At times like this, I can really experience being my own worst enemy. There was this irritatingly audible, vapid-seeming young American girl at a table next to us, telling in syrupy tones the poor young German man (who either was unable to perceive her vapidity on account of her foreignness, or whose foreignness was obscuring his own vapidity from me) that "you can't run from yourself," which, despite being trite, is nevertheless true. Even having everything I could imagine wanting at this moment, I am still just myself.
It's illuminating to shift suddenly through such different cultures. In those last days before we left Kenya, I romanticized my projection of Europe, a place where everything works and we can get everything we want and I won't be frustrated by what I was experiencing as this insane apathy on the part of the Kenyans, this sort of radical acceptance of suffering that seemed to allow for the unacceptable. For example, riding a matatu into Nairobi is the equivalent of a 90 minute mechanical bull ride: do you picket the president's office in outrage about the state of the country's roads? No, you accept that this is how things are. Someone breaks your dog's leg: do you get bent out of shape and start trying to change the way people in your town treat animals? No, you just hope that the dog's leg gets better. Or, fuck it, get rid of your broken dog and get a better new one. I mean, you didn't even give him a name anyway. The educational system is based on slavish regurgitation in preparation for the incomprehensible standardized exam that will determine the entire future of your students: do you demand changes to this archaic and unreasonable system? No... you get the idea.
But now, here in the lovely city of Berlin, there are just a new set of circumstances that grate on me. The air hurts my body and makes going outside unpleasant; the sun barely lightens the gray pall of the sky, making everything the weak color of despair; I feel useless, like my only purpose is to take pleasure, to use up stored "happy capital" when my instinct is to hoard and save it for some hypothetical "later." It reminds me of the following poem:
The Obligation to be Happy
by Linda Pastan
It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.
And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.
Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself