Friday, January 25, 2008

"You do just this one thing..." or "Aacha...Cultural Dysphoria, na ja?"

or maybe, even, "So many places, and Nowhere all at once..."

Friday night, and it's not yet payday, and though I haven't any earthy excuse, I took my self out for a date. A me date. A few hours of bliss where my chief concerns had nothing to do with providing exemplary Customer Service....[that's a whole other soap-box]

And so, on this night where I neither had to be at work, nor anywhere else Productive, what should I do but scam a free movie at the Science Center [Actually I've seen it already--a dud about Greek History, that no one {and I mean NO ONE} appreciates but me, because instead of falling asleep in shear boredom from the fly-over sequences, I'm breaking out in hives thinking about how quickly I could pack my rucksack and be on the next flight to Athens] and then head to the next closest place to home: the Indian Grocery.

? You may ask? Yes! I say, though all those nice Asian folks had the same perplexed look you probably have on your face as you read this.

Less than a month in this new town and I've developed a little circuit. First it was to the Indian Beauty Parlour I found in September when I got lost looking for a bookstore. They were closed at the time, but I came back because they offered threading--hair removal with a spool of string that literally plucks EVERYTHING. In fact this parlour mostly waxes, and then does a few finishing swoops to live up to the advertisement and though I haven't actually ever left with symmetrical brows, STILL, in my mind, it's far superior to the goo at the waspy shops. And the best part is, the largest of the Indian shops is just two storefronts down...

Now that I've been here for a couple of weeks, I am chagrined to admit that this is very much another white-folk town. There's a large international university here, and I do live in what appears to be a hippy suburb, but still--not many shades as you walk down the street {an activity I was once told that was "un-American."} Squeeze/juice my collective work team and you wouldn't get a spare ounce of melanin. If there is a diversity of hiring, it is visible only if you disregard work classifications, and pretend so very deliriously that we're all one big happy, egalitarian family. And this is a capital metropolis. Even still, the fact that somehow this place can sustain at least three...(Yes! 3!) groceries makes me so giddy, I could plotz! And if I am to be honest, it probably had a greater influence on me coming here than even the job did...the yoga was also a big part, but again, lest I be struck by liar's lightening, I do it more because it reminds me of my time abroad, and who I felt I was there, than the certainty of transcendental enlightenment or a shrinking waistline...

Confessional tangents aside, I headed to India Groceries first--yes, because it was close, but also because I like it best. They have what seems like everything--practically any kind of dal & spice, uniLever brand shampoo, frozen/powdered "just like Amma used to make" entree or tacky plastic idol you could want (plus two dollar Hindi Movie DVD's) all jumbled together in an intoxicating Desi manner that the other two just don't match...The guys who work there don't say much to me, though I imagine I'm talked about as I walk around, and around, and around the isles giving off the unique, escalating stench of a shopper who's browsed too long...and will not buy. At least not in the quantity commensurate for the activity. It's kind of like going to Mecca* and being too overwhelmed to do what you came there intending to do...[*I mean this only metaphorically; I don't actually know what one does in Mecca besides pray in the presence of the holiest of the holy, know? You go all the way there, and all the planning/listmaking/intentions just fall away...and you leave forgetting to buy the t-shirt, collect the badge, or do what ever it is you came there to DO.] But back to the store: I like the smell of the place. I like not understanding a single syllable of what's being said around me or what's pumping over the radio. I appreciate the irony of seeing "American Style (aka Cream and Onion)" Lay's potato chips being sold here, that are neither made in America, nor taste much at all like the Sour Cream & Onion ones they attempt to imitate. I think myself daft at seriously contemplating the Bru and Nescafe desiccations and awful packet biscuits I used to mock relentlessly. And, I think, more than anything, I like having a legitimate reason to feel so out of place...

But, tonight. Tonight not only appeared to be EVERYONE's night to load up on foodstuffs, but also, "Let's-restock-all-the-shelves-just-before-closing hour" as well. The frantic bhindi sorters, frozen paratha buyers, husband and wife speed-shopping teams and display destruction/reconstruction cyclones had no use for my gastronomic lolly-gagging, and so I left. And proceeded to go to another shop. And then the other. Looking for what, exactly, I still don't know.

The second grocery had very little by comparison. It was actually the first time I'd been inside. The vegetable selection wasn't much, though they did have lots of bridal jewelry and clothing. Above all, there were a lot of families milling about. Moms and dads, and little kids all together--and through their eyes I began to remember what I am not. My roguish independence is not nearly as ennobling as I choose to see it, but in fact, a sad testament to the corruption of Western morals. Nothing was said of course, and I freely admit to my tendency to be excessively self-concerned, but for the for a moment I saw my aloneness not as the Refuge I trump it up to be, but rather as Loneliness...which may be an equally appropriate definition...depending on the moment, my mood, planetary alignment, hormone levels, etc., etc. And at the precise moment I began to yen to be part of a clan, I remembered, that, oh, yeah, I am actually part of one...and well, that's not working out so spectacularly, is it?

At the last shop I finally bought something. Some cashews, coconut slivers, and milk-cake, a typically Indian confection of sugar, milk, and nut meat that's been boiled, and boiled, and boiled and boiled. I used to detest the stuff, and once, to the horror of one fellow Madrasi ashramite who graduated from uni 40 min from my home in Ohio, denounced Indian sweets as sweet without any flavor (I tried to back-peddle, blaming my preference on the genetic inner-connectedness of Jews and cheesecake, but to no avail...)...and tonight, well, I bought a whole friggin' tray of it. Maybe it grew on me. Maybe my emotional eating proclivity just jumped continents.

To round out the evening, I treated myself to dinner at a South Indian Vegetarian restaurant. I've eaten there before, and the food's quite good--India good, in fact. (Supposedly they were cited for health code violations right as I started dining there, but hey, if that's the magic masala needed to make killer idlys (haha), then bring it.) When I arrived there were two other occupied tables--one by a vegetarian married couple downing waters and turning all spectrums of red; and another by a young Indian guy, explaining everything his older, white companion sputtered over. I for my part, in all of the obnoxiousness I detest, and yet go right ahead and flaunt, did all necessary things to point out to my Tamilian hostess and waitress, that I was, in fact, different...that unlike these other tourists, I "knew" the real deal...No complementary Mango Lassi for me, no sir--I ordered the Salt one. Made sure I found the "hand wash" station before I began. Ate my idly, dosa, and paratha with my very best right-hand-only skills, and then lest I mortify everyone and my shirt with an ill-executed thumb-scoop, finished the rest in fine spoon-fork form. Even made sure everyone saw that I drank my water with the finest Hindustani manners, that is to say, with the bottle neck a sufficient distance from my lips so to insure the two would never meet (I walked around wet chested too many times to NOT brag that I can still perform this feat!), again, in a sad attempt to prove that, like Shannon Erschowitz in Salaam e Ishq, "I am a good Indian Girl." (If you've got time, watch the part # 13 as well, and watch Salman shake it!) But, alas, I wasn't fooling anyone. The proprietor chatted up everyone, but me, the scary single woman not fitting quite anywhere. And my two lingering cups of chai while shamelessly drinking in the interactions of the proprietor's family and the atmosphere, well that cemented the "strange" brand...Ironically, as I was leaving work today, two co-workers were talking about how one can never really live down certain social classifications--being a loner, being "shady"...and I realized, in lightning-fast instant-karma style, that my preceding public stink is much more complex and pervasive than the "cheap-skate" "mad-woman" cologne I already knew I wore...And then I began to wonder myself, precisely what is it do I think I'm playing at?

I eat my lunch from stainless steel tiffin; it's compact, eliminates the need for a bag, washes easily, and I just happen to get complements on it's cuteness wherever I go. I've begun taking "baths" again with a bucket and a yogurt tub--it's amazing how much water it saves, and you get just as clean, if not cleaner in places where the faucet don't shower, if you know what I mean. And conservation couldn't be considered that poncey, right? I cook mostly Indian food--it's tasty(not that I prepare it well, but..), it's cheap, fast, and I tell myself I consume far less of it than I do American counterparts. I have adopted these eccentricities, appropriated different cultural priorities because I find them to be more natural, more sound...not in a desperate attempt for "hey-look-at-me" attention. Right?!

Last weekend I went to my parents and promptly planted my ass in front of the satellite dish. On Sunday, rather than driving down as I should have, I unnecessarily engrossed myself in a crocheting project and a History Channel episode arguing that the JFK assassination cover-up conspiracy was, in fact, a conspiracy itself. Normally my head would spin and tongue disengage over such a thing, but this-this struck an alarmingly co-incidental chord. The program began in biographical detail to trace the years leading up to Lee Harvey Oswald's final morning in the Texas Book Depository. It talked about how he never felt at peace, never felt part of anything here--his family, his work, the military--and it was this disengagement that fueled his defection to the U.S.S.R., and the drastic antics he employed in order to stay. The show also argued that it was Oswald's sudden lack of feeling "special" upon returning to the States that propelled him so quickly into the anti-Castro movement, and consequently the assassination plots of several high-profile politicians. When Oswald had been abroad, he had a certain charismatic aire about him: he spoke Russian, was a un-abashedly un-American, and joyfully slugged away in the Communist system while simultaneously (and a bit disgustedly) holding one of the world's dearest commodities--an American passport. But in America? In America, Oswald was homeless, jobless, uneducated, and without ways and means of supporting a wife and child. A failure, by everyday living standards, really. What good were all these philosophical antics, Cyrillic language proficiencies, and sharp-shooting skills if he couldn't buy bread and milk?

And that's when it occurred to me. That is me.

Sure, I like turmeric and garlic and fried street food just fine. I'm happy to walk. I adore a long train ride and get giddy at the prospect of the space beyond airline gates. And though I love India because I fell in love there--with people, certainly, but more specifically with the constant confrontation of juxtapositions no one can escape. India is thick. It's dense. It is, I believe, a condensation of all life (and death) is: buoyant and dismal, holy and corrupt, vibrant and decaying, all boiled down into one elegant, murky, chunky, fragrant stew. It's a dish I continue to lap-up, to lick clean...not because it always tasted good, but because, inside that bowl, all possibilities exist in equal, emulsified measure. And from my gullet to God's ears.

In India, I was an anomaly, sure. I had no family, no husband to protect/vouch for/validate me. I was a spectacle, to be sure, for any number of justifiably ridiculous reasons. But for just as many illegitimate ones I was also special--as a novelty, cash potential, etc. By fitting in precisely nowhere, I had the potential ability to go anywhere. And that was intoxicating and liberating. Anything seemed possible. And for the very first time in my life I felt like I could do something, and that, my friends, was infectious.

But now I wonder if that eleven months was just a feverish delusion. Because here I am. 28. Single. Overweight. Barely gainfully employed. Without a house, car, retirement plan, or legal dependent to my name. It's not that I particularly want these things, but I feel like I'm being constantly chastised by my country/culture at large for not having them. The fact that I volunteered for a year, that I dallied in ashrams, that I play around with art and theatre, and put on shows for kids does not make me interesting or unique or intriguing. It makes me a social drain. In India, when asked for how long I was visiting, I had the power to soften sneering expressions, raise eyebrows, and start sympathetic conversations by stating that I was not a tourist, but in fact, living in the country. Now, when I try in vain to explain my eighteen month lapse in employment, people just look at me blankly as if I've told them I've spent a year on the toilet...and all I can think of is, "You're supposed to be impressed, Goddammit! I spent a year. in I-N-D-I-A!" as if that should give me the same green-card being white in Asia such luck.

When I travelled, I developed a strong aversion to other Westerns, particularly the uppities, and those rangy long-term campers holed up in cheap hostels who lived abroad while living off their native dole. So many of these folks seemed sad and desperate, blinded to the truth the whole world could see--Blatantly: They were running away. I knew on some level I was doing this, too, but I always imagined I was much more, I don't know, integrated? I avoided these people as much as possible, vowing never to defect to their side...but, looky, looky. Here I am, one of these mad lost, in fact, she's managed to go astray in her own herd. You'd think I'd at least have the common sense to be a turn-funny in a tropical climate, wouldn't you?

And so, what to do? I'm not a Barbie girl (perhaps, maybe an under-made-up Jem doll?) in a Barbie world. Life's fantastic. It's certainly plastic. So, with that inch, I shall mold a mile, swigging curry, sitting in lotus (that's a lie, but it sounds good, no?), and doing my best to find a place of existence all my own. You'll be tempted, as all good Indian shop keepers, to give me instructions; to do, "just this one thing..." But please, don't get too worried. I will, with all certainty, take too long plodding down the aisles. I will likely not buy much or what you think I ought. And you maybe right. I could end up being very, very misguided in my wandering. And I know you don't care to have me pollute your atmosphere any more than necessary, but really, in the context of the rickshaw, lorry, and bus diesel fumes, with the mingling of road-side fry wallahas and sacred cow/goat droppings, splatterings, and methane releasing, and the compression of sweat, humidity, gas, and rot, does my stench really make your nose itch?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Eliot, Marvell say it better...

Lady and Gentleman, if you still exist...
These two say better, what I heave in vain to grist...

Andrew Marvell's Definition of Love

T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

A PostSecret of My Own...or...In case you ever read this....

I have written this already, chosen every word before
to express just what it is you mean to me, to release me from your spell.
But every word falls flat it seems,
as it scrawls across the page
only to be rebuffed, rebuttaled by lone margins bare
never taking to the wind, your ear, the air.

But in short-

I miss you.

The time we have spent apart now far exceeds the moments spent together. Yet I cannot shake you from my being. Your silence snubs my olive branches, the clearest indication--whatever it was is summarily over.

But I cannot cut you out, so strong was your impression on my heart. My mind. My conscience. And I cannot imagine what life would have been without azure Fiats, mountains, you.

For eight straight months now, I have convulsed in vain to rid me of you, you of me. But no letter, no fire, no cockamamie ritual has deadened, lessened the persistence of your apparition.

I swore I would not let this revert to poetics...and so...

I miss you.

I could list all the qualities I found so frustrating, so endearing, from the booming snarl to the diamond earrings--the curl at your chest and neck, the dining table commandeering--the cyst of human kindness lying snuggled just below the finger many things I wished to praise and in praying, kiss, caress--but never did. And wonder now, would it have mattered? If more than my eyes had worked up the gumption to scream, “Shut up you silly man. You're perfect. I love you. Now listen” But nothing did, save one misplaced, abbreviated undoing...

For I did love you. Do love you. Will continue to love you, irrespective of iron wills, walls, and curtains. It was the unconditional lesson, after all, which underlays your ultimate teaching.

In these sparse months since our disbanding, I have huffed and puffed, and flipper-flapped, all in attempt to answer, "Why?" to quilt this scrap neatly into place, as a perfect geometric proof, cause equating effect. Which cannot be, of course. But I haven't had you to remind me of that.

And that is what, I think, I miss the most.

Not having those eyes to fix me still, to quiet my needless churning. To have no choice but to mourn your companionship as dead, though you exist, half-a-world away, in heated flesh and ragged bone. And knowing I, in my haste, have battered closed every door which might possibly have lead me back to you.

I have slept my life in a cold, empty bed. If I were to have Posted a Secret, this is what it would've read:

I still imagine you are the one who warms my sleeping bag at night...

and yet more ridiculous...

I still open doors with Christmas-like expectation of finding a note from you on the floor...

Why do I still need to "protect" you from my feelings with poorly-rhymed verse?

I love you. I miss you. I hope you are happy, peaceful, graced.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

prayerful journey

Gimme, gimme

Sugar, sugar. Money, money. A brain. A heart. Courage.

We all want so much. Or do we? Better, I should say, I want so much. Or do I?

A friend recently wrote me (in an actual paper letter!) that our greatest joys are inextricably linked to our greatest sorrows--as genesis/creator, companion, reflection, afterbirth. That we recognize the difference--perceive the zenith of the high, the depth of the low--is only because the dualism exists...opposing labels we ascribe to what amounts to the very same

So, in the midst of this ever expanding and contracting amalgam/illusion of particle vibrations, when every duck still incures a slap...every unconscious action careens the same as a deliberate choice, how do we make progress, gain ground, evolve, much less do no harm?

I've had more time to think in past year than perhaps I ought. My keeper in Ahmedabad often, in the few English words she knew, would command me from across the kitchen floor to, "Stop Thinking!" And yet no matter how many fancy meditation techniques I learn or philosophies I imbibe, I haven't managed to overcome. This double edged sword of mine has been both liberator and executioner, looming it seems, with a perfect hari-kari blade. And lately it taunts--in my waking consciousness and in the hands of all who knew me..."What is it that you want?"

So, what do I want? I say, "Well, many things," or "The things I want are so ephemeral," as if I've already attained Enlightenment, and practical things like "Plenty of money to live on" and "the respect of others" would be too mundane, too pedestrian, too...commercial. Because what I really "want:" love, security, acceptance, ease of do you possible quantify those into attainable goals? Reduce them to points on a line graph, barometer marks on a fund-raising chart, or motivating slogans on a break-room poster? You can't. Or maybe I can't because I'm still to scared to really look closely commit to what it is I want...or more acutely, commit to the fight which will have to be waged in order to conquer said goal, still unclaimed, languishing in the shadows.

I have begun many New Days in my life. Had many Brand New Starts. And yet here I am. Again. Circular. One. ? I am my body, but my body is not me. Am I a slave to my karma, or is my karma a slave to me?

In my latest attempt at New Incarnation, (which, I should also admit, is actually my second stabbing at said program), the Practice asks: Do you want to Change, or do you want to Transform? Change in this context meaning modification, while Transform[ation], with its sexy additional syllable [+], promising complete, irrevocable, mere cosmetic tweaking, but Six-Million-Dollar-Bionic-Being-Re-building. And who wouldn't want that? I certainly think I want the then why do I find myself here again? In a place, a position, which lit a fire under my ass 18 months ago, but which now just smolders...Just theatrically enough to convince others that in all my fannying about, I am just as likely to be passing gas as blowing smoke.

And yet, what does all this constant contemplation get me? Of what factors do I have control? What chance does my Wanting have to move What is? I wasted many a gorgeous Indian morning, staring at filthy ceiling fans and grimy plaster chips through bleary, teary eyes. I've vanquished 5 months of return--not in earning or accumulating or healing, but in constant sputtering, plotting, and fizzling. For what gain? Certainly none in the clarity department.

And so, Sarah, Darling, what is it that you want? Today I want some quite. Today, in my self created, self-condemned shelter of sorrow, I want to feel happy again. To feel lighter. To feel part of the world that is kinder in my retrospective, Green-grass memory than it ever was in reality. So I walk. Not to get any where, not for any constructive purpose, or exercise or calorie manipulation. But just to walk. And today, on this road, past this arid, earthy corn field, though the butterflies no longer mate and congregate, the birds still chirp. The long grass gleams a lush, vibrant green. Turned trees rest in jewelled tones against azure skies, vibrant raspberry tops, ripe for the picking. Leaves dance on a cool, constant breeze, balanced by golden sunlight, strong enough to warm my body, my cheeks, and magical enough to replace my eyelashes with a fringe of rainbow-flecked feather-down. For all the uncertainty, for all the incompetence observable at any moment...for all my misgivings, forgivings,, right now, seems a perfect opportunity to be ALIVE. And all the choices are reduced to one inevitability. Simple. Easy.

For a soundtrack to this post, please listen to the incredible Pete Rothbart of The Poem Adept at, listen to "Fighting with Myself" off the Sight of Any Bird album under the MUSIC section. Then buy the album. By both of them. Preferably at a FOUND Magazine Concert/Happening, listed under EVENTS. Even if you get lost, take the wrong ferry, and only get to the bar in time to hear "The Booty Don't Stop," it's well worth everything--gas, lost time, and all.....

Friday, September 08, 2006

A dangerous commitment

Well, after six weeks I ? have figured out how to actually post photographs, so if this one works--me modelling traditional Toda shawl embroidery--I guess I will have no choice but to share with you, my faithful audience, the intricacies of life here at BMS. Be prepared--we are a wild and crazy group...well, actually, I'm just the later, but...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

First, I must apologize...

Yes, you're right. Stereo-typical. Brashly American. Culturally insensitive. Lame to a painful degree. And yet when it came to naming this little chunk of electronic ether, it was the _only_ name that came to mind...Sorry. Perhaps as you witness me becoming wiser and more worldly over the next couple of months, the title will be replaced with something mature and more appropo. Perhaps. But I wouldn't hold my breath...would you?

As my first post, I feel like I should dedicate something--set down in writing some momentous kernel of knowledge or prophetic thought, some gargantuan hook to keep you coming back, keep you amused on those dark lonely nights when you can't tear yourself away from the car-accident-in-progress-masochistic-ness of google-ing former classmates and flames. I'd like to ease your pain, but this little project is the only thing keeping me from the same aforementioned fate as we speak (? You read & I type?)...well, almost--that and the reason I've finally signed up for this thing in the first place...

For the first time in an incredibly long time, I am excited. Really freekin' excited. Because I am stepping out of my box. More like, I am picking up my box, swinging it over my head, vaulting it like a champion discus thrower, and running in the opposite direction. I will be shocked. I will be humbled. Hopefully, I will not try to relocate my box and hide under it. One thing is for sure, though: I will be in India, (yes, INDIA!) and you will get to read about it. This is the story of my trip. I hope you will be amused by it; I hope it will keep me connected to my friends. However, if you should find yourself disturbed by any of the things you find herein, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and simply do as I do--blame Erika. This blog is totally her fault.