Tonight I wanted to eat dinner somewhere close by because it was a chilly, wet day. I walked past a restaurant that had a kind of loud alarm type beeping noise sounding every couple of seconds. I looked at the menu they had posted outside. All I wanted was pizza, wine, and chocolate cake, but most places in Malta have that because we’re just south of Italy. I couldn’t tell if the alarm beeping sound coming from the restaurant was telling me come in, or if it was telling me don’t eat here. It didn’t sound like it was saying don’t eat here, though. Like, it was just an alarm beep, a pretty annoying one, but it sounded friendly, like it wanted me to eat there. Like it was just going to keep beeping beeping beeping and I was going to eat there. So I did.
Most of my life has been this way lately. I let alarm sounds dictate my eating habits as if restaurants are calling my name. I let intuition and seeming coincidence take me to places that are far away. I didn’t come to Malta because it’s adventurous or pretty, though it is both of those things. I came to Malta because it sounds like Marfa, which is a place I already know I love. I came to Malta because it tastes like chocolate in my mouth when I say it. Malta. Melted. I came, too, because of a character in a work of fiction whose name is Malta Kano. I brought another novel by that same author, Murakami, with me on this trip, only to find the book I brought also resting on the shelf in the apartment where I happen to be staying. So the people I’m staying with understand why I’m here. I only have to communicate with them in short sentences and they understand. Why do you think you came here, the woman I’m staying with asks me on my first night. Malta Kano. That and this year was the worst year I’ve ever had, I tell her. A breakup, she says. Usually I would be frustrated by this kind of presumption, but coming out of her mouth, the words didn’t sound presumptuous at all. Just honest. Yes, I said, mostly that. When, she asked me. All year, I answered.
For a long time now I’ve been looking for a way to stand outside of my life. I ran to South America last year after Jake passed away, but that place is the inside of my life now. The US is inside, too, no matter what state I’m in. Mexico is inside. Western Europe is inside. Well, most of Western Europe. And inside forcibly, not by choice. Technically Malta is in Western Europe, but it’s also south of the northern most tip of Africa, just north of Libya, just east of Tunisia, just under Sicily. It’s an incredibly small island. The 8th most densely populated country in the world. I know this because of maps and because the husband in the couple I’m staying with is a diplomat and he’s from here and he told me a little about this place during the car ride from the airport. I never wrote on a list: visit Malta. I never wanted to come here. I just happened to have a ticket on a German airline for a trip I never took to see a person I never really saw again, and I needed somewhere to go, and I needed to find an exit.
Malta is an exit. For some reason, the wikipedia page for this country, which I finally read last night, doesn’t properly explain that Malta isn’t on Earth. It’s the moon. Not the normal moon. Another moon. The Malta moon. Visit the moon actually is something I have on a list, but this is different. Because I don’t have to watch the earth rise here. I don’t have to see everything from so far away that it becomes meaningless. I don’t have to see anything at all.
Malta brings a lot of lost souls, The Artist tells me yesterday. You are a lost soul, he says. In the place where you come from, The Artist asks, do you come from the city or the forest or the sea?
I come from the mountains, I say. Where do you come from?
I come from the fields, he tells me. That field, over there, he points. My father’s field.
We are on the moon, I say. We are on the moon next to the sea. This place isn’t real.
Nowhere in my life will you find a list on which you will read: have a conversation with a stranger on an island that sounds disjointed and unreal, like the novel you are currently reading.
The best day I had in 2013 was June 23rd, in Ohio. The worst day I had in 2013 was April 13th, in California. A long time ago, the man I was seeing was friends with a group of people who created lists of 25 things they wanted to do before they turned 25. I had an advantage over all of them as I was only 20 or 21 when they created these lists, and they were 23 or so. I made a list, too, but I had more time to accomplish everything. I love making lists and I wanted to feel proud of myself in a way I thought the man I was seeing would feel proud of me, too. I wanted to feel the kind of pride he’d feel, and at the time, I felt this was best accomplished by making a list like he did. I’d never made a list of goals or resolutions. Not on purpose. It just never really occurred to me. I made list of address I’d sent mail to, though. And addresses I’d lived at. And places where I’d seen my favorite band play. And my favorite objects I’d encountered in the world. So I figured I could make this list. On it were a lot of things I’ve forgotten by now, and the website with all our lists has disappeared, but the thing I remember most distinctly is: visit the place where your grandmother was born. I put this on the list as a second thought. In my heart, I knew I never had any real intention of following through. I just figured it sounded good. And I had four or so years to deal with the idea. I forgot about that list because goals for the sake of goals stopped mattering to me a long time ago. But at the end of June 2013, I remembered that one goal, realized I was only 45 minutes north of the place where my grandmother was born, met someone who was more than ready for an adventure, was staying with someone who has always supported my weirdness, so we got in the car on June 23rd, the day before my 25th birthday, and drove to Logan, Ohio.
Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent here. Sort of. The point I’m trying to make is, I hate making goals and resolutions. Yes, the best day I had in the awful year that was 2013 was the day I accomplished a goal I’d set out for myself a long time ago, but I didn’t accomplish this goal because it was part of a plan toward self-improvement. I accomplished it because I got drunk one night at a bar near my friend’s house and met a stranger who encouraged me even though I was basically talking out my ass trying to make conversation and for some reason decided to mention the thing about my grandma’s hometown. If I’d planned that trip to Logan, Ohio at the time I made that goal, that trip would have sucked. There’s nowhere to stay in Logan. I’d have bought a ticket from Denver, I’d have gone alone after asking my boyfriend to go with me and being turned down, I’d have had to pay $25 extra per day to rent a car because I wasn’t 25 years old yet, I’d have slept in a gross run down motel, and I’d have come home accomplished but unchanged.
Nothing good that has ever happened in my life has been something I’ve written down and worked directly to accomplish. I didn’t learn Spanish because I made it a goal. I learned it so cab drivers in Buenos Aires would stop taking advantage of me. I don’t even think of my PhD as a goal, I just think of it as the thing I do. I’m not saying people shouldn’t make goals. I don’t care what you do, you don’t care what I do. I’m just being reflective here because I found an exit from my life, and I’m not so far away that nothing matters, but I’m far enough away that I can see the mechanisms I trust to propel me forward and what I’m seeing is this: I am fortunate enough to have been born in a space of privilege, so everything I’m saying here is coming from that positionally which I did nothing to earn. And that positionally is what allows me to understand that my only resolution is to not make any resolutions other than to trust my instincts, to listen to the way alarms beep and birds crow and words sound. This probably sounds like a load of obnoxious crap and it probably is. But another load of obnoxious crap is when I can’t find a space in my yoga studio for the first 3-5 weeks of the year. And another load of crap is narratives of progress that tell us we can be better, when what we really mean is we can continue moving forward as if we’re working hard to accomplish things most people not in privileged positions don’t have access to, then acting like our “work” is what distinguishes us as accomplished individuals.
Sorry, I don’t know where all that just came from. Actually, I do. But the point is, I am beyond grateful to be here on this island, to have the space and time and ability to reflect on what I want and what I’ve got and how I’ve got it. And what I want most is for time to stop moving linearly. For self-improvement to stop being a thing that impedes self-exploration. I met an artist here who was talking about his life in terms of input and output. An artist makes output. She sends work into the world. When she is not sending work into the world, she is in input mode, receiving everything that eventually results in further output. Yesterday was an input day. We drove around the countryside, drank beer next to the sea, watched jellyfish, wandered some of the oldest standing ruins in the world, fell almost asleep against some rocks on a cliffside high above the water, the sun scorching us because the sky is low here.
Yes, there are places I want to visit, books I want to read, skills I want to acquire. But for me, these things will come in due time. They’ll come when they’re supposed to. Effort is obviously required, but I’m letting go of planning. That sounds an awful lot like a goal, doesn’t it? It’s not. I might not be able to let go of planning. That’s fine. Maybe I’m not supposed to let go of it. Intuition and experience tells me otherwise, but whatever. I’m not moving forward, I’m just moving. Not just, though. Moving is difficult. It’s important. It’s active. But it doesn’t erase anything like moving forward does. Think of all the times people in positions of power have moved forward in the country where I’m from. Sometimes goals require a lot of demolition, a lot of erasure, a lot of something for something’s sake.
The other thing the wikipedia page doesn’t explain is that Malta is a Town of Cats, just like the Town of Cats in the Murakami novel I finished reading today. It is a Town of Cats on the Moon where everything moves and I move and things begin to grow brighter and brighter.