dream(s) deferred

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I currently live here. Isn’t that something?

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes

In another lifetime, I am teaching kids about tidepools. We scavenge the shallow waters for crabs and urchins and the occasional elusive octopus. In this lifetime, it is late April and kids are still arriving. Every day is full of sun.

In a lifetime different than that, I am backpacking in Yosemite. I’d long dreamed about returning to the land of granite cliffs and illuminated valleys, and it feels weirdly poetic to come back to the place that was the culmination of my long, solo road trip. This time, however, I am not alone.

And in yet another lifetime, I am working in the Adirondacks this summer. I have a cadre of returning friends and the woods that I’ve been missing are there to welcome me back. The sunbutter is plentiful.

It is May, and none of this will happen.

It is OK. It is fine. (How are you? / Silence again. / Fine, fine, I mumble, fine, / unraveling like string…—Sandra Cisneros). This is the way life goes. Sometimes you get the luxury of making choices, but sometimes you don’t, sometimes circumstances rear their head and the future you carefully crafted becomes dust in a heartbeat. You can only plan so much. For much of life, you just have to ride it out.

Life has changed for everybody lately, but among my own circles of friends, some feel it more acutely. When you work seasonally, your job and housing and food are often intertwined. To lose a job means to become mapless, it means to sit in your car and look out the bug-splattered window and wonder where to go next. It means to uproot yourself, once again, and toss your fragile body into the wind and see where you land.

Vast swaths of summer programs have been cancelled, and I’ve been thinking of all my seasonal-life friends, wishing I could hold them a little closer and promise them a safe and ripening future.

In a letter I received the other month, there was this one incredible line that lodged itself in my brain and I’ve been thinking about ever since: “. . . if I’m not careful, twenty years of these paychecks will go by and I’ll have done nothing but work for it. I think that is even more frightening, to know your future rather than to not know it.”

I think that is even more frightening, to know your future rather than to not know it.

…to know your future rather than to not know it.

I very much do not know my future. Not in any grand sense. Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted. But that’s not me. Sometimes I think I want something and then I get it and realize that’s not what I want at all, and then I have to start all over again. How do people do it? How do people know who they’re going to become?

This is all just to say that sometimes life sucks and you don’t get a choice. Things happen, and the only choice you have is how to react, what to do next. It’s OK to be disappointed. To be scared. To feel alone. It’s OK to look at your life and wish it was a little more sturdy, a little less susceptible to raging ocean currents.

I’ll be heading back east in a couple of weeks, and it feels strange to start over again in the midst of all this uncertainty. I have a place to go. I have stuff to do. But leaving this time feels different. Leaving this place. These people. The tattered dreams for what I hoped and longed for.

Onward & Outward

(I write about leaving allll the time. My all-time fav is this one, but this one is a solid more recent one, too.)

 

 

 

 

regrets

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Picture of an abandoned building I took one time, which feels metaphorically appropriate.

The magazine editor Phillip Picardi recently posted on his blog about regrets. “I hate people who say they have no regrets,” he wrote. “They are all liars.” I’ve been thinking about his blog post recently. He writes about his regrets with humor and honesty. Some are small regrets—buying a winter coat right before moving to L.A.—and others are big regrets, the kind that keep you up at night as you stare at the ceiling, wondering how you got there, where you went wrong.

I like to think I am one of those people he hates. One of the liars. To be optimistic, to feel good about myself and my choices, I often tell myself that I have no regrets. But he’s right. I am lying.

I regret not buying those paintbrush earrings in Sequoia (the flower, not the art implement). They were a little pricey and I was poor, but every time I go hiking now in California and I see the red blooms, I think of those earrings and how I would’ve loved them.

I regret not being angry in certain situations. I wish I was better at being angry. Rage seems purifying in a ruinous, cathartic way, and I wish my anger didn’t melt so quickly into sadness.

I regret not holding people accountable enough. I regret letting comments and actions slide.

I regret every single time I’ve paid for food at Applebee’s. (It’s just not worth it, folks. We know this.)

Quarantine has been strange in that random memories—some of which I’d completely forgotten about—will float into my head, demanding to be acknowledged and processed and shined upon. I recently remembered about a position I applied for back in college. It was a ghost writer job that involved chronicling the life of a woman named Clarisse. I was a junior back then, and I was still toying with the idea of journalism because that seemed like the most sustainable way to make a living through writing (hahahahahaha).

I met Clarisse at a Popeyes to interview. Part of me wants to make a scene of the whole thing—to describe the smell of chicken and the gentle swell of people around us—but that’s not the important part. That’s not what matters.

Clarisse had HIV. She’d only ever had one partner before she’d found out she was infected. That was a long time ago, back in the ’80s when HIV/AIDS was associated with gay white men. Clarisse fit neither of those three categories. And what I remember most about our conversation was her talk of the hospitalizations, how her mother could never stand to visit her, how she would never use the acronyms or even acknowledge her daughter’s illness. The wave of loneliness was striking, and I wrote about this before when talking about Joanna, but sometimes people hand me a feeling, a cluster of vulnerability, and sometimes I don’t know how to hold it. My hands shake and I let it slip through my fingers, pooling into an oblong puddle on the floor.

When I think about Clarisse, I think about the loneliness, about her mother’s emotional abandonment. But I also think of her boyfriend who gave her HIV. How she had to bear the cost of his actions, no fault of her own. And isn’t it so often that way? Women living with the burden men have put upon them? It’s one of those facts of life that once you notice it, you can’t stop seeing it. I watched an animal rights/factory farming documentary the other night, and even in that film there was a scene when a chicken farmer decided to take on a contract (AKA extensive debt) despite the cautioning of his wife and the whole thing fell to pieces, and the camera flashed to her only a couple of times because he’s the farmer and it was his choice and his chickens, but she’s the one I couldn’t stop thinking about, her patience and understanding as she stood around the kitchen table with their children, how she didn’t get to make the choice but she had to endure it. I think about that a lot. What it means to endure. Every minuscule feeling nestled inside that six-letter word.

I didn’t get the ghost writing position. But here’s where the regret comes in: an editor who had previously worked with Clarisse reached out to me a while later, wondering if I was still interested in the work. And I said no. I was busy that semester—I had a job, an internship, a full class load—but still, I said no. Conceivably, I didn’t have time to work on a project like that, but I regret that I couldn’t say yes. I regret not saying yes to this fellow human, saying yes, let’s uphold your voice for the world to see. I regret that I will never know her full story, that I will only have that one afternoon at Popeyes to remember her by.

I Googled Clarisse’s name recently, and besides the sparse articles about her that circulate on the web, I couldn’t find any recent news. I think she’s still alive, but I regret that I also don’t really know.

 

 

from the ashes

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This lil gem of poetry is actually from a line of Gucci products made back in 2017. The phrase was superimposed over the logo on sweatshirts, fanny packs, etc.

You are unsure of where the guilt comes from. Do they hand it to you mid-conversation? Do you conjure it inside of yourself like smoke? Do you find it on the street like a discarded soda bottle or Sunday coupons, sullied and stepped-on and yet you still pick it up, still claim it as yours?

It is the small things. It is the big things. It is your decision to work seasonal jobs. It is your nightly eight-hour rest. You gather guilt crumbs the way strands of hair gather in clumps on your hardwood floor: unnoticeable, unnoticeable, until the spool is overwhelming and you wonder where it all came from.

You spend a lot of time defending your choices, mostly to yourself.

Because you could be safer. You could be more comfortable. You could be wealthier and more secure. But you chose not to. Not now. Not yet. And people make you doubt your choices.

I wrote the above stuff a couple of winters ago in the downswing of seasonal work. Guilt has clung to me loosely over the past few years. It’s my suburban middle-class upbringing, my friends who are investors and doctors, people I know who don’t leave their Manhattan offices until the city is already nighttime vibrant. It’s this residue of guilt that I could be doing more. That I could be someone more.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot during this pandemic: productivity, doing more. The ongoing internet dialogue swells with thoughts: I’m not doing as much as I thought I’d be. My productivity is nonexistent. Man, I can’t even concentrate long enough to read a book.

I feel that. I too imagined that I’d accomplish more than I have. A lot of my days involve just existing—taking long aimless walks, sitting on the beach wrapped in a blanket as sand eats my face, curling up in a chair with my earbuds in and listening to the same songs over and over.

I like it this way. I am just being. That’s good. For me, right now, that’s how it should be.

Seasonal life freckles me with guilt because in some ways it’s luxurious. I am constantly outside and moving around. I don’t have a commute. I don’t pay rent.

And it astounds me that these things are considered luxurious, that people envy me these very basic freedoms. As Americans, we’ve romanticized productivity and work-culture. Being tired and busy, worshiping business ethos, they’ve become badges of honor (remember in college when people would brag about pulling all-nighters, or existing on caffeine and Adderall like that was cool? Wild.). You must be doingdoingdoing and makingmakingmaking and havinghavinghaving because that’s the American Dream, and what does your life mean if you don’t conform, if you don’t participate? Who are you if you don’t believe in bootstrap wealth?

Productivity has flat-lined for a lot of people right now. A lot of things have come crashing down. Our health care system, our access to goods and services, our monetary and job security, our economy. When things fail, it shows us what we’ve taken for granted.

And the thing I’ve been thinking about most is how it doesn’t have to be this way. None of this. People talk about reopening, about going back to “normal,” but is that really what we want? What normal? Whom is that benefiting? Because people envy me my time outside and I envy them their dental insurance, and it doesn’t have to be one or the other. We can change things. We can have it all.

But radical change takes radical thinking followed by radical action. Change doesn’t happen unless we push for it.

So where do we go from here? What are you going to do? You. Yes, you. What changes for you after all of this? What are you going to make from this wreckage?

Imagine if we created a society that allowed you to exist in different forms, allowed you to choose the life you wanted instead of feeling trapped by essential needs. Imagine.

Now, what are you going to do?

what are we going to do with all this future?