Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fresh Kills

"Fresh Kills was one of many New York City landfills when it opened on April 19, 1948. From 2002 forward, they’ve been turning it into a park. It’s not open to the public yet, but they do tours. It’s breathtaking. Much of the city’s geography, in fact 20 percent of the larger metropolitan region, is built on landfill and much of that fill is varied forms of waste and garbage. The stuff in the bottom layers, there’s so much weight and pressure that there’s no space for any form of decomposition. So if you do a core sample, you can still read the newspapers from that era. I’ve seen slide shows from archaeologists who’ve done this work and the hotdogs look like you could throw them on the grill." (Robin Nagle, archaeologist)

The more you know.

I've returned. Four years and a country & career swap later. I think it no coincidence that the absence of writing correlates with my absence in real life. (Yes, I do mean real life – not just America.) Tokyo was a trip, a little bit in the colloquial way, like, “Dude, last night at the Lazer Bowl was a trip,” but mostly in the “I left” way. I put the world aside and the people at a great distance so I could be selfish and alone and figure out, without distraction, exactly what it is that Mitzi wants to do. And although I’m tempted to chastise myself for chances I may have missed, yadda yadda, I don’t think of those reclusive years as wasted years at all. At least not all of them. (Toward the end I think I may’ve grown a bit egocentric, but not irreversibly, so no harm done right.) I’ve returned to America with a much clearer sense of what I want to do, what I want, what matters, what makes me happy. I put my hair up and suddenly people compliment the prominence of my ears now that I’ve stopped casting shame on them. Never mind that I’m probably paying myself credit due to others who’ve done some growing up since being insecure kids themselves.

Anyway. Trust me when I say that the four years I spent in Tokyo, though challenging and culturally enriching and really fun, are not worth recapping here. A lot of solipsistic self-exploration went down and once I felt like I’d done enough I came back to give the life I wanted a shot. Now I’m in New York (Brooklyn, WHATEVER), writing a graphic novel and acting and interacting with people. It’s been testing but good and it feels right despite all the times it doesn’t feel right. You know what I mean? Well, after six months of sure and steady, this week has been a week of it not feeling right at all – so not right that I felt the only way out aside from giving up (which leaves me with what? Dead in a gutter? Naww thanks) was to crawl all the way back here and tell you about it.

So without any further ado, some trite observations on human nature:

That I am too forgiving has long been a concern of mine. Some of you have heard to what absurd lengths, yet never ‘til now did I consider its potentially injurious effects, nor view it as much as a flaw within myself as it is in those needing forgiveness. A result of nature or nurture, I can't say, but I think I am a decent – not exceptionally generous nor notably mean, but decent – human being that believes all others are trying their best to be decent (or better) as well. Even as I write this, although I started with the intention of expressing my waning faith in my fellow man, I find myself already pardoning those who have wronged me. While many might see this as some kind of virtue, I now see it as a flaw.

My problem is that this flaw needs not doing away with, but leveling out. I don't want to nor do I think I have it within me to grow dark at my core, to rot; as cynical as I am, as irreverent my reactions, my foundation is soft and plushy and all good. Despite what a friend said to me about human nature recently – that it requires greater effort to be positive than it is to live selfishly having accepted that life is cruel – I find that I, in my clearest mind, am smiling. I rinse off the shit and laugh, and I rejoice all the more in success. I excuse my own sins using logic and I excuse those of others understanding that I do not posses within myself the logic to construct a full enough picture of their struggle.

But recently I have started to worry that this lenience is dangerous and na├»ve. A depressing and frightening thought. Does it mean an overhaul of my entire perspective? Is it even possible to poise myself so as to not slip into being eaten alive by those ill-intentioned few (is it few? Or is it a lot?) or being eaten alive by myself as I grow altogether weary of the world? I don’t want to be an overly protective, mistrusting, fuck-off-stranger skeptic. I don’t want that at all. I’ve put in a lot of work this past half-year opening myself up after my Japanese sabbatical (exile) having worked out that there is good and bad selfishness – self- (and thusly other-) enriching focus & exclusionary, self-serving solitude – and I no longer want anything to do with the latter. I’d forgotten I was sensitive.

It’s gotten so far that sometimes I even catch myself expressing feelings. Despite potential embarrassment, denial, or even scarier, reciprocation (after which all that’s left is to express more feelings), I’ve been allowing myself to share things and be excited by what another person might contribute. I think I’ve even fallen in love. (I write “I think” out of the instinct to protect myself but it isn’t needed there, honestly.) And where I’d seen and enjoyed acting as an escapist sport where I could play not-me trying on external emotions (how misguided I was), I now assume all of it, conflate our identities and see what our reaction is (all the while thankful that those who see will pardon my behavior during this process, like someone who’s had too much to drink – “he kissed some slut at the bar / cursed out the waiter / lost our baby – but he was drunk!”), and it has been so liberating to indulge after years of deprivation. The point: I’ve come a long way.

Which is why it saddens me that this, here, cannot keep. I’ve moved from the safest place in the world to a place that’s loud and intrusive and not always well-intentioned. I am no longer privy to the privacy I felt in Japan, even in public. (That’s not to say I fully support their tendency to avoid all confrontation, which includes the good kind, like stepping into situations in which your help is needed, or even just apologizing for accidentally bumping into someone in favor of pretending it never happened.) Here, strangers ask about train routes and they ask for change, they say hello and they say all sorts of other things, too. Here, strangers sometimes ask for money while telling you to be very quiet because they have a gun and will shoot you after trying to follow you into your apartment and getting only halfway in because you allowed too much time to pass with thoughts like, “Does this boy need help?” “Is this nice boy here to return something I might’ve dropped on my way home?” “Is he here to fix the radiator I’ve been asking my landlord to get under control lest I melt into my crooked floorboards?” and now he can see your roommate’s computer and wants that, but you, stubbornly holding to your belief that everyone is at least trying to be decent, try reasoning with him instead – “you have to understand, my roommate will kill me if I give that to you, I just can’t, don't you understand? I’m not making a ton of money either and I work hard and struggle, too” – and are ultimately left with nothing to do but scream at the top of your lungs and open and slam the door with all your might, forcing him out, after which you feel guilty for physically injuring him. Sometimes strangers ask for money – twelve dollars and eighty cents, to be exact – so he can see the doctor for a knee injury because his wife is in LA for her sorority sister’s funeral with the credit card and the hundred dollar bills he has in cash in his wallet, which he shows you, are just short, and he’ll thank you for being the only one to stop, and people should respect women more because it is from them all life is born and he’ll come find you to return the money you lent him after he’s all fixed up after giving you his phone number and a photo of his drivers license and the promise of four free meals at Blue Note where he cooks – just so you can Google him later when you’re hungry to find that his license was expired but his name very much alive in a number of news headlines: “Man Charged with Luring in Teaneck Tried to Lure Girl in Hackensack,” “Englewood Security Guard Tackles Sex Offender who Rammed Car into Building after Stealing Toilet Paper.” The research concludes that he has posted at least $100,000 in bail after at least three years in prison. No wonder he's asking for money, you think, poor guy's probably unemployed.

Following these incidents, you start to feel differently about strangers. How they look at you, how they smile at you, and you hope to god that none of them speak to you. You consider sweatpants and form-obscuring tops a solid option despite currently sweating through your silk t-shirt and short skirt. Becoming invisible is the priority. You feel like a credulous dope, you feel like it’s your fault.

And for me, what’s worse, what makes the situation feel hopeless, is that in the profession I’ve chosen for myself I have to embrace the very things that make me vulnerable in real life. I have to be nice and charming and approachable and cute and entertaining and often times I have to wear short skirts and a big bow while I dance around. I have to accept less than what I think I deserve for my work because if I don’t someone else will. I have to be willing to sacrifice my own time and sometimes needs to work the hours they need me because if I don’t someone else will. Sometimes I have to understand that nudity may be necessary for the progression of the plot because if I don’t someone else will. And I cannot, cannot be invisible. That is a death sentence.

So all while I am literally being robbed and defrauded on the street, at work I am being overworked and underpaid. On my “time off” I am trying to rip my insides open and be generous, embarrass myself, read scripts and kiss strangers and dance like Anna Karina and beg (but not so they can see) that the intimidating panel of judges more or less determining my fate don’t forget about me as soon as I leave.

When I was in the police station a couple months ago after getting robbed, I remember remarking to one of the officers that I should probably start dressing less like a target in my short dress and high socks, expecting to be met with a laugh and maybe a patronizing lecture. What he said though was, “That’s no way to live.” I knew immediately that that was true. But it doesn’t help much to know how to not live, does it? 

I know I’ll work it out. I’ll find a balance, or if that balance proves to be some kind of chimera I’ll waver a healthy or at least interesting amount between being too open and too shut. Hopefully I won’t lose too much money along the way (sucks that it so often comes down to that, doesn’t it?), but at least [I think] I will always have enough of it for food and water and shelter so I can have the luxury of writing from a soft bed while the sun shines outside, even though I can’t open the windows to see it.