Tuesday, November 30, 2004

a coffeehouse on carroll

She sat silently in a coffeehouse on Carroll Street. Contemplating. After yoga. Before a second cup of tea. Why did she always write about sadness? And why was “write” such a seemingly important word? The answers (if they existed) did not care to show, to whisper promises of a deeper, more restful sleep.

So, she just sat there. Thinking. And trying not to think.

Wondering instead about the boy who had most recently professed his love. And the boy who she was desperately longing for. And why neither boy was the girl of her dreams.

Even though she knew none of it mattered anyway.

That the ten thousand things are as they are and ever will be. Rising and falling and rising again. And all that was left was to watch their return.

And to mark the time by writing on sadness, which, she long ago realized, wasn’t so horrible, so scary after all. Sadness was simply the most beautiful, indescribably wonderful thing she could conceive of. It was intense and alive and awake. And real. And every person ever born could understand. Could relate. Could feel.

And so she wrote about sad things. Not because they made her sad, but because they were beautiful. And they made her exist—and (she hoped) made others exist also.

And that, she thought, is what it means when we say Together.


And then she finished her second cup of tea and biked home.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

writing on summertime in cairo

Days spent hiding inside, shunning the sun’s intense rays and sitting on my bed stripped down to my underwear—even that clings to my damp body, oblivious to the weak breeze drifting from my old, rattling fan. I write and read and let my mind wander while listening to heartthrob Amr Diab. I slip off to sleep and wait for sundown.

As the sun declines, the city awakens. I emerge from my apartment building and take deep swallows of the night air with relief. The breeze is slight yet brings much comfort. The city stretches out before me—lights and people and music and walking along the Nile, sharing words and tea and laughter in the darkness—swallowing it in big gulps spaced by little sips, savoring each taste and lingering until the black sky begins to recede.

“Yeah, um, great. I guess,” Trace managed, after scanning Elsie's first two paragraphs. “But, well, can underwear really be oblivious?”

“I guess not, if you put it that way,” Elsie conceded, “so close together and all.”

“And I mean, really, El, you could lose at least one or two of those been-written-a-gazillion-times phrases. I mean, come on—the sun’s intense rays, the city awakening and stretching and all that. I mean, I’m not saying it’s bad exactly. I’m just saying you could probably do better.”

Elsie was getting a strange feeling in her stomach—the result of fuul sandwiches and Stella local chased too closely by a nervous, defensive tightening. She knew Trace was right. Actually, she had become painfully aware of the very same flaws, though not until the instant when the draft was passing from her hands to his, when grabbing it back for a quick rewrite seemed somewhat uncalled for. But the truth of it was, she wouldn’t have known how to rewrite it anyway.

“I mean, it’s not supposed to be a fucking seminal work, Trace. It’s for a two-bit travel mag for fuck’s sake. The editor will most likely chop it to bits anyway.”

“Yeah, well, I’m just saying. I think you could do better. I mean, El, ‘big gulps spaced by little sips’? What the hell does that mean? It sounds like you’re describing a wine tasting at a 7-11 for chrissake.”

Elsie laughed at the image, sighed, and took a red pen from her knapsack. Grabbing the draft and crossing through the last line, she willed her stomach to unclench and asked for a second Stella.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

tamene, bahir dar

My first afternoon with Tamene is lost—or perhaps found—in a rush of bike-riding around Bahir Dar. Perched precariously atop a wobbly seat, my tennis shoes barely grazing the pedals, I follow Tamene’s lead as he weaves through people and cars on wide, palm-lined avenues and dusty back streets.

We make our way out of town and veer off onto an unpaved road leading toward a cluster of small cement buildings. We enter one, the home of two of Tamene’s friends, where five or six young men sit circling a small, low table. Greetings and introductions exchanged, we ease our way into a weekend afternoon of chat-chewing and card-playing. Making plans to meet up later rather than linger long with our hosts, we soon ease our way out again and head toward the small room where Tamene lives several dirt paths away.

Side by side on the thin mattress that rests upon his floor, we talk about families and lovers and futures. He speaks of the beautiful girl whose portrait gazes down from the far wall—the girlfriend who he had hoped to marry, now living another life in another world. Finding passage to America by way of “false marriage,” she passes her days in Alexandria, Virginia. I find the place name eerily and unsettlingly familiar as I sit here with this man for whom it its a mere abstraction—a return address on the last letter from the girl who was once here by his side.

Monday, November 15, 2004


“Just wondering whether you are ‘attached’ (in the so-called Significant Other sense of the word). And, if not, whether you are open to possibilities.”

Tess typed out the email on a Sunday, wavered for five seconds, and forced herself to hit “send.”

Then, as an afterthought, she followed with another:

“Oh, and to allay any fears, I’m not some random stalker. Just someone who’s curious, interested, and interminably shy.”

Telling herself that life is short and then it’s over and all manner of such true but too easily said and easily forgotten clichés, she nonetheless broke out in a cold sweat at the mortifying thought of being found out. Of the special, super-secret email address being traced back to her. Of being exposed as the silly girl she supposed she was.


As the years passed, Christmas at her mother’s became more regimented, coordinated, sanitized. The holiday bulbs came to match the placemats. By Tessa’s twenty-first year, the chaotic beauty of mismatched decorations and homemade Santa drawings had pretty much gone the way of her legions of stuffed animals—packed away and pushed away, banished to cardboard boxes labeled with black magic marker and stacked in the cellar corner. Arriving home from college that December, she found a perfectly straight, perfectly symmetrical plastic tree decked in carefully placed, color-coordinated ornaments—chosen to bring out the pale blue strands crisscrossing the living room rug.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

mother and child, bangkok (d.leigh, '03)

Friday, November 05, 2004


“The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attractions of an inner voice, but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with his own heart. . . . And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he really is a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or a religious order or even a nation. The world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.”

Thomas Merton

coffee and camels

Her sister Abby makes her way down the stairs at a quarter til noon, stumbling into the still dark kitchen, fumbling with the coffee maker, reaching for her carton of Camels. A familiar resentment coils around Dori’s insides, squeezing, tightening. She breathes, tries to focus, struggles to attend to the bare experience of it all, physically, emotionally. Trying to understand why such resentment and rage are there at all, why she feels so threatened—violated. Why her space, her solitude must be so carefully maintained, guarded, defended. Why anything, even the smallest thing, always feels like such an intrusion, a danger.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

omg wtf gwb (part 2)

what if he actually wins.