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Monthly Archives: December 2008

i am not usually one of those people who believes in the hocus-pocus, the modern-day versions of crystal ball readings and aura sensing–i am a new yorker, by all means, and we tend to be very cynical and woody allen-ish in our appraisal of things– but in contrast, i am not one to judge. i like to be open to experiences and words and ideas, and go into things pretty wide-eyed and available, ready to be educated, taught, turned upside down, made to understand. getting it. i am addicted to eurekas. i love light bulbs. i love them. 

so when miranda, a friend of my dear ruth, offered to read me with crystals, i thought about it for about half a second before i laid down and let her go to work. go. please, go, miranda. do it and enlighten me, teach me and talk to me in your language, this dialect i’ve never heard and know nothing about. i want to know. i want to get it.

a bird.

she told me she heard something about a bird. does this mean something to you, elizabeth? a bird?

in an instant, i was there, back on the beach of cape cod, standing on the wide sandy dune, late summer sun glazing everything orange-y, beach grass tipped and dipped in gold, it looked 24 karat, it was so rich and brilliant, the grass scratching our legs as we ran through it, barefoot and sandy, hearing dad calling ann and i “bird”. giving us this name, calling us this always. birds. 

a bird, miranda said. there’s this bird surrounding you, telling you that it’s here with you, always, this bird is watching you, talking to you, it’s all around you, elizabeth, this bird. i feel it near your ears, i feel it, elizabeth. i feel it around your head, it’s like nesting there, this bird. it’s going everywhere with you. it’s almost like it wants to protect you, this sweet little songbird. 

does this mean anything to you, elizabeth? does it?

the drip of a hot tear. splash.

silence.

this bird, it doesn’t want you to be afraid. it wants you to know you’re safe, you’re okay, and this bird, this tiny little hummingbird that’s fluttering around you, elizabeth–does this mean anything to you, does it?–this bird, it’s almost like she’s a part of you. she’s with you all the time. all the time. and she is telling me to tell you to please know she’s with you all the time, flying around with you, fluttering about you constantly. this bird wants you to understand you need not fear, you need to feel free and happy and freed. freed! 

do you get this, elizabeth? do you? 

yes, i do. yes yes yes yes i do, i do, i do, i thought as i watched this gorgeous glossy black bird, with a crayola crayon yellow beak and legs and striped wings swoop down and perch itself by my chair. it hopped, it fluttered. it’s head moved abruptly from side to side. i think i saw it looking at me.

yes, i get it, miranda. i get it. i get it i get it i get it. yes.  i was whispering this to her.

and the bird soared away. it floated, it went up up up into the blueness, the cerulean of the sky and cried a little song. it disappeared, like a helium balloon released by a child.

i get it.

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shannon and i talked today, in my red hued garden, with the breeze bouncing off the walls and lifting our similar straight hair into little wisps around our faces, we talked about books and reading and people that rock our worlds with their words. 

i had spent the morning lounging poolside at raffles, where i have treated myself to a membership, my one treat to establish and ensure a quiet oasis for myself for books and doing silly watercolors of the world i see around me, a place i can go and be silent, unneeded, unquestioned, uninterrupted. it’s hard living where you work, when your commute is simply 10 shaky wooden steps from upstairs to down, stairs salvaged from the wrecking bin and virtually glued back together. i used to look forward to my trip on the n/r or better yet, the 6, as it was the slow train. i knew i could dive into the first half of the new york times before the doors opened to 34th street. and now, i need a commute of some sort, i need to be away sometimes, where cell phones don’t ring and computers are meaningless. so i go to raffles and retreat into someone else’s words and their world. books, or a borrowed international herald tribune from the wooden rack at the “celebrity bar”, where w.somerset maugham and jackie kennedy perched many many years ago here in siem reap, cambodia.

shannon is brilliant. she’s one of those people that slays me with her intelligence and her poise and her ability to be hilarious in a very dry, subtle, over-the-top genius way. i trust her take on words, on books. i like to hear her take on writers and know what she finds intoxicating about particular novels. she is brilliant.

she told me about this donna tartt book she had just finished at the parisian cafe just round the corner from my shop. she and jason, her equally magnificent and bright boyfriend, go there daily to write and read and have their oasis away from their shared house back off the number 6 road. she talked about this concept in the book, the little friend, how it was about looking into the rearview mirror and seeing the destruction that you’ve left behind. how this monumental decision by the protagonist was one that could not be changed, and how she knew, this teenaged protagonist, when looking in the rearview mirror in her mind, that it was one choice she would regret forever. and never be able to drive away from.

shannon cried when she told me this, she told me how she was sobbing when she read this in the little friend, how it moved something inside of her to read these words, this idea on paper, bound into a paperback book brought from the USA. i told her a similar story of being on the beach somewhere i no longer recall in the caribbean, finishing john irving’s a prayer for owen meany and crying so hard i needed to jump into the sea to mix my salt with nature’s. 

how amazing that books, that someone else’s words, a strangers words, can do this to us.

and then i told her how i spent the morning at raffles, completing a skinny little book that i tucked into my carry-on bag in october, one i hadn’t picked up immediately, as i got sidetracked by other, seemingly more urgent books that required my “immediate attention”. this book, written on the body, by jeanette winterson, baffled me at the start but left me rolling and swimming, virtually drowning, in my own saline. the book is about romantic passion and deep desire and the boundless, boundary-less love that the central character, the voice, has for this woman, after years of failed and destructive relationships. it is not corny, this book. it’s not hallmark-ish, it’s not sappy or silly or something you’d find on the sale rack at the drug store. it’s so human.

the language and the use of language, the respect and honor and admiration for language, for words, the way in which an idea, a concept,  is expressed and felt, shared, the feelings, the emotion, the rawness, the poetic justice that unfolds from the pages of this book, it’s really remarkable. stunning. 

but what also struck me, moved me, lightning-bolted me, was that the very same concept, the rearview mirror, was the essential theme in this book as well. it, too, pushed me to tears, the very same tears that poured out of shannon at the parisian cafe. 

why? 

these are things we know, we’re smart enough to know, for god’s sake, i’ve experienced enough of of life and my own shit and my own messes and my own triumphs to fucking know that we should avoid at all costs, at all fucking costs, rearview mirrors. shouldn’t we be safe from them, from the regrets? haven’t we told others, “don’t do rearview mirrors, whatever the fuck you do every day, steer clear of rearview mirrors.”  shouldn’t this be the first thing we’re taught, right after the a-b-c’s?

why are we crying?

because i am also experienced enough to know people don’t listen. they don’t think that what they do or don’t do or say or don’t say is going to create a rearview mirror, a rearview mirror they’re stuck with for life, forever. we all do this, i guess. we all forget that there’s possibly a tomorrow lurking out there past the sunset, and with the dawn, comes a chance to look back and think, “i should’ve. i could’ve. and i didn’t.” and then you live with it, this rearview mirror becomes attached to you. 

well the other thing i have learned on this bumpy, hilly, pockmarked road of my life, is that there aren’t really any tomorrows that you can count on. yesterday is guaranteed. but tomorrow? i have scars, deep wounds that bleed every once in awhile, that prove that the tomorrow i counted on never, ever came. once the sun rose and illuminated the world, my world, the opportunity to depend on what i thought i had–a chance to say, an opportunity to “take it back”, to express that unfinished feeling, thought, emotion–it had vanished. it was gone. clouds moved in, fog enveloped and covered the sun, shrouded the chances, the opportunities, the hopes. and the rearview mirror cemented itself, adhered itself to me. and i’ve spent years looking into it, wishing it wasn’t there to remind me and reflect those mistakes, highlight them.

don’t do what i did, i say. i scream this to myself. don’t leave things idle, don’t leave things uncertain, don’t let someone not know and understand and hear how you feel, what you want them to see and know and get and acknowledge and mean. don’t leave questions behind. don’t saddle someone with a question mark, an unfinished sentence they’re left to try to fill in. 

don’t.

i like to collect forevers.

i say this all the time, mostly to myself. i love forevers. i am never ever afraid of forevers. i am pretty decisive, i know what i like, what feels right, what makes me feel whole and complete and touched. touched. and when i choose to make a commitment to a forever, i know i won’t change my mind. i am that sure. so that’s why i like to collect them.

there’s a song by the gorgeous and incredible ben harper called “forever” and this line in it kills me, it rocks me and moves me. he says, “people spend so much time, every single day, runnin’ around all over town giving their forevers away.” and i don’t give mine away. they’re deliberate, planned, thought out. respected. held close. important.

i had the beautiful beautiful joy of watching–and sort of participating in–someone today collect a forever, in the form of a tattoo–is there really anything more forever than this? i am not sure, i think not–given to him in this tiny little tin roofed house with a shrine and incense burning and various people strolling in to say a few prayers to buddha and a child playing video games on an old computer in the corner and a cool breeze blowing in through the open door, bringing with it the sounds of chickens and mangoes dropping from trees. filtered light. a man sticking his head into the glassless window, giving unsolicited advice through brown broken teeth. sweat beads trickling from the tattooists forehead. he was taking this forever collector very very seriously. this is his job. to give people the chance to collect a forever.

and how amazing it was to see this forever take shape, come to life, breathe, make itself at home on the smooth clean back of pierre. witnessing a commitment to an emotion, a feeling, a sentiment, an unwavering decision to place permanent importance on this feeling, this expression, wow, i was almost moved to tears. actually, i did shed a few, silently, while no one was noticing. and the whole thing, the enormous thing that was today, it was so so  beautiful. yes, painful, too, horrible to see this person experiencing agony–ouch, ouch, can i take a break? oh my god, when is this going to be finished? shit! oh god, how i wish i could make it go away for him!–but knowing that the forever road he just travelled down was one with indeed pain but immense pleasure in the end. because in his message, this visual representation of everything that embodies his soul, his mind, his heart and hands and feet and legs and brain and eyes, it addresses his forever commitment to giving of one self, that’s what the image is. that was his choice, his steadfast, i’m-always-going-to-feel-this-way-and-be-this-person, a feeling to behold, to own. beautiful beautiful beautiful.

magical forever. 

so i spent some time later today, in accordance to the morning watching a forever come to life, listening to ben harper’s song. and this line struck me in a different way: “i won’t let my forever roam, and now i hope i can find my forever a home.”

relationships are different here. 

there’s this thing about time. it’s like the calendar is going in reverse, backing up, swerving and zig-zagging into today. everyone’s got their ends, their fixed dates when it’s time to go home, get back, go. settle into the routines of their previous worlds, their houses and flats and families. they’re leaving, mostly with hesitation and sadness, but they leave. time’s up.

it means that relationships are microwaved here, zapped into giant inflations of what they may normally be somewhere else. oh-my-god-you-are-amazing-and-you’re-leaving-and-i-dont-want-you-to-but-you-are-so-let’s-make-the-most-of-the-time-we’ve-got-left. zero to 60 in 2.2 seconds.

i sit and watch these things flourish under the invisible gro-light that seems to hang in the sky over siem reap. i witness the extremities, i see the hot humid air pump these relationships up into macy’s day parade floats before my eyes. enormous embodiments of themselves. puff puff puff they grow and they fly and they soar.

and i watch knowing that i have no end date, there’s nothing that’s enforcing some hurry-up attitude in my world. there is no ending, no highlighted day on the calendar or the blackberry or the i-cal reminding me of the ending, the ending. there is no ending. the drive, the hurry, it is not there.

the days stretch out before me, shrouded in mystery, waiting for the morning light to be unlocked and unfolded and unfurled. i like plans, so i get nervous. i get scared by the lack of benchmarks, the lack of highlighter pens, the lack of post-it notes scattered about. there are no “DONT FORGET”s piled up on my desk, or adhering themselves to my computer screen or tucked into my back pocket. i miss being needed, i miss the sense of urgency of my importance in a moment, in a plan, in an evening. i miss the “see ya next tuesday” emails, the calendar with dinner arrangements and meetings scratched into the margins of a notepad and drinks-at-7-at-the-smith, the-omg-i-am-going-to-be-late-someone’s-expecting-me-and-i-hate-late feeling. i am not really needed anywhere, by anyone, now. i’m here for the long term, and the long term says i’ve got time, you’ve got time, we don’t need to play a modern day version of “beat the clock”, we can breathe and move with the speed of whatever we want the speed to be. it’s just not urgent, it’s not necessary to send a rush messenger. take your time, you’ve got time, breathe and don’t watch the hands on the timepieces, don’t count, don’t hold your breath. stop holding your breath.

my dear friend nak came by unannounced to the store last night. he bounced in, all arms and legs and limbs moving wildly, hello hello hello eliza hello i miss my friend eliza how are you eliza hello.

we sat in the garden and talked and shared and i started to cry hot tears, splattering down my face, onto my lap, splash splash splash they went, staining my jeans, soaking the pillows that are supposedly for sale, i am sad, nak, i am sad, i am scared by sadness, sadness is scaring me.

he started to laugh.

“what are you laughing about?” i implored scratchily, through my sniffles and the wads of tissues muffling my voice.

“you look so beautiful, eliza. i wish someone would look that beautiful when they think about me, and talk about me,” he said.

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the boundaries, people say they’re there, don’t cross them, create them, respect them, there’s always danger lurking across the boundary. elizabeth, make them, they say. hurry up and get out your hammer and nails and power drill. make them.

and like the stubborn daughter of mrs elizabeth wimsatt kiester would do, she ignores them. she forgets to put up the fences, she blows off the warnings, the sirens are not heard, the wind and the air sweeps them away to echo and reverberate in another person’s backyard.

what would happen if i closed myself off to something amazing,” she thinks, “simply because i built a fucking wall?” 

well, what if she opened herself up to something amazing, crossed through the minefield on tiptoes, dodging and weaving through the danger zones, made it safely to the other side and someone else had a wall? did she think about that? 

no. that was the other part she forgot. oops.

so here she sits, wondering how the fuck to build a wall around the heart and soul of herself. no one ever showed her before. she’s befuddled by all the parts and all the hardware and all the confusing joints that are somehow supposed to fit together with a click and a snap, like those beautiful, perfect dovetails she sees subtly detailing amish furniture on “the antiques roadshow”, flawless seams that no light, no air, no dust can penetrate. she’s been told it’s easy, one can just erect this thing and be safe from the wars and the agony and the tears and the heartbreak and the ache ache ache that seem to revolve around her. she doesn’t need to feel stuff, they tell her. she can hunker down behind this wall and live there in the comforts of  the silence, the quiet of the little fort she can make for herself around her heart. i want to be safe, she tells herself. but i don’t know how. maybe i should run away. i don’t want anyone to know i don’t have a clue.

but still she sits, waiting for the class to begin, waiting for some he-man to come in and show her how to swing a hammer, use a saw, drive nails into a thick piece of wood. but no one shows. she realizes that she’s gotta figure this out on her own, go to the library deep inside of her soul and examine the books that lay there somewhere that have spines that scream out “DANGER! HEARTBREAK AHEAD! 10 E-Z WAYS TO BUILD YOURSELF A BUNKER”. 

doesn’t everyone have these texts somewhere? she’s determined to locate one in her own personal book shelf. if not, she thinks, i gotta find someone to loan me theirs. quickly. i am bleeding a bit, i need some bandages and ointment and i need to get this place up lickety split.

help me, she pleads to everyone and no one. show me the directions. please.

maybe.

 

 


someone here who knocks me out, turns me upside down inside, who seems to get it, get me, who has this uncanny ability to take the words out of my brain somehow and speak them back to me because they also belong to him, presented this amazing gift to me yesterday. 

paths crossed.

it’s this poem, and i recall reading it many years ago, probably in my anais nin/sylvia plath days, trying to understand the words, the rhythms, the beats and the punctuation while chain smoking merit cigarettes and listening to joan armatrading. i think i finally figured it out that day, and here, in cambodia, it magically re-presented itself to me, and the words and the sounds were at once familiar, but all so new. it radiated with a new meaning, a new value, an importance. and that it was gifted to me by someone who i admire enormously, respect on a level i can’t quite put words to.

the road not taken by robert frost

two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 

and sorry i could not travel both.

and be one traveler, long i stood

and looked down one as far as i could

to where it bent in the undergrowth.

then took the other, as just as fair, 

and having perhaps the better claim,

because it was grassy and wanted wear;

though as for that the passing there

had worn them really about the same.

and both that morning equally lay

in leaves no step had trodden black.

oh, i kept the first for another day!

yet knowing how way leads on to way, 

i doubted if i should ever come back.

i shall be telling this with a sigh

somewhere ages and ages hence;

two roads diverged in a wood, and i–

i took the one less traveled by.

and that has made all the difference.

 

 

 

 

the other evening, in the coolness of winter here–and “cool” is relative, please understand; although it’s over 80 degrees every day, the locals wear sweaters and hooded little faux fur trimmed parkas and i see the shiver shiver shiver electrify their bodies as they whizz by on their motos–my neighbors came over and said, “miss eliza, come outside and look!” 

we stood outside the store, in the glow of my makeshift christmas lights that adorn the bouganville and the jasmine bushes that decorate my little piece of siem reap, and lea pointed to the sky. “look!”

and framed between the laundry lines holding sheets and socks, the electrical wires that hang precariously over the street, crossing and twisting with the appearance of a half finished macrame project, was a face in the sky. a smiling face. two stars twinkled brightly, perfectly spaced, evenly aligned, and underneath was the sliver of a moon, a fingernail shaped skinny little slice of the planet, floating underneath the “eyes”, creating a peaceful, serene yet cheerful smile. it looked like a child had dragged a ladder that reached to the sky, climbed and jungle-gymed his way up this tall tall endless ladder, broke out a bright white marker and decorated the blackness of the universe, the dark endless canvas that hangs above us every night, and illuminated it with these two little dots in which he then stroked a upturned curvy mouth underneath.  perfect.

here was this face, this happy, naive, cheerful, silly little face shining down on us, here in svaydangkum commune, lighting us, showing us, reminding us. 

we were all laughing and just stood there, eyes affixed upward.

i couldn’t take a picture, i couldn’t run in and grab my camera and snap it. it wouldn’t do it justice, this picture. i closed my eyes over and over again, creating a shutter with them, burnishing the image in my mind, creating a darkroom inside to print this image over and over again, putting it in the developer, watching it come to life, this image, this smiley face in the sky, and quickly putting it in the stop bath to protect the image, make it last forever. hang it up to dry. store it away in my head and my heart and my soul to pull out again and again to look at and cherish and remind me of this night, this night in svaydangkum commune, when neighbors, my makeshift family, came together to see the sky smiling down on us. 

nak came by the next night for a visit. my friend, my dear nak. he stormed into the store and said, “eliz, did you see the sky smiling on us last night?”

oh did i, nak. i did. it’s in my photo album.