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I miss my wife already. Itís been less than twenty-fours since she boarded an airplane and left me in this Slavic city without words to express myself.
How is anyone going to know when I am hungry, when I am tired, when I feel weak if she is not here to interpret my jumbled vocabulary in cohesive thoughts, feelings and expressions?
Without my wife here, I will probably order the wrong food, go to the wrong movie; I wonít even be able to apologize for being an oaf to some old lady I donít see after I bump into her.
Iím living overseas and Iím worried about how much paper Iíve brought with me. Iím concerned Iím going to fill every notebook with nonsense and I wonít have any pages left when itís time to write the important stuff. The lines in my notebook will all be filled with silliness about people I once knew or my complicated feelings about todayís lunch menu.
And there is no way that I am going to find paper here; that is simply too elegant of a solution. I refuse to accept that solving this problem is as easy as going to the store.
Iím working on a big assignment for the paper of record; Iíve waited my whole career to do a project like this; I am confident that I will do it well.
For most of my life, Iíve struggled under even the slightest pressure but this time feels different. My approach to the work is different, my attitude is different and my confidence level is very different. Iím excited to be working on this complex puzzle of an assignment together with a new creative partner.
Itís an exciting opportunity for me and I am grateful that I can do this well.
Iíve earned a day of rest, even if I donít want to give it to myself. Iíve worked hard over the last two weeks: I completed a major professional project, moved to yet another country and added a chapter to my big work.
So why do I feel bad about sitting on the balcony, drinking coffee and talking to my wife?
Itís a shame I feel this way. The sun is bright and warm, the trees are starting to bud and the sparrows are alive with anxiety.
Itís a beautiful day in Greece and I should enjoy my day off.
Itís become such an inauthentic experience, these lives we lead. When was the last time I touched a friend? Looked into someoneís eyes and found a lie? When was the last time I marched to the beat of my own drum instead of watching drummers pass by on a video screen?
Itís not sad to live this way, just painful, living without the intimacy of good friends. I donít want to filter my experiences anymore. I just want to wave goodbye.
I walked around today and so no signs of who we used to be, how it all was before.
The Greek grandmothers hang blankets off of their balconies to catch the fresh breeze off the Aegean sea, just as they have for decades. I watch them from a luxury rental unit and feel like Iím spying on a world I was never meant to see.
These are rituals born of customs, traditions and a culture that I am foreign to. Their lives and their city have a meaning to which I have no access.
The Roma, with their loudspeakers and broken trucks, announce that it is time to pick up the trash and get rid of my old things.
The floors of our new apartment are inlaid with an intricate marble pattern. Real marble tiles lay among oak planks, spreading out across the room.
None of this makes any sense does it? Who would have thought that describing wooden floors with inlaid marble tiles would be so difficult or lead me to meditate on the complex nature of my creative process? Itís probably the combination of strong Greek coffee and allergy medicine thatís got me feeling loopy and introspective.
Itís like my mother used to do: wax lyrical about her life while she was high in powerful migraine medicine.
My days of rest are over. It is time to go back to work. The time passed so quickly: one day I was on the road, the next I was sprawled out on the floor.
Today, I sit at my desk and try to make sense of it all. It is an adventure, this life, this ride, this moment. I am on a path I could have never predicted yet always wanted.
Strange how my dreams always return to me whether I am sleeping or not. A dream visited me on the train, returning from Athens, how strange a place.
Left to my own devices, Iím going to screw around. Iíd go down to the beach, buy an ice cream cone and spend the day staring at the sea. But the responsible adult in me knows I should stay inside, while the sun shines, and study my grammar.
Forcing myself into the doldrums of my art, thatís what is important. It is silly to spend the day dreaming and enjoying myself when there are clauses and phrases to diagram.
Itís memories of sitting at an uncomfortable desk, plowing through my work, that are going to make for a successful life.
A spot of sunshine invades the kitchen. It moves quickly from one place to the next. First, my hands are warmed, then my neck and finally my back. I tell myself Iíll work until the light is gone but I never do. I chase it outside, hoping it will wait for me.
As a child, I would sleep outside, face to the sun and hands on my belly. That was a quiet place, a time for peace in a dysfunctional life.
I try to sleep in the light now but the noise of my dysfunctional life always keeps me awake.
Krystal wore long-sleeved shirts to cover the scars she picked up at truck stops all across America. The worst ones came from south of the Mason-Dixon. The truckers there went crazy in the summer heat and wore pain in their faces and unleashed it with every touch.
It wasnít much better up north either; they hurt you in ways you could not see: stranded on a North Dakota highway during a snowstorm, cheated out of drug money in Chicago.
She lived a tough life, bounded by rivers of suffering, the lines clearly marked on the tracks of her frozen arms.
Forced to make a choice by the authorities and all that was decent, Marilyn chose to be a drug addict over taking care of her children. Seems pretty typical of a crackhead and it probably is but the decision tore Marilyn to pieces.
She never let herself forget what a terrible person her choice made her. There wasnít a moment, at any of the truck stops, cheap motels or on the sides of all the highways, that she didnít think of how different her life would be if she had been able to make different choices in her worthless life.
The traffic outside never stops. Night and day, the cars fly by without a thought to the world flying past them, ignoring the birds and the trees full of life.
I like to drive, to watch the world turn into a blur. Itís comforting to lose the details, let it all settle into a congealed mass of motion, frozen in time and space. I donít have to pay attention to life if I canít make out the details.
There is suffering in the details and I donít want to suffer. I want to live swaddled in ignorance and simple pleasures.
Weíve been in Europe for two months today. Iíve already seen changes I could not have predicted. My resume got a completely unexpected boost. I gained instead of lost weight. My wife and I have grown closer together. Iíve loved the cities I thought I was going to dislike and been ambivalent about the places I thought I would love.
But the most fantastic thing that about this trip is that I am writing a ton; some of it professionally but most of it personally. Itís as if Iíve been given a six-month writing vacation in the Balkans for free.
ďCount me in for all the fun,Ē said my father, his eyes gleaming with drunken excitement. ďDonít leave me out of the family stuff.Ē
Mom put her cigarette down, picked up the deck of cards we were playing with and dealt an extra hand without saying a word. My father wobbled as he watched her deal, one card at a time. My brother and I sat still, watching the cards hit the table, a red nine landing face up in front of Mom.
We waited for him to sit. We hated to play cards with him because he always cheated.
To keep me from stealing a line from a writer Iíd just met, I tell myself Iím not a thief. I do not want to pay the price for theft. It'll be a lifetime of writing exile and waiting tables for stealing someone elseís work.
But the line was so perfect. It was the line Iíve been trying to write for ages and ages and he just spilled it onto the page so beautifully. He got in six words what Iíve been trying to capture for six months. I wonder how long it took him to find those six words.
Middle of the month again: time to take stock of what still needs to be done. This exercise for example, do I really need to do this to push the ball forward or is it an exercise in unread futility? Probably a little of both.
The point isnít the words but the practice. The check mark on my to-do list. I guess thatís the point, the feeling of having done something that I said I was going to do.
Iím not going to get rich, noticed, nurtured or supported with my words. That is all going to come from within.
It is cold in the apartment this morning. My tea is chilly before it finishes steeping. I left my heavy sweater in eastern Europe. Not very insightful of me was it?
I thought living in Greece would be warm, sunny and cheerful but itís been cold, lonely and damp. At least the wine, my dear old friend, is cheap and delicious. The sea is crisp in the morning and the giant container ships keep me wondering about exotic lands and faraway people.
On the whole, it is worth suffering the cold mornings and loneliness to imagine life in exotic places.
Itís difficult for me to be open to the world. Iím well practiced at the art of seizing myself up and sealing off the good things in life. I once went three years without sex because I thought I didnít deserve it and that it was beyond my capability to enjoy it.
So it is hard for me to reach out creatively because with creativity comes rewards and with reward comes pleasure. I donít know if I am ready to accept that sort of responsibility in my life. Iíd rather stay in my cave and sulk about my miserly life.
ďMake a list of places you want to visit,Ē said the teacher. ďAnd weíll do a geography lesson on each place.Ē
My classmates each scribbled quickly, each writing out the usual, boring suspects: Paris, Rome, New York, Tokyo. I looked at my blank piece of paper and waited for a place to float up to me from the back of my mind.
I wanted to stump the teacher with my unexpected, unknown place and make the other kids feel dumb when it came time for the lesson.
I heard a distant city calling my name and suddenly: Cape Giradeau Missouri.
Tick Tick Tock and on the clock goes. Shattered, I wait for the hands to go round, wasting God knows what kind of life I could have had. Non-stop party ride for the monster that lives.
Here we are, waiting for the lion to go to sleep again, fitfully, fearfully, thereís no telling what form heís going to take this time waits for no man and yet it still marches on and I just want to slow it down so that I ca savor whatís leftover from the feeding of the lions and it is clear that tomorrow is imaginary.
I find myself staring out of the window, my thoughts chasing a sparrow that had flown away in a huff. My voice scared it off when I entered the room talking on the phone and drinking a diet coke.
The bird didnít hesitate- my noise sent it flying away as quickly as a dry leaf on a windy morning. Thatís a bad metaphor or simile or whatever you call it.
I was talking too loud and the bird flew away. If I had been quieter, paying more attention, I could still be watching the bird sun itself outside my window.
I dreamt about an old friend of mine, a guy Iíve known for years. I dreamt I stood at his doorway, drunk as a skunk, running from an old girlfriend and begging for a place to stay. What do you think it means, that he took me in and gave me new clothes and a place to hide while the ex-girlfriend pawed through my possessions in the front lawn?
I slept well at my friendís house and I came out stronger. Thatís the thing about old friends and ex-girlfriends; you never know when youíre going to run into them again.
My wife is waiting for me to finish my morning writing so she can look for the Easter basket Iíve hidden for her. Weíre in our thirties, living in a foreign country and we are excited about little chocolate eggs and bottles of Campari.
We have a good life.
Iíve hidden her basket under the yoga mat. I wonder if she can see it.
I donít want to do my morning writing. Itís getting in the way of a manic hunt for little treats. Thatís the thing. We are treating ourselves to a little fun and that is totally okay.
I missed the concert event of the year, just like I do every year. My mom wouldnít let me go because I forgot the fold the clothes, or I left the milk out or some damn thing like that.
But the truth is that she doesnít like me having the kind of fun that she never got to have because she had me.
Itís not my fault that she got knocked up at fifteen but sheís been taking it out on me ever since.
Iím sixteen and Iíve never had a birthday party, sleepover or date once in my life.
I always label my writing. I donít know why; no one else ever looks at it. But there it is in my notebook: journaling, story ideas, 100 words, story starts.
I know exactly what a piece is the instant I look at it. There is no reason for me to label my writing. Maybe Iím overly optimistic that someone will see it and need clarification.
Perhaps itís a romantic notion of biography and leaving an easy legacy to dechipher. But I guess it is really just a marker to myself so Iíll notice that Iíve done written something new today.
Cloudy day again today. The beach is closed due to the high levels of bacteria and pollution kicked up by last nightís storm.
I have a floor to ceiling window running the length of the living room. I sit and watch the sea roil. It calms me to see so much turmoil in the water.
Iíd like to go sit on a concrete bench with the old men and fish for mackerels but I donít do it. The sea churns and I wait- maybe for a calm day or a big thunderstorm; I donít know what I am waiting for.
Itís a snakebite alright. Big, nasty and oozing all over the front seat of my truck.
How did you get into a snake? I lifted a log to throw it into the fire and the fucker was waiting underneath there and took a swipe at me.
My brother started to look peaked. These aren't fatal are they? No, youíll just need a quick shot and then youíll be fine.
I donít know if they are fatal, I thought. Maybe they are and Iím accidently lying to him about how bad this is.
He moaned and leaned his head back slowly.
Pulling teeth and rendering asunder. Now is the time to begin again. Each morning a fresh start, each night a refresher. Belonging to a tribe I cannot identify, leaving behind the old life and embracing the new. Learning a new way and discarding the old.
Letís drink to the dead and call them by their true names: the elders, the ones who have gone before. Itís an honor to lift my glass to their names. We are all born to live this way, but the pirates and the scavengers leave us no choice but to move on with our journey.
Air raid sirens went off this morning. I am in a foreign country- I donít speak the language- so I have no idea if the announcement is a celebration or a warning. I am hoping that it is only a test of the Greek emergency broadcasting system, because if it isnít, I am totally screwed.
I always do this, get myself into dangerous situations without being able to read the warning signs. It was like that when I was a child and it is that way as an adult 5000 miles from home.
I hope that was only a test.
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