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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Friday, June 16, 2006


In my family we gather around our quarrels as around a hearth. We feel a sense of intimacy and connectedness when we sit in a circle talking at each other's burning faces and rubbing our hands together close to the heat of the words.

It started when we moved to America. It is impossible to imagine the sense of isolation you feel when you move to a foreign country. A lifetime of relationships and knowledge about how things work is wiped away in the course of twenty-four hours. Everything is different in the new country: the weather, grocery stores, applying for a job, having the electricity turned on where you live. But the most shocking -- and exhilarating -- thing of all is that the members of the family who speak the language of the foreign country acquire overnight the status of adults even though they may still be children or teenagers. For the first time they know something their parents don't know, and the parents acknowledge that. It is what you always dream of as a child: to be taken seriously, to be treated as your parents' equal.

My sister and I became adults in that sense as soon as my family moved here. We were the ones who phoned the gas and power company to open accounts; we translated for our parents at the DMV office and tried to puzzle out apartment rental contracts; we filled out application forms for our parents to get into ESL classes and helped them with their homework. We were also dragged into our parents' arguments -- about money, the difficulty of getting jobs, the car that we had and was always on the verge of breaking down, and about the reasons we moved to America in the first place. My mother blamed my father for being greedy for dollars; my father said that my mother never cared about making progress. My sister ate ice cream sullenly straight from the carton. And I tried, arrogant fool, to decide who was right and who wrong.

The first apartment we rented in America had a balcony whose floor my mom covered with rectangular carpet samples bought from Home Depot for a quarter or so each. We sat out there, my parents on chairs (my mom smoking, my dad trying to quit) and my sister and I on the floor. We argued and argued, and shouted, and said things we shouldn't have, and wept, and then scurried off to some corner to lick our wounds.

I think about those times now because my family is going through another crisis and again we have slipped into the habit of discussing to death what should be done. We talk and talk although we have no reason to believe that we can understand or change one another. We talk not in order to find out what the others really think, but to convince them that what I -- whoever that "I" may be at any given moment -- think is right. And we do this with the best of intentions. We sincerely want the others to be happy; we want to make them happy. None of us is able to accept that we have different ideas of what it means and what it takes to be happy. None of us wants to face up to the truth that we can't make anyone happy. It comforts us to believe that we can. It comforts us to keep that belief alive by arguing with each other, because when you argue so passionately you can delude yourself into thinking that your passion is love and that it can move another person to change even against that person's will.

I try very hard to summon up the courage to break this cycle, to tell my parents that I don't want to talk about our problems any more. That I don't believe they are ours, collectively. That I don't want to measure my love for them and theirs for me by how freely and vehemently we can discuss the difficulties they have with their marriage, or the careers my sister and I should or should not choose. For a while, until we figure out on what other terms connection and intimacy is possible, we will be left with nothing, with silence. That scares me no end. But it also gives me hope.


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