Thoughts of life and death

Piece from my journal that I wrote hastily

This morning I was reading bell hooks / James Baldwin and thought about making the best of one’s life along with my experiences in hospice. It’s a shame that I can’t say names, but you know – healthcare has its rules and whatnot. I’ve had five or so patients, and none of them afflicted me as much as this one did. I’ve thought about what hospice has done for me, and how it’s affected my views on radical acts of kindness along with re-defining what love and vulnerability could do for ourselves. We only get one opportunity at living, and I’d rather spend it being kind and generous as opposed to hateful and self-serving. This is the letter I wish I could write:

We’d ruminate the meaning of life together thinking about love, life, travels, and your career. We’d talk about your experience falling in love, your travels all over the world, and your endlessly fascinating career, building homes, taking photos, designing buildings and creating happiness for other people.

When I spoke to you about queer identity, books, literature, and symbolism - you’d be absolutely enamored. You’d ask millions of questions, digging deeper and deeper into my soul. My favorite moments would be sitting there with my legs crossed, staring out your window, and feeling the warm sun lay herself on my legs. I would gaze around your colorful room and see the dusty books, classical portraits, the bronze statues, and then you, you beautiful, courageous, and smiling bastard, staring right at me. Those were some of the longest silences I’d ever felt. I was afraid that something was wrong, but we’d start the conversation back up as if nothing happened. In those conversations it felt as if we were two dancers suspended in a dimension outside of time, hanging on by the thin threads of our intimate and vulnerable connection to one another, happily spinning around each other conversing about the many multitudes of life.

You were the only one I knew who actually took the pill. You took the leap of faith into the unknown. I remember when you stared at me with your eyes wide and said, “I’ve lived a good life, and I won’t let cancer kick the bucket. If I go, I go on my own terms.” I remember not knowing what to say. I remember feeling guilty about it. I remember wanting to hold you and not letting you go, to squeeze you until we’d finally become one. The truth is, I should’ve just said I was uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say. I mean people don’t take the pill often – to choose to end your own life is an act of defiance. It’s analogous to sticking a middle finger at death and ringing life into your own hands. Looking back I should’ve broken myself up more to allow you to peek into my interior. I should’ve told you how scared I was for you and that even if I like to fantasize about intellectual thoughts, my care for you will trump that. I think about this memory often, not with a feeling of regret, but with a feeling of opportunity. I’ve come to learn that every time I’m uncomfortable, it’s an opportunity for me to break down walls and suspend time again, to allow room for my honest self and for deeper connection.

People say that love is like romance – to which I protest, romance is more like love. Love is overarching and encompasses all of our actions. We demonstrate love every day in small behaviors, eyes curving upwards in laughter, soft smiles in respect to generosity, and embracing empathy in the most frustrating situations. It is in these simple steps that we learn to become more generous, to open up our hearts more, and to accept vulnerability as our first choice. In this piece I’ve presented a different mode of thinking, one in which people lay themselves bare, risking their vulnerabilities, and practicing kindness and generosity towards one another. A mode where we admit our faults and struggles, allowing ourselves to suspend time to allow room for discomfort. I’ve learned that it’s in these uncomfortable moments where we sacrifice our exterior that we learn to embrace the open universe of love.

Notes from bell hooks in times of confusion

2020 has been a year of confusion. From relationships, friendships, and family – we’ve all witnessed some friction within all those categories. As always, I’ve appreciated solitude; however this isn’t a time of solitude. This has been a time of frenzy, watching our futures hang in uncertainty as we idly watch others die left and right. When there are times of confusion, I go back to my books. I joke with my friend that if it weren’t for literature, I’d probably die. He thought I was joking at first, until he realizing I wasn’t batting my eye. Yikes.

As of recently, I’ve decided to re-read bell hook’s all about love. My current notes on it thus far (apologies for the disorder):

  • “He defines love as ‘the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’“
  • “‘Love is as love does. Love is an act of will-namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.’“
  • “Spiritual practice does not need to be connected to organized religion in order to be meaningful. Some individuals find their sacred connection to life communing with the natural world and engaging in practices that honor life-sustaining ecosystems.”

I’m still working my way through this book, processing it slowly as I find that we poorly define love. Hopefully I’ll be able to reach a conclusion.

Best Books of 2019

Best books of 2019 I’ve read so far:

What started off as a slow year in books picked up momentum in the second half. In an ambitious attempt I tried to decolonize my literature taste, but clearly there still needs to be more work done. I unfortunately have an extreme weakness for French authors, so that’s something that should be sussed out at some point! My current status on Goodreads says I’ve read 42 books this year, I’m still expecting two or three more books to come through — so maybe there will be more added to this list.

  • Swann’s Way I tried Proust at the end of 2018, however about 100 pages into it I gave up. I was frustrated and confused with the plot. Why on Earth does a man choose to spend 100-ish pages talking about sleeping and waking up? What is exactly the importance of a madeleine? This year I set out to try again and it seems like either my focus has improved or my ability to comprehend excessively long sentences has improved. All I can say is this book will change your life. It will awaken you to extreme degrees of sensory. You will understand what it means to look at a flower for days on end becoming enamored with its beauty. Proust’s articulation of psychology, the human mind, and the human heart is profound and oh so dear to my soul! It was a long and arduous month, but I’m so glad I got through it.
  • Madame Bovary “We are all Madame Bovary”. Surely we have all been Madame Bovary at some point, and surely we know someone who is Madame Bovary right now. Flaubert writes poetically about love, the human condition, and mindful existence in his first novel. It’s already crazy to believe that he was able to write a women’s experience this well. Yes there is adultery, yes this is considered “Desperate Housewives” to many (to all who I proudly raise my middle finger!!!), and yes this is everything you could have ever wished for in a novel! The poetic metaphors about romance, language, and betrayal — what more is there to this wild thing we all call life?
  • The Idiot This was a re-read from 2018(?). Recently I was talking to a friend who mentioned that he needed to re-read The Idiot when he read more books. After thinking about that, I decided to try re-reading it since I wanted to see how I would fare. Luckily the book did change! It’s funny how I learned to love some characters more, some less, and even empathize with some parts of the plot! Growth really does happen and I encourage everyone to go back and pick up a past book they enjoyed.
  • The Lonesome Bodybuilder I’m a huge sucker for Japanese surrealism (see Banana Yoshimoto). I find that the writing is usually brief and jarring — straight and to the point and eerily emotional. To that degree, Yukiko spares no words in this short story collection. Each story carries a brilliant feminist undertone and has a lot to tell society about how external bodies / appearances shape one’s emotional and physical experiences in the world.
  • Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love Towards the end of the year, I made a new male friend who has been pivotal in helping me embrace what it means to identify as a male. Together we read this book in our working group and interrogated some of the subjects / topics discussed. We spoke about patriarchy and its pervasiveness within everyday life. How patriarchy attacks society from male, female, and non-binary perspectives. I suggest this book to anyone who is curious about exploring the disease of patriarchy and what its societal implications are. Additionally I heavily recommend bell hooks as required reading for anyone who’s looking to learn more about love, and what it means to love emotionally.
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone This was a needed read for someone like me (and maybe you?!). As someone who’s constantly involved in the mental health space for volunteering, I find myself feeling too self-aware or too cognizant of trying to help myself. I’m constantly side-stepping proven techniques (validation, paraphrasing, or empathizing) to help myself and because of that, I needed to engage with a psychologist who decides to go to therapy to reconcile with herself. I wasn’t too fond of the memoir-ish writing, but I felt Lori did well to articulate what it meant to ask for help even when you think you’re too good for it.

My hopeful goal was 50 books for this year, but unfortunately Proust took up more than I thought. Needless to say I’ve become less concerned with chasing numbers and vain goals. Keep reading folks! I hope you all live hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

“Loneliness is solitude with a problem.”

Currently reading Bluets by Maggie Nelson. It’s okay so far, not really my type of writing because it’s nonlinear and difficult for me to follow. I’m a slow reader so it’s often hard for me to keep up with multiple stories.

However I thought the quote tied really neatly with Rilke’s quote from Letters to a Young Poet.

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”

And Simone de Beauvoir’s quote from The Ethics of Ambiguity:

“A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied.”

I think all of the above quotes represent the importance of independence, solitude, and protecting each other’s right to carve their own world.

Mary Oliver

“Wasn’t your friendship always as beautiful

as a flame?”

Devotions, specifically a quote from For Tom Shaw S.S.J.E (1945-2014) by Mary Oliver

I’m a sucker for poetry and lately I’ve been getting into Mary Oliver who recently passed. Her nature poetry is wonderful, but this one had me torn. Too often we value our romantic relationships, but don’t focus hardly enough on our platonic ones!