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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.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Da Capo

Today my father said to me on the phone, "Maybe we shouldn't have come to America. Maybe you would have been successful if we had stayed in Romania." I couldn't speak for a few seconds; I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. I've known for a while now that my father thinks me a failure because I haven't proven to the world how smart I am and how much money I can make. Why, then, did it hit me so hard? This is not the first time I've heard words to this effect, nor the second, nor the third. Why can't I take this like a man?

In a way, I did. I kept quiet. My father changed the subject and I followed him there in a light, matter-of-fact voice. After I hung up the phone I ate lunch and went back to writing. I scrubbed the stove and picked up the mail. Then I sat down for a moment with nothing to do and my eyes filled with tears. Damn, I said to myself, damn, damn, damn.

My failure is not simply a personal failure. Through me my father and my mother have also failed; they gave up so much to come to America, a lifetime of work and friendships, a beautiful house and a successful business, and I haven't paid them back for all these sacrifices. I believe that I owe them a lot, and I can see now that I'm not willing to pay it back. I'm not willing to go to law school like my father wants, and to have children like my mother wants, to live my life the way the both of them want me to live it. It's not that I'm not able; I'm not willing. This crushes me. But not as much as giving myself up to their ideas of who I am would crush me. I'm just beginning to understand that.

When we came to America I was convinced that I would become what my parents wanted me to become; I believed that I was smart enough and hardworking enough to do it and convinced that what we wanted was the same. I didn't expect to lose this conviction. I didn't expect to be disillusioned about America and what it did to you and for you. I didn't expect that the one thing I was going to learn here was that I counted as an individual and that walking a path by myself, even if my parents disagreed with that path, was dangerous but worthwhile.

There's the house with picket fence and two cars in the garage part of the American dream. But there's another part to that dream and it has to do with how many times you can reinvent yourself. This is a country where you can fail and start over again, where the idea of beginning all over no matter what your age or your past, is more acceptable than in any other place I know of. This is a country where optimism isn't mocked, even cock-eyed optimism. There's greed and corruption and arrogance, but also this mad, mad belief in renewing yourself. And this comforts me.

So if I fail, not only on my parents' terms but also on my own, I can start over. I can go back to school at fifty to study physics, learn Chinese at sixty and how to fly a plane at seventy. I have many gripes with this country, but I'm compelled to admire that, at least in principle, you're not too old to do anything here.


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