Happy New Year

I failed to write a timely New Year’s post which is not to say I did not try. In the days leading up to January 1st, I jotted down several ideas ranging from the run of the mill list of resolutions (not one have I ever successfully carried out) to an introspective essay on self-improvement and reaching my “full-potential,” which, I fear, will remain mysterious and vague. I am not out for reinvention. I am not even one for too much introspection. I have yet to post it, but there is an essay in the works entitled: “Introspection is Overrated.”

2010 was, writing wise, my most introspective year. And here many of you laugh, raise your brows and chide: “Well Betty, if that was you at your most introspective, then you’ve maxed out rather pitifully.” But what I mean is, I wrote very little outside myself. Every post was “me, me me me me and me.” In October my friend Elena visited me in Berkeley and one evening, as we were riding home on the BART, she remarked upon my utter reluctance to acknowledge the rich scene playing out before us. A smelly homeless man sat in front of us and struck up a conversation with a young man across the aisle. He held a beat-up guitar case in his lap and despite his scruffy beard, seemed genial. The homeless man pointed at the boy’s guitar case and rasped, “Play a song for me, boy.” I grimaced at his sour breath, his crusty eyes, his dirty hands. I expected the young man to turn towards the window, but he gamely unclasped his guitar case and produced his instrument, covered with decals and logos. He began to strum, then played in earnest a light-hearted tune that could be heard even as the BART went underground. “Play a song for me and these bitches,” the bum rasped, and catching a young woman’s eye, began to whisper dirty things. “Show me your titties,” he said, “Show me your pussy, will ya? Will ya?” She was clearly uncomfortable, but smiled kindly and nodded towards the young man playing guitar, “Listen to the music,” she said.

Watching, Elena smiled and whispered to me, “That guy is so nice,” she said, “and he’s good too.” And it was true. The young man was very kind, and played beautifully to distract the bum, who seemed almost hypnotized by the music. It was the only music he would hear in a long time and caused him to leave not only the girl but also the rest of the carriage alone. But I heard neither the music nor saw the kindness at play – I concentrated on the bum’s obvious filth – his smelly clothes, skin, hair, mouth, mind – a diseased human being sitting in front of me, wrecking the already dismal air of the BART and sexually harassing a young woman to boot!

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, “Bums are disgusting.”

“Betty!” Elena said, “I’m surprised at you. I thought for sure you’d be taking notes to write about it later. This is such a special scene right here.”

And it was, but I refused to recognize it as such. Just another dirty ride on the BART, I thought.

Now, months later, the scene replays and I am looking at it with fresh eyes. I thank Elena for pointing it out to me. Now, having finally graduated from college and celebrated Christmas with family and New Year’s with friends and experienced all the tiny mechanisms of daily life that glide or crash together – all in that particular year and at that particular time – I have come to feel a very peculiar way (bordering on epiphany). The feeling cannot be summed up with any one list or anecdote for it is the result of an entire education, magnified in both my last months at Berkeley and my last days at home as a dependent. These past few weeks, what has been on my mind are two things: family and friends.

From both, a multitude of lessons to be learned:

Neuroplasticity
Discretion
The Hammer/Axe/Carving Knife
Diligence
Love

Happy New Year, to my readers and writers.

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4 thoughts on “Happy New Year

  1. I've always been oddly curious about the discarded people we find in large cities. Part of me, for some twisted reason, wants to find some kind of humanity in them that I can relate to (which, having been entrusted with a liberal arts education, I know to be condescending and judgmental in its own way), because their appearance and habitations are otherwise so strange. In fact that's something I've been thinking about recently — strangeness and how we deal with it. I like to believe that given the right frame of reference, even the strangest things can become understandable, if not relatable. And so, more often than not, I find myself inventing backstory.

    I probably imagine a man who's lived a tough life, either at the fault of his own hands or not. Whatever the case may be, he has long since discarded with the need for propriety, finding “common decency” to be too poor-fitting to bear alongside his rags and other burdens. If he can get away with crudeness, why not? Why not ask the uppity (because she's young) yuppie (because she's well-dressed) bitch (because that's what you call a woman when you've lost the ability to see any humanity in her, having misplaced your own somewhere along the way) to see her titties, to see her pussy? What good is she for, besides the infinitesimal chance of a fleeting, visceral indulgence which, even in his detached state, he knows is a long shot from happening and a sad final grasp at connection? Why not take a chance? And if he gets away with it once, why not do it again? Until one day he finds himself, bored and little drunk on the BART, with a few scattered strangers. Why not just fall back into the hollow routine he's created for himself? Maybe when the only way you know how to speak is with ugly words and barbs, the angry rebuffs start to sound like conversation.

    A bit of a self-indulgent tangent there, but anyway, happy new year! Introspection is something that I probably do more than I should, but write about less than I should. It's not hard to look inside myself, it's just hard to write down what I see. There's a certain vulnerability you have to be comfortable with, and I'm usually just not. I applaud your ability to be so honest.

  2. yeah that comment is totally an excuse to not have to write anything else. probably akin to students who go on facebook instead of writing their papers. except in this case, papers are aborted blog posts and unfinished story outlines.

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