Mega Man X Complex: Returning

One blog is “retired”, while this one is fallow and in shambles. Something has to be done – but what will it take to jar me loose?Shady Patch

On February 15th of 2012, I wrote an entry about Mega Man X for “In Rainbow Colors”:

Sometime in the last five weeks, I developed self-concept problems. It might have to do with the fact that I am a writer who is writing seemingly little.

On the plane home from West Michigan, well over a year later, I wrote the stub of yet another journal entry. They sit on my desktop like dead buds on a magnolia tree after a late frost. There is one where I almost wrote about this stage I have passed into, calling it a “quarter-life crisis”. For weeks I had been painting my future in light strokes, hinting to family and friends that I was going to continue in conflict resolution with an emphasis on narratives and arts based approaches. George Mason University was at the top of my list and – then I looked at the price: my feet went cold. The education is worth the price, provided I really wanted to study mediation… (and… well…)

I am in a time of critical challenge and opportunity. The shock-waves finally reached the surface this week when I found myself crying over Skype.            //           It is time to embrace a new narrative for myself.

Another among the many unwritten journal entries is one called “Dutch Apologies”. I was composing it in my head on the train from Geneva to Zurich but I felt too emotionally drained to reflect on my debrief. This weekend will mark six months since I disembarked from Bethlehem for that mentally dislocating experience in France. I promised myself I just needed to space-out for a while and then I would put the pieces together again – I would salvage everything lost, was my mantra. Not a word has graced this page about the facility, the staff’s philosophies, or my meditations by candle-light. I spent a week with that facilitator but cannot remember anything beyond a few images and phrases.

Mega Man X

An action shot of ‘X’ in full armor — later in the game.

I mused about who my cartoon super-hero avatar could be. Mega Man ‘X’ seemed to be the answer, by sheer exposure: I used to play Mega Man X on SNES every time I visited my parents during college – for the expressed purpose of blowing-up stuff.

I ignored my co-workers, seemingly ignoring me, as we wove through the alps, and argued with the facilitator in my head: “You need to climb down from your cross – you’ve given yourself the place that Christ should have in your life,” she says. “I can’t tell you the chapter and verse, but Jesus said something about taking up one’s cross…”

The more I dwelled on “X” the more I saw reasons to embrace his narrative as my own. X wakes from a long-nap in a time-capsule to discover a terrible development:

“You hate them, don’t you? You truly hate them—,“ she says. “I’m not sure, right now…”

Playing from the beginning, I ran into that city over a hundred times, through the gauntlet, to challenge a foe in a reinforced metal-suit. The game is designed in such a way that X cannot possibly win without being rescued…

“Your therapist doesn’t have to agree with your every view to help you.” “Maybe not but there are some basic facts—“ “No, this is not a matter of fact: this is your opinion.” “A wall more than ten times bigger than the one they tore down in Berlin is not my opinion – it was my everyday reality.”

Palestinian 'X'

A redesign in solidarity with Palestine, with apologies to Capcom.

This brings us to the first parallel: the self-hating robot. Down on his little, blue knees, X laments that he was not strong enough. X already knows he’s a self-hating robot in another, crucial way:

The therapist pegged me in one important way, which was that I was constantly ‘divergent’: going through the disorganized stage of grief. She gave me a piece of paper with the grieving curve on it, the slope angling precipitously into the darker and more self-aware stages of depression. My problem, now, is that I cannot remember how I went back into disorganization – I only know that I went deeper into confusion – and all my notes have disappeared. On some level, I must have wanted that to happen; sometimes the path of least resistance becomes the longest… and I was afraid of the darkness straight ahead. I went in circles.

I have been reluctant to embrace Mega Man as emblematic of my own purpose for fear it would expose my warrior dichotomy, wanting peace but moved to resistance.

It never occurred to me before now that revisiting the MegaMan complex might be the way to start revisiting France. I just realized that confession is an example of ‘the performative’: I am faltering, right now, to find something to say without trying to say everything at once. My paralysis, the essence of nothingness, is the ‘everythingness’ with which I anesthetize myself – my reveries, the internet, and of course…

I remain committed to nonviolence but my self-deprecation has been an assault on my purpose as much as on my self. I have been unwilling to stand tall and say “I am a prophet,” for fear that I will seem arrogant or combative. I have continued fighting on the outskirts of the city, popping plasma blasts at drones to stay alive rather than tapping into my legacy.

I confess again: I am faltering. Most of my reflection remains to be done but this is the end of Part 1.

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Drugs & anti-Drag

Xavier's Mother

My Mother: cute but worried.

My mother posted a link to “Always Burning: 2” on the Facebook wall of my old baby-sitter. Her comment: “This is what I am going through with [him]; I’ll be glad when he comes home.” They may be unnerved by the passage where my coworkers and I evacuated the office to avoid tear-gas and then smoked a sheesha. Wonderful, temperate women like my mother and Mrs. [baby-sitter] are not wrong to worry.

I too seldom write about my everyday life, since there is no shortage of drama and issues to recount in Palestine. Smoking is not for deviants and rebels in Palestine; they smoke like Americans did in earlier, harder times. People know smoking is bad for them but they have also heard fried food is ‘not good’ and the distinction is often lost. There are so many, quicker ways to die and cigarettes are part of a daily ritual for regular people. It restored me to normal in a time of near-trauma. Readers should note, still, that I have smoked less than a half dozen times in my life, all after my return from Sheikh Hussein bridge.

Nicotine is a dear friend in the moment but a mistake for the future, I know. Like cannabis, it deters and kills insects for a plant that could care

Awesome green sheesha pipe.

Sheesha: decadently delicious, top of CDC’s tobacco no-no list.

less about our buzz. Unlike cannabis, nicotine is legal and does not impair judgment in any way except one: it is fiercely addictive. Yet the tobacco made a ritual available to us in a tense time. It is an aide to normalcy.

Nicotine and alcohol, both, are best omitted from daily life and saved for ceremonial use. A stimulant will temporarily lift a person out of their fatigue but alcohol anesthetizes them as they finally allow themselves to relax, sink. I went with colleagues (Dawid & Drew) to a place they knew where we could have beer. The inhibitions I maintain sloughed and I started to converse more freely, even laughing and singing. Later in the evening, I realized that the alcohol enabled me to be more open and social, which I needed desperately, but I should be able to do that of my own accord. Alcohol cannot be my every day companion because it does impair my judgment. If I try, I can do for myself what alcohol does but much better.

Once a person reaches the point of being burned-out, it is much harder to consciously do for oneself what nicotine does automatically. Living here has given me much more compassion for people living challenging, unfair lives everywhere. Smoking is not an intelligent habit but that does not make smokers idiots – life is hard! Cut smokers some slack. Still, we should all become ex-smokers together because our bodies are not made to be on that artificial roller-coaster. Now that I have seen the CDC file on sheesha, I am convinced there must be a better way.

Advent Solo, anonymous

Me & my kludge Trumpet: awesome, anonymous

Unfortunately, my sinking mood might have other causes. Swallowing difficulties forced me to visit the doctor, who found an infection in my throat and prescribed an anti-biotic. Doses of amoxicillin seem to coincide with moody episodes, for me. The line between sickness, stress and drugs is paper thin right now. These episodes remind me, in a muted way, of the terrible time I had when doctors prescribed an anti-depressant for me in the wake of my 2005 surgery. My emotions ran unnaturally high on Zoloft, owing to unpredictable minutia. My emotional state deteriorated rapidly After 11 PM every night until I quit the drugs and picked up a trumpet: therapy.

I will never understand that nightmare era except to know it precipitated the era I am exiting, this stage characterized by fluctuating  esteem, uncertain purpose, and intentional distraction—behavioral addictions. I feel all that coming to a slow, aching end as Advent begins. I can choose to move forward. I took a big step forward when I ‘attended’ a webinar through Eastern Mennonite University on trauma and peace-building. At a personal level, I finally found a way to see myself both as an aide and affected – the facilitators said their trainings were meant to do that, exactly, to equip people to care for others and themselves.

They spoke of trauma as a wound that is often on our dignity. My trauma was never of safety or loss but damaged integrity, instead. I was singled-out and forced to undress twice at the bridge-crossing, then accused of lying while all my possessions were scattered across examination tables. I had to maintain my story, verbatim, or else be turned away. When the guard looked me in the eye and entreated that I tell her the whole truth, my heart skipped at the chance to be honest but I quelled the impulse and won the battle of wills after almost seven hours. All that day, I was yawning and shivering, sometimes trying to rub a pins and needles feeling out of my hands and legs. I learned this week from the webinar that these are ways the body tries to release trauma energy when overwhelmed. Affect I held inside, intentionally, remains there like a coiled spring.

Between affliction and transformation, there is the traditional sacrament of the morning: coffee. Caffeine is a steadier friend, for mind and body, and coffee is its natural vessel. It would take gargantuan amounts of coffee to hurt us while a tiny cup does what nicotine would do… but more gently! Coffee is more than a stimulant in Arab culture because there are social rituals for drinking it. It gathers our staff in the morning, to talk through issues and keep company with each other. We pour the fine black liquid for each other to show respect and affection, saying “please” and “thank-you”. Coffee, and none other, is the beverage that legally binds a Sulha mediation. I wrote “Between Tea and Coffee” about coffee’s powers of magical realism. Could coffee revive the dead artist in me? Revive the dead in us all?

Coffee is my anti-drag. My memories with coffee began when I was a teenager, working with my grandfather and wanting to be more like him. In college, it was a welcomed lift after walking across a snow-filled campus. Now, the original coffee culture is offering me a rescue from other drugs. There is a time to say no to even coffee but it is a matter of doses and applications: one coca leave in the cheek is good for altitude sickness, they say. Yet coffee remains an aide, not a cure. Even coffee-drinking can become just another excess.

So, here I am, deciding what therapy is right for me this Advent: what should I do?

Tray of Arabic coffee *drool*

Arabic Coffee: smart

Genesis, Yonni

Wall graffiti

It appears Alice is also struggling with the visa process.

If this were a text on philosophy, or theology, or a very extensive science fiction or fantasy novel, then I could write a true beginning, with no antecedents. My story starts in the middle of history and, in fact, interrupts my own life narrative. I had not planned to be working with Wi’am in the first place, of course, but I so much less intended to see my life scattered into an Eastward wind. Now, I am cobbling together some passable starting point for this newest blog.

Two hours after my twenty-sixth birthday officially ended, I was napping in a pile of my luggage at the Metro Manila airport. I had been training in Davao City for two weeks, following two weeks of leaching from a colleague in Hong Kong where, in turn, I had come to escape paying a fine for over-staying my visa in Jordan which, incidentally, is where I had fled to avoid the same in Israel (in spite of the fact that Bethlehem is actually in the Palestinian territories). My missionary term became a Russian-doll adventure, one experience enveloping another, until I left Davao and began unshelling each visited place in turn. I peeled away more layers, still, in my imagination, tracing back to New York, Chicago, and Grand Rapids Michigan. There, on my twenty-fifth birthday, I took the fateful stand that set all these events in motion. Little Plainfield church elected me as their delegate to the annual church conference and I spoke-out for United Methodist divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. It was, I believed, what a friend and previous mission intern would want me to do. It did not occur to me that I would cement my own place in that ongoing saga.

I did not enjoy the Metro Manila Airport. After enduring all the hurtles and flaming hoops (so to speak) of Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv, I always assumed that no airport could get under my skin. I chalk-it-up to feeling like ‘the good guy’ when I pass through Israeli security; if the guards make my passage difficult I can get more mileage from the story later. In Manila, I just felt like a jerk for judging the Philippine airport so harshly. It is poorly designed, rife with hidden-fees, and the Cebu Pacific Airline counter is staffed by near-teenagers. Ironically, I flew into my favorite of all airports: Hong Kong international, where they use scan-card technology to monitor the speed of the visa line. I landed, exhausted from the constant cabin pressure changes that kept me awake during my Cebu flight. Joy came to the airport, thank goodness, to ensure I made it to the train and re-installed myself in her apartment.

“Men in Black III is in theaters, now. Maybe you should go see it.”

MIB movies are funny and action-packed. On the other hand, the secret agent vibrations are resonant with me. Before I left Jordan, I had to do a wipe of all articles I had written or had been written about me on the internet. I shut-down a blog called “In Rainbow Colors” that bridged my unemployed days in Grand Rapids with to my first seven months working in Bethlehem with Wi’am. I suppose, like Agent J in the first MIB movie, I brought all my personality and memories with me into a new role and story-line but had to leave many of the direct ties behind. Only a movie character could make such a clean break, of course. A Google search of my full name still conjures a film review I wrote in 2009 for World Association of Christian Communicators. Like agent J, I feel like a colorful, confident character in an unusual job who never quite gets to the pith of the universe’s secrets:

                K: “I promised you the secrets of the universe—nothing more.”

J: “Are you saying there are some secrets the universe doesn’t know?!”

K: “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to…”

Unlike J, I cycled through dashing internet aliases like “Daniel Xavier” and “Fysh Phoenix” in my quest to reinvent myself just a little bit better than the time before. It was part of my efforts to generate something profound and renewing, a truly original start. Something Divine!

In hind sight, there is not much divine about an alias. Aliases are meant for people I do not intend to see again, and only when my passport is not with me. The Divine moment comes when an old name is given a new beginning, in the middle of events. A cab-driver found me, waiting by a cafe for a morning cup of coffee. When he asked for my name, I gave him the real one and then he showed me outside to some men making coffee in the traditional way and pouring it into small cups. Now, I must pause for a moment and emphasize the powerful sacramental nature of coffee in the middle-East, or perhaps the sacrament of powerful coffee in the middle-East, naturally. Coffee is both part of the ritual of Sulha, traditional Arabic conflict mediation, and the daily rituals of the Wi’am office where I worked. Wi’am means cordial relations, after all, and the cab driver paid for my coffee in such a gesture. Drank in the rising sun, hot and blackity-black opaque and with just one spoon of sugar, this first cup of coffee was inherently perfect. It tasted smoother but kicked harder than the instant coffee I drank for over a month in Asia. For all the baggage I have been carrying in my heart, reminders of my imperfect past, I still cannot help but feel like that cup of coffee was an important turning point. As we drove across the sparse East Bank landscape and into Amman, we shared some seeds – cracking them in our mouths and tossing the shells into a paper cup.

Of course, that beginning is just for the sake of narrative, too. Everywhere I turn, there are familiar pieces from earlier in my journey, though always illuminated a little differently. Imagine my delight when the juice vendor’s face lit with recognition and I said, in my meager Arabic:

“مرحبا, كف حالك؟”

“مبسوط, الحمد لله”

“عصير برتقال, من فضلك.”

“صغير؟”

“لا. كبير…و انا بدي إشربها هن”

I sat down and drank the large, fresh squeezed orange juice and lingered for quite a while, in reverie about my weeks in Amman. Virtually everything that happened during my thirty days in the valley took on the veil of secrecy, in internet exile, and I was careful to share only minimal details with the staff and guests at the Cliff Hotel and the wait-staff at the full-roster of cheap restaurants I worked from. I jested that I was in the purgatory of the Arab world, along with Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians and so many Mediterranean Palestinians waiting for their own return. At their best those days were contemplative, especially when I walked half-way to Jebel Weibdeh to my favorite garden; I read several books, contemplated my future graduate career, and allowed my environs to diffuse into my veins, my stresses to pass from my pores. The worst days, I was covered with itching bed-bug welts and watching the divestment debate. The General Assembly of the Methodist Church meets only once every four years. I never felt so alone, watching the proceedings on an internet feed. My friend and predecessor rose and delivered such a stirring speech on behalf of our cause that I nearly cried. Meanwhile, some old badger from Georgia launched a Zionist diatribe. Then came all the equivocators, vacillators, and all-around injustice-normalizing cowards, afraid of sinking stocks and broken eggshells. They left the authority in the hands of The Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. I was angry. So angry that I needed a vacation. Would I like another glass of juice? “شكراَ، لا…”

There is a delightful symbolism to my current living arrangements. I know where everything is in the valley area where I lived for a month. Now, I am up on a hill in Jebel Weibdeh. The new purgatory is shorter and sweeter, at the Canary Hotel, but I can only reach the places I know with some effort. I spent my entire time down there without any clue when I would return to my life in Bethlehem. Now, I am 48 hours from a brand new start in a familiar place. Culturally, that life is almost identical to this one but interpersonally it could not be more different than what I am feeling right now. There, I have a community. There are no aliases, no illusions of espionage. To the contrary, I think they see me for who I am better than I see myself. And yet, they care for me anyway.

In the mean time, my new story is enriched with so many old memories. I hope that all of my readers, new and old, can appreciate why I am so excited to start a new blog. If nothing else, I can at least speak with a different perspective on what was once taken for granted. Until then, I hope I can be forgiven for such a long introductory entry.