Hard Truths (and Gratitude)


A customer at the coffee shop asked me what I do for fun. I said I’m editing a book I wrote, but it isn’t always fun. He didn’t like my answer. I got awkward and defensive. I go to beach, I said, sometimes. And I like eating and reading and looking for the green dot when the sun sets. Really, I wanted to say I’m not into seeking fun. I prefer making long lists on index cards, rearranging sentences, contemplating the nature of existence.

I’m working on a list of things that are harder than writing a book. The list is big and sometimes it helps me to get over myself. Just get on with it, Princess, I tell myself. Drown it with coffee.

When I lived in Siem Reap I would spend my afternoons in a little restaurant, sitting in the corner with rose tea and fried rice. The waitress would practice her English on me and try to read my journal over my shoulder. On Thursday’s the kids would pick up their rice rations from the group house. I’d help them strap their rice bags to their bikes. The bags were never big, nor were the kids. I was told they had huge families though and the rice would never be enough. Sometimes I wake up with an overwhelming sense of guilt. Nothing is wrong, I tell myself. You’re fine, all your needs are being met. You are blessed.

True empathy is one of the most difficult things. Also, gratitude. Gratitude is a special practice.

I was telling someone the other day, if gratitude is your ultimate goal you have to work hard at it. You can’t just say you want to be grateful, you have to learn what it means, how to do it. Tell me five things you’re grateful for, I said. Go. I wrote nineteen in my own journal today. I remember teaching the little Khmer girls to write “I Love You.” Trying to explain what it meant.

I read an interview with Amy Hempel yesterday, she said:

“Keep asking, what’s the harder truth underneath what you just said?”

I remember two of my past lives. I used to wear eye shadow, often a chocolate shade, sometimes plum. I can feel myself putting it on, looking in the mirror and seeing someone that isn’t me. Too princess-like. She won’t look right at me. The past does that, tries to keep a distance but often we hold on tight, wanting to keep something that has gone. I have trouble facing myself, looking people in the eye. I struggle to let go.

We often talk about patterns playing out in the universe, how anything we can possibly imagine is happening somewhere in the field. It. All. Exists.

A visitor this morning asked me if I enjoy living here. I told her I have a lot of trouble living anywhere. Oh, she said, uncomfortable. I backtracked fast, told her a story about Chasing Summer. I wanted to ask her if she ever dreamed up lives and then ran around the world, manically trying to make something real.

Can I say these things? Here, like this. Can I say my really hard truths?

I get panicked when I think about how limited we are by our minds. How we can’t possibly grasp the vast intelligence of the universe in the limited mind. These thoughts send me over. I’ve started to note down moments where I’m overcome with anxiety. I write the triggers too.

The other night I couldn’t find something. One of my roommates came in while I was in a panic, tearing through everything, making a mess. I told her to leave before I started taking out my frustrations on her. I told her she didn’t want to see what would happen next. On my trigger sheet I wrote:

Missing. Something.

As I was leaving on my last day volunteering at the house in Cambodia, one of the littlest girls ran after me. She’d learnt to say it out loud. This is how I learnt both empathy and gratitude.

“What’s under that? What’s even harder to say?”

I’ve had a gun in my mouth. I don’t know who I was exactly. I don’t think it was the eye-shadow princess. I was looking for a way out. I can taste the metal sometimes. I have trouble touching coins because I don’t like how they feel against my skin. My bottom teeth ache at the thought. I’m playing out this karma and it’s okay. I forgive you and I forgive myself.