i can imagine too

I used to zip my lips to pretend I agree with the surprise. I don’t suffer from anxiety or depression, but I know what it’s like to appear to “have it all” and still rot on the inside, feeling completely lost and meaningless. In the past when I read about those who took their life, I’d wonder how far, or close, I am from their footsteps.

Whether the issue is mental illness or not, the expectation that the smart, capable, wealthy or privileged among us can figure their life out on their own is a blindfold and a no-entry sign we put up to our suffering loved ones. Over time that expectation can seem to say “Stop whining. You don’t even have a reason to be miserable”.

Educated, by Tara Westover

 

“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.” – Tara Westover

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This statement by Tara Westover got me diving straight into her memoir, Educated.

First I learned of a world, a Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, that paralleled in time to mine but sounded to my foreign ears like a tale from a distant past.

Then when Westover shows that love trickles even through the abusive and controlling family relationships from which she painfully left, it confronts me with two of life’s paradoxes that feel impossible to hold.

First, people can love us deeply and hurt us with their best intentions.
Second, we may remove ourselves from those relationships in spite of love, as Westover shows by example, though initially not without guilt towards the people we cut off.

And she also shares how she found her ground:

“I shed my guilt when I accepted my decision on its own terms, without endlessly prosecuting old grievances, without weighing his sins against mine. Without thinking of my father at all. I learned to accept my decision for my own sake, because of me, not because of him. Because I needed it, not because he deserved it.”

– Educated: a memoir, Tara Westover

 

sweet afternoon

The Starbucks barista called my name, produced my drink, while not missing a beat swaying to the music they’re playing. I thanked her and walked away as usual, but perhaps it was how she was still dancing to herself that I felt something more. I warmed with the knowledge that while the drink was nothing to her, just one in a thousand and counting, but to me, she just made the only thing I know that will help me through this dreary afternoon. I’m suddenly so grateful for her. Not only am I lucky enough to be able to pay for what I want, but someone is there to make it when I needed it.

OK, I hear someone say I’m being overly sentimental. But, more so than the hot chocolate, this surge of gratitude was the best thing I’ve experienced all day.

you are both

No more believe in your light than your darkness.
You are both.

You cannot be the flower that’s turned towards the sun
without being the roots that fumble underground.

In the lonely bed or on the bathroom floor,
watch out for a calm that comes naturally
as day follows night.

short story: once upon an anger

Foreword:
In February I visited the Big Island of Hawaii and was awestruck by the volcanoes and lava fields. A few weeks ago I spent a few days reinventing the story of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcano, as an exercise to reinterpret my story and relationship with my mother-in-law. When I finished writing, I was told the Kilauea volcano, legendary home to Pele, had been erupting that whole week!

 

Once Upon an Anger

When Pele became her family, Namaka lost her home as she knew it. Pele, young goddess of fire who was unaware of her own power, flung a spark that landed on Namaka’s face. Namaka, goddess of water, was the older, most powerful, most respected and feared in the family. Insulted, she almost drowned Pele in her fury.

That was how Pele too lost her home, the one she dreamed of having.

The rest of the family coaxed Pele to calm down and learn from her mistake. Alone, wounded and hopeless, it seemed that if Pele was to live happily at all, there was only one way: Namaka’s way. Strong-willed and guilt-ridden Pele took a bucket of the ocean and poured it over her head. Whenever she felt feisty, she’d drench herself with another bucket.

But it didn’t work for long. Pele started to notice smoke escaping her nostrils. She felt lava behind her eyes. She feared what might happen if she opened her mouth.

One day finally Pele slipped. She gave her true opinion on something. If this was a happy and a healthy family, she should be allowed to express herself too. Namaka, though kind and generous in her ways, could not stand being challenged. When Pele’s little flame snaked its way towards her, she met it with a wave. Not a gentle wave of her hand, but an ocean’s wave. Pele shook in her anger and burst into flame. She pushed right up against Namaka’s water wall. Namaka sweated in Pele’s heat. Pele pulled away, frightened by her own uncontrollable temper.

Pele ran to a small cliff. She stood there, shaking. How odd for the world to seem so quiet while on the inside she burned like a planet on fire. The rocks began to melt under her feet. Lava trickled down the cliff like the blood from her forehead. She closed her eyes to go inside. She had tried so hard to kill her fire, and now she was more powerful than she knew. She didn’t know that every effort to put out her fire was energy that fed her fire. All the anger, hurt and self-denial was energy that fed her fire.

For the first time ever, Pele was glad that she still had the fire in her. She had never felt safer and freer to learn that nobody, least of all herself, had the power to extinguish her.

Instead of returning to her family, Pele walked. When she came upon a clearing, she melted the ground into a large crater and climbed in. Family can come as they wish. She can go to them as she wishes. But this will be her home within the home. Inside the Kilauea volcano, Pele can be as powerful as she wants.

the worst is always this

The worst is always this:
You think it’s all your fault.

You kneel before the victory of your flaws.
Your inherent darkness prevailing.
“Unlovable” seems to be the ultimate truth.
Don’t put your arms around it.
Don’t bring it with you.

Hear the angry screams of “why couldn’t you”
“why did you”, “you didn’t even” –
Listen, that voice assumes you could.
It believed you could.
Anger knows your power.
Let the pain burn and churn you
until you’re a pile of dirt
moistened by your tears,
ready for new growth.

And then, let morning
pick you up like a child.

perfection is boring

Continuing my latest painting obsession. This little one is the closest to what I wanted to achieve. When I was done, I was rather…

disappointed.

Because it looks just as I expected.

There’s nothing surprising or unique because I played it very safe and didn’t make any mistakes with this one.

sushi that saved my anniversary

A rock sat on my chest for days leading up to the 7th anniversary of my marriage. I was in no mood to celebrate it and was half afraid he’d find out. As with a couple of Valentine’s Day ago, I might use it as a chance to discuss what’s going on, or what’s not going on, in our marriage.

He took my hand as we walked towards the restaurant. “Are you excited?” he asked. We were going to Shiro’s, the best sushi place in town, allegedly founded by an apprentice of Japan’s most renowned sushi chef, Jiro Ono, the one featured in the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”.

“Are you excited?” he asked.
I pursed my lips.
“You’re not happy, are you?”
I shrugged, and we crossed the street.

We asked for Omakase, the “chef’s selection” style where we sit at the bar in front of the chef, who will serve you whatever they make. Shiro’s Omakase is “open ended”, which meant that instead of having a fixed number of sushi, you may ask to stop whenever you’re full. Or, in our case, keep going until you’ve finally had enough. It’s not an “all you can eat”, mind you. You’re charged for every piece.

Out of a sense of respect I didn’t take any pictures of the two albacore nigiris that started our meal. But the next sushi was a translucent fish that resembled a piece of white jade. The desire to capture that beauty overcame my shyness with the camera.

“Happy anniversary!” husband said.
“Yes,” I smiled and nodded.
“As you were saying, you’re not happy?”
I was surprised he’d follow up. But yes that was something I wanted to get into.

“Well, you know, we don’t really talk to each other any more. When we do it’s always practical and functional. We barely talked to each other over the weekend even though we were together.”
“And because of our little one too,” he added.
“Yes. We don’t have anything in common, we want our alone time and then we don’t have time for each other. We don’t do anything together.”

That was as far as I got. As it turned out, you can’t complain about your marriage when you’re grinning from ear to ear, because you’re tasting sushi that’s unlike anything you’ve ever dreamed of. Fish gently draped over rice that melt in your mouth. Blue fin tuna that looks familiar enough, but makes you question if all the tuna you’ve had before had been injected with gelatin. I am ready to never eat sushi anywhere else ever again.

As husband’s eyes beamed yet again with surprise and wonder at the I don’t know what fish, and I’m involuntarily swaying left and right like a flower being visited by fairies, I realized that we were doing something together right now. We were having a first-in-a-lifetime experience together. There’s something to be said about that.