Friday blog time

Well, here is one more (of, gosh, who knows how many?!) attempts to start blogging regularly. I’m setting myself a post-a-week goal all over again; more specifically, I’m setting myself “Friday blog time.” I tell you that only because it leads to something I’ve been discovering and rediscovering about myself lately — I really love planning. I really love the goal of being disciplined. I love spending hours making this complex color coded schedules. It’s ultimately fairly counterproductive since I am not very good at following said schedules, but I feel totally at sea if I don’t have them. I know. It’s weird. Paul once told me that I reminded him of his eight year old who lives a little in the future. He gets so excited thinking about events to come that he enjoys them in the moment, but once the event actually comes around, he’s bored — he’s already experienced it. That’s one of the most insightful observations anyone’s ever made about me. I’m not saying I wish I didn’t enjoy the future so much — I love it! — but maybe I could benefit from enjoying the planning a little less than the doing. No?

To be fair, though, this is one of my responses to the challenges of a freelancer life. As much as I love the freedom to do what I want to, when I want to, there is something to be said for the discipline of a 9 to 5 job with clearly demarcated goals and a system of accountability. I’m trying to create one for myself that takes into account things like my love of mornings for quiet work and my brain’s absolute inability to function for the half hour or so following lunch. At the time of this writing, I have succeeded in following this new discipline for exactly 2 1/2 days; I’m curious to see how long I can make it last!

But back to the point, Friday blog time. And 4-mornings-a-week-other-writing-time. Enough has been said and written about how much writing happens when one sits down to write even when one has nothing to say, so I won’t spend too much time talking about it (and if you’re in one of my workshops, you’ll hear enough about it!). But here’s what’s interesting to me — I still don’t know this! I experience it at least once a week, usually more, and I still don’t know this. I still put off writing because I have nothing to say. And then, when I force myself to sit down and write anyway, I often end up saying things I didn’t know I wanted to say. A few days ago, for instance, I started out with nothing to say, wrote briefly about my frustration at having nothing to say, then somehow started writing about fireplaces, then about my grandfather, then about his garden, then about my herb spiral, then lightbulbs, then goats, then candy in a jar, then about how I hoard memories. At least two poems came out of that yesterday. And the weird thing is, I still don’t know where they came from, and when I read them, I still wonder who wrote them. Do you know that feeling? Looking at your work, especially your work that you admire, and wondering who the heck wrote it? It makes writing the next piece harder, but also so much more fun. That sense of discovery and play is such a huge part of what I love about writing… and yet, and yet. There’s something ironic, isn’t there, about discipline being the road to discovery and play? There is in my mind, but I don’t really know another way to get there, so I’m going to keep working at Friday blog time and Tuesday poetry time and so on.

Oh, and then, of course, there’s Monday “read-towards-writing” time (have I mentioned that I seldom read poetry to relax? Fiction yes — poetry, I read for stimulation and enjoyment, but never relaxation, which means it’s easy to get far too little poetry reading done unless I treat it like work). But reading time is another blog post — who knows, perhaps next Friday is I’m still this inspired! :)

Why I travel: Reflections on a Mountain Month

I've been in Himachal since the 1st of June, mostly in the Kullu-Manali valley, with a week in Spiti. I also did a 5-day trip near Mcleodganj at the end of March... all together, about a month of the last 3 months has been spent in these beautiful mountains. The 5 day trip was a solo trip -- my first in India -- and the Kullu-Manali part has been Mom and me, with a couple of visits from friends. The Spiti one was a group tour -- Mom and I were among 9 people packed into two jeeps and several hotels and homestays over 8 days. Because these trips have been so different from each other, they offer me an interesting glimpse into why it is that I set out on these trips to begin with... and a useful insight into how to structure the travels from here forward. I travel for two main reasons: I travel for solitude, and I travel for relationships. While they may seem contradictory, they are in fact complementary. Let me explain.

I travel to be alone. I travel to let the too-many thoughts in my head occasionally play out in all the different directions that they want to play out in. I travel for silence and for writing time. I travel to get away from technology. I travel because the mountains and the deodar forests, in particular, allow me to enter a quiet, calm space from which I always return rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.

I travel for relationships. I travel to step outside myself. I travel to look at everyday life as new and fresh. I travel to have conversations with the vegetable vendor and the milkwoman in new places, such as I'd never have with the vegetable vendor and the milkwoman back home, if they exist. I travel for anonymity. Because I am no one in particular in this new place, I can be whoever I want to be. I travel to try on new avatars, not consciously, but definitely.

When I traveled alone in March, I walked everywhere, for 6-8 hours a day, then returned to my homestay and passed out early at night. I woke up at sunrise, ate breakfast to the birdsong, wrote, and set out again. As I walked along those little mountain roads, I was suddenly struck one day by the realization that I had learned to walk on such roads. I do not remember learning that, of course, but it is (I believe) the reason I am still so at home here. These roads recognize me; these deodars remember. Those long solitary walks helped me recover from months of insanity in less than a week.

But it wasn't only the silence and solitude that healed me. It was also that I met so many people and created so many more quick, beautiful bonds. An old lady in Naddi invited me home for lunch and tea. Two little boys made me a fire from their garbage. A shopkeeper was intrigued enough by my solitary travels to take the time to chat. A taxi driver told me about the foreigners who come to this town but never emerge from their hotels before dark. The grandfather at the homestay told me about the changes over time in the relationships between the Himachalis and the Tibetans in the area. In listening to these people, in reaching out and connecting with them and carrying them home in my heart, I created space inside me. In opening up to them, I re-touched something inside myself that had been dormant for a while.

Would those relationships have been possible in Delhi, in my hometown? Perhaps, although I'm not sure. In some cases, they wouldn't have been simply because I'm moving from one thing to another there and seldom have the time to sit down and talk to the shopkeeper for an hour. In other cases, they wouldn't have been because (let's face it) I'm not really that interesting to a random stranger in Delhi -- most people are more interested in someone from somewhere else.

But I am going to resist the temptation to say that it wouldn't have been possible because no one in the big city has time. I had some of the most interesting random encounters of my life while I lived in New York, mostly on buses and in trains and while waiting for buses and trains. Somewhere I have a poem draft about all the fascinating people I met while using public transportation in NYC -- those encounters and conversations were the highlights of many days and weeks that I spent in that city. Ditto for Mexico City. Many of them started from a simple "where are you from?" and, while I might be wrong about this, I'm not sure the conversations would have gotten very far if the answer had been "here."

But I digress. The point is: I've seldom had those encounters when I am with a friend, and I've never had them when I'm with a group of people. I couldn't help noticing during this time's trip to Spiti, too, that the only authentic conversations I had with locals were when I disassociated from the group. Like the one day, in Tabo, when I did have the time to wander off from our group. I took advantage of a couple of open hours one evening, skipping an organized group walk up to some nearby caves, and went down to the town's monastery. Because the main temples were all locked, there were no tourists around; I had the gorgeous mud structure complex, filled with birdsong and the rumble of a nearby river, all to myself for over an hour. I sat, breathed, wrote. It was wonderful, all the solitude I had been craving. Then I walked over to a nearby shop and spent a long time talking to one shopkeeper, who was from Nagar and described the town's life to me from the perspective of someone who comes in annually to set up shop for the 4-5 month long tourist season. Then I met another woman who is also a shopkeeper and from Tabo -- she told me about most of the locals going away to spend winters in a nearby Buddhist temple because Tabo gets too cold. The next morning, I got up at dawn and went for a solitary walk to the river. Then I met an agricultural worker from Shimla whose family spends half the year cultivating peas in Tabo. Later that day, I met the two shopkeepers again, this time with my mother, and the Tabo lady invited us home for tea. We were in a rush because the group had to leave, so we had to take a rain check -- I do intend to return and take her up on that offer of tea. When I look back on this week, I realize that Tabo was the only town on our itinerary that I feel I visited authentically. That i created relationships in. That I want to return to.

Our homestays allowed for some of that experience too, especially in one home where I stayed up helping the cutest little seven year old with her Hindi homework, but our hosts told us (Mom and me) themselves that they seldom talk much to their guests. They don't think most of their guests are interested in them -- they are there for the room and for the food and perhaps to observe the way the locals live, but not really to create relationships with the locals. Maybe that's not true -- maybe most of the people who come do want those relationships -- but that doesn't seem to be the general impression, which is sad for both parties.

Of course there are advantages to groups: I'm glad I did Spiti the way I did it because I could never have done it in my own, not this first time -- it's an incredibly hostile terrain, and getting around on my own would have been impossible. But I also wish, so much, that I could have done it differently...more authentically. And I will, one of these years. In the meantime, at least I now know for the future that, no matter how small a group is, and no matter how much I like the people in the group, I won't be able to enjoy either solitude or real relationships if I am traveling in one. (solitude, for obvious reasons, and relationships because people then treat me more as "one of the tourist group" and less as me).

For the next round, then, it must be solo travel... or travel with a very carefully selected companion, such as my mother, or such as Mauro, who taught me to travel authentically in the first place. but that's another blog post.

On Anger

Many years ago, as an undergraduate student, in a stolen half-hour between two sets of presentations at a Humanities’ conference, I had an all-important conversation with Sarah Wider, a guest speaker. Sarah is a professor of English and Women’s Studies at Colgate, and the former president of the Emerson Society, but much more importantly, she’s a woman and a teacher who values listening. Who values feeling. Who values silence and who values action. She is a woman who is not afraid to stop a room full of very educated men, frantically asserting their individual opinions of the American renaissance, with the gentle reminder that none of them is listening to the other or allowing themselves to grow in their understanding through this dialogue; she is a woman who is also not afraid to tell a student (me) later that she felt completely nervous and ill at ease about her interruption. Over the years, I have stayed in touch with Sarah, and her emails are always beautiful, reassuring, and inspiring. But the most important gift I got from her was at our first meeting, and then, soon after. I had recently skirmished with a professor I respected deeply because I thought that a friend of his — another guest speaker at another conference — was, to be blunt, racist, misogynistic and culturally inept (I didn’t say it in so many words around my professor, but I imagine he got a sense of how I felt — if you know me, you know I’m no good at lying). I had turned down my professor’s invitation to dinner with this man right after his talk, mostly because I needed to write out and understand my feelings better before I could articulate them and have an intellectual conversation around them. For the moment, he was just someone who angered and upset me, and I needed to get away from him.

Some of you who knew me then might remember what followed: I stayed up all night, researching that guest speaker’s various claims, and wrote a 6 page paper refuting his arguments. I emailed that paper out to my friends, classmates who had been at the talk, and the professor in question. The subject of my email was a slightly-amused-at-myself “when i’m angry, i write 6 page papers about it!”

I’ll never forget my disappointment when my professor sent me a curt response “Anger has no place in intellectual discourse.” That’s it. No engagement with the ideas in my paper, with my rebuttals (some of which were even pointing out factual inaccuracies in the guest speaker’s presentations). I remember feeling deeply betrayed as a student. Here, I had stayed up a whole night trying to articulate a real, well researched response (for no academic credit whatsoever) to the ideas presented to me, and here was my teacher invalidating that response simply because I had acknowledged a feeling.

This was right before I met Sarah, and I found myself telling her about this incident. In response, Sarah introduced me to Audre Lorde: “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” She introduced me to a feminist tradition of how to know and how to be, a tradition that told me I was allowed to be whole, that I would be a better rather than worse learner for it. It made sense to me — nothing other than anger, passion, or some other equally deeply felt emotion would have made me work that hard at learning, at being. As soon as Sarah returned to New York, she sent me an envelope full of Audre Lorde’s writings on anger. I don’t remember all the details at this moment, and I will revisit them tomorrow (yes, I held on to them), but I remember the twin comfort of this woman going out of her way to reassure me that I had a right to feel just as deeply as I think, and that woman asserting that my feelings were not separate from my quest for knowledge.

(In case you are wondering, my relationship with that other professor did return to cordial, but I also learned in that process that we simply had very different understandings of the world, of privilege, and of the role of emotions. I am still grateful for what he taught me, in as well as outside the classroom, but I know also that he will never be my role model as an educator. Thankfully, I had many more wonderful educator role models to choose from while at college).

Today, I was thrown smack into the middle of these reminisces by a comment I heard on the news. There was a panel discussion on the Tehelka News Report on Delhi police officers’ outrageous opinions about rape victims, and the editor of Tehelka said at some point to the two retired cops who were part of the panel, “I’m dismayed to realize you aren’t more outraged by this” (their responses to the story were on the lines of “there will be an inquiry, and the person in charge will decide whether these officers should be given a warning, or should be fined, or whatever other course of action needs to be taken” — no acknowledgment of how wrong and disgusting all of this is). Pat came the reply, “Frankly, outrage is an immature response.”

Outrage is not immature. Outrage is, as the editor pointed out, often the first step towards change. Change needs that emotional fervor, needs the energy. I’m outraged, and I’m done letting people tell me not to be angry, not to feel so much. This was the part about feminism that most appealed to me as an undergrad — the fact that it allowed me to be a whole person, to use that whole person to, in Soka speak, “create value.” I’m not letting go of that wholeness now.

I have been working, off and on, for a while to create a program in Delhi that works with young men just as much young women on issues of sexual and gender-based violence… that opens real and honest conversations about gender in a society where even my closest male friends and I have to really push ourselves out of our comfort zones to be able to talk about gender. In the last few months, I had sort-of abandoned this project to a “que sera sera” attitude, for what now feel like just silly stumbling blocks in terms of getting time and money commitments from interested groups. This anger I feel today, this outrage, will be the first step to resurrecting that project — to going back to a deep need to work with young men and young women on building a world where this crap is less acceptable. I need the anger.

Because, let’s face it, I’m also afraid. I don’t know if it’s possible to be a young woman in Delhi and not be afraid. For the record, I don’t know a single woman who has lived in Delhi and never faced sexual harassment — not one. We’ve all been molested, although we don’t like using that word… it sounds “too serious,” and we don’t take that guy who wouldn’t stop touching our breasts in the bus, or that guy who put his hands on our twelve-year-old groins in the busy mela, or that guy who flashed his penis at us and called out a menacing comment, seriously enough to label it “molestation.” Well, it is. And in a society where senior police officers say that a rape victim who isn’t too “scared of humiliation” to report the rape has got to be an extortionist, we have reason to be afraid.

But that’s where I come back to Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

And:

“Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever … And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.’ And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

The mountains and I

I recently spent a few days back in Himachal, about 6 hours away from the towns where I spent my early childhood, and I owe you all a photo-essay I've been composing in my head about that wonderful little holiday... a holiday in some ways and a homecoming in others. Honestly, though, I'm a little too tired for it just now. A few friends and I are doing 30/30 (a crazy challenge where poets attempt to write a poem every day during the month of April) on a private blog, and that's taking up most of my writing energy at this moment. But, here, I'll leave you with a quote that sums up how I feel since getting back (each of these lines is important):

replenish [ri-plen-ish] verb (used with object) 1. to make full or complete again, as by supplying what is lacking, used up, etc. 2. to supply (a fire, stove, etc.) with fresh fuel. 3. to fill again or anew.

(yes, i just quoted from the dictionary!)

More soon, I promise! I'm working on making time for blogging again, and also on making time to ensure that this blog continues to represent me whole, not just as a writer — something that's become a bit of a challenge for me since it started doubling as my website.

A post about education or gardening or pottery or random bits of life coming next!

Yes, I think you should take that internship. (Yes, even if pays next to nothing.)

Almost 7 years ago (woah!) I took my writing professor up on his offer of a tutoring position at the University Writing Center. I was approaching the end of my sophomore year at Soka University of America, and I spent the following summer desperately studying every book about writing, teaching writing, and peer tutoring that I could come across (you'd be surprised at how many I came across!). I created a big, fat file of resources for peer tutors and took it back for my junior year at college. And I jumped into working with my classmates, with my juniors, and even with my seniors on their obscure capstone topics. There were days when I loved every minute of my time at the Writing Center, but I'm not going to lie, there were also days when I wondered what I'd gotten myself into. Here's the thing — before I had this job, I use work as a student assistant at the Writing Center, and it was one of those wonderful student jobs that left you at least half the time to do your own homework as you manned the desk on weekend mornings when, really, no one used the writing center. Even when there was work, it was easy work — making a spreadsheet, filing some papers, nothing that required brainpower.

Now, I was tutoring. I had to wrap my mind around economics final papers and psychology senior theses and other complex material I was not that interested in to begin with. If I had several appointments back to back, I'd leave the place exhausted. And it was most exhausting right around midterms and finals' weeks — that was when everyone most wanted writing help, and that was when I could least afford to be exhausted.

The best part — both jobs paid the same! 

There were days when I wondered about this whole tutoring thing, about whether I was up for that kind of exhausting work while in the even more exhausting process of trying to get a rigorous college education through various health dramas and surgeries... but eventually, I stuck with it for the next two years of college. In my last semester, I also TA'd for a freshman writing class, again for the same $8 an hour. Ultimately, it boiled down to the fact that I loved that work, even if I sometimes longed for the lazy Sunday mornings when i was paid for surfing the internet at the front desk! And now, as I look back, I think of sticking with that work as one of the best choices of my undergraduate life.

English: Founders Hall, Soka University of Ame...

First, nothing teaches you to write as effectively as teaching writing does. Nothing. So much of who I became and am becoming as a writer grew (and grows) out of working with others on their writing, out of the way in which that keeps me alive to words and their meanings and their joys and their frustrations. Just for that, it's worth it.

Second, that early experience in tutoring writing in a structured space, where I had plenty of more experienced colleagues with whom to bounce ideas and ask for help, prepared me for the tutoring I would do in graduate school, which paid my rent for a year! I more than made up any difference in pay that I thought there should be between random student jobs and something requiring specialized skills.

But in the last few weeks, I've found the most important reasons for why I'm glad I followed my heart and worked my heart out then... I've stumbled into work here in Delhi that makes me feel so alive and that I would never have managed without that early experience. My passions for writing and facilitating have met my passion for educational theory and change in a series of writing workshops I am teaching for research fellows at the Department of Education at Delhi University. It's still as exhausting as it was seven years ago — especially as 30 minute sessions give way to 3 hour classes — but it's also just as stimulating and invigorating as it was 7 years ago. You should see me excitedly talking to a teacher about analyzing the impact of a school's organizational hierarchies on curriculum transaction, or getting another teacher to freewrite about why she is researching violence in the classroom, or trying narrow down a thesis statement about the impact of different kinds of evaluation strategies. I wish you could see my mind working at a hundred miles an hour, pulling together all the different classes I took and different skill sets I developed, drawing upon that incredible inter-disciplinary base from which I can work with all kinds of writers from all kinds of backgrounds. I'm at my most alive there, completely incredulous that these different aspects of my intellectual life and passion — all of which I can trace back to SUA in one way or another — can belong together.

Back while I was in college, there was no way to know that such work existed, and even now, I feel myself creating it as I go along, but it's so wonderful now to be able to look back with deep gratitude for the incredible liberal arts education I received and the incredible work experiences that trained me for what I could create here, half the world away. In general, I think I tend to gush about SUA less than many of my classmates, but today, I felt the need for this shoutout. To my undergraduate college in particular, and to the incredible training and nurturing power of solid early work experience in general.

Sinking roots

I Skyped with A yesterday, and we were trying to figure out when she and I last talked. Turns out it was almost 8 months ago. That would have been scary, if it weren't accompanied by a scarier realization — we last talked the day I left NYC, she had been the one to help me clean the apartment on the last day and had seen me off into the shuttle. I.E. it has been almost 8 months since I left NYC! I don't know why that surprises me — it's been a pretty full eight months in many ways. And I do feel very far away from that life. But the moment you put a number on it — 8 months, only 4 months short of a year! — I guess I'm disoriented simply by the realization that New York is quickly becoming part of my past, not just my recent-past!

At any rate, as this whole process of becoming who I am (professionally) here in Delhi goes, today was a breakthrough kind-of day. I wrote a poem to Elizabeth Bishop. It came kinda out of nowhere, but I'm really enjoying where it's going, and it's been a long time since I felt like a poem was going anywhere! Doubly satisfying because I started this writing session with nothing to say, wrote a journal entry griping about how tired and bored I was and how i really had nothing to say, then managed to push through and discovered this poem. Cass always talked about the value of the "Resistance Page," and looks like I'm going to be learning that lesson over and over for a while! :)

Speaking of writing process, I'm starting a 10 week writing workshop out of my living room next month! I'm really excited, not just for the writing that will come out of it but also for the voices that will intersect during it. Quick glimpse: so far, I have NGO workers, an intellectual property rights lawyer, a comic book artist, a PhD in Economics scholar, an English literature student, a couple of teenaged radio-show writers, a research analyst, and a communications specialist... coming together in my living room once a week to share stories, support one another, and grow together as writers. I have magically found a wonderful diversity in ages and socio-economic backgrounds, and so much of me is deeply moved by the opportunity for the intersection of stories that seldom meet out in the world. This first session will run March through May, but I hope for this workshop to become a regular thing over the next year, so follow this blog if you want to see how it shapes up!

That's all for now, more soon!

Well, hello, 2012

2012 has barely begun, but it's already been a full year. One award ceremony, two literary festivals, one eye-surgery recuperation, initiation of several new work projects, two interviews, and a significant blog revamp — not bad for a year that is only 26 days old, huh? ;) The Literary Festivals were wonderful, each in its own way. Hyderabad was special mostly because of the writers I met there — Srilata, Sridala, Adil, Anindita, amongst others. In some ways, I think I will always look back at this year's Hyderabad LIterary Festival as my initiation into the Contemporary-Indian-Writing-in-English world. It was truly heartwarming to hear some of the best Indian English poetry I've heard — can I flag Anindita Sengupta and Adil Jussawalla as must-reads? — then interact with the poets as a poet. Srilata and I, in particular, spent long hours commuting together, exploring the University of Hyderabad, chatting late into the night about everything from poetry to publishing, politics to friends and family. All of those interactions, one feeding into another, felt like a homecoming.

Adil, Srilata and I also did a reading-cum-interaction with students at the University of Hyderabad, and that was truly rewarding in its own way, especially the close encounter with Adil. He and I talked a little about how much our poetry has in common by way of themes and sometimes specific word choices (notice the poem "How to Say Goodbye" on the blog? that was almost my thesis title. And Adil's newest book is called "Trying to Say Goodbye"!), and that's really quite amazing to me. Thoughts that occurred to this twenty-something poet and that seventy-something poet overlapped in dome dimension, and now, we were sitting across from each other, talking about where they came from. But perhaps the thing I found most inspiring about Adil is his patience with images and words. Among the poems in this latest collection, one was started in 1961, completed in 2009. I am no stranger to the sense that a particular line is going to lead to a poem, even if I cannot yet fathom what that poem will be. But I cannot even imagine the confidence and patience it would take to wait 48 years for the poem to find the rest of itself.

Jaipur, all the "serious academics" warned me, was going to be a "circus" or "mela." It was. In the best possible ways. While Hyderabad felt more intimate — a sort of close listening — Jaipur felt like an extravagant celebration of literature. I know some people hate the crowds at Jaipur (and they were annoying the day we weren't allowed to enter because too many people had lined up since 6:30 AM for Oprah!), but for the most part, I was moved by them. Moved by the fact that hundreds of people wanted to listen in on a panel discussion about "The Power of Myth" or "The Craft of Memoir." Moved by the thousands who were there to listen to Javed Akhtar speak about the craft of poetry — the woman who told him she had traveled all night from Bombay to come listen to him read from his new book, the 16 year old who asked him for advice on moving forward as a poet. At a time when too many people insist that literature has lost its charm for most, I think the crowds at Jaipur tell a different story. And I will hand it to the organizers; despite the huge turnout, I didn't once get shoved around, wait too long in lines at the entrance, or come across dirty restrooms. Kudos on the logistics.

(Yes, I know I'm now expected to talk about Salman Rushdie's absence there. Really, though, I have nothing to say that hasn't been said ad nauseum over the last few days, so I will just add my voice into the many that have spoken out in solidarity with him and expressed deep disappointment that he wasn't allowed to be there. We are all poorer for it.)

Somewhere during this trip, I began and wrote four drafts of the most honest and satisfying poem I've written in a long time. In some ways, that's my ultimate test of the success of a literary event, and in that sense, these 2 weeks were very successful!

I'm back now in Delhi, refreshed and satiated. Soon, I shall begin conducting various writing workshops, some from home, and some for various institutions, while continuing to develop my arts-for-social change program for teenagers in Delhi. And writing again, in earnest. I'm looking forward to it.

From Home to Home, a Diary's Record

I recently finished a diary and started a new one. Whenever that happens, I like to look through the diary that was, revisit the months it records, see if I can chart the growth from the person that began that diary to the person that ended it. This time round was particular interesting. The first entry in this diary, dated October 28, 2010, begins:

"It's late, and I should go to bed soon — LONG day tomorrow — but I really needed to record this day. Today, for the first time, I felt at home in New York. I'm not sure what prompted the feeling, but it was probably building up over the last couple of weeks... they've been a wonderful couple of weeks"

That entry goes on to detail some stimulating work I had just begun, the joy of classes at the best pottery studio ever, and some wonderful conversation through which many of my New York acquaintances started to become close friends. I had been there over a year at that point, and it was finally becoming home.

The last entry in the same little red notebook, dated Wed, Dec 14, 2011, reads, in part:

I'm falling in love with Delhi again; even as I acknowledge its flaws, I'm growing to love it deeply. For the first time that I remember, I feel confident that it is home — for a long time to come ... I don't have a word for all these expreinces together, but somehow they make me feel grounded, here, and in myself. I'm home. :)

This entry records various little moments and experiences and new encounters that are becoming part of this sense of belonging here, to the city I grew up in, in ways that I don't ever remember relating to it while growing up here. In many ways, just that journey from making New York home, then leaving it behind, and then making Delhi home again is the entirety of the last 14 months of my life. (yes, i just quoted from my journal on my blog. I can't believe that either)

This sense was made even more real by a recent email exchange — an invitation to a Spoken Word performance by two friends in New York, whom I regard as awesome performers BTW, and the realization that nothing in me wished i was there for it. Don't get me wrong, I know it will be a wonderful night, and even three months ago I would have felt sad about having to miss it, but now, as I settle into this life of mine, that is one of those things that was beautiful and pleasurable in a previous life, and remains a fond memory, but isn't really something I would want to go back to. Like college ... wonderful in so many ways, but over, and not a part of who I am now, except in the ways that it shaped me into this person. Not something I would want to go back and do again, at any rate.

I will say, though, just how much I love this process of sinking roots and creating homes. Even (perhaps especially) after I leave that home, having had it makes my life richer, makes me happier. So, New York, almost at the end of 2011, I need to pause and say thank you, for everything you were. And New Delhi, almost at the start of 2012, I need to pause and say thank you, for everything you are becoming.

Strangers on a bus

Yesterday's Wordpress Post-a-day question was "write about the strangest thing that's ever happened to you on a bus." Now, when you live in NYC, a lot of strange things happen to you on the bus... but here's one I'll never forget. I was taking an uncrowded bus home to my mostly-Latino/African-American neighborhood the other day, sitting on one of the back seats. There was an African American man sitting next to me on the side-facing seats, and two or three Latino men on the last row. A White family got onto the bus-- Mom, Dad, and 5-6 year old son. The Dad was holding balloons and the kid had some ice cream, looked like it had been a fun day out. The kid rushed to the back of the bus and sat down on one of seats in the last row, between the men. His mother sat across from me for a minute or so, then suddenly turned to her son and said, "it's really noisy here, let's move to the front." He pouted for a bit, said he liked the back of the bus, but she became more insistent, "It's really noisy, I'm not comfortable here," and together they made their way to the front of the bus, where the Dad was waiting. The happy family sat down there and began chatting like nothing had happened.

One of the Latino men turned to the others and asked, "Does anyone else think it's noisy in here?" and we all sort-of laughed and sort-of grimaced. It had actually been completely silent... no one had even been talking. The African-American man responded with a  shrug, "It isn't noisy. She just wasn't comfortable with her son sitting amongst colored folks." Again a sort-of laugh and a sort-of grimace. He was clearly right... no one had spoken a word between when her son sat down and when they left, so no other explanation really worked. Everyone was sort of joking about it, but it was impossible not to feel indignant as well. One of the Latino men said, "She could at least have made a better excuse for moving to the front." At that point, a couple of the men were loud, and it was clearly for her benefit, so she could hear them and know that they were insulted. She pretended not to hear, and the family got off soon after. We laughed again, and then each went our separate ways.

Of course, things like this probably happen all the time... we all make judgments about where we feel safe, and they are often based on stereotypes (I know I make a lot of those judgments based on my stereotypes of men in general... and while that's problematic, it's also a real part of what it means to grow up as a young woman in a city like Delhi). Still, it hurts. And part of why that particular woman's behavior has stayed with me is simply how blatant she was in her racism... like the guy said, she could at least have made a real excuse for moving up front (although, of course, whether excuses that mask racism help or hurt is another question).

But the other interesting thing that I remember from that evening is how we, the "people of color" sitting at the back of the bus, who had previously had nothing to say to one another, suddenly became a community; in the laughter and the sarcasm, there was a camaraderie. It showed me, just for one moment, that it isn't that hard to bring people who share little else together based on a common experience of hurt... the question is how to sustain those communities and how to convert them into agents of change.

But that's another day's post.

Spring Break and then some

Ha, as the months rolls by, I wonder what I was thinking in signing up for the Post-a-week challenge... it seemed so simple from the comfort of Christmas break in India! now I'm lucky to be able to do post-a-month! Ah well. Spring Break-- such a brilliant idea. I was really this close to collapsing at the beginning of this month... THIS close. So I made plans to go visit one of my closest friends, at his home in Texas, for a week, and then he made plans for us to go camping for a couple of days. I also worked like crazy to meet some self-imposed but very important school and work deadlines before leaving for Break (and, to my amazement, met them!), and then I challenged myself not to use the internet for a week. Set email and facebook "away" messages, and just checked out Saturday to Saturday. Best set of decisions ever. I came back to NY feeling cleansed and rejuvenated... and ready to take on all of this stuff again. I've decided that the best kind of holiday is one where you are ready to come back at the end, and i was, but what a wonderful week.

Struggling to write poems lately... or, not really struggling, but only because I'm not really trying either! Somehow, the process of tying up my thesis (still being edited, but largely done, I think!) just really exhausted me creatively. I feel uninspired and unable to write much of anything new, but this time round, I'm not worried about that. I've learned by now that this will pass... that I'll go through this slump for a bit and then suddenly find myself writing and loving the process again. But it's frustrating not to be able to turn that on when I want it on.

End of Spring break also means that I"m so close to graduation! 7 more weeks of class until the end of my MFA program... can hardly believe that! And this time will fly... from April 15, we go into daily rehearsals for tPP show, the show runs April 29- May 3, May 10 is last day of school so that week will get eaten up, Mom will probably be here for graduation between the 10th and the 24th of May (I graduate of 2oth), then I want to go back for the SUA alumni reunion (and try to organize some kind of memorial for Masako, which would really be y main reason for going)... Back early June, start packing, get out of NY late June/ early July! That's really so little time, or really no time at all.

I'm ready to move on, I think. At dinner the other day, Sujay suddenly asked me, "So, why are you leaving again?" and the question made me laugh. To my surprise, though, I almost teared up when I told him "I'm done. I feel done here." But it's true, I do feel done here, yet I mean that in the best of ways. I feel like I've learned what I most needed to learn in New York, grown in the ways I most needed to grow... and, finally, also that I've created beautiful, powerful relationships here. I can't entirely put that into past tense just yet... still learning so much, especially at the Possibility Project, and still deepening so many relationships... but two more months feels exactly right, and then I'm ready to close this circle and draw another, larger one around it.

What's the next step? I'm not sure yet. I submitted a random job-in-exciting-foreign-land application recently (I'm afraid I'll jinx it by saying more! :P), waiting to hear back. If that works out, then I get one more wonderful adventure before attempting to settle down and build a career in Delhi (until wanderlust hits again? Perhaps!). Otherwise it's straight to Delhi end June/ early July. After that, we'll see. I have a long list of things I want to do this year, but I don't know exactly how or where. That's both, exciting and a little nerve-wracking. But it will work out.

That's my fill-in-the-blank entry. Now another entry in response to yesterday's Post-a-day question... just because I have wanted to tell that story for a while!