The souls that color the city

When I think back to my travels, to the streets of London and Amsterdam, to the pastel rows of houses of San Francisco, to the serenity of Verona, and to the clamor and hustle of Hong Kong, my mind begins to paint the background of the city, yet the people – the souls – that I have encountered there truly color it and give the city its spirit. In that way, the city becomes engraved in my mind.

Of course, the architecture, the rivers, the roads of the city give the city its body, its physical being…yet the people that fill the city form its soul, its color. Every soul contributes a touch of pigment to the city, and each city becomes a unique palette.

Amsterdam is colored by the man I met on the way into the city, the ten-hour bus ride from London. I remember the weed that crept into my nose as he sat beside me, one of the few empty seats in the back of the bus. His friends sat around, and I made a feeble attempt to do my Game Theory homework on the 6” x 13” table. He smirked when he saw me, pretending to concentrate, and asked if I were truly completing homework on the bus. This made me change my mind much sooner than I might have, and we began a conversation that lasted for hours; each second into the conversation fed into my regret of asking the bus driver to change buses mid-journey to be with my friends. I could have talked to him for ten hours, but this was probably better for my sleep. He was journeying with two friends for a weekend filled with legal weed adventures, and I was headed on an impromptu trip to a huge music festival. We talked about economics, artificial intelligence, psychology, and shared chocolate from a fellow passenger on the bus. When we parted, he threw me a bag of chips. I still have the wrapper, because that is the type of sentimental person I am.

San Francisco is colored by two people – an uber driver who advised me to travel the world, and an old man who offered for me to enter the museum with him for free (I’ve already written about him). The driver had an incredibly suave, smooth, rich voice…the type that you could listen to forever, and you’d feel as if you were in a dream eventually. He spoke of his travels, his temporal companies overseas, and advised me to purchase an around-the-world pass, which I had never heard about before then. This advice was the present he offered to me for the new year, an early graduation present of sorts. It even more deeply ingrained in me my love and eternal thirst for travel, for seeing worlds outside my own and opening my eyes and widening my horizons and embracing every inch of our planet. As for the elderly man, I now wish that I saved the sticker I received from him instead of sticking it on my phone cover, only for it to slowly deteriorate.

Verona is colored by the warmth of the woman and police officer who offered to help my friend and I when we lost our way – both entering the city and leaving it. Our suitcases pitter-pattered on the cobblestone roads as we followed our trusty guide – Google Maps, per usual – to our airbnb residence. And as we “arrived at our destination” and only saw the cold wall of a building, our evidently confused faces stirred a passing woman’s attention. She approached us with a warm smile and a flurry of Italian that only left our faces even more confused. Even so, she remained cheerful and, after we showed her the address, generously gesticulated the direction we would need to go to reach our destination. We gave her our thanks, mostly through the gratitude beaming through our smiles than any words we could muster – as we had none. Having successfully settled into the city, we were faced with trouble again on the day we left to catch our flight. There was a marathon and no vehicles were allowed to run in the inner city – no buses, no taxis, no cars at all. After scrambling around with our suitcases click-clacking furiously behind us, we finally spotted a police officer, who kindly worked a bit of magic and called a taxi just for us. The kindness and generosity of Verona leave us thankful forever and remind me that we do not only communicate with our words, but also with our hearts.

There are so many other cities in which I have had the fortune to explore. Each city is colored by countless stories, and if I were to recount them all I would have a novel. These cities imprint themselves into my eyes, my heart, and my soul as I traverse their open bodies and wander into the crevices of their souls. And for a fleeting moment, I kiss the earth with a distinct hue of lavender myself.

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When a rose wilts

When a rose wilts, not much can save it. It will begin shedding its vibrancy, its color lost to the past. When a rose wilts, it bows its head. No longer does it view the expansive skies above, it only sees the unforgiving ground. When a rose wilts, the flush drains from its cheeks and its supple youthful petals give way to elderly creases and dryness. Darkness spreads from the heart of the petals to the stem. Darkness pervades all. Only the very beginning of the stem is spared, its light green persistent and obdurate. The bright light green of beginnings, of sweet, tender hope, of memories yet to be tarnished. Of a more beautiful past.

The petals harden into a dark clump atop a black stem. All the leaves have fallen off now, already departed. Only the rose remains, its head bowed lower than ever, staring down at the cold, dark ground of its inevitable fate, yet unwilling to let go. Knowing its demise will come, yet still so stubbornly pretending to be alive and well. And so it freezes – trapped in time, suspended in the air by an unbreakable stem. The world around it is moving, changing, yet it stays there still, silent, entrapped, a mirage of life.

This is what happens when a rose wilts.

It stays.

but its soul is already gone.

Dream Catalog

The first half of my dream has long escaped my mind, but the second half remains vividly instilled in my mind.

I am walking through a one-story home, making my way to the back door. I have some recollection of there being a large crowd of people there before, but they had all disappeared. So I proceed through the back door, in search of where everyone had gone.

I look before me, and there is a towering, grandiose mansion…its heights seemed to graze the sky. I enter the mansion, and I feel like I have entered some sort of fairytale world. Dark wood and forest green walls surround me, and I clamber up a spiraling staircase. I pass through several rooms, which were all inhabited by different individuals sleeping. As I entered each room, the people would wake up and say “Good morning.”

There are only two rooms that I remember now.

One was spacious with high ceilings and the same forest green walls that covered the entire mansion. Two beautiful girls with waterfalls of blonde, wavy hair were sleeping under a huge satin magenta comforter that stretched well farther than their feet. When I passed through, they awakened, rubbed their eyes, and said “Good morning.”

In the other, I was passing by outside, and through the doorframe, I saw two elderly men laying on top of each other on a four poster bed; they were only wearing pants, and they remained deep in slumber as I passed by.

Suddenly, I am rushing down the stairs. I pass a group of people speaking together at the top of a stairwell. I do not see their faces. One sees me and asks, “Hey, are you from Vega?”

And in that moment, I somehow understood that the world of the majestic mansion was “Vega”; these people had wandered to the mansion and were now trapped here, destined to stay in the mansion sleeping forever. I lied, “Yes” and I sprinted out the front doors of the house.

Thinking that I’ve escaped, I feel a rush of relief. Then suddenly, I notice a collection of floating banners in front of me, reading “Try Again!” “You lose!” And here, I realize that I was in a game the entire time; the goal had been to retrieve some item from inside the mansion, and I had merely escaped.

 

Learned Helplessness

“And what do you think happens when people do not have access to transportation or mobility……psychologically speaking,” I asked, my phone pressed against my ear.

“Learned helplessness,” my psychology professor replied. “It’s the state psychologists term as ‘learned helplessness.’ When people can’t get to the experiences or places they want, they become depressed and feel trapped and confined in their circumstances.”

I had heard the term before, back in my introductory psychology course freshman year. There, this state was exemplified by a dog; the dog was subject to repeated electric shocks within a confined box, and after a long duration of time, the dog no longer attempted to escape. Learned helplessness seemed like such a unique condition then, yet now I could see its applicability to everyday happenings, everywhere. This is the moment that keeps on replaying in my head, the moment when I interviewed an old psychology professor for insight on a project – only the insight I had gleaned was much more far-reaching.

Learned helplessness. It is common knowledge that if you are stuck in a poor situation, you will attempt to escape it. Of course, the underlying premise is that you must feel that you are capable and you have the power to escape your current circumstances. If like the dog, your attempts to escape are thwarted each and every time, naturally, you may become crestfallen and accept your misfortune. And this is a loss in confidence, a loss in strength, a loss in yourself. It is rare to persevere beyond repeated failures. It is rare to remain resilient despite facing repeated defeat, for from this continual draining of your spirit and drive, you may be conditioned to eventually fall into a state of learned helplessness. And with learned helplessness, the flame within your soul will dwindle into darkness.

Yet we are not caged dogs, destined to be zapped by an outside force; our lives are not experiments. The tribulations within life are inevitable, and the storms are many; throughout all, we must guard the flame within our souls with vigilance, for this flame carries our hopes and aspirations. In the darkest of hours, this flame is your guiding light.

So add timber to the flame when the winds are rough, and let those winds carry your flame into a blazing fire.

The only cage you live in is the one you build yourself.

A meeting at the California Academy of Sciences

Winter break, 2017.

San Francisco had been a mixture of chance discoveries and checks off a list of acclaimed attractions. One of our planned stops was the California Academy of Sciences, and while the museum itself was more than impressive, as it encompassed a planetarium, indoor rainforest, and aquarium, the moment that highlighted my whole experience occurred before we began exploring the vastness of the museum. As we stood outside peering at the ticket prices and sneaking peeks inside, an elderly man appeared before us.

“Are you two trying to get into the museum?” He asked, his finger slightly raised in the direction of the museum entrance. I hesitated for a moment, perplexed and startled by both his appearance and his question.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m a member. I can take one of you into the museum for free,” he explained.

Half-expecting a catch, some sort of negotiation fee, we both remained standing there, wordless.

“So who will it be?”

Salman and I exchanged a quick look.

“I’ll go,” I piped up. I walked with him through the member’s entrance, where a lady was passing out “member” stickers. The old man passed me a sticker, and after a moment of thought, I promptly stuck it on my phone.

“This museum is great,” he commented. “It’s a pity it’s so expensive.” And indeed it was. Everything in San Francisco was, really.

When we entered the museum, we waited for Salman to enter. The old man gave me an overview of the museum – “You must go up all the levels of the rainforest first! Then you can take the elevator to splash down into the aquarium!” – as he surveyed the area with a practiced eye. As he spoke, I took in his blotchy red skin, the white hairs growing about his beard, his glasses that hung on his nose slightly below his glistening eyes, his blue winter hat, and his tapestry scarf. He explained his favorite exhibit to me, the leafy seadragons of the aquarium, and whispered that they were simply magical, something out of a “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” When Salman arrived, we introduced ourselves and found out that his name was Ron. Then, he wobbled away on his cane.

The old man’s simple gesture put a light in my entire day; Ron’s small gift of kindness and generosity grazed every crevice of my heart.

The sticker I received that day is now frayed and peeling off my phone, but the memories of that day will remain with me always.

Eternalizing thoughts – the soul

The art of writing is much like the eloquence of speech. Speaking to others, putting our thoughts into words – this all comes easily to us. Foreign languages slip in to embrace the formations of your tongue, the neural connections in your brain, and connect them both in a dance to communicate with others. Everyday, they waltz, swing, jazz; maybe they trip and fall in the beginning, but they pick themselves up and the dancing becomes smoother, more graceful, more elegant, more stylized, more distinct in the most beautiful way. Suddenly, you’ve become an expert. But as soon as the dancing stops, the connection fades, time passes, the tripping begins again, and the two partners begin to forget how to touch each other. They remain in the stillness, until they both recede into the darkness of forgotten knowledge, abandoned. Writing is a skill that we cultivate, a language particular to only ourselves. We are the only ones who speak the language with which we eternalize ideas and experiences. Cultivating and nurturing our particular writing style is essential to its existence as a powerful tool, a device purely stored in our minds; its birth is embedded in the days, months, years we have spent on pen and paper, on keyboards and laptops.

My particular way of transposing my fleeting and swiveling thoughts into words; this skill I cannot lose.

This is my first reason for beginning this blog.

Without capturing these fleeting thoughts in the most refined and personal way, fragments become lost. Thoughts are precious. Ideas are extraordinary. Experiences are magical. These are things I could never lose, things I realize may disappear within the recesses of my brain until they slip out completely. But words eternalize them. Words, I can look back on, absorb with an open mind, and feel myself pulled back into that instance – the moment I was suddenly struck by the beauty in the world, the moment I realized the blindfold I had unknowingly placed upon my eyes, the moment I discovered another little piece of myself.

These moments are special, and they deserve to be eternalized.

This is my second reason for beginning this blog.