Thursday, July 24, 2014

Exchange mirrors for windows

A two year gap in writing leaves me with no ideas of what to write about except love. Our greatest friend and enemy. The thing that saves us, but without which we wouldn't need saving. It pushes and pulls. Drowns and resuscitates. Cuts down and waters. Makes us forget and makes us remember. The light to open eyes, the dark to closed eyes and hot tears. It is everything. It is all around us. It moves us and stops us. It is poison, it is wine. It is life, and it is death. Love can be the death of us, and it can be the life of us. It will be.

Everything that I hate about love, has reminded me of what I hate about love. Two years of the same story: the protagonist that you can't do with, and can't do without. A bitter taste to the lips, a sweet taste on the tongue. Insane agony, insane ecstasy, insane circle. You can choose a different sort of insanity- you can crawl under the round barb-wired fence and find a corner, a dark corner that has no repetition, no smooth lines that take you round, just the safe lonely walls of a corner against your back. Exchange windows for mirrors. Remind yourself that you are sane, because you chose a different insanity. 

If you can let yourself be tender, love will reach you through the fury. It will quiet you, and beg you to listen, to break down the fury into distinguishable sounds, a thousand cries-- all for love--  can you hear it? They are all crying for the same thing. They are all hurting each other, for the same thing. Love will beg you to listen to each one, to try to understand, to remember that yours is just one of these. 

If you can let yourself be free, love can be an infinite mess of death and life. If you can believe that it is infinite, you can let yourself be free. 

This is what I am learning, and what I am hoping for. To be open to infinite hurt, and to infinite joy. To be free. To be infinite.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Mysterious Immobilization of the Flight Reflex

It’s been 3 weeks since I started my PhD program and with the heavy sigh at the end of every week comes the heavy thought: capitalism SUCKS. Not the inherent qualities of capitalism, but what it necessarily does to humans. What is meaningful has a price on it, yet we are fooled by the conditions of our economic society to think “it’s all worth it in the end.” What is “the end”? You will continue to sacrifice what is valuable to you (another price of capitalism) so that you can fit into the capitalistic system, even after getting a degree.

What I find more and more ludicrous about education is not just how much money it costs, but THAT it costs. If the capital-driven model of education were entirely demolished, the world’s economy would be devastated. And yet, nothing “education-wise” would really change- the people who were going to school to just “get a degree” would continue being as un-educated as they would be with their degree, and the people who really thirsted for knowledge would continue to seek it, independently. Why reach the same end point, but scores of thousands of dollars later?

Clearly, my issues with being in school are multi-layered. For one, I don’t like how, quite literally, poor it makes me. For another, I don’t like how it tests my sanity and even my health, and makes me constantly neglect what I value and love most. And lastly, I don’t like how it has made me mysteriously incapable of throwing in the towel, despite my protests. Why do people (including me) willingly put themselves through intense pressure and stress for years on end? And willingly continue in that pattern (and perhaps a worsening of it) even after attaining their degree? Here’s a useful metaphorical analogy I have acquired from talking to Bree about his recent research. He found that there is a species of wasp that has a complex and quite sadist relationship with the roach. The wasp first stings the roach in its thorax so that it is temporarily immobilized. Next, the wasp finds just the right spot in the brain in which to sting the roach— a spot that paralyzes the roach AND destroys its “flight” reflex. The roach, now entirely paralyzed—yet completely aware and lucid— is unable to flee because the reflex which causes it to do so is impaired. The wasp then takes the roach to its nest, where the paralyzed body of the lucid roach is used to grow the wasp’s eggs on. This is horrendously disgusting. But it serves a strikingly similar resemblance to grad school- somehow, students have been sucked into academia’s lair, have somehow had their flight reflexes immobilized, and are being fed upon by the university. Again, quite disgusting.

But seriously, you may be asking the very valid question of why I am still in school if this is how negatively I feel about it. Besides the proposition that I believe academia has impaired my flight response, I’m just taking everyone’s advice, including my own, and “trying it out.” I approach it with the understanding and hope that the first semester is insanely hard and possibly disillusioning, but that if I can get past it, a brighter experience quite possible lies ahead. You may also be asking how it is that I’m in school when I wrote in my last blog that the complicated situation of switching schools last minute forced me to wait until 2013 to start. Long story short, GSU contacted me while I was mid-flight to Phoenix (visiting family) to let me know they received some unexpected funding and could now fund me starting the 2012 school year. I had to make the decision in a day. Of the two choices I was faced with- spend a year in Atlanta being a nanny, exploring the city, reading a lot (for pleasure), taking photos, cooking, etc….and start a PhD program, with all the it entails and was mentioned with great drudgery at the beginning of the blog— I chose the latter, because…well, who the hell knows. For complicated reasons. But here I am, in a PhD program, daily wishing I was living a different and more relaxed sort of life.

It’s been hard to find my “niche” at GSU because none of the professors there have the background in communication (interpersonal, qualitative research) that I come from. I did however, make acquaintance with my research advisor, who is perhaps one of the only interpersonal researchers there, and it has proven so far to be a potentially blessed connection. She does research in gerontology- something I have never had an interest in. However, in taking one of her courses and discussing/reading her research, it turns out I really am interested in this field. Rather than merely studying “old people” (with whom I find it difficult to relate), she studies “aging” (which we can all relate to). I’ve been learning all sorts of negative cultural messages about aging and old people that we are bombarded with daily and that we believe. I am definitely guilty of this- I have always greatly feared aging, and I have not looked upon old age as something good. I have always dreaded being an old person and have vocalized publicly my desire to die young. But what I am learning is that our construction of what it means to age is so tainted by cultural messages of it, that it is possible to dig underneath that and come up with healthier, more truthful, beliefs about what it means to age.

With that said, I spontaneously decided to join a non-profit organization, “Adopt-A-Grandparent,” where I partner with an assisted living facility and visit my “grandparent” buddy every week. This is something I never would have imagined myself doing- as I said, I grew up with some pretty deeply entrenched discomfort around older adults, and though I enjoy volunteer opportunities, I have intentionally sought opportunities related to young people. I still can’t explain why I am doing this, but I know that part of it is because I’ve begun to feel more empathic for older adults- one driving force being the knowledge that I myself will get there one day. Plus, older people are way less drama than younger people. I look forward to starting my work in this program this month.

On the home front, Bree and I have both been trying to manage being in school while also spending time with each other and trying to maneuver errands like grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping, but now it is a chore. The danger of that is, since I’m the only one with a car, I go alone and my shopping is driven by the fervent desire to never have to do it again. I buy enough food to feed a family of 10 (not exaggerating). On my last trip, I came home with nearly 40 apples and nearly 20 sweet potatoes. It did not occur to me, at all, that this was an insane amount for two people, and that we wouldn’t be able to finish them prior to the end of their shelf life. Bree found it quite comical. I think the flight mechanism that grad school has destroyed is also connected to some side-effect of making me disoriented and disconnected from reality in general.

Bree has been having a grand old time at Emory, diving thirstingly into his readings (and usually reading more than he has to), and attending extra-curricular events. Last week we both attended a “Students for Philosophy” event that is student-organized and allows Emory students, weekly, to present their current research with one another. We are both really impressed with how self-motivated the grad students at Emory are. Then again, they are also always “partying” (not in the negative sense of the word). We have spent several nights going out with new friends at Emory and doing things like Karaoke night at a Korean karaoke club, coconut night at a friends house (we literally just got together to eat coconuts), and birthday parties. What really strikes me about Emory students is how I have heard not one of them complain about their work load. It’s a real glaring difference between the cohort at GSU. In my program, I think people get together IN ORDER TO complain about their work load. When students at Emory hang out, you wouldn’t even know they are in school, let alone a grad program. Being pitted against people with such carefree attitudes has given me quite an inferiority complex when I am around them. All in all though, there is good potential to make good friends with Bree’s group of mates at Emory.

We have also been attending a weekly “compassion meditation” class, held in the dark, quite, cold basement of the Emory campus chapel. It’s actually incredibly peaceful and calming. It’s our chance to leave everything at the door for an hour and focus on fostering compassion, both for ourselves and for others. The instructor has a very heavy and calming presence and she exudes compassion- if you both catch each others’ eye before/after meditation, she smiles so big, with her entire body, that it becomes humanly impossible not to feel cared for- not just by her, but by the whole earth.

Well, I have written enough for now and apologize for having taken up so much of your time. I do welcome comments, even if you just want to tell me how stupid I am. I miss everyone and wish that everyone could always be happy and always win. 

 When I visited Phoenix, we (my brothers Beni and Dani, and friends Stephen and Aeni) spent a day in Fossil Creek...the beauty shall speak for itself! 

 With Beni and Dani at one of the many waterfalls at Fossil Creek.

 With Stephen at Fossil Creek.

 It took him a long time to contemplate it, but he did eventually jump.

 We went upstream and found another small waterfall with a natural whirpool...we had it all to ourselves and played in it for some time.

 Playing around.

 This is the whirpool. If we just floated in it, it would take us round and round in circles, by its own power. Fun!

 View of the waterfall from above. The cliff-jumping spot was just feet away from here. I did not jump. I am not insane.

 The walk up to the waterfalls. 

 Leaving Fossil Creek...shall return soon!

 My mother forced me to work and make food the whole time I was visiting home. So much for being a guest. JK....totally jk. 

 You don't see very many people yet (because it's early morning), but this is downtown Atlanta, where GSU is. It's huge and disorienting and scary.

 There are some parts of downtown Atlanta that are less formidable-- there are many parks. Live music happening basically all the time. Lots of international restaurants.
 This is the classroom I teach in- 3rd floor in a huge, old building. I hate it. It looks like a high school classroom.
 There is always activity in the parks. This huge chess set has people waiting in line to play. It's quite comical to see grown men lift chess pieces that are half the size of their bodies. 

 The building to the left is one that our Comm department will be moving into in January. High rise buildings make me incredibly nervous. 

 A party with Emory students at our friend Sasha's pad. It reminds me a little bit of the inside of Lux. 

 A coconut party at our friend Justin's (left) house/backyard. Justin and Bree were at odds about what is the best way to open a coconut. Justin's method: a machete. Bree's method: a drill.

 Facetime with Lavi!

 Facetime with Bree's family! We spent about an hour reading the second part of Bree's book that he wrote for his papa, David. David used to makeup bedtime stories for his kids when they were younger, and Bree took the general themes of those stories and wrote a children's book based on them, which he gave to David. Precious.

 Wittle Izzy!

 We went to the Decatur Book Festival, where we spent $14 on 14 books. Apparently, we broke the record for this booth's sales, so they wrote it down on the white board (Bree gave his name as "Spartacus") and had Bree take a picture with it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The unsettling-ness of settling in

One month ago today our “going away” party took place. I hate to admit it- in case it offends anyone who attended- but it sucked. I’ve decided that going away parties are some of the worst kind of parties and I will try my best to never attend one again, especially not my own. It sucked because of how hard it was emotionally to see everyone but not have any real conversations (given the circumstances of the amount of people there with whom we had to make sure and converse, noise level, etc.). But it did re-enforce to me how important (and awesome) it is to upkeep relationships by keeping in contact with people on some level. I can say that that's been one good thing about being in Atlanta- I've had lots of good, albeit mediated by technology, conversations with friends and family.

Now that the negativity is out of the way, I shall try to give an update of our lives in Atlanta since we left...with just a few dashes of negativity here and there. 

The road trip here was, objectively speaking, a very good road trip. I say "objectively" because WHILE it was happening, it was heart-wrenching. But, just as I suspected based on what I learned in "communication studies" classes and from what I observed through experience, I was in shock and didn't even cry once during the entire trip. Take that as a sign not that I had no feelings about it but that I was so overwhelmed that my body could not allow itself to express the emotion, lest it should be too much for it to handle. Normally when you're on road trips, you wait impatiently for every new mile marker to see the mileage go lower and lower, signaling that you are nearing your destination. But for me, it was quite the opposite-I hated seeing the miles towards our destination decrease by the minute. I kept sincerely hoping that this was all a long, months long dream. And I kept wondering, why do people choose to do these things (i.e. move away from their entire family and friends group) and HOW do they do it? How are people capable of so much emotion and pain that they CHOOSE to go through?

More objective comments on the road trip...Normally I like to control things, but I had no fire in me to care about much, so I let Bree dictate where we would go and how long we would stay. We ended up in god awful places like New Mexico for the first night, and Arkansas for the second. For our last leg of the trip, we arrived in Nashville on an early evening and went to a couple of places recommended to us by Stephanie, who lived there for the last 5 years(ish) but recently moved back to AZ. The next day, we did some more exploring and went to a coffee shop that Stephanie used to be a manager at...or so we thought. She told us to bring up her name to the barista so that we can possibly score a discount, but the barista's face was as blank as my bank account when we mentioned Stephanie's name. Turns out we drove about 10 miles to end up at the entirely wrong coffee shop. It was still a great experience though with good coffee.

We arrived at our apartment on Friday night at 8pm...overall, we made good time, considering we left Phoenix on Tuesday at around noon. 

The first couple of weeks were spent obliterating our savings to stock up our aparment with food and decorate it Bree and Carmen (Brarmen) style. It was fun to be kept busy with this during the day, but come night time, the shock of having been ripped from my home wore off and I experienced the emotions full blast. Never a night since I've been here that the pillow hasn't felt my tears. 

On top of feeling entirely alone (well, except for Bree being here), I felt intense intense dread about attending UGA and being ripped apart yet again and even further from home and from Bree too this time. Why in the world was I doing this to myself, I kept asking? What was so important about a PhD that I would literally sacrifice EVERYTHING (although temporarily...but 4 years is a long time) to pursue it? The answer became clear on the morning I had to wake up and drive to campus, almost 2 hours away, to square away my paperwork. And the answer was this: Getting a PhD is NOT important enough to make me live alone and not be in my own home for 4 years. Enough damage is done having moved 2,000 miles away from AZ- why another 70 miles, away from the only person I have here, the person I love most? So that morning, I decided not to attend UGA anymore and to re-apply to Georgia State (GSU), where I had originally been accepted to (even before UGA) but denied their offer so that I can take UGA's. The reasons for making that choice are complicated and unnecessary to retell, but the premise of my new choice to go to GSU instead of UGA (other than the fact that it is 5 miles away from our home as opposed to 70 miles) is that my relationships are more important to me than the prestige of a program. While I enjoy teaching and especially learning, I don't need a PhD from the best school to do that. GSU, while not as top-ranked as UGA, is a great school for someone like me who is more willing to follow her relationships around the country than to follow her career around the country. 

The short of it is that GSU accepted me back but did not have funding left for this year, so I will be attending there next year. In the year I have off, I intend to teach online (which I am already doing), perhaps nanny part-time (as a way to deal with my intense feelings of missing my nephews and nieces...), read, photograph, and explore the city. It sounds like an incredible opportunity to live leisurely and interestingly, but I am a person who always needs to be busy in order to feel ok, so it will be an enormous challenge for me to have a lot of time on my hands. I hope that a good amount of that time will also be spent visiting Phoenix and Chicago. In fact, I am visiting Phoenix next week for a few days! I haven't been this excited about a trip since I was maybe 15 years old. I can't wait to be around my friends and family! 

Everybody imparts the knowledge that moving away from home is going to be one of the greatest experiences of your life, if at least for the fact that you will learn a lot about yourself. It certainly hasn't been one of the greatest experiences of my life (yet...), but here is what I have learned about myself so far. This is not meant as a compliment, at all, but rather quite the opposite: I am deeply, deeply empathic. I have such a deep reservoir for emotions that every emotion is felt, I think, many times over than the average person feels it. Again, this is not meant as self-inflation because I absolutely hate that I have such a great capacity for emotion. I do think there are benefits, of course (i.e. I empathize with people very much- I can cry in a split second upon seeing someone else in pain). But mainly, it causes great pain as I not only feel pain so deeply, but feel the pain of others not understanding how much it is felt. I've always known this about myself, but have not confronted it often. I did confront it when I had to decide whether I wanted to go to UGA. When people would tell me, "You'll get used to it" and things of the like, they did not and do not understand that I WON'T get used to it. I'm just not built like most people- I can keep an emotion for my entire life. And what this has taught me is to accept some of my fears and choose things based on them. While we're always taught to not give in to our fears and act on them, I learned that some things that you fear (i.e. moving away from home) tell you something very true and real about yourself, and sometimes it's ok to listen to those fears and act on them. For me, my fear was being entirely alone in a city with no support system, and I gave in to that fear and realized it isn't something I am willing to do. Perhaps I am able to, but I am not willing to. I've come to appreciate life more in the sense that life can end at any moment- why choose to do something that makes you miserable, even if it will pay off in the end, when you don't even know if you'll wake up tomorrow? 

 Scary skies driving through Arkansas. The humidity was so bad, we had steam coming out of the car vents. We thought we were overheating and pulled over twice. After some research on our handy iphones, we learned that this is a normal phenomenon in the humid south.

 The nearer we got to Georgia, the greener the scenery.
A beautiful scene I felt like we should turn around for and take pictures.
Lots of weird looking bugs here in the south.
 We have been eating like kings.
The "wrong" coffee shop that we went to. Pretty cool decor.
(Sorry these are all out of order...) Bree and I on our last day of packing before moving. Heart wrenching.
 This was the first day of our road trip...the pretty parts of AZ before entering gross New Mexico.
 I kicked Bree out of the car and made him walk a mile...
Not happy about the current situation.
 Only sold in New Mexico....
Bree is a vandal.
Who HASN'T seen this...
 I sold a book on amazon while on the road trip. Luckily, I had it with me, so I made Bree stop on the highway when we saw a huge sign that read "Post Office." Here he is, on the way back from it, with package still in
 Quite foggy.
 Tennessee has a special place in my heart. I've lived there a couple of summers (to babysit my nephew and niece) and made some great childhood memories there.
 Love southern "bayou" decor.
 You know you're in the south when one of these is tied to a pole.

Despite the devastation this box received, not one piece of the fragile dinnerware was broken, thanks to my seriously OCD packing methods.
 Our typical diet.
 The living room is not done (we are waiting for a couch) but this is what it looks like so far. We like it.
 My new bike! And part of Bree's finger.
This made me soooo happy! The nephews and nieces have been good (the best!) about facetiming with me :)
 Taking a ride through the lush neighborhood.
A general view of the houses here. Very comfy and cozy looking.