19 May 2011

The Tapestry

I've now begun the meat of my travel writing course work for my time here in McLeod. Twice every week I'll write short pieces reflecting on what I've read and experienced so far. I've decided to post these on my blog instead of emailing them to my professor, so what you'll see are rough drafts of creative non-fiction (personal essays) about my time in India. Here is the first installment:

May 18 
There seem to be many aspects of my life intersecting here as I sit in the red bean cafe in McLeod.  The life experiences, thoughts, and experiences of any one person are complex and, I've often thought of my own, incomprehensible.  It is both a battle and a quest to achieve coherence among the countless threads that compose the fabric of our lives.

How is it done? How do I weave my past with my present with my future, my cultural identity with my experiences abroad? I left the passions of childhood when I became a responsible, practical, frugal adult.  It is impractical, when there is so much to be done, to read or write for pleasure, or indeed to pursue anything solely for pleasure.  The dishes must be washed, so it is better to convince yourself that you thoroughly enjoy washing dishes (which I have successfully done). In an attempt to avoid the illusion of the greener grass, I will note that both of my personalities (habits? lifestyles?) I've just described have positive and negative components.  It is ambiguous rather than white and black. However, as any anthologist has learned, there is a finite amount of space in the canon (or time in a day, or paper in a notebook), and we must choose and exclude in filling our days and canons and reflective writing assignments.  It therefore stands to reason that in becoming the practical woman that I am I no longer have room for the passionate child.
I am living in the "strange dualism" that Dr. Burton mentioned in the introduction to travel writing, and it is indeed "a schizophrenia between who-I-am-here and who-I-was-there." It is a matter of both space and time. I, who would never dare spend more than $35 on only the most essential groceries, find myself indulging in Cadbury's chocolate and lemon-ginger-honey tea? I, who would be perfectly content living the rest of my life in Bountiful, Utah, find myself in love with cosmopolitan London and increasingly comfortable with the Tibetan way of life? I see the patterns of my childhood re-emerging--I am spending hours in the red bean cafe, thinking and reading and writing, powerless against the spell of words--but perhaps parts of me are new. Maybe Twain was right that "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness," or maybe the ambiguity of Stephen Schwartz's lyrics are better suited--who can say if I've been changed for the better? But I've certainly been changed for good.

When I was in Delhi my life fell apart. My best friend sent me an email detailing the specific terms for the end of our friendship--no further contact, removal from my email list, no sharing the mission address--and cutting off her support indefinitely. My father and I had a stressful misunderstanding about money to top off an already strained relationship, my financial security for fall semester fell through, my honors thesis proposal was insufficient, my heart missed Bountiful and London and my mind and body united in opposition to all things Delhi. I sent some teary emails to my parents and many prayers heavenward, since God was my sole remaining anchor to the person I had been and the life I had lived.

My mother replied with an anonymous but much celebrated poem about God weaving the beautiful tapestries of our lives. The dark threads--sorrows burdens challenges--are just as important in the final design as the gold and silver.

The tapestry metaphor may now serve a dual purpose: first as inspiration for a gift to bring to my mother (Tibetan wall hangings are beautiful!) and second, perhaps a theme for my field study experience in McLeod Ganj, India. The threads might be old, like the remnants of my childhood love for reading or long suppressed emotions, or new, like the relationships with my host family and group. They might be beautiful, like hiking in the Himalayas and the Calla lilies growing around the Upper Tibetan Children's Village school, or ugly, like the smells of squatters or the missing and matted fur of a stray dog. They will be both joyful, like making friends with Su Nam, and sad, like seeing beggars. In the end I hope to have added a beautiful layer to the tapestry of my life.


  1. I appreciate your candid post. Writing your honest feelings is a way to "put all the puzzle pieces on the table right side up and put them all together to see the big picture", a metaphor your sister Michelle taught me last night. Thanks for sharing your vision with me. It is a complex picture that I see, and oh so beautiful!

  2. You are amazing! I love to read about your thoughts and how things are going. Thanks for making being an Aunt such a marvelous experience. Now that you are an Aunt I think you have a small idea of how I feel about you.
    Aunt Sandy

  3. Ah, the anonymous comment! Thank you, person who knows me and my family, for your comment :)

    Hi Sandy, I'm glad you like the post! Also, I am glad you're my aunt! You're the best (and I've received all sorts of compliments on those clothes you made for me--thanks so much!)