prologue: Home is the Sailor.
I’ve just spent a week in Ireland and I’ve been meaning to write/blog about my adventures on the green island since I got back. Yet, I’ve been busy with work and somehow, my mind’s also been occupied with other things and stories that want out. Today, I finally have some time (or rather: I’m simply taking some time) to write and maybe, I can find a way to get it all out – I’ll try to let all the stories out at once and hopefully, they will get along with one another and peacefully play together without kicking, screaming, pinching and without me sending them into a far corner of my mind to take a time-out or call in a writer-story conference.
Oh, the places you’ll go.
I’ve always suffered from a chronic disease: cabin fever. The prospect of traveling – anywhere, really – has always had a soothing effect on my usually uneasy self. I love plane rides, train rides, even bus rides and bike rides. Next to ocean shores and mountains, bus and train stations and also airports are probably among my favorite places in the world (at least whenever I get to go somewhere or meet someone – seeing someone off is probably one of my least favorite things in the world, but that’s a different story). When I checked in my – apparently impressively small – bag, I felt as calm as I hadn’t felt in a quite a while. Especially knowing that this feeling would probably last the entire week – because what’s there to see in Ireland? Exactly. Ocean shores and mountains. And sheep. Many, many sheep (Bah bah baaah – that’s “I love Ireland” in Sheep; yes, I’m fluent).
Like most people, I have many habits. I need my coffee in the morning, I buy more books than I could ever read and I prefer to fall asleep to music rather than plain, dark silence. None of these are too bad (in my opinion). Another habit of mine, though: I smoke. I’m not a chain-smoker, at least, but still. I’m a stress-smoker. And I have been smoking way too much in my opinion, all through August and September, because I was stressed. Which is not an excuse. I’d like to kick the habit. I’ve heard it’s easier to kick any habit when you change your general routine. I didn’t touch even one cigarette while being in Ireland nor did I feel like it – it seems almost blaspheme to inhale cigarette smoke while being surrounded by sea air all the time. That being said, I’m back home now and general routine’s been rearing its ugly head since I got off the plane – and my only solution so far has been to blow cigarette smoke right into its face. Is it my unrest or really just a bad habit I can’t get rid off? Or is it the same in the end?
Few things feel better than standing on top of a mountain that you’ve just hiked up. Especially with the soft, leprechaun-green Irish grass beneath and the dark blue of the Atlantic ocean below your feet. Also, few things feel more awe-inspiring. One moment of negligent curiosity and you’re sleeping with the fish – or you find yourself inside one, meeting Pinocchio or Jonah, potentially. There are some rocks – the Skelligs – an hour-long boat ride from the Irish coast, we wanted to but in the end couldn’t climb up. Weather conditions made it too dangerous and thus impossible (let alone our personal condition after the boat ride – the sea was a bit rough that day; go figure the consequences). They are mostly famous because around 600, Christian monks built their monastery on top of the rocks. In fact, they built them from the rocks. I still cannot imagine how they managed to do that. How they defied nature like that. And how they defied it and yet somehow still respected it, worked with it really (instead of marching in and just destroying everything, like it seems to be in fashion these days – sorry the tiny environmentalist in me sometimes takes over, but it’s a funny and cute creature, I’m sure you’d like it. Kind of like the Lorax, just maybe not that fuzzy).
Epilogue: Home from the Sea.
I would have liked to stay longer (as always), but I’m back. And (as always), I feel more restless coming home than I do while traveling. Maybe I was a sailor in a former life (although then, I probably wouldn’t have become that seasick during the boat ride?). Home is the sailor, home from the sea – I found this quote on a gravestone in a small cemetery on a hill right next to the ocean. I really liked it and I took it home with me (okay, this is a metaphor but I also, literally, took a picture of it). Another option: maybe we’re all sailors and my chronic disease isn’t just chronic but also contagious and already wide-spread.
I was born on a Saturday. Twenty minutes to midnight I came: no beautiful dress to show off, just one of the smooth glass slippers, the left one. Old spells seem to wear out much quicker these days. Even on your birthday. Old superstitions, however, never do: my mother always says she would have wanted me to be born on a Sunday. If only you could have taken these extra minutes, she’d say, you’d have been born a Sunday’s child – born under a lucky star, as they say. Maybe then, things would have been a little different, she thinks (and sometimes my mother must have wished for things to be different). That’s probably what she’s really wanted, for a long time (but there’s no spell, not even an old one, that can turn back time) – you just never understand these things when you’re younger. On the other hand, maybe things wouldn’t have been that different after all – but who knows? (I don’t.) Probably a lot of babies were born that Sunday, and possibly, all of them lucky– but again, who knows? (No one does.)
Written in the Stars.
I’m quite sure, though, that all the babies born on the Monday after, they were born under a revolutionary star – born under a night sky lit up by candles, torches, lanterns; born to the sound of raised voices; born to the smell of autumn; born to the bittersweet taste of frustration paired with anticipation. Every time my mother sees a shooting star and wishes I was born on a Sunday, I close my eyes and wish I was born on a Monday – I would like to be a Monday’s child. I would raise my candle, torch, lantern and leave a mark: a dab of light, like a tiny hole in the dark sheet that covers the earth at night. There’s more to life than simple luck; more than old spells that wear out even before the clock strikes twelve, more than old superstitions that leave you hanging on to things that could have been. You can’t change the past, but maybe, if you try, you can change the future.
Sometimes, in the short moment before falling asleep, I feel the light of candles, torches and lanterns warm on my skin; I hear people chanting; I can smell fallen leaves and I’m overcome by a sullen feeling, quickly followed by a feeling of hope. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel restless. It’s nothing I could ever explain, it’s just something that is. If I had to try to find words for it, I might simply say that I’m a child of my times. We all are.
Hearts and Cages.
Even now, the idea seems so strange, so unnatural, that I can’t wrap my head around it. No matter how hard I try. No matter how often I try. Sometimes I look at a map and trace the borderline with my index finger. With my scalpel, I cut through a city, an entire country – I become a surgeon. I take out half a nation’s heart (pincers!), just like that (swab!), and it’s bleeding all over me. Desperate people behave in ways that scare me. They get that frantic look in their eyes that always reminds me of a caged animal. And maybe that’s what they are: caged. Trapped in their despair.
We’re all people. We’re all in this together. We’re all created equal. But then: How could anyone be so mean (cruel)? How could anyone be so indifferent (inhumane)? How do you sell an entire country for a breadcrumb’s worth of power? How do you barter with millions and millions of people’s fate? Everything’s going to be okay, they said. In the end. They’re all liars; or blind and dumb and deaf. Or all of that. The upside : They’re also solidary like nothing else: you didn’t even have to kill yourself – it was done for you (working men of all countries unite. Unite, unite, unite. Shoot, shoot, shoot.). Once there was a man. He looked at the grey concrete, the barbed wire and the men with their nice uniforms and polished guns and he realized: you have to run. For freedom. Whether you’ll make it or not – you’ll be free, everything’s going to be okay, in the end.
I don’t know whether my mother was truly happy about the fall of the wall. I once asked her if she remembered what she’d done the night people were dancing on it, if she’d been dancing as well. I probably changed your diapers, she’d said, and that was that. My mother never was the dancing type – but maybe not because she didn’t want to dance, I often think the world just wouldn’t let her.
The sudden feeling of liberation might have been too much to handle for some – as anything that comes down on you so unexpectedly and overwhelming. The wall came falling down in front of their feet and then the ground fell out from underneath them. Maybe it was that feeling that scared away my father. Or maybe he was just high on freedom and so he went to find some more, another fix. And I don’t think anyone could have held him back, not with any luck of the world.
First: The obligatory apology for having neglected my blog for so long. It seems, I have been quite the neglecting being lately. I may have been neglecting not only my writing but also some people over the last couple of weeks. My apologies for all of that. I didn’t really mean to, I have just found myself being somewhat – scattered…
Coherence! – an angry voice is yelling, somewhere in the back of my head: Coherence for crying out loud!
A number of thoughts are twisting and shouting in my mind – freestyle – while some are standing by the punch bowl (spiked, f*** yeah…), holding on to whatever there is, staggering, trying not to fall over. Other bits and pieces of me are hiding in broom closets and niches: getting high, making out, writing their last goodbyes before jumping into the darkness…
Coherence! – was lost somewhere down the road.
I’d like to twist or shout or get drunk or get high or make out or write my last goodbye – I don’t feel any need to jump, though. I’ve been collecting my own darknesses in a shoebox since I was four. They come in all shapes and sizes. And different shades of dark. They are, in fact, pretty to look at and feel quite nice. Like tiny pieces of velvet. Coherence! What’s one got to do with the other? She asks.
This angry voice again; it sounds like my second grade teacher who I was scared of.
Shut up! I’m feeling scattered.
Sometimes, it is a nice feeling. Sometimes, it smells of empty roads, summer rain, the sea – of i-can-do-whatever. Other times, it feels heavy, like sinking. It feels like missing a piece, a limb; lacking. Because there are parts of me scattered all over. I’ve been leaving them behind like pebbles – to make my way back, someday, in the moonlight. In spite of monsters lumbering. In spite of the dark.
Coherence! – has been annoying me ever since writing my first essay in second grade for the teacher who I was scared of. Coherence! – is highly overrated, for crying out loud!
I’d like to do a million things at the same time. I’d like to be in a million places at the same time. I’m dreaming a million dreams at the same time.
I want to be there for my friends and family whenever they need me I wanttobethere for myfriends – my family – whenever (Coherence!) I want to be a writer a teacher I want to make adifferencein childrenspeoples (Coherence?) livesatleastforsomeofthem I wanttoteachand notbescaredIwanttoteach and not scaremystudents I wanttowrite astorypoetryanovelabook. (Coherence?!)
I want to be.
Shut up –
I am scattered. And sometimes, it is a nice feeling.
Cheers, we say –
to the New Year, and
let’s hope it will be better
than the last one,
crying tears (all in vain, always)
gritting our eyes
with ashes –
No more, we say
as the old year miserably
drowns at the bottom of
our wine glasses –
we don’t even try to save it.
We shoot the New Year
into the stars and say
that’s where we want to be:
Walking through the ashes
collecting our tears in a box
hiding it in a secret corner of the closet
(a secret corner of the heart).
Let’s build new bridges, we say.
But old acquaintances, they forget and
new year’s resolutions hit
the ground just one minute
after midnight, along with
the last of
Cheers, I say –
to an old acquaintance
that forgot, and I
wonder why (after all)
collected the ashes in a box
legs knee-deep in tears
walked right back onto
your last burning bridge
Cheers, I say
drinking the old year
from my glass of $3 wine.
Cheers, I say
looking for you
among the stars.
“You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. (…) [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the other.” – Martha Graham
Whether it’s always blessed, I am not sure – but there’s been a lot of unrest lately. Everywhere. And it still keeps people marching. Often, however, I do not wonder what it is that moves the masses – I wonder what it is that keeps so many in a state of (blissful?) ignorance…how come, there are people that are less alive than others?
Out of Joint
and the scary thing was
not that the earth
would not stop
all the salty
water flooding our doorsteps
and hidden corners of our
hearts (like widow’s tears: bitter. angry).
it wasn’t the nauseating fog that
grew around the city – a second skin
extremities (misshapen or simply redundant or odd)
dreams that lay dead:
– there goes the stuffed bear you just bought your babygirl – it almost seems to flinch…
– there goes your babygirl – motionless like a stuffed toy…
(and all the time this irony, mocking you, a grimacing gargoyle)
– but say, did you hold her too tight so she couldn’t breathe or maybe it was the fog or perhaps…
— there goes the answer…
now, the scary thing was
that still, there were
many that (while
lives) didn’t even
try or seem to
notice they had