THE DELENDA

THE DELENDA
A Requiem for My Wanton Words

The Purpose of this Delenda: A Limbo Between Digression and Deletion

During my last college semester I studied under a brilliant professor; he taught me to quiet my inner censor and to just write as I wish--despite my post-traumatic-professor-disorder which paralyzes me with self-doubt, these the war-wounds worn by so many students after years of terrible teachers, each either entirely apathetic or deeply entrenched within the utterly rote—their lectures just jaded regurgitations in Power Point, those slides cycling while the students fitfully sleep in-seat.I began writing a memoir for his class and I have yet to finish it; my writing has not been as clear and precise as it was while under my professor’s mentorship and I have more than doubled my original page length, though very little has actually been said therein. I am increasingly lent to my own obsessive compulsive writing tendencies. My prose has of-late been lost in loops and tangles of meaningless tangents—self-indulgent insertions of the beautiful words I love to taste in text.This blog is a collection of passages deleted from my memoir—an attempt to preserve wasted words, which are intrinsically sacred in spite of me. May they have their heaven here; may this final resting place, this Delenda, be better than nothing at all—better than true deletion.

If this unjust medium--this blog--be not the cure for my wild-fire writing, then surely The New School will be.

I was recently accepted to The New School in New York City for their MFA Creative Nonfiction Writing program for Fall 2010. Being accepted into such an esteemed university, being awarded such a coveted spot in their writing MFA program -- it's like winning the academic lottery. I have never been happier than I am in my dreams of a true academic setting. I know this will be the solace I have sought since being under the mentorship of my undergraduate writing professor.

This is me...

This is me...

This is me as well...

This is me as well...
In Death Valley, the Sand Dunes and Solitude Suited me Well.
There was an error in this gadget

April 23, 2009

The Words that Won Me the World

In keeping with the theme of the present in my life--given that I have recently been accepted to the school of my dreams, Sarah Lawrence in New York for their MFA Creative Nonfiction Writing program--I have decided to post the personal statement responces I sent to them for my application. Though it isn't exaclty keeping with the primary purpose of this blog (namely to act as a recepticle for all the pages-upon-pages of prose that have no place in my memoir, but equally are not flawed so much that they deserve death-by-deletion) I feel that, since I posted such a long aside when I was in the process of writing (or trying to write) these personal statements for Sarah Lawrence, I ought to post the final result...just in-case, you know, someday someone actually stumbles upon this blog and has the patience or personal masochistic-itch to read any length of this webpage I've thrashed my life upon.

So here are the two documents I sent them (not including the excerpts from my memoir, of course--the same memoir from which I take these tangenital passages typed as fast as they are thereafter hated, and then left for dead here on the Delenda.

I will add these personal statements, then, for the continuity of the book--or blog, as it were--which no one shall read. I take some solace and, admittedly, some sadness in this thought. Also I feel that, because I wanted Sarah Lawrence so desperatly, I achieved while writing these statments, something a great deal more profound than just something entrance-worthy: in my desperate plea, I found the most utter sincerity...and in that sincerity I found...the most honest me. Myself mirrored in prose therein more naked than I could have ever willed myself to be by any other means--sloughed from me was all the parlor-trickery, and what remained was something so starkly true (something which I only realized in hindsight) that I came to know myself because of it--learning myself by means of my own biography (the irony is odd in itself, I think.)
It's the kind of shrill child-like cry that reads like the prose-brethren of a kneeling man pleaing for his life....though do not mistake Sarah Lawrence for some villian....oh so inherently the opposite is true...I was begging for a blessing I have yet to deserve. But I will make myself worthy in time, because I love it so, if by no other merit than that.

I'll desist no further.
___________________________________________________________________
Personal Statement Responses
“Why do you want to attend Graduate School?”
& “Why do you want to attend Sarah Lawrence?”


The writing samples I am including with my application are from a memoir I wrote while in my last semester of college—the memoir details my experiences throughout a lifetime of formal education, and was written as my creative thesis for a course that did not require any such laborious-commitment, being that it was only a five-week summer course in expository writing; and this class for which my memoir was composed was only asking for, at that time, a seven page paper on Emerson and Auden. Though I never intended it, these chronicles were quickly engorged with all the aspects of my education—records of school and scholars and of feeling sick and shamed—and it fast became a beast—my memoir as it is today, epic to say the least, has now doubled in length. But given that my mind had a decade decayed I surely suffered a writer’s atrophied; albeit at times but a tantivy transcription of the wild rantings of a madman, my memoir was at least at-length, all of which I wrote in the span of a few weeks, and the better measure of which I, in truth, avidly arranged during a few long-feverous nights, which crept without cessation into the subsequent sun-stretch that elongates until night again, all the course of the day.
Of this monstrous memoir, my best work therein—my most coherent, strangely, and my most profound, not surprisingly—were willingly written in long, lucid nights, sleepless, inspired, and given way to compulsive bouts of preoccupation with prose, instead of—as many tend to write—in sporadic sittings for short periods of time. Page upon page passed by as I wrote into the nights of that blissful summer, nearly 100 were written over the course of several straight-25-hour stints, the muse that wakes me from the slumber-hush hours and rouses me till I spend long, lucubrations in the lull of night, nothing I’d rather do than stay up and write. My professor for that class was the most paramount influence on my life as a student, a writer, and significantly-so as a person; he is responsible for my reawakening to my most essential selfhood: myself as I was in youth, myself as I hid for years, myself as a writer. I was so very fortunate that, at the very end of my college career, at the end of four long years of waiting for some scholarly guidance, the fates tired of toying with me, and sent me some brief reprieve—and, of Professor Armintor’s class—not only was it a blessing to find an educator left in the academic world who wished only to quiet the censor of the young, dreamy mind, but equally I am grateful that he allowed for me to compose such a ridiculous and squandering self-indulgence as most surely my memoir is and was. He reframed his course to suite my needs and that was something I had almost given up on, and now for which I find myself in tireless quest.
All of that was to confess but a shamefully simple thing: I, the girl who took a prompt for a 7-page paper on Emerson and decided, out of sheer lunacy and love-of-words, out of a vicious case of logorrhea and long lucid nights, to instead—write over 120 pages for that 5 week class—most over the course of a few spellbound, word-struck nights, soul aglow in gossamer computer-screen light; yes, I, this very girl who boasts such things, must lamentably admit that I have had the most taxing time attempting to write a single word in response to the personal-statement question your applications prompt. Specifically it was the question “Why do you wish to attend graduate school?” which proved an obstinate and unwavering obstruction to the voice which usually speaks so freely, like a siren to the mind she sings to me the verse and line I plant in prose; still though, I know the love of words can be a wicked affliction, casting sentence clauses like sailors to the rocks embraced beneath the still insipid sea, the sea on which in-mind I drift always, listlessly. But I cannot seem to birth a even but a word of-late unless I’m babbling on about nothing at all—as, to my embarrassment, I am doing now, and just as I have done on so many countless drafts before, though I have never once needed to draft heretofore!
So after many discarded drafts I set myself to thought and pandered to my own heart for some fragment of insight into why this application quite literally petrifies me when I try to write—not in anxiety, nor in fright, but by some unseen tether which has shackled me to these perpetual deletions and arrest of thought, always some flux of page from pedantic, passive-voiced bombast to the anemic bare-cast page-of-white. So to-now I've had various beginnings and no endings, and then the opposite of the two, but nothing near completion has even begun to stir within me, despite many a day and night dawned-and-lost, hours mount as I toil these words, the waning crescent time leaving me plagued with self-deprecating worry, too much so to write. But when first I forced myself to lay-rest to this silly jeremiad kept on tip-of-tongue, only then was I clearly able to discern why in-fact I can always write so much about absolutely everything, but about the one thing I want more than anything in the world, I cannot seem to muster even a single word.
It struck me quite suddenly, as though upon a midnight notion, that perhaps I should try instead to approach this problem from the hind and write the essay concerning why I wish to attend Sarah Lawrence first, instead of writing them as they were assigned—the first prompt being to give an autobiography, and then to write of your personal motivation to attend graduate school in-general, not specifically to the graduate school of Sarah Lawrence, for which the second statement had been denoted to comprise. I felt a banished burden immediately upon offering myself this strange solution, which I didn’t really think would make much headway in this dream-draught battle with my oddly-unyielding will. Stranger still is that I was suddenly, at this thought, again the swelling sea, all my prose singing again from the depths of mind and memory. Then I felt like myself again, back in lock-step tandem with my imagination; and alas I was writing again, no sooner did I think of Sarah Lawrence in particular--which has, for some time now, been my first, last and only choice in graduate schools. This is why I could not write of just some any-place, some generic stock-writ academy with their football teams, their stadium seating, everyone in apathy until the big game—I shudder at even the best of these. I cannot write you a personal statement expressing why I wish to go to graduate school in-general, because I wouldn’t wish this on any artist or fine-mind. The university is a place of few true scholars or students, so many sleepwalkers in formal-stagnation, or else they are sycophants and serpents who serve only the faceless bureaucratic force. I am not a number, nor but a name on a role; I am not one in a row of many, in a classroom with seats roof to floor; I am not a well-trained brute, nor a machine who enjoys the academic regurgitation of cogs-to-wheel they call prose. But of all these sad-facets by which I suffer in my search for the promised-kind of education, most of all it’s the scholars I seek, like the one I briefly found in the midst of the utterly unlike-him, a shepherd in a den of wolves.

I want for a mentorship like what I had before; when a serendipitous summer course befell me in great fortune, the wakes of my ending academic career, when I found myself with this great solace from a scholar who’s kind of mind I shared. And to think nearly instead, a drill course on Nietzsche, changing my enrollment but the night before; and it was the saddest thing of all, truly—of all my days—to leave that class, to part with the unchanged summer of that room, to know for this I waited four years and got but that in weeks, and to weep and thank in this moment the same, grateful for but a moment of real guidance, for being returned to myself, restored, for the heart-trade hours of Charles Ives for the life of me I can’t recreate, for the words and books and memories which to a hungry soul first-feed, then shall fully-satiate. It came upon the lunar-spell a winter rides, riding across my summer in the light, when the last days witness the craven twilight colors suspend everything in gray; I knew summer was of shorter months, of warmer days and the heat-wave haze that I scarcely noticed come and pass, and if I had only seen such things, I could have—I think—better prepared for the day that was my last; the mentor whom but-before I was someone merely in-wait to be me -- a time when, too afraid to write again, not so much as a grocery list would leave my pen -- and he restored me to myself in but a few days, mere moments out of the four-year war and early winter, sheltered, away from the cold and complacency contagion that spreads with the heat of mythic bible plagues until all the students seemed consumed, and by some greater germ have so many professors also fallen ill, the life-robbing leech of lethargy consuming the lot of them, and what few are left suffer more—the worst fate befalling our academies, striking like-dead the deans and dons and all the others that drain the alma mater—in truth you are the pestilent disease—though not the whole of you can be condemned, as surely a sorrowed few are left for whom such a gruesome fate has been avoided or passed over; but for the most, the most I’ve known, the university is a wicked beast of many disjoint arms and limbs, not one knows what the neighbor is doing and not a one will be privy to the passing files and forms, no one except the head himself, but so high in rank he cannot see the limbs from sky and so as such he is blind-struck to it all -- and thus, the rabid brute, our bureaucracy, is born; this is the source of my scorn.
But my memoir, entitled “The University: A Solace for Scholars and the Academically Scorned” is not some fantastical feat of dreams; With the vividness of present-day I remember clearly, that even in the most aching hours back then, when academic abusers hung the gallows with all the last to remain awake, I was by one professor pardoned, and thus I saw no sign of hate or haste; for I was being safeguarded somewhere near, in a classroom of but a few friend-won students -- havened by the scholar who keeps the lucid safe. But so many slept and wept outside of this summer-spell place of books and words, though in memory and mind I know the summer as being one of placid peace, of my blessed teacher, fostering between himself and us an unwavering devotion stand-to-last for years and years—and this ever-rare professor nurtured also, a flourishing fellowship between a farrago of peers, and the days were sweetened by this.
But in the end I’ll most remember that this professor was the one who returned my words, forever silenced my censoring fears ... and of the songs that no one hears—the songs of the last day of summer, when we all listened to Ives with ashen-mourner’s fallen eyes and of, of course, those quixotic songs, only sounding sweet for you and I and a precious few -- you, and I the last to hear Charles Ives cry.
Though graduate school is something I never questioned, just always knew—I was going, even as a child I understood the value of higher education, for the soul and mind and the world itself, and beyond that I hold but a passing interest—for degrees and dons and regal robes, for recognition, reputation, and laughably less so for the trite and common catalyst that drives so many sleep-fallen children to the lap of our ever-generic schools, each just lumber mills for the human-sort, or a processing plant for meats and so forth, they just make identical ground chuck patties, in life, college lends them to be shipped for selling in a store of a white-collar sort. This is not for me, as I am an avid lover of words and dreams and lovely things and I’m always happy and enthralled, but the university is a place meant for apathy, and compliant lethargy is your only hope. I miss that place I had in Professor Armintor’s class, and every day I feel it grow in mind, a little less vivid, more and more robbed by time. There, I was the writer I remembered in my award-winning youth, when I knew since the tender age of three that the inner most essence of me was always the same: a writer. But in a decade of rebellion from my imagination, wanting the typical-teenage things, none of which was writing, and I’d waste years with the other future lean-ground-beef, the trivial and forgotten landscapes of friends and parties none as crystalline as those outcast years from age six to nine, and clear-still are all the lost hours, stolen nights with school at dawn await, happily alive in some childish brilliant writing.
I worried once that I was too spirited for the universities of our modern age—not because of the authorities in classrooms, as it is they to whom I happily obey, but mostly it is those of whom I’ll never see, but wallowing in their wicked forms and the alma mater misery, they will never suffer scorn, behind glass pane doors, for they are the almighty university. Maybe I’ll get to see their secretary. But there was that one class—and of course it was my last—wherein my inner-muse was given the freedom to fly and the room to fall, and all the while I flourished while fed by the dreams of minds like me, and of my wise, wonderful professor—he has the gratitude of so many, and will never soon flee from memory.
If there can be just one solace-of-a-scholar among all the others lost to treachery, then so too am I right in hoping there is an entire academy like he and me! And I am veiled again in a sheltered-summer kind of peace when I dream of this new place; I feel it as soon as I began to muse upon your meadow-tucked manners, the blanket-clad sweep of dew-green grass where atop yearning minds lunch and nap, while others laugh and read, the sidewalks of Sarah Lawrence a concrete river-weave that roams the stretch of sun-loved campus, bustling scholars and their brilliant pupils, happy among like-minds, as much to their relief, Sarah Lawrence has bestowed upon the brilliant, an academic Eden of shared reprieve. I have studied with passion, suffered in silence, and succeeded in-spite of all the rest, and when it comes to the sacred scholars, I want nothing more than to be with them among the best; Sarah Lawrence is my scholastic soul-mate; the only place where I belong;
and I cannot go a lifetime wanting, for the warmth of a summer gone.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
Applications Biography:

An Autobiographical Musing
On My Life, Thus Far.


My name is Erin Emily Wheeler and I am twenty three years old.
I was born near Tyler, Texas during the muggy southern winters that annually offer brief amnesty to the arid land beneath unyielding sun. Though I was very young when I moved away, the very name of my birth place calls to mind the most vivid of my earliest memories: of being hot, of red wind from upturned soil, of how the entire world seemed made of scarlet mud. At the age of six I moved with my family to a more hospitable part of Texas—to Dallas—and I have stayed in the surrounding area ever since. Ironically, my favorite color is red, and so too is everything I own; I wonder if I have not unconsciously furnished my apartment to resemble the same rust-washed landscape of my birthplace?
I was born to a brilliant scientist and a survivor of World War II—the former being my father and the latter, my mother—and before me they conceived three other children, one of whom is still alive today. My parents were married when my mother was sixteen and my father was eighteen, and two years later they had a son—my brother—whom I’ll never meet. He died long before I was born, tragically, in a scuba diving accident when he was only eighteen. Soon after the death of my brother my parents suffered the loss of another child; a daughter they named Christina, who died hours after birth from an ill-formed heart. For years my siblings’ deaths has festered silently inside my mother and father and, as a river in time will carve a canyon from a flatland, so too did sadness slowly shape my parents, fashioning them into the grief-born people I’ve always known. My mother is a cynic who loves most to sleep and my father is shy and silent, alive in his mind perhaps, but socially withdrawn. Though I often feel like I was born to be their Band-Aid, still, my childhood was nothing but bliss, and my parents—endlessly self-sacrificing and always lavishing me with love, encouragement, and support. I am quite fortunate in that way.
My only living sibling—my older sister Dea—is eighteen years my senior and a mother of two. I have been an aunt since the age of three; my sister’s son is just now sixteen and her daughter, my niece, is only three years younger than I am, and having just had her first child, I am now a great-aunt—though I hate this title, as it makes me think of wealthy old women who drink tea from tiny porcelain cups and have a house full of delicate things I’m not allowed to touch. My niece and nephew have always been like siblings to me, but my actual sister—somehow more estranged. Though I love her dearly, she is my absolute antithesis. Even my parents wonder how two such essentially-opposing children could be born of the same two parents, though I’ve always thought genetic markers were the most conceivable things we shared.
Growing up, my mother and father repeated their mantras which my sister and I would come to identify with forever, always saying to us that I am “the smart one” and she is “the sweet one”; neither of these titles were entirely desirable, as having one attribute seemed to denote the absence of the other. To some degree I suppose these titles are befitting to us—my sister is the epitome of sweet and has a countenance to match; she wears her southern smile as faithfully as others wear clothes, and she would very much seem naked without it. Though we are both Jewish, as is our mother, I am the only one in the family to have embraced Judaism as a religion and more than just a cultural-heritage, whereas my sister, over the years of small-town life, fell prey to backwoods fears of fire and brimstone, and soon became a religious-zealot. While Dea is the one who brings apple pies to family dinners, I’m the one who ends up standing on a chair before desert, raving like a madman, loud and livid and usually ignored, in sudden hysterics over something my sister has said, yelling down at her as she smiles vacantly from her seat, half-listening to me as she passes my mother the dinner rolls, and in a fit I’ll argue my case—fork probably still in hand—ranting about the war-profiteers my family elected or the illogical fallacies inherent in a religious view that dates the earth as younger than the dinosaurs. It’s not a stretch to imagine why I wasn’t called “the sweet one,” but I’m fortunate to have family who loves me soap-box and all.
My father is my hero—especially in his academic achievements, and I grew up around education as a central part of one’s life, some of my earliest and fondest memories being of the books my father would leave laying around while writing his dissertation for his PhD in Artificial Intelligence—and even now, no longer a child, I still really believe he knows everything. In fact, it is because of his comprehensive genius that I was even born—were it not for his brilliant mind, certainly I wouldn’t be here. Allow me to explain: after the grief of losing two children, my mother had no intention of bringing any others into the world, but my father desperately wanted a child upon whom he could impart all the knowledge and wisdom that only comes with older age—though they still had my sister, she favored my mother more, and my father likes to say “in Erin I found my pupil, my little scientist”. Feeling the urgency of my 40 year old mother’s waning window for safe-reproduction, my father—the brilliant scientist—microwaved her birth control pills inside the very thin foil of a Twinkie wrapper, thereby altering them into mere placebos. Though the microwave didn’t make it, I certainly did; turns out those birth control pills have a weak carbon bond—and thus, here I am—my father’s “little scientist”, a product of Twinkies and a microwave, or as my mother likes to say in her half-facetious half-embittered tone “a product of too much champagne is more like it!”
I am a first-generation American, my mother having been born to my grandmother, a famed dancer for one of Europe’s finest ballet companies, in Karlstrue, Germany just before World War II. All was well until the war, and though the ballet company offered my Jewish grandmother and her young daughter protection for a short while, it wasn’t long before all the Jews were being hunted by the Nazi regime and eventually even the most prominent German citizens were powerless against their mounting force. My grandmother and my eight year old mother were helped by a good-hearted German—a friend from the ballet company—who hid them beneath their floor boards for some unthinkable amount of time. My grandmother never sought love again, having lost her first and last to the Polish camps, and so she settled for the next best thing: an American soldier who offered her and my young mother refuge in the United States in exchange for marriage. Luckily for my mother, she married a man who would be nothing less than the finest husband and father, and repressed memories of her mother’s marriage sometimes surface in her mind and serve as a bittersweet reminder of this. . She is the strongest woman I’ve ever known, and her often ill-fated life is one which she has—all things considered—endured and enjoyed, and that is the kind of unwavering will and valor I hope to make my own.
This is my heritage, the life from which I came.
In my life, I’ve seen much of the world; an incessant restlessness drives this desire in me to travel far and frequently. A plaguing anxiety befalls me when I sit still for extended bouts of time, when I stagnate in life or loom too long in one place, and I’m not sure what caused me to be this way. Perhaps it was the fear of ending up like one of those east Texas families I remember from youth, those families of people who always stayed contently put, three generations or more coming and going without one of them straying past state lines. The secret to happiness, I soon decided, was perspective: a little perspective makes the worst of times seem a gift worth feeling grateful for. I would immediately make plans to visit some forsaken part of the world where such concerns would be a blessing, and this would give me a real sense of happiness that even the most dire of times couldn’t soon shake.
When I was sixteen I backpacked Thailand with a boyfriend and, just the two of us, we spent over a month making our way across the country side, living on coconuts and sticky-rice, and when he favored a length of time in Bangkok, I decided to make my way up North to see the temples. It was there I’d find a place I could stay a while, studying Buddhism and Eastern philosophy with the monks in the mountains of Chaing Mai. The Northern forests of Thailand and the temples therein havened by tree-hidden hillsides were a refuge for me, and there I found the kind of inner-lull I have long since lost but still remember, the spellbound smile and else-where eyes I wore in photographs taken at the temples, pictures of me in the gardens with flecks of gold leaf ornamenting my brow and orchids blooming around my face, each little blossom woven through strands of hair, but it is the strangeness of my stare that draws me to these photographs time and time again, each an image of me with this beautiful look of vacancy, like someone who’s roused from slumber too soon, and it’s a face that hardly looks my own. If I could recreate that stillness of mind and steadiness of heart here at home, I’d have nothing about which to write, and I’d take passion over peace any day—so, in that way, I suppose my neuroses suits me fine.
I spent three long months in Israel attending seminary where I went to learn “what it means to be a Jew,” just as my grandmother had asked me to do in her last, dying breath, where she had said, “if we forget who we are, the Nazi’s have won.” While living in Israel was the most difficult time of my life, it has been an experience I wouldn’t for the world think to trade. I wasn’t sent with much money, because the seminary in which I had enrolled was supposed to pay for nearly everything I might need—three meals a day, room-and-board, even bus fair and phone cards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in seminary but a few weeks before a malicious rumor was spread that I wasn’t really Jewish—a very serious matter to the ultra-orthodox Jews, as you are only considered a Jew if your mother is born Jewish, as it is a matriarchal religion—and when the seminary confronted me, I of course refuted these absurd claims, but had nothing with which to prove it. Every document affirming someone’s Jewish bloodline was burned by synagogues during the war as, in Germany especially, it was not safe to keep such records. I decided not to tell my parents I had been thrown onto the streets by the school paid to shelter and safeguard me—I knew they wouldn’t sleep until they had forced me home. I certainly got plenty of perspective, more than I ever hoped to have. I lived in a free youth hostel for Jewish girls, which was located in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, meaning that the building itself was 5,000 years old (as old as time, if my sister were dating it) and as such, it was without the basic comforts to which I was so accustom—no running water, no air-conditioning, just two floors of crowded rooms, rod-iron cots stacked from floor to ceiling with those awful one-inch foam mattresses and musty old quilts, sewn from an array of sad things—donated clothes, old army uniforms, even their used parachutes. But the hostile provided a one-way bus fair to a neighboring suburb called Ramat Eshkol, and there I had heard of a more liberal seminary which offered classes in orthodox living but in a less judgmental environment. So, five days a week I would wake up early, visit the Western Wall before sunrise and say the morning prayers with haste, as I almost always missed the bus that came just after dawn. If I missed the bus, I was stuck in the Old City with nothing to do but sweat for twelve hours until the hostel opened up again—it was a free place to sleep, so no one could complain when they forced us out on the streets, remaining closed from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, except on the Sabbath when we were allowed to come in a little early. I’d opt to walk through the constant inferno that is the Israeli summer, all seven and half miles, driven by my desire to learn and uphold my promise to my grandmother. Lovely, strange things happened during those days in the Old City, but they were always so hard. I watched my friends from seminary pass me on the busses in route to Jerusalem, watched them peer out the window, watched them eat their sandwiches, and I will never forget what it’s really like to be hungry. When that crazed feeling of being sick with starvation finally passes, when over the days it dulls to a foggy stupor, only a vague ache, familiar but unplaceable, like a name that slips you mind. American tourists would come to the Old City—they were so much louder than everyone else, had they always been this way?—and they would sit outside on the sidewalk terraces of the bagel bakeries and schwarma shops near the Rova (the city square), and after they ordered twice the food they needed, they’d waddle off like ripe gourds, leaving on their plates enough to sustain me for the week. Eventually, I found myself sneaking off with their leftovers, which I would share—in times of plenty—with a homeless cat that lived in my favorite garden nook, and in exchange for sharing his hidden space, beneath the city where the Roman ruins have been made into a mall, I would bring him food when I had enough, and together we’d sit and watch the people—the tourists with shopping bags hanging from their arms like a coat rack at a Christmas party and their hands juggling an array of western comforts I’d forgotten—cell phones, digital cameras, mp3 players; and others that passed were soldiers, the men and women with Uzi’s strapped to their backs, their guns duck taped—gifts from the US, relics of World War II—and each of them wearing a tired green uniform which I always thought was a strange color choice for camouflage in the yellow Israeli desert; then there were the rabbis and their twelve children, averting their eyes so as not to see me, not to look upon a woman that wasn’t their wife, and that—as silly as it is—never stopped hurting my feelings; and also there were the Armenians, often seen walking frantically to and fro between the markets and the Arab Shook, stumbling along, walking while peering down at their feet from over the top of the large wooden crates they carried, each filled to the brim with fiery bell peppers and limbs of plump olives, and these were the sites that inspired the pangs of hunger, and they were the forbidden fruits from which I averted my eyes, the cat and I sharing a stolen bagel as all the fresh produce was carried away, transported back and forth from the market place to the little cafes where tourists would eat them with their falafel and lamb schwarma, and hopefully leave behind as scraps.
In search of lasting perspective and to quell the stirring sense of adventure within, I continued my travels—always alone or with only a single friend, and never on tours or in organized groups. For the most part, I backpacked—there’s an odd sense of comfort in the notion that everything you own and need is on your back, and you can just pick-up and go anywhere—and usually I stayed in hostels and cheap motels. I backpacked Europe with a friend, and for a month we roamed from country to country, sleeping on trains and taking the Eurail to all the distant places we’d been highlighting in travel books for weeks.
Of my travels, my other adventures and travails, I have always taken great pleasure in all such experiences, which somehow bring about a great spring of inspiration from which I can draw all of life’s sacred details, otherwise forsaken, forgotten, and in an attempt to preserve passing moments—about such times, I write. And being that my self-as-a-writer is the most essential characteristic by which I am self-defined, I can never be any less than utterly grateful for every day that brings me something new to ponder and record.