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.
I make playlists. Because I like lists and because I love music. I make playlists for friends because that’s my way of letting someone know: hey, you’re, like, really awesome, and, like, I thought you should know. I also love to find other people’s playlists in this wonderful, magic, attic-like place called the internet because it’s a fun way to discover new bands or realize that some random stranger on the other side of the world shares your taste in music. So, internet: you’re like, really awesome, too!
That being said, yesterday I sent a cool playlist I’d just discovered on a music blog to a friend as my way of letting him know: hey, I can’t send you a playlist that I put together myself for the moment but that doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re awesome, so here’s someone else’s cool playlist for now (and if you think that’s a lot to communicate through one little playlist – well, much much mucho mucho more is possible, you’d be surprised!).
To understand the rest of the story, you have to know this: I am a girl. Always keep this in mind. If you think a boy is telling you the story, you’ll get confused quickly as you read on (because you’re reading on, right? Right???). So again: I am a girl. Now, let’s continue.
Whenever I make a playlist for someone else, it’s, of course, mostly pure altruism (oh yes, baby, it is). Mostly. Yet (because I’m a girl, remember?), I do hope the playlist-receiver will get the message that comes with the list, be happy, and say something like: hey, like, cool! What an awesome playlist! And maybe something like: I really like song no. 5! That’s what I want in return. I’m a girl and I can’t help it.
Well, do I have to say things didn’t really turn out as planned (I know I don’t)? I had looked up the songs on my Spotify (you know what I’m talking about, right? If not: look it up, it will make you very happy!), created a playlist there and listened to it before sending it to my friend (a last quality check). Like with any social medium, though, other people that are logged in can see what you’re up to – and in my case: listen to the playlist as well. So as I sat and listened (being quite pleased with the song selection), my Spotify told me someone else was, in fact, listening to the playlist: this random guy I’d met three years ago during a month-long volunteer project who I hadn’t been a great fan of (watch out: euphemism alert). What? No! Why? I wanted to stop him, but obviously, I couldn’t just reach through my laptop screen and punch him or something (although I would have wanted to, kind of).
Here’s some more detailed information on my non-relationship with random-volunteer-project-guy: me and a friend of mine (also a girl, again: important side note) were sort of the other kids’ boss, which means: also his. And guess what? He hadn’t been a great fan of us, either. He and his (guy) friends had semi-big issues accepting that two girls were more or less telling them what to do (what has the world come to? A female as a boss? What?) or more accurately: what not to do (such as: don’t get drunk before or during work, don’t wreck the bus we use to drive to work every day in the middle of the night because you’re drunk, don’t bring random girls to the house we all have to share because you’re drunk…but if you really have to: at least, please, don’t get anyone pregnant!). Boys are stupid sometimes.
They never understood what we were trying to tell them or why we were upset all the time (other side note: this wasn’t a volunteer project in a big city where no one really cares what’s going on – this was in a small town where everyone knew everyone and cared very much). I don’t get angry very often but and when I do it’s got to be pretty bad. Well, he and his stupid friends had me yelling at them two weeks into the project, swearing like a sailor (I think, in fact, any New Yorker would have been very proud). Eventually, we worked out how to co-exist, kind of. At least, we managed not to kill each other – that’s something, isn’t it?!!
Needless to say (but I will say it still): never ever ever, like, never nevereverever would I take enough time and care and effort and sprinkles and positivity and glitter and whatnot to make a playlist for that guy. He wasn’t supposed/allowed to listen to the songs! They weren’t for him – not fair, not fair, not fair (yes, sometimes I’m five years old, judge me if you must)! If I was to make a playlist for him (because the existence of the world or my favorite band or all the chocolate on this earth depended upon it), it would be one that says something like: hey, like, you’re one of the most un-awesome people I’ve ever met and it’s about time someone told you that you need to pull your sh** together, seriously. But there he was: listening, possibly feeling quite awesome.
It doesn’t really help that the friend that was supposed to listen to the songs in the first place is being mean and hasn’t yet listened to them and thus, hasn’t yet said something like: hey, thanks, like, that’s awesome (ok, he probably hasn’t had time because there’s other important things in life, but because I’m a girl, I don’t care – try and reason with me, world! I’ll just curse at the wind: I’m a girl and I don’t care – unless you bribe me with chocolate)!
Oh, you wonderful, magic, attic-like place called the internet: people keep saying that you’re making the world smaller. You know what? I think you’re just making it weirder. I’m sorry, but I find you majorly weird today. You know what else? I still think you’re mainly awesome, but you’re not getting a playlist any time soon. Not because I want to punish you (ok, maybe I want to…just a little…remember: I’m a girl!). But seriously: who knows who ends up listening to it. Well, I guess one song won’t hurt:
I’ve been sick for the last couple of days. I hate being sick. I don’t get around to do half the things I want to do on a regular basis – so lying in bed all day doesn’t really improve things. Thankfully, I’m slowly starting to feel better. I’m not lying in bed anymore, I sit on an actual chair as I’m typing this which feels pretty grand. I feel relatively grand in general – compared to my general state of being over the last week.
Essentially, I spent the last days angry. I’m not an angry person. I try to think my glass is half-full unless there’s some gross substance in it – then, of course, I prefer to think it’s half-empty. Somehow, though, I just couldn’t help it. I felt frustrated and angry. Half-angry at the world because it made me turn sick in the first place (and that really wasn’t necessary now, was it?) and half-angry at myself because my reluctance to go see a doctor made me stay sick – way longer than necessary. On top of that, I was also angry with the world because I didn’t feel taken care of very well. In fact, I didn’t feel taken care of at all.
Here’s why: I usually spend a fair amount of time listening to friends’ problems and I do so quite happily. Yet. Sometimes, of course, I’d like them to listen to me in return. We all carry around our own little package that we need to unload every once in a while. Now, often, my friends don’t realize when I need to unload some weight. Not because they’re tiny evil creatures (I don’t befriend Gremlins or the like – to my knowledge). It’s really not their fault.
The real problem: I simply don’t know how to switch from listening-mode to talking-mode. So I just sit there – nodding, smiling, mhm-ing, understanding – while feeling mildly (or awfully) miserable. And then in the end, I end up feeling angry with myself and that doesn’t really help to boost my spirits either.
Bottom line: I wasn’t at the top of my game. Not even near the middle of it; I was located more at the bottom of things (needless to say, my grumpy mood didn’t make my sickness go away any quicker either).
Now, I have a tendency to wallow in memories and I have no objections to wallow in mud occasionally (hey, it’s supposed to be good for the skin) but I really don’t like to wallow in self-pity. So I did two things: One, I went to the doctor after all and – magically – he found out what was wrong with me and also told me what to do about it. Two, I went to visit a friend. A very good friend that I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like to. I had planned to visit her anyways because, as I said, I hardly get to see her (she studies almost on the opposite side of the country) and I had been feeling like I needed to see her for a while. But now, I really needed to see her. And I also really needed to get away from all the things that were bothering me at home.
Once the decision was made, somehow, things fell into place quite nicely. I spent a couple of days with my friend – I did some listening, but I also talked. A lot. She told me she’s often noticed how I’m very good when it comes to letting others talk, yet not so much when it comes to speaking up myself. I like to be a good listener, still. I want my friends to feel like they can come to me. However, it’s important to keep some sort of balance. It’s no use trying to shoulder other people’s weight when you don’t even know how to carry your own. It’s no use listening to a friend when you’re being frustrated and angry yourself. Because you don’t really listen. You can’t.
So she made me talk. She let me unload. All of a sudden, I wasn’t all that angry anymore. I felt like I should kiss and make up with the world. My glass is half-full again. And I like to think it’s not just because I’m on antibiotics right now.
As Olin & the Moon say, I’m a friend of feeling good right now…
First, let’s create some atmosphere. Here’s the soundtrack that goes along with this post. This song is to this post as is the frosting to the cake, Elmo to Sesame Street,
the oven to Sylvia Plath, the road to Dean and Jack – caring is creepy…listen, read, enjoy. Well, actually, just do whatever. But the song’s really good.
1. Care – ful.
I’m a carer. I care for a zillion things – some of them important, some of them as irrelevant as one speck of dust in relation to the entirety of our quite enormous universe (that is, consequently: very irrelevant).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am also an action-taker, a mover or a shaker. Demonstrations unsettle me; I’m not a loud person – so yelling out catch phrases while angrily raising my fist into the air is really not my thing. Also, it doesn’t mean that I’m a convincer – I just don’t like enforcing my beliefs onto innocent victims that are being perfectly happy simply minding their own business. I’m more of a live-and-let-live-type-of-person. At times, I wish this was different. Because at times, caring just for the sake of caring is – let’s face it – somewhat tedious.
So at times, when I remember that also I am a writer (or at least, trying to be something close), I pick up a pencil or let my fingers work a keyboard – I write to let people know I care. I don’t have to be loud and I don’t have to be enforcing – I just put some words out there, for anyone to read – if they care.
I’m afraid, I am too care-ful.
2. What? (Objectives.)
My objectives, admittedly, shift – depending on my state of mind, the amount of caffeine in my system, how much time I’ve spent reading (terrifying/ridiculous/ *insert other adjective here*) news headlines/ a good book/ a bad book; simply on whatever’s been going on during my day. Of course. I suppose it’s the same with most people. Here an excerpt from today’s list: Several friends having a hard or stressful time (dealing with things I can’t, for the life of me, help them with – not in any other way than caring), international education policies (dear politicians: stop the cutting of funding, please – not all children have the auto-didactic brilliance of our dear Abe, for the most part they need at least books and teachers showing them how to use these books…), finals/presentations/papers (and their nemesis – procrastination – looming in the not so distant distance)…
3. Now what? (Post-caring: Taking action. Or not. Or…)
I don’t know. Honestly. I’ve taken to writing, and… now I’m out. That’s the tedious part I’ve mentioned earlier. That’s the thing with being care-ful. It doesn’t make a difference to anyone else, really. And yet. If you care, it’s because you want to make a difference. So here’s some more writing:
For a friend: I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and although I know that I can’t actually change the situation you’re in right now, I can maybe change the way you’re feeling about it – you’re not going through this alone. Because I am thinking of you. Because I care.
For a politician: You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you even know what you are doing? I don’t think so. Yet, you’re probably not even the one to blame – because back in the days when you still went to school, there were other politicians just like you and they were already eagerly cutting the funding for schools and universities. That’s why there was no one (or no good book) left to teach you any better. And you’re just not an auto-didactic. It’s not your fault that you’re not the brightest crayon in the box.
As for the rest on the list – I’m going to stop procrastinating now (because this is what I’ve been doing writing this). I should probably make the best of my education now, before they cut half of the teachers on my program. Or the program (I’m not certain, they wouldn’t – even though it’s a teacher training program). So I can eventually kick one or two politician’s *insert any body part here*. And teach my students to know better. I’ll teach them to be care-ful, I think.