[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.
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,”
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THIS YEAR, so far in online projects, things are moving in an interesting direction. A giant overarching theme has been coming into shape. People want to talk together share about really big things related to: love, loss, risk, and chance. I get that. It’s kind of a major attractor for me, this idea of leaping into uncertainty. So we talk together about family. Relationships. Life…. Quality. After testing things for a while, it seems clearer and easier, in some ways, that we can develop really great conversation spaces online. More on the way, for those who are connecting, about the next.
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.
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.
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.
The below letter was first published online for Kismuth’s VIP e-community, on October 24, 2013.
This one’s for G.
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.