Blather Faraway Places Insomnia Islands Nostalgia Ocean Pointless Narcissism Rant Think Travel

A Salt Girl Without Salt Is…What, Exactly?

This morning I woke up two hours earlier than I’d intended due to the frantic yowling of my neighbor’s horny cat. The cat, as it is an inside cat and was hanging out on a second-story balcony about eight feet from my bedroom window, did not have any other place to go howl, nor did it have any likelihood of finding another feline to make passes at, so this painful-sounding onslaught went on for nearly an hour without relenting. When the cat had finished, someone in a rather large vehicle decided to back it up slowly, prolonging the reverse-alert beep into an epic form of auditory torture. Doors slammed. A jet flew by. Cars honked at each other. After a while even the flock of itty bitty birds that perpetually chirp outside my window (and who I’ve learned to mostly ignore) became menacing.

The night before last I was unable to sleep because my apartment had been converted, in the course of twelve hours, into a sauna. The air was so thick and heavy that as I lay in my bed drenched in sweat at three a.m., I kept rolling around as if by moving I could shake off the weight of it. It’s only May, and already I’m beginning to regret that I didn’t take the financial and emotional risk of returning to the Island Of Misfit Toys for the summer. To have enough trees to generate sufficient shade, to be free from the sounds and smells of city, to have the ocean–swimmable ocean–only a 15 minute walk away…

I am not a city mouse. With two short exceptions, both of which made me moderately miserable, I have never lived in a place where I couldn’t walk to the beach. Though the water in Monterey was unbearably cold, it was there, and if I’d chosen to swim in it at any given point, I wouldn’t have been arrested or poisoned (with the exception of Lover’s Point, that beautiful shit-filled idyll in Pacific Grove, which we locals all knew to avoid). If it got too hot during the day, I could just take a dip in the drink and cool off. I’ve never been able to understand how people can reconcile the germ-ridden ick of public pools enough to actually get in them–until now. Though public pools will retain indefinitely their title of “bodies of water I’m least likely to step into,” I can understand the desperation that the sweltering hell of summer in the city can bring a person to, particularly if that person is a child and countless hours of nothing to do while their parents are at work.

Since I’ve been on my summer schedule (four days of working in the city, three days off on the island), it’s as though I’ve been living two distinct and separate lives. In one, I do very little apart from working. I wake late, laze around for longer than I should, and on the very hot days, I pray for rain. In the other, I am up before noon, out in the sunshine, the fresh ocean breeze taunting my nostrils and inviting me to go for a swim (I haven’t yet, and I have no excuse). Half of my week is spent looking forward to the other half. Though the social aspects of my life have not changed at all in the city (all I did was work to begin with), I feel I’m constantly missing out on something that’s going on on the island, something that I should be part of because–and it’s taken me years to even consider saying this–I might belong there.

I have spent many years pining for faraway places–California, Europe, New Zealand–and I pine for some of them still. I never thought, however, that I’d come at some point in my life–and certainly not so soon–to pine for where I came from. But then, everything is circular, isn’t it?

Blather Faraway Places Islands Observations People Pointless Narcissism Think Travel

The Salt Girl On Perpetual Motion

I am by nature a traveler. A mover. I like to be in motion—on a bus, a train, in a car, on a boat, even on a bicycle or walking. Perhaps it was my father, who used to take me on weekend driving trips when I was little, who nurtured this tendency in me. Or perhaps it’s a function of the innate desire to escape wherever it is that I am—a discomfort with my own skin that is blind to the fact that going away from wherever I happen to be won’t take me away from me.

Whatever the reason for the urge, I feel most comfortable, most okay with myself, when I am moving. When I’m going somewhere, I have a purpose, a destination—and sometimes, as the old saying goes (and I can’t remember who said it), the journey is the destination. I have crossed this country by bus, train and car (if you count going from Texas to LA in a stuffed station wagon as crossing the country, which I sort of have to because Texas lasts forever). I have backpacked and bussed it around New Zealand and traveled through pokey little towns in Eastern Europe with ten other people in a spitting and whining hired minivan. Aside from the trip to Eastern Europe, the majority of my distance traveling has been done alone, and I prefer it that way. There is a feeling I get from traveling—even short distances, like the bus trip I’m currently taking from Boston to Woods Hole—that I just don’t want to share or have interrupted by other people.

Although I am capable of relaxing in other ways, for me there is no more pure relaxation—unfettered, unstressed, reflective—than sitting on a bus or a train and watching the scenery go by, either listening to music or simply to the engine. Sometimes I read or write; most times I just sit. Though I often stay awake, I find that when there are wheels beneath my seat, I can fall almost instantly asleep, which is not the case on stationary ground, as many of you know. It’s as though the moment I board a bus or train, I leave the anxiety of everyday life behind me on the platform, and it can’t possibly catch up with me until I’ve reached my destination.

Occasionally I’ll find myself gazing lazily out the window and thinking of the departure scenes in a number of movies, where the main character gets on a train or a bus (usually in the rain, which I also love), sits down and begins to think about what they’re going to do to change their life. They are leaving a lover or heading toward one, leaving a place which holds them down or taking a chance on a new place they’ve never had the guts to go to. They are running away, or they are going home. In film, buses and trains tend to represent beginnings or ends, fractured happiness or the pensive first steps of self-reconstruction. Often in the scenes I’ve just mentioned, the main character winds up staring out the window of the bus, crying. I’ve done this before, and on the few occasions when it’s happened, it’s been perhaps the most cathartic, simple release of emotion that I’ve experienced. Crying alone is awful, even more depressing than the catalyst for the tears has been in the first place. But crying alone when you’re in motion somehow doesn’t feel so bad; for me, it’s like a cleansing. Sometimes—and I’ve done this, too—the character will be looking out the window and a big, uncontrollable grin will spread slowly across their face–a satisfied, triumphant look–a look of confidence bordering on invincibility. Sometimes a smile can be just as cathartic as tears.

I do not drive. I’ve never driven, really, so I don’t know whether I could achieve the same sort of peace behind the wheel, or if part of the magic is the ability to let go and not think about the logistics, to let someone else drive. I imagine that it would be both better and worse—better for the freedom to veer from the chosen route, to speed up or slow down or stop at will; worse because driving is often stressful and requires undivided attention, which leaves much less time for rumination and renegade bouts of tears.

Also, I despise traveling by airplane. I am not afraid of flying—though I was for a time—I just do not like the entire process. From the check-in charade to the fluorescently lit waiting areas to the well-dressed, time-neurotic yuppies that pepper every airport from here to Timbuktu, air travel is just plain uncomfortable, even before you get on the plane. There are just too many people, and they’re all in too much of a goddamn hurry. Smashed between dodgy-smelling strangers on a vehicle that [I believe, contrary to most people’s opinions,] doesn’t make nearly enough noise, it’s quite impossible to attain my little narcissistic nirvana. Simply put, on an airplane I just can’t convince myself that the rest of humanity doesn’t exist because it’s so close to me that I can feel its collective anxiety pressing in on me and it’s crushing.

I am one of a rare breed of people who actually enjoy traveling by bus. I have even managed to enjoy parts of a bus trip from Phoenix to Dallas on a Greyhound bus whose air conditioner was a bit shy of fully functional. And I love train travel. If I had my way, I’d go everywhere by train. I love the backward lurch just before the train starts moving forward, I love the clickety-clack, I love the melancholy announcing whistle. When the train’s going fast enough, it rocks side to side like a boat, and I love that, too.

Somehow, when I’m in motion, on wheels that are controlled by someone other than me, I feel for a moment or an hour as though when I get off at my destination, I will emerge as an ideal: the wild girl with wild hair, big heavy boots and a guitar or a knapsack slung over her shoulder, ready to take whatever the world might want to dish out. And for a few minutes after my feet touch the ground, I walk like that girl—independent and unencumbered—and people notice. I notice. Which is, perhaps, why I keep repeating the process.

Blather Faraway Places Insomnia Music People Rant Travel

Can I Come Take A Nap At YOUR House?

My father and I have just returned from a two-day ill-fated trip to Maine, which was supposed to be a three-day lazy poke-around-in-the-nooks sort of trip. Of course, as Murphy’s Law dictates, it started raining shortly after we left Boston, and continued to get worse as we drove–which meant that my father got depressed and turned around, and I am back in Boston with one more day off left. When I first got here, I was elated–we drove into the city and were greeted by the ominous black cloud that precedes a thunder storm, my favorite sort of weather. Though I was disappointed that my father did not have a good time, as the trip was his idea and he’s been looking forward to it for weeks, I was relieved to still have some time before the beginning of my work week, the weather was ideal, I’d just scored a new leather jacket (for an unbelievable $75), and it was mid-afternoon, leaving me with plenty of time to take a much-needed nap before heading off to a movie or some other rainy-evening endeavor.

The thing is, my father is a morning person. A five o’clock in the morning person. Which means that yesterday morning, after having gone to sleep at two a.m., I was awake at six and sitting in a car, listening to my dad talk. I think I might have talked back, but I couldn’t tell you what I said because I had the approximate mental acuity of a grapefruit. My father is also a principled traveler: when traveling with him, one must not read, listen to a portable music device, sleep, talk on the cell phone, or any other such activity that does not involve either talking to him, listening to him talk, or looking out the window. By the time we reached Camden, Maine, late yesterday afternoon, I was a pretty useless human being–so useless that when we dove into our motel room beds for a much-needed nap, I couldn’t sleep. Nor could I sleep last night when I went to bed at midnight and lay awake until about two a.m. listening to my father snore. Six a.m. came around and he was awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and pissed off that the weather was still bleak. I woke, showered, attempted to smear a smile across my drooping face and climbed back in the car. And listened to him talk. For another seven hours. But, as I mentioned earlier, when I got home, the sky was a brilliant and joyful shade of black, and the rain was coming down hard enough to lull me into a peaceful and prolonged sleep. I didn’t have to smear the smile, it was there.

Five minutes later, my roommate (I think I’m going to start calling him “Murphy”) came home. My roommate who likes to mix arbitrary harsh synthesizer sounds, seemingly endlessly, and seemingly only when I am in desperate need of sleep. My roommate who, when approached and asked politely if he can turn down his [what can only be called noise–and I have a liberal definition of the word “music”] responds that he should be able to play whatever he wants during “normal” hours, and I am the rude one for expecting him to turn it down, as it’s “weird” to want to sleep in the late afternoon. My roommate who I’m convinced has lost part of his hearing, which is the only possible way to account for the deafening and bone-rattling volume at which he plays sounds which create visceral reactions, even at low volumes, in most people.

So here I sit, in my room, afraid to begin an argument which I know I will lose, listening to distorted amp-buzz and eighties wee-oo sound effects, with NO RHYTHM WHATSOEVER, at a volume which can likely be heard in New Hampshire. A friend who I talked to on the phone during this onslaught informed me, unsurprisingly, that this particular form of audio assault is one way that torturers extort information out of prisoners–by playing music or sounds at extremely high volume, with no predictable rhythm or regularity, until they crack….

I stole a pack of gum when I was five. I stole hundreds of dollars worth of things from stores on Martha’s Vineyard between the ages of 12 and 15. I once changed a fifty dollar bill and the cashier gave me a hundred back and I said nothing. I pay my phone bill a week after it’s due EVERY MONTH. I’ve been the other woman, though I didn’t know it at the time. Last semester I sort-of cheated and handed in a paper I’d written for another school two years ago, and collected another A without doing a minute’s work. I run red lights on my bicycle every day, and I curse at drivers when I’m probably the one in the wrong. If you want to know my friends’ and family’s sins, I’ll tell you them too, just MAKE IT FUCKING STOP.

If anyone happens to drive by my house and find an extremely expensive keyboard smashed to shards on the sidewalk, rest assured that I am sleeping, in comparative comfort, on a concrete bench in the closest jail. Do not bail me out until I’ve been in for at least twelve hours–I need the sleep.

Blather Islands Ocean Pointless Narcissism Travel

Wandering Barefoot Toward Nirvana

Grades closed this morning, which means that my semester is officially over. In addition, I have the weekend off. I have worked in the restaurant and retail industries since I was fourteen, which means that aside from pre-scheduled vacations, unfortunate bouts of unemployment and grave illness, I have not had a weekend off since probably sometime in 1994. With my free weekend, I intend to go to the Island Of Misfit Toys and spend some long overdue time with friends who’ve probably begun to forget that I exist. In addition, I intend to achieve nirvana by Monday.

The way I see it, this endeavor will require me to do the following:

1. Buy A Book.
I just finished a semester in which I had two literature classes and two writing classes, the reading loads of which required a remarkable amount of ocular tenacity and a fair amount of sacrificed sleep. What this means is that I have not read anything (I mean, truly, nothing) that was not assigned since September of 2006. That’s nearly eight months without voluntary reading. I have been looking forward to this day–the day I’m allowed to buy a book that no one told me to read–since about a week after the Fall semester began, more than half a year ago. In my quest for a book, I intend to simply meander around the book store, preferably one which allows beverages so that I can meander with coffee, and look at everything I feel like looking at until something hollers, “Buy Me!” If I find two, I will buy both. If I find six, I will buy them all. I will not rush myself, or give myself a budget, or feel guilty for buying something that one might not actually be able to count as “literature.” If it’s Michael Crichton I want, it’s Michael Crichton I’ll get (not that there’s even a remote likelihood of this).

2. Get A Sunburn.
In the past few weeks, as the weather has been getting gradually more and more fantastic, I have practically become a shut-in. As I do my best work in the middle of the night, I have been up until five or six a.m. almost every night for nearly a month. As I also need a pretty tremendous amount of sleep in order to function properly, and have great difficulty actually getting to sleep, I have wasted a great number of sunny days away in the grey cave of my room, restoring myself to a passable level of lucidity. It is almost summer (though my gut tells me we will probably get walloped with another Northeaster before the end of May), and I intend to celebrate by turning my pasty (redefining white) skin the color of ruby-red grapefruit juice. I will then go into my sister’s garden or living room and find the biggest, juiciest aloe plant she’s got, maim it severely, and slop the goo all over my toasted self until I feel better.

3. Wear A Skirt.
When I think of the word “leisure,” which is normally used in reference to other people, what comes primarily to mind is comfortable, flowy clothing. Light, soft garments which lift and switch with the wind, swirl around your arms or feet when you walk. I am in possession of a rather sizeable collection of hippie skirts, that I wear almost never, which just so happen to epitomize the term “comfortable, flowy clothing.” I’m going to bring them with me to the island, and I’m going to wear them, in true beach-bum style, with hoodies–because there is nothing I can think of that’s more comfortable than a hippie skirt with a hoodie.

4. Go Barefoot.
I hate shoes. I love boots, but I hate shoes. I love (love, love, love) walking around barefoot, particularly if I happen to be wearing one of the aforementioned gauzy hippie skirts. It makes me feel like I am allowed to relax, to do nothing, to sit in a hammock in someone else’s yard (I have neither a yard nor a hammock) and read a book about nothing in particular. As I currently live in a city with icky, dirty streets, and work in a business that requires full-coverage footwear and an inordinate amount of standing on concrete in said full-coverage footwear, the only times I’ve been barefoot since Labor Day have been in my bedroom. I can’t wait.

5. Have A Cocktail.
I do not intend to get uproariously or pointlessly drunk–I have done that enough during the semester that it need not be repeated for as long as possible. However, I am looking forward to sitting on stool by the harbor–preferably while the sun is shining and I am wearing a hippie skirt and no shoes, carrying with me only a freshly-purchased book of no literary merit whatsoever–and having a (1, one) colorful cocktail, mixed and delivered by someone else who is getting paid $2.67 per hour to stand on their feet all day, delivering food and beverages of dubious quality to complete asshole strangers. After I have consumed said fruity beverage, I intend to give the monumentously underpaid liaison of liquid a tip so large it will make them gasp, slip on my flip-flops, and wander aimlessly down the harbor, perhaps down to the beach to slip my un-shod feet into the too-cold ocean just once–a baptism of sorts, in the only water I consider to be holy.