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.
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,
but never your laughter
for I would die.
- "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
Saturday, April 11, 2009
"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 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
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
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.