“We all need someone to look at us.
We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.
The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public.
The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need.
Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark.
And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present.
They are the dreamers.”
— from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
It’s very difficult to forget books that move and change us. They seep through our pores, travel under our skin, live in the different fissures and crevices of our consciousness, and never leave. They reside in the sacred corners,the flaps and folds, and hidden spaces of our memories, our identities. They find their way into who we are, right at the very core of what matters most. The most complex of characters become our best friends, and their experiences and emotions become so palpable, so real, the thought of turning the very last page feels like a heart-wrenching goodbye.
I read Kundera’s seminal work, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” at a very young, impressionable age. I will never forget Tereza’s neurosis and heavy desperation; Tomas’ lightness and inherent bastard tendencies; and who can forget Sabina’s strength, sensuality, ambivalence, detachment and kitsch. I hung out with these characters for years and being around them molded so many of the warped ideas I have about love, relationships; what it means to be a woman, as a young woman.
The idea of having an audience to perform for, to have look at you so that you could feel and know love, to be visible, to be seen — that’s what I am remembering now. How those lines up there struck a chord when I read them for the very first time. That no matter where I went, I felt eyes on my every move; and I found comfort in this. Even if I was exhausted, at least I was not invisible. I totally understood what Kundera was talking about when he outlined the “categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under,” and for a long time, I was in the third category. I moved, breathed, performed and did everything that I did to be seen by a beloved. Break up upon break up, I remember wondering what Ry or Ge or A or Do or Ga or Ke would think about this accomplishment or that mistake way after we said our goodbyes. If after I achieved this or let go of that, they’d approve and like a piece of great literature, come back and never leave. It was a very difficult way to live. In the end, I ceased to be me and could only identify with the performance. I no longer knew where I began and where the performance ended. It was only when I re-met G and started hanging out with Him that all of that changed. Even if all the tickets have been sold, the show isn’t going on. He simply told me that being with Him meant I never have to perform for anyone ever again. That His wonderful gaze was enough. In many ways, both literally and figuratively, G saved me.
Even the very idea of the kind of audience we write for, and it was Joey Tandem who eloquently pointed this out to me, evolves. I used to write in a way that alienated my audience because I didn’t want the secrets of this secret place to be exposed. I didn’t want to be accessible because doing that was the gateway drug to my veins. I wanted to write and publish, not risk anything, and use language in a beautiful but incomprehensible way. That brought the ante down a notch. I figured if people didn’t understand me, then they couldn’t hurt or bet against me. It was the same way being cryptic and vague allowed me to write and “put it out there” but still be able to somehow “take it all back” if I needed to.
But that was then, this is now.
Today, it is a totally different narrative, different perspective, different reason for making ideas traverse from thought to paper. Today, I write because I can; because it is a gift I have no right or arrogance to waste and because I believe I’ve found my story.
I want my/these story/ies to be clear, to be heard, to be out there with conviction because that’s the only way it’ll count. To go all the way and not be half assed about it. That despite the fear of falling, today, I want to clearly, coherently and uniquely utter the verse, articulate what’s painful and humbly document what’s sublime and inspiring. Because right now, for me, that’s what it means to be alive, to be an authentic part of humanity, to be free, to be a dreamer.
grateful slice: Books we can’t and won’t forget and G’s fixed gaze on me