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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Himbo talk

         I wish my lawn was emo, so it would cut itself.  (Pax)

A post which piqued my interest: Doors or Walls?

If your past comes knocking on your door, would you open the door?

Interesting. Except, in my case, it wasn't an "if."

         Git de shotgun, ma!

No, this isn't going to turn into one of those pathetic, self-indulgent, vomit-inducing, self-pitying, "Where's my black lipstick?" sobfests. And, no, this is not about repression, suppression, getting back, or, becoming a bitter, woman-hating wino, but understanding that pain is very much a part of life. As we go through life, we are constantly faced with choices as experiences — good and bad; pleasant and unpleasant; necessary and needless — buffet us. Do we choose to be aware, to step up to a higher state of consciousness, and adapt — evolve — or, simply react?

I have been blessed to have wise friends and great men guide me in my darkest hours. Men, whose writings inspired — challenged — me, and whose otherworldly music and unshakable faith comforted me.

Hence, I look at the past as a source of strength, for I not only survived it, I am better than it — I am stronger for it.

When my longest relationship ended (just months short of a decade), I was in pieces. What do you say to someone who was with you since your late teens? What do you say to someone who you grew with? (And, audaciously planned the rest of your life with?) Someone who was your best friend and confidante? What do you say to someone who meant so much to you that the mere sound of her cries from missing you led you to beg for emergency leave and hop on the next flight out of SFO to Singapore on the first week of the quarter — on a student's budget? What do you...

It happened at the worst possible moment. A massive seminar paper and presentation was due in 8 weeks. It didn't help that a central theme was loss, loss of self; loss, loss of identity; loss of familiarity; loss of those we know, knew, love, and loved. Loss. Lord, even Humbert had two more syllables.

For a week I just sat and stared at the stack of twenty-seven (later, thirty-six) books I had to plow through; watched; watched the clock; watched time ticking by; watched my life slipping by; watch my dreams crumble; and cried. Then, somehow, it dawned on me, dawned on me with the clarity of spring's first morning — sharp, pure, and new; that, in your darkest hours, that which sustained you, defines you. My deeper, purer — deathless — love for language and literature gave me purpose and heart to soldier on. I wrote the paper.

Three months later: my paper was judged the best among my peers for that year. A man ran hooting, barefoot, round and round the lawn, before his apartment that day.

After that, cause expired, point made, I crumbled anew.

No amount of pity, soft words, gentle encouragement, empathy, booze, and drugs helped thereafter. It was an online forum acquaintance's three words, stark and flickering, on a laptop screen in a darkened room; dank with piles in dire need of laundering; empty beer cans strewn, souring past age; shades drawn in the dead of noon; that did:

Be a man.

I packed everything from that ten years — from half-filled U-Haul boxes in the room; in my closet; in the apartment hall cabinets; from the self-storage unit beside San Jose International Airport — jammed it in my car, and drove, drove, drove from Santa Clara; past Los Gatos, where, a lifetime ago, two self-conscious, young lovers sat giggling on a mini-steam train chugging through meadows flowering in spring; up and down treacherous Highway 17, over the Santa Cruz Mountains; blowing through Davenport's thirty-five-mile-an-hour signs; rocketing north on Highway 1, tearing along the Pacific Ocean; passing Pigeon Point at a-hundred-and-twenty-miles-an-hour; racing; racing against time; racing against hope; racing against tears; racing against the sun, low in the sky; to a barren beach at the base of the windswept cliffs in San Mateo, to burn, burn, burn everything away in one great, big, cleansing bonfire.

And I danced.

I danced until the sun set. I danced until the stars rose overhead. I danced until the embers turned to ash, and the winds blew them away. I threw two rings made of platinum into the bay. I drove home and slept the sleep of the dead.

The next day, I took Ivy, my first bike purchased in California, neglected for seven years, and climbed nine-hundred feet up from Stevens Creek Canyon to Fremont Older. After that, I climbed two-thousand-eight-hundred feet up Black Mountain. After I threw up for the third time — Gatorade, Redbull, phlegm, and spit — there was nothing left to hurl. I never felt better.

Relating another's trials and travails, a friend noted:

He didn't come out of it a better man.

At the risk of committing a Godwin (and in no way whatsoever trivializing the unforgettable, unbearable atrocities committed with the current subject — this is not a comparison, merely an (perhaps over-the-top) illustration):

It would be very easy to believe that anyone who survived Auschwitz must be a saint. This does not bear examination. Auschwitz was an extermination camp. A saint in Auschwitz likely died on the day of arrival. A saint who survived did so in spite of sainthood, not because of it. Those who survived did so because they had and exploited some advantage over the others. Doctors survived because early on the Nazis made a decision to spare them and enlist them in the administrative life of the camp, including human experimentation. Skilled workmen survived because their skills were needed. Polish prostitutes were spared for the brothel block. Hustlers, who made themselves indispensable to the camp authorities, survived.

                                                         [ . . . ]

Every morning, the inhabitants of each block turned out for roll call. Despite the chaos of the camp, the daily murders and deaths from disease and overwork, the neat German penchant for bureaucracy meant that the numbers must be monitored and that roll call would take place every day. Anyone found at roll call without his shoes would be sent to the gas chamber--but a moment of inattention and any personal effects could be stolen.

A teenager who survived Auschwitz related how he was raped in his bunk one night by another inmate. The next morning, he realized the rapist had stolen his shoes, to ensure his elimination. So he simply took a pair from someone who was still sleeping, assuring the other's destruction instead of his own.

                                                         [ . . . ]

Our high school teachers were fond of writing on the board the quote from Santayana that says if we do not remember the past, we will be condemned to repeat it. This is the most important reason to remember Auschwitz--a message which frequently is lost in the way it is delivered, for example, when the Nazis are presented as demonic "others" entirely dissimilar to us. I will pick up this theme below. The point here is that, whenever someone speaks about Auschwitz, it is worth asking what the subtext is of the speech. If it is ever in aid of an agenda like support of a particular country or the betterment of a single group, those who died there are being insulted. If the speech is in support of self-examination, an end to hatred and becoming better human beings, it should be heard.
         (Jonathan Wallace)

We may not always have a choice, but in the (fortunate) instances where we do, I like to believe that we owe it to ourselves to come out better. Stronger, not bitter; wiser, not harsher. Better.

Doors do (and should) remain open, but it doesn't mean that every visitor from the past is welcome. After all, we make the beds we sleep in.

What happens when 5 emos sit in a square room?
One dies because he has no corner to cry in.


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