“Art is the center of the real world” Glass Garden, Philadelphia, PA
I always loved window seats. I love them more when they are 9 stories up and overlooking the arts district in the city of brotherly love. I lucked out and got an amazing view of the Philly skyline. My hotel room looks out on to the impressive architecture of Board Street, now glowing blue and purple in the changing light show. I can’t think of anything better than writing on a window seat…
I just recognized that being a writer has a lot to do with being comfortable with stillness. Not only does the physical act of writing require long periods of holding still, I have found that my creative process benefits immensely from it and arguably, if it wasn’t for being forced into a comfortable relationship with stillness at a young age, I don’t think I would be able to do my favorite things like writing or painting.
My earliest memories are of laying awake in the mid afternoon Kuwait heat, holding still for fear of waking my mother only a few feet away. Nap time was sacred in my house, despite repeated protests ( I was never an on-demand napper), I was still ordered to lay down with everyone else. It was assumed that sleep would eventually win me over. However, the majority of the time I remember ‘nap’ time as an adventure; a time to decipher a secret map hidden in the shapes of my patterned sheets, discover hidden tunnels leading to a garden in the folds of my window curtain, or create stories staring my favorite stuffed panda bear, Dabdoob. All of this had to be done in silence, holding as still as possible for fear of reprimand…or capture by an evil pirate.
These stillness skills came in handy shortly after acquiring them. A couple weeks after Iraqi bombs rained down on Kuwait city, my mother decided to pack us up and leave. It was just the two of us since her and my father divorced when I was very young. It took me years to process how giant an undertaking this was for her. She was a young woman traveling alone with a small child and limited resources, ( besides the gold she later pawed for plane tickets to America which she kept hidden in pita bread and maxi pads as to avoid having them confiscated by soldiers.) I was only allowed to take one toy for the sake of saving space in the back of her bright red Honda. For endless hours in that backseat, it was just me and Dabdoob, on a top secret mission to get through all security checkpoints by interpreting mustache twitches of burly soldiers.
“Just hold still.” My mom would say whenever approaching a check point.
“Dabdoob wants to know if they will put us in jail?” He was always a bit of a pansy.
“Not if we don’t give them a reason to. Just hold still!”
I would pretend I was asleep and look up just in time to see dust kick up from under the tires, the checkpoint already behind us, Dabdoob clearly relieved.
Stillness also came in handy that time in the middle of the desert somewhere between Kuwait City and Baghdad when our car ran out of gas and my mom and I had to wait on the side of the road for our friends to come back with a filled gas can. I passed the time reading The Little Mermaid to Dabdood till the sun came down and millions of stars came out in the desert sky. I still remember how beautiful that sky was, there was literary nothing but stars. After we finally got going again, I sat still watching red and white lights from surrounding cars swim across the top edge of my window, lulling me to sleep.
Once arriving in Jordan, I still had to do a lot of waiting. First there were the long lines at the Jordanian embassy and the hours spent sitting in the waiting area that was packed with people, all of whom recently fled Kuwait. Advancing in my stillness skills, I found things to look at in the distance, cracks in the wall that took the shapes of animals or shadows that became a jungle. As the weeks wore on in Jordan, my cousins were headed back to school, and I was jealous. I wanted to decorate book covers, sharpen pencils and layout school uniforms on my bed, but I had to stay home with my great aunt and wait… Wait for someone at the embassy to sympathize with my mother long enough to issue me a passport and visa, despite their being no male guardian to grant permission. Everyone knows waiting for someone to break that rule in 1990 Middle East is like waiting for Punky Brewster’s comeback show in 2011. ( I am still holding on…)
The situation was deteriorating as conservative family members were losing patience with my mother’s stubborn independence. They urged her to return me to my father in Kuwait. After all, can you imagine the immoral and heathen woman I will turn out to be without the firm hand of a father…? Apparently, my future looked bleak. My great aunt even went as far as hiring a driver to take us all the way back to Kuwait in the middle of the war, luckily my mom’s fist full of cash was more convincing than the driver’s sense of morality and he happily turned around and dropped us off at a hotel in Amman. It wasn’t till we were finally reunited with my uncle that my waiting neared it’s end. We returned to the same employee at the embassy, he flashed his American passport and Poof! I watched as the man held the stamp in the ink and pressed it on a page in my passport book. Now off to America, land where you are free to be a single parent.
I’ld like to think my stillness-skills puts me at an advantage in places like the DMV, the post office, or heaven forbid, DHS. Enjoying stillness actually has various uses; I have always been one who can just sit and wait at a bus stop or train platform, no need for headphones or a gadget to thumb. I can get lost in my own thoughts, or more importantly, no thoughts at all, often finding myself simply being.
I wonder if we are putting ourselves at risk for a decrease in artistic expression with all these personal gadgets? Kids now seem to be perpetually plugged in. Many teenagers have confessed to me that they reach for their phones when they feel an awkward silence at a bus stop, or in line somewhere. I cringe to think what might happen if this generation ever had to do the kind of waiting I had to and their gadgets ran low on battery. There is nothing worse than a gang of sugared-up tweens who were recently forced to unplug themselves from their electronic umbilical cords. If this was 1990 Kuwait, the collective wails would have been obnoxious enough to send Saddam running back to Baghdad, locking his palace doors tightly behind him ( I spent last year working with 5th graders, believe me, I know)
These kids are different. Not like us ’80’s babies…we knew how to stand still somewhere…and appreciate window seats….