Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I can see the way your eyes widen and you pull away from me. I can feel the panic rising. Both of us can sense fear and defeat. Eleven years ago. A thirsty stray dog in a park and me, swinging halfheartedly and watching the canine collapse resignedly under a tree that provided one branch of shade. Fifteen minutes later, I found a disposable bowl and bottle of cold water, the dog was drinking in grateful surprise-grateful the way only a dog can be, really-and I was back on the swing. Eleven years. I can sense fear and thirst and longing far more often now-in more than just the canine species, but I don't think I have bothered with disposable bowls in a long time.

How often does anyone see adults actively cultivating tenderness? Towards their own, always, but beyond that, it is difficult, so difficult, to make room for both concern and action. Beyond the realm of animal welfare or human rights, ideals which we were passionately prepared to defend at twelve seem to lose shape and eventually meaning. The world fascinates me, because to be alive is to care-about the things you loved, the things you wanted and the person you think you can become.

How do I explain this at the dinner table when I am asked why I have become a vegetarian? I can't give a straightforward defense of animal rights. I'm not a vegan and I don't even believe eating meat is wrong in itself. I'm not particularly health conscious and I haven't given up on anything else. I can say it's better for the environment, but beyond recycling and trying to conserve water, I'm not especially kind to Mother Earth myself. Then what?

I eat more plants because every time I do, I make a conscious decision to be the person I thought I was. I remind myself that the things I care about can mean more than the things I want. I remember what it was like to feel despair on behalf of something else and try to bring it back, because to hang on to care is to stay alive.

I'm just trying to be me again, I promise.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


The tyranny of the in between is at its most oppressive at 24. So far, anyway. Not young enough to judge people for being born in the 80s, not old enough to relate to the people who judge the people born in the 90s, you're really nowhere at all. In a school, sandwiched between seventeen and seventy year olds, you feel like a student who forgot to come in uniform, or like you're forever chaperoning a younger sibling's party when your parents are still in the house. It's quite maddening, really.

"I really don't care if you bunk General class," I say to advisees, because I really don't. I know they will whether or not I threaten them with Student Handbooks and study hall. And then, remembering my conversations with teachers and in particular the terrible college essays I have read, I add "You're the ones who are screwed if you don't though, because your writing skills are awful, so do yourselves a favour and go, you'll thank us for it later, I promise." And then, remembering I am supposed to be a goddamned authority figure, I say, "You signed the Student Handbook! You have to attend all your classes! If you don't you'll get study hall!"

Defeat. Where do I belong again, the classroom or the staff room or some mythical place somewhere in the middle?

I say good morning to the principal. I call her Mrs Lastname, not by her first name, not ever. She's a teacher! Teachers don't have first names unless prefixed by a Miss or something. She tells me she is most distressed by students' use of inappropriate language. They say "awesome" when they mean "very good" and "yaar" to refer to friends and they mix their English and Urdu and they use slang and it's all quite terrible, really. Yaar, iss age pay aap retire hi kar jayen, I think. Kaafi awesome ho ga. "Yes, they should really pay more attention in General class," I pander to my audience.

One of the students wanted to know why her friend hangs out with my department, because we're so old. My ego is stung. Old, I think, is for people who have coherent memories of the time you were born! I was in kindergarten! Quite cheeky of her to say that to me, considering I'm five years...older.

24. Tyranny.


The students cheered and hollered loudly today when their friends campaigned for student council. Some of the kids rode waves of popularity all the way to the ballot box, scarcely bothering to make speeches, others tried harder, but they all got cheers. Once again, on the other side of the fence, I'm sitting and checking signatures against a list of student names and thinking how much easier it was to matter back in school. The lines that make you Someone start to run into one another like colors in a magic paint-with-water book when you are removed from the context of sixteen years of formal education.
I asked someone two weeks ago if growing up means adjusting expectations when your whole life you've been fed on a diet of dreams you must chase. Why didn't that diet include gentler words of wisdom, such as defining to yourself why you have a dream at all? Why were we told to reach for the moon to land among the stars, etcetera, when we should have been reminded our brightness may or may not lie in astronomic pursuits? And why, why, didn't anyone tell us inspiration lies in the people we meet and as long as we stay human we will automatically matter? It is inspiration, not achievement, that is found in mean quantities in the supposed real world. Someone should hold seminars for 21 year olds telling them that their three-years-later selves won't care how many things are checked off a to-do-list every day. Telling them to hear and tell stories and meet people, because that is the only thing that ever changed the world for the better.
I asked a current student council member if it's a bitter feeling to see the next group come in and take their place, remembering that's how we felt six years ago, remembering that's how I feel now when my friends are still in college. That slight envy of good times still to come, coupled with I-wish-you-knew-what-was-coming. Really, I wish you knew what was coming, because life never stops being fascinating if mattering matters less.