It’s closer to two a.m. than it is to one at this point, but I felt that this couldn’t wait. I chanced to see the post lying on the kitchen table. Face up on the top was a postcard from my friend working in a Far Away Place. I recognized the cursive, inked boldness of her writing. The image is a procession of clean, white linen pegged to lines against a deep blue and cloudless sky. She always chooses the most unique cards for our somewhat one-sided correspondence. I appreciate that. In a way, since I cannot send a packet, expensive with words, winging its way back to her, this is my reply. For her.
Awash in a Strange Sea
I know that there are times when she feels alone, even though her days are busy with classes and studies in that other place. She writes of feeling left out by her classmates, who converse in another language that they hold in common. They ignore her, a snub whether it’s intended or not, that’s bound to hurt. I wish I could tell her, it’s not childish to be aware of isolation. It means we are alive, to crave companionship and share the small moments a common language offers.
I think, in a way, even when we are fluent in the language of a different place, its very difference from the comforting familiarity of home breeds a sense of loneliness, apartness. How must the very buildings seem at wrong angles when this feeling is at its most acute? I have felt this dysphoria myself. I have felt that strange sensation, when the world itself is like a poorly cut garment. There is a discomfort, a constant attempt to readjust, to find a way of wearing our experiences that fits closer to our consciousness. We are always seeking to align our present with the rest of ourselves and our time here so far.
I cried after class once, after a particularly lonely 2 hours, when all the other students conversed, offered interest in each other and no one made an effort to include me.
Being a Drop of Ink
I have known this feeling, too. As I contemplate that strange constellation of memory, with its attendant impressions and images, I remember that it colored my entire perception of my environment. There was a hollowness to everything I saw, at times. It echoed the feeling that I’d suddenly grown a cavern in my chest–a big emptiness, a sense of my own impermanence and my very substance. I am visited by the image of a drop of ink–black, dense, heavy with its own saturation. At times, we are all this drop of ink, hanging poised to blot a page of work, a drawing, an intimate letter.
But even when I felt this way, I remember too that there were moments of exquisite beauty, made more precious by my sense of isolation. I remember driving through low foothills or along the coast of a foreign place, and feeling that I was seeing everything more clearly because I was alone. It was more sharply defined. To this day, these memories are etched into my brain–they glow in miniature somewhere behind my eyes, like embers embedded in my gray matter.
In keeping with that inky feeling, I see now the tight sphere of lightlessness falling into clear water. It is not pollution, but art. It opens like a strange anemone, ribbons of itself stretching and blossoming into the enfolding element. It does not damage the water, but is embraced by it, for all that it is markedly Other. If an ink droplet could be said to have thoughts, there might be disorientation, loneliness for other drops like it, a feeling of doubt about why it was in this strange place, perhaps even the sense that it was losing sight of what it had wanted in its career as a drop of ink–to be part of a beautiful sentence, a larger narrative?
Paths Are A Matter of Hindsight
I think we often assume that there is a Way, a Tao or map of the right way to be. But even so, it’s said that if you can clearly describe your Tao, it is not the Tao, not encompassing or complete.
I find myself thinking that the PhD process is asking too much of me…
There is the question of unknown futures and jobs or research that cannot compare to the rewards experienced through the act of nurture and guidance she has known in past work. But I would call to mind for her a time when she did not know the joys of teaching, the rich struggle to nurture and bring forth the best her students had to give. Life is comprised of these uncertainties, the moments of doubt. I have counted my own fears, like carved beads on the string of the night.
Her words are valuable to me, not because I am glad she struggles. Rather, they set my own battles in perspective, and offer clarity for me. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring, I cannot predict where I will be in a year. What I know is that I cannot go back and I cannot remain in a place of stillness. Because life is about motion, all motion, any motion–even if it’s in a direction we would not have expected. Perhaps this is her cue to redesign her academic trajectory. Perhaps this will allow her to refocus her sights on something she truly loves and wants to do, rather than that which she thought was best a year ago.
I can’t say anymore than she can, mostly because “paths” are constantly being forged by that motion. They are determined by our choices, not laid out clearly for us to follow. We see them only when we look back. We see only the mountains we have already crested, and remember only steps we have already taken. I wish for her, before I bring this segment to a close, clarity and the knowledge that I hold her in my thoughts. I cherish what she is, and all that she may become–a drop of ink cast into clear water, unfolding as art on the currents of her own passage. We’re all discovering new ways to reach, to make contact, to be more ourselves in the company of alien conversation. Tonight, there is sleep. Tomorrow, work and motion and experience. For us both.