- "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, August 24, 2006
In the mail this afternoon, I received a package from my grandmother. I opened it to discover a collection of poetry she had written about her childhood in India. I smiled. A perfect poetry Thursday. Having fallen hopelessly behind in my blogging, I was unprepared for this week’s prompt of time, so what a treasure it was to discover this among her phenomenal collection. I couldn’t keep such a gift to myself. Enjoy.
The Time Of My Life : Eight Years Old
By Eve Stedman
From a hard, hot continent
where the garden had to be carved from dirt --
watered and nurtured twice a day --
I came to a cool island.
Moist earth crumbled under my hand
and, wonder of wonders
flowers grew on their own.
Everywhere I went
the hedges sparkled with stitchwort
slopes were golden with primrose
sunlight dappled a bluebell sea
and over the grass
strayed the milky way of daisies.
I was in heaven, in Eden
in a garden where no one said NO
where flowers could grow as they pleased --
and so could I.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Sometimes just saying it out loud is enough. Just the simple act of releasing the words into the air frees them from the mind. They become more than thoughts, more than wavering theories floating through the confines of my head, vacillating back and forth between the constructs of right and wrong. They become statements. They become real.
Already I feel freed from my own confusion. Nothing is solved. Nothing is even officially decided, but I now feel ready to begin. Begin what? I’m not sure, but something. Something more than sitting around wrestling with possibility. Something more than hovering in the entrance of my life. Something new and progressive and exciting. I’m ready to step into the next chapter.
This is the reward of honesty. It’s strange how the most difficult person to be honest with is always oneself. The truth really does have its way of setting us free, but so often I find myself afraid to admit the truth in that very statement. In truth, I lie to myself constantly.
Writing seems to know that, as though it were its own entity, with eyes that pierce my very soul and questions impossible to evade. It knows all the right things to ask. It knows exactly how I feel. It knows the truth I try so desperately to avoid. It puts us in a room together and forces me to face it. It won’t allow me to stay silent. It won’t tolerate my ignorance.
There is a love I know that continues on purely with the hope, the faith, that love will be enough. Despite all wisdom and truth, it goes on. It remains unquestioning. It obscures the troubles and disappointments and sorrows of the relationship behind a haze of adoration. In theory it is a beautiful thing, but in reality it becomes something ugly, something bitter. It is the unripe fruits I love before learning they’re not ready. It is the shock of displeasure in that first bite. It is the taste of lies.
Lies that linger on the tongue far longer than anyone would hope. They hang in air and hearts, refusing to be ignored, no matter how ardently we try. Love, sadly, in all of its glory, simply isn’t powerful enough to vanquish the truth. Instead, honesty gets buried beneath the layers and begins to burrow holes in the soul. That gap is the hurtful words he told her, the next is the embarrassment she caused him, the one after that is the tears they each shed in secret. I wonder when faith in the future stops being enough.
But this is not my story. It’s theirs. My story simply leaves me with the same question. When do hope and faith stop being enough? Because it is wonderful to dream, but dreaming can only take us so far. Eventually, we have to make a move. Eventually, we have to be honest about our next step. And there is nothing more terrifying in this world than making a decision. Even the most seemingly obvious of choices holds depths of bittersweet uncertainty, and they know that, and I know that, and I think somewhere deep down we all know that.
The question then becomes, are we brave enough to admit that we know that? Are we brave enough to move forward? And I know I have to answer yes, because although stagnancy is deceivingly comfortable, I refuse to get caught in its lies. Life is waiting, and that’s the truth. And honestly, I can't afford to waste another moment.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
And just like that, the sun broke through. Yesterday was just what I had asked for, hoped for, needed. It was a perfect day.
I arrived at work to find my email inbox bursting over with things to make me smile from my best friend. It’s fabulous how friends can do that, can sense what you need and know exactly how to fix it. I am constantly amazed anew by how blessed I am to have the people in my life that I have. Somehow, nothing else seems to matter but the relationships I cherish. Somehow, everything I could possibly feel sad or angry or upset about becomes insignificant. Somehow, my friends make my life worth living.
On my lunch break, I drove to this enchanting bush of white flowers I had passed that morning. I took pictures. I watched the bees fly from one blossom to the next, slowly and meticulously reveling in their soft white petals. I looked at the perfectly blue sky behind the hanging flowers and smiled at the way they so reminded me of clouds. I wanted to crawl inside them, to feel their smooth petals brush against my cheeks, to breathe their life into my own. I wanted, more than anything, to feel their beauty.
After work, I went downtown to meet up with a friend I haven’t spent quality time with in well over a year. It was so incredibly lovely. We went to dinner, gossiped over expensive girly drinks, laughed over a gorgeous meal, reconnected as though not a moment had passed between us. Her meal took much longer than mine to prepare, and so the manager came over to apologize and let us know the dinner was on them. As she walked away, we both looked at one another and said “sweet” simultaneously, before bursting into laughter that after all this time, we still spoke in rhythm with one another. It was perfect, just perfect.
I arrived home and changed quickly before heading out with my best friend. We went and wandered in the woods for a little while, talking beneath the grand night sky and the whispering trees around us. Our voices echoed in the silence, mixing with the natural hum of the earth. We were alone, and together, and one.
We picked up two more friends and headed down the street to go drink at an outside bar with even more of our friends. We drank and laughed and talked the night away. I thought about what I had written the night before, how these twenty-four hours had changed everything, how simply loving and feeling loved had made everything okay again. Welcome back, I thought to myself.
As I finally reached my bed some time later, I closed my eyes and let the perfection of the day wash over me. I thought of each person who had made me smile, of each event that had made me laugh, of each moment that had reminded me why I am so grateful for this little life of mine. I drifted off to sleep smiling, dreaming of white blossoms, knowing the feel of such beauty.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
It was that kind of ambiguous grey morning that taunts us. The kind that seems to hold every secret but refuses to give anything away. It could be early morning right before the sun makes her grand entrance over the world, or the very beginning of evening, when the afternoon light has only just slipped away. It could be warm outside or cold, beautiful or dreary. The day could hold anything we had ever seen and nothing we could have ever imagined. It was that kind of grey, that kind of morning.
I made my way into work and found myself to be the only person in the office for the first two hours, a situation I’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to. I tended to the tasks that beckoned my immediate attention and then just sat, and thought, and grew a little sad.
I don’t understand how I ended up back here, sitting in an office by myself, longing for the world outside my window. I don’t understand how I could allow myself to settle so quickly back into a life I was only recently so desperate to escape. I don’t understand how I betrayed myself this way.
I find myself missing people all the time, but I don’t know who and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s me. I miss versions of myself that I used to be and versions of myself that I could have been. I miss people who were never even an extremely important part of my life and I miss people who were – are – an extremely important part of my life, even when they’re standing right beside me. I don’t know why I feel such loss.
But it is that feeling, and I know it. Loss. Lost. Alone.
Even to write the word is painful. Alone. I think part of me has been unwilling to write simply out of the fear of admitting that. Sometimes I feel alone in the world. Even though everything I know to be true contradicts it, even though I have the most amazing friends in the world, and a mother who would do anything for me, and siblings I can turn to when I need them. Even though I am happy and grateful and alive, part of me still feels empty sometimes. It happens. That’s life.
And I know the feeling will pass. I do. It’s just what this day happened to bring. Some days are like that. So instead of going out with my friends tonight, I decided to stay in, and am still wondering if I would have preferred to be distracted. Sometimes I wish I had less time to think.
My office has become such a cell, a barren place where I can do nothing but sit and dwell on regret and mistakes. It’s become the place that I associate with all of my sadness, and while I only have a short while longer working there (I promise myself that), I still know I have to find the courage to leave when it’s over. Leave, and not agree to come back when I get that inevitable call. I can’t afford to betray myself again.
So this is whiney and not in the least bit articulate. I had a bad day. I’m mourning the loss. I’m moving on. Tomorrow is an opportunity for something new, something better. The sun will shine and I will smile. It will be that kind of morning.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
“Isn’t it funny” she said, “how we can just end one life and begin another, just like that?”
Yes, so funny, I thought, as we drove down the mountain towards the temple. Our program had already started to feel like a lifetime ago. We drove through the market where we had first arrived almost five weeks before. It was an odd sensation, some strange ambiguous feeling of seeing this place for what felt like the first time and somehow still knowing it by heart. The men sitting in the street, the women balancing a baby in one arm and a myriad of produce in the other, the children running and screaming down the dirt path. We floated through it, just as I had in all my dreams of home, both distant and familiar.
A lifetime ago. But then, isn’t every moment a new life unto itself? Am I not a different person now than I ever have been before or ever will be again? Do I not die and become reborn a million times a day?
I sat outside the temple. A new life began. I wrote frantically, my body so full of thought and emotion that I felt as though if my pen were to stop, my mind and heart would too. Below a sea of monks in maroon colored robes filled the courtyard, and then, just like that, seemed to vanish. Another lifetime gone. Memory plays beautiful tricks on the mind.
I moved inside. A fly wandered across the enormous marble floor. I wondered if he knew where he was, if he realized he was in a holy and spiritual place, if he was aware of this grand moment in his life. I wondered if he was better for having come here too.
He flew away as my friend’s knees hit the floor. Another lifetime gone. I watched my friend do his prostrations, up and down in prayer. I don’t know what a prayer is, but I do know what it feels like to watch someone pray. I know what it feels like to be in the presence of such peace. In silence I watched his pressed hands move from head to chin to chest to floor. I watched him rise and fall again and again, the ebbing tide of a life condensed. His faith resonated ubiquitously.
I watched it spread through the hot Indian air, so heavy with scent and sentiment, that to simply breathe became a prayer unto itself. Inhale the life that is just now beginning. Exhale the disappointments of the life now gone. Each breath it’s own preface and epilogue. Each cycle it’s own birth and death. Each moment it’s own lifetime, coming and going, rising and falling. The air lay bittersweet upon my tongue.
Something new was already beginning within me. Another lifetime gone. I looked outside to see her propped up against a pillar in her little white tunic. She looked like a rag doll I might have had in my youth, a lifetime ago, when foreign countries were under the kitchen table and couch cushions were walls for forts. She looked so wide-eyed and awake, and yet, as though her mind had already drifted from this time and place to somewhere else, somewhere new. Just like that.
The large gong sounded and the monks began to shuffle in for their midday prayer. Their chanting twisted and turned in the thickening air, mixing with every thought and hope and prayer ever sent out into it. Something wonderful was being created. A new lifetime was being formed. Another lifetime gone.
And just like that, we ended and began.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
The grass seems more alive
Than anything I have ever known.
They have so much to say,
These tiny hairs of mother earth,
Sprouting and dying by the millions.
They want to tell me everything before they go.
The first one tells me
Of the woman’s foot,
Of the heavy weight of her black shoe
Pounding on it each morning.
It shows me the scratch on its side.
It tells me it dreams of better things.
The second tells me
Of the day it rained vanilla ice cream,
And how soft and cool it glided down it,
And of the dog who came
And licked it clean.
The third tells me
Of the little ant who crawled up it
And how delightful the tickling of its tiny legs
--Oh! If only I knew such pleasure!—
And how it continues on simply with the hope
Of feeling such bliss again.
And soon the others discover that I am listening.
A chorus of stories begins.
I can hear from yards all over town
The discussion of when they were last cut
And how beautiful they all looked
-- Didn’t I think so? –
With their new trim, so stylish and sleek.
Admire us, they say.
I can hear the wild fields of Africa and India and Europe
Shout and sing and scream their freedom
Blowing loosely in the wind
With the hair of the hipsters
Who have spent years frolicking
Through their timeless offerings of peace.
Join us, they say.
So for a moment
I lower myself down into the grass
And I let each blade tickle me
With all of the delight of an ant’s tiny legs,
And I let each blade tell me
It’s stories of joy and sorrow,
And then I tell them mine.
And so it goes,
The old blades making their final remarks,
The new blades learning to speak,
The voices of millions exclaiming
Their hopes and fears and dreams.
The grand conversation of life continues.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
The rain was moving in. I watched the darkness make its way over the top of the mountain, down over the valley below, leaving only this field illuminated, then the next, like the flashlights they used to search for her. It inched ever nearer as I sat scribbling away, determined to finish the final pages before it reached me. I raced against the elements.
There had been posters along the journey, bold face type pleading for attention, big round eyes and an inviting smile. I stared at her picture. The word “missing” dropped from my mind to my heart and quickly sunk to the depths of my soul. The word “missing” was more sorrowful and lonely than I had ever known it to be. The word “missing” had lost all of its tender hope.
It was no longer a plea -- “Find me. Help me. Please.” Instead it stood as a reminder of all that was lost. -- “I’ve left. I’ve gone. Goodbye.”
Her body was found at the bottom of the waterfall.
I didn’t know her. I can’t recall ever seeing her at the guesthouse next door, dancing with the others on the porch while they banged their drums and sang their songs to the mountains. But she could have been there. She could have been.
Or she could have already left for her walk into the woods alone. She could have already been on the path to the waterfall when the clouds, swollen with rain, began to slowly emerge above the peaks. She could have already been standing there, listening to the rushes of the cascading waterfall quicken. Faster and faster they fell.
No one could determine exactly how it was she came to fall with them. Perhaps she slipped, perhaps she jumped, perhaps the wind nudged her to the edge. No one knew if she was gone before she hit the water, or if it was instant, or if she lay there crying out for hours before the darkness came. Whatever happened, she had left this world alone.
Six large birds flew above me, hovering on the fast approaching winds, escaping those places where the rain had already begun. I wondered if they had looked for her, if they had seen her final moments on this earth. Maybe this flight was a tribute to her, or maybe, she was this flight. She was the birds and their wings and the air beneath them. She was the impending rain and the shadowed fields and the earth that shook with thunder below my naked feet. She was the final pages of my journal and the words I would fill them with. She was gone and she was here. She was no longer missing.
I do not know what death is. I have no notion as to what will happen after I’m gone, but I’d like to think, I’d like to believe, that the birds will know the second my heart stops beating. I’d like to believe that they will take me in their gentle wings and, if even for an instant, allow me to hover above this grand earth and know what it feels like to soar. I’d like to believe that I’d see below, poised on a cliff, scribbling away to evade the imminent rain, a young writer who has only just begun the long journey of her life.
I will smile. I will say “yes, I was only beginning too.”
Monday, August 07, 2006
It was England I believe, but perhaps Ireland. After years of travel, the certainties of memory become obscured behind the present. I can’t remember the name of the museum or the artist, not even a single painting we saw. What I do remember, what I’ll always remember, was the couple we passed as we were leaving.
I couldn’t tell at first. They had their backs to us and were looking at some grand masterpiece on the wall. She was whispering softly to him, her wrinkled arm intertwined with his, her elderly lips pressed against his ear, breathing warmly the words of art and paint and love.
In the arm not connected with hers, he held a cane. I remember thinking how fragile he seemed, propped up between a cane and a woman, as though one unassuming gust of wind would send them tumbling like a house made of cards. And still they moved together with such ease, this serene creature on its five diminutive legs, that one could hardly dare to feel anything but peaceful and stable in its presence. Together they glided through the silent room.
They turned slowly towards us, and I found myself face to face with a pair of listless eyes. It took me a moment to realize he was blind. Blind in a museum. One of the universe’s cruel jokes on man, to place him in a world filled with colors and delicate brush strokes and intricate shapes and prevent him from seeing any of it.
But the universe has its way of correcting its mistakes. For his eyes, it sent him this woman, to be his eyes, to walk through a museum with him and whisper into his ear the things he could not see, to fill his heart with sight.
I wondered if he had always been blind. I wondered if he had ever seen anything in his life. I wondered if her descriptions of the blues and pinks and oranges meant anything, or whether they were just words whose significance he had to imagine. I wondered why he agreed to come to a museum, whether it was his idea, whether he had requested it simply to spend an afternoon with her mouth pressed so tenderly to his ear. I wondered why it all made such perfect sense.
That was the first time I remember seeing love. I mean, REALLY seeing it. Standing before me was a testament of patience, sacrifice, compromise and kindness. Standing before me was a couple who didn’t need sight, or the ability to walk with ease, or the fervor of youth to make their hearts sing. Standing before me was the secret of love, and although I had never truly seen it before, I seemed to recognize it instantly. So this is love, I thought.
Love. Long after your senses have left you and your skin has withered. Long after your days of running and dancing through the fields have gone. Long after the relationships you knew would last forever have faded into old pictures and letters tucked away in your memory chest, your heart still thrives for it, on it. Because it is love that keeps us going, and love that makes us want to stay. It is love that all of us wake up for each morning in the hopes of finding, and keeping, and cherishing. It is love that spurs us on.
And the blind man knew that, and placed it in a museum, so that the rest of us could come and look. And know. And see.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Once, I was in the dark
So my mother ached and pushed
And brought me into the light.
To see it, she gave me eyes.
To smell it, she gave me a nose.
To feel it, she gave me ten fingers,
And ten toes,
And a heart as big as the light itself.
To taste the air, she gave me lips and a tongue.
To hear her voice, she gave me ears.
To be my own unique self, she gave me a voice
For other ears to hear
And be stricken with awe.
Once, my heart was broken
So my mother gathered each piece
And meticulously glued them back together
And filled it with joyous blossoms.
The white petals were her tranquility
The blue were her deep pools of wisdom
The yellow were her promises of friendship
The red were her testimonies of love
The bouquet was a mother,
And a daughter,
And the heart that they both share.
Once, I was lost
So my mother searched for me
By allowing me to wander free
And places around the world
And no matter how far I went,
We always found me.
Once, I felt like a nobody in this world
So my mother held me
As she had when she first introduced me to the light.
And I knew I was my mother’s daughter.
And I knew I was somebody.
Once, the world seemed empty
So my mother created me.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
He sent me an email explaining his small epiphany. In the midst of brushing his teeth, it came to him, like an unexpected soft rain gracing a humid afternoon. We all have problems, he said.
Yes, including me. I must get annoyed, he thought, that everyone comes to me with their problems, that everyone seeks out my wisdom, my advice, when things take a turn for the worse. It must be a burden. It must be difficult to feel like the weight of the world hangs on my shoulders.
I’ll admit it. It is. It’s difficult to watch my loved ones cry, to listen to their pain, to feel my heart break in rhythm with their own. It’s painful to experience their experience. It’s agonizing to be incapable of protecting myself from the sadness in this world.
For these past couple of weeks, part of me has longed to take the easier path, to cut myself off from emotions, to become numb to the suffering that surrounds me. Part of me has wished that I didn’t know what I know, that I wasn’t the person everyone knows me to be. Because it would just be so much easier to be ignorant and self-absorbed. It would be so much easier not to care.
But I do care, and I can’t seem to ever stop myself from caring. I can’t seem to separate my own troubles from those of my friends. I can’t seem to remove myself from their hurt. I hurt too. I feel it all, and maybe sometimes, even more intensely than those going through it. I’ve spent these past few weeks being bombarded with feelings of anger and bitterness and utter devastation. I’ve lashed out at people who probably didn’t deserve it, and I’ve cried myself to sleep more nights than I’d care to admit. I don’t like my sorrow and it isn’t even mine.
At the same time, it is. I want my friends to come to me. I’m grateful that they come to me. I’m honored that they come to me. It's just that I’ve been wishing I knew how to protect myself. I’ve been wishing I knew how to guard my heart. I’ve been wishing I could make a distinction between their hearts and mine.
This morning I awoke to an email from another friend. It was honest and emotional and filled with the kind of reality I’m grateful my friends share with me. He’s been going through a lot this past month. What struck me most was that among the girl-trouble, and two more family divorces in the works, and struggles with missing college funds, he went on to say that he’d been up all night worrying about the war in Israel. Because their pain is his pain. Because all of human suffering is our own inherit human suffering.
And maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe the whole idea is that we are all one, and that none of us are ever truly content because we don’t live in a blissful world. Nor would we ever really want to. Life is painful. That’s how we know we’re alive. I feel that pain. That’s how I know I love.
And as appealing as it may be to shut myself off from all of that, the truth is, I would rather cry than wear an ignorant smile. I would rather feel everything than be incapable of feeling anything. I would rather have my friends weep in my arms than weep alone. I hope that they know that. I hope that I know it too.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Let’s blame it on the heat. It’s just been so insanely hot recently, and I’m convinced it’s melting my brain. There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when all I could think about was blogging, and now, for whatever reason, I have to force myself to sit down and type. It’s a really awful feeling. I miss the longing I once had to update daily. I hope it returns to me soon.
A monk once asked me “Do you control your mind or does your mind control you?” That’s how I’ve been feeling about writing here lately. Have I really lost the desire or have I only convinced myself I have? I’m fairly good at convincing myself out of things I’d really love to be doing.
Like writing. I make so many excuses about the future, but of course, as so many of you kindly suggested, I want to be a writer. I just don’t know how to begin, and more than that, I don’t believe in myself enough to begin. One of my greatest fears in life is being too afraid to go after things I really want.
One of the most wonderful things my mother ever told me was “Don’t ever convince yourself that you don’t deserve the things you want.” My mother is a very wise woman. Why do we do that to ourselves? I know I’m not the only one. There are so many of us that are somehow incapable of believing in our talents, our goodness, our dreams. I wonder why that happens.
Especially because it’s usually those same people, including me, who are so quick to believe in others. I have complete and utter faith in every person that I love, in their talents, in their goodness, in their dreams. It is my life’s endless plight to love myself the way I love them. I often fear that it’s a hopeless endeavor.
I’ve gotten such lovely emails these past few days from friends commenting on my (poorly updated) blog, and each time I think “wow, what amazing friends I have,” and never, “wow, my writing means something to them.” It worries me that such a thought never crosses my mind.
It worries me that I’m 21 years old and still haven’t learned how to take a compliment. Still, self-doubt and guilt plague me. Still, I look to others to validate who I am and what I do. I am needy and ashamed of that, no matter how often I try to convince myself I shouldn’t be. That line between independence and loneliness blurs. I need people, and I need their love, and I wonder why that’s so difficult for me to admit.
Am I controlling my emotions or am I allowing my emotions to control me?
I know that there are simple answers to these questions, simple solutions to these problems, but like most things in life, I have to be willing to hear them. I have to be willing to stand up and say –- no, shout — this is my life and I am in control of it. I just still have trouble finding the courage to understand I am worthy of such a statement. I just still have trouble taking charge of my dreams. I just still have trouble believing in me. Let’s blame it on the heat.