There’s a piece here that I found off Indigo Som’s page, a sort of simultaneous obituary-slash-reflection on the death of Susan Sontag and the loss of human life caused by the South Asian tsunami. Though the author’s diction is unnecessarily elevated for its content (she’s speaking of emotions, but her writing needs to be read carefully and then digested before it can be understood), I think she makes an original and important point by drawing lines of comparison between natural disasters and man-made ones, namely, war.
You can say in some ways that what has happened in Iraq is a tsunami that swept ten thousand miles from the epicenter of an earthquake in Washington DC, an earthquake in policy and principle that has devastated countless lives and environments and cities far away — and near at hand, where friends and families of dead soldiers also grieve, and tens of thousands of those kids sent abroad to carry out a venal foreign policy are maimed in body and spirit. You can add up the numbers we spent to achieve all this devastation like that of the tsunami, the more than $150 billion it cost us to make this suffering and devastation. You can compare that price to the tiny offering of money Bush made, when he was forced to interrupt his Texas vacation — first $15 million, then $35 million (approximately the cost of his inauguration), and then, under shaming pressure, $350 million. You can understand the harnessing of the forces of nature — aerodynamics, chemistry, atomic fission — as means of making war more like natural disaster in its indifference, its scale, its ruination. But never natural.
The idea of war as a tsunami, centering here and spreading to other countries, is a powerful image, and one I think we would do well to keep in mind. I believe it is often easy to forget that the actions of those in power in a state as strong as ours have a very direct impact on the lives of people in other places; we are so far removed from those worlds, and we are kept so sheltered from true empathy–whether this sheltering is done by the dumbing-down of the media, or simply by the mundanity of our own day-to-day lives–that even as the world grows increasingly more global, we ourselves tend to remain firmly rooted in our own personal, local, national mindset.
Speaking of the amount Bush has given in aid to tsunami-stricken countries, I wanted to share this, which made me sad and ashamed of American selfishness, or, perhaps more accurately, American values:
And while we’re at it, please, if you’re concerned about human rights at all, go to this page [link broken] and sign the petition. It is a declaration against torture and calls upon Alberto Gonzales, nominee for chief law enforcement officer of the US, and Congress, to officially renounce all forms of torture in American policy. To voluntarily inflict this kind of suffering upon other human beings, no matter what crimes they’ve perpetrated, is to renounce our own humanity. While it disturbs me to think that other nations may also feel free to use torture in certain circumstances, I’m sure–or at least I hope–there are better ways of resolving issues than having to use torture.
Back to school
Today was my first day of class. I was in denial up until three am last night, when I decided the morning would come whether I wanted it to or not and I’d better go to bed.
I woke up late and met Anna for lunch on campus, good to see her again. Ran into Precious after that, also good to see her again, found a lovely card in my mailbox from Valerie, ran into Joanna (Battista’s mommy) on my way back to my car for some things, ran into three of my cohort while sitting outside staring into space lamenting the end of vacation… it’s starting to feel like I belong here a little more now, some roots have sunk in. It’s funny because now that I feel that way I recall that it was the same way at Berkeley; at the start of each new school term I felt a little more rooted because I was reminded again of the people I know, the little connections I made in the previous term. It is a nice feeling even if I don’t know if I ever want to belong here.
I had class today, because I got into that creative writing class I was hoping to get in to. I thought I produced a good application, but fiction is something I have not even attempted in probably a decade and I thought it much more likely I wouldn’t be accepted. I was entirely prepared for this possibility and I really sincerely would not have been disappointed. But I did get in, and later I found out that about a hundred people applied and the professor only accepted fifteen. I almost feel bad about this; here I have no experience at all and there must be all these desperate short story writers hoping and hoping. But he must know what he’s doing, so I’ll put my faith in that. Seems like it’ll be a good class, with probably some really good writers in it. But in some ways it will be the hardest thing I’ve done yet, and that, actually, is sublimely reassuring; if what I want to do the most is the hardest task I have–then I don’t even have to worry about the others. (And believe me, I’ve been worrying about some of my other classes.) Prof Louie told us to write every day and carry our stories around with us in our heads (the short stories we’ll be writing, which we’re supposed to be starting on now). I have an idea for one and now that I’ve started thinking about it, it really kind of is in my head and I think and hope it might stay there until it turns into something.
It sounds crazy or maybe even superstitious to say it, but just knowing that I got in to and now am in a writing class makes me want to write more and better. I guess this happened to me with piano and dance, too; being accepted into the class validates my abilities, and when I’m more confident in what I can do, I work harder at it and feel like I have the potential to do well. And it usually plays out, though in some ways this is going to be a lot harder than either of those other activities.
*sigh* I really miss dancing. And yoga, and the people and the space at Inner Heat. And making music. But let’s not get me started on what I miss, because that’ll really take a long time. Suffice it to say that there’s much about my current life that just doesn’t compare to what I had a year ago. I do know I’ve grown a lot, and I’m glad of it and proud of myself, but… honestly, I can’t say that if given the opportunity I wouldn’t go back. And I think that’s a big thing to say, that despite everything I’ve learned and all the ways I’ve changed for the better, I might still prefer what I had before and the person I was then. It’s a new thought for me and a little bit of a shocking one.
I had an epiphany the other night. I’ve been saying practically ever since I got here that LA is weird and I really miss Berkeley and the Bay Area, but I always felt a little dishonest saying that because that’s not exactly the way things are. I’m not really unhappy in LA; I’m not miserable, or depressed, or otherwise having a really hard time, and on the whole things are not bad at all. But I haven’t felt truly joyful since I moved down here; the energy and bounce that used to be my trademark have not been in evidence. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but I’ve realized that the biggest one is that I haven’t felt truly comfortable with myself and my life since I left Berkeley.
Life has become hard for me in a way that it never was before. I don’t mean, at all, that I’m undergoing hardship and suffering; to say such a thing would be blatantly spoiled and disrespectful, not to mention untrue. But it’s hard in the sense that I’m uneasy, I’m tense all the time, because I no longer find it possible to move as easily through my life and my world as I did previously. I don’t know people, I don’t know my way around, I have to drive places and get to know a new city and its culture, I’m called upon to do different kinds of things and take on a different kind of responsibility than before… I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or that I can’t handle these things, but this new tenseness of living has really taken its toll on me and I’ve noticed it constantly even if I didn’t know quite what to call it. It’s like… I can’t just do things anymore. Everything I do, I have to put so much thought into. Example: I can’t just run out and meet a friend; I have to schedule dates with people because we’re all very busy, then I have to mapquest how to get wherever we’re going, then I have to fight LA traffic to get there, then I worry we’ll be surrounded by LA cool people and I’ll feel self-conscious, not to mention I’m rapidly getting fatter anyway, and I’m perpetually short on money and time both. It’s just– I can’t seem to do things anymore/here without thinking and worrying about them first, and that’s making me physically and mentally tense all the time. I can’t relax. I think… I’ve lost something really important… and maybe that’s why I’d want to go back to my old self, not because the new self is less evolved, but because I seem to have lost something along the way.
I don’t know what there is I can do to change this and make it better. I have noticed that I’ve been more comfortable in LA since I got back from vacation; not that I especially want to be here, but my driving’s better and I feel more confident on the road, I feel less like a newbie at classes, etc. Also, I’ve always held that being able to identify and put a name to any trouble lessens it, and it has been the case with this. Now that I know what has been weighing upon me all this time, I feel much better and a lot more certain I’ll be able to move past this.
But… I’m still trying to figure it all out. I’m not questioning what I’m doing, exactly; I’m glad I’m in grad school… I think… and it’s good for me to be in a new place, but I really really wonder whether this is the most important thing I could be doing right now. A lot of the time it feels like if I’m this tense and if my existence is so bereft of joyful energy, maybe I should rethink what my priorities are. I don’t know. I want living to feel true and real and joyous, and that’s not what I’m getting these days. I’d always thought “high stress” was more manic but I’m starting to think maybe this is it and it’s a quieter, more insidious, less dismissible kind of malady… I don’t know exactly what to do yet but this is either going to go away with time or I’m going to have to do something and change things in my life so I can get rid of it.
Here’s something true and real, though: I am glad I write. And in some very deep place far removed from surface-level anxieties and troubles, I feel that taking this writing class this quarter is really important and may do something profoundly good for the health of my soul.
I am not as depressed as I (possibly) sound. Tense, though, tense, yes. Especially in my upper back and shoulders!! OW!! !!
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]