When I see a man
in a dress shirt, I want
to walk up behind him,
place my hand
between his shoulders,
to rest it there
for a moment. I think
about his socks, how
he chose one pair
that morning and the rest
are still at home
in a drawer.
And his shoes —
god those shoes, they break me,
especially when they’re polished, what
does he do to make them shine
like that, yes, all it takes
is a pair of shiny black shoes and such
a wave of tenderness
collapses over me that I see
his ties, at rest
on their little carousel, imagine
that he held them up
in the mirror
at the department store,
unsure.

By Gretchen Marquette, published in the Summer issue of The Paris Review.

 

I have no scruple of change, nor fear of death,
Nor was I ever born,
Nor had I parents.
I am Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute,
I am That, I am That,

I cause no misery, nor am I miserable;
I have no enemy, nor am I enemy.
I am Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute,
I am That, I am That,

I am without form, without limit,
Beyond space, beyond time,
I am in everything, everything is in me.
I am the bliss of the universe,
Everywhere am I.
I am Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute,
I am That, I am That,

I am without body or change of the body,
I am neither senses, nor object of the senses,
I am Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute,
I am That, I am That,

I am neither sin, nor virtue,
Nor temple, nor worship
Nor pilgrimage, nor books.
I am Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute,
I am That, I am That.

 

By Swami Rama Tirtha

 

 

INTERVIEWER: Can you describe the events of that morning?

TOMOYASU: I left home with my daughter, Masako. She was on her way to work. I was going to see a friend. An air-raid warning was issued. I told Masako I was going home. She said, “I’m going to the office.” I did chores and waited for the warning to be lifted.

I folded the bedding. I rearranged the closet. I cleaned the windows with a wet rag. There was a flash. My first thought was that it was the flash from a camera. That sounds so ridiculous now. It pierced my eyes. My mind went blank. The glass from the windows was shattering all around me. It sounded like when my mother used to hush me to be quiet.

When I became conscious again, I realized I wasn’t standing. I had been thrown into a different room. The rag was still in my hand, but it was no longer wet. My only thought was to find my daughter. I looked outside the window and saw one of my neighbors standing almost naked. His skin was peeling off all over his body. It was hanging from his fingertips. I asked him what had happened. He was too exhausted to reply. He was looking in every direction, I can only assume for his family. I thought, I must go. I must go and find Masako.

I put my shoes on and took my air-raid hood with me. I made my way to the train station. So many people were marching toward me, away from the city. I smelled something similar to grilled squid. I must have been in shock, because the people looked like squid washing up on the shore.

I saw a young girl coming toward me. Her skin was melting down her. It was like wax. She was muttering, “Mother. Water. Mother. Water.” I thought she might be Masako. But she wasn’t. I didn’t give her any water. I am sorry that I didn’t. But I was trying to find my Masako.

I ran all the way to Hiroshima Station. It was full of people. Some of them were dead. Many of them were lying on the ground. They were calling for their mothers and asking for water. I went to Tokiwa Bridge. I had to cross the bridge to get to my daughter’s office.

INTERVIEWER: Did you see the mushroom cloud?

TOMOYASU: I didn’t see the mushroom cloud. I was trying to find Masako.

INTERVIEWER: But the cloud spread over the city?

TOMOYASU: I was trying to find her. They told me I couldn’t go beyond the bridge. I thought she might be back home, so I turned around. I was at the Nikitsu Shrine when the black rain started falling from the sky. I wondered what it was.

INTERVIEWER: Can you describe the black rain?

TOMOYASU: I waited for her in the house. I opened the windows, even though there was no glass. I stayed awake all night waiting. But she didn’t come back. About 6:30 the next morning, Mr. Ishido came around. His daughter was working at the same office as my daughter. He called out asking for Masako’s house. I ran outside. I called, “It’s here, over here!” Mr. Ishido came up to me. He said, “Quick! Get some clothes and go for her. She is at the bank of the Ota River.”

I ran as fast as I could. Faster than I was able to run. When I reached the Tokiwa Bridge, there were soldiers lying on the ground. Around Hiroshima Station, I saw more people lying dead. There were more on the morning of the seventh than on the sixth. When I reached the riverbank, I couldn’t tell who was who. I kept looking for Masako. I heard someone crying, “Mother!” I recognized her voice. I found her in horrible condition. And she still appears in my dreams that way. She said, “It took you so long.”

I apologized to her. I told her, “I came as fast as I could.”

It was just the two of us. I didn’t know what to do. I was not a nurse. There were maggots in her wounds and a sticky yellow liquid. I tried to clean her up. But her skin was peeling off. The maggots were coming out all over. I couldn’t wipe them off, or I would wipe off her skin and muscle. I had to pick them out. She asked me what I was doing. I told her, “Oh, Masako. It’s nothing.” She nodded. Nine hours later, she died.

INTERVIEWER: You were holding her in your arms all that time?

TOMOYASU: Yes, I held her in my arms. She said, “I don’t want to die.” I told her, “You’re not going to die.” She said, “I promise I won’t die before we get home.” But she was in pain and she kept crying, “Mother.”

INTERVIEWER: It must be hard to talk about these things.

TOMOYASU: When I heard that your organization was recording testimonies, I knew I had to come. She died in my arms, saying, “I don’t want to die.” That is what death is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we would never have war anymore. 

 

Excerpt from “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer, pages 187-189.

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We were in a small seaside village. To our Western eyes, it looked very poor, with homes made of wood, thatch, and corrugated tin and gardens encased by rickety chicken-wire fences. But one’s sense of poverty becomes skewed in moving so quickly from America, where technically most people are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and even the poor have televisions, to a place like Vanuatu, where wealth is measured in pig tusks.

 – from Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost

 

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

– Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

Restive –  feeling bored or impatient while waiting for something to happen or change; stubbornly resisting control; marked by impatience or uneasiness.

Restive. That is so my life right now. I kinda really like being 27.7 years old. I’m so free.  The only thing I’m responsible for is me. (And him, but you know.) There are absolutely no restrictions on where I live and what I do, and I’m so eager to change it all up. I’m more aware of the options than I was earlier in my 20s, and I have more resources with which to pursue them. I know myself better – my preferences, strengths, and weaknesses – and I’ve learned to trust my judgement. Plus I’m hyper aware of the passing of time, and how much of it we have, but also how little of it we have. I’m actively thinking about my life choices, rather than passively accepting my situation. I find myself looking back to my childhood, and remembering what I thought or hoped my adulthood would be like. Right now I’m in that sweet spot where I’m old enough to compare my childhood expectations to my reality, but there’s still a lot that’s flexible, and I can change what I want. Empowered may be a good word for it, if my focus wasn’t a bit ADD. Right now I’m kinda drowning in choices, not sure which objective to pursue first, or how.

But, I think I just decided to book a big  trip to Australia and Fiji for fall/winter 2015. So that’s pretty good.

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Later that year, when snow started to hide the front steps, when morning became evening as I sat on the sofa, buried under everything I’ve lost…

(Foer 15)

I’m re-reading one of my favourite books. I consider my favourite book characters, Leo, Alma, and Oscar, to be my friends. My friends are all sad, because they all lost their favourite person, their greatest love. And I did too. I’m not so much sad; at this point I’m simply disappointed (and unfortunately, angry). But I’m sad that love ends, and people die, and that love doesn’t always conquer all. These are hard lessons for me. I, like my friends, search for an understanding that may not exist, in a deep and compulsive way.

Some of the similarities between us are shocking, such as Oskars’ grandmother who asked her father to write her a letter for no reason other than to study his handwriting; I’ve done the same. And Alma, who wore her dead father’s sweater for 43 days straight; I’ve done the same.

The next morning I told Mom I couldn’t go to school again. She asked what was wrong. I told her, “The same thing that’s always wrong.” “You’re sick?” “I’m sad.” “About Dad?” “About everything.” She sat down on the bed next to me, even thought I knew she was in a hurry. “What’s everything?” I started counting on my fingers: “The meat and dairy products in our refrigerator, fistfights, car accidents, Larry-” “Who’s Larry?” “The homeless guy in front on the Museum of Natural History who always says ‘I promise it’s for food’ after he asks for money.” She turned around and I zipped her dress while I kept counting. “How you don’t know who Larry is, even though you probably see him all the time, how Buckminster just sleeps and eats and goes to the bathroom and has no raison d’être, the short ugly guy with no neck who takes tickets at the IMAX theatre, how the sun is going to explode one day, how every birthday I always get one thing I already have, poor people who get fat because they eat junk food because it’s cheaper . . . ” That was when I ran out of fingers, but my list was just getting started, and I wanted it to be long, because I knew she wouldn’t leave while I was still going. ” . . . domesticated animals, how I have a domesticated animal, nightmares, Microsoft Windows, old people who sit around all day because no one remembers to spend time with them and they’re embarrassed to ask people to spend time with them, secrets, dial phones, how Chinese waitresses smile even when there’s nothing funny or happy, and also how Chinese people own Mexican restaurants but Mexican people never own Chinese restaurants, mirrors, tape decks, my unpopularity at school, Grandma’s coupons, storage facilities, people who don’t know what the Internet is, bad handwriting, beautiful songs, how there won’t be humans in fifty years-” “Who said there won’t be humans in fifty years?” I asked her, “Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” She looked at her watch and said, “I’m optimistic.” “Then I have some bad news for you, because humans are going to destroy each other as soon as it becomes easy enough to, which will be very soon.” “Why do beautiful songs make you sad?” “Because they aren’t true.” “Never?” “Nothing is beautiful and true.”

(Foer 22)
Paris is beautiful. Every inch of it. So beautiful it hurts. I’m hesitant to say it, but I’m always sad in Paris. I remember this from my last visit, and it’s true now. Sometimes all I can do is sit in the sun and wait for it to pass.

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I like the Rodin museum at least as much as I liked it the first time. There’s such expression dans les visages des figures. They look like they’ve had hard lives. Strong backs, remnants of heavy burdens. Broad shoulders that bear life’s troubles. Austere expressions, covered faces, arms reaching for something that isn’t there. But maybe my eyes see what my heart feels.

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In some ways I feel like I am a collector of sadness. It’s not so much that I see sadness as profound, but more that it’s often hidden. And when it’s not, it’s often denied or ignored. Being authentic is difficult. It’s hard to be authentic with oneself, and even harder to be authentic with others. I’ve written a lot on this trip, yet I’ve shared so little.

People say they care. They say, “I wish she reached out,” “I would have tried to help,” “doesn’t she know how much she’s loved?” But that’s not true, it’s a lie. I’ve reached out, and I’m told it’s my “faulty opinion” (spit on that, and change that p to an h), “don’t think like that,” “it’ll pass,” or “you’re all right,” as if it’s that easy, as if I wouldn’t do that if I could, as if misery is a choice. Or I’m downright ignored. Surrounded by people, yet ultimately alone, for no one actually wants to have the deep conversations, share or even acknowledge the scary thoughts, unanswerable questions, hurtful emotions. No. We’re content to distract out minds with TV and alcohol, cover our puffy red eyes with makeup and fake smiles, continually deluding ourselves. I’d rather be miserable and on my own than blind to it.

I see my friends deny their pain. Rather than admitting that a breakup hurts, they put on a stoic face and act like they don’t care. One friend in particular I’ve seen go through several breakups, and I’ve seen how it’s worn her down over the years. Many times she’s mentioned a person she’s had a date with and was excited about, only for it to end soon after. Now she doesn’t even mention when she has a date, or even several successful dates, for fear of having to say “it didn’t work out” upon our next encounter. She doesn’t let herself get excited or hopeful; she expects disappointment. She is strong. Immensely strong. But she is incredibly fragile in her core. Her heart has been damaged by heartbreak, but instead of acknowledge it and repair it, she’s built a fortress of protection around the broken pieces. She boarded up her pain, covered it up so that no one can see. And yet, it’s painfully obvious. Maybe if she didn’t deny her hurt, we could help each other navigate our pain. Once, when my depression had obviously lifted, she said “I could tell you were depressed, and I’m so happy you’re doing better!” I was surprised that she was aware of the depression, but I was deeply deeply hurt that though she knew it, she didn’t say anything. Why do we talk about sadness only in the past tense, when we can only help it in the present? Why are so many people suffering alone?

Reference:
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. New York City: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.
First photo of a statue in the gardens by le Louvre, sculptor unknown; all others by Rodin.

When I got older I decided I wanted to be a real writer. I tried to write about real things. I wanted to describe the world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely.” –Krauss, The History of Love, p. 7

Life is too deep for words, so don’t try to describe it, just live it. –C.S. Lewis

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.  –Ludwig Wittgenstein

Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth.  –Friedrich Nietzsch

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…the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think, and I think, and I think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it. (17)

-from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The things I like best about myself are the things that cause me the most pain. I go after what I want, vehemently, bravely, and I’m crushed when I lose. I wear my heart on my sleeve; I always have for as long as I’ve lived, and no matter how much heartbreak hurts, I still do. I always take a chance with people, though it doesn’t always work out. I am deeply connected to my emotions; I let myself truly feel them, explore them, and I appreciate them. But I’m also overwhelmed by them, and how can I be emotionally stable if I leap into the depths of my sorrows and the heights of my joys? I put a lot of thought into things; I insist on thinking critically rather than accepting the status quo. And yet, I over-think to the point where I don’t know anything, I’m stressed, and indecisive. And some of the conclusions I’ve drawn from this obsessively critical thinking are so off-base and atypical that the entire world disagrees with me, and I feel so so lonely. I am mentally, philosophically, cosmically, emotionally lonely, and I’m craving for someone else to see what I see.

A lot of the time I’d get that feeling like I was in the middle of a huge black ocean, or in deep space, but not in the fascinating way. It’s just that everything was incredibly far away from me. (36)

-from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Balance. Balance is key. Balance is hard for my overactive brain to achieve. Acceptance of failure is hard for my overly ambitious self. Ambitious, yes. I am ambitious. It took me a long time, and several good friends to realize that about myself. It’s just that my ambition is not what you usually consider ambition to be. It’s not the cultural standard of money, mortgage, marriage, maternity, notoriety, stability. It’s ambition for love, eye-opening experiences, taking risks, true freedom, expression, and mental/emotional/philosophical exploration and connection. My purpose is with me at all times: to act kindly, to challenge myself to love, to think openly, to seek understanding, to absorb what I can. To feel deeply, to explore thought, to connect with others authentically. To be content, but not complacent. To express myself. That’s the realm I live in: thoughts, ideas, feelings and expression. I am not tactile. I am not of this tactile world. I exist somewhere beyond.

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I procrastinated listing 10 books that changed me, but this vignette reminded me of it. I own very few books, because what’s the point in paying money to re-read books that I’d have to store, pack, and move when I can just go to the library and get something new every time, for free? There are so many books to read, and so little time; I only re-read my absolute favourites, and I only own ones I’d actually re-read. The five books stacked up are my faves of the faves, and were chosen to stay with me as long as possible, rather than being stashed into storage with the rest of my possessions:

  • Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (my mom’s copy, in French)
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau (from Josh)
  • The Four Agreements by Miguel Ángel Ruiz (from my dad)
  • The Fifth Agreement by Miguel Ángel Ruiz (from my dad)
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

To finish up the list:

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
  • Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir

P.S. That is my favourite picture of my mother, taken by me in April 2004.

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By heart, this is not an expression I use lightly.
My heart is weak and unreliable. When I go it will be my heart. I try to burden it as little as possible. If something is going to have an impact, I direct it elsewhere. My gut for example, or my lungs, which might seize up for a moment but have never yet failed to take another breath. When I pass a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself, or I’m at the bus stop and some kids come up behind me and say, Who smells shit? – small daily humiliations – these I take, generally speaking, in my liver. Other damages I take in other places. The pancreas I reserve for being struck by all that’s been lost. It’s true that there’s so much, and the organ is so small. But. You would be surprised how much it can take, all I feel is a quick sharp pain and then it’s over. Sometimes I imagine my own autopsy. Disappointment in myself: right kidney. Disappointment of others in me: left kidney. Personal failures: kishkes. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’ve made a science of it. It’s not that well thought out. I take it where it comes. It’s just that I notice certain patterns. When the clocks are turned forward and the dark falls before I’m ready, this, for reasons I can’t explain, I feel in my wrists. And when I wake up and my fingers are stiff, almost certainly I was dreaming of my childhood. The field where we used to play, the field in which everything was discovered and everything was possible. (We ran so hard we thought we would spit blood: to me that is the sound of childhood, heavy breathing and shoes scraping the hard earth.) Stiffness of the fingers is the dream of childhood as it’s been refund to me at the end of my life. I have to run them under the hot water, steam clouding the mirror, outside the rustle of pigeons. Yesterday I saw a man kicking a dog and I felt it behind my eyes. I don’t know what to call this, a place before tears. The pain of forgetting: the spine. The pain of remembering: the spine. All the times I have suddenly realized that my parents are dead, even now, it still surprises me, to exist in the world while that which made me has ceased to exist: my knees, it takes half a tube of Ben-Gay and a big production just to bend them. To everything a season, to every time I’ve woken only to make the mistake of believing for a moment that someone was sleeping beside me: a hemorrhoid. Loneliness: there is no organ that can take it all.

(from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, pages 10-11)