Lying Flat in the Park

Lying Flat in the Park

(A One Act Play)

[Lying Flat (tangping; 躺平) is a social movement happening now in response to China’s post-industrial period. The movement grows out of youth protest against a brutal work culture, often referred to 9-9-6, from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week, by not participating in it. By “lying flat”, you are physically, literally, and metaphorically detaching yourself from the demands of late-stage capitalism. A fascinating synopsis can be found here. The following is a monologue, an introspective journey, flowing from thought to thought, on the exegesis of academia and the viability of its future through the act of Lying Flat, as our protagonist acknowledges the pain in his upper shoulders, in one act]

PLAYER(S)

MANUEL, a loose anagram for the word “nameless”

ECHO, in the voice of MANUEL

My View While Lying Flat

ACT I

SCENE: A park, populated by Querces and Magnolia trees, their leaves on the verge of turning brown, and a community center made of several buildings, enclosed in black iron gates. It is late in the afternoon, with the sun in position to set in several hours, surrounded by scattered clouds. The clouds are not lowering the temperature precipitously, but a light breeze is adding to the temperature drop. Manuel, often referred to as Manny, is lying on a plaid park blanket in the park, with his vision pointed towards the tress above him, periodically rocking his head back and forth, laboring to prevent himself from vocalizing the internal exchange he is having. 

MANUEL: So why am I here? Focus, focus…

(the sun moves one minute closer to sunset)

MANUEL: It’s cold. The ground is a lot harder than I anticipated. I’m trying to isolate myself from all of the noise. Yeah, this is good- there’s greenery, there are birds chirping. All of my problems should just melt away.

(the sun moves three minutes closer to sunset)

MANUEL: NOTHING IS HAPPENING!! This is infuriating. No…wait. No, it’s good. I’m trying to be mindful. I’m here, and everything is quiet. The answers should just pour out of this experience. (a light breeze coming from the northwest passes) It’s colder than I thought here. Okay, just focus…why are you here? Why did you come here? I came here to…my back hurts. So goddamn much. And I don’t know why. (Manuel shifts his head to the left, nose pointed towards the ground) I don’t know what I’m doing. And I don’t know how long I can keep going. Towards a place I don’t want to go.

(the sun moves one minute closer to sunset)

MANUEL: Think of a metaphor. Try to think of a symbol or something to really hone into how you are feeling. It’s like…it’s like a guy who has worked his whole life towards a goal that was always in this ephemeral state, and as he gets closer to reaching it, the goal becomes more and more elusive…Wait- that’s not a metaphor. That’s you. Described exactly by you. DAMNIT. Gotta think….what works? No, wait, just be honest…how do you feel?

(the sun moves one minute closer to sunset)

MANUEL: I feel like….I need to do something different. But I can’t figure this out. It’s because I’m stuck. I’m stuck in this mode where my choices are no longer mine. I feel like….I’m no longer passionate about what I do. What happened to that spark? What happened to that thing that made me want to do great things? What is this weird thing I do? I write, and grade papers, and read what other people tell me to read. This is no longer fun. This is no different than the menial labor I was trying to get away from. I don’t want to be a cog in some wheel. This isn’t for me. There’s this- (a rustle is heard about twenty yards away) What was that!? Christ, I’m really on edge right now. No, it’s worse. I’m at the edge of this pit, where everyone’s hopes and passions get dumped into in order to keep marching along in their routines. I don’t want to be on this ledge. This isn’t good for me. What is…this?

(the sun moves thirty seconds closer to sunset)

MANUEL: I feel like…if I roll over, I’ll fall of a ledge, falling into an abyss where I will no longer be myself. This abyss where everyone’s hopes go to evaporate. I’ll end up in some job I hate, paying for a house I can’t afford to live in, trapped in a cycle of expenses, becoming invisible, a shell of myself, to the point where the words I say lose all value. I’ll no longer use language. It’ll be a code that communicates solely designed for what I need to buy. I’ll be reduced to a robot that works at an Amazon warehouse, built for getting things based on a list of things someone else decided I needed. I’ll be detached from my body, seeing it work, completing tasks, shutting down at night, powering up in the morning to complete a new series of tasks. My body will no longer be my own. I don’t…like…feeling this way.

(the sun moves twenty seconds closer to sunset)

MANUEL: So how do I feel…right now? What’s happening on the inside? I hear…a lot of rain. And water. And wind. And violence. And everything is dark. (a breeze passing through the leaves of the tree next to Manuel, producing a rustling akin to the sounds of rain pattering on glass) There’s a boat. The kind you’d see in a history book from the early 1920s. It’s caught in a violent storm, with only one person steering and controlling the sails. As the ship tries to navigate the storm, the sailor has an expression that is a combination of angry, scared, and determined. The only marker of time is the clothes he’s wearing, worn down to scraps hanging from his body. He has a beard that is all but attractive looking, frayed and unpleasant to look at. He’s swearing at the Gods of the Sea at the top of his lungs, demanding an answer for these circumstances. But there are no responses. There’s no sight of land or other boats anywhere. It’s just violence, screaming, and the ocean.

(the sun moves ten seconds closer to sunset)

MANUEL: I’m really worried about the future. What options do we have in the face of corporatization? What’s the point of fighting an impossible task like climate change? Why work so hard for a future with no prospects? Is this what every person on the cusp of entering a new stage in life feels? Or is this stage of human civilization so awful, hope is now rendered meaningless? I seriously don’t know….and I hate not knowing. Like…what am I doing? Is this the right thing to be doing? Is this where Young and Idealistic Manny wanted to be? I wonder how he’d feel if he saw what this direction led to. I feel so detached from him, that it’s hard to tap into that mindset. It feels like I’m at the mall, and my kid, who I totally thought was holding my hand, suddenly isn’t, and now I’m frantically looking for him. Where did he go? Is he hurt? What’s going to happen to him?

Wait…am I the adult, or am I the kid?

(the sun moves four seconds closer to sunset)

MANUEL: I’m asking myself these questions, and I’m still not sure where the answers are. I don’t hate what I do, or think it’s pointless. I actually really like where I’m at. I think what really brought me here, and all of my questions, is being so goddamn exhausted. I’ve been here for what feels like hours and I’m still really tired. The kind of tired where you wish you can go to sleep, except even that’s difficult since putting yourself to sleep still requires effort. I got this pain in my lower back, creeping throughout my body. Laying flat feels good, but I’m positive it’s terrible for my back. The creeping leads to more questions. Why do this? Why do something that is so taxing on your body? How is it possible to love something when it’s the cause of so much pain? I’ve heard of people who get massages that dig into their muscles so thoroughly, they feel compelled to cry. Maybe that’s what my body needs right now.

(the sun moves three seconds closer to sunset)

MANUEL: It’s getting colder. I’m glad my body can still feel something. I came here to rest, but my muscles are so mangled, where just lying flat puts me in pain. I feel like letting something out. Some kind of scream. A most violent utterance. A yawp. But I have no words. I pull deep from my larynx, only to find my vocabulary exhausted. I keep pulling, pulling, like pulling rope through a winch. What happened to my words? What am I without them? What’s left of a writer when his cupboards are empty, leaving him destitute from his stories? Words were always my salvation, making sense of the senseless, curating the best sentences. My words are no longer mine. Where have they gone? My screams emit no sound. They are all sucked into the pit I’m overlooking, one nudge away from falling into. Falling into a space where sound does not exist…sounds pretty good right now.

(the sun moves three seconds closer to sunset, with a thick cumulus cloud beginning to block it out, dropping the temperature in the park approximately seven degrees Fahrenheit )

MANUEL: Yelling into a pit is a strange thing. There are no stenographers or scribes recording the words uttered. It’s just you and your echoes. Even the echoes are unreliable. They develop their own personality. Soon, they even interject with their own words. It’s a void where no notifications come through, no gossip, no judgement. I can say whatever I want.

EHO: So say it.

MANUEL: (slightly startled)….what?

ECHO: Say whatever you want. You’re in a void. What are you thinking?

MANUEL: What do you mean? Like….what can I say?

ECHO: You wanted answers. You have them. You just have to say it.

MANUEL: But I don’t…have the answers.

ECHO: Yes, you do. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

MANUEL: But…like…it can’t be that simple.

ECHO: It is. Just say it.

MANUEL: But where do I…I didn’t know if…I can’t just-

ECHO: (frustratingly) Damnitall, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!!!!?

MANUEL: I….just…want to help people. (Manuel says this phrase, punctuated by a long sigh of relief)

ECHO: There we- see? All you had to do is say it.

MANUEL: I just want to help others. Be in service of others. I seriously just want to make the world a better place.

ECHO: Good.

MANUEL: (with a slight tremble in his throat) Yeah?

ECHO:. Yes. Now…go do that.

MANUEL: Yeah…I think I can do that.

(the sun sets two seconds closer to sunset, with the cumulus cloud continuing to move, no longer blocking the sun, gradually raising the temperature up another three degrees Fahrenheit )

MANUEL: I just want to help people. I can feel my words rising out of this pit. I’m remembering where I’m at again. My eyes open, still covered in shades, as if protecting me from all of the truths I’m tapping into. I can feel the cloth of the blanket I’m on, down to the stitch pattern. I can feel the air on my face, carrying the scents of the park, a bit of dried leaves, fresh air, tree bark, a slight touch of dog excrement, all overpowered by the scent of the grass around me. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face, reviving my emotional state from a cold blue to a blushful red. I can hear children running around, feeling the vibrations of their running from the ground, some stumbling, or sitting still. (Manuel’s gaze moves from the ground to the sky, rolling his neck, leading to a rolling of his shoulders) My back no longer hurts. I don’t feel exhausted anymore. All I had to do is say it. It really was that simple.

(the sun sets three minutes closer to sunset)

MANUEL: I think I get it now. I’m here to help people. This whole time, I’ve been building my own skillset, trying to make the most of it. I’ve met so many people, I’ve traveled, I’ve made money and had so many strange jobs. All that has been great. But it’s my skillset, to use how I see best fit. I want this skillset to go to where it is needed most. I want to fill a need where this skillset is best suited. I want to listen to the stories of those who really need to share it, of those who are one telling away from true catharsis. I want to help people tell their stories. The kind humanity really needs to listen to right now. I feel like all of life’s secrets are waiting to be shared, like small truth reserves. Maybe…my job then isn’t to go drilling for it, but if someone wants to share their story, I can help them with that. Yeah….let’s start there. I love my studies, and being a teacher, and reading, and listening, and writing, and helping others, and…there’s so much to love in the world. And I love all of it. I’m no longer waiting for the demands from voices no longer interested in helping people. I am grounded now. Grounded in a kind of goodness. I know what I want. All I had to do was listen. Or say it…Or…I’m not sure. But I like how I feel right now.

(the sun sets three and a half minutes closer to sunset, with the sky in the east increasing its shades of blue)

MANUEL: I think of the sailor and the boat. I can see him, no longer trapped in a violent storm. The waters are calm, the sky so blue, as if pulled from Van Gogh’s palette. He’s using a sextant to navigate the gigantic ocean. He still holds a hard grimace, except for a slight curl at the right corner of his lips. We’re all like the sailor, I suppose. We are all trying to figure out where we’re going, hoping for smooth waters, bracing for the next storm. We may not all be in the same boat, but we all live in the same ocean. If I see someone who needs helps, I have no problem steering my ship towards their direction. If I see someone polluting our waters, I will not hesitate to call them out on it. We all have our own compasses, our own star maps- it’s up to us to us to find our own ways. This ship has survived storm after storm, but is still at sea, still in search for its next dock. I have no idea when or where that will be, but the boat is very much not lost at sea.

(the sun sets one minute closer to sunset)

MANUEL: It’s a little colder now. But it’s okay. I’m ready to stand up. My back is no longer in pain. I feel like I’m ready to get up, walk, and do the work I want to do. I feel enthusiastic about my work again. I’m looking forward to the work, to do work I’m proud of. And I’m looking forward to engaging with the world, searching for the place I’m needed most. And I want to work. I want to put my hands to work, laboring away in the service of others. It’s what grounds me. I want to seek these places, wherever they take me. (blood rushes to the muscles in Manuel’s legs, readying themselves to stand). But not yet…I’ll go when I’m ready. Right now, I’m lying flat. (muscles relax)

CURTAIN

(what late-stage capitalism resistance looks like)

First Day of Spring Semester, 1/11/21

Just finished my first class of the Spring semester. There were some Zoom mishaps, which ate up a bunch of time, but we all got to know each other, and we talked about the class and our course theme “Empathy as a Vehicle for Critical Reading”. I’ve had a lot of First Days as a teacher, stretching back to CSUN and GCC, so today’s class wasn’t too significant, until I realized something…

Today is exactly the halfway mark of my program. It’s mind blowing, feeling like the time between the start of my program now feels both tiny and gigantic. It’s awful that in the middle of this, a pandemic is ravaging through the country, and I don’t wish to minimize its impact. I wish for little more than just being on campus, in the classroom with my students, then moving to The Thompson to continue working, then meeting up with friends for Happy Hour after, but we’re all indoors, doing our part to stop further spread.

All I can say at this point is that, for what it’s worth, I’ve really enjoyed the last two and a half years being here, meeting awesome people and continuing my research on cutting edge theory and pedagogy, and I look forward to making the most of the remainder of my time.

To the next Two and a Half Years- Cheers!

Drinksgiving 2020

Years ago, when I was working on my undergrad degree, I learned about Drinksgiving. I worked at a local bar on the weekends, a place made up of mostly locals and regulars. I’ve been to plenty of bars, but working at one, and being an aspiring writer, you observe things really quickly and very astutely. Every Wednesday shift before Thanksgiving, I noticed two distinct clienteles that would show up: large groups of friends, made up of thirty-somethings from out of town seeing each other again, and the regulars, staying extra long and being a little more jovial than usual. I didn’t get it at first- why are they here? I’d rather be at home with family or a gathering at someone’s home than this place. But the more I watched, the more I noticed how they were together. They didn’t just like hanging out here; it’s like they were observing something. They stayed really long, drank way too much, yet no one ever got belligerent, and some even brought food from home for their friends, and for us working that night. (they also tip really well, so I’m not complaining) It took a couple of years to realize that this “a thing”: getting together with friends, celebrating with those we care about, becoming a kind of buffer for the next day. It made a lot of sense after working a couple of these shifts, then even more sense when it was my turn to come back home this time of year. The holidays, for some, can be difficult, dealing with unpleasant family history, hoping everything goes well, which in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for disaster, while unpacking how the year has gone, including the highs and lows.  Drinksgiving is a kind of time and space where you don’t the need to perform a kind of happiness, where you can share something free of judgement, where you could be around people you want to be around with instead of those you feel obligated to. I think we could all use a Drinksgiving night. I think after this year, we are all searching for that space.

The first half of the semester has now come to a close, and I reached some important milestones, but working through a pandemic, relegated to working from home (something I’m not a fan of yet accept it necessity), it’s hard to tell if the semester is really over, or if the last nine months was a big blob of time. My days consisted of waking up in the morning and getting dressed, only to show up to a class made up of black squares with names of students I rarely saw face to face. I’m currently in the “reading for candidacy exams” stage of my academic program. A year ago, (and I know I’m gonna get slack for this) I would have been really excited to spend hours in the library, reading books from a list I curated. I envisioned myself surrounded by pillars of books, devouring them, one after another like a hungry wolf. I love reading, and I love my studies, so to spend hours solely reading works well for me. Instead, I’m confined to my apartment, where I’ve always struggled to get any work done. I’m not a homebody. I am much more comfortable studying at a library, calling it day after, and walking home, leaving my work behind me. I can’t do that here. I wake up, and I see my work station, about three feet away. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s hard, and as versatile as my work experience is, I feel like I’m never going to get used to it. Some days after working in front of my computer for several hours, I feel like I need to wash the blue light off of my face, or find some errand to run just to get away from my desk. On top of all of this, I really missed seeing my friends, colleagues, and mentors, some I haven’t seen in months, and a few quitting their program. I try to find some highlight of the semester to focus on when I blog, but this one has been extra challenging. That’s where Drinksgiving kicks in.

Due to spikes of COVID-19 infections in both Ohio and California, I stayed at my place instead of going back home and seeing family. It’s a bit difficult knowing that I have to wait another God-knows-how-many more months not being back home, having to hear about my friend’s and family’s life events through a medium like social media. Asking people to get together is borderline-problematic, as we’re all trying to social distance. As Thanksgiving came closer, I remembered about Drinksgiving, and it was a perfect compromise. I set up multiple Zoom meetings with friends and family, seeing and catching up with them, sharing stories and really dumb jokes, all while drinking profusely. (that was mainly me, but that’s beside the point) My favorite part was keeping up with friends while trying to figure out time zones. (I stayed up until three in the morning once!) Sure, we would all love to see each other instead of using video conferencing, but like navigating a pandemic, we are making the most with what we have. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything remarkable to say about this semester, or sage advice that is a product of working through what was probably the most difficult semester of my program. But it’s okay, because like the spirit of Drinksgiving, the point isn’t to wallow about the coming day, but to be around those you’ve waited months to see, in an effort to give yourself emotional space before the coming day. The semester came to an end, and I got to see friends and family. I have little to complain about.

Today, the first day of the new year, I’m doing the thing I’ve been working towards for years: writing what I want to write. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow (I heard it’s going to snow again), but I think it’s going to be a good day. Below is a slideshow of screenshots during my Drinksgiving gatherings. We all laughed, shared, reflected, grieved, rambled, and drank. Also, some of there were taken after the semester was over and during the holiday season. (one was taken on my birthday- Happy Birthday to me!!!) Pandemic or not, I’m glad we found some time to stay festive, and to celebrate a holiday that is now very close to my heart, Drinksgiving.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Happy Holidays to all who read this, and even those who don’t. I hope 2021 brings you nothing but happiness, joy, love, and a renewed perspective for things to come 🙂

First Day of My Second Academic Year, 8/21/19

It’s morning, mirrors fogged up, as I stand in front of my bathroom counter, shaving, with small traces of spice in the air. It’s my second year at Ohio State University, and today is the first day I teach Freshman Composition, a class I’ve taught dozens of times, only with different course objectives, and in a different state. I’m moving my face around to get a good shave, while muttering the things I wish to tell my students. I go back and forth about the information I wish to share with them. Do I talk about my background? That I’m a grad student? Maybe I need an opening joke to put the class at ease? I’m on the edge of a doubt spiral, until my cat jumps on the counter, giving me a look of affection. I pat him on the head, then, in Piece Brosnan’s voice, he says, “You’re going to be fine”. Then it hits me- I don’t have a cat. I look to him, then spot a red lever mounted on my bathroom wall that I’ve only noticed until this moment. It says “PULL” in large red letters. I pull the le-

7:08- I’m awake, exactly seven minutes before my alarm goes off. Do I try to salvage these seven minutes, and try to get a bit more sleep, or get an early jump on my day? Hmm….umm……Oh, I have to shave! I jump out of bed, and start getting ready.

Continue reading

What Seeking Infinite Jest Means Part II: Completing My First Year of My PhD Program

Thompson Library

(to read What Seeking Infinite Jest Means Part I, click here)

A young man walks out of the Thompson Library at OSU, with a smile on his face, borderline smug, after completing his first year of his PhD program. He’s texting his friends and making plans for the break with an air of confidence that is only granted to those who have marked off accomplishments years in the making. The world is at his fingertips, walking as if he has been granted access to a kind of knowledge reserved only for the most privileged. Perched from a rooftop about a hundred yards away, invisible to everyone else, I can see this young man and his gait. I watch from the shadows, silently observing, attempting to predict his next step. I look at his jovial walk, with something between envy and resentment, and let out a whisper: “What’s going to happen to you?”

Continue reading

Spring Break Catch-up and Program Update

Generational Synthetic by Beach Fossils
(click play to listen- no quarters required)

Today is Tuesday, March 12th, the Tuesday of Spring Break at OSU, and I’m doing the thing that I enjoy the most: writing. It’s strange to start a blog post dedicated to what life is like in a PhD program about how much I love writing when that’s all I do- I write papers, I read books for research for future papers, I’m always thinking about the next writing project, and it’s almost impossible to read a book, and not think to myself, “I can write about this”. It’s important for me, to write, in this silly blog, because I love it. I’m trying to dive into writing like a young aspiring poet attending his first open-mic night. I’m sharing this rather intimate insight because, well……..I’m really damn busy. This is partially why I haven’t written a new blog post in so long. I have several drafts that were supposed to turn into really nice stories and observations about PhD life, but they’ve all been brushed aside.  But I don’t wish to speak ill of my program- that’s not what this blog post is about. Rather, I was hoping to share a bit about how my program is going. And it’s definitely going. Continue reading

“Luz Por Las Nubes”

(to read in English, click here)

Hace un par de meses, salí del país por primera vez en más de veinte años. Mis padres estaban planeando un viaje a México y querían que fuera. Por muy bueno que parezca salir del país, reflexioné sobre esto durante mucho tiempo. No fue por volar o la incomodidad de visitar a otras personas lo que me molestó. Para ser franco, me he distanciado tanto de mi familia y mis raíces en los años de estudio y de centrarme en mi carrera. Ni siquiera sabía si quería ir. Si bien estudiar siempre fue una forma conveniente de describir esta distancia, parece que siempre eh estado distanceado. Al crecer, nunca me gustaron muchas cosas que le gustaban a mi familia. Música, ciertos alimentos, o incluso hablar español; hablé tan poco español alrededor de otros. Hoy, cuando hablo español, parece que un extraterrestre aprendió español, luego me enseñó y se rindió a mitad de camino. Cuando mi madre me preguntó sobre el viaje, ella me hizo tratar, si obtengo mi pasaporte, ella comprará mi boleto. (¿Quién diablos va a decir que no a eso?) Conseguí mi pasaporte, reservé las entradas y estábamos programados para irnos. También llegó en un buen momento. Acabo de terminar de enviar una pila de aplicaciones para programas de doctorado. (Lea todo al respecto aquí) Algo sobre el envío de esas aplicaciones y poner mi futuro en manos de lectores encubiertos hizo que pisar un avión y dirigirse a un territorio desconocido suene realmente tentador. Terminó siendo yo y mi madre, en nuestro camino a México. Abordamos, volamos, y no miré hacia atrás porque no quería.

Continue reading

Proverbs

You got this.

This year, I applied to doctoral programs in American Literature. There was a time when this phrase was frightening, or distant, or inspirational; today, it is a fact. I’m writing this at the close of my last application. All applications are in- all twelve. This process wasn’t easy, and I didn’t come out of it unscathed. But it’s done, and I’m happy to state that.

My cat, telling me to finally step away from my computer

Continue reading