89 days of insecurities

To be honest, I’m struggling a little bit.

Okay, a lotta bit.

We celebrated my brother’s 27th birthday this past weekend. Twenty-seven; six-ish years my senior. He has an apartment that he shares with his 5-year-old Golden Retriever. He’s a success story; an internship he had during his undergrad summers morphed into a career. He’s single. He watches seasons of TV shows on Netflix, takes the dog out for walks and visits friends. He’s happy.

In fact, I’ll never forget what he told me during my birthday celebration a couple months back when I told my family about a guy who wanted to take me out on a date.

“It’s okay to be single for awhile, Em,” he said.

You may have read this post a few months back. I wrote that 89 days ago. I’ve kissed six different guys over these past 89 days, ultimately (drunkenly) sleeping with two of them. I looked up the word “slut” in the dictionary and have concluded I am neither promiscuous or slovenly –– I’m merely going for the men who seem to readily give me attention. “Promiscuous” implies I’ve had sexual relations with each of these six guys and that is simply not the case.

Sounds about right
Sounds about right

Still, in the process, I’ve lost real feelings. So imagine me a little over a month ago when a really nice, respectable guy began giving me attention. I went a little nuts and it scared me shitless. He scared me shitless. My friends told me they could tell how much I liked him by the speed of my talking and the high-pitch tone my voice adopted. That scared me, too. Now I think I’ve scared him away. Real smooth, Em, ya dummy.

I’ve realized that being rejected really depresses me. I go into full-blown nihilism mode and lose track of everything I’m working for, everything I’m trying to be. I’ve lived under the mindset of what good is anything if I have nobody to share that ‘anything’ with? for a very long time, leading to never watching movies by myself or going shopping for fun by myself.

I need to get back in touch with the adventurous version of myself I found while living away from home last summer for an internship. My brother’s found it. I’d like to join him. I’d like to be happy, learn from my past mistakes and begin a new relationship when I’m good and ready for it. Too many of my insecurities rule my life and my way of thinking –– I need to squash them before I begin anything new.

Fuck.

Unsticking

I’ve been stuck lately. It happens to all of us. Now and then, we feel like Dante, who lastleafopens his Divine Comedy in the midst of an existential crisis:

IN the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct. . .

Fortunately, most of us don’t need to walk through hell and purgatory before we reach the heaven on the other side. And we don’t need to need to wander between dream vision and sleep, gradually learning how to “do well” like William Langland’s protagonist in Piers Plowman. 

But what these texts from the Middle Ages note remains true: sometimes we lose our momentum. Like a turtle pushed out to the center of a frozen pond, unable to gain footing and reach the shore again, we feel lost, adrift, and powerless. Sometimes, this makes us stiff and wooden. As Albert Camus writes in his essay “Return to Tipasa“:

A day comes when, thanks to rigidity, nothing causes wonder any more, everything is known, and life is spent in beginning over again. These are the days of exile, of desiccated life, of dead souls. To come alive again, one needs a special grace, self-forgetfulness, or a homeland.

Indeed, sometimes we really do need to come alive again.

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Carl Sagan

I’m a bit of a Carl Sagan junkie. I suppose it started the evening before Thanksgiving Carl_Sagan_Planetary_Societybreak my junior year, when my ride changed plans to leave the next morning. With an evening free, I scanned HULU for a show to kill time with. It recommended Cosmos, and after reading the glowing comments, I decided to check it out.

The name Carl Sagan was familiar, and I had seen his parted hair, turtleneck, and beige jacket parodied on television. I had also heard his famous Pale Blue Dot monologue at a talk from Bill Nye, who respected Sagan. I even met a professor from Cornell who got his office, replete with a hidden foot pedal to call campus police for unwanted visitors.

But the pieces didn’t connect.

The strangely nostalgic piano and synth-string theme played over an intro of star fields and passing nebula. The café around me softened into a whimpering white noise of scuffing tables, chatting workers, and clattering cups. Sagan spoke, his iconic cadences seeming to pick out words with the precision of tweezers.

“The sky calls to us,” he said. “If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

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Reflections in an empty cafe

Okay, so the cafe isn’t quite empty. It’s got a few green-shirted workers sweeping the

Cafe La Verna, as pictured on St. Bonaventure’s site.

floor and standing around balancing on their heels. But it’s almost empty.

A gray drizzle shadows the campus outside and a warm fire flickers nearby, giving the illusion of warmth. Most of the students have left for break or are elbow-deep in packing. I’m staying to work and reflect. It’s been a busy few weeks and I need to catch my breath, write my thesis, and sort out my post-graduation life.

A few thoughts swirl in my head. Last fall, I sat in this same cafe for 12 hours. It’s a campus-bound Starbucks with earthy colors and cozy chairs called La Verna, a place where time slips away unnoticed and people pass through like birds in migration. Grounded there for so long, I felt like a rock watching the seasons change.

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Brokenness and Healing

I’ve been home from Egypt for about one and a half weeks. I’ve been busy setting

A few of my students in Egypt

seeing friends and family, prodded with requests for stories. “What were the pyramids like?” they ask. Or, “Did you see the Sphinx?”

I’ve also been reading The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and organizing loans and finances to prepare for my final year at college. Soon, I’ll be moving into campus housing, seeing old friends, and attending classes as if nothing happened.

But the transition to “reality” has been hard.

My third night home, my dad and I went out for a hot fudge sunday at a place nearby–an irregular tradition for past few years. As I ate my ice cream, the other customers walked up, laughing and buying their cones.

To me, they felt unreal. I couldn’t take my mind from the students I had taught in Egypt. Some had lost friends and family to religious violence. All had endured the throes of violent political change the past year. For some of them, justice was a truth worth dying for. Then, my thoughts turned to Libya and Syria, torn by their own violence, like the hundreds killed in the recent attack at Tremseh.

It hurt to know that a month and a half ago, I was just an oblivious American eating ice cream, too.

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