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“Will inspector Sams please report to the central concourse,” boomed an overhead radio system into the mostly empty cafe.

I am at Victoria Station, eating a cheese sandwich, and drinking a tall glass of Strongbow cider. Neither taste the same as they do in the States. It’s a nice break from cheap pizza and economy-sized Peroni.

I arrived in England peering through half-open, sleep-filled eyes, depicting a hazy scene that could have also indicated I was in purgatory. Travelers were immediately ushered into orderly queues, organized by paperwork and bureaucracy.

Turns out, I was spoiled entering Italy as my first foreign country. I walked off the plane, into the airport, picked up my bag, and hopped in a taxi. No one checked my passport. No one asked me to declare anything. Everybody was taking their time, stopping for a coffee or tied up in casual conversation. Today was a different thing. I waited in a snaking line full of silent minds, and something about it felt clinical. No one was speaking, but the space was near full. It was like a class of elementary students who were just threatened by the teacher. One peep, and we’d all miss recess.

A woman handed me a slip of paper identifying the time I joined the queue, for quality control, she assured me. I was asked to give it to boarder control as a method for measuring our lines’ wait time. Twenty minutes off the plane, and they were already utilizing me to benefit the system…sneaky Brits. Well played.

From Stansted, I took a spacious bus with leather seats and a flatscreen TV mounted above the driver, displaying a live feed of the street in front of us. I’m not sure what this was for. I think it was supposed to help us feel like we were driving. The whole thing was meta, but in a depressing, endless expanse of highway kind of way.

In the hour and a half bus ride to London, I examined the back of my eyelids, struck in the middle of dreaming and thinking. Never fully committed to being asleep or awake. The content of my thoughts were muddled and disturbing. A cocktail of the wrong ingredients. A manhattan made with rum.

I forced myself awake when I realized we were in the heart of the city. I was curious to begin the identification process. When I came to Rome, I knew of certain landmarks, but I never spent any time with a map. In part I wanted to be surprised, and in part I’m really lazy about my adventures. I had a vague mental image, but I never tried to define it. I didn’t want to ruin it with expectations. I came to London with the same sentiment.

On first impression, the buildings are sleek and smart. More modern and abstract than I would have expected. You can sense the Germanic influence. There is a coldness to the architecture, especially in contrast with Roman romanticism. It feels like a cleaner, smaller and better organized NYC. At one point, I saw a man raking leaves into very precise piles off a side street. The city workers seem dedicated and plentiful. Well organized, and with good attitudes. This is already different than Rome and the States. A healthy sign for a city.

London feels chic and current, with “healthy fast food” restaurants peppering between buildings and taking advantage of the “vegan, soy-free, conscious consumption” movement. I’m not complaining, because their design and marketing teams have done a killer job. I will add that anytime someone markets themselves to be something, they probably aren’t that thing, but okay, they still did a hell of a job. There’s a level of stringent sophistication permeating from the concrete. I’ll be curious to find where the homeless sleep. You can learn a lot about a city from their homeless.

I keep saying “ciao” and “grazie”, which is really terrible, because I have a strong American accent. They’re at the tip of my tongue, because these are the few words I use to communicate with Italians. After a few months of conditioning, it seems like I don’t know how to speak to people.

When I first came to Italy, street conversation was extremely alienating. It made me uncomfortable to not know what people were saying around me. After awhile, it became a white noise in the background, enabling me to develop intense focus on my own thoughts in public spaces. Here, I can understand conversation bits from all directions. It’s disorienting, and I’m experiencing a lot of noise pollution. This has been the biggest surprise for me, the realization that I like strangers better when I can’t understand them.

On the surface, I like the feeling London gives me. There is a crisp quality to the air that makes me feel like I can breath. I’ve navigated the public transportation with virtually no problem, to which I can thank the horrible transit system in Rome. I’ve spent most of my day alone, except for a quick stop at the gallery for a long hug from an old friend. This is just the beginning. I have a city to learn.

 

336A8731.jpgHas anyone ever metaphorically spat in your face? It just happened to me. I received a long lecture on how abruptly leaving a job as a caretaker is, well, careless. I was told I was not respectful, and to do what I’m doing makes me a bad person.

It’s hard to disagree with, and brings up memories of me leaving from a string of situations on less than graceful terms. Naturally, it has snowballed into an overall speculation about the nature of my existence, and if, in fact, I am “bad”.

To answer this question, one must first understand what defines bad or good.

If you take a dog for a walk on a day full of sunshine, a soft breeze tickling the hair on the back of your neck, whispering in your ear a melodic cacophony of early spring, this might be good.

If you’re getting a last miute haircut by the only hairdresser who doesn’t have clients booked, and the blow drier short circuits causing a spark to light a fire that burns down the building and also envelops your whole head of hair, this might be bad.

However, both applications of these values are created by yourself in the scenario, meaning they don’t construct an objective reality for which we can build a consensus. Generally, most people would agree that these situations are “bad” or “good”. But what if you change perspectives with someone else in the scenario? What if the dog really hates you, and being forced under the control of your subordinate leash brings him great anguish and turmoil? What if you’re walking the dog past a girl who had her own dog die recently, and the sight of your dog triggers her grief? Alternatively, what if the proprietor of the building always secretly hoped for a fire because he had a big insurance policy? Now he is happy. And I don’t think he cares about your hair.

The problem with morals is they are subjective. Everything in reality is. Physics tells us time does not exist the same on street level as it does the 9th floor of a building. I constantly vow to give my sisters “tips from the future” because my day occurs 8 hours ahead of theirs. This is a different problem, though, and we can talk about it later.

So what are these morals, and where do they come from, if everyone is looking at the same situation with different eyes? Most of us assume that murder is wrong, but is it still wrong if you murder someone who is trying to murder you? Where do we derive our rules for how to navigate life? For many, it’s religion. But throw religion away for a second, and pretend it isn’t real. We could still probably agree on the golden rule. “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Okay, that’s nice, so *WHAT IF* I’m really into being tied up and spanked? Does this mean I go around tying up people and spanking them? Seems like a bad rule of thumb.

I was asked to turn the situation around, and see it from the employers perspective. I tried to explain I’ve gone inside and out of the matter, but sometimes you just have to let other people talk. “What if we decided we were throwing you out, with only three days notice before you must leave?” I said I would have to create a plan and find somewhere else to go. This was not a satisfying answer. “Yes, but what would you tell other people when they asked you about this situation? You would say we were bad people.” For me, the idea of having to find a new place to live seemed like it would be the most important thing on my mind. She did not believe me.

One time in college I was sitting on a bench in a tree-spotted greenspace referred to as the oak grove. I was pretending to do trigonometry homework, but mostly watching a group of “larpers,” or, individuals who do role-play jousting. A dog stopped beside me, who I began to pet, surprised by his outgoing personality. The dogs companion, an old gentleman with white Einstein hair and crystal blue eyes, approached me next, and started telling me conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination and what really happened on 9/11. He then told me he used to teach sociology at IUP, segwaying into a lesson I didn’t ask for. He explained the “A,B,C theory of emotions,” developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950’s.

Einstein-man told me “A” stands for an action. Life is comprised of action and inaction. There is no connotation associated with these things. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” it just is. “B” stands for the conscious or subconscious belief we have regarding the action, which provides the action with assigned meaning. “C” stands for emotional consequences, or feelings we derive from the meaning we assigned to an event. For example, A. Sally sees a snake. B. Sally has heard bad stories about snakes. C. Sally is scared. With this logic, we assign meaning to everything, and that meaning is left up to our conscious or unconscious thoughts to translate into our emotions. Realistically, we can control our emotions about an event by assigning our own meaning to it. This is a therapeutical technique aimed to shift the traditional viewpoints and approaches about human behavior from assigning a one-size-fits-all template to “actions,” and instead giving an individual the power to customize their feelings and beliefs. That was a really long sentence, and I’m sorry.

I’m headed to London tomorrow, and before leaving, I was asked to pack up my belongings and reimburse the employer for 30 euro. This is all action, and my conscious belief tells me after I’m on the plane, I’m going to be just fine. I’m headed to visit a dear friend for his final photography exhibition, as he graduates from the University of London Arts with a degree in photojournalism and documentary making. His project is called “sonostalgia,” the inverse of nostalgia, which is the phenomena of feeling homesick for home while still living there. It’s feeling homesick for the way things used to be – a place you can never go back to. And when I return to Rome, I will begin a new life, something I have become quite practiced in.

IMG_6527.JPGWould Thanksgiving really be a Thanksgiving if people didn’t fight? In a way, I think this is the hallmark of the holiday. It begins with a facade – A nice welcoming dinner where everyone comes together to be thankful there is enough food. The pilgrims and Indians did it, and now we do it, too. But what happened after? The pilgrims were like, “Hey, thanks for all your help, we’re taking your land, and in return, here’s some smallpox.”

Yesterday I hosted my first Thanksgiving. In Italy. With family and friends. On the surface, it was okay, because I managed to produce a traditional dinner with mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and (okay) a chicken.

Everything was going well. People smiled, and ate, and talked and joked. I drank a LOT of wine. And then, in a moment of false security, everything began to fall apart.

I was giving a speech about wanting to go back in time to 14-year-old Juliette, sitting in the Berkeley Plaza theatre with Sara Hanshew, eating sour-neon gummy worms and drinking 99-cent energy drinks smuggled in from the nearby Big Lots. I wanted to tell her, as she watched Eat Pray Love with wonderment, that one day, she too would be hosting an American Thanksgiving in Italy. I wanted to see the look on her face. I promise you she didn’t think it was possible.

So after this speech (which I was clearly drunk if I was giving) something happened. I don’t know what it was. Everyone wanted different things. At the root of man, I believe this might be our problem. We are slaves to our desires.

In addition to ending up in a weird fight I vaguly remember with anyone I’ve ever met, I also had to break up with my family.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I said to my unimpressed reflection, wishing I could conjure better cliches. I’ve never been good at breaking up. Or endings. Or emotions. I try to avoid them, because otherwise they chew me up and swallow me whole like the last piece of pie on a rainy day. I closed my mouth. I look much prettier this way.

In the midst of still being kind of wine-drunk when I woke up, I told my host family I was leaving them. For a new job. Where I can learn a skill set. They were not pleased, and in this moment, I was not either.

Everything looks better in the rear-view mirror, I’m trying to remind myself, as I reach for the past, aching for the comfort of old things. There is beauty in what is already behind us.

It’s starting to seem to me that good news is almost always also bad. “I’m moving on” is never met with unflinching support. “I’m ready to improve” is never met with big hugs and handfuls of confetti. It’s never met, because you have to reach for someone else’s common ground. Other people don’t want you to change, they are comfortable with the current you.

“I’m sorry” I said through weeping sobs and handfuls of tears I tried to catch so as to not ruin the upholstery. It was the hardest break up of my life.

The problem is, and always will be money. The wealthy have more room to act with morals, because they have less of an excuse. Which is interesting, because wealthier people seem to have LESS morals. For the poor (me) we have to act on opportunity. Which typically means compromising morals. Concession will never keep you warm at night. Purchasing a blanket with money you made from your job, will.

I guess this means I’m moving out, reader. I guess this means I’m moving on. I thought that opportunity would make me feel full, but even after that giant thanksgiving dinner, I feel empty. Loneliness is an old friend I said I never wanted to see again. I turned my back, and he was waiting.

I’m not talking to my friends or family right now (okay, they’re not talking to me) which is why I’m talking to myself. Or the internet. Or whatever. I’m sad because I want more. The world is not enough. And I know that’s the wrong way to look at it. I’m trying to control the weather and I can’t. It rains for a reason. Another problem is I really love the rain. It’s never quite as interesting when the sun’s out.

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The infant was standing on the edge of the sink, facing me, supported by my left arm. With my right hand, I was washing the “cacca” off his small, pale bottom, feigning enthusiasm as a mechanism to keep him calm. I slid my index finger into his tiny crack, encouraging the moss colored reincarnation of his last meal to “come hither”, and leave the child in peace. In this moment, he leaned forward, and kissed me. I think we’re dating now. Things are getting really intimate.

The above situation, I can happily inform you, exemplifies my newest marketable skill: patience. It’s never been a strong suit of mine, but since taking a position where I cater to the needs of an infant, it has emerged from me, if anything, as a proper defense. Another morsel of knowledge I’ve acquired is understanding the notion that the world is not about me. I just happen to be in it. And to be perfectly honest, it’s a great relief.

Back to this patience item, because I heard it is a virtue, but also, it got me a job. I applied, with no expectation of response, to a company that teaches English to Italian children, using creative, non-traditional tactics. Coming from the girl who turned a research paper on “the crisis in Darfur” into a “rap” to get people’s attention, this is my dream job. Also, the money was right. “Au Pair,” contrary to popular belief, is not synonymous with “baller”.

Anyway, they DID respond, and offered me an interview. Which I aced. And then they offered me a job. I was ecstatic. My interviewer asked me a lot of questions about why I was qualified for the position, despite my lack of experience in ESL. Turns out, my current position as a slave-to-children means I am empathetic, rational and, you guessed it, patient. All those things, in addition to the fact I am an English mother-tongue with a degree in communication, enabled me to beat out nine other candidates. (Go me.)

Here’s where the story (unfortunately) gets good. I needed to talk to my host mother/ employer/sister-friend to ensure it wouldn’t interfere with my current work. I came to her with options about how we could handle certain conflicts, and I was shot down. She was too worried about contingencies, like sick children and natural disasters. The more I plead my case and articulated my feelings, the more I understood she doesn’t want to loose the flexibility of having me “on call”.

I was angry. HOW DARE SHE. I stormed into my room like an angst-filled teenager who wasn’t allowed to borrow the car for prom. She was, after all, ruining my life. I began searching craigslist for flats in Rome. I decided it was time to move out.

After allowing myself to feel disappointed by the circumstances, I went outside, smoked a cigarette, and got a hold of myself. Yes, it was unfortunate that this new and exciting job couldn’t fit into my schedule, but in reality, my family comes first. They aren’t my blood, and our skin doesn’t respond the same to Roman water, (mine is very dry at the moment,) But when I chose to come here, I chose to be in it. I chose to clean up the infants “cacca”. I chose to follow someone else’s rules. In return, I have a support system. I have a bed. I have a dinner. For all the bad moments, I also get the good ones. Yes, I wish I could balance both things, but really, I don’t get to make that choice. The employer I live with gets to make that choice. That’s the reality I signed up for.

So, I swallowed my pride, went to the kitchen, grabbed a stack of plates and began to set the table. I met my mother/employer/sister-friend’s anxious energy with a warm smile, and at dinner tonight, we had both bread AND wine.

There are a few take-away’s from today’s experience. First, I am capable of applying for a job I really want, in a company where I don’t know anyone, and being hired. Second, if I can get hired once, I can get hired again. Third, I am patient (finally). And last, bad experiences usually make for good writing.

Everyone is crying, but I remain undisturbed. I have gone into my zen place, elbow-deep in yellow rubber gloves and the aftermath of dinner dishes, sopping wet with soap and minestrone soup.

“Ho freddo,” the young girl whimpered, scrunching her face into an overstated pout, something I have learned she is quite good at. She began to chatter her teeth dramatically, causing an unpleasant clinking noise akin to fine china chirping in an earthquake.

I began to clear the table, as I felt the first drops of a rainstorm falling from her eyes. Next thing you know it, the whole family is in the parent’s bedroom, which is directly across from the kitchen, making me an unintended witness to the episode.

The girl is now screaming, with the infant nearly matching in her pitches, letting out his own wails, crying just because he doesn’t know what else to do. The parents, although not showing visible symptoms, are crying on the inside. Their hallowed out eyes stare vacantly into the faces of their children, and also, oblivion.

“This was a bad idea,” I hear them thinking to each other, searching for reasons to reassure themselves bringing life into this world was in the end, somehow, worth it.

I’m inside of myself, on the fringe of their experience, focused on a food speck sticking to a silver pot which won’t come clean from calcium deposits lurking in the water.

I used to hate to do the dishes, so much they would sit in my sink for weeks. Sometimes, my coffee mugs would begin to resemble a science experiment, breeding bacteria to the point I would just throw them away. I’ve developed a certain level of gratitude for the process now, really thinking and caring about the dishes in a way that never used to make sense. Maybe it’s because it is a requirement of my indentured servitude, or maybe it’s because I’m teaching myself to love a lot of things I used to hate.

I don’t have any real point to make here, other than sometimes I feel like a spy. I’m just existing with this family, witnesses the trials and triumphs of their lives, sometimes playing a role, but mostly just a passive observer. I deeply consider their emotions and actions, and I sometimes just want to stop them and be like, “hey, do you know that you’re doing this?” It’s funny how we can go about our lives blind sighted from certain truths and realities about ourselves. I wish more strangers would stop me to tell me what I’m really like. On second thought, I don’t. I know these humans don’t realize the extent of which I’m watching them, and they certainly don’t know I’m typing up newsletters and posting them on the internet.

I write so many things that I just can’t use because they feel too personal. Too invasive. I would be psycho-analyzing and discussing the intimate details of someone’s life. On the internet. With my luck, they would find it.

The house is now silent, with babies tucked into beds and bourbon being poured into short glasses. I lied about the last part, but I could really drink some bourbon right now if we had any. I used to get worked up in these kinds of situations, somehow taking the crying babies personally. I’m working on creating healthy boundaries between myself and my environment, drawing a bold line to be sure I don’t bleed into other people’s colors.

We’re all still learning, and we’re one step closer to the truth than we were yesterday.

The baby was cradled in my arms, his head against my chest. I rocked my hips from side to side, watching his heavy eyelids fall, then reopen in tandem with my rhythm. The mid-morning light spilled into the room, a luminous gold that will forever belong to the beginning of November. He smelled like sugar and flour – the dust of the day’s breakfast biscuits still clinging to his overalls. He lifted his head, smiled with his eyes, and spit out his pacifier. I am now covered in vomit.

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Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

 

Basically, I’m being paid to hang out with this baby, and when you hang out with a baby, you notice them changing at a rapid pace. He still punches me, pulls my hair, and gets great amusement from slapping me in the face. He bites me (HARD), and if I say “ow”, HE begins to cry. He still, in the middle of playing with a toy, will throw himself on the ground, facedown, and begin uncontrollably crying for what seems like no reason. I kind of see where he’s coming from on that last one, though. Sometimes I want to do that, too.

I first noticed his changes whenever I would try to distract him with toys. Each day, it became more difficult to keep him entertained. The object of his fascination from the day before will never make him blink twice again. Once he understands something, he moves on.

He is fast, and grabs everything in sight. He puts things into his mouth, wears them like a hat, and then sees how hard he can throw them. I watch him detect, analyze and process his environment, and honestly, it’s pretty cool. He’s starting to remember things, and recognize patterns.

He loves to play “telephone”, where he hands me a wooden piece of his railroad track.

“Ring, ring, ring,” I sing, before holding the track up to my ear. “Hello?…Okay. It’s for you.”

I hand him the “phone” and he laughs hysterically, holding it to his face, and sometimes making a word noise that sounds like “hi”.

Babies of his age do not yet recognize they are independent of their environment, which is why they cry so often. This is also why the facial reactions of other humans bear such significance on a babies’ own emotions.

In the 1970’s, a psychologist named Gordon Gallup created a test where he put animals with unscented dye in front of a mirror to determine if they possessed the ability of self-recognition, a major philosophic component of consciousness. Most animals failed. Later, they tried it with some babies. Six to 12 month olds did not recognize themselves and thought, instead, they were seeing playmates. Apparently in 2012 they began attempting this exercise with robots. Just so you’re aware.

I sometimes stand in front of the mirror with this baby, trying to help him find himself. We wave, look back at each other, and contemplate how strange our existence is. He’s moving into a stage where he is becoming more independent, and coincidentally, so am I. We’re taking it one day at a time. Piano, piano.

The most fascinating thing about watching this infant grow is seeing how quickly he becomes a different human. Babies grow at an exponential rate, but adults change just the same. I think we get the chance to live a thousand lifetimes if we want to. I’ve already been through three of four.

Some people find comfort in consistency, but for me, neither one has ever brought happiness. I am the infant, learning what things are, and then moving past them. There’s a certain sadness seeded in this type of growth.