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With Eyes Now Open

Day 1

Today I noticed that the ceiling fan in my apartment makes this horrendous knocking noise when on high. Not the normal knocking noise either, but one that seems to scream out, I’m simply waiting for the precise moment to fall on you and end both our misery at once. Not that my life is miserable, but I don’t expect a simple fan to understand the complexities of a highly mature, intellectually developed 24 year old. I’d even argue most highly mature, intellectually developed 24 year olds don’t even understand the complexities inherent in the position. I guess I just have to deal with knocking fans since I moved into a veritable hovel to save money. Beats being homeless.

I actually ride my bike past a homeless man everyday while going to work. He has this melancholy, droopy feel to him, based on my three second interactions with him. He likes to feed the pigeons. Constantly. I ride by and do my best to dodge the mounds of bird shit in front of him, and stare for a split second. That’s it. I have yet to figure out why anyone would feed those flying rats, but he does. I feel almost like my ceiling fan, just biding my time until he’s gone, or it’s my time to “fall” and put this earthly existence behind me. But maybe I simply don’t understand the complexities of a middle aged, maybe 34 or 35, fat, homeless man. Everyone likes to think they’re special, that everyone’s special: “If people just got to know me and my life, my circumstances, they’d understand and see it.” But I have a really hard time with that thought process. Most people are wholly unremarkable, boring. The sort of humdrum and repetitive beings that we laugh at in sitcoms and ignore in horror films because they’re murder fodder. Isn’t that why we laugh? We look at these people who are so similar to most everyone we know, maybe even ourselves, and they cannot function in any circumstance outside the norm. Maybe we aren’t laughing because it’s truly funny but as a way of hiding our innermost fears: we are not special. Just like them, we aren’t special, just the first victims in the horror film. We laugh and hope we aren’t that boring.

Today, I noticed that the ceiling fan in my apartment makes this horrendous knocking noise, but it isn’t special. Every fan does.

 

Day 2

Today I noticed a number of people smoking on the way to work. Now, I’m rather used to seeing people lighting up, but it dawned on me that I predominantly see them while on the bus, train, or riding past low income areas/homeless people. I couldn’t help but think to myself, why on earth would these people, who have so little in terms of money and property, ever want to waste it on cigarettes. Let’s just throw our money away on something that will make us less healthy and eventually kill us. Splendid.

But there’s got to be more to it than that, otherwise nobody would purchase those cancer sticks at all. I wonder how numb it makes people feel. If it makes them feel less paranoid, safe, secure. Maybe it’s a darker need than that: this unwavering feeling that since they’re homeless and on the fringes of society they’re worthless. Why not just kill themselves off and help the rest of the world out? I know I can be a bit of an elitist, but there’s something inherently unnerving about a human being’s willful self-destruction. While not everyone is special, or outstanding, and most certainly not a winner, there’s an inherent human dignity that screams out from those poor souls I see surrounding my hovel of an apartment. What is it that makes us ignore them so furiously? The rich hate them, the poor hate themselves, the right fumes about their laziness and lack of jobs, the left theoretically loves them, but they pass them by just like the rest of us modern Pharisees.

There must be a way to include them, to show them that they too are part of our community, our states, our country. They simply have to get up, dust themselves off, and keep pushing. But we can’t let them push alone. No man is an island, but an amalgamation of hopes, dreams, baggage, and fears. He is our brother.

Today I noticed a number of people smoking on the way to work. Not numbers, not simply homeless people, or people down on their luck. People.

 

Day 3

Today I noticed that I don’t exactly fit in. Or belong. Not in some sort of emotional or intellectual fashion, though I suspect that is also the case in many instances. I mean a more aesthetic “do not fit in” than anything else. I’ve been traveling through Charleston for the last few days and I only packed comfortable clothes since I’m house hunting before I move. Naturally I end up going out on a Friday night, and I can safely say that even had I brought my night on the town attire I would not have been part of the “in crowd” out here. Khaki pants everywhere. I haven’t owned khaki pants since I graduated from catholic high school and burned every last pair of them. Well, donated, but that’s the catholic equivalent to burning in hell, right?

It was strange, being such an outsider. Normally I have people giving me second looks, randomly hitting on me, or buying me drinks when I go out—no small feat for a guy not adventuring through “gay” districts either. But not tonight. Oh no, I didn’t exist. Granted, normal blue jeans and a deep v t-shirt just don’t warrant a second look out here, but it was magical. I couldn’t even be mad I was so intrigued by how everyone seemed to flow about me, converse about all manner of things, mostly trivial as per protocol with bar conversations before midnight, and how in spite of my taking up space, I was like an unadorned support beam.

There was a lady, young woman really, at the first bar I went to: blond, tall. Black skirt with a black and white striped blouse tastefully short enough to allow a sliver of tummy to peek out at the casual observer, but not enough to illicit the full wrath of her pastor father. Sleeves that didn’t cover the shoulders, but fell to cover her upper arms in an attempt at reconciliation for leaving her shoulders unescorted at the bar. She spent a solid five minutes talking to a young man in I’d assume a standard black chain store suite, Jos. A Banks or something at best. It should have been slimming, and perhaps it was, but his gut needed more than “slimming” to hide. An unbuttoned blazer made way for a slightly baggy plain white button down. No tie. No shave either. At least he had a respectable amount of coverage, giving him the purposefully unkempt that people seem to like presently. Scruffy, manly, stubbled up. I couldn’t hear their conversation clearly, they were speaking softly, and without drinks oddly enough, so they didn’t interrupt the other four ladies with them.

As soon as he left though, all I could hear was her. She turned and dominated the conversation between the other four so readily. Every other person leaned in interested, or feigning interest well enough, nodded in agreement, and punctuated her pauses with short additions, never any lengthy exposition. The blond grew more and more animated, hands weaving through the air to dominate the space as well as the conversation.

I sat quietly unnoticed, watching over the brim of a gin and tonic made with Hendricks and far too much ice. I couldn’t tell you what she said, but she said it.

Today I noticed I don’t exactly fit in. But why would I want to?

 

Day 4

Today I noticed I’m $80,000 poorer. Sort of. I spent the last few days going through house after house in anticipation of my upcoming move to Charleston, South Carolina. It’s my first time buying a house, and it’s rather exciting. I’d even argue it’s enough to make me want to be a real estate agent, but I digress. What I really noticed throughout the entire process was that my real estate agent has one of the most heartrending stories I’ve heard in a very long time.

He’s led a varied life, married at least twice, dealt with ghosts, financial disaster, and vindictive, manipulative ex-wives. He was an insurance salesman, the top in the country apparently, for a number of years before his “best friend” convinced him to try and flip houses with him. Naturally his best friend bails after the house is purchased and my man is left with the bill and a host of debt collectors out for blood. After selling that house he discovered he loved the process and decided to drop everything for this new career. Not a bad start, right? Enter 2008, the destroyer of worlds and housing markets. So he went back to insurance for the time to make ends meet.

Now those financial issues would have been more than enough of a struggle for any sane man, but to add insult to injury, his wife of the time decides she wants to leave him, moves to Maui, and takes the kids. Once she’s out there she becomes apologetic and convinces him to go out there to try and work things out. Half a year later they’re officially divorced after moving to Hawaii and back, he’s lost all rights to his kids, and sends his wallet into oblivion drinking and trying to get partial custody at the very least. He managed to get complete custody of the oldest. The ex-wife has some deep pockets though, so she pays off most of the people who came to testify, and convinced the judge that the psychiatrist SHE had hired for the oldest was full of shit when he said she was abusive, that the daughter was crazy, and my man had paid off/was in cahoots with the doctor the whole time. He barely got one of his four daughters out of there. He isn’t even allowed to see his other three daughters legally.

I could go on about the inequalities of family court toward men, nine times out of ten the woman gets everything no matter how terrible of a person she is or her situation, but what struck me was how forthcoming he was with me. He was flailing for a friend, even if for just a few days, in this tempest that is his life. He repeatedly mentioned his daughters, their friends, their past life. His current romantic endeavors were a constant source of laughter, groans, and shared hopes. Sure he’s supposed to be personable, that’s part of his job, but there seemed to be a depth in what he was sharing with the hope somebody would understand and walk a mile down his lonely rode with him.

Today I noticed I’m $80,000 poorer. But have I lost nearly as much as him?

 

Day 5

Today I noticed Jesus. Mass market Jesus. I went to a mega-church and there he was. Now, as a recovering catholic, once you’re baptized you’re always recovering, I’m fairly familiar with ceremony and a bit of theatricality when it comes to church. After all, there’s the yearly children’s Christmas pageant and the Easter act along with the priest. This, however, transcended mortal limits. It’s as if they had a fierce, B level tv producer at the helm. Not quite on the level of late night talk shows, but it was mighty close. Not a detail was ignored or left to providence. The light shows, there were light shows, during the musical performances, were deftly engineered to bring out the emotions within the audience. Everyone is a spectator when there’s over three thousand people “participating” in a ceremony. They had short, youtube esq videos they produced to rip out your heartstrings, and the money out of your wallet, and to soften the audience up for the finishing blow: another song leading into an interview with a pastor of a sister church.

Now, this was the best part of the production. They finally condescended to reference scripture and discus the Christian faith. And their backdrop? Their backdrop was on point. It was covered with the words, you can do it over and over. And it was so easy to read as the two pastors sat at their table on the stage, looking into the cameras as they talked—oh, yea, they stream this online and connect it to some nine churches so they can reach more of their flock. As soon as they panned back though, the backdrop was impossible to read aside from one gigantic you can do it in the center. They geared the backdrop to the tv audience more than those physically present! They even managed to have a few “tweet worthy” comments as the lead pastor put it. “That’ll kick Satan in the nuts.”

Being a staunch “I really couldn’t care less” deist made the situation fairly comical, but while I was chuckling in the middle of this intense Jesus fest I couldn’t help but notice a few other startling ideological issues. I felt like I was surrounded by Nazis. Instead of, freedom from freedom, they were advocating a sort of, complete abandonment of action in favor of Christ. I understand the thought that, god will act to bring about the ultimate good, but I always had that tempered with the caveat that he acts through humans. The keynote speaker, celebrity, Goebbels, whatever you would like to call him, spoke passionately about giving up your feelings and thoughts to Jesus. Understand that the scripture is the only answer and if we have any sort of feelings we should look to scripture to absolve ourselves of the impurity. Much like Hitler wanted his followers to understand their emotions and beliefs only through the lens of his Aryan agenda. Then there was the whole, raising a single hand, normally the right, when the “spirit was moving within you” that just smacked of heil Hitler.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this was a far cry from Nazism proper, and I don’t really anticipate any sort of crusade or genocide in the near future from them, but the foundation was there. And it bothers me. Or maybe what bothers me is the impersonal nature of the entire event. It was so polished and mass market refined I couldn’t help but gag on the high fructose corn syrup it was sweetened with. Isn’t spirituality supposed to be intimate, deep, and challenging? All I could think was, where do I give this post a like?

Today I noticed Jesus. Heil Jesus.

 

Day 6

Today I noticed the never-ending street. Any street that goes straight for more than a few blocks can be called never-ending when you live in a city, but the feeling of just looking down the street is more what I’m trying to get at. Normally we go down the street and our focus is within our immediate twenty feet or so. Makes sense, nobody wants to become road kill, walk into a sign post, or hit some little crippled lady crossing the street (they’re worth double points if they’re in a wheelchair). But today I didn’t focus on that at all. As I walked I looked down the road as far as I could possibly see, maybe seven to ten miles since there was a bit of a hill in the way. It felt as if the street simply didn’t end. The city just kept rising out of the ground, embracing this small stretch of emptiness. Trees lined the street, blooming with a serene purple flower that made me wish I knew more about plants so I could get a tree like that for my house. Pot holes and patches, street signs and yellow lines. But it felt so beautifully empty.

It was more than just a feeling of hope, elation, and potentiality. No, it’s the fact that no matter where I go the human condition will keep me company. Many people extoll the beauty of nature, that humans tend to create empty husks of the earth and ruin it. But have they ever looked down a city street as far as their eye can see? It’s a metamorphosis of beauty, a tamed, but wild beast of human creation and vision. The unrecognized beauty that surrounds us: we are more than savage beasts, we are creators in this terribly gorgeous world.

Today I noticed the never-ending street and I smiled as I kept walking forward.

 

Day 7

Today I noticed that everything hurt. It could have been two hectic weeks of house hunting, traveling to Charleston, looking through houses from nine in the morning until nine at night, not eating well because southern food is delicious as all holy hell but terrible for you wearing on me. Or, and more likely, it was the two hours I spent fighting yesterday, one of which against better fighters than me.  It is a blessing and a curse when they’re good enough to kick the same two inch by two inch portion of your inner thigh. It’s great, because you know exactly what’s going to hurt the next day. It’s terrible because you know exactly what’s going to hurt a LOT the next day.

This led me to the question, one that’s been dancing around my head for the last two weeks especially, why do I fight? Why does anyone fight? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s such a difference in my nature that I do it to overcome my own inhibitions, to play with an interactive and brilliantly brutal puzzle, and because there are few workouts that can compare to beating the hell out of each other. Why do people other than me fight though? I can only hope it’s for the same reasons, but I can almost guarantee that it isn’t the case. Some people fight because they need the money, the food, the water, the resources to live. We need oil to sustain our country. We need this land to expand. We need to eliminate this group of people. We need, we need, we need. Do we really need? We’ve already proven time and time again that cooperation produces better results, a win-win that flies in the face of mercantalistic beliefs. Yet we still fight.

If only everyone would push themselves, overcome those natural inhibitions. Maybe we would live in a world where we don’t have to fight, where it’s simply a sport. Are my hopes and expectations too high? I suppose it boils down to the fundamental question: are humans inherently good or evil? I’d argue we’re inherently lazy.

Today I noticed that everything hurt. You try putting on your shoes when you can’t bend you leg.

 

Day 8

Today I noticed that my girlfriend is completely bat-shit crazy. Mid-conversation she breaks down and starts oo-ing and ahh-ing, and producing some inhumane cross between a seizure and the hallelujah chorus. She was watching a video of a baby elephant seal.

I know it’s not the worst form of crazy, she’s not poking holes in condoms or tattooing my face on her back crazy, but sometimes I wonder if she cares about animals a bit more than people. Then she talks about her cats and all my doubts fly away. I only hope she loves me one tenth as much as that. I’d be loved for life and then some.

She’d be super embarrassed, or will be, was—I suppose—by the time anyone else sees this since she reads my writing first, that I’m even mentioning her. It’s been a titanic struggle to leave her out this long, so I gave in and wrote about her. She’s sort of important to me anyway and I don’t have cats to brag about.

She lights up at the sight of animals, she balls during sad shows. She’s beautiful, kind, and cares about life and the world more than a miser cares about saving a penny. But all that is nothing compared to how she always seems to bring out the inner light in people. She instinctively knows what to say, what to do, to make those around her shine. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all jealous. It makes me want to best Icarus. She’s truly magical. I could easily write for an eternity as swiftly as possible and still only scratch the surface. But by now she’s bound to be red in the face and embarrassed as hell so I’ll leave it at this.

Today I noticed that my girlfriend is completely bat-shit crazy. And I love her even more for it.

 

Day 9

Today I noticed the lingering taste of a cup of excellent green tea. There’s simply something lovely and simple about having a cup or two of tea just because you feel like it mid-morning or early afternoon. I’ve read that America tends to thrive on coffee, and now more recently, energy drinks. Which makes perfect sense. Our culture rewards constant movement, hectic helter-skelter lifestyles, and working 25 hours a day while sleeping for zero. Coffee and energy drinks give you an instant caffeine buzz that really kicks you in the pants. I can’t drink either of them. Coffee gives me jitters and makes me antsy, bordering on paranoid, and energy drinks make my poor heart feel like it’s going to explode like your great uncle’s pacemaker because he won’t stop eating nothing but bacon.

But tea? It’s calm. There’s less caffeine per cup, but there are two other stimulants in it so it provides this mellow, even buzz that you don’t hurtle down from like some kindergartener playing king of the hill with fifth graders. But that’s not why I drink tea. I feel so much peace when I make it. It’s like entering into a little Zen temple that encompasses myself, the leaves, and my very basic tea equipage. Have you ever watched water boil lovingly? Waiting a few minutes for the first tiny bubbles to skittishly dance to the surface like middle schoolers asking each other to dance? Those first bubbles are followed by the less daring dancers, the water’s about 170 degrees Fahrenheit at that point, and then they grow. Crab eyes, as Lu Yu called them in the first book ever written about tea, The Classic of Tea. Then you pour some of the water into your mug, and the pot you’re steeping the leaves in. Nothing comes close to ruining good tea more than not preheating your pot or mug. That instant cooling effect makes the tannins explode as opposed to all the flavor nuances when you drink it hot. Then you discard the water in your pot and put your leaves in. The pour, it’s beautiful. Watching the pristine water first interact with the leaves, smelling the sudden release of seaweed, vegetal, and grassy smells. The agony of the leaves is gorgeous. They unfurl, they dance, and the water transforms from a clear, clean, liquid to this beautiful greenish yellow tea. Discard the water in your mug, then pour your tea.

In that flash of a moment there’s nothing but your focus on making the best cup of tea you’ve ever made. Watching the delicate leaves play with the water, each other. Life stops. There’s nothing but you. Nothing but tea. And no bloody caffeine jitters.

You know how you can taste the tea the best? You sip, letting the tea splash around your tongue, coating it, feeling how it sits in your mouth. Swallow. Then breathe out through your nose without opening your mouth. That’s how you taste that haunting, lingering taste.

Today I noticed the lingering taste of a cup of excellent green tea. Everything else simply slipped away.

 

Day 10

Today I noticed a wave of loneliness. I was at a function for work, one in which I was even getting a rather important qualification awarded to me, when it struck. Thankfully it wasn’t an overwhelming tidal wave followed by a sea of isolation and disconnection, but it struck nonetheless. I looked around and saw everyone else having a good time, carrying on, drinking, eating, and smiles abounded. I wasn’t drinking, I’m not that into drinking in general but I had muay thai training to look forward to. As I sat there, wallowing in or maybe even relishing the loneliness, a thought came to me that seemingly explained this feeling’s genesis. It was precisely because I don’t drink that I felt like this.

I’m not saying my coworkers are alcoholics, I wonder if they’re functioning drunks at times, but their social life and desires all seem to revolve around drinking. They go out, do trivia and drink, get food and drink, talk and drink, run a ragnar. And drink. How do you run a marathon and then shotgun beers? Incomprehensible. I despise feeling drunk but they crave it. I want control, they want release. Almost like the nazi party—I swear not all of my thoughts return to genocidal Aryan supremist thought processes and quotes—and their freedom from freedom. That measure of control I crave and adore is complete freedom to act as you choose while drunken actions have a third person surreality to them. My consciousness watches some stranger in my body do things that are almost what I would normally do. Drunkenness is a veritable uncanny valley for me. It’s simply too close to me being me for my own comfort.

All this explains why I don’t have many close friends from work too. There’s something about the comingling of drunk people and sober people. Or rather, their inability to comingle. The sober party inevitably gets frustrated, feels superior, gets tired sooner, or refuses to partake in the drunken shenanigans. The drunks begin to hate the sober party’s control, lack of energy, party-pooping attitude, and doubts their sincerity. Even if one party avoids this, the other generally can’t. So, why would they invite me when I’ll remind them of the dichotomy of our mental states? Right, they don’t. It doesn’t help my cause that I couldn’t care less about professional sports and couldn’t hold a conversation about the intricacies of the 1993 Clippers team or the last ten NFL seasons. I’d much rather discus the socio-political implications of the fall of Syria, the insurgencies in the middle east and their creeping expansion into the west proper, tea, music, literature, theater, museums, and philosophical thought. Maybe I’m just an old man in a fit, devilishly handsome 24 year old body.

This all brings me back to a question that has burned in my mind and haunted me for years: if most of my peers are only concerned with release, going back “to the good ol’ days when our mama’s sang us to sleep,” and can’t muster the energy or interest to fix all the problems we’re facing, how will the world get better? I’d give that a like.

Today I noticed a wave of loneliness.

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