Archive for October, 2011

After commencing

Posted: October 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

In this story buildings keep learning in order. I have been through a slew of learning buildings, some I remember vividly such as my first school, Starr Elementary: an old stoic red-bricked building that held me carefully as I stumbled through learning to speak and comprehend English. My high school, though, stands as a vague hazy sprawl of red, black and white lockers, cigarettes, LSD, and angst. I nose-dove in high school: went from a 4.0 to a 0.16 in one term. I had brains and I was really determined to lose them. Needless to say I dropped out of high school. Left the routine of classes, the stream of familiar snarly faces, left in a whirl of self-loathing fury.

I traveled the country by thumb and bravery only the naivety of sixteen allows. I followed an underdeveloped compass of whims, curiosity, and rage. Angsty dissatisfied rage led me away from everything familiar to the outermost western islands of Canada. I had disappeared from boring suburban life to wake up in the middle of a temperate rainforest and find that I didn’t really know my own name.

Every body has a name to answer to. When I first started school in America my Russian name, Yulya, was changed to Julia on account that my name wasn’t American enough. (Although by fifth grade I had a classmate named Hoa–pronounced hwah–go figure.) I stayed Julia until I was seventeen, until I was alone in a tent with my dog on an island sixty miles off the coast of Canada. I stayed Julia until I had to say my own name aloud around a campfire of strangers and suddenly felt tongue-tied. What is this name? Who is this name? How am I this name? Why this name?

The name, Julia, put a wedge between my family and me, between my ethnicity and me. Being named more American put an awkward pit in my gut whenever I sat behind a desk. But I was starved to learn, to read and write, to understand how my eyes are green though my father’s are brown. Perhaps this original undermining branded me with a sense of inferiority or shaved off any husk of entitlement. Though I always excelled in school I continually felt that I had to prove my right to exist, to be at the desk, to raise my hand and have a question answered; I had to prove I was allowed an identity.

There I was in the middle of nowhere, no buildings, no lockers, nobody who knew my name and finally, for the first time perhaps, I believed that having a name identified me as my own person, titled my story. I took back that name my parents (actually my sister) gave me, Yulya. My sister named me for Shakespeare’s Juliette, she loved that play, and loved her first sister. With my own name I had permission to take up space in America, more importantly in academia.

I sought out a liberal education, barely recognizable as an academic place. A campus constructed originally as a prison complex—gray looming buildings with thin slits for windows plus the centrally located watchtower that became converted into the clock tower where all the hippies would meet up. I spent ten years off and on here, in the thick of another temperate rainforest, pursuing my first degree, my first graduation.

This school was so liberal there was no requirement to wear academic robes. In fact graduates often streaked naked across the rickety temporary stage erected on red square for graduation. I didn’t wear the conifer green robe or cap or the stringy white and green tassel with the fake brass ’06 dangling from it. None of my immediate family came for the ceremony, just a couple close friends and my two small kiddns. The dean mispronounced my name and my picture was taken alongside the campus president with a kid in arms and another clung to my leg. After ten years I graduated something.

I haven’t returned to this or any of the buildings of learning from my past, not yet anyhow. While traveling I picked up a motto I clung to: never return to the same place twice, always approach everywhere anew and with awe as if seeing for the first time. I can’t say that I live up to this maxim at this point in life, however names carry some of this power for me.

Russians do not have middle names; they are given patronymics. A child takes the name of their father and adds ovna if they are a daughter or ovich if they are a son. I apparently take
my hybrid existence quite seriously; before heading off to grad school I took my patronymic and dropped the ending, kept only the name of my father: Mykhiel. This name permits another version of me. A story in which the narrative begins to confuse the pronouns, the descriptions blur, the outline of the main character hybridizes until they can only be defined by not being defined. A character that wants to match whichever suit but only finds that androgyny fits best.

I cannot be certain of the way people receive me, if they see my chapters and their cliffhangers, the dips and trips of my dug up identity. The digging out from beneath the coulda, shoulda, wouldas. I only have the names I have as starting points that can be chosen, a choose your own adventure book where you may find the tough or tried of me.

I try; still, to fit into academia. To fit into my multi-syllabic names that most folks avoid twisting around their tongues. To fit into gender, whichever way it has to go but find I only want to be busy with learning. Busy touching books in search of stories I can see mine fit into. Busy choosing words that shift if I press them just right. I cannot help but run up and down those ivory tower steps finding buried volumes to bring into a too long dimmed light. Perhaps I scratch like a feral dog at academia’s porch because I ultimately want to rip its boards off. I’d like to tear at the moldings and frames until an entirely different building remains, one that can house all my names (and by my names I mean anyone who isn’t the right shape or color, the right genre or country).

None of the buildings I have learned in possessed any sense of grandiosity. None of my colleges held five hundred seat lectures or were renowned for their grand architectural facades. In fact I feel larger than any of those buildings, since each of them is built into me. O but I long for those small sterile rooms, the non-descript furniture and dry erase boards. The hard thinking of determined minds filling up the bland generic space. In these non-specific rooms I honed in on names, American and otherwise, that long felt beyond my comprehension. Men and women from an America I hadn’t quite belonged to.

Well, I wore the gray cap and gown, the gray tassel, when I crossed that ship of a stage to be hooded for completing my master’s program. They butchered my un-American names before wrapping me in that tremendous hood. Once a functional garment worn to protect one’s head from rain and sleet and snow, my master’s hood, with its thick velveteen brown outer lip and sateen periwinkle lining, looks like an enormous vulva (o yes). I have been named a Master. Names infuse into me as a powerful elixir. I can’t help but sit up now I am properly named. Have completed becoming a master—master of nothing tangible—of language and how it can dance in a field, but master nonetheless. I, master of the fine art of poetry, armed with an education and a mispronounced name, direct from the ivory tower’s bellboy, have been granted a vulva.


Pain as a way to thrive

Posted: October 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

Fuck I miss running, miss that sensation of burning power surging in my thighs. I used to look down at my legs once in a while during a run and become thrilled and thankful that wow, I have legs that can do this. Bummer is, I injured both my feet (damn you plantar fasciitis) while training for a marathon so I can’t now spend the morning circling the river or running through a downpour (ah-mazing!). I really felt like I was getting somewhere though I only ever made complete loops. I used to run and sometimes badger myself about not going fast enough or feeling tired but then I’d get through it, I’d add on the extra mile or shave off a minute or two total (which is an accomplishment, really). I felt proud of myself, proud that I succeeded at pushing past a limit I thought I had. The body is an amazing device in this way, where one mechanism—my brain—says whoa there, no way, can’t keep doing this, while the rest of me—my legs, lungs, shoulders, arms—keeps going further further further.

The body produces endorphins during exercise, extreme joy, pain, when eating spicy food, when in love and from orgasms. Ha, I love how one of these things is not like the others. Although I suppose that pain commonly partners with the four other methods of juicing up on our own form of morphine. The what-goes-up-must-come-down reality of chemical highs (no matter how natural).

Pain fascinates me. And immediately I am disappointed with the lack of language for this complex and oftentimes nuanced human experience. Exercise pain differs wildly from love pain, or spicy food pain, or labor pain. And sex pain or phantom pain or memory pains register uniquely in the system. Pain is a dramatic word for discomfort—dramatic, yes, and also lacking. The foremost definition for pain relates to bodily injury and suffering but the “pain” or distress of working out is precisely the opposite, the body working out is in high functioning mode, fine fine machinery.

I understand the science (though it really seems like magic) of the body’s ability to function so efficiently: the blood vessels dilating to deliver more oxygen rich blood, the lungs breathing heavier to get more oxygen into the bloodstream, the stomach shutting down to not waste unnecessary energy, sweating to cool off, I get all this–but the brain’s incessant attempts to get me to quit and my ability to not quit, to keep going, this I am baffled by. Why wouldn’t I just quit as soon as my brain says, but I’m tired, you can’t do this, you’ve been going for so long, how much further, can’t you do this another day?

Well I don’t run anymore because more than just my brain were shouting. So until my arches aren’t burning in pain everyday I traverse the terrain of my brain and body quarrels via water. I took to swimming even though I didn’t really know how to and was petrified of not being able to breathe right and possibly more scared of just not doing well. I really can’t handle it when I don’t succeed at something athletically speaking (I swore off baseball and softball simply because I wasn’t good at em). When I was a kid I would go go go constantly playing football, soccer, bike riding, climbing trees, beating all the kids at races. I cannot remember my childhood as much of anything but the physical activities of my daily. I was the first in three kids to pass the physical fitness test the first year schools required it, and I was the only one of my gender (whatever that was).

Running long distances and swimming revived a force in me that I only had in childhood. Relentless energy unhampered by the weight of ideas, identity, or ideals. As a kid I didn’t ever think about not having enough energy or time to runaround or jump up and down or have a spontaneous race. I know, I know, I didn’t have responsibilities then, or anyone relying on me in any way, of course, these factors make my adult-brain work differently (by differently I mean too much). But what I’ve tapped into with swimming especially is a method of switching my brain off a bit. Or more specifically, while I am engaged in tough physical activity my brain has less power over me. That nagging voice trying to get me to stop putting my body through discomfort doesn’t win because the efficiency of my machine is in autopilot. Some days I feel I could keep swimming for hours and hours. If it weren’t for the kids waiting at home for me I probably would.

When I swim I am a powerful fish, long and lank, buoyant, determined. Swimming is my best friend, my therapist, my sleeping pill, my medicine. To deeply embed myself into my own physicality makes being more human (vs. more animalistic) bearable. What I really mean is being in my brain too much can really fuck with me and residing in my body more through exercise, sex, what have you, I can better manage my brain and it’s out of control tendency to fuck with me. Perhaps my fascination with pain stems from this: it is easy to ignore the body unless some form of pain registers there. I prefer self-inflicted pain (vs. bodily pain caused by misuse).

Pain bottom-lines action, it acts as a catalyst for change. I hunger; I make food, grow it if I must first. Disease kills too many people; we funnel brains and money and time into figuring out the cure. Computer is too huge we make it fit on a desk. Computer is too slow we make it faster faster. Computer is too big we make it fit in the palm. Discomfort ultimately resides at the root of progress. Dealing with discomfort physical, interpersonal, communal, global, constitutes perhaps eighty percent (not a real statistic, just my feel for it) of our day-to-day functions. Daily deal with back pain, or road rage, or the simple pain of not getting what you want how you want and when you want it (a real tough one for a certain kid I know). To master discomfort, or rather master a functional response to discomfort, especially of the emotional variety (for many a modern day human), is to succeed as a humanimal.

My ability to overcome my brain’s incessant nagging on my weaknesses, my triumph over this perceived discomfort, however small, carries with it the mysterious force of life itself. There is absolutely no actual good reason for life to exist except just for the hell of it. I don’t mean this nihilistically—plain and simple, there is no logic behind why anything exists, why life force happens. Science can work itself into a frenzy explaining evolution and big bang but no laboratory proof or string theory explains why. Science explains life functions as is, but not why.

Precisely why I want richer language for discussing pain, for seeing its true role in our lives, our development. I worry we remain stunted by a negative connotation for this necessary element of life. We work incessantly at eliminating pain though we strive to live better due to it. Are we trapped by the lack of nuance in our language for pain, because pain and the adjectives used to describe it—ache, agony, torment, discomfort, nuisance, etc.—are relegated to negative experiences in life therefore eliminating these sensations makes life “better.” But at what point does making life “better” turn existence into something bitter, something barely thriving?

Can we please subject ourselves to experiences that cause internal conflict, high and low natured, that are not instantly gratifying per se, because we desire life? Desire a more nuanced and textured existence? Desire to feel life force more forcefully inside us? Desire, after all, is a type of power and living is not peaches and cream. To desire is to push against the bare essentials of existence, to see an ocean and build your way atop it. Every time I hit the water—push and pull my limbs through its viscosity, struggle to go faster, breath smoother, to ultimately get absolutely nowhere—I exist for this duration exactly as life-force does, I am neither human or animal, I just exist, out of gender, merely a force working itself.

What I really want is to pass for a single person all the time. I don’t want to be seen, not as a parent, not ever.

What I really want is to do whatever I want whenever I want to, spend my money however I want and only on things I want. I want to take off for a permanent road trip on a whim, or sleep in on a Wednesday or read a book all day Saturday.

What I really want is to not worry if my emotional state of being is a healthy display for a growing kid to witness. I don’t want witnesses, or the guilt that goes with losing your shit in front of your kids. Kids pay way close attention, it’s unnerving.

Argh, what I really want is to just write a blog post about whatever new and exciting thought I have going on right now. O, but tough shit my head is convoluted with the ongoing tug-of-wars: to role model self-care yet I am best at neglecting myself | to role model healthy choices yet it is easier to just be weak sometimes and eat what hurts or choose a mind numbing activity instead | to be fun loving and exciting but clean your room and don’t be rude | yes of course make your own choices, yes you get a say in your life but do what I tell you because fuck does it piss me off when you don’t. This is my life after all isn’t it? Don’t I get a say too?

What I’d like to say is excuse me I am not up for modeling anything, I’d like to wallow and get numb with a bad movie. Yes, I’d like to just eat toast for dinner and not workout and you, child, you eat your green beans and meatballs and potatoes and go play outside. No, no screen time go read a book. Yes, change into clean clothes everyday and shower every other or few at least. What? Why am I wearing the same jeans all week? What?–go clean your room.

What I really want is to walk out. That’s right. I’d like to run off to another country and have lovers of all kinds at anytime of night or day. Or work on boats for months at a time and make tons of money that I only spend on traveling. Or just rent a tiny room and barely eat and save every penny I make because I don’t need much to be happy. Or how bout get my doctorate or take a job in any state I find one in cuz I don’t have to worry about how moving will effect their little hearts or their relationships with important people.

Do other parents berate themselves for “failing” their children? For not always being completely and entirely awesome every waking minute? I have heard of folks that do everything right: career first, working marriage, house, dog, baby born in spring, a hybrid car that converts into a stroller and nanny, a fridge that poops out balanced meals three to five times daily, three extracurricular activities plus a foreign language or two, college apps prepared in preschool.

Fine, I can’t provide all these amazing material things or even healthcare but aren’t there more important things that I am giving that are more valuable than a mercedes benz stroller? Don’t guffaw at my ludicrousness; I know, theoretically, that these are no-brainers. Of course my attentiveness for their free will and confidence, decision making skills and resilience,  self-love, sense of emotional security, their conflict resolution skills are far more important than a brand new set of clothes every three to six months or a wii. I get it–technically. Knowing this doesn’t protect me from punishing self-criticism. Knowing this doesn’t temper my guilt or sense of failing–by mainstream standards anyhow.

Ok fine, let’s forget mainstream standards for a moment, as if my bubble is made of the strongest opalescent film ever. The counter culture? Shit, my kids watch tv, eat junk food, do not know how to compost or eat out of dumpsters, don’t ride bikes everywhere. Look, I am hard on myself. I’m exhausted by the pressure of raising “cool” kids and being a “cool” person simultaneously. I don’t give a rat’s ass about being cool actually or if my kids are but fuck do I feel that pressure. Too much pressure.

Single parenting blows. Blows so bad I’d like to quit altogether.

Maybe I despise parenting because I am not done being parented, maybe I still want to be cared for, maybe I am jealous of the love and attention my kids get, maybe I just want what they have.

The worst part is, I don’t even get to believe in any fairy tales.