Dos Besos

Close encounters of the Spanish kind.

Going Back & Moving On

I’m on a plane right now. I’m on my way to relive my European adventures with the people with whom I first lived them. At the same time, I’m leaving behind the first 18 years of my life in the city that, if everything goes according to plan—which is a big “if”—I may never call “home” again.

This is one of those moments where, according to what everyone’s been telling me, everything’s supposed to change, and it seems like the universe is trying to hit me over the head with some form of either symbolism or metaphor every time I open my eyes. To my right, outside the small, double-paned, oval window, there’s a full moon. The bright fog surrounding it sends out rays whose reflection on the plane’s wing looks like a loan sailboat traveling through a large, dark ocean. To my left, past the baby, the fat man, and the cute, old couple, is a dark blue sky resting atop a long gradient of orange clouds, the darkest of which line the horizon. And it makes me sad that my words can’t do justice to the beauty. Hopefully college will make me more eloquent.

Inside the dimly lit plane it’s neither day nor night. It’s this weird limbo that I’ve probably seen before, but this is the first time I’m taking note. And for some reason, I’m tearing up as I look for the perfect song to encapsulate the moment. It’s between Lorde’s “Ribs” and the classic “Over the Rainbow.”Maybe I’m seeking out the symbolism. I’m not self-aware enough to tell. It feels like I’m going back in time as I skirt into the future. I know; it’s strange, but it makes sense to me. In a way, it feels like all I’ve done is taken one more step towards my eventual death, which is depressing, but I’m still too young to think about death. The idea doesn’t scare me, though. Really! I wouldn’t mind dying if I’m happy when it happens. Not that I want to speed up the process. I’m quite content with how things are now.

That’s not saying much, however. The rhythm of my life has just changed for good. No more daily trips to my school’s neighborhood deli “Harry’s”. No more loitering at Chipotle for hours. No more looking for a “free” every weekend where my friends and I could ruin our livers free of parental supervision. No more hour long bike rides to Brooklyn Heights every morning. No more staying late after rehearsal and singing at the top of our lungs in the student center. And even if these things do happen again, they will never be the norm. They exist only in my memories—encapsulated, frozen in time, anxiously awaiting my next reflective moment, when I can bring them back to life.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that something’s changed forever. All I can do now is think back to my favorite poem: “caminante, no hay camino/se hace camino al andar/al andar se hace camino y al volver la vista atrás/se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar”. So I can claim I’ve had a “normal” childhood, but that would mean nothing, because there’s no such thing. Everyone’s experience is different, and we create these unifying milestones, because otherwise, our lives would be unbearably isolating. Time will continue to tug us along our paths—until it doesn’t, of course. It doesn’t stop for anyone.

Imagine a boat dragging a group water-skiers down a never-ending river. You, like everyone else, hold on to your cord, which isn’t easy. Sometimes the water blinds you, other times you fall, and every once in a while, you hit that wave and go higher and faster then you ever thought you could. Granted, one day my muscles will give in, and I’ll lose my grip, but until that day comes I’ll make the most of every bump, every fall, and ever wave that comes my way. I won’t let go; it’s way too fun for that.

That’s not to say that I won’t get lost in my nostalgia every once in a while, though. Sulking can be fun sometimes, or at the very least, meditative. And I should add that what’s coming won’t be worse. It’ll probably get better; it always does, after all.

How to Articulate Emotion

A man named Allan Andre wrote a poem for my friend Juliet and me this summer in Union Square. He wrote the piece on a type writer, and the prompt we decided on was “expressing oneself.” I thought it was worth sharing:

I Love Them

Everyone in my “friend group” has different opinions. Bella, she’s a liberal; I think she was born that way. She wants everyone to be happy and pay a bunch of taxes. Whenever we go out, she ends the night down about sixty bucks. It’s probably cause she’s Swedish. Brandon, he’s also a liberal, but he likes conservatives, too, sometimes. He reads books, and his blond hair just might make him a little smarter, a little.

Juliet is like me in that she doesn’t believe she’s smart enough to talk about the New York City mayoral race. Ironically, politics is the only thing we agree on. Fletcher never agrees with her, but he eats healthy. Damani’s pretty healthy, too. He goes biking with me and is the most open person you’ll ever meet. Why have a mind if you’re not going to change it?

Nina always changes the conversation to Bo Burnham, and Zofia’s usually too busy to understand the last joke to talk. Good thing she’s with Brandon. Otherwise, she’d be hopeless. Zoe’s parents went to Amherst, or she just loves to say it. Coby and Joey both like Rita Haywerth, which is probably the only thing they have in common. Coby’s Saturday nights are spent organizing his movie collection; Joey’s are spent hanging out with people I’ve never even spoken to. If there were ever one person to define the term “floater,” it would be Joey.

Chavannes likes people, and Gabby is a fan of being happy. She guarantees a deep, insightful comment every time she opens her mouth, while Marcus usually comes with a thoughtful, sarcastic, or cynical one.

And then, there’s Eli. I think he knows everything. When he talks about politics, he’s never wrong, and when he has an idea, everyone agrees. At times, it feels like he can read my mind, and there’s no better feeling than when agrees with you — there’s no worse than when he doesn’t! His view is atheism, he’s a very zealous non-believer. Juliet, when not on my side, is on his.

Me, I love happiness, kindness, and flying rainbow unicorns, but that’s get annoying, so I stick to speaking different languages with people who don’t understand them. It avoids arguments. N’est-ce pas? De acuerdo. Хорошо!

The Catalyst

The following is a speech a delivered at the end of a month long French immersion program at the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy. It’s also the program I did two years in a row for Spanish before School Year Abroad, and it’s what I consider to be the reason for which I am interested in languages and so intent on traveling the world. 

The first part is in French, but then it transitions into English. Enjoy!

Nihao, Sdrastvuyti, Hola et Salut ! Quand je suis arrivé a MMLA, il y a quatre semaines, je n’avais jamais dit ni un seul mot en français. Pour moi, cette langue était un mystère total. Je pensais que tous les mots en français n’avaient pas de fins, et ça n’a pas changé. Ce qui a, vraiment, changé, c’est que maintenant je peux comprendre les mots qui, avant, n’étaient que un mélange incompréhensible. Je suis même capable d’écrire et donner, bien sûr, ce discours. Cependant, je sais ce que vous pensez, que tout ça c’est un peu cliché, et vous avez raison ! Mais, je crois que le cliché c’est cliché parce que c’est vrai.

Bon, maintenant que j’ai dit ça il y a une question qui reste. Comment ? Comment est-ce que j’ai appris m’exprimer dans une autre langue dans seulement quatre semaines courtes. J’ai commencé en disant « sí, sí » chaque fois que je voulais dire « oui, oui » ! La vérité c’est que c’est grâce a vous. Il y a eu des moments quand je ne pouvais pas continuer, et j’ai, malheureusement, cassé le Pledge. Mais, mes amis, mon couloi, mes anims et mes profs m’ont aidé, et c’est pour ça que je suis ici aujourd’hui et pas chez moi. Il y a une autre chose que je voudrais expliquer : je parle. Je suis une personne très bararde. Je ne peux pas être silencieux. Mes amis disent que je pourrais parler avec un mur. Donc, je ne me laisse pas être silencieux. Si j’a quelque chose à dire, je vais le dire même si la grammaire est absolument horrible, et ça, je crois, c’est la partie plus important de cette programme. On doit parler pour faire des progrès. La grammaire viendra plus tard, et grâce à vos corrections, je pense que je commence à mieux la comprendre. Mes amis, et je parle maintenant seulement avec mon académie, merci d’avoir été avec moi pendant cette aventure. Parce que c’est la raison pour la quelle j’apprends les langues, to make new friends. That’s why I learn new languages.

But that wasn’t always the case. This is my third year at MMLA because I believe in this system, and so far, it’s believed in me, and from what I’ve seen, in all of us. There’s a girl here, in the Spanish academy, she knows who she is, who was in my 8th grade Spanish class. If you had told her back then that I was standing here talking about my pursuit of my fourth language after having just come back from a year abroad in Spain, she would’ve laughed in your face. Don’t lie, you would’ve, because I would’ve too! 

Before this program, there wasn’t enough money in the world that could get me to say a word in Russian, my first language. I was a firm believer that American was the only thing anyone ever need to speak, but try telling that to my host-family, whome I love and respect with all my heart, and with whom I would never have been able to even communicate, if it had not been for MMLA.

I’m now the kid whose roommate can’t sleep because I’m up late reading the grammar pages of the dictionary or the kid that drives himself crazy and refuses to go to bed until he understand the ending to «Horton Entend un Zou», a book that, if you have never heard the ending, is really sad. I was really worried for a really long time!

And I’ll keep going, cause I aspire to read books that are more complicated that Horton Hears a Hoo, and because I want to meet more people and explore more culture. And porque, and this one’s for the Spanish Academy, este colorín no está aún colorado y este cuento no se ha acabado. Buena suerte, bon courage, et merci beacoup d’avoir changé ma vie.

Let me explain.

Yo so yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.

José Ortega y Gasset

What is the meaning of life? I’ve touched upon this question before, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked it that directly. Why? Because it’s hard to ask it without laughing. A year ago, everyone around me would’ve said 42 and walked away. A year ago, I would’ve done the same thing as everyone around me. Things have changed.

Before I explain, there is one thing I should clear up. I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I really ever have been. I know that this is usually taken as the norm. Atheism is still very much a minority. However, strangely enough, among the young liberal teenagers that I surround myself with, it is almost strange to meet someone religious. That’s where I come in. I like having a unique view on the world. Obviously, that’s not why I choose to believe in God, but the problem is, I don’t know why I believe in God. I could tell you it’s because this year all of my dreams and prayers have come true, but that would only be part of the truth. I believe in God because I’m either not capable or not willing to see the world without a God. I believe in God because I’m to scared to think otherwise and because I would go insane if I thought this world came without a plan of some kind.

That being said, I’m not a fanatic. I keep my views private, between me and the rest of the internet that happens to come across my blog. I don’t respond to jokes or insults, whether they be direct or indirect. I don’t believe the things people say should be able to impact me, and I do my best not to let them. Unfortunately though, many times, I’m the one guilty of making those very jokes. I always try to keep a very open mind, though. I do this in hopes of others giving me the same benefit. I believe that every action has a justification. I don’t judge because I don’t believe that there’s anyone in the world worth judging, and that’s where my hypocrisy begins. When I see someone judging someone else, I will inevitably end up judging him or her. I try to avoid doing this out loud, but I can’t help thinking it to myself sometimes. I guess believing in God helps me be as cognizant of my thoughts as I am of my actions. I do wish, however, to be able to do more to control my thoughts. There are times where I get sick and mad at myself for just having thought something. I feel like there are times when one part of my brain thinks something just to provoke the other parts of my mind into some kind of cerebral fight, and all I get for being the battleground of this colossal showdown is a very painful headache.

So, to relax, I’ve noticed myself opting more and more to think back onto my formative years. I don’t mean for that to come off like something an old wise man would say, just a nostalgic teenager. I remember all the sayings that my teachers would teach me. It’s upsetting that most people have forgotten them. They would do a lot of good now. I remember my teacher’s constantly repeating the words “considerate” and “thoughtful” that now I rarely ever hear. The problem is that the more I grow up, the more complicated the world gets and the simpler I want to make it. As I make more and more commitments I can’t stand by and promises that I struggle to keep, my life just keeps getting messier. In my journals, I have tried to look at things from an objective point of view. I have tried to analyze myself and the rest of the world as though my emotions weren’t a factor and as though my personal feelings on a matter were of no importance. I’m beginning to realize though, that this specific type objectivity is just a lie.

When I was a kid, I never understood why my brother always acted so moody. I didn’t get why he insisted on rebelling. I didn’t understand how my first grade teacher could possibly treat me like an idiot. I promised myself that I would be different, but I’m not. I’ve gone through the same predictable rebellious and depressive phases of adolescence, and I’ve spoken condescendingly to my eight-year-old host-brother more times than I can count. Even in Spain, my experience has been very similar to that of my predecessors. I would be lying if I said that I was the only student to have  had an epiphany during his or her year abroad. So, can I really say that I’m special. That’s what I’ve been hearing since I was kid, but that’s also what I’ve said to every kid I’ve seen. My life up till now has been a very predictable series of events, each one leading perfectly into the next. Now, I am able to understand my brother’s teenage angst and my teachers condescension, and that’s all  because I’ve lived it myself. My only honest and pure source for reflection in the world is myself.

My life is the only one I know. I cannot have an honest conversation about emotions, for example, because my emotions are the only ones that I feel. My experiences are the only ones that I see inside and out, and that’s why, as much as I may call myself open-minded, I can never truly understand someone else’s nature like I do my own. However, I can get pretty damn close. Before I left, I honestly had no idea how anyone could disagree with me. I had been exposed to multiple cultures, but I had only ever lived in one. I could objectively see that it was possible, but I could not see how it was possible. I could only rationalize it. I would still defend absolutely everyone’s right to speak their opinion, because as much as people may forget it, the Golden Rule is still the wisest thing that any man has ever said. Now, however, I have honestly, knowingly and intentionally let another culture influence me, and I have seen how something as simple as being born in another country can tremendously change the way you see just about everything. So, just like I had to go through puberty to be able to understand what my brother went through, I needed my own opinions to change before I accepted the truth and legitimacy in the beliefs of others.

About two weeks ago, I decided to do something that before I just saw as crazy. I came out. It was a huge move on my part and required a lot of strength, but in the end it worked out pretty much like ripping off a band-aid. I just had to go through with it. The response was generally good, but it was the response that anyone of my friends could’ve seen coming from a mile away. However, it wasn’t all perfect. I knew that my parents’ reaction would not be what most would consider the norm. As I was growing up, I was actually a very big homophobe. Which, also, according to most researchers, happens to be a very predictable step in a gay person’s life, especially if that person has any conservative roots, which I do. Even after that phase of my life was over and I had “accepted” my circumstance, I still thought of myself as “abnormal” and of “homosexuality” as a disease. I even voiced these opinions, without referring to myself, of course. I thought that objectively it was more “normal” to be straight. I didn’t realize what kind of impact just saying that could have on a person. After telling my parents, however, I quickly got a taste of my own medicine.

Hearing the words “you are sick and abnormal” or “we’ll be treating this as an illness” is easy if you accept them as simple facts. That was the intention that I had when I would say them. However, when they are directed straight at you by the people that you respect most in the world, it’s a whole different story. I rarely cry or find myself having to hold back tears, but that was one of those moments. Later I rationalized their beliefs because they were the same ones I held just last year, but in the moment I couldn’t help myself. My emotions took over completely, and any possible remnants of what we call objectivity was gone. As meticulously and carefully as you can think something over in your head, or prepare for thousands of scenarios, in the end, I was absolutely helpless. My anger took the place of my reason and my logic, and it took me a while (in teenage time, so in reality, a week) to be able to see the situation through a clear lens.

I have accepted the fact that, because of how they were raised or their religion, it will be impossible for my parents to ever truly accept the fact that I am gay. I know that I have their love, and if need be, their tolerance, and at this point that’s all I ask for. If it had not been for this year teaching me to be truly accepting and understanding of other people’s opinions, I would’ve probably been ready to cut all ties with my parents. However, I was able to look past my liberal ideals and love of argument and accept a very hard but comprehendible reality. I understand that my parents believe that they can fix my homosexuality. I do not agree, but I understand that they have no other way of seeing it. Neither one of us can nor will secede, because our circumstances wouldn’t allow it. It would mean one of us abandoning all of our core beliefs, and if I don’t expect that from myself then how should I expect to ask that of my parents?

In the end, I will probably never stop being a hypocrite; my opinions will keep on changing; I will continue to make mistakes; I will contradict myself to no end, and my never-ending search for simplicity will go on. I will always consider myself right, until someone proves me otherwise, but I will accept the truth in others’ statements, because what I am taking home is an open mind. I have learned a new way of interacting with people, and I understand that anyone is capable of changing my view of the world. I am, like most people, very confusing. I try to get everything out, but even I fail to understand myself and my way of thinking at times. So, to answer the original question I posed you: it’s happiness. I will change my mind when I want to; I will do what feels right when I need to, and I will live the way I see fit, because that is what makes me happy. And if one day it stops making me happy, then, I’ll pause for a second and reevaluate. The reason I live and the reason I keep going is because I enjoy it. I enjoy getting past every obstacle and overcoming the stress and the pain that comes with them. I don’t “keep going” like some would affirm. I keep living; I keep loving, and I keep breathing because I want to, and because that is the meaning of life.

Taking Charge

Hey future me,

I’m assuming that you’ve probably forgotten a lot about your teenage years. I’m going to go ahead and remind you of a few things that I think you’ll find interesting or maybe even a little nostalgic. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll even teach you something that you haven’t yet picked up on, in all of your old-age wisdom.

I’m really bossy. I’m also quite controlling. I need everything to be perfect all the time. Unfortunately, that is, as I’ve recently realized, absolutely impossible. Just thinking for a moment, let alone 16 years of our life, that it isn’t, is nothing short of delusional. Then again, my sanity has always been questionable. I blame that on my self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. How’s that going by the way? Has it gotten better? Worse? It may have insured that your room was always spotless, but that was because you had total control over your room. It was your domain, and I will bite to protect it. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the rest of our life. I’m not in charge of the majority of the factors that go into forming it. This has lead to a couple of problems.

I have been involved with the majority of the trips that I have ever taken. My family does a fair amount of traveling, and my parents aren’t the type to keep their plans secret. In fact, they keep me in the loop on just about everything. That’s because I am practically a carbon copy of my father, and he can empathize with a child who goes crazy about not having known one little detail.

On some occasions I have taken on more responsibilities and other times I have stayed quite uncomfortably in the backseat. However, the few times that I have not been behind the wheel, I have placed myself directly behind the person that was. You may not remember, but my backseat driving skills were surprisingly effective (and, not so surprisingly, annoying). That said, this “affliction” is something over which I have had very little control. Most times, when I work on a group project, for example, I end up doing all the work just because I can’t get myself, as hard as I might try, to trust my classmates. This was probably the biggest reason for our severe lack of sleep during throughout high school.

Trust is something much easier said than done. Giving up your fate and charging someone else to take care of it is a hard task. However, as a self-proclaimed hypocrite, I also get very annoyed when people refuse to trust me.

That is where I am most comfortable. Controlling everything like the puppet master that I , unfortunately, strive to be, and while before I used to only desire to be in the loop, now that craving has grown into a full-fledged need. I need to know what is going on. I cannot just get on a bus and see where it takes me, no matter how much I would like that to be the case.

During our latest trip to Andalucia, however, I took on absolutely no responsibilities. I was given nothing to do as far as trip planning was concerned, I came into that train station almost entirely in the dark. I had no choice but to pry my hands from the wheel and let someone else take control, and the train was just a little too big for me to be shouting annoying suggestions to the conductor from my seat. That train took me about as far out of my comfort zone as I could bear. Now, this is the point where a normal person would just let himself go with the flow. That’s not what I did. 

The week before we left I had been assigned to make a movie documenting our trip. This would’ve normally been a very easy task. I would’ve shot a couple of interviews, filmed a couple of shots of us enjoying our time in Andalucia, and that would be it. However, I took it a little further. I took my camera out of my backpack and never put it back in. Admittedly, I was grasping at straws. The camera was my final attempt at regaining a little bit of power and control over my life for that week. My Canon EOS T3i was my badge and my uniform. When I wore it around my neck, people listened. I said “smile”; they smiled. I said “run,” and most them actually ran. There’s always one rebel, though, but without the camera there would have been more. By the end of the trip I had given my self a whopping eleven hours of footage to sort through.

However, for those that know me well, this is very ironic. On the majority of my own trips I am completely opposed to even taking out my camera. I believe that it takes away from the experience. The only reason I did it on this trip was because it was the only thing I had left that made me different from the crowd. It gave me something to do. With my lens and microphone I was not just another student on a school trip. I was special.

For the sake of adding even more messy adolescent contradictions I should probably remind you that I had never wanted to be special or unique. In fact, I had always fancied myself a bit of a follower. Before, I could have proudly claimed that I had no desire to be a leader. Recently, however, I have found myself wanting to take more control. I can no longer stay quiet about what I think. This may seem surprising if you’ve ever spoken to me, but it’s very true. Before, I didn’t say about 75% of the things that came into my head. Now, I’m down to about 45%. Despite what many may say about me, I actually have a very strong filter. In Andalucia when the time came to choose a restaurant for lunch I decided to make my voice heard. I stopped conceding everything and simply letting life carry me wherever it wanted to go. Life is too short for that.

What I’m trying to tell you (or remind you) is that change is a very normal process. This year, that process, for me at least, has been put into overdrive. So, while I may contradict myself quite often and spit out hypocritical statements on an hourly basis, it’s all leading up to something. I have gotten rid of my silence. My goal is to eventually own up to all the things that I may need and announce them proudly. I shouldn’t be embarrassed of needing a little bit of control over my life, and when I don’t get it, I have to go out and find it. I only have one life to live. I cannot spend that life appeasing other people. I have to be a good person, but everything has its limits. Sometimes, I have to lookout and speak out for myself and for my needs. I’m building up my voice, I just hope you use it.

Sincerely,

Young, naive and hormonal you.

Setting my Compass

I have never been able to think for myself. I have always called myself a follower. I have never felt good enough to be a leader. That is not to say that I don’t think I’m smart. In fact, sometimes I can be so arrogant so as to think of myself as the smartest person in the room. Unfortunately, in terms of mentalities, the latter is too pompous, and the former is just too self-deprecating. I am neither very intelligent nor very stupid. Following, the only logical conclusion is to say that I am average, but that is a hard reality to face. I don’t think anyone would want to think of themselves as being the norm. We’re always inclined to think that we are the exception. Is it possible for us all to be exceptional, outstanding, or at the very least, different? Until recently, I didn’t want to think I was special. I assumed that I wasn’t. It seemed obnoxious of me to think of myself as anything more. And maybe I’m still not special, but I am, at the very least, different.

I am nothing like you. You are nothing like me. We have many basic things in common, but when it comes down to it, we are two very different people. The only thing that we undoubtedly share is our humanity. So, if we are so different, why do I insist on comparing myself to you? Why do I want to follow your exact footsteps? Why do I feel inadequate when I find out that you have done something better than me? Why do I feel superior when I find out that you have done something worse than me? It makes no sense, but I do it anyway.

When I was young everyone was the same. Everyone in my Kindergarden class, including myself, was the same; we had all grown up in the same neighborhood, we all spoke the same languages, we all played the same sports and we all liked the same superheroes. There was very little that could differentiate us. Then, grades came around along with society’s first attempt at separating us up into groups: the smart, the average, and the below average. So what I was going to do? Go with the flow, of course. I applied to the gifted program at my new elementary school, and I got in which did nothing but raise the standards that I would have to meet for the remainder of my life. When you start out on an uphill path the only way down is to fall. I did fine for the majority of the five years, but I was never perfect. I walked away from fifth grade with a Certificate of Completion and a Phenomenal Drama Student Award, a last minute certificate printed on crappy recycled construction paper given to the kids that had nothing else to show for their five year elementary school career. Others were chosen as Valedictorians and speakers and took home certificate after certificate. During the graduation ceremony there were students whose name was called upwards of fifteen times. I was called up twice. That wasn’t bad, but for me, it was not nearly enough.

Then came middle school. Calling the application process stressful for an eleven-year-old would be a drastic understatement. The pressure to get into the same schools as your friends while still making your parents happy was affecting me whether I knew it or not. Unfortunately, I would find out soon enough that the entire process was all for not and that my parents had decided to send me off to a private school, meaning that I would have to do the entire process all over again. By June of my fifth grade year my parents had gotten word that I had been wait-listed at the private school to which I had applied. To avoid giving me any false hope, they simply told me that I “didn’t make it.” Needless to say however, what I heard was: “there were a bunch of kids that made it, but you weren’t one of them.” To be honest, I think this may have been my first rejection, and I wish I could say I grew from it—I didn’t. Although, eventually the school took me off the wait-list which, looking back, may not necessarily have been for the best.

My parents were a little bit better off than many other families at my public elementary school. Unfortunately, until my parents shipped me off to private school I had never actually been cognizant of the existence anything remotely resembling money. In that sense, I was lucky to have been born into a family with the luxury of being able to shield their kids from the corrosive and depressingly powerful effects of money. From then on, I punished myself, and in a way I still do, every time I had a problem of any kind. I always thought that it wasn’t fair that I got to go to a private school and my friends didn’t. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. After my first day at my new school I called a friend of mine to explain to him why I had not showed up to the first day of the public junior high school that I had originally planned to attend. After our ten minute conversation I never again spoke with him or anyone else with whom I had spent the past five years of my life.

At that point, I was living in a different world. In this world the standards were unequivocally higher. My path had diverged from that of my previous classmates. In my new school, there was plenty to be put up for comparison: Where do you live? Where are your parents from? What teams do you support? All of the answers had become unique. The only kids that were somehow able to coincide on some things was a handful of students that had been at the school since Pre-K. All of those lived in the neighborhood, knew the same people, and had the same tastes, absolutely none of which had anything to do with my tastes, my people, and my neighborhood. For some time I was convinced that because I lived so far away from my school that I did not belong. I lived, and still live, in an OK russian neighborhood on the other side of the borough. No one was the same anymore. (And now that I’ve gone to Spain, I have pretty much assured myself that as long as I live I will never find someone who has lived the same life I have, no one that is exactly the same in every way. There are few things that are impossible, but that definitely is.)

As I kept growing people became more and more different. Everyone formed his or her own opinions and chose his or her own role models. Then looks became a factor. Everyone began to dress and speak in a certain way, but that’s not all; the madness continued. Soon, each student had a middle school cumulative GPA, and all of these criteria had a norm. Not all of them could be calculated numerically, but all of them could be calculated. So, you could imagine that this situation would be especially stressful for a chubby and not particularly attractive student with a mediocre GPA, a conservative Republican background, and a slight trace of a Russian accent. That’s what I saw in the mirror every morning, and I would’ve been fine with that if everyone else weren’t better than me. That’s how it started.

I began to make lists of everything that was wrong with me. Then, I would go through all the people in my grade to find someone with the “perfect” life. A life that I could imagine myself living, a life that I could prove was better than mine. A wealthy, intelligent, and hardworking child who lived in a good neighborhood, had plenty of friends, and had even kissed a girl. Lest you think that this was to perfect, I found him. He was perfect. I began dreaming and hoping to be him. I would give anything to have his life, but I was dumb. I didn’t know what was hiding behind the well groomed exterior. Maybe he too had to organize a show every a day: a circus act that doesn’t end until we are alone.

All the comparisons I made me feel even more unsatisfied. I began to become very irritated with my parents’ foreignness, for example. I stopped inviting them to school functions out of fear of standing out of the crowd. Not that they would come to many school functions either way. No matter how hard they try, my mother and father will never be the typical PTA parents. They will never understand the place where I have spent the majority of my life outside of my home. As a kid, I never went on play dates or backyard barbecues that weren’t relatives’. That made me feel unique, and unique is not something you always want to feel.

So, I confess to you that I am, or rather used to be, a ‘comparer’ and I had been for the majority of my life. I compared myself to my friends and my enemies. I compared myself to the rich and the powerful. I compared myself to the homeless and the bankrupt. I compared myself to the dumb and the smart. My comparisons knew no end. Then suddenly, one day I had an epiphany.

Most of the comparisons that I would make fell on to a certain spectrum. There were certain characteristics that, back in the U.S., most people met. Then there was another set of just as specific characteristics on which people differentiated. Here a comparison would be like trying to match apples and oranges. Here the values are different; the problems are foreign, and  the people are essentially a different species. The opportunity to look at a world so different from my own where even the simples cultural bases change has given me a previously unattainable objectivity. It was as though, and I know this sounds corny, my eyes had opened for the first time. I felt like a new born desperately trying to open his eyes even though the weight of the world was trying to keep them down, and while I admit it’s possible that the light that I saw upon opening my eyes did nothing more than blind me to the sad truth, but what I saw was beautiful.

We are all different. Whether our differences are minor or major, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what you do with those differences. Some people hide in their circus tents. They hide there true selves to the world. They refuse to let their differences show. They mold themselves to the closest model of perfection they can find, and their model is often just as false as they are. Others learn to embrace their differences and use them to establish their own identity. Their social compasses always point in the same direction. No matter what comes their way they’re always ready face it. Their compass leads them through the thickest and fiercest storms. A wave of changing trends could never touch, let alone change, them. The rest of the world has to worry about getting lost in a capricious hurricane of changing styles and fashions. They lose all the sense of identity they have.

It’s true, I’m not perfect. I’m no where close to it, but for the first time I’m completely comfortable with that. I’m happy with who I am. That’s not to say that I intend to stay exactly the same for the rest of my life. To the contrary, I intend to keep changing until the day I die. However, I will change when I feel the need to change. I will take into account my surroundings, but I will not let them control me. I will get the grades I get and live the life I live. I won’t envy anyone else for living better, looking cooler, being funnier, or getting better grades. I will be happy to have the life I have. I will not ask for a different one. I will not complain, and I will do my best to always see and make the best out of my situation. I have my compass, and I have my journey. Now, all that’s left is to see where they take me.

Look Up!

As much as I would like to see the world, I need to first set out my priorities. The first thing I have to do is accept that I will never see the entire world. Then, I have to choose what is more important: seeing the parts of the world closest to me or going out into the world and exploring the most exotic destinations.

To me, there is no question that the latter sounds more appealing. However, there is some merit in opening your eyes to the places that are closest to you.

Any place, no matter how beautiful, can lose its magic after you’ve lived in it for enough time. You get used to seeing the same sights and following the same routine. At this point, I have even gotten used to Zaragoza, the beautiful Spanish city in which I live.

Even the famous Basilica in the center of the city no longer has the power that it used to have over me. I don’t feel the need to stop and gaze at it for hours anymore. It has blended in to the background noise of my new Spanish life.

This phenomenon happens no matter where you live. I’m lucky enough to live in the most famous city in the world. It is one of the most widely photographed cities, and I would bet that there is not a single corner that has not been snapped at least once. Unfortunately, not even New York’s beauty can captivate me anymore.

Recently I was walking down the main street in Zaragoza, and for some reason, I looked up. I was used to seeing the lower level shops and restaurants found at my eye level. I could probably describe the street like I could the back of my hand. However, I had never, before then, thought to look up. I realized that the buildings spanning the street were in fact a lot taller than I had initially suspected.

It’s interesting how one simple motion lead me to discover a very important detail of a very important street in the city that I have called home for the past six months.

And as is the case with most other discoveries, this one brought up more questions than it did answers. How much more of my this city haven’t I seen because I simply haven’t looked? Are there aspects of New York that I have yet to notice?

From now on I will take my time in exploring my city because there’s no telling what other kinds of gems have been hiding right beneath my nose.

Branded

How do two people get to know each other? What are the first things that they ask each other? What is the basic information that gives us our identity?

Well, there are a couple of things that form our self’s base: our names, our age, our religion, and our origin. We have no control over any of these except for religion, and even that is something that we have very little control over. Either way, one thing we can never change is our origin. Geography is unescapable.

I will always be an American, whether I want to be or not. My parents will always be Russian, whether they want to be or not. I can choose where I live, but everyone will always be able to tell.

The place where I was born has branded me for life. I will never be able to escape it.

The Invisible Truth

Poets are very cheesy people. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they like to idealize many things. They put things on pedestals when they shouldn’t be. They make something sacred when it simply is not.

Lucky for them, I absolutely love cheese. Life is cheesy. The fact that we are alive is a miracle in and of itself. So, the las thing we should be doing is taking something that awesome and diminishing its value. Poets say what other people may be a little embarrassed to say.

Our emotions are very controversial things. Some hide them, and others show them off leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. It’s natural that our emotions over-exaggerate. Furthermore, they almost never make sense.

I am a writer, or at least, I like to think of myself as a writer. I’m not a professional writer, but it’s certainly a very important hobby of mine. I convey facts. I outline stories fact by fact. I try to use the most simple vocabulary and grammar possible to get my point across. To me, the most important part of writing is making sure the reader on the other end knows what it is you’re talking about. However, sometimes I have to look outside the box.

Poets are not writers. They are not storytellers either. They do not convey information or scientifically proven fact. Poets tell it like it is. They do not let grammar or vocabulary keep them down. Their job is to unveil deeper truths than the ones that are visible to the human-eye. They show us emotional truths that could not have been exposed in any other way.

This makes what a poet does substantially harder than what I do. When a poet says something it becomes impossible to paraphrase. Poems are may meant to be thought over and analyzed.

If a poet has done his job right, you will never forget his words or their meaning. If a writer has done his job right, you will forget his words, but hold on to his ideas.