June 2010 Archives

Long and shoe-gazey

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You may want to grab a snack and a beverage, as I've been thinking a lot and I don't promise to be concise.

First, I have an inner ear infection. It's not fun. It ruined my plans for this weekend, and it's given me horrible vertigo with accompanying nausea. I recently bought a supply of Dramamine and Bonine and those wrist pressure bracelets to avoid seasickness while whale-watching in Iceland, and I've really seriously considered tapping into all of the above.

(I thought about Photoshopping my face over Kim Novak's, but yeah, that's a lot of work, so let's pretend that I did and it was awesome and you got a nice little chuckle out of that.)

Did you know, by the way, that allegedly associated symptoms of labyrinthitis (which hey, what up Bowie-type disease name) include rather intense anxiety and depression? Doesn't that sound made up? It seems so wholly fictitious that I started really pondering the mechanism, along with the whole concept of derealization (which happens more than I'd care to admit) until I became completely panicky and dizzy.

I've had really bad bronchitis three or four times in the past year, and it wasn't until the last bout that I read that one of the clinical symptoms is malaise. It sounds so obvious, like of course you feel out of sorts, you're sick... and yet, that uneasy sense of trepidation is usually the only thing that first tips me off that I'm in for something gross. In spite of being sick as frequently as I've been this year (what is UP with that??), I'm still not really used to it, and I don't listen to my body the way I should. If I feel sick or nauseous or upset or depersonalized, I always assume it's psychological until my body is actually producing an excess of something and freaking out. I think a lot about the perceived sense of health and the way that, still after all these years of clinical descriptors and specificity, we lack a lot of the language to truly describe sensations of illness. This overlap of symptom and sensation, the way we feel what we are experiencing, seems to carry a lot of the truth of what it is to be alive, and I think there is a lot to understand in the complexity beyond "this feels good / this feels bad." My body knows, at least, and I'd like to pay more attention to that.

Last week I went to a concert with my very dear friend John. Actually first we went to dinner at Via Della Pace, which may be my new favorite Italian restaurant in the city.

We both had lobster ravioli in pink vodka sauce with red caviar, and oh, it was delicious.

I love John intensely - he is a tremendous friend from undergrad, with whom I have wonderfully long conversations for hours on end with nowhere near the frequency I would like. We share a lot of interests, especially to do with philosophy and spirituality, and we talk in depth about the universe and beliefs and all the stuff you're sort of afraid to talk about in mixed company. I didn't realize how much I needed a night with John until I was in the middle of it, and I kept thinking how lucky I was to have that time together.

The band we saw is one of my favorite post-rock groups, called This Will Destroy You. They are phenomenally talented, and the atmosphere at the Mercury Lounge was just spot-on for really getting lost in the music. Their set opened with maybe 20-30 minutes of broody, evocative improvisation, and the collective build of energy was just amazing. John is really highly empathic but says it takes quite a lot to genuinely affect him. By the end of the first - I hesitate to call it a song, should I say movement of music? - I could see he was completely immersed in it, and I was thrilled that he dug these guys as much as I did.

After the absolutely mesmerizing show (which flew by, since we were all literally captivated with our mouths open in awe), John and I got cake at a place down the street, where we stayed for a pretty good long time talking about every little thing in the universe and, one of my favorite topics, the nature of the universe itself.

On the train ride home, I kept thinking how incredible it is that we so quickly fell back into that level of intimacy in discourse after close to a year apart and a handful of "we really should get together" emails and Facebook messages. I felt truly, profoundly lucky to have that kind of connection, and I realize that I have that with a lot of my friends, a group that includes all these unbelievably beautiful, brilliant, fascinating people. When I went off to college the first time, they were the type of people I hoped beyond hope existed in the world, the kinds I dreamnt about writing letters to and sharing wine with in some little restaurant on a rainy night in New York. And there I was, living that dream, remembering all the other things I'd dreamnt for myself as well.

I don't necessarily regret the events of my life between when I graduated from Trinity and the present, but I do sometimes wonder if I actually chose them, or if I kind of let them happen to me. When I was 21, I moved to Brooklyn and got completely lost in every sense. I had a few different jobs and no money, and I spent an embarrassing amount of time wallowing over heartbreak, both with men and ruined friendships. I started dating my ex-boyfriend on the tails of an abysmally dysfunctional relationship, which I never really processed, and I spent a lot of our four-year relationship in a daze between grad school, depression, baffling fights I still don't understand, and clutter in every sense of the word. Periodically I would ask myself "Is this really what I mean to be doing?" and I would kind of sigh because I'd gotten myself in too deep and felt trapped in a lot of destructive and unhappy patterns. I felt myself giving up on dreams and believing really awful cynical things, settling for what felt in the moment like happiness when I see now it was more like comfort.

I have to chide myself for bad historiography here, as it is anachronistically revisionist in tone, and I hate when people disparage their past because, as I said, I don't regret it, and most of it I remember fondly.

I just find myself in the present looking around and wondering again if this is what I meant to choose.

There are some people in my life who I love in unspeakably profound ways, for whom words like "friend" and "love" sound profane in their shallowness and lack of specificity. It seems like these are the people I should be spending my time talking with and being with, caring for, and learning from.

I very foolishly pushed people away in the beginning of grad school, pulling that old reality-show chestnut, "I'm not here to make friends," because I thought that was what a serious student would do and I was tired of feeling like an academic joke. I recognize how stupid that was, since really, what else AM I here to do?? I learn so much from my friends and acquaintances, and in general from people whose company challenges me, yet I was denying myself that experience with lame excuses about money or time or needing to go home and fight with my boyfriend about the dishes for the thousandth time. Also fear and shyness and that sense that I was already too late all the time for anything that mattered to me.

I understand now the debilitating effects of anxiety and internalizing negative ideas about oneself, and I like to think I've gotten a hell of a lot more comfortable in my own skin. I used to be afraid to talk to people and constantly ashamed of myself, and now I just say what I think and ask people for their thoughts. I like myself a lot more, and hell, it's about time - I'm pushing 30.

So I look at my life and what I'm doing with it, and I recognize a very real opportunity to make it whatever I desire in the next little bit here. I get to choose where I live, what my apartment will be like, the friends I spend the most time with and the ones I let recede a little into fond memory, the men I love or give up on, the new people I let in and get to know better, what classes I take, what jobs I work, and really, what my life will become. I'm nearly overwhelmed with the excitement.

I felt the staggering astonishment of really doing anything I want the other day when I was painting, starting with a fresh canvas (which I haven't done in a while) and just having at it. I have a newsketchbook, and it fits really perfectly in my current purse without getting jostled around, which has lead to a wonderful amount of compulsive drawing while listening to music on trains or wherever I may be. I started trying to make a painting from one of my sketches, and pretty quickly I reminded myself of why this rarely occurs successfully in a one-to-one depiction, since the figure-ground relationship of painting and drawing is inherently different. Further, in drawings, I can just accept dramatic strokes of ink for what they are, and I don't ask them to be something more, whereas in oil paint, in color, I feel like I need toarticulate, to make clearer the nature of something which is categorically different than a drawing.

"Eff it," I said with much greater vulgarity, "it doesn't want to be my drawing," and I went at the canvas in such a delightfully free, open-ended kind of way. I told my hands to do whatever they wanted, I grabbed at color impulsively and let the forms tell me what they wanted to be. I hope you'll pardon the trite cliche, but it was truly exhilarating, and I felt freer than I've felt in a painfully long time.

Once I'd blocked out what this painting is pretty much going to be and even came up with a jokey little title that I rather love, I was all high on art-making and self-being. I asked my dad what he thought, expecting one of his typically supportive replies, and he looked a little concerned and said, "Isn't it a lot like the one you just did?" He was referring to the painting I finished around St. Patrick's Day, which is now hanging in my parents' bedroom. At first I got kind of pissy because no, it's obviously nothing like that painting! The only thing they have in common is a predominance of blue! But eventually I calmed down and sorted out that he wasn't saying anything judgmental in this observation, just noticing the very clear similarities.

The other thing, I thought much later, is that sometimes when I have all the possibilities in the world in front of me, and I can choose whatever I want, my dream is not really that different from my reality, save for the way I got there.

I might not change that much about myself or my life, since I still make most decisions by following my heart. The difference is, I'm actually making these decisions now, and owning them, and I'm approaching them from a place of optimism, open-endedness, and sublime freedom. Makes a big difference, I think.

Did you ever have really good news, and you're going around telling all your friends and acquaintances and anyone who will listen, and they're all happy for you, and then you run into like, one of your closest and best friends and you off-handedly refer to your good news and they're all "WTF?! You never told me about that!" and you feel kind of like a terrible friend?

So hey blog, I have great news!

I've been working my ass off the past few months to finish writing my art history master's thesis, and then I launched into a massive series of major edits and revisiting my sources and fixing all my citations and rewriting significant sections, and well, it's been a LOT of work beyond what had already been a monumental task.

Because I don't have a desk in my room here, and because I needed to work with about twenty eight books and seventeen stacks of paper at a time, I've been spread out at the dining room table, along with a rather alarming amount of Twizzlers and cookies, in what my family has been calling (sometimes through clenched teeth) "Thesis Central."

So last Friday, after another week of phone calls with my advisor and working on minor edits, we were discussing the conclusions, and abruptly she said, "So that's it. Congratulations, you're ready to publish now." I did a handful of double-takes, followed by trying really hard not to shriek as she continued to talk about some future possibilities in the field and ideas she has for me (which I'll get into later).

After we hung up the phone, with the reality that I have just a few more steps to finish two master's degrees, I was kind of floored. I still haven't really processed what it all means and feels - it may actually be too enormous for my current (exhausted) emotional faculties to handle all at once.

I have, however, been celebrating up, down, and all over the place. I feel like I have a lot of social life to catch up on (why do I want to say "upon?"), and I recognize that I've been leaving a lot of stuff in shambles while I focus all my energies on just finishing the damn thesis. But now it is (basically) done, and my God, what a tremendous feeling.

With this, dear blog, I'm going to try to be less of an absentee friend and more of a, how shall we say,person, again. It may take me a bit to get back into the swing of posting regularly, and I can't promise it won't all be cat photos for a while, but hey, I wrote a master's thesis (!!!!!!!). I can handle some blog posts.

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