The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts tagged “psychology

Projects

Posted on April 8, 2015

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The clouds were whipping by and I was having doubts. The feeling was compounded by my ominous setting: I stood at the flat peak of Bokor National Park in the midst of a colossal development project that was set to take off but never did, like a dead bird in an open cage. This collection of structures and points of interest provoked various degrees of depression. A half-empty mega resort whose lobby smelled like damp rice, a waterfall that totally succumbed to the dry season and was instead small pools of sticky green water, and the place where I then stood, outside an abandoned concrete casino. The views of the surrounding hills were painted by a thick curtain of light gray, a daunting canvas in a sky with no beginning.

There are moments in travel when I’m not sure I want to do it anymore. This is a painful thing to write, like saying something unsavory about someone you deeply love. But that unsavory something escapes your mouth anyway, and you don’t regret it entirely.

It was Easter Sunday, and I was people-sick for my mother’s laugh and food-sick for my grandma’s steaming pot of zurek, a thick sour rye soup with hard-boiled egg and smoked kielbasa, so rich it’s practically still smoldering. I wanted nothing more than to hug my dog and take her for a long walk in the mellow spring. I wanted to put on fleece pajamas and play Bananagrams with my siblings. I wanted immediate answers to my most pressing and difficult questions. I wanted to know precisely what I was doing there at Bokor National Park in southern Cambodia, and for the first time my usual answer of “Just to see what’s there” wouldn’t fly. Vulnerable in blinding opacity, in the fog there are no facades to cower behind. And I am too self-aware for most brands of self-deceit.

I filed into the abandoned casino with a dozen domestic tourists who quickly dispersed. I stood in the main hall, a space that was only grand because of what it could have been, like those deep-sea scenes of a rusty Titanic slowly merging into a marvelous candle-lit ballroom, alive with twirling petticoats. The hall had a hollow square dent that once promised to house fires and a tall looming ceiling that oozed a grandeur undeserved. In short, the casino echoed with the subtle terror of unrealized dreams.

I began harboring harsh sentiments towards Casino. I was angered by its futile existence, by its jagged walls devoid of color, its chaotic slapdash blueprint. The thought of this particular project – ill-timed, ill-planned, ill-funded – was suddenly infuriating, the incompetence and waste of it all. I thought of all the avenues that could have benefited from this money but instead sat at the top of this godforsaken mound in the form of ugly vertical concrete blocks glued together in haste and false hope.

What was it doing there? What was it for, I wondered with a furrowed brow. Did it realize how pathetic is was as a building that served no one? I desperately wanted Casino to answer me, and I wanted an answer that was so decent and whole it would relieve me of my own burdens. I stood alone but the room swarmed with my projections.

The air up there in Bokor was alien. Down below, down where water slaps the land, the air was hot and thick and subject to the unrelenting sun, and everything took on an orange hue. Up high the clouds obscured everything, whole monuments even, and you could watch them careening around the mountain like drunks looking for something to hold on to.

One of these clouds came with a forceful icy gust and I rattled in my light beach clothes. I looked in a glass sheet leaning against the wall. If my eyes were murky gray before, they at once looked crisp and turquoise.

I rubbed one of Casino’s dusty walls as bits of debris fell at my shoes and whispered: “I’m so sorry Casino. It’s not your fault you were abandoned.” And I eased my tense shoulders in palpable remorse.

As I walked to my bike the sickness, the demands, the questioning resolved themselves without any resolution. They dissipated like the clouds in which I floated, destined to come and go in the tradition of most things.

Goodbye to All That

Posted on January 14, 2014

After a personally tumultuous final semester of school I moved back home in May. And it seemed like the second my foot went through the door, it signaled some great wisp of malevolent air that threw my dad out of remission. He was dead in September. The thing that made me relatively okay throughout the year was the grand idea that I was going to see Asia – Vietnam – by the end of it. It was the year of controlled, meditated breaths and talking to myself, coaching, negotiating: I’ll be in Southeast Asia soon. This – travel, place, otherness – had become the solace of my small life. I’ve endured bad breakups with, “Well, at least I have Argentina.” General anxieties about life…

On Fearlessness & Other Illusions

Posted on October 27, 2013

I decided that a bracelet inscribed with “fearless” would make me so. The letters – bold, loud, capitalized, with the avant-garde color scheme of white-on-black – were themselves fearless, and so I reasoned that their choking presence on my wrist would make me the message, incarnated. With age, it is easier to pick out the false starts before they do any damage. This morning, I can’t drink my coffee so much as stare at it because I am scared. Rare is the travel blogger that says this, but I am scared of travel. There is at least one maxim regurgitated all too often: be fearless. For those of us who are fearful, this maxim is, at best, useless and, at worst, implies that we…

Road Trip Brain

Posted on August 25, 2013

We sailed through California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, clipping Montana and Arizona along the way. No mind-numbing traffic, rolls of hay for days (each scene could’ve had its own frame, entitled The Great American Landscape), blocks of bright green surrounded by seas of waterless yellow, decrepit road-side shacks, small places with big stories, ordinary towns at the base of extraordinary mountains, deep red and pink. This was the America I hadn’t known. We ended up spinning over 3700 miles of road in twelve days. Exponential tire rotations. Twelve tanks of gas. From San Francisco to DC, then practically back again. And yet it feels like nothing. One hundred miles pales to 1000. Before, as many as fifty would’ve been a big affair. Three…

San Francisco

Posted on March 11, 2013

I came to California in a bit of a broken state. After enduring a life of being perpetually fed, “you’re not good enough”, searching for a job and untangling the mess that is life post-graduation had become unbearable, impossibly unpleasant. DC isn’t a place that empathizes with insecurities, even if all of its denizens have them. So I ran fast, fast to the West with some friends and the bucket list in mind. So that my problems could dissipate for a short week and I could return to the sloshing gray seas of the Eastern seaboard a better person with a clearer head. Cliched stories and images and ideals about California made me homesick for this place in which I’d never been. I heard…

You Can’t Go Home Again

Posted on December 26, 2012

My purse pocket was the place I’d scavenge to make the bus fare. Now, finding shiny two-ruble pieces and old bus tickets in every crevice, I’m reduced to a whimper. Suddenly nothing is garbage anymore and every photo is precious regardless of its quality. Suddenly it feels like I’ve been in the US for twenty years, not three days, and Russia is nothing but a distant memory stored away in the farthest corners of my prefrontal cortex. Accurately describing the feelings, the anxieties, the general haziness of heart and mind when arriving Home from a long trip is a feat beyond my capacities. But if you don’t know the heart-wrenching despair you may experience when you step on that place heading home to comfort,…

A Single Story of Soviet Russia

Posted on December 3, 2012

“I don’t know what hunger is,” said Mikhail: teacher, father, product of the Soviet Union. It was strange hearing that from him, even more so with a bright smile in his eyes and overall jovial demeanor, as if he were discussing a recent hockey victory and not a supposedly sore subject. Rather, as an American it was strange hearing that. I think of the USSR, and I think of tanks, grayness, secrecy, scary and impenetrable Cyrillic lettering, looming misery, and long bread lines in inclement weather; the depressing and immoral yield of a communist machine; the enemy of capitalism and, consequently, freedom. So how could Mikhail even utter the words: “I was a teenager. I didn’t have problems”? Of course you had problems! The…