Tag Archives: invisibility

A Grave Night

The shadows never disappear. That’s been the biggest change. Even a sunrise appears hollow and faded, as if someone insisted on placing a curtain between my view and the sky. In fact, it is as though space took on a surprising heaviness around me, its grey tendrils clinging to me as if it were the fog wrapping around the crests of ocean waves. Often my unresolved emotions surface to hang in midair the way my breath used to condense in the growing cold.

But I am not cold, nor do I find any comfort in the cloying density that mutes the music of the world to wilted whispers. It’s not that I have an affinity for darkness. At first I only ventured out at night because I found that daylight hurt my eyes. Then, slowly, I learned that the dark could hold me, enfold me into its soothing shelter like an unborn child, where I found shelter for a while from hiraeth, that unnameable longing of my heart.

Tonight begins no differently. Drops of twilight fade like ink into the vast canvas of the sky. Safe in the hushed umbral hallway, I slip silently into the rooms of the children to satisfy myself that they are sleeping soundly, and then pause by the dog to ruffle his fur. There is that glorious but grief-stricken moment when he lifts his head wags his tail. He sees me. And just as with every other night, I lose myself for a while in that indescribable feeling when life recognizes and regards itself in another.

Reluctantly I pull away, realizing that even the dog needs rest and his eyes are drooping and about to close. I drift aimlessly to the window to hover there, again like I always do, and let my thoughts still. But the full moon gently washes the weary world, a world which I wander but to which I no longer belong; and a single star winks mockingly from a great distance, as if gloating over its heavenly glow while I remain trapped on earth. And suddenly it is all too much for me: the glowing star, the tender touch of moon on the trees, my sleepless dreams.

My acute discomfort drives me down the stairs to the front door, and it is then I remember tonight’s invitation from the man I spoke to on the way back from my meanderings early this morning. He was rather peculiar, wearing a hodgepodge of clothing from several different eras: trousers that could have been placed at the start of the twentieth century, a tie-dyed shirt stamped with the names of the Beetles, and a 1970’s haircut. I have to admit that I stared before speaking.

At some point I did remember to introduce myself with my standard greeting “I am still called Maya,” and gave the universal sign for acknowledging another’s company. In return, he looked away while informing me that he couldn’t remember his name. “But George is as good as any,” he had muttered, keeping his hands at his sides.

His rudeness only grew worse as the conversation went on. He told me about an important neighborhood meeting regarding the upcoming Halloween holiday and the particular matter of a haunted house. The gathering would be taking place at midnight in the graveyard. Did I want to join them? Was he serious?

I recall now how I continued to stare at him, my curiosity turning to irritation and finally to an angry disgust. It was bad enough for him to use the “h” word when describing an inhabited household, but his choice of venue was downright insulting. I gave him a piece of my mind regarding what I think about people who continue to promote physicalist stereotypes after switching sides and left immediately. The graveyard? Does he think butterflies like to hang out in their old cocoons for kicks, too? Good grief!

He’s new, or crazy, or both, I am thinking now as I pause in front of the main door. I tell myself that I can’t believe I am doing this. But that’s a lie. I’m going because to stay is to truly be haunted: hounded by the ghosts of my past, mercilessly pursued by my murky mess of memories, ensnared in my own fears, lost in my regrets and all I left behind. If a prejudiced soul and curiosity about his grave meeting is what will get me out of my self-pity tonight, then so be it.

Just before I walk through the door, I groan softly to myself for good measure, out of principle, for spite, for the relief of hearing myself make a noise, for all of these things. Apparently, I am not quiet enough. Upstairs, the toddler starts screaming for his mother to save him from “that thing in the house” at a pitch and volume that would wake the dead, if only the dead could sleep. I’m human, not some object, I think bitterly as I take the hint and gloomily make my way to the one place in the entire neighborhood I have never wanted to go.

The Experience of Exclusion: Incorporeal Embodiment

I am a ghost, but have not died
I walk among the living unseen
Apart from the occasional, startled stare
Everyone else looks quickly away

I am a ghost, but have not died
I speak, though I’ve rarely been allowed a voice
It is easier to dismiss some body different from yours
More comfortable to cut me out of conversation than to answer me

I am a ghost, but have not died
My presence alone has sometimes invoked fear
In the mirror of my sightless eyes, you see your vulnerability reflected
And the truth about mortality, long rejected, haunts you

I am a ghost who has not died
The undead vampire taking resources from the able and the strong
A zombie who cannot belong, with whom you need not empathize
I shoulder shadows, bear the burdens outcast from the light

I am a ghost, though I have yet to die
Invisible to most, but not to some
My heartbeat the same in everyone
I long, I love, I ache, I cry

I am a ghost, a human born to die
And in that we aren’t much different, you and I

Wanderer of the Desert _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 1

It is the spring of my fifth year at Stanford, and I am engaged in the highly stressful endeavor of applying for, and then receiving acceptances from graduate programs in philosophy. It is a time that now I am thoroughly relieved is in the past. The culture of the aspiring undergraduates in our program is, retrospectively, much more like a fundamentalist religious cult (with the strange difference being enforced critical thinking) than a typical academic department. The six students applying for graduate school this year, of which I am one, have formed a tight knit if competitive cohort, fervently engaged in an almost obsessive solidarity that I find familiar enough to not question (and I still don’t want to know why.)

My peers and I routinely discuss things such as how the search for truth is the most superior calling and that we would die for our ideas. We unfortunately mean this literally. (I am glad my past self was not tested on this.) We hold that the absolute worst thing that can happen to an undergrad is to not get into grad school. We frequently proclaim our slogan “Don’t get left behind!” While outwardly we pretend to be rational autonomous agents who are not at all conforming to a bizarre conception of the world, inwardly we grapple with our fears and insecurities that we will never be enough. Admittedly, I now tend to cringe at how ridiculous we were and can’t quite figure out what came over us. But this is particularly true concerning one of my fellow cohort members who proudly confided to me that she routinely quoted Plato during sex. This, I tell her in the moment, is taking things too far, even for me, and I ask her to just keep that to herself from now on. Please?

As it happens, I am one of the five out of six fortunates who do not “get left behind.” I get into two graduate programs. My fate is secure. However, the letter offering me a place at the University of Anonymous Desert, comes only two days before I must send in my acceptance. Two hours later I’ve booked a flight for seven AM the next morning to visit the school. Despite my culture shock (which I discount as I have experienced culture shock at every grad school I’ve visited,) I decide after my whirlwind encounter that the people at the school are nice. Speaking of the wind, I also notice that I can literally hear voices on the wind that tell me which direction its blowing, and this fascinating phenomenon helps persuade me to return and investigate further. After much anxiety and tears and irritating my parents, I commit to attend the school in the desert in the fall.

Around this time, my parents sell our family home, the one I’ve grown up in since I was three years old. Then, weeks before I move to an unfamiliar state to begin my program and live self-sufficiently for the first time, my parents separate. The death of their marriage has been a slow and painful one. Though part of me recognizes their separation is probably the best thing to ever happen to our family—they brought out the worst in each other—I am also broken-hearted and devastated. Part of me wonders whether, had I never been shaken as an infant, the marriage would still be intact, though I know this is as far from the truth as the assertion in a scene of Monty Python, “The Holy Grail,” that small rocks float.

It only takes a month or two in my graduate program before I realize, my family situation notwithstanding, that I have made a terrible mistake. I can’t stand feeling like a number rather than a person. I can’t stand the three digit temperatures. I can’t stand mustering up the courage to speak up in class just to have my ideas unceremoniously dismissed without even the courtesy of an argument, and in front of my colleagues besides. I am displaced, not just from my childhood home, the security of a two-parent household, and the only state I’ve ever lived in: I also, slowly, begin to become estranged to myself. I do not recognize this woman struggling to be seen and heard, who is not respected for her ideas, who is barely surviving without sight or assistance in a literally hostile environment.

Still, I do not think of leaving, regardless of how much it is, and it really is, killing my sense of self-worth and breaking my spirit, delighting in making me small, molding me into a “presentable vegetable” courtesy of the Logical Song.

First, there is the fact of my commitment and that leaving would be to break it, and that, I am convinced, would be giving up in a shamefully dishonorable way. But secondly, where would I go? My time in the nest is over.

My dad now lives in a small apartment and is dating a woman whom he eventually marries. My mom has moved to a funky rental and is struggling to get back into the workforce after twenty-seven years as a homemaker. I will be more secure in the grad program than trying to make it in the real world where my address is from nowhere. I stay.

As one year drearily trudges numbly into the next, my grip on the core part of myself, who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in, why I am here, slowly sinks beneath the red sands, like the horse from Never Ending Story who drowned in the swamp of sadness as he was pursued by The Nothing. The Nothing is so quiet, that I never notice its gradual erosion of who I once was until no trace of it remains. Then, one morning, I awake to a day like all the rest: except I don’t know who I am. Having no energy or will to grieve such a loss, I stumble on with little sense of purpose or meaning, and even now, much of that time is lost to disassociation, out of the reach of memory.

November of 2007 sees the final drawing up of my parents’ divorce papers. Meanwhile, the landscape around me at the school mirrors the raw and barren, thorny, and parched landscape of my heart. Up until now, I’ve spent my whole life living in the Bay Area, California. I’m used to and love the golden hills, the green lawns and chattering trees, and most of all, the ocean. But here, here the desert sands ooze red like blood, canyons gape open like mouths fiercely begging for a rain to quench an eon of thirst; here the wind gathers itself and rumbles across the earth like a living animal. Here people promise themselves in strange awkward moments that a scientist somewhere must be hard at work at this very moment, creating a pesticide that will get rid of the vast infestation of dust that takes over their houses, floats in films onto their dishware, scurries into their clothing, sifts through their hair, settles into their ears and mouths, suffocates their souls. For like the parched clay within my heart, dried out and hardened from the intense heat of anger, frozen by my fears, stilled by the silence I keep in order to survive where I do not belong, the landscape surrounding me is hostile and defensive and sometimes literally locks its tenderness away, displaying nothing but spikes on the outside.

The philosophy department in this earth-cracked, hungry place is full of bigoted and sexist graduate students and prejudiced professors. One graduate student tells me after an argument in which I announce that if the department is going to give me ninety students to teach, it is my responsibility to give each of them an equal opportunity to learn, even if my research falls behind for this reason: “It would behoove you to adopt our values, or leave.” There is the professor not on my committee who expresses surprise that I have passed my comprehensive exams. There is the professor who insists that I have made a pact with most of her colleagues to grade me leniently due to my blindness, a statement I still have in writing. In fact, my miserable situation even seeps into my dreams: I dream that, at a department meeting, all my colleagues turn into eighth graders. True enough, my experience is very much reminiscent of middle school.

This desert, which I have now endured for two long years, leaves my bones dry and brittle, leaves my soul thread-bear and gulping for water, raw and cold like a piece of forgotten old stone. Inside or out, I am nowhere. I have no home, and for this reason, through the years in the desert, I wander like a nomad, like one of a lost people yearning for a promised land without the benefit of believing that a god will grant such a place to me.

For during this time I also shed the last vestiges of Christianity and throw myself whole-heartedly into following the earth-centered path I have always followed, whose name I have only now learned. I am ecstatic to realize that there are others like me in the here and now, and I can claim the ancient ways of my own ancestors. Somehow amidst the despair, I honor mother earth, hold sacred the land, sea, and sky, and speak to the old ones. This revelation somewhat complicates my graduate experience however as it also means living in the broom closet. According to my department members, the only sane position on spirituality is atheism and anyone deviating from this world view is stupid, irrational, and not worth anyone’s time. There is no attempt to tolerate others’ differences, and even the Christian in the program finds himself at the center of ridicule and insult. So I live a double life, unable to be honest with my colleagues, in constant fear of discovery.

At the end of spring 2011, and nearing the end of my coursework, the smoldering remains of the silent cry within myself keens so loudly for freedom that I can no longer ignore the necessity of leaving. I am so tired of wandering. I have wandered this desert for six years. I take a six month lease apartment in the fall to make sure I don’t change my mind. I’m too far along to leave the school, but I can make an exodus, like Moses out of the American Sahara back to my home in the Bay Area, where I can write my dissertation on virtue and interdependence. I will return to the rolling brown hills, green trees and winding trails, and water. Dear, inviting, vital ocean whose rhythm is my heartbeat.

Not even a new relationship, the first one in as many years as I’ve been a graduate student, can detour me from home. With tears in my eyes I leave for a long distance arrangement and for an apartment in Berkeley, surrounded by family and friends, soft mist, the silent bay, and people who won’t figuratively cut off my head if they learn I am a druid. (As a philosopher I very much value my head, thanks.)

Finally I start to grow and heal. Finally I can dissolve into a sacred space of becoming, from which I might emerge changed, but enough, re-membered into cohesion, renewed. Perhaps I will even once again be able to hear the voices on the wind and look into the world beyond the world, which now is lost to me. Perhaps, I can spin a cocoon around my broken pieces so that the withered fragments I have become can mend me, weaving themselves into new wings with which to fly.

I See You _ A Tribute to Every Person Who Is Not Recognized For Who They Are

I see you,
Children no longer here,
Your faces in my dreams
Chiseled on the landscape of my soul.

Last night, I listened to you tell your story,
With a voice that in life you could not share.
You spoke of many wonders, despite your pain,
Most never noticed you were there.

I see you
Young women now and years ago,
Hands reached to steal you from yourself,
Attempt to turn you into stone.

They tried to make you, objects kept in secret towers.
Your fearful eyes haunt my waking hours.
How many still live with scars?
How many died to protect what is ours?

I see you,
As if I were there,
Each moment, a person I’ve never met,
I will keep your memory near.

How could anyone try snuffing out a sacred star?
How could anyone destroy such beauty until it’s gone?
How could anyone fail to see the brilliant light
Within each of us alike, though different for each one?

How can we stare and judge and yet not see
We’re holding up a mirror?
I live the truth it shatters me,
Stark and raw and clear.

My tears they fiercely stand behind my eyes,
So determined not to fall.
If I put words to your thousand nameless cries,
Could it do any good at all?