It’s true that the only real difference between living in the city and living in the country is whom one shares air with. Morning coffee is the same—albeit varying in its bitter—but the change is what clattering, tinkering, tittering, or mumbling the summer air pushes through the window. Air in the city has been breathed, or perhaps, sucked through cigarettes and emitted through exhaust pipes, pregnant with every decibel of hum and call. Country air has been breathed too, I supposed, but in that playful way that leaves and streams infuse, filter, fill, empty, and spin it. Even with skies and fields of lazy activity, country air sounds like one’s best conception of silence. This is why one is so surprised when one identifies (as everyone can) a taste of country air floating up from Brompton Street. It is that shocking coincidence of sweet air and birdsong that reminds busy people that summer can, too, land on London.
I’m applying to creative writing classes. One asked me to write about a favorite place.
My home as of two years ago (and every summer before that) is Buena Vista, Colorado, a town of 3,000 people (when everyone’s home) located at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks. At the center of this mountainous, one-stoplight metropolis is one of my favorite places in the world: The Roastery Café. This corner café, owned by the baseball cap-wearing town mayor (you can’t make this stuff up), is the hub of activity and exchange within my little town. During my time away, I spent many days editing photos in my corner booth, and eventually grew used to the steady stream of visitors and waves from the various people of my town passing through for their daily coffee. Often, my interactions would be brief: Drew, the maintenance guy from the summer camp where my mom works, would say a quick, “Hi,” or a raft guide would ask to pet my dog. Sometimes, friends would sit down and begin long, caffeine-fueled discussions about families, religion, and worldviews. Though I could avoid my Trump-loving friends on Facebook, I couldn’t refuse them a seat across from me at the Roastery. I had to either censor what I say or own it, because private conversations became quickly public. In Social Studies 10, we finished the year off with the German philosopher Habermas, whose hope in society came from places like coffeehouses, where individuals could exchange ideas separately from political or religious settings. I take pride in living in a town where such a coffeehouse exists—where the baristas not only know my top five favorite drinks depending on the temperature and time of day, but also take the personal responsibility of making sure that the townspeople of Buena Vista are happy, cared-for, and safe. This warmth and sense of community has allowed us to develop relationships in a context most societies despise: with strangers in a public place.
Even now, I know that nobody’s reading this. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t written in a while. Because my life wasn’t quite trivial enough to brush off in the French mysticism that surrounded this blog’s birth. I figured I’d write things that would be easily shrouded by the voices in my head; I couldn’t scream about the big things from the rooftops of an abandoned city. I mean, that, and that the people that I write about read this. Bold language favors carpet stains and finicky WiFi routers, not stuff that hurts people.
I’m here though. And I’ll have wanted to know what I felt tonight. And I’ll have wanted it to be buried in raw archives. Maybe artists just use art to hide their feelings from the passerby and show it to the thinker. Wonder, then, reader. What here is purely aesthetic?
Sucker-punched, guard down,
I’m hit after everything’s done
After I’ve told everyone I’m fine
After I’ve kept the right distances
And he’s picking up his pieces
And so comes the avalanche
In silent, secret, abstraction
A blinding cloud of white
Cut hair wet, tired body undressed,
Assassinated in a pocket of breath
Four years ago, I felt this before
When I held a pitchfork in the morning
And a Colorado summer’s floor fell through
A stiff breeze whispered me a name
Until I wilted and wept there in the shade
Fucking idiocy, this stuttering surrender
You got to hate me and hold me
In bruises from the fault lines.
I let good terms overturn me
And rolled away while the fire kept burning.
I’ll call it The Crippling Fear of Leaving No Legacy. How does that sound? Not strong enough to make an impact, I know. Maybe One Million Invisible Earthquakes. That’s slightly snappier. It could start with some boxed Ikea intro like, “Every day, there are approximately 32 earthquakes around the world [I should probably look up that stat before I make it the first sentence]. Almost always, the shiftings, givings-way, and collapses of the Earth’s crust go completely unnoticed, excepting a few needles of a few machines that hop and mark one more rumble on a graph. This is the story of my million invisible earthquakes–My ground-breaking, jolting, foundation-rattling, unnoticed and unrecognized journey away from ‘okay.'”
Perhaps I should keep away from first person, though. I read an interview with an author who said that most bad novels are written in first person. Do I even want to write a memoir anyways? Perhaps I should just keep blogging and keep my three readers happy.
Heres the thing. I want to write a novel. A great novel. One that changes everything tastefully and gracefully. I want to be spotted in cafés in Provence and rumored to have died on multiple occasions in a variety of styles. I want to create legend, but I’m very aware that what I have here is quirky, familiar dialogue. The shit you hear when some girl does a voiceover during the introduction of a rom com right before that record-scratch audio clip that precedes some minor complication, a camera swing, and the premise for a mediocre plot. That kind of stuff doesn’t build legends.
Though it sounds gag-inducing, I’ve always anticipated greatness. During college applications, I wrote a resume that was three pages long and designed to grow into the Moby Dick of excellence. How I Became An Author, Artist, CEO, Nonprofit-Starter, Teacher, Politician, and God.
Unfortunately, I’m finding that not only do I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life, I also have no idea how I’m going to do it. Undoubtedly, I peaked senior year of high school. Then I entered the big bad “real world” of Harvard College and went to polo practice as my earthquakes started silently rumbling. Things that defined me–interests, drives, relationships, personality traits– revealed more fault lines than I ever could have anticipated. Everything gently collapsed, and the pieces are still gently floating to the ground, dust settling on my city, catching the light and fogging up my horizon. When the earth quakes are silent, you see, no one sees the fall. No one digs through your rubble. Even you don’t give a damn because Look! You’re still standing! You’re smiling, even!
In the immutable restlessness of an undefinable ache, you continue your days and weeks until someone or something knocks on the front door of your mind and asks if anyone’s home. As you search desperately for some cogent set of honest and functional pieces, you realize that the high school achiever isn’t there anymore and all you have is an index of expectations and a dictionary of observational knowledge to undersatisfy them. No one is home–only a storage space of cured memories, jarred emotions, and bottled, aged dreams that all seem to be spoiling.
I am not who I thought I’d be, but what kind of pride is it to assume that I deserve to write those words? “I’m not who I thought I’d be…” Who is? How could I be? how could I ever have anticipated where I’d go and if I’d follow that path? There is no uniqueness there.
That’s an interesting discovery I’ve made since exploring this diagnosis I’ve earned of anxiety. The more I research, the more I find patterns of thought and behavior I completely identify with–thoughts like “I’m not good enough for this,””How can I make it through the day?” or “Anyone could do this… Then why am I still shaking?” There is great comfort in knowing that the darkness doesn’t only touch you… That there are others in that shadow. These moments of connectedness are often minimized, however, by a sense of overdramatic and naive provinciality.
I’m not the first person to have unfounded fears. I didn’t invent travel nervousness. If there is a romantic sadness about anxiety, it fits in the rom com I was writing the voiceover to earlier. Emotional, yes. Difficult, hell yes. Unique and poignant? Not quite.
But, just like any post about anxiety I’ve seen, I must conventionally end on a happy note. I must remind myself that it isn’t my job to tell a fantastical story. It is my job to tell the story I know, and to tell it well. Even if I write fiction, I write with my pen, at my desk, drawing on words and voices and echoes in my mind.
One Million Invisible Earthquakes won’t ever shake the world and flatten mountains. They are invisible. They are unimportant. But they are the story I know I can tell.
It’s nice to know I can blog about frustration, because those who frustrate me don’t care enough to look at a blog called YOnTheEnd to figure out what I’m thinking about. Those who frustrate me would ignore these poems and these musings and confidently maintain a brief preconception of my blonde hair, so
Here’s to you.
Here’s to knowing that you won’t scratch beneath the surface.
Here’s to letting me blow my cool because you won’t see it.
Here’s to me and my phony smile and nodded head.
Here’s to us and whatever connection we’re not forming.
From the cursory condemnation of something I love.
To the unconsidered judgment of someone I like.
To the outreached hand under your tread.
To texted passive aggression.
To active aggression.
Here’s to me, Better One Behind Your Back.
Here’s to me, cradling insignificance.
Here’s to me on the High Road.
To wondering what I did
And giving you the blame.
Today, I’m thinking about stress. What an interesting feeling it is— an external impetus swirling and churning into the way my body functions. The lists and the numbers on Calendars seep into my veins and coat my sweaty hands and my subconscious keeps whispering of things I have to do. A body shouldn’t respond to those things— A body should care about sleep, about eating right, about exercise. Yet my heart is pounding because of a few thousand words that need to be on a page. Words that won’t contribute to my survival. Words given to someone else who doesn’t really care what I wrote. Words that spill out from my fingers moments before the deadline— that I might not even believe in. Yet this inconsequential task marches itself to the front of my brain, turns around to the rest of my thoughts and functions, taps its conductor’s baton and stops everything. First, it sets my breath to a louder, faster tempo. My heart beats in syncopated confusion. Pulses of blood and heat run scales over my body. The task orchestrates an addicting dissonance and raises the volume until it’s all I hear. I search and try to deconstruct the straining instruments, but the noise keeps me from progress, and I am lost. My eyes see sun and light and friends. My lips smile and pucker and chat. But my head only carries the chaos of a pain that constructed itself and refuses to dissolve.
Around me, others dance to their orchestras. Their life soundtrack floats in and out of them just the way they want it to. Around me, others write subtitles to the snapchats of their lives: “Perfect.” “Successful.” “Better.” The orchestras in their heads are rehearsing an immaculate Moonlight Sonata. They blow slow, easy breath through harmonizing flutes. Their heart punctuates complete sentences and deeds done. Their hands are warm, dry, and ready for more. Stress becomes only a life soundtrack that pumps them up for a football game, sustains them through a night of studying, or reminds them to never stop saving the world. Oh, that I could hear what that sounds like.
Every night, around 10:45pm, a man in a striped shirt and blue trousers walks into the dining hall. Immediately, stressed students who have gathered around tables of endless homework stifle their groans. They share looks that spell out disdain and disappointment. Some even leave. All put in headphones and try to block out his presence.
They have no reason to dislike him, really. None of them could attest to a moment of unkindness or bad judgment, as very few have had interactions with him. He scarcely even ventures to look at the students as he watches closely the inches of the carpet over which he steps. With his earphones in, he creeps into their lives gently and earnestly every night, and at 11:15, he promptly leaves.
I, too, have loathed his presence. I, too, have sighed in relief upon his departure. But tonight, I looked into his face and saw a man with the worst job on campus. And as he unraveled the cord to his roaring vacuum, I smiled and made his deafening work the soundtrack to this blog.