“grounding” || the art of presence

“I’m in a third-wave coffee shop, drinking dope-ass coffee with Paul and it’s a fuckin awesome time right now. I’m so productive.”

transcribed from personal notes [December 14th, 2016]

“Walking is controlled falling.”

Why am I running?

I’ve forgotten the way back home. I’ve wandered around for so long and I’m having one of those “how-did-I-get-here” moments. Retracing my steps won’t be as easy as it once was.

It seems that I can navigate through the past and the future with ease, with finesse, but I can’t do anything in between. Like a space explorer who’s lost his way in his travels. Too many wormholes. I’ve gone astray and forgotten my way back to the present.

Granted, the journey has been rocky, to put it lightly. We did go through black holes, after all.

The turbulence was disorienting – it will take time to regain my bearings on reality and… well, everything else. Our compasses don’t work the same anymore.

“When the memories you’ve tried your hardest to bury begin to surface, you run. The places we run to may differ but we all run somewhere.”

For me, it was time.
I ran to the past. I escaped to my fantasy of the future.

I crafted a future I could imagine myself actually living in. It was fucking gorgeous. When I had no other place or time to run to, I would invent one myself. I designed my own world in this invisible pocket of space-time, making frequent excuses to visit. Each time I went, I would paint in more details. Fill in the blanks. Sometimes I would stay the night. Or a couple.

I recount writing semi-sarcastically in a previous, un-published post, “Maybe my new canine companion will be some sort of remedy for my heart’s agonies. I set my heart on the days ahead when midnight strolls on Telegraph Avenue with Husky Doge will somehow seal and consummate all the difficult heart change I’ve been enduring for the past five-plus months.” –Operation Husky Doge, December 24th, 2016

I held onto memories of better times. Past joys, past friendships, past romances, past dreams, even past sorrows. But the harder I clung to this past life, the deeper the sinking feeling when I found the only truth I wanted to forget. That the past life was nothing but that. Past.

Alas, our avenues of escapism can only serve us for so long before they inevitably betray us. They stab us in the back, like love affairs. We somehow already knew of their disloyalties, that they would become traitors – yet we still befriended them.

Every drug carries its side effects. Every substance has a backlash.
Even time travel.

I ran to the past and the future because the present was unbearable. I could not stand living in the present any longer. So I left.

I’d become more familiar with who I was and who I could be than who I am. I’d become so afraid that I covered my footprints.

It dawned on me that the more I fantasized about my future, the more I fabricated a time that the present could never dream of becoming. It was like a treasure that only went deeper into the earth the more I dug. It was like chasing after a mirage.

The more I hid in my memories, the fewer memories I would have because I was always absent from the true atelier of memories: the present. It was not just nostalgia. It was poison.

How does one find his way back into the present?
I’m no expert but I suspect it to resemble something a little like falling. Surrendering to the gravity you’ve tried so hard to defy.

Scary as hell, but I suppose you can’t travel in space forever.

Praying that the parachutes work, I’m currently trying to figure out this whole ‘controlled-falling’ thing.

I’m plummeting hard in this nauseating nose-dive back down to the earth.

To real time. Whatever that means.

“I am spending my Friday morning writing some genius insight into my new Canson notebook at The Night Owl, a humble coffeeshop in Downtown Fullerton that plays classic hip hop beats. I indulge in my particularly strong macchiato and the company of an old friend.

I am here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

transcribed from personal notes [December 23rd, 2016]

writer’s block

Of fresh starts, running away, and good storytelling.

“So you told her your story of betrayal. The truth.”

“Yeah. And she asks me, ‘What would you wanna say to them?'”

“Like in a hypothetical conversation?”

“Yeah, exactly. And I kinda freak out.”

“And then you broke up with her..?”

“No no, that’s not why I broke up with her. But it gave me an idea. An idea that would develop into something that would change the rest of my life.”

“That would lead you here.”

“Eventually.”

“I see. So what does that have to do with your um.. career crisis and stuff?”

“Slow down, man. I’ll get there.”

“Alright, alright. So how did you answer her question? Tell me about this hypothetical conversation.”

“Well the thing is, I already knew what I would say. I’ve already transcribed this…  ‘dialogue’ onto paper so many times, like drafts of a screenplay.
‘Which draft will be used?’, I often wondered. I kept writing and writing.”

“Did you ever use any of them?”

“Never.”

“Why not?”

“It was too painful.”

What is it, that I already know the words, but it still burns to say them?
I practice my lines for months, in some desperate attempt to be cast for the role. Yet the stage-fright still has its conniving way of sneaking under my skin.

I stand paralyzed in a lonely stage in front of a dark, empty audience, save a couple silhouettes. My shaky breath is too loud. Who decided that my microphone should be on. Now my fears are amplified for the world to hear.

“So you just.. didn’t ever talk to them.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t do it.”

“So what was this revolutionary, life-changing idea of your’s?”

“It was this thought that.. perhaps, we live in a world of cruel bloopers. I figured that conversations never play out the way we plan them. The characters always go off-script.”

“I mean, that’s one way to see it.”

“The scripts that I write in my head are always more preferable than what actually happens on-screen. Even if the scenes are hard and painful, I’d write them in an exaggerated, overly-dramatized fashion, which I prefer for some reason.”

“It feels better than the real thing.”

“Yes. So I obsessed over this concept and I found myself at a crossroads, which I often do. It seemed like there were only two paths that I could take: to live in a world of fiction or to lose my fantasy and live in the reality of the present.”

“Is that why you moved to the East Coast?”

“I’m afraid it was. That was how my new life as a recluse began. I immersed myself in this new, unfamiliar world, where I could start a new life. I could write my own story with new characters, new narratives, new plot twists. I even considered changing my name.”

“Damn. I had no idea. And how did that go for you?”

“It was exciting at first. Euphoric, almost. I was drunk on this idea that no one else could write my story for me anymore. The pen was in my hand and no one else’s. I reveled in this idea.”

“And the people back at home?”

“Well… I cut them off. I kind of just disappeared from their lives.”

His brow tenses ever so slightly. I look at the icy waters below us but I feel his concerned eyes pressing on my face. I don’t know if I like this feeling.

“What happened, then?”

“I started writing. I indulged in my newfound freedom. I had a fresh canvas to work with and I took advantage of that.”

“Fiction, I presume.”

I nod.

“Mostly short stories and what not. If you recall, I shared some of them with you a while ago.”

“Ah yes. They were pretty good. I hafta admit, I was quite impressed.”

“Yeah? Cool thanks, I guess replying four years late is better than never.”

“Sorry, man.”

“It’s whatever”, I mutter through my smirk. I knew he liked my writing.

“Wipe that stupid grin off your face.”

“No.”

“I’m gonna throw you off this bridge.”

“Hm. That would make an excellent opening scene. I’m gonna use that. Thanks, man.”

He rolls his eyes.

“You’re welcome. You were saying?”

“You crashed my train of thought.”

“You were writing short stories and…?”

“Ah yes. I was on a writing spree. My mind was overflowing with inspiration, it was almost too much. I could barely keep up. It had been a while since I created art that I was proud of.”

“Hm. Seems like Brooklyn did a lot of good for you.”

“Yeah. Everyday, the city had something new to offer me. New tools, new paints, new brushes to work with. It was a wellspring of creativity and innovation.”

“I wish more people thought of us that way.”

“That’s another thing. I had fallen so in love with this town that I almost felt this need to show it off to the world. I wanted people to realize its hidden beauty.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I suppose. It was complicated – wanting to show off my new home while covering my footprints so people in my previous life wouldn’t discover my whereabouts.”

“Did they ever find you?”

“A few did. They tried to get in contact.”

“What did you do?”

“I did what I knew how to do best.”

“…Write fiction?”

I nod again, slowly this time.

“You lied to them.”

“Well in fiction, you take the truth and you sort of… bend it. Twist it to your liking. Paint it with different colors.”

“I see.”

I can feel his skepticism. It is sharp.

“Do you regret that?”

“Sometimes. At the time, I had become so infatuated with the city that I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. My scars were still fresh. This was my new life and I had no intentions of going back.”

“That’s fair. Do you feel that your new self is incompatible with your old city?”

“Very much so.”

“I think I can understand that.
You mentioned previously that you had become a recluse?”

“Yes.”

“How so? As far as I could tell, you were still interacting with human beings when I met you.”

“Haha well, maybe not a real recluse.”

“Then what? A fictional recluse?”

“I figured I could have people in my life, so long as I didn’t have to get too close and personal with them.”

“And what did that achieve you?”

“Safety.”

“From what?”

“Robbery. I was scared that if I shared too much of my story, if I had let someone in too much, they would steal my pen. Because that’s what tends to happen. I didn’t want someone else writing my story again. It’s too painful.”

“Don’t you already share your stories though?”

“Yes, but only the fictional ones.”

“Hm.”

“For a while, people were nothing more than free ideas for characters I could build and write about. I would have a meaningful conversation or two with a new ‘friend’ and leave the rest to my imagination.”

“That is… fascinating.”

“That was the scariest part though. I needed to know them enough to have something to write about but that usually meant sharing myself with them as well. So once I had enough ‘content’ to work with, I would draw the line and keep the friendship from going anywhere further.”

“So… people were just creative fodder for your short stories.”

I look back down at the waters.

“Yeah, basically.”

“You’re a sick man. A genius, but… sick.”

“I know.”

“Was that all I was to you? A resource you could exploit for your writing career?”

“I may have used you for a few of my characters…”

“Fuck you. I want them back.”

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“You know, you’re so scared of having your story stolen from people… but isn’t that what you’re doing to everyone else? You earn your friends’ trust, they share their story with you, then you take it and run away without ever returning the favor.”

It made too much sense. Maybe I should jump the bridge now.
We sat in the silence together.

“You know, it’s okay. You can use my story if you want. I don’t mind.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, man. I’ve shared so much of it anyways. I trust you. You’re still an asshole, though.”

“Wow. I’m… baffled.”

“You know, as good of a writer as you are, your scars still sometimes show. I could always tell you were in pain.”

“Hm. I suppose fiction can’t hide everything.”

“There is a fine line between writing fiction and writing lies.”

Wow. I think I almost throw up.

“You know… you were always the most inspiring and the most difficult character I’ve had to work with.”

“What do you mean?”

“You always give out your story so freely… It confused me, yet it amazed me. I was always afraid I’d have to respond in kind. At the same time, it gave me plenty of content to work with. Maybe even too much. Too much truth. I was scared of it. So I decided to stop using it after a while.”

“How long has it been?”

“Years. I looked to other people for stories instead.”

“I bet my story was far more exciting.”

“Well… actually, yes. Remember what I said about how fiction is written?”

“Bending the truth?”

“Yeah. Well, I eventually ran out of truth to bend. If I could only get so close to my friends, there was only so much material I could use. I could always find new friends but I grew tired. I was meeting new people, only getting to surface level, and running away.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

“Especially if you’re trying to be a recluse. I ran out of juice. And that would drive me into the deepest pit of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I guess I’m still in it. And I never figured out how to escape.

My stories became stale and colorless.”

Another moment of shared silence. The sun had set for a good while now and the city slowly ignited its nightly skyline glow.

“You know what. I think you have what you need to escape this hole you’re stuck in. I think you know what to do.”

I paused.
I wondered, how much of this story was real, how much was fictitious? I thought about this new life that I had spent years inventing and how I had ended up in another dead end. I thought about why real life was so terrifying to me. I saw truth as fire and I still live with the burn marks.

“Stop writing fiction?”

“No. Stop writing bad fiction.”

“Excuse me?”

He smiled.

“There’s nothing wrong with writing fiction, my friend. But the best fiction is real fiction.”

“Ah. The great Albert Camus. How could I forget.”

Perhaps I had been asking myself the wrong question.
How much of my life is fiction, how much a lie?

I thought of truth as fire still – that had not changed. It was dangerous. But maybe if I allow myself the risk of playing with explosives, I just might be able to make fireworks.

Talk about grip strength. The pen is slipping from my hand.

homesickness

I wrote this during my recent spontaneous escapade to San Diego.

It is a dialogue piece about adventure and escape. As I pensively sipped my iced red-eye at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, a mere coffee-bean’s throw from the cliffs, a young woman sat next to me. No words were exchanged.

p

p

“Oh, I’m not from these parts.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I come from a land far off and distant.”

“Wow, I would have never guessed. You could pass as a local.”

“Haha, appreciate it.”

It is harder than I thought to look in her eyes. She’s pretty.

“Well… What brings you here then?”

“Good question.”

“So you’re not sure why you’re here?”

“Sometimes, you don’t know why until you actually go.”

“Hm. I see. Well, are you making any progress?”

“I think so. I’m still figuring it out.”

“That’s fair. What do you got so far?”

“Well aren’t you quite the inquisitor.”

“Hey, I already shared my story. Don’t leave me hanging. Besides, what are the chances we see each other again in the future?

“I guess.”

She looks at me and I quickly turn away, in an attempt to steal back my glance.

“Alright then. Just for you. Shall we?”

As if in unspoken tradition, we raise our beer bottles towards each other once again and toast. Clink. After a deep swig, we continue our aimless stroll on the warmly-lit streets of the downtown labyrinth.

“…Well?”

“I’m running.”

Her eyes widen.

“Like… a fugitive? What did you do?!”

“No no, not like that… I ain’t like your FBI Most Wanted felon or anything.”

“Oh. How boring.”

“Hey, you asked for it.”

“Okay fine. So what are you running from? Or who?”

“I’m running from life.”

“I’m not quite sure I understand.”

“Well back where I’m from… things aren’t looking so great right now. And I don’t want to be there right now.”

“Hm. Must be pretty bad, huh. For you to run.”

“Yeah. It’s hard to look out the window sometimes. Some mornings, it seems as if I’m waking up blinded. Like one of my eyes forgets to awaken from its slumber.”

“Seriously?”

“My city… we live in shadows. It’s quite dismal. Imagine not being able to see one color for the rest of your life. You don’t fully realize its beauty until it’s lost. Or, the color blue. It isn’t as blue anymore. It’s not a rich cerulean substance with flavor. It’s just… blue. Without the depth. We’re losing something precious.”

“Whoa.”

“The worst thing is… I don’t know if anyone else notices what’s happening. Or cares.”

“Have you tried explaining it to them?”

“I’ve tried. I talked to my family, my friends, Hell, I’ve even talked to the governor. I published articles and what not, trying start a movement or something.”

“So you’re a writer.”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“And nothing. I mean, they’ve tried to respond and ‘fix’ the problem but I don’t think it’s been very helpful.”

“Why not?”

“Well, if your doctor gives you the wrong diagnosis…”

“…He’s gonna give you the wrong medicine.”

“Precisely.”

“Ah. And you think you have the right diagnosis?”

“That’s the thing. I’m not even sure myself.
But… I’m sure as hell more knowledgable than they are.”

“What makes you so confident?”

“I’ve lived here the longest. Even longer than the governor. This is my city. I know every street corner, back alley, secret passage, you name it. I know the underground networks better than I know grade school math. I practically built a good portion of it. I own these streets. My blood runs in the city’s veins and the city’s blood runs in my veins.”

“They should have elected you for governor.”

“Nah, that ain’t me. I belong on the ground-level. On the streets. Front lines, you know?”

“Mm. Can’t you change the city if you know it best?”

“That’s the thing. I need the resources from the higher-ups to make some sort of real change. I can’t do it alone.”

“But they ain’t buyin’ it.”

“They ain’t buyin’ it. I’ve tried to start something on my own initiative but I don’t think it’s possible. I can’t sustain it for much longer. The fatigue is starting to cement in my soul and my soul is hardening.”

“No one understands.”

“No one understands.”

She looks over at me.

“That sounds painful.”

“You have no idea. It’s unbearable. Seeing my own city in flames. Ash clouds trace the skyline. People have been inhaling smog for so long they’ve forgotten what’s in the air they’re breathing. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my city without the haze.

When the city burns… when the city bleeds, it’s not just the city’s blood that flows.”

“It’s your blood.”

I nod at her.

“Damn. I can’t imagine that.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot.”

The pace of our step slows.

p

p

“So… you’re escaping. Escaping your world, escaping the pain.”

“Yeah. I suppose I am.”

“No shame in that. It makes sense.”

“Mm. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Many people think otherwise. People at home, I mean.”

“Well, they clearly don’t get it.”

I pause.

“Yeah.     …Yeah. Thanks.”

We make eye contact at last. Mutual contact, that is. Something about her gaze pierces me, through my burning tears, through my dark, fathomless eyes, through my soul.

p

p

“You know, I feel honored. Special.”

“How so?”

“You picked my city. You could have gone anywhere in the world but you picked my home. Even if it was to escape.”

“Well, I was just… I guess I just wandered here. I didn’t have a destination. Just far away.”

“But something told you to stop. Here. Of all places.”

“Hm. I guess so.”

She looks at me again and gives me a soft smile, the way that only your closest friends would give you a soft, yet strangely loving shove.

p

p

“What’s wrong?”

“I… I have to go back. I can already feel the bleeding.”

“This isn’t your first time, is it?”

“No. How did you know that?”

“Just a guess. I can almost see… tethers. And they’re latching onto you, almost like chains, and whenever you leave, no matter how far you go, they eventually pull you back.”

“Damn. You’re good.”

“Hah. Thanks.”

“Do I have to leave?”

“I can’t make that choice for you, my friend. You have to decide that for yourself.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Again, that’s your choice. It’s your city.”

“Sometimes… it seems like the only moments when I feel like I belong are the moments when I am far away. When I am traveling to new, unfamiliar worlds. When I am discovering the treasures of distant lands. When I am wandering. It is in times like those that I actually feel like my soul is in tune with my body. I get that sense of ‘Yes, this is right’-ness. Like I should be here… when I’m not here. Does that even make sense?”

“Ah. You have the heart of a wayfarer.”

“Have you ever gone somewhere and felt a deep yearning for a place you’ve never known? A homesickness for a land you’ve just set foot on?”

“Rarely, but yes.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

“Is it that you don’t want to leave, or that you don’t want go back home?”

“I can’t tell.”

“That’s okay.”

We made eye contact again. Not nearly as intimidating but even more powerful.

“I can already feel it. The… tethers? They’re pulling me pretty hard. It’s almost suffocating.”

“I guess this is it, then.”

We approach the platform. I board the train hesitantly.

“This conversation was not long enough for my taste.”

“Hah. We’ve been at it for quite a few hours, bud.”

“Man. Is that so.”

“Hey, if you ever need to run away… if you ever need a place to escape to, you know where to go. My city’s gates are open.”

“But will I ever see you again? Will you be here if I come back? How will I find you?”

She gave a gentle smile.

p

The train’s doors closed between us.
As the speed of the train crescendoed, the sight of her face waned into the horizon, gradually, yet still too quickly. She disappeared from view but I continued to stare out the window.

The tethers tightened their grip around me and dragged me back into the nauseating timelapse of life.

p

p

Why am I here?