Fear/Insomnia

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Photo Credit:  Denya Nevozhai

Cowardice is hard to admit.  Like that question most kids ask each other, “Are you afraid of the dark?”  The truth is no, I wasn’t really afraid of the dark.  But when I was younger I had insomnia.  I couldn’t go to sleep sometimes because of worry and fear.  It wasn’t the fear of the dark.  It’s more than just being afraid of the dark – because in that moment between closing your eyes and then opening back up, who knows what will happen.  That was my fear.  Whether it was a fire, being kidnapped, or just the fact that world around me might disappear I wasn’t worried about monsters or demons – I was worried about the cautionary news tales that seemed so very real and likely to happen.  As I got older this fear gripped my social life as well.  The concept of humiliation in meeting new people – or being open with emotions – and being rejected by a society that didn’t accept unique or different.  I began to turtle and hide from the world, only to peer out every so often to see if it was safe to move.

Surprisingly enough, this is how I dealt with my insomnia.  One evening, restless around one or two in the morning, fidgeting under a thin blanket on an uncomfortable mattress, I realized I was tired.  Nights of restless sleep had already caught up and I was worrying myself in circles as I realized that the lack of sleep would eventually ruin my chances of doing well in school.  In that moment all my fear became regrets: The regret of not being able to shut down my cowardice so I could sleep, so I could have struck up a conversation with my classmates and make a friend, or to have the courage to tell the scary, mean old librarian I had to use the restroom and not to have the humiliation of wetting myself (as a by-product of having to hold a full bladder for a whole lunch period as opposed to a fearful reaction).  At that moment I realized I had all these regrets I felt tired.  Yes, I was a coward, but it took so much energy to be anxiously agonizing in fear.  I was so tired enough to finally not care about these fears that I resigned myself to fate – and have the courage to just deal with life.  Because the tired you feel after that rush of adrenaline when you say hello to that beautiful stranger, give a speech in front of a huge crowd, play in a championship game, or take a plunge with your heart pumping in your chest – that’s the tired I wanted to feel.

 

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Paper/Back

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Photo Credit:  Eli Samuelu

My fingers were meant for pages in books. They’re not meant to smudge screens of e-readers to flip pages.  The creases on these tips were made to smudge ink.  I haven’t made the transition to digital books, even though the school I teach at has already seen the writing on the wall.  Of course it is the English department that has struggled with the replacement of novels with digital copies.  It doesn’t really feel the same.  I love annotating – getting a dog-eared copy of a paperback novel dirty, scribbled notes in the margin, a creased spine when I flip over on one side and just want to hold the book with one hand – those experiences don’t translate well to an e-reader.  Or even the feel of a brand new book – with crisp edges and the smell of print all over it. How I know – that on really hot days, between the sweat and condensation of drinks filled with chilled liquid, these new pages will soak up as much of my life as I will of these imaginary worlds within words.

I will probably offend other Analog purists with the fact that I have digitized other aspects of my life … I traded in my tapes for discs and now hard drives of files that I stream endlessly.  I love the simplicity and versatility of cameras built into phones (although give me an older camera and I’ll still know how to pop film in and roll it back – or shake a Polaroid into being).  And my fingers now feel just as comfortable resting on a keyboard as they do holding a pen (but in my defense, my handwriting style is an acquired taste).  The one thing that will probably never translate well enough is the book.  I cried when Borders died.  I didn’t understand how this large bookstore chain that was a favorite place of mine to peruse on lazy weekends, picking up a title and flipping through its pages before deciding if spending an afternoon reading about alien vampire Grail knights would be worthwhile, could close done.  The smaller, independent local book stores went as well.  Even the secondhand bookstores that also peddled in comic books (the classics and the smut) were struggling.  I mean how can you digitize comic books of all things.  Believe me – I even tried those versions where they have the panels “come alive” on screen and it’s read aloud like an audiobook … Just didn’t do it for me.  I mean comic books – it needs to be read with some loud music playing with a beverage (soda/beer) in hand.  And then after breaking down the few pages that make up that month’s issue you have to set aside a discussion with your friends to pore over every panel and scrap of dialogue – like a “Talking Dead” episode.  I mean digitized comics – you’ll never get the experience I had debating my brother over whether or not we should keep our comics safely sealed in archival polypropylene bags to preserve their condition.  I thought they’re books – and books are meant to be read, while he valued their collectible value.  Digitized comics don’t feel like books at all – and have no value.  Feels like a lose-lose situation to me.

It’s summer now.  My fingers are ready to leave these keys, leave behind the swiping of songs, and are ready to pick up a book.  A real book – because in the summer – reading a book feels nice.  The weight of a book seems substantial, the way it absorbs your heat makes the book seem alive, and of course when you’re done physical books can be great headrests or makeshift fans.  And if you need to … it’s a handy thing to throw (literally not legally).  Can’t say the same of a digital copy.

Friendship

Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.

-Khalil Gibran

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Photo Credit:  Daryn Bartlett

Friends always say you don’t have to – but the truth is … of course you do.  It’s a “responsibility,” but it never really seems that way does it.  Consider the way you treat everyone else compared to your friends.  Your job asks you to come over and move some furniture for work.  You’re not doing anything at the moment – do you give up your free time to help out?  Hmmmm … probably don’t have to think too hard, no-no-no-no like a Meghan Trainor song, but yeah maybe it could be an “opportunity” for overtime.  When a friend asks though – well, even if I might be in full relaxation mode the first thing in my mind (even if I might be grumbling a little bit) is that yeah, I should get over there to help out.  And truthfully, despite the work that needs to be done – with great friends – it can become something fun. I remember moving and asking one of my buddies to help out.  It was a great time to catch up and an a great excuse to grab something deliciously fried together.  Maybe not a sweet time – but definitely savory.  The “responsibility” of spending time together with friends is something I can actually look forward to.  There is nothing wrong with hanging out a little longer, meeting up a little earlier … and it always sucks when you can’t meet up when you planned.  Friends are responsible for giving the honest and sometimes harsh truth, but are always there for comfort when the world seems to be the worst.  Come to think about it – some might think about the way I describe a friendship like the way someone might think about a lover.  But I think that it is the other way around.  A lover gets this type of attention when they’re thought of as a friend.  Relationships can seem confusing with categories like “friends with benefits” – but a person who is only there to satisfy physical needs is easily shown the door after everything is said and done.  Think of all the the hit it and quit it, toot it and boot it, and all the other one night stand euphemisms.  The quick exit is always first and foremost.  But if it’s a friend – even if that type of relationship does develop – wouldn’t you still want to “chill” after the Netflix.  Khalil Gibran, the writer of the quote in question, had the most intimate friend in American schoolteacher Mary Haskell.  Their correspondence contains such passion that no wonder their shared friendship became so significant to his creative process.  Their relationship was always “on” – there was no opportunity to do more or less, because whether it was confidante or supporter, Mary Haskell was there for Gibran … fulfilling the sweetest responsibility.

Pure

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Photo Credit:  Christine Makhlouf

Pure.  As a child, the idea of snow, captivated my imagination.    No, not Snow, the “Informer” white reggae guy or a euphemism for “pure” cocaine.  I’m taking about the stuff that became synonymous in my mind with Christmas and marshmallows floating in hot cocoa.  Now here’s the funny part … as a kid living in Hawaii, we never had snow.  Nope – miles and miles of crystal clear Pacific Ocean, yes, I did have just a short walk away from my home, but nothing even close to the snow that I longed for watching Winter specials on television.  Snow just looked so fluffy and soft, just like clouds or vanilla cotton candy.  Gazing at calendars hung on my family’s walls that had photographs of mountaintops covered in what seemed to be an endless marshmallow glacier layer.  Snow was the stuff of dreams – an escape for a local boy from the tropical heat that made the Hawaiian islands so welcoming to mainland visitors during the winter months.   However, my concept of snow was faulty because my youthful mind didn’t make the connection yet between water and snow.  As an adolescent, I enjoyed going to the only ice skating rink on Oahu – Ice Palace.  To my amazement I thought I saw what looked like snow forming as skates would scrape off the top layer of the ice onto the sides.  I picked it up in my fingers, but it melted so quickly and just felt cold and not soft at all.  I heard the other kids refer to this as “snow,” but I was adamant that real snow was not like this at all. Another example of my disconnect between snow and the element of water is the ever popular “snow cones,” which we do not have here in Hawaii.  We call it “shave ice” because that’s literally what it is … shaved ice.  It would take me eighteen years to finally see the natural phenomenon known as snow when I visited family in Oklahoma during the Christmas break.  You could imagine the anticipation – the wonder as I stepped off a plane into freezing weather.  I was mesmerized by the fact that icicles formed naturally on barren trees – instead of having to fling silver strips of foiled string as a representation.  I couldn’t wait to touch snow and I was told that it would snow overnight.  I couldn’t really sleep.  The next morning I went out of the door and saw remnants of what seemed like snow and in my fingers felt like the same stuff in an ice skating rink in Hawaii.  I looked around the neighborhood and this idea of something pure and beautiful, was tainted with the presence of humanity.  Dirty snow.  I asked my aunt if this was really snow.  I didn’t want to accept the confirmation.  Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed with snow.  Maybe it was just the buildup of years of dreaming.  But the story doesn’t end there.  A few months ago, in Utah, I happened to encounter snow again.  Yes, I saw the layers thick among the mountaintops – but I didn’t get to go there.  Instead it was a simple evening grocery run, just stepping out the door and seeing little wisps of snow start to fall to the ground.  It picked up as a flurry and I could feel what felt like soft – then wet – almost like invisible kisses against my skin.  A light coat of snow covered the shrubs, cars, even the outdoor store trash cans … and in that moment right after the snow fell where it was untouched and pristine it made sense.  This was snow I always imagined.  I began to smile and transferred my joy into a smiley face on a white snow blanket on a red Target trash can.  It began to warm up after I picked up the items I needed from Target.  The snow began to melt again – transforming and then disappearing like a magic pumpkin from a fairy tale.  It never snowed again during my visit, but that one experience – the purity of that moment – made me believe once again.

Anonymity

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Photo Credit: Gilles Lambert

The phone in his hand glowed with an incoming message.  Are you there?  He didn’t recognize the number of the sender, but the fact that the text was spelled out with proper punctuation and not in the shorthand of SMS let him know that the individual was most likely an adult.  His hands slid across the surface of the phone.  Who is this? Hopefully the reply would provide the answers he was looking for.  Minutes passed.  The bright glow of his screen soon faded to black, just as dark as the shadows that are draped across his body.  Soon it lit up again.  Please forgive me.  The man lowered to his seat quietly in confusion.  Forgive?  Forgive what?  He was prompted to send the questions in his mind right away, but stopped.  He still didn’t know who this person was.  Should he continue this conversation without knowing the identity of the person on the other end?  Maybe at least their name.  On the other hand, he had the sender’s number on his phone – he could find out what he needed to know.  Another message came through the phone.  I’m sorry.  I’ve done something very bad.  The man reading the messages let out a tired sigh.  This digital world he now lived in – it was so easy to make mistakes, so easy to confess, and so easy to gain absolution.  He laid the phone on the bench he sat on.  Closing his eyes, his lips murmured a prayer to God while he quietly meditated the choices laid before him.  Suddenly – a knock on the panel next to him brought him back … The man opened his eyes and slid the panel exposing a rectangular screen.  He let out the breath encased in his aging lungs and heard the warm words on the other side of the privacy screen.  “Bless me Father for I have sinned …”

How It Happened

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Photo Credit:  Mr Cup

The Origin Story has always been interesting to me.  Going beyond comic books – Joseph Campbell (not J. Scott Campbell for comic book fans) and his “Hero With A Thousand Faces” spoke to me – a kid with an avid interest in mythology, both ancient and current, and the heroes that live through their stories.  Each hero does have a similar origin story.  Think about how similar Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Peter Parker (aka Spiderman), and even Jesus have similar events that have happened in their lives.  But I think that’s why we categorize these individuals as heroes – their origins usually have something humbling that brings these awe inspiring people to a level where we can relate to them.

The pages felt light against his fingers … light even though they held trapped within their words, entire worlds and eons of stories wrapped up until his mouth spoke them out loud.  Then they came to life, unraveling and spilling across his vision like the movies he enjoyed watching – the old Samurai, Kung-fu, stop motion Greek myth adventures, and Harrison Ford franchises (Indiana Jones & Star Wars).  As he grew older he didn’t need to move his lips to make the magic happen.  His eyes would take care of the playback and the recreating of the fantastic and funny.

Comic books and fantasy novels he loved to read and soon in his own time he began to create himself.  Taking pen to page to scribble a picture of mighty warrior or jot down the monologue of a villain detailing his dastardly plans – he shared them to the delight of his family who encouraged his creative development.  But these were just stories in his mind.

As he grew older the plot elements he only read about became a part of his life, as well becoming a list of firsts:

  • the first time he felt like a hero
  • the first time he was betrayed by a friend
  • the first time he was lost and alone
  • the first time he experienced the exultant taste of victory
  • the first time he bore through physical pain
  • the first time he felt intoxicated (through an overdose of cough medicine)
  • the first time he felt the presence of a higher being
  • the first time he felt the flames of hatred and the desire for vengeance
  • the first time he ran away from responsibility
  • the first time he fell in love

Even things he didn’t experience he wrote about in gusto – imagining what it would be like.  This was a favorite of his friends, especially a group of girls who would ask him to pen tawdry tales to tease them with sensuous escapades.  His writing belied his innocence as his friends would giggle and fan themselves, as proper ladies shouldn’t be reading such material.  But those exercises in emulation of the romance novels he peeked through were nothing compared to what he would experience later in life.  Yes, gentlemen don’t kiss and tell … but his words were always seasoned with the spice of his own knowing.

His love for stories grew beyond the fantastic – because now, the realistic … tales that incorporated all of these experiences he now knew first hand appealed to him just the same.  And he wrote – short stories and poems … his life poured into these pages freely along with his imagination.  Life around him now took the shape and form of screenplays, as he now mentally musically scored these mind movies of his.  He smiled a lot and people would ask sometimes what he found amusing.  It was the story of the world around him that captivated his interests.

Writing

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Photo Credit: Green Chameleon

A few days ago I heard an excerpt of “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert that spoke about writing as a vocation opposed to a career.  The “why” of writing can’t be a means to an end.  I mean it can start off that way – don’t get me wrong.  I’ve written countless essays and short stories as prompts to assignments for class, but somewhere along the way the process of writing develops from completion of the task into an exercise of self expression or discovery.  People have asked me if I want to become a writer – oh wow, just reading that question right now almost sounds offensive doesn’t it?  Asking someone who actually writes – if they want to become a writer – I mean aren’t they already a writer in their own right?  But that’s the point isn’t it?  Society believes you are a writer if you get paid for what you create.

In words I can write my emotions like Pablo Neruda crying out how he can write the saddest lines.  Sometimes I can be the most honest in my writing – although I have to say, my face sometimes can be equally as honest in its non-verbal delivery.  But writing doesn’t only have to be the pain of the past … there’s a refreshing joy in just sharing your day and discoveries.  Ultimately that’s the reason why I write.  It’s a message in a bottle – waiting to be opened by you.