The steps are hollow sounding as I leave my apartment; concrete on all sides and the sensation is something like those videos found on hungover Sundays where a cat desperately battles to escape from a paper sack. I am contained, but seem that I will at any moment fall through the ground with a misplaced step. The stairwell is bright and empty with the sounds from my feet seemingly wandering aimless from my shoes: a scratching sound made as they grind atop the most dainty dust, which is somehow scrapping against the rubber soles with the ferocity of wolves backed into corners. These are not wolves in a barn pacing or wolves with fairytale slits for eyes as they peer out from a tree-line — wolves that are understood and expected — but wolves in the corner of favorite dreams or curled around things that were supposed to be certain. And the cicadas are in concert, echoing back with a rising chorus of “don’t worry”, but their voices are too strong, and the descending stairs might as well be a sinking ship. At any moment in life if that many people are, in unison, telling me not to worry, I most definitely will be entirely concerned about my future.

The heat is oppressive and the shadows from trees that lead the way to the bus station are cracks on a glacier, articulated and dangerous; the cheek bones of severe neighbors that yell continually at children. They do not show a pattern to illustrate the playful patterns of summer, but instead delineate two areas: one where I will sweat excessively, and one where I will sweat excessively and panic that my brain is shrinking away from my skull, like those plants whose leaves fold flat and wilt when they are touched. The moments spent in these shadows make me think about how I have, for my entire life, been this plant.

(Four days ago, I’m in a garden store looking for planters and decorative waterfalls. The entrance is lined with cages of mostly cats and dogs — 3, 5, maybe 8 — to each small cage. On examining a single cage of puppies the shop keeper grabs each roughly by the neck and shakes it from a heat induced coma. I back away slowly, shaking my hands, as the dogs eyes open and they stare out in exhaustion, awaiting the world that sits outside the reused birdcage bars, that probably looks familiar, but at this point means nothing in particular at all.)

The advertising billboards that surround the bus station afford precision geometric shade; exacto knife shadows on concrete, sunlight construction paper, pulled from boxes, and thrown by kindergarten students who have not yet thought of their parents dying or skin cancer. There is a woman starring at me with unblinking eyes, so I glance down at a trash can to give myself something to focus on, and the lip of the trashcan is smeared with all things that are not related, except that they melt when enough heat is applied. I look back up and the woman is still looking at me, blankly and without emotion, and her lips are glossy and I can imagine a small boat gliding along their surface as she whispers things to the captain while he rows the abyss between us to deliver a simple message of “hello”. 

The cicadas crescendo for the half dozenth time since leaving the apartment and the bus rolls up throwing it’s own crayon shadows and loose leaf paper blocks of sun. The bus really is just a fallen building, crawling on the stream to home; a salmon peering into the murky depth of a city, convinced that, yes, this is the stream it came from; all the passengers, eggs to be left and hopefully found, but possibly forgotten. And it is from the belly of this urban fish that I see all the green. The plants springing from buildings, highway supports, and skyscrapers. A city that foliage has kindly agreed to let participate in conversation; children sitting at their parents table as the adults nod a little too pronounced, eyes too sincere, and saccharin follow-up questions leave their mouths with botoxed smiles as they listen to stories about who played most well in kickball.

And I don’t really know the last time I had a conversation that I didn’t feel the same way. The normalcy of everything that shouldn’t be normal. Whisked with a 100 people in the same direction, but me so obviously different, and yet I arrive at the same results. Just with less satisfaction. Or depth. A boy looks at me and laughs and smiles, and I point to a cloud out the window, and he quickly stops laughing and stares at me like the girl who was waiting for the bus. 

I am silently explaining my perfect kickball game to him.

We exit the bus with people jolting to the side and dramatically looking up at my height. I think about how it would feel to be old and lonely. To feel out of place in a town I grew up in, next to trees that my sister and I swung from, near a field of grass next to the old rusted boat, where Laura Wiser gave me my first kiss. 

I think about the sky overhead, and a person that might be looking at it from the 40th story of one of the many sky scrapers. My eyes drift down to dirty store canopies, and the cirrus clouds of sound that make up my surroundings; the shuffle of a 1000 feet, cars and construction equipment. And I am a barometer that feels the oncoming rain; the nature of rain; the shadow that will forever mean rain. And then I am in the air of the city and these sounds. The unfamiliar sounds of lovers talking, the unfamiliar sounds of friends knowing that they have almost shared a single space, the unfamiliar sound of my breathing.

At the entrance to the store, I squeeze through the slats of plastic holding in air-conditioning, and they tap and swipe my body like shoes in an empty stairwell, and the sound is perhaps on the side of hollow.

Strangely, the second one is a sound wave of a seagull that looks vaguely vaginal.

Three things that I have read and talked about extensively, and almost, quite nearly, experienced myself.

My Favorite Venue

I love how the seating is above general admission, you know?

You’ve paid for a seat to shows? I always just get general admssion.

No, no, no. I just like the layout and how the view is for people up there. Have you ever stood up there? The vantage point it creates onto the stage is incredible.

When was the last time you were there?

Me? I’ve never been. Just seen pictures on my cousin's Facebook.

My Favorite Grandma

Grandma Kelly’s hair was so thin you could almost lose it in the sunlight when you were sitting out back with her in the summer. That back bloom of scotch broom gave the air that hazy, drunk quality of childhood memories and it somehow seemed to perfectly match her hair. There was that neighborhood kid, Riley, who would always throw the morning paper dead center in the yard, so in the morning you could watch Grandma Kelly head out like the slowest dart finding its way to a bullseye.

I thought you grew up in Seattle?

Yeah, I did. But my college roommate knew Riley.

My Favorite Childhood Memory

I remember that kid, Anthony, from grade school who always used to play down at the public dock after school. He’d reach down around the pilings and grab tube worms to use as bait to catch the little perch that would float around like cartoon animals in the shadows of boats. He’d always come strolling off the dock with bits of seashell pressed into his shirt and creosote in his hair, and the next day he’d show up at school with some lawn mower haircut because of his mom grabbing the chunks of goo and haphazardly cutting them away.

I remember those haircuts. Do you remember running along the beach, with that huge black lab, golden retriever — that sometimes smelled like dead fish — and almost loosing our shoes in that thick black, low-tide mud that smelled almost like sewage?

No, I can’t seem to recall.

hello. nice to meet you.

I am a caricature of myself. 

I think this happened about 4 years ago, but I have only realized the power of it in the past year or so. We all become caricatures of ourselves either early on through a focused life or, eventually, age. Caricatures are at their core simplified versions of people. The person drawing caricatures on a touristy pier, exaggerates a feature of a person that already stands out: a nose, or set of ears. Parts of a personality that add to a caricature are a little more varied depending on audience; the grandfather who berates those that use lawnmowers or the extravagant artist who poses and vamps at a party. 

But what caricatures are (and I am now only going to be speaking about the personality portion of caricature, as the physical piece is of less interest to me, as the physical piece illustrates more the interplay between caricature and stereotype which I’ll get to later) are access points to a person. Caricatures represent a certain aspect of a persons accessibility. A lull in the conversation with Grandpa? Bring up lawnmowers. Need to start conversation with the artist? Speak of their excellent taste in X or Y, it doesn’t matter which. But what is interesting is that these avenues of access can either be walls or entryways; a ludicrous, yet inviting lake, or a mirage on the distant horizon. A wall created with caricature is something like looking at a painting at an extremely oblique angle, where the only thing you can ascertain is that there is a lot of blue in it. An entryway created with caricature is standing someone dead center in front of that same painting, cutting all the blue out of it, and then tossing it over them like confetti. And, as with most things, it comes down to intent.

For me, as I’ve noticed strong parts of my personalty roaring with blissful ignorance on my surface, I see these pieces tie back into many parts of me that, I find, are thoughtful and kind. Maybe even mild mannered. And these are parts of me that sit near my origin where the axis of my meaning come to a dense singular point. Me, as a caricature, is something accessible and open to many people, even though the image presented is maybe incomplete. They see the facets that are available, clearly marked and illustrated with hand gestures and loud vocalizations, and if they choose, they come take hold. 

And that really is the battle as one becomes totally focused on path or passively becomes more and more isolated through age or apathy: to see our caricature and anchor it (sometimes by long rope) to our purpose and meaning. Because, I think, if we continue forward and don’t realize this, we doom ourselves to swim down on the anchor line of our caricature only to find a frayed end of a rope sweeping a desolate sea floor. 

And I want more. I want to not just notice my caricature, I want to amplify it. I want to wear it proudly like an ill fitted suit. My fame and age will come as they choose, but I’ve arrived early with my caricature. With cocky cartoon swagger and banter with a tinge of depth that I believe to be unparalleled. If we're all ending up there anyway, I might as well get on board early and make this ship as sailable as possible. And make it a vessel that invites all to come aboard and speak of the sun’s passage through the sky, and the pattern of white caps against hidden constellations.

Thinking about caricature the last few weeks also made me think a lot about stereotype. In a way caricature is the stereotype of one, while stereotype is the caricature of many. I mentioned before, talking about physical caricatures, that I notice they usually devolve into a viewers personal or cultural stereotypes. Things of note about someone usually end up inline with how they are seen as being different from the viewer. The beauty of caricature is that it is the parry to stereotype’s jab, as well-intentioned caricature ties deeply into someones being; into their power and strength. But some people try to take the minimalism of caricature and use it to throw people into buckets and defaults; into their pre-packaged stereotypes. A caricature, though, is the will to dissolve into ones environment with a voice that is uniquely and powerfully their own; to become open and accessible, if one chooses it.

I’ve decided to choose.