Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Past Lives

At work I feel like I'm climbing a rope, and the bottom of the rope is burning. The flames are climbing the rope behind me. I'm ahead of the flames now, and I've kept ahead of the flames for a while, climbing steadily, building some distance, but the flames keep climbing. This week at work, I effectively stopped climbing. Things are building up, the flames are getting closer, but I'm not climbing. I'm not working. I've paused, and the flames haven't.

I walked home from work today with those untended flames, those duties I've consciously failed to address, burning in the back of my mind. I felt both panicked and hopeless during my walk. This is the principle way depression manifests itself in me.

When I got home I drank a beer, and sat in the back yard. I started thinking about a writer I know named Tony Carrillo. He posted in his blog today that two of his stories are being published in a magazine, and one of his stories won the Leo Litvak award. I have never heard of the Leo Litvak award, but I have read several versions of the story that won the award. Tony gave me copies of it at a few different points in its development. He wanted me to read it and give him feedback. I tried to arrange to get together with him, to talk with him about the story, but he and I never found common time to get together. In all honesty, I gave up on arranging a time after only a few tries. I gave up because I've given up on Tony in the past. When we used to get together he'd tell me all about his dreams, his hopes and aspirations. He'd fill my ears with commentary on his favorite movies and favorite books and all the crazy adventures he was having as a newly out-of-the-closet gay man in the bear scene. He'd shove stories into my hands and ask me to read them, and ask for feedback. But he wouldn't read my stories. He wouldn't offer feedback. He wouldn't ask me about my favorite books. There was no give and take. So I gave up.

In my back yard, drinking that beer, I thought about the story Tony had written that was receiving the award. I didn't think it was a very good story. The idea that this story won an award made me feel like there is no point in writing at all. If awards are given to stories like the one Tony wrote, if stories like his are considered great stories that deserve awards, then I probably shouldn't even bother to write.

I realize that I am exposing a certain smallness of my character by revealing these thoughts.

My girlfriend called on the phone while I was drinking my beer and thinking those thoughts about writing. She asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. I didn't know. Nothing sounded good to me. She said she was leaving work and we'd figure out what to eat when she got home.

My girlfriend calls every day to ask what I want for dinner. I never know what I want for dinner. Nothing ever sounds good to me for dinner. Usually my girlfriend decides what to eat, and she cooks it, and I eat it with her and then wash the dishes. I often feel guilty about not helping her think of something to eat, and not helping her cook, so today I started looking through a cookbook after talking with her on the phone. I decided on a dish: Hummus Ma'Sabanegh. When she got home, we went to the market and bought the ingredients. I laid the ingredients out on the kitchen table, and started cutting up onions. I was trying to work quickly, and the knife slipped on an onion and I cut my finger. I stopped cutting onions and put a bandage on my finger. Then I started cutting onions again. Within minutes, my eyes were stinging so badly that I could hardly keep them open. Later, when I went to start one of the stove-top burners, I couldn't get it to light correctly, and when it finally did light there was a burst of blue flame that scared my girlfriend and made me flinch.

While I cooked dinner I listened to Lole y Manuel and drank a glass of red wine. While we ate dinner we listened to The Smiths and I drank another glass of red wine. After we finished dinner my girlfriend started washing the dishes, and I went to the computer to check my email.

There was an email from my friend Will. He's a friend I met while living in Edinburgh, and I hadn't communicated with him in nearly two years. I was excited to get this email from him. It made me think of the time I spent in Edinburgh, and that made me think of the time I spent in other places, doing other things. It made me think of all the jobs I've had, all the people I've met, all the places I've been. They seem very distant, these places and things, very distant and hard to remember, like dreams of past lives. While I read the email, I wanted to visit Will in Edinburgh. I wanted to reclaim some of those past lives, which seem all but forgotten to me now.

I used to live in Madrid. I used to live in Plymouth. I used to live in Barcelona. I used to live in Perth. I used to work on a boat. I used to play in a band. I endured chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant. I had relationships with different people during each of these times in my life. I had daily routines specific to each time. And now it's all gone and nearly forgotten. Now I live in San Francisco, have lived here for several years, and I'm stuck on a burning rope.

There were good things about those lost parts of my life, and there were bad things too. There were things that existed in my life only in one place, during one brief period of time. There are things that I felt and did and had then that I also have now, today, with my current life. But one thing that I always had when living abroad and that I can't have in San Francisco, or any part of California, is a cohesion between where I am and how I see myself.

I will attempt to explain.

I have always, at every point of my life, had this feeling that I am not one with the people around me, that I am not like them, that I don't fit. This feeling was cultivated by different people when I was a boy and a young man. My grandmother told me, while I was a small child, that I was a special boy, with special gifts. I could unite people, make them see their differences, help them see the other side of the story. My father also told me that I was different. He based this difference on my dual citizenship, my possession of American and Spanish passports. None of these people are like you, he told me, because you are not American. You are Spanish. You have Spanish blood in your veins. My friends seemed to think me different too. They called me crazy, shook their heads grinning. They thought I had far out ideas. They thought I saw things differently than everyone else.

It all seems pretty silly now. And I think my sense of being different comes from more than just those childhood influences. In any case, the fact remains that I have always, throughout all of my life, felt out-of-place. When I lived abroad, and only then, that sense of being out-of-place was made more actual by my status as a foreigner. I don't have that now. My sense of self is not reflected by my surroundings, it is countered by it.

This is not entirely a good thing.

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