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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

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Praise Song For The Day
By Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Green Is Ten Times Worse.

Whether they were coming or going I couldn't tell. I was too far back to overhear their conversation. They plopped their heavy oversized backpacks on the floor and stood at the front looking tired but excited, the well worn expressions of traveling strewn across their faces. It is a look I know well, a look I could be comfortable wearing for the entirety of my life.

I found myself staring. Her wild unkempt red hair fell so naturally around her freckled face. For a moment I thought that I knew her and searched the catalog of my memory trying to place her within some context, but she wasn't there. Instead there were a series of girls who looked like her, radiating that same sense of unbridled passion for life, girls who lived their lives outside of the conventional rules, girls who wrote poetry and traveled the world and wore their hearts on their sleeves. In a way I did know this stranger who had stepped onto the train. She was the ideal of who I have always longed to be. Or at least, she looked like her.

I was five when I first saw Anne of Green Gables and consequently fell in love with the poetry of life. I couldn't imagine wanting to be anyone but Anne, so fiery and creative and unwittingly beautiful. I adored the way she spoke and fought and spent all day dreaming of things she read in books. I adored her sadness and likewise her hope. I adored her imagination. I adored her ability to be so deeply moved by the world around her. Even at the age of five I felt we were kindred spirits, to borrow her own expression. I too wanted to grow up to be brave and smart and delighted by small beauties. I too longed to be impetuously adventurous. I even spell my middle name Anne with an "e."

That summer my parents took us to Prince Edward Island and we visited the infamous Green Gables. They bought me a little straw hat with two red braids attached and I wore it around for weeks, pretending to be Anne. For a little while, I felt as beautiful and lovable as the girl I admired most. Sometimes I would quote her, not ever really understanding what any of it meant, just knowing that it sounded pretty. These are the things I look back on now and understand more than ever that it is in me to love language.

It was a few years later before I discovered Pippi Longstocking, and while I never admired her with quite the same grandeur as I did Anne, she quickly became another hero of mine. She was fun and inspiring. She brought joy to those around her. She was red-haired and freckled, quirky and assertive. She could do anything, and did do anything, and I loved her for that. I loved that she was strong, both physically and emotionally, and I loved that she created magic everywhere she went. Even after all of these years, I still believe in the possibility of such magic.

All of my childhood heros were unconventional characters, people who dared to be different, people who weren't afraid to be themselves, people who stood out among the ordinary. Not much has changed. These are the same traits I look for in the people I choose to surround myself with now. The people I love most in this world are the ones who inspire me to feel impassioned about life. They are the creators of dreams. They are the believers of magic. I look for such passion everywhere.

And so I grew up associating red hair and freckles with the fervor of the human spirit. I longed to look that way because I longed to be that way, so ablaze, so alive. And when I saw that girl step through the doors of the train, her red hair glowing in the soft afternoon light, I found myself green with envy, full of the familiar jealousy I feel whenever I come across such an archetype of my fictional heroines. It is not just their beauty. It is their ability to transmit their zest for life without having to speak a single sentence. It is that they represent poetry and hope and individuality and joy. It is that they innately express that which has taken me tens of thousands of words to even begin to explain.

Monday, June 22, 2009

How It Came To Be

It seems as though I am always leaving the door open. I ask you over and over again to come in. In winter I have saved you a seat by the fire and made you a cup of tea. In summer I have turned the AC on and saved you a rainbow popsicle. In rain I have offered to share my shelter with you. In sunshine I have offered you a place in my garden among the roses.

But instead you stand on the front porch of my heart and over and over again decline. You are forever just outside the door as if to reassure yourself that if someone were to ask, you could tell them that you were there for me. But it is not enough to just be there, hovering outside the boundaries of comfort and love. It is not enough to stand beside me without knowing what's happening inside, my head, my heart, my soul. It is not enough to simply be invited in. You have to step through the threshold for it to count.

Instead you stand outside my door and tell me how good the winter air is for your heart, how good the hot summer sun is for your head, how soothing the torrential rainfall is for the soul. You tell me I am the foolish one for not knowing that. You tell me I am not smart enough to understand. You tell me I am not worthy of your company inside.

Perhaps you are right. After all I am the foolish, stupid girl who keeps asking you in. I am the one who keeps making an extra cup of tea and saving an extra popsicle. I am the one sitting beside an empty chair. I am the one who keeps expecting things to change even though they never have, even though you have made it clear they never will. I am the one silly enough - or hopeful enough - to think I could someday be worthy.

Meanwhile your popsicle is melting. Your tea is getting cold. My hope for us is fading. You stand outside my window and scream that brilliance is a burden I am lucky not to have to bear. You think that you are explaining why it is difficult for you to come in, but all that I hear is that I am not invited out. Out into this world where you live, among the brilliant and articulate and successful and accomplished. And so I hide further and further away, inquiring over and over again if you could just come in and sit with me a while, tell me about your life, listen to me about mine.

From the other room I hear your voice on the answering machine without even having to get up. "You don't know a thing about poetry. You're writing would be better if you simplified it. Get to the point" you say. So I stand up. I walk to the door. I listen as it clicks behind me. I lock you out.

And for the first time in my life you are impressed by my succinct actions. For the first time you see I can be as cold hearted and hot headed and poetically direct as you. But of course by this point, the door has already closed and you realize that it is already too late to tell me of your brilliant discovery.

Friday, June 19, 2009

On The Last Day Of School

Summer In A Small Town
    By Tony Hoagland

Yes, the young mothers are beautiful,
with all the self-acceptance of exhaustion,
still dazed from their great outpouring,
pushing their strollers along the public river walk.

And the day is also beautiful - the replica 19th-century paddle-wheeler
perpetually moored at the city wharf
with its glassed-in bar and grill
for the lunch-and-cocktail-seekers
who come for the Mark Twain Happy Hour
which lasts as long as the Mississippi.

This is the kind of town where the rush hour traffic halts
to let three wild turkeys cross the road,
and when the high school music teacher retires
after thirty years

the movie marquee says, "Thanks Mr. Biddleman!"
and the whole town comes to hear
the tuba solos of old students.

Summer, when the living is easy
and we store up pleasure in our bodies
like fat, like Eskimos,
for the coming season of privation.

All August the Ferris wheel will turn
in the little amusement park,
and screaming teenage girls will jump into the river
with their clothes on,
right next to the No Swimming sign.

Trying to cool the heat inside the small towns
of their bodies,
for which they have no words;
obedient to the voice inside which tells them,
"Now. Steal Pleasure."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In The He Said, She Said, Sometimes There's Some Poetry

I forgot my Ipod yesterday. Lately I've been using my lunch break to go for walks around the neighborhood. It's been nice to get out during the day, to relieve some of the day's stress, to reflect on the hour, the day, the life I'm living in general. I've made different musical mixes each day in an effort to soak in new music, walking in rhythm to the beat of the songs. It's nice to have a soundtrack sometimes.

Sometimes not, as I discovered yesterday, walking in the middle of unfrequented streets. It was so blissfully quiet that I couldn't help but hear each step on the pavement, that I couldn't help but listen to my thoughts. What I realized, more than anything, is that I am always writing. And while most of what I promised myself I'd remember later I quickly forgot, the knowledge that I spent that divine hour writing in my head the most beautiful words I have ever written is enough to be grateful for.

I realized how much more I noticed without the distraction of music, how the trees bowed toward me as I walked by, the smell of the air thick with the soft finality of a storm, the depth of color in the purple flowers (I don't know what they were), so elegant and lush that it became impossible not to feel flawed in comparison. These were all things I had missed the day before, walking down the exact same street at the exact same time of day, concentrating on some poetic artist's lyrics instead of the poetic natural life wafting all around me. It was a welcomed change.

I remember coming home and being asked about the culture shock. "Having a car makes you feel isolated?" My mother questioned. I understood her confusion at such a statement. In truth I know that the ability to drive realistically broadens my life. I can hop in my car and go wherever I chose. I can drive great distances I would never otherwise reach. On any given day I drive from the neighborhood of my house to the neighborhood of my work to the neighborhood of my school and back again. I am all over the city and it is the freedom of having a vehicle to get me there as I choose.

But in the day to day, my favorite places in the world have been the ones where I didn't need a car. They have been places with easy and accessible public transportation or places so small when everything one could ever need was in walking distance. And if you have ever spent time in a place so confined and self sufficient, you understand the importance of having lived that sort of life. Somehow it emphasizes what is important, what is essential, and whatever does not fall into that category becomes not only unessential, but superfluous and silly. If I can walk to food and a place to buy writing supplies and return to shelter, perfectly fulfilled and content, then why do I ever really need anything else?

It is something else too, something that I meant more at the time. It is the lack of communication between people. People don't generally smile and say hello when they pass one another in cars. Some people don't when they're walking either, but I do. And I do even more so in other countries where people have spent their lives walking by each other and saying hello. It's such a simple joyous act and I spend a lot of the time wondering why it is not more often done. I wonder where that fear of reaching out comes from. I revel in the happiness that comes from connecting with a stranger, if even for a moment, the way the woman who sits outside my local grocery store always comments on the weather. "Yes, it IS surprisingly cold" I say and we both feel better that someone has taken the time to hear us.

I think it is in all of us to want to be heard, and that's really no great secret. So why are we not screaming from the hilltops? Why are we not writing our stories, filling the streets with our art, impregnating the air with our music? Why are we not listening? To each other, to ourselves. Why is every house not a different shade of color and every person not a walking expression of themselves? Why is it so easy to become so much like everybody else, to be quieted with fear and self doubt, to fade away into a life already set?

I am not any better. I conform just like everyone and I'm not going to pretend to be above it, but listening to the weight of each footstep on the pavement made me feel somehow unique and important and big and small in the grandest meanings of the words. Walking makes me feel part of the world because I am who I am, without the ever present thoughts of material things and judgement and the heavy supposed-tos of obligation. It is enough just to exist in a world forever living. It is enough just to notice the poetry of your thoughts.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Some Gladness

He lowers his umbrella so that it's upside down. Behind him she tilts her umbrella forward. He giggles as the rain falls from her umbrella onto his unsuspecting head. The sun is still casting her light behind the clouds as though she refuses to give up the fight. A crack of thunder. Lightening. The world is brighter than it's been all day. I sit on the front porch, safe and dry, watching the every changing flowers revel in the light and rain that feeds them. And then everything is quiet and still for a moment except for the trickling of rain. It is perfect. It is spring.

Friday night we sat here and talked about everything. We hadn't planned to spend the night together, but it happened anyway. Sometimes those unplanned conversations are better than any of great importance. We talked about work, about family, about mutual friends, about the purpose of life, about where we've come from and where we need to go, about where we are now, about the gratitude that comes from that realization. Four hours later we both wondered where the time had gone.

It's been over a year since we bought this house together and still I am amazed by the rightness of that bold move. It is easy to worry about a choice like that. Will money be a problem? Will we continue to get along? Will my consistent wanderlust lead to regret? But thirteen months later, I find myself more certain than ever that this is home. I love every inch of it. I love my roommate who has become my sister, who I have yet to ever fight or bicker with. I love sitting on this porch watching the neighbors speak to one another from their porches, listening to the greedy earth soak up the soft rain. I sigh in contentment for the life I am living.

Earlier today I went into a toy store to buy some bracelets one of my students brought in today and I simply had to have. It was a quaint store, the kind where every item on the shelf has been carefully and lovingly selected. Immediately I was surrounded by pieces from my own childhood that I had neglected to remember. Silly little crafts I had begged my parents for, old puzzles, decorated pencils and pens that made me wish I was a better artist. I took my items to the register and the woman laughed. "Yes, sadly, these are for me" I said. She smiled. "Oh, you don't have to explain it to me, I own a toy store!" She exclaimed. Could anything in life be happier?

Perhaps only that the sun has won her fight in the few minutes it's taken me to write this. The rain has already gone. The neighbors have emerged back out into the street. The birds sing in triumph and the raindrops tap lightly from my roof in rhythm with a child's basketball being dribbled a few doors down. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. The beating of the universe pulses on.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ecrivez Votre Vie. Vivez Votre Ecriture.

I chose French because I consider it to be one of the more elegant languages. Perhaps because I learned what little I know of it from such an elegant teacher. I think it looks pretty, poised upon the page, hanging in the air after it has slipped from soft worldly lips. There is something so remarkable about languages, about the availability of something that feels so secretive, that infinitely extends an understanding of the universe. If I were a better student, I would take the time to learn more. If I had known sooner what I know now, I would have done a better job of paying attention. I suppose it's never too late.

But I also chose French because it is cryptic to those who don't know it. I wanted to have those words that mean so much to me without having to explain it over and over again. The words themselves, in any language, are cryptic to those who don't live it. So when I decided two years ago to get "Write your life. Live your writing." tattooed on my foot, it was about something more than the alluring factor of coolness attributed to permanently decorating oneself in ink. I needed in some way to remind myself that I am a writer. I needed in some way to remind myself that my purpose in life is simple. I needed in some way to be able to see that one clear thought when the rest of the world seemed foggy. "Oh right," I can think "it is just that easy to find my way back."

And when people ask me what it means, the reaction is almost always the same. I hear a lot of "oh, cool" or "well, that's different," the way people may respond when you get a bad haircut or have made some other seemingly inappropriate decision. Their response is code for "it's okay, you can always cover it up." The thing that strikes me about myself in those moments is how little this response bothers me. In fact, I may prefer it to having to dive into some pseudo-intellectual conversation about writing with people who haven't written a word outside of their obligated assignments. Which is fine, if they haven't, but they're not going to understand the words unless they have. They're not going to understand what writing means to someone like me.

What those words mean to someone like me, is everything. My ever supportive friend J. once tried to decode them. "So, you write what you want to do and then you write what you end up doing?" She asked. Well, sort of. Even now, after all this time, I have difficulty explaining it, which only means I have a long way to go before I'll ever be anything close to a good writer. The closest I can come to articulating the meaning is to express that writing and living are one in the same for me. I never feel more alive than when I write. I am never more myself than when I write. And that is not a fact, but simply a feeling that has dwelled inside of me since the day I picked up my first book of poetry and understood what it meant to love words.

I do write what has happened to me, what is happening even as I write, but I also write about what could happen if things were different or if things continued to stay the same. I write about who I was, and who I am, and who I could be. I write about my own life but also about the concept of life, the eternal life that came before and will continue on long after I am gone. I write about my own experiences but also experiences I have yet to have, or will never have, and how those too, play a role in each life.

I have had more than one friend watch me write in my journal and ask me about what I am writing, curious and anxious perhaps that there are some dark and secret thoughts lingering on the pages. And I do write about the people in my life, the good and the bad, the awe I have for them and sometimes the venting about them that needs to be expressed. But mostly I think they would find my journals to be quite dull. Generally they are about the way the sound of a chirping bird delights me, or the way the soft warmth of the sun has effected my sentence structure. They are what you are reading here. My writing is not a collection of my daily happenings, but of my daily thoughts. Sometimes they are one in the same. Sometimes not. The point is to keep a record of who I am in any given moment, and so I put myself on the page.

And that's what it means to write your life and to live your writing, for me anyway. It means that while it often feels frustrating to be passionate and deep and wise in my writing and not in my "real life," I am still essentially all of those things. They are not separate lives. They are one. They are all pieces of me. Even those moments of inarticulate ramblings that make me cringe in retrospect only act as fuel to be written about later, to be that much closer to understanding who I am. Writing is cathartic, but it is also ineffably magical and beautiful and essential, like life itself. And if you have ever sat with nothing more than a journal and a pen while the world blazes and hums around you, you know what I mean. You too, understand that sweet secret.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

After A Long Day At Work

"No!" I screamed from across the playground. He froze in shock. Immediately I regretted the harshness in my tone. I called him over and he approached me slowly, clinging to the branch in his hands. "The reason I tell you not to pull the branches is not to be mean, but because that tree is alive, just like you and me, and it's not okay to hurt it. It would be like someone coming over and taking off your finger and that wouldn't be fun now would it?" I smiled and he laughed, offering up the leaf covered sprig as though it were an olive branch. "But I got it for you," he said, understanding the irresistibility of such innocent sweetness. I hugged him and he went about his way chasing a butterfly.

And I understood then, perhaps more clearly than ever, why I love to teach preschool. It is not just that the children are cute and sweet and funny and insatiably curious, although they are of course all of those things, but it is because they remind me of that part of myself that might otherwise go unnoticed. They remind me that it is our purpose to be insatiably curious. They remind me to be in awe of nature and airplanes and stories and music. They remind me to look and listen and see the world around me as though that is all there is. They remind me that I still believe in magic. I really do feel that way about trees.

Each day I am reminded of why I love what I do. Most of all, it's that I love it. It's that I know deep in my heart that if money was unnecessary, I would still continue to do it. And really, how many people can say that about their jobs? The thing is, it's not just my job, although I refer to it as "work," which it ultimately is. But it is equally a large part of my definition and an even larger part of my happiness. It is the work of my life, like learning, like exploring, like loving. It is what I would dream of doing if I had chosen to fulfill a different dream. Surely there is nothing more rewarding than having a child repeat something that you've taught them. I did that. Just as my teachers and parents are the reason I am who I am now. And the cycle continues. And it's lovely.

Which is not to say there are not bad days. It can be the most frustrating thing in the world to calm 20 screaming four year olds, to get them to sit and listen and do what you've asked of them. Some days I lose my patience. Some days they lose theirs. But we get through it together. We work as a team. I understand that they are also my friends and therefore deserve every ounce of my compassion and empathy and devotion and love.

I used to consider this one of my weaknesses as a teacher, blurring those lines between friendship and authority. I laugh at things I shouldn't. I let things slide that should perhaps be addressed. I too, would rather play sometimes than work. But the more I teach, the more comfortable I become with the balance I've struck. I watch the more professional teachers and wonder where the love is, where the joy can possibly come from without the laughter, without the silliness. I wonder why anyone would want to do such difficult, often unappreciated, work unless they were having fun.

And I felt this way today, a day filled with highs and lows, a day that reminded me that in the end, I am where I want to be. I am grateful to spend my days feeling needed and happy and loved. I am grateful to be having so much fun. And so I joined in on the chase for the butterfly and together we waved goodbye and wished him well as he fluttered off into some unknown of which we can only imagine.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Discovered In The Void

To say "it's been so long" seems obvious and unnecessary, and so I won't. It's not what I want to write about anyway. My journal is filled with this blog's missing months and eventually I will fill in the gaps. Or perhaps not. Perhaps the void is exactly as it should be.

What I have discovered so far is that dwelling on the empty spaces is pointless. What I mean is, life continues on. The empty space ahead inevitably becomes filled and the empty space behind has already come and gone. The surrounding emptiness is an illusion created by the internal emptiness which it turns out, is an illusion created by self doubt. We are never as shallow or hollow as we may feel. Those empty spaces inside our hearts are simply opportunities for love.

I'll admit that I've forgotten this more than once in my life. It's easy to concentrate on what's missing instead of what's already there. I spend so much time trying to better my existence that I often forget to accept it as it is. I spend so much time dreaming that I forget to wake up. I spend so much time trying to feel alive that I forget I'm already living. This is it. Right now. Every breath that I take is another second of my life, ebbing and flowing into the next. And that's all life needs to be sometimes, just the coming and going of breathing. Sometimes that's enough to be grateful for. Why shouldn't it be?

It is a part of me to always notice the little things, but slowly I am remembering how to really see them, how to feel them, how to fill the mirage of my heart's empty space with them until there is not an ounce of room left barren. Even now I am collecting as I sit on my porch inhaling the sweet scent of the impending storm, listening to the neighborhood dogs announce it's arrival, feeling the soft winds rise and fall with my chest as I breathe. My lungs fill with the miracle that is air, that is life. My heart fills with these seconds, with this gladness.

What I have discovered so far is that every one of us are both ordinary and extraordinary all at once. Life can be whatever we want it to be, but life is also already magnificent just as it is. Life is already happening. We are already participating whether we realize it or not. What I mean is, realize it. Cherish each breath. Smell. Taste. Listen. Hear. Touch. See. There are no empty spaces. Beauty is everywhere.

It is easy to feel trapped by relationships, by money, by work, by responsibility. It is easy to feel stuck in life, but I think we trap ourselves more than life traps us. There are always choices to be made - perhaps not easy ones, or even right and wrong ones, but choices nonetheless. We aren't ever really stuck as much as we are unwilling to move. There's a difference. There are ways to improve - grand gestures that forever change the course of things, but also small, seemingly insignificant decisions that cultivate our very existence. Stop and stare at the moon. Hug someone before they need to ask for it. Refuse an umbrella and get soaked in a storm, as I did this morning, as I am better for having done.

The point is, I have written over and over that I'm making the choice to live, that I'm participating in my life, that I want to be alive. But that choice has already been made for me. I continue to breathe whether I am out changing the world or hiding away from it. Life continues on. What I have discovered so far is that no matter what I want the future to hold, no matter how I wish to change the past, my life is just as it should be. I am just as I should be in it. And it is beautiful.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Couldn't Have Said It Better

Simply because it is a lovely night without time enough to write something of my own, I wanted to end my day with this thought, this beautiful thought, this beautiful poem.

Your Laughter
By Pablo Neruda

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Of The Empire

"We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness." ~Mary Oliver

I thought for a long time about this quote. Mostly because each time I am in a classroom, I find myself questioning the validity of what I am learning. College, thus far, has been all about learning to question everything, as it should be. They show us all of the ways in which we've been deceived, by our culture, by our government, by our education. It is easy to sit there and be appalled by our history. It is easy to wonder how anyone could have debated what we now know as so concretely right or wrong. It is difficult to imagine a time when there was such ubiquitously apparent injustice.

But of course there is also the present, where it continues, where it intensifies, where it has somehow become easier to look away and pretend it doesn't effect us. In high school I took a class on the sixties and I remember how we all thought it so unfair that we didn't live in an era of rebellion. We didn't have things to stand up for, to protest, to feel passionate about. It wasn't until my life after high school that I realized the foolishness, for so many reasons, of that thought. It wasn't, of course, that our generation had no battles. It was that our lifestyle, our small world within our simple teenage years, was peaceful. There were worldly current events and then there were our own daily routines and the two were separate for us. We wouldn't have necessarily admitted it, but they were. I was aware of poverty and corruption and war of course, but mostly I was concerned with what to do on Saturday night and how much homework I needed to get done. Mostly we were concerned with ourselves, and that kind of egocentrism protected us from the meanness of the world.

The older I get the more blatant it becomes. The more I learn the more cynical I become. There are so many battles to be fought. There are so many obstacles to overcome. There are so many ways that I personally feel helpless and there are so many problems that feel hopeless, and it is discouraging to say the least. Each time we discuss something in one of my classrooms I feel like shouting "then what is the answer!?!" But of course there isn't one, not an easy one, not a right one.

What will they say when they are sitting in classrooms studying us? That we had only problems with no real solutions? That we were too busy watching TV and connecting on facebook and downloading music to care? That we knew how to sit around and talk and blog about injustice but not how to act on its behalf? That we participated in the perpetual destruction of the world?

And of course, there have been advancements in things that are to be celebrated, but often it feels as though we are constantly taking one step forward and two steps back, that nothing good can happen without a slew of new oppositions, new problems. It's not difficult to understand why we all close ourselves off, while we choose instead to concentrate on our own personal daily goals that seem more hopeful, more attainable. Trying to lose ten pounds is easier than trying to understand why there is enough food to feed twice as many people as there are in the world and why there are still so many starving. Trying to teach your child good values is easier than trying to understand why every seven seconds a child under the age of ten dies. Trying to take care of your home is easier than trying to understand why there are so many without one. It just is.

And I'm not above this, or by any means claiming to be. If we thought about the condition of the world before ourselves all the time we would go crazy, we wouldn't continue on. Sometimes I still need to be selfish to protect myself. I think we all do.

But I also think there's a balance missing. I think it's easy to get so wrapped up in one's own life that we forget to consider the rest. I think that when I'm sitting here on my laptop with my starbucks at my side, it's easy to forget the faces of the dying children on TV, or the women I bought rice for in India, or the men on the street I pass by after school. It's easier to concentrate on the pile of homework by my side or the laundry in the basket waiting to be cleaned. It's easier to make a to-do list than a should-do list. It's easier to live my life than most others. I know that.

What I don't know is the solution. I don't know what the right amount of guilt is. I don't know what the right course of action is. I feel like I am constantly screaming in my head "then what is the answer!?!" But I have none.

I think about the Mary Oliver quote and I wonder how we will come to be known. I fear for THAT answer. I fear that we have become the people who forgot that they were people, and I fear that it is the forgetting that defines us.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Day You Wore A Sweater Vest

The day you wore a sweater vest was the day all of my feelings for you changed. It wasn't the sweater vest itself, although it was an odd fashion choice for you and I noticed the difference right away. But it was more than that. It was the way, somehow, everything was different. Everything that I thought had existed between us was gone. Everything that I was so certain I felt dissipated. And by the time I left, I hated you.

I hated you for the way you made me feel. I hated you for not being who I thought you were. I hated you for not being who I wanted you to be. And it's unfair and irrational as emotions often are, but I couldn't help wondering what it was in me that made me so angry. Why did I need you to be that person? Why was I so hurt that you didn't live up to my unrealistic expectations?

When that bubble bursts, it's painful. Perhaps more painful than I am capable of expressing. It just makes me doubt everything I am, everything I believe, which are essentially the same thing after all. How could I have gotten it so wrong?

In general I suppose I see what I want to see, believe what I want to believe, and I suppose that everyone does in some way or another. It makes it easier to survive. It makes it possible to survive. Convincing yourself that you're happy feels far superior to admitting that you're not. And that's just the way it is. It's easier to live in the truths you've created for yourself.

So when you put me on the spot and told me I was wrong, I felt stupid. Consumingly stupid. Inherently stupid. And although I have admitted to myself all of the many ways in which I am not good enough, I haven't ever really considered myself stupid. I haven't felt that before. Foolish, yes. Naive, yes. Unaware sometimes even, but not stupid. Nor have I ever really applied the term stupid to anyone else. The word itself bothers me. And I know that overall I am not, but compared to you, sitting across from you, I felt so certain that I was. And I felt it the next time I saw you. And I've been feeling it ever since, with or without you there.

Now I've become withdrawn, quiet, fearful of my own voice. I've become accustomed to constructing my every thought before releasing it, to regretting things immediately after they've left my lips. I've become aware of how stupid I can manage to be. Pop goes the bubble. My soul deflates without the comfort of it's protection. My confidence withers. My mind goes blank.

I wanted to love you. I wanted to be content with who we were together. I wanted to be proud of who I was with you, but the day you wore the sweater vest, you took something from me that I can't seem to reclaim. The day you wore the sweater vest, a great absence began to grow between us. The day you wore the sweater vest was the day that I realized something crucial was missing, and it was more than just your sleeves.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Studying Paradoxes

I just needed to get that out. What I wrote yesterday was just a detoxification of the negativity that's been hanging over me for the past week. I just needed to put it somewhere, and what better place than within the cathartic beauty of language. It is why I write. It is why I'll always write. It is why I am lost without writing.

I've been working on this paper on American paradoxes for school and it has suddenly made me very aware of the constructs I try to avoid noticing in the hopes of perpetuating my naive contentment. It has suddenly made me very aware of the weight of my decisions. It has suddenly made me very aware of my insignificance.

This is why I both love and hate school all at once. I think too much. Each time my eyes are widened a bit to the world I begin to question it, and my place in it, and the point of it all. There is so much pain and destruction and corruption in the world that comparatively my life seems small and boring and trivial. Why do I bother getting stressed out and worried? Why do I allow myself to become so consumed by little missteps? Why is it so difficult to focus on the positive in a life so blessed? Why do I take it all for granted?

Because the truth is, I know better. I know how lucky I am. I have entire journals devoted to such gratitude. And yet, when a few things go wrong, I forget all of the goodness. I forget who I am and where I am and why both are reasons to celebrate. When I am the center of own life, all of my successes and all of my failures feel enormous, significant, weighted. They feel like everything. But when I am reminded that I am just one of many in this vast universe, all of my successes and all of my failures feel tiny, petty, inconsequential. They feel like nothing.

I have spent the entirety of my post-high school life wrestling with this dichotomy. My life consistently feels both too big and too small all at once and I have yet to find a balance. I'm not even sure what it would look like. Is it possible to continue living your everyday life like it matters when you know in the grand scheme of things that it doesn't? Is it possible to focus on your own life without selfishly shutting out the rest of the world? I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that I love being back in school, restating these big ideas, reclaiming my role as a student of life, remembering the joy of learning. I know that I've missed being inspired. I know that I've missed writing papers and reading books that deepen my understanding of the world. I know that I am better for trying this again, for facing the fear of returning, for being back in the classroom.

I also know that it's been difficult to incorporate so much into life. I know that I've shifted from prioritizing work to prioritizing the somewhat selfish desire to do well in school. I know that I've neglected my friends, that I've forgotten what it means to have carefree fun. I know that I've created a life for myself centered around responsibility and obligation, and I know that I've sacrificed more than I'd like to in doing so. I miss knowing how to let go.

I miss the time before I knew the way life can paradoxically seem both big and small, but in the meantime, in this sunshine, I find myself, this student of life, enjoying the ambiguity.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Wholeness of Remembrance

It wasn't that I had forgotten. If anything, it was the unexpected wholeness of the remembrance. It was placing my present into the context of my past. It was the way nothing had changed, except myself, suddenly unrecognizable in juxtaposition with this old familiar setting. I was overcome. I felt my eyes fill and my throat clench. Under the pressing awareness of time, I felt my heart literally throb, aching like the sore muscle it is, tender from the inconsistency of it's use. Driving down the roads that once held my entire history between their intersecting limits, I suddenly found myself sad and incomplete and defeated in a way I had never allowed myself to feel. I felt tired of treading so furiously simply to stay afloat.

I hadn't realized how cynical I have become until that moment. I hadn't realized how deeply bruised I am, how I have allowed each pain to add to the one before it without permitting myself the time and attention I need to heal, how the anguish has spread, how it consumes me. I hadn't realized how hurt I have become. I have been broken in so many ways.

Something about being back there sparked that recognition within me. It wasn't a longing for the good old days, but rather, a longing for the good old me - that genuinely happy person I once was. I miss her. I miss her innocence and I miss her certainty. I miss the way she looked at the world and saw possibility and faith and love. I miss her ability to draw distinct lines between right and wrong, and I miss the unwavering belief in goodness that attribute brought her. I miss the way her optimism protected her. I miss the safety she felt. I miss, more than anything, her hope for her life.

And it is not that I am now hopeless. It is just that there never seems to be enough time or money or freedom to maintain such inherent joy. I used to think that my happiness was indestructible, that I was one of those lucky few who got to spend their life intoxicated with contentment, but lately I've found myself despairingly vulnerable to reality. It's been difficult to accept. It's been difficult to feel that lighthearted girl slipping away. It's been difficult to remember that she used to be me, that I used to be her. Driving through the setting of her history that night only reminded me of who I once was, and who I am now, and who I could have and should have become instead. And even if just for a moment, I was the saddest I have ever been.

I have spent the entire week feeling the heaviness of that sadness. I've been stressed out and unable to sleep and wanting desperately to crawl beneath the surface of the earth and hide away until it becomes safe to emerge. But I know from personal experience that hiding doesn't solve anything. Running away doesn't work either. Nor does denial or bargaining or any other means of evading life. All I can do is keep fighting - fighting for happiness and for hopefulness and for the chance to wake up tomorrow and do it all again. Maybe I won't ever regain all that I've lost. Maybe I won't ever move forward. Maybe I'll spend my life fighting just to stay afloat, but it's impossible to accomplish anything if I don't try. I am trying. Truly, I am.

I sat down today to blog simply because I haven't written for myself in so long, not even so much as a journal entry, and I've missed it terribly, as I always do. Apparently I've needed it more than I realized. In this old familiar setting, I am writing to recognize myself. I am writing to remember her. I am writing to rekindle her hope. I am writing to keep us afloat.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Just Say The Word

Tonight the moon was so round and smooth and perfect that I wanted to swallow it whole.

Metaphorically, I did.

Metaphorically, I glow.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

This Morning I Woke Up

There is a reason bears hibernate. It is so easy to crawl inside yourself in winter. It is not the cold winds chasing me in or the slickness of the earth's surface beneath the dustings of snow. It is not even the impersonation of death the world takes on, the trees naked and thin, the sky dark and ominous. It is the desperate longing of the spirit, pleading in the absence of sound where once there was the chirping of birds and the laughing of children playing and the music of life being lived. In the quiet one can finally hear the soul's need for rest.

In terms of life, I have not been still at all. Every moment of my life has been planned out in little notes and schedules I scribble in my planner. My life has become one long to-do list. Between school and work and the meager social life I now have, there has seemed little time for the extras, for getting lost in a book of my own choosing, for blogging, for fueling those creative embers that never seem to fully die out. I am glad that no matter how smothered they become beneath the responsibilities of the practical, they always remain warm, ready to be ignited, ready to burn.

Because it is not, in fact, the chaotic bustle of my life that has kept me from writing. I have had time to fit it in. There is always time for the things that we love, it is simply a matter of knowing how to look for it. Instead, it has been that need to rest, to hold a lid over my creativity and let it simmer, regenerate, reemerge as something new, something more. This morning I woke up feeling as though it had.

Perhaps, yes, it is the weather. Perhaps it is that at this very moment spring is wafting in through my open windows in a way that makes one feel as though they can actually smell sunshine itself. Perhaps it is nothing more and nothing less than the beautiful invitation of this day. Outside a basketball bounces in perfect rhythm against the sidewalk. A car starts. A bird sings. A child squeals in delight. A familiar melody forms, inspiring a brand new song, the sweetness of the air it's soothing base.

Creatively I step out of the cave. I take off the lid. I boil over.

I sit by my window, reveling in the way eyes that have been closed in slumber for too long burn in the light, just before adjusting perfectly to the blaze.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Love Letters

It occurred to me one day that I've never seen your handwriting. We've been friends for years, but I have no idea how you curve your C's, how you dot your i's, whether your L's slant ever so slightly to the left or right. Most people's handwriting I can recognize in an instant. I can catch a glimpse of a word on an envelope buried beneath bills and magazines and know who I've received a card from before checking the return address. It is hardly what one would call a super power, but it is a skill I take some odd satisfaction in having. It is a matter of experience and a matter of paying attention to detail, something I've grown fondly accustomed to. Knowing how you arch your O's makes me feel closer to you.

Even as a little girl I had some strange fascination with the mail. I used to force my family to play a game of it with me. I made them each a mailbox to place outside their rooms in the hopes that we would all leave each other little notes and gifts and things to make us smile. I don't remember anything about what I placed in or removed from those boxes (I'm quite sure my parents appeased my need for surprises for about a day before hoping I would lose interest), but I remember the feeling of excitement I felt each time I checked it, each time I heard my mother's footsteps outside my door and the rustling of something happening. It was the same feeling I got hearing the bulk of letters drop from the slot in the center of our door onto our hardwood floors, knowing almost certainly there was nothing for me, but still hoping. Always hoping.

My mother had taken me to see the movie Little Women in the theatre. It wasn't our usual movie theatre. It was one of those old converted buildings, the kind of place that showed one or two indie movies at a time and had an audience of about eight people per showing. It was the kind of theatre that made the movie going experience worthwhile, a kind of old romance feel to it with it's high ceilings and assigned seating and red curtain to open and close the film. There was even an intermission and everything. And it was the perfect setting to watch Jo open her house-shaped mailbox and discover one perfect pear left for her by Laurie.

It is not often that I can point to a moment and say there, but there, before that enormous screen, my nine year old eyes wide in the dark, was the moment I fell in love with the idea of mail. Silly, I know, but also kind of wonderful. It was also kind of the beginning of my life as a writer, and as a correspondent, and as a friend.

In fact, the first poem I ever wrote was about the mail. I was in the fifth grade and reading my way through the books of the first poet I ever loved, Shel Silverstein. Inspired by the folly and the delight it brought eleven year old me, I wrote a short rhyming poem about hoping to get a cow in the mail. I read it aloud as an audition piece for our school play of The Golden Goose, and later received the part of The Golden Goose, so I knew, even then, it was the best poem EVER. I knew, even then, as foolish as that poem seems now, that language would be an important part of my life. I was a writer.

From there I fell in love with Emily Dickinson (who I consequently read as audition pieces for our seventh and eighth grade plays), then Walt Whitman, then Shakespeare, Emily Bronte and Jane Austen. And although I was never a very good student, always neglecting the work required of me, in my free time I secretly soaked them. I read and reread their words. I romanticized the life of writers, picturing them sitting in gardens and fields of sunflowers, writing letters to their loved ones, capturing emotions and experiences on the page. Immortalizing their love, their worlds, themselves in this elegant and meaningful manner.

I had various pen pals over the years - my British cousin, some friends from my first sleep-away camp experience - all of whom I eventually lost touch with over the years, but whose letters I still have saved. But my first real novel-length heartfelt letter was written my senior year of high school, when everything seems sentimental and bittersweet, when you are certain you will both be friends with those people forever and never see them again. The second I dropped it into the mailbox, I doubted it, regretted it. I called my friend and warned him.

A few days later I heard the familiar plop of paper on the hardwood floor and sauntered over to survey the collection. I saw the return address first. And even now, whenever I remove that letter, still in it's original envelope, from it's place among my treasured possessions, my heart skips as wildly and lovingly as it did in that first moment.

And like watching that scene in Little Women, it is not often that I can point to a moment and say there, but there, standing before the mail slot on my front door, I knew that all I wanted was to make people feel as I felt right then. I wanted my loved ones to know that they were just that, loved, worthy of the time it took to sit down and express word after word, page after page, exactly how deep my love for them was.

So I started writing letters, sending birthday cards, Christmas cards, little notes just to check in. And although it's faded a bit over the years, with email and facebook and the knowledge that people are not so easily lost, I still try my best to reach out. I try my best to embrace opportunities for expression, because in the long run, there are those few that I've fallen out of touch with. I think about them sometimes and feel that little ache of loss within me until I remember that they have somewhere, folded up and probably stowed away, word after word, page after page, my promises to love and remember them always. I take comfort in knowing that I am fulfilling such a promise, and I hope they do as well. Always hoping.

Hoping even now, that although I do not know your handwriting, you are comforted by the sight of mine, laying on your coffee table beneath bills and magazines, reminding you that you are loved.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


And so it begins.

Another year. Another chance at a new life. Another opportunity to be the kind of person I really want to be, living the kind of life I really want to be living. Another chapter. Another first sentence. Another rising of the curtains. Another first breath.

I have been awaiting its arrival. Possibly more so than any other year. I have been building up lists of goals and promises and things I want for myself, both the tangible, and more importantly, intangible. Things that are visible and easy to track the progression of, and more importantly, things that are invisible to the eye, things that can only be felt - the building of character, the expansion of mind, the deepening of the soul.

If I were to assign a title to this upcoming year, I would call it "foundations." It will be a year devoted to hard work, to practice, to trial, to missteps, to repeated attempts, to planning. It will be a year devoted to exploring just how much I am capable of. And I have high hopes about my discoveries. I know things will be difficult, but I invite the madness in. I have goals to reach and I don't want to waste any more of my time considering quixotic possibilities. It's taken me so long to understand what I want in this life. Now all I want is to focus, to work, to do a little less dreaming about what could be and to do a little more acting upon what will be. I don't have high aspirations. I'm not asking for much. I just see a simple future in which I am simply happy and I recognize the steps I need to take to get me there. I'm ready now for THAT part of my life.

There is so much to be said for living each day as though it is your last. It is a beautiful, fiery, passionate philosophy that sparks something within the very core of me. But it is also the excuse I use for running from the things I fear, from things when they get tough, from things I may not succeed at. It is the excuse I use to avoid facing my life. Because the truth is, even though I have done some truly impulsive and wonderful things, things I wouldn't ever want to take back, things that have made days so perfect that I would have considered them worthy enough to be my last, mostly, my days are not brilliant. Most of my days are not lived up to their potential. Most of my days are wasted sitting around waiting for life to happen. It is not a matter of choosing one lifestyle over another. It is a matter of hiding.

I'm so tired of hiding, of waiting for things to change on their own. The best adventures of my life have been journeys that I've leapt into. The best adventures of my life have been filled with risk and sacrifice. And so I leap into 2009 head on, knowing full well that I will spend most of it sacrificing time and sleep and probably most of my sanity, but risking the frustration and stress and potential for failure for the opportunity to be who I want in this life. So that if this day turns out not to be my last, or the next day, or the day after that, I'll be able to look back on this year and know that it was all worth it, in the end.

And so, it begins.