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Reflections on Turning 30

When I turned 20, a friend of mine said I was lucky to still be alive.

His exact words were,

“Luck to the next 20.”

Well, now I’m 30.

And you might call it luck,

I guess.  I could think of some other words for it.

But here I sit.  Some things have changed.

Some things have not.

I still use the same font.  I still think like I’m 23 years old.  I still love cats and hip hop.

I don’t still grill chicken with English muffins and peanut butter.

I don’t write spoken word. I write quantitative clinical psychology research articles.

I don’t play the drums anymore.  I went back to Jiu-Jitsu this year but immediately hurt my shoulder.

I don’t still lift weights 6 days a week.  I don’t take workout supplements;

creatine, caffeine, beta alanine, taurine, DiArginine Malate, Citrulline Malate, BCAAs, whey, casein.

In fact, I hardly make it to the gym.  I make music now.  I teach meditation now.

I’m still in love with the stars.  I still want my ashes spread in the Pigme Redwood grove in Big Sur.

I now care about the planet.  I care about you; so, so, much.  It’s actually hard to put into words

how much I care about you.  I’ve seen things that have changed me forever.

I know we’re the same.  I forgive you.  Believe it or not.  Really, I have.

I’m hoping too that you can forgive yourself..

I have a cat now.  I love her more than words.  She’s like me.

She loves her alone-time but needs to be held sometimes.

I’ve learned her language and we talk now.

I don’t go to therapy anymore.  I haven’t been in several months now.

I haven’t blogged in probably a year.  My apologies to those that follow me.  Things will change.

I stopped getting Muscle and Fitness magazine,

although I taught a case manager at work how to do a proper squat today.

I’m a pretty good therapist, I think.  My clients love me.  And I tend to love them.

(Don’t tell anyone.)

Doug is dead.  Overdose.  I’m still crying.  I’m still angry.  It’s still hard.

I’m still scared to talk about it.  I wrote a song about it.

A.J. won’t return my calls.  I still haven’t talked to Stu or Gabe in years.

Kev and I are cool though.  I seem him regularly and that’s my brother.

I’m still scared of growing up; still scared of dying without doing the right things.

I still don’t know what the right thing is.  And I’m still a bit impatient.

I can dance now!  Oh boy do I dance!  No more paralysis.  No more hiding.

I’m okay being out in front.  I’m okay knowing that you’re looking.

I’ve lost some friends.  I’ve gained some friends.

I allow myself to love and be loved.  I’m walking through fears now.

I still wear Sauconys, and still keep them arranged in a very specific way.

I still have to double check the stove and the car lock.  I still make the clicking noise with my tooth.

I still read Mary Oliver.  I still read Jack Kerouac.  I still read Dostevsky.  I still go to Big Sur.

I’m going back to Thailand and Bali.

I still hate doing laundry.  I still love making people happy.

I’m now accountable; responsible.

I’m not as scared of death as I used to be.  I still flirt with Nihilism.

I’m still morbid.  But I keep that secret.

I don’t litter.  In fact, I may have picked up your litter before.

I feed the homeless now.  I volunteer my time now.

I’m still crazy.  And I still love it.  I’m still the funniest person I know.

But I’m also the person I’m the most sick of.

I’m learning to hold contradiction.  I’m learning to hold the yearning for life

and the desire for non-existence.  I’m broadening the scope of what I can hold.

This year, I’ve been with a Hindu guru at an Ashram,

an influential Buddhist meditation teacher,

a combat veteran with severe PTSD,

suicidal and chronically depressed survivors of substance abuse,

a beautiful meditation teacher with a complex trauma history,

a psychiatrist specializing in the brain and attachment,

a professor at the Center for Psychoanalysis,

a man who survived cult and ritual abuse.

I’ve had a patient commit suicide.

When I turned 20, a friend of mine said he was surprised that I was still alive.

His words exactly were,

“Luck to the next 20.”

Well, now I’m 30.

And you might call it luck,

I guess.  I could think of some other words for it.

But here I sit.

The book of my life has been a page-turner.

Each chapter,

a new incarnation….

Luck to the next 30.

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Tonight, as I blew out the wick of a long day,

I saw images of myself as a young boy.

I saw myself closing a book, turning off the light, gazing up at the ceiling.

Counting glow in the dark stars—big one, little one, galaxy, moon.

I had put them up myself, stood on top of my bed with bent legs and sprung

up, pressing the star as hard as I could against the ceiling.

Sometimes, I would press too hard, and the opposing force would be too much

for my little legs.  I’d fall on the bed, get back up, star in my hand,

and do it all over again.  Pretty soon, I had that whole ceiling covered.

My own universe.  My own world.  Stars were there because I put them there.

Big one, little one, galaxy, moon.

They would shine the brightest right after I turned the lights off.

And I’d lay there in my bed, wide-eyed and proud of my universe.

No matter what happened in the scary loud day,

I could rest knowing that my universe was a light-switch away.

Tonight, twenty-years later,

I close a book, turn off the light, and gaze up at the ceiling.

There’s no glow in the dark universe.  Only a dim light shimmers from a smoke detector.

I smile in amazement at it all.  And I think,

I’m still that little kid.  Still blindly springing, legs bent,

slamming stars too hard into the ceiling.

Big one, little one, galaxy, moon.

Gone are the slow days of summer.

I close my eyes in traffic and imagine the Oaks in Big Sur

reaching their long limber arms out to me

and I rest in that.

I close my eyes and remember that I am breathing,

that my feet are on the ground.

I feel gravity holding me. I feel the dance of the spheres in the sky.

But gone are the slow days of summer.

Tension fills the graduate school classroom where I sit.

I close my eyes and feel the wet hot air of Thailand.

I taste the cold mango shakes made with love on top of a mountain.

I keep my eyes closed and I imagine walking through the gardens at Esalen,

hearing the soothing roar of the ocean, the piercing of crickets

singing their songs to the stars.

I remember the hot springs, how I looked over the cliff

and knew there was nothing to be afraid of.

But gone are the slow days of summer.

I close my eyes while writing a paper and I see the faces of my friends.

I hear the sounds of their laughter and I smile my big smile.

I open my eyes and I feel the weight of the words on the page.

I feel the weight of the day pressing down on my shoulders,

slamming my body into my feet, holding me down against my will.

I feel stuck.  I feel trapped.

There’s a calm song inside me that wants to be played.

There’s a soothing voice that wants to be heard.

But often I can’t hear it.

Because gone are the slow days of summer.

I close my eyes in meditation.  I remember who I am.

I see how easily I get caught up in the show,

dragged down by the current.

I remember that the weight I feel is a product of my own mind.  It’s not real.

And once again I feel gravity gently holding me in place.

I feel my feet planted firmly on the ground.

I hear the sounds of the city through my window.

But there’s no story to them.  They’re just sounds.

I feel the dance of the spheres in the sky.

I take my one seat on the ride,

and smile my big smile.

People ask me all the time why I don’t write more.  I wish I had the answer.  I don’t know.  I like to think funny answers in my head, like, “Well as a result of a series of unfortunate medical events, my creative side has been absolutely severed beyond any and all repair.”  This, of course, is not true.  What is true, maybe, is that I’m just scared.  Us writers stare at blank pages in fear, knowing that the black ink that soon will fill in the blank space is our own vulnerable and naked selves.  My defenses are down here.  The only one that can hurt me is me.

On that note, I don’t know why I sat down tonight to write.  I have a thirty minute presentation in my childhood psychopathology class due at 10:00 tomorrow morning.  Ideally, I would be working on that.  But here I sit.  And for what purpose?  To please the people who ask me to write more?  No.  Maybe.  I hope not.  But upon returning to my apartment tonight, I was greeted by that old sensation, that old urge, and here I sit.

I suppose that’s preface enough for the subject of tonight’s nonsense, which is, I’ll have you know, still being discovered.  It seems as if tonight I don’t know much.  The last several months is just a smearing of images; some great, some neutral, some terrible.  Despite constant vane attempts at meditation and prayer, I’m unable to be in the moment.  In fact, I could say that more than half of my days right now consist of one voice arguing with the others to stay in the moment.

I came home tonight, and was greeted with the pleasant surprise of a kitchen full of new groceries.  Though I know I went grocery shopping earlier, I am unable to make a connection to the person who did the act.  Sartre called it “nausea.”  Good old existential angst brought on by who knows what.  Some have tried to tell me it’s post traumatic stress.  Some would say I’m just not working my spiritual life as best as I should.  Some suggest that I just be easy on myself, take it easy Zack, the last few months have been hell.  Some say that episode is over, let’s move on.  And then we have me, my head, my ideas, and my arguments, all taking place with myself, agreeing and disagreeing over and over again.  My therapist suggests it’s my way of trying to control anxiety and pain, a defense mechanism birthed from the last few months.  I say I just want my life back.  I want some stability back.  One minute I’m a little boy awestruck by the enormity of life, the next I’m an adult who meets challenges with calm and confidence.  But oh, what’s the difference anyways?

What’s life anyways but a smothering of uncertainties and ambiguities?  What’s life but a collage of images?  Some make me smile, some make me cry, some make me angry and vengeful, most make me laugh.  They come and go, like the weather, like my moods.  And I’m stuck here trying to make sense of it all, trying to make the “right” decisions with my life.  All I want to do is run…. from my feelings, from tomorrow, from yesterday, from you.  I didn’t use to feel this way.  But I’ve gone back into protective mode.  That old threatening aura has returned to every object and person I lay eyes on.  It used to take drugs and alcohol for it all to seem less threatening.  Now, ha… What?  Now I’ve got new tools I guess.  Sometimes they work.  Sometimes they don’t.

I guess I’m supposed to just be patient.  Practice patience, acceptance, and tolerance, of others and especially of myself.  I regurgitate these words every night in my bed, say them so much these days that they have almost lost their meaning, almost become simply air that blows out of my mouth, a physical act done out of habit, because it makes me comfortable, even if just for those few seconds.  But despite how I feel right now, one thing I know.  I’m going to wake up early tomorrow, get my presentation straight, show up, put an interested face on, and practice patience, acceptance, and tolerance…. whatever the hell that means.

Spirit

I walk into the first floor of Alta Bates medical center.  It’s the fifth day in a row.  I walk up to the front desk.  “Hi, Zack Bein, I have a 1:00.”

“Okay, you’re getting labs and treatment today.  Take a seat and we’ll call you.”  Big smile.

I take the pager and go sit down.  Around me is a room full of patients, like myself, needing treatment.  Many are here for chemotherapy.  Some are here for platelets.  But me, I’m here for fresh frozen plasma.  They don’t see many of us.  To my left, an older white woman sits quietly with a bandana on her head to cover her bald scalp.  She stares at the posters on the wall and drinks the complimentary tea.  “We love our clinical research team.  Feel free to ask questions to our helpful staff.  We care about your comfort.” To my right, an old Asian woman sits, a hat covering her bald scalp.  The nurse exits the treatment room and enters the waiting room.  All of the patients anxiously watch their pagers, hoping for vibration.  It’s the Asian woman next to me.  “Hi Tina,” she says to the nurse.

“Hello… Come with me.”  The Asian woman gets up and follows Tina into the treatment room.  I exhale, look at the clock, and then back down at the tiled floor.  Soon it’s my turn.  I see Tina come out and she’s looking right at me.  “You must be Zack.  I knew I could find you by just looking for the youngest one in here.”
“Yup.”

“Follow me sweetie.” I do as I’m told. “What are you getting treatment for in here?  You’re so young!”

“Umm, I have a plasminogen deficiency.”  Stop talking to me.

“A what?  What’s that mean?”

“I don’t really know.”  She laughs.  I laugh.  The other nurse enters the room.

“I could recognize that laugh anywhere.  How you doin’ baby?”

“I’m alright,” I respond.  Get me out of here.

“You so handsome, ain’t he Tina.  Bet you got all the girls stoppin’ to look at you.”

“I don’t think so,” I reply.

“You got a girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah you do.  She brunette?”

“Blonde.”

“She talk to you first?”

“No.  I talked to her first.”

“Well, keep smilin’ baby.  We just need your vital signs and your weight.”  The blood pressure cuff squeezes my arm.  I put my school books down and hop on the scale.  I follow them to the treatment room.  The treatment room is one of the more interesting environments I’ve ever been exposed to.  And, as a writer, it’s one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed.  In the treatment room, two very different and distinct worlds exist.  There is the world of the patient, forced to relinquish their sense of identity and sense of self, to be attached to machines, to be poked with needles, squeezed with cuffs, injected with medicines, transfused with blood, exposed to radiation, forced to talk to nurses, sequestered and subdued in a treatment chair, in a treatment room, full of patients, like myself.  Then there’s the world of the nurse practitioner.  These people are forced to watch, to participate, to do the sequestering, to do the subduing, to stick the needles, to inject the medicine, to talk to us patients.  We are the objects.  They are the dissociated and unknowing hands of doctor’s orders.  The most interesting ones are the ones who dissociate completely.  They come in, talking to their fellow nurse about the Halloween outfit they are going to wear this weekend, whether they are going to drink or not, how so and so usually gets all dressed up and I wonder if they’ll get dressed up this year.  Meanwhile they busily attach lines to patients, complete paperwork, monitor vital signs, paying seemingly no attention whatsoever to what they are doing or who they are doing it to.  These type are always the most interesting for us patients.  I look at the guy next to me, all hooked up to machines like I am, and we have a simple moment of acknowledgment, as two people living through the same experience, knowing what each other is feeling.  That five seconds of looking at each other communicates more than any words could.  And we both know that… and decide to keep quiet.

“Okay… Name and birth date please,” the nurse says, holding a bag of frozen plasma.

“Zachary Bein, 6/27/83.”  I’m automatic.  Those words mean nothing.

Okay… donor number 85K4909, patient number 1323343, donor type O +, patient type O +, this is thawed frozen plasma.  We’re going to give you your premeds first Zack because of your reaction last time.  25 mg of Benadryl through the IV and 20 mg of Decadron.  The Benadryl is gonna make you feel really sleepy and the Decadron usually gives people headaches.”  So much for studying.  So much for schoolwork.  So much for grad school applications.

“Okay,” I reply.  Get your fucking needles out of my arm.

“What’s that say?  On your arm?” the nurse asks.

“It says spirit.”

“Oh really?  How cool.”  I wait for her to ask me what it means.  She doesn’t.  The nurse leaves the room.  I hear a faint voice from across the room.

“What does it mean?” one of the patients asks.

“It means a lot of different things,” I reply.  “But mostly, it reminds me that whatever happened before, and whatever is going to happen in here, it can’t break my spirit.  My spirit never left me, and it never will.”

“That’s beautiful.  Thank you.”

“Thank you.”  And I sat there and thought about that for awhile.  I thought about the last two months of my life, wondering how I’ve been able to show up… for meetings, for school, for my internship, for my friends, for grad school, to go to the gym 5 days a week, to run the bleachers on the track, to come to this hospital for 4 hours a day, to have two surgeries, to have chronic severe pain, … and still show up.  And I looked down at the tattoo on my arm.  Something’s been carrying me.  I can’t do this shit on my own.  I’m exhausted.  I’m absolutely drained.  But somehow, tonight, when I got home from the hospital, I went to the gym and worked out.  Then I came home and made dinner.  Then I finished my personal statement for the doctoral programs I’m applying to.  Then I ordered official sealed transcripts from Santa Monica College to send to all the grad schools I’m applying to, then completed my recommendation packets, filled with my resume and personal statement and detailed instructions with deadlines and thank you notes, and sent my GRE scores to grad schools.  Then I returned phone calls, talked to somebody about their struggle with applying to college, agreed to revise their college essays, returned more phone calls, talked to my father about what happened today in the hospital, talked to Enrique about spirit, and how, right now, that’s all that’s carrying me.  Plus the love and support of the people in my life.  It ain’t me.  I’m fucking exhausted.  I’m done.  Running on reserves.  And tomorrow, I’ll wake up at 8:00 am, make my breakfast, and go see the doctor to talk about the reaction I had to the transfusion.  They’ll run their labs, I’ll talk to the nurses.  Then I’ll go to the gym and work out.  I’ll go to the track and do the bleachers, letting out a bellow when I reach the top.  The track runners will look at me, and I’ll smile.  Then I’ll go back to Alta Bates and get my treatment, see the patients, see the nurses, answer the questions, surrender, surrender to the machines and the blood and the drugs.  And everything is going to be okay.  I don’t know how long this is the way my life is going to be.  But I sense the end of these hospital visits is near.  And my tattoo on my arm will carry me.  You may be thinking that I’m dramatic.  And I don’t care.  Because I’d rather live fully, I’d rather feel passionately, I’d rather express myself entirely, than do anything else at all.

“It says spirit,” I say.  “It means a lot of different things.  But mostly, it carries me when I’m exhausted.  It reminds me of my grandmother’s hands when I need support.  It’s the one word that my mother thinks of when she thinks of me.”  And it’s going to pick me up, out of this treatment chair, down the fluorescent lit hallway of cold tiled floors, and walk me out of this hospital,  straight into another day.

berkeley_marina

Put the glasses on.  Set the font to Garamond, size twelve.  Line spacing 1.3.  This is how I write.  I’ve written this way for years now.  My old Sauconies, the black ones with the black laces, I keep them by the door.  The two pairs of new ones, black on charcoal and red and black on white, I keep them in the opposite corner of the room, next to this ugly dresser that my landlord had here when I moved in a year ago.  I keep my running shoes next to my hamper in my room.  I eat the same breakfast every morning.  One cup of coffee.  Egg whites with spinach and mozzarella cheese.  Oatmeal with peanut butter.  Another cup of coffee.

It’s always interesting when I realize how much I try to control the little things.  The form I write in, the placement of the shoes, they don’t change.  And it’s when life changes dramatically, out of nowhere, unexpected, that I realize why I do these things.

Bukowski once wrote that “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”  I’ve had the book on my shelf for years now and read it many times.  But I’d never taken the time to think about that sentence.

Today, I was running in the Marina.  About five miles into the run I decided to turn and go down the pier.  The wind suddenly shot into my direction, blasting my face and pushing against me.  It shocked me for a moment, but I pushed back against it.  My feet were heavy, my steps were short and forced, my breath wasn’t coming easily.  I started to look around at the people.  An elderly couple stood at the railing watching the water crash against the rocks.  A family was throwing line from a fishing pole into the water.  The kids sat and watched with childhood eagerness and wonder.  Another couple was walking their dog.  The wind pushed the dog’s skin back and I could see his teeth.  I giggled to myself as I ran by, and thought about how different each moment is for each of us.  The kids in awe of a fishing pole, the old couple staring at the water reflecting on a long life, the dog antagonized by the wind.  And me, running, pushing myself against the wind, cramps in my calves, cramps in my side, pushing myself again.  The pier seemed to go on forever.  I ran into that wind for what seemed like hours.  Every muscle, every ache told me to stop.  And then I got to the end, did a half-circle and turned to head back down the pier.  Now, the wind was guiding me, pushing me from behind.  My feet felt lighter, my steps got easier.  I was able to relax and breathe.  And that line came to me out of nowhere.  What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

I had big plans for the rest of the summer.  I was going to take the GRE on August 16th, next Thursday.  I’ve been studying hard, and I’m ready.  I was going to finish my grad school applications.  I was going to be here, in Berkeley.  But, as usual, there’s something quite different in store for me.  A random twist of events have foiled my plans.  A fear is becoming reality.

But on that pier today, I had a moment of clarity.  One of those moments where I really know everything’s going to be fine.  How many times in life are we not going to get what we want?  How many times are our plans going to be stripped away by some unexpected twist of events?  How many times will we be faced with our fears?  How many times are we going to have to walk through the fire?  Countless.  Change is immovable.  But yet I’m still so scared of it.  It pushes so many old buttons.  So I keep different pairs of shoes in different places, I type with the same font and same spacing, I eat the same breakfast every day, in the same way.  And I know why. And that’s fine with me.  I get it.  I’m not going to lie and say I don’t.  But none of that matters.  Because we do what we can.  Because what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

pen-paper

I attended a career seminar yesterday for Psychology Majors. There, I learned all of the “transferrable skills” that I would gain by majoring in psych. Here’s a few: “Ability to communicate and present ideas and information, ability to understand and improve human relationships, ability to promote healthy relationships, concern and sensitivity for others, decision making, empathy, evaluates personal problems and makes appropriate decisions, good listener, insight to deal effectively with people, problem solving…” etc. And as I was going down the list, I began to think to myself… I can already do all of this shit. What am I wasting my time for? Oh, but Zack, don’t be silly! You’re here to get the degree, so you can get the next degree, and then the culminating degree. And then, you can charge more money for your transferrable skills that you have mastered by majoring in psychology. Right? Or is it the prestige? To be able to say I got a degree from a top-notch university, and then another degree from another one, and blah blah blah. It’s table talk then. Is that it? To be able to impress my future wife’s parents? Or to be able to say UC Berkeley when I run into old acquaintances?

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe I’m just taking the next right action. Get my shit together, get a job, go back to school, then transfer to a University. It was just the next step in the assembly line of Zack. This is just one foot in front of the other. The truth of the matter is, I just don’t know. If I had some unbridled passion for something, or some grand purpose, I think all of this would be easier. I’ve often envied people where this was the case. A few years back, I went to see a jazz show at the Jazz Bakery in LA. Afterwards, the guy on the bass guitar was outside smoking a cigarette, and my friends and I approached him to let him know we loved the show. We got to asking him questions, of course, about how he got into it, how long he’d been playing, etc. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like, “Well, you know, I always say I came outta my mom with a bass. Ha! I tell ya boy, long as I can remember, all I’ve wanted to do was just play the bass. Ever since the first time I picked it up, held that bass in my hands, felt the strings under my fingertips…. I knew. I mean, what else in life is there?”

And I remember looking at the dude and being so jealous. To have that passion for something, and know it in your bones. And what else in life is there? Well, that’s definitely not my story. I used to think that writing was my unbridled passion. I’ve even had a couple esteemed writers tell me, “Zack, you’re a writer. There’s nothing you can do about it. Writers are chosen, they don’t choose. Just wait. You’ll see….” And I’ve been waiting. Trust me.

A guy I used to write with, Jack, a mentor of mine, he definitely knows. Writing is it for him. Every wall in his house is lined with bookshelves. He’s got his books organized into his own library. Different time periods, different genres, authors, text books, you name it. Thousands of books. His office, where we used to write, is scattered with drafts, revisions, post-its, poetry, more stuff to edit. He teaches a writing class, he edits for a publishing company, he writes plays, he writes essays, he writes poetry, he writes critiques, he recites Shakespeare and quotes Faulkner. He knows what he is. He’s a writer. That’s his craft. And he’s completely devoted to it. Me, I don’t know what I am. I know that I’m passionate about a lot of things. But I’m not completely devoted to any of them, I don’t think.

And for me, my practice is to learn to be okay with that. For right now, I’m a psychology major at UC Berkeley, getting adept at a list of transferrable skills. I guess, no matter if you have that unbridled and hopelessly-devoted-to passion or not, the real challenge is to have passion for the moment. This moment, right now; whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. And you know, come to think of it, I’m not too bad at that. I may not find that one task that defines me, to be able to say, “and what else in life is there?” than that one thing. But, like a writer, I suppose, I can find meaning and beauty in the every day repetition… in the smiles. Because, at the end of the day, when I put my head on the pillow, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a psychology major, or a writer with a library for a living room, or a personal trainer, or an academic, or a therapist, or a bass guitarist, or what transferrable skills I have. We start each day with a blank page. Today, I’m happy with the words that fill the margins. And what else in life is there?

sunrise_beach

I was walking to my Psych 101 class today, headphones in my ears, and I looked up at the giant Valley Life Sciences Building on UC Berkeley’s campus. I remembered, last Spring, walking through the same exact campus for the first time, staring up at the same exact building, wondering if this was where I’d live the following Fall.

The image of myself walking through campus, arm around the woman I was sure I’d still be with, flashed before my eyes. I tried to put myself in that position again; scared of what the next year would bring, wanting to move to Berkeley but scared of what the separation would bring. But I was so excited…. I was so proud of myself that I even had a chance to go to a school like Cal. And I just stared up at that building….

And now here I am, exactly one year later. I now know all the little things that I was so unsure of. I know that the girl is gone, has been for a while now. I know that I can do well here, that I can succeed in a place like this. I know that it’s okay to move away, to make myself vulnerable again, in a new place with new people. I know that I can survive and do well despite things not having gone exactly how I planned since I moved up here. I want to be able to go back, to go back to that image of myself, with the girl, walking on the campus, and whisper to myself all of these things that I now know. I think that somehow that will protect me. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving up here, it’s not to become too attached to any idea, or any person. These moments are fleeting. People, perceptions, what things mean to you, they all change. Now, when I walk by the Valley Life Science building, I no longer am filled with wonder and accomplishment, but rather disdain at the fact that I have to go listen to a terrible lecturer talk for an hour and twenty minutes about a subject that I could much easier learn on my own. And some of the people I thought I’d be close to forever, are gone. Things I thought I knew, I really didn’t know.

But just because things change, doesn’t mean I can’t still be attached to the images, the moments, the memories. Those don’t change. And I’m so incredibly grateful for all the images, all the moments. And in that moment today on campus, so many images flashed in front of me. From climbing castle walls overlooking the coast of Nice, to trying to drive a rental car in a foreign country, to jumping off of a waterfall in Big Sur, to walking the medieval streets in Eze, to watching boats dock in Monaco, and when I ran for what seemed to be hours on a beach in the Bajamas with no shoes on at sunrise. Oh, and in Ojai, when Burt placed a small rock at my feet to represent our friendship, and told me, very simply, “be patient.” And in Catalina, in 7th grade, for our school trip, when I was the only kid in the entire class that couldn’t make it up the rock climbing wall. Everybody stood at the bottom and watched as I fumbled around and kept falling. And then the following year, in Arizona, the class had to climb up a pole and reach a bell at the top. And guess what? I fuckin’ did it. And now, when I’m running, and I want to quit, and I’ve hit the 6th mile, and the wind is blowing against me hard, and I’m pressed up against all that is pressed up against me, I think about that wall in Catalina, smile, laugh, and keep going. And high school, ahh, high school. The 72 hour days without sleep, the people that came and went like a dream.

There’s so much, too much. And just because the meaning changes, and just because my perception changes, doesn’t mean the images do. They stay the same.  They stay real.  They stay just exactly how I always remembered. Ha. It’s funny how we get so flustered, you know? We get so caught up in how we appear to others, or if this person likes us, or that person doesn’t, what we’re going to do next year, or the next five years, or even tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. I know who I am. I’m proud of all of the images, all of the memories. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And when I remember that, it doesn’t matter how I appear to you, or if you like me or not, or if I’ll go to grad school or not, or how much money I’ll make. Because I’ve got all that I need.

It’s like my buddy Alec said to me, in his car outside of class my senior year of high school. I was upset about something, my grandmother’s death or some surgery I was about to have. He hit the blunt that I had nicely rolled, blew a little smoke out of his mouth, sucked it back in through his nose, and with a cool exhale, said some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard. “It’s all good homie…. It’s all good.”

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I wake up at 7:30, hit snooze, and finally get out of bed 9 minutes later. The sun is creeping in through a small crack between the blinds and the bottom of the window, yet somehow it’s so cold in my room that it feels like my bones are going to snap as I walk. In the morning, I’m a robot. Four eggs, two whole-wheat English muffins, whey protein, vitamin, toothbrush, toothpaste, clothes, backpack, door.

I walk to the bus stop on Shattuck and Ashby. The freezing Berkeley morning air whips my cheeks as I put my hood over my head. And here I wait, for 17 minutes, no matter what time I leave the apartment, with my headphones in my ears and backpack over my shoulders, a Berkeley student, an East Bay local.

On the bus, I move to the back. People’s mouths are moving, but all I can hear is my music. Their expressions change, they move their limbs, their bodies change positions, they smile, they nod their heads, “yes.” I am the observer, in a different world, hearing different sounds. I am part of the iPod generation. In our own worlds, we are in control of our destinies. We are the authors of our own destruction. We put headphones in and forget about everything. We rebel against time and space. We send cries off rooftops to disturb the peaceful population. We close our eyes, and lose our fear of falling, of losing, of living. We’re together but alone. We’re blissful but dead. We’re harmonious but broken. We’re held but isolated. We’re lovers of life. We’re enemies of normalcy. We laugh in the faces of those who judge us.  We form a perfect union, conjure up a balance, create light, poor gasoline on old stomping grounds, set them ablaze and watch giant wildfires pierce holes through the night.

It’s time to get off of the bus. I mutter the words, “thank you,” to the bus driver. But I hear nothing come out of my mouth. Back to the whipping cold of Berkeley air. Gray smoke bleeds through vents in the sidewalk. Welcome to the University of California at Berkeley. I look up to see the large clock tower presiding over the morning, and a large signpost, saying, in big letters, “POSSIBILITY.” Other signposts line the walkway, with pictures and quotes of Cal students.

“I feel like I can do anything here!”

“Cal taught me that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

“Who knew you could be 55 years old and be a Cal graduate!”

Once I’m in class, my headphones still in, again I marvel at the moving mouths, the gestures, the motions. It’s a beautiful dance, a give and take. I take my headphones out and I’m blasted with sounds of voices, snippets of conversations. My ears pick up on the one directly behind me.

“She’s the kind of girl that like, when you first meet her, she’s all quiet, but when you get to know her, she’s really fun. She’s actually pretty amazing.”

I take my books out, put my eyeglasses on, and reflect on all of the little moments, all the little movements that have brought me to this seat, in this classroom, in the Valley Life Sciences Building at the University of California. I can’t help but smile. And then that smile turns into all out laughter. The girl sitting next to me glances at me, but doesn’t say a word. I look back at her, shrug my shoulders slightly, and say, “You know what I mean?”

But to her,

it was just a random moving mouth

with no sound.

It was just a gesture,

a change of expression,

and nothing more.

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You know, there are people, out there, in the world, who contemplate the vast cosmos. They formulate theories on the expansion or compression of the universe, measure the heat given off by quasars, determine the mass of a black hole. I can’t. I took an Astronomy class at a Junior College and got an A though.

There are people in the world who write immense and rich novels, who effortlessly put pen to paper like magic, whose words shake the core of all beings. Not me. I published a book of silly poetry when I was sixteen, and my blog is pretty cool, I guess.

Some people are six and a half feet tall, considered the best athletes in the world, have millions of dollars, can jump four feet in the air, and score eighty points a game. When I was ten years old, I made two free-throws with seven seconds left to win my pee-wee basketball game. My dad’s got it on tape.

Some people renounce the world’s pleasures. They escape to a mountaintop to contemplate existence in silence. They sit still for hours, breathing in and out, becoming one with their surroundings. Then they return from their mountaintop, write famous books, and travel the world in attempts to spread their enlightenment to awestruck crowds. I attend a meditation group once a week. I can’t sit on the floor though, because of a bad knee, and tight hips and back. So I sit on a chair in the back of the room. The teacher says I’m still meditating though. I swear, ask him.

I go to school with some people who don’t even have to study to get good grades. At the high school I went to, there was a guy, Josh, who sat on the tables in the classroom and never once brought a pen, paper, or a backpack to school. Yet, he still got A’s. Everyone called him Jesus. Not me though. I sit in the front row, turn my cell phone off, ask questions when I need help, and spend hours at home relentlessly rehearsing notecards while I do silly laps around my apartment. Sometimes, I’ll abbreviate words on the notecards though. You know, like words I should probably write entirely out.

Some people are born to play music. They pick up drumsticks or a guitar and just play. Some people compose timeless symphonies that move the heart’s mountains. When I was young, I played the Jurassic Park theme song for a piano recital. If you ask me, I got the biggest ovation of the entire day. And one time, I played drums to a Goo Goo Dolls song…. in the dark.

Some people carve mountains with snowboards, doing flips and dodging trees. Me, I’ve got a bruised tailbone from going down a bunny slope. I just bought a butt pad though, so next time, it’s on.

For some people, being social comes naturally. The kids I went to elementary school with are all doctors or lawyers by now.

Me? Well, I’m still finding out about that. One day at a time, I suppose. What’s certain is that I’m not the best at anything. But I sure have done a lot. I guess, if I want to, I can say I am a writer. But if that’s true, then I guess I’m a drummer and piano player too. And in that case, I might as well say I’m a weightlifter and a Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Hmm. Yeah I’m a drum and piano playing, weightlifting, Jiu-Jitsu fighting writer. I’m definitely a student. Okay, okay, so in this culture, where we are defined by what we do, I’m a drum and piano playing, weightlifting, Jiu-Jitsu fighting, meditating, educated writer. That’s it! So next time I’m at Literati Café in Brentwood, and one of my elementary school classmates comes up to me to say hello, and to tell me that they’ve just graduated from Harvard Law School, and now they’re a lawyer, I’ll know exactly what to say.