“It is the most unhappy people who most fear change.” -Mignon McLaughlin

15 Aug

So I’ve been having trouble handling change lately. Sometimes change is good. But sometimes its just happens because that’s the way life goes. The recent change seems to have been sneaking up behind me, giving little clues here and there to make me wonder, but suddenly I feel as though it has just sprung forth and grabbed onto my shoulders, making me jump, making me want to run away.

Sometimes I think that change has a more potent after effect. The change happens, something big maybe, and I’m aware of it; like moving away from a place I’ve spent a lot of time, or leaving a friend, or breaking up with a lover. But its not until later that I really feel the sadness that accompanies the change. I begin to realize that theres a distance between my present self and the self of my past. I start to notice differences between the two people; who I was and who I am currently. I try to remember what my life was like at that previous time, and realize that I’m living a completely different life now. It scares me when I suddenly recognize that I don’t have much in common with that person anymore.

This is when the change upsets me. I try to find something to cling on to, something familiar, but sometimes nothing is there. Good friends might have drifted away into the corners of the unknown, old haunts haven’t been visited in months and the faces inside belong to strangers. Sometimes even the face in the mirror is a stranger. The only thing that’s left of the time I am mourning are the pictures I took, and I sit, surrounded by the memories, looking at this proof of my previous life, and wonder to myself  ‘wasn’t there something more? There was a life here: movement, vivacity, a kinetic enthusiasm that is all but lost in the frozen smiles, forever happy, but happy about what?’

The worst kind of change is realizing that you aren’t close with someone anymore that you used to consider a good friend. You can tell the change is coming, maybe you’ve stopped speaking as often, or seeing each other as much. But one day you realize that you’ve been calling someone your best friend and you haven’t even met their significant other, or you have no idea what their work schedule is, or if they got into grad school. Suddenly, you feel threatened. You want to call them, to get some reassurance that its all in your head. But why? Because you cared about this person so much that you need to have them in your life? Or because you felt that they cared about you, and that this defined you. This person was your friend, and gave you security in that. People knew this, it was something you could count on. You both shared experiences that were meaningful to you. Now, you feel like there won’t be many more memories made.

I’ve been having trouble handling change lately. I look back on the past few years and wonder how time is going so fast, flinging me into the future, bringing me closer to the end. But then I stop and wonder if in the next few years, I’ll look back on this time, and be able to see what I can’t see now through the rose-tinted glasses of the past. Maybe I’ll be looking back on these times, frozen within pictures frames, and ask myself how I let it slip away. Change is hard, and while it’s a part of life, we’d never appreciate the way things were if they always stayed the same.

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The art of action

25 May

The picture on the far side of the wall is yellow. In the center there is a light yellow vase with dark yellow flowers. Gold sunflowers. Pretty gold sunflowers set against a bright yellow wall. Familiar beauty;  I remember this image from my art history book in high school. It evoked a memory of the sunflowers that grew as tall as me in front of my childhood home when i was five. The memory resurfaces at this moment, and I feel nostalgic. Someone who is dead now painted this picture. I wish I could remember who, but the names of all the famous artists have flown away from the recesses of my brain to go and rest on the tongues of people who will honor them. Gradually, The yellow paint on the canvas slowly becomes too bright for my eyes, like the sun rising in the morning, inching towards noon. Across the table, Pete addresses me: “baby.”

“Hm?” I lift my chin out of my supine hand an inch, turning my eyes to him and raising my eyebrows for a moment in acknowledgement.

“Are you done?”He’s looking at me, finished with his burger, finished with his fries. I glance down at my sandwich. Halfway in between the chicken and the whole grain bread I lost interest, and my attention was transferred to the painting on the wall.

“Uh huh,” I respond plainly, dropping my hands into my lap and returning his gaze. Pete always gets annoyed with me for never being able to finish the meals I eat. He says its a waste of money, because I refuse to take it home in a doggy bag. It grosses me out to eat leftovers. I used to do it for him. I don’t do it anymore.

“You seem distracted,” he observes.

‘From what?’ I think to myself. ‘Our riveting conversation?’

“Who painted that picture?” I say outloud, pointing vaguely to the wall behind him. He turns to view it.

“No idea.” He says, turning back to face me, shrugging his broad shoulders. “Ready for the check?”

“I know I’ve seen it before.” I say. “In an art book, in high school.” Pete nods indifferently.

“What were you like in high school, again?” I ask abruptly, putting my chin in my palm again, my elbow balancing on the table, pulling my body in to partake in a secret.

Pete smiles. “You know this.” But the memories are tugging at the corners of his lips as he briefly relives the days of those honey-colored years. “I was big into baseball,” he says obligingly. “Was captain of the team, three years running. Had some of the best times of my life on that diamond. I wanted to play in college but wasn’t good enough for D1.” He shrugs again. “Well, it was fun while it lasted.”

“Yeah,” I sigh. I can almost smell the pages of my art history book again mixed with the sweet scent of a summer garden, back there, flipping through and staring at thousands of years of creativity and hard work. “I wanted to travel all over the world. Go and see the seven wonders of the world. See the pyramids before they crumble into dust. Wouldn’t that be cool?” I look over at him.

“Would be an expensive trip.” He says. I roll my eyes.

“I’m not talking about doing it. I just always wanted to.”

“I know, baby. I’m just saying. You know I’m trying to save up for a house so that when we get married we’ll have a place to live. You’d rather have a house than a trip, right?”

‘No.’ I think to myself. I look past Pete’s left ear, at the picture again. I realize suddenly that this picture is a copy, of course. I wonder where the real picture is.

“Baby, what’s going on?”

“I want to know who painted that picture.” I reply. Pete moans.

“Why? What does it matter?”

“It just does.” I say. The wall is red. The painting is yellow. Pete is wearing a dark pink shirt and clashes with the background. I can’t stand it when men wear pink.

“Excuse me,” I say to a passing waiter. He glances at our table and targets the empty plate in front of Pete and the napkin spread over my half-eaten sandwich. “Ready for the check?” He asks confidently.

“Yes, please.” Pete responds, reaching into his pocket to take out his wallet before handing his credit card over to the waiter.

“Oh, wait!” I say, as the waiter turns to leave. He stops and looks back at me, eyebrows raised. “Who painted that picture on the wall?” He turns his head and neck at a 90 degree angle to look at the painting I’m speaking of. The yellow sunflowers are huge in their frame.

“Oh, thats just a copy. Its not for sale or anything.”

“Oh, I’m aware it’s a copy. Who painted the original, do you know?” The waiter shakes his head slowly.

“Sorry, ma’am. I’m not sure.” He turns to leave, then spins around. “Do you want a doggy bag for your sandwich?”

“No, thank you.” I respond.

“Baby.” Pete is looking at me from across the table. “Is everything okay?”

Sometimes I want to scream my name at him. He only says it when he’s upset with me, to make his point clear, to make sure I know that he’s serious.

“Yes.” I say, through gritted teeth. “Just ready to get out of here.” Three minutes later the waiter comes back with the check.

“Here you go, Mr. and Mrs. Kreifler.” The waiter drops the check in front of Pete.

“Oh, we’re not married.” I say, looking up at the waiter. He nods awkwardly.

“Sorry.” He says, the turns and walks away.

“What was that?” Pete asks, signing his name while looking at me.

“What?” I ask, defensively. “I didn’t mean anything by it, I was just stating a fact.” Pete looks down at the check. “Eating out is so expensive. We need to start cooking more.” I roll my eyes, but Pete doesn’t see. We get up to leave. The sunflowers are right in front of me.

“Give me a second.” I say to Pete, walking away before he can protest. There is a table underneath the painting with a couple sitting at it. On their table is a candle, that has been recently lit for the dinner crowd. Its appropriate for the dimming of the sun that can be seen outside the window, set in the red wall next to the couple. I am almost at the table and I see them notice me, becoming confused, wondering if they know me.

“Hi,” I say, smiling. “I’m sorry, I just love this painting here,” I point to the picture above their heads. “I was hoping to get a look to see if there’s a signature or something so I could tell who painted it, if you don’t mind.” Both heads twist to get a better look; both sets of eyes gaze upon the yellow sunflowers against the yellow wall against the red wall against the darkening sky. The man turns to me.

“Thats Van Gogh.” He says simply. “Not sure about a signature, but I’d know that painting anywhere.”

“Oh, thank you!” I exclaim, smiling. “So sorry for disturbing you.”

“Not a problem,” the woman says, smiling back. Pete is standing outside the doorway.

“That was a little weird,” he says. “Why are you so obsessed with that picture?” We begin walking towards the car.

“I’m not obsessed.” I retort. “It reminded me of when I was eight years old. We had a white picket fence. There were sunflowers that were as tall as I was. I made nicks in their stems to measure my height. I grew 2 inches by September.” Pete is silent. I continue. “I forgot that house even existed.”

“Do you miss it?” Pete asks, looking down at me. I return his gaze, his eyes black, reflecting the night sky.

“I miss the feeling that I have all the time in the world. I miss having dreams that still have the potential to come true sometime in the future. I miss living life to the fullest every day.” I say.

“Baby, what’s going on?” Pete asks. I look at him, at his colorless eyes, blue to everyone else he knows but always black to me.

“Please, don’t call me that.” I respond. Tomorrow, I will pack my bags and stay with a friend for a few nights before figuring out how I am going to live an entirely new life.  I’m not Mrs. Kreifler and I don’t want to be. Right now, I would rather have a trip than a house. As I walk away I look up at the sky. The stars are big and bright, and the moon is encased in a hazy glow. Tomorrow, I will wake to a room yellow with promise.

The “I” in “Happiness”

7 May

I’m going to get what I want.

What do you want?

Happiness.

How will you obtain happiness?

By success, power, popularity, and freedom.

How do you measure success?

Success is having money and material things that everyone else wants. Its having a good looking and charming partner that makes my friends jealous. It’s having children that also succeed, that impress other people and never disappoint or embarrass me.

How can you become powerful?

I can become powerful by promoting myself, by keeping my eye on the prize, and not letting anyone else get in my way while asking what others can do for me.

What makes you popular?

To be popular I need wealth, status and convictions, to know when to tell people what they want to hear and when to disagree, I need to have a good image in the eyes of my peers, and to be someone everyone else wants to be friends with.

What is freedom to you?

The ability to go anywhere in the world at anytime, to buy whatever I want, to eat in the best restaurants and drink at the best bars. To have whatever I want, whenever I want it.

What word was most used in the past paragraph?

I.

So, how will you obtain happiness again?

By greed.

Do you think greed will make you loved, respected, secure, and fondly remembered?

No.

Well, at least you will be “happy”.

Control Freak

1 May

When I was still a student in high school, my dad would always take the opportunity to teach me a “life lesson”, as he called it, whether it be in response to a mistake that I had made, or a situation that another person was going through. I always found myself rolling my eyes as he made his point, my legs trembling as they itched to make a run for the door. The last thing that I wanted was for my father to sit me down and give me any kind of guidance or advice- I was a teenager, and I was convinced that I knew everything already.

I never thought about his words of wisdom after they rolled off his tongue and evaporated into the air, barely reaching my ears to make any kind of impact. When I was finally released from the confines of conversation I bounded to my room and slammed the door against anything that would try to tie me down to being someone I was not. I was an individual, with stores of experience and knowledge. I knew how to live my own life.

Recently, I made a big girl decision to go after something I have desperately wanted for the past four years of my life. I took my big girl money, my big girl backpack and went on a plane high in the sky for a six month stint in a foreign country. I planned to go it alone, to live on the edge, and be the independent adventure woman who lets nothing stop her. In reality, I stuck myself to a group of other American travelers as soon as I got there. I worked in the same office as they did, went to the same restaurants, and saw the same sights, even when I didn’t want to. I came home dissatisfied, having had a good time but knowing in my heart I hadn’t taken the trip into my own hands to make it what I had wanted it to be.  Out of fear and insecurity, I had limited my experience and had tried to haphazardly create a comfort zone, instead of embracing the unknown and letting it carry me along on its exciting, sparkling current.

As I sat alone at a coffee shop back home in the states, I wondered why it is that I allow myself to get in my own way. Whenever I put myself in a situation where I have the chance to grow and have a new experience, I balk and scramble to surround myself with familiar things. At my wits end, unsure of how to carry on with life and convinced that I would forever stop myself from having new and meaningful experiences ever again, I called my father

After sharing my grievances, I sat expecting a long winded and lengthy enlightenment and was surprised when a one-worded answer came my way.

“Control.”

“What?” I asked.

“Control.” He repeated. “You want to control your situation, so you can avoid anything that makes you uncomfortable.”

“No, I don’t think I want to control my situation.” I said matter-of-factly into the phone, sitting up straight in my chair. As I did so, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the far end of the wall, a harried looking 20-something year old on the phone to her parent, grasping at straws and trying to figure out how to avoid any future mistakes she was bound to make. “At least I don’t think I want to.” I said softly.

“Its human nature, honey. None of us want to be thrown into a situation that we’ve never been in before, because we don’t know how to behave. But its realizing that the only way to learn for the next time is to go through it in the first place that lets you face the fear and let go of the reigns.”

” I never thought about it like that.” I said. A few minutes later we hung up, because my dad had plans to play golf with a few friends. As I put the phone down, I thought about what he had said, and realized that I couldn’t have said it better. I wasn’t letting life unfold before me bit by bit, I was trying to unfold it myself.

And so this time, I keep the door open. I keep my ears perked up, and nod in understanding. Its not about going into every day already knowing what to do, its about using what we know about ourselves to figure it out. And when we finally realize this, then we can jump on that plane and have the confidence to just let life happen.