So long, soldier
Last night was Dan Shofner's last night at home before leaving for basic training today; he's going into the Navy, and nuclear school, and hopes to work on a nuclear sub. I called him to say goodbye & to ask him to take good care of himself.
Several years ago, when we were still dating, I dreamt that he went into the Navy. But it was during a full-blown war, and the dream was itself set in the 1940s. In it, I was saying goodbye to him on a train platform; the train was stopped, steaming and whistling, next to us; it, and the platform and the air, were all a dusty, faded tan. He was in full uniform, also tan, even the hat, and had only one square sleek black bag of things in one hand. I held his face and told him goodbye, knowing that it would be the last time I ever saw him, tears uncontrollably rolling down my face. I didn't tell him this knowledge, and he didn't understand why I was so upset, and awkwardly (vainly) tried to comfort me. I couldn't tell him that I knew he was going to a war from which he wouldn't come home. In the dream, I woke up before he got on the train. But even now, I can feel his head in between my palms as I held it so tightly.
I didn't tell him about this dream on the phone last night. At first I was sad that I missed his last day at home - he actually ended up having to leave earlier than expected; otherwise, I would have caught him - but now, I think it might be okay. Saying goodbye in person would have been too much like the dream; it would have felt almost like somehow jinxing him. Saying goodbye over the phone like this sort of broke its charm. Though I'll still keep his safety in my heart.
[And still, I haven't written about the Islam & Middle East galleries! I still want to; other stuff just butts in - maybe the third time's the charm, like they say...]
Another house dream
Last night, a new dream in my series of house/body dreams. I dreamt that Rasheed's mother came to visit, but it was strange, because she was disguised as Dan Shofner's mom (Dan is a former boyfriend). And the dream:
I am at home with Rasheed in our flat, but it is somehow not our flat - the hall is longer, the room bigger, darker. I'm leaving the very next day for Washington DC, for the JKC scholars' weekend. But that night, Rasheed is having some sort of party there, just a few people. I know no one (or can't remember?), but they are all familiar. It's a fancy dress party, and I'm wearing the dress that I wore as a bridesmaid in my cousin Ann's wedding: lilac, strapless, a straight cut across the chest, a flared skirt - but now, instead of being cocktail-length, it's a long dress, and reaches the floor.
And suddenly, with no knock, in walks Rasheed's mother, but disguised as white, blonde, blue-eyed Cathy Shofner. She is early for her visit! Unannounced! She wasn't supposed to come until after I'd gone. Luckily, I duck unnoticed into a closet. Only once the door is shut, and I am in complete darkness, do I wonder how long I'll be in there. I worry slightly about what I'll do if I need to use the toilet.
As I'm in the closet longer, it becomes a room of its own. It lengthens. The floors are a rough wood, and smell of damp. There is a window at the far end of it, near to the floor. I sit down near the door, but look down the long dark room - almost like a tunnel - at the window. London is not outside of it. Instead, there are tree branches, a lake, snow, I think. It is winter outside of that window, and its world is colorless, but high contrast. The branches are a thick, liquid-black; the lake glistens like wet ink; and the spaces between are blank white (the snow?).
The door to the closet opens a bit; someone has propped it ajar. He comes just inside and sits cross-legged next to me, offering me a drink - a fruit-smoothie type of drink in a clear plastic cup, strawberry and something, a dark, bruised pink with seeds suspended in its inconsistent viscous substance. I accept (nevermind the toilet-anxiety), glad for the company. But another man comes to sit just outside the door. I'm afraid they'll give away my presence there.
But still, I am due to leave the very next day, and I need to pack. She is still there, but distracted, near the windows at the far end of the flat. I escape the closet and clamor up into the loft where we've stored my suitcases, and where, in this dream, we've also stored my winter clothes. I pack my sweaters into my large suitcase, resolving to leave it all behind. I will pack only what I need in my small suitcase and take only this to D.C.
And here, there is a rift in my dream. Suddenly, I have escaped (through the window?)! I am running - sprinting! gulping for air! - down empty platform after platform at the underground, racing on high heels across the dirty concrete under the dingy flourescent lights to catch a train (what train?). But there, on one of the platforms, is an old friend of mine, Cone, whom I haven't seen since winter. She wears a dress similar to mine, lilac, floor-length, but the skirt does not flare, instead clinging to her body all the way down to her feet. She stands facing the empty track and lets me run on behind her. We are the only two on the platform.
"Tessa!" She says my name as I run by. Not quite calls it out: states it. I keep running 'til I've run past a newstand, but then I stop and turn, walk back to her.
"She shot you?" Cone sees the wound straight through my dress. It's the first time in the dream that I realize I'm wearing the dress, and it's the first time I realize that Rasheed's mom has shot me. I had bandaged the wound, right below my ribs, and put the dress back on over it (the dress, miraculously, is neither torn nor blood-stained). I touch my hands to the place where it's happened, and I can feel through the dress and through the bandage that it has already begun to heal; I can see already the skin closing up again over it.
This is where the dream ends. I don't remember the shooting, but maybe it didn't happen in the dream. Was the gunshot the physical manifestion of the invasion of the house? And where was Rasheed during this dream? I hadn't even said goodbye.
I woke up still feeling the wound, and woke not afraid, but slightly disturbed. I make no conclusions.
(And then I read Lee's Virginia Woolf and then did an interview for the Rockford Register Star and then Rasheed & I went to the Victoria & Albert to see the new gallery of Islamic Middle East art that just opened last week which I may or may not write more about later but he's just brought what he calls "chippos" [allusion to The Simpsons] and Gilmore Girls on DVD home, so I'm off for now!]
Working towards worthiness
[Note: yesterday, I attempted to post an entry; I've been reading the Hermoine Lee biography of Virginia Woolf, and wrote about the way actually living her in London has given me a more profound understanding, as if by osmosis, of Woolf's literary world, more so than my calculated efforts to visit each of her homes here, though this of course helped, too. But something happened with the computer, and it all got deleted, and I was frustrated and just needed to let it be. Sad, that.]
Last summer, at about this time, I prayed/meditated to be broken during this just-lapsed year (I can't believe it's been a year). Applying for the Fulbright (and Rhodes and Marshall and just starting grad school applications), I somehow felt sure that this year would be "my" year, that this year, I would be awarded the Fulbright. I can't explain it: I just knew it - my blood knew it, that this would be the direction it would go - before I even picked up my pen to begin drafting my preliminary notes.
But this feeling scared me. I wondered if I wasn't perhaps being a bit egotistical, assuming too much. So I began praying to be broken, and I meditated on humility and on achieving true understanding and appreciation of the Fulbright. Many (most) of the applicants for these awards come from a pool far more privileged than even mine, and unlike me, they don't apply because without it, they can't study abroad - they apply for the prestige. They apply because they're already very accomplished scholars, and they need something to set their CV apart from all of the other accomplished scholars. I didn't want this to be me. So I prayed to be broken.
And I think that perhaps I was. Apart from the year of the tumor, I think that this last year might have been the hardest year of my life in many ways (not to say that there wasn't a lot of good, too, particularly bringing Rasheed to Christmas at my family's, and spending time at his home with his family, too; swing dancing with everyone; and running randomly into Cheryl in the Gap in Chicago and getting back into touch; and of course, every Buffy Friday night with my lil bro). First, I began work at an independent bookstore that initially seemed really cool, but which I quickly learned was a really abusive environment, in which the owner controlled her managers with threats ("is it worth your JOB?!"), which then filtered down to lesser employees like myself (at least the employees had some solidarity). I was forbidden from wearing high heels ("forbidden" was the word used), and felt completely castrated for about two weeks, and then was temporarily alienated from who would soon be my fellow comrades when a manager told me that I was a snob and was alienating THEM. "Only a year" was my mantra; only a year, and I would start grad school and get out of there. But it was part of the process: by the time I left, I didn't care at all for my appearance - no make-up, no attention to my clothes, nothing. I wanted to spend my time outside of that hell on the things that really mattered to me, my research and my writing.
And then the Rhodes and the Marshall. I was a finalist for the Rhodes, and an alternate for the Marshall. But I won neither. When I lost the Marshall, I panicked a little: I wanted to have a back-up in case I didn't take the Fulbright; I HAD to get to Sussex to study Woolf and get to the Monks House papers. The Rhodes would have been amazing as well, as I hoped to study with Hermione Lee (author of the above-noted Woolf bio) at Oxford. The loss of the Rhodes didn't hit me too hard, though, especially since now, as I've learned more about Cecil Rhodes himself, and about his history with Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and colonialism and the diamond trade, and his prejudice against the African people, and where that money originally came from, I don't think I would have been comfortable with that fellowship (though to give the man some credit, he DID support Home Rule for the Irish). But: each of these interviews took me to Chicago for a weekend, and each of these weekends was so good, despite the eventual loss of the award. For the Marshall, I got to hang out with Cheryl & one of her roommates, and it was just so good to be reunited with my long-lost friend. For the Rhodes, Rasheed was actually in town, and came with and stayed with me at the hotel, where we met up with Cheryl for dinner. And the process of this interview was actually a lot of fun: we had a fancy dessert/drinks hour the night before, where the nine interviewees got to meet each other and the interview panel (4 of "us" already knew each other, having gone to Harvard together - an intimidating first few minutes for a girl from Illinois). This way, I knew the two kids that won the award, and was genuinely happy for them. And I got to discuss Freud with the circuit judge of Chicago. Also, though, after everyone was leaving at the end of the process, she pulled me aside to let me know that my interview, the things that I've done and been through, was "moving," and that if she could do anything for my future, I was to let her know. And just that quick whisper, I think, meant more to me personally than any award.
And then, the return of the seizures. And they became increasingly worse. I had gone a year after surgery with none. Now it looked like they were back for good. Anti-convulsants made me sicker the higher the dose; doctors didn't listen to me; I drooled and blacked out everywhere, at work, on the street, on my bike, in talks I still went to on the U of I campus. It's still a process, but I think that there's hope in the newest (fifth) drug we're trying.
And perhaps my darkest few months: I was turned down at all of my grad schools in the States. I was shocked. The night I heard back from Berkeley, the first, my brother and I watched hours of bad TV and ate the ENTIRE contents of my fridge and cupboard (I put chocolate syrup on popcorn). My professors were shocked. A few immediately asked me if I'd mentioned my "condition" in any of my personal statements. I had. I believed it showed my dedication to my work, as I had continued with school even after the diagnosis of the tumor, finishing the semester with straight As/A+s. They told me that schools not only looked at their applicants as potential scholars, but as potential employees, TAs, and they didn't want someone who would perhaps be sick too often. They believed I had been discriminated against. It made me sick. One by one, my prospects slipped away. My safety net: now I would have NOWHERE to go if I didn't get the Fulbright and couldn't afford to attend Sussex (the only school I was accepted at, and also, the only school to whom I didn't mention my "condition"). In the meantime, though, I applied for yet another award, the Jack Kent Cooke, just in case.
And then, a major turning moment: I returned from an arts & humanities conference in Hawaii where I had presented two papers, and my abusive boss had slashed all of my hours for the week (I'd actually only have missed Monday because of my trip). My comrades told me that this was a common Susan-thing, to slash hours as a way of both punishing her employees and saving money on payroll. My reaction? I resolved to move to London with Rasheed. In a month, I sublet my apartment, consolidated my bank accounts, quit my job, and bought my ticket. On 6 March (our one-year anniversary), I boarded the plane.
And then. Amazing London. Rasheed took me around the city I'd been waiting my whole life to see.
Things began to turn around more. I was given an interview for the Fulbright. I made it to the final round of the Jack Kent Cooke. I met the professor I would work with at Sussex if any of this funding came through.
But then. Another jolt: I was named an alternate for the Fulbright - I was first alternate, but only an alternate. I resolved to live in a tent in South America for three months if I had nowhere to go. I was honored in a far greater way, though. One of my favorite neighbors - the neighbor who was the neighborhood - passed away. He died a day before a postcard I had just sent to him and his wife arrived. (And it was SUCH a Mr. G card!!) But, when Doris got it, she passed it around all of the family who had come to the visitation, and everyone chuckled at it (it was def Mr. G's humor), but then...she put it in the casket with him to be buried. I was so humbled that this tiny little thing I'd sent them was helping to see him off to eternity. This was honor.
And just as suddenly: I won the Fulbright; and then, not long after, I won the Jack Kent Cooke. My funding at Brighton will be taken care of, and now, wherever I go to grad school in the U.S. (after another round of applications, of course), most, if not all, of my Ph.D. will be covered.
It didn't hit me for a long time. Rasheed and I had planned to celebrate the Fulbright by going to this waffle house in our neighborhood, and we still haven't; for weeks, I still had walked by it longingly, still not understanding that I'd already won the Fulbright. It only just now is beginning to, only now, since I leave in less than a week for a JKC scholars' weekend in D.C., and then have only a month at home before returning to London for Fulbright orienation, and then, on to the dream! On to Brighton!
And suddenly I feel so small. The press release for the Fulbright has gone out; newspapers are already running things or contacting me; I've just approved my press release for the JKC. "You live such an exciting life, girl," my mom said to me on the phone last night. It's keeping me up at night, this excitement. I am excited (birthday-excited!), but at the same time, I feel so humbled by it all. These things are so big. Too big? And I'm so afraid that something will happen to take it all away (when my seizures were at their worst, right after I won the Ful., I was afraid something was "coming back," and I'd have to sacrifice Sussex to my health, but I've gotten beyond that now). And I think about all of the amazing people who have come before me...Sylvia Plath was a Fulbrighter, for example. It just blows me away, this amazing heritage I've stepped into. And I feel so small. Will I live up to it? There is so much pressure. I know that my love for my study and my crazy work ethic will drive me through, but I'm so afraid to disappoint, to somehow not live up to it. This is what I lay awake thinking about.
Is this true appreciation, I wonder? I look back on the year, and I feel as if I were pretty soundly broken.
I think it must be.
The sign of a belonger? Giving directions. Over the last few weeks, I've been giving directions to more and more people, or rather, I apparently look like I know what I'm doing, and people approach ME for directions, and I surprise myself by being able to give them. (SO MANY people have asked Rasheed and I where they shot the movie Notting Hill. Gross.)
Yesterday, though, I got to play "tour guide" for the first time. My old friend Dave from the States was passing through on his way home from swing dance camp in Sweden, and gave me a call to see if I'd want to hang out one of the two days he'd be here. So we hung out, did touristy stuff (I took him to Little Venice, as that's one of the really cool places in London that nobody knows exists; and then on a riverboat cruise down the Thames) and then finally - of course - swing dancing at the 100 Club on Oxford St. We got dinner, too, at this so-called Tex-Mex tapas bar in Notting Hill (so-called because they list SALMON BURGERS on the menu...how's that for Mexican?!), and he paid for my meal, saying: "Well, it's the least I can do for my tour guide." And then I realized, hey, I was sort of the tour guide!
And it made me feel so much more at home here, and so much more that the city was somehow "mine." For so long since I've been here, I've wanted to share it with people, especially my mom. My dad and I really worked on her to come visit (but, of course, she's kind of apathetic about these things, won't even get her passport), but she won't come, and the best we could get was that she'll come visit me next spring in Brighton (if she remembers my name by then!). There were just so many things that I wanted to show her and my dad, and so many places I wanted to take my little brother to just hang out (and he WOULD have come to visit if he wasn't shit-broke). So Dave was the first person of "mine" to come visit. (I was afraid to leave him on the tube alone at the end of the night! But I got him [and myself] home safely.) I loved being able to take someone new to all of these little places that have become familiar to me over the past few months, to see someone see "my" city for the first time, to show off my city.
Today, I had another, smaller opportunity to act as a guide. Rasheed & I met this sweet little old woman on the train platform at Euston Sq, where we were picking up the Circle Line (or so we thought). She was in the city to meet up with her sister at High St Kensington, but then, there was trouble with the Circle Line (an "incident with a passenger" at another stop, says the announcement), so our options were to stay stranded at Euston for God knows how long, or to get on the next train to wherever and switch where we could get a train taking us to our goal-destination. But this woman obviously had very explicit directions to get her directly to High St Kens, and these, of course, didn't include train "incidents." So we hop on the train with her, and then at another Station, get a train that will take her to where she's going (luckily us, too, only a few stops away). I just couldn't leave her there, you know? Standing alone and confused and short, thin-haired (dyed red), slightly hunched over and trembly-handed with a slow walk and sandals too tight for her soft white old-woman's feet with the little toes pointed in naturally and lying over the toe next to them as if she (like me) had spent her entire 20s squashing her feet into high heels that were too narrow. And when we were getting on the train, she said to me, "Oh, dear, you always will find someone to help you, won't you?" And it's been true: since I've been here, people have always been more than willing to help me out with directions or trains. Maybe it's just like that everywhere, when it's "your" city: you love it, so you want other people to love it, too, and you want to help them see it the way you see it.
It saddens me (sadden? more like a horrible gaping ache in my gut) so much to think that I leave in a week (but don't get me wrong; I'm ridiculously excited to see all of the people I've missed so much back in the U.S.!!!!), and that the next time I'm in London, it will be as a "visitor." People tell me that Brighton is lovely, and that I'll have a great time there; I know that if I feel for it even a sixteenth of the attachment I feel for London, I'll be happy. And please, please come visit me there (you can have my bed; I'll sleep on the couch). Let me show you another city that I know I'll love, and if you stay long enough, let's hop on a train 40 minutes north to my first great love.
Currently, I'm in the thick of Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa. Generally, a seven-year-old girl's eye on the post WWII upheaval in India, on religious differences, and on Partition and the holocaust there.
Some bits from the book itself & my reactions:
"And I become aware of religious differences. It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves - and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols. Ayah is no longer just my all-encompassing Ayah - she is also a token. A Hindu. Carried away by a renewed devotional fervor she expends a small fortune in joss-sticks, flowers and sweets on the gods and goddesses in the temples" (101).
"Yousaf is twirling [Hari's] plume of hair and tugging at it as if he's trying to lift him. I feel a great swell of fear for Hari, and a surge of loathing for his bodhi. Why must he persist in growing it? And flaunt his Hinduism? And invite ridicule? / And that preposterous and obscene dhoti! Worn like a diaper between his stringy legs - just begging to be taken off! / My dread assuming a violent and cruel shape, I tear away from Ayah and fling myself on the human tangle and fight to claw at Hari's dhoti....Someone pulls off his shawl....hands stretch and pull his unraveling mauve lady's cardigan...and rip off his shirt. His dhoti is hanging in ragged edges, and suddenly, it's off! / Like a withered tree frozen in a winter landscape Hari stands isolated in the bleak center of our violence: prickly with goosebumps, sooty genitals on display. / With heavy, old-man's movements, Imam Din wrenches the shawl from under our feet and throws it at the gardener....He is not at ease with cruelty" (126).
[Note: our young narrator, Lenny, is Parsi, or "Parsee," in the British colonialist spelling - I think it's REALLY interesting that the author uses this latter spelling in the book - a group of people who emigrated from Persia and who were generally associated with Zoroastrianism, which I know nothing about, except that it had some influence on a lot of other religions, including the dharmic tradition, and even Christianity and Judaism - seems appropriate that Lenny be "all-encompassing" herself. And I'll def be turning to Wikipedia after I'm done here.]
This may seem totally obvious, but as I was reading this, I thought, yes, people who are symbols/tokens are no longer PEOPLE - and this is what makes the violence possible. Only after you dehumanize your neighbor may you slaughter him.
And on Ayah, the figure who interests me perhaps most (except Lenny, of course):
"Only the group around Ayah remains unchanged. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsee are, as always, unified around her" (105).
"The covetous glances Ayah draws educate me. Up and down, they look at her. Stub-handed twisted beggars and dust old beggars on crutches drop their poses and stare at her with hard, alert eyes. Holy men, masked in piety, shove aside their pretenses to ogle her with lust. Hawkers, cart-drivers, cooks, coolies and cyclists turn their heads as she passes, pushing my pram with the unconcern of the Hindu goddess she worships. / Ayah is chocolate-brown and short. Everything about her is eighteen years old and round and plump. Even her face. Full-blown cheeks, pouting mouth and smooth forehead curve to form a circle with her head. Her hair is pulled back in a tight knot" (12-13).
"Things love to crawl beneath Ayah's sari. Ladybirds, glow-worms, Ice-candy-man's toes. She dusts them off with impartial nonchalance....I learn also to detect the subtle exchange of signals and some of the complex rites by which Ayah's admirers coexist. Dusting the grass from their clothes they slip away before dark, leaving the one luck, or the lady, favors" (28-29).
And at the part where I'm just at now, when Sidhwa first really starts to write about the violence, she writes it as having a very physical effect on Ayah:
"And on their heels, a mob of Sikhs...shoving up a manic wave of violence that sets Ayah to trembling as she holds me tight" (144).
And on witnessing a man pulled apart by two jeeps driving in opposite directions: "Ayah, holding her hands over my eyes, collapses on the floor, pulling me down with her" (145).
"The whole world is burning. The air on my face is so hot I think my flesh and clothes will catch fire. I start screaming, hysterically sobbing. Ayah moves away, her feet suddenly heavy and dragging, and sits on the roof slumped against the wall. She buries her face in her knees" (147).
I've been reading Ayah as a figure for the (mother)land itself. Ania Loomba, in Colonialism/Postcolonialism, a really good overview of that subject, writes (I paraphrase because I can't remember her exact words) that women are the "porous boundary by which the nation is penetrated," a device I think is operating here, even with the British on the verge of leaving, even internally. And Ayah is that woman/nation, rich-bodied and fertile, literally the NURSE, voluptuously sexual and explicitly able to reproduce whatever ethnicity catches hold of her, able to literally (pro)create whatever may potentially be the new nation. All of the men - or, to see with Lenny's new understanding, all of the different religions - cluster around her and vie for her. But at the same time, as these same men tear apart the land, they tear apart Ayah. Superficially, her reactions to the violence are natural to a Hindu woman watching the brutality that has subsumed her holiday, Holi, but I think, too, that they reveal her visceral connection to the female body of India, land and nation.
And finally, on Holi:
"And the Muslims shouting: 'So? We'll play Holi-with-their-blood! Ho-o-o-li with their blo-o-o-d!' / And the Holi festival of the Hindus and Sikhs coming up in a few days, when everybody splatters everybody with colored water and colored powders and laughs and romps... [...] And instead the skyline of the old walled city ablaze, and people splattering each other with blood! And Ice-candy-man hustling Ayah and me up the steps of his tenement in Bhatti Gate, saying 'Wait till you see Shalmi burn!' (144).
Reading this, I had such a personal reaction of horror, more specific than the horror of such massive massacre. A few months ago, I serendipitously stumbled upon a huge group of people celebrating Holi (the holiday of spring and renewal) and, curious to know what was going on, joined them. And it WAS such an amazingly joyful experience! The colored powder, the food, the dancing! And everyone was so good-willed! People had just dropped their bags and coats and whatever else all along the peripheries of the square so that they could dance and eat and talk unhindered - no fear of theft! And people were so welcoming, and so happy to explain things to me. And there was one especially wild dancer, Ram, who invited me to dance, and taught me some moves. Another kid wanted me to try some of the different kinds of food. Another gave me a keychain to remember it all by. It was one of the first sunny days, too, since I'd arrived in London. I think, too, the day rates among my top experiences here.
After having this experience, and then reading this paragraph - it made it so much more real. Remembering the absolute joy I'd seen, it made me sick to think of such an amazing celebration being appropriated for violence. And this is violence that still has reverberations today, obviously on the large-scale, but still even in my personal life. Rasheed is a practicing Muslim, and was at first a little resentful of my participation in Holi, and then was made very uncomfortable by the sudden appearance of my new keychain in the flat. He won't ever carry my keys, and when the keychain is just lying around, he turns it goddess-side down (the other side is just text) if I forget to. At first, I was a little unnerved by his minute attentions to this seemingly harmless token. I was upset by it, and I wasn't quite sure why; I knew it wasn't at all about me, but still, it nearly felt like a personal affront. I was a little disturbed to discover this seeming anti-Hindu tenacity in my loved one, though he of course does not discriminate against PEOPLE (only, apparently, their religious icons, but I think this has a lot to do with the poly/monotheism split and the non-representation of God in the Islamic faith, something I wish would have happened in Christianity, as I find the image of a white, blue-eyed Christ a little irrelevant and irreverant), and speaks with sympathy for the way Hinduism seems to drop out of the family with each generation in America. I think, too, that it made me uneasy because I've never had such strong feelings against any other religion (in fact, I remember getting into quite the altercation once with a Sunday school teacher who insisted that EVERYONE but Lutherans were going to hell - I was aghast by her intolerance). I've always been ready to learn about any aspect of any other religion, any new aspect of God.
I guess with that, I'll just say: please read Cracking India. Though written about events that transpired half a century ago, it's still so relevant today. I own a copy, and will more than happily lend it to anyone when I'm done reading it.
Also, I want to leave you with some pictures from my own first Holi experience:
Welcome to that crazy roller-coaster called love. Rasheed and I are now back together.
This morning, he looked really, piteously tired, so I asked him if he wanted some coffee (or "coffee drink" in his case - he's not ready for the real thing yet, but we're working on it). And he asked me: "Why are you still so good to me?" And then sort of realized that he has been distanced lately, and that he should take better care of me, and wants to try.
I am moving to Brighton on my own, though, while he moves back to the States to live with his brother in St. Louis. I'll be back for a couple of weeks around Christmas/New Year's time, and he'll come visit me, as well. I think this will be good, or, in the words of his cousin's husband: "Studio apartments are relationship suicide." That, and apparently masters theses and seizures.
So here we go!
Two nights ago, I told a friend how much I missed midwest thunderstorms - you know the kind: booming & crashing thunder; flashing lightning; torrential rain; wind whipping around the house, making the windows twitch in their frames. I've heard thunder twice since I've been here - once each on two separate occassions (couldn't have anything to do with the major drought we're in the middle of here, right?).
But last night, I had my thunderstorm. First, a loud boom - it's what woke me. I thought I was dreaming until I realized the sound of pouring rain. Clattering tinnily on the empty cans left below by the hostel kids, smattering against the glass of our windows, washing over our tiny balcony. Then I got up and pulled our wide-open window down 'til it was open only a little (let some of that cool air and fresh rain smell in!). There were a few flickers of lightning, a couple of stubborn, reluctant grumbles of thunder - and then one more boom! - and then the rain really started rushing down. I laid wide awake, eyes open, thrilled with it. The entire city - even the hostel, even the planes! - was silent beneath it - the quietest I'd ever heard it. It was as if I were the only one awake and aware of the storm, as if it were mine. (And I know that this is a totally romantic, dangerously solipsistic idea...but I had my storm, at last, just two weeks before I'm due to fly back to the States...I wonder what weather there is in Brighton?)
The wisdom of Holly
My friend Holly is one of those people whose words you want to get in print, in text, on some sort of recording - in short, in some sort of PERMANENT form. I was lucky to have her on the phone for a short time this afternoon, and even this fleeting conversation was richer, perhaps, than the entire rest of the day.
Holly, you are going to write your memoirs and share this wisdom with the world, right?
Disservice to society
Rasheed & I have broken up. It's mutual, and I know that for the future, this is for the best. It was friendly (no fight), which is good, since I'll still be here, living with him, sharing his tiny studio flat and the couch/bed for another two weeks until I leave for D.C. (this is slightly weird, I have to admit). It's also slightly weird being here, because other than him, I'm basically on my own. My friends were his friends first. He has friends outside of those I know. He claims that he has "nowhere to go" to hang out, but he has no idea. (I have, however, made a couple of slightly neurotic phone calls to a former high school teacher who will go unnamed but whom I can always trust to make me laugh and who now no longer needs Elimidate as a guilty pleasure because his former student is making the drama. I have also called a friend/professor who lovingly [mostly] calls her husband her "oldest and least cute child" to complain; lucky for me, she was pissed at him, and he throws the same kind of tantrums that Rasheed does ["I never get any work done and it's all your fault" tantrums], so we had a good bitch-fest and then made plans to visit and do girly stuff when I'm in the area. And this, I think, was the longest aside I've ever written.)
We've broken up partly because he cannot deal with my "condition": the drugs, the doctors, the seizures on a daily basis. Though he put it somewhat more dramatically - overdramatically, perhaps - by claiming that it's taking over his life. Amazing, that. I don't think I could say it's taken over my OWN life, let alone another person's. True, it makes things suck pretty damn hard sometimes, these last couple of weeks being a particularly good example of that, but taking over? Never. And this is perhaps selfish of me, but I feel that regardless of this "taking over" my illness has contracted over his life, he hasn't been able to take care of me, that I've taken more care of him than he of me. It's only stupid little things, like cooking meals and then cleaning up after them, things like that, but still. With these recent medicine switches and seizures, I think I just wore myself out and snapped. He grew up verrrrry spoiled by his parents, particularly his mother (Indian immigrants to the U.S. who made phenomenally well for themselves and therefore will give anything unquestioningly to their sons), and I think I just realized that I was filling in for that role he'd been missing while living alone here: now I was here to "mother" him and take care of him and spoil him. Fine and good, but when you've had three seizures in one night...I wanted someone to take care of ME. Beyond holding me while I was actually having it, and then patting my shoulder - "Poor little penguin" - when it was done and then being over with it.
But now I'm complaining. He obviously is a good kid, if a little immature still, if I stayed with him this long. And he did make me very, very happy. A giddy, unadulterated happy that I hadn't felt since before the year of the tumor. My strongest memory of the spring we fell in love is of the color - just clear, white light; the white light that was coming through my window and reflecting on my white sheets the first morning I woke up next to him and my head was cradled on his chest, and he was already awake, and reading. And we read Rumi together on those mornings, and then Hafiz. He made me settled again.
Before that, it had been a few years of jumping from boy to boy, never committing to anyone. I broke a lot of hearts, I think. I did a great disservice to, well, men. I was terrified. I was living alone in so many senses of the word, but I didn't pity myself - I liked alone. I revelled in alone.
I hope that this has not unleashed that onto the world again.
A House Possessed
Last night, I dreamt that I came into possession of what I insinctively knew was my ancestral home. It was beautiful; it was all mine, and it was only mine. The first two floors were rooms and rooms of books, of old carpets, musical instruments, kitchens and dining rooms. The third floor consisted entirely of bedrooms; innumberable, small, cozy rooms crammed with overstuffed down beds and lit only with short bedside lamps. This floor itself was smaller than the other three, going by square-footage (dream geometry). The fourth floor, however, was by far the most expansive, its borders stretching beyond my vision. The floor was made of hard dark wood and blonde wood in a chessboard pattern, but the squares were all at different levels; I climbed from square to square like stairs. Lost somewhere in the center of this room, leaking through a few low squares, was a dark garden pool; it was small, but the sound and smell and cool feel of the water filled the huge room. There were no lights. I don't know if there was even ceiling (if there was, it was high). Instead of walls, the room was entirely bound by glass - no frames; only windows. Even at night, when I first saw it, the room was lit by the landscape outside. Green glowing land rolling lush and voluptuous for miles, stretching until it met black pine forest. And only my house at the center all of these miles.
But just as I came into my own in this home was it seized by strangers, many of whom, to be specific to the non-logic of dreams, were involved in organized crime - that's right, my house was taken over by the mafia. And they brought their crime in with them. There was in-fighting, and for the first time, blood in my house. There was a shoot-out in the library and the room next door. I was in the library, saw first the bullet holes peppering with ugly black wounds the aging yellowed wallpaper of the room before I realized there were still bullets whizzing through and threw myself to the ground. I was aware of the sound of the guns, but hadn't connected it with the bullets. But once I was on the thick carpet, I stayed there until all was quiet.
With all of the people the mafia brought, they filled all of the bedrooms. At the end of the night, I climbed the stairs to my room to find the bed filled. Its occupant told me my room was on the fourth floor. Exhausted, I continued to the chessboard room, where I would sleep on one of the hard platforms, high up, to keep dry. There was more of the mafia up there, however, planning a murder. I commanded, then demanded, and finally begged them not to commit such atrocities in my house. The police would come, I reasoned - the police, meaning still another seizure. I suddenly felt, for the first time, vulnerable in the chessboard room, vulnerable surrounded only by glass and sky. I didn't sleep that night - I waited, wandering the squares and looking out at the hills, for the police to come and arrest me and my guests. They never came - I woke up.
A house at battle with itself, invaded by unwanted guests, seized and under seige. Only a house? I wonder. No, I don't wonder - I often ascribe to that belief that the house stands for the body. Since the surgery, my always-already vivid dreams have become even more so real, and more, I've wandered through house after house in them, exploring this new, ever-shifting body. I have shared it with enemies (like the mafia, apparently), but I have shared it with friends, too, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together, men and women. It has been rich and colorful (I once wrapped its rooms in red and purple curtains and then filled them with cushions; this was in the first two weeks post-op), but it has been spare, as well. Once, it sat on the beach at night. And so many times, I've returned in my dreams to the real-life house, the shithole apartment I shared with two girls during the senior year of my undergrad, but which was finally my own (all my own!) that summer, that I most associated with my body, with which I most (still) identify, and which has become the tangible location of my imagination.
I want to be writing right now. I have the chapters I'd like to be working on open in front of me. But I'm stalled:
1) Hot & sticky
2) Loud construction
4) Incompetent doctors
5) Restless energy
So in an attempt to alleviate some of the problems:
Rasheed and I go for a walk in Hyde Park (no cure for the hot & sticky, but nice in the shade and when a strong breeze whips up over the round pond) to feed the ducks some bread that was starting to go bad. Then, come home to a nice cold mug (all other dishes dirty) of water and possibly the BEST vanilla yogurt I've had ever (better-than-ice-cream yogurt, seriously). And for the construction, I'm just telling myself that I can't do a thing about who's going to make noise when and where and how, so I'll just put on Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and turn it up a little louder.
The seizure/doctor problem there is no quick fix for. This new medicine is "a kind in glass and a cousin" (in Steinese) to an abusive boyfriend. For the first six days I was on it, I was seizure-free. None!! It was like being able to breathe again! The first few days, tentative first steps. But by day three, I was running all over this city by myself and going out dancing, unafraid. I allowed myself some hope. Then, my doctor stepped up the dose, the idea being to bring me up to therapeutic levels of this new drug, and take me off the former. And immediately the day after (last night), I'm slammed with three seizures in rapid succession (rapid for me, anyway, spaced about every 2 hours). And then another one this morning (while I was writing; sometimes, I actually write myself into a seizure; it just gets too intense). So I email my doctor, since I have a history of higher doses of seizure medicine actually making me sicker (2 out of the 3 drugs have done this to me; though the jury is still out on this newest); it's as if I get too much in my system, and it shocks me (literally, when you think of the electrical activity going on up there). And my doctor emails me back and tells me to increase my dose by another 500 mg!! No explanation. And I do the rational thing (having been exhausted by three seizures & not a lot of sleep last night and then capped with another seizure this morning) and wig. Just a little. Okay, okay - I cried. Just a little. And then I called one of my good professor-friends (I have two women professor-friends who have had experiences eerily similiar to mine [how many women does this happen to?]; they began having problems that were initially diagnosed as anxiety before it was "discovered" that there was actually an underlying quite serious physical illness, Graves in one case, uterine cancer in the other) to talk. And she was, like I knew she would be, wonderful. Worried, yes, which was not what I wanted to do, but helpful, and rational. So now I've emailed my doctor back with good questions, and I've let him know that I'm not comfortable increasing my dose again so quickly, especially since this last increase, only 2 days ago, caused such system-shock.
But, of course, he has not emailed back, and I just feel stalled. I need answers so I can move on with my day. Right now, this is such a distraction to me. I just want to WORK, but I feel so restless, and so scattered. I was hoping that writing here would help center me.
I should use the frustration, though, because right now, I'm hoping to write frustration into one of my characters. And it's a hot day there, too. A Saturday. And he, too, feels entirely impotent, but restless.
So, I understand very little about computers and the internet or how one would even go about this, but apparently, the government of India has blocked access to a number of blogging websites, including, yes, blogspot. Read the article here:
The specter of terrorism, of course, was speculated having invited the censhorship, but what I found more sinister: this speculation comes as afterthought. It is the ever-present villian, lurking, if it IS to be found in the text itself, in the last paragraph, a fleeting familiar word, a brief mention, a long-since understood fact of life. And yet it is there, grinding away to push the chugging machinery of the article "forward" (where?) -
And does this not show that it pushes US?
A small incident from my own life:
I once got off the tube because a man in my carriage made me extremely nervous. He had a bag on the ground between his knees which he constantly fidgeted with, nervous fingers running over it like flies, flickering over all of the zippers and tabs. His foot was in constant motion, his heel drumming against the ground faster than you could keep rhythm to any techno beat. And his eyes darted up and down the cab, though stopping and dropping so that all I saw were his shiny lids when he caught me staring, daring him to reveal himself. He won the game, though, and I got off at the next stop, rationalizing "better safe than sorry."
Nothing, of course, happened (but what if it had, a voice persists in me? the fleeting familiar word), and this is nothing compared to the magnitude of the censorship in India. We let it win; we let it push us (and certainly not forward). Too many of us, entire governments, let it push us into silence & basements and off trains & planes and out of cities and into Canada (oh wait, that's Bush, but it's all the same, isn't it?).
And now, worse, we take it for granted.
A few words of introduction. Beginning this blog, I thought about the last time I did any online journaling. The first time was during my sophomore year of college, a pink "Diaryland" account, young & frivilous. The second, my junior year, "Livejournal," increasingly (unconsciously) despairing as I became increasingly sicker with the tumor, until my surgery, when the descent suddenly reversed, becoming a steady climb. The Livejournal became a record of my progress, of recovery. My bedroom was on the second story of the house; the computer, downstairs. In the beginning, when no one was looking, I used to shuffle on my bottom down the stairs (I wasn't allowed to dare the stairs yet) to the computer, turn it on, log into my account, and write about the thoughts that had occured to me as I laid on my bed smelling the summer tree-smells that came through my window (my mother always used to ask, "How are you doing? Are you dozing?" "I'm thinking," I always answered), then turn off the computer so no one would know I had been there, and then crawl back up the stairs and get back into my bed or the chair in the living room. Then, they became entries about walks outside in the yard; then, about excursions for ice cream, and once, terrifyingly, the first movie I saw in the theatre post-surgery, and then about fireworks over Green Lake on the Fourth of July, and about my first Fulbright application, Dorothy Parker, and my senior honors English thesis (Jane Austen and Susanna Rowson's transatlantic discourse of gendered space). And then. The last entry. The day of my second MRI after the surgery, taken after most of the swelling had gone down, taken at the end of the summer, just before my senior year. The MRI to determine if the doctor had successfully removed all of the tumor. And. He had. I wrote about it, and ended the journal there, feeling it appropriate to end what had become "the brain surgery diaries" with this last, most important, triumph.
And I thought that this would be the triumph to end all the troubles. I honestly believed that after the surgery, I could go back to being the "normal" girl I used to be, the pink-template, "bubbly" Diaryland girl, that I could go back to talking about "normal" (easier at the time than so many other things) things like boys, magazines, my birthday party nearly a year away (one of my favorite things to daydream about, that birthday, in the first couple of weeks right after surgery). But after a year of intensely obsessive-living ("work hard, play hard"; "go balls out"), attempting to "make up" for the year that I had "wasted" being so sick, attempting to live as intensely as possible, I've learned that after spending so much time out of reality, severed from it by the seizures which heralded the tumor and that have now returned to plague me, and that after being confronted with mortality, there is no return to "normal." But, instead of obsessive living, there is living deliberately.
I don't mean to leave you with a moral, though. Just an attempt at an explanation of my life. I still struggle with "obsessive." I still sometimes live like I dance - never sitting one out, and living 'til my hands shake with nervous-manic energy. So here is the process with which I open this new blog.
Many stories and thoughts to come.
This post is just to test if I set this up correctly. Cheryl & Holly, you've inspired me to start blogging again (and it's likely that you'll be the only two to read it, so the pressure's on!).
I promise to write something meaningful soon.