- "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
Thursday, June 29, 2006
By Billy Collins
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Nights like this make me wonder. Not for any significant reason. Not because something interesting or extraordinary happened today. There’s just something about the rustle of the leaves as the night winds move in beneath the overcast sky. There’s something about the way there’s no sound except for that. There’s something about the way it felt to swim alone in the silence while the fireflies swam together through the darkened outlines of the trees. There’s something about tonight that makes me wonder.
I’m house-sitting this week in a quiet suburban neighborhood. It’s lovely to have a house all to myself, and to have it be in a place that allows me to feel like I have the whole world all to myself. It’s wonderful to sit out on the back deck and hear and see nothing but the dogs pattering about inside. It’s so fun to play make believe this way.
I feel so grown up being here, but in that pretend way, in the way it felt as a little girl to put on my mother’s make-up and prance about the house in her high-heeled shoes. It’s the way we used to play house by the old chestnut tree during recess at school. It’s the way I would make feasts out of sand and sticks, and babies out of dolls, and adults out of all of my friends. It’s that kind of make believe, that kind of magic.
And I wonder if that has ever stopped, or if it will ever stop. I wonder when reality sinks in. Slowly I feel it creeping it’s way into my life as I get consumed by the responsibilities of the every day, and yet, here I am, playing house. Here I am still dreaming of being the mommy, of having tucked my children in for the night, and snuck outside for a little “me” time. Maybe I’m catching up on some report due in the office tomorrow, or perhaps I’m working on the novel in progress, or maybe I’m just writing away knowing that my children will grow all too quickly and I have to cherish every moment that I can.
Because already I’m twenty-one years old, and I know how rapidly that time passes by. Yesterday, stopped at a red light, I noticed a boy who couldn’t have been more than twelve walking his dog. In shorts and a T-shirt he strutted down the street as though he knew everything there is to be known. I thought about how that was once us, how certain we were, how much we had yet to understand. It’s unfair to say that life was simpler then, because life is never simple in the moment, but in retrospect, it almost always seems sublime. I find myself longing for that version of myself, that version of me, that little girl who knew everything there was to be known.
The children in my life that once brought me so much happiness have become a representation of the childhood gone from me. The joy they bring is now intertwined with a kind of saddened longing. I want to hold each of them close and tell them to cherish it, although I know they’ll never understand until it’s fading, as though my holding them would somehow hold time for both of us. I find myself clinging to my innocence with a kind of desperation I never knew I had.
And yet, still I get lost in these dreams of the future. Still, I find myself playing pretend, walking around in grown up clothes, worrying about work and money, living in my own home with two dogs to look after. Still I find myself watching the fireflies twinkle in the black abyss like fairies in some enchanted forest. Still I carry with me that little girl I used to be, and still am, and will always be. Still I wonder what the future holds.
And I wonder when it will stop, or if it will ever stop. And I hope, with all my heart, that I will never be finished playing make believe.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Happy father’s day.
I saw my father on Friday for the first time in 5 months. He got remarried while I was in India. He told me in an email, a casual email updating me on the facts. He was married, and her son, my new stepbrother, was in the hospital after a terrible car crash. He died a few days later.
Having not spoken to my father in months, I didn’t know how to respond to such a thing. I didn’t know how to deal with such mixed emotions from the other side of the world. And so, I didn’t. I did nothing. I cried and wrote frantically in my journal and sought comfort in the new friends I had made, but really, I just buried all of the pain that email caused me beneath the shadows of my newfound bliss.
But it stayed here waiting for me to return. All of the anger and sadness I felt sat on my doorstep, waiting to be claimed and dealt with. I am trying to deal with it. I am trying.
I called my father and we made plans for dinner. We said nothing of the 5 months of silence that past between us. We said nothing of the marriage or the death. We said nothing of any real substance.
Not that I necessarily expected us to. I think I’ve reached the point where I can accept the fact that we’ll never have a relationship based on anything real. Still, it hurts to think that I’ve been forced to settle. It hurts to think that I probably will never have the relationship I’d like to have with him. It hurts to think that he’ll always be a part of my life, but a much smaller part than I want or need. It hurts to be my father’s daughter.
On the other hand, I’m a different person now than I was when I first realized how angry I was with him. I know who I am, and if he doesn’t like that person, it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t mean anything. Not having him approve of me doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve love. It’s taken me a very long time to understand that.
And now that I do understand that, I’m okay. I’m able to talk to him, see him, have dinner with him once and a while. I’m able to let him be the small part of my life that he can be. I’m taking what I can get.
We had a nice dinner, the three of us, awkwardly dancing around any subjects that would spark discomfort. It of course, wasn’t all I would like from a dinner with my father and new stepmother, but it was a start. Maybe a type of ending as well, a peak of comfortable settling where we’ll all remain. Still, I’ll take what I can get.
Still, it was enough to allow me to call today and say happy father’s day.
Happy father’s day.
Friday, June 16, 2006
I had a craving for mangoes. I went to the store and bought two, one for today, one for tomorrow. I took out a knife and sliced into the first.
And suddenly, I was on the beach in Goa, sitting beside my friend Claire on the beautiful turquoise tapestry I had just bought (after haggling it down to half price), watching the fruit man slice the entire mango with a huge knife in four chops. Twice a day he’d walk by our hut, the sound of his voice wafting on the soft Indian breeze, “Pineapple, coconut, mango, banana!” I adored it. His yells became the soundtrack of our time there.
I stood at my kitchen counter this morning, thinking of him. I smiled, and then, for the first time since I’ve been home, was overcome with the desperation of the world’s injustice. How utterly blessed I am. Of course I felt that in India, but at the same time, I didn’t. I didn’t really think about people like him who spent their days walking on a gorgeous beach in India selling fruit. Surely there were worse ways to live. I had been living among so many less fortunate than him.
But as I stood in my kitchen this morning, I thought about where he is now. The tourist season is over. The monsoons have arrived. He’s no longer walking on the beach, chanting off a list of fruits, the only English he knows. He’s most likely left the south, returned to the desert where his family waits all season for him. He’s taken his meager earnings from the fruit he sold and buys what he can for them – food, water, little else.
And here I am, in my very own kitchen, in a thriving city, cutting mangoes that were as easy to obtain as one could imagine. And I cried into the depths of the ripe, yellow fruit. And I thought, how unfair that I should stand here longing in every moment to be there. How unfair that I should look upon their poverty as a paradise. How unfair that I am here simply because I was born to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Because no matter what anyone tries to argue about the self-inducement of poverty and inequality, the truth is, it generally just comes down to pure luck. I am so lucky. Why should I be? This question has been running through my mind since I arrived in India over three months ago, and probably long before that. Why me? Why us?
I wonder who I would be if I had been born impoverished. I wonder if I would know of the other realities that could have existed for me had things been different. I wonder if I would sit and wonder in the same way.
Sometimes I’d just sit and watch people in the streets, trying to guess what they were thinking, questioning whether they dreamed of things the same way I do. Did they want to escape their lives? Or is dreaming of escape a luxury only people who are well off can afford?
I think about how painful that is for me, to long for a life I’m not living, but I have the possibility of living it someday. I have the potential to live the life I want. I have the freedom to dream. Why me? I’ve worked so little in life. I’ve faced such minor adversity, no matter how relative we all claim it to be. I’ve taken so very much for granted.
It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have this and they have nothing. It’s not fair that they are potentially content with their lives and I complain about everything. It’s not fair that I can’t save the world, despite every effort I may make. I’m only human. But we’re all only human, and doesn’t that make us family? Doesn’t that mean we should do everything in our power to help and protect one another? Doesn’t that mean we’re all one?
But we’re not, because we live in this world that divides us. Because we live in a world more concerned with money and color and arbitrary categorization than humanity itself. Because the fruit man is in the desert with more mouths to feed, more bodies to clothe, more cries to ease, than he is capable of. And because I am here, in my kitchen, in a cutely assembled outfit paired with new shoes, eating a tear soaked mango.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
I'm sorry for not updating more. I do, as usual, have so many things I'd like to write about, but haven't quite managed to get back into the routine of daily blogging. I'm getting there. I promise. For now, here's a poem for Poetry Thursday, which seems to encompass all that I'm feeling.
Wandering In The Cage
By Charles Bukowski
languid conjecture during hours of moil, trapped in the shadows
of the father
sidewalks outside of cafes are lonely
through the day.
my cat looks at me and is not sure what I am and
I look back and am pleased to feel
reading two issues of a famous magazine of 40 years
ago, the writing that I felt was bad then,
I still feel
and none of the writers have lasted.
sometimes there is a strange justice
grammar school was the first awakening of a long hell
meeting other beings as horrible as my
something I never thought
when I won the medal for Manual of Arms in the
I wasn't interested in
I wasn't much interested in anything, even the
girls seemed a bad game
to chase: all too much for all too
at night before sleeping I often considered what I
would do, what I would be:
bank robber, drunk, beggar, idiot, common
I settled on idiot and common laborer, it
seemed more comfortable than any of the
the best thing about near-starvation and hunger is
that when you finally
it is such a beautiful and delicious and
people who eat 3 meals a day throughout life
have never really
people are strange: they are constantly angered by
but on a major matter
totally wasting their lives,
they hardly seem to
on writers: I found out that most of them
there were schools, establishments,
groups gathered and fought each
there was literary politics.
there was game-playing and bitterness.
I always thought writing was a
animals never worry about
Heaven or Hell.
maybe that's why
when lonely people come around
I soon can understand why
other people leave them
and that which would be a
is a horror to
poor poor Celine.
he only wrote one book.
forget the others.
but what a book it was:
Voyage au bout de la nuit.
it took everything out of
it left him a hopscotch
skittering through the
the United States is a very strange
place: it reached its apex in
and since then
for every year
it has regressed
it is 1930
in the way of
you don't have to go to the movies
to see a horror
there is a madhouse near the post office
where I mail my works
I never park in front of the post office,
I park in front of the madhouse
and walk down.
I walk past the madhouse.
some of the lesser mad are allowed
out on the porch.
they sit like
I feel a brotherhood with
but I don't sit with them.
I walk down and drop my works
in the first class slot.
I am supposed to know what I am
I walk back, look at them and
don't look at
I get in my car and drive
I am allowed to drive a
I drive it all the way back to my
I drive my car up the driveway,
what am I doing?
I get out of the car
and one of my 5 cats walks up to
me, he is a very fine
I reach down and touch
then I feel all right.
I am exactly what I am supposed to
Friday, June 09, 2006
After enough time has passed, it becomes difficult to even know where to begin. The little anecdotes of the days seem unimportant compared to the vast summary of my life that I feel inclined to update. Feeling the need to embark on such a task has been looming over me for days now, so I thought the best way to begin would simply be to, well, begin.
I’m home now. I arrived back in the United States on Saturday morning after twelve hours on an Indian bus down a mountain, a twenty-hour flight, a three-hour lay over followed by a two-hour flight. Welcome home. Arriving in Chicago was one of the oddest sensations I’ve ever experienced. Everything seemed so excessive. Stores and restaurants filled with so many options, people chatting to one another in a language I could understand, the faint smell of cookies wafting through the vents of the airport. It all felt so unnatural, so surreal.
The first few days home were difficult. I awoke my first two mornings here and wept, for reasons I couldn’t explain then, and reasons I can’t explain now. I was just so consumed with emotional instability. I just didn’t feel like I fit here, felt so out of place. I just didn’t know where I belonged.
I knew, of course, that it would be difficult to adjust. I just hadn’t realized the vast degrees to which that would be true. I hadn’t fully prepared myself, and I’m not sure that I ever really could have. It’s hard to return so different to a life so much the same.
Which is not to say I somehow think I’m superior to the life I once lived, nor do I believe I’ve outgrown it. It’s simply that I keep somehow expecting to turn a corner and be back in India, back to that place I love so dearly. It feels so close, and yet so far. It feels like I’ve only just arrived home and as though India were a thousand years ago. Perhaps maybe even just some elaborate dream I once dreamt. I fear the reality of it is slipping from me. I fear the person I became there is someone I left behind, someone who can only exist within the confines of one country.
I know that isn’t true, but leaping into my old routine the way I have -- returning to work right away, going out with friends every night -- has left me somewhat on edge about who exactly I am. My ability to adapt to my surroundings scares me sometimes. That line between happiness and complacency, between contentment and settling, haunts me. I never know which side I’m falling into. I’m never quite sure if I’ve convinced myself out of something I really want and need. It’s always easier to remain the same than to be daring, but my heart won’t stop aching for adventure. My heart won’t stop daring me to be more.
I want to be more. I want to be like the people I met traveling, the people who have spent their lives seeing the world. I don’t want to be 50 years old sitting behind a desk receiving emails from friends living the life I wish I could be living. I want to be the one living. I want to be alive.
Alive. Not just breathing. Not just going through the motions of each day, but burning with the kind of passion I felt while in India. I want each morning to glimmer with the prospect of beauty and exploration and adventure the way it did on my journey. I want the world to resonate with the kind of exquisite energy I felt there.
America just doesn’t have the same vibe. I know how ridiculous that probably sounds, but it was the first thing I noticed arriving home. There was an energy missing, a remarkable, ubiquitous feeling of friendliness and openness and love. But maybe that’s my new adventure. Maybe finding that in my surroundings wherever I am, finding that within myself, is the new journey I’ve only just begun. Maybe the key to feeling alive is as simple as living with a spirit that sets each morning ablaze with that kind of energy. Maybe I’m closer to the life I want than I ever could have imagined.