Sunday, October 31, 2004

traveling north

The road becomes dustier and dustier with no stopping point in sight, and I wrap my scarf around my face in an effort to keep at least some of the largest particles from entering my lungs. On and on we travel through the dust and darkness—though Adana had assured me that no one travels this road after dark. Through my window I can make out the shadowy outlines of young children standing along the roadside and holding up glass bottles of areki (locally distilled grain spirits) in the hope that passers-by will pull over long enough to purchase a shot or two. With the road so rough and the ride so perilous even when the sun is shining and drivers sober, I hope that no vehicle headed in the opposite direction has slowed long enough for a drink.

Friday, October 22, 2004


Margaret was some unexpected cross between bad-ass and bubbly. With too little time—and quite possibly intellect—for soft murmurs and subtleties, she plunged full-force into fights and friendships and sex, leaving no space for quiet questioning or complexity. Jessie actually liked that at first, since it took little work or guessing on her own part. She could just sit back and let Margaret forge ahead, boldly defining their relationship, planning their evenings, doing most of the talking in loud social spaces where Jessie felt awkward and nervous and infinitely boring.

Monday, October 18, 2004

monk and pigeons in park, bangkok (d.leigh, '03)

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Growing up, in his parents’ first house, Toby’s favorite spot was on the fireplace hearth during the winter or late fall. He’d sit there for hours, drawing in the warmth, watching the flames consume heavy pine logs. Slowly, patiently.

The second house too has a fireplace—the kind that lights by the flip of a switch dead-smack in the center of the living room wall. “Just how,” his grandpa was fond of asking, “Are you supposed to hang pictures around that?” Toby usually just shrugged, staring moodily at the blue flames of the pilot light barely visible beneath ceramic-fiber logs. Artistically arranged and fixed permanently in place.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


sleeping, hoi an, vietnam (d.leigh, '03)

Sunday, October 10, 2004


It wasn’t just the places he yearned for, but also their absence. That hollow ache that arises when someone, somewhere is left behind, abandoned. The emptiness. The longing. The haunting that, when studied too closely, regarded too freely, gives way to searing, exquisite pain.

For he long ago realized that yearning, pain, sorrow, these are not so separate from beauty, from joy. From being alive and awake and connected. From fending off the numbness that comes from too much comfort, too much control.

So he wanders through and moves on—sometimes to return, sometimes not. And he opens, awakens, to the haunting, the torture, the beauty that he carries forth.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

nha trang

nha trang, vietnam (d.leigh, '03)

Thursday, October 07, 2004


The first time Maxine touched her, kissed her, drew her near, Jessie couldn’t stop herself from shaking. Horrified at the lack of control, the complete disconnect between mind and body, she willed her hands and arms to be silent, still. Pleaded with them to return Maxine’s caresses with strong, steady passion. To please, please, for god’s sake stop that helpless, hopeless, pathetic shaking.

“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Maxine assured her later, with a gentle, teasing giggle. “Lots of people shake a little their first time.” But Jessie figured that Maxine most likely hadn’t—that Maxine had somehow been comfortable and sexy and smooth from her first time onward, had simply glided from admirer to admirer, petting them, soothing them, making them feel that it was all too good, too unreal, to be true. And after three weeks of dating—just when Jessie had dared hope that it actually could and would last—Maxine had nonchalantly, gently, set her back down where she first found her. Placed her back on the cushion on the edge of her condo couch and told her that she’d met someone—an artist who was older, interesting, Latina. Jessie had stared straight ahead, suddenly developing a keen fascination with the Frida Kahlo print hanging on the opposite wall. And as Maxine spoke calmly, carefully, about how they could still be friends, Jessie studied Frida’s sexy mustache and the deranged monkey leering in the background. And then she said of course she understood and returned a brief hug and went home to cry.

Now, as she sat across the table from Paul in Lambda Café finishing off a late-night Tuesday dinner, she found herself longing for the humiliating, debilitating shaking, the euphoric disbelief, the wrenching hurt and loss. Instead, she sat numb, distracted, far removed from feeling much of anything at all. Scraping the last bit of cold linguini off her plate and tracing her fork back and forth through the remaining sauce, she let her words carry on some colorless conversation without her. Let them fill up space as expected and required while she herself slipped further inward.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


Ellie’s hair was mouse brown and on the stringy, lanky side of things—except for the Year of the Perm. That year, after Kellyn showed up late for Little League with those perfect spirals, Ellie had spent the next month desperately pleading her parents for a trip to the salon. The eventual outcome, performed in the basement of her mom’s friend Anne, was a poofy mound of pure frizz. Any hint of spiral was smothered under a thick, dense mass fuzzing and fraying in every direction. Ellie tried to brush off (and brush out) the catastrophe—tried to immerse herself in the coolness of “The Perm” and nonchalantly shrug off the results. But her mom saw Miss Anne’s creation and cried.

It wasn’t that Ellie had anything against Miss Anne. She had been the one, after all, who consented to trim Ellie’s locks the time—well, times—that they were crawling with lice. Scratching and clawing her scalp, Ellie had imagined entire communities and colonies taking root, a burgeoning civilization working, producing, reproducing—impervious to her digging fingernails. The lice themselves, of course, were too tiny to be very much affected or particularly bothered by Ellie’s efforts to wreck havoc on their world. Their presence nearly invisible except for the telltale eggs, they simply carried on, growing, breeding, dying—making way for newer, bigger, better generations. Ultimately, outside intervention and chemical warfare were the only real options. Each louse had to be picked away with a fine-toothed comb after a drenching in the toxic, burning Lice-B-Gone. And of course, Lice-B-Gone had to be purchased over-the-counter in their small town pharmacy. And, in small town pharmacies, well, people talk.

Monday, October 04, 2004


shoeless, grand palace, bangkok (d.leigh, '03)

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Paige’s mom sometimes shared stories about her eldest daughter’s toddler days, about how Paige would line up all of her toys in a row—a long, orderly line with each wooden block and Weeble Wobble and black plastic baby doll shoe in its own particular and proper place. About how, when one would end up slightly askew (as it inevitably would), Paige would wail with frustration and horror and pain. The disruption of order, of control, of her carefully constructed world was inadmissible, disastrous.

Later, when Paige was trapped in that shifting, scary maze that twists and turns between ages five and twelve, she slept on her bedroom floor. The carpet was so welcoming, the floor so grounded, so solid. She would place a large, loud fan—one of the old metal ones with a square, dust-covered grate—inches from her pillow, allowing it to blow full force against her face. Bound tightly in her blankets, she immersed herself in fantastic adventures—all the while struggling to hold in warmth, to create a safe, protected space, a refuge from whatever cold and evil forces happened to be prowling, pursuing on the outside. But this blustery cold, these pursuers, they were her conscious creations, held captive in a realm she controlled. In this imaginary world, good and evil were of her making. They were easily named and understood and put in their places. It wasn’t like the world outside—out there. In that world, nightfall meant angry voices, uncertainty, battle.

Friday, October 01, 2004

hi, tan.

haircut, hoi an, vietnam (d.leigh, '03)

addis. day one.

The day of her arrival in Addis Ababa is a blur, stretching further than an accounting by mere hours would seem to allow: a morning taxi ride from Bole airport made all the more surreal by jet lag and lack of sleep; faces and donkeys and exhaust fumes mingling amidst tin-roofed shacks and condom ads; a room in Taitu Hotel offering a sense of relief (perhaps in apologetic compensation for the subtle yet persistent smell of sewage drifting from the communal toilet one door down); fending off propositions from would-be guides, only to accept one from Adana, a man from Gondar whose charm seems more genuine than predatory and whose English was honed during years of refuge in Kenya. He wins her over during a lunch of injera and bayanitu shared under a tented enclosure, and she agrees to an afternoon jaunt to the top of Entoto Mountain—a destination reached first by crowded, chaotic minibus and then on foot.

They make their ascent beneath the intense rays of the afternoon sun, passing clusters of mountainside huts huddled amongst eucalyptus trees. Their passers-by are many: female firewood carriers whose hunched backs support bundles of sticks weighing many times their own weight; girls bearing clay water jugs half the size of their thin bodies; a man draped in a woolen green cloak, his legs black sticks moving with a steady, un-breaking pace—all making the same labored trek but perhaps for the thousandth time rather than the first and out of a resignation just to do what needs to be done rather than out of a search for recreation and adventure.

Filtering the people around her through a Western gaze, the presence of tremendous burden seems inescapable. Men, women, and children carry loads that appear much heavier than their physical frames can bear. And yet the bearers of these burdens—whether those whose young frames are far more limber than her own or those whose aged bodies are bent and molded by lifetimes of weighted journeys—move as if in a perpetual state of disconnect. This “disconnect” is not a detachment from burden but, rather, from struggle and resistance. Indeed, an awareness of burden—both physical and nonphysical—is simply assumed and seemingly unquestioned. It is only the struggle against it that is markedly absent.

And as she habitually and disappointingly returns to the familiar questions—Where do “I” sit and what do “I” see in the midst of all this?—the grave disappointment comes in realizing that “this” for her is but a dream, an unreality (or, rather, someone else’s reality but definitely not her own). She is free to revel in the richness and beauty and intensity of all that surrounds her despite the fact—or perhaps because—it is not her own. She is but a transient, wayward watcher filtering and processing and imagining and constructing the realities of others. And thus she has traveled halfway around the world only to discover that the weighted comfort of her own life—a routinized comfort that she is ever-restless yet ever-resistant to escape—still rests upon her shoulders.