Archive for October, 2010

The Time Traveler’s Blues

October 13, 2010

Part 1

The funny thing about time traveling is the amazing adaptive powers of the human. Movies most often portray the transplant as wildly confused. When and if the person is able to fit into society unnoticed, it is a very long and exaggerated process. I have not had much of these periods of utter confusion and helplessness. My symptoms have always been a low, constant feeling of sadness and longing. These isolating emotions serve as a reminder that I may never be one hundred-percent comfortable.

Despite being diagnosed with chronic depression, I have always resisted medication because I know that the power to master this pervasive, dark blanket of melancholy is within my ability. I know now that this faint flicker of optimism is the same spark that burns in all the characters we have come to know in this predicament – the belief that we will one day return home. The sadness and hopelessness that follows is the constant reminder that we have spent another day getting further away from our home and loved ones.

How do I know that I am a stranded time traveler? The signs are everywhere. Do you know when you are wandering through a thrift store, junk shop or antique store and some piece catches your attention? You’re not sure why, but it reminds you of something. You look at it, pick it up, turn it over, look at the price, give a half smile, put it back down and walk away. When this happens to me, there is an immediate flood of remembrance. Staring almost through the object, I can see the house where it came from, I can feel the life that surrounded it, I remember the dinners that were cooked in the house, I can smell it, and I can see all the other objects that occupied the room where this item absorbed so much energy. I can stare and float in the ocean of those memories for hours.

Favorite foods? Not ours. They are reminders of another life, another time, another place. The taste, while wonderful and satisfying, is satisfying your brain more than anything else. You are momentarily at peace, comforted in a gauzy wash of hinted memories. Your wandering stops for a split second, your questions are answered. And then you swallow, the moment quickly fades, you open your eyes, and you are once again confused, off-balance, and then resigned and aware.

Objects and senses most often trigger these past memories, not living people. Those with whom we interact are mostly of this time. Perhaps the special bond that we make with a select few is the cyclical friendship that has existed since, well, existence. The friends and spouses with whom we have a deep, unchallenged bond are the same friendship (in spirit) that has continued on throughout time. The energy of a true partnership can transcend death in that it finds its way into other people, and more powerfully than that, these people continue to find each other.

As for passing another time-traveler on the street and sharing a knowing nod, it unfortunately does not happen. Most travelers are not aware of their specific predicament and hold it under the umbrella of general unease, unrest and depression. The realization of the true root of their isolation, if it ever comes, offers little solace, but rather an understanding and resignation. The chances of returning to any particular time are not within your lifetime, but rather it is lifetime after lifetime, bouncing from one time to another, leading to utter weariness and despair. As comforting as it may be to know that energies, feelings, emotions, experiences, and even entire lives can be passed on, or dispersed and distributed, it becomes a heavy burden when attempting to navigate one’s own position in their current time. It is all someone else more powerful than us that got this whole ball rolling. Is it possible that we will make our own contributions to this ever-growing ball of twine? Of course, it is inevitable, but the majority of our time will still be under the yoke of emotions and experiences of lives past.

Part 2

I am sad and alone and confused. The horror of what people can do to each other affects me deeply and drives me further towards yearning to be free of this life. There are people that I am sure I have known from lives past, but my isolation and restlessness prevents me from giving myself fully back to them. Of all the emotions and experiences I have had throughout these hundreds of years, the feeling that has stuck with me the most is loss.

The deep, all-consuming sorrow of the loss of a loved one transcends all time and space and has no means of dissolution or dispersion. With every waking moment as a child, to every object that sends me traveling, there has always been an over-bearing feeling of loss. There are times where the loss is manifested in the sadness over a simpler time that is now gone, a homelife before young adulthood took us from the nest, but the loss that hangs the heaviest is a lost love.

Losing your one true love changes you irrevocably. It mutates the human spirit. The body becomes burdened by sorrow and the energy that the brain emits must at least double. The questions, frustrations and inevitability of death will now forever come to define this person. Like most mutations, this will be passed on from generation to generation, or rather, life to life. Forever set upon the unquenchable desire to find this person in the next life, all future lives are spent searching, longing, saddened and unfulfilled, yet the time traveler bears the burden of not fully knowing why these emotions dictate their being. This ignorance adds frustration, confusion and at times, self loathing, to an already heavy load.

But many time travelers are people who come to be defined as great in their time and beyond.  Although burdened by their emotions, these people have a sense that they are different, timeless and therefore may posses a wider-ranging knowledge and desire to help mankind. Many, if not all, of our great leaders, artists, musicians and writers, work from a place of deep sorrow, but also a super-natural awareness that they posses the ability to make this life better for others, even if it will grant them little peace for themselves. There is an understanding that their own happiness is fleeting, for they carry the entire emotional lives of so many, and therefore, time may be best spent using this deeper knowledge to ease and improve the lives of others.

The greatest compliment for a songwriter is that a song feels “familiar,” as if it has always existed and was waiting for someone to grab it from the sky. These writers, while adept at receiving and interpreting the waves from the past, are merely time travelers. The familiarity of a musical piece comes from the hundreds, at times thousands, of years of human interaction and study by the writer. The entire range of emotional and personal contact has been explored in countless ways in countless settings. There is a weariness and understanding that so much of being human is timeless and cyclical. The talent of the writer lies in their ability to harness these deeply human sentiments and present them in a way that speaks to all people. Apart from the specific meaning or bend of the song, the ultimate message is that we are all the same and we have all been here before. These ideas are comforting, particularly to the majority of people who are new to this time and have only begun to hear the distant, cosmic rumbles that there is something strange beyond the surface of merely being human.

The searching of the time traveler is endless. Their life is a strange octopus’ garden of bric-a-brac speaking to something deep and distant. There is the constant pursuit of love, happiness and fulfillment, but it is checked daily with the futility of achieving such things, which has been revealed lifetime over lifetime. Some travelers do find their lost loved one. Some don’t realize or recognize them when they have them. And others are too damaged to even accept the possibility that this person is out there and waiting to be found. It is the duty of the time traveler to manage their burden, which in exchange can also be a gift by using their experience to help others. It is a sad fact that we must often ignore our personal desires, and this reluctant sacrifice most likely perpetuates the intense energies and emotions that keep the time traveler trapped in this cycle of regeneration, but there can be comfort in the fact that we will all be time travelers one day. And at the moment when the final time-traveling child is born, thus closing the door on all “new” lives, we will all finally recognize one another and our pain, and work together to be free.

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Boston Accents

October 12, 2010

I do not have a Boston accent. I grew up in the suburbs. Only about a 30-minute drive from the city, and also connected by Commuter Rail, there are no accents in Concord. Concord is a very diverse town. I went to school with a mixture of all races and religions – some lived in town and some took the long rush-hour bus rides in as part of the Metco program, and no one had an accent.

 

I had an excuse, as my parents were natives of Maine. If there was any accent that found its way into my speech pattern in my younger days, it was the strange mutated progeny of Old New England, French Canadian and a slow Mountain drawl that is the Maine accent. Even this affectation, often exaggerated by my father’s brothers out of some sort of strange pride and stranger amusement, was called upon at will and usually left only for play. And although most inhabitants of Concord were transplants of some sort, even the natives, and by that I mean the uber-white folks, seemed to have no trace of a Boston accent. It was eerie. All of the children of the surrounding towns had some form of a Boston accent, yet not this anomaly that is Concord.

 

The accent seemed to signify something more working class, something a bit rougher around the edges, and people who moved to Concord with one, usually lost them in less than a year. Playing hockey without a Boston accent was like wearing a sandwich board stating that you could afford new equipment and you were a prime target to be ostracized and assumed to be weak. Unfortunately, at least in my case, that often proved true when singled out for a fight or constant ridicule. The accent became all the more foreign to me and would instill an “other” feeling that I’m sure my neutral speech reciprocated.

 

I always loved this city and would take the train in from age twelve on. I felt a closer connection to Cambridge and Boston than any of its suburbs, affluent or not. Other towns came to represent fights and defending oneself for being defined by where you were raised. The city is for all to enjoy, and traveling in from the suburbs, it is an explosion of culture, people and activities that is nothing short of magic. The familiarity of the historical and colonial elements bind this entire state together and deepens ones pride and understanding of the area. Yet spending my first years as a full-time resident of the city, first in Porter Square, Cambridge, for a few years, followed by Chinatown, the Boston accent still seemed to escape me.

 

In Porter Square, I feel safe in surmising that the lack of accents is very similar to what contributes to this phenomenon in Concord. There are a large number of transplants in Porter, particularly from the suburbs. It is a safer area, with good access to all of the colleges and universities, so many of the inhabitants seem to be students or young professionals. The remaining folks in the area appear to be free from the accent, perhaps because of the scrappy, working-class stigma that it holds, which is in direct defiance of what Cambridge has come to represent over the last two hundred years – education, success and influence? This is merely a theory.

 

Chinatown was just madness. Obviously, there is a very high Asian population there, but there is just so much general coming-and-going and noise, that the strongest identity I can give it is just a cluster of hard working folks (restauranteurs, delivery drivers, pimps, prostitutes, business men, cabs, bike messengers, lovers, muggers and thieves). The only Boston accents I heard, save the construction worker or bar tender, were from the clubbing kids from Quincy who would search the streets in large groups looking for cold tea spots. The flashes of drawn-out A’s as AH’s, would catch my ears and I would feel like I was back on the ice in Woburn or Chelmsford.

 

It was around this time that I became very familiar with the South Shore. First, I met a girl living in the city who was a native of Rockland and we embarked on a nine-year relationship. After about a year, I met her family and she began to take me around to her childhood haunts in the surrounding towns of Whitman, Hanson and Abington. Family and friends are king in Rockland, the sort of town where everyone knows your name, your family and what you’ve been up to. Countless cookouts and holidays were spent with the neighbors and their ever-growing families. I once again felt self-conscious about my neutral speech, and even more so when I revealed that I hailed from the upper-middle class Northwest suburb of Concord. Yet, I was always made to feel welcome and I realized that my insecurities, while not wholly unfounded, were more brought on by myself. Through the acceptance of this largely Irish population, most of whom were at least second generation Rockland residents, I began to enjoy the sense of community that had often escaped me in the protective, at times judging, environs of Concord.

 

Shortly after we began dating, I started a band with a good friend from Brockton. He, too, also had roots in Whitman, and my knowledge of the area continued to grow. My mother’s family lived in Brockton for many years. My great grandmother was from Chelsea and my great grandfather was from Roxbury. My grandfather was raised in Roxbury and he had a true Horatio Alger story upbringing (as Alger was from Chelsea, the pun is unintentional yet relevant). Fatherless by age nine with a younger brother and a mother who was a piano teacher and seamstress, he worked his way through extreme poverty and into Harvard. He met my grandmother (from Brookline) and moved to Brockton to try his hand at the shoe business. After many years of failed attempts, he found success in Portland, ME and moved the family up there when my mother was eight. Both his and my grandmother’s accents were very New England, in your tomato-tomahto sense, and that would be the closest to an accent that my mother has. My father, being a second generation Mainer, at times reveals particular aspects of the Maine accent.

 

For the next six years I lived in Roslindale. With its easy access to the South Shore, the Boston accent continued its growing presence in my life as it changed shape and began to reveal itself to me as a very powerful, unifying, family-driven force. After a one-year stint in Brighton, I found myself in Chelsea, where I had already been visiting for years. I spent my first year in Chelsea digging up clues from my ancestral past, unearthing Pinansky’s and Wolfson’s, Stones, Kleins, Friedmans, and many other Jewish immigrant roots that first planted themselves in Boston. My accent holds no weight in Chelsea, because whatever thin strands still tie me to this place, English is not the predominant language here, nor are the Jews, Italians or Irish who first built up this city.

 

I have learned what I can about Chelsea for now and have been exploring, learning and welcomed in to the surrounding areas of East Boston, Charlestown, Everett and Revere. The accents are strong in these areas, and the sense of community powerful and beautiful. Despite its close proximity to Boston, there is a very suburban, family feel to many of these areas. The accent here seems to be a signifier, not necessarily a badge of honor as the “Boston Noir” continues to take make Hollywood millions of dollars, but simply one of family pride that happens to be rooted to a particular location.

 

Within the last year there has been a shift in my speech pattern. There are now parts of the Boston accent that have been surfacing. Most interesting to me is that the occasional word that presents itself from my lips in the traditional Boston manner appears to be when I am in my most uninhibited – either while singing, lost in song, or when I have a had a few drinks. It is not so natural an occurrence that I am unaware, but it is out of my mouth before I realize it. This is not something that I am trying to fight, but it is something that I am conscious of, because the Boston accent is a matter of pride and heritage.

 

I respect the accent and do not seek to appropriate it for any points within the community. I am aware of my varied roots, yet this is where I am now. No speech comes effortlessly to me at this point. Neutral patterns feel like too much gum in my mouth – I chew my words and am heedful about how they are going to leave it. After constant exposure for the last ten years, I feel the accent fighting to be my dominant speech pattern. I do not resist it because I am afraid of the hard-working, brawling stigma that it holds, I resist it because I do not want to be insulting or counterfeit to the accented who take pride in their towns and families. I respect my family as much as I respect my city, and this best represents the current struggle that is embodied by my speech. But like the hard work and determination that made Boston great, the accent is proving to be far stronger than this kid from Concord, as it fights everyday to make itself heard.