Friday, September 20, 2013

Maybe, Maybe, Maybe

Dear friends, I’ve decided to move home.  I have broken my lease, sold most of my furniture and rented a tiny u-haul in hopes that I can convince someone to help load the rest of what I couldn’t sell.   I am coming back, early, and before an entire year has lapsed for several reasons.  The first, is I would like to beat the snow.  I don’t want to come back and meet head-on one of the biggest reasons why I left in the first place.  Also, I would like to cash in on some of those home-game weekends and make the glorious money that I made right before leaving.  Also, I would like to ease Roxy, my Austin dog into a winter – into her new Northern life.  I’ve lived it for 13 years, I know what to expect, I know the seasonal depression, the slippery roads, and the monotony of Midwest-living. 

It didn’t work out here.  It was hard.  It wasn’t what I was expecting.  I have duplicated many of the aspects of the life that I lived while there – so why not do it cheaper?  Why not be closer to family and friends?  Why not fail?  So many others have.  I’m sorry if you’re disappointed.  Believe me, it is nothing compared to the disappointment I have in myself.


The above address, the previous section, the confession of failure that you just read – is false.  I have made no such plans to move home – for this is my home now.  But know, please know, that I have considered it.  I have said and written these words to myself and in my head and loudly in my apartment and my car.  It would be so, so easy. 

Over the past few months, I have done a great deal of complaining, my fair share of wallowing and dwelling and laying low and procrastinating and just generally being lazy.  My writing has come to almost a full-stop.  I am not inspired, I don’t feel I have anything to contribute and I keep thinking over and over just how boring my life was and is and seems to continue to be.  For a NON-FICTION WRITER, I have nothing compelling or interesting to write about.  In most senses, I am the good girl.  I have always played by the rules, prepared, planned, set goals, finished projects and gotten straight A’s.  I have never received a speeding ticket, I’ve never been to jail, I’ve had very few sexual partners, I’ve never even SEEN hard drugs, let alone do them, I pay my bills, I go to the dentist, I put money in savings, I exercise, I try to eat right, I do well at my job.  However, in spite of all of these “right-doings” I do not feel fulfilled.  I am not successful.  My resume is limp, my experiences are limited, and I am not stretching myself or putting myself out there or taking risks at living the life that I actually came down here to live. 

You see, I didn’t have to try in school.  Looking back, I can think of 3 classes out of the 68 that I took during my undergraduate and graduate career that actually challenged me – made me sweat, made me study all night, worry myself, and still ended up getting a grade lower than an A. (Ok, fine, it was an A- in one and a pass/fail for the other two so they wouldn’t hurt my overall GPA.)  Every other one, I slept through.   I studied a few hours, I read the books, I went to every class – but I didn’t really try all that hard.  But you should also know, I don’t consider myself all that smart.  I really don’t.  I haven’t read everything, I haven’t seen everything, I haven’t been everywhere and I certainly haven’t listened to what I should.  I am not proficient at anything.  For those that think college is difficult, or they couldn’t do it, or they’re impressed at those that get good grades all the time – they shouldn’t.  They just haven’t figured out the system the strategy the points that matter and all the other ones that don’t. 

And my mistake, my biggest mistake was not utilizing the time OUTSIDE of what was required of me in class.  I didn’t know just how important it was to get an internship, be part of clubs, make connections, get references, be a TA, and apply for things.  Because when I graduated, when I moved the tassel to the other side, when I walked across the stage and celebrated my accomplishment – I didn’t have anything.  I didn’t have a job, I hadn’t sent any resumes out, I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do next.  I look back and wonder why I wasn’t more freaked out about the fact that I was moving home after graduation to go back to the serving job that I had when I was 20. 

I bet you I thought I would be receiving a knock on the door phone call letter email package offer assignment fellowship internship plane ticket carrier pigeon smoke signal – anything.  I bet you all of my student debt that I thought something magical happened once I got my diploma.  I bet I thought I didn’t have to try at all to get a job.  I’m sure I thought it would just fall into my lap, my car would drive itself to my new office and park itself in my new life.  

Then, nine months later, I decided to go to grad school.  Sure, I missed school.  Sure, talking to the director of the program got me all excited to talk about Victorian Literature and the possibilities that would come along with another, higher degree.  But mainly, truthfully, honestly, I didn’t want to start paying my loans back yet.  When I got my bill for $748.15, I panicked.  I enrolled a few days later to a school that didn’t require at GRE, because I was still traumatized by the two times I took the SAT, the first time I got and 1160, the second 1180.  I still tell people I scored 1300. 

And again, I was so bored.  The height of my boredom came when I took a poetry class, and I just made shit up.  The less time I took writing my assignments, the better I seemed to do.  The more bullshit I put on paper, randomly throwing images and words and space together, the more praise my wild-haired professor and fellow adult-students threw at me. 

Then I graduated.  And I wanted something to happen this time.  So I made it happen.  I moved to Austin.  But you know what, you want to hear the fucked up part about all of this?  I still thought that something magical would happen.  All those accolades that people had given me, and all that praise I got at my graduation party when people passed my thesis around like some sort of holy thing, telling me how brilliant it was, how brilliant I am, how many brilliant things I was sure to do, did absolutely nothing for me except to build me up higher for a greater fall.

My puny, ineffectual fists have been shaking until my wrists ache and my fingernails dig into my palms and my brow is furrowed so deeply that the lines are already starting to form.  They’ve been shaking at the universe, God, the economy and all those people that DIDN’T tell me what it was I really needed to hear.  What I needed was for someone to tell me just how useless my degree is.  And it is.  I have no trade.  I have nothing to offer anyone except a keen ability to craft a sentence and some mad skills in serving in restaurants.   While other people in my life, the ones that went a route so completely different than mine are doing so well for themselves.  My sister, who dropped out of high school, got her GED, went to cosmetology school and got a job at 19 doing what she went to school for.  She wants to move to Pittsburgh, something I thought was never going to work out because, psh, she didn’t save.  She has no idea how expensive and hard it is to uproot one’s life and start a new one.  No?  Wait, I’m wrong?  She has five interviews?  And my brother, my Texas-born and raised brother who has a single semester of college under his belt, is now pulling in more money, literally straight from the ground, than I can even imagine, more money than I’ll probably ever make, more and more and more.  And it isn’t fucking fair.

I’m floundering here.  I am being consumed completely by my inability to succeed.  And what’s worse – I’m not trying.  I’m crippled by my fear of failure.  I’m flabbergasted by the fact that things aren’t, just, HAPPENEING for me. 

I once read about a girl who set out to fail – she did nothing but hole up in her room and eat Ramen and skip all of her classes and stopped washing her hair and paying her bills and returning her friends and family’s phone calls.  She said something like she wanted to be the best at failure.  She wanted to do failure “right.”  She wanted to succeed at failing completely.  That’s always stuck with me.  Because as I sit here in my average apartment, writing about not writing, and just counting the hours until I have to go back to work at the restaurant with other underachievers – the same work that I was doing before my degree and the work that I’ll probably do long after, all I can think about is intentionally failing.  Because then, if I stopped going to my job, defaulted on my loans, lived by candle light after my electricity and cable and internet got shut off, had to move into my car or couch surf or beg my rich, rich brother for money or ask to go stay with my smart, smart sister for a while – just a while – then maybe I would have something to write about.  If I fail and do everything I’m not supposed to do, maybe I can write something out of that.  Maybe I need to starve.  Maybe then something will happen to me.  Maybe maybe maybe.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Break the Neck

photo credit

I was beginning to feel light headed, trying not to inhale too deeply, taking short, quick breaths through my mouth so that I wouldn’t have to smell that awful smell of chicken shit and bodies and feathers and grain long left soggy beneath all those cracked and hopping feet.  We were walking behind him, my giant of a father picking up the limping ones, the ones with spotty feathers, the ones who had stopped eating, chirping, moving altogether.  He would take it, between his thumb and first two fingers and snap their necks.  It was the motion of a finger snap but with life and neck and feather in the space between.  It didn’t make any noise - no chirp or crack or blood or finale exhale. 

I kept looking down, breathing shallow and short.  I picked up one of the limping ones, the ones who would either die there on that floor or die between my father’s fingers.  I cradled it, cupped it in my tiny hands and whispered hello.  It wasn’t soft.  It was wet and felt like the tennis ball my dog loved to sit and chew and chew and chew.  It smelled so bad.  I looked close, my small fingers searching its chest, searching for a tiny heartbeat in my palm.  I could see its tiny, gray-green eyelids slowly lowering and barely rising again over its beady black eyes.  I wondered if I could save it.  But should it be this one?  I looked around and saw another one shivering despite the ninety degree heat during that Alabama summer; then another one who looked like it had a broken wing, dragging it through the dirt as it tried to make it towards the dozen dented metal pie pans serving as water troughs. It kept getting knocked and toppled by the other ones the stronger ones the bigger ones hopping and pushing towards the water.  It didn’t stop trying, as it got knocked a few inches back, to the left, closer then further away from quenching its thirst.   The more I looked around, the more wounded ones I saw.  A shallow sea of piss-colored dust-colored sand-colored feathers bobbing and pulsing around.  I became overwhelmed.  I whimpered goodbye, put the limping one down, turned, and left.  I couldn’t help but kicking them, there was no place to set my dirty white-ked feet.  At every opening where I tried to set my feet, in an instant soggy puffs would rush filling the space.  I just needed to leave needed to get out needed to breathe fresh air.  I couldn’t save them all.  My chest ached.  My head pounded. I felt so useless.  I cried as I opened the metal door. 

I didn’t follow my father and sister to the second chicken house, the house where the chicks who were strong enough to survive their adolescence, their molting, and their conditions to make it to an even more crowded house, with less water and more food trampled on the ground, and more pecking and more shed feathers.  I didn’t see what my sister later told me about. I didn’t want to have the image of my father grabbing the sick ones by their feet and smashing their heads against the support beam, breaking their stronger necks, even sick, they were too strong for my fathers fingers, stronger than the small ones’ necks he could break with a snap.  I didn’t want to see that.  I didn’t want to know that.  I didn’t want to smell the weaker smell of feed and sick and feathers and death on the wind that I had tried to keep out of my nostrils as it floated over the field and into our yard and house and bedroom and sheets and hair.   

Monday, September 9, 2013

To the Next Trip

I have become a good traveler.   I can do it well.  Those brief moments walking through the airport, through the terminal, onto the plane, sitting in my seat and looking out over the plane’s wing.  I feel right.  I feel at home.  I feel at peace knowing I can do it.  I never fear crashing.  I am not afraid of terrorism.  I fear others' body odor.  I fear screaming children.  I dread talkative neighbors and pray my phone’s battery lasts as long as the flight does so that I can listen to my music and be alone on the plane. 

The day I return from a trip, and sometimes when I’m still on one, I am thinking about my next destination.  I look up flights and look in my planner and look to see who wants to pick up a shift or two in a month so that I can take off again, feel that rollercoaster feeling again (even though I’ve never been on a rollercoaster) of the moment the plane stops being on the ground and does what it was built to do – miraculously defy gravity with its thousands of pounds of metal and tons of jet fuel and dozens of passengers and crew held aloft thousands of feet in the air. 

After the plane has landed and the seat belts click open and the eager ones stand up and get their luggage (careful – the luggage may have shifted during takeoff and landing) and then we all stand and hunch and half-sit around waiting for the plane to connect with the makeshift hallway.  We’re like a bunch of kindergartners waiting in our classroom for the fire drill to start waiting for the door to open waiting to be set free.

I wonder about these people I wait with.  Where are they going?  Where have they come from?  Are they visiting relatives going home going on vacation visiting a lover going bird watching going to die going to live somewhere else going to rehab going for business going for pleasure going for nothing?  I most often am going for nothing.  I go with no real reason.  To see a friend to get out of town to decide to end a relationship to find a new place to live to breath to write to escape to start over to end up there.  Whatever my reason, I prefer to do it alone.  I’m faster.  I’m more efficient.  I’m more certain of where I’m going and how to figure it out.  I love company, but I love the quiet more on my trips towards nothing.

Now I am thinking again – where next?  What next? How next?  I want to fit one, possibly two more trips in again before my unnatural flight north for winter to spend cozy nights with too many dogs and too much coffee and too much cold and snow and old friends and old habits and old roads and traditions.  

Somewhere sunny with sand or waterfalls or cobbled streets or fruit vendors speaking a language I don’t understand or a town old enough it doesn’t seem quite like America  or a new city where young people go to retire or the woods (probably not) or the beach or the mountains?  Where next?

Here’s to the next trip.