The friction between

After reading Katherine Boo’s incredible Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I’m on the lookout for other women who’ve addressed themes in nonfiction that, to me, seem like the most death-defying of written feats. Here’s a new one that I’m intrigued by…

“My lodestar, my master narrative, is the friction between violence and beauty, between my hosts’ heartrending candor and crushing disenfranchisement, between the ancient and the modern, between our penchant for bloodshed on the one hand and our inherent defiance of depravity on the other. The intricacies of life are shaped within such precarious balancing.” — Anna Badkhen

Lately I’ve had a hard time perceiving this balance. The violence and bloodshed appear to overtake. 


Just five things, just two things, just one

I remember first reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, with its many top five lists, and all the girls who’d broken the main character’s heart, and all the albums he’d bring with him to a desert island — and, I don’t know, play them with a sharpened palm frond.

I love this idea, not the palm frond — the five things. What if there were just five things to focus on. That’d be so much easier.

This task, from the wonderful people of Write Club Atlanta, asks me to describe five things I am certain of. This is tougher than it sounds. I am usually not certain of anything.

Wait. That for sure is true. Okay. One down.

1) I am usually not certain of anything.

Let’s keep cheating.

2) Pie. This is an easy one. No one is uncertain about pie. Pi, on the other hand, is a different story.

3) Mostly, we are doomed. Collectively and individually. By a lot of things. By our ineptitude, by the global economy, by inequality and randomness and the ever-present specter of fear and regret. By our youth, by our age, by our geography and our class, by our genus and phylum and species. There is no getting around this.

4) You can miss someone forever. You there, who listened to NPR jazz in the back of your parent’s SUV with me. You there, who is the last one to truly remember how slow I used to walk. You there, who buried me in red fleece blankets. Unshakeable, this past. I can’t eat a grain of rice without thinking of my students. I can’t see a motorcycle without thinking of Kompheak. My heart lives in pieces and places. With Oriana in Costa Rica, with my grandmother in Tonawanda.

5) Memory is a luxury. Without it, without remembering, without missing, there’s just now, and you can only be certain of things — really certain — looking back. And nothing can stop doom, not really, not forever, but while it lasts, memory bends time. And when you link your story to mine, we form a chain of memory, unbreakable, unrepeatable, pi in story form.

In my dream, on my desert island, under the stars, we whisper it. We tell it. This whole big story chain.

You are all here, as we fall asleep, as we think about what we know for certain. Just five things. Just two things. Just one.

How I learned to stop falling and love the ground

There’s nothing very glamorous about sidewalks, but I’m obsessed with them, and with the way kids covered everything in hopscotch patterns because three days were nice days, and how the pathways of my neighborhood are overhung with canopies of bright, sticky green leaves. Things bloom again, every year. This is my recurring topic, the one that always edges too close to sentiment but which I can’t overcome. 

There are worrisome things, too. I worry about the garment factory fire in Bangladesh and how I can’t buy anything made there, so let’s keep shopping from my sister’s closet. I worry about the way my first finger curves in the way my Italian grandmother’s does — which she said was from killing chickens, and I’ve never even slain one, and already it’s a little crooked.

Tiny seedlings bloom on the shelf above the television — ready to be planted in our garden plot soon. Their tenacity amazes me. 

I’m thinking of Borges’s garden of forking paths, and all the ones I didn’t take, and how there is luxury in resting.