Well, I think this is difficult.
I brought nearly twenty books back from America to Thailand. I kept shoveling through things, pulling out more and more from this beat up black duffle bag. I felt like I was pulling out the intestines of a dead person’s gut.
“What were you thinking?” My roommate asked me as I sat there looking at the pile. It was late and dark and there was one light on in my bedroom coming through the open door.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Writing has been the constancy through which I have reinvented myself after every uprooting.”
Sometimes I like to think back and wonder when I first started going away.
I asked my roommate how Christmas was, she’s from California, the only other American in my town. There are also a few people from England. All teachers. She said they went to a friend’s restaurant. That they had a Secret Santa. There are about five of them, my roommate, my age, the rest in their mid-30s or 40s. “Basically,” she said, “the only thing we could agree on is that we’d never have a Christmas away and alone like this ever again.”When I was younger I began going away because I felt more, my senses were heightened, and because people missed me. And I wanted those two things because I thought it would help my writing. Because it intensified everything. For a very long time that was it. Writing. It was like a very simple path I was humbly following. Then something happened. A car came barreling down through the trees. Ran me over. Pieces of myself went flying. Now I’m scattered and apart and twenty-four years old. And there’s no path.
Everything smells different now, in Thailand. It smells like it used to smell when I lived in the north with my host parents. I miss my host parents. And their farm. And the road their small wooden house was on. The way you biked down the incline and then pedaled through the maze of flowers and chickens. And drinking coffee in the mornings, right after sunrise. My host mother would stir my coffee every day. And my host father would come in from his work. I miss them. Their house flooded, I heard from a neighbor, a few months ago, during the floods that devastated that area in October and November. I never called them.
“Often we lose a part of life because of what we choose to retain…”
There is such a delicate balance to things. And there are parts of me that are good and parts that are a horrifying mess and they both swing back and forth like children.
The people who admire me the most admire me, love me, because of my independence. Because I leave. Because I can leave. What if I stopped leaving? Would they still like me? It used to be all I had was my writing and now it’s become all I have is the romanticism, the idea, that I’m never there. All I have is that I’m someplace else. How and when did this change occur?
I’ve started to take people’s advice very seriously. That’s another thing that has changed. It used to feel, when someone gave me advice, it would tick off in my mind and I’d think, well that’s right and no, they’re off there and so forth. I used to know the right answers. Now I grab and grope at what they say, what they could have meant exactly when they said that and if they believe I should do that, well, how can I? You tell me what I ought to do and I’ll plot out the logistics. I can do that. I can plan a route. I just can’t, for the life of me, imagine a destination. So what should I do?
One regret is that I never got my tarot cards read when I was in America. There was a shop with red lamps in the windows in Manhattan. It was too warm of a night, no one knew why the weather was like that. The shop was pulling me in but I shoved it off, it was too late. That’s another thing. Things that used to be jokes, like astrology, have become real. And worse yet, horrible and disgusting and how did I let this happen? what was once real, true to me, I have let slip into jokes.
I hear myself talking out loud. Trying to explain myself and my situation to people and it is all a stream of jokes and cynicism. Of things I don’t mean to be saying, but am. I have become so very inarticulate in my speaking it’s hard for me to recognize myself. Much of what we say, I’m beginning to see, isn’t worth saying at all. Much of what I know about another person I have learned through their actions. How are you expected to say the right word when words have to come out of your mouth so quickly? It doesn’t make any sense.
Right now, in this waking moment, my house is filling with the smells of somebody else’s cooking. It is wafting through the back window, in my kitchen, that is only a couple feet from another window. All the houses are jammed together like that. There is a little space between the back of my house and the back of the other person’s house. Too small to stretch your arms out. But it’s in that space that offers the best view from the house. You have to stand out there to see it. The mountains. Pure and uncut from ugly things, wires or satellite dishes or something else that you don’t often mention in prose. When I’m sweeping away the ants in the kitchen, I open the door, step into that small space and look out.
Does everyone else just deal with their lives as it comes to them? Lives involuntarily changing and merging and blurring? Cars spilling out of the trees. Selves going flying. Paths forking. Losing things you never thought, could never imagine, you could live without? Do people just deal with this?
There is so much I don’t understand. And I can barely imagine how every one of us is living this life for the first time. Because it feels like some people just get it more than others, more than me, and that they can just go with it and not get bogged down by it, by the absolute, total, utter bewilderment towards this great thing before them. Their one life: changing and transforming and turning back again constantly, always.
Sometimes it is so distracting I feel like it swallows up everything else. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly searching for something. Sometimes I think that’s why I read, that’s why I write, to get down one line, to find the one sentence, paragraph, poem, that will sum it all up. Allow me to understand what I’m doing and then will, finally, free me to move on.
“The forging of a sense of identity is never finished. Instead, it feels like catching one’s image reflected in a mirror next to a carousel—‘Here I am again.’”
Are we ever supposed to comprehend our identities? Know ourselves completely? Because if we are, how then does it allow room for change and growth? Don’t we have to keep changing? So isn’t it impossible to actually, really, catch up with ourselves?
I’m still jetlagged. I’ve been jetlagged, in one side of the world or the other, for weeks on end. I don’t care. Someone once told me jetlag is simply a result from dehydration on the airplane. “Well, what about the problem of going back and forth in time?” I asked her. I don’t remember what she said.
*All quotes are from Mary Catherine Bateson’s book, “Composing A Life.”