"Moments that Speak" is finally out!

Wonderful news — the Earth Charter Global Oneness Project's book "Moments that Speak: Stories and Images of Connection" is finally out! (Actually, it came out at the Rio +20 summit in June, but I just found out and got my copy!)

The book is gorgeous, such a lovely publication, and I'm so honored that my story "I can bear it" sits alongside Wangari Maathai's "Roots" in the section "At home on earth."

That's a good description of how I feel right now — at home on earth :)

Here's a link to the book's publishers, but it's also available on Amazon — pick yourself up a copy!

A Prayer for Bodoland

If you're in India and cast even a cursory glance at the news, you know that Assam — specifically, the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) in Assam — has witnessed a sudden explosion of violence, with some 40 death and over a lakh people displaced over the course of just a few days. There's a lot of back and forth about the exact cause for this outbreak, which is of course only the most recent outbreak in a protracted conflict spanning decades. A quick Google-news search for "Bodoland" will throw up lots of articles and opinion pieces: this article in this morning's paper moved me to tears and this piece, Violence in Assam Has Deep Roots, on the NY times blog seems to me like a good summary of what came before. I'm not going to say a more about causes and effects and possible solutions because, frankly, I don't know enough. I am trying to take the time to read and listen and learn, but until I know more, I'll stay clear of commenting on all that. And if you are reading this and do know more about the Bodo conflict and feel that this post is one-sided or misinformed, I apologize. I'm writing only from my brief firsthand experience of this part of the country and from the stories I heard there. This is not a journalistic account; it is a personal one.

More personally, though, the news has been breaking my heart, over and over. I spent a week in Bodoland three years ago, and while that isn't much, it was enough to gain this part of the world a very special place in my heart. I have believed for some time that we fall in love with certain places not for the place itself as much as for who we are in that place. Some of this has to do with the people one shares that place with, and some with what we learn there. In April 2009, my visit to Bodoland became the most memorable span of time I have spent in rural India. Weavers at Aagor, the women's cooperative supported by the ant

I was visiting the ant, a grassroots organization run by a wonderful couple who have been working in the area on issues of health, livelihoods, women's empowerment, and improving access to government schemes such as NREGA, the rural health mission, etc. I was there to plan for teenagers in the North East, which I was coordinating on behalf of my former workplace, in partnership with the ant and another organization in Assam. During the few days I spent there, I met with local schoolteachers, talked to young people leading peace initiatives, sat in on a training meeting of various organizations from all over NE India, chatted a little with women from the weaver's cooperative supported by the ant, spent a lot of time talking to Jenny (the half of aforementioned wonderful couple) and playing with her daughter, and visited outlying villages that have no access to electricity, piped water, or even roads during the rainy season. I remember those 4-5 days as being filled with fun and learning in equal parts.

In the span of this blog post, I can only briefly tell you about some of the things that have stayed with me from that trip, and I'll start with what had taken me there — the program for teenagers. In short, the program we were working on sought to recognize and celebrate young people (13-19) across the NE who were leading their own social change initiatives. Despite circulating the application form to many schools and organizations, we hadn't received a single application from the Bodo region, and we decided that the only way to find out why was to go talk to the schools. The teachers we spoke to began with what most teachers I have met (unfortunately!) begin with — telling us that their students don't engage with the world. Once we penetrated that layer of apathy, though, I was given a brief, quick, and all-important lesson in context.

In an outlying villageOne teacher told me that he strongly discouraged children from taking part in such activities or doing anything that would develop what we in the cities would call "leadership qualities." His reasoning was simple: if a child in this region is seen as a leader, he or she will immediately become the target of recruitment by the extremist groups in the region, and simultaneously the target of suspicion by the security forces. In their own best own interest, students are encouraged to keep a low profile.

It made perfect sense, and it shook me deeply. It brought the basic assumptions of the program I was organizing into question, pushed us to re-evaluate and rebuild from the ground up (not simply "contextualize" as a cosmetic measure). It was my first experience taking a program designed in one context into another, radically different one, and its lessons will stay with me always.

There were other new learnings, things I had never thought about. Like, for example, what years of protracted conflict do to a community's art and literature. At some point during the Bodo movement — I've forgotten the exact date, but let's say in the 80s — the Assamese script, in which the Bodo language was until then written, was ejected and replaced by the Devnagri (Hindi) script (and, apparently, the missionaries in the region often used the Roman script, which I saw some students writing in as well). It sounds like a small change, but think what that does to all Bodo literature (and there was a fair amount of it!). Suddenly, the children growing up in the region cannot access the stories or books written by the previous generation, and chunks of their culture become alien to them. There is very little reading material other than school textbooks, and again, you can imagine what that does to the already poor educational systems. As a writer, and as someone fascinated by oral history, this singular aspect of the Bodo crisis has stayed with me most deeply. At some point in my life, I want to go back there and do oral history work... in a region where a question as simple as "what games did you play in your childhood?" has become a political question, the recording of soon-unreadable stories will be crucial.

I also met a group of young people — mostly in their late 20s, although no one was sure of their ages — there who had just started playing traditional Bodo music. They told me about how their music had completely died during the decade of violence, about how none of them even knew how to make the traditional instruments any longer. They told me about finding one older person who did remember those instruments and was willing to teach the younger boys how to make and play them... about founding their own band and starting to play their community's music again. In that year's Bihu festival, there was going to be live music in the villages after more than a decade. The thought still gives me goosebumps.

There are other stories too — stories I'd rather not tell, or stories that I will not tell out of respect for the privacy and safety of the people who told them to me. Besides, those are the stories you're hearing in the news anyway... this blog post is only my small way of expanding the stories you hear and the picture you create of this beautiful, troubled part of the country. It is only an attempt to say, "look, and then there is this."

As the region lapses back into what hopefully will not become another protracted violent conflict, and as their society undergoes another major upheaval and refugee crisis, do spare a thought or a prayer for the wonderful, warm-hearted people behind the statistics the newspaper will throw at you.

An Alternative Guide to Tabo

If the monastery at Tabo is a checkmark on your to-do list, listen to the guides, and go there at 9 AM, when the gods are ready to meet the tourists. If you want to catch the gods when they are more at ease, ignore your guide, and go there at sunset. The temples will be locked, sure, but the gods are around, relaxing after a long day of meeting with pilgrims and tourists. They have time to chat.

It doesn’t matter if this is your first day in Tabo; you can’t not find the gorgeous mud structures. There is no way not to notice the piles of engraved rocks — no way not to know that this spot, with its broken wall and open gate, is sacred.

Once inside, close your eyes. Listen to the river gurgling in the distance, the birds who know to keep their chatter to a respectful volume. Open your eyes, and watch the mud temples and walls against the crystal sky. Watch the sky tracing the outlines of the larger mud walls, the mountains in the distance. Breathe in the prayers of a millennium.

That might be the most important thing — breathe deeply. You will need that air later.

If you are there to ask the gods for favors, I won’t promise that they will answer. They are off duty (would you pick up a client’s call at midnight?). But if you are there for conversation, there to listen to the secrets they have been keeping for a thousand years, there for friendship rather than for favors, I’m willing to bet you will not be disappointed.

The locals tell me that one must walk clockwise through this monastery. I trust them on that — you probably should too. All the same, the first time I went in, no one had told me yet to move clockwise, and so I didn’t. I moved from structure to structure, as they called out to me, beckoned me over. I ran my hands over the engravings on the doors, and I sat down to write outside the temple of the mother goddess. I had my back to her, and I wondered briefly how she felt about that, but ultimately, she didn’t seem to care. She knew I meant no disrespect. I was there for love, for friendship, and I think she understood that. I think that meant more to her than did the direction in which I walked or faced.

As you walk out, stop by the shops. The shopkeepers, who have been just as busy with tourists all day as the gods have been, have time to talk in the evening. Let them tell you about what brought them to this town — or what leads them away from this town every winter and brings them back every spring. Let them tell you about another god and where you can meet him, April to October, for a week at a time (it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to meet him — it’s good to know anyway). Let one of them invite you home for tea or sell you a scarf for your mother. Let them explain to you the flags that tourists will buy. Let them give you the stories that cannot be bought.

Walk to the river. Get lost. Let a farmer tell you which way to go, allow you a shortcut through her fields. Let yourself get more lost in those fields when she disappears before you’ve found your way. Accept the slosh of your shoes wading through just-irrigated fields. Stretch your arms into a T, learn to balance on the narrow raised ledges crisscrossing through the fields. Find your way through the barbed wire, back at the mud structures.

Go into the monastery one more time. If you’re lucky, it is now dark enough for the stars. If you’re really lucky, there is no moon, and the stars have free reign of this particular night. Walk through the monastery again, this time by starlight. Walk silently — the gods are probably asleep, and so is most of the town.

Relish being awake and alive amongst resting gods. It may be the closest you ever come to godness.

What the last three years taught me about grief

When I finished my MFA around this time last year and was getting ready to leave New York, one of my closest friends from graduate school said something to me to this effect: "I just realized, for the entire time that I have known you, you have been grieving. I don't know who you are when you are not grieving. What a couple of years, huh?" And he was right — I lost my grandfather during my first couple of weeks of graduate school, lost one of my closest friends in my third semester, and lost my uncle a few weeks before graduation. And there were a bunch of almost-losses thrown in there too... moments when the doctors gave up on someone I loved, and then that person miraculously made a comeback a month later... that kind of thing, not deaths (not at that moment anyway) but still fairly traumatic. I had lost my other grandfather a couple of years before, and I have lost one grandmother and had to put my dog to sleep since. It's been... a lot, shall we say? During this same period, a lot of people around me were also dealing with the loss of people close to them (or maybe I was more tuned into those that were because of my own experiences). In struggling to make sense of my, and their, experiences, I did what I often do in such situations —I read, and I wrote.

I read about the five stages. I read articles about how different cultures deal with grief. I read poems about death and the dead. I read memoirs about bereavement. I read more than I ever had before about the Buddhist view of death, learned to begin to trust the belief system that means everything to me in life when it came to questions about death.

I wrote my own poems, letters, elegies. I drew mindmaps and memory maps. I wrote and mailed poems to friends who were grieving, even if for someone else, convinced we could help each heal in ways we couldn't do alone (this was before I read some of the cultural stuff about grief, understood how some things that are intrinsically a community experience for me are a deeply individual experience for some of my Western friends, and learned to back off around them).

And I started to find some clarity within my confusion, some acceptance of confusion. I am finally in a place where I can look back... and today, as I learned of someone I love deeply losing someone he loved deeply, I needed to look back.

1.

Grief is circular. The wikipedia version of the five-stages-of-grief theory... I don't buy it. As if one starts at denial and ends at acceptance, and anger, bargaining, depression are steps along the way. Grief isn't linear like that. Grief, as I've known it, tends to bounce around a lot more — anger to denial to acceptance to longing to love to depression to anger to acceptance to forgetting to depression to love. Something like that.

2.

There are other completely different emotions that are part of the experience of grief. Like longing for a particular flavor of coffee that we used to share. Like laughter. Like bewilderment at reaching the first anniversary. Like a fear of forgetting. Like forgetting that the person is actually gone, not-coming-back-kind-of-gone (no, this isn't denial. Long after one knows that the person is gone, one sometimes just forgets it. Maybe this is particularly true of people who weren't an everyday part of one's life anyway, like a close friend who lived in another country — it's easy to forget that, although I haven't heard from several others in a long time too, theirs is because they're bad at keeping in touch, and hers is for a different reason).

3.

Out of everything I read, Joan Didion's "A Year of Magical Thinking" made the most sense, resonated the most deeply. Something about its rawness, its honesty, its vulnerability, its disjointedness. Yes, above all, its disjointedness. The absence of order, that made sense as I thought about grief.

4.

Speaking of Joan Didion's memoir, this:

“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.

I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

Let them become the photograph on the table.

Let them become the name on the trust accounts.

Let go of them in the water.

Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water.

In fact the apprehension that our life together will decreasingly become the center of my every day seemed today on Lexington Avenue so distinct a betrayal that I lost all sense of oncoming traffic.” — Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

5.

Every death is sudden

it doesnt matter how many years the person was sick. It doesn’t matter if we’d known there was no hope. it doesn’t matter if they had been unconscious for weeks. Ultimately, that moment — now they’re breathing, now they’re not — is always a moment. It’s always sudden.

6.

People want to avert their eyes not just from death but also from grief. Close friends, who could tell each other everything, suddenly feel a wall. I don’t want to bog them down, I don’t want to remind them. As if they could forget. As if we don’t both know that we both wake up to that knowledge each day.

I learned over the last three years to reach out to people when they were grieving and let them know they were loved and that I was there if they needed anything. And I learned, just as importantly, not to be offended by their refusal to let me be there.

7.

I learned that mourning demands time and energy — a lot of time and energy. Again, Didion talks about this idea, that "grief is passive but mourning — the act of dealing with grief — needs to be active."

Paul taught me that. When I told him about M's death and how none of our mutual friends were in the same city — or even on the same coast — at the time, he pushed me to organize a memorial. When I protested that not everyone would be able to make it, he told me that people would appreciate even the ability to say they can't be there. He told me to take the time to acknowledge that my life had changed in an important, even if invisible at the time, way. When I did organize the memorial along with a couple of other friends at our college alumni reunion 6 months later, I finally understood what  he was talking about

8.

It doesn't end — not really. You think you're at "acceptance" and "moving on," and then a package gets lost in the mail, and the helplessness of losing something suddenly, for some reason, reminds you of the helplessness of losing someone, and you are bawling into your pillow in the middle of the night and not moving on at all.

9.

That bawling into the pillow in the middle of the night? It is part of moving on.

10.

Perhaps most importantly, and only a very recent discovery: it is possible to come back to oneself afterward. In the last three or four months, I have finally come back to myself... not to the self I used to be, of course, but to a new self, a self I recognize and enjoy. It took a while, but I'm there.

Maybe it's time for a reunion with said friend from graduate school:

Here you are, now. This is who I am.

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.