A Punjabi story #2

The poster announcing Kanishka.
TODAY, I’m writing to share a bit of good news about a book of Kismuth’s. I mentioned about it earlier, in this post, but I’d like to expand a bit now.

I wanted to tell you more about the writing and sharing of Kanishka, the pre-quel to The Elopement.

SERIAL. Kanishka‘s first chapter, ‘Orange Juice’, appeared this month in print in the magazine Preet Lari. That was the magazine that hosted me when I was researching the book, as they have a cool co-living program in a village outside of Amritsar. Preet Lari, I understand, will publish all of Kanishka as a serial, monthly. I understand that this usually 100% Punjabi-language magazine has never published anything in English, yet, but has been dancing around with the idea. For a while. They are generations old.

I know from firsthand conversations with my dear friend and editor PS that this was a huge, huge step. And it’s Kanishka. Mesmerizing, to me, because I am floored to think that people in that region of the world who, for thirty years, have also been wondering what happened, will be able to connect with my story, I hope. In some way. From another angle. I wonder if this will circle back, in some way, again, there is only some of most that we can touch, and tap, right? And we can discover something new, together. All this. Connexion. Writing for it. Intrigued by the way the publishing world has changed, such that we can communicate n:n, across time, space and distance.

ABOUT KANISHKA. Hard to write, but important. Why? It’s… deftly coaxed out of me by NPR’s Frank Stasio in a radio interview, which is achived at this page.

On writing

THE FIRST FEW TIMES I WAS THINKING, ‘I want to write,’ I guess I was still a kid. I had this notion that you could do it, you could do anything, if you just wanted to enough. Not knowing that there would be a whole lot of people trying to tell you, no, no no, that’s not what you do with your life. When you write, it’s your hobby. When you work, you know, you make money. That’s how it is. Writing is a dream for some people who are idle and rich. Focus. On the tasks at hand. Which are practical, which have everything to do with making it happen, for the things that make sense, because they have to, otherwise… well. Otherwise there would have been no point in existing the way I have chosen to exist… I imagine I hear these things—and I’ll come back to that—I’d imagine, and in this imagining, I’d verbalize it.

I’d state it, like was a fact.

To anyone who’d listen, I’d say, ‘You can hear these things in people’s heads,’ you insist, covering up for yourself on the why question, the why you’re not writing for real, the stuff you want, and you are working at a newspaper because it feels… like the right thing to do, instead. You intellectualize and come up with reasons not to put words together the way you want, the way that some of the most intriguing people, in foreign lands and closeby, will say really inspire them.

Then you will know, but only then that it doesn’t matter about practicals. Until then you are insisting. Saying you have to write for the papers, the magazines, put the freelance-y bits together so… you can… get more work like that. ‘You really, really can hear everyone telling you how it should go. They are there in the everywhere… ‘ Except the day you stop and see. That they are not at all in the everywhere. On that particular eve or morn, you see, at once and forever from that point forward, that they are ringing about, all right, but only in your head.

Accepting the new directions. They are making their own case to exist. —KM

Book of Songs

The Book of SongsTHE FALL OF 2015. Sweden. A small boat harbor. A little bit of time and space. Me, my writing stuff. A couple of black pens and an empty grid notebook. The big idea was to go and discover about ‘uncertainty’. I mean, it was pretty open-ended. Sure it was. That was the point of it. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was going to run into a bunch of people who might, just might, change my outlook on how things are. How things go. What things mean, don’t mean, and what they might look like if you just shift the angle, change the lens. Another universe, for me.

Cool and Novemberish, the autumn. Such a discrete opposite to the same time of year in Cambodia, my home-away-from-home-away-from-home. A long story, this drifting into new territories.

You could say it’s inspired by Situationism, but I think it’s more about my situation. Getting lost on purpose starts with some degree of, let’s just be direct… necessity. Nobody who is comfortable where she is would really opt to get out there and get lost… would she?

To sort of figure out what the heck was going on with my life, I did something I very infrequently do. I wrote poetry. Poetry! Of all things. Yet it fit. The more the little boat rocked, oh yes, just a little gale, but also quiet sometimes, but then super cold and even -7 one day, that’s CELSIUS, I got faster and shorter with my notes. I didn’t write the novel. Not quite. I am in the middle of it now, though.

It’s two years later, for sure, and I’ve been to a bunch of other places in the meantime. But the story from there, the interviews and the conversations that shaped the new thinking (which inspired the title, a title I can’t share yet because you know how it is when you talk too much about something and then you sort of lose interest in your own idea? Well, yeah, that). I need to share the gleanings, the learnings. The Denmark and Sweden of my six weeks in Scandinavia. If you scroll down on this page, under ‘links to essays,’ you’ll find ‘Six weeks in Scandinavia.’ Oh! One of the people I met was playing an incredible song and I drew it, and now it’s on their CD. That’s what the pic is about. Chance. Uncertainty. Serendipity. The road.

If you’re curious about the new book that’s coming out, check it out.

Here we go.

It’s starting. The new writing.

I love this part.

Ahoy!

A Punjabi story

AN UNLIKELY CONNECTION, but a powerful one. I have a lot to share about the conversations that began in virtual space and grew, and bloomed, into a remarkable collaboration. Here’s a hint.

A Punjabi-language magazine. A place for people to come and learn and write and make space to discover, and co-discover.

(Was I reading into it? I wasn’t sure. This is what my impression was, taking away from the internet gleanings on Wikipedia about Gurbaksh Singh, who edited Preetlarhi magazine.)

Took the risk in late 2013, from a hotel in Gangtok.

Could I ask about the writing residency there, I wrote into a form on their website. Could I know more about it, perhaps, since I’ve, um, I’ve got this story I want to write, and that would mean having to come to Amritsar?

I was typing on a digital tablet, which like me, was on the brink. Fumbling our way around India, with no plan or agenda or expectations. Or money. Could we make it to Punjab? If we got invited, we would find a way. And we did. A lot of bus transfers, via Kathmandu and this dusty border town at Nepal-India. Chandigarh. Et cetera. But that was just the road journey, to Preetnagar.

What happened next? So much. But the story continued, as we kept in touch ambiently through the next four years. Here we are in April 2017. And this month, Preetlarhi published in English the first chapter of Kanishka. All kinds of things to say about this, but for the moment, it’s just, ‘Wow.’

Link: ‘Talk therapy’

FOUND in The Atlantic, this bit about self narrative.

Ahead of our eCourse SELF, I thought it would be fun to share a few finds like this.

Here it is:

But just as there are consequences to telling, there are consequences to not telling. If someone is afraid of how people might react to a story, and they keep it to themselves, they’ll likely miss out on the enrichment that comes with a back-and-forth conversation. A listener “may give you other things to think about, or may acknowledge that this thing you thought was really bad is actually not a big deal, so you get this richer and more elaborated memory,” [Developmental psychology professor] Monisha Pasupathi says. If you don’t tell, “your memory for that event may be less flexible and give you less chance for growth.” This is basically the premise of talk therapy. Read the full story here >

SELF

DISCOVER SELF, the online course here at Kismuth that we’ve been hosting since 2014, here.

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Cojournal Project

WELCOME TO THE COJOURNAL.

This is about who applies, and what we make together as a result of consciously setting aside time and space to commit to writing, writing better, and sharing what we write. (It’s an unusual space and a conversational one, but it’s not for everyone.)

Inward reflection, together

COJOURNALING gives our participating guests a chance to (re)discover the things you know. (You don’t have to sound ‘smart’ or like you are supposed to win something for your job—a raise, a grant, or some accolades for a good line. Instead, it’s about you. Your world, your reflections, your story.) The heart of what makes you you. It’s not coaching. It’s not a writing course. It’s not a trick. The cojournal has really worked for people. So we’re back, with it. Here in mid-2017. Bringing it here, but in a very low-key way, for those of you who happen to be on this page and are open to it, I invite you to apply. Limited seats. Are you ready?

How to find out more

THIS IS A PAGE with details about what is happening now. See what you think, and maybe see you on the other side. —KM

N – 1

THIS IS FUNNY.

Two years ago I was going on a journey. I wasn’t sure whom I’d meet, or what would happen when I got there. There were a handful of scattered appointments, nothing set up truly, to be honest, but I had a feeling about good things to come. Showing up. That was the important step. I had to go on two airplanes to get there, then I got there. I wrote a lot. I thought a lot. And I slept more than I had in years.

What happened after six weeks in a faraway place, far from anyone I knew or anyone I would ever see again, was remarkable. Truly. It wasn’t like I knew this was going to happen. But a number of super conversations really did take place. Talking about chemistry, bicycle lanes, composition, uncertainty, intrigue and an odd concept about going inward to do the big work of reflection that I sort of sketched on a piece of graph paper tentatively and said ‘I call this, I think, N – 1.’ Great nods of recognition in something that had never been spoken between us. People who were new.

And in those moments I had insights, insights that were going to lead to bigger ones. Things you put together, without overthinking in our logical Western overly designed rational way, thinking in a different style. In my sleep.

Dreaming.

Going inward.

Finding the bliss of solitude, and discovering what it felt like all over again to just be quiet. Alone. All alone. Sometimes for days in a row. I mean, kind of. I still had to go out and get groceries and have the odd smalltalk with people also hermit-ting like me. I did these things. It worked out. I knew somehow that what I needed to do was visit the ‘N – 1’ space. Yes.

‘What are you doing in Sweden?’

‘Um.’

‘Are you visiting someone?’

I thought briefly of the young lad who owned the boat I was renting. Technically you had to be a firm friend with someone if you were going to do that. There were rules and regulations. The people gave me knowing looks, and nods, and smiles. But I wasn’t visiting him. That seemed ridiculous. I was visiting someone, though, all right. The more I thought about it, the less strange it seemed.

‘Yes. I’m visiting me.’

A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS for Kismuth Books & Publishers, then. Helping others also make room for this kind of space. Space to go inward. Space to reflect. There are two programs on offer, and they are outlined here and here.

I wonder if you are curious? Check them out, if yes.

If you’re wondering about the COJOURNAL project, there are limited seats by invitation for that. Do let me know if you know about this, and might be interested in finding out more. Best way is through the form at this page, be sure to ask for Kismuth.

Wondering what happened after the boat? Here is a link to the essay about it, ‘Six Weeks in Scandinavia.’

Oh, also. I forgot to tell you what was funny. YESTERDAY, of all days, someone tells me he doesn’t think I’m the kind of person who gets together with girls for ‘girltalk.’ I mean, he seemed perplexed when I said I had a friend in San Francisco I stayed with a whole week drinking wine and talking late into the night with, having, you know, ‘girltalk.’ ‘You don’t seem like you’d have girltalk, he said. You seem like you might start a conversation something like, “I was thinking about the space between zero and one…”‘ I laughed. Then I actually did start thinking about it. Then I was like, wait, wait, wait. This is it. This is IT. This is N – 1. More to say, but I’ll expand in the smaller, closed writing circles. —KM

Imagine

THINGS ARE MOVING in a new direction. Isn’t that always how it is, though?

If this were a letter, it would be to the people who had been reading the Kismuth e-letters, which I remember sending probably too often from the year I started Kismuth, 2012. I have stopped sending them, more or less. I guess because sometimes things find their natural ending, don’t they? Cycles. Time. Shifts, the story.

But I do remember writing a lot, and in the letter style. It would open in this kind of slow, easy way: I wonder how this note finds you, and how you are feeling where you are. Perhaps I’d go into a bit of a soliloquy, talk about something philosophical and maybe (probably) abstract. Esoteric. Admittedly it was a thing that would happen, an illogical compulsion towards illogic. Then I got into quantum physics. Then I learned about uncertainty, and its principles. I got intrigued, studied, and wrote completely other things for whole other segments of people. So I stopped with the e-letters to people in Kismuth, those whom I would meet while traveling in Viet Nam or India, who would ask me what I was doing, to whom I’d respond in my earnest and idealistic way that I was writing a book. A book about The Road, about the choice to go On It, and take a chance on things and buck the status quo, for better or worse. Sometimes it was better, sometimes it was far worse, but most of the time, and I think this is the thing that I must not forget, there was really good learning. And that learning is where the other things happened. Things that some people call ‘growth.’

I would go on about so many topics in my letters, much of those letters were long and long-winded. I don’t know. Somehow they led to new things, as things often do. I learned how to write in a way that was my own way. I stopped it with the old styles, the ones that had become bad habits. I won’t blame anything for that, they just were. Part of it was being afraid to say too much, at once. Fear. Fear of being seen as who I really am. When, I guess, if I am truly honest with myself (and you) about this, the thing is, if you don’t put who you really are into a thing, into a work, it’s just not going to be that interesting. To anyone. So you have to do it. For better or worse. Again, that refrain. This time, where will it take me?

The journeys are always good teachers. The reflection that happens at the endpoints even more so. But over the years I find myself returning to the same themes. Those of imagination. Those of love. Those of destiny, and the question, ‘What about if?’ But in a much more resigned way now than in that anxious kind of style that attaches itself to the young and dogmatic and idealistic and did I say dogmatic? Yes. Yes, I did. That is the key word, there.

So much more to say. I’m afraid if I put more here, for now, you will become bored. I am going to stop, then. This would have been the eletter from Kismuth, but as this is a new place, a bloggy kind of place, and as this might invite new people, as it has somehow magically done in the past (blogging, I mean), I will see what happens. The new territory is as dogged, strange, dark at the corners as the real road was, in 2013. The new territory is a walk into the Art, the search for Beauty. It was always at the heart of it, though. This quest to find the better, the meaningful, the elegant and eloquent in that which is around us, right here, where we are.

How I started ‘The Village Report’

Click to pre-order [$12]
Click to pre-order [$12]
AFTER THE STORY ENDS you think you have a way to talk about what happened. The good stuff, the road, the sharing, the journey. You try to do this in a way that’s cohesive and consistent. You put things into 750-word columns for someone somewhere on the other side of the world, whom you hope will enjoy it. You want to know if someone is reading, and engaging, and every so often you will get a tiny note that says something like, ‘I clip your essay every month,’ and it makes you think, Keep going.

I’ve always written, but not always for myself and a handful of others like those who find Kismuth and me and what I’m sharing, and who read the stories I publish through this site. All of this started in 2012. With the launch of The Elopement, a true story of leaping from America to Ireland, with a soon-to-be partner, perhaps for life. Now, with The Village Report, read the rest of that story. How a couple together broke free of yet other mores, abandoning a way of life for the ‘practice of the unknown, uncertain, and different.’ With a kid.

THE VILLAGE REPORT: BREAKFAST IN CAMBODIA is the new name for the book I’d promised to share with you when I set out on this long, long trip. I remember talking to RF at the Y when this whole thing got formulated, in a tepid way. She said, ‘Shree* said y’all are going traveling around the world.’

At the time, Shree was just four, so he didn’t know that you don’t just blurt out stuff like that. Makes it seem like you have some kind of cheek, bucking the status quo and tapping some unknown quantity of hidden funds from somewhere. It doesn’t seem fair. Taking a trip around the world for a year, or more. Coming back, perhaps. Storing stuff in friends’ attics, basements, extra houses. Even your parents’ place, even if that’s a little awkward, given that you are leaving because you’re not sure what they think about your philosophy and your ideals about Life and Purpose and Meaning and most especially Parenting, and you agree to disagree (but not really) and you Go Away. You make a big deal about it. You are stubborn and boxy. You kick up a yard sale, leave stuff on the yard on Gregson Street in Durham, NC, with a note saying, ‘Take stuff. Leave some money in the mailbox,’ and you are mesmerized that people actually do leave money in the mailbox, and then you take the last of it, which is way more than you wanted it to be, and you pack it up in the old room that is the new room in the house that your parents have. You’ll come back and get it. You will. You solemnly swear.

Pre-order The Village Report — $12

THREE YEARS LATER you call your mother for the first time since you left. You have come to some realizations, you say. You don’t want this to be hard. You know it’s hard as hell. You still do it. You email. You say, ‘I’m ready to talk to you, if you’re on for it.’ You wonder how it got this way, how you got to be way far away from the land and people you used to know, and yet, and yet, you are still connected. In the ambient, internet-y way, you only have to do one thing. Email. She says cool. You call. You have had some thoughts. You aren’t sure where all the thoughts are going to land. You erase many of them, mid-conversation. You write, you delete. It’s like the creative process, all over again. Just like every fork in the road: that time at the border in Nepal, where you were freaked, or the one when you had to face the people you didn’t want to face on account of fear and diffidence and pride and stubbornness and, mostly, yeah, fear. You do this. You go. You go on the road for a year, maybe more, with no plan, no agenda, and no source of income. Fling of the die? Throwing yourself into the ‘net’ that is supposed to appear? Trusting the process. Diving into uncertainty. Calling 2013 the ‘Year of Enchantment,’ like dressing it up makes going vulnerable somehow okay (it does, actually, help in some way), and 2014 the one of caring and the next one the year of the mountain and then, finally, it takes this one to get to the point where you realize it’s time to call home, the 2016 year comes, and it’s, (Jung’s Great Unconscious, plugging into your personal one, that’s what did it, yeah? had to be): it’s, yeah. ‘The Year of the Relationship.’

FLASH BACK TO 2013. IT IS APRIL IN DURHAM. The flowers are going to bloom. I’d said to Shree*, when the flowers come out, then we go. We will. I promise we will. I have no idea where, or how, but we’re going to go.

Does he know how lucky he is? Someone from The Road would ask, way later. By that point I’d gotten into a groove. I’d grown cooler, more collected. This practicing uncertainty thing wasn’t so bad. Not yet. Not really. I’m a picture of repose when this young person asks it. ‘No,’ I say. ‘He’s just a kid.’But before. Before the whole moving over to Asia, before the airplane changes at Narita for the longest last leg of my life and trains and buses and too many suitcases, I’d had to face the others. The people. The old villagers. In Durham, NC, where I’d thought I’d had a bit of a home (but now am sure I didn’t). And answer the hard questions, the ones behind R’s, when she’d asked it. ‘Are you really going traveling with your kid? For a year? But how will you… how will you live? Are you going? Is that true?’ People were asking. They wanted to know. It was getting a little uncomfortable. It was getting hard.

Back then: Ohhhh, man. How do I explain this in a way that makes it okay?

Now: YES. I am. We are. It’s absolutely, definitely true. And I trust that it will work, because it has worked. And that is experience. What was that thing Einstein said, about personal experience being more important than knowledge? And what about the other stuff, Jung’s stuff, about finding your ‘tribe’ in the people you meet and feel a kinship to that’s outside of geographic, dogmatic bounds, but an ‘usness,’ a sense of that, which is of a variety uniquely its own?

In this frame of mind, from this opposite side of the world and having emerged from a long period of wondering what it was all about and now having written The Village Report to share the conclusions, some of which those reading along in the Kismuth newsletters will have seen me meandering towards and then veering away from and wondering about, later, or assigning less and less importance to the ‘figuring out’ of which, I’m relaxed. I’m also older. Sure. That helps. And so is Shree. That means it’s not so weird anymore. Expat kids are everywhere, here. Life moves. It happens. People find us. We work for them, from time to time. We invent new ways to keep ourselves alive, fed, happy, safe, together, sound, warm, cherishing, engaged, and most of all inspired, when we interact wholeheartedly with The Village. I can tell you more about it another time. Or you can read it in the book. Or we can meet for a cup of tea one day, if I’m in your neighborhood, and talk about it. Maybe a book tour will happen, in living rooms around the world. I’d never, ever send The Village Report to a traditional publishing house—that would ruin it. I don’t need someone to put it on a poster, to ‘market’ it for me, in order to know it’s good. I’m only sharing it through the Kismuth page. This one. And that’s it. Because if just three of you get it, then you’re the three that it’s for.

HUMANITY. The idea is that we are human, we are connected and connecting, are engaged and engaging. We see each other when we notice our differences as much as our similarities… we are human. We are all just part of it. The big thing. The village. And this book? It’s written by not just one of us, but all of us. And that’s it, you know? The village? The village is the sharing.

This book is for AKK.

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I was wrong

Golden Temple Amritsar

The below letter was first published online for Kismuth’s VIP e-community, on October 24, 2013.

This one’s for G.

Dear [DELETED]—

SOMETHING HAPPENED THIS WEEK that changed my whole idea about what it is that “writing” is for, anyways. But let me start at the beginning.

So, I was wrong.

It’s hard to admit.

But yup. I was so totally misinformed when I set out on this quest to “see how other people in Asia raise their children, because, man, it takes a village, doesn’t it?, and we’re so wrapped up in ourselves and our own lives in America.”

Turns out, Asia is wrapped in itself, too. Gadgets, status, timecrunch.

So that changed everything. About what it means to be a person with a kid and have “the village” helping out… We did our best. We cried and tried. Writing about the hard moments, that’s what I wanted to try to do in the series. Yet I haven’t been able to come at it in a really meaningful way. It’s such a personal journey, and all that hard stuff that happened, well, could I really put it into words and share that, out loud? Really, could I?

Then something happened.

Someone else showed me her courage, when she shared with me something that happened to her. Not about anything I could have in a million years have imagined coming, but it is her story, a true one, and something that made me sit up very straight. You can read it, too. [Editor’s note: The Kismuth.wordpress.com has since been made private.] Today’s e-letter is dedicated to G. My new understanding of the purpose of Kismuth became clear when you hit “publish.”

Kismuth started to become something just last week, when you showed me how it helped you talk about your own very real, very haunting story. Coming back to the village, I now see that the work isn’t about the manual labor of holding a baby or the copywriting that comes with making blogs. It’s about the emotional labor. The love that goes into the bonding with your child, or the courage that it takes to say what hurt or changed you with others you don’t even know yet, out loud. The village isn’t about stuff or time. It’s about people. Sharing. Our real stories. All of us. It’s about finding the space and time to open our hearts to one another. Thank you, G.