The State of Affairs

I’ve been burnt out and homesick, but I’ve decided it’s not so bad here.

The door of our dwelling is huddled under the stairs up to a walkway. Sometimes I walk among the small spit of grass and trees on my way to take the trash out, instead of parading past a row of garage doors, hoping Murphy’s Law won’t initiate another awkward pedestrian-driver waving game. I grew to take the latter way, though, as the path got littered with plums from the trees.

The back of a horse ranch sits on the top of the hill behind our apartment complex, and sometimes riders take their horses to the corner store, clopping back up the hill outside our apartment balcony with cases of beer. A little white house down the road is home to three dogs: two heavy duty feather dusters and a velvety pitbull. When they’re let outside, they bark for fun, but sometimes one of the little dogs gets really stressed out around the big one.

If I stand out on the patio, I can see the big illuminated sign of the shopping center where I used to work, sluggishly flashing red and blue over the trees like a lonely, distant beacon. It’s a little creepy.

We live across the bay from the San Francisco International Airport, so airplanes frequently roar overhead. Sometimes when it’s particularly loud, I half wonder if a plane is crashing, or if the apocalypse has arrived.

We have a hummingbird and a seed bird feeder attached to our balcony, and I’ve begun making a list of the birds who come to visit. Some of them are birds from home.

Our furniture and beds are inflatable. We planned to get real lounge furniture like regular adults, but before that could happen, we all realized that we’re moving on as soon as the lease is up. Can’t be tied down by real mattresses just yet. My current inflatable mattress doesn’t give me back pain and it’s decked out in comforters and flannel scottie dog sheets, so it’s a pretty decent setup.

We have a little side-room that I think is supposed to be a sort of dining room. This became the office early on. As is my way, I set up camp here pretty much exclusively over the fall semester and now it’s kind of unofficially become my workspace. I finally accepted that, and opted to move things around and add my own touches to the space—like Christmas lights and a cup for writing utensils with plastic molecule models in it.

We’re now just starting to decorate our walls after four months of being here. That’s the kind of four months it’s been. Too tired for initiative for extras. Surviving only.

Though we haven’t failed to cover our fridge in Lord of the Rings-themed word nonsense.

There’s a massive wildlife reserve just a 10 minute drive south, but I’ve yet to actually go there…among other places. There are a lot of welcoming, green places if you know where to look for them. The east bay city I’m currently living in is all right if you know where to go or have your own haunts, but, being new to the area, my aversion to driving in California, and an empty social energy bucket, I haven’t gone out and found them yet.

However, attempts to explore are beginning to bud. So far they’ve been reaping positive results.

My car likes to kill itself in the night. A few weeks ago, I put oil in it, jumped it, and charged the battery up again like an ADULT. One of these days, I’m going to stop worrying I’m going to destroy my car whenever it needs any sort of maintenance.

Afforded six weeks in which to recover from my intense stages of burnout, I more or less hibernated. Things are better now. But I’ve effectively destroyed my sleep schedule, and I’m trying to get it to at least resemble something regular before school begins next week. That hasn’t been as successful as I would have hoped…

The goal of this semester and beyond is to come back to balance. Getting a handle on my cancerous, stubborn cynicism, encroaching social anxieties, and lack of willpower to want to be patient or brave. I’m pretty optimistic that things are going to change for the better, actually. Things are already shaping up in many inexplicable ways.

I’ve felt tired and empty and cold for too long. I want to feel like things are worth it again. I want to work with ambition, pursue the things I love without groaning so much—if at all. Plans are taking shape: Among other things, I’ve decided to start exercising again, to venture outside the apartment more, to again take up recreational reading and daily reflection and prayer, to operate within “responsible self-care,”—minimizing procrastination, taking care of myself and my current home and roommates as a means of staying healthy instead of trying to define rest with avoiding all responsibility.

I want to feel whole again; peaceful, growing, alive. And for the first time in a long while, I feel…malleable–like perhaps the spiraling is over and I’m finally at a place where I can pick up and start making stronger strides forward. 

They say it’s more about the journey than the destination. And for me, this season’s destination is more a general cloud than a distant landing pad. Looking for that inscrutable target causes all kinds of stress for me, so I’ll focus on the journey. The daily steps, the digestible pieces.

I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I understand that such a point of satisfaction does not exist.

But perhaps where I am right now–in this little apartment south of San Francisco, on the verge of bigger and better things–isn’t such a bad place to start, all the same.

Bitter

Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.

The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.

I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.

Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.

            Why, God? Why do I feel this way?

Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.

I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.

But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.

Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.

I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.

An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.

I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.

I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.

And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.

I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.

And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.

Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:

 

Bitterness

Cynicism

Fear

 

I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.

So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.

But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.

Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.

Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.