As a glamour-puss in training, I was using my vacation day to vacuum my home and contemplate life when a series of thoughts about recent writing, shelved writing, teenage writing, books that fascinate me, what I want to do with my blog, my future, and my life culminated in a realization: I am dedicatedly fascinated by death. In particular, how people process the deaths of loved ones, stars, arch enemies, and world villains.
My teen writing was filled with death, but I thought that was an age-related affliction. In those days, I just loved to read fictional tales of teens with cancer or kids who lost parents. Later Stephen King gripped me for a good couple of years before I turned my eye to more literary sources. My new favourites became books where well-developed characters deal with a death or the dark aspects of their relationship with someone now dead.
On the other hand, adding to the list of things I’ve always attributed to “being Portuguese”, I grew up in a home where death was perhaps the most normal of conversations, perfectly child appropriate and fun for the whole family. There was talk of who died, why they died, the extent to which that person’s death was a tristiza (sad event) or a desgraça (tragedy) or não foi uma surpresa (not a surprise). Likewise, talking about somebody’s illness, diminishing health, or imminent demise was never seen as disrespectful or downright offensive. Like taboo-free gossip. But there’s an up side. I adapted well to the notion that my parents would die, my friends would die, and that I would probably die, too, maybe even sooner than one would assume. AND, I can talk pretty comfortably about death.
Finally, I have never had a particularly dramatic response to a death – one that lasted a culturally appropriate amount of time and is followed by normalcy. For me, initial shock has been followed only by moments of missing someone, or noting their absence. These moments rise and fall as everything else in our life does. My lack of reaction has, in some ways, been of some concern to me. Is my otherwise sensitive heart cold to death? Do I see death as good? Do I just not care enough about those that have died? Sure, there’s no normal grief, but there is healthy grief.
And now my mind is awash with ways I can attack death or show death some love. It’s a marketer’s dream!
There are days where the world stops.
And it stops hard.
At least it does for you. Everyone and everything else, generally, marches on. You can almost feel them marching on. And you may keep in step, or look in step. But you’re much, much further away. At a distance that you just can’t recover.
It’s an affront. A powerful aftershock. Don’t they know? Isn’t it written on your face that you will never forget this date? That it is etched into you as few things can be?
(But it’s just another day. There’s humility in that, when it hits.)
On those days, relatively rare, there’s a drop of happiness in the sad. A sense of taking stock. A feeling of truly living. Without the distraction of gossip, advertisements, or fried chicken. Just you, your thoughts, and those you are most inextricably linked to. If you’re lucky. But even then, lost in yourself, there is great solitude.
That drop of happiness makes it bearable. That tiny hope of better days that can well up from almost nowhere. Somehow, it may just be okay that you will re-enter the world behind. Changed.
They are big, heady days.
I am ashamed to see that Gandhi is (was) still my front page item, months after writing. It makes me feel cheap, like I’m using him for fame, fortune, blog hits, or cool points among young people who travel to India. Then I worry that even by including his name in the title of this post, and in the post itself, I’m perpetuating this emotional weakness. Small steps, right?
Goodness knows the real issue is that life is busy and I have consciously put my blog aside in a bid to survive this current stage of life with some sanity in tact. I can almost see a light, a place where I can switch my neurotic attention to some other things, and where the guilt of take out containers doesn’t work its way into my dreams.
In the meantime, it gives me great comfort to know that all ye faithful bloggers are out there pounding the virtual pavement – kicking ass and taking names. Thank you!
I have terrible recall memory. It allows me to enjoy movies and books again, as well as conversations. It’s questionable how enjoyable it is for others. Because of my memory, I don’t dare brave a review of Gandhi’s autobiography but I can’t help celebrate a few of the items that really had me thinking.
I read Louis Fischer’s The Life of Mahatma Gandhi about four years ago. Reading about Gandhi is an overwhelming task. Those who knew him and have written about him are absolutely exuberant in their praise. Being the constant comparer that I am, it gives me a great appreciation for just how small I am. I am okay with that. Don’t call the self-worth police. Gandhi was just an overwhelming sort of dude. What I find most amazing about him is his personal appeal: people showing up in droves to hear him speak; people actually changing their views on very entrenched ideas; people often disagreeing with him but loving him in a very personal way; and his ability to do it all with such love. That’s a kind of gracious, self-interested power that I can actually get excited about.
Then I read this autobiography. I thought it would iron out the kinks in Fischer’s work, the apparent inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies that I couldn’t grasp. It turns out that that’s Gandhi – inconsistent and idiosyncratic; hard to nail down; hard to understand; sometimes, hard to agree with. The man was an enigma. He evolved much throughout his life. He went from sex-starved maniac (in his own words) to someone who expected celibacy of many, and later lightened up on celibacy for others. He went so far as to say that he would have had time and energy to teach his wife to read if he wasn’t such a slave to his libido. Really!? The term “experiments in truth” is a very consciously chosen, and accurate, title.
Gandhi stunned me at every turn, as much because I didn’t always agree with him as for any other reason. However, his capacity for love, leadership and ideas were endless. But two things stood out for me. Two of his thousands of pearly thoughts stopped me, requiring me to read them time and again.
The first statement, I think, is a fantastic image of or own tendency to judge harshly. While often, we are our own worst enemies and critics, too often we are also far too quick to criticize others, whether we know anything of their burdens. Gandhi gives us a way to deal with this imbalance:
Only when one sees one’s own mistakes with a convex lens, and does just the reverse in the case of others, that one is able to arrive at a just relative estimate of the two.
I’m struck by the conceptual tool but also by how true this statement is of two people in a dispute. If we looked at the other person’s perspective with the understanding and zeal with which we justify our own, it would be very difficult not to change our point of view. I think about those two lenses all the time now.
The second statement goes more to the substance of his life’s work. Not all of us are navigating the difficult moral maze of civil disobedience on a daily basis. Still Gandhi’s words about when a person can justifiably judge laws rang true:
A Satyagrahi[*] obeys the laws of society intelligently and of his own free will, because he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just and which unjust and iniquitous.
This quotation explained clearly to me that we can only judge laws’ value if we follow them faithfully. I also found it a spot on reminder that you shouldn’t piss on anything until you’ve taken the time to understand it deeply. His language here, at least as it is translated, reflects part of his charisma. The words he chooses don’t alienate. They are collective words. They speak of us as one, both in our beauty and our error. To me the choice of words like iniquitous, rings of poise and conscious decisions. In short, I like it.
* Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance”, in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word “satyagraha” itself or some other equivalent English phrase. – M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1928, pp. 109-10.
At the risk of sounding like I think that making an appearance on my blog is equivalent to washing up on shore after the sinking of the Titanic…I’m back! Sadly, I suspect, I’m not actually back, but am pleased to visit.
Reasons for my absence?
- I’m busy. Soooooo? Apparently I’m busier than before to knock the blog off the to-do list.
- I’ve made other priorities. Like? When I’m not working I’m no longer on the computer. I spend almost no time on it at all, for better or worse. In some ways this has been freeing. I did a great deal of spring cleaning, cooking, getting rid of stuff (it’s probably creepy how much I’ve been enjoying this), visiting, buying much-needed household appliances, and other fun things.
- I’ve been avoiding my blog. The longer I wait the harder it is to come back. But why?
- Because at least 50% of my blogging fun comes from reading other people’s blogs. I feel like a hypocrite for writing and hoping people will read mine when I’m not reading theirs. I know it’s not exactly a formal agreement, but it takes the fun out of it for me. With so little time to blog/read blogs, it’s been easier to do neither.
So, while in the constant search for blog balance, which I obviously haven’t found in the last three months, I will continue to mull over how I can make this work for me, once I have a little more time to actually
The hardest part? I was finally getting to a place where I was happier with my blogging and the community I was enjoying. I’m saddened that I’ll have to work up my energies and my knowledge of what’s going on with people again.
I am, of course, making choices. I’m grateful that the choice is mine. Right now it feels right to avoid the computer so I’m going to go with that for now.
This blog will now return to its regularly scheduled writing avoidance and denial for the short term. To those of you still holding on for the ride, thanks for your tight grip. I hope you’re all well.
Now that I’ve expressed my extreme hesitation in posting this teen diatribe on mortality, I feel better about posting it. It’s funny how that works. I don’t take much stock in what I said below, but it expresses the sadness I felt at the time in the way that I knew to address it: anger and morbidity.
So, my dad’s got a cane now. Next it’ll be a walker, then a wheelchair. His walk is now much more laboured. He lifts his leg a foot in the air to take a step. Two weeks ago I would have just thought I was imagining things. This is going to be quick. Yes.
Funny, when I was five and my brother graduated I found out that the guys dance with their mothers, girls with their fathers. Then I figured out that my dad would be sixty-three when I graduated. I figured my dad would either be dead or decrepid by my graduation. Now, I was only five but when I have insight, I have insight. I hope my brother’s a good dancer.
Post-script: Dad and I couldn’t dance at graduation, but he was most certainly there. I later learned that he was impressed at my lack of embarassment when I wheeled him out for the grand march. I never minded sticking out a little and he always liked a good ride.
I did not think it was going to take me two weeks to revisit the world of writing here. I had initial envisaged a 3-part tribute to my dad whose birthday would have been this last week. One of the intended posts – a publishing of something I’d written in the midst of processing the news of my dad’s illness and the throes of being 16, a heady combination. I’d decided against that post anyway because though I can forgive myself my perspective and attitudy writings at that time, that doesn’t mean I feel it would be appropriate to share them. Too many people in my family would not appreciate that if they knew and I think I’m okay with that.
My two other mid-thought posts have not manifested either though and for only practical reasons like working much too long hours, being away, and being sick. Thankfully, despite all this and today’s exhaustion, I’m in good spirits and hope to re-emerge into the world in short order. In case I don’t however, because I’m dying to communicate but incapable of sitting here much longer, I decided to provide random poetry that happens to be typed up on my computer. It’s random in that I’m just going to pick something that I find in short order. Lucky you!
A cast-off piece of maltreated gold has no idea of its continual worth and influence
People have tried to change it, fix it, break it, but it stubbornly, successfully stood strong
If, in despair, it buried itself within the rocks of once boiling lava…
It would be difficult for those who still looked on it amorously –despite the wrinkles of a grinding life-
To forgive escape
Gold’s brilliance endures many eruptions.
* Portuguese for the respectful form of “you” – I know there’s a term but it’s not coming
Currently, I’m working too late, being ineffective once I get home, maybe cooking or shopping and maybe sleeping as much as I would like or not. There is little chore-doing or exercising. Little = none of either.
And I have another weekend of busy time on the horizon. But after that it’s smooth sailing right? Thought so.
I believe I’ve written before about my blogging woes. Not the ‘howcome I can’t spend my whole life blogging?’ woes, but the ‘ack, people I actually know might be/could be/are reading this,’ ‘might be/could be/are ridiculing my dorky/lack of discretion/boring/lack of ingenuity’ woes. I’ve worried about school people, family people, hypothetical people. Coming in a close second are the ‘this could have consequences in my personal and professional life’ woes. They aren’t much better.
This is part of a blogger’s struggle. I realize. Once again, I don’t feel as though I’m being very creative here. I have friends who have written much more eloquently about this than I ever could. [Two that stand out in my mind this minute are Dana's A Visit from the Overshare Fairy and Kathy's Muted No More: How Memoir Complicates the Notion of Privacy.] So while I won’t say this well, or uniquely, I’d like to get the troubling thoughts off my chest.
It has always been difficult for me to write or act in most circumstances without wondering what others could think, which is both a blessing and surprisingly inconvenient. On the one hand, this makes me a born communicator. I have my audience in mind. I can anticipate communication gaps or difference in style. I write and behave according to the situation at hand. This probably also helped my acting abilities back in the day. On the other hand, I unconsciously, and sometimes more consciously, self-censor pretty extensively. Though it is very habitual and not a thing I set out to do everyday, it can be very frustrating in hindsight, and exhausting. I have a very hard time with more explosive people. My mind runs a marathon every minute thinking about how to avoid nuclear war. At worst, I worry that this “flexibility” makes me a shape shifter – a fakey-fakerson that just “acts” depending on who she’s around. Only upon reflection do I worry. But I digress. The point is I’m very conscious of others. This can make me sensitive but can also make me silent or different than I would otherwise be.
I’m slowly coming to sense that part of my reticence can be attributed to my, er, upbringin’. I come from a family that is and was about as publicly or politically active as a cotton ball. I can think of only one publicly vocal member of my family – an actual card carrying party member. This family of mine is the opposite of radical or staunchly ___ or anything that you could point a finger at and name. It would be fun to blame it on my parents’ growing up in an era of dictatorship and repression. In reality, I think it comes down to humble people living their lives and keeping their heads down. I don’t know that anyone else would see it that way. However, like my family, I am not prone to public displays, conflicts, or embarrassment of myself or others.
As it turns out anything I say or do can display, conflict with or embarrass someone, me included. I don’t kid myself. I know that I’ve probably cheesed off a good number of people in my day, both on and off the blog. But I like to keep that sort of thing to a minimum. These concerns have for the longest time kept me from intentionally expanding my readership. I have been quite comfortable limiting the readers who know where I live to a couple of friends that I might cheese off occasionally but that I suspect will accept me anyway. Only very recently have I highlighted blog posts on Facebook, though in passive fashion I’ve listed my blog as my website from Day 1.
My most recent bout of anxiety came when two of my school friends, Jess and Racquel (hi, ladies!) subscribed to my blog. While I was in no way concerned about these particular superstars of telling it like it is following along, their appearance served as a stark reminder that people I know in life might also read my desperate attempts at whatever this is. It was scary.
And thus I marvel at those of you in blog-land who dish it out, take it, talk about your families, spank your friends or otherwise deal with life. I know some of you sweat it more than others. Some of you have very difficult and painful reasons for sharing, or not sharing. For others it’s merely a practical matter. Many of you rage at censorship in all its forms. Some would perhaps tell me to strap on a pair and start living.
Admittedly, some of my boundaries are imposed by others. Some I’ve assumed on behalf of people who know nothing about this “secret” of mine. I haven’t really sorted this out much. Nor am I facing a particular dilemma. Frankly, I think it’s hard to blog the way I’d really like to without being self-employed and completely orphaned – for me. I’m not prepared to deal with the consequences. I imagine there are creative solutions I haven’t yet grasped.
In the meantime, a friend recently wrote to me that she enjoyed blog intimacy, referring to mine to some extent. I was stunned. In the vast expanse of all that I haven’t written, I’ve managed to evoke intimacy in one valued person’s opinion? I’ll take it for now.
Happy Friday the 13th – I promise it’s still the 13th here. You’ll be pleased or disgruntled to know there are three F – the – 13s this year!
I’m very tired but imagine I will have even less energy in future evenings. I’m aiming to post twice a week for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, I wanted to host a mini-celebration of things that are pleasing me, before things fall off the rails and I beat myself up for not being able to feel superwomanly.
- Tomorrow’s dinner is complete in crock pot in fridge, awaiting the morning.
- There’s a salt chocolate bar with my name on it on the desk. I don’t even have to eat any of it. The fact that it is there is so pleasing.
- I survived my first day. I’m not mortified to return.
- I can wear something tomorrow that does not require ironing.
- My legs hurt in a good way. Even though I’m not sure when I’m going to use them again. I will enjoy that.
- The shower will be back up and running tomorrow morning. This is something for which everyone the world over should be thankful.
- The dishwasher is doing its thing.
- The kitchen doesn’t look like someone was sick. I am always happier when the kitchen is presentable. Sad, but true.
- I have two upcoming weekends of fun and adventure/relaxation planned.
- Time for bed!