Still Sundays

Still Sundays.

April 12, 2015.

 

This morning I woke up thinking about the word exile.

When I say the word aloud images of a long dark aisle and an isolated isle pop up simultaneously in my mind.

The word sat there in my head to be grazed by my very cow-like laziness this Sunday morning.

 

I don’t come to writing like I once did because I don’t want to write what I once wrote because I don’t think what I once thought. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Once you grow you have to get refitted for Stillness.

I have developed a resistance to writing in stillness due much in part to the last two years here in California where I would mostly read on Sundays. Any writing has been personal. Not all growth can be shared publicly. In fact, I argue that the deepest evolution cannot be framed, put in words, or even shared. We just show up after that kind of change and the world must adjust.

So in that sense, Stillness and I are reacquainting. Surely, it is me who has changed.

 

The word exile, as defined by contemporary dictionaries, has something to do with being removed or banished from one’s country of origin either by force or circumstances.

In an unpublished essay author Cristina Garcia, who was gracious enough to share that essay with me after I met her at a conference, writes, “It is a severing from one’s homeland, a rift between here and there, a longing unsoothed, the terrible sense of un-belonging.”

She continues in her essay about exile and Cuba,

“This is not to say Cubans are permanently stuck in el pasado, the past. There is too much work to do in the present. Thoughtful Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida (and beyond) continually ask themselves: What does ‘home’ mean? Where do I belong? What do I owe the past? The future? What does it owe me? What does it mean to be Cuban?”

 

Exile.

Before this brick of a word landed on my head this morning, a few days ago a couple of things happened.

 

First, I was recently interviewed by Jessica of Jessica Ann Media  for a podcast series she is launching titled Art of Humanity: Fresh Perspectives with Artists, Leaders, Authors, and Entrepreneurs. Although usually I am weary of “marketing consultants” Jessica and I connected because of my blog a long time ago and I have paid attention to her pursuits and efforts. She truly does bring a new level of consciousness and a much needed fresh, creative perspective to the PR business. Hesitant, I agreed, honored that I could add some value to her series. The depths of her questions were a welcome surprise and I am looking forward to the beginning of the series.

During one part of the conversation she brought up my “bio” and the seemingly constant nature of my moving, from one city to another, not to mention from one country to another country to yet another. I stumbled to explain that I was not a vagabond by any means although to an outsider it might appear as such. We moved on to other topics but that part of the chat stayed with me.

Second, a few days ago I connected with writer, Natasha Moni, and in one of our exchanges she brought up the tiny nuance of being a first-generation versus second-generation American. How we connected is a very convoluted story that I will save for another time. She lives in the Seattle area and our email conversation thread is titled, “Books and Things”. I told her I had never thought of the difference and perhaps there is no difference and paradoxically that is the difference.

Third, Seattle based attorney and fellow writer, Charles R. Wolfe, shared with me a recent article by him about the changing face of his city. He writes beautifully about ever-evolving cityscapes and the memories between and impacts beyond. You can find more of his photography and essays at My Urbanist.

His article “Using Urban Observation to ‘Ghost-Bust’ Cities” in the HuffingtonPost.com strung several chords.

First chord: I thought of these fantastic, very moving paintings by Jennifer McDaeth, a Seattle based artist.

Second chord: I recalled parts of A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. This book was a recent Christmas gift from my brother-in-law. I learned about Rebecca Solnit because of a comment by Peter Ciccariello on a Still Sundays essay from May 15, 2011 but it would be now that I would finish reading her book.

 

Here is the music…

 

Charles R. Wolfe begins his essay that while walking on a familiar intersection in Seattle, he “[…]saw a ghost, of a missing building from a boyhood memory—something that Amazon might have retrofitted, today, if it were still there for the taking. Gone from this layered, contemporary scene was something significant to the history of Seattle, the Orpheum Theater […]”

He continues,

“I hold that scene in perspective, because I’m old enough to recall what was there before.

I’m also an inductive, first person urbanist, always looking for context in what I see. Amid urban change, I see ghosts of bygone images, wondering, ironically, about their unrealized role in today’s vitality. This approach, allowing for and explaining the stories behind our redeveloping cities, should not be viewed as antiquarian, academic or obstructionist.

The tool of human memory, discerning eyes and understanding both the pragmatism of the present and the symbolic, collective meaning of a given place are often left behind in today’s discussions of urban solutions.”

 

When discussing her recent art in progress, Jen Macdeath, wrote,

“I completely get this [referring to the Seattle article by Wolfe].  It makes me so sad to see the incredible old buildings being knocked down and destroyed!

 That is why I did my Ode to Piecora’s series as our favorite pizzeria and the entire block was being demolished for new crap condo buildings.

 Ocean [the artist’s daughter] said she is tired of seeing her childhood memories being turned into condos! 

This Seattle doesn’t feel like my Seattle anymore and it breaks my heart!”

 

Exile then is not a mere banishment from one’s country of origin but can happen within cities, communities, professions, and worse without an option to leave that very place that now feels absolutely foreign. What I am talking about is more than mere gentrification, it is a complete stripping away of time itself and vis-a-vis a part of oneself that only exists inside one’s mind.

Rebecca Solnit describes emptiness by quoting another text, “‘Emptiness is the track  on which the centered person moves,’ said a Tibetan sage six hundred years ago, and the book where I found this edict followed it with an explanation of the word ‘track’ in Tibetan: shul, ‘a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by—a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in the flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All of these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there. […] As a shul, emptiness can be compared to the impression of something that used to be there.'” (50-51).

 

So here we all are, experiencing this scared emptiness, where we don’t recognize our streets, our schools, our neighborhoods, our professions. We pack and move from one place to another so as to belong to ourselves at the very least. There is no ‘there’ to go back to and nostalgia hurts more than it helps as we move forward.

The corporate take over by Wall Street from one end and Silicon Valley on another, of every single non-corporate industry, leaves no room for the majority of Americans, whatever their ethnic backgrounds. Many of us are now exiled within other exiles.

 

Charles Wolfe ends his HuffingtonPost.com essay by mentioning a link to blended superimposition images of London to show how much London has and hasn’t change and therein lies her charm.

As “Pakistan’s democratic rebirth remains constantly under siege” thanks to Islamic fundamentalists and all “moderates” who look the other way, I can’t help but feel frightened about American democracy.

After all, America has been home for so many in exile that I honestly can’t imagine how one even begins again if the very word exile must be redefined given all that is happening in this country.

 

Cristina Garcia ends her essay by stating, “But like all great loves, a homeland is not something one can ever fully possess.”

And yet we, and only we, can possess this emptiness which serves as a “shul” of all that was once there.

And if we continue writing about it, talking about it, sharing about it, we are bound to recreate that very thing that has been lost.

Perhaps all of this going forward has always been about going back.

It’s about time. It’s about Time.

Still Sundays.

March 29, 2013.

It’s about time. It’s about Time.

My mother tells me the weeks before my birth she had her fingers crossed and continuously prayed that I not come into this world the same day as Pakistan would hang Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  “That would be so tragic. I didn’t want you to be born on a tragic day,” she says. I wasn’t born on April 4th but it would turn out to be a tragic year. Pakistan, barely thirty-two years into freedom from India and the British, would begin its downward spiral to the dust it is today due to religious fundamentalism and politicians who take western bribes as vitamins.

In a different part of the world the Iranian “Revolution” would take place that year creating the movement for Islamic Fundamentalism as a political force.

In 1998 at the University of Kansas I befriended two twin brothers from Iran who shared the same birthday as me and I would become their de facto twin sister.

1979 would be the worst year for industrial disputes in Ireland involving the Army during a nationwide bus strike, also including a national postal strike which would last for months while my father was in Ireland unable to communicate with my mother about me.

In 2003 for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary while others might have preferred Hawaii or Bali my father took my mother to Dublin and parts of Ireland. He even introduced her to the people (we don’t know how he found them since this is pre-Social Media) who provided him room and board, or more accurately “a room without a wall”, to show her the bike that still sits locked against time, the streets where he drew art to make extra money while he waited to sort the paperwork to pursue medicine as a physician, the Irish people who welcomed him despite him being a foreigner, the post office that never opened again, the cobblestones that received his tears. My father is a very humble and frugal man, and usually you have to convince him to spend money on himself, but this visit he stayed in the most expensive room and hotel in Dublin to note his triumph against fate.

In 1979 U2 would release their first EP album with three songs.

The year would end with the beginning of the Soviet War in Afghanistan that history books would note as having lasted nine years, but as we all know, it continues to this day in one form or another.

I would come into this world 6 years after the United States Supreme Court would decide the landmark decision about a woman’s right to have an abortion balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in protecting pre-natal life and protecting a woman’s health.

A year before I would be born another controversial landmark decision would set the stage for a series of “affirmative action” cases to further complicate race relations in the United States. In 1978 the Supreme Court would hear Regents of the U. of California v. Bakke and decide for Bakke, a white medical school applicant who was denied admission under the “regular” program while minority applicants with lesser scores and grades were admitted under another review system established to promote minority students. The Supreme Court held against rigid quotas but concluded that race was a permissible factor to consider, among other factors, for purposes of admissions.

Years later, because of the privilege of hard won cases, I would have an equal opportunity to attend law school. Moreover, in 2005, in New York City, I would find myself in a Constitutional Law Seminar course taught by the man who was one of the attorneys who was part of the team that had filed amicus briefs in three landmark affirmative action cases, including Bakke. This professor would become one of the most influential people in my life. In 2015 I would discuss with him the the law as it pertains to the mess that is our education system.

 

Part of the last cohort of Generation X, I came into a very divided world, as if one foot in heaven and another in hell.

 

The last two and a half years in California have pushed me so far deep inside myself that whatever I am to write for the next five years is going to crack a universal bell. My words will be the clapper and you will be the waist of the bell and the sound will be justice.

Henry Miller in his essay “My Life as an Echo” in Stand Still Like The Hummingbird writes about the time he was a personnel director in the Western Union Telegraph Company in New York.

“The four years I spent hiring and firing the miserable creatures who made up the fluctuating force of messengers of this organization were the most important years of my life, from the standpoint of my future role as a writer. It was here that I was in constant touch with Heaven and Hell. It was for me what Siberia was for Dostoevsky. And it was while serving as personnel director that I made my first attempts at writing. It was high time. I was already thirty-three years old and, as the title of my trilogy indicates, it was a rosy crucifixion which I was about to experience.

[…]

What a tremendous relief it was to cease blaming society, or my parents, or my country.

Suffering belongs, just as much as laughter, joy, treachery, or what have you. When one perceives its function, its value, its usefulness, one no longer dreads it, this endless suffering which all the world is so eager to dodge. When it is regarded in the light of understanding it becomes something else.

[…]

To become a writer! Little did I dream, in begging the Creator to grant me this boon, what a price I would have to pay for the privilege.”

 

The last two and a half years have offered me an understanding without which I can not imagine continuing as a writer or an educator.

 

I am getting ready to place another birthday card given to me by my parents on the wall above my desk. The one from the year before sits there too. Held open by thumbtacks, like a bird’s wings, so I can see their words, so I don’t forget their love, support, and faith in me. Also, to have their faith in a God/ Universe visible to me when on most days I feel like inviting God to a boxing ring made of humanity’s bruises. I demand a solution for the mess created by people everywhere! Help me pick it up!  My parents are people who continue to believe despite everything; I on the other hand have to roll the dice on some days to understand all that probably can’t be understood.

The ‘Greatest Power’ is a prayer you can hear yourself. Must hear words out loud.”  A different part of the same card from last year, in my father’s bold, lavish script, reads, “He gives to all those who ask of Him.

It’s not a surprise I would end up marrying a man whose mother believes the same as my father. When we doubt so much we tend to draw towards us those whose faith can see beyond one’s own eyes.

 

As I reflect on the last two and a half years in California and our time here comes to a close, it’s hard not to note a myriad of tiny and huge things that tested every fiber within me that makes me ‘me’.  And somehow I kept going. I kept writing. I kept teaching. I kept dreaming. I kept inspiring. I kept being inspired. What is this “somehow” made of? I was always surrounded by immense love, provided by Jamie, his family, and my family. This love provided the buoyancy needed each day of each week of each month to make it past all the razor-edged bumps hitting against the surface of my essence. Yes, there are bruises, but nothing that love and time can’t heal. That “somehow” has to be love then.

What do I most want this year? Who can keep track of a Universe that gives and takes as it pleases?  I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as there is love and I can be me.

Always hold strong to your faith in the Higher Power who brought you to life…and always be True to Yourself.” That’s what this year’s card says.

Oh the price to be True!
The price to be Yourself!

I am back.

It’s about time. It’s about Time.

There is much to celebrate. We are the ones who save ourselves and we are never alone.

Precious Light

I am drunk on books lately. I don’t recall such a voracious appetite for reading since I was a kid or in my early 20’s.

It goes in cycles, I suppose….this reading and writing dance.  Contrarily, the writing lately has been slow trickles from a broken faucet. However, the amounts I am reading are outrageous. I am reading several books simultaneously. I am re-reading others.

I distinctly recall a period, right here on this digital shelf of mine, where under some oath of stillness, I proclaimed that I can’t find anything to read, something that truly pokes my attention span and consciousness long enough to force me to pick up a highlighter to box delicious sentences which I want to read and re-read, sometimes aloud and sometimes just whispering to myself, to taste how only language can taste. And here I am now: there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to read everything. I also like to re-read what I enjoy, almost to memory, so I can access it at any given moment even when the book is not there, an amulet of words strung together just for me.

I am reading Xylotheque by Yelizaveta P. Renfrom, which I ordered from University of New Mexico Press.

“How do we treat and interact with these ancient ones, the bristlecone pine? I don’t know. What would we tell the mayfly? Carpe diem? Our time is cosmic to the mayfly, just as the tree’s is cosmic to us. It’s all relative. I only know that we would probably fall in supplication before a human as old as the bristelcone pine, before someone who could tell us so much about the history of the world. The trees could tell us much, in their more subtle tongue, if only we would learn how to listen.” (P.9).

This tree that you see in the photo below is a pure gift of light. It stands alone in one of the most dilapidated parts of California (which is becoming most of the state regardless what you read about Silicon Valley or see in the photos of beautiful sunsets and hence mentioning the precise location is pointless) in an empty parking lot that resembles something out of Brave New World. And what it has to tell me is to always take time to note the light. The story of light is a precious one, indeed. Light illuminates what matters even when nothing resembles good or beautiful.

 

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Then there is Far and Near: On Days Like These by Rush’s world renowned drummer, Neil Peart. The photography is amazing and so are the stories. There is just too much to share just in the interview itself and of course from the book of his travels on the road.  Neil Peart’s words resonated so much with me that I will have to share more from the interview another time. I am grateful to Jamie for sharing the interview with me in the first place since he knows my love of place so well which led to my buying the book.

“I always do feel the human spirits of these places, however seemingly deserted, when I travel through the Mojave Desert for example. And the name desert doesn’t describe the landscape or the weather, it means it’s deserted by people. […] But at the same time there are so many stories that have taken place nearly everywhere you travel around North America, and certainly across Canada, and around Europe, Africa, the stories that came alive to me there…”

My favorite part of the interview was when Peart replies,

“Even on the internet I’m part of what they call the “slow blogger community”, where I take just as much time with my stories there as if I was publishing them and work with an editor and work with a designer and carefully, carefully structure them and go over them to eliminate the errors.”

 

I don’t know how to share the best snippets from the book; I am no reviewer. There is much to share, the entire book feels like an amazing road trip, but here is one:

“That was a valuable life lesson, among the many I have learned from other people, other cultures, in my travels. That kind of ‘press on regardless’ attitude is not only particular to Britain’s rainy climate, but powerful as a metaphor—about pursuing happiness and enjoying life even when the conditions seem unfavorable.” (P. 29).

 

And there are three different books by Henry Miller, The Stinging Fly anthology, and The Red Petticoat by an Irish writer named Bryan MacMahon!

 

 

Here is to the turns in 2015 bringing more light!

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“Death shall have no dominion…” ~ Dylan Thomas

January, 18, 2015.

I will be reading parts from this today at my grandfather’s memorial service.

 

Over the holiday season, Jamie’s mother, my mother-in-law (if you are subscribed you received my occasional newsletter which included a photo of an enchanted Jamie and me getting married in November in NYC and I do plan on writing more about that another time), Patty shared that she was exploring a practice about self-awareness which involves no complaining. This surprised me since Patty, definitely some saint reincarnated, seldom complains about anything and is a very happy-go-lucky woman. Part of the practice involved wearing a rubber bracelet as a reminder not to complain and that every time you complained about something you would snap the bracelet on your wrist and then switch it to the other hand and start all over again. She boasted that she had gone on five consecutive days without complaining at one point! The object of wearing the bracelet was to eventually get to a state of mind that didn’t mention the trivial things we complain about as a manner of conversation.

If that bracelet had been placed on my grandfather’s wrist the day he was born, Nana g probably would have never switched that bracelet from one wrist to another till his last breath which he took on Thursday, January 8th, 2015 at the age of 95. I can’t ever recall hearing him complain about anything despite life’s many challenges that he faced throughout his life even as he got sick and weak towards his last days on earth.  Yet despite all the challenges, the sum total of his life seems like a collection of social gatherings with friends, gatherings that seem like a myth to people now, gatherings involving good conversations with good food and authentic company that appreciates the moment, and his attention to his grandchildren.

When I visited him in the hospital a few weeks ago, I was struck by how indeed true this statement is: it is not death that which scares us but life. Yet here was this frail man, agitated like a baby who just wanted to rest, who wasn’t afraid of what was next because he had lived his life to the fullest.

 

Grieving doesn’t have a time table. Sometimes I feel such a profound sense of loss that it seems akin to floating through star dust all by myself where I can barely hear my own heartbeat. Other times, I rejoice with happy tears for the ways he influenced me. And then there are times, I am fine. Just fine. Then it begins all over again. I also can’t help but note what this loss means for my mother and her siblings (and even my father since he was very close to him too), which leads me to panic at the untimely and selfish fear of one day having to live without my parents instead of focusing on what my  mother is going through. Then the tears come back but they are about something else instead of his loss. They become about living my life in a manner which honors who I am, who I really am, just like he did.

My grandfather was a very social person but by no means did he desire to be the center of attention. In fact, he was a man who minded his own business and I don’t recall him being too verbose. Yet his influence is far reaching to say the least.

 

Everyone can recall some of their favorite childhood memories. It doesn’t matter whether these recollections are wrapped in precision or even entail accurate facts. It matters not whether these memories are based on confabulations as narrated to you by the adults who are supposed to be the guardians of the Exact Past. The significance of these memories is that as you grow up and continue to dip your adult awareness in that vast river which began long before you could actually recall much of anything, shapes your essence as a human being regardless of what you end up doing with your life or what you have to show for it. At least such has been the case for me and who I continue to become. This is due much in part to the memories I have attached to my grandfather, my mother’s father, my nana.

As a ten year-old I grew up knowing with charged conviction that I knew something extra special about the power and meaning of words because “they” say my nana taught me the entire alphabet and basic vocabulary that went along with the alphabet by the time I was two or three years old. This wasn’t done with the intent to get me into some top kindergarten program or win a prize for young babies. This was done out of love. How could I not grow up to love reading and writing?

There are other stories too that have been transformed into memories. Memories of him taking me on walks with him and his love of talking to strangers and listening to others’ tales which created a blueprint for my desire to explore and understand others. The truth is that I don’t have a clear recollection about a lot of my time with him. He was part of shaping my consciousness at an age when a child is too young to remember everything and yet never forgets those moments either.  The past that continues to shape my truest and highest self comes to me in flashes: tenderness upon seeing a Bhaad-Gaaule black cap or better known as a “topi”, any elderly feeding pigeons, laughing as a form of wisdom, and the power of unconditional faith.

My young adult years provide for less hazier memories. I recall he was always reading, he was always quoting poetry, and he was always quizzing us on historical information. I also remember he was fond of writing letters which is something I too still continue to this day. The greatest gift he gave to me is to show me by example that reading, writing, traveling, exploring, keeping in touch with friends through letters, and finding contentment beyond the material world,  are not done to prove something to someone or because of a lack of anything, but are cultivated because, as author and educator Tom Romano stated, this is how we “bring ourselves to realization.”

His most deep-rooted influence in my life is his love for his wife, my naani, who passed on before I was even born. He was a widower for a good portion of his life. His love for her and his commitment to continue to live his life for his children despite missing her created a lasting impression about “true love” in my mind and for that I will be eternally grateful. His love for her embodied the line from Dylan Thomas’ poem: “though lovers be lost love shall not”.  Whenever I would ask him about her he would have wonderful stories to share about her and he never seemed to forget to add how beautiful she was. His love for her left a permanent impression about what constitutes love in my mind and probably served as one of the reasons for my delayed nuptials, relatively speaking. I wanted something “more” than getting married.

 

Finally, if there is anything I desire out of life after reflecting about his life it is simply this: I want to be content. I want to be a happy person. He was able to influence so many because he was content. I see this contentment in my mother and her brothers and for me it would be the highest achievement. He lived his days fully engaged with life and didn’t let life’s challenges stop him from enjoying what really mattered.

 

Grateful to Jamie for reminding me of this Dylan Thomas poem which is most appropriate.

 

Death Shall Have No Dominion” By Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.

Dead man naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon;

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.

Under the windings of the sea

They lying long shall not die windily;

Twisting on racks when sinews give way,

Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;

Faith in their hands shall snap in two,

And the unicorn evils run them through;

Split all ends up they shan’t crack;

And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.

No more may gulls cry at their ears

Or waves break loud on the seashores;

Where blew a flower may a flower no more

Lift its head to the blows of the rain;

Though they be mad and dead as nails,

Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;

Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,

And death shall have no dominion.

When was your “Malala Moment”?

Still Sundays.

November 16, 2014.

 

1. ISIS continues with their cowardice by perpetuating barbaric violence.

2. Pakistan’s elite, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF), have just called to ban Malala Yousafzai’s memoir and because that alone is not disgraceful, they have proclaimed an “I-Am-Not-Malala-Day” to dehumanize a brave survivor of terrorism.

3. Jon Stewart’s conscientious efforts to adapt the memoir And Then They Came For Me by Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari into the film Rosewater is being reviewed as Jon Stewart’s attempt to break into film-making instead of giving it the attention it deserves, specifically, how social media is making tyrants more—not less—dangerous.

4. Apparently no one has ever seen a single issue of Playboy (not even in their imaginations if they have indeed led such a sheltered life) and hence the recent, almost comedic, Internet obsession over  Kim Kardashian’s (who is only famous, in her own words, because of social media) nude photos which she claims weren’t photoshopped.

 

I wish people were obsessing over any of the above except the last one. But that is not what social media is for. Yes, it can be used for good, but mostly it is useless. For every useful article, there are 1 million more that are useless. For every good book review, there are 1000 unhelpful personal opinions on Goodreads.

In a world where we are celebrating a narcissist (and I mean this word in a very clinical sense) who has done absolutely nothing to advance our fractured humanity and yet dehumanizing a young girl who was shot in the head for speaking Truth, I feel quite helpless sitting here trying to make sense of any of it. But words are the only tool I know which help me make sense of this very deranged planet.

 

Tonight I finished reading The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan. When I began reading it due to a random recommendation by an 11-year-old (these days some of the most magical things that are carving the trajectory of my next creative steps are in the form of “serendipitous nudges,” as I have started to call them, by a very special group of young writers and artists), I didn’t know it was a work of fiction based on the younger life of Pablo Neruda.  Despite having read many of his poems, I didn’t know that the famous Chilean poet was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. The main character’s name is simply Neftali Reyes and the back of the book didn’t hint at any connection. As a writer, I found inspiration in the work because although written for a younger audience it still uses magical realism in its narration. As an educator, I felt it’s a great text to teach writing, historical research, historical fiction and poetry (although this is too abstract a concept for the makers of the Common Core national standards who can’t seem to grasp that rigorous learning and curiosity can’t be broken down into neat genres, and innovative critical thinking can’t be tested by a simple (or complex) standardized test.  As a reader, I was moved to tears. The author had ever so delicately presented the painful experiences of a child from a child’s perspective who had no idea he could continue writing under his father and country’s authoritarian regimes let alone go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and become one of the most widely read poets of all time.

“Grief, uncertainty, and disappointment assaulted Neftali. How could a government arrest someone for writing what he knew, in his own heart, to be true? Should all writers pass along only the beliefs of their government? How could a writer be considered treasonous when all he did was present another view? Were not two views better than one? Was it not better to ask questions of readers and allow them to make up their own minds? He stood and paced, filled with an urgency to respond, to defend, to fight” (332-333).

 

Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is not far from me tonight; I want to know what he would ask.

Whom can I ask what I came
to  make happen in this world? 

 

There is so much I want to ask. I want to ask: Is the smell of a pop culture icon’s flatulence directly proportional to the size of their posterior? I want to ask: Will the government of Pakistan ever stop being an embarrassment to those who now live in exile? Does exile have a taste that the tongue gets used to? Because words certainly have an aftertaste.

 

Speaking of questions, my father who was a keynote speaker at an event honoring Malala, had some answers. My brave father who, as a neurologist, tried to explain fundamentalism as a disease of the mind, a neurological disorder, long before terrorism became a common subject offered this.  My father said there is a Malala inside each individual. His earliest Malala Moment was when he had to learn the Quran as a young boy and he didn’t understand why would the Quran’s first sentence begin with “in the name of God”—if this was the “word of God” was God beginning with another God? he asked. Who was the narrator?  His other Malala Moment was when he didn’t understand how power as  universal as a God punish a young kid for not fasting? He said inside all of us, when we are children, we have these divine “Malala Moments” where we are blind to fear and question dogma, control, hypocrisy presented by adults or institutions. Most of us get slapped or spanked for our “Malala Moments” but Malala Yousefzai got shot in the head. And the best way to honor her commitment to Truth is for all of us to speak up about Truth. He joked that if Jesus was on Social Media he would probably only have 12 real followers.

Truth is not a dish prepared by counting the number of servings.

 

I leave you with this inspiring video of my brother doing headstand variations  because what is most needed right now is our ability to stand on our heads with grace.

 

Who can convince the sea to be reasonable?

(Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions)

 

I don’t for a second believe there doesn’t exist some system of checks and balances despite all the injustices. With or without religion, the Universe has never hesitated to auto-correct.

“small diagnostic truths”

November 2, 2014.

Still Sundays.

 

 

“My plan was clear, concise, and reasonable, I think. For many years I have traveled in many parts of the world. In America I live in New York, or dip into Chicago or San Francisco. But New York is no more America than Paris is France or London is England. Thus I discovered that I did not know my own country.  I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light.  I knew the changes only from books and newspapers. But more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years. In short, I was writing of something I did not know about, and it seems to me that in a so-called writer this is criminal. My memories were distorted by twenty-five intervening years.  […] So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land. Otherwise, in writing, I could not tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.”

 

The aforementioned passage is from John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley: In Search of America. I happened to come by an 8th edition at an antique shop which I readily purchased. No regrets about that buy. On the contrary, several months prior to that, I bought—my curiosity had led me to get caught up in the Colbert-Amazon-Hachette controversy—California the debut novel by Edan Lepucki. It attempts at the dystopian genre which describes post-apocalyptic California. I was really hopeful to read something insightful. It didn’t take me very long to realize that the story read as if following a creative writing workshop formula. The characters were two-dimensional at best and the plot lacked the depth I was expecting. I read some reviews and they echoed my thoughts and feelings much more aptly than I cared to explore in writing a review myself. You can read two here: “Lepucki’s cautious dystopia never quite asks the right questions of us, ultimately to the detriment of the novel” and “mediocre characters plodding along in a meandering plot.”

I unsuccessfully tried to return my disappointment at the local Barnes and Noble. For months now it has been sitting on a small shelf where it is not visible. No one knows it is in this house but I know. I haven’t given it to recycling yet or donated it to a used bookstore. It sits there as a reminder about how not to write, how to contain your excitement about an “idea” as you work on the craft instead of just telling the idea as a story.  More importantly, I think I have allowed it to fester in my space because I haven’t figured out my own reasons for disliking it so much other than the obvious ones in the reviews.

 

It was only this morning while reading that excerpt by Steinbeck that the profoundness of my dislike for that book became clear. A sentence formed to provide clarity: I am offended. Yes, that was the word! I was offended! I was offended by Lepucki’s treatment of the post-apocalyptic California (her attempt was to shed light on current California) because she failed to tell “small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.” And she failed to do so because, like many from California or those visiting here, have only been exposed to one version of California. California is a huge state that has endured many transitions and consists of so many middle-America towns that it can take a life-time “getting the story” right. Moreover, unlike New York City which the entire state of New York treats as a separate entity, here everyone carries on as if life begins/ends in one corner of the state in one prominent city and ends/begins in another well-known city. There is no delusion of “oneness” in New York City; New York City is that weird mole on the face of the state which just happens to belong there and there isn’t anything that can be done about it even if not all view it as a beauty mark. Austin is another example that comes to mind: it is an anomaly city. Even within anomalies there exist exceptions that originally make them an anomaly and without a deeper exploring, even if not physically, of the land itself, I think one would be hard pressed to write a story that offers “larger truths.”

 

Other than celebrating that clarity, I have been exploring “small diagnostic truths” this Sunday morning where the day offered an extra hour thanks to Day Light Savings Time. Things are certainly shifting. It is November! The Day of the Dead just passed and we should all be more concerned about the ghosts we may become than the ghosts that may haunt us.

2014 is almost over. What a year it has been. In many ways I have felt the entire year can be defined as if someone accidentally hit “freeze” in a game filled with more tricks than treats. This is not to imply lack of momentum but more akin to holding large blocks of ice and putting them in an order that doesn’t really exist. So you finally give up and the ice starts melting and you realize there was nothing to put together in the first place. Except the giving up required hitting an  “unfreeze” and that was up to Time.  So, it’s time. We only view it as end of the year because of the calendar we have created, for all we know November 1, 2014 might very well be the beginning of everything.  It sure feels like it.

Another “small diagnostic truth” is the work I am doing in the field of literacy. I am beyond elated about putting together evidence in the form of a book. I didn’t know my first book would be a collection of stories and I didn’t expect my second one to be about students writing and third one to possibly be children’s fiction. I have considered starting a separate blog that pertains to education but a “small truth” of the matter is that all of that too is my life. I never imagined sitting and writing stories here or elsewhere in some ivory tower sipping on my tea and looking out the window at a world in which I didn’t participate. And so it is: all of my living which I choose to share belongs in this space, my cares about legal reforms and how they are shaping the American landscape to what is going on in the classrooms. After all, what good is writing if there are no adults who can read? I attended a recent conference where phenomenal educator, author, speaker, consultant, Kelly Gallagher, mentioned an article from the Washington Post, “Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researches say“.  The author of  Proust and the Squid calls this an “eye byte” culture. I feel compelled to share my findings that show if reading is taught by those who love to read, the current students who are in elementary schools, even English Language Learners, actually prefer to read print although they enjoy the digital world as a tool to extend their reading.

 

All these “small diagnostic truths” this year have led me to the foundations of a larger truth: the larger Universe opens up to us to the extent we let go of our reigns over our smaller universe.

“Bloom where planted” feels only glorious in theory and not in actuality because in reality you can’t always predict what blooms since it depends where you are planted. I don’t think the Universe would have it any other way.

Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

 

Still Sundays: Ghosts of Elsewhere

October 12, 2014

 

I have been traveling in other worlds lately. The worlds of William Maxwell and Frank O’Connor’s words. I am in Ireland and in New York but I am still here too as I stare upon Elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” is always a place in Lahore or somewhere in South Africa. I see corners of streets from “Elsewhere” if the sunset’s light hits the smog on the leaves a certain way. Some days, the quiet on a street after the cars leave an intersection takes me to this “Elsewhere” to which GPS coordinates don’t exist.

I have lived many lives and when it comes to “Elsewhere” I have lived them more than once in this very lifetime.

I sometimes wonder if I am everywhere but Lahore on purpose, at least in part unconsciously. Some secret resolve to keep oneself protected from such depths one can’t claw out of, at least not without bleeding. How much blood can you shed for the past? It requires immense strength to pull your entire body weight to toss yourself over the other side of a wall. Now, add to that weight the additional poundage of memories, good ones, of a world that doesn’t exist anymore, not even in pictures that can now be touched to insta-glorify even garbage.

I think of William Maxwell’s words, thoughts, dispositions, in his stories, interviews, anecdotes about him, and his letters and editorial notes to Frank O’ Connor. I relish the characters in Frank O’Connor’s stories; I have been reading many of them, almost all of them. “Ghosts” is a remarkable piece of art, sheer genius in my opinion.

“They could go looking for ghosts, but he had ghosts there inside himself and I knew in my heart that till the day he died he would never get over the feeling that his money had put him astray and he had turned his back on them.”

That’s how it ends, that story, and that’s how it stays with you forever.

The ghosts within us, of our other selves, that remember different worlds, aren’t scary but they are persistent. They don’t haunt us for the sake of nostalgia but as a plea to save the present.

 

Anyway, I think of William Maxwell and others and can’t help but wonder if any of them could ever relate to the stories I want to write, characters that don’t belong to one city, characters whose edges can’t be neatly cut according to most MFA programs that follow a trend even when they try so hard not to follow one. More importantly, I wonder if any such editor exists now. What I mean by that is, editors who hold their current positions because they are or were writers first. I mean, take the current editor of The New Yorker, Deborah Treisman, I can’t seem to find any creative fiction she has penned despite being part of the literati long before taking on the role as an editor. (Side note: I use The New Yorker just as an example, not as some implicit attack; perhaps it is not fair to mention an example of a magazine whose fiction I don’t read, it was a very different magazine before the 90’s. This is not to say they haven’t published authors who deserve their public or literary reputation, but one doesn’t have to read The New Yorker to “discover” them).

 

But perhaps there is hope after all? The recent Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to an unknown author (to me and probably majority of the United States’ readers), French writer, Patrick Modiano.  Lucy shared an article with me which sheds light on the current creative conundrum. Horace Engdahl, Nobel judge, part of the Swedish Academy, hopes “the literary riches which we are seeing arise in Asia and Africa will not be lessened by the assimilation and the westernisation of these authors.” The article in The Guardian continues, “Engdahl slammed novels which ‘pretend to be transgressive’, but which are not. ‘One senses that the transgression is fake, strategic,’ he said. ‘These novelists, who are often educated in European or American universities, don’t transgress anything because the limits which they have determined as being necessary to cross don’t exist.’”

What precisely constitutes as “westernization” is a dated concept in itself in my humble opinion. It’s not as easily defined as it once was. The advent of social media has changed the landscape in many ways, but in as many ways Internet and social media have brought this change, in equal amounts, thanks to people’s self-absorption everywhere, they now know even less about the world outside of their mobile devices and computers.

 

Frank O’ Connor’s Ireland reminds me of Lahore.

“I prefer to write about Ireland and Irish people merely because I know to a syllable how everything in Ireland can be said; but that doesn’t mean that the stories themselves were inspired by events in Ireland. Many of them should really have English backgrounds; a few should even have American ones. Only language and circumstance are local and national; all the rest is, or should be, part of the human condition, and as true for America and England as it is for Ireland. The nicest compliment I have ever received was from a student while the authorities of the university were considering the important question of whether I was a resident or non-resident alien. “Mr. O’Connor, I find it hard to think of you as an alien at all.” (Steinman, Michael, ed. The Happiness of Getting It Down Right: Letters of Frank O’Connor and William Maxwell 1945-1966. 15. New York: Knof, 1996. Print.)

 

Writing stories makes feel less of an alien on this planet, where geographic divides don’t make sense, given the human condition, made of ignorance, sufferings, joys, dreams, are as common throughout as the oxygen we need anywhere to stay alive.

Sometimes I feel this digital space will be known as the place where I recorded my challenges “to get it down right” till I finally got it down, even if not right, and I could care less because there would be no more ghosts.

“seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout” ~ E.B. White

Still Sundays.

 

September 1, 2014.

 

It isn’t September quite yet but I would like to think I can see around the corner. When I sit to type, the letters on the keyboard feel like the keys of a piano: you don’t forget to play, even if you can’t play as well due to being out of practice. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a song, but there is music.

You don’t just want to make noise with an instrument.

If I decide to write as I listen to music then it all comes together without effort. My fingers take a life of their own. I like to see parts of the body rise to their own wisdom, beyond the one my mind has set aside. This used to happen with more ease due to a consistent yoga practice which now is  down to only twice a week but that’s only for now. Now is so many months sometimes. But months pass.

I would like to invite my disbelief to have a seat at the Table of Questions and digest, without the Fork of Answers, how 2014 will be over in 4 months. What a tricky two years it has been!

If two years ago, on September 2, 2012 when I flew on a one-way ticket to California, someone had told me that I would be in California for two years, I would have laughed out loud at the absurdity of that statement. When I left my home in New York I knew I would be away from New York City indefinitely, dabbling in visits as frequently as possible, but I didn’t anticipate being in California this long.

How I feel now, as compared to when I first moved here and stopped writing about California altogether so as not to turn this space into a can where one spits the day like chew, can very easily be summed up in the words of John Steinbeck from his 1953 essay, “The Making of a New Yorker” in the New York Times.

“New York City is the only city I have ever lived in. I have lived in the country, in the small town, and in New York. It is true I have had apartments in San Francisco, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris, and have sometimes stayed for months, but that is a very different thing. As far as homes go, there is only a small California town and New York. This is a matter of feeling.”

However, it is important to keep the context of his words in mind. One can tirelessly go on about why people move to New York City and why they end up leaving or whether they should. Steinbeck left because he couldn’t write there given the circumstances, not just because the City is demanding, to say the least, for any individual of average means. Those who have “average” means sacrifice plenty—space to personal relationships sometimes—so as to be “in the City.”

NY in Paris

Paris, 2014.

 

 

Looking back on the last two years, regardless of the toll on my personal health and writing, I have gained more than I have lost. Moreover, these past two years will probably be instrumental for the next phase of my writing. I can understand that now even if I can’t yet articulate it. And finally, it has given me a new sense of compassion for wherever people are and will remain.

One of the most important lessons I have gained by living here is by observing how one becomes “old”.  Old with anger. Old with a stubborn disposition. Old with holding on to the past. Old with flipping through old memories as if they are the now. Old with life. Old with a spirit that can neatly fit inside a shoe box made of explanations that make sense. Old because your happiness depends on your spouse. Old because your happiness depends on your children. Old because. Some old “because”. Old. Just old.

I feel as if Life has most of us categorized in three groups: 1) those who don’t know there is a rug yet; 2) those who are stumbling trying to hold onto the rug; 3) those who can see themselves, their place in the world, and the world at large when the rug gets pulled and it feels like they are falling.

The rug is our construct of who we think we are based on everything outside of ourselves. The yarns in the rug consist of our relating to where we live, what we do, and all our notions, some real and some not so real, about who we are.

I admire the people who appear forever young, content, satisfied, filled with joy, pursuing life sometimes like lightening and other times like a lightening bug.  These people don’t always appear to have it “figured out”  or whatever version of fill-in-the-blank success, but they are the ones who have learned to dance in the air, again and again, without that rug. Perhaps the rug is a necessary element to float through time and space in order to have this human experience, but I now understand why the rug gets pulled from under our feet. And you probably do too.

In this regard, the antidote to “getting old” is to really live, which sometimes means staring at yourself after the rug, made of your construct of an image of yourself, is pulled under you. It also means choosing new adventures and seeing the pit stops as adventures too. Most importantly, if in any shape or form your compassion has served others without the residue of self-indulgence, then you shall remain forever in sync with life’s cycles which aren’t necessarily determined by your planning nor the chronological years that pass too quickly and therefore will never feel “old”.

Reading this article, “Where are they now? The Kings of the 90’s Dot-Com Bubble”  made me reflect what had these people really contributed to humanity. Yes, they made money, but other than Jeff Bezos (and the jury is still out on him), does anyone even recall who they are and what they did? And I thought about  this not within the framework that if one has money then he or she ought to be a celebrity too, but in quite a literal sense. Often people with this kind of “lucky” wealth have an image of “serving others” but they lack a real vision and seldom are those visions altruistic.  I find this quite distressful and it can all be very overwhelming.

But there is hope. There is always hope.

I happened to pick a print copy of the most recent Reader’s Digest issue and it took me back to the time when one could indeed trust an editor to curate the best articles, without having to read through people’s sloppy comments, “likes”, and all sorts of unnecessary noise that we now encounter while reading online; back to a time when you would cut and save an article because it was so good; back to a time when articles from the past remained forever connected to articles in the present, alongside “Life in the United States” and “All in a Day’s Work”.  This recent issue reprinted (of course available online too) a response by E.B. White  to a letter he received predicting a grim future for humanity. The letter, written in 1973, begins, “As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time.” Then it continues,

“It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably  harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”

That was in 1973. I don’t know what E.B. White would have to say now. I do know what I have to say. The conditions are always right to allow the “seeds of goodness” to sprout.

“the immense edifice of memory”

When nothing else subsists from the past,

after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered…the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,

like souls…bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,

the immense edifice of memory.

~ Marcel Proust.

 

 

My grandmother smelled like lilac powder. Always.

Her skin was a field made from the scent of lilacs. Not how lilac smells now in perfumes but the way it used to smell in powders. It was as if she sweated lilac drops while the rest of us just sweated. Even in her “old age”—she wasn’t that old when she died—the scent of some faint flowery powder prevailed around her thinning skin, sagging one wrinkle neatly folded on another, just resting as skin should. She had great skin. Both of my grandmothers did. But Naani, my mother’s mother, had already passed on before I was born so I can’t attest to how her skin felt other than what can be concluded by looking at photos. My grandmother’s skin was taut even as she got older, it was as if the wrinkles decided to harmoniously distribute themselves in a proportionate net all around.

I wish she hadn’t been such an unhappy person, but what or who was she supposed to be then?

She couldn’t walk, stuck to a wheelchair (my father bought her a quite fancy for those times), as my grandfather would lift her from the bed to help transport her to the bathroom which was specifically designed so she could bathe herself once she had been dropped there, like a bucket. Sometimes he even had to help her. This was also the time they would bicker like birds at dawn or dusk: You can’t carry me–don’t don’t don’t drop me!/Have I ever dropped you?! Have I? Have I? Have I?. Or on days where she had less anxiety, a more humorous version would follow, something like this: You can’t carry me!/What am I doing right now? What do you call this?; I am too fat (she hadn’t quite become a paperweight then as she eventually would)/Well, I am not going to argue with that! Tell that to the cook next time you want Balushahi! The “funny” days were few. Mostly it was a lot of screaming, she always thought somehow she would slip or my grandfather would trip or he would finally decide to “show her how he really felt” by dropping her and teaching her a lesson once and for all. She could never see how he loved her in his own way. Neither did anyone else. They fought a lot. My very handsome grandfather—tall, fit, charming, with hazel eyes speckled with some forest green amusement—and my very beautiful grandmother—tall, broad shoulders to proportionately match broad hips, intense brown eyes and a laugh, when she laughed which wasn’t often, that felt like hearing 1000 simultaneous claps—invented conflict to communicate.

Their back and forth never felt like love to a little girl who was me, but now I know it is some kind of love which makes you carry and bathe a person gone limp due to Parkinson’s. Maybe she always smelled like lilac because she couldn’t walk in the field of dreams. In many ways, she had defied cultural restrains; she pursued medicine and became a doctor in a country where women still have to ask their family for permission to be able to pursue a profession or any work. But in many other ways, I don’t think she was able to do what she wanted. They came from a time and place where people had to give up a lot in order to have some of what they wanted but they still held laughter in their hearts. I couldn’t ask for more loving grandparents even though a lot of my grandmother’s night terrors due to her medications were beyond me as a child and I couldn’t relate to a persistent anger about life. It is true that we understand life backwards and in the process we understand the people we never understood. My grandmother is one such person I am beginning to understand and although I experience random bouts of tears whenever I miss my grandfather, I seldom think of her.

But smells have a way of carrying us to places where memories open like tents, and alone with the fire in our hearts we finally begin to understand.

We finally begin.

 

Update from Prague

July 7, 2014.

The last time I wrote here I shared about “thin places“. In short I had written, “Although my current geographic location is as far away as possible from “thin places” I am grateful for the opportunity to be traveling soon to such places: New Mexico (again), Prague (again), and Paris (again).  Although New York City’s every bench and corner served as a “thin place” for me, I am beginning to find value in being away from “thin places”.

So, here I am.

In Prague. Waiting for laundry to dry.

Actually, I have been traveling with family for one week now.

Prague-Vienna-Budapest-Prague. Today is our last day in Prague. Tomorrow I am off to another one of my favorite places, Paris.

I have been to all these places before. The last time I was in Prague was in 2011 for 4 weeks for my first “writer’s workshop. And to this day, at least for now, last, unless something drastically new about writing workshops is revealed. The first two weeks with author Charles Baxter were very helpful, kind of like an intermittent apprenticeship, quite an alien concept in the Arts today, but the rest of the time was spent dealing with writers’ neurosis about their preconceived ideas about who a writer is and what a writer writes and overall an unnecessary engagement for purposes of actually producing work. I spent the other two weeks writing on my own instead.

Prior to that, I was in Prague for the first time in 2010 with my mother. During that trip we visited Vienna and Budapest for the first time as well. And to this day, words fail me to describe that experience.  I wrote about my “trajectory to Prague” here which took me back to one of my Still Sundays essay where a Greek woman schooled me about the purpose of a greeting and made me promise her that I would visit Vienna. I think that’s where it all began, at least consciously. A random promise I didn’t think I would fulfill so soon. It wasn’t very long after that that we took our first trip to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Although this current trip was by no means an attempt to recreate the same experiences, I can’t help but note how different it has been. For one, I am with my sister and her husband who will be staying behind in Prague for a medical school summer elective and part of the trip was the welcome catching up with them and not the cities. Second, the trip in 2010 was during Fall, a season when the dizzying lush colors shift like dreams, turns on cobblestone streets serve as time portals, and all of Budapest is focused on Day of the Dead around Halloween. In fact, one of my stories is about a character named Arpad and it was born then and there in Budapest. Instantaneous. Looking back on it, so much of what is in Collection of Auguries feels like a creative spontaneous combustion of sorts. I was a volcano of stories decades in the making and then boom! And finally, this trip, unlike the others, I have not shared photos via social media, only with a handful of friends and family via instant messaging thanks to Wifi. The weird bit is that compared to 2010 Internet “cafes” feel like a thing of the past given availability of free Wifi in every hotel and restaurant and yet no sharing with others. I did enjoy the sharing in 2010 but find it intrusive and an interruption now. I will leave that for a separate essay.

 

 

If there are “thin places”, described by Eric Weiner in the New York Times article which I have shared previously, as “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever” then there too is a “thin time”. Perhaps the use of this idiomatic expression is inappropriate since “thin time” generally refers to a tough or demanding time. Here is another take on “thin places” in this blog post where the writer shares her take on them, “The place itself calls you, draws you into itself, transports you into the presence of the world beyond this world.”  Weiner is correct when he asks, “The question, of course is which places? And how do we get there? You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one. But there are steps you can take to increase the odds of an encounter with thinness. For starters, have no expectation.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that even if one is roaming about in a “thin place” it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can penetrate the veil between our lives here and some Grand Mystery that connects us all, the Grand Mystery that confounds as  It reveals. But so much is available if we remain a beginner. I accepted that there is a “thin time” too. A time of  auspicious alignment, alignment of too many things to account for which makes a place “thin” for us to begin with. So, I collected the messages regardless of time and place, which we must do until they are decoded to mean more.

 

 

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Statute on bench in Prague.

 

 

 

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Outside a film museum in Vienna: “It is a misconception that the dead are dead.” ~ Henry Miller.

 

Usually, I find museums boring, but the Albertina in Vienna never disappoints. They had works of Joan Miro and a few permanent Picasso pieces in their collection that I actually liked. I also discovered an artist who is new to me, Alex Katz, and I enjoyed learning about his work. The best part was finding this little card. I think in many ways it sums up my life since 2011.

 

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“The love always finds its way.” or Where there is love there is a way. A card in Albertina museum of art in Vienna.

 

 

It doesn’t take long to note when one has crossed the Pond to Europe: great coffee and wine.

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Budapest, 2014.

 

 

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Restaurant Pest Buda in Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014. The Vajdahunyad Castle just isn’t the same in summer as in the Fall/Winter but it was beautiful nonetheless.

 

I guess this time I felt compelled to take more photos of Budapest.

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

My mother spotted this apple tree while we were walking in Buda. And I felt it was truly inspiring given all that is going on in the world right now.

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“If the world were going under tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree.” – Martin Luther

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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A French bakery in Prague.

 

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At the only self-serve laundry in Prague where they offer you free, great coffee.

 

It’s amazing the peace of mind clean laundry brings! Perhaps the same peace as planting an apple tree as the world seemingly falls apart due to greed, pollution, corruption, and wars for money. So it is with writing new stories or creating new art or living one’s life to the fullest. You just have to keep going regardless if this world is actually ending or the world you once knew cracks away into fragments of memories.  I have begun several new stories and haven’t found the time to finish a single one. I think that is okay, when the time is right some Auspicious Alignment of thin place and space will command completion and I will stand aside to watch the big boom in awe that I even had anything to do with any of it…

More from Paris, perhaps.

~a.q.s.