Sunday, March 22, 2009

I Am Watching a Boat Outside My Hotel Window in Seattle.

I am watching a boat outside my hotel window in Seattle. Can you see it? It is off to the right of what looks like bombed out buildings. It's just sitting there, but it's huge. The photo does not do it justice. I am starting to feel like it is just me and the big cargo boat, because neither of us are moving. I wonder if anyone on that boat can see the silhouette of me sitting here in a white robe. I wonder if, for fun, they ever go fishing. No, it's probably too high off the water.

When I was seven, my mom decided to send me away to sleep-over camp. It was an entire week away from home at the Girl Scout's Camp Greenwood. My family drove me Up North to the camp and they went on the tour with me to visit the friendship-bracelet-making circles, the craft hut, and the modest sandy beach with faded orange swimming buoys. I wanted my mom and dad to leave me so that I could go explore on my own. "Ok. You can go now. Go. I love you. (go!)" 

So, they left. I went on my merry way for about fifteen minutes until I noticed a distinct ringing in my ears that would not go away. I fidgeted with my nylon brown sleeping bag in the dark, wooden cabin that I remember always had at least a centimeter of sand resting on the floorboards. This ringing – it would not stop – it was a feeling I had never experienced before and it felt like it was suffocating me with a silent claw choking my throat. 

The girls in my cabin were weird. The girl next to me on the top bunk always had a tube of Crest Tartar Control Toothpaste and she would squeeze out little chunks onto her index finger and eat it. Another girl was a little-miss-know-it-all, and she was convinced that I was actually age 13 and ought not to be in the cabin for seven and eight-year-olds. At one point, she almost had the counselors convinced that I was faking my age. This resulted in me explaining that, "My mom says I am tall and mature for my age *blink, blink*."

Soon after the ringing in my ears developed, I happened upon a new idea that had never occurred to me previously. I became certain beyond a doubt that my house was going to burn down with my family in it while I was away at camp. Once I was convinced of this, my mental collapse was swift, and soon I was spending my afternoon in the wise Head Counselor's tent. She was so old and so wise. I remember that she had a red plastic cup with ice in it and she would chew on the ice. It appeared to me that this was an extraordinary adult act, right up there with smoking cigarettes or using a shoe horn. This wise and world weary counselor was actually 15. I remember that because I knew she was twice my age plus one year. The story goes in my family that as a seven-year-old I articulated to this wise woman of the world that what I thought I was suffering from was something called:

The Missing Feeling

The Missing Feeling made it's debut at Camp Greenwood, but it would prove to rear it's ugly head at multiple points throughout my life. What is the Missing Feeling?... Well, later it would be correctly identified as homesickness after I made it through camp (my house did not burn down, much to my relief).

Later, toward the end of a trip to South Dakota when I was in Third Grade, I used The Missing Feeling to articulate my feelings of angst and regret that the vacation was soon to be over. My mom nodded her head patiently while I listed out the things we saw that we would not see again... 

"Remember The Corn Palace?... Mount Rushmore?... Crazy Horse?... The Badlands?... The day you let us eat Fruity Pebbles in the hotel room? Missing Feeling, Mom,  MISSING FEELING : ( : ( : ( "

When I studied abroad in Italy and England during college, The Missing Feeling took on more of a chronic drain of existential loneliness rather than a sharp pang of longing. My study abroad roommate was granted a surprise visit by her boyfriend (now husband), and I could not help but feel like an orphan watching a happy family on Christmas Eve (You should know that my Italian host mom hating cooking. There were some rough times with days living off Corn Flakes, bruised oranges, and shelf stable milk, so I was sensitive.)

My first job out of college was an intimidating corporate position. I was in way over my head, but I was still in awe of it all. There were times when I stayed late and roamed the marble halls, looking at the artifacts of this monolith company. When I would wander those halls and when I would ask myself over and over, Can I do this? Can I get it? Can I do this? Can I get it? those were times with a different kind of Missing Feeling. It was a Missing Feeling that involved longing for what was and what had been my life up until adulthood  - The successful, breezy, confident life of a student with dreams to dream and projects to plan. It was a life before knowing early mornings with a runs in your pantyhose.

You never know when The Missing Feeling will strike. It is impossible to know, for it requires the perfect chemistry of thoughts on the brain and melancholy scents on the wind. 

Today, when my airplane touched down in Seattle, I most definitely had a dose of The Missing Feeling. I walked off the jet-way, and everyone was bustling. My particular flight was to continue on to Hawaii (lucky S.O.B.s ), so there was a happy blonde family running to a kiosk to grab some candy rations before running back into the jet-way, all giggly and excited for the Hawaiian sunshine.

My head was on a swivel, rotating this way and that, like a robot observing the humans. I felt so out of place. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. It was as though I had forgotten my lines in a play, but the play just kept going. If this wasn't a scene from Garden State set to a Frou Frou tune, then I don't know what is. I was moving in slow motion while bodies hurried past with their Places They Had To Be.

I did not have to be anywhere. I did not have to do anything. I did not have to meet anyone. This thought was full of much possibility, yes, but, it also left my ears ringing a little bit. I could have sat down at the soft pretzel shop and sat there all day and no one would say, "Now, why did you waste your whole first day in Seattle just sitting at that soft pretzel shop in the airport while your red suitcase rode the baggage carousel by itself into the late afternoon?" 

I let the crowd carry me, because I had no will of my own and no sense of direction. I immediately appreciated that Seattle is a much more international hub than the Minneapolis International airport. With different languages blaring over the loudspeaker, and families running back to the plane to Hawaii, I half considered turning around back down the jet-way myself, cause, who would notice?

Suddenly, everything literally STOPPED. I walked right into a scene that left me in a trance to the point of indecent staring. What happened was, I walked by a Korean Air flight and I fell witness to a group of Korean Air flight attendants. Now, the commercial for Korean Air is one of my very favorites. It reeks of Tiffany & Co.'s brand (probably the turquoise) and I love it, love it, love it. So, I am in the Seattle Tacoma airport and I walk by this group of flight attendants from Korean Air and they are the most beautiful, delicate, poised, and awe-inspiring flight attendants I have ever seen. Granted, the flight attendants for SAS with their little pillbox hats look pretty profesh, but these women were like human daffodils poised on slender stalks and mounted on itty bitty black high heels. I am not trying to fetishize or exoticize this group of women, no. It is just that they were so perfect with their small turquoise ribbons pinned in their neat, slick black buns. It was hard to visualize one of these small creatures deploying a large flotation device should a water landing occur, but BOY, I am sure they could serve some mean cocktails with a 99% rate of return on precision and excellence. 

The Korean Air flight attendants were chattering away with an air of excitement and it occurred to me that none of them could have been past age 25. OK, maybe the one male flight attendant could have been pushing 30. He was exquisite, too.

Amidst all this admiration, I somehow became completely lost. How does one get lost in an airport, right? I know. But I had to take a train to get to baggage claim and I was having this out-of-body experience while starting at Korean Air & Co.

I finally made it to the baggage claim, and I again stood in a trance as I watched black, black, black, blue, black, red, red, black, black, blue, black, forrest green suitcases spill down the conveyor belt. The Missing Feeling crept back in, and so I told myself to snap into self-soothing mode. 

Self-soothing is a term normally used when describing babies and their methods for calm and relaxation while drifting off in the crib, but I also think it can be used for people like me (and maybe you) who are sensitive, sometimes overly-analytical, and cynical. We need to develop our methods of self-soothing, otherwise we are in for a life of medication and anger management (we may be in for a life of this anyway, but self-soothing never hurts). Just like the girl who ate toothpaste at Camp Greenwood, it is good for all of us to find ways to soothe ourselves in times of need.

HERE is what I did today, my day with The Missing Feeling in Seattle, in order to self-soothe.  

I talked to strangers! I think I am quickly discovering that the reason the solo vacay is so difficult for me is because I am a total extrovert. I get energy by being around people. Introverts get energy by being alone. Look at me, even when I am alone I have to reach out to you through writing. So, here is what I did.

First, I took a shuttle from the airport into the city, and I forced myself to sit down next to someone. She smiled at me and immediately started commenting on my lime green laptop computer case (this is good, this is good, a stranger who likes green, me too, me too), next – (this is so funny, the woman I am writing about just called me for a drink). Anyway, it turns out that my new friend, Penny, was in town for work. Soon we were talking all about our lives and I became fascinated by the laundry list of places she has lived during her life. We exchanged cards and she got me feeling a little less like a space alien.

Friend #2 came from someone who has to be your friend no matter what - the hotel concierge, Ted. Ted mapped out my trip for me and reassured me that I would, "Get more done on my own" and he even picked out a bar for me where I fell into a food coma after inhaling beer/cheeseburger/fries while watching the basketball game.

The bar is where I met friend #3, Sasha. Sasha listed out a complex system of bus numbers and routes so that I could make my way to her neighborhood for sushi. Finally, I felt like this woman who helped me look for books at Barnes & Noble was my friend, but I don't think she counts because we did not exchange names and I was probably just feeling weak as my Missing Feeling crept back in. 

Now, back in my hotel room, I am shrugging my shoulders in compliance for whatever it is I am supposed to do on vacation. See, I am not much of a tourist, and I probably do not really know what the classic definition of "to relax" is. Here I am blogging away and I have not even touched one of my new books, the hotel pool, or the Adult Channels That Do Not Show Up On Your Bill. (Did I write that?)

OK. I am better for now. Writing makes me feel like there are lots of people around. Maybe that is why I have kept a journal ever since I was a wee tot. I used to stay up and sit at my desk with my journal while watching The Arsenio Hall Show. That was back when I took journal writing really seriously and I would use Wite-Out if I made mistakes. Later I upgraded to the erasable pen. Now, I just make typos.

Tip: If you have any feelings of familiarity with this whole Missing Feeling phenomenon, one other way to combat it is to get a Fun Book with Games and Puzzles. It will get your mind off it. I know this because my mom used to buy those for me.

Or, try blogging.  >:^P



  1. sounds like you have met some interesting people. cant wait to hear what today brings!

    Love and miss you

  2. "...and heaven will smell like the airport."
    -Neko Case