Sunday, April 5, 2015

Portland, Oregon

A couple weeks ago I went out of state for something other than spending time with friends. About a year ago, I went to Dave and Katie's wedding in New Orleans, and this past October I went to Las Vegas with Bahar, who was visiting from Belgium at the time. Two weeks ago I went to Portland, Oregon for the library conference ACRL. Remember when I came back from Amsterdam in summer 2013 and joked I wouldn't leave California for another five years? Yeah, that didn't last long.

Traveling really stresses me out nowadays. There is the practical stress of packing efficiently into my carry-on backpack and there is the post traumatic stress of leaving home for the unknown and probably uncomfortable. I pulled it all together and hit the road for the airport. On BART en route to SFO the all-consuming dullness of a migraine announced its formal presence, and little did I know that I would be psychically crushed in its grasp for another 3 days.

The funny thing is that the migraine negated my usual anxiety. I didn't worry about missing my plane, I didn't get preoccupied planning for security. Everything went smoothly, including taking the MAX Line from the Portland Airport to the neighborhood in which I was staying. It was raining in Portland and yet I calmly walked 20 minutes, found my accommodations, and let myself in. I was relieved to set up my homestead, yet by the end of my time there, that little basement apartment became a scene of private suffering that reminded me of Amsterdam, the weird room I rented there with the thin squeaky mattress and smoky walls in De Baarsjes.

The conference itself went fine, and only a few days in did I realize I was making a way bigger deal of it that I had to; the conference itself had become a bell jar that sealed off my equilibrium, the very equilibrium I need to recover from a migraine. I worried about the school work I was to do for credit coming out of the conference, and I worried about giving a professional show for my colleagues in attendance. Very unfortunately I caused myself a deep psychic distress, but there was a strange side-effect or tandem-effect: a nearly ravaging homesickness. I have never been much of a phone person but I talked with someone I was close to back home every day I was gone, multiple times a day.

I must have realized something about my trip, my one year educational leave, that I hadn't before -- that it changed me, or that since quality time is my love language, I want someone to share the experience with, or that I really never want to leave home. That my trip was my very own German Forest, that is to say, a difficult experience I had to put myself through to find my voice. But mostly I marveled that I had never had a migraine that bad the whole time I was away from San Francisco during that year. What is wrong with my present existence to make my chakras go so perpendicular as they have lately, crushed by migraines?

It's a new concept: maybe I am imprisoning myself by "following my dreams;" maybe while in pursuit of high achieving I have become a perfectionist, damned by her strive to produce more proof of success; maybe I am trying to do too much -- my brand is too scatterbrained.

In medias res -- it would be quitting to go back now (on library school, on book making, on book binding, on coupledom, on love), although I wish I could go back to that sweet spot of post MFA, pre 1 year educational leave, when 8 hours a day in a library and poetry all the other time was totally sufficient.

Meanwhile, beautiful Portland was blooming into a magnificent Spring, and it reminded me of May 1 in Berlin -- blossoming, blossoming, blossoming.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Apology

This is an apology for going away, for leaving you, for not doing the best job at my challenge, for coming back, for wanting to pretend like it never happened, for using it as an excuse.

This is a note of self-forgivenessthere was no other way it could have happened. I wanted it so badly that proving to myself I could do it is worth more that the regrets, although I regret it everyday. I did the best I could, I planned it the best I could. I didn't expect for it to traumatize me so psychically. I didn't expect my plan to backfire so tremendously.

This is a vague reference to my milestones of danger and survival: the infections, the illnesses, the encounters, the bizarre self-created storylines. 

Whose forgiveness do I seek? 


In the days leading up to my departure from Amsterdam, the hot water broke in the the illegal public-housing sublet my roommates and I inhabited. I could not take a hot shower. I lugged buckets of boiled water up the stairs to the bathroom, and bathing involved standing in a dish tub with a rag.

In the days leading up to my departure from Amsterdam, I took impulsive bike rides into the city center, quickly selecting and purchasing apparel from Esprit, Didi, Mexx in a whirlwind of muted sentimentality. I was fixating on the extra suitcase I would bring back: finally I acquired it from a second hand shop in Westerpark, a hard shelled navy blue Samsonite. The center of my purpose was packing the suitcase: purple sweater dress, bottles of cranberry wine from Vlieland, Amsterdam map collage, playing cards from a local artist on Witte de Withstraat, luikse wafels, stroop wafels, jumper from Ameland, fuzzy Esprit sweater, Dutch toiletries... and the things that could not fit and would be left behind... As the physical weight of the suitcase grew, its weight as proofas evidencelikewise grew. My productivity abroad was directly correlated to this suitcase arriving in San Francisco intact and as a fully realized souvenir, while the nostalgia it represented weighed down my ability to proceed into San Francisco unhindered.

But when I think of this I don't think of the metaphysical weight the suitcase put on my psyche; I think of the often overcast summer slowly opening the trees along the canals, the distinct sound of Dutch-Moroccan children playing, and the rush of the sun shining in the afternoon. My misery was the two sides of leaving: the happiness at going home finally, and the reluctant acceptance that I would never have another experience like this again, that time I tried to live in Amsterdam when I was 30.


On July 1, 2013, I flew direct from Amsterdam to Philadelphia. When passing through immigration at Schiphol Airport, I was detained for overstaying my tourist visa, and was ultimately banned from entering the EU until July 1, 2014. When I arrived at PHL, the United States was mine, it was foreign, it was fascinating, it was home, I was still an outsider, I had endured many abuses at the hands of myself and of culture and of loneliness.

Watching the 4th of July fireworks from under the Echo Bridge on the Schuylkill River, I began to move on from the abuses: a sliver of resignation, a sliver of aggression: the way you feel when you discover the thing you pined for all your twenties just destroyed you, and you could not have kept living without having been destroyed... But maybe you still believe it's possible to fall in love. 


The one thing I learned from Amsterdam is that I need a reason to get up most days of the week, I need the pressure of something at times disdainful to be successful.

I couldn't wait to get away from the thing that made me get up at 7:20 a.m. five mornings a week, and then I was miserable and depressed when I didn't have that very thing, even though theoretically I had Amsterdam.

What is a human without a routine?

I was going back to my job at the library, and couldn't be happier. 

When the hard shelled navy Samsonite suitcase finally made its way across the U.S., from the Philadelphia Greyhound station to the San Francisco Greyhound station and to my apartment in the Richmond District, opening it was an aromatic poof of my abuses: all the second hand smoke that had clung to the walls and furniture of my room in Amsterdam, a parting gift from the previous inhabit; the light traces of my roommates' Dutch fabric softeners; even the changing seasons on the street and the stiffness brought from hanging clothes to dry in a staircase.

Nineteen months ago I returned to San Francisco, my home: the place where I understand the weather, the place I grew into an adult, the place where my mom has made a life with me. I'm a strange nationalist, a Californian. California, my favorite country.

This blog proceeds accordingly, having honored its mandate for ashamed and/or reflective silence.