A Fascination: In which all I see is empty


Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty
Sound of their breath fades with the light

Sometimes I look at the space around me and all I see is that it is empty. I see a chair, a bed, a modern-art print on the wall. Through the window I see cars on the street and people sitting on their balconies. If I were to punch a hole through this apartment wall, a family of three would look up from their dining room table. But I see all this and take it in as empty.

The faces of the people, the sounds of their living, the things they make and break – everything is empty. I don’t know the full reason for this, but I suspect it has something to do with my new reality of not being sure of what I’m perceiving, not being sure of what lies behind life. I’ve always been certain of at least something. I’ve always been sure of what drives life forward. But now my list of certainties shrinks every month, every week, every day.

………

What dramatic statements. And they’re not completely true. There are still things I am certain of, things whose sureness becomes more firm as other things that used to be facts to me waver between being concrete matter and almost-ghosts:

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Thirty-Three: In which a song helps me deal with time

My birthday was this month and, honestly, I wasn’t very happy about it. It’s to no avail, of course, but I find myself continually resisting my birthdays, more and more each year.

I have never liked getting older, not even when I was young. I didn’t eagerly await turning 16 so I could drive, or 18 so I could be of age, or 21 so I could drink legally in the U.S. (although I was a little excited to turn 25 so I could rent a car).

If it were up to me, I would have stayed 10 forever, when the first signs of puberty started me thinking about age and time. Since then, the reality of our inability to stop time from rushing, rushing by has been hard for me to deal with. This may be arrogant or foolish, but it’s not OK with me that there is a force beyond my control, a force I cannot fight with nor overcome, that determines some of the most basic things about me – how I feel, what I look like, how my brain works.

So birthdays have always been hard for me, and each year they get harder. Each year there is more time to look back on with the sober understanding that I am completely responsible for it. Each year the answers to the questions of Was this year what I wanted it to be? What am I doing with my life? Am I any closer to who I want to be? become graver.

Of course, this thinking isn’t unique. I imagine most adults ask these types of questions during birthdays or at the New Year. They are not easy questions to ask and are even harder to answer.

That is why, with time against me, I resentfully face this 33rd year that did not ask me for permission to arrive.

33.

As I write this just now, I realize 33 is one of my favorite numbers. And I am cheered by this! I had more to say about how getting older makes me sad, how there are things I regret from the last year. But I’m 33! Maybe this year won’t be so bad if I get to be one of my favorite numbers during it.

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Demons: In which they take on new forms

I walk into the room and turn on The National’s “Trouble Will Find Me”. I reach for a bottle of wine. I put on Bordeaux-red lipstick and re-apply eyeliner. I change my clothes so my skin can catch any breeze that floats in through the open window.

But I stay down with my demons, Matt Berninger sings.
I stay down with my demons.

What are my demons these days?

Uncertainty about what my next steps should be, and whether I should take them driving through the streets of Guatemala City or walking down the streets of Chicago.

Unsure, often forced, and sometimes deliberately-veiled talks to God (Has he sent a response? I don’t always listen for one.)

Actively smoothing out the pebbles and boulders from my closest friendship.

Climbing every day the mountain of mental and emotional health. Some days I only stumble; other days I fall all the way to the dark ravine below.

And yet, what kind of “demons” are these? If these are all that haunt my steps, can I not easily turn to face them? If these are the troubles that knock at my door, can I not safely let them in?

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Out of the Woods: In which a girl flees

She ran down the hill, her skirt flying behind her like a little white flag strung up from her legs. It flapped in the wind and snapped the air, telling the world, if anyone had been there to see, that she was laying down her arms, casting away her shield. She had had enough.

She felt the wind whisk by on either side of her face, leaving invisible, nail-thin scratches she would feel long after she stopped running. But at the moment the wind felt fine. It meant she was finally moving, finally putting distance between herself and the dark woods she could feel creeping along beside and behind her, trying to snatch her back into their snares.

She ran and ran. She had been running since morning, but was not yet tired, not yet halted by the stones jagging into her feet, the burning muscle in her thighs, the rasping wheezing in her lungs. All that did not matter now. All that would go away soon. Right now it was time to run, as fast, as hard, as far as she could, father…farther…farther…farther…

…away from the woods.

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I Can Change: In which I’m inspired by Brandon Flowers’ enthusiasm

As I write this post, Brandon Flowers’ new album, The Desired Effect, has been out for about a month. I had been waiting for this album since it was announced in February. Like a lot of fans, I took notice of The Killers (the band of which Flowers is the leader singer) when their single Somebody Told Me hit radio in 2004. I was immediately hooked on the song and liked it unequivocally.

Unequivocally perhaps, but silently. One of my best friends at the time (see Lost in Zooropa) was as obsessed with music as I was, and we both prided ourselves in having really good taste. Although we didn’t always see eye to eye on specifics, we did agree that the other had a good ear and trusted each other’s musical judgment.

But with Somebody Told Me, and its album Hot Fuss, I felt hesitant. The Killers’ sound was different from what was being heard in alternative rock at the time and, while I liked their first singles, I was unsure of how they would hold up to the critics, including this friend, Doug. I thought he would ridicule their synth, ‘80s sound. There was an emotional element in the music that took me back to junior high in Miami that I knew he just wouldn’t get. And so, as I listened to Somebody Told Me on repeat and reveled in the swell of All These Things That I’ve Done, I kept silent about my new discovery.

Fast forward to a few months later. Doug and I were talking, as usual, about music, discussing new bands we were listening to. He mentioned this new, up-and-coming band, The Killers. Had I heard them? I should really give them a listen because they’re one of the best bands to come out in a long time and they’re going places musically that no one else is going. I really should check them out.

I was…surprised, yes. But mostly I was mad, at myself. Here I had been listening to this band for months already, and Doug was taking all the credit for discovering it first. I didn’t say much beyond, “OK. I’ll look them up,” because there really wasn’t much to say. I was just angry with myself at the missed opportunity of being the one to have introduced Doug to The Killers (who would become one of the best bands of the 2000s and one of Doug’s all-time favorite bands), and I was angry at the pattern this revealed.

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