The Bends, 18 November, 2008

It’s been over a month now since I returned to Seattle. A terribly valid question would be – in fact has been nearly every time I’ve run into someone in town – What have you been doing with your time? This question has a Siamese twin that follows with, What are you going to do now? I suppose what follows is my attempt at response.

To date I’ve contributed little-to-nothing of tangible material production to society, which is only a minimal change from my life prior to departing. There are some of us who are just like that. What we give back will rarely be equivalent to what we have taken from. I’d argue on our behalves, but it’d be really long and boring and no one would want to read it (let alone write it). On a positive note, however, I have participated in stabilizing the economy through gross over-consumption and am expecting a Presidential Medal of Honor in acknowledgment of my patriot purchasing shortly (Come on George – you’ve only got T-minus 64 days and counting to come through for me!)

In truth, mostly I’ve looked out windows. Read books. Gone to the art museum. Ridden ferries. Gotten drunk in the streets (once, on election night). Gotten drunk in bars (more than once, and the night hasn’t really seemed to matter). Oh, and this one time I found a dollar bill on the ground and, as there was no one around to claim it I kept it. (Based on the last two items one can easily infer to what end it was employed.)

So that should pretty much catch you up to speed on the first one. Now, onto the second.

When people dive deep in the ocean, they cannot return to the surface too quickly. To go from a massively pressurized setting to one in which the surrounding pressures are much lessened can wreak havoc on the body. Such a sudden change can cause inert gases in the body to bubble in a way that leads to a host of symptoms – headaches, joint pains, paralysis, memory loss, neurological disorders, etc. This is generally called dysbarism, or, in simpler terms, the bends. To avoid these problems the diver must rise slowly, and in stages, until she has properly adjusted to the topside environment.

I’m hesitant to employ this image out of fear of boasting that my travels took me somewhere “deep,” as if in some metaphorical sense I dove into the depths of myself and introspected heretofore previously unexplored regions of my psyche, to return from my viscera with a handful of pearls, shimmering and the richer for it. I doubt this is the case, and even if it were I wouldn’t talk about it high-handedly. What can I say: I’m from the Midwest, and out there we simply don’t work like that. We’re humble, and very proud of it.

In truth I’ve never been one for such therapeutic metaphors. They simply don’t hold, which is to say they vanish like a thin fog as the morning sun rises upon them. Epiphanies have consistently been ephemeral, and if I learned anything from this trip it’ll coagulate and present itself to me in another couple months. But still there’s something in the image that works, and perhaps it works most easily on the level of energy, and I mean that sincerely and not as hokey pablum. While overseas so much of my energy was devoted to accomplishing the simplest of tasks – mailing a postcard, purchasing contact solution, getting the proper bus to a destination – that it simply drained me. There was so much – yep, you guessed it – pressure in accomplishing the most banal activities that upon my return to Seattle, where mostly I can get what I want when I want with a minimum of effort (i.e., no pressure), I’ve been thrown askew and have needed to do, well, nothing, and slowly at that.

(I know what you’re thinking – You got tired trying to purchase toothpaste?? What’s wrong with you?!. But, and I mean this sincerely and without defensiveness, Yes, I did. I could rattle off examples, but let’s try and work together here.)

I’ve been quite surprised by this fact, and quite frustrated by my lack of ability to do… ahem… anything. I hope the very fact that I’m writing this entry indicates a step forward. After all, it’s the first time I’ve used this medium – or any written medium for that matter – in over a month. The frustration has a lot to do with expectations. I grew up with my grandparents, who themselves came of age during the Depression, and I can’t escape their voices in my ears: Get a job; Do something; Earn some money; Contribute to society. For that reason this indolence, though not without context (see above), is at times very unsettling, and it drives me to create rationales and explanations for questions (Don’t forget – we’re on #2, “What are you going to do now?”) that I needn’t rush to answer.

When I chose to cut my trip short I didn’t expect anything upon my return to Seattle. That said, I always in some way expect everything everywhere I go. A “chance encounter” at the art museum with a philanthropist who, upon hearing of my writing aspirations, decides to serve as my patron while I write that Great American Novel; a mishap at the airport so that instead of my bag I end up with Steven Spielberg’s duffel, and upon meeting me to exchange luggage he realizes I’m exactly the person he’s been looking for to fill a lead role in that new movie of his, etc. But I suppose we’re all looking for the easiest way out of ourselves, or at least upwards from where we presently are. I hate to be trite and prattle off some biffle along the lines of It just takes time or You need to be patient with yourself, but what the hell – everyone else seems to be doing quite successfully with such an approach, so why not join the crowd?

That’s a terribly way to end this, I know. I’m really not as smug as I fear that sounds. I just don’t have a good conclusion, and as this seems like the one that would best fit onto the end segment of an Oprah show, I’m gonna have to go with it.

For now.

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