I stumbled upon Sarah Kay, her poetry and her TED talk about the same time last year and have since shared her work with whomever I can. She leaves the hungry young poets in my Grade 7 class speechless, and me, well, she has me inspired to always write about only what is true, with a small letter t, to me. Here’s her newest TED talk. Nice way to end an awesome weekend.
grateful slice: Sarah Kay and her poetry
I come from a family of writers (no matter what our day jobs are). My dad is a finance guy who can write. My brother is really more of a photographer and writer than a banker. And apples, well, they do not fall far from their trees. Check out the Junior Inquirer article of Sabine, my brother’s firstborn.
She really is the best version of all of us put together.
It’s also never too late or early to pick up photography. Look at me and yes, our young photographer, Sabine.
Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull
of what you really love.
grateful slice: Sabine, image, text and the Junior Inquirer
Sometimes lifting one foot in front of the other feels like you have grand pianos in your shoes. There is a desire to get some sun and put an end to the cabin fever but you think of the weight of the grand pianos and stay put. There are days you want to get up and do a downward facing dog but stay glued to the couch instead, the skin behind your legs slowly merging with the ecru upholstery. You know it takes six weeks for muscles to atrophy, and hello, you tell yourself, it’s only been a day. Later, you try to justify the many times you’ve watched this or that episode of ANTM because you know the blonde/brunette/redhead/pixie/tall/thin/wide/lesbian/girl-next-door/girl-with-dead-eyes will get eliminated but your shame slowly eats away at your brain and gnaws at your reasoning so you just smize to yourself instead. You then change positions and wait for another rerun of another show you already saw. You do this with a lot of gumption until 2:30 am.
Repeat for two more days.
On the third day…you attempt a To Do List.
Sometimes writing a list or a mindnode of things to do during a “free” week feels like writing a final will and testament. You know you need to do it, but postpone it for some other time. You manage to convince yourself at that moment that just the thought of it is too ominous and depressing; which then makes you think of the grand pianos and the little buggers gnawing at your pituitary gland. Where did these little creatures come from, you wonder. Weren’t you fully functional a week ago?
The seconds, minutes, hours, days disappear, like sand between your fingers and you see your mindnode of things to accomplish swallow you whole. Then POP…you become the purple branch of different things to do to avoid the different things you need to do; your breath connected only to the periwinkle circle in the middle of the web. You cling for dear life and have temporary amnesia.
Sometimes writing a blog post feels like jagged finger nails screeching against an old school blackboard. Your fingers bleed profusely and still, nothing. Not a single word worth a damn comes out. You say to yourself, meh. What can you do? So you let it go.
When you realize you have a day and a half of vacation left, you snap out of your amnesia and let the panic rise to your throat. You gasp and gag and realize the familiar drowning feeling is back. Soon, you know that adrenaline will seep through your veins and make you move again. At that moment, relief sets in but at the same time, you feel overwhelming remorse as you stare at the corpse, which used to be an entire week free from any immediate obligations, beneath your feet. You can’t help but notice that your feet are back to their normal size and that’s when you take one baby step at a time towards your To Do list.
It dawns on you that your neglected To Do list has now turned into a To Do or Die list. And your mindnode’s colorful branches are wrapped snugly around your neck waiting for the perfect moment to squeeze.
And squeeze tight.
Well, well, well look do we have here: A pile of papers so tall you slept on it and failed to feel the pea; a generation’s early work to be sifted through, edited and compiled (litmag 2010-2011); and the inspiring and mind-numbing preparation involved in doing the work you are so grateful for and love to do. Everyday.
At the corner of your eye, you also notice that the yearbook is done and ready for printing, you have a new blog set up for a different audience and for a different purpose, you have managed to properly document your most recent workshop and already have all the documents you need to apply for another visa to India for your next workshop. You also allow yourself to acknowledge that you have beautiful pictures of your favorite people in the world and that because you weren’t working, you spent quality time with family. Nothing can ever really compare to that.
The remorse decompresses a little.
Sometimes the season calls for rest, silence and hibernation. You heed it with great respect and gratitude. You honor it, otherwise your ankles swell up. You embrace it because, more often than not, it saves you. At some point though, and at the right time, you also need to recognize it is over, even before it is over. Or else, the panic will consume you until you can’t do anything but wail the workaholic’s cry as you try to convince everyone you love and who love you back that you are alright.
And so it begins, always, with a blog entry; and one day left.
grateful slice: rude awakenings and panic attacks that jolt you back to the reality of the daily grind.
“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
Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo.What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us; it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
-Milan Kundera (from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being)
Short Story Idea/Character Sketch: (May 8, 2009, 11:30 pm, Apartment)
There’s this girl addicted to MUJI pens and salt&vinegar everything. She likes bookshelves and office supplies and bookstores and office warehouses, and walks around with different colored Post-its. This is in case she stumbles upon an interesting idea and needs to jot it down. She meets a guy who is obsessed with music and who doesn’t ever remove his Skullcandy earphones. She wonders how he bathes. She is convinced she knows him from somewhere and follows him around all day. She, of course, has never seen him in her life but she’s dreamt of him and his earphones. She’s also seen him playing guitar. She writes a song on a lime green Post-it, as he hums a melody in the grocery/department store. She buys salt and vinegar chips, while he looks through the CDs. Her song is about teenage pregnancy. She calls it “Mr. Earphones’ Paternity Test.”
Suddenly, she hears gun shots. Earphones guy gets shot by a mugger in the store and dies instantly. He never hears the song. She weeps as she eats her chips. She thinks she smells smoke and copper. She knows she smells the salt and vinegar. She feels her lips burning, her throat dry. She puts a baby blue Post-it on his forehead and writes: R.I.P., This boy was loved.
She never wrote another song again.
I found this bit while rummaging through my many journals the other day. Seems like I have been writing all my life, looking at just how many diaries/journals/notebooks/scraps of paper I’ve filled up and scribbled on in the last three decades. They hold so many of my secrets, desires, disappointments, loves, stories, joys, beliefs, and well, bad poetry.
I am not sure what I was thinking anymore when I wrote it, what it was meant for, but there it was, just waiting to be judged harshly and hidden forever. It came right after another journal entry on being grateful for small mercies. For being “happy” to be reunited with a great love who I thought I had lost forever. See, prior to that, last I saw him, he was lying face down in a shallow tub of his own depression. He was insisting on drowning himself silly when he could have easily lifted his head to breathe. It seems, upon writing that story idea, it was about the same time I agreed to wade in the dysfunctional tar with him again after he asked me back. It was true love, I thought. To stick by your depressed partner and not give up on him even if you can’t recognize him anymore. It was also the only way I thought he would not die as I propped him up, out of his dark, shallow pool, just like a marionette. And in my sticky, codependent bliss I came up with that sketch. It would be so easy to take this story idea apart and pinpoint which pop-culture reference gave birth to what.
Anyway, I WAS going to lock it up with the rest of my over-analysis and throw away the key when I decided to take it out, read it aloud and write it here. Of course, I laughed aloud for a good minute after re-reading it… and here we are. Exactly where we need to be. Publish.
I write it here today for no other reason than to share it, silly or not. I am sharing it simply to tip the scale. I mean, I demand so much from my young writers all the time and they’ve never seen me do the same. To write even when it hurts; and to write boldly and be read, otherwise, why write?
So, here’s to every single time I asked my kids to write when the stakes were high, when it was not easy, when they were scared, when they couldn’t, when they were vulnerable, when they didn’t want to, when they knew it was risky, when they believed in what they wrote but terrified nobody else would, when they could not stand a word that spilled from their pens;here’s to when they felt all these things but wrote anyway; here’s to my stepping off the cliff, to succumb to my desire to fall because it’s only fair.
Here’s to me taking my own risk as I feel faint from vomit and vertigo.
Sigh. The things we do, must do, don’t do and should have done a long time ago…
grateful slice: old story ideas and writing them down for people to read even if you’re afraid (oh and being out of that dark pool forever). Win.
Pinch me, will you, so that I wake up from this quasi-Lewis Carroll/Roald Dahl moment. Am I in Alice’s Wonderland or Charlie’s Chocolate Factory? Whichever place, this day has been feeling out of this world and into a pool of pure milk chocolate or a surreal mad hatter’s tea party.
pull the string holding me up like a balloon in the air because am definitely on a freshly pressed high. It’s been real nice up here but I think I am getting a nose bleed from all the height and joy.
Because from the bottom of the best parts of my big, fat heart, thank you for this, @worpress.com and Ms. Erica Johnson. For thinking this was worth promoting. For this special unexpected surprise. For making blogging accessible, easy and life affirming. This has given me a lot of reasons to say thank you over and over again.
Thank you too, to everyone who commented, pressed ‘Like’ and subscribed to my “secret” space to possibly share images and celebrate text. I am humbled by the time you invested to write a note and press send. I am thrilled to start a conversation with you. I am grateful beyond infinity right now. I am amazed at how flat and small our world truly is.
This made me a very happy camper today. Thank you.
grateful slice: wordpress.com, bloggers everywhere, and finding refuge in the sun and the sea (which saves us all).
Boy, I can’t wait for all this report card season mayhem to end. So I can hang out in my favorite haunt, take pictures, be silly and have carefree days like these again.
Well, until the next deadline that is.
Which is coming up REAL soon.
grateful slice: the light at the end of the tunnel