Thursday, December 18, 2008

Am I Making a Mistake?

Day 44
On plane from Amsterdam to Detroit

      I keep falling asleep for 20-30 minutes or so, waking up and thinking that my departure this morning was just a dream, that it never happened, that it only felt real because my dreams always feel real for the first 45 seconds of consciousness.

      And then the underside of my sternum begins to throb and I remember I really did leave Prague. Nothing feels right about this. I think I might be making a mistake. Something tells me this is very, very wrong. I am not where I should be. When I left Thailand I was upset, but I felt it was time to close that door, it was time to take myself home and be a different me. This is so different. I don't need to take the new me home, I don't need to show it to anyone. I just need to be it. And I am afraid I need to do that in Prague.
      Am I making a mistake?

Leaving Prague

Day 43
@ Prague Airport

      This is terrible. I am sitting in the Prague Airport, easily in reach of the city, but I am just sitting here, waiting, doing nothing. I could be buying local art on Charles Bridge. I could be sitting in Old Town Square eating raspberry gelato watching the people flock to the Atomic clock as the hour strikes. I could be running on cobblestone streets. But instead I am perched at gate C10 waiting for a boarding time that seems years away. And I am always so fucking cold in airports.
      I can't explain how badly I want to stay here in Prague. I need to be here for me. Somewhere along the line Prague enveloped me and hasn't let go. I always felt a breeze whisper on my shoulders as I crossed Charles Bridge, the spires always pulled my gaze upwards while the comptetive cobblestone tried to pull it back down. I felt small walking through tall, narrow alleyways, leading to small pockets of shops and restaurants not listed in the tour books, but I don't know when Prague consumed me on all sides, when it stopped me from seeing Chicago for the rehabilitation I never expected to find here.
      I know Chicago is an important and necessary step for me to take. I know this year needs to be about me finally doing the things I have to yearned to have the time to do. To finally have a daily routine that reflects my interests, not my obligations. It will be my first year as a (hopefully) independent, self-providing, quasi-established adult. There are pieces of lifestyles I have gathered over the years and have filed under "to adopt later" and I am really looking forward to finally implementing some of these things into a life I am building for myself.
      Why can't I do that here?

Prague is in My Bones

Day 41
@ friend's apartment in Prague

      Prague is in my bones. Coming back here after a week away on travel, I don't want to say was like coming home because who really knows what home is, but it felt like something. I don't want to go as far as to say that Prague is mine--if anything, I am Prague's --but it was familiar and it felt good to be back. It's in my bones, packed in there tight next to Thailand. And I know it will hurt to miss it.

      It's crazy how the space you choose to surround yourself with takes on its own character, that it becomes a person for you to know. And depending on how you choose to use that space, you develop a relationship with it--it changes small fragments of you--and you can change it. I don't think I changed Prague much, I don't know if I really could, It would be like changing your grandfather, but its stories, its slick cobblestone, its eery weather, Charles bridge at night, its Velvet Revolution...its got a hold on me from the inside out.

Tour "Guide"

Day 37
@ hotel in Vienna

      Today I saw the first piece of art that moved me. Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. It depicts exactly how I have always thought love should feel. The woman's facial expression with eyes closed, relaxed, enduring...she looks like she feels beautiful. And the man in the painting is so obviously devoted to this woman whose face he cradles in his hands--the kind of commitment most men are stereotypically thought to be too scared to make. He is the vulnerable one.
      I overheard a German speaking tour guide explaining The Kiss to a group in English. She described the woman as "obviously not enjoying herself," and, "almost pushing him away." She said the woman being positioned on her knees was a symbol of women's passiveness and lower position in society. I couldn't disagree with this narrow-minded perspective more. She is on her knees, yes, but so is he--his legs are out behind him where you can't see them in the painting. They are on their knees together. And she isn't pushing him away. In fact, she is pulling him in, she is even holding his hand while it is on her face, keeping his palm pressed against her cheek. It's a moment where he realizes she needed him and he came to her 100 percent rather than meeting her halfway. He came to her. He is devoted to her and it makes her feel good.
      I've come to realize that about museums, tours, summaries and audio guides. The amount control they have really bothers me. They completely dictate what items belong on display, what information to include or exclude, even how an audience interprets a painting. Knowing there are things hidden from me or pieces that have been shaped for me is upsetting. It is especially bothersome when these people in control don't realize the power behind their position and confuse things like women's submissive role in society with really enjoying the moment they are in and who they are in it with. They should be held responsible for sharing several interpretations and providing space for the members of the tour group to create their own interpretations as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In the Motherland With Mother

Day 35
@ Amsterdam Airport

      I met up with Mom early on the first in Amsterdam. It has been nice to spend time with her after a month apart, but I am starting to see how differently we travel. She is the one who has done all of the planning and booking for our trip, yet she is also the one who feels the most anxious. I just don't see the point in getting worked up when feeling overwhelmed by a new environment. Just dive in, make a few mistakes, ask locals questions, get lost. How else will you ever figure out a new place?
      I am comfortable with ambiguity and thriving off of having no plan--studying in Thailand for six months taught me that. I do enough research to know what I am interested in seeing and doing and what types of public transporation I can use. Having a city map never hurts, but for the most part, I just like to see where a culture can take me.
      I really enjoyed my time in Amsterdam. It was a lot different from what I have always pictured (along with most other pre-Amsterdam Americans) in my head.
Some highlights from Amsterdam:
   :   Vang Gogh Museum
      Rembrandt Museum
      running in Vandel Park
      Anne Frank Huis
      Gay Pride Parade
      flower market
      friendly people
      The Van Gogh museum was worth the visit. All I really knew about his work prior to going in were the obvious paintings of sunflowers and Starry Night (which wasn't there.) I learned that he has an entire period of dark, rich paintings or peasant life and labor. He was also heavily influenced by Japanese art as seen in another stage of his work. My favorite piece from that period is Almondblossom. I bought a poster of it for my apartment in Chicago. I will put it right up there with Picasso's Man Playing Guitar.
      For the most part, it seemed like Van Gogh was a rather troubled fellow. He lived with his older brother and sister-in-law for most of his life, and started painting only after his brother's encouragement. He imitated a lot of other artists' work, adding on his flare. For someone so famous and with so much talent, it seems like other people shaped his life more than he did. He ended up shooting himself in the stomach, suffering for two days until he finally died.
      I wish had reread Anne Frank's Diay before visiting her house. I remembered bits and pieces. Mom helped to fill in the cracks from her research behind her Holocaust unit she does with her students. I had forgotten than Anne had planned on publishing a book titled "The Secret Annex" about her experience in hiding. She even started to edit her own journals. She often gave her journal to her father at night to lock up in his briefcase, asking him not to read it. He never did until he returned from Aushwitz as the only surviving member of his family. At the end of the exhibit was a television playing footage from an interview with Otto, Anne's father, conducted some time in the 80's. He talked about how sensitive, deep, and thoughtful he learnd his daughter was after reading her journals. He said he and Anne had a very close relatiomship, but now, after reading her journals, he is convinced no parents can ever really know their children.
      The actual hiding area was (as absurd as it sounds) luxurious compared to what I pictured when reading her diary. I imagined one, very small, attic with low ceilings boarded off into different rooms. It was still tight quarters, but was more spread out than expected. It was odd seeing the photos she chose to paste on her bedroom walls to make it mre "cheery" and the childrens' heights marked on the wall by Mr. Frank. Signs of normal life during something far from it.
      I was incredibly bothered when going trough the bookstore at the end of our visit. There was a plethora of books written by people trying to capture "The Life of Anne Frank" or, "Anne's Biography." I just don't agree with it. The story isn't about Anne, it's about Anne as one of millions of Jewish children touched, killed, damaged by the Holocaust. It gives one girl fame rather than the Jewish community as a whole, a voice. The only thing that made Anne different was tht she wrote a journal that survived. It's important to remember that.
      Yesterday we were lucky to be part of the largest gay pride parade in Europe, right here in Amsterdam. Different activists and organizations got together, each of them decorating a boat to ride down the canals in celebration. Some of the boats were quite excessive with costumes, body glitter, feathers, sequins, nudity and loud dance club music and choreographed dances. Others were a bit more reserved like the boat with the mayor waving proudly from the bow. My favorte was the boat of teenagers, some kind of gay youth support/activist group followed by another boat filled with their "proud parents." I know Mom felt a bit out of her element while we were there but I actually found it to be quite moving. Beneath all the makeup and streamers were people who were elated to just be who they are. It's such a happy atmosphere, no one hiding, no one holding back, moving, dancing, singing without embarassment. I was actually holding tears back as I watched each boat float down the canals.
      I can't wait to come back here.

This Is What I Will Tell My Mother

      I think I would like to take more time off before heading back to school for my MFA. I love writing. What I don't love is not having enough to write about. I need to travel more, see more of the world and feel small more often. I need to fill my bag with experiences, scenes, story threads and dump them all out on the table later on in the classroom. I don't need to be in the classroom to write, I only need to be in the classroom to workshop and brush up on craft. I need to adopt a writer's lifestyle first, make it second nature, and then become a student again where it is an obligation. Making it an obligation too soon after graduation could destroy it.
      So my answer to this: teach English abroad for a year, or two, or three. This will get me around the world, fund my travels, and utilize my strengths and passions. I will journal, I will absorb, I will listen and learn. Then I will share. I will meet people so different from me. I will show them who I am. We will exchange and shape each other's stories. I will live first and then I will write.
      This upcoming year in Chicago I will establish myself as an adult. I will work to pay my own bills, I will declare my own routine. I will eat healthy. I will work out and love my own space. I will save money, I will save money, I will save money. And then I will be on my way to the next destination.
      I am not a wonderer, I am seeker. This is what I will tell my mother.

Running Into Time

Day 22
@ a bar, "a proc ne?"

      This morning on my run I found the metronome on accident. In the morning it is the perfect thinking spot, overlooking Vlatava River. Yet, as the day goes on more people tend to congregate there, mostly skateboarders. This morning I was there alone with a little bit of drizzle and a little big of fog. I took a break from my 6 miler to figure out where I was and how I got there.
      I sat on the ledge in front of the metronome facing Old Town as the large red ticker muttered a low, monotone hum with each slow move, left to right, right to left. I heard the metronome stands in place of the large Stalin monument as a remembrance of things past. As the drizzle dampened my t-shirt from a light to dark gray, and the metronome kept time, I wondered about my own past and what monument I would replace with what.
      I am grappling with the relationship between my younger and present self--in writing, and in life. I believe they are two separate characters who each need to be brought to the page in specific ways. They must speak to one another, but never impose on one another. A writer must fragment themselves into pieces and bring each piece to the page as a whole.
      What is my younger self's voice like? My present self? How do they speak to one another? What if they randomly met on the street one day, or sat down over a cup of coffee? What kinds of questions would they ask? Would they like each other? On the page, does my present self protect my younger self? Silence my younger self? Does my younger self even know my older self is there?
      Watching tram 18 snake across the bridge towards Charles University I entertained the thought of meeting the 12 year old me. After my mind sifted through a list of typical statements like, "You should thank your mother more," and, "Spend more time with your Grandparents," I decided this type of scenario is pointless. At 12, I wouldn't have listened to me. I wouldn't have listened to anyone. I would pay attention politely, but later blow myself off and continue on with my life on my own, 12 year old, terms.
      So, then I switched the roles. What would the 12 year old me say to my present self? I blanked. My sleeves stuck to my shoulders. Raindrops dripped from the tips of my Aasics like a leaky faucet. The metronome moaned, left to right. Right to left. Left to right. And then the ticker stopped.
      Slow down, I thought to myself. I would tell myself to slow down.