“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.”
― May Sarton
Time for the thing that you do when you start all over. Time for the moment of checking in. Seeing if where you’ve come from and where you’re headed, or your idea of it, anyways, are at least a little known for you. “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we began, and know the place for the first time,” said T.S. Eliot.
January’s pink sky over Bangkok in the evenings reminds me to take the time to notice. The way the air feels heavier than it did five months ago, when I scrambled here from Vientiane to get to the Indian Embassy and see about visas to India. I had big ideas, back then. You put all your hopes and dreams into one idea, and you think it’s the only way.
There is always more than one way, though.
That’s what the road teaches. (So does quantum physics, but that’s another story.)
Going to India, finding out you were wrong about a person who made a promise, having to improvise, and crossing from Gangtok to Amritsar through Nepal, meeting the mountains of Nagarkot along the way: that was good space. For thinking. For wondering out loud. For bumping into people who, like you, love Walden, and who want to see you make your art without any qualms or words of ice to try to block you from your Way.
This came up a lot in India. Polluted place, in lots of ways.
“You may be knowing,” says L., a twelve year-old who, over card games like Speed and Old Maid, became my young son’s new best friend in a village outside of Amritsar. Holding the end of a long string attached in the far distance to a bright red kite, he was frank. “India is corrupt.”
Returning to Delhi on a night bus through the fog, I couldn’t help but think, “Sure. It is. But would I know that if I weren’t, from the outside, an Indian-looking person? Would people treat me a little more like a foreigner if they could see at first glance that I’m not like them? If I weren’t born to Indian immigrants, would another mother be nicer, and not spread awkward rumors, or try to meddle with my relationship with my in-laws, or…?”
Knowing what we are and what we aren’t, all of that, takes a lot of energy to sort through.
Everyone has something important they care about that they want to do, but there are those naysayers that try to block you. They’re just there. They just do. But when we take stock, it makes it easier to see the picture clearly. Is the thing we’re doing right now what we want to be doing, or what someone’s told us is a good idea for us to be doing? Are we aligned to our core values? And bigger: are we living a life that expresses our true selves? How do we even <em>start</em> with that, anyway?
In 2012, I started writing and sharing my first-person stories in earnest. I had always kept journals, but they amounted to giant stacks of notebooks, still tattered from long haul flights to places like Ghana, Japan, and a few back-and-forth trips to Ireland.
I don’t know, maybe it was the sheer attachment to a green cover of a watercolor sketchbook, which tied together with a chocolate brown ribbon, that made me keep these things. Yet I had to burn quite a few of them. A lot of people do this, but why? I have a guess: to make space, mentally, for the new.
“You’re burning the papers to make room for new words, right, Mama?” It’s my little son, holding a pink crayon on the opposite side of a table in a cafe off Sukhumvit.
I’m on my grown-up side, with thirtysomething years of experience between us, but he’s the real philosopher. I’ve got my Sharpie, poised, an iPod next to the milk Siam tea, and a weight of the past—all worries—trying so hard, and just managing, only then, to lift.
“I’m doing my best,” I say to him. “No matter what anyone tells us, or how we feel about it when they do, all we can ever give a thing is our best.”
Dipika Kohli (@dipikakohli) writes Kismuth. You can revisit your own themes when you join her new group journaling project.