Friday, November 23, 2012

televangelist


Reader

I have been wanting to write for weeks and for some reason the time keeps getting away from me. It isn't really getting away though, it just isn't here. I started a second job and now I work every day, from when I get up to when I go to sleep with only an hour window on each side during the week.  My initial idea to manage the suddenly impossible schedule was the Time-Turner Hermione had in Harry Potter. I realized there is a bus from Woodley Park to Columbia Heights about two weeks after my job started, which actually would have made this transition much easier, but I never realize helpful things like that until someone tells me at a later date with the qualifier, "You probably already know this, but.." and whatever it is followed by, I never knew it.

I'm not complaining about this- I was starting to feel like I didn't really have a pulse at my day job,  getting by on the peaks and crash of caffeine and sleep aids. I was questioning a lot of my decisions following my graduation in May. On a whim I applied to a Lebanese restaurant in a trendy neighborhood in DC, and I started working evenings and weekends. 

One of the things I have not been happy about since I have been here is that I have felt distant from a lot of the people I encounter everyday, and have struggled to really connect with people like I did at home or in the different places I have briefly lived. I have a natural inclination toward anxiety and my time in DC was aggrandizing it. 



I have heard people talk about a connection between mind and body or a connection between the environment and your own existence being essential to feeling complete or happy. All those connections. Only, my problem is that I stop feeling the connections and I start feeling fragmented. And nothing is connected, like I am a different person in my mind from who I am in life.



A few weeks ago I went to a lake house in rural Virginia, when my friends and I left for the weekend to get out of DC.  I could feel the stress start to dissipate as we drove away from the Potomac and its fever, a capital of the free world, the epicenter of American political power. It was like getting out of the force of a magnet.

It was kind of an off time to go to a lake house; at the end of October when realistically it's too cold for summer activities but not cold enough for snow activities. We didn't let that dissuade us, though, and the next day we decided the weather was just a minor inconvenience and embarked on the pontoon with beer and food like the true explorers that we are.

We stopped at an isolated cove near a small wooded island. It was the end of October and only about 65 degrees- too cold for swimming for most sane people.  After we had been drinking, though, we reconsidered and decided that it would be stupid NOT to go swimming and take advantage of probably the last weekend of  remotely possible outdoor lake activities. We stripped off our cumbersome outerwear and jumped into the cold water. 
The sun was slanting through the trees turning the bright orange and rust reds of autumn, and never have I found light to be more of an example of the wave-particle duality it embodies. 

"Standard interpretations of quantum mechanics explain this paradox as a fundamental property of the Universe, while alternative interpretations explain the duality as an emergent, second-order consequence of various limitations of the observer."

The light laid in sheets and had a porous grainy effect that was softening and bathed the objects of its affection like a bright sea.

I don't know how many weekends after, but probably two, Hurricane Sandy grazed DC but didn't draw its blood. I had two unexpected days off work and then started at the restaurant. It was strange because I felt like everything was different after the hurricane passed, although the differences were unrelated to the hurricane but coordinated with it chronologically.


ataraxia \at-uh-RAK-see-uh\, noun:
A state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility.


Several of the people I work with at the restaurant are from Lebanon and Morocco and speak Arabic and get a kick out of teaching me little phrases and having me repeat them to hear how horrible my pronunciation is.  One of the first things I was taught in Arabic was "hayatay" or "you are my life." The word reminded me of one of the only phrases I know in French, "raison d'etre." I read it in a book last year, as something that a father told a son.  Then I saw it in a press release at work, "Balancing human rights with responsibilities turns on its head the entire raison d’être of human rights."

على الله (3al-alla)
Can be used (1) when refusing alms to a beggar (as in "God will provide") or (2) to imply misgivings about an outcome.
السباك قال لي انه جاي على طول - على الله يجي دلوقتي (is-sabbaak 'aalli innu gayy 3ala Tuul - 3al-alla yiigii dilwa'ti)


I also saw the word welschmertz, which I have been obsessed with since I went to Brazil and it connected my life back together from Brazil to Champaign to Germany, and now, to Washington, DC.


The main downside to the fact that I have absolutely no time these days is that my inability to write has made me almost physically uncomfortable. The main upside is that I interact with people who really fascinate me, and have a pretty unique experience talking to them because there is not very much to my job aside from making customers feel comfortable and welcome, and usually that involves listening to them. 

it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. dalí

Twice at the restaurant I have talked to men sitting at the bar at the same end chair, both traveling for work, who came in late in the evening to get food and to drink. The first one, charismatic with a evangelical veneer, peppered the conversation with quasi-religious terminology like "Have grace on yourself," and "let go of the burden you are carrying." I generally find these kind of phrases to be off-putting, but allowed them both because I was working and because they occurred only a few times in well-intentioned advice.  

 The other person sitting in that chair about a week later talked to me at length about writing and worldview and constructivism. He was in sales. He offered suggestions for career growth and strategy and talked about things like the value of time and perspective. His advice was salient and his tone was dogmatic. He made me lose track of the time I was talking to him.  Both the televangelist and the sales person seemed to want to impart advice to me, which happens strangely frequently.

The most resonant advice that someone has given me while I was working was a journalist from Pittsburgh who talked to me about the importance of having lived experiences in order to write. I told him I didn't have enough experience writing, and he said maybe I should work on that, but I shouldn't discredit the fact that I have had experience living. He said that there is no one road to being able to write, because a lot of writers have skills to write but not much to write about. "The beaten path is, I’ve found, generally extremely overrated. Particularly for a journalist, to whom being eclectic is, I think, pretty mandatory," he said to me later in an email. 


One of the recent nights that I went out, I went to a party a week after Halloween, where the costume theme was still present but the hosts decided Halloween costumes were overdone at that point and should not be mandatory, so they made it costume-optional or fancy attire-optional. This resulted in a strange mix of half costumes and half-evening wear which had a weird surreal effect. Like a dream where a lot of what is happening is viable but there are strange details that are off that give it its unsettling hypnagogy. The party took an even more cultish turn when there was a pumpkin thrown from the second floor of the rowhouse ceremoniously, and it wasn't even high enough to make a real spectacle of it. It didn't smash open so they brought it up to the second floor again and threw it over the balcony again at the ground with force.

When I was in Bolivia, the other English teachers and I went on a trip to the religious city of Cotoca; centered around the solitary appearance of the Virgen de Cotoca years ago. When I was there, we went into a shrine where there were lines and lines of  burning  candles melting into the tables and rows of people coming in to light them. I asked our Bolivian guide if we were supposed to light them for a blessing or in prayer for someone, and he said, "No, for wishes." And I said, "Like, wishes for good health or peace or something?" And he said, "Yes, something like that, or something like a new car." One of my favorite paintings is Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and I bought a rendition of it that day in Cotoca.


A few days ago, as I was reflecting on the new and unexpected presence of religious symbolism in my life walking home, I glanced at a table of posters being sold at a stand between Woodley Park and Columbia Heights and saw the blazing emblem of the Virgin. I asked the vendor in my declining spanish how much it was, and he said "diez," and after looking through the options he had I picked the one with "Ruega por Nosotros" imposed over the image on the bottom and gave him $12, with $2 "para ti." He gave me the picture of the icon and thanked me emphatically with "senorita, gracias y buenas noches!" 


 A few days before, after leaving a concert I was walking home alone the four-ish blocks back to my house in Columbia Heights, an area that is mainly gentrified but with spurts of crime that often provokes the response "That area is not the same as it was 5 years ago!" As I was walking toward my house a white SUV pulled up next to me with four men in the car, and as I was walking quickly away one of them asked out the window where I was going, so I started basically running, and then the man yelled after me "It's ok! We're the Guardian Angels and you shouldn't be walking home alone at this time!"


I stopped and turned around and through the window could see they were all wearing some sort of uniform. I said I was almost home and appreciated their offer but wouldn't need their services although the term "guardian angels" intrigued me. The Guardian Angels then took the decision out of my hands and said, "ok, we'll just trail along behind you then." I said fine. It reminded me of when there was an outbreak of crime on my campus when I was a student and my friends talked about starting a vigilante justice squad, except this seemed more magical. 


The car drove beside me and I decided I should be more thankful for having their protection. I engaged them in conversation until we were within sight of my house, and then I indicated which house I lived in and thanked them for their help and said I could take it from here. They said they would wait outside until I get inside and lock the door. I went inside and locked the door and watched the car drive away. The next day I remembered the event and felt like I was in a movie. I wondered how I could get them to come back at some point, or if they were the kind of illusory fortunate encounter that only happened when you weren't looking for it, and as I thought about it I felt the goosebumps cover my skin like they did when we jumped into the too cold pulsing water in the halcyon light.