Birds Can't Type
I pulled open the big metal door and stepped back into my apartment building. It was the first of what I’m saying are going to be daily morning walks through the neighborhood. So far I’ve got a two-day streak! Out of six days. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I ran up the four flights of stairs, proud that I could bust out a couple floors before I started getting really out of breath. But I mean, I was out of breath, so I rested my elbows on the brick window ledge to catch it.
7:25 and the sun hadn’t quite rolled out of bed yet but stretched its arms up over the horizon, lighting up the sky all golden and letting out a bright pink-purple yawn over the Fair Park ferris wheel. A few puffs of blue-grey cloud decorated the sky like icing on a cake. I pulled out my phone to take a picture but thought better of it and walked back to my apartment.
The next move in my morning routine is to sit down at my desk and write. What usually actually ends up happening is that I sit down at my desk and stare out the window (you know, like, the whole premise for this blog series?).
Staring is much easier than writing. When I write, the aggressive blankness of an empty (or worse, partially filled but incomplete) page stares at me and demands information. When I stare out, the information is already there: near, kind of near, sort of far away but still walking distance, far enough to warrant wheels, so far you don’t even know what it is anymore - it’s all in frame when you’re looking out a window from above, providing infinite prompts for questions and assumed answers and completely made-up stories about people you don’t know and conversations you can’t hear.
Though I can see the whole neighborhood from my window, it’s a sprawling overview that doesn’t reveal much detail of the activity going on below. It’s like when you see a massive ant pile, and it’s not like it’s moving around or anything, I mean you can’t see the thousands of ants under there waiting to bite the shit out of the next person who’s unaware of their surroundings enough to step in it, but you know. You know.
From above, I can’t see all the baristas and artisan olive oil peddlers and people who know things about cactuses scooting around the Deep Ellum streets on their Deep Ellum road bikes, but I know. It’s why I moved here in the first place.
In college, Deep Ellum was the place I learned how to think I was better than people who weren’t my own age (I’d already mastered the art of thinking I was better than my peers thanks to years of spending my time almost exclusively with boys who told me nice things about myself). I sauntered into my first improv class at Dallas Comedy House holding my false sense of confidence above my head like an umbrella indoors.
“Let’s all go around the circle and introduce ourselves,” our instructor, Ben, began. “Say your name, why you want to take improv classes, and something fun… Your favorite animal noise, do that.”
I shut my ears while the people ahead of me said their things so I could plan the perfect, subtle-but-not-really-subtle-at-all way to let them all know that I had been in a professional improv troupe. The only professional youth improv group in all of Arkansas. Once all these middle-aged people with careers and families and their own health insurance knew that, I, Sarah Mowery, age 20, had more experience than them, we could all move on to the reason we were there: for me to destroy them in short-form improvisation games with my mad jokes.
I got an internship at a nonprofit jewelry company based out of the coolest loft I’d ever seen and pretended to make wholesale phone calls because I would rather get caught not doing my work than have to get on the phone with an actual business-owning human. I sat in awkward, nervous silence with two of my best guy friends while a bald man who had less than 0% interest in talking to any of us tattooed a giant iridescent beetle into my shoulder. I was definitely not cool or badass enough for this neighborhood, and I was probably a little annoying for it, but I wanted to be a part of the weird. Even as I watched the stores get fancier and the bars get brunchier and all my go-to free parking spots turn paid.
What I can see now of my weird neighborhood is mostly inanimate: buildings, cars, poles, wires, a tangle of interstate overpasses. Opportunities to view actual human life are limited to some torsos walking down Murray Street, whoever’s sitting at the little table and chairs that miraculously have not been stolen from outside the Scientology church, tiny little ant people crossing on the west side of Commerce, and the two south corners of Hall and Commerce. I have a great, clear view of those two corners. Everywhere else you might hope to see people is blocked by buildings and a big ole tree.
So, I watch the torsos with their coffee cups and their leashes bob down Murray Street, and I watch the guy smoking a cig outside the Scientology Church, and, one day, I watched as some youths converged at the southwest corner of Commerce and Hall to take artsy photos, as the youths are wont to do in Deep Ellum (which, I will always maintain and continue to remind you, is Brooklyn except in Dallas). This is a particularly beautiful corner with a mosaic-decorated facade on Commerce and a splotchily painted wall on Hall (, she casually rhymed at you).
I could see everything from my hill - the seven or eight photo youths, the police officers seemingly assisting them, the inconvenienced pedestrians having to circumvent the whole setup, and the goings on of the entire neighborhood around them all. But I didn’t know them, and I didn’t really know what they were doing, and there was a window and four stories and two city blocks between us. In order to know any of the story beyond my hermit-like speculations, I’d have to put on a bra, walk down the stairs, cross two streets, and actually talk to some strangers.
This, of course, is something I would never do.
I like to eat dinner alone on weeknights. Whole Foods is the best place to do this, because I can pick out all the expensive foods I’m going to cook for myself at home later in the week, then pay $7.95/lb for a cardboard box full of different expensive food that someone has already prepared for me. The best Whole Foods have 1) a great prepared foods section with ample vegan options or at least some non-vegan options that don’t have the ingredients listed so I can pretend they’re vegan, 2) a bar, and 3) an upstairs seating area where I can look down at the people in the checkout line while I eat my dinner. Mostly I do this so I can make sure I won’t run into anyone I know from college. I always see them standing in line at Whole Foods. But people don’t look up so much, so they don’t see me. If they did, would they remember me? Would we wave? If I was down there, would we speak? Or have we reached that point in an acquaintanceship where both people make eye contact and then look away real fast because you never had that much to talk about anyway and it’s just easier for everyone if you pretend each other doesn’t exist in your mental rolodex?
You can get a great sense of clarity and perspective from above, but with every good view comes an inherent separation. I’m an expert at creating that separation. Throughout my life, I’ve felt most comfortable looking out and down from above. I find the best vantage point from which to observe and feel it out from my perch so as to not introduce myself too fast into any situation.
I’ve gotten good at positioning myself to have access to the groups and structures that interest me - a boy with a nice friend group, a sorority, a comedy scene, a cool neighborhood - while keeping a distance that doesn’t require much work. It was safer that way, because to get down from my nest of isolation meant vulnerability and effort and social skills I was never quite sure I had.
There was always that pivotal moment in an unfamiliar social situation where I’d have to decide to either wrastle my way into the group on my own or just find some negative space to occupy and try to look busy while I waited for someone to tell you me to do. I was (and still often am) content to sit in the corner and look at my feet, knowing that probably no one is going to talk to me and I can continue to look on from the periphery, intermittently tuning into the conversations that interest me, no responsibility to the group. I’m the only one I need to keep up with, and I’m the only one I need to tell when I want to leave. See, it’s easy to not make any investments! You just get no returns.
It’s the same with my passions. I call myself a writer, but up until now I’ve rarely written. I look at my writing from above, and honestly it looks goddamn great. Oh, the ideas! All the books I could write! Behold the sentences that flow from my mind’s eyeballs as they gaze upon the earth from 40-some-odd self-righteous feet off the ground in Deep Ellum Texas!
But none of that is real. It’s just a view from above, and nothing fucking gets done when you’re living in the eye of a bird. Birds don’t have hands and even if they did it would take a long time to teach them how to use a computer. I look on my writing from the periphery and tune into the ideas that interest me, but when I think about investing in one and sitting down to actually write, I’m repulsed.
The thing is, a life lived from above is not a human life, it’s what you get when you read the fucking Tale of Despereaux. I don’t want to read the book anymore, I want to live the story, and the people I come across will be the people I meet, and the ones I don’t honestly might as well not exist, because, no matter how much of the world we can observe through the news and Twitter and podcasts, all that really exists is what’s around us. The people, places, and things that we encounter every day, or at least most days. That’s what’s important. That’s where we need to be.
So if I have to schedule time for myself to do what’s important to me because I find any excuse to avoid doing it because for some reason what gives us great fulfillment also gives us anxiety sharts, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll force myself to fucking do it. To roll down off my hill and into the weeds and find out, turn by turn, what’s around the corner.
Tomorrow, I will roll out of bed with the sun and reach my arms up over my head, lighting my world up all golden and letting out a yawn that smells like death, and I will walk down my stairs and into the neighborhood that I’m probably still too annoying for and maybe approaching badass enough for but definitely still not cool enough for. Even if I only walk them two out of every six days, I will know these streets. I will know the people who walk them and bike them, and I will get my tattoos tattooed by them and see their art and hear their music and eat their food and drink their drinks and give them a package of salted almonds when they're hungry because I don’t carry cash on me and the sign did say “Anything Helps.”