Friday, May 9, 2014

Redder, redder and redder: How I got so red, I needed to stop and write

What was I trying to achieve, anyways, by flying, no crawling, all the way from Jakarta to New York? I just went, hoping for a good education. With little amount of conscious expectation, I went and left behind the many comforts of life. Now, a day before the so-called last day of the academic year, I'm sitting in my little pit, with chunks of my hair wrapped in aluminum foil, going angrier and angrier.

Angry is not the right word, it never is. Watching Heathers (1989), one of my favorite 80s teen flicks, I wondered how easily murderous intents rolled out of Veronica Sawyer and J.D.'s mouths. Played by Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater, respectively, the couple ended up killing three people during the entire duration of the film. When asked by a passer by if they were the bad guy, I thought to myself, "Heck! Is there ever a 'bad guy'? Bad guys don't exist when you're above twenty!" Instead of black and white, all you're faced with is different shades of grey.

Anger walks on the same tight rope. It fluctuates based on the environment, based on "inherent" circumstances, and the trigger. In this case, ignorance might be bliss. It might even be the solution. The easiest, at least. Call everyone stupid and you're king of the world, for a sweet split second.

Perusing for the synonyms of 'anger', I wonder why it is so hard to articulate this emotion. As a child, I'd pout whenever I got mad. It was so instinctual that I hardly noticed my lips slowly taking shape. Sometimes it would take more than half an hour for me to modify my behavior. Sometimes it dissolves into tears. And other times, they stay that way till I use my mouth for its other functions.

In previous posts, I have stumbled across the notion that anger is unattractive. A character once said, "You look sexy when you're mad," which made me smile inside. But then, I felt wicked. I felt wicked at the very possibility of intuitively condoning anger. Perhaps, it has something to do with the idea of a woman, which was earliest taught to me in primary school, or the etiquette lessons I took from society in general. Instead of being assertive, talk to them nicely, tailor your words to people's feelings, remember who is in need.

Of course, assertiveness and anger are two different things. I see the first as an approach to things, while the second as a feeling. Nonetheless, both elements are heavily influenced by leverage. You can only unleash your anger or be assertive when you are leveraged. For instance, if someone borrowed your notes and didn't give it back on time for the test, then you have the privilege to get mad at them. Even so, red fumes rarely suits my complexion and yours and most people in the world, rather we are taught to control our emotion, regulate our breathing and think positive thoughts.

Suppressing anger might be a taught behavior. Perhaps, we heard it from our parents or saw it's devastating results firsthand. But we also see the result of stymied anger. We know the potential of having all our emotions bottled up inside. I mean, look at J.D. in Heathers!

As I grow older, I have gradually turned redder and redder. My blood boils at life's tiny glitches. Every so often, I catch myself yelling at a loved one. And I'm afraid that I will eventually start yelling at my friends or professors or even strangers.

Several theories hover over my head after I pondered on the issue. 1) Age is a factor. Ever seen old men who sulk at the "young kids" or technology? Maybe, I've unknowingly manifested into an old man. Now, all I need is a chair and patio for me to waste my days away.

2) Being adult oftentimes mean regulating our emotions. Society rarely condones adults who throw tantrums or sob into a pile of tears. Instead, we expect adults to be in control, to be calm and cool, cooler than babies who cry unexpectedly or teenagers who slam their bedroom doors in rage. Again, having things bottled up inside might be the reason for the escalation of my anger. Taking on the identity of an adult, as well as its responsibilities, may have hindered me from dealing with my own feelings.

3) Part of the Sarah Lawrence education is to gain a critical eye. Having that type of vision allows you to see the tiniest faults or deficiencies. Despite becoming more critical and learning ways to make peace or act on these new pair of critical eyes, I haven't practiced the last two elements in the "real world". And maybe, just maybe, that is what it takes to lower my body temperature to the ideal, society-accepted room temperature.

As I come to a close I read the entire page again, which I rarely do (scary, right?) Anger. Can good come out of anger? Yes. What type of good? I think back on the teachers I've had and the heroes I've read about or heard of. Why do I have a nagging feeling that they were angry? Think back on the various leaders we've had over the years: presidents, activists, public figures, writers, and even teachers. Well-moderated anger on a particular cause can be healthy, I guess.

*All photos are supplied by the author

Sunday, May 4, 2014

At My Fingertips: Leaked 4

How does our personality permeate through our pores and into our lives, stealing certain romantic and friendly relationships from us. At My Fingertips is back with another installment. Whenever I write, I hate to edit or worse, make major changes. Oftentimes I settle for what has been typed up and saved. However, I remember returning to the manuscript of this novel and wondering if I should add a prologue, something to set readers off into the mind of one of two protagonists: Arjuna. An abstraction of her thoughts, this is a piece where she laments of her previous relationship and what might have been.

At My Fingertips 3

Certain things in life are well defined, while others are left in a gradation of uncertainty. Take a cigarette, for instance. Come on, humor me, for once. Please? Alright, where was I? Ah yes, the cigarette. Passengers are absolutely allowed to bring cigarettes on all flights. On the other hand, a lighter is universally unaccepted.

I never thought about this until I flew with him. As a pragmatist, he gently placed his sacred lighter in his check-in luggage. As a sanguine, he brought a box of cigarettes in his carry on, certain that he would find someone with a lighter or a match to bring him back to life at the airport smoking room. As a cynic, I am unsatisfied with the simple reasoning that lighter are prohibited due to their flammable nature. As a histrionic, I avoid the very thought of him succumbing to lung cancer by obsessively focusing on the layers of reason for the allowance of cigarettes and the injunction against lighters. 

With all that said and done, I wonder if that was the exact moment when he realized the hole in this equation of ours. Unfortunately, as it turns out, that hole is me.

         At my fingertips there is the world. Today, the globe seems smaller than a Ping-Pong ball. If lack of connection is no longer an issue, then why am I alone?
         At this moment, I am sitting in Time Square. The air seems suddenly cleaner. Granted, it is only six am. But, isn’t New York the city that never sleeps? With an unlit cigarette twirling between my fingers, I continue to read my tattered paperback. The truth is, I don’t smoke, can’t smoke, especially with these lungs of mine. The truth is, I am in love, addicted with the smell of the cigarette. It reminds me of the skin I can’t touch through the screen and the lips that I can’t kiss through the web.
         He’s on the other side of the universe, in a place untouched by 21st century technology. Although he denies it, he moved to avoid connectivity, which leads to us and ultimately me. He couldn’t handle the world at his fingertips. So, he took his cigarettes and his journal with him on an infinite journey to places that are in desperate need of wells and schools.
         “Am I selfish for wanting to take him away from those who needs him for concrete reasons?” the words echoes in my head.
         We stood behind the front door of his already empty apartment. I wanted to collapse, but knew that it would not even leave him quivering or confused about his plans for the next few years. Instead, I picked up the box from the ground and lifted his duffel bag, which he promptly pulled away from me. That duffel bag smelled just like the cigarette I’m holding to my nose. The smell of his brand of poison reminded me how much I procrastinated to fill that box with what little was left around his apartment. His name is Jack.

Is it selfish to ask for forever?

         The box is still unpacked, abandoned below my bed, waiting for Guntur to come over and persuade me to sort it through with some vintage wine and gossip.
         I smile, knowing that whoever is reading this would suggest that I should just forget that charitable prick and go for Guntur instead. He and I will never be together for a layered cake of reasons. As he shifted uncomfortably in my couch a few months ago, I knew something was wrong. Gun’s face turned red with embarrassment as I told him how his breath smelled so potently of vodka. He took the few throw pillows he had given me for my twenty-third birthday and placed it in front of his face as a shield. He was clearly drunk out of his mind, a sin that he would have to remedy the days to come.
         Guntur grinned to confess “I met someone new, now I can move on”. Clearly guilt-ridden to have left his fiancĂ©, he took his water bottle, which was definitely not filled with aqua, and consumed it to emptiness. He looked up to the ceiling when within a moment’s notice, his eyes rolled to the back in his head. I called 911, thanking the heavens that we were in New York City and not Jakarta. We spent the night in the emergency room. They pumped his stomach, draining the alcohol from his system. He smiled the entire way through, knowing that he would never be happy. Guntur finally admitted his love for men. Instantaneously, my new best friend was set free from the straight line that dictated his life socially and religiously.
         Yes, ladies and gentleman, my best friend is gay. We have encountered many who have characterized his preference as temporary as the color of his newly found rainbow that would run from his white shirt to create a pool by the bathtub drain. And as I continue to stick my bum on this sidewalk, all I could think about is how selfish I am at this moment. I want Jack to abandon his sacred mission to return to my arms and the only thing that could calm me down, unfortunately, is Guntur’s embrace, which will never be as passionate as if I were a boy. As I review my train of thought, I want to slap myself as I gradually become aware that Jack’s absence has awakened a desire for Guntur to somehow love me romantically without my having to transform to a man.
         Spots began to form around me. I rose to welcome the rain that streamed through with minimal warning. On most days, I would have brought with me my trusty book bag containing a wind-resistant umbrella. But this is not most days. It is a tragic day that finally allowed me to admit my troubled existence. The rain, which brought with it the concern of falling ill or damaging the handmade friendship bracelet Jack gave me a year ago, washed away my existential worries. I look up, much like Guntur did, and felt lucky, for once, that I am wearing my spectacles, which shielded my eyes from sour raindrops.
         Walking away from the crime scene, I direct my stubborn feet towards the post office. Within minutes, a letter idly awaits its long journey to the other side of the world. How poetic, I just broke up with Jack by means of a hand-written letter. Practically skipping down the block with damp clothes on, I bump into a familiar, yet unforgiving sight of the woman I had become. I pull up my soaking hoody, with full knowledge that my hair would not forgive me once the sun emerges.
         The day seemed as quiet as it began. I trail down Broadway towards Grand Central, in hopes of meeting someone new. The cigarette is still stashed in my pocket, where the dampness accelerates the paper and tobacco’s decay. The sunrays create halos above building tops, blinding my eyes, transporting me back in time.

*All photos are supplied by the author 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Kicking The Bucket: How this girl stopped regretting her poor performance on life's check list

The bucket list: is it a basic requirement or an all encompassing guide to life?

Is it just me or does the globe seem to spin faster? Numerous projects are springing up to life, producing a myriad of options. A day in New York City could not be a better analogy. A metropolis, The City, as we call it, is home to endless eateries, art centers, and just about everything else. A friend of mine did the impossible, in my opinion any ways, by starting her journey before office hour and ending it past midnight. She went from Times Square to Central Park to China Town to the Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo and so on in less than twenty-four hours. The list sounded tiring to me, a homebody who prefers book cafes instead of nightclubs and cake instead of alcohol. However, as I listened to her recount her day, I wish I had a pen and a checklist in hand to see how far she'd gone with her bucket list.

The unconventional sights that I see

Websites targeted at young adults and college students are home to a series of bucket lists. Amongst the different places available on the Internet, you can find just the perfect list for you, be it one for high school seniors, college freshmen, graduating college students, teens, twentysomethings, even thirtysomethings. Scrolling through these registries, I felt slightly dampened by the fact that seemingly I had not lived my life to the fullest. Exactly, three weeks away from graduation, I haven't played beer pong, done anything naked other than take a shower in my dorm, or hooked up. In The City, I haven't stepped foot in a club at night (yes, I have found myself in these joints in the middle of the day as part of a job), gone to a legit stand-up show, or even gone up the Rockefeller Center. Each time I inched closer to these opportunities I either forget to take the plunge or refuse to.

On the contrary, despite the lack of checks on the conventional list, I have crossed many points on the theatre or art bucket list. These requirements can be found in the Playbill in the form of all the shows that are currently playing on Broadway, or going to various Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway venues, such as The Public, BAM, or La Mama. Another is to wait for autographs and take illegal photos. Along the way I have made friends with some amazing theatre artists in The City and met up and coming people, as well. However, at the end of the day, these things are rarely presented in the run of the mill bucket list.

Who needs to go to a bar when you've got a huge toy store around the corner?

Although I feel somewhat deviant, I don't really feel bothered, at least not as bothered as I would feel as a high school student. The question is two-folds: 1) Is the bucket list a guide to life or a basic generalization of activities? 2) What type of life do we want to lead? Clearly, my priorities are mixed as I have switched the questions into an unnerving and illogical manner. So, I rearrange them in my head, whilst deciding not to do the same with their typed up version.

One thing that I have learned from Sarah Lawrence, a school that used to say "We are different, so are you", is that different is not all that different, that being said, there are still minorities at SLC. A student can still deviate from the SLC norm, because there is a norm. Even so, being part of a group or being different or both is a choice, one that is both consciously and subconsciously made. Same goes with the bucket list. By choosing the life that we want to lead, we choose or create a bucket list. You have the agency to choose the run-of-the mill list, choose a less conventional one, or write your very own. Make note that this list will change over time, accommodating your ever-evolving needs and ambitions.

Treating a bucket list as a holy grail registry limits your life experience. The road less travelled can be more fulfilling than the ordinary. Dictate your life based on your own trajectory. Even if you don't see a clear path or you seize to have your own ambitions, you have your instinct to guide you. And if you are truly, truly confused, experiment! See what goes and what doesn't.

And if all fails, go ahead and abort the mission

Since I will be leaving New York right after graduation, I scan through my current bucket list and wonder if there is anything else I should do. With a few shows to watch before leaving and a few activities and restaurant reservations on my schedule, I feel content and happy. My experience in The City won't match most of my friends' who live in Downtown New York or live in Westchester. It won't look similar as those who visit for a few days or who have stayed here for years on end. Actually, experiences are not and will never be the same across the board, as time changes, the viewer changes, and the experience itself changes.

*All photos are provided by the author