I’m Still Here

As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on–in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.

(Morrie Schwartz) tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

There is this line in the movie Poltergeist, the 1982 version, that the psychic, after they get Carol Anne back from the other side of the ghostly closet world, says out toward the camera, and hence to us the audience. “This house is clean.”

That sentence keeps circling in my head, this house is clean, this house is clean, this blog is clean. That’s pretty much how I’m feeling about this blog right now. I’ve been on about a year hiatus, which truthfully is not that unusual. If you’ve followed this blog at all you know that there are blog traffic destructive gaps in the writing. If you stopped following, I don’t blame you. I also don’t care. Not to sound like a jerk, but the only reason I am back here is because it finally occurred to me that I need to stop caring about you. Of course not in the real sense of not caring about people, but in the sense of trying to please you. The great big YOU out there in the audience. I will never be cool, hip, exciting, interesting, intelligent, or whatever other thing I need to be to impress you. I’m not going to build my audience. I’m not going to create a fan base, or a following, I’m not going to make any money here or some kind of a living here. I’m too overwhelmed and sometimes depressed (because I have depression so, you know, that’s the result of depression- gotta roll with it) to research how to have a great blog. Sometimes I look things up, like SEO’s and keywords, and I just can’t do it. I can’t. And finally, I’ve accepted that I don’t want to. This is because I discovered something while I was cleansing my blog. You see, I scoured through every single post I had ever written over the past- eleven years. I reorganized the entire thing. New categories, new template, and new focus. I reread many posts, and I trashed some posts (many posts) because they were not needed, and they did not fit into what it is that I have finally discovered I have been doing over the years.

This is a memoir. I hadn’t realized it till now, but it’s my memoir. It’s my history of the past eleven years of my life (and on till my death). I’ve decided, well, hell, I’d like to finish this book. So I reorganized, and I deleted, and I created categories that are really chapters, and I enjoyed the cleansing. I got rid of all of the pleading, because I could read it in my writing. I could hear the pleading in my voice. Please like me. Please like what I’m writing. You. You out there like me. Please save me and tell me I matter. All of that. I felt it come off the internet pages of this blog, like a noxious gas. A little sickening and a little sad. Palpable, tangible and so subconscious.

All of that was important. I needed to plead, and I needed to read and reflect on it all these years later with a kinder more compassionate self -perspective. I’m just a human. I needed to see that I had wanted to be more then just a simple human, and I wanted you to tell me; tell me that I was special. But, you never did. And I’m glad you didn’t because how would I learn? So, it’s changing. The voice is changing, and you, audience will either grow or remain the same or get smaller, but it doesn’t matter because I’m just here to write some stories. I’m on a journey to find out how I got here. How did a kid raised on welfare, with seemingly no chance of a decent future end up traveling and living in foreign countries? I want to know. I need to find out how. I’m curious as to know what happens next. Is it true we can write our lives? Let’s find out.

If you are reading this please forgive the mess. If you have ever seen Poltergeist you’ll know that even though she said the house was clean- it really wasn’t. There were still ghosts. Many ghosts. So, so many ghosts. In fact the entire family had to flee the home. They even got rid of the t.v.

Perhaps one day when I’m long dead this little time capsule of my life will resurface, and someone will learn something about what it was to live this little corner of my life. Perhaps not. Either way it doesn’t matter because I feel relief at finally seeing what this is all about. It’s about writing my own story.

 

Day 1: The Purging

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In Bali, three times a day offerings are left for God.

It’s been six months since I wrote my last post. Six months since I’ve posted a photo to my  Simple blog, and more than six months since I have written a poem or a short story. It’s as if I have given up on myself. It isn’t as if. It is as it is.

I do interesting things, at least it appears to be that way on the outside looking in, but I have to forcibly remind myself that my life is interesting or that it has some measure of value. Much of the time I feel disconnected from everything, like I’m a replicant just posing to be a part of the human race in hopes that I don’t get killed by Harrison Ford- although I guess if Harrison Ford or Ryan Gosling were the last people I saw on the planet it might not be so bad.  I travel quite a bit. I live in different countries. These are privileges that not a lot of people get to experience, so I understand the immaturity of complaining of feeling bad. What right do I have to feel bad when I live in a different country-by my own by choice? What right do I have to feel bad to have when I’ve just returned from a vacation in tropical wonder? What right? It isn’t a right. It is an inability to stop the feelings no matter where I go. No matter how beautiful the sunset, no matter how fun the party, no matter how exciting the adventure I can not escape the feeling that I’m fucking all of this up and doing it wrong. I didn’t connect enough, I didn’t have enough fun; I don’t look good in the photos; my photos aren’t spectacular; I feel lonely; I’m outside everything; I don’t feel it enough; I’m not adventurous enough; I’m not wise enough; intense enough; beautiful enough; young enough; never, never, enough. Who do I live for? It’s supposed it is me, but I’m not really certain.

A few years ago, I discovered that traveling doesn’t save me. I now know that no matter where in the world I am, and no matter how amazing the place is I’m also there too, and if I am not in the right head space then the place will not and does not change me. Sometimes, when I speak or tell stories to people I feel like I am lying. Like I am a fraud. I’ll walk away from a conversation and think to myself, I talk too fucking much. Why do I talk? Is that story even real? I have grown enough to have had many of self realizations, but not enough to know how to change the way I think about myself within those realizations. Meditation, yoga, self-help books, therapists, I suppose I’d try religion if it wasn’t so vulgar in its abuse of people. Still, the seeking of spirit is still there. I can’t see the progress. I’m sure there has been some, but I just can’t see it. I had a lot of dreams that I ignored for the same feelings that I have in my travels. Not enough, not good enough. I know that everything takes practice and experience, but I have the hardest time applying this well known truth to my own life. Somehow, I am outside of all of that truth. Anyone can be anything they want except for me. I’ll never improve; I’ll never be good at something; I’ll never have a successful relationship; I’ll never be worthy of the life I have been given; I’ll never live it to the fullest no matter how many hashtags of “livetothefullest” I post to my instagram. I am aware of the ridiculousness of this thinking, but training myself out of this thinking has been the most challenging thing in my life. It’s a constant battle. I’m a tired warrior fighting a never ending war.

The first time I left the U.S. I went to Europe. I was 25. I was heartbroken from a lost relationship that I thought was going to last forever (even though I didn’t always treat it as if I had believed it was forever). I thought Europe would save me. It would feed my soul and I would forget my former love. That’s how it is in the movies and the books. You never read a book about the person that goes to a new country and spends the entire time crying over their former lover leaving them. This is because no one wants to read that story. We know that feeling and we don’t like it. We want the good stuff. I didn’t get the good stuff because I couldn’t open to it. I was too busy wallowing in my self. When you can’t let go of an idea or a vision of what you thought you wanted or believed you would have, you can never be open to receive your new vision. This makes you rigid, closed, and disconnected to the magic around you. I know this because there is magic all around me that I miss every day, and I have missed for years. I see the magic in my friends. I see the magic in strangers. I’m grateful that I have the eyes to see at least that much. Europe didn’t change me the first time, or the second or the third time. At some point, perhaps it was in the 13 year break I took from traveling, I realized that I had wanted the place to change me. If I could go to a new place I could be a new person, but this never happened because places don’t change us- they effect us, but we change within ourselves. I couldn’t change the person I was to match the image or idea of the place I was in. I knew that it didn’t matter where I was in the world, that if I didn’t work on myself then I was never going to be happy or find the happiness I was searching for. Am I actually searching for happiness? I’m not even sure of that. If you don’t know what you are searching for then you most certainly will never find it.

Now, when I go to a new place, I don’t expect it to change me. I know it will effect me, but change me…no… I must find the way to do that within me, and that can happen anywhere even at home. Although, China changed me, but it was more likely my mother dying while I was in China that truly changed me. Well, not changed, but set the wheels in motion. Three year’s later and I’m still dealing with her death. Last night, after returning from a trip in Bali, I was overwhelmed with how lonely I felt in Korea. I looked at the room I was in. The closed walls, the tight space, the towering high-rises, the silence in the elevators, the lack of eye contact, the hours sometimes days without communicating to a person in person. I compared this to the open space of the place I had stayed in while in Bali. Every morning I had the staff to speak with, and how friendly they were, how easy it was to speak with people, how Balinese people would always say hi when you walk past on the street; the noises, the daily offerings of banana baskets of flowers on the ground and on the doorsteps. The openness of everything. My space had been huge, the sky had been huge, and suddenly, I felt all the smallness of my room in Korea. I was struck with an overwhelming loss. I had missed my mother. I missed being tied to someone, to belonging to someone. I think my friends would ask me why I don’t leave Korea if I feel so lonely there, and I suppose I would give the same answer as I had in China. I just want to see it through. Now, as I am about to begin a graduate program in TESOL, I will possibly have to stay even longer in this lonely yet intriguing country. I know when I leave it is unlikely I will ever return to Korea. I did say the same thing about China, and now I would like to go back to visit, but Korea, doesnt have the same effect. I have no animosity toward the country, but it is a place for the young. Korea doesn’t want us aging people, it doesn’t even want it’s own aging people-unless they are rich. Maybe there is a bitterness in this from me, not being able to stop the process of my aging, and Korea here to remind me of it. I’ve always struggled with loneliness and now I am on my way to invisible. I’m not afraid of it. I am painfully uncomfortable with it. The pathway to acceptance is a painful one. It’s less traveled because it is unpleasant. There is also no promise that you will feel better once you’ve reached the end of that road. I think only death brings that peace, if you can not find the peace within yourself while you are alive. I believe this peace is possible, but I don’t believe it’s possible for me. That’s my demon. What is all this about? What is this self-flagellating about? It is my purging. The beginning of a new task. I new process that I have added to my lists of processes to teach my self to enjoy the process.

There have been some times when people told me that I was talented, but I never allowed myself to believe them. Which is insulting to the person praising because you discredit their point of view by not taking the compliment, but most of us are selfish in our thinking, and we don’t see the gift that people are giving us. We wait for the insults because for some reason those are more believable. I’ve forgotten my praises, except one, and I imagine I remembered it because for years I thought of it as an insult. Once a teacher described me as tenacious. When I first heard this it made my heart drop. It was during a certificate ceremony when myself and others were receiving our degrees from a writing program. This same teacher had previously praised all the other students with words about their work, and their talents, and how people should look for their work in the future. When it was my turn he said nothing of my talent and nothing of my work, only that I was tenacious. I felt dejected by this statement. It yet again reinforced my belief that I was talentless, and that I was not enough. I also felt like it wasn’t accurate. If I was so tenacious then why did I quit acting? Why did I quit writing? Why didn’t I pursue the other arts I desired like dancing, or art or photography? I gave up every dream- how is that tenacious? Yet, as I look back on his comment, I know that it is the truest thing said about me. I am tenacious, even though I don’t always face my life in full awareness, I don’t give up. The fact that I am alive is a sign of my tenacity. I have stood at the edge of a window frame on the 13 floor, at the edge of a busy street, and the lip of a bridge, and just wondered if I could just let go and end this life. Those are not even my darkest moments, and yet, I hold on. Even after the death of my mother the most important person in my life, I still hold on. Even when I don’t know why or what I am holding onto I hold on. As if I am digging my soul out of the earth I grasp to improve my being and to grow. I search, and I finally know what I search for. I search for my freedom and my joy.

There were times when I was younger and I felt I had something to offer; when I could feel passion in my veins, when I felt like my inner self was bigger than my outer self and I longed for a bigger body that could fit my soul. My skin felt tight around my inner being. I want this feeling to return. I make these tiny painful steps toward rebuilding my inner life. It feels like rehabilitation from an accident I don’t remember. I need the physical therapy, but I don’t know why I need it. I started listening to podcast about change, reading books about change, motivating my inner thoughts to be aware of my choices about holding on to or letting go of my feelings. I started focusing on my habits and trying to change my life through changing my habits, like the habit of not liking any choice I make. This is habitual. It is habitual to think I’m not enough. Here is the point of this purge: I give myself 30 day challenges. 30 days of meditation every morning. 30 days of yoga. 30 days of not buying coffee. 30 days of waking up at 6:00 a.m. It can be anything. Behind every 30 day is the motivation and the intention to better myself by facing my habits and changing them. My measure of success is completing the 30 days. An even greater measure of success is turning that challenge into a habit. 30 days of letting shit go (this is a tough one). This here is 30 days of writing.

Day one is this confessional. I have four blogs. Poetry, photography, short stories, and this one. It doesn’t matter where I post or how much I write as long as I do it every day. What’s the intention the motivation? To be a good writer? To be prolific? To be seen? No. The intention is to make this writing a habit. A real habit. That my day doesn’t feel complete if I don’t write. To feel cleansed after writing. This is my intention. I don’t know if I will ever feel like I am enough or feel connected to this earth and the people in it, but maybe one day I will. My only legacy will be what I place down in a public place. It may not be much of a legacy, but because I am a human being in this world reaching out to grasp something, the same as all the billions of other human beings on this planet, I feel a need for a legacy. A small legacy and fantasy legacy, but a legacy all the same. To me that is writing.

With all of the self induced suffering and suffering caused from living in the world, and the apathy that leads to wanting to give up on this life, I still want to live an extraordinary life. I want to be amazing. I want to be amazing to me. I want to receive the magic, and if it takes me a life time to get there I will still try. There are times in my life when I can feel it. The beauty the enormous beauty of it all. I don’t know what gave me the gift in that moment to see life, but I’m so incredibly grateful to have received it. I want more of it. And I know it is there even if I don’t always believe it is meant for me. Life is fleeting. I’ll ride this suffering like a dragon into a storm. I don’t know if the storms will pass, but I’ll ride to the edge of the world, and if you want to grab my tail, you are welcome to do so. Purged.

Day one.

 

Let’s Take Teacher to Kaifeng Part 1.

I left Portland in the summer of 2013, to begin a new adventure in China as an English Literature teacher for EFL Chinese students who were prepping to move to the U.S., and Canada to continue their educations. It was really a whim. I had been feeling trapped and stunted, doing my usual, what am I really accomplishing in this life lamentations. This a usual lamentation that I’ve been singing since I first left college in 1997. It’s a familiar song that is on a fairly continuous loop kind of like when a horrible pop song gets stuck in your head. In truth, I’m sick of the song, but at times it can lead me through interesting doors, albeit I’m generally singing the same tune too loud to be able to pay attention to my  immediate surroundings. Surely, more then once I have missed an opportunity to grasp some enlightening notes to help me in the great quest of purposefulness. Regardless, if I had the overwhelming desire to be a great teacher or to experience China, or to be an avid traveller (all of which I have at one time or another felt) I ended up in China. It was more a case of who I knew than what I knew, but the outcome was the same; I was in China.

As I write this post from a coffee shop in Busan, South Korea, the days tick away from my time in China, and four years have past. Since China I have moved to the Czech Republic and traveled to parts of Eastern and Western Europe then returned to Portland, and now I sit in cafe called Coffee Farm in Saha-gu in Busan. This post will remain static on this page, and the days will continue to tick. Perhaps you have stumbled across this blog while looking up something on China, and as you read, five more years have passed since I’ve posted, and who knows what I’m writing and where I’m writing. Will I still be traveling? Will I be writing? Will I be alive?  I haven’t posted much about my experiences because thoughts have been in the way, more personal, more emotional thoughts and feelings that have been an impediment to sharing my general experiences in China, and in the other places that I have been since then. Occasionally, I am able to force myself to the page, but the moments are far and fewer between. Yet, that need to record my life, maybe in some attempt to have some relevance beyond death, is still there; small as a wisp, but still there.

There are moments when my thoughts are drifting and some brief yet strong memory from my year in China resurfaces. I never know what triggers it, but it always brings a smile to my face, and a slight nod to my head, which at times baffles and amuses me because I struggled in China. It goes to show that things can become better when nostalgia sets in. Even though I discount my pleasant experiences there I will state that it wasn’t all a struggle or at least that there weren’t moments of joy in the experience of struggles. I do hope that in the coming years that I can and will devote more time to the practice and art of writing so that one day I can accurately and succinctly convey the emotions, and the experiences that triggered those emotions, in a way that can take my readers to China. Can I reach the ability to tell my history like a poetic story? Can I transport you with my words to this place without sounding sentimental or whiney? I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to do such a thing, but if it’s true that practice and deliberate practice bring about true growth, then I have to look at each post, be it about an event from the past or this current present, as a step toward learning to create that transportive storytelling.

Here is the beginning of one such deliberate practice of a storytelling:

Once upon a time, I had a complete and total meltdown at school, number 47 middle school, where I taught high schoolers,  in Zhengzhou, China.  I was in the office talking to one of my best and favorite students when one of the staff dropped a little bomb on me. On all of us. In a typical Chinese administration fashion, a set holiday was taken away from the teachers and the students in a very last minute non ticket refundable manner in order to use the school for Gaokoa practice testing space. Gaokao is this brutal future life determining test  that all Chinese students who want to attend higher education have to take in order to have a hopefully prosperous future. It is considered one of the most difficult tests in the world. Post test results are the top students have their photos in the national papers, and a number of suicides which are not reported in the same papers. It is stressful, and also status building. So it means nothing to the administration to forgo much needed and desired vacation time for students and teachers in order to be the poster school for testing. I, of course as can be determined by my current tone, don’t think this test is the be all to life, and at the time pretty much lost my shit at the knowledge that I just lost my vacation-days days before they were to take place. I had no concern for mianzi or guanxi. These are Chinese words for saving face or keeping up appearances and relationships that are far more complex, yet central to Chinese society, then I can effectively explain. Needless to say, my “face” exploded. I lost it in full view of my student and my Chinese co-workers.

When I think back on this 20 minutes of pure fury which I experienced in some bizarre out of body fashion, I wish that I had a camera rolling so I could watch the horror that my co-workers appeared to show on their faces and in their bodies, and the shear madness that I was unable to control. I really went mad. I was a thin line of consciousness from physical destruction. It was this outer body entity of myself that was watching me lose it that was the only thing that managed to keep some small about of sanity about me. I screamed and railed about how this was the very reason why people hated China; and no wonder they don’t return; and how the administration and the bosses treat people like shit even their own citizens; and it just keep going.  I’d grip a desk with a blinding passionate need to over turn it, but this calm voice of reason would wash over me and say, “you look crazy, right now, and this is not their fault, and your student is standing right there. Let go of the table.” So I would release my grip of what ever object I had in my grasp with a rapid snap of force, and scream out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I know it’s not your fault!” And, immediately my wrath would return, “BUT this is bullshit!” and I would frantically pace the room seething and looking for something to destroy. It was truly a moment of madness where my personalities had split. I would even begin laughing at myself at the ridiculous irrationality of my behavior. I would laugh thinking, oh my god you can’t un-do what you are doing right now. The terror on my co-worker’s faces would only mildly pause my raging. It was only my student who was able to calm me. Unlike my adult co-workers who couldn’t move and just stood in shock staring at me, it was my 16 year old student who threw her arms around me and pulled me into an embrace, and held me in her arms. “It’s okay teacher. It’s okay.” I wanted to cry and collapse into her arms, but a new I needed to pull it together and be the adult I was supposed to be. “We won’t let this happen.” She said, and then she ran from the office.

I slumped into my chair, my head drooped forward over my desk, tears heavily forming into the base of my eyes. “I’m sorry.” I whispered to the still stunned Chinese staff. “It’s just…it’s just not fair.” I sighed, and looked at them. “I know it’s not your fault. I know it ruins your vacation too.” The head teacher held her hands up in a calming manner and said, “just, just wait, I will talk to the President, maybe something can be done.” And she left the office.

I don’t remember much else except that my student returned to the office to declare that her and the other students had decided to protest the change and that they would refuse to go to school on that day. “And if that doesn’t work teacher, we’ve decided that we will take you on a vacation after school is over.” I smiled lightly at my student. I had just incited a tiny revolution, which although oddly charming could result in me getting arrested for subversion, but what a story that would make.  This mini-revolt didn’t take place because the President of the school decided to allow our department the day off. I assume that the head teacher painted a very clear description of the foreign teacher’s utter decent into raving madness. It ended up making me a minor hero among my Chinese colleagues because they were able to maintain guanxi yet keep their vacation time. One teacher came in and spoke to the lead teacher in Chinese and after a moment leaned  toward me and whispered, “Thank you.” I may have been permanently marked the unstable one, but I had my uses.  I know that other foreign teachers had had outrages, but based on the frozen fearful faces of my co-workers I was fairly certain they had never seen anything like what came out of me on that day. Hell, I had not experienced that level of a tantrum soberly in a long-long time, and it was more than I had ever released. I knew it stemmed from the pressures of work but more so from the repressed grief that I had been carrying over my mother’s death. Still, I was shocked by my behavior. I didn’t know that I had an actual demon possession lying dormant inside me.

I suppose in all other circumstances I would have been embarrassed, but China had a way of taking bizarre events that would have what you would think to be a predictable outcome and flipping it into an unpredictable result. Everyone went on vacation, and at the end of the school year, six of my rebellious students took me on their mini vacation which was a complete surprise and a contradiction of expectations.

“Teacher.” My student said during the last week of school. “We want to take you with us on our holiday. Will you come. You just pay for your room and we will do the rest.”

It seemed a little unprecedented to me a teacher going on vacation with students–not as a chaperone, but as invited guest on their trip. It would never happen in the states. I said yes. My students took me to Kaifeng. It was me, six teenagers, and three e-bikes.