As a young child, I carried many ants
on my arms
but he blew them off
in the hurricane of his voice.
He hacked away at the woods with his questions,
one tree at a time,
one dream at a time,
severing my heart from his
until the forest of my soul laid bare.
I grew up in the shadow of his cloud
never asking for more sunshine
than needed to stay put within the four walls
of family and expectations.
Can roots grow where there are none left?
Can they grow like philodendrons
from nothing but water
and promises to change?
Here, in the garden
with the running water
of the fountain.
The sun burns my eyes with hope and
I feel a tingling.
My nails grow long and spindly.
My body shrinks with wrinkles.
My voice cracks like the heron’s calls.
I see an old woman now,
with long, greying hair,
roots twisting and
touching the earth
that holds her father’s ashes.
Bid the clouds that muffle
our cries farewell,
for it is not too late yet.
You left today, drove off,
and so I ride around on my bike
looking for the rabbits and squirrels
that we saw yesterday, but there is no one
nothing for some time.
Florida tests your imagination
of apocalyptic futures like that,
it’s the emptiness, the perfect
blue sky shown at the start
of horror films, and the endless,
newly paved streets that hit dead ends
no matter how hard you try to get out.
My wheel hits the breaks in the road,
mimicking the heartbeat of the moment,
the dull thuds that fill you
when something’s just left.
The ever-growing hunger stamps itself
in my belly. Still, nothing moves,
the wind blows hard.
Today the world wants me to peddle faster
a tempting fate of concrete and
scraped knees dazzles in the sun.
It’s doing me a favor,
the sweat distracting me
from the melting parts inside.
I’m the candle already lit, and you
are the lightbulb. I burn
and spread on surfaces, staining.
You stay lit until a fuse blows,
then you upgrade.
There was a particular deodorant I used when I was a teenager going to junior high school in Katy, Texas—TEEN Spirit Stick in a floral scent. Orchard Blossom to be exact. Today when I smell the Lady Speed Stick version of the same scent (the TEEN Spirit Stick has since been discontinued), I’m transported back to the gym changing room at school.
I remember my terror of being the new kid at school, of being foreign, of being the outsider, and of being the girl who didn’t want straight hair for her school photo but managed to trip over a cord running to another girl’s straightening iron. The memory is fresh like a first disappointment. The other girls in the big bathroom twisting their little necks, scowling down at me and my thick, thick, brown hair. I remember hanging onto a basketball with a steel grip, wrestling for the ball, pulling it away from another girl who fought just as hard. I held on with a hold that spelled out fear and determination, that said: “Let me be. I’m just a girl wanting to belong. Let me in.”
After that, from the pleased looks on the faces of the adult coaches and the other students, I could tell that I’d gained some ground. It sickened me to know that I had to fight and claw my way to be accepted. That I had be challenged first, like I was guilty until proven innocent.
Most of the time, I felt like a nobody at school. A walking hollow of a kid. Not American, but not quite British. An imposter. A hybrid person. An anomaly that didn’t fit into the American dream’s puzzle of being a young American schoolgirl. I remember coming home one day and writing on the white board stuck to the fridge, “I’m losing my soul.” My mother frowned at me later, asking me to clarify what I meant. I couldn’t explain it till much later when I was in my twenties.
Sometimes I ate my packed lunch sitting on a closed toilet seat in the bathroom holding a book in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I was a shy, introverted kid who dreamed in video games, daydreams of being an artist, and fantasy novels where girls were strong and flew majestic flying ships. These things took me far, far away.
The smell of orchard blossom is a lesson in the meanness of strangers, in the value of solitude, and in the early crafting of an identity.
It’s March 2010 and I walk through the campus in the aftermath of the huge hailstorm. I smell a strong, pungent, and earthy smell. It takes me a moment to identify the source, but once I see the tall, eucalyptus trees shivering before me, I know it’s coming from them. The fact that there was that much fragrance—that much love—coming from destruction was surprising and enlightening. It was a relief to know that sometimes a little shaking could release something new. It was the first time I looked at the trees with a sense of wonder. I hadn’t realized their full beauty—their potential—until now.
Hello, I said.
I thanked the heavens for the joyous, freakishly strange occasion, the sky still gray and broken overhead. I stepped over broken bits of tree like I was stepping over a dead body: slowly and respectfully, trying not to stare too much, whispering words of mourning, words celebrating the life that was, the life that could still be felt. While standing on the white carpet blanketing the grassy oval in late summer, a strange, sudden chill shook my body and I knew that a memory had been born.
Before bed, I take a sniff of the eucalyptus oil I keep on my bedside table and shudder with the memory of the hailstorm. My body relaxes and I lay myself down like tree branches stretching in the air.
I’m reading New Slow City by William Powers right now and I don’t think there’s a better time for me to be reading this book. The author talks about moving from a big house in Queens to a micro-apartment in Manhattan with his wife and their struggle to keep living slowly in the fast environment that is New York, NY.
I often find myself walking really fast on the sidewalk urging the people in front to get out the way or walk faster. This kind of thinking makes me feel guilty of rushing, of always being on the go. I believe that being in a rush all the time is bad for your health and well-being. It’s probably been proven scientifically too (but I don’t have the references – I challenge you to find some!).
Powers proposes that society in NYC, or basically all cities or urban centers, view time as a commodity, something that can be lengthened, bought, traded or sacrificed. But time is time. That sounds funny but it’s true – we all get 24 hours in one day. It’s a renewable resource that we are gifted with if we continue to exist. Some of us just have to work more while some get to have more free time. In response to this concept of time, Powers introduces Natural Time, which is where we lose track of time and it just sort of flows. It’s when “intuition and instinct guide action, not a schedule”. We’ve all felt it before. Whether we meditated and entered a zone of thoughtlessness or swam in the sea and felt one with the water or when we indulged in one of our hobbies or passions and we lost track of time.
Personally, it’s for those moments that I live and the reason why I am so dissatisfied with my job. The time is ever so slow. I wait for the clock to show 5 pm and it shouldn’t be that way. Instead, I live to write, to hit the pavements, to wander the city, to discover new things and to connect with people. You could say that I do these things to live and not the other way round.
Without sounding too creepy, our past follows us. And our future is us. It’s all one, not separated or linear.
Powers shares a great little insight into Inuit language; apparently, the Inuit have one word to mean both the “past” and the “future”, uvatiarru. How cool is that? I’m not an expert in Inuit language but I interpret this as meaning that the present is what matters. It also means that how you conduct yourself or think about the past will mold your future. Time is smoothed out – sort of cyclical- and life becomes something that isn’t about getting from point A to point B. Life isn’t linear. Just think about memories. They pop up unannounced and resurface years later weaving their way in and out of our lives. People do the same. We meet someone in our childhood and meet them again in later life. Without sounding too creepy, our past follows us. And our future is us. It’s all one, not separated or linear. I think because work is supposed to be such a big part of our lives and our jobs fuel the economy and its growth, there is a pressure for our lives to progress in the same linear fashion. (The economy doesn’t even progress in a linear way either but that’s another topic!) But that’s not how humans are. Or at least that’s not how I want to live. Living to get from point A to point B is boring, and it’s a potential adventure wasted.
During the week, when I leave my apartment in Brooklyn at 8:05 am (or 8:15 am if I’m moving slowly) I am commencing my commute. Commute. That word describing getting from point A to point B. Do we use this word to describe a road trip? No. Do we use this word to describe a flight? No. This word is used almost always in regards to when someone is on the way to or from work. It is distinguished from other journeys because it’s sole purpose is to get you from point A to point B. No frills. Well, to hell with that. I am trying to change this one hour that it takes me to get to and from work. I want to change it from time to Natural Time, the concept I described above. Instead of sulking all the way to work (which is extremely easy to do when there are hundreds of people squeezed into a space that seems inhumanly possible to contain so many) I usually read. You can read a surprising amount of pages in a hour-long commute. I can race through a book in a week easily. I’ve recently been getting back into podcasts so I listen to them too. It’s a chance to learn something new, to educate yourself and to inspire yourself. If I listen to someone who has done something great it is a great motivator to follow my dreams. It gets me fired up. It gives me enough energy to get through the work day. Another thing I do when I’m not in the mood for reading or listening to podcasts or simply watching people. Of course many people do this. I bet you did it today when you were out and about! The subway is a great place to people-watch. But when was the last time you actually looked? Listened? Sometimes I realize I’m not really looking, that I’m self-absorbed and lost in my thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’m a complete dreamer – but sometimes I have to remind myself to not glaze over, or detach myself too much. I guess there’s a fine line between zoning out and remaining calm and relaxed. Life is tough, huh?