Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting Down to the Very Last Feather

In the center of a small, bright room, there is a bed. It is heaping with overstuffed pillows. They burst at the seams with delicate, white feathers. This is the room I am born into, and this is where I learn to play.

I have an extraordinary time. I jump on the bed, hurling the pillows above my head, until the feathers break free and fly into the air. Around me, I conjure brilliant hurricanes and tornados, and I am the creator of my Universe. I sculpt feather clouds and then lay back on the bed and write their legacies. I envision sparkling cities, and pristine forests. I witness valiant men on horseback who are galloping towards noble deeds.

One day, the door opens to my little room and I realize that there is a world outside. I become self conscious of what I am doing. I peer outside, but it makes no sense when compared with the beauty that I experience in my sacred haven. Some of the feathers fly out in gusts of wind, and then suddenly, someone is in the doorway. A dark figure casts the first shadow to ever enter that space of light.

The shadow begins to yell, "What are you doing? Don't you know that pillows are for sleeping, and not for dreaming? Go to sleep or I will take away all your pillows, and then you will not have anything. You will be stuck in this room with no possessions, and nothing to do, and you will be powerless. When you've put all these feathers away, then I will set you free from this room. Out there is the real world. Out there is real freedom."

Confused and suddenly aware of my myself as something painfully different than this shadow, I become frantic. I look at the at the feathers that have settled on the ground, and they are no longer full of magic and possibility. I am ashamed of them.

They have transformed into a senseless mess.

I spend hours, days, years, painstakingly putting the millions of feathers back into their pillow cases. I become obsessed with this task. I equate the absence of feathers with stability and happiness. The dark figure starts coming to the door at all hours of the day and night, offering me encouragement for my diligence. I am constantly looking at the door, waiting for him to arrive. I begin to look forward to his praise, but soon the encouragement turns into reprimands. And so, I work harder. The feathers that once formed moss-covered mountains and filled the oceans with electric jellyfish become symbols of my oppression.

I continue working furiously, but the supply of feathers seems inexhaustible. There are just too many. I work my fingers to the bone pushing the feathers into piles, stuffing them into bags, and picking them out of the mattress, but they never completely disappear. The shadowy, dark figure is now always hovering in the corner of the room, mumbling under his breath. Eventually I am unable to tell the difference between his voice and my own thoughts. He tells me that I'll never leave the room, that it's pointless, that I might as well give up. I persevere, and I work harder. I want to be happy, and I want security. I want the security that is out there, in the real world.

I understand what it means to be tired. I become so tired that for the first time in my life, my eyelids grow heavy. When I fall sleep, I dream of feathers. I remember where I've been, the worlds that I've created, the love that I've known. I dream of a swirling white reality where ballerinas dance on cliff edges, suspended in time. I start to look forward to sleep. But slowly, as the years go by, the feathers that were once my whole existence start to disappear even from my dreams. I start to only dream of the world that I have seen the shadowy figure emerge from. I tell myself that once I finally succeed, he will disappear and I will be safe and comfortable.

Then one day, I get down to the very last feather.

The moment of my success has arrived! I am overjoyed. I grip the end of the feather between my calloused fingertips while the dark figure encourages me to put it in it's place. I hold it for a very long time, and I stare at it unwaveringly. I place it in front of my lips and blow, watching each tiny hair tremble against my exhalations.

In that feather, I see infinite Universes. Silver elephants are ladened with the unbearable lightness of woven bags that erupt and spill over with magnolias and lotuses. They stampede through steamy jungles and jut their gleaming ivory through blankets of fog, leaving trails of blossoming white in their wake. A slender woman in a tattered linen dress pulls back her wild hair and walks crookedly up a windy beach. The sand is sugar and the choppy water is a thousand shattered chards of mirror reflecting the face of the sun.

The dark figure opens the door a crack, and beckons me to see my future. He allows me to glimpse the skyline of a towering city that shivers in the opal light of the moon. In this terribly soft storm, I think of the room, the door, the shadowy figure, and the world beyond. I think of all that I have seen, and of what lays ahead.

I look back down at the feather, and I know what I will do.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Odysseus Talked Sh*t Too

When I started this project nearly a year ago, it was shortly after I read Homer's "The Odyssey" for about the 50th time, and I was little obsessed with the idea of the hero's quest.

really wanted one.

I don't know what exactly this says about me, but the idea of battling both man and beast, being lost at sea, and being tossed from one adventure to the next by the whims of mischievous and vengeful Gods is one that inspires me.

The parts of Odysseus's story that I love the most are when he acts so damn human. Homer calls him by all sorts of different name throughout the book-- god-like odysseus, the man of twists and turns, the master of many exploits. But I love Odysseus the most not when he is conquering troy, or blinding the cyclops, or slaying six-headed snake monsters. I love him when he is acting like a total ass. 

Like when he narrowly escapes being captured and killed by the freshly blinded Cyclops, and is pulling the boat away from the shore, sneaking away without revealing his identity, but he just can't help himself. It's too easy. Odysseus gloats at his own cleverness and yells, "Haha, you dumb monster! If anyone ever asks you who messed you up so bad, you tell them that it was Odysseus, from the line of Zeus!" Basically like a serial killer leaving his calling card on the scene. Except that Odysseus, being from time to time exceptionally stupid, forgot to consider that the Cyclops was the son of a vengeful Sea God, and how that might not be the best person to piss off when you're leaving on a cruise. 

Come on, it's hilarious. I do that kind of stuff all the time. You know, poke the bear. 

And so when Odysseus does things that are prideful, and selfish-- when he lets his ego get in the way of getting back to Ithica, I can really relate. It reminds me that both ancient and modern day heroes are very human. You can surround a man with luxurious things, and dress him fancy clothes, call him a King, or a president, or a millionaire, or a movie star, and all of a sudden he will have this aura of importance around him that wasn't there before.

Guess what. 

It's not real. 

In the last six months, I've started pushing myself to be more understanding, more forgiving. When I stopped indulging gratuitously in catty or judgmental talk about others, the thoughts themselves started disappearing. If I've been wronged, I imagine me at my worst do something similar (which usually isn't a stretch of the imagination) and I think about all the insecurity and bewilderment and pain I go through every time I inflict pain on someone else. Or if I'm just mentally pigeon-holing someone, I imagine the times that I've excitedly tried to look or come off a certain way, and I remember sinking feeling I got when I realized that I had failed. When you put yourself in another's shoes like that, talking shit isn't so fun any more. 

I really challenge you to try this at home, kids. It's not easy, but it's awesome. You'll learn a lot about yourself and about the people around you. Maybe you will realize that some of your relationships will grow and others will diminish. You might run out of things to say quickly when you aren't bagging on other people or indulging in drama. Maybe you'll have similar results to me, and nearly every time you think a judgmental thing about anyone, it won't be something to laugh at. You'll just feel kind of sheepish. You'll laugh at your childishness. You'll start to immediately ask yourself, "Why am I separating myself from this person?" And maybe you will have a really hard time disliking anyone, no matter how they treat you. 

I'm lucky enough to have a few close friends who also refuse to engage in negative talk. Being very chatty and working as a cocktail waitress makes it hard to avoid gossip. Talking about other people is how most people (especially waiters/waitresses) fill most the hours of their day, and I, too, have gotten really good at it. I used to be downright mean. I mean, really mean. I used to write down gossip and pass it back and forth in a notebook with my friends during Jr. High. I used to write sonnets about how offensive people's outfits were. 

The thing is, when I stopped wanting to engage in negative talk, all the negative self-talk in my head started to quiet down too. I started liking everyone more, and seeing the best in them. I started liking myself. I stopped looking at myself so critically, and beating myself up when I didn't do everything perfect. I stopped worry what other people thought. And then it all crashed in on my head at once: that any difference between me and anyone else is all in my head. We are all from the same creator/explosion/alien implantation (call it whatever you want, we all came from the same place), and no one has more of a right to be here and to be happy than anyone else. 
It's too bad that the misconception that some people are more or less deserving than others isn't something that our parents try to beat out of us when we are little kids. Imagine if, as a toddler, you were taught that believing people were somehow essentially different from you was actually an immature way of being.  Maybe it's something that all 7-year olds should know. Maybe we need to learn this lesson on the same day we learn to share our toys. Can you imagine how different our world we be?

I don't want it to seem that by writing this that I have transcended being a snotty brat, because I haven't. I still catch myself thinking unkind things, or thinking of myself as more deserving than another person. But I'm trying, and it's getting easier every day. I try to be gentle with myself and those around me, and to remind myself that Odysseus was a pompous ass too, and he made it back to Greece. So maybe, just maybe, if I don't let my head get too big, I'll find my way to New York.

(here's my shameless self-promotion. please help me get there