The Future Unknown

Who doesn’t want to be given all the answers? With guess work removed, I would waste not a moment speculating. Hypothesizing. Presuming that things are a way when in fact, the way is not.

I could be certain that the past-lying behind me and refusing to repeat itself-was over, and that the future-ahead in the foreground, conscious of its own allusiveness- was a mystery no longer. Questions would be nothing more than moot points, entertained for brief moments before being stifled by the seductiveness of gratification, immediate. Debates and “mulling things over” would grow extinct. Doubt would disappear. There would be no room for mistake, as direction would be clear, articulate, and expected .

I think about what it would be like, in my own life, to know it all. To be fluent in future outcomes, and intimately acquainted with the characters and settings which would accompany my later life. I find that I chase notions of the unknown with a blind desperation, obsessed with discovering that which I’m presently unable to discern. This quest is not so much reflective of my Age of Innocence as it is a guilty, self-centered attempt at control. Note: This quest-today, tomorrow and always- will forever be futile. That acknowledgement, however, is not sufficient to placate, altogether, The Pursuit.

I need to meditate on the now. Soak up the senses and speak in the present. I try to do this- I want to be currently content- but as ‘they’ say, it’s ‘easier said than done’. I’m future focused, and future obsessed. Is my future forecast fucked? No, no, it’s simply…murky.

To consider only the here and now feels dishonest. To avoid and ignore that which lays just around the corner-so near! so imminent!-seems like an improper allocation of mental resources. How can I sit still, literally, and not allow my mind to wander? The short answer is that it would be hard. Really hard. The long answer is too long to delve into here, or now, which leads to me my concluding point:

When the future hovers but far away,
The mind may drift and slowly stray,
Do not be scared, for as they say,
When life is good, we’re all okay.

New York City: Subway Talk

One hand clutches the rail above me, and the other balances the book in my palm. I’m in need of a page turner. But who?  Others around me are similarly preoccupied. You can’t ask the woman carrying a tray of coffees to help you with your zipper, nor can you ask the guy carrying two children to turn your page. Such logic is what makes the world go round.

For one whole stop, I have to wait. Book suspended in mid-air, the character’s lives and central plot are put on hold. How desperate I am to see what happens next! Waiting in still, but furious, silence, I finally reach The Breaking Point. The Point where I disregard the train’s inertia (which would likely, ultimately, lead to my great fall), and focus only on stability through narrative concentration. I relinquish my left hand from the rail above me and place it firmly, stoically, next to my right. Now, with both hands on the book, I turn the page quickly, intent on not disturbing my read for fear of  future consequence.

Page 103 has almost turned into page 104 when suddenly, unpredictably, indignantly, the train screeches to a halt. Purses migrate from shoulder to elbow and rail-gripping arms jostle about. Most on board the train suffer these movements, just barely, relatively unscathed by the abrupt absence of motion. Myself and a few others, however, are notably afflicted. We-the loose, free-spirited, free-standing collective-display a stance no longer stoic. We’ve tumbled and rumbled to the floor, elbowing rib cages the entire way down. I look all around me, only feet. Pointed heels and hip, shiny kicks and just-polished men’s dress shoes cloud my vision and senses.

Heat rises but smell does not. The ground reeks more than the city’s rankest, and within seconds of making shoe contact, I’m scrambling to get up. Complicated, this process becomes, as my free-standing section is available no longer. My body begins by unfolding, politely at first, which proves ineffective. I have no choice but to be aggressive, I decide, so I shoot straight up, springing off my heels like a ball on a court. En route, I knock coffee out of cups and babies out of arms, but I don’t care. I’m standing, I’m holding on, I’m up.

“Hey, what the fuck?” the guy next to me yells. “Yeah, what do you think you’re doing?” shouts the woman whose toe is directly beneath mine.

I ignore their shouts, their insults, and their pleas. I open back up to page 104 and resume concentration. The castle is about to be burned down and due to an operation of sorts, Princess Lisa is no longer a Princess, but a Prince! and the sky is raining dragons. Fiction and fantasy take precedence, now and always, over shit-smelling, over-crowded subway mobs.

The Nicaragua Travelogue: Part Three

I want to tell you everything- the insignificant details, and the more important ones. About the ride from the airport- the dusty, rugged, back of the pickup truck one- where Erica, Jeff, me, and a pile of backpacks cruise through the filthy streets of Managua, past mechanic shops and fruit vendors and into the countryside, to the dust that clouded the road for hours on end.

Over and around hills, we pick up speed on straightaways and halt at sharp corners. It doesn’t take long for our faces to be completely covered in dust. We mock our own filth by drawing shapes and letters on ourselves, our skin having turned a whole two shades darker due to the dirt from unpaved roads.We pass by little boys on the side of the road holding giant lizards. Tails dangling mid air, I’m unsure whether the lizards are for play, or for dinner. At this point, I’m feeling both ravenous and restless, so I go ahead and buy one. Will decide later on just how it will be used.

More driving gives way to more varied scenery. The landscape is split into three tiers. Layers of color separate from one another, each more distinct than the next. It reminds me of the division between ocean and sky, dramatic and distinct. Patches of faded green are interrupted by swaths of crisp yellow- the color of crops left malnourished by distant rains.

We turn a corner and come to an abrupt halt. I look ahead in the distance to see dozens- hundreds- of cars, trucks and motorcycles stopped on the road. Motionless in the afternoon heat, drivers hang their heads outside windows, eager recipients of the occasional breeze.

None of us know the reason for the traffic jam but none, too, are shy to vocalize shared speculations. Car accident? Religious ceremony? Damaged road? It takes only moments for the traffic to pile up behind us- no longer are we at the back of the line.

Finally, Jeff asks Walter, our friend and trusted driver, what’s going on. Turns out, a hoard of protesters has blocked the road, some twenty kilometers away. There may be a hundred or so of them, and since there’s only one road around the whole city, the demonstration has caused a massive disruption.

One by one, people start to exit their vehicles. Pacing up and down the road, men pay visit to one another’s trucks, each interested to see what additional information can be gleaned from their fellow travelers. The talk is fast and the dusty road, ordinarily kept quiet, is now abuzz with Spanish conversation. Spoken at speedy intervals, it’s largely unintelligible to me.

After some help with translation, we learn that the protesters are Sandanistas militants- or the FSLN- a socialist political party in Nicaragua. They’ve been holding demonstrations for the last couple days to try and gain access to land that was promised to them, and of which they never received.

I try to learn more of the details- I’m sure there’s quite a bit that’s being left out- but the nuances are lost in translation. The complexities feel too distant, too removed, to be understood in their entirety. I can’t help but feel like this is a recurring phenomenon while traveling. Like there is always so little that’s concretely known, and so much left to the imagination.

We take turns asking Walter a few more questions, hoping he can fill in our historical and cultural blanks. After a few more minutes of interrogation, the conversation turns. Lighter, easier discussion replaces political talk as the engine of our truck turns on. We’re ready to move.

We readjust our packs and set our sights, once more, on the road ahead. The wind rustles my hair as we pick up speed, and I’m grateful to be moving once more.

The Nicaragua Travelogue: Part One

In travel mode and it feels good.

Simply put, my traveling persona is more fun than my ordinary self. On an average day, I would never order a vodka tonic at 10:00 AM, and a chocolate chip cookie at half past. When traveling, though? When traveling, I wouldn’t think twice to order just that. Perhaps even two of each.  

Passport flights! They’re the ones that make me giddy. If only I could apply the same sense of excitement, of adventure! to my everyday life. Surrounded by weary, red-eyed strangers, I play hide and seek in the terminal’s anonymity. I watch with great fascination as people prepare themselves for departure. For the kinds of trips that will propel them towards mobility, while simultaneously forcing them to pause, if only for mere moments. Strangers to one another, they (we) surrender our bags, our mornings, and our time/place orientation to wait in a transient state of limbo. Obediently, we collect in quiet queues at the gate.

I love airports. I love seeing people coming and going and being surrounded, on all sides, by creatures on the move. Some are visibly exhausted, their fatigue a result of one connecting flight after another. Others appear more anxious. Dressed in fancy suits, they jet quickly off, eager to catch an afternoon business meeting in a city just-over-there. I wager guesses as to who’s going which place. Based on one’s luggage choice (overstuffed purse? roll-on stowaway? used and abused backpack?), one’s apparel, and one’s expression, I often feel like I’m able to understand these people- these characters- in full.  Of course, I’m not concerned with whether my assumptions mirror reality. The truth, in this instance, hardly matters.

To me, travel is role play. It’s an all day recess, an extended lunch, or an entire day spent playing hookie. It’s feeling impulsive, and of giving in to these impulses without reservation. It’s stumbling upon spontaneity and embracing it- arms wide open. Suddenly, too, I feel like I have more to contribute, more to say. It’s as if the backpack helps enable a story in the making. A mobile narrative, that only after substantial time has passed, am I ever able to understand.

Propensity Towards Mobility

ImageI write and I dream. I start writing about what once was and, immediately, my mind drifts to another place altogether. I get lost in my thoughts. Thoughts that are an imperfect mix of reality and fantasy. Of fact and fiction. I live by these stories. Tales that allow me to escape the present-the chair that I’m sitting on, the computer I type on, the walls that surround me- and meander into another existence, of three-legged unicorns, of crisp mountain air, of Japanese speaking house plants.

I travel, too, to distort my perception of what’s real. To remind myself that there are no rules to the game of life except for the ones we, ourselves, choose to write.I escape to live vicariously through my own parallel universe. To feel simultaneously lost, and found. A game, familiar, only in the sense that I recognize some of the pieces. The strategy, though, I’ve never fully understood. Which is precisely what keeps me playing. What allows me to take out the board, yet again, and relearn the characters, the pieces and the premise.

I’m headed out early tomorrow morning for a flight to Nicaragua. I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but I’ve been promised one hell of an experience and, well…I’m not gonna pass up one one of them. I’ll try to write a story while I’m gone, as well as learn Spanish. If all goes exceedingly well, I’ll write the story in Spanish.

Hasta la próxima!

Why We Should All Just Farm (Or Ride on Trains)

Work the land or be distracted by it.

Hitch a ride back in time to an agrarian society. Pay a visit to your local horticulturalist. Learn a thing or two about seeds, and then plant some. Enter through the ignorant door and exit through the wise(r) one. Feel tired. Experience physical exhaustion and roughen up your hands. Grow a callous, or perhaps even four. Strap on some boots and spend an extra ten minutes in the shower everyday scouring off mud. Watch tufts of grass and specks of dirt rinse off your body and into the drain below. Temporarily clog the drain with mud and then unclog it (because you’re now a Ms. Fix-It, oh yes you are).

That’s one option…

Another option would be to move to a place and work a job that is so-so, or maybe even better than that, but so-so would do because this place is cool. This place-this city-has an off the hook social potential. An eleven on a ten scale, it’s a place bursting with energy and distractions and weirdos. God, how you’ve missed weirdos! Ride the subway at rush hour and tuck yourself firmly in between your local freak-show and Wall Street Guy. (Not the Occupy kind, the real deal.) Consider the idea that you’re the bridge between these two worlds. His and hers. Then laugh at yourself as you realize that you don’t know any more about either of these people than they do about you. (Though if they took one guess: middle class, average, white, 20-something girl just trying to find herself in the world…well, they might be on to something.)

Get lost in the lights and in the constant noise. Sound that drives you crazy, but in the occasionally good way. Like the good kind of crazy high you get listening to a solid-I mean solid– subway performance. Guys on drums on tin cans and girls on vocals on beat box. That kind of noise-free, uninterrupted, rhythmical chaos-is the best kind, and those are beats you’d happily sleep/never sleep to. The other noise, though, fuck. Enough of that! Enough of the horns and the sirens and the people on cell phones and the people on themselves. Get over your fucking selves, people. And get off your cell phone for one fucking second. Seriously, I dare you.

It’s no wonder the place drives me mad. (Oh, and to be clear, the place in mind is New York City, or as New Yorkers call it: The City, or The Best Place-And Only Place-In The World.) If you’re not mad when you arrive, you’re batshitcrazy when you leave. It’s a place that offers no apologies, not unless you’re more well than well-off and you live on the Upper East Side and have a gate around your apartment building and an obedient man awaiting you at the elevator door. Not unless you’re in that kind of place do you ever receive a condolences card. ‘Sorry about all of that, Mr. Donovan. I deeply regret Brooklyn and the L train for even existing, and the homeless guy who coughed in your direction and didn’t even consider covering his mouth and, of course, the Bronx. Don’t even get me started on the Bronx… For those things and more, I’m truly sorry. Oh, and here’s your mail, Sir. Have a lovely evening.’  

Oops, looks like I’ve debarked at Tangent Road.

The not so poignant point is that we can’t have it all, can we? Having it all means taking the good with the bad and this can be really confusing. Sometimes, the same thing that was once good and positively scrumptious becomes the same bad thing that leaves a terrible aftertaste in your mouth. So true.

You are just one person living amongst/between/below/on top of multiple worlds. If you don’t know an answer, follow your gut. And if you can’t find your gut, have no fear…it will find you.

Dumpster Dive this Holiday Season!

A short story about a guy named Charlie. We all know his type.

Charlie doesn’t really work a whole lot. Which probably explains why he’s always flat broke.

He’s the kind of guy who, after being invited to a pot luck, only brings  ‘a bowl full of poems’ because he wasn’t paid on time and the cost of gas has really gone up these days but ‘Hey! Check it out, people! Hand written poems!’

It’s not that people, in general, hate Charlie. It’s just that he frustrates them. Particularly Mike, whom happens to be the host of this particular pot luck. Mike’s almost always flustered about something, so in a way, him being flustered with Charlie is just a sign of Mike staying true to character. This time, though, Mike isn’t the only one to find Charlie’s antics irksome.

Denise is also annoyed. She doesn’t care about him not bringing food because, unlike the rest of the carnivorous crowd, she’s notorious for craving the finer, more inedible things in life. Like written romance, for example. She dreams of having a Rhett Butler sweep her off a make-believe O’Hara estate. That kind of thing. Point is, if Charlie could have pleased anyone at the party, it would’ve been Denise. But even Denise was not impressed, because Denise did not consider the ‘bowl full of poems’ to be poems at all, but rather haikus. Denise’s libido is only responsive to lengthy literature, so Charlie’s seventeen syllable haikus were, simply put, insufficient.

Charlie means well, though, I gotta give him that. He had every intention of dumpster diving before the big event, in hopes of scoring something remarkable. It might sound crazy, but this actually worked for him at his neighbor’s Christmas party last year. (Or almost did.) He showed up with a hand crafted ceramic serving tray, filled to the brim with bite size ham and cheese roll-ups. People were incredibly impressed with the display, including the aging/dying Mrs. Winthrop, who rarely has a positive thing to say about anyone, or anything.

“That tray is magnificent!” she proclaimed to Charlie, who immediately determined that he was being mocked. Mrs. Winthrop doesn’t compliment. Everybody knows that.

“Really, the detail is stunning!” she remarked, “Where did you get it?”

Well, in the dollar bin at Salvation Army, but Charlie thought better of admitting that to the old hag.

“Oh, um, my cousin brought it back from Japan. ‘An antique,’ he told me. He met the artist’s grandaugther over there, who brought him to the studio. It’s a real one of a kind,” Charlie replied, in between generous swigs of port wine.

“I’ll say,” Mrs. Winthrop said, continuing to stare at the tray. She hadn’t even looked at Charlie since  noting the tray and its contents. He wondered if she’d be just as content having the conversation with the tray, itself, and if he should leave the room altogether.

“And what about these precious sandwiches?” she asked, her breath nearly melting the cheese. “Mind if I give one a try?”

“By all means,” said Charlie, “Help yourself.” Charlie couldn’t believe that he was actually having a conversation with this woman. The Neighborhood Witch, as she was commonly referred to. The last time he had spoken with her must have been three years ago, when he accidentally knocked over her trash can while skateboarding down the sidewalk. She ran out of her house faster than he’d ever seen anyone with a cane run, and she was screaming at the top of her lungs, using more profanity than his Dad after too much scotch. Charlie hadn’t spoken to Mrs. Winthrop since that incident. Not until now.

Charlie watched as Mrs. Winthrop bit into the ham first, then the cheese, then a bite which looked to have it all. He scanned the tray to make sure all dumpster debris had been removed. He was usually quite careful to do so, to clean up in a way that left no trace, but he immediately regretted not being as thorough as he could have been. After all, had he known Mrs. Winthrop would be among the first to sample his dish, he might have prepared differently.

No evidence of dumpster debris remained, however. The roll-ups looked fresh and delicious, much as they would have looked on the shelves, where they undoubtedly had been some hours earlier. Charlie could never understand why good food went to waste. Why seemingly perfect, mold-free food ended up in the trash. It really pissed him off, this habit of people’s, and he considered this to be one of the greatest and most contagious plagues of the Western world.

In any case, this pot luck was not the venue to discuss food politics. Or was it? Charlie began to think. ‘What place could be more appropriate for such a discussion than a bring-your-own-dinner, dinner party? This place is perfect!’  At that moment, he decided to let it all out. To let the cats out of the bags and remove the secrets from their shelves.

“Mrs. Winthrop,” Charlie said to her, as she wiped the crumbs from roll-up number three off her mouth. “I’d like to talk to you about something.”

“Yes?” She replied, ham dangling from her chin. “What is it?”

“Well, it’s about what you’re eating,” Charlie confessed. “I think we should discuss where it really comes from.”

Mrs. Winthrop took one look at Charlie and began to remove the cheese, slowly and carefully, from her mouth. As she pulled on the cheese, some ham began to escape, too, and within seconds the entire roll-up (no longer rolled-up, but soggy and flattened) collapsed in her palm.

“What in the bloody hell have you done to these?” Mrs. Winthrop shouted, her voice piercing the ears of all those around her.

“Well,” said Charlie, “I didn’t do anything, you see, but…” and was cut off by Mrs. Winthrop, who grabbed her purse and her cane, and made for the door.

He tried to stop her, but as previously noted, this woman was not your average old woman with a cane. She was fast. Despite his best attempts, he wasn’t able to catch up to her.

Charlie stopped right as the door was slammed shut in his face. Mrs. Winthrop had escaped the party, leaving behind only the echo of her shrill voice and the stench of Old Witch perfume. Charlie turned back around, hoping to head back into the party unnoticed, but it was too late. Everyone was staring.

“Charlie, man,” Dwayne, the Official Christmas Party Host said, “I don’t know what happened back there, but I think maybe it’s time you leave.” Charlie thought he was kidding, but Dwayne’s expression was humorless.

“Dude, really?” Charlie said, confused. “Old Mrs. Winthrop was about to go ape-shit on me, and you’re telling me to get out?”

“Now, Charlie,” Dwayne replied, sternly. He hadn’t wanted Charlie over in the first place, so this was a good of time as any to kick Charlie out.

“Fine, man. Relax.” Charlie said, picking up his things. “I’m outta here.”

Charlie walked back down the hallway towards the front door. “I want my tray back!” He yelled, once he had reached the entryway. ‘No way in hell Dwayne’s keeping my tray,’ he thought.

He closed the door behind him and stepped into the cold of the night. Initially disappointed to leave early, Charlie soon realized that he was better off alone. He was happy to spend the rest of his evening walking the streets, speaking only to his shadow. ‘Dwayne and his fucking Christmas party’, Charlie thought. ‘Next time, they can keep the dumpster debris. I’m not picking off a thing.’

How to Make Sense of Life’s Nonsense

Are you feeling confident? Hilarious? Not actually very funny? Self-aware? Insecure? If you answered yes to any of the above, read on.

So I have this friend named David.

David won’t accept ‘I don’t know’ for an answer. He asks me what I want to do next. What I want to do with my life. Most of my other friends take no issue with my uncertainty. Satisfied, they are (or so it seems), with my ‘Dude, I’m just not sure!’ ambiguity. David, however, does not give up easily. In a really annoying (and perhaps, somewhat endearing) way, he asks me to think more. To go deeper. To explore. To deconstruct. To yada yada yada. And all I want to tell him is “Not now, David. I promise I’ll give it more thought, I’m sure you have a good point, but I can’t be bothered to cipher through all the crap right now.” Usually after I say this, he’ll relent. But he’s a pusher and a prodder, he is. Probably a better man for it.

He’s also a real dreamer. I mean, big time. And don’t get me wrong. I, too, love a good dream- day or night. But sometimes, I’m so sick of my more heady self-conscious. The wistful, playful, side of me that considers all the world a possibility. Determines that everything I could ever want is within reach, all ya gotta do is ask politely. I indulge my inner idealist all the time. Too frequently, in fact, that every now and then, I decide I need a mental hiatus. Take a break from la-dee-fucking-da land, and bring myself back to Planet Earth. Stop interpreting the career ladder as a figurative one (head deep in the clouds), and ground myself so as to better view the ladder’s literal rungs (feet planted, ready position). *Note: Turns out, the ladder’s rungs are actually made of play-doh; therefore, they’re quite malleable. But you didn’t hear it from me.

The only thing I find impressive about the American Dream scheme is that it has managed to fool so many, so fast. Hot damn! It’s like the most successful marketing gig known to mankind. A lifelong sales pitch being fed to the general public, myself included, and we’ve let it go on without question. The masses are into it, I’ll tell ya. Everyday, hundreds of thousands subscribe to the Dream Scheme like it’s a free sex giveaway, and everyone-me! me! me!– wants a piece of it.

I’m not always so cynical. Really! I just sometimes am. And now must be one of those sometimes. I can be quite the optimist.  Sometimes, I go through phases of such positive thinking, I can be downright cheery. I guess my issue is that I just want people to be happy. Not in a ‘wake up smiling everyday’ kind of way (though that would be awesome!), but in a simpler way. I want people to feel satisfied. And satisfied with less. My Mom used to say less is more, and though she was speaking with regards to makeup, the statement consistently rings true. Stop wanting more and more and more and just relax already. I’m a big fan of the CTFD advice. Calm the Fuck Down. All of you. And me. I should really just chill.

I’ve decided that I want a change in location. In some ways, I want the antithesis to New York City. I love New York (so relax New Yorkers, I’m not hating), but I’ve found that it doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in me. It does on the dance floor, that’s for sure, but aside from all the silly trivialities, it seems to suffocate the part of me that is something else. The part of me that is New England. That is the mid-west. That is green, that is nomadic, that is active. I only feel active in The City in the sense that I am running around from place to place. Trying to catch the train. Make work on time. Not show up late to bar/dinner/club/music/movie/culture dates. And that is not activity in the rad sense of ‘I just hiked a mountain and now am really exhausted and sweaty and gross but that’s okay because I just hiked a fucking mountain!’ kind of way. No, that’s activity in the ‘I‘m tired from never having the time of day to do anything because my time is always spent doing things, and I’m not actually sure what those things are‘ kind of way.

Forever the optimist, but always the pessimist. The idealist and the cynic. The beat boxer and the folk singer. The high heel and the hiking boot. If you don’t understand me, that makes two of us.

I’m trying to better understand my dueling personalities. Or perhaps they’re not dueling, but at this juncture in my life, I have yet to understand the two as friends. Acquaintances, at best, and even that feels grossly exaggerated. There is the part of me that thinks I should be doing something. I should be utilizing my language skills, improve upon my Chinese speaking abilities, move to a big city, do big things, make big money, and be a big fucking deal. There’s that side of me. Call it the residual effects of my midtown Manhattan glory days. Or the result of growing up with a Dad whom whispered ‘401k’ into my ear at night. (Not literally, of course. That would just be weird.) And yes, retirement plans and health care are important. But, I have a hard time accepting that such things are the end all, be all. You dig? You must.

So, where do I go from here? How to do I navigate the world’s competing influences? For a long time, I considered my indecisiveness to be only a mild ailment. The inevitable feeling one has when living in the Land o’ Plenty. Abundance of choice has always left me bewildered. (How can one choose from sixteen different tubes of toothpaste? Originally searching for the kind that simply cleans, I now am able to choose from the tube that can make your teeth white, tartar-free and straight. Teeth straightener, in a tube!) Friends ask me to choose from a dinner menu the length of my arm, and wonder why does it take me twice as long as everyone else to pick something. “I’ll tell you why,” I respond, “Because this thing is goddamn overwhelming! That’s why.”

In the past, I interpreted ambiguity as a positive thing, as such allowed me to explore multiple options. To keep all doors open. My indecisiveness, I pretended, allowed me to wade through choice’s shallow waters. Only recently, however, have I been struck by the realization that I was never wading. The longer I waded/waited, the greater the stakes, the higher the water rose, and the more likely I was to sink. Dear God, was I drowning? I was drowning!!  *Note: Prolonged wading/waiting can lead to death by drowning. But you didn’t hear it from me.

Anyhow, all this to say…actually, I have since forgotten my point. There was something I meant to express, or maybe two different things. Um. Well, all of this to say that uncertainty can be both good and bad! Yes, well said. Uncertainty is an acceptable form of certainty, for it can reflect an individual’s not wanting to commit to something which one does not fully understand. This can indicate that a person is both thorough, and objective. However, uncertainty can also mean that one is just lazy, or otherwise fearful of making a mistake. And I have advice for those people (for myself): Make a mistake! Take a risk, own the decision, and see where it takes you. The worst that could happen is you end up with teeth not quite as white as the next guy’s. And you know what? That’s not so bad after all.

Sleepless in New Delhi

I make my way into an unmarked hotel. For one night only, I need a place to rest. No frills and nothing fancy. I awake the man slouched against the reception desk, and ask him if I can see a room. He stands up straight away and says, “Of course, Madam. Looking is no charge.”

“Thanks, “I reply, “I owe ya one.“

I leave my bag near the entryway and head upstairs. The room is on the third floor, but I’m beginning to wish it was on the first. Each floor smells smokier than the next. Stale cigarette smoke is no way to welcome a guest. The hotel clerk opens the door to Room 302 and I give it a quick scan. A clean enough looking mattress and clean enough looking toilet are what I check for, and both seem okay. I go back downstairs, pay for the room, and give an advance for a key deposit. First time I’ve done so in India. The guy behind the desk tells me that once the key is returned safely, the 150 rupees will be promptly returned to me. “So we’re in agreement that this is how a deposit functions,” I consider saying to him. Instead, I smile and make for the stairs, dragging my backpack behind me.

I return to the room and insert the key into the slot in the wall. The power turns on. A predictable enough occurrence in any other circumstance, but in my present one, I consider such electrical functionality to be no small miracle. I turn on the TV and the channel appears to be stuck on a black screen. Occasionally, blocks of color shoot down from the top, working their way down to the bottom before disappearing off the screen. I try and change the channel and nothing happens. For a minute, I debate whether or not the images before me could be some sort of Indian Tetris- the patterns of blocks and colors are quite similar to the game I’m familiar with back home. Surely there could be worse fates, and I begin fumbling with the buttons, trying to rotate the blue block sideways. The block doesn’t rotate, though, and instead my button fumbling creates a blurry, loud static. Fuck it. I switch the power off.

I put my towel over the stained pillowcase and lay down to rest. It’s been three days, at least, since I had a proper bed, and I’m anxious for shut eye. The pillow is lumpy and awkward. I shift my body from one side to another but the lumps don’t soften. I can’t imagine what sort of contents could lead to such an uncomfortable mess. There are plenty of materials that could be used to produce a decently lump-less pillow. I begin conjuring up a list of such things in my head: in part, to help myself fall asleep and, in part, to prove my point. Scraps of fabric, cotton, blades of grass, one single, folded up sweater… The list continues, and I find that I’m quite generous with the materials I would deem acceptable for achieving satisfactory comfort.

I still can’t sleep, and my list is now nearing one hundred. A stack of paperback books, a mound of cardboard, a bag full of leaves. I’m now mentally exhausted by the inquisition and more determined than ever to learn the contents of the case. I lift my head up and examine the pillowcase’s seams. Made of Velcro. I undo each side, one by one, and reach my hand inside. I begin poking around, coveting the material with my left hand and passing it off to the right to complete a thorough inspection. So far, nothing controversial. And then, a few minutes later, my hand stops, mid-search: I’ve found something.

The object appears to be an oblong piece of wood. I remove some of the cotton stuffing, hoping to remove the piece in its entirety. With a pull that knocks me back, I manage to get it all. I think it’s driftwood, and looks as though it washed up on shore some hundred years ago. A faint trace of moss remains on one of its sides, and each corner is sharp and jagged. I’m surprised the piece didn’t break apart when I pulled it out. Surprised, too, that my hands aren’t covered in splinters. I imagined quite a few things that could comprise the pillow’s contents. Never would have attributed the discomfort to a block of wood. Go figure.

I decide against trying to take a nap in the middle of the day. The humidity makes me exhausted, but the noise is too great to sleep. It’s not about the driftwood anymore. Men’s voices echo down the hall, and the creak of the fan above me is getting louder. I lie with my eyes open and stare at the water marked ceiling for some time. For now, sleep will have to wait.

Lamayuru-Chilling Trek

Out of Breath

Still…can’t…catch…my…breath.

With each step, I grow increasingly tired. My muscles are aching, my body all over sore. I can’t imagine taking another step- especially not an uphill one- but somehow, my body continues to throw itself into a forward motion. Body perpetually moving, mind at ease.

For the last four days, I’ve been trekking. Hiking, day in and day out, from sunrise to sunset. My body has never before known such fluid movement. There is no longer an alternative, and despite my physical fatigue, I have no choice but to continue. There are no lifelines in this part of the world. No plan B’s. Commitment is essential to one’s survival, and should I fail to reach my destination, there will be no one to rescue me.

Within thirty seconds of a steep climb, I’m out of breath. I break for one minute, two minutes, and still, my heart beats fast and steady. The altitude affects me more than I had expected.  I’m not in terrific shape, no, but I’m certainly not in the worst. I’m fascinated by how quickly I become winded. How with each step, it’s as though I’m taking two.

We continue to trek up and down mountains and through deep canyons, alongside the Indus River. I’m able to continue my pace for one reason only- the landscape. It’s ever-changing and, simply put, amazing. Natural beauty at its finest, and it surrounds me on all sides.

We break as a man with half a dozen horses comes into sight. There is surely not room for all of us on this path. We inch our way further back to the ridge, allowing him and his horses closer proximity to the rocky edge. The horses seem familiar with this route, perhaps a bit too willing to hug the cliff’s edge. How many times have they wandered this path? Is this part of their everyday routine? Hard to fathom so.

The man is old, though it’s difficult to determine his exact age. People in such remote regions of the world, particularly those of whom live in harsh environments, tend to appear older than they are. Given his weathered appearance, and the depths of each wrinkle, I would estimate him to be no younger than sixty.

He is showing me up, that much is sure, as my breathing is far more audible than his, and I’m certain that my face does not mask my fatigue well. I’m convinced he’s tired, he must be, but it appears he has not yet surrendered to his fatigue (at least visibly so). He shouts at the horses and mutters something to our guide in Ladakhi. His speech is steady, uninterrupted by the heavy sighs which now seem to accompany my every word. I’m envious of his stamina. Of his resilience and of his unwavering steps along the path. It’s as if he could do the whole thing blindfolded, as he seems to barely take notice of where and how his feet touch the ground.

I try to imagine growing up in such a way. To consider that the trek I’m on is far from temporary, but instead, part of a more permanent, nomadic existence. I close my eyes and  try to imagine rising every morning to climb the mountain’s edge for food. To haul buckets, overflowing with water, back from the river to my home. I close my eyes and try to consider these things. Unfathomable as it may be, it’s a way of life here, and I can’t help but find these measures extraordinary.

The man and his horses have finally passed, and I look around at the rest of the group- their expressions revealing a similar awe. We turn back around to face the path- this time, I’m in the lead. Within the first few steps, I feel my heart racing again, and my breathing becomes loud and heavy once more.