Monday, August 18, 2014

mountains make poor receptacles for dreams

the title of this post comes from a line in jon krakauer's into the wild. as he investigates and interpolates the details of the years before chris mccandless too-early death in the wilds of alaska, he weaves in some narrative from his own early adulthood. in his mid-twenties, he sought to ascend to the peak of an alaskan mountain called the devil's thumb taking a route no climber ever had. he acknowledges he recklessly took his own life in his hands as he perilously and miserably made it to the summit where he remained no more than a few minutes. sure, he had a sense of accomplishment that he was able to brag about to a handful other mountaineers who understood the significant skill and personal risk of his undertaking. however, just a few weeks after his death-defying adventure, krakauer found himself back in colorado doing the same old work he'd been doing before. it didn't transform his life. he remained the same man.

just before i read into the wild, i devoured into thin air, krakauer's personal tale of his climb to the top of mt. everest in 1996, on the towering peak's second deadliest year to date. (it would be the most deadly year, except it was just surpassed this spring when 16 nepali guides were killed in an avalanche near the khumbu icefall.) as the recounting began to describe the myriad of little mistakes that resulted in supreme disaster, i was wholly absorbed. when i reached this point, i would read roughly half a chapter and close the book as my eyes grew misty. i would pace the kitchen for minutes before resuming. as i was summarizing some of the book to a friend, my voice got oddly husky and emotional.

recently mr. jon krakauer has been my literary obsession, but reading the into thin air and into the wild were also the jumping point for my sudden consuming desire to summit everest. this desire may or may not be a sort of misguided receptacle for my romantic dream to attain what krakauer calls "something like a state of grace" (a phrase that was another potential title for this entry). (though, i recognize that summitting everest has become something of a commercial enterprise, which in seems to rob it of its purity. nonetheless, to stand at the highest point on planet earth...)

i suppose this determination to reach the top of the world's tallest peak was borne largely out of my inability to formulate any sort of trajectory for my life. i have found myself afflicted with an unfortunate sort of idealism that has compelled me to turn down two very nice well-paying jobs because i decided i wasn't suited for droll office work or was afraid that climbing the career ladder would pigeonhole me in to a destiny i didn't want. however, all of my declinings have created a sort of uncertainty as to what my next move will be in this elaborate game of life. it's like in improv. you are suppose to always "say yes" by going along with what your improv compadres come up with because if you doubt or undermine their character nothing can develop.

maybe life is a little a bit like improv. if you stop saying yes to opportunity, you suspend development.

then loomed everest. i could say yes to everest. i'd always sort of harbored fantasies of climbing it. i just assumed it was a pipe dream because a suburban girl like me would surely die if she tried it. then i started watching the discovery channel documentary everest: beyond the limit and one guy who climbed it was full of metal plates. i figured i was more fit to take on roof of the earth than him. however, i realized i was not financially fit to do so. just for a climbing license from the nepali government you pay like $10,000. then as an amateur climber who is not particularly strong (but not particularly weak either, mind you) i would surely have to go with some guided expedition which is where the bulk of the cost for the two-month journey would come in.

so, i figured, i won't be able to climb everest this year, or probably even next year, but i could work for a while to remedy my lack of savings. in the meantime, i could also train on how to climb ice. maybe tackle denali in alaska first and set the goal to reach the top of the world before my thirtieth birthday. i could definitely hone some mountain climbing skills and build up a reserve of cash over the next few years.

i excitedly told my mom this plan. it was the first thing that i had gotten truly jazzed, all-motors running excited for in quite a long time. she wasn't an exuberant fan of my new ambition, and my grandmother outright banned me from such an undertaking.

in the past weeks my fervor has lost some of its intensity, yet the flame still flickers. i do realize i am using everest as a receptacle of dreams. i can't deny that in the recesses of my soul (or my limbic cortex) i believe that somehow if i climb it, everything will make sense. even if it takes me four or five years to prepare and save up the funds to do afford the trek, it will all be part of my journey to satori. but rationally, i know this is wrong. an adventure full of risk and reward won't transform me into someone who suddenly has boundless faith in her human value and potential.

mountains are beautiful and dangerous. and i will love them forever. and i know that mr. krakauer is right. a mountain can't change your life, but at least aspiring to tackle one can give you something of a life trajectory.

even if it's just temporary.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

but i still love you new york

**in order to set the appropriate tone for your reading of the following entry, it is absolutely mandatory that you play the youtube video below**

Anyone who has been subject to my rambling expositions on my ever-changing dreams and ambitions knows there has been one thing that remained semi-constant--a longing to number myself among the residents of New York City.

I experienced quite the emotional rush as I officially changed the billing address on my credit cards to reflect my city address and brandished my monthly subway passes at the turnstile.

Last week though, I bought a one-way ticket back to Salt Lake City and officially declared I had no intention to stay in my beloved (though windowless) room in the South Bronx. 

That doesn't mean I don't harbor intentions to come back to NYC. I mean, planes run both ways, and life in the city is just another one-way ticket away.

There is something a little heart-rending about thinking about leaving the city. However, I didn't really feel the ache until I went from a 50 percent to a 95 percent certainty that I would spend some time away. Now every New York minute has to really count. Suddenly, I see everything that I love about the city and its imperfections seem more like character quirks. (Oh, it smells like someone boiled wet garbage? How adorable! Just kidding--I think the city's smell is overhyped. Most of the time the place smells just fine, even pleasant.)

I can hardly pass a bookstore, gallery, bakery, museum without feeling the sting of realizing if I don't visit in the next two weeks, I don't know when I will get the chance.

That is not to say I am not overjoyed to be returning to Salt Lake City. I have lists scrawled on the back of envelopes detailing the mountains I want to climb, food I want to eat, events I want to attend, and other places I want to go (prominent on this list is the Nickelcade.) The bit of heartache at my impending move is just proof of that adage uttered by the goddess of my soul, Joni Mitchell, "You don't know what you got til it's [almost] gone."

I've had a pretty good run this year in NYC. I may not have written any plays, songs, novels--as I hoped the city would inspire me to do, but there has been a certain fullness to these 12-months.

A synopsis of said fullness in bulleted form:
  • Spent 8 hours homeless, chilling on a park bench in Brooklyn with all my worldly possessions until gloriously, the cousins of a friend offered to take me in (saving me considerably on last-minute hostel fare)
  • Got kicked out of Central Park at 2am
  • Received a hug from Paula Abdul
  • Threw up on the Subway
  • Frequented the MOMA regularly on Free Fridays
  • Shook hands with Andrew Garfield
  • Staved off existential crises by watching sunsets from the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Saw fireflies in Central Park
  • Tried unsuccessfully to run past a bouncer when I forgot my ID on a night out
  • Drove a UHAUL across Manhattan
  • Won the ticket lottery for a Broadway show
  • Became pleasantly inebriated while sipping white wine and touring Chelsea art galleries
  • Explored Soka Gakkai Buddhism at the invitation of my roommate. (It involved a lot of chanting a Japanese translation of the title of the Lotus Sutra, but it was kind of nice.)
  • Saw album release shows for First Aid Kit and Conor Oberst in Brooklyn and a life-changing Josh Ritter concert
  • Learned that I could subsist quite happily on deviled eggs and dollar pizza slices
  • Met a fair number of young celebrities, who just seemed like regular kids, but the middle schoolers I worked with were quite impressed
  • Was mistaken for Joss Stone (this is really inexplicable) 
  • Became obsessed with Neo-Futurist theatre
  • Yelled loudly at TV screens in bars across the city as World Cup games were shown
  • Haunted bookstores
  • Installed insulation on houses in Staten Island wrecked by Hurricane Sandy
  • Met some of the best people ever
It has been an incredible run thus far. Personally and professionally, I've had great experiences. However, lately I have been repeating to anyone who would listen that the career ladder is an invention of the late 19th century, created to keep British clerks complacent. I hope to become brave enough to do what I really want: 

Write and create and adventure. 

I've been feeling compelled to trek around Central Asia--so let's see if that latest vagabond dream comes to fruition, post Nickelcade, of course.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life Between Parentheses

This post could just as easily be titled: "Roni, This Is Real Life."

This is what my face looks like these days. Although, sometimes I close my mouth.
But I like slightly esoteric titles, and this one comes from a letter penned by the Italian Hermetic Poet Alfonso Gatto. He had been exiled by the Fascist regime to Tuscany (not a terrible exile, if you ask me), and wrote to a friend that he seemed to be "living between parentheses." The sentiment resonated. I read his letter as a grad student in Italy. I had friends in Italy. I had my crew of cohorts and my roommates, and we hit the town and such. I had a life and purpose. I attended classes, researched in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, and volunteered at a homeless shelter. However, everything felt so disconnected from what I considered my life.  

It was a parenthesis.

I'm barely in contact with the folks that filled my Florentine days. The most meaningful contact I have with my old roommates or university colleagues is writing "Tanti auguri" on their facebook wall on their birthday. I barely have the opportunity to converse in Italian and discuss the intricacies of Dante's body of work or the bombastic declarations of Italian Futurism. I went back to the world of pizza slinging post-grad and by following a windy road, found myself in the nonprofit world serving low-income families. The time I spent earning my Master's degree almost seems like an unnecessary aside in the narrative of my adulthood.

Sometimes I feel the same way about my time in New York City. Like I am living in a new parenthesis. I elaborated on this sentiment with my friend, and she said, "This is your life."

But the parallels are worth remarking about. In Italy, I arrived with two suitcases, an address to an apartment I'd never seen, and a letter that I'd been accepted into a university program--not knowing a soul. I arrived in New York City in much the same fashion, except instead of education, I'd come with the knowledge I'd have a job. Once again, I was disconnected from the world I knew.

As a result, I built a new world. I made friends, planned work events, settled into a new habitation. Everything is new, but that does not indicate it isn't meaningful.

Nonetheless, sometimes in the morning I still open my eyes and have to ask myself, "Is this my life?"

I'm trying to get better at living in the moment. I suffer terribly from an overindulgence in nostalgia. Once I learned the term saudade, I became obsessed with it. (In case you are wondering, it is an untranslatable Portuguese word which means something like a deep melancholic nostalgia with a sort of repressed understanding that the object longed for will never return. Heavy, beautiful, and kind of tragic.)

I romanticize even the recent past--which in someways I think is worth romanticizing. 2013 was a complex year with nearly every feeling in the spectrum being felt within its twelve months, but I forged amazing friendships and learned a lot about life, love, sacrifice, beauty, the transience of youth, fallibility, and so much more. I miss so much of last year, even though I was just as angsty and existential as I am now.

Anyway, I guess I am trying to break out of the parenthesis mentality and say, "Hey, this is your life now! Just live it! Don't over-analyze! It will only be a parenthesis if that is how you treat it."

And even if it is a parenthesis, sometimes those are pretty important.

Like how would you know the definition of saudade without my parenthetical aside (besides google)?

Thursday, February 6, 2014


yesterday, i searched flights from new york to damascus.

there are none.

i had just read a summary of the UN report on the atrocities syrian children have been subjected to in the ongoing syrian civil war and felt so tormented how easily it is to sit idly by that i had a brief flashing moment of being some intrepid bleeding-heart throwing herself at the mercy of a war-ravaged land in hopes of doing some good.

i wrote a lengthy blog post--that is sitting in my drafts folder--titled "the age of impotent advocacy" where i wrote out many sentences in ALL CAPS and composed a lot of damning rhetorical questions. it was not exactly scathing, but it was sort of hopeless. it was cathartic.

today, i've been thinking a lot about ambition.

i don't know if i have any in particular. i used to. i wanted to be a politician. i wanted to be a journalist. for a brief moment, i wanted to be a video game programmer.

my dad told me once that he imagined me in some high level executive job.

these days i am a little aimless, because i cannot put a title to my ambition.

i think i just want to do things that are worth doing. things that mean something. caring about syrian children means something, but writing a poem can mean something too. and hey, i can do both.

i had a lengthy talk with a fellow who studied cello performance at nyu. however, before his senior recital, he got a career ending case of tendonitis. he told me that when he learned he would not be able to make cello performance his career, he felt a flood of relief.

our conversation segued into a discussion about how our professions do not make us who we are. we are defined by much more than the tasks we complete to earn money.

i don't love my job. if somehow, the funding for my position was cancelled, i would be relieved.

i would miss my coworkers and the inside jokes that cause us to laugh so hard we cry, but i would feel a huge weight of obligation lifted off my shoulders.

the work end of my job isn't pure drudgery. it has shining moments, but my daily stress, anxiety and bouts of existentialism brought on by the seeming futility of my efforts does not get anywhere close to being paid off in fulfillment. (here's where i start thinking, 'oh, maybe i just don't work hard enough. i could be better.' which is true, i could always be better. i feel like better is an exponential curve that will infinitely be approaching, but never reaching, best. sometimes, i think it is okay to accept that your work is hard and can sometimes feel like you are pushing a boulder up a hill to frequently see it simply roll back down again.)

i think there is something powerful about dissatisfaction, because when we recognize we are not happy in our current pursuits, we have the opportunity to change. i'll grant that "happiness is a journey not a destination" malarkey, but--to continue the metaphor--sometimes you are detoured from a more enjoyable, meaningful journey and you shouldn't be afraid to change your route.

does my current state of employment meet my ambition's criterion of doing something worth doing?

eh, difficult question.

we'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

hey, sean. i'm living in new york.

in september of 2012, a boy i knew named sean died.

we'd worked together for about three years, starting as bussers--the lowly training ground for future servers--at one of the finest mexican food dives in the suburban sprawl of utah county, joe bandido's.

i earned mantle of server before sean, mostly because i was a year and a half older, and could therefore legally pour those margaritas eighteen months before he could.

i have a lot of memories working with him in different capacities. i remember the days we were peons doing the servers' bidding. most fondly, i remember slow sundays where he and i were serving and my little sister was hostessing. since it was the least popular shift, we could get away with minor slacking in the form of nonstop chatting.

i used to tell him that he was hybrid of the personalities of my brother and sister. as he mirrored traits of the people i love most in the world, it was impossible not to like him.

not that i ever was in love with him. although, once he told me i had pretty eyes, and it felt like the most sincere, guileless compliment i had ever been offered.

he was simply a golden boy. it was impossible not to be drawn to his charisma and genuine kindness.

we never hung out outside of work, despite laboring alongside each other week after week for years; however, he did once invite me to a party where psychedelic mushrooms were on the menu, and as a well-known wet-blanket and goody-two-shoes, i was so flattered i had been invited to an "edgy" party. i feel like he just didn't divide people into dichotomies, and there was no judgement or teasing when i declined the invitation.

after a five year tenure, through college and a little beyond, i quit joe bandido's to spend a summer in london. i never donned the black shirt and apron again, and i hadn't seen sean for over a year when i learned he died in an accident riding his vespa on a wet tuesday night.

my sister and i attended the funeral. we were almost late and slipped into the last row of a crowded church. after the eulogies given by his closest family, they opened the podium to invite those gathered to speak. randi and i remained in our seats, but later we talked about how we wanted to go up to the microphone to lend our voices to the memory of sean, even though compared to many of those gathered, we did not know him well; however, what we did know of him was worth speaking out about.

i think of him sometimes when i get a little lonely in new york. once, during one of our less demanding shifts, i told sean of how i had been perusing new york's craigslist fantasizing about moving to the city. i told him how i had seen an ad for a room in an apartment with a cohabitant that was a german jazz pianist with a penchant for ice cream. soon we began devising a joint move to new york city. a few weeks later, when i found out i'd been selected to go to london, he said, seemingly very, very sincerely, "i though we were moving to new york?!"  i've always wondered would we have had more sunday evening planning sessions and worked up the gumption moved to new york that summer if i hadn't taken a different route? probably not, we weren't the closest of friends and had our own individual circles of people and commitments. but maybe.

and, sometimes, when i am homesick, i think, "hey, sean. i'm living in new york."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

house mouse and other tales of the order rodentia

my roommate recently returned to our bronx apartment, and her first inquiry pertaining to the status of our abode was "how's the mouse situation?"

i responded, "well, i haven't seen it."

which is true. but had she asked, "have you intuited the presence of the mouse using any of your other senses?" it would have been a lie not to say yes.

she is petrified of the mouse. when it first made its presence known, she didn't use the kitchen for a week. i didn't want to hinder her eating habits, but i am pretty sure house mouse is still living in the space between our oven and wall.

several days ago, i surrendered my bed to my visiting sister and got cozy on the couch. while lying under my fleece blanket contemplating the complications of human existence before sleep overtook me, i heard a bizarre skittering noise. i couldn't place the sound. was someone gently scratching the front door with metallic nails? was someone lightly throwing coins in rapid succession against our windows? then it became obvious.

the mouse was still among us.

i mustered the courage to rise from the couch to try to catch the mouse in the act of emerging from its home behind the oven, but it was no where to be seen. so i settled back into the comfort of couch cushions. after the passage of several moments, the patter of tiny clawed feet happened again. i rose again. saw nothing, but i tried to make as much noise as i felt i could responsibly make at 2 am to intimidate the mouse. but minutes after laying down once more, house mouse defiantly rose from the chasm to the counters a third time. so i ran over and made even more noise, forsaking all obligations of being a respectful roommate.

this time as i lay under the blanket, i began to feel the creeping wave of mouse fear. i'd thought my roommate's terror was unjustified, but in the early hours of the morning, i was also afflicted. i tried to reason myself out of being scared: mice are tiny! they are even kind of cute! stuart little! ratatouille! mickey! i once caught one with my friends while playing near an abandoned railroad track and named him rufus humperdink, iii! i could snap its back with one finger--maybe not my pinky, but definitely my pointer! why i am i terrified?

none of my attempts to minimize the mouse's potential to incite fear were working, so to conquer this mouse anxiety, i counter-intuitively began to think of all the ways mice are horrifying: they have no bones! the can squeeze through holes the size of a dime! they leave a trail of urine everywhere they go so they can find their way back!

then i began to consider the worst possible thing house mouse could do to me.

i figured the very most horrific thing the mouse could do was jump into my mouth and furiously begin biting my tongue, cheeks, tonsils, uvula, etc. and then jump down my throat while carrying hantavirus.

somehow, considering the worst made me feel better. because i really didn't think the mouse had quite the audacity to enter my mouth, and if i got hantavirus i wouldn't have to go to work for a while, at least.

and that was that. morning came. i had no puncture wounds on my mouth and i went on to live my life.

but last night, i heard the familiar skittering again. i turned on the kitchen light and ran to the oven. i didn't clearly see the mouse, but i think i got a fleeting glimpse. there was definite essence of mouse existence.

and then, this morning, i was stoked to eat a scrambled egg sandwich for breakfast, but as a laid the pieces of chia seed bread on my plate, i realized both slices appeared to have bite marks. i looked at the bag, and saw that all of the remaining loaf seemed to have a chunk missing and--the clincher--there was a small hole in the plastic bag. did you know the order name rodentia comes from the latin verb rodere which means "to gnaw"?

house mouse!

i refused to let house mouse ruin the breakfast that had given me the inspiration to get out of bed. so i just cut off the bit around the bite mark. (really, food prices have skyrocketed over the past few years, and i wanted the sandwich real bad.)

i want to catch house mouse and preserve the sanctity of any future bread loaves that i may leave on the counter. but i don't want house mouse to die. i may invest in a humane trap, and capture my nemesis and let him free somewhere far beyond alexander avenue.

in my teen years, i was a notorious mouse killer. not that i killed a lot of mice. i only killed one, but i did so with really purposeful intensity. i was at a church girls' camp. one of our leaders had been afraid of mice roaming the floors and rafters of the cabin and had placed traps throughout the place. one of these traps snapped late in the night. but after the snapping there was a gentle thrashing. the mouse had not died. it would suffer through night, unless someone stepped up. it was a mercy killing, really. of the roughly dozen girls in the cabin, i got out of bed and located a shovel propped against the wall and began beating the spade against the bouncing mouse trap and its fighting captive. soon the captive was fighting no more.

for years, people would bring up how i killed a mouse in the middle of the night with a shovel. and i always interject, "it was a compassionate killing!"

so, i don't want house mouse to die. it has been a formidable foe. it deserves to live.

just not behind my oven.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

an abundance of lists (okay, just two)

I love birthdays and the dawning of the new year. They serve as these symbolic points of self-reflection and analysis. I am fortunate enough to have great spacing between the two. I assess my accomplishments and future goals every January and July. (Although, let's be honest, I am basically constantly evaluating my life and its direction and purpose. However, on New Year's Eve and my birthday it feels intentional and everything feels a little more possible as I put up a new calendar or have a new age to call myself.)

Anyway, in an attempt to review the year and prepare for the next I have created some lists.

List #1: A summary of the highlights of 2013, in no particular order
1. Moved to New York
2. Held three jobs (Fat Jack's, Neighborhood House, and generationOn)
3. Went on trips to New York City, Las Vegas, Moab, Atlanta and Washington D.C.
4. Hiked a couple mountains (although, not Timpanogos)
5. Saw Bob Dylan in the flesh (from quite a healthy distance)
6. In many ways,both general and specific, I learned about about love, forgiveness, life, sacrifice and that I am clearly not a sociopath because I care about things a lot.

List #2: Objectives for the New Year
1. Visit the Grand Canyon
2. Turn 26 with grace and glory
3. Have more fun
4. Learn more things
5. Love everything more recklessly
6. Hike Mt. Timp

As I marvel that I have made it from 1988 to 2014, I can't help but think of a Bob Dylan line (and he's already made one appearance in this post): "I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now." That feels so true. When I was younger, I naively thought I had answers to any question that could be posed and that I would blaze through life with as though it were a game of Candyland. I'm glad life isn't like Candyland, though, because that game is actually sort of boring. I feel younger now, in the fact that I realize how daunting--and frankly, scary--life can be. But I just want to keep turning corners and pressing forward enjoying each step.