Jul 7, 2008

doing "nothing"

This summer I am not working, but as a friend of mine wisely said, "nerds abhor a vacuum". At the end of May I announced my intention to "do nothing", but somehow there is still not nearly enough time in which to do all the things I want to do.

But the pace of life certainly is different. No homework, no schedule. This leaves time for thinking. When I decided not to work this summer, I decided to *think* instead. I decided to use the summer to Figure Things Out - what exactly I was going to figure out was, um, undecided. I thought that without a crazy schedule, things might rise to the surface.

And they have. This is my mid-summer report on Figuring Things Out. Since Figuring Things Out is a subject notoriously difficult to convey - hey, if they were easy to write about, they wouldn't count - I'm posting a series of vignettes I've written over the past week.

It begins in a dark place. Warning: the following dream is very disturbing.


In the dream, I was in my grandparent's house, although my grandparents weren't there. Instead, in various rooms in the house, were all but a few of my closest friends, puttering around, reading, doing their own quiet thing. I was in the study, looking through my grandfather's old desk, trying to find something. I got distracted, though, by examining the many little things in the small drawers of the desk. I can only remember one of those objects - a letter opener with a wooden handle - but in the dream, I got completely carried away, poking through the drawers for hours. Then the dream made an awkward shift to the next phase. I was still standing in the study, and a sickly aura had enveloped the house. Everything seemed blue tinged and silent. When I breathed in the air felt slimy and wrong. I floated out of the study and in to the dining room. Hanging over one of the chairs was one my friends, swollen and limp and blue and purple - dead. My heart raced. There was poison in the air. I tried to run to the other rooms to alert my other friends. But I was frozen. I floated, with no sense of the ground or of force at all. I could move, but painfully slowly. The force my muscles put out didn't move anything, it just disappeared. I was swimming through the air madly when I finally got to the next room. The friend who was in that room was still alive, staring at me with little comprehension, obviously under the effects of the poison. I opened my mouth to give the warning, and found that I had two tongues. All I could do was choke. I tried to speak a few words, but my friend could not understand. I realized I wasn't speaking English, though what exactly it was I'm not too sure. I reached out through the inexplicably thick air and tried to grab my friend. But everything in the house, my friend included, seemed to be rooted to the spot, unreachable. Despite using all my energy I could not make any difference. I fought through the closing air to the next room. There was another friend sitting, facing away from me, looking out the window. I tried to make a sound - any sound, but I choked again. As I floated there, my friend slid from the chair to the ground. I was too late. I gave up. The dream made another abrupt switch. I was running across a wooden bridge that was covered with sand. I must have been somewhere in Maine. This time the air was almost nonexistent, hypoxic, thin. I ran effortlessly until I came to an empty wood cabin. I went inside. It was completely bare except for one man sitting at a desk in the corner. There was no other furniture. The man at the desk was bush with some paperwork, and gave me the sign to wait. I stood there for a very long time. Finally, he beckoned me towards him. I opened my mouth but found I still had two tongues. I couldn't speak. He sneered at me. "There was one you could have saved, sitting in the door way, near the fresh air," he said.

I woke up soaked in sweat. It was 5 AM and still hot outside. I had only been asleep for two hours. I took off my sweaty tank top and stood at the sink and splashed water on my face. I looked in the mirror. Only one tongue. Maybe nobody had died after all.


I started out on the run knowing I didn't feel well. I told myself that if I wasn't comfortable, I'd stop running. I always tell myself things like that. It doesn't make any difference.

A mile in, it hurt. Ten steps later, it hurt a lot. I leaned my head back to get a better angle on breathing. Swallowed hard.

As I rounded the corner and passed the sandwich shop, I couldn't swallow. I stopped running and walked a few steps. The seconds ticked by on my watch. 11 seconds. I started running. I felt like some strange LEGO person, cobbled together out of parts that didn't match. My legs were restless, my lungs healthy, and my stomach (for which running is supposedly no work at all) an ill-fitting piece, the weakest link.

I made it back home in 31 minutes. I was sure I couldn't have gone another minute, but that's what I thought at minute 26, too. I stood in front of the sink again and splashed water on my face, holding my neck back in a funny position so I could swallow. I looked at myself in the mirror. The pain was completely invisible.


It rained on the day of graduation. All 2000 of us lined up in 4 rows, in the athletic fields, our mortarboards shielding us from some of the rain. I didn't feel well. It was a big day, and I'd just spent 2 hours waiting in a hugely crowded, incredibly hot gymnasium (wearing my robe, of course), talking to dozens of students. The air was pretty charged. Graduating from MIT is kind of like taking the top off 2000 soda bottle that've been shaken for 4 years. Of course, put me in that kind of energy, and no matter how celebratory the mood, I'm like to go under.

I stood in line, moving forward every once in a while. We had about half a mile to walk to the lawn on which the ceremony would take place. Even 10 steps seemed like too much for me. I watched people jumping out of line to hug family members, people shouting across the lines to their friends. I took a few more steps. I couldn't swallow. Was this how I was going to graduate? Would my family line up with their cameras, tears in their eyes, to take a picture of me in this state, barely able to focus my eyes, wondering if I'd be able to hold on? Would I have to forgo shaking the President's hand, and slump in my seat as the next person in line collected my diploma? Is this really want I wanted to remember about my graduation?

Of course I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to feel instantly well, I wanted the sun to come out and the rain to stop. But throwing hate at my kind of pain only feeds it. C'mon Lissa, I told myself. You've pulled through before. You don't have to give this up. You can just take one more breath. Don't worry about it. It'll be fine.

It took a quarter mile. I followed the guy in front of me and didn't look up. But when we neared the entrance to the lawn, I realized that I was actually... fine. I looked up. It was still raining. The grass was slick and well-trod and the entire audience was clad in identical MIT ponchos. But all of a sudden it looked beautiful. I passed through the entrance and in to the sea of people. I heard a shout. My family was to the right, all of them waving like madmen and yelling and snapping pictures. I smiled - and it was easy. Later, as I shook the President's hand, my sister jumped up in the audience in excitement and obscured the video my mom was making of the moment. No matter. The videotape wouldn't have shown how good I felt right then, anyway.


"When the spring comes, the grass grows all by itself."


David Glasser said...

Even better, my interpretation so far, though lackluster, isn't so different from his.

This surprised me a little. Is having a similar interpretation to a master, as opposed to your own uniquely Lissan interpretation, a goal for you?

Cygnet said...

Yes and no.

Of course there is no Totally Correct interpretation. I'd certainly like mine to be unique.

But on the other hand, I find that to a limited extent, there are right and wrong ways to play things. There are interpretations that may seen "cool" or "innovative", but which don't really stand up when compared to master versions. They may be new and different, but they just aren't as compelling. So while I'd like to add something of my own to the Mozart, it's reassuring to know that I'm not WAY out in left field.