once a week blog, of meaning or non-sense and perhaps a short story here or there, but weekly no matter the word count.
hit the yoga mat EVERY MF DAY, no excuses…5 minutes or 15 or an hour, I have to re-establish a home practice. (more to come on the importance of that at a later time)
commit to a non-dairy life because my body really just loves that life
read one hour a day
read one book a month
write one hour a day, whatever medium.
guest blog more
create consistent podcast content
make more lists
“when we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people,
we can draw nearer to the earth,
we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.”
– bell hooks
What’s funny is, I started drafting a piece of this nature on August 11, 2016 entitled, “Humanity: The Eulogy”. I never completed it or posted anything like it because I really couldn’t deal with the comment section. Hell, this draft has taken me a week (or longer) because every time I think I’m done, I notice more and more discrepancies and it shakes me up inside. I’m secure enough in my own mind and writing abilities to take whatever criticisms are thrown at me on social platforms, but I cannot handle and just won’t accept people berating each other in what we now call “threads.” Using that word to describe our streaming shouting matches seems ironic.
I made the mistake of sharing this article on my personal Facebook page, which caused quite a stir. In fact, at one point during this draft, the comments kept rolling in. I had absolutely know idea that traffic was flowing through my page about this sensational, yet very basic article, let alone what I would find when I finally decided to sit and read through each and every exchange. Though I lightly responded to some, I knew I couldn’t let my feelings about all this rest with a simple sentence, it deserves more than that. We’re at a point where we’ve just got to keep the conversation open and hope that someone is listening. If this blog reaches any one person, then my life as a writer has served some damn purpose.
I’m hopeful that these ideas will read like a letter to a long lost friend, since that’s what I’m carrying as I write this. Longing for the friend I knew to return.
The world that troubled me five years ago is not the one the frightens me today. These words will feel mournful and feisty and familiar; they’re words you’ve spoken aloud or felt in your bones and just never knew how to say them. It will feel as hyperbolic as it reads because I believe that’s where we are in society. Snowballing everything. A few mornings ago, I was on Facebook video chat with a friend and I asked if he thought we would ever move on from the phase we’re in now and he flat out told me no. With no hesitation or doubt in his voice. With blinking brown eyes that seemed bleak but informed, no longer worried just… quiet. It really is all we can do to remove ourselves from the observations we can’t help but make. I have watched and absorbed the sadness and rage our society holds on to so tightly and feel like now — as opposed to my wide, veil-free eyes in 2016 — I can speak from my heart…and my head. I am optimistic that this just might be enough broaden or shift some perspectives, but realistic enough to know that minds have shut themselves away these days.
DISCLAIMER – This is an opinion piece, food for thought, a heart-opener, if you will; I happily welcome any and all opinions and reactions, and encourage tasteful, friendly discussion. I simply ask that you read this as a human and not whatever label you’ve placed on yourself. That you invite peace in to your reading space as your eyes follow the words because I have taken careful action to write this with peaceful determination and feeling. I ask that you drop the fear of what you don’t know, drop the skepticism, and embrace the essence and core of the humanity I know each of you reading this must feel. Humanity was at one point all we knew; please approach it from there. If not, try any of my fictional offerings, those may serve you better.
To All Humans:
From our entrance in to the world, we are offered the unique opportunity of living. I’m sure to some, this seems like a chore — it feels like that to me too, sometimes. (Lately, more often.) I am writing this because I feel as though we have forgotten how practice this art of living, of loving; unwilling and apprehensive towards any sense of harmony that once was. We seemingly operate under two tolerances now: blame and gender. Maybe I’m loosely pinpointing two coinciding themes here because I’m angry, but it seems commonplace that we now blame all of our behaviors — good and bad — on what anatomical parts we possess and the behavior associated with those parts. I constantly ask, when will people learn that these things we face have no gender, but are human issues? Issues with breath in them, life force; an entity all its own. When will we comprehend that to understand each other, to grow and learn, we have to respect one another? When will more trust and less skepticism return? When will our words become the salt of the earth again?
I guess you can’t respect what you fear.
I’m really hung up on the absurd idea that the human, the living, breathing, being, can truly be governed by anyone but herself. I’m not saying I don’t believe in government, I’m not saying I don’t believe in due process. I absolutely do. I believe in guidelines for morality and I believe in law. But I also believe in humanness.
I have tried my best to keep quiet about politics, but watching people in this country battle between their so-called philosophies and aesthetics is a slow death in itself. We are desensitized and imbalanced in the worst way possible, we’ve lost our humanity. I believe with fervency that she is out there still; I believe it in the small unions I see. I see it in the feminism I personally know, which is inclusive of all. The debate and heat around this word, this “feminism,” is enough for me to write a lengthy essay — and maybe I will. Today, I’ll keep it simple and as personal as possible: feminism, to me, is the acknowledgement and respect for all humans. First, second, and third wave feminists, hell, even the post-riot grrrl movements would probably all agree that we were just on the cusp of something wonderful, real change, a real metamorphosis of society. And now? We fight against ourselves, our truth, our core. We insist on unity, preach it, and teach it, but our assumptions, blame, and fear will divide us.
In the above mentioned comment war on the article I shared, someone — a person who didn’t contribute towards the argument in the least — made a generalized “liberals do” statement that sent me off the deep end. Not only do I wish that people who insist on making a comment actually have something substantial to say, I wish this person knew more about ME before throwing out a label on my personal account. I bet she doesn’t know that I was raised Southern Baptist and that the first time I voted, I voted without knowing a damn thing about the candidate; I voted without knowing what I expected from politics or what politics even meant to me.
In the sheltered world I grew up in, you are white, Republican, and Southern Baptist without having a different thought in your head. No one wants to admit that if you are different, or think differently, that you are immediately categorized as “other.” You don’t grow up asking questions, you answer like your father would. You think as you are expected to think. (If anyone wants to argue me on that, please send me a direct email. I’d be more than happy to help you acknowledge and lift the veil.) Thankfully, my father was diplomatic enough to know that I was developing my own mind and that we weren’t always going to see eye to eye on things. He never argued with my inquisitions, answering with only, “you’re allowed to think and feel the way you want, Tiffer. Think and feel, just always be respectful.” Even he — honestly one of the most hard-headed, devout people I ever knew — understood that what it boils down to is respect. Respect for your own truth. Respect for others. Respect for the mind and the body and all that is in between.
In fact, in this very moment, I’d like to remind you: before we were old enough to have political opinion, religious affiliation, or the ability to recognize sexual prefernce, we had only humanity to guide us, what we felt for others humans as a human — before we understood the concept of God or god or nature or evolution or whatever conviction you’ve currently come to; before we decided that we “are” and need all of this nomenclature, we were human.
This brings me to more heated points of discussion, ideas of disappointment and rage, less eloquently organized, but still lingering in my mind and in the hearts of so many that I know:
Birth control is not an “abortion inducing drug.” I laughed out loud when I read that headline and just knew my eyes were going to get stuck in my head. Some will say that this is absolute, scientific truth, and I just want to shake them. Women are stereotyped as hormonal and emotional and for some, birth control corrects or aids in hormonal imbalance. For others, it is a way to properly family plan (what with the state of the economy and all.) But apparently, this isn’t okay either. More to come on this later, but doesn’t that spin your wheels? Obviously this has more to do with religion than it does politics, but those two things too often collide and create an uninformed mess.
In further regard of the body:
It is not okay for you to assume that you can touch someone. That you can take it further than asking for a hug or kiss or more. An assumption of consent STILL. ISN’T. CONSENT.
These assumptions will divide us. Fear will sever us.
It is not okay to ask a human for proof that they were raped. Or sexually assaulted. Or who they voted for. (Remember that time when it was considered impolite to ask that question?) Days later, years later, whatever, whenever, IT IS NOT OKAY.
In direct answer to all of the debauchery and debate that was Dr. Blasey Ford’s case: I cannot for a moment fathom making up a story of this nature, and I have a twisted, fictional mind. I know men and women alike that have been sexually assaulted. By men and by women. THIS ISSUE TOUCHES EVERYONE. It has either happened to you, a friend, a family member….or all of the above. I hear the statistic “one in three women” and I cringe. Will it happen to me again? If so, when? I have never been raped, but as I sit in reflection on this kind of physical heaviness, the amount of times I was touched inappropriately without being asked and without saying anything is too many. Maybe it has happened multiple times in my life and I just can’t bear to identify with how blurry those lines actually are yet. Maybe the threshold of Louisiana’s statute of limitations will pass before I ever tap back in to that darkness. And then what? You can’t place a time frame on trauma.
I think about all the children that have been forced in to sex trafficking and I wonder, if they survive, and one day decide to come forward about their abusers, will they be treated the same way? The thought sends shivers down my spine.
I’ll tell you a recent, brief story about a friend of mine:
She was at a crowded bar with her friends when they encountered a guy. He seemed like any other drunk, bar-crawling dude – in it for the late night. The girls seemed fairly uninterested, causing the guy to make some snide remarks about the attractiveness of my friend’s friends before walking away and over to another girl for another try. The group decided to leave, but my friend stayed behind to speak to the girl this man was now standing near. She informed the woman of how he spoke to her friends and this woman rolled her eyes and began to walk away. This man, this coward piece of human GRABBED MY FRIEND BY THE THROAT.
In the middle of the bar.
And not the first person said a thing to her.
She told me that other women made eye contact with her and turned away, and that when other men saw it, they stared, saying nothing. Eventually she got the bartender’s attention and said that the response was cavalier at best. Desensitized may have been an understatement in earlier thoughts.
My friend has been sexually assaulted, beyond this incident, in five other situations. Her friends have similar experiences, and their friends too; the count just continues to grow on paper right before my eyes. When I shared the article on Facebook, I received a handful of messages thanking me for standing up for those with no voice.
That’s what this is I guess, unifying the voices I’ve heard and speaking out with them. I can’t help but feel removed from the burden of proof when I know so confidently that no person, man or woman, can fabricate those descriptors and appear on national television, recounting them.
To those of you asking for proof from Dr. Ford (and other people like her): would you want someone to insist on concrete proof of your rape? Would your heart not be broken that even in the most vulnerable places of confession, you were ultimately not believed? Or even worse, believed to be lying?
For a brief moment, I’ll play devil’s advocate and ask the question: what if Dr. Ford did lie? Well my answer to that is martyrdom, of the pleading kind. It doesn’t make how she went about it correct but it does deliberately call your attention the nationally rampant epidemic that is sexual assault and abuse. If she lied, it was a call to action to our country to recognize this heartless kind of behavior – the entitlement others feel towards the body that is not theirs and the inhumane way we handle the inter-workings of our aesthetics.
Perhaps one day, when I am less disenchanted with humanity I’ll be able to write a thank-you letter for the way she turned it around. But for now, I direct and send the burden out to each and every person that’s reading this. It is our duty, though it may not be written in a book or on stone anywhere, to greet each other with softness, not tolerance; with love and kindness, not skepticism. Until we learn how to do this, we’re going to stay right where we are. I do my best to find positive conclusion in these posts, but today, it is a call to action: love one another, live in harmony.
My limited library of words seems dismally insufficient when I think about describing the most love-filled week of my life, but the details below are my best attempt at painting the picture for you, and for me. And most importantly, him.
Two weeks ago, at this very time (5:46am) my husband and I were fast asleep yet somehow alive and well in a daydream state. In just a few short hours, I would wake up and leave Neil sleeping so I could chop off roughly 6-7 inches of hair, pack up all the small details of my jaw-dropping wedding wardrobe, and hug my dearest friends goodbye as Mrs. Patel.
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks! Have I been floating this entire time? Probably so.
When Neil and I first got engaged, we talked about eloping. We talked about planning a “half and half” ceremony, though we weren’t sure what that was supposed to look like or mean. We talked forever about where we would host whatever we were hosting. I knew he wasn’t down for the traditional five days, and he knew I wasn’t interested in the big white dress and long, dramatic walk down the aisle. Our options were endless but we both wanted just one thing out of the whole event: to spend forever with each other. With that in mind, we knew the details would eventually sort themselves out. Y’all, everything I thought would be clever and romantic enough to describe this momentous, magical day (week) seems to pale the lustrous paint due to limitation of words.
My interest — now obvious fascination — with the East and all of its ancient traditions is completely pouring out and over the rim of my cup. Of course, it started years ago with my yoga practice and being ever curious about proper thought during meditation, but now it is this whole other thing, a wave of deep devotion to exploring and satisfying this inquiring mind. When I met Neil, I never knew what would blossom in my brain as far as being drawn to culture and practice. During the year between our engagement and wedding, I absorbed as much as I could about the different ceremonies we’d chosen; the ones most important in Gujarat. I read and researched for months what I could online about “multicultural” weddings, searching endlessly for descriptions about what each small ceremony or ritual would entail, looking for answers for what is normally expected of the bride, and lastly, TRYING TO LEARN GUJARATI. Nothing I could Google or Bing or Yahoo or memorize would ever prepare me emotionally and mentally for being the semi-center of these gorgeous events. Everything, and I mean every tiny minutia is met with respect and holds meaning in the Hindu faith and Gujarati culture.
Our first event of the week — aside from Wednesday’s Monsoon themed nail party (that’s totally a joke, however bad the rain really was) — was Thursday morning’s pooja (puja) to bless the Patel house. All immediate family members and a few close friends showed up, and I was simply excited to be there to watch…I had no idea I would end up participating and leave feeling like I too had received all kinds of blessings.
The priest and priestess arrived and began setting up the altar. My partner in crime, Ashley Treib, and I watched in white girl amazement as small details of a religion completely new to us unfolded. I took note of the items used during the pooja: fresh food and fruit, various types of rice, petals plucked from fresh flowers, water, and fire. As I was taking this mental inventory, Daksha, my mother-in-law, called me over and asked if I’d like to participate. I blushed and shook my head yes. “Krishna will have to sit between you and Neil since you aren’t married yet,” she said with a smirk, which pinked my cheeks even deeper.
We are getting married!!! was my only thought as a smile spread across my whole body.
The priest started the ceremony and read and chanted and Neil, Krishna, and I became a unit: Krishna holding on to Neil’s right arm, me holding on to Krishna’s. OMG I AM CRYING AS I WRITE THIS! Daksha was sitting next to me, and every now and then, she would hold on to me, making our line even longer. I was feeling the beat of this ceremony, even though there really wasn’t a specific tempo. At any given time, I could hear the priest, overlapped by the interpretation from the priestess — a huge courtesy for me — mixed with the gentle clanking of pans in the kitchen and soft, Guju chatter. This ceremony was nothing new for most of the family so they were either eating or napping, aside from the handful that sat around the living room in a half circle. I noticed this briefly and it made me smile, but only on the inside; my nerves held my face. I was completely glued-in the entire two hours of rituals, fascinated by what I’d never seen before. I could feel Ashley sitting right behind me, drinking it all up too. I’d never seen ritual performed on a level like this, and I’ve experienced some religion in my days.
I can’t compare what I observed in those two hours to anything else. There was demonstration and explanation and time for honoring all; there was pranayama. It felt old and new, the way an worn wooden pew bench does when I come across one and take a seat. I shifted from side to side, like I did in church when I was young; full of questions and observation, but required to remain quiet and search for the answers in my head.
We read aloud and took small bites and prayed by offering bits of rice and petals; to my surprise I even recognized some Sanskrit words here and there. The pooja concluded and I felt another remarkable wave of peace wash over me. As a person who once loved religion for ritual and reverence, this kind of honoring of tradition stirred me up inside.
A delicious evening of live dosa making followed a few hours later, where we drifted in to a hot August night and woke up to a cool, wedding weekend.
My adrenaline the week of the wedding was insane, I felt like I was on fire; Thursday’s pooja fanned my flame, maybe blazed it. I wasn’t hungry, I was mostly decaffeinated, and I couldn’t really tell if I was sleeping or just floating through the nights between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. But I was awake, so woke I couldn’t even buzz myself to sleep with wine. Friday morning, I woke up before the world and laid around until I couldn’t any longer. I pushed my floating body in the shower at 8am, waking Ashley and Alex with uncoordinated noise, and chatted up the shower-head about the hours that would follow. Picking up friends and family from the airport, steaming all my clothes for various events, receiving the first part of my mehndi….I was on the “bridal climb” and trying my best not to totally. freak. out!
In preparation for a week of: meeting family, prepping last minute things to pack in my teeny carry-on (an activity I eventually did so many times at 2am on Monday, I started timing myself) and being consumed with all kinds of emotions, I got in about five-ish hours of yoga. Teaching some, moving around at home, taking class; I made it my mission to be able to locate my zen on the spot if I needed to. I stuck to my Veg30 diet to keep my mind and body clean and I made myself as busy as possible. Again…as much preparation as my little Capricorn heart, body, and soul could muster was indeed not enough to properly assemble my brain for becoming Mrs. Patel. My thought for most of the weekend, aside from reminding myself not to lock out my knees, was, “in through the nose, out through the nose.” I literally had to remind myself to breathe. I am unimaginably empathetic, so I sponged up everyone else’s emotions too; absorbing that much love can make you feel a kind of high I wasn’t aware existed. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
My amazing henna artist/ family friend/ hair-growing-goddess, Filisha, arrived around noon on Friday to get a jump on the first part of my mehndi, so I could at very least walk around and greet everyone that had traveled for us from everywhere. It was then, upon Filisha’s arrival, that I — I’ll admit, forcefully — entered my official state of what everyone has since referred to as, “tempered.” I’m not kidding when I say that every person that saw me during the wedding for more than 4 minutes made it a point to tell me how relaxed I seemed…to which I endlessly laughed, internally.
She started with my feet and worked her way up to my right forearm, not missing a beat even when I’d shift around or twitch. In through the nose, out through the nose. She finished up after about three hours and headed out to get herself ready for a second night of fun. My feet were mostly dry, but my arm still needed a solid twenty before I could move around and start primping too; all my other limbs would be finished at the ceremony so everyone could check out the process in real life. If I could hold them up. My nerves were…all present, lets just say.
I felt anything but normal when I saw him. All weekend long he was the most regal thing I’ve ever laid eyes on; a glowing, gold aura beamed off of him constantly.
I’d been hugging and meeting family when he walked in and I vaguely remember confetti falling around us as we met/ ran / floated somewhere in the middle (? maybe??) of the room, before I randomly sat down to be hand fed and henna-ed. I swear I’m not making this up, it happened! REALLY!!!
All night long, I sat lounging on this beautiful, golden chaise and watched my family meet Neil’s family. All of our friends from all over started finding each other and introducing themselves…and I got to see it. I looked up once and saw all of the aunties doing henna on my friends and on each other. I watched everyone laugh together and turn up!! and eventually hit the dance floor together. It was so beautiful and I was nearly in shock from it all, bright light beaming from my eyeballs, no doubt. At one point, my sweet little sister comes up to me, pops a spring roll in to my mouth and whispers in my ear, “are you on drugs or something? You look…euphoric. Your eyes are the size of the moon.” She was 100% right. I was totally, naturally in euphoria, which was currently oozing from every inch of the interior of the room. Well, wasn’t it? The whole room appeared to be glowing.
To be completely honest, there was a split second where I was presented with two choices: freak out and be nervous the whole night or just relax and embrace and observe, so that’s what I did. I spent the entire night panning the room, glued to my chair from the wildness of the thought that this was all for us.
Did I, at one point, end up in the bathroom alone and holler out? Yes, of course I did. Only to get out some wild, happy, loud energy. I still feel the joyful, overwhelming happy vibes of that night; I’m living off the entire weekend, but I had never, until that night, ever felt so much magic in one place.
And then I heard the words “party bus,” from three moustached, unbuttoned, feisty firemen (or maybe some cousins?), and I knew the night was about to take an interesting turn. Neil, along with all the fire guys from NOLA, fam from Philly, Boston, Dallas, and who knows where else, piled on to a bus that would take them far in to the morning of our wedding. I slipped out of my mehndi dress and in to a blue silk dress from my little Blayre, and entertained my friends with a gin-induced Lil Wayne rap battle…with myself. I Ubered Ashley, Michael, and me (did that work like I wanted it to?) back to the hotel by midnight and forced myself to sleep, an attempt to be as fresh as possible for the best day of my life. I think my mind finally turned off around 2am, but who can really say?
I “woke up” at 7am on the nose, to a text from my sister-in-law saying she broke her foot on said party bus.
And to the forecast of rain.
And to a very hungry belly that was lightly lined with alcohol and crackers.
But that didn’t keep me in bed and certainly didn’t stop the ear-to-ear smile from practically ripping my face open, eyes and all, the morning of my wedding. I flung the curtains open (more like slowly unzipped them) and apologized for waking the room and informed them about Krishna — who by some Louisiana-Guju party girl strength, soldiered on the entire weekend with a broken foot — and said that it was time to get it in gear and where the hell is the coffee??!!! I was awake and so ready to become Mrs. Patel.
Neil’s vidhi was first up on this gorgeous Saturday, perpetual inner sunshine totally radiated from Neil, doused the dreariness of the cool August day and all of the events from the late night.
This ceremony is typically done at both homes of the bride and groom, separately, where they are blessed by the priest, their parents, all of their uncles and aunts, and treated to haldi by female cousins, which are lovingly referred to as sisters. The haldi is a handmade paste that is rubbed on the face to make the skin glow. (It smelled amazing from where I ended up sitting) I couldn’t wait to watch this! How can they possibly make Neil’s face glow any more than it already does?! It is mildly infuriating at times how beautiful my husband is, but his smile truly looks like a glowing, endless sunset, so I tolerate the his annoying wonderful charm and dashing, sassy good looks. (life is hard)
Many more family members and friends had arrived after the mehndi, so I was nervous, yet excited, to meet more people. The squad was impressively dressed and at the hall before most, so I had time to cool my head and find some excitement in the presence of the moment. I felt a tad over zealous by showing ups so early, but was more than anything ready to see my future husband for the first time on wedding day.
I sat quietly as my masi pinned a bindi to my head just before the vidhi started. Looking down at the color of my henna, I couldn’t help but smile as I heard Baa’s words from mehndi night in my ear: “Beta, dark color means deep love.” She’d said this with a knowing smile I was beyond grateful to see; marrying in to a strong Gujarati family means honoring the strong family ties between the generations. I thank universe daily they everyone had such an open mind and heart when they were presented with the idea of adding a different culture to their family.
I looked at my hands and studied their color further, deep red; remnants of the paste still clung to my skin. Choosing to focus on my patterned hands other than my nerves seemed to steady me, though I felt like I could see the red hue deepen with each step I took, almost psychedelic and moving. The color seemed to brighten with every hug and touch and there were moments when I thought the design would climb right up my arms and legs. My skin transformed before my own eyes.
I thought for sure when Neil touched me the henna would magically remain unfading.
The vidhi came and went quickly, and the afternoon before the wedding and reception went by just the same. I felt like a total maniac all afternoon, completely devoid of any and all chill.
While my moms and sister had their hair and makeup done, my body decided to respond to the sense of overwhelming love by mixing that up real good with the tiny bit of the caffeine I had, and all of the excitement I felt about the wedding. I have NEVER felt so out-of-body. I did everything I could possibly think of to calm my nerves, find my zen without addressing to the crowd that every atom in my body was floating apart. My years-long friend, hair guru, and mom to the dumplin’ I looked after for a while and still just adore to pieces, was finishing up with Mrs. Daksha when some sort of crazy, unbreathable vibe took me over. I sat down, then stood up and turned in a circle and just stopped and stared at all the makeup on the bed. I couldn’t really breathe and didn’t want to admit it.
At this point, I had: laid flat, stood on my head, peed about a dozen times, drank half a gallon of water, nibbled on some pouris, blasted chill, lo-fi beats, drank coffee….I tried it all to keep myself calm. And then, I felt the whole of my body turn in to jello. “Can I take a hot shower? Like RIGHT now?” I addressed this plea to Rhianna while attempting to remain cool. She gave me the most sincere “OH FCK” look and said, “Ummm sure yesokaylove, can we cover it?” responding to my paling skin and perfectly pre-curled hair. “Mmmmm,” was the only response I could muster. I vaguely remember Michael leaving the room, but moments later he rushes to the rescue by providing not two but four shower caps and I was in the shower locating Ujjayi in no time.
Another conversation with the shower head.
When I came out in my long whatever it was I was wearing, I felt collected, and it was my turn to sit in the chair.
It only felt like a few minutes, but I know it was longer. I let the air come in and out of my nose, and only spoke a few times; I can’t for the life of me recall what the last hour before the wedding was like; I remember my eye being closed, and then opening them when I arrived at the hall. I knew only one thing in that moment, and that was that the best part of my future was about to begin.
I floated down that aisle, y’all. My mom was floating; I could feel her smiling and that made my heart visible from chest, I just know it did. I feel as though I hovered above the ground during the ceremony and never felt the smile leave my face. I wonder if anyone noticed my feet leave the floor? There are moments that friends have captured that just melt my heart, and there’s so much I could share, but not every detail is meant for the world. If I could put the entire night in a box and keep it forever, I would.
I listened so intently as the priest spoke, yet was busy panning the room with my eyes, deep in observation, memorizing the faces in front of me. I remember squeezing Neil’s hand with every promise we made — there were seven — and my hand shaking to sign my name, for the first time, as “tj patel.” Always lowercase, with absolutely no explanation.
Our wedding night whirled on, to the beat of bhangra, bollywood, and everything else under an indoor, evening sun. A blend of family and friends shared their talents, their words, and most importantly their time with us this night. It all stands out so clearly in my mind, every last little jewel of it. I continuously scanned the room so many times that night just to drink in the amount of people that made the time to celebrate the happiest night of our lives. I could hardly speak at certain points, truly unable to find the gratitude I felt in every inch of my body. I still feel it all.
It was a starry night indeed, a thick blanket of memories suspended in the sky, for always.
Neil, I hope every day of our life is filled with memories and tales that take from sunrise to sunset to tell. Thank you for giving me your family, for giving me this day and everything that it represented. Thank you for the love I feel from you every day and the immense joy I have; you are solely responsible for helping me create that daily in my life. To the brightest light in my life, I will always treasure every single moment of this remarkable, sparkling, unforgettable moment. I love you.
We have so many people to thank and we love you each so so much we are bursting.
I suppose the hilarity of dropping Neil off at the airport at 630 this morning was enough to inspire me to whip out my implied pen and give y’all the dish on my quest out west. Let me start this off by saying, reiterating actually, that my parents took me everywhere in the US and Canada when I was a kid. Dragged me all over, coast to coast, for the best museums, monuments, and culinary that continue to inspire every waking moment of my life. But I’ve never taken a car ride for longer than 11 hours, and that wasn’t even mileage, that was snacks and an SUV full of small, active bladders.
Ashley, co-pilot and inspiration for the trip, and I drove technically from New Orleans, Louisiana all the way to La Grande, Oregon (and then back to Boise, ID for the airport) totaling roughly 2393 miles. It was the longest meditation I’ve ever participated in. I got so many looks when I told my people I was driving 33 hours+ across the country; I don’t exactly love being behind the wheel (and if you know me at all you know that I am happy to ask you to drive. Thank each of you for obliging me). But I really wanted to do this. Why? I’m not really sure, but I had a ticket in my inbox and a “instagram worthy” backpack in my mailbox before I could blink. Y’all can thank Neil for that one.
I could fill you in on all of the funny details — like how just after reaching Texas we ran out of gas, in some odd turn of serendipity, directly across an exit ramp from a gas station. Or how we both did so well staying alert for hours and days, but couldn’t quite make it across to Oregon without playing musical driver while we tried to sleep, sitting up right in a car packed with Ashley’s whole life. — I could give you the full run down on our coffee tour across the west or how we found the best Thai food in a small corner of Denver, but why did you want to go? has been the question, so much so I started asking myself, and I think I can answer it better:
There were a few reasons for my enthusiasm towards the road trip, I’ll be honest. I needed a little break from real life and knew that physically having to focus on driving for so long would shut my mind up for a solid 19 hours, if not more. My mind has seemingly been on a spiraling, zooming, roller coaster for the past few weeks and I was intentional in wanting to make that stop. I really wanted to be in nature, just away from buildings and traffic and tourists and people in general. I normally love to chat up a tourist (or anyone, let’s be honest) because I thrive on human connection and can talk about NOLA eats and treats all day; lately though, the conversation has dulled me.
Above all, I said yes to the trip because my friend needed a hand in her massive, amazing, spirited life change. I want to take this moment to say that if you ever get the opportunity to start over, if the answers are looking square on, daring you to just MAKE A MOVE….do it. Sometimes, I survey how many times people say, “I know, I will, I just don’t know when,” and it takes all my zen to keep my eyeballs in my head. If we step back and examine our lives in hopes of discovery, you can find plenty, strong will is already dwelling within. It’s really simple to choose not to see something, but it’s so much more fulfilling to stay woke, eyes open, alert, present, and flowing with what the universe gives you.
I personally have not regretted shaking things up in my world, and if I had to guess, Ashley is nearly patting herself on the back for taking our precious gift of life in to her own hands and creating something wholly new.
- My favorite coffee from the trip. for a comprehensive list, check out my instagram: @coffeetogeaux
In regards to personal highlights from the trip, newness, and nature:
I got to witness the longest sunset of my life. All I could think about as I was watching it was how much longer I’d get to look at it and if they are always so lengthy. My phone was dead and probably out of service and though I’d normally be itching to document such a moment, I didn’t give a damn that I was without technology. I thought I’d enjoyed a long sunset on the porch at my mom’s, or on the deck of the koi pond house, or on the balcony on a beach somewhere; but this one, shades of tangerine and midnight blue, and in certain light sometimes flecked with stars…it seemed to linger.
Maybe I always feel that way when I take the time to watch the whole thing.
Maybe it was watching the rolling mountains against the setting sun that seemed to reconstruct my soul, transfiguring my brain from effort to ease.
Maybe it was the thick starry night sky that came up, brighter than I knew and so full of beams I thought something above had burst.
Maybe it was the sunrise that revitalized us, greeting our day with true light, literally illuminating our path, and welcoming my friend home.
Maybe it was the time away from crowded spaces, traffic, noise, negativity, judgement, worry, that made me simultaneously resent and miss it.
Maybe it was the space between personal awareness and physical time passing that made this moment, and the sky, seem so big.
Time spent in observation driving out west is a stand-alone reason to take this kind of trip. Perhaps, you feel the tug to drive a long time to somewhere all by yourself. Listen to that. Stay present while you’re on the road to wherever you’re going, even if you’re driving around a big, rocky mountain. Set your soul free out there, wherever you go.
Then come back.
Breathe in and remember, we were meant to endure, just like the sun.
I am not a “New Year’s Resolution” person. I mean obviously, it’s nearly May and I am just now writing about the miraculous word I stumbled on that inspired me to change my way of thinking in 2018.
Working on Magazine Street in New Orleans provides me with an endless opportunity to observe all kinds of stuff. I love to people watch and window shop. I love stepping out of work and smelling all the delicious food cooking from every direction as I walk to my car. I love that I can get a coffee from a local purveyor and support local groceries when I buy lunch. One day, on my way to the grocery a few weeks after new years, my shoe got caught on the lip of the side-walk of the street and I stumbled, trying not to fall in to a group of BAMA dudes yelling, “Dilly! Dilly!” I was distracted by my thoughts and not paying any attention to where I was walking.
After my slight embarrassment cooled, I noticed I’d fallen right on to Harmony Street. I looked up to the clouds, rolled my eyes, and smiled. I told myself right then and there that practicing and living in harmony was going to be my “resolution” this year. This sentiment has taken several shapes since the beginning of the year. I had no idea that the word “harmony” would end up challenging me more than I anticipated; we’re only five months in and the observations I’ve soaked up so far are totally changing my approach to everything.
I moved to New Orleans in July and found it difficult to find work, make new friends, write, practice yoga…basically to exist like I normally would. I hadn’t imagined returning to the Big Easy once I left. I had heard once that New Orleans would either wrap you up in warmth or spit you out; I thought for sure the latter was happening to me. I was restless with indecision about what I wanted to do and was super disappointed in not having all the answers right away. I had finally finished my degree and just knew jobs were going to line up and align with my ultimate purpose — what it is, I still don’t know. I focused on having patience and trusting that the universe would provide me with answers. It didn’t. I had to make up my own answers. I accepted a job I didn’t want and tried to make the best of it until, thankfully, a magical, amazing job landed in my lap. I sound like a broken, looping, blog record, but we manifest our own happiness and we have to keep reminding ourselves of that. Happiness is a choice. Harmony is a choice, something I didn’t really ever stop to think about, and they absolutely go hand in hand. EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY we have to choose those things. I think we get so caught up in developing what happiness is supposed to look like on the outside that we miss the mark on what it is supposed to feel like on the inside — though YOU are the only person who can truly define that.
I was in the middle of a very ugly moment with an old friend yesterday when the conversation we were having posed a question in my mind: if we have to reiterate over and over that we’re happy, are we? As angry as I was in the moment, I felt bad for my friend. I felt the flame of her scrambling to make sure that I knew that she was plenty happy, and for what? She made clear, as people often do, that she didn’t need my approval to be happy. So it made me wonder: why do we care so much about others approving of our happiness? I briefly assessed recent conversations with people I don’t see often and I don’t think I ever included the assurance, “I’m happy. I’m so happy, do you hear me? I swear I am.” I don’t think people need that kind of confirmation. If anyone has experienced me within the last few years, they know I am getting married to the person of my dreams and that happy is not at all the right word for what I feel! Think sublime joy, irritating, smiley, sappy, joy; I feel like I’m beaming most of the time. I think when we say things like, “I hope you’re just as happy,” we challenge others to compare our version of happiness against theirs…and that is really not at all what the emotion of happiness is. That realm of “happy” seems a like pointed, maybe even fake, cry for attention. I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate your happiness, but damn, stop comparing it to your next door neighbor’s appearance of happiness; it is, after all, just your perception.
living in harmony and finding happiness looks like this for me:
this is one of the first yoga photos I ever posted, and I had to dig to find it, but boy does my heart sing when I see it. I look at it now and remember the emotional disarray I was swimming in when I found yoga. — I’ve talked about this a good deal in various places on this blog, so I’ll spare you the replay. — You can see the sunlight cracking through the top of the photo, light barely coming in, but it’s there; what a metaphor. I was losing weight at a rapid pace, my hair was falling out, and I was watching a long, unhealthy relationship unwind. I felt like a wild woman, freeing herself of the things that bound her; I was unwinding but learning to piece myself back together, too. Each time I stepped on my mat I found new things my body could do and this dazzled me; what began to happen in my mind as I moved, an internal digging out, humbled me in ways I’m still learning to explain. My practice now feels more like finding the harmony between my body and breath, my mind concentrating almost solely on the dissipation of thought. I don’t have a perfect practice, I never will. Sometimes the practice is too hot to concentrate on not concentrating, too challenging to feel any rapport between body and breath. But I find that if I keep understanding at the forefront of my thoughts, the harmony is easier to locate.
You may be swimming in something similar, so ask yourself: what would bring ease in to this situation? How can I have that? It is SO easy to choose the hard thing because we don’t want to drop our egos long enough to learn something about ourselves, but that’s what we really need to do. By actively selecting something other than easpiness, we create more dissonance, causing chaos. “Just choose ease,” may sound flippant and trite, but it is the path that leads to less resistance from the world. It doesn’t mean you’re making a lazy choice by not acting, it’s actually quite the opposite. By choosing ease, you choose yourself, happiness, and ultimately…joy.
I promised myself this year I would write more because writing makes me happy, and I haven’t done that. (Like I said, it’s not a great idea for me to label intentions as “resolutions.” I think I actively break the promise just because I made one.) Lately, I think all day and night about what I want to say and if I should say it and are the opinions worth sharing? I worry that my words will just fly in to cyber space and get lost somewhere, all because this or that piece didn’t immediately make me a million dollars. This kind of fear is stupid — a word I hate to use. I have kept thousands of words in my head for months because I’m afraid of stepping on the wrong toes or failing or succeeding or whatever. The fear… it’s real. Fortunately, the last forty-eight hours have been eye-popping and I cannot help but find myself, here in the chair with coffee, willing the fear to shut the fck up. When we allow this kind of fear to set in, we need to pause and ask: how is this serving me? Is the fear driving me to do something new, daring, and great? Am I learning in this moment or am I drinking in the fear and letting it take control? Taking a pause for thought in moments like this is crucial, that’s when we learn what we’re made of and what outcome is most important to us. Maybe we just don’t allow enough space between our perception of the situation and what is actually going on.
Yesterday I posted about writer’s block and today I’m writing, I guess that’s how it goes. I have been overwhelmed by emotion in 2018, nearly a drowning sensation of all kinds of overwhelming happiness mixed with weird anger. I’m angry at the anger when it shows up, since it mostly feels like it’s just there to spite the harmony. I make it a point to emphasize the stuff that deliberately creates harmony in my life: practicing yoga, drinking in the Louisiana sun, checking things off of all of my to-do lists, grocery shopping, doing laundry; it’s not glamorous and it’s not mundane, it just is. The list of happy and harmonious could go on. Now that I’ve made a small change to my way of thinking, I spend less time worrying about all the things I can’t change in this moment and focus on being present here and now. If you haven’t read or listened to Ram Dass, look him up. He talks so much about struggling to “know” and helped me finally figure out that once we stop trying to “know,” once we relinquish this insatiable hunger for answers and resign ourselves to live simply in the ebb and flow of harmony, life feels less daunting; the universe seems kinder.
I know you’re sitting there wondering, what does any of this have to do with harmony? Wasn’t that the entire point of this blog? The answer is yeah, you’re right. I feel like my resolution has totally taken over every aspect of my life journey. It is constant work. We don’t just wake up and feel all the good things all day every day, life unfortunately isn’t like that. It’s easy to get down about it being and feeling like a constant uphill climb, and it can be if we perceive life that way. Harmony, I’m learning, is this incredible yin and yang. Effort and ease. Balance and imbalance. It’s the marrying of voices of all kinds to create a beautiful sound. We have the power create that sound within ourselves and within others. We have the power to manifest happiness and harmony, to expand and share it and be in gentle union with not only others, but the world.
Take a moment today to observe the harmonies, or disharmony, in your life and ask yourself: how can I supper and celebrate this feeling? how can I find it? what changes do I need to make RIGHT NOW that will bring me ease and ultimately joy? Five minutes is all you need, and it is totally worth it. I promise.
For those of you exploring harmony on the mat, check this article: Finding Balance Between Effort and Ease
Here’s a song:
I have avoided writing of any kind for so long, it’s turned to spring and I haven’t written not the first thing about anything. I got my degree then totally dropped the ball on my favorite past-time…and now it feels nearly impossible to do. I have bits and pieces of short stories for a “swamp thing” and the framework for a children’s book. I’ve got a running list of novels to write before I die and what am I doing? Netflix and chill. And sleep. And work. And everything I could possibly think of doing OTHER than writing. I have never been in this predicament before. Normally, the writer’s block I experience lasts for a few blinks of the cursor or until I can fill my coffee cup up again. But now? It’s months without a peep and I think about it all day every day.
Why am I just thinking about it? Why can’t I actually get off the block and in to the chair to write? This is the most uncomfortable place for me! Is it because I was in the collegiate swing for eleven years and now have to make myself write things? Is it because I was in the collegiate swing for eleven years and made myself tired of the endless, mindless research of topics I was only halfway interested in? What gives? Who else experiences this? This is by far the longest dry spell on a writer’s block that I’ve ever experienced and I really don’t want to sit here anymore. But I wonder…how do I get up?
I suppose I have avoided this chair long enough. Not sure why my move to New Orleans has provided such writer’s block (am I willing to take ownership of this?), but it has and I am nervously hopeful that the imbalance has shifted.
I won’t dilly-dally with what I’m here for — I feel like lamenting is less entertaining than it once was to me; a feeling I suppose is due to the sadness in the news, it seems to keep us from spending too much time on our own comparative trivial pursuits. This is a story I wrote for an invited submission, but was not selected for; a story that didn’t make it. I could go on about the bout of disappointment I faced, but that doesn’t really serve a purpose. I will say, though I was sad when I figured out my work hadn’t been chosen, I was considerably less sad when I realized that meant I’d get to spend more time with Evalynda Cane. Her character came to me in bits, and when I was done with “Arbres Gelés”I found myself a few words over the allotted word count and very upset that I didn’t have the time to know more about her.
Of course, that all changed. Writing is sort of amazing in that way….we can change the narrative whenever we want. (Wait, is that life too?!) I am repeatedly convinced that each closed-door is an opportunity knockin’, y’all. I have sat for months in observation of life in Louisiana, reading short southern stories here and there for inspiration, listening to people talk about what food their family makes for this or that occasion; I have vividly imagined myself gliding over the swamp in a small pirogue, in search of something and nothing. I have dug in the tiniest crevices of my mind to find the right way to tell Stories from Bayou Cane and The Lost Pine Girl (working title.) Evalynda is my vessel for this endeavor, and I’m excited to share her with y’all today.
I have absolutely no idea where this story will land in the collection of shorts, but I at least wanted to share a bite of what I’ve been working on.
This is the FULL version, published for the first time, of “Arbres Gelés”. Please enjoy.
“Arbres Gelés” (Frozen Trees)
Evalynda Cane was busy filling her pirogue with things she would need for a day on the water when a cool gust surprised her and chilled her to the bone. “Get outta here old woman, mean ol ting,” she mumbled, mentally locating her Orisha beads, “just in case she come.” It was dead of August, a time when very often little rain makes its way to the musty Louisiana swamps, let alone cool weather. Thick fog had spread itself through the mossy limbs, wedged its heaviness between the cracks of the floating homes on Bayou Cane. Evalynda peered at the steam billowing off of her cup of hot coffee and was soon unable to differentiate where that ended and cool fog began. “Bette fine that knit too,” referring to her Granmè Bertilde’s shawl.
Granmè had left her “Evie” everything she owned in the world: the house, the pirogue, that old dog, what clothes hung in the closet, what food was left in the icebox. There was a car, but that drowned one day during a hurricane. Evie clung to these possessions, unable to shake the feeling of Bertilde’s touch that lingered in the house. Unable to accept the death of her Granmè, Evie set up her body in the guest room, the one that faced the bayou, oiled her down real good and used good wrap on her; a weekly ritual now, and she looked decent considering a year had passed, not too watery yet. She burned sage and other herbs in prayer over her every day, never feeling peace or freedom from the grip of grief. She prayed old prayers from the worn book on the nightstand; it had been handed down, written, and rewritten by all the women in the Cane family. Granmè Bertilde, who did most of the rearing, taught her to speak and sing the lines in the book to perfection, but never told her what they meant. Chants lifted up so loudly the house would rattle and the wind would whip. Evie spent days and months in prayer and song after she passed, in hopes it would stir Granmè’s soul and breathe life back to her body. That was the old way and that was all she knew. “Every day I see you die, Bertilde. Why’d’ya show me these tings?” Evie often spoken aloud in her home, expecting an eventual response from her grandmother.
Mighty strange things began to happen the day Granmè died, none of which Evie could reason or explain. During the days of mourning, cypress knees shook loose, floated up from their ancient roots and turned to amber mush in the hand. Soft, white rain fell from the sky and piled up on the marsh, cooling the land like winter. That was just the first month or two. Eventually, hunters found gators floating belly up, full of, “unspeakable dead things.” Next was what felt like a plague of coiled rattlers, dead and dried in patches of burnt swamp. Six months after Granmè’s passing, egrets lined the edge of the porch, silent and still for hours, gawking at her window; the next day, a large, white gator disjointed and bound by sticky spider webs lay in the pirogue. All these things, stirred by the passing of Bertilde Cane.
Evie let the gator rot in the front yard as a sign to the spirits that seemed to be testing her. She’d read about that in the bedside book too.
What few neighbors, the ones that had always passed by with stale biscuits, thick cut bacon, and molasses to share stopped coming; the smell of the house was off-putting, what with the body and the gator and all of the other dead, even to the occasional suitor vying for Evie. Yep, those men stopped coming down too. No-one came to this corner of this swamp no more.
The cool of the present morning was unsettling to Evie but she carried on anyway. Food supply was low and she needed a small gator or gar. This task felt like a breeze to her by now after years of practice, the familiar voice of Granmè whispering how to catch and kill the gator, skin it right then cook and eat every part so, “nothing go to waste and dat dress stay on ya hip.” Evie made the rice days ago, the roux the night before, and could taste the gumbo on her tongue already. “Some shrimp sho’ would be good, Poboy, I know.” Poboy hadn’t always been the dog’s name, but Evie had trouble pronouncing some of the old Creole words and settled on a food she’d tried once, a gift from a white woman who came to Granmè for blessings. Poboy normally joined Evie on these outings, but today he refused to get off the porch. “Ol lazy ass dog, when you get so ol? Bon rien!” she hollered at him as she pushed off in her boat, laughing at his droopy eyes. “His tail tucked tight, why though?” she thought, sucking misplaced cold through her teeth.
As she floated further away, Evie paused to drink it in. “A house all my own,” she thought, smirking. Breeze caressed her collar-bone and she imagined the icy chill of Granmè Bertilde’s hand floating down her back as she braided her long hair, like so many times in her life. “But never alone.” She smiled at the thought, sunlight bursting through the fog, illuminating her house, causing tears to well and burn her eyes. “She wit me now, I feel it,” she said to the trees around her, “she always wit me.”
Evie wound her way through the familiar route, searching for a gator, deeper and deeper than she’d ever been before, and for what felt like dizzying hours. Her stomach rumbled and she knew it was far past supper time. “I guess we callin’ it,” she said to the trees, feeling defeated. “You think I know how to do dis by nah. Dis may be the day she get me.” Evie dipped her paddle down to push off a cypress knee and it snapped like a twig, instantly dissolving before her eyes, leaving her stranded with nothing to push her but the wind. “Wind, is you listenin’? Get me back t’m’house!” she murmured to the now bending, tangled looking trees. Evie took these trips silently, only whispering to the trees and animals she would encounter, as to not disturb the spirits sleeping around her. Her family always believed the swamp was full of spirits and things that could clamp their teeth around your soul and never let loose.
“WIND DO YOU HEAR ME?” she screamed, and with it, the whole swamp grew silent; empty as Evie’s mind the day Granmè died. A frightening cold gust blew past her, drawing Evie board-straight with pure fear, a world instantly frozen. A crisp snapping and cracking ripped through the swamp, an eachoing sound she would never forget. The rip of it would ring in Evie’s ears for the rest of her life, lost and wandering in a foreign arctic, barefoot and dragging her empty pirogue behind her.
Some say you can still see Evalynda Cane walking through the swamp, hungry and tired. They tell her eyes have been hollowed out from weeping and that old dog, Poboy, follows behind her. They say his poor body looks chewed up and that a big white gator walks on its hind feet behind them, snapping ever so often at Evalynda’s heels. “She put a cunja on dat whole place, Bertilde did,” says Renee Desplat. Desplat, among other brave women, have gone looking for what is now known to be the Cane Sisters Book of Song, and claim to have spoken to Evie’s spirit as they floated through what is now referred to as the Arbres Gelés. Desplat says that Evie “wept for Granmè Bertilde’s body, that is wayward in the afterlife without liberation.” Others say she sings about a day that will come, “when the winds will rip up the water and dry out the land; when the trees will become bare and the whole swamp will become pointed like daggers, crossing closer to the sun and colder somehow, like mountains.” That’s what they say.
“I wait for dis day,” Evie whispers to the trees and those that are listening. “Though it never come, and now, she’s always beside me.”
……more to come. thanks for reading!