Thursday, 26 December 2013

Rubbing Stars

"To live without roads seemed one way
not to get lost. To make maps
of stone and grass, to rub stars together,
find a spark." 
~from "Spark," a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sometimes it is in the wandering that we find ourselves in the most perfect of places. 

Just now, I am curled up on a couch in the lounge of a college in Vermont, happily tuning in and out of conversations around me; tuning in to hear discussions of publishing, of writing styles, point of view and audience. Tuning out to reflect on the day, on the last few days, on the end of last year. Last year when I came to this place of wonderfulness at the very end and after too long in transit. Tuning out to think of the next few days and the future smiling at me. 

To settle back into a small city, even if just for this period of 12 days, is beautiful. Walking everywhere--20 minutes down a slushy slide of a road to the downtown, dumptrucks loaded with snow driving past, clearing the way. On either side of the main streets quaint shops, local and proudly green or organic or handmade all. Espressos in honey-wooden rooms, crepe cafes and mad tacos and the most alice-in-wonderland sort of thrift stores. A sweater I have hunted for 8 years! Late night viewings of Les Miserables with my roommate at the old cinema by the capitol building and a taxi ride back through the night. 

Engaging in lectures on all sorts of wonderful subjects; of craft and of creation, of theories and possibilities and fascinations of all kinds. Readings that make you hold your breath, unable to breathe for the beauty of the words, of the particular arrangement of those precisely chosen words one after another in art and in meaning (and are those the same, afterall?). Losing yourself in workshops; reading and thinking and sharing--this wonderful back and forth--dialogue to take a work from what it is to even better; to impossibly better. Beautiful.

I love the new faces, the new stories, the new friendships being made. The fact that this place is obviously a community that exists across space and regardless of this particular place; the understanding so crystalline that when we leave this particular here we will still be together talking and sharing and exchanging. Pushing and encouraging each other and continuing these dialogues. Continuing this lovely engagement. To not only go out with a group of friends, of fellow students, but with professors you cannot wait to work with; have so much to glean from. 

I love that in all my wandering without roads, I am found here, in this perfect place. Ready to wander some more, ready to make maps of stone and grass and to find a spark--to make a spark. To write. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Bellydancing and Translation Lessons

When I first packed up my beautiful apartment of the last five years--five years!!--I knew I had chosen to enter a season of suffering in some form. I remembered from growing up and studying across four fascinating continents that every change of place and abrupt altering of routine means not only exquisite adventures, but also ache and longing. It is the great dichotomy of my life; this love and hate of movement.

It has been two months now since my arrival in this city--it is in fact my seventh capital city in which I have resided in some measure of permanence rather than transience. I love it and frequently wonder why and how I lived so long in a rural area before coming back to a place that plays like music through my being, though I know the answers well and do not regret the choice.

In addition to glorious happiness, however, has been the pain. Firstly, people--people whom I grew to know and love over the years and expect to see every day, many times a day, on weekends. Fixtures in my life whom I must now live without their promise of regularity. People whom I miss dearly, who are now added to the Hall of Wonderful People I Have Known Around The World.

Past people comes everything else. The learning how to live and be and move in a new place. Building your reputation anew. Learning the culture and choosing what to embody and what to find a way around. Deciphering the webs; transportation networks, organization networks, friend networks, job networks. Where the best coffee is and how a dishwasher works. How you cannot get a post office box without a signed lease or car/home insurance or car/home ownership papers. How to calculate risk. How to write cover letters and obtain interviews and listen and talk. How to introduce yourself--here that experience is so different than the introduction of myself I have shaped the last five years. Here I am learning myself anew and determining what facets of myself to show and what to tuck away.

When I first came here, and found no one to smile back at me, no one I knew to feed me a hug or wish me good day; when I had no job to learn and no work to pour myself into, I found myself fading in shadow. I jokingly say to friends I am like a dementor (Harry Potter reference, if you don't know), feeding off the souls of others. (Don't worry, it's not quite like that...) In order to hold onto myself, I decided I needed to find a way to connect. For the record, connecting in a city is significantly easier than connecting in a rural area. All I had to do was chose what to connect with and decide it was monetarily an affordable investment. I chose: bellydancing.

Now bellydancing immediately afforded me a number of things: my first friends, my first group (think of this as a circle of people to come home to in a way), positive endorphins from the exercise, a reason to get out, discipline, and something wondrously fun and new. It was a perfect choice. The learning of bellydancing has also paralleled my own experiences moving here.

You start out simply, moving your body in ways that make you laugh, moving your body in ways that are so basic you think, that's it? really? But then as you continue learning, you discover some of the moves require you to forget muscle memory; that the particular muscle you are trying to use for a move is the wrong one; you need to forget it, and you need to learn to move all over again through a different muscle. The differentiation is fine, but significant. You also begin to discover muscles you never knew existed. I had no idea about some of the ones the teachers tell me to use. "You need to use this muscle, here," they say, pointing to a place on their belly that moves. I look at myself and try to move that area. Nothing. "Um, I don't think I have muscle there," I say, sheepishly, trying again. "Oh no, you do! You just aren't used to moving it!" And we all laugh. Now my body aches in places I never felt anything before, and the tiniest success I have in making a twitch thrills me. As we have progressed through the class, we have begun layering. Instead of working on just one move at a time, we combine two, or three. It's like on piano, the first time you play with both hands, and then the first time you play two different, complimentary notes on those two hands.

And it is exactly like starting out in a new place. You are back in many ways to the basics, to one step at a time and it feels so elementary it makes you angry at times. Things you should be able to do, or to handle, that you just cannot. How some things you did before still need doing, but with a tweak. You have to forget the old way and teach yourself the new. I feel as though after two months here, I am finally starting to find some of these new muscles, to reteach some of the old muscles, and to tap into muscles I used to use back in the day, when once before I lived in cities and capitals around the world, though never as an adult and professional.

So many new things.

Which brings me to translation. This is certainly something that I know a great deal of. How many languages have come through my ears? How many cultures and idioms? I remember in college days, I was still troubled by this idea that I had to be all of one thing and that meant none of another. For those like myself, global citizens and nomads, to deny one of our cultures in order to be fully the other is sto destroy or anihlate part of ourselves. A sort of ethnocide of self. But we just need to learn how to translate ourselves from one culture into another. We will pick up things, as actors keep a piece of every part they play, and we take all of these things and translate them throught the cultures in which we live and move. It is beautiful. It is a work of art. And like a baby growing up, it is the most natural thing in the world.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Just a Day's Reflection

One of the things I have long loved about city living is the anonymity, and more particularly; finding within the anonymity your common humanity with the strangers around you. In my current employment, I get to interrupt the lives of people rushing past me, seeming to see only the next thing on their list, the lineup of their day, a driving goal they must reach in time. I interrupt them and speak for those who cannot, working for the chance to be heard and to connect them with someone completely outside of their world. Interrupting other people's lives is fascinating; watching the effect of these encounters on my life is no less so.

Today I met a man from the Czech Republic. It was so much fun to get to speak with him in a mixture of Czech, Slovak, and English. Earlier in the morning I met a man and stumbled through a brief conversation with him in Spanish. It was like dragging words out of a dream for me, so long since I have used that mind and tongue. I love that I can find here people in whom I can find an echo of life I know, but whose personal experiences in life are so incredibly different than my own.

I spoke with one gentleman today, a friendly and brief exchange that made me smile--only to have him come back an hour or two later and blame me for losing him a contract. He spoke hatefully, commenting derogatorily on my appearance, tearing apart our conversation from earlier and it was shocking to see the transformation. I lost him nothing, in all honesty. I was a scapegoat to his bad morning and nothing else, but watching him rage there at me, at my coworkers, at the man whose conversation with me he interrupted--it was sad. It was as though he was dismantling his humanity and baring beast teeth and no one was impressed. "He is a sick, sick man," someone commented to me, shaking his head and then apologizing to me for what the man had said. "Don't you listen to that man. And you're beautiful, don't even think about what he said."

I hope I will never see that man again. I struggled with anxiety the rest of the day, wondering if others I meet would be like him, wondering if the whole world is like him, wondering what hope we have for ourselves when in reaction to our own disappointments we go out and deliberately crush and attempt to humiliate those surrounding us, people who are our neighbors for a second and our fellow humans for our lifetime. I wonder what it was he was hoping for and why his disappointment so devastated him; is his mind already sick, or did he have so much hinging on this one possibility that the disappointment of loss maddened him and lost him to himself?

The rest of my day was filled with fascinating encounters; a man who was homeless and on the streets at fifteen and sixteen who is now passionate about helping homeless children. My Slavic smile of the day. People who love to travel as much as I do, who love people and hold hope for humanity. Riding home at the end of the day, I saw a woman wearing a Santa Claus hat with "Bah Humbug" on it (like one I own but alas, is in storage this year). She sat down behind me on the metro and I turned and asked her about her hat--resulting in our chatting the rest of the ride to my stop. We just talked about Christmas, about giving gifts to our friends, about our families and life. It was beautiful.

Here in this city, there is so much opportunity to do things and so many people who like me, come from all over the world. I am reminded often of my days studying in London, when I first felt as if I could be in one place and experience all of my homes again. I love it. Walking home tonight, I stopped first at the grocery store and then wandered back laden down with oranges and wine and firewood and I was just overwhelmed with how completely happy I am to be here, in this city, in this place and time despite all the difficulties, despite the upheaval of perpetual transition, despite the continual unknown. I think how many things I am going to have learnt at the end of this, and I find myself slowly adapting to the continual feeling of being off kilter and unsettled. Though I have only been in this apartment now for a week and my room is a disaster zone, I can call it home and feel at home.

I am so excited for the perpetual possibility here for involvement and the motion picture of humanity playing around me every day and bumping into me. These make it possible to dream, and wondrous
 to exist as a being. So here's to humanity, and to possibility to renew and transform ourselves and the world around us even one small moment at a time.