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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, February 22, 2007


When I was in kindergarten I used to hide under my teacher's chair. It was covered in pale blue and red cloth stitched with white ponies; the cloth draped over the chair's legs, so that the bottom part of it was like a tent. I ran off to this hiding place whenever my teacher had her back turned, taking nothing with me, not even the tiniest toy. I crouched there in the dusty light and sniffed at the front of my polyester uniform that always had stains of soup and tea and hot cocoa on it. This for me is a memory of perfect happiness. I don't recall disliking the other children in my class, or being afraid of the teacher, just that I wanted to be alone and away from noise. Quiet is still important to me; it's fuel for my brain. And I don't mean just the quiet that is the absence of noise or of spoken words, but the absence of thought altogether. I resisted acknowledging this for a long time; what is the absence of thought but the absence of intelligence? I hated Krishnamurti and argued vehemently with the friend who recommended that I read his work. Meditation, I said, is nothing but settling for being stupid for twenty minutes a day.

I was very pleased with the cleverness of this statement and didn't budge from this position until after I married and began to know my husband better and better. He is someone for whom silence and isolation are even more important than they are for me. He dislikes talking; for the first few months after we met we had conversations almost exclusively by e-mail. He sent me the most thoughtful and intriguing and intellectually stimulating e-mails I've ever received. He got me interested in physics and anthropology and computer science and re-whetted my appetite for philosophy. Here was someone who thought -- profoundly, carefully, thoroughly. This is the main reason I wanted to spend my life with him: I loved talking to him.

Except what we did by e-mail wasn't talking, really; we didn't exchange sentences in real time, didn't react immediately to one another's words and interrupt each other and perform all that heady, electric give-and-take that is part of a spoken conversation. My husband is unwilling (though able) to participate in this give-and-take and downright suspicious of it. Sometimes, after we have a particularly heated talk -- and by this I don't mean a fight but an argument whose implications interest us intellectually -- he says he feels tempted to tell me disregard everything he just said because he feels he hasn't thought it through carefully enough, hasn't spent enough time figuring out if the words he has said actually mean what he wanted to say. Spoken conversations happen way too fast, he says, for them to carry you to a conclusion that is valuable and whose solidity you can trust. Language is too ambiguous a medium to express ideas in during a thirty-minute talk while you're driving to your parents' house for Sunday dinner.

I admire his scrupulousness. But I also question his assumption that ideas are separate from language, that they can pass through words like water through pipes, that thoughts wear language like a coat, one that doesn't fit more often than it does. I wouldn't be able to come here and write if I didn't believe that the coat can shape the body it's wrapped around. But I find my husband's frustration with language enormously useful. Because of it he constantly presses me during our conversations (which I initiate and keep going sometimes despite his evident discomfort) to explain what I mean by this or that word I'm using; his questions force me to separate what I think I know from what I actually know, and enable me to change my mind in a way that exhilarates rather than embarasses me. I tell him so, and he smiles in a shy and somewhat distrusting way and says, "Oh, well, I guess that's good." It is good. It is the best that anyone has done for my mental life.

I've come to think of his need for silence and for time to think as another form of meditation, one that doesn't involve grinding your thoughts to a halt but sitting with them patiently for a while and letting them move about in their subtle ways, between and under and around words, sometimes into them. And that is what meditation really is. Not emptiness, not stupidity, not blindness. I like to think of meditation as a kind of composting because it's uncomfortable and messy but extraordinarily fertile. Its messiness reassures me, in a way. It means that even I, with all my limitations, can do it.

I can't explain how these photographs fit in with this post but they do. I discovered the work of photographer Guy Gagnon ( in LensWork magazine. I will allow myself to be callow for a moment and say that I didn't know photography could do this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to read :) Thank for the comment. Big hello from Guy Gagnon, Brussels. Your blog is beautiful.

March 04, 2007  

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