>> 19 May 2015

I'm starting to understand the Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship alums that I met at orientation last year. They had this mostly collected, somewhat jaded, slightly condescending, generally fuck-all exterior, but it was doing a poor job of masking the shell-shock and personal existential chaos boiling underneath. At the time, I thought, "That seems about normal for someone who has been living abroad and coming back to the US to an uncertain future. Let them have their anxiety, Melody."


I have to be back in Honolulu by August 10th but I just volunteered to do something in DC in late July (no guarantees) and I'm not really sure when my contract here ends. I don't have anywhere to live once I leave. I have no idea where to ship my stuff, or if I even can from Dili without breaking the bank. I don't have a clue when or where I'm going to see my boyfriend again, or if it'll even be this year (nota bene: it is only MAY). It's all starting to feel too familiar and the uncertainty is just crushing.

I just have so much to do over the next two months and I have absolutely zero solid plans for the next 6-12 months. I have a week-long writing workshop and a 5-session orientation to prep for in Dili in July. There is research to be done, interviews to schedule, and surveys to collect. There are papers to write and funding to apply for and conferences to consider. The list of 'stuff to do when I get back to Honolulu' is getting hilariously long. My hair is turning grey and I feel like I've aged more in the last 8 months than I have in the last 8 years. Incidentally, I graduated college on this day 8 years ago. Oof.


Panic Attack

>> 12 May 2015

Something unthinkable and unpleasant happened last night. I had my first real panic attack that I can really remember in Timor.

In high school, I probably had a real panic attack once every other week. I remember pulling over my company car (on the clock!) on some East Texas back road so that I could panic in relative safety. I had a big one in the parking lot before graduation. I had them at home, alone. I had them at school, walking down the hall. I had them at concerts and at parties with friends. There were a lot of changes happening in my life (most of them outside of my control) and just as I started to really need to exert control over my life. I did not yet know how to deal with these strong emotions, and I think I did the best with what I had. I threw myself into my schoolwork and my jobs and my extracurricular activities and friendships and boyfriends and dealt with my life as I was able. I think I mostly managed to keep the entire issue to myself until I had a panic attack in the dentist's chair. They called my stepmom, who came straight away and stayed until my appointment was over. Apparently, the dental hygienist thought I was having a reaction to the sedative and had an ambulance on standby, which scared everyone.

In college, they came about once a month, but I started to recognize the build-ups and the triggers. My sister, bless her soul, once asked me what she and her husband could do if anything every happened and I needed them. I didn't know my family had discussed it (or were all that aware of it), until that moment, but that small amount of understanding meant so much. The worst one I had in college sent me out of town for a week to recover, but on the whole, I began to understand my anxiety much better. I figured out how to release the pressure and no longer had to exist in that place between helplessness and willful self-destruction. It was good. In grad school, those methods suddenly stopped working altogether and the panic attacks came back stronger and worse than ever. This is the point when I started seeing a therapist. When I couldn't keep food down, when I couldn't sleep, when I physically hurt myself to give myself 'something real to cry about'.

In Timor, I find that I just don't have the energy for anxiety. I think there's a connection between the huge amounts of adrenaline I produce and make use of in my every day life and my body's ability to settle in for a debilitating internal implosion. This is why last night's panic attack was such a surprise. It was happening before I knew it was coming, and far too late to stop it. I was completely unaware that I had one lurking, and had missed all the usual signs. And of all things, the thing that triggered it was a movie.

I have extremely vivid dreams about tsunamis about once a week or so. The dream progresses like this: I will be having a normal day out with friends, or out to lunch, or out running errands. Something in my environment will shift slightly, but I will ignore it because I am busy or having a nice conversation. Some time later, I will look into the distance and see a filthy wall of water approaching, and I will know that I ignored the signs that would have saved me, and it will be too late. I try to ride out the first few waves, but they get bigger and stronger until I get too tired and drown, or I get hit by something blunt and knocked unconscious and drown, or I get hit by something sharp and bleed to death and drown. I spend a wretched amount of time trying to fight being dead and bitterly regretting having been so stupid and then I wake up shaking and terrified. I think this is a pretty clear metaphor for the way I feel about my life, but that's beside the point ;)

So, the movie I watched that induced this panic attack actually makes sense. It was Interstellar, which features a scene almost exactly like the one I just described. Hah. Get out of my head Christopher Nolan! Anyway, I turned the movie off and let the inevitable take its course. One thing I've learned as an adult is that sometimes it's just easier to let it happen. It only took about an hour to really get myself back, but I'm still feeling some of the lingering effects today. This morning I woke up early to reorganize my bookshelf. I've made a few obsessively detailed lists of nothing important. I cleared off and disinfected my living room table. There was a possibility that I was having a meeting in my house so I made coffee and tea and arranged my spoons in order of their stirring suitability... you know, just in case (didn't happen). I've pretty much been indulging my mind's every whim to gain the advantage over my environment. Control, control, control. I should be fine by tomorrow, but in the mean time, I'm just going to go with it and enjoy my clean house.


Reading Around the World: Update 8

>> 03 May 2015

I took another supernatural love story and space opera break-- oops! Highly recommend The Midnight Witch (Paula Brackston), but won't even mention the name of the space opera. It was delightful garbage, which I needed to get me through the boredom of the next three countries.

End Game, Edwin Alexander

This book should have been great. I don't know what it was... The plot follows several different story lines that somehow end up being involved at the end. Maybe that was the problem? I think I don't really like mystery/crime novels that much. So first we have an Estonian guy commissioning a carving from a German guy. Then we fast-forward 500 years or so, after the carving has been stolen by the Nazis and ends up ferreted away in Paraguay. Some shadowy group of Neo-Nazis is attempting to recover the carving for Mother Germany or whatever, while a disgruntled member is trying to steal it... for money. Apparently he sort of succeeds? The Neo-Nazis are unhappy. Then we jump over to California to follow a random young woman who is visiting her godfather and falling in love with local sailors/IT guys and forming bizarre friendships with chess grandmasters of inscrutable Eastern European origins (spoiler alert! he's probably Estonian!). Suddenly the girl turns up dead and her British parents (since when was she British?) hire the most boring private investigator on the planet to investigate her disappearance and drive the next 200 pages of the story. He does a lot of pretty good investigating in California (the girl's lover was picking up contraband offshore and delivering it to slick Italian used car dealers/druglords!), and then he does some not so good investigating in Estonia (something about a shipping container, a night club, and an old man), and then he does some really bad investigating in Paraguay (he nearly gets killed looking for the carving (?- I forgot) but is saved James-Bond-style by a perfect character stereotype- in this case an ungovernable Scot). He goes back to Estonia to do a little bit better at investigating, and learns all sorts of crazy things about Estonia and the Forest Brothers who waged guerrilla war on the Nazis and Soviets for nearly 20 years. Somehow the story at hand was all traced back to the machinations of the mysterious chess grandmaster (shocker!), the stolen carving is recovered and returned to its rightful place, but the only actually entertaining character is still dead so womp womp.
Plotlineness: 5/5
Coherence: 3/5
Character-interestingness: 2/5
Feels: boredom

The Syrian, Cathy Sultan

This book reads like a cross between a New Yorker article about the Middle East and a Harlequin romance novel. Strange combination, sure, but not without it's own charm. Every single one of the many characters was an empty trope, a description of a genre of person, nothing personal, nothing more. This novel was basically a platform for the author to tell Americans how ignorant they are of Middle East politics (which is largely true), but it wasn't delivered with malice. It instead takes the stance that even the average well-educated American is a product of the media that they consume. For that reason, this book was refreshingly enlightening. I've heard of so many of the places where the story took place (Damascus, Galilee, Beirut, Tel Aviv), but they were only places on a map, but this book really gave the place a lot of context. I would rather have just read this woman's essays on the last 40 years of Lebanese history, though. The story itself was just atrocious, the characters (as I've mentioned) were cardboard, and the dialogue is hilariously bad. An excerpt (the scene: the feisty best frenemy character has just had sex with a man she's met twice):

[...] and even though things are very different now between us, you've gone and fallen in love with me and I with you, I still feel a loyalty to my country, as you do to yours. We'll have to work around that, but in the here and now, me a journalist and you a spy, we're going to have to put some of our emotions aside. Can we do that? I don't know but I hope so.
See what I mean? It ends up not mattering though, since she gets him and her actual boyfriend and her best friend's husband (who she was also having an affair with) killed, and basically everyone dies all of the time because this is the Middle East and apparently that is normal? So if you like a good background on Mid-East politics, horribly contrived romances, and pointless cliffhanger endings, then this is the novel for you.
Historicalness: 5/5
Lebaneseness: 4/5
Happiness: 2/5
Feels: boredom

Belize Surviver: Dark Side of Paradise, Nancy R. Koerner

This book was painful for 3 reasons. 1. The writing wasn't great, but it was written by a first-time author, so I can't be too critical, especially because 2. this was obviously a mostly true story of a woman enduring a decade of spousal abuse and 3. she makes really, really bad choices that lead to this situation. Domestic violence terrifies and infuriates me. I am not one of those 'why doesn't she just leave' people, but I am definitely a 'you don't get to be surprised when there are consequences to your poor decisions' person. Not all of the story takes place in Belize, but instead spends a good amount of time following the life of a perfect stereotype of 60s Counter Culture (don't even get me STARTED. GROW UP, YOU IDIOTS) as she moves around the US, doing drugs, having feelings, and generally just avoiding anything that resembles 'work' in her personal (and unbelievably selfish) pursuit of happiness and then being surprised when bad things sometimes happen. Oh, when you go home with a stranger you're increasing your chances of assault? My goodness! Showing up at a commune in order to birth your child didn't turn out to be healthy, hygienic, or safe? How shocking! Moving to the jungle of Belize with your already-abusive spouse made you feel more isolated? I never would have guessed! As as for the husband, there were warning signs from the very beginning that he was a controlling and unmitigated terror, and yet she chose to return to him after she'd left him, she chose to move all over the country with him, and she chose to go with him to Belize. As irritating as I found it all, I can't imagine how difficult this book must have been to write. This woman survived physical and emotional trauma that would have destroyed a weaker person, and it made my heart ache to think of what it was like to have to relive all of those memories. Are there no books about smart people who make good decisions and lead exciting, happy lives? Belize sounds like a more beautiful Timor (I'm no longer impressed by tropical paradises- they are full of spiders, earthquakes, hurricanes, and confusing internal politics), with the added bonus of Mayan ruins!
Heartacheyness: 10/5
Consequenciness: 5/5
Comfortableness: 0/5
Feels: boredom