In Practice, Production on May 9, 2011 at 8:53 am

Eyes down.

I’m walking through a drab suburb to the school and a shift I’m not in the mood for.

The few of us who just got off the bus trudge along in single file and mp3 privacy. The pavement is an ill-considered reddish colour that meanders alongside a concrete cycle path and descends into the housing development where the school is. The adjacent gutter is strewn with the debris of the careless. I pass empty drink cartons, what look like the innards of a TV, dead batteries, dog do, discarded packets and wrappers – dietary supplements and low fat milk substitutes.

I will get to the school and instead of sitting outside and enjoying an hour of sunshine before work starts I will sit at a net book in the cool, concrete and fluorescent-lit classroom trying to do too much in the time available. When the children arrive I will leave it believing that I have done nothing; that I have messed up.

As I walk I’m feeling – and I’m sorry to say it in a world of “15 Ways to Release Your Inner Marvellousness”, “Shake Those Shackles!” and “You’re unique! (and so is everybody else!)” – somewhat less than effervescent. Not so great, in fact. A little bit shitty, to tell you the truth. Like a loser, you might say.

Like a failure.

I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what to do with myself. For the best. The year has been a sugar rush and I think I might be crashing now. We’ve done well. I’ve done well; but can I sustain it? How to sustain it? How to become something else? To make a new …

…my thoughts fuss. All the time. I am a compendium of rehearsed argument, an anthology of the raging scenario on legs; I’m spoiling for a fight. I am anxious about everything. I want to be heard and I express the wish in utter, interior silence. I hurt myself with it. Sabotage; the old habit – the one I really have to kick…

…more money how don’t know to write what to chase what more time no time don’t know what to do with the time I have writing photography thinking teaching writing thinking photography teaching write what for who money need more must learn Spanish not speaking enough thinking too much must learn Spain must learn K must learn me must learn must learn must earn must earn more money how…

…I’m approaching the roundabout where I take a right and scurry across the road to rejoin the path that goes down to the school and I notice a big bird flying low over the patch of sloped wasteland to my left.

Eyes up.

It’s a vulture. Odd to see one alone and now that I look I see that it isn’t; there are two of them. No, three….no, five….seven…..twelve. It’s not yet a sight I’m so accustomed to it doesn’t stop me in my tracks, head back at a foolish angle. I’m frozen – bird-watching – while others step around me and the street melts away.

They come in over the hilltop in a line guiding one another – leading, following. These birds are carrion eaters but they do hunt – for hot air; they fly from thermal to thermal in search of height and perspective. They would be awkward, cumbersome creatures without lift but it doesn’t seem to worry them as they glide between the pillars of it that they depend on.

Assured and untroubled; like scoops through thick ice cream their wings cut the air soundlessly. This committee is unresolved; still seeking that next column – a bit of flapping required now and then, a bit of effort.

With my head up I see the suburb for what it is – an unfortunate splat on what is otherwise pristine natural habitat. I am in a valley here that descends to the sea from the sierra; seen as a whole like this it dwarfs the houses, the cars, the people. To my left the clouds are high altitude cotton candy wisps; to my right they roll lowly in over the hills as I near the school and throw a look back over my shoulder.

They have found their thermal and rise on it effortlessly, circling and ascending – spiralling upwards against the deepest of blue skies.

Why hadn’t I noticed how blue it was?

[tweetmeme source=”@RobinJGraham” only_single=false]

  1. Hang in there big fella.
    It’s easy to obsess about the negatives, especially for thoughtful observant types like you.
    I’ve found that the best cure for that obsessing spiral is a heavy round of socialising. Any combination of friends, family, wine and laughter will give you a bit more perspective. This can be difficult to do when you’re far from home, in a new place where perhaps you haven’t made many deep connections with others. I recommend you schedule a wine-and-Skype call with some of your old besties. Let me know if it helps. 🙂

  2. If that’s what I need than things are indeed looking good – we’re about to be swamped with family for the rest of May. Parental and sibling visits, a wedding nearby…

    I’m hanging in and will report back on what this month brings in terms of perspective!

  3. Oh, I think you’re going to be fine. 🙂

  4. sounds like you have some decisions to be made.
    ill be interested to see where you end up and what you end up doing.
    be sure to write it down here!

  5. the other end of the sugar rush–the black hole. there is no yin without yang. there is no high without low. and after 8 years abroad, i’ve found that after the initial exhilaration of forging a life in a new country/culture,after the adrenalin rush of battle, the samurai warier self depleted, reality pokes you in the eye with a sharp stick. but there’s only one thing to do: sing in the rain, shout war whoops on dusty hills, dance in the market place, cry from your solar plexus. and never forget to notice the “blue.”

  6. You know, I’ve been there — recently. Hate that shitty loser feeling. But there’s usually something or someone to help me reset the mood or help answer the questions. Not always easy answers, but helpful. Keep us posted. You’ve got big fans around here.

  7. I think expat life brings up feelings of doubt and uncertainty more than if you were living in your home country, but the difference is that you were brave enough to do it and most people aren’t. Hope things start looking up for you and I’m a fan of both your photography and your writing. Keep us posted and keep enjoying the blue sky.

  8. OMG, I think your losing your shit!

    No, I don’t really think that. Although your punctuation-free “all work and no play makes jack a very dull boy” paragraph concerns me just a little. 🙂

    Reading this post, I couldn’t help but think, “this is the shit you write just before something BIG happens.” This is the post you read a few months – maybe a year – from now and say “I am so glad I don’t feel that way now. It was fun but that last spell of uncertainty sucked.”

    We have written these posts. We have had these conversations. We have said to one another “what the fuck are we doing? Are we crazy?! Are we going to be okay?”

    We made it out just fine. You will be just fine. You’re awesome. 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I dunno; the post appears to have given people the impression that I might be wallowing in self-pity or having some kind of emotional crisis and I have gotten some lovely supportive comments here, but I have a lifelong aquaintance with those darker moments and I don’t really harbour the hope that they will go away. They are part of life and I wrote about this one only because I had been able to snap out of it and therefore depict it with some objectivity. If I was still in it I wouldn’t write about it – that, to me, would be self-indulgent.

      As Diane says, yin and yang…

  9. Spread your wings like the vultures – there’s a thermal there just waiting for you.

    Been thinking of you over the last days following the earthquake – did you feel it where you are? I’m off ot Madrid in a few weeks before heading to Portugal – can’t wait!

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