When the Path does not Feel as Great as the Photos Look

Today, I randomly opened my book Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and read a quote that seemed to answer a common request I’ve had of late.

Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you,
you must travel it for yourself.

The quote is from his poem, “Song of Myself”. An ex-boyfriend gave me the book nearly ten years ago, and his reason was specifically for me to read “Song of Myself”. It took me a couple of years after he had given it to me for me to read it. When I finally did, I couldn’t remember a poem moving me so greatly and causing me to pause with such huge sighs of awe. How could this man from the 1800’s know how I was feeling today? It is a poem of self empowerment, and a testament to the wonder of life, and what potential we all have, and it is more.

I had grabbed a few books with me on my journey to China. I’ve already left a couple behind when I came to Prague, and I will most likely leave the rest behind, but Leaves of Grass will travel with me. Walt Whitman speaks to all my life longings perfectly as if he had taken words from my own mouth, my own dreams. He answers my questions and soothes my anxieties as if he is here listening to me speak and cry out,  but this is impossible because he had these thoughts, these ideas, these wonderments before my existence. Even so, I feel he speaks to me as if we were alive in the same time. Would we be kindred spirits? I like to believe that we would.

This journey, as wonderful as it is, and as grateful as I am to experience it, has been hard. As I look back on my life, I think in most moments I have thought things were almost always hard, and part of this is because there is something wrong with my brain. This is true, it is called depression, and it can cloud even the most amazing experiences. I’m fairly certain it is hereditary based on some of the behaviors and actions of people in my family. I’ve struggled with it since I was a teenager, and at periods of my life it had been pretty bad, coming with its wonderful array of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts- it’s truly a joy to have around. There have been periods when I was able to keep it under control through meditation, yoga, and other forms of exercise. It can sometimes be an extra challenge to the normal challenges of life,  like a layer cake of challenge. This year is a great challenge: living in foreign countries, loosing my mom, struggling with the monsters called bureaucracy and soon to be dealing with the issue of no money, and plus this little brain thing. I’m beginning to wonder if I can handle all this shit. My life in the now is rarely happy. It is only in the past that places and experiences look better or they create longing. This is a thinking pattern that really bothers me, but I have yet to change it. There is one particular moment of time where I feel real contentment and peace, and it does involve traveling, but I’ll save it for the next post. I often feel bad about feeling bad, like I’m ungrateful or filled with self pity and misery and I don’t deserve to have these experiences- they should go to people who have a greater appreciation for the adventures of travel. The kind of people you see in photographs.

I had wondered before coming to Prague if it was really the right decision. If I had the strength to make it through the course, if I have the strength to make it through this process of trying to find work to get the visa to deal with the bureaucracies. I also wonder what I’m doing it for. If it is all so hard in the moment then why bother? Why not just go back? At this moment I can’t answer these questions. I kept hoping I would get a sign, something to tell me I am on the right path, that I’m actually on a path and not just flailing about lost in a forest that I don’t even know I’m in because all I see are the trees.

This year (who am I kidding I’ve done this multiple times) has made me throw imaginary arms into the air and cry out, “I give up. I can’t do this can somebody please do this for me? Can somebody else live my life?” But, no, no-one can. Like Whitman said, “no one can travel that road for you, you must travel it yourself.”

All I see are the trees.

It is not far, it is within reach,
perhaps you have always been on it since you were born and did not
know,
perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

A few days ago, for the first time, I had felt the prickling of missing China. It was small like I mentioned- a prick. I had wondered if I would miss it. If missing it had been too buried under my culture shock, my mother’s death,  the pollution. I was kindly relieved to feel this small feeling of missing this place. It gave me some kind of hope that it wasn’t a mistake that I did learn something there and that over time I will grow from it. Time is never what we think it should be. We don’t heal or grow like we are told we should. We don’t become wise just because we grow older and we don’t get happiness just because we followed the rules. It is never what we expect. I had read Siddhartha while I was in China, and I had asked myself, and I still ask myself, will I ever see my life as Siddhartha saw his; that each experience was purposeful, and carried meaning? Will that self-reflection of one’s own journey- my own journey; will it be seen? Will I see the forest and the mountains, the land and the sea? Siddhartha is a little over a hundred pages, but years had passed in the story. Time is never like a book or a movie. Patience. That is the only word I can really say to myself in this moment. Patience, and perspective, and don’t panic, after all it’s just life, and mine isn’t so bad even with depression.

I know I am not alone in these thoughts. I also know I am not alone in feeling bad of feeling bad about being in a foreign place. After all don’t people dream about traveling? Don’t people wish they could pack it all up and start a new life in an exotic place? But, dreams are not realities, and nothing can be how you expect it especially if you’re bringing yourself along, and maybe yourself has some extra baggage. So, this is my final thought on the matter of someone else doing this whole life thing for me or maybe for you if you ever feel similar. No one can travel the road I’m on as no one can travel the road you are on. I know we are not traveling together, but with all these roads we must be crossing paths. So, with the baggage we carry, the pieces we were born with and the pieces that we’ve accumulated, I hope, that when all the roads converge, we’ll be able to drop our bags and converse before traveling on our own roads, but with our hands free.

 

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of light and every
moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me,
shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

CIMG5921
The Burial Tomb of Emperor Qin. Legend is that it is protected by a lake of mercury. Scientists have tested the hill and have found extremely high levels of mercury. It will be many years before the story is told.

Every Closed Door

Cover of "Cube"
Cover of Cube

For every door that closes another door opens… so the saying goes.

Anyone ever see the movie Cube? It’s a sci-fiction movie released in 1997. Seven strangers wake up inside a cube. A similar scenario to the Twilight Zone episode 79, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (which I was excited to find out was the inspiration behind the idea for Cube. Isn’t it great when you pick up on such nuances before reading them on wikipedia).It is also similar to Sarte‘s “No Exit,” which was the inspiration behind episode 79.

Episode 79 spoiler* In “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”  it is revealed to the audience that the five characters who wake up in a cylinder are really donated toys that believe they are living beings. This revelation is not quite as frightening as “No Exit” because if you think about it the toys are being donated so they will on christmas day be given to some boy or girl. Will this be terrifying for the toys? If they are anything like the Velvet Rabbit then no. And, eventually they will be out of the cylinder. In “No Exit” the characters are in hell, and hell as we figure out is being stuck in a room with other people with literally no exit, and most likely for all eternity. Cube takes this idea further by putting the characters in a giant cube suspended in nothing (very much like the hell jail scene in Time Bandits— you’d know it if you’d seen it). Inside the Cube is an extensive labyrinth of rooms, and each room has several doors some even on the floors and ceilings. Each room is different yet the same, and the characters along with the audience don’t ever know which way is up or down. As the characters remain longer in the cube personalities under stress appear, some become annoying, some are secretive, some are aggressive, some weak, some silent, some heroic, but each in their own turn is another’s hell. But, as far as hell goes in this film it is not just the people who are hell it is the Cube itself because if you choose the wrong door and enter the wrong room you suffer a grotesque and bloody death. Lastly, Cube never reveals why they are there or what the cube actually is. The characters never know or find out if they are in prison or in hell or in a social experiment, and neither do the audience.

In the echelon of great sci-fi movies Cube is somewhere on the lower middle end. It’s a cool idea, and the design of the cube is awesome, but the acting is pretty bad. It’s not horrific acting just not great acting. In cases like these I can never tell if it was a bad director that didn’t know how to get good scenes from the actors or if it’s just sub-par actors either way the acting is what keeps this film from reaching into the upper echelon of sci-fi.

 

But, I’m not really talking about a film or doing a film review in this post. I’m talking about doors closing and doors opening. In the past few years, I’ve felt my life’s journey has been a bit like the Cube. It was “No Exit” for a while, but then it seemed like I had some options of doors, yet each one I tried to open felt a bit like getting emotionally eviscerated. As each door closed, and had some pendulum swing across the room to cut me in two, I’d turn and find no other door open. I’d stand facing the same exact door. The idea of thinking outside of the box was becoming more and more desperate to me, but I felt creatively stumped as how to move my life experience forward and survive— no, not survive, but to live well. As the third rejection letter from grad school came in I began to think about an alternative plan, a plan b. Once I read the blurb on Irvine’s MFA creative writing page, if you don’t hear from us you didn’t get in (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much) I started making the move towards plan b.

 

Plan B is scarier then Plan A. It has nothing to do with honing my craft of writing— although it could. It has nothing to do with networking with other writers— although I don’t really know if that matters, and it also could end with me networking with writers more like myself. It has nothing to do with getting a masters that tells me “I AM A MASTER WRITER”- but it wont stop me from becoming a better writer. It will give me teaching experience and that is about the only thing it has in common with graduate school. My rejections from my grad programs did not deter me from being a writer. I deter me from being a writer regardless of what I’m trying to achieve. My applying to grad school was not just about becoming a better writer with access to other writers and connections in the writing world it was about opening a goddamn door that went somewhere and led me out of this room. It wasn’t the right door. Even though it is a common door and many people try that door and find it does open and it leads somewhere, it didn’t work for me. Not at this time.

In Cube we find out that the cube is always moving like a Rubik’s cube so even if it is the right door and the right room if you don’t open it at the right time and be quick about going into the room the room will change, and a laser will cut you in half. You off course don’t know when or why the cube moves. Sound like life? The laser is of course a metaphor (I hope).

 

So the door closed once again, but plan b was in action. Three weeks ago, I e-mailed off an application. Last Wednesday, I had an interview over skype, and the following day, Thursday, I was hired. Just like that a new door opened. A door that leads far off to the East farther than I’ve ever gone. I’m nervous about such a huge change and excited for the change for the possibilities, and the challenges, and of course the potential for new stories. In August with just a few bags I will walk through this door that I never saw until a month ago, and once I’m over the threshold, I’ll be working as a literature teacher and leading drama classes in Zhengzhou, China.

There’s more to come. There is more to come.

Final Rejection Letter… Well Not Really…

“Applicants who have not been notified of admission or placement on the waitlist by April 2, 2013 should assume they will not be offered admission for 2013-2014. Because of the high number of applications and limited staff, it is not possible to send out denial notifications until late spring. Applicants who wish to confirm their application status sooner, may contact the Programs in Writing after April 16, 2013.”

-Love UCI Irvine

I always thought to assume made an ASS of U and ME. I’m sorry…, but this is bullshit. The world is full of bullshit and bullshit makers. This school charges $88.00 to apply for their program (it may be $75, still a lot for my paltry pockets). This fee is non-refundable. I knew the fee was non-refundable going into the application process. I also knew it was competitive and that I might not get in, but I also believed I was good enough to make the cut. I still believe that. A lot of people are good enough, and a lot of people are exceptional, there are a lot of people in the world. But, if they had this little notice on their website before I applied, I would not have applied. I do not like sending my money to a company, oh I mean school, that has so little interest in the people who apply- other than their money- that they can’t even spare a rejection e-mail. In the days of letters I would have more understanding for this limited staff and high number bullshit excuse, but in today’s computer land it doesn’t fly. The entire application is electronic. They mean to say that in the development of their application software they couldn’t put in a canned response button that says, “sorry but thank you we had many excellent applications, don’t give up” or “sorry we didn’t think you were a good fit.” Whatever. I worked for a software development company I know this can be done. Google has a canned response. Brown, Syracuse, and San Diego were able to send an e-mail rejection. Irvine can’t afford to send a “denial notification”. Please. Bullshit.

Denial notification. I like that. It makes me laugh. It’s like the PC word for rejection letter. I wasn’t rejected. I was denied. I should change my page titled ‘My Wonderful Rejections Letters’ to ‘My Wonderful Denials’.

Anyway… that’s over. Now what?

What’s the next move on the great plan of my life? I have no idea. Right now all I wish is that I could get unemployment, drink wine, and watch Game of Thrones all day. That’s about my level of ambition.

They can keep their late spring denial why waste the limited staff’s time and money on a single sentence now.