The Quad

the quad at uw
The quad.

“16 oz. quad americano.”

Geeze. Who is this person getting a quad americano? Is it possible to get a quintuple americano? A sextuple? I’ve just checked Wikipedia and apparently  the “tuple” word with nine is “nonuple.” With 10 it’s “decuple,” though I’m not really sure on the pronunciation.  “Can I please have a nonuple americano?” “Can I please have an untrigintuple (31) americano?”

It’s raining outside. People are running around the lake. Tomorrow I start a new job and it’s been extremely stressful due to a lack of communication. I keep telling me myself, “Oh, what a wonderful exercise in zen. This is a chance for me to live in the present. To not worry about things I can’t control.” And this consoles me for about 4.2 seconds and then I go right back to worrying about things I’ve been worrying about this whole week that have been, effectively, out of my control. It’s true of course that you can’t control what happens to you but that you can control how you react to it. But it’s not easy to practice.

A couple stops in front of the window with their little one. The wife is panting, out of breath, her respiration crystallizing in the cold air, and the husband is also out of breath and possibly balding. For some reason I assume they’re unhappy. Or extremely stressed out. Strained, might be the word. I have no idea why I assume this. Maybe it’s because the wife looks like she’s about to cry. Maybe it’s because the husband looks like he’s incapable of loving another living being. Or maybe I’m still just stressing out and projecting onto them.

The other day I wrote from this same coffee shop, something emo about how I was anxious, and then I went home, fortuitously got some stuff done for work, and when I left my apartment it was as if the world had completely changed. The sun was out. There were cherry blossoms everywhere and you could smell them, their pungent fragrance. I walked through the neighborhood of Ravenna and then across the Ravenna bridge into the U-District and past my old houses on 20th where I used to live as an undergraduate. There were students everywhere. Everything felt light and cheery and full of life and possibility. I suddenly felt great. I knew that everything was going to be OK, just as I know even in the darkest depths of my despair (which aren’t that dark) that everything is going to be fine, but when you’re despairing this isn’t much of a consolation (even though it’s the only consolation).

After walking through the quad, where scores of international families took pictures of their offspring among the beautiful cherry trees, I went to the AVE and then the U bookstore. At the U bookstore, upstairs, I saw a stack of Augusten Burroughs’ new book Lust and Wonder. Hmmm, I didn’t realize he had a new book. Why are they all stacked here like this? I wondered. And then I looked at a little sign next to the stack, and realized he was scheduled to speak that very evening, in just a few hours. A real life writer, I thought. A writer I actually like. Who’s written good books. Who’s written books that’ve been praised by the New York Times. I have to go.

So I killed time in Paccar Hall at UW. I watched a surfing competition. And then finally I went back to the bookstore, and as I was sitting there in the back row of seats, people trickling in,  I saw him standing off to the left. It was that weird kind of recognition where you’ve only seen someone in pictures and then suddenly see them in real life. Something seems off. You’re not sure it’s them but at the same time it must be them. He was wearing a trucker hat and jeans rolled up and a thick leather jacket. Actually, that’s what impressed upon me the most. That his jacket looked like it weighed 16 pounds and was made from the thickest skin of highland cattle that exists. He looked a bit uncomfortable. The jacket looked too new.

He started to talk and he was a good speaker but I’d already seen enough. As soon as he said two words, in fact as soon as I saw him standing next to me, looking at book titles, trying to kill the time until the reading started, it was enough for me. I realized he was an actual person. And that even though he’s written several New York Times bestselling books he’s still just a dude wearing jeans, with a semi-ugly beard and a trucker hat. A funny dude who likes speaking in front of people but probably still gets a little nervous sometimes. Or maybe not anywhere.

And then after the reading I stepped in the evening U-District light, also just a dude, wearing some jeans with a broken zipper, some leather boots because I don’t have any other shoes, and a beanie because it’s cold. And then I walked home.

 

 

Fix

 

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I’m at Fix Coffeehouse in Greenlake. My brain feels foggy. It’s felt this way ever since I got back to Seattle. Or no, let me rephrase that, it’s felt this way ever since I got back to Seattle. When I was on Bainbridge, it was fine. But then I get to Seattle and everything starts to feel a little foggy. It’s harder to concentrate. I feel like I’m having a harder time remembering things. I pull out my phone to look something up on the internet and instantly forget what it was. It’s distressing. And you know what I think it is: anxiety.

I have never been an anxious lad. In fact, I think a lot of my friends would describe me as just the opposite. If someone asked them about me, asked them to summarize my character in a pithy phrase, they would probably say, “Well, the thing about Mark is that he’s not anxious.” Not that I’m particularly funny or creative or intelligent, but that I’m decidedly not anxious. I don’t stress about things. When I was younger, I stressed even less. I don’t think there was anything that could make me stress. But as we get older we tend to worry about things more. It’s dumb. I have literally (figuratively) nothing to worry about right now. Everything is fine. My life is more or less (see: less) in order. I’m fairly employed. I have friends. I have hobbies. My diet is decent. And yet….and yet…

This morning I woke up after a hot night of sleep.  The thermostat in my new room is such that on its lowest setting it turns things into an inferno, but if I turn it off it’s like sleeping in an ice cave. Luckily, I have a down comforter that’s made from the feathers of so many fowl, and this comforter could keep me comfortable in basically any temperature. Plus, I have a hideous new duvet cover that I got off Amazon that’s covered with elephants. It looked really cool in the picture, but it’s a disaster in real life. Luckily, I don’t think duvet covers affect too much our overall happiness.

I wrenched myself out bed of at 7:57am, whereupon I stumbled into the living room where my roommate was sitting reading what appeared to be a personal development book. Something about sales. The atmosphere in the living room was one of perfect silence.

“Morning,” I said.

“What’s up, Mark?!”

This is how he generally greets me. I love it. His enthusiasm is effusive. We sat across from each other on the couch for awhile, each involved in our own activities. I was preparing for a course I’ll be teaching this spring quarter at a community college and he was reading his book.

After sitting on the couch for a while, getting my syllabus ready for the class, I left the house for Fix, a coffee shop located on the shores of Greenlake. It’s not actually on the shores of Greenlake, to get there you’d have to traverse a road and also a brief field, but you can see the lake from the window of the coffee shop, which makes you feel like you’re on the shore.

I ordered a peppermint tea, which, after tax, came to $3.56. I should not be spending this kind of money on tea. My finances are going to get tight over the next month, and unless I want to stress more I should not be spending this kind of money on mint leaves wrapped in a bag and placed in boiling water. But I also needed to get out of the house, and I needed a place to work, so I forked over my gorgeous Charles Schwab debit card, paid the sum, and sat down at a long table in front of one of the shop’s many large windows.

Normally to pay for almost anything I would use a credit card that gives me gross quantities of bonus miles after some kind of initial money spent. Normally I might even do this with two or three cards, “churning” them so I would thus have free flights all the time. But, like I said, finances are somewhat tight right now and I’m in no position to churn credit cards. I’m in no position to think about travels and adventure, even though that’s the only thing I want to think about, the thing that truly makes me happy. Yesterday while I was on the ferry lying in one of the booths I looked at portable power packs and fantasized about camping somewhere in the middle of nowhere, surfing, working a few hours online per day, using portable internet, and being free. There was a gleam in my eyes while I did this, and I felt truly excited about something for the first time in a few days. I’m always looking for an escape. An exit route. It feels good to think about it. It feels good to think about riding a bike from Seattle to South America with a trailer that has my belongings and a single surf board. These are the things that get me excited.

My biggest fear right now, and this is something I discussed with my mother the other day, is that my identity isn’t even really its own but rather an amalgamation of the strongest opinions around me. In other words, I fear I do things not because I want to do them or because I feel they’d be good for me, but because I care about what other people think and might say.

It’s not good.

At the same time, I think it’s kind of normal.

But now my tea is done and I could work my online job but instead I think maybe I’ll take a walk and get food. Sweet, nourishing food. Possibly some jasmine rice. The possibilities are limitless, as long as the’re cheap.