What Direction Now? Life at the intersection…

Wednesday “What Now” #6: The Re-return

W

It’s not Wednesday.

In the interest of consistency (that being one of my consistent psychological tics—once I enrolled in a scuba diving class simply because someone bought me a shirt with a picture of a scuba diving frog on it, advertising some sort of scuba gear, and I wanted to wear it without being a poser), I thought about fudging the publication date to make it look like I actually did publish it yesterday, but this isn’t a high school term paper.  Further, I could have excised that one offending word from the title, but who am I trying to impress, really—who, reading this now, will be bothered by a Wednesday “What Now” being published on a Thursday (besides myself).

In the end, I chose honesty…and a little bit of self-inflicted psychological turmoil…

Discomfort is a motivator, and an atmosphere for growth.

1) I should write a long post about my first Ukrainian Easter here, but just about every other Peace Corps volunteer blog I read has had some sort of post about Easter in Ukraine (two great posts: here — note that her Easter blog post further links you to another great Peace Corps blog, which is just excellent use of internet if I do say so myself; and here — though you’ll need a password for the second one…say pretty please…); truthfully, I don’t have much more to say—when people asked me how my holiday was, the most readily-available word was always simply “interesting” followed perhaps by a stumble over the unintentional and subtle backhandedness of that description and other words like “beautiful” and “moving.”  Ultimately, however, it was mostly just “interesting.”  I spent Easter with Sweet Bean (newly expanded nickname, ahoy!) and her host family, trekked to the church in Bila Krynytsya at 3:00 am to wait for the priest to bless our Easter basket, then back home around 5:00 for a vodka, hard egg breakfast…then sleep until well after noon.  If it seems like I’m being disdainful or slight with my description here, I think it reflects my current state-of-mind (it’s like a sauna in this room and this computer is driving me crazy what with the freezing and thinking and everything) than my experience of the actual Easter festivities, which occupy a warm, cuddly spot in my memory, like a curled-up puppy, or at least, a bed that’s just been recently slept in.

1.5) From the end of April (Easter) through the first week of May (Labor Day) to just this past Monday (Victory Day), I have worked no more than 2 days during any given week in that span; I haven’t worked a Monday in almost a month, which you think would be great, but I’m kind of waiting for the day when someone high up comes to me and says, “So, about that month where you did absolutely nothing…”

2) Two “bad English” t-shirts, seen today being proudly sported by women on the streets of Rivne:

1) “Fulfil Your Dreams”: a “glaring” error in full sparkling spangle letters—I could imagine scenarios where this would be meant ironically, as in “the ‘L’ is missing because the dreams are unfulfilled, though this is probably not the case here, unfortunately—still a nice sentiment nonetheless)

2) “SAY ME YES”: again fairly shiny and provocative, although it provoked, for me, the wrong type of attention…

3) Sweet Bean told me today about a drill at her school which was meant to prepare the teachers and students for emergencies related to fire…or war.  That was the name of the drill: the fire or war drill.  Rarely in my service so far have I felt that this place was much different from some small American city, one that happened to be filled with people with slightly curious habits like standing too close on the bus out of town, wearing high heels through ice, flood and mud, and not speaking English.  This complacency is, perhaps, one of the main challenges of serving in a place like Ukraine, a place that seems enough like home to make a volunteer lapse into a dulling sense of comfort—I’ve talked about this before, early on in this blog.  But, that complacency that has recently built up and sprouted in my mind along with the warm weather, was chipped away a bit today by the historical realities buried in those two little words: “…or war”

4) The school year is winding down and, for my students and me, textbooks seem so passe in this newly green Rivne, so I’ve been trying to think of things to do that will be creative and productive, without having to resort to them reading articles out of the book and answering grammar questions.  So, I recently whipped an old friend out (queue Mel Brooks allusion…) and dusted it off.  Yes, “The Recipe” made it’s glorious and triumphant return…which, of course, means that I now have another flash piece to share with you all (I know how much you all love them!  Thank me later!)

5 words: steam, a gun, the President, a sand dune, a filled notebook

John awoke from a fitful sleep to find an open pen in his hand, a filled notebook on the bed beside him, open and splayed, a large blue blot on his pajama shirt where the tip of the pen had rested, slowly leaking, radiating its ink epidemically.  John was in the habit of writing down his best dreams when they woke him up throughout the night, but he had never before filled a whole notebook in only one night, and further, he couldn’t remember writing even one word of it.  Dropping the still open pen, he snatched up the book and turned to a random page in the center, read the first words written at the top: steam to water to ice is nice is nice.  What did it mean?  Turning to the front page, John read about a dream in which he was sitting in a sauna with seven hairy, fat old men, chanting this over and over, steam to water to ice is nice is nice.  The sweltering room has gradually grown colder and colder as they spoke, colder until the seven men sat frozen, human shaped ice sculptures roughly hewn.  The only way John knew that they were still alive was that their chanting continued, mouth movement and hot breath melting circles around their mouths, steam to water to ice is nice is nice, the steam of their voices visible in the frosty cold, filling the sauna, replacing the now useless frozen coals…

John set the book down, the chant now frozen in his head.  He cooked himself some breakfast steam to water to ice He sat down in the living room, flipped on the television is nice is nice He tried to concentrate on the news report, the shiny haired news anchor steam saying something about a skirmish to water superimposed footage of an American soldier to ice crouched on the side of a sand dune is nice beckoning to his comrades with the butt of his gun is nice before charging over.  This was followed by press conference coverage of the President smiling broadly, answering questions at the latest environmental summit in Seoul, South Korea.

Steam to water to ice is nice is nice.

He just couldn’t get it out of his head, couldn’t understand what it meant and there were no more clues in the notebook, just the hairy men, frozenly chanting, sticking like seven tongues in winter to the metal lightpole of his mind.

I’m not going to make any resolutions or self-incriminating edicts, but I’ll try to write soon and get as many posts in as I can, especially as summer is coming and this one promises to be a time when a lot of living happens, and little of it gets written down right away.
I’m giving in to something way beyond myself…
AC

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What Direction Now? Life at the intersection…

About Andrew.

Andrew Cartwright grew up in Indianapolis, IN, but has lived over the years in such places as Denver, CO; Fairfax, VA; and Rivne, Ukraine. He is a former nonfiction editor for both Indiana Review and phoebe; he has also worked for the intersectional feminist journal, So To Speak, and the national literary magazine, Electric Literature. His work has appeared in The Normal School Online, Copper Nickel, Esquire Ukraine, Literary Hub, and Word Riot.

For more information about me and links to other writing, visit my author page at cartwriter.com

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