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"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." ~Jack London

Monday, July 19, 2010

Devouring The Painted Drum



"So the spiders wait. I am careful not to disturb their quiet weavings. I watch each spider closely, admire its curved and tapered legs. They are black with hot yellow death's heads on their bellies. They are patient with the gravity of their intent. Of their means of survival they've made these elegant webs, their beauty a by-product of their purpose. Which causes me to wonder, my own purpose on so many days as humble as the spider's, what is beautiful that I make? What is elegant? What feeds the world?" ~Louise Erdrich

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Close Reading



Most of the time, I am in awe of the world. A hundred times a day I fall in love with the grass, with the birth and death of flowers, with the ever-changing and simultaneously constant sky. My heart is heavy with delight for the senses, for the sights and smells and tastes and sounds and feelings of existence. To be alive is a wonderful thing, even in times of darkness, even in days spent nowhere but my own bedroom, even in moments of uncertainty. It is amazing to be a living, breathing creature on this planet. It is amazing to feel joy and pain and hope and reverence. It is amazing to feel.

I have read five books in the past two weeks and I spent this morning working my way through number six. Some were silly and short and read within the course of an afternoon. Others required closer reading, time to reflect on passages already read before continuing on, moments to laugh and cry and sigh in admiration for a simple turn of phrase. What I enjoy most about reading such an eclectic mix, enjoy most about reading in general, is that in some way or another, I find reflections of myself in each story. Every character, whether real or fictional, felt something I have felt in my life. Every author, whether through the first or third person, touched on thoughts and emotions and ideas that I have had. I could relate, in some small manner, to at least one moment in each of the journeys, always understanding that as for those moments that I could not relate to, someone else could. This is the beauty of literature, of language, of humanity itself. This is the great universal story.

It is our innate imperfection that connects us to one another, and it is this innate need to connect that binds us together. No matter our time or place or histories, we are all certain to experience the grand spectrum of human emotion throughout our lifetime. We all know what happiness feels like, and sadness, love and loss and frustration and determination and expectation and disappointment and comfort. Daily we discover new depths of each in one another and in ourselves. Daily the world grows exponentially bigger and smaller all at once. Daily I am impressed with such truth.

To be understood is a beautiful, consuming desire we all feel. Why else would art exist? We express ourselves because we feel the need to - in music and paintings and sculptures and movies and writing and cooking and in the simple art of conversation. We feel the need to express ourselves because we hope on some level that someone, somewhere, will smile and nod and say "me too." And how lucky we are that such expression exists, that people are able to share their music and paintings and sculptures and movies and writing and food and words, because we are then able to look and listen and taste and smell and experience those same feelings within ourselves. We are able to smile and nod and say "me too" and feel less alone in this world. We are able to understand and to be understood. We are able to connect to one another in the most important ways.

I read stories about lives I am not living, and in each one see a possibility for myself. My life could go anywhere. I could be anything. I could be anyone. Often I find myself longing for a quieter, simpler way of life. Perhaps I would be happiest living far away, isolated in the country, with only my books to read and my journals to write in and the natural world surrounding me. Often I dream of such things.

But on days like today, when I finished an extraordinary book and was able to log on to facebook and write to the author and thank him for writing such a remarkable story, I felt so grateful to be connected to the world in this small, arguably superficial way. He wrote me back to thank me, and just like that, I fell in love for the hundredth time today. It is an amazing world we live in. I am grateful to be a part of it, thinking the things countless others have thought, feeling the things countless others have felt, experiencing the grand spectrum of human emotion countless others have experienced. I am grateful to be a witness to the products of expression that have been, and continue to be, shared with the world. I am grateful for every moment I have been able to smile and nod and say "me too" and feel connected to something much bigger than myself, bigger than all of us. I am grateful for so much understanding and for the ceaseless delight that can fill my heavy heart with a simple turn of phrase.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Road Less Traveled


I have taken this road more than once in my life. I like to think I'm better for it. After having placed all of those words on this blog on Friday, I woke up on Saturday feeling released from them, from all the the thoughts that become bottled up inside me where they were never intended to stay. I took a deep breath and then I moved on. What more can we do in this world?

From the bottom of my closet I removed a bag I bought on the street in India. It's held up nicely over the years. Inside I placed a book, my Ipod, a camera, my keys and a few dollars should I need them, and out the door I went, no plan, no purpose. I just needed to get up and go. And so I did. At the bottom of a familiar hill I decided impulsively to keep walking straight, instead of turning to the right as I do each morning in my car on the way to work. The bottom of the hill curves off to the left and I had no idea what laid beyond. It was the perfect place to start.

Because once I'd navigated the traffic on the street with no sidewalk and rounded the corner I found a river, which delighted me in ways I cannot begin to express. I followed along side it in the quiet of morning, reveling in the newness of it. I never cease to be amazed anew by the joy of discovery. When life begins to feel stagnant, as life inevitably does, it is always so comforting to find myself in these moments of uncovering surprises, quiet secrets kept from me because I'd never bothered to reveal them. It always feels like an awakening, of the mind, of the spirit, of the possibility brimming within each of us. Immediately I snapped out of whatever funk had previously had hold of me. I rounded the corner and it was gone.

I kept walking until I found a park where I decided to sit and read for a while. After a few chapters I got restless, and so I continued on, taking roads completely unfamiliar to me, not worrying about exactly how to get home, ignoring the "I should" feelings that weigh so heavily as I carry them everywhere. Every once and a while I'd find a perfect spot to sit and read a few more chapters, and then I would get up and keep going. It wasn't the same kind of restlessness I generally feel. It wasn't at all a long to-do list lingering in the back of my mind. I never once worried that I was wasting time. In fact, it was the best I'd used my time in quite a while. It was Mary Oliver's "Tell me, what else should I have done?" It was that kind of day.

Of course, after a few hours, when my legs began to grow tired and my skin began to turn pink, I had to return to some kind of reason. And naturally, the first rational thought I had was, "damn, I have no idea where I am." I had enjoyed all this time that I hadn't brought my cell phone with me. I liked that I was unreachable, that I had allowed myself to disappear from everything and everyone for a few hours, that I was free from playing any of the roles I have been cast in. But of course on the other side of not being able to be reached also meant that I was unable to simply pick up my phone and reach others. And so I kept walking, trying to get my bearings, looking for anything recognizable. Nothing. So I just kept going.

I stumbled upon this tiny cafe in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. I suddenly realized how thirsty I was. Not surprisingly, no one was inside but the girl behind the counter. She greeted me with an enthusiastic "hello!" and my heart fell for a moment at the idea that I had most likely stepped into another charming, failing cafe. It was completely my kind of place, with colorful mismatched chairs and shelves lined with books that were meant to be shared. I was instantly in love. I bought a bottle of water and sat at one of the empty tables, read a few more chapters in the book that was approaching its final pages. I got up to leave and considered asking her for directions, but then stopped myself. I didn't really want them, I realized. I much preferred the journey. And so I said my thanks and goodbye and walked on.

Only twenty minutes later I regretted it. My skin was burning and I literally had to will my legs to keep going. I was bordering on panic when I finally approached a busy intersection and realized I knew exactly where I was. I was on my way home. Thanks to years of traveling and the navigational keenness I've inherited from my mother, my sense of direction always seems to get me here somehow. I always seem to find my way home.

When I did finally arrive at my door, turned the key, and stepped inside, I smiled. I have taken the road less traveled more than once in my life, but I never seem to take any one particular road more than once. That's what makes them special. That's what makes me special. No one can ever live their life exactly as I have lived mine. It's a nice thought, isn't it? It's nice that only I had that exact experience yesterday. Only I walked that exact path and thought those exact thoughts and felt those exact feelings. Only I had that adventure. It is mine. And I'll carry it with me as I walk on alongside rivers and unexplored streets, in and out of charming cafes, on the only road that I will ever know, the one that curves and bends and dips and rises unexpectedly, the one that begins at birth and ends at death and marks the journey of my existence here.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Growth


Family Fun Day was established when my brother and I had reached the inevitable ages when we began to pull away from our parents. One Sunday a month each of us would take turns choosing an activity for the whole family to do together. In those moments we all have of blaming our parents for creating us as we are, I like to look back upon this concept and remind myself that my mother and father tried. They really tried. While I have forgotten a majority of the activities over the years, one single moment remains with me, a single image captured and saved in the photo album of memory. It is the image of my mother on our white water rafting adventure, slipping out of the raft and floating away down the river, her lifejacket hiked up around her neck, smiling and laughing and waving at us as she drifted further and further away. It is one of my favorite images of my mother.

We were all out of our element that day in the arduous physical activity, the hot sun blaring down on us, sharing a raft with a group of strangers who undoubtedly rolled their eyes at the very sight of us stepping into the boat to join them. "We don't stand a chance" I imagined each of them thinking, and justifiably so. I can't remember which one of us had the idea to go, but I think it may have been me, always wanting to be a different kind of person living a different kind of life. I would love to be the kind of person who goes white water rafting, I most likely thought. I have these same kind of thoughts now. I would love to be the kind of person who reads a book a day, who goes on daily walks out in the world, who cooks each meal, who writes novels and poetry in her spare time, who creates something artistic and new in every moment. I would love to be the kind of person who can just pick up and travel the world, fearless and comfortable and not worrying about what should be. I would love to be the kind of person who makes things happen, who doesn't just dream of things that could be, who does all of this instead of just writes about wanting to do it. None of this is beyond reach. It is just a matter of reaching out for it, and somehow, I can never seem to extend my grasp in that direction.

I've been in a bit of a funk lately, and I'm not quite sure what it's about. The semester ended and I found myself a little lost, without the constant movement from one place to the next, the constant intellectual stimulation and email inbox full of questions and answers. I always seem to find myself in trouble when my life slows down. Too much time to think, I suppose. My list of things I would like to accomplish grows longer and the list of things I have accomplished grows shorter. I always think that I want time off from my life, but having even the slightest taste of a break from things makes me feel lazy and uncertain and terribly unproductive. I work best under deadlines. I work best when the moments of free time are rare. I work best when I understand how precious those moments are. Like most things in life, to have an abundance of it detracts from its value. I don't want to be the kind of person who wastes her time.

And it shouldn't be so difficult, to get the things I want out of life, to be the person I want to be, to live the life I long to be living. It is as simple as opening this page on my computer and typing in my thoughts. It is as easy a practice as this. Still, I have to constantly remind myself of this fact. I have to constantly reset my mind, and I wish it wasn't like that. I wish it could just be an instinctual act. I wish I spent less time hating myself for the things that I am not doing, and more time doing them. I wish that I could take the unspoken advice of my mother who, having slipped from the boat of certainty, floats on with the rushing rapids of the river of life, smiling and laughing and waving.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Home

Two years ago today my best friend and I became homeowners. It is one of those monumental life-altering changes that simultaneously feels as though it was both a lifetime ago and only just yesterday. The anniversary encourages, as anniversaries do, some reflection on what the day marks, what the day means. Two years ago today we took a leap of faith together. We changed the course of our lives in a large and significant way. We wrote our names over and over again on the dotted lines and joked that we were signing our lives away. In some way, we were. Those dotted lines represented the border between who we were and who we were going to be. The past was gone. The future was a few signatures and a turn of a key away. And just like that, we were home.

I am a firm believer that in the course of a day we make hundreds of small unnoticed decisions that affect us, that change the direction of our path, but in the course of my life I have made a few substantial, recognized decisions that I consider to be the story of my journey. They are the choices I reflect back upon and think “what if…” They are the moments in my life where I paused to speculate the outcomes of my actions. They are the indicators of where things could have been different.

I cannot consider one without considering all those that preceded it. They are, after all, connected and sequential. One cannot exist without the one that came before it. That’s just how life is – moment after moment, event after event, choice after choice. Thinking about them today, for perhaps what is the first time, I can say without the slightest hint of doubt that I have no regrets about any of them. And it is because of this understanding that they are not isolated experiences, but rather, small incremental steps that have lead me to where I am now, here, in this space, writing these words in a room that is truly my own.

Of course there will always be “what ifs” because I am who I am and that’s how I look at the world. I will always wonder about that road not taken. I will dwell on the potential of what could have been – the positive as well as the negative. My junior year of high school we performed the musical ‘Working’ and one of the lines of the opening song was “if I could have been what I could have been, I could have been something.” It is a sentiment I carry with me in these recollections of the past. I still occasionally worry that I’ve wasted too much of my time, too much of myself, too much of the potential for who “I could have been” and now it is lost and gone forever. I fear those are things one can never get back.

But on days like today, days where I celebrate those leaps of faith, those hopes and the very sense that I have been and continue to be so hopeful, I find myself with a kind of comforting certainty that everything is just as it should be. The hot spring air wafts through my windows. The candle burns beside me. My roommate, my best friend, my sister is two doors down the hall undoubtedly reflecting on these same ideas. The world is quiet and still. My computer hums. My fingers tap on the keys. I write and write and write. And just like that, I am home.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Some Well Spoken Truth

"I thank you very much for this award. I am joining a list of very distinguished writers, and I probably don’t deserve to be joining it; but as the theologically pessimistic used to remark, if we all got what we deserved, we’d be boiling in oil.

I hope however that this recognition is not the equivalent of the gold watch to the retiring manager. No, surely not! For writers can’t retire, nor can they be fired: As we hear constantly from those who think there should be no arts grants, writers don’t have real jobs. That’s true, in a way: They have no employers. Or rather their employers are their readers: which imposes on them a truly Kafkaesque burden of responsibility and even guilt, for how can you tell whether you’re coming up to the standards of people you don’t even know? Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.

Or else you find out in an unpleasant way: You’re arrested, you are condemned, you are tortured, you are shot, you disappear. Those doing the shooting and the torturing, whether they are from the left or the right, whether they represent theocracies or secular totalitarian dictatorships or extreme factions, all have one thing in common: They wish to silence the human voice, or all human voices that do not sing their songs. They wish to indulge their sense of power, which is best done by grinding underfoot those who cannot retaliate. Writers—artists in general—are easy prey for the silencers. They don’t have armies. They can be cut out from the herd—they‘ve already cut themselves out, by daring to speak—and few in their own countries will be foolhardy enough to defend them.

Voices can be silenced, but the human voice cannot. Our languages are what make us fully human—no other creature has anything like our rich and complex vocabularies and grammars. Each language is unique: To lose one is to lose a range of feeling and a way of looking at life that, like a living species that becomes extinct, can never be replaced. Human narrative skills are found in every language, and are very old: We all have them. We writers merely use them in what we fondly believe are more complex ways. But whether written down or not, stories move—from hand to paper to eye to mouth, from mouth to ear.

And stories move us. This is their power. Written stories are frozen voices that come to life when we read them. No other art form involves us in the same way—allows us to be with another human being—to feel joy when he laughs, to share her sorrow, to follow the twists and turns of his plotting and scheming, to realize her insufficiencies and failures and absurdities, to grasp the tools of her resistance—from within the mind itself. Such experience—such knowledge from within—makes us feel that we are not alone in our flawed humanity."

~Margaret Atwood

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Under A Sky That Is Grey

It never ceases to amaze me how green the world in spring can look juxtaposed against the ubiquitous grey of a rainy afternoon. It never ceases to amaze me the moment I find myself struck in a childlike state of awe and curiosity and delight at such small, natural wonders. It never ceases to amaze me how simple everything can become, if even for an instant, how quiet, how manageable, how effortless.

Recently I have been considering the way I have become most apt to notice beauty when it is juxtaposed against the grey. I wonder what that is about - whether it says something about beauty, whether it says something about me, perhaps even, whether it says something about all of us. I used to find goodness in everything. I used to see beauty everywhere. But lately, it feels as though I only stop to recognize it in moments when I need to. I only find it when I’m searching for it. I only see light when it is surrounded by darkness. I only notice the green when it’s encompassed in grey.

I can blame it on being busy and growing older and the increase of difficulties that arise from each new stage of life. But it is not those excuses in and of themselves. It is the part of me I am forgetting, the part of me I am unnoticeably giving up, the part of me I have left in pieces all over the world – in parks and playgrounds and bookstores and cafes. It is the part of me that carried my journal everywhere and took the time – no matter how inconvenient or inappropriate the timing or setting – to stop and observe the world, to record the goodness everywhere, in everything. It is the part of me that noticed the beauty of the grey as much as the beauty of the green.

These days I only stop to write out of sadness. I only take poetry off of the shelf when I’m feeling uninspired. I only reach out in kindness when I need it in return. And I wonder what that is about. I worry that the line between “that’s so unlike me” and “that is me” is growing increasingly blurry, increasingly grey.

And yet, there are these gentle reminders that not all of me has been lost. I am sure what I’ve just written sounds depressing and sad, but that was not my intention. That’s not what I am trying to say.

What I’m trying to say is that I am still capable of being amazed and dazzled and delighted, in these pure and simple ways. I still write in happiness, even if it fails to make it onto the page. I still carry poetry within me, even if I am already feeling inspired. I still desire, in all consuming ways, to give kindness, even if I don’t need any in return. The point is that in those moments when everything in this complicated, complex world suddenly feels simple, it’s because it is. It is simple.

It is as simple as remembering how to be struck in a childlike state of wonder and amazement. It is as simple as remembering back upon those pieces of myself I have left around the world. It is as simple as remembering that I left them there for a reason, to be looked back upon, collected in the catalog of memory, synthesized into the story of a life made up of beautiful moments.

Early this afternoon I added the greenness of the world in spring juxtaposed against the ubiquitous grey of this rainy afternoon to my collection. I remembered how to see without looking. And then I came home, opened my grey computer, and filled it’s blank page with some beauty and goodness.