Mundanities

Mundanities

 

Here I am, making up words again.

 

I’m not sure what to do with the collection I have of these. But since my time here in China I’ve written a few things about my life. Some of them are in the form of personal essays, some of them have turned into stories with a life of their own and others are really just the day-to- day mundane things that make up a life.

 

So this will be a series entitled, “Mundanities,” for some of the day-to-day things that make up my life here in China.

 

 

As always, I hope these find you well,

 

–M

Life Update

I’ve been in China for about 3 weeks now. So much is different. The sights, the smells, the sounds. It’s been an adjustment, which I’ll write about more in depth later. But for now life is good. I am content.

Bird Clocks, Woodpeckers and the Art of Storytelling

I went for my usual morning walk and spotted a woodpecker in the woods. I hear woodpeckers a lot here, but I seldom see them. I was walking when I heard the familiar tap tap tap nearby on my left. I looked up and there it was; scaling the pine tree, tapping experimentally here, moving to another branch and tapping there. Dark wings enfolded around it like a kind of velvet, feathered cape, head bright red and styled high. I stood there staring at it for a while and on the way home I kept thinking about it.

I thought about myself as a child staying in my grandmother’s house. In her bedroom where I slept (my grandma slept on the couch), there was a solar bird clock. I can’t remember who had given it to her, but I remember that it was a gift and it drove everyone –except my grandma and me–crazy. On the clock there was a picture of a bird in place of the numbers, each number was a different bird. Every hour on the hour during the daylight hours the clock would chirp–it would make the particular noise of whatever bird of the hour it was. I don’t remember all the different birds now, it’s been too many years, but I do remember that 12 o’clock was an owl.

I feel like I should also note that my grandmother had one of those singing bass fish on the wall. Another gift.

On my way home I kept getting this singular image of a young girl and her dog bird watching. It was this image that brought on a short story that I sat down and wrote immediately upon getting home. It’s about four pages and I’m sure in need of revision, but I’m happy so far with the bones of it. (Granted, I may hate it tomorrow. Such is the life of a writer.) The story flowed easily and ended up being a much different story than I intended. Really, it’s part of the same story though. A longer story.

Sometimes we like to think of writing as this kind of almost religious experience brought on by a muse. And while this sometimes can and does happen, when it comes down to it, writing is a lot of hard “ass-in-chair” time*. Just showing up and writing something, anything. Beautiful. Ugly. Brilliant. Shitty. Sometimes you end up writing a bunch of crap until you finally reach something good. But rare moments like this, where the story comes out cleanly without prying, are always a welcome blessing. And I, for one, am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

-M

*Frank Conroy

 

A ramble on transitioning and catnaps

My visa will be available to pick up tomorrow (in theory, shit happens). On the 31st I will be boarding a plane where I will be for 15 hours until arriving in the Far East. I am nervous, but very much looking forward to the experience. (The plane ride however, not so much).

Since I am leaving soon I quit my job here in the States. Ever since, I have descended into what I call, “the vortex of sloth.” My job was a big part of my routine, or rather, it was my routine. Everything I did revolved around my job; from planning free time, to meal prep, to running errands. Now that I have an abundance of free time, I find myself accomplishing far less. And by accomplishing less I mean that I spend a great deal of time not leaving the house. And napping. Lots of cat naps.

On a positive note, I have managed to implement an exercise regime. And while my writing progress has been slow goings, it is no longer stagnant. It’s so easy to get caught up in checking things off your to-do list everyday, instead of living from day to day. That’s not to say that having goals and checking them off your list isn’t completely healthy or necessary. But sometimes it’s okay to float a little. To consider. To weigh your options. From working two jobs and managing to cram in school work I’ve had little time to really spend with myself. I was always moving. Now that I have a bit of stillness in my life, it can feel like a lack of progress.

But for right now I’m transitioning. I have to remind myself that’s it’s okay to be in transition. That although I may not constantly moving the way I was, it does not mean I am not in motion. I am making strides. I am making a life for myself. I am navigating my future one day at a time.

–M

Once upon a Wednesday at 2pm

By chance I saw you,
standing across from Union Square.
I knew it was you from the nape of your neck,
the one I memorized as it retreated from view
all loose hairs and flush red.
I wonder
if it remembers the imprint of my lips,
heat-seeking,
mistaking your warm for warmth.
I wonder if you remember still,
Me,
tracing constellations in the freckles on your cheeks,
as if your face was somehow a road map to the stars.
How silly was I to think
I could make a holy place of a boy who forgets,
to have and to own are not the same?

Musings on Moving, Missing and the Mundane

An update.

If everything goes according to plan, two weeks from now I will be on Chinese soil.

Two weeks is a short amount of time, but China still feels like such a distant thing. The realities of packing and moving haven’t set in yet. Or more accurately, the panic of packing and moving hasn’t set in yet. The most I’ve done is make a tentative list of things to take with me. What do you put on a list of things to take with you across the world?

I keep trying to imagine what my days will be like there. There is a jogging path close to my flat that overlooks a river and mountains. I wonder what kinds of sounds I’ll hear, what kinds of flowers and birds I’ll see. I wonder what the view will be like from my bedroom window, if I can see my neighbors or the distant mountains. Of course there will be temples and the Great Wall, and markets but I wonder about these small, mundane things.

I’m preparing to say goodbye to this place. I don’t know that I’ll ever be back. I’ll have no one here to come back to. For a while I really loathed this place, and while it is not on my list of favorites now, there are some things about it that I’ll miss.

I’ll miss my morning walks. Trying to find the locations of woodpeckers by following their sounds through the woods. The random deer sightings, particularly a mother and child pair, shying peeking through trees, nibbling on the neighbor’s bushes.

I’ll miss these woods. I’ll miss the sweet musk of late spring. My blackberry brambles. The little wild rabbits.

I’ll miss my car. I’ll miss the long drives on winding, wooded roads, singing at the top of my lungs with no one on the road but me.

I’ll miss my dog, who sadly, I cannot take with me.

I will miss the man who looks at me with stars in his eyes. Who opened up an entire universe with his smile.

And of course my mother. My mother who drives me crazy. My mother who interrupts. Constantly. My mother who will buy me sweets on the days I am sad. My mother who does not understand me, but always tries.

 

–M

Thanksgiving for Two

The past few days leading up to today I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media and the like about Thanksgiving. Among the most popular has been the Black Families Thanksgiving hash tag on Facebook and Twitter. And while these are meant to be more humorous than anything, they are rooted in being relatable to black families across the board. But it’s things like these that remind me that I don’t much relate to the people’s depictions of the holidays. I never grew up in a house packed with relatives during the holidays. I (thankfully) never had to deal with insensitive aunts or uncles questioning me about my life choices, or my parents embarrassing me the way some of my friends’ parents have.

Up until very recently, Thanksgivings at my house have always been quiet. Thanksgiving was my mother who once worked three jobs in order to provide and averaged maybe four hours of sleep, waking up at six in the morning to cook. It was the smell of her second cup of coffee drifting its way upstairs to my bedroom, its smoky scent coloring the edge of my dreams.

Thanksgiving was my mother and I eating on TV trays in the living room. It was my mother falling asleep on the couch at odd hours of the day while I read or watched recorded reruns of The Jeff Corwin Experience on VHS.

It was putting up our rather scrawny Charlie Brown-looking Christmas tree overloaded with ceramic angels, handmade ornaments I made in elementary school, wooden apples, and tinsel. (Oh god the tinsel. Our tree was practically metallic with tinsel. We would find tinsel around the house in odd places for months afterward.

My Thanksgivings may not have consisted of a full house, but they were full nonetheless. So here’s to the quiet Thanksgivings. The Thanksgivings where the table is set only for two (or maybe there’s no table at all). Here’s to the Thanksgivings of the overworked and underpaid. Here’s to the Thanksgivings in single parent households.

Gifts

This hair is a gift. This skin is a gift.

I try to remind myself of this, because honestly sometimes it’s hard to remember. I try to remember this now more than ever, especially since now I have a little sister. After twenty-one long years as an only child, my mother had another daughter. She’s three now and wild in a way that’s both admirable and irritating. She leaves no mystery as to what’s on her mind, always makes her objections known, and is the most stubborn and willful person I ever knew.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I don’t care much for children and my sister is no exception. I like quiet, uninterrupted breakfasts. Excluding my daily walks, I don’t really care for the outdoors either. I don’t know how to interact with children, and to be honest, have never had much of an interest. Even as a child I had little interest in other children. (I was that obnoxiously precocious kid that always wanted to sit at the adult’s table.)

I will say that for all her terrible toddlerness, my sister is remarkably patient. Not so much in the way of waiting for an ice cream cone or a trip to the park, but she is incredibly patient with me. She shrugs it off and doesn’t hold it against me when I bristle at her having interrupted my writing. She never stops trying to engage with me, despite my being an occasional sourpuss. Instead of her favorite game of dress-up and pretend, she suggests for us the quieter task of coloring together. Sometimes, she sits at the table with me in quiet, scribbling nonsense in her construction pad while I type away on my computer. She tries, in her own way, to relate to me somehow.

I suppose you’re wondering now what all this has to do with my hair, or my skin for that matter.

One of the first things people noticed about my sister was her color. Upon seeing her for the first time, people would almost always comment on her color. “She’s awful brown,” my aunt said the first time she’d held her. You see, my sister’s color came as a surprise. My mother, her sister, and myself—nearly the entire side of my mother’s family, really—all have lighter skin. We all come in shades of tan but my sister is a deep mahogany. Even my mother remarks on the difference in color. “I thought she’d be lighter,” she’s said more than once.

You forget how early it starts, how young we are when we first begin learning to find beauty in only a few choice shades. How we are told coils are in need of being tamed. How we look for mirrors in the world around us but find no reflections of ourselves, or worse yet, grossly distorted images, sad caricatures bearing no resemblance to us at all.

My sister favors one of her dolls over the other. She doesn’t like the look of the black one. The dolls are the same, save for the difference in skin tone. Same brand, same features, same hair. But the black doll “looks funny” and “isn’t pretty” and is neglected in favor of her lighter companion. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really, the doll test has been recreated numerous times over the years, with similar results.

But my heart sinks low when she tells me she wants to have “straight pretty hair” like Mama and me, that she doesn’t like her hair. I worry about the day she’ll compare her color to ours, if she’ll see deficiency in difference.

I’m growing out my natural hair now, much to the chagrin of my immediate family. I had “such pretty long hair,” so why was I ruining it by letting it be, by wearing it the way it grows out of my head? My natural hair is “a waste” and “unbecoming.” My mother doesn’t think it “suits” me, and if I’m being perfectly honest, sometimes I don’t think it does either. But I have to remind myself that this isn’t the truth, it’s just what we’ve been taught.

So I try to remember, especially on the days I don’t feel confident or pretty that yes, this hair is a gift, this skin is a gift, in hopes that one day, my sister will know it too.

–M

A Note on Chronic Illness

Chronic illness sucks.

I think that goes without saying. Near constant aches and pains. Having to take numerous sick days (which aren’t nearly as fun as the ones you had as a child skipping school. No work and no pay makes Jack a broke boy.) Frequently cancelling plans because of flaring symptoms. The way just cleaning the house feels like a hike up Mount Everest.

One of the things about chronic illness is that it is tiring. (The phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” comes to mind.) But it isn’t just tiring for the person suffering from the illness, it’s tiring for those around the person suffering from chronic illness.

See, it’s one thing if you come down with pneumonia or mono or some rare, exotic kind of bird flu that causes you to squawk uncontrollably for a month or so. People are generally sympathetic and offer their kindness, concern, and understanding when you can’t attend so-and-so’ party, or have to skip out on dinner, and generously overlook your incessant squawking. In these cases, the illness is temporary and once it’s over, life can go on as before and you are free to resume your usual social activities. There’s the expectation from those around you that yes, you are sick for now, but you won’t be later.

But what about the illnesses that don’t go away? The ones that linger over years, often worsening. The kinds of illnesses that are managed not cured. Enter chronic illness.

When you first get sick people are sympathetic, kind, patient, etc., at first. But when your illness doesn’t just up and go away, you find things begin to change. After a while people stop inviting you to things on the count of your frequent cancellations. You find your social circles no longer really seem to include you. And it’s not like it’s out of malice or anything. It’s just that people tend to feel like a third wheel. Your illness is almost its own entity, it’s there front and center when you can barely climb a flight of stairs without gasping for breath. It’s there when you hardly eat anything at dinner because your nausea decided to make yet another appearance. It’s there when you have to sit out most physical activities. Your illness just hangs there in the center of the room, the elephant no one wants to talk about when you’re there and everyone just feels uncomfortable. Things are easier when you’re not there.

Chronic illness is uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. It’s tiring. Sometimes, it’s lonesome.

But it isn’t all bleak. There are good days for the bad days where your bed is your only safe haven. You learn that some friendships have expiration dates, and that’s okay. Some friendships you’ll find are long-lasting. The ones who don’t shy away from your illness or think it becomes you, who set a place for it at the table, even if it doesn’t eat.

And though I do enjoy being in pleasant company every now and again, I find I take pleasure in my own company these days. My quiet walks, sunning by my window, reading until I don’t know what day it is anymore. I can enjoy being alone without feeling alone. It wasn’t always like that.

If anything, chronic illness has made me more appreciative of the little things in life. Enjoying a good meal, conquering a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat, stay-at-home socks. Rainy days. Making the perfect cup of tea, the first time.

Chronic illness has its shares of ups and downs, (plenty of downs) but the downs make the ups even more enjoyable. And the ups make the downs that much more bearable.

And hell, it leaves you plenty of time to write.

-M