Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Rude Awakening and a Golden Moment

Despite the causticity of my previous post, the days of drudgery have been interspersed with life-affirming moments. One of those I feel acutely this morning (afternoon? There is no “time of day” here). This post will probably erode instantly into abstraction, which might effect a fine juxtaposition when coupled with the minutiae of the last post. This one’s more about my feelings, a topic about which I have much less writing experience. Deep breath.

I’ve never really liked myself. I can see all the things that other people like about me, sure, but I can see all the other things as well. Now don’t worry, folks, this isn’t some sort of suicide note. I’ve actually never had suicidal thoughts. I don’t hate or pity myself; I just find that I usually prefer other people. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who’s amusing but insubstantial to have around. If life were a TV show, I’d be the wacky neighbor, popping in and out randomly, leaving people shaking their heads affectionately. “That Robbie!” they’d all intone upon my departure, turning to clean up whatever mess I’ve made and return to their normal lives.

Now, for all of my preaching about not basing one’s sense of self on the opinions of others, that’s exactly what I do. One of my greatest strengths is my adaptability. I feel very natural taking on the characteristics of those in my vicinity. Many people would see this as “fake.” But it’s something else with me. I simply admire the people I choose to have around me, and genuinely want to be more like them. This is especially true of my closest friends. People like Caitie, Evan , and Glade are so amazing to me, that I start to try to emulate them and soon forget who I am besides a patchwork of them. This would probably be fine if a) it weren’t a bit unsettling to the people I’m Single-White Female-ing, and b) I hadn’t realized that I’m doing this when I woke up this aftermorn.

At this current crossroads in my life, I have many forks in the not-too-distant future. Do I buy a car? Do I go back to school in September? What job should I get? This sort of thing normally stresses me out, and I find myself wishing for some sort of Life Consultant who could look at my monetary situation, my dreams and aspirations, my whole life, and tell me what to do next. And sure, it’s obvious to YOU, the reader, that that person should be God, especially when I go and capitalize “life Consultant” like that. But when you’re IN that life, it’s a little more difficult to constantly remember that. And so I find myself trying to weasel my friends’ opinions out of them, since these issues overwhelm me. I really do operate with a whole support system made up of people whose opinions I value more than my own. But if I take a couple of steps back, I see that I’m an adult, just like my friends, and I DO have a relationship with God, and while I love my friends and would do anything for them, and trust they would do anything for me, I need to be functional enough that if those friends were to suddenly go away, I’d be sure to remain stable. I’m not far off from that already, and I’m not talking about severing my attachments to my friends, but I’m talking about giving them breathing room. Letting them love me for who I am instead of how well I can emulate them. I still want to cultivate the best things I see in these people. Caitie’s ability to make everyone around her feel loved. Glade’s scrutinizing and analytical mind. Evan’s solidarity in doing only those things in which he believes. Ben’s refusal to back down from a deep-felt conviction. Kaylene’s expression of gratitude and excitement about life. Wiggle’s unflagging loyalty toward her friends. Rachel’s graceful compassion for those in need. Brett’s ability to find humor in any situation. Jon and Sara’s utter faith in the people they love. And this list goes on, with more people and more traits from the folks I’ve mentioned. What I don’t need is to adopt, say, Caitie’s taste in music, Evan’s choice in schools, Glade’s political stances, etc. Not that I disagree with any of these things. This is the fine point above which I’m hovering: I can love these people without desiring to be just like them or have them be just like me. The things that are right for me are not necessarily right for them too, and I can love that Ben loves computers without having to love computers, too.

An example, in the form of an initially seemingly unrelated story, which I hope you find funnier than offensive:

A Rude Awakening

One day I was mistakenly quarantined on the train. I’d vomited, you see, which is pretty normal for me, but scary in the tourism industry because of something called the Norwalk Virus, which they had to be sure I hadn’t contracted before letting me continue to serve food to the crustomers. Normally there are no witnesses when I puke at work, and I just go about my day as usual afterward. This instance was different, though. As I felt the glands under my jow throbbing, and knew my lunch of pasta primavera was about to force itself back out of my digestive system, I ran for the bathroom and threw the door open. There was Kate, the car manager, wearing gloves and a smile on her face. “I JUST finished cleaning the bathroom!“ she exclaimed proudly.”

“Oh!” I tried to make my panic look like enthusiasm.

“I cleaned out the toilets, took out the trash, wiped up the whole floor--”

That’s when I puked (mostly) into the trashcan. I swear it was exactly like that. In one ghastly second, her pride at having accomplished something unpleasant was squashed. Poor lady; she’s very nice.

So they put me on a car that had no passengers on it, and I promptly fell asleep. I was awakened to a bizarrely surreal experience.

A portly bald black man in his late thirties was shouting. “Boy, it is NICE up in here!” He took a seat across the aisle from me as I sat up, stunned and a bit unnerved. And then he started to tell me his story. He was the manager of the cars for Royal Celebrity Cruises, and he’d had a girl disobey him after he told her to do something mildly illegal to save himself some paperwork. And he’d been so angry, he’d come to our car to cool off. The thing is, his language was the foulest of any human being I’ve ever encountered. He described explicitly his wish to inflict oral sex upon the girl in order to teach her a lesson, his possible future sexual encounter with another of his female employees in the restroom of our empty car, and the problems posed by the stains the bodily fluids would leave on his uniform. He even began to act out a sexual encounter with an imaginary woman who was under the table where he was sitting. I just sat there, still in a daze from having just awakened. Eventually he stopped talking and jauntily tromped back down the stairs and out of my life. The end.

Now, I know that story doesn’t quite fit in yet, but I’m getting there.

My plan had always been to be a teacher when I grow up. I really love working with people, and explaining things, and having my summers free to go do whatever I want. So teaching sounds like the perfect job. In fact, one huge lesson I’ve learned from this Alaskan summer is that I need to be doing something I actually love. I’m considering trying to get a job as a substitute teacher or at a school for troubled youth when I get back to Provo. Now, I know the latter is what Evan does, which is actually why I haven’t done it in the past; I didn’t want to end up copying him. But the more I consider it, the more I realize that my favorite job I’ve ever had was as a youth counselor at efy. I loved teaching the kids and being an example and friend and moderator for them.

But I also really love to be creative, to write, to make films, to be funny. And with Evan’s express interest in going to film school and Rachel‘s suggestion I become a writer for television, it has been easy for me to stoke my enthusiasm for that creative outlet. I’m not copying Evan, but I’m finding in myself the things that I see in him. And we work very well together. In just about a month I expect to have finished editing parts two and three of our film project, which I believe is a hilarious success and is due in large part to the successful creative synergy that exists between us. And it’s reassuring for me to link the next few years of my future to another person, to think, I’ll just go to school where Evan goes. These sorts of decisions make perfect sense when you remember that I’ve been esteeming Evan’s opinions and judgments as having more value than my own.

A man named Christopher came to see me one evening before I could get off the train. He works for Royal Celebrity and wanted me to visit his office the next morning. I had told my own manager in very brief terms about my encounter with that crazy black man, and I suppose the word had gotten over to RCT’s office, and they had fired the fellow and were building a legal case against him, and wanted my testimony for the record. So the next morning I went down there, and told them ALL the disgusting things the man had said to me, and they thanked me very much for my time and candor and promised appropriate actions would be taken I was mostly indifferent about the man’s fate, but wanted to help the company if I could. Christopher offered to drive me home. He asked me what I was studying and I told him I’d been studying English and was considering switching to film. He was a film enthusiast himself, he told me, and had recently been working on short films with the scout troop he leads. Which of course begs the question is he LDS?, which it turns out he is. And he told me he took classes in film at BYU, and has enjoyed film as a hobby ever since, on top of his career working on the railroad, which he enjoys immensely. This information was really important to me. I can’t say why, but I felt an unnamed impact from these words, and pondered them for a while afterward. And what I’ve realized is that I don’t have to give my life to film just to feel fulfillment from it. I don’t need to earn money from a movie I’ve made to be able to enjoy the effort.

So the new plan is this: I’ll try to hurry and finish school (I earned enough money to be able to get back into that now), meanwhile working in some sort of teaching capacity. I’ll get my English Language degree, as previously planned, and if I find I’m enjoying teaching, I will go in that direction, and if I find it lacks the creative outlet I need after all, I can use that degree and the few films we’ve made to pursue the job as a TV writer after all. Maybe I can do both. And if Evan and I can continue to work on video projects in the future, I’ll be ecstatic, but if our paths eventually diverge, I’ll be ok, and I’ll still love the kid just like I still love Brett, though I get to see him too infrequently.

What cracks me up is that this recent self-discovery, the whole new plan for my future, would not have lighted in my mind had that perverted old man not awakened me from my slumber, had I not been puking on the train that evening, had I not been in Alaska in the first place. So at least one good thing has come from all of this. And I use this story about film school and Evan as an example of the new mindset I’m going to try to employ. There’s one more story that helps to explain why this has all come to a head this morning, why I awoke today with a feeling that I need to be more myself.

A Golden Moment

The day after my surreal experience with Nasty McNasterson, I had to get back to Anchorage, but I was still quarantined. So they put me back on the empty train car and didn’t let me out. Luckily, the kindly, overworked lady who arranges our housing arrangements in Fairbanks provided me with snacks for the long ride. Among these treats was a carton of something I’ve never tried. Cherries. I don’t know why I’ve never eaten cherries before, but I never have. And here was a whole carton of sweet black cherries.

Anyway, I admit I slept for most of the trip. In the “evening” I woke up, stretched, and dug my book out of my backpack. Thus began one of the most serene and beautiful experiences of my life.

The sunlight came in relaxed and lazy, lounging sideways, as the sunlight is prone to do in Alaska. The birch and alder and spruce whirred by in a strobe-like blur of white and green and brown. The cottonwood trees had released a flurry of white cotton pixies, swarming and whizzing silently and gleefully past the windows in millions, lending a snow-globe effect to the afternoon. Crystal clear ponds reflected the blue of the sky and the white of the cumulus clouds stacked up above the horizon in all directions. My eyes could scarcely take in all of the beauty, and a peace settled over me. My attention turned to the interior of the train car, to the bowl of ripe cherries, and I ate one. Delicious! The juices burst into my mouth, ripe and sweet and unexpected, like a show of affection from a child. I realized that the blackest cherries were the most delicious, and I soon had a cup full of their pits. Amid the sensual beauty, I turned back to my book. The sunlight cut a sharp angle across the pages, the fibers of the paper casting shadows, tiny and definite, on each other.

Then I looked at my hand, which was holding the book open. My skin is a honey beige, more golden than most people’s, and in the yellow sunlight it looked healthy and warm. I turned to look at my reflection in a nearby mirrored panel on the wall, and the sun again cast a favorable light on me, entering my eyes at a slant and seeming to illuminate my irises from inside; they glowed like electrified amber. And for the first time I can ever remember, I thought, “I am beautiful.” Such an astonishing thought! I have never seen beauty in myself like this. I’ve grown up wishing for lighter skin like my friends, blue or green eyes like the kind I personally find more attractive, a different body altogether. But in that moment of peace and beauty and spirit, I was able to see myself through different, more fiery and perceptive eyes. I was able to see myself as an essential part of a whole wide beautiful world, inhabited by astoundingly good human beings and remarkably brilliant ideas and preposterously delightful nature. There is beauty in places I’d never thought to look. In cherries, in trees, in myself.

And this is the big thing I’m bringing home from Alaska: a recognition of my own worth and beauty. A new-found respect for my own desires and dreams and abilities. A love as deep as ever for the friends who have helped me to become who I am so far. And a determination to forge a path forward to that unique person that I, and no one else, is meant to become. I love you all.


another picture i took....


Mustard said...

I love you, Robbie! You ARE beautiful, and wonderful! Your post was inspiring, and I am so thankful that you bring such wisdom home with you. Mom

Rich said...

Wow, Robbie. Thanks for sharing that. I hope things go well for you as re-enter life in good old Happy Valley.

Say hi to everyone for me.


Gui said...

first off, ever since shortly after i met you, i have admired your amazing ability to evaluate the finer, often overlooked points of life and extract therefrom what i view to be great pearls of wisdom. i feel that i was able to learn a lot about myself--both from your constatations, and from watching and learning how to make more adequate observations of my own. thank you.
secondly, you never cease to amaze me with what i'm going to dub your "wisdom."
and lastly, i'm so happy that you've had the epiphanies that you've most recently suffered from. i've been having similarly glorious traumatic experiences of my own as of late, and it has been such a marvelously wonderful experience. i've been thinking, "wouldn't it be grand if more people could be afflicted in a like manner..." i'm very glad that you have been. you rock.

Distinguishing Preoccupation said...

That was a really nice post.


Toasteroven said...

Ah, the second paragraph clarifies a few things for me. Not that I have known nothing about you, mind you, it just makes it clearer to me.

This is probably why you didn't understand how upset I was by the way you move on from friends to friends. You have often not worked things out with people, thinking they just want to hate you, shave your head and legs, and spraypaint a "Smurfs suxx0rz" on your back, and then throw you in jail, when really they wanted accountability. Given your view of yourself, you couldn't bear to do it because you couldn't understand the fruits of really meeting something so directly. Hence, uber-evasiveness. Hmm.

Really good post, of course. I like it because it really reveals to us (and to you, I think) how much effort you are putting into making a meaningful, peaceful life that has some damn stability to it. (Because seriously, how often has life given you that gift?)

Vero Awesome said...