Listening: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Fennesz, Flumina

Reading: Hermann Melville, Moby Dick

This morning is pearly-grey, sleepy, the sky soft with cloud-filtered light. It's a perfect day to be at home, I think, and I'm feeling so lucky to be here in this cozy fifth-floor apartment filled with my books and music and plants. I've done my online course on perception and psychology, I've meditated, had my coffee and breakfast, tidied up a bit, adjusted my websites, and set up a plan for the next few hours. I'm getting used to weekdays like this one, days when my tasks of writing and practicing settle back into long unfilled hours. It's a time that I know won't last forever, these days when I work with others three or four days of the week and have the rest of my time to fill blissfully by myself. 

When I was in fifth grade, I had a writer's notebook as part of my English class. Our English teacher gave us regular writing time to fill out the book, and I now treasure the traces that I left. As a ten-year-old, my writing style was quite similar to my style now: heady descriptions of the weather and the time of day, clever words clumped in ungainly sentences, fragments and sometimes phrases drifting through my dreamy attention span. Even at that age, I lived in a quiet world of sensation and impression. The people in my world -- friends, family, schoolmates --  just barely breach into my awareness as I caught myself up in the thrill of capturing summer light, frost on the ground, lists of delightful words for hot tea and cold weather and quick movements. I kept a "treasures list" that reads: "love... fruit, tea, quietness, silence, writing, words, dreams, sleep, warmth, the sound and feel and usage of water". In a required entry that describes my morning routine, I never actually get myself out of bed, instead musing on the softness of my sheets and contemplating my dreams and how much I wish I could re-enter sleep. As a young writer, I was placid, receptive, but never passive. I was so completely alive to the senses of my world of music and books and playing outside. This writer's notebook was the first structured and teacher-endorsed opportunity I had to indulge my habit of capturing and collecting traces of my experience in the world. It's a habit of observation and description that I practice daily now, and hope to practice more openly in the future. I want to be proud of the thoughts I can express now, after so many years of practicing this craft, and I want to share them with others, make them a bigger presence in my outward-facing life. 

I thumbed through this writer's notebook on the hunt for traces of my childhood processing of the trauma of riot and mass protest that I had encountered as a young girl. I thought perhaps once I had established a writing routine, some early attempt at therapeutic writing might have surfaced. I think I might have found one, though I'm not sure whether it was inspired by my own memories or the vague and distant discourse around 9/11 that reached all the way to Alaskan elementary schools. This is the poem I wrote:


golden sun warmth around me

sprinkles of silver laughter

smiles that light more than candles

summer engulfs me


the explosion shatters my world

into a million shards of glass

the burning fire shoots up

then blackness clouds my eyes


my heart beats his does not

he was only three


In this childhood poem, I most clearly see my strong identification with the caring and protective role of an older sister. The poem mourns a lost and unnamed three-year-old killed in a fiery explosion, a boy of the same age as my youngest sister at that time. At that age, I had a recurring terror that my little sisters would die suddenly in their sleep. I would regularly run panicked and silent into their nursery to hold my hand close to their nostrils and check if they were both still breathing in the night. In the opening, I see traces of my childhood in Jakarta: the comforting warmth of the sun, the engulfing summer air, smiles and laughter drifting in sunlight. Then, warmth intensifying into overwhelming heat, the burning hotness of fire and explosion shattering the peace with sudden violence. This ambiance was a familiar progression to me, a feeling of heat intensifying that I had tucked away in then-recent memories of glimpses of burning buildings while driving through Jakarta's traffic jams, huddling against my mom to avoid being seen by the shouting mobs that streamed through the packed-together cars. To this day, intensely hot weather signifies surreality and instability to me, simmering tension or burning desperation. Hot days still break my sense of continuous reality, especially hot days in a city. When temperatures reach the 80s and 90s and upwards in the city -- sunlight beating down on the shimmering pavement, reflecting off the shining metal buildings, glancing mirror-like off the coursing, silent, rush of traffic -- I melt away from this world. It's a hot drift away from the clarity of normal life that I cannot help, a slippage that I both long for and fearfully resent. 

Writing the events that I remember in Jakarta and in Bangkok and even to some extent in New York takes me back to those overheated days. In the blissful grey chill of February, I can at least see things in stark, clear relief.