Today. On my way to Seattle. I’m venturing out into the outside world for the first time in a very long while. I haven’t had much to write about lately because I haven’t experienced much except for the inside of my own head which sits atop my body which has been, for the last six months, confined to a small bedroom at my mother’s.
Let me back up here and say that I’ve been uninhabiting the world quite on purpose. I’ve been in what I call Creation Mode which requires an extremely heavy amount of focus and concentration. (I pause, reread this last sentence and realize I manage to make it sound like I’m sitting on a toilet, straining and red-faced. Still, I opt to leave the sentence instead of deleting it because maybe that’s a lot like what Creation Mode is like.)
The thing about isolation — the real kind, the kind where you risk becoming a hermit if it weren’t for a dog named Buddy — is that once you must re-enter and inhabit the world again, even in brief spurts, it strikes you as so bizarre. (The world that is, not the isolation. Obviously it’s THEM, not you. Never you.) The fact that the real world seems strange is ironic because at first you go into a state of shock over the isolation.
After being, more or less, in the same room writing, creating and sleeping for six months, walking out into the “real” world suddenly feels surreal. I am seeing things through my eyeballs which have become very focused. More focused than I had realized. Although I should have known when a simple trip to the grocery store and back presented a lot of difficulty when it came down to getting back to work. Yes, isolation has turned my eyes into truth goggles. Let me just be specific. Like, take for example, the whole air travel thing. I’m not talking about the obvious — how it’s so amazing we travel through the air at warp speeds to arrive from point A to B. I’m talking about the amazing levels we’ve managed to complicate things and actually go along with them. About the levels of falseness that we — we! otherwise intelligent human beings! — are subjecting ourselves to. In case you haven’t flown in a long time on a domestic flight in America (I hadn’t) I want to tell you that I would not recommend it to you (unless I wanted you to hate me) as it’s one of the more demeaning, soul-less experiences I’ve ever had. Not just for me personally, but for humans in general. I’ll even go as far to say it’s worse than Ryanair which I always thought was the devil of air travel.
It goes like this: first class, the special people, get to board first and are kindly called to do so. Next, those people who have no carry-on items get to board. (That is to say, no one.) Then, those who only have one carry-on item, folks. Just one. That’s including a purse! So this is like, one guy, plus a bunch of people scrambling to try and get their overstuffed backpacks to fit into their fanny packs. Finally, after Group 1 gets to board (which was cleverly named “Group 1” so people will actually pay an extra couple of bucks thinking they’ll get on board before anyone else), I boarded. They have managed to do a great job in making us feel like we’re lucky to get on the flight at all, nevermind that we actually purchased a seat and are entitled to get what we pay for.
I further reflected on the joys of air travel when I had to rub my ass against the flight attendant’s ass to get down the aisle. Was flying ever romantic? I recalled hearing they used to wear white gloves and it was very exclusive and glamorous right about when a total stranger’s ass roughly wiped my shoulder. With the exception of a few particular European discotecas, where else do you get fondled like this in broad daylight? Where else do you get served a cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup — oh if I could only end the sentence there with a question mark. But I can’t. The sentence/question really reads like this: Where else could you get a cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup which reads (and I’m not kidding, American Airlines) “Rainforest Alliance Certified.” Was I asleep or something when they made biodegradable styrofoam? Cuz, last I checked, it’s still bad for the environment. And for the rainforest. And while they might have certified the coffee or tea, I think they might rethink the whole thing if they knew it was being served in styrofoam.
Like I was saying, World is Weird. It just is. Being out of it, I longed to again be in its weirdness. Yet, here I am on the other end now. I come out of isolation and find myself stunned. I once read Mary Karr, true to her own honest nature, say she hated everything. I remember reading that and thinking, So that’s what’s wrong with me. Her admission was my liberation. Her openness freed me from a world that had been burdening and troubling me since I was a teenager. But Mary Karr is one of my idols and so before believing myself on that one, like a kid sister idolizing her beloved older wiser sibling she’d never even met, I let it sit for a long time. But in my gut, I knew it was true. I used to think I had some fundamental flaw because I did not, just could not like what everyone else likes. But good ol’ Mary. She made me see it how it was and actually, finally, quit fighting it. She helped me stop feeling bad about not getting excited about ice cream cones.
This is just the way I am and it’s okay. Only took me about thirty years to realize I hate being in the world as much as I hate being out of it. I hate traveling as much as I love the freedoms, insights and truths it brings me. This brings me to the flip side of Mary’s observation. (Apply the filter of truth goggles.) I hate everything as much as I love the things I love. Because there are things I love with a deep, wild, inexplicable passion.
Yesterday, while on that uncomfortable flight, I put down my book just at the right moment. Perhaps I was cued by the slight tilt of the airplane or by the shift in attention and the mighty hush that fell over the passengers. But there it was, outside my window almost close enough to reach out and touch: Mount Rainier. The second I saw it, I could feel something bubble up inside me then explode in my throat. It fizzled all the way up and through my eyes into what I guess were tears. It was so unexpected, seeing it like this right then, so dazzlingly close. It made me feel oddly secure all of a sudden, protected almost. Seeing the deep pockets of glistening snow, its perfectly shaped cone form, I was sturdy and stayed, calm and at ease. Looking at Mount Rainier is like looking at God. And there I was, I had a close up, front seat view. My guard dropped and I was helpless in the presence of such imposing majesty. The only way I can explain it is to say I was in love. But there was something else that came with that fizzy feeling. A whisper that said it’s okay. It’s okay and I can just relax. Like I can just stop trying because I am just a person, a person who cannot compete with a snow-covered volcano. (This, I think is the hush I sensed from everyone who was leaning over to the window to see it.) Nature is like that in its greatness. It’s humbling to have to remember that no matter how hard you sit alone, confined in Creation Mode, you’re never going to bear the likes of Mount Rainier. So you might as well just stop right there. Breathe, and remember to just do what you can the best that you can and to be what you are: your mere self. Because there’s power in that, too.
And this is why I am in Seattle this week. To be myself, one weird little writer among many (12,000 of them). This is what I will hate about AWP: the masses of humanity. What I will love about this conference, though, is exactly that–this particular mass of humanity. This is the only time I can be around my own kind. They are all like me, like my literary heroine, Miz Karr herself, trying to get through the parts we hate until we can be dumbstruck by the Mount Rainier moments of life. We are here because we’re all doing, for the most part, pretty much the same thing. We are all just trying to figure out how to craft those moments, the ones we both hate and love, made up or true, into their own reality, spun by the one and only thing we all have to work with: an infinite combination of a mere twenty-six letters.
(P.S. If this blog had bloopers, they would include me having to look up how to spell Mount Rainier as well as Googling just to make sure I was right that the alphabet was really made up of twenty-six letters.)