About Me

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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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Some Well Spoken Truth

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

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

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

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

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

~Margaret Atwood

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Under A Sky That Is Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Bit Of Beauty

"I imagine my life to be big, so big that I cannot see the end of it. Big enough for everyone to fit into it. You will be in it...people I have never met or known will be in it. I will be in it. I can see it. I have a picture of it in my head. It's a field in bloom so deep you can swim in it. I can see it now, and I cannot see its end." ~Aleksander Hemon

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Lesson In Value

It was the sight of her home that stopped me from my hurried routine. I couldn’t imagine the structure surviving the monsoon season or providing any relief from the thick sweltering heat of an Indian summer. It had only three walls and a flimsy thatched roof, and it reminded me of the dioramas we used to have to make in elementary school, one side cut off of a shoebox to see the story inside. This story, however, seemed incomplete, as all that contained was a small elderly woman and a dirty grey blanket, filled with holes and frayed at the edges. I watched her pick it up and stroll to the corner, dipping the blanket into a murky puddle of water collecting beside the curb.

It was no more depressing than the faces of the women who handed me their babies in the street and silently pressed their hands to their mouths asking for food or the men who crawled alongside the dogs in the park having lost the use of their legs. I felt the same amount of injustice and guilt for everything I had as any other time I had encountered poverty, and yet there was something about this particular woman that touched me deeply, that made me pause, that changed everything.

My first thought was that I wanted to save this woman from her life. I wanted to hug her, to hold her in my arms and tell her everything would be alright, and mean it. I wanted to give her all of the money in my bank account, and the very shoes upon my feet, and be able to, somehow, allow her to share in every wonderful experience I had been privileged enough to know.

I crossed the street, removed the few hundred rupees I had from my pocket, and held them out before her. She looked up and met my gaze. We stared at one another for a moment before she shook her head from side to side, said “nay,” and returned to her work. “No,” I said, “take it.” Again, she held up her hand and declined, not in a sad or angry way, but like a dinner guest turning down a second helping of dessert. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” her expression suggested.

I stood there for a moment feeling helpless and confused, and it was only then that I noticed how delicately her fingers rubbed the blanket in the muck of the public water, how tenderly, how lovingly. What material thing had I ever loved with such fervor? What work had I ever done that had brought me such pure and simple joy? How would I possibly ever understand the value of anything, unless it was everything?

And while my first thought was that I wanted to save this woman from her life, my second thought was, who would save me from mine? Who would teach me to sit all day and observe the world, to listen to my breath move in and out as it declares my existence, to know that this was enough? Who would teach me to savor the sweetness of food upon my tongue, to appreciate the comfort of my shoes in each step, to revel in the singularly significant success of surviving? Who would teach me to recognize the accomplishment of closing my eyes at night having lived another day? What wisdom had my affluence cost me? What knowledge? What understanding?

Slowly I am learning to greet the morning sun as it rises each morning, as it brings light where once there was darkness, as it lays warmth upon my greedy skin. Slowly I am learning to accept the invitation of the rain as it washes the slate clean, softens the hard earth, clears the streets of people and fills them with it’s own unique symphony of sound. Slowly I am learning to treasure the silver of the moonlight reflecting on the quiet pond, the gold of the sunflowers turning their eager faces to the sky. Slowly I am learning that wealth is a state of mind, and that knowing this is a luxury. The value of anything, of everything, is subjective, and so to become rich in this world is as simple as perceiving the gift of existence as priceless. To become successful is as simple as cherishing this perception. To live a worthy life is as simple as loving.

She lifted her head to once again meet my gaze, and all I could think to offer her in that moment was a smile, which she returned graciously. And so I left her there to tend to her happiness, as I walked on into the world, in my comfortable shoes, determined to save the most precious of all possessions -- my one and only life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Our Story

I wasn't certain of how to begin this. It's been eleven days since it happened, and I've had time to think and discuss and numb myself to what needs to be felt. Most of what needed to be said has already been written in emails. I regret not writing here first, when it was raw, when I was open, when my emotional outrage would have sounded more heartfelt and less like whatever analytical composition I'll form here. Still, I feel the need to write about it. I feel like this story needs to be told.

The thing about stories is that once they are told, they no longer belong to just the narrator. They become part of someone else's story. They are released out into the world to be observed, to be understood, to be retold and retold until they become part of a larger story, the story of being human. I once posted something very personal about my mother and she immediately called me and requested I take it down, which of course I did. Certainly I didn't blame her for it. In fact, I agreed and felt foolish for having released her experiences out into the vulnerable lens of the public eye. Years later she told me she had made a mistake. Partially, I think, because she understood the point I am trying to make. Her story belonged to me too. Once told, even the events that took place before I was born became part of my history. They are stories I think about and feel things about. They are stories that have shaped my perspective and my sense of self. They are stories that are an important part of my story.

This story, the story of father and daughter, is just as important. I've been looking through old posts from years ago and what strikes me most about this story is the way in which it has remained unchanged. It is a story of the devastating cycle through heartbreak to forgiveness to heartbreak, time and time again. It is the story of a young woman asking, pleading, begging for love and all of the attributes that accompany love, encompass love - honesty, respect, affection. It is the story of a father who not only denies her such love, but denies that such love is even possible, not only between her and him, but between anyone. "Love unconditionally is a line for children to beat their parents with," he will tell her. And it will break her heart. Not only because he cannot love her, not only because he believes this to be true, but because believing such a thing means that her father is a sad, sad man who has never experienced the joy of loving something, someone, unconditionally.

And it is a joyful thing to love that way, to love as I do, so openly, so freely, so unconditionally. My very existence is based around the knowledge of, the feelings of, the faith in such joy. My whole life revolves around love - for the grass, for the trees, for the sky, for every other person I have encountered in my life. Yes, even for the father who is incapable of feeling the same way. I still love him as my father. Otherwise none of this would matter. Otherwise it wouldn't hurt that he cannot see that.

The details of what instigated the latest fight don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. It was only a manifestation of things that have gone unsaid for the past seven or eight years. I have tried more than once to say them, but they have fallen on deaf ears. They continue to this time around, as is made evident in completely unfair and irrelevant remarks made towards me. I'm still uncertain of what exactly is happening, but it's somewhat comforting not to understand. It only convinces me that so little of it is actually about me.

Why can't you love me? You claim that what I speak of is movie screen, soap opera love, but it's not. It's real. I know because I feel it daily. I feel loved. I feel an infinitely vast capacity to love. I know, more than anything else in this uncertain world, that love exists. Why can't you love me?

You tell me to stop acting like a child, but you seem equally upset that I am not a child, that I don't need you like a child needs their father, that you can't control me like a father could their child. Also, I am not a child. I am the oldest twenty-five year old I know. I am independent and thoughtful and responsible and I have asked so very little from you over the years. And yet that little has been much more than you are willing to give. I express to you my very genuine emotions. I ask you to share yours. I attempt, over and over, to allow you to be a part of my life. I stand up for myself when your responses seem unjust. You tell me to stop acting like a child, but I don't know what acting like an adult is if not doing all of those things. "Love isn't whining" you tell me. Is telling you I'm hurting somehow whining? I am not some whiny child. I know that about myself.

You tell me I am disrespectful. You tell me appeasing you is not enough, but you seem equally upset when I offer any authentic emotion that isn't happiness or love. You feel disrespected by my "polite courtesies" but also by my honesty. What is it I'm supposed to say? You cannot demand affection from me. You have to earn it. You have to allow me to be who I am, say what I feel, feel what I feel. Or you have to accept the fake front I offer you, my attempts to please you, my attempts to be someone you deem worthy of your love. Those are the options. You have offered no choice or solution, simply anger and frustration at my inability, at the inability of all people, to be both genuine and fake all at once. I cannot be both. I know that about myself.

And I know too that a year ago I would have allowed this to destroy me. I would have allowed your inability to love me unconditionally make me feel as though I am someone unworthy of unconditional love. But I know better than that now. I am not a child. I am not a little girl feeling sorry for herself that her father won't love her. I am an adult feeling sorry for another adult because he cannot love his daughter. I used to think that I needed your love, your approval, your opinion of me to matter in order to define myself, but part of my definition in the story of my life is that I am who I am without you. You have helped to create me, in good ways and bad, as the person I am today, but your chapter is over and I can continue on without you.

One of my good friends told me that I needed to grieve for you, for this, for us. And she's right. This is a loss. So I will grieve, and slowly, I will begin to heal. There will always be a scar, of course, but it can be a symbol of my past rather than my future. It can be a reminder of who I was rather than who I have to be. It can be contained to part one of my story, trapped in my childhood, as part two opens upon a new stage of adulthood, a stage that doesn't contain stories of you.

Our stories are intertwined, of course. This is your story as much as it is mine. I would like to think the best of you and assume you too will be saddened that your final chapters will not contain me. I hope you too feel the loss. But mostly, despite everything that has happened, I hope that you find happiness. I hope that you discover what it means to be loved and feel love unconditionally, even if it cannot be with me. I hope that you get to experience such joy. From one adult to another, I hope for you. From one storyteller to another, I hope that your concluding lines are genuinely lovely and consisting of something real.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Balancing Act

Part of my struggle has always been balance, as I suspect is true of most people. Balancing my time, my responsibilities, my relationships. It all begins to feel so fragile as I delicately divide my attention in a way that I hope to be fair and equal, but ultimately is never enough. I have not yet learned in my twenty five years how to separate myself into each significant section of life without dissolving completely. I have not yet learned how to give up pieces of who I am without creating holes in my heart that can never again be filled. I have not yet learned how to let go without falling.

Yes, sometimes the fall is beautiful and elegant and necessary. Often it brings with it new wisdom and understanding and lessons that could not otherwise be learned. But mostly it still hurts when I inevitably hit the ground. The cold, hard smack of the pavement of reality continues to leave bruises, which only deepen and widen with each new fall. Mostly it becomes more and more difficult to find the strength to get up again. It becomes more and more difficult to allow myself to let go.

And so I concentrate on what I can control, on school and work and the small daily choices that are of no real consequence. I choose to smile and laugh and play the role I have created for myself. I choose to portray the person that I think the world wants me to be, and while this is often beneficial, it is not without cost. I have not yet learned how to balance who I am with who I want to be seen as, and I worry that the imbalance has meant sacrificing aspects of myself that I should have been more unwilling to part with.

Namely, writing as truthfully as I want to, as I am capable of. I find myself becoming so increasingly wrapped up in the "supposed to" of writing that I've lost what it is I love about it. I used to be so honest here. More than that, I used to discover honesty here, as though the truths I was unwilling to admit to myself would manifest on the screen without my assistance. I was writing the words, but I was reading the content. I was, and continue to be, an outsider looking into the depths of my own existence.

And I liked that other people could see that too. I liked that people could open to this page and see me, hear me, understand me. But then, more difficult truths emerged and suddenly the availability of this blog to the rest of the world became a terrifying thing. It became more real than I was prepared to accept. It became a balancing act between what I would say and what I really wanted to say, what I claimed to feel and what I actually felt. It became a balancing act between not hurting other people and hurting myself. And so I chose not to risk offending anyone and consequently gave up the one thing in my life that allowed me to be as authentic as I needed to be.

So I didn't write here when I really wanted to, needed to. I stopped myself from revealing those dark, unpleasant emotions to the world because it stopped me from having to see, to read, to believe they were legitimate. But they were. They are. And the truth is, this latest fall has shown me, for the first time in my life, that I can't really worry about what people find here. How you react to my words on this page is a reflection of you more than it is of me. I cannot spend my life apologizing for who I am. It's not fair to any of us.

I was recently accused of hiding my genuine feelings behind the mask of melodramatic prose, and in that moment, hurtful as it was, I understood that it is fairly easy to misinterpret my writing. My feelings are never more genuine than when they are on the page. I am not hiding behind prose. I am prose. I am a living, breathing poem, as each of us are. I write directly from my heart, not from my head. After all, it is my head that tells me I have to balance. It is my head that stops me from writing the words that are aching to be released inside my heart. It is my head that keeps me from this blog.

But my heart is here. My heart is in every word I have ever written. I end every journal with the same line. "This is it. This is me." Nothing has ever been as true.

I will write what I have not yet had the courage to write. If you read it and feel offended or angry or sad or guilty or a combination of those dark, unpleasant emotions we would all rather not see, or read, or believe, than perhaps you too will understand, finally, what it means to be honest. It is letting go. It is being an outsider looking into the depths of your own existence. It is finding the fortitude to get up again, to fall, to greet the cold, hard pavement of reality as it hits you, to reflect on the bruises, to share them with the world, to write about it, and if you're strong enough, to begin to heal. This is where it begins. This is it. This is me.