temporary state of mind

The other day I wrote to Tía Angela, the head of the nursery at Hogar Redes in Chile, where I spent my summer (for those who didn’t follow chillinchile.tumblr.com), to ask how she and the babies were doing, to send my love, to let her know that I haven’t for a second stopped thinking about them. She wrote back a few days later saying she was well but that out of the eight babies I had spent my time with, only a few remained. Some had left in adoption, others had gone back home with their parents, and the group that had been there from June to August was all but dissolved. And while I was of course overjoyed to hear that many of the infants I’d cared for had moved to more permanent homes, it was strange to think of that small, bright room in the orphanage filled with different faces. The room that it was, the little family that it housed, has shifted and changed, has become something I will never see, something I will never experience. The children there are children that I will never get to know. And for the babies I held, the babies I fed, the babies I changed, many of them have moved past the Hogar Redes moment in their lives, onto another moment, a moment I’ll never know anything about. Time is strange that way, these tiny moments we inhabit end so quickly, morph into something else, something unrecognizable, and what we knew becomes brittle and crumbles quietly into dust.

When I walked out under the archway of Hogar Redes for the last time in August, I looked at all of the babies lying in their cribs, peaceful and content after their afternoon feeding, knowing that they would forever be frozen in that instant for me. No matter how much time passed afterward, I would always keep those eight little people as infants in my mind. They will never be able to exist in any other form, and no matter how much they continue to grow I will never see it. I will never know them as two year olds, as teenagers, as adults. I will only ever know them as infants, in that room, in Hogar Redes.

Time passes strangely in places we are not. It seems wispy, diminished, forgotten–the distance makes it feel imaginary. We are not paying attention, so the normal markers of time: growth, change, dust– don’t remind us. Things that seem to take ages in our own, immediate lives, can happen in seconds somewhere else– all of a sudden we realize our little brothers aren’t little anymore, entire buildings have been built blocking the shoreline, babies have left the orphanage and are now part of their families again. These things seem immediate to us because we aren’t there to watch them in their slowness, in their gradual strokes. All we have is the last time we saw them, and now. Without being there to watch the time pass, to watch the things change, everything seems lightning quick. And conversely, when we are there to watch, change creeps along so quietly that we often don’t notice it at all. But whether time is passing right in front of us or a world away, it is never not moving.

By the time I get home for Thanksgiving, both my little brother and my puppy will have grown up. By the time I’m back at Northwestern for my 10-year reunion the campus will look nearly unrecognizable. Everything, no matter what it is, is momentary. It may continue moment to moment to appear constant, but everything is momentary. To create our worlds, to create the images we have in our head, we must somehow preserve what we see and experience in all of its momentary-ness. It might seem futile, as in a few more moments it will have changed again, but we must do it. Even though most of the babies I was with in the nursery are no longer there, I still have a photograph hanging in my room of all of them piled into the large yellow crib we used for earthquake drills, leaning on each other, looking in all different directions. It may no longer be an accurate portrait of the nursery at Hogar Redes but it is the portrait I keep with me, the preservation of that moment of their lives, of that moment of my life.

grown up sh*t

There are several folders littering the desktop of my computer, floating on top of a photograph of me and Marco, one of my two-year-olds from Chile this summer. Four of them pertain to the classes I am taking this quarter (Advanced Fiction writing, Culture & Identity in Shakespeare, Fundamentals in Screenwriting, and a Comp Lit class on Borges–evidence it pays to eat your academic vegetables first, people!), one of them contains all the writing I’ve done from high school through the present, and the last one, that nasty little sixth folder (whose label color is appropriately gray) is entitled “grown up sh*t.” Inside lies my “résumé,” if you could even call it that, which now mildly resembles a dust-filled construction site wrapped in caution tape rather than a document that is supposed to showcase me at my finest. While most of my fellow students have spent the last four (hell, eight) years cultivating internships and leadership positions to line up nicely and neatly in a row on this most-important piece of paper, I have spent that time adamantly resisting this rigidly linear, blindly single-minded approach to my life. Or, as some might say, adamantly resisting growing up and facing reality.

I find the format of a résumé (though there is apparently a VASTLY different one for every single industry) to be as unappealing and unsatisfying as an internship spent sending emails and getting coffee. You have one page with which to encase your entire professionally-relevant being, and damnit those margins better line up. If all the right words aren’t bolded, italicized, and underlined, you might as well consider yourself a completely incompetent human being unworthy of even the lowliest position. I may be young, but even at twenty-one I find the task of shoving myself onto an 8″ x 11″ piece of paper to be an almost laughable impossibility. How can I even begin to explain what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and what I have to offer in that kind of cramped space? The category presently on my résumé headlined INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE (bold font, size twelve), for example. I write “Volunteer Abroad, Hogar Redes Orphanage, La Serena, Chile,” with bullets describing in hard, angular words what sort of “duties” i performed during this experience. What I want to hang off those bullets is the way the fog clings to the tile roofs of the project at eight-thirty every morning; the warm, pleasant weight of cradling an infant to your chest, the way Spanish starts to feel as natural in your mouth as English does,  the heart-rending sting of the sincerity in a child’s eyes when they call you “mamá,” the feeling of your soul being held when you truly become part of another family. That was what my experience as a volunteer in Chile was. Not “providing child care to 0-4 year old children and developing fluency in Spanish language.” How can I reconcile the stunted artifice of the experience that appears on the page with the sweeping, colorful richness that the experience actually was?

If “real life” is going to consist of me having to cram my life into a little gray folder, into a properly formatted line, then I am going to continue resisting it as adamantly as I always have. Because I don’t want to live the kind of life that fits neatly onto an 8″ x 11″ sheet of paper with 1.25 inch margins. I want it to be sprawling gloriously in all directions off the page, onto the next page, onto the kitchen table, onto the floor, down the steps, onto the sidewalk, everywhere.

I could have done what I was “supposed” to. I could have gotten internships at publishing houses, at newspapers or magazines. I could have joined 25 student organizations my freshman year in the hopes of achieving a coveted exec board position by the time I was a senior. I could have, and maybe that’s what I should have done. But I didn’t. What did I do instead?  I got a job at a restaurant and not only got to speak Spanish with the kitchen staff, but got to witness humanity from a very particular perspective. I used my spare time to write. I went to a foreign country and got to work at a job that had real meaning for me. I focused a huge portion of my energy toward figuring important things out about myself. I met and talked to all sorts of people. I observed life from many perspectives. I learned as many new things as I could. In short, I spent the last four years of my life, not spreading myself so thin that my sanity hung by a thread, not taking a job so I could put it on a piece of paper, but experiencing and observing as much life as possible so I could turn it into writing. And no amount of lost job opportunities is going to convince me that I made the wrong choice.