update for the curious

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I’m sitting on the south-facing terraza of my apartment, coffee at my side, legs propped on the laundry rack. The plaza is morning calm, the 60-ft. Italian cypress only betraying a slight breath of wind at its height.  Magpies with glints of green and blue in their glossy wings stalk the piles of white petals in the corners of the streets and rooftops, searching for scraps. Just a moment ago, something bright green and yellow and clutching a long leafy thing veered in and out of sight. I smell rice, garlic, fresh bread.

This is a typical start to the day here in Puerta del Ángel. Spring came early, like mid-February, and most of my classes don’t start until sometime mid-afternoon, a routine I fully embrace.

It sounds idyllic. The truth is it’s been difficult.

Before I get into that, a full admission that there are several problems inherent with keeping a blog. 1) I know they’re somewhat early 2000s and on the way out. Podcasts are taking over in popularity. I’ve never been good with keeping up with the trends. 2) I obsess way too much over saying the right thing, not oversharing but not speaking in riddles. By the time I make up my mind to post anything at all, hours or even days have gone by. 3) Who even is reading this? (To clarify: if you are, I’m glad you’re here. I just have no idea who you are.)

Anyway, so that’s why everything here is posted at random intervals. The first few months of being here, I didn’t post because I was immersed in taking everything in. I wrote—a lot—and it was a good time of introspection. To quote Rilke (and more on him later):

“Ultimately, and precisely in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone. . . . What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours—that is what you must be able to attain.”

The last few months, I’ve been wrestling with profound inner darkness, the kind that does not admit to speaking or writing easily and freely. Now that it is lifting—in part thanks to a generous dose of Vitamin D—I still have decisions to make. I hope to come back in the fall, but that depends on a visa and many other things that are currently obscure. Which is fine, I’m not stressing.

I’ve also been keeping busy with projects (starting up a design business, teaching voice classes, rehearsing with She Rose), chewing on Anna Karenina and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (refresher for this weary, befuddled mind), and last weekend, traipsing down south for a few days on an island. Juggling is fun!

Two weeks from Friday, I’ll be flying back to Chicago. It’s an exciting time in the family, and I love Chicago. If you’re a Chi-town type, look me up. If not, I’ll be in the Cities off-and-on as well as, like, North Carolina and whatnot. Maybe even Texas (looking at you, Busta Rhymes Baltzer).

I don’t miss America, but I do miss all the lovely people who make up its better pockets. Your love has proved to be “a strength and a blessing so large that I have been able to travel far without having to step outside of it” (Rilke, paraphrased).

We’ll see each other in the soon-times.

All my love and all hope—Jess

 

the misfit’s myth

“I’d teach myself how to want things, how to stand up, how to ask for them. And I’d say you—yeah, you—you belong in the room, too. The radiance falls on all of us, and we are nothing without each other.”

—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water and The Small Backs of Children

What, when you combine a birthday Bundt cake, a dog that’s dead from last May to eternity, a perpetual sense of levity, a moment of clarity at a gay bar, a TED talk on failure, a fistful of goodbyes? What, when moving through and learning extraordinary things feels like nothing more than a sort of awful taupe colour? What, when I can’t stop hoping for better things in spite of every pragmatic notion?

What then?

I can’t tell you.

This is not meant to be pointlessly opaque. This is to say, here’s my twenty-something life as it comes: an odd bunch of moments that sting a bit, warm me up sometimes, feel like the far past as soon as they happen.

The motivation is that nothing has felt important for a long time, maybe two years, maybe longer. The means is that I was offered a job. I’m taking a hiatus, and it’s right, as far as I can tell.

I’ve told a few people at this point, but the short version is that I’m heading back to a little town just outside of Madrid for a year to teach.

Not everything hurts. Not everything thrills.

What does hurt is my sister chasing my dad around the house, and there being no bark of a doggy who protected her family, even from each other. Instead, there is a hedge growing on a small mound of dirt in the yard and silence in the house. And neither my sister nor I had to put it into words because we both felt that silence.

What hurts is constantly listening, redefining self, seeing and forgiving, trying to explain this whole twisted journey without letting it weigh me down. What thrills is the same. Call it crisis, but maybe you’ve felt the same way.

I saw past this muddle in hearing Lidia Yuknavitch’s idea of the “misfit’s myth.” She describes it like this: “Even at the moment of your failure, right then you are beautiful. You don’t know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly. That’s your beauty.”

I plan on feeling confused for a while, the residue that poet Ada Limón experienced as a fish out of New York City (check her out, if you’ve not yet encountered her stunning work). I plan to pitch certain amounts of shit I’ve been toting around. Other than that, there is no plan and that, at the risk of sounding selfish, is what I want.

So this idea of reinvention. Maybe this is you, maybe not. I see it as a reinvention toward, especially toward the people in my life. I would love to hear if you have also gone through a reinvention of some kind, whether in person, by FB message, or at least by comment here. This process can be the most isolating thing, but I, the champ of filling my life to the point of chaos and utter loneliness, am telling you, it can be beautiful.

A Penny in the Sea

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

~ C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, dedication to Lucy Barfield

Recording my life seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me when I was given my first journal at age six. What, you might ask, would a six-year-old write about? Well, gymnastics class, and what I ate for lunch, and the birth of my cousin Michael, and even the occasional melodramatic complaint about how everyone hated me and how I should just run away. I included lengthy descriptions of post office field trips, lists of Christmas gifts, my feelings about a certain boy at Bible Study Fellowship. I even compiled detailed information in the back about my friends and family, based on quite a bit of sleuthing (I was under the impression that my thoughtful Nana, based on her occupational tendencies when visiting our house, “really likes doing dishes”!).

I loved that journal: its pink hearts spiraling across the pages, the cheap lock and key that gave me a sneaky sense of secrecy, and the deliberately shaped letters, forming words that somehow incarnated my six-year-old feelings and dreams. Words were magic to me, and the chance to escape from the daily tasks of crafting sidewalk chalk masterpieces and defeating pirate kidnappers with my sisters into literary endeavors was an adventure in itself.

At the time of writing, I’m starting a very new phase. I just graduated from college with a degree in Music Ministry in May, and after an incredible two weeks touring Europe with my choir, I’m starting to realize what “post-graduation” means. For the first time, my summer will consist of working and living from my apartment in the Cities instead of with my family in rural Minnesota. There is a wide, sparkling blank ahead of me, although the immediate future is slightly focused. I know very little, but I have found a different sort of magic, even a sense of home, in wonder and curiosity about the world. The best writing reflects the real world to us through fresh lenses. As an inchoate writer, I am not searching for sentimentality and nostalgic romanticism of the past, but for a renewed sense of purpose, rooted in what is real and true.

So this is the prologue, the opening credits, the casting of a penny into the sea with dreams that, like the tales I loved so well, great trees of silver and gold will shoot out from it. As I record and wonder and muse, feel free to respond with your own thoughts, stories, questions, anything really! Dialogue is a wonderful thing. Surprise me.

Side note: I hope to post at least once a week during the summer months, and having written that down will, ideally, bring some accountable momentum amidst selling plasma and rehearsing for Tarzan. Cheers!