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i’ve decided to embrace heartbeats. things that make me swoon, make me feel alive, make me tingle tingle tingle inside. 

i went to this screening the other day, of a documentary film on a cambodian dancer, a boy who was plucked from siem reap, brought to new york, trained by a russian master on the artistry of ballet. and he became a success, leaping across the stage of lincoln center, stretching at the barre at the new york city ballet school, performing in the nutcracker suite. and while his story was compelling and literally drove me to tears, it was the scenic pictures of cambodia that made my heart jump and flutter and go into rhythmic spasms of overwhelming sensation.

i looked at this film objectively, almost as if i was sitting on my couch on ludlow street, smoking a cigarette, eating a slice of greasy st mark’s street pizza and being drawn into this film showing on PBS or something as i was flicking mindlessly through the channels for something to see. and as the visuals of the cambodian countryside were flashed onto the screen, rainbows of colors and textures and smiles of khmer children, my immediate internal reaction was, “shit, i want to go there.” and of course, within a second, within a beat beat beat of my pulsating heart, i realized i live there, these people on the screen were my neighbors and friends, this grassy  illuminated countryside was around the corner from my little house, that i could practically look out the window of this screening room and see exactly the same thing being projected onto this makeshift screen.

i am there, right in that movie. that movie is my world. that movie is my home. 

and during that ridiculously obvious realization, that silent eureka moment i was having, my dear friend and soul mate sheree turned to me and whispered, “oh my god, we live there. there!” and i felt my eyes well up instantly. oh my god, she was having it, too, this realization, this awakening.

we do. we live there. there there there. here here here.

so upon our exit from the screening room at the very grand sofitel hotel up the street from our houses, we made a pact to live there. live there, live here.

so that night we went dancing. we went to a local nightclub, met up with dine and serguey and shannon and jason, and moved on the dancefloor with multitudes of local teens and 20somethings, who surrounded us, laughing, pantomiming that they wanted us to teach them how to dance. groups of girls swayed their hips, mimicked our “macarena” moves, giggled shyly, swung around us in their glued-together posse. who was happier, who learned more…them or us? a tie.

and today, to celebrate sheree’s birthday, shannon and i joined her at the happy ranch, a little corral not far from my tiny little house in the middle of the madness in siem reap, cambodia. we saddled up some horses and followed lucy, our guide, through the countryside, winding our way over dirt paths and through makeshift little villages, where children, beautiful, achingly beautiful tiny little ragamuffin moppets, ran from their stilt houses to shout, “hello! hello!” and wave frantically at these 4 girls riding by on horseback. we passed little ponds with water buffalo swimming through the muddy waters, cooling themselves from the relentless 10AM sun. a man passed us on a bicycle, loaded down with hay. we stooped to avoid being hit by bouganville branches and clotheslines and swaying low lying electrical wires and potted orchids attached to palm trees. 

we were living in there. there.

and the list of “theres”, our places to live in and inside, our experiences here, there, is growing by the minute. the aerobic dance classes that old and young khmers flock to in some random space out in the countryside? definitely going there. the apsara dance school? yes yes yes, we’re there. the village on the way to angkor wat that is making handcrafted pottery? when? we’re there! sihanoukville and bamboo island and kulen mountain and this village pierre told me about far far from here that weaves ikat by hand? let’s go there. now. now. my heart is already racing. beat. boom. beat. boom.

here. there. here. there. 

this is here. here i am.

i’ve been accused–hmmm, let’s use a better phrase here–ahem–it’s been brought to my attention that my blog entries always sound sad and lonely and rather grim, that i am giving the impression that i am unhappy here and that the bright cambodian sun is not shining on the glossy dyed black head of elizabeth walton kiester, new-ish resident of siem reap. 

and admittedly, being a fan of the writings of genius and tortured writers like william styron and sylvia plath and j.d. salinger, it never occurred to me to flood my blog with “this is what i did today in this sunshine-y city” entries or equally cheerful surface treatments of this strange, new, bumpy, beautiful, complicated and amazing journey i am on.

but guess what? i DO like it here. i DO think siem reap has provided me some of the magic dust i was looking to sprinkle myself with. i DO think the cambodian people are magnificent examples of human will and spirit, and superficially some of the most beautiful people i’ve ever encountered. (i’d like to think it’s something in the water, but then again, i’ve seen and tasted the water here and it can’t be that. no no no.) i DO have a small posse of great incredible friends here–sheree and pierre and jason and shannon come to mind instantly–people who when i am amongst, i think, “how did i live all these years without you? you are part of me.”  i DO have a network of other people here–mr magoo, jen, john & narissa, joffrey, dirk & tum, jan & rith, nak, aki, my dear dear amazing maree, loven & faith, awesome and incredible don–people i exchange heartfelt pleasantries with, talk endlessly with on the corner of sivatha and the alley street when i run smack into them as we’re rushing off to the laundry, the bank, work, wherever, people i receive invitations from to attend their parties and make plans for dinners and coffees–okay, diet cokes– with. i DO get awed by the smells of nature here, the blooming of the frangipani, the floating pink lotus flowers, the jasmine that seems to grow wildly on every street corner, in every crack in the sidewalks. i DO feel my eyes well with tears–tears of overwhelming joy and sensation–when i take notice of the colors that seem to be at their extremes here, the oranges and all their off shoots–saffron and creamsicle and blood orange and coral and carrot and orange-by-way-of-red-cinnamon, the spectacular array of greens– the rainbow of just this one simple basic color and my astonishment that there are so many varieties and a human being or some animator somewhere in a cubicle in silicon valley didn’t create them. i DO feel butterflies stir inside of me when i hear the chantings from the pagodas, when i hear the clickety-clack of the endless streams of tuk-tuks that clog these dusty streets. i DO feel alive here in ways i’ve never felt before, i am more aware of my senses, i am acknowledging life and the world and the universe from an entirely new perspective, with new eyes, with a fresh look at things i thought i knew and clearly didn’t. i DO open myself up to people that i may have not in my “other” life, people who there is no doubt that i would never have come across if i had stayed put, enclosed in my overly decorated apartment on ludlow street, people who crossed over my inner threshold and struck me, electrified me, enveloped me and embraced me, showed me ways and ideas and thoughts and lessons and languages that without them, without their entrance into my universe, without their maps, i never, ever would’ve had the immense and gorgeous pleasure of experiencing and understanding. 

i DO know, too, that i love it here for different reasons and in different ways and for different things and experiences and events and happenings and i DO know that i am very very lucky, very fortunate and very blessed to have had this chance. this is my chance.

i DO i DO i DO

just because i escaped, ran, fled, jumped on a plane to southeast asia in search of something else, a new way, a new journey, unexplored territory, a road i hadn’t yet traveled on, doesn’t mean that the old things, the dramas and the hurts, the hot prods and the buttons  have changed at all or are not present on this road. i am still the same person, i am still this individual who feels deeply and at times wishes i didn’t, the person who other people say “get over it” to, the person who wishes that tear ducts could be removed surgically and who dreams of a way to unscrew her head and walk around without one, emotionless, robotic. someone who wishes wishes wishes.

cut me, and i bleed.

i hear my mom say in her southern drawl, “consider the source”. i hear all 1000 syllables when she would say this to me. and i would try to “consider the source”, look and examine this person who hurled hurts or insults or sadistic words my way, try to see this individual as the damaged person i knew they were and not allow them to poke my heart out with their sharp-tipped sword. but i couldn’t do it. i did consider the source, and it still hurt me. 

sticks and stones and all that. 

recently, i’ve had the misfortune of coming across some people here, expats all of them, who seem to feel that since we’re in a “shared experience”–meaning we’re all away from what we know, what makes us comfortable, the everyday verbal and non-verbal languages we speak in our former homes–this entitles them to say whatever it is they feel like saying, consequences be damned.  like we’re automatically friends because our skin is white and our legs are encased in authentic levi’s jeans and our tvs are tuned to cnn.

i know you, they say without the words. and therefore, since i know you, because, you, too, are non-khmer, you own a mac, you read the international herald tribune, too,  when you can steal an old copy from one of the restaurants in townyou are just like me. so let me tell you a little bit about yourself, since i know you so well.

“you are old. too old for this town, it’s full of beautiful young women and you’re not one of them.” “you know nothing about men.” “you are actually thinking about ‘dollars per square feet’?” “isn’t anything good enough for you,”–a few eyerolls and snickers are thrown in here–“one store in siem reap isn’t enough?” “you are a homewrecker.” “you make clothes that make women look ugly.” “your hair is a mess, you need to color it. “

i wish this was a work of fiction. but it’s not. these are statements made from a rag-tag group of various people who have entered into my little universe and spewed this unsolicited shit in my face. these are not my friends. these people are strangers. yes, we share common things–skin color, ex-pat status, passports filled with stamps and visas. but we have never shared a conversation, a real conversation that goes beyond “where are you from?”. these are words hurled into my direction. you need help, they say with their eyes as these things tumble from their mouths. and i am here to set you straight, lady.

and while i “consider the source”, while i repeat the “sticks and stones” rhyme, all sing-song-y in my head, while i hear tony’s voice in the depths of my mind saying “SUCK IT UP”, while i fantasize about being emotionless and thick skinned and encasing myself in a suit of armor, i still lay on my bed later and cry. i am human, after all. perhaps because i appear to be unshakable, having moved from dazzling shiny fabulous new york city, ditching a 6 figure salary career trajectory and all the trappings of the upwardly mobile, to park myself in a developing country by choice, these strange strangers feel they can really say anything they feel like it because i can’t be thrown, i can’t possibly have an emotional undercurrent that runs through every choice i make. she’s from new york. new yorkers are tough broads, they will bulldozer right over you. they’re shameless, shameful people who embody the american dream, with their tough-as-nails exterior and hollow interiors. 

yeah, i have moments of toughness. moments reserved for things like when my old landlord took it upon himself to deduct thousands of dollars from my bank account 2 fucking weeks ago, 4 months after i’d vacated the place and moved to cambodia. when in actuality he owed me money. when the lady slashed my bag in the market in phnom penh looking to steal my wallet, my makeup case, my anything that had some sort of monetary value and i pushed her to the ground with all the force in my body and she slunk away, shamed and maybe injured a little bit. but toughness is in reserve, bottled up behind the emotional tap that sits right out front.

i am human.

and you cut me, i bleed.

aki’s father died on monday.

my friend here, aki, an exuberant, energetic, over-the-top, hilarious individual, totally influenced by the west–cornrows plait his hair sometimes, other times i’ve gone with him to have it blown out straight and swingy, so cal/surfer/skate-rat style–perfect in his english, hip-hop in his clothing selections, a guy who leads tours all over southeast asia to tourists who are surely as blown away by him as i am. and i saw him yesterday, at the funeral for his dad, and he was not my bouncy aki, but my friend in stillness, in quiet.

aki came down the steps of his stilt house to greet dine and i, and his head was shaved, as they do here in cambodia, in all of southeast asia, as an homage to their loved one who has passed to another place. the clean scalp of the sons of the family signify their rebirth–as aki moved his palm back and forth, over and over his newly shorn skull, he said, “i am a baby again, ready to live a new life.”

shod in an all white muslin top and pants, the colorless clothes he and his family wore also signified a new beginning, a cleansing of sorts, telling all who saw that they are reborn into a new world of cleanliness, holiness, refreshment. i remembered yesterday that i had insisted on wearing white to ann’s funeral for the exact same reason, to remind myself and others that death, too, can be a beginning, not just for me, of course, but for ann, too. 

aki’s youngest brother was tied by rope, looped around his newly bald head, to a wheeled cart that carried the coffin of his dad. this rope was connected to the brightly painted coffin, painted gold and red and pink and orange stripes, and fitted to the top were golden crowns, shining in the hot midday sun, ricocheting it’s golden beams of reflection into my eyes. aki and 2 of his brothers stood on the cart, surrounding the wooden painted box of their dad’s. and the cart was then pulled by their youngest sibling, as well as 8 men who pulled their own ropes, and off this procession went through the streets of siem reap, with about a hundred of us following behind, through the dusty and dry and hot streets of siem reap, stopping traffic. and i was watching from the corner of my eyes tourists snapping pictures of this colorful and solemn parade, a parade for a man who was now reborn into another world, another life.

a monk banged a gong every minute or so. a beautiful hollow echoing sound that reverberated off of the low buildings and bounced back into my ears. the buddhist nuns who i walked amongst, dressed in white, too, held my hand. and smiled. and squeezed my hand again.

flowers and fans were carried by all in this procession, this parade through the streets of siem reap. i looked at aki every once in awhile and saw him holding onto this multi colored striped coffin, looking forward, looking back, looking in and looking looking looking. he was looking inside of himself. 

an hour later, we arrived at the pagoda, where a pyre was being set and saffron robed monks were waiting and calling with their chants, sing-song and low, melodic and hypnotizing. white again, a white flag that looked like a homemade kite a kid would make, flew in the breeze that swept through the bodhi trees. white. rebirth. reborn. new. a baby again, as aki said. 

the sisters and mother and aunties of aki’s wore white veils on their heads and circled the pagoda three times and a woman, also adorned in head-to-toe white, she’s a shaman of sorts, one who speaks to the spirits, talked to aki’s dad, lead the circling, the three times around and around and around again, and was carrying a basket filled with white jasmine, which she tossed here and there, scenting and perfuming the air, leaving natures confetti behind her. she ran away, ran off suddenly, and i was told it was because she was carrying the bad spirits away away away, they had come into her and she was bringing them far away from this reborn family. her whiteness, her billowing headscarf of white muslin, fluttered behind her as she scurried through the thick green tangle of the bodhi trees.

i thought about rebirth, about what death is about here, and how different it is perceived and acknowledged and accepted and understood from the place i know and grew up in. there is a sense of quiet exuberance surrounding this rite here, a way to celebrate a life while simultaneously appreciating and accepting that this life does not end in this moment. that endings are just beginnings, that with this comes opportunity to renew oneself and to refresh the spirit, to take in this person’s being within yourself. death is not feared here. it’s part of the cycle, the movement, the thrust forward.

it doesn’t end, it just starts again.

the baby, the shaved head to emulate a newborn, the dawning of another day, another chance to start anew and see things with different eyes and touch things in fresh ways.

endings as beginnings.

i have this broken, dilapidated, totally ripped and torn and loved and virtually destroyed sketch pad i carry around with me–cover plastered with stickers, held together by giant clip from staples office supplies, sanford uniball micro black pen (the only pen worth using, as far as i am concerned. it’s perfection. i simply can’t write anything without one. it’s like it’s an extension of my brain and my heart, these pens) stuck into the unspiralling spiral on the spine–and i write things down in it, things i read, see, hear. often just a few words, a smattering of disconnected, disjointed things that overwhelm me in the moment, a thought. it’s not a journal, really, it’s just a place where i leave something behind that strikes me, that  i don’t want to forget. and more times than not, it’s something i’ve read in a book by someone much much more wise than me, someone who somehow in some super overly educated and incredible way, has been able to harness an emotion, a complicated emotion and feeling, and put it into a sort of sensible, sensitive, sensational poetry.

i often break out my little set of watercolors, cheapo wells of paint bought at the local siem reap book center for about .50. a little palette that kids would use, complete with a ridiculously infantile brush, a miniaturized version of an adult, professional one. so i just slop the paint around the words i’ve written down with my sanford micro uniball black pen, create a mess of bleeding, watery colors that often drip and soak into the paper and fuse with and melt into the black ink. but i don’t care. somehow this cacophony of colors and ink and water–this blobby colorful disaster, a wannabe cy twombly–exemplifies the feelings and the sentiments that i’ve written down.

i wrote this passage down for someone recently and painted it a messy little mess–actually, in hindsight, it was most likely a huge mess–as a holiday present because something told me he would get it and appreciate it and understand understand understand totally and completely understand. and i re-read it today, and it knocked me out again. again. over and over and over again. wow wow wow, oh my god yes oh my god. it was written by jeanette winterston–yes, i’ve waxed poetic about her before, her skills, her unbelievable talent, her ability to slay me with the english language, to leave me rather breathless, stunned–and as i read it and read it and read it again again again, it says more to me each and every time, and i get inside the words, the dialect, the rhythms–oh, how rhythms are so critical, so important. these words paint pictures for themselves in my mind. i see the film that would go along with these words. i create a visual. create it. i see golden orangey hues splashed across rice paddies, i see filtered light streaming through the ubiquitous wooden shutters of stilt houses in the villages, i see the plumes of smoke from incense wafting into the sky, through the shutters. i feel the warmth of the sun in the spot on the wooden floor. i see the magic light that i love so that makes me cry with hope and joy, that light the sun gives off an hour or two before sunset. when things seem more alive than they have all day, when people seem ready and willing and glowing, when a lemonade seems apt and right and the only thing necessary, that magical magical light and time of the day when love seems like something you can touch and eat and taste, when possibilities are right in front of you. i see the boy with the balloon against the greenness of the paddies, i see his red balloon contrasting against the cerulean. i smell frangipani. i feel my nose crinkling up as my eyes squint in the low low sun, i feel a twinge of sunburn, i see long shadows of bicycles and conical hats stretching across the dirt roads, i see these eyes of a friend of mine, eyes shaded by dark heavy lashes that are catching the yellowness of the magic light and i feel the breeze blowing off the fields, moving sounds of laughter and music into my ears. i feel this. because i read this.

from written on the body, by jeannette winterston:

this is where the story starts, in this threadbare room. the walls are exploding, the windows have turned into telescopes. moon and stars are magnified in this room. i stretch out my hand and reach the corners of the world. the world is bundled up in this room. beyond the door, where the river is, where the road is, we shall be. we can take the world with us, and sling the sun under your arm. hurry now, it’s getting late. i don’t know if this is a happy ending, but here we are, let loose in open fields.

 

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i am comfortable in airports. they make me dream, they make me feel and see and become. they energize me. i like being in them alone, i like that i am almost a ghost, cruising around, unnoticed, unknown, looking and peering into people’s faces and seeing their moments. perhaps it’s voyeuristic, but so be it. i like it.

it’s amazing how an airport is sort of a microcosm of the world outside of it, like the whole universe has been shrunken down, miniaturized and shrinky-dinked and then plopped into a building, a structure. i spent 5 hours lurking in the shadows and corners of the bangkok airport, watching and hearing and observing the constant movement of humanity pass me by. 

the gamut of emotions. the drops of tears down a woman’s face as she sat alone, nursing a cold cup of coffee, slumped over, broken. what was she thinking? who was she thinking about? was she crying over the goodbye she didn’t want to say or the goodbye she didn’t want to hear? was she leaving hopelessness? or going somewhere hopeful? where?

a family anxiously awaiting the arrival of a flight, pacing, nervously looking at watches, examining the “arrivals” board over and over again, almost maniacally, hoping perhaps there’d be a message for them regarding their passenger, their friend, whoever it was they were in need, in dire dire desperate true and beautiful need of seeing immediately.  a kid, she was probably like 8 or so, holding a clutch of helium balloons, the fancy mylar kind, with an english message of “merry christmas”–a few days late, of course, but who cares? and being thai, they don’t celebrate this holiday anyway, but again, it’s the gesture, the thought, the idea–she was bouncing around, trying to peer over the heads of the adults pressed up against the partitions, searching, searching for the familiar face. oh, the hellos, the hellos. the rushing of someone into another’s arms, the swinging around, the hugging and the tight embraces, the kisses and the squeals. the unabashed joy. the reunion. 

the extremities of emotion are played out in airports. you see them all, they are all there if you allow yourself a moment to look up, take notice, witness. using the time, the time we never allow ourselves to have really anywhere else, that time to see and examine and understand the complexities and the beauty of feelings, of expressions, both non-verbal and verbal, physical, intimate. right on the surface, right there, the feelings are right fucking there.

i look at the “departures” board over and over again, and allow myself to dream that i, too, am going off to dubai or kuala lumpur or capetown by way of paris. oh to see the anticipation on people’s faces as they wait on line, ready to sit and be still for hours and hours, but excited nonetheless. i get intoxicated by the expressions, to wonder where and what they are expecting on the other end of this journey. to create the stories in my head. why are they going to manila? what’s in jerusalem? what’s happening for them there?

i examine my passport and count, 1, 2, 3, 4…see the collection of multi colored stamps, page sized visas, feel some weird sense of pride. have i really been to london over 30 times? my brain zooms backwards,  recalling the damp and foggy cobblestoned streets, the hot pots of tea shared with ruth, the puffy comforting duvets that welcomed me at the end of the night in those fancy, expensed hotels. paris, milan, tokyo–really? dozens and dozens of japanese stamps? oh, how tokyo makes me feel alive, colorful, exuberant, creative, inspired; i explode there, i feel all my senses maxing out, there’s no need to sleep, there’s so much to drink in and experience; i start planning my next journey there in my mind instantly–china, glorious and huge and overwhelming china. those red stamps, that visa depicting the great wall. turkey, ireland, spain, australia. india, incredible, magical, insane and insanely beautiful india. so many, such a vast and varied collection. mine. i count the stamps and my blessings. 1, 2, 3, 4…

the journeys, all of them. physical acts of going, emotional acts of going. flying. flying and being somewhere else in only a short amount of time, freeing yourself of what you already know and live amongst, allowing yourself to learn and observe newness, flying, soaring into a vast wide open space inside, outside. i do this by going places but i also do this by going there in my mind.

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.

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.