Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Corn, corn, corn

I realized I was a disgusting person when, in the middle of the night, in the backseat of my car, I was licking nutella off of my sleeping bag. I had an inkling when at work, Danielle asked me why I was taking my food bag into the shower with me and I responded that it wasn’t just my food bag, but my toiletry bag, and dirty clothes bag. I take it in with me to wash my dirty socks and underwear while I shower. I’m efficient with one bag. A few days ago I was called into work late, and couldn’t get my overalls and jacket because the station was closed. I shrugged and since nobody was in the locker room, dug through the hamper to find used ones from a morning shift worker. Chances were about 95% that whoever’s I found would belong to a cleaner person than me. That’s when I thought, “maybe…” But when I licked nutella off of my sleeping bag, my sleeping bag that has been with me through showerless weeks on beaches and wet grass, my sleeping bag that has sand, and bread crumbs, and cigarette butts in the bottom, that I think about shaking out in the morning every night as I fall asleep, but never do, that’s when I knew for sure.

Objectively at the moment, my life sucks. I live in my car. I watch cobs of corn drift by me for eight hours a day. I go back to my car. I watch a movie. I wake up, go to the library, charge my computer, read, write, eat something. Holly, Danielle, and Jan are quitting. I will lose the parts of my day that I most looked forward to—fifteen minute breaks where I get to say hello to them, and talk about what a boring job we’re doing. And my drives with Jan, our midnight trips to the grocery store after work, our impromptu pizza binges. But it’s so temporary, and for that reason, I know I can do it. My life doesn’t suck. In some ways, I’m unhappy. And in others, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m lonely. Lonely isn’t always bad.

I made a friend at the library the other day. He is in his seventies, from Sarasota originally. I was watching a movie and charging my computer, and he asked me a question about my computer. Then he sat down on the couch next to me and just started telling me his life story. He is the kind of smart I most respect. Curious smart. Jan smart. He lived in Cuba in the forties, he speaks German and lived in England for a long time translating for the chief Churchill historian. He told me some travel stories, referring sometimes to his English lady friend and his german lady friend. He is the only person I’ve ever met who uses this term in all seriousness. He gave me advice about relationships and communication. How, in his experience, you don’t fully mature in dialogue until your fifties. He decided to start reading the Philadelphia Inquirer. He had questions about the United States—hostility towards police, healthcare, politics. He talked to me for about a hour and a half (in a much louder voice than is appropriate for the library, in all honesty) until I had to leave for work. We’ve decided to share the couch. I’d noticed him there for a few days, and then he saw me for a few days, but we both view it as our spot.

I developed a theory at work the other day. The soul as the unseen commodity:
Working on an assembly line undoubtedly deadens your soul. But it’s really not fair that workers have to lose all the soul to produce things that everyone consumes. I think every time you purchase something that was made in a factory, in addition to the price of the item, you also pay with your soul. Just a little bit—that bag of frozen vegetables will cost you two dollars and fifteen cents, and the line to a poem that struck you once. That shovel is five dollars and a revelation you had in the middle of the night. At some point in my life, as the worker, I will cash in. This job is a soul investment for the future. Because of this experience, I will discover beauty in the world, parts of others that are looking for a soul to call home.

Maybe that’s what happens when you die—your soul is distributed to others, still living. We absorb the dead and become dead and when we die pass on a million different pieces of other people we’ve collected over the years. We live through absorption. We lose and gain and trade pieces of soul constantly. We are pieces of so many people, some we know, and some we will never meet. We are chimeras of everyone that has ever existed.

I’ve made some vague plans. At this point, I am really focusing on Romania and trying not to be completely broke when I come home. So I’ll keep working and then right before my birthday, I’ll start traveling again. Go north, check out the Bay of Islands. Explore for ten days or so. Then, Holly and Danielle put me in touch with a family they woofed for a little bit North of Island, a lesbian couple with 2 kids. They’ve said I can woof for them, and I’ll be close enough to Auckland to try to sell my car. I’l l do that for a couple weeks and then I’m off. It’s weird—the end is in sight. I’m really glad I didn’t leave when I wanted to. I’m a different person than I was a few weeks ago.

Jan is no longer quitting, the vineyard work is dwindling. But he is moving north in a couple weeks for the kiwi harvest. Holly and Danielle left yesterday. But something exciting happened today. I got promoted! I’m extremely happy about it. It goes to show that showing up and doing what you’re supposed to do and not goofing off, actually does go a long way. I always feel like I’m observing others, and paying attention to details, and searching people for depth, and for their eccentricities. This is what I do best. I’m good at knowing people, even when they don’t know me. Sometimes, though, it’s really lonely. Sometimes, I really want someone to want to learn me the way I want to learn them. This makes me feel like finally, I’m the one being noticed. There are other people here who have been here longer than me. There’s something about me that got me this job. It’s not just people saying, “here’s a job we think you can do,” it’s “we’ve been watching you. And we noticed that there is something special about you, something that makes you different than everyone else here.” It’s a really good feeling to have not seen other people watching me, trying to learn things about me, observing me to see what I’m capable of. I am no longer an assembly line worker; I am now a data analyst. Today, I start collecting corn samples, and building spreadsheets about their components. I hope I learn more about what this means. As far as I can tell from what was explained to me last night, it involves science, math, and computers…my fortes! I haven’t even worn my glasses to work. I guess I look smart without them!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Here To Make A Difference

I’ve always wanted an important job. I want my work to have meaning. Really, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something that changed the world. Luckily, I found work in a frozen food facility where I spend my days ripping open small bags of frozen peas and corn, and dumping the contents into large bins of frozen peas and corn. I won’t say that people thank me every day for the work that I’m doing, but when I pass a little kids playing in the park, or a puppy rolling in the grass, I see that it’s not about the praise or about the money. It’s about making a difference.
I drive to work with Jan, who is back in my life on a daily basis again. I also gave his friend Andy a ride, but as we were driving to the factory on our second day of work, Andy, who’d been moaning about working since he got into the car, hopped out a red light saying “Tell them I’m sorry—I quit.” He then went back to the hostel and bought a ticket to Thailand. He left this morning.
Jan and I made some friends at the factory, a lesbian couple from New Orleans. They got married over here, where it’s legal. It’s funny though, maybe gay people have more rights over here, but I’ve been here for almost six months now and the only gay people I’ve met have been from the U.S. I think the country is more liberal politically, but the parts of the U.S. that I’m most familiar with seem much more tolerant and accepting. I’ve often heard people in NZ say that NZ is about thirty years behind the rest of the world, and I see that, more than in any other way, in the general homophobia here. It’s not a malevolent homophobia, it’s an ignorant homophobia. I think Danielle and Holly have a much different perspective though. They think NZ is really liberal, and I wonder if my coming from the North and their coming from the South can still really make that much of a difference. I think it does.
On Friday night, we finished work early. Actually, Jan wanted to stay so our supervisor found him something to do for a couple hours, and while I waited for him, I went to get drinks with Danielle and Holly. For the past several months, I’ve wanted three categories of new friends: 1. Native English speaker friends, or at least not a group of friends that all speaks the same language except for me. 2. Friends who are girls. Almost all of my friends here have been guys, mainly because of the work I’ve done. I know it doesn’t really matter, people are people, but no, I’ve really missed interactions and conversations with women. It’s different. It just is. 3. Gay friends. At times I’ve wondered if there were any other gay people in the entire country. That’s kind of a lonely thought. When I first got here, I was shocked at how many gay people there seemed to be—everyone says partner instead of boyfriend or girlfriend. I just thought everyone I met was gay. What a disappointment that turned out to be.
We went to a bar and were the only people for a while, until scores of men showed up and talked to us. In the past, I would’ve just thought they wanted to talk. But, after traveling for a month with a heterosexual male, I’ve learned the truth. Men approach women for conversations in the hopes that it will lead to sex. This is always the case. Even if they legitimately enjoy the conversations.
Anyway, I totally hit the jackpot with Danielle and Holly. Jan joined us at a different bar when he left work. I had left him my car keys and texted him directions, but mistakenly told him to turn left instead of right when he left the parking lot. He didn’t realize Holly and Danielle were a couple until a little bit into a conversation and then he became convinced that I gave him wrong directions on purpose so that I could secure them as my friends (he knew about my friend wishes). I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it on purpose.
Yesterday, Jan and I went to the place where they’ve been living. They have a tent in the yard of a couple who organize music festivals and workshops. Thelma is an herbalist by trade, and Mikey a musician. It was a very hippie day, complete with jamming and pot-cookies and campfire singing. Different friends and neighbors stopped by for beers and music. Holly, Jan and I went to check on some horses grazing. Different people had caravans or tents strewn about. It was that kind of place. Everyone welcome for a night or two or several months. Next week they have an African drummer giving a workshop and then a concert in a nearby cafĂ©. Jan and I will probably go for the concert. The only problem is they live so far away—about 45 minutes drive.
In other news, I had a boyfriend for a little while. Every once in a while, I think, hmm…maybe I have a crush on a guy. Weird. And then I date him and it turns out that I didn’t have a crush on him. This has happened several times. My problem is that men are really easy to meet and women aren’t. It’s almost easier to date men than it is not to date them. Adrian is from Argentina and I’d met him a few weeks ago when they arrived and set off their Argentines in Distress signals (they must exist because every Argentine seems to meet upon arrival, every other Argentine), and he invited me to a party at his house a few weeks ago. I had recently become an independent person and thought that maybe I had a crush on him. We danced and flirted (I don’t really know how to flirt actually, but I guess we were doing that). I went to another party last weekend, still thinking I had a crush on him. I’m not going into details on something my parents or grandparents might read, but I was wrong. I had pretty much just resigned myself to having a boyfriend until I left the country, because I didn’t know how to get out of it, but luckily, he ended up moving to Tauranga for kiwi picking, so it is now a non-issue.
This morning, Monday, work got cancelled until Wednesday. I’m moving back into my car in the morning, because I’m a bit worried that this is consistently going to be the case. A day or two of work, and then nothing. So I am moving into the car and if work doesn’t pick up I’m free to leave. Also, the family I live with is really nice, but living with little kids is kind of cramping my style. Desiree must think Cecilia and I are alcoholics because when she went to change our sheets we had 2 months worth of beer bottles and wine bottles hidden around the room because we didn’t want to throw them out in the kitchen. Bottom line is if I wanted babies, I’d have them myself. And they cry a lot and give you pink eye and the flu, so I don’t want them. It also is kind of weird with my work schedule—I sleep until 11 am, go to work at 2 and get back around 10:30 at night, when everyone is asleep. I want to make dinner and watch a movie or something but don’t want to make too much noise. And there are showers at work, and I can use the library in the mornings for electronics. At work, we can drink free tea and coffee, which was the main reason I wanted to live in a house anyway.

P.S. This picture also has nothing to do with this post, but reminds me of Cold Mountain, and I spent a good chunk of my day looking for good American writers. I settled on Joan Didion, but I've still got the mountains on my mind...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner --Italo Calvino

I’ve been having kind of a tough time since I got back from the South. Part of it probably has to do with losing Jan’s companionship. He’s still in Napier, but I don’t see him much, and I really miss him. Part of it has to do, I’m sure, with having lived in my car for a while. It’s lonely. Especially before I found work. Filling the day became a challenge. I’d wake up early and go to bed early because of the light. Wake up. Walk around until the library opens. Spend some hours reading and watching movies and writing. Take a walk and eat some lunch. More of the same. Maybe go visit friends at Toad Hall to charge my phone or laptop. In a way, I enjoyed it, but I think I went days without talking to people I knew. And part of it, most of it, the aforementioned reasons contributing, is the fact that I suddenly feel achingly far from everyone I love.

I moved into a house with Cecila. We rent a room in a family's house, which gives me a different kind of experience. Less of a party atmosphere, as I now live with little kids. Desiree cooks us dinner each night, which is saving me a lot of money. They're Mormon, and for a little while I thought they rented rooms to people cheaply as a means to convert them. Here is what I pride myself on most: I don’t judge people. I broke that. I feel really shitty about it. This family let me move into their home, shares their food, invites me into their lives, and the whole time, basically because they’re religious, I think there are ulterior motives. I find out they’re Mormon and I think, “Oh, I’ve seen Big Love, I know all about this…” Sometimes I look for things to be wrong because I think they’ll make better stories in the end. What is this end I think of? I’m going to spend my whole life trying to make problems for myself because when I repeat the episode, I may get a chuckle, despite knowing the actual truth—that I wanted it to be that way all along, that I made it be that way to begin with.

Last Saturday it was beautiful outside, and I worked in the morning. When I got home, I really wanted an ice cream cone. I went to this place called Munchies (it’s kind of the middle of the night drunken take-away place in town) and ordered a chocolate ice cream. The man behind the counter was Japanese and ended up talking to me while I ate the entire cone. I couldn’t get away. Not that I wanted to exactly. I won’t go so far as to say that we had a conversation, because he talked for more than 90% of it. He told me his entire life story, how he ended up in NZ, while his brothers are in Denmark with kebab places, and how the Danes aren’t accommodating. He offered me a job at Munchie’s which I respectfully declined because I really do like working on the orchard. I also think he would spend the entire day talking, because as he says, business is bad and nobody comes. I’m not sure if he thought I was just a good listener, or if he is really lonely and talks to everyone. Maybe a bit of both. But I think I attract people’s stories. Strangers confide in me all the time. It’s strange—I often think of Nick in The Great Gatsby. People talk to me. I like it. Especially when I don’t have anyone in particular to listen to.

March 6
Last week we finished apple picking. The season in Napier was bad because of the rain. Usually, this is when people make their money, but this season is the worst in years. Our boss, Tony, felt bad and on our last day he and his wife (also a picker) Jenny, and Leon, Dodge, Adam (the guys I drive from Toad Hall) and I decided to meet for drinks. We ended up just having some beers on the roof of Toad Hall. Drinking is a sport here. Casually grabbing a few beers isn’t really something you do—it’s more of a “let’s get really drunk and forget what’s wrong.” I’ve never been more depressed than when I was sitting on the roof last Thursday. Tony and Jenny have had a really rough time. They live from paycheck to paycheck and have done that forever,and claim to love that kind of life, but do they really when they can't buy food at the end of the week? Her 20 year old son died a year ago, his partner of 14 years died a year ago, then he had a heart attack and his sister got lung cancer. Then they met. I could feel their sadness. They joked about their love for one another, “you’ll do.” But in a way, I think they felt that—a desperation for human contact, for something, anything good. I had to get out of there. I said Desiree was making dinner and left. Tony was going to try to find us all work for the following week, but I later found out that soon after I left Leon (who is ordinarily very sweet, funny, and shy doesn’t normally drink because he becomes a different violently angry person) got in a fight with Tony and nearly threw him off the roof. Pretty sure he no longer wants to help us.

I spent the next week really sick, so was okay not working. For a few days, I was really sad and just wanted to come home. I even tried to change my plane ticket to come home before April started, but it was expensive and I couldn’t do it. I felt like I was seeing the world the way it really was. I’ve been thankful for my life, without realizing what I’ve actually had. People are so lonely. I just felt like I was imposing this loneliness upon myself for no reason. There are so many people who keep me tethered to this world. I became obsessed with mythology and folklore. Stories that explained our beginnings in the world. Why things are the way they are. Stories that promised there is more to our existence than meaninglessly drifting around the universe. Stories that made sense out of humanity. I started reading a lot of Italo Calvino, whom I never had before, but I really like. (Actually, I loved If on a Winter’s Night a Travler, which isn’t mythology at all). The book I’m reading now is actually kind of the story of creation in space. It’s beautiful and makes me feel a little bit better about the world. And I read a book of Tobias Wolff’s short stories and was inspired to start some of my own. It’s new for me, but I really like this form.

I felt like I had to change something. I didn't once regret coming here, it was undoubtedly the best decision of my life. But I felt like I'd accomplished everything I set out to do, and it was just time to leave.

Everything changes. I’m glad I couldn’t change my ticket. I think on some level I knew that deep down, I was hitting a breaking point—I could leave and stay as connected to home and the past and my life the way it was, or I could stay and become detached from it all. Part of me didn’t want to lose…myself. But I did. I completely let go. I actually feel like a different person, now. Free. I went to a party last weekend and met new people, was completely part of the moment instead of looking back at it as if it already happened and I was telling it. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately—part of the moment. It sounds silly, but it’s new for me. I’ve never experienced life this way. I like it. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to the way I was, you know, six days ago, when my whole world was different.

Next week I start work in a factory. Lots of people I know are starting work there, too. It will be a steady job where the season won’t affect our income, so I can count on (as much as anything can be counted on) six weeks of good money. Maybe I won’t come home broke afterall! And I’m officially going to Romania for Ana’s wedding, so would like to have a little money for that. I was planning on packing one suitcase of snacks to avoid buying food while I was there, but I’d probably have to declare it or something, so that wouldn’t be ideal.

I know this blog was very vague. Next one will be better and I’ll talk about actual things I’ve been doing.

P.S. this picture has nothing to do with this blog. It's from New Years. I just think it's funny.