Pilgrimage: Still Lost in the Woods

blick-vom-oesterberg-auf-tuebingen

When I first arrived in Germany, I thought maybe this semester abroad would produce at its end a complete and perfect version of me. I would have gone on the best adventures, felt the deepest lows and highest highs, and discovered my life’s purpose. I expected this transcendent, life-changing experience. I would shed inhibitions, the expectations of others and myself, and finally learn to simply live. I thought at the end of this trip, there would be some form of enlightenment, an answer, a prize at least.

But now I’ll be headed in home in two weeks, and I am scrambling still to discover something new. I feel like I have forgotten the purpose of the pilgrimage in the first place. But that’s not true. I’m still wandering, still lost, still on my way to some place I’m not sure exists.

I thought I would discover what it meant to be a good person. I really wanted that. Instead, I have been miserable and moping. On days I can wander into the woods and escape the racket of the city, I experience calm. But there is no constant calm. Rather, peace is something one must engage in constant war in order to find.

There is not some magical end goal—no secret key to a locked room of experience, no scepter of power that will vanquish sadness, no glass heart brimming with the wine of self-love. Being human is not a video game. Becoming the person you’re supposed to be is not a linear process, but more like those mazes we solved as children on the kids’ place mats at fancy restaurants. Sometimes, we wander down the wrong corridors and must return to the start. Sometimes we believe that we are making progress, when we are only becoming more lost. I would like to become more comfortable when lost, to feel at ease not knowing where I might be headed or whether the place I’m going is another dead-end. I want to come to terms with the fact that I will never be finished, never complete, never perfect, never anything than a continuous construction site. A video game without levels or controllers or rules.

Maybe we just keep growing and learning until we trip into a grave. Maybe there is no plateau. Maybe there’s no peak. Maybe that’s okay.

Advertisements

A Conversation in the Cougar Mall: A Vignette

[Based on true events that happened today. A conversation.]

                He nodded at me. “Sure, used to be a cop. Dad was a cop. All my friends were too.” His legs were skinny, the muscles shrunk from disuse. He wore a beard hastily shaved, and I couldn’t guess his age, though he was older than most professors. For the past hour, we had been talking about his involvement in the War on Drugs as a police officer.

                “What was that like? I mean, what did you feel about what you did?”

interstate_95_map

                “It was great, don’t get me wrong. Worked Interstate 95 right out of Camden, Georgia. What you have to understand is, the drug trade runs through there. My daddy—he was a sheriff. One time he stopped a car and got three million dollars for the department.”

                “Wait, why?”

                “Because it was drug money. Bought cars, uniforms, everything. For Camden officers, the War on Drugs is the best thing that ever happened. It gave us purpose, not to mention funding we’d never had before. Don’t look at me this way. It’s cocaine—we dealt mostly with cocaine.”

                I never caught his name, but we had been speaking for an hour about his life; he sat in a motorized wheelchair eating just the chicken from a Chick-fil-a sandwich. “Cocaine?” I asked, shifting my books from my lap. “I didn’t realize rural Georgia had a coke problem.”

                “Sure, they don’t. The local cops—they just bust people for marijuana, but me—cocaine.” I wanted to ask him if he had been injured in the line of duty, but that would be rude. “See, you understand, cocaine comes out of Miami. You can get Coke there with 90% purity, maybe a kilo for $25,000. So you drive up through Georgia on the way to New York, where coke is maybe 30% pure. So you cut that coke into three piles, mix it with meth, Adderall, sugar, what have you—you can imagine these drug runners made a shit ton of money.”

                “Sure, sure. And you think that’s okay? I mean, I don’t condone anyone taking cocaine, but what about the War on Drugs. Don’t you think the money is misspent?”

                “Federally? Sure. But in my department, it was the one thing still funding us. Pull over three cars a year—they may have a couple million each in them. Used to work with my father, and with one bust, he could afford patrol cars for the entire force. I’d say it’s worth it. I mean, I agree with you about marijauna. That should be legal, even though I’d never try it.”

                “Even in your condition.”

                “Well, you could get addicted.”

                “Addicted to marijuana?”

                “Sure. You see, now that’s it’s legal in some states, the THC levels are higher. So kids start smoking sooner, they develop physical addictions. You’ve heard about this?”

                “Yeah, actually. They keep making more and more potent weed, until it has become dangerous.” I nodded, then looked at his legs. “So, what happened?” I gestured broadly at the chair.

                He shrugged. “Car accident. Gotta tell you, only about three weeks after the accident, the seat belt was recalled. What do you expect? Korean company.”

                “Uh-huh. Well, that’s shitty. I’m sorry.”

                “Well, we went to court, reached a settlement. They gave me millions of dollars but—I mean, what the hell is that? Just throw money at me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paralyzed from the waist down. Doesn’t change the fact I’m in a chair. Mind getting my smokes?”

                Rifling through the bag on the side, I found a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I handed him the cigarettes and helped him light it, then sat back down. “That’s rough. Corporations—well, you know.”

                “I mean, the same thing is with marijuana. Even when I was a cop, I didn’t think having it illegal was wrong, but hell—now? Now that it’s becoming legal, it’s becoming dangerous. Not that I care that people smoke it—long as they don’t drive.”

                “Of course. Just like drinking.”

                He nodded, and before rolling away to class, he added, “You want to get them going south.”

                “The cocaine dealers?”

                “Sure. You get ’em going south, you get millions of dollars, but going north, who cares? You bust them and all you can confiscate is piles of cocaine. What’s the use in that?”

Thoughts On Endings at Dawn

As I drove home this morning at six, I watched the sun rise, the peach-skin skies revealing the sillouhette of a continent of overcast clouds. Leaving out in the dark, I drove and soon looked out the window to see the sky pinker, brighter. You’re left wondering how this happened, so slowly, yet so fast, as if you haven’t even been paying attention. Life’s changes act much like the sky during dawn or evening; we cannot perceive the light changing but it always is. And suddenly as we’re driving, we look up to see that everything around us is different.

As I approach my 24th hour of being awake, I am remarkably conscious and alert. Perhaps much calmer after physically exhausting myself. As far as definite turning points in our lives, graduation could count as one of them. Last night at 8, my school filed across a stage to receive diplomas, and we turned our tassels on our caps to finally become these new people. As if we were supposed to feel different, more grown up, gaining like Spider Man strange super powers like a complete understanding of microeconomics.

But changes don’t come like that, a simple radioactive spider bite and you’re changed. Growing up is as slow and difficult as the DMV.

After graduating, the community held Project Graduation which provided us with endless entertainment for the night including inflatable obstacle courses, jousting stations, a very impressive buffet, a dance rave, raffles, gambling, and free spa massages.

What should have made me pass out has instead invigorated me and instilled me with a sense of calm. I drove away, dropped off a friend at his house, and drove to my own. I opened my laptop to write simply because calmness puts me in the writing mood. There is a certain time of night when I lose my mind and begin to babble, losing sanity. Then that passes and I become simply calm and again awake. Right now, I here family members waking from their beds.

Today, when I wake from the heavy sleep that will come, I may post something else about what happens next: the future. For now, however, I’m thinking only of the past and how this past and future converge at an uncertain dawn. We live so ardently in that past, look up and realize that the sky is turning pinker, brighter. Things have changed, and we haven’t even noticed.

I only wanted to give my first impressions after the night’s festivities. I cannot quite even understand how wakefulness will work, whether my energy will suddenly drop out from under me like a trap door. Like a narcoleptic, I’ll fall violently into dreams. It’s nearing seven. Morning is here finally, full and bright, and writing this, I could not even observe its exact changes, only its general.

Because I am going on vacation, I probably will not blog for about six days. Or perhaps I will be inspired by the sea to write, and the sea tends to be quite inspiring, I believe. Class of 2012, make sure to take a look around. Savor the moments because while you look away, they pass and things have changed.

Internet Trends Are No Reason to Be an Idiot: #YOLO

“Oh, that’s a very funny status my friend– I mean, that person who happens to be in my chemistry class but I’ve never talked to before– posted. Maybe I should leave an equally funny comment, or…. I could un-originally post a *rageface* because LOL, YOLO!”

Memes, internet fads, and pictures of f**king cats: I hate them all. But if you want to Brace Yourself for being Forever Alone because like a pretentious Willy Wonka, you post so many captioned pictures that it becomes a First World Problem, that’s your business. Maybe. I honestly don’t understand the obsession, and I also hate memes’ torture of decent grammar.

“Hey guys, I heard this really funny joke, so I’m going to apply it to everything in life until people want to stab my in the eyes.”

For those who live in nursing homes or under rocks... this is a meme. They are annoying.
Photo credit: http://nuevosmemes.tk/scene-wolf-11/

I really hope it’s just a teen thing. What if pretty soon, you’re grandmother joins in until life is nothing more than Awkward Penguins and spitting your cereal out each time something incredulous occurs? But if I can stand not to implode the world over idiotic internet trends, there is one thing I cannot allow to continue. A motto for poorly-clad, soon-to-be-pregnant preteens: YOLO.

These four letters sprang up all over Twitter and Facebook within a matter of days and continue to trend. Admirably, people take the advice far too seriously.

The phrase “You Only Live Once” has been around for quite some time, meaning “Hey, don’t give up on your dreams because you’re pretty much going to die.” But then again, maybe YOLO isn’t the best philosophy in life. If you spend your life thinking of things to do simply because one day you will die and, unlike zombies, will never be re-animated, you must spend your life making very poor decisions. Just because you live only once is no excuse to do the following things:

– Inject heroin into your veins

– Post naked pictures of yourself on the internet

– Run in front of my car at BI-LO screaming “YOLO” (I will hit you, you crazy crackhead middle schoolers)

– Get admittedly-funny-now-while-we’re-drunk-but-not-even-close-to-funny-later tattoos, such as having YOLO written across your forehead. As if you need to proclaim your idiocy more efficiently to the world.

– Take sixteen shots of tequila in a row

– Have a foursome (What’s a condom? Who cares!? YOLO!)

We take something seemingly normal to say and turn it into an internet trend, but you don’t expect it to wear out and seem stupid after awhile? Once anything hits the internet, it’s ruined, worn out, beaten like crazy until it’s dead, then raised from the dead, then shot in the head because that’s how you kill zombies. I’m not trying say that YOLO is always bad advice, but I’m not sure that everyone understands what it actually means.

“Didn’t do my homework. #YOLO”

Oh, so you blame the fact that you’re a lazy procrastinator on the fact you only live once? Great. You live such an adventurous life. I’m sure you used that time wisely, ogling over pictures of One Direction band members on Tumblr.

YOLO cannot be a motto for living wild, because really it’s just an excuse- something to say- to justify your own stupidity. By saying “YOLO,” people try to make it okay to make bad decisions. When was it ever good to make bad decisions? But I guess when the greatest advice in your life is the advice you get from a Drake song, you already have some serious issues.

If you want to save the world from water pollution because #YOLO, good for you. If you want to snort cocaine off the rim of a toilet because… #YOLO, well… It’s annoying and pretentious. By even using that phrase, you advertise your own lack of development in your frontal lobe. In a court of law, you cannot be freed merely because #YOLO.

Seriously. Stop it.

Have an idea? How about use your words (not pictures someone else drew and used a caption under) to express how you feel?

And if you want to do something stupid, do it because it’s stupid, not because it will give some false vilification that your life was worth living.

Photo Credit: http://www.funnyreign.com/funny-pictures/bad-decisions/

Doubt Ninjas: How to Defeat Them

They may attack in the middle of the night, while you’re asleep. Their cloth-clad hands will shake you from slumber and bring you headfirst into a molten lava pool of self-doubt. From your lovely dreamland, they will wrench you, and at midnight, hold very awesome-looking swords to your throat, whispering, “You’re no good. You’re worthless. You can’t even spell correctly!”

Being attacked is inevitable– the scary part is the wait, knowing they will come, knowing knowing knowing that once you let your guard down- AH! They ATTACK! HIYAH!

You’re in the middle of the SAT when you look up to see them surrounding you, arms crossed in Ninja coolness as if to say “I’m a Ninja, so I’m so off-putting, it’s scary. Also, you suck!”

Despite how cool they look or act, you don’t want to spend a lot of time around these guys or else they will black-belt-beat you into submission until you’re a sobbing, self-loathing person who cannot function. Defeat the Doubt Ninjas by partaking in the study of self-doubt defense!

Step Number 1:

Remember that you’re pretty much an awesome person. So if Doubt Ninjas say otherwise, punch those Ninjas in the throat.

Step Number 2:

Assert your awesomeness so that you claiming awesomeness doesn’t seem pretentious. Go save a baby, and we’ll throw a parade. Or rather, save all the babies, and we’ll have parades for a year straight. Or just do something great, like helping someone out. Then you can say, I made a difference today. Take that, Doubt Ninjas!

Step Number 3:

Vanquish the Doubt Ninjas. Hire a lawyer and sign a restraining order against those jerks. On the basis of emotional bullying. Then remember that they cannot harm you anymore and the only one to tell you that you can’t do something is you, and let’s face it, the ninjas say you’re usually wrong. Which means of course you can do it.

Go forth, Be a Pokemon Master (or any other variation of such a dream), without the nagging of those sneaky a-holes we politely call the Doubt Ninjas.

Amateur Sketch of the Perpetrators