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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear David Foster Wallace:

Nine months ago I picked up Infinite Jest for the second time with every intention of powering through. I believed my first failed attempt had prepared me for this undertaking. Now, cocooned in my bed on an autumn afternoon, it’s apparent that didn’t happen in the timely manner I’d hoped for.

Let’s start with the physical proportions of your behemoth. Over 1,000 pages with 388 endnotes, and a whopping 3.5 pounds. David Foster Wallace, your book is inconvenient. I couldn’t prop it up on the elliptical while mindlessly churning out miles of sweat, or pace around the house with it loosely grasped in one hand while brushing my teeth. From the start you demanded my full attention, and settled for nothing less. I frequently felt like a child: sitting upright, clutching the book with both hands, reading until my arms ached.

It’s safe to say this book left its mark on me. Literally. Remember the sunny day I vowed to read 50 pages in one sitting? Sprawled on the beach with 32 ounces of beer, a bottle of water, and ample snacks I was mentally and physically prepared. Six hours later, after emerging from the tangled vortex of a 10-page endnote, I hit that 50 page mark around the same time my second degree sunburn started blistering.   

Before now I’ve never read a book and the dictionary side-by-side. I have no doubt you did this intentionally. I’ll admit there were times I resented you for stretching the boundaries of language beyond good old Merriam-Webster’s capabilities. You manipulated the etymology of myth and medicine in ways I may never fully comprehend. Portions of this story read like a lexical temper tantrum. Do you realize there have been whole dictionaries dedicated to your creation?

It’s aptly titled. The joke is that you spend an infinite amount of time reading it.

Perhaps the worst things about reading this book was the inevitable question: but what’s it about? There’s no concise answer. The main characters are a prodigious teenage tennis player, a recovering drug addict/ex burglar, a subversive Canadian wheelchair assassin, and a horrifically beautiful veiled woman. Themes include depression, substance abuse, athletics, marketing and media, suicide, teenage angst, politics, pollution, and familial tension. You also managed to touch on incest, materialism, agoraphobia, love, and genetically mutated feral hamsters the size of Volkswagons.

As isolated as I felt reading it, I can’t imagine how you felt writing it.

David Foster Wallace, human beings are absurd. We’re repellant and alluring. We’re self-conscious and vain. We’re occasionally noble and martyred and affected. We wake up in gutters covered in our own shit and vomit, and still sell our last shred of dignity for another ounce of pleasure. But of course, you knew this. You possessed a concise and poignant view of the human condition, and chose to leave it of your own accord. I know, I know. The only advice I received when I started this book was to avoid reading it through the lens of your suicide. But you unknowingly cast the shadow of your death across every page.  

"Any man can slip out there. All it takes is a second of misplaced respect." pg. 169

I hope you’ve found more resolution than this story. Honestly, Infinite Jest is one of the most ridiculous and horrifying pieces of entertainment I’ve ever consumed. But also challenging. But also rewarding. David Foster Wallace, thank you. I know you’re responsible for this overwhelming and unexplainable feeling of accomplishment. I have to get back to my Real Life.


-b

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I'm bouncing off the walls again.


It all started with my knees. This spring, two years post-op, I decided to rejoin the world of organized sports. After extensive googling I found the NetRippers Football Club, Rose City’s LGBTQ soccer club. This May I dug my cleats out of the crawl space, aired out the hand-me-down shin guards I wore throughout high school, and trekked to the Adidas Complex for my first Saturday afternoon practice.

You guys, I loved every minute of that first practice. Sprinting with purpose, letting muscle memory take over, working as a team toward a common goal… I was hooked.

As you may recall, I’m not the best at moderation. I started with Futsal. 44 minutes of high-impact aerobic activity once a week. Over the course of three months, this turned into two indoor soccer teams, an outdoor league, and a weekly Futsal match. By September I was playing 3-5 nights per week, sometimes multiple games a night.

The pain started after that first practice as a nagging tightness in the left knee. Not pain, exactly. More like an uncomfortable awareness that I have a knee, when typically I remain casually oblivious to my body’s existence. When Futsal started, the knee ached more acutely. Occasionally the rapid start/stop would cause buckling and sharp pain. After games I’d hobble upstairs to my bedroom and elevate it to reduce swelling. I started bracing the left knee for stability.

Six weeks ago, I was sitting at work while both knees crackled with some sort of maniac electricity. Imagine electrified ice water caught circulating just under your skin. Or the tip of a very small knife inserted beneath your nerve endings. They hurt when I sat. They hurt when I stood. They didn’t hurt when I walked, but they ached dully in a swelling-and-inflammation way. The only thing that alleviated the pain was squatting. Not crouching in a squat. That hurt too. No, the only relief was actively moving my body up and down in a squatting motion, pausing with my thighs at a 90 degree angle to the floor.

A week later I ceded, and dropped out of the soccer world.

Without soccer, I am relearning my body. I listen to the aches caused by miles of running on poorly rehabilitated joints. I’m learning to be strong, not only physically but mentally. Accepting limitations, giving myself time to heal. I am relearning the word grace.  

Handstands don’t require strong knees. Three weeks now I’ve padded barefoot into my loft and thrown my body against a wall. The first step is building strength. Training your upper body to bear weight: palms flat against hardwood, fingers splayed. Strength. How the shoulders ache and burn at every new angle. Heels against whitewash. I walk these hands back, walk these feet up. Hold. Thirty seconds, sixty seconds. Remember how to breathe. Forget how to count. Don’t worry about falling.

Across the city, Camille writes I feel a little Twilight Zone-y. She says The world is upside down. I say I’m learning to do handstands. My world is upside down. I’m not afraid of falling.

I have a friend back home who wears gravity the way airplanes wear sky. The way ships wear oceans. Effortless, like she was made for this; her body inverted and stock still. She has always been flat planes and sharp angles. I am not her. This does not come easy. Heels against the wall. Weight shifting forward, elbows locked. Balance. Breathe. Do you remember the last time you weren’t afraid to fall?

I hope you’re well, dreamweavers.


-b

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Brief & Incomplete List: #4

Things I’ve learned in my adult life:

The word "ergonomic" pertains to my life.
I’ve long considered myself a fairly resilient human. It doesn’t take much to make me comfortable. I’ve used the same pillows since 2008. I rode my bicycle for over a year before replacing the tattered, cushion-less seat. I rarely consider the arches in my shoes, my lack of air conditioning, or the other myriad implements designed to make every-day living painless.

But after two years of slouching at my desk for 40 hours per week, I recently experienced Back Pain. Not satisfying, exercise related muscle fatigue. Not the slightly unpleasant tension associated with marathon Netflix watching. This was pinched nerve, shooting-fiery-agony Back Pain. For three days I prayed a very tall person would scoop me up and aggressively shake me until the pinched nerve became somehow un-pinched.

Due to MacGyver-esque utilization of a large rubber band ball, I can walk without dramatically clutching at my lower back. But the painful memory lingers in the back of my mind. The lesson: posture matters, and not even just a little bit. Seriously, it’s a real thing that you should all consider and probably be a little bit concerned about.

Driving barefoot is not illegal.
Considering my mother spent 95% of my childhood barefoot, I have a strange concept of what humans can and cannot do without shoes. Grocery shopping, hiking, marathon-running? A-ok! Operating a motor vehicle? Oh hell no.

[Sidenote: barefoot bike riding. How often does the toe of my shoe become lodged in my bicycle chain? Never. How often do I worry my toes will be ripped off my foot after becoming lodged in my bicycle chain? Always.]

I don’t know who told me driving barefoot was illegal. I do know the idea became deeply engrained in my brain, influencing my perception of the world and my position in it until approximately two weeks ago. For years I’ve felt a secret thrill getting away with barefoot driving. The same thrill I get from jay walking. Or hacking into my roommate’s Hulu Plus account, which she totally gave me permission to hack into. The little things keep me going.

Anyways. I don’t want to ruin it for my fellow thrill seekers, but driving barefoot is totally not illegal. Strongly discouraged, and considered the tiniest bit reckless. Still not illegal.

Sunscreen.
I’ve been a lifelong sunscreen shirker. When asked if I need sunscreen I’ve historically cocked an eyebrow while raising my arms in an outstretched, who- the-hell-do-you-think-you’re-talking-to gesture.

To everybody I’ve scoffed at: I’m so sorry. You were right. Sun safety is a legitimate concern and I’m sorry I ever doubted you. There’s nothing cool or sexy about weeping sunburn blisters. Or peeling silver dollar-sized clumps of dead skin from your ass and thighs. It’s actually rather embarrassing to raise a flurry of white flakes when picking your pants off the floor. Not a few flakes, a veritable blizzard. A skin blizzard. A blizzard of skin. Human skin. My skin. Human flakes.

I’m sorry to say I haven’t turned the corner on sunscreen avoidance. But I’m ready to acknowledge the validity of sunscreen use. I’ve come to terms with my mortality, and accepted the sun’s undeniable dominion over my pasty, Oregon skin.

Glitter and baby oil are equally difficult to remove from your hair.
And your bed. And your car. And the couch. And any clothing worn 48-hours post encounter.

Keep it real, dream weavers. I believe you too can make it through the night.

-b

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dear Allen Ginsberg: I don't know you but...

In 2006 I bought a little black, spiral bound notebook. 500 sheets of unlined paper, front cover stamped with blocky silver letters. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness. It was the winter break before my senior year of high school, and I was visiting friends in San Francisco.

That was my first time in a city, my first time traveling of my own accord. My friends’ apartment: an upper-level studio. Mattress on the floor of the walk-in closet, couch beneath the living room window. Kitchen, bathroom, living room, closet. I could touch every wall with ten steps, but I didn't. I spent so much time being still there, on the couch beneath the window. Watching street lights, listening to street sounds. Laughter, and yelling. Broken glass, and sirens heralding strangers’ tragedies.

Starving. Hysterical. Naked.

Sixteen years old and my first time in a city. Wandering through City Lights Bookstore, running my fingers along spines, and spines, and spines. Everything feeling heavy; feeling meaningful the way you expect things to feel meaningful when you’re sixteen and realize a city could swallow your heart.

The day before, I navigated the slow-moving weave of the line wrapped around a Western Union. Bounced on the balls of my feet, eager to retrieve the emergency funds my parents wired 1,032 miles in the middle of the night. I remember my mother driving 30 miles into town, the babies in tow, after I called and said hungry. After I called and said broke.   

That day in the bookstore I weighed hunger against novelty. I forfeited dinner for two things: the book that would redefine my life and the one that would record it.

Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

New Years’ Eve and sixteen. In the city that swallowed my heart I wrote:

“Poverty huddles in a corner, wears a blue stocking cap, scrounges up small change. While four gay men flirt shamelessly, and I wonder why I’m ashamed. Life dresses in white, head to toe. He has change in his pocket, liquor on his breath. The city blooms like a cancer you learn to love: a tumble of light and sound cascading down the hills. There’s always rain, some days it just refuses to fall.”

I remember a white suit, and a cane, and a smile. All teeth like something out of a movie, tipping his top hat with a flourish. The streets that smelled like piss and sparkled like gold. Little piles of white powder tediously measured in the back of the city bus. My friend elbowing me, whisper yelling Don’t look like you’re looking, but look. Everything killdeer before I even knew killdeer existed.

This year Portland, Oregon. The summer heat broken like a collective sigh of relief. This morning: my bare feet on wet pavement for the first time in months. Everything easy like suns setting, reflected in mirrored sunglasses. A blur of bridge and city and skyline. The dirty waterfront full of human being stories. Everything easy, like That Girl smiling the smile that makes my bones featherlight.    

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

Eight years later there are 15 blank pages in that black, spiral bound notebook. Across the top of one I scrawl I am 25 years old, and I am not sad. And I think perhaps that’s all I have to say right now. Sometimes I hold this book full of loss/regret/despair. There are so many selves caught between these pages. I am 25 years old. I am not sad. Scattered between the journal entries, I find letters to a future self. And tonight (for perhaps the first time) I’m glad I listened to their advice.