Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: africa, blogs, conincidence? i most often think not, moments, new york, peace corps, sierra leone, the emotional souffle that is me
I get the email first. I roll out of bed that morning, up early to meet the lovely miss Emily Joy for breakfast pre-826 and there is another “Peace Corps has updated your application status” email. I’m sort of sleepily puzzled, more than anything. I just got one of these, some maybe promising, slightly inscrutable blip about my placement review being completed. I log in, just as I have to nod in agreement with many small checkmarked milestones before, and there it is, and my whole nervous system goes BAOOOOGA and I gasp. I slap my hand to my mouth because the screen says something about Congratulations! You’ve been invited to serve and shiminyywhoblahomgwhatwhatwhat. That’s all it will tell me, though, that I’ve been invited, that a packet is in the mail. I tell Emily and no one else until it tumbles out before Kortney and make our customary split at the corner of 5th and 9th that afternoon. It’s managed to fall into the background of the day’s routine and it feels a little like huh Peace Corps invited me isn’t that kind of funny?
I shop for game night treats ingredients, wander the TJ’s aisles in no hurry, sip free sample coffee and hunt around Atlantic Ave. for cream of tartar. It’s raining a little, and I’m calm. It’s out of my head in a way my one-track mind isn’t used to.
When I get back to Greenpoint I have to run to catch the B48 back to my apartment and I get on, unsteady in soaked shoes, heavy bags in each hand. There’s an older, scruffy man sitting towards the front of the bus and he puts out his arms to sort of spot me, makes sure I have a seat. His arms are wide, bracing. I ran no more than half a block but my heart hasn’t stopped pounding. It’s back. I try to rehearse what will happen in the next few minutes, when I get home. I’ll put the groceries away, sit on my bed, and calmly open it. But with every beat and breath and bump its Africa, Africa, Africa. The trees in McGoldrick have never been greener as they blur past and the sun is out now, a little, Africa, Africa, Africa. We get to my block and it feels like the ground is unsteady and the street is now very open but tunnel visioned, turning in on itself, my door is eluding me, I can’t walk fast enough, it’s there in a FedEx envelope (3 lbs!) and I grab it, run upstairs, tear that fucker open.
I’m barely breathing when I see the letter and the “Congratulations,” yank out the Assignment Description and say it aloud for the first time, “Sierra Leone”, my shaking, rain smudged fingers over my mouth again as the quick tears come and I leap to Google, dig hungrily through the rest of the packet and repeat it over and over again, Sierra Leone. I have thought about the word “sierra” recently, how I would some day like to live or at least spend awhile in a place called Sierra ___. In the same way months ago, I rolled the word “fiance” around on my tongue and in my brain after overhearing a girl on the 4 platform say it, and when I got above ground my phone rang. It was Emily calling to tell me she was engaged.
The “June 2-3” part of it all sticks out like an exclamation point and it’s all so soon and sudden and utterly incomprehensible but my god it all feels a little right. And this is what I tell my parents after I wait, pacing and anxious and frustrated for them to call me back when they were distracted, my dad yelling in the background the first time I called them. We all calm down and they let me talk, and I cry and cry and tell them that it’s not because I’m scared even though I am it’s because I think it’s what I need to do and it is.
(The groceries, for the record? Stayed bagged, sweated it out on the kitchen table for a goooood while that night.)
It was three weeks yesterday that the Big Blue Envelope came, and three weeks from the day before that I’m on a plane to DC, where I’ll be for staging and orientation for two days before we’re Africa-bound. The weeks between then and now, between now and then, are their own stories. I’ve been tripping around between excitement and fear, between more complicated stories of wrestling with my relationship to the moment, to my final days (for now) in this city. New York is a difficult place to be in transition. It’s whole schtick, it’s whole lure, its reliable flirtatious works-every-time magic relies on possibility, the keep your head down and work for it and bam, it will deliver, the “making it” part of it all. This is a place for discovery, inside and out, for whatever it’s worth. So it’s harder than ever to find my footing lately, because the conversations that brought me back down when New York left me flailing, the new corners and quiet moments that become only and suddenly mine, these stir me differently now. I’m leaving, this much is known. I don’t have enough of a routine here to enjoy a goodbye at a slow burn. Until my (bittersweet) final days in the places that have nurtured me most here, I’m still ambling around in a place that is at once still new, and one I am, in many ways, ready to leave. I’m a little antsy now, in conversations with newer people, because the inevitability of my leaving weighs heavy, pushes down on the potential that keeps those conversations feeling warm.
Nina pointed it out so well a couple weeks back, when I told her I swore I had things to tell her but couldn’t at all remember them. She nodded. “It keeps happening to me too. It’s cause you’re leaving. Loose ends.” It hasn’t stopped since. I’ve had the same sensation with nearly every person I’m close to. I’m unspooled, somehow transient, unsure of where to direct my heart. I’m ready, I think, for a little closure. Goodbye parties and packed boxes. I’m ready for Buffalo. (Remind me of this, will you? When I have to say these actual goodbyes, leave the little families I’ve become a part of here, when I’m falling apart at the goddamn seams? Ah New York, in my heart you are nothing if not your contradictions. Looking forward to what nostalgia dreams you up as. Will report back.)
I did 400 repeats with NBR the other night, reaffirming that my love for sprinting in running is consistent with that in swimming (amount of love: LOW). I met a girl who’s headed all over Africa for close to a year working with the WHO, and she talked about her PCV friend in Ghana, caught her breath while I gobbled up her steady monologue about the “bonding” between expats, let her metered, pre-med way of speaking, her easy smile, root me to the spot, send me running home glowing. Earlier, when we were rounding the last corner on one of the toughest 400s, I could see the whole other side of the park, a wash of bodies amid the green, the dusk setting the whole thing ablaze in late April orange and the same nameless voice that says run. go. faster. come on. said simply: remember this. Africa, Africa, Africa.
*For those of you following along with my shamefully intermittent ramblings, I’ll be keeping this blog when I’m in SL rather than making any kind of new PC-specific incarnation. It just feels tedious, mostly, and it’s not like I’ve been so utterly prolific here that I need to start a WHOLE NEW BLOGGITY BLOG to match mah new adventures. So, yup. A blog with a url in neither English nor Krio to chronicle my life in Sierra Leone. Internet access will be shoddy at best, but I’m looking forward to all the indulgent reading/writing time, and hope to put a few brain dumps here whenever possible–a peek back into the blog world to keep myself good and narcissistic while in the bush, if you will. Also, pls to note the new legal jargon up there in the top left. Fancy!
Kate of Sweet Salty makes me want to write. That is nothing new. Her writing is the kind I live for, the kind that beats and breathes a truth that makes you want to run circles around the room yelling “Yes yes yes EXACTLY!” I just sit there nodding like a fool while she dumps the contents of my brain out into a post whose path feels well worn and rhythmic and then: always surprising, lit-up and dazzling with that Kate-brand magic. Her words are the kind I want to crawl into, press into the palms of my friends. She is not unlike Sarah in that way.
So today. Another beautiful post, one that ended with this:
Please do this instead. Tell me memories of your mothers. Doesn’t matter if they’re still here, or if they’re estranged. Tell me stories of ghosts and cloud biscuits. Tell me the opposite of arbitrary. Tell me what you’ll always remember so that I’ll know, and my mother too, that motherhood, as nutty as it makes us, endures through everything.
The second I began the telling, I realized it was more of a invitation, a prompt, than I’d ever realized. I left it on the post anyway, just for the embarrassment of having the comments section read: comment, comment, GIANT FRIGGIN ESSAY OMG, comment, comment. but! Decided I’d re-post it here too. There’s so much more I’ve been hand-wringingly meaning to write and haven’t (so it goes, so it paralyzes, so I need to fucking get over this fear or this whatEVER), but this will be a good place-holder for now.
I will tell you that she is the kindest woman I know. I will tell you that when I was just barely 14, she had an ovarian cyst removed and I waited for her to come home from the surgery tucked alone in a corner of my suddenly very large room. My sister was away at college and my dad was at the hospital. We didn’t know for certain yet that the cyst was benign. I will tell you that what her goneness would mean was suddenly there in that room, huge and crushing, enough to stop my heart. I was terrified and told know one, could not place the words to something so utterly unthinkable. I will tell you how I watched from the window above the driveway as my dad carefully walked her to our door, her steps so tiny and so slow, and I wanted so badly to know that she was going to be OK, but face on the glass I knew only that I loved her, and that it hurt.
I will tell you how she is absentminded and always late, the latter a trait I have inherited and loathe and resent, every time. I will tell you that she always orders dessert, that she is so very aware of the wrongs and the hurt and the work of life, but that she is childlike and curious, joyful and always watching, discovering, thrusting her face towards the sun and saying thank you. I will tell you about 3 weeks ago, when she slept in my twin bed in the small room of my first post-college apartment. She stayed for three days and once while we were shopping a small thing became a large thing, and I got angry and ranted at her, got irrational and obstinate like a teenager. We stepped out into the street and there are two people fighting, one hurling “fuck!”s at the slick sidewalk and sending cruel words down the avenue suddenly quiet in their wake. I can only see them from the side but she is older and might be his mother, and in this way they are parallel because New York has a way of thrusting the inside out, right up close. I will tell you that after this I breathed and started to apologize in a very small voice. She has let me do this so many times over, let me flail outside myself until i come back, where she waits nodding with love. I will tell you that during that visit she looked at me, closed her eyes tight, titled her face up and scrunched it, opened them with an “mmmm” sound and said “happy place.” We walked arm in arm and leaned into eachother, and she came with me to yoga and pushed her uncoordinated self into breathless difficult poses but pushed pushed pushed, and did it, and neither of us could stop beaming over breakfast, both of us so proud. I will tell you that I prepared myself before the class to be a little self-conscious, having her there, and I was, and allowed it and moved on, because look at my mother, look at her strength, look how I don’t even know the half of it, want to drink it in and sit by her feet and live in her light and learn. I will tell you that we had a cheese and cracker picnic on my bed and then read these http://bit.ly/38UyuU together and laughed until messy tears fell down our cheeks. When I put her on a bus back to the airport her mouth bent and her eyes–identical to mine—shined. I will tell you that she does not cry.
I will tell you what my dad told me as he drove me to Brooklyn six months ago, against all of the reservations any pragmatic, caring parent stacks up when their 21 year old daughter moves to a new city for an unpaid position. I will tell you that I had not heard of how he told my mother her father was dead until that car ride. She was only 28. Twenty eight. How had I not been able to consider the size of that, to hold it, awed and careful in my hands, until now, feet planted in the decade? He tells me that when he appeared there so unexpectedly in her office that day she said “Hello!” with “that little smile. oh, you know that little smile of hers? Oh my god.” and that when he tells her she said “No,” with casual certainty. And then, “No, no, no, no, no.” My legs shake beneath my clasped hands and I am stunned to see a sign for a service area sixteen miles away. Nothing exists to me beyond the space the two of us share. That little smile. Of course. Of course. Gratitude is something that comes running up to you around the age I am now, and you want to race after it, chase it through the streets of your years yelling and for this! and this! and this and this! Thank you! So I will tell you I am grateful for my mother, more and more every year, every day. I will tell you that “grateful” seems a cruel summary for the woman, the impossibly sweet and hopeful and clumsy woman I want to thank for my every flaw, for pressing down so hard, so heavy on my heart, for making me light.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: blogs, perfectionism, procrastination, quotables, writers, writing
This should be required reading for anyone who suffers from a severe case of perfectionism by way of procrastination that gives way to paralysis. For anyone who gets twitchy when writers, of any kind, talking about writing—the act. The part that too much of the time, is the hardest.
“The only thing we can do in the end is be brave. No one can escape being disliked, and no one can escape being loved. Go for it.”