09 Dec 2013

savala island, fiji

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There’s a scene in the movie Psycho where Janet Leigh’s character makes small talk with Anthony Perkins. Perkins asks, Where are you going? I didn’t mean to pry, to which she responds, I’m looking for a private island. After a time, after the rain has receded and the parlor where they make this exchange is cold and damp, he says, You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and, and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch.

I think about this scene often. I think about Perkins’ eyes, wide and black, his face merely a mask, a ruse, obscuring something darker. A daguerreotype of a seething. In the film, he moves as we imagine a bird would — calculating, sharp and violent — and I think about how we are sometimes content in being comfortably uncomfortably. We accept our lot as it is; we leave comments on blog posts coveting the things we want, the things our eyes see. We have our excuses filed away and logged, pulled out like sheets of looseleaf paper at the ready. We say we have these obligations; we blame our fear of pursuing something other on time.

It seems to me that nobody ever has time.

Really? We have time watching and live-tweeting those television shows. We have all the time in the world anesthetizing ourselves over a meal we conveniently call brunch, but really it’s a means to mask getting drunk during the day. We make time for our disquiet because it’s familiar. We can navigate it. But imagine if we made time, if we made it our business to experience our own private island, albeit for a day.

Today I spent the day on an island the size of a New York City block. When we arrived, it took me all but five minutes to walk the perimeter of it — we were literally miles from civilization. Seven hours on an island without a book, a task, or something to occupy my time. It’s a strange thing, this time, how we try to make such efficient use of it. We’re machines that way, I think. And this puts me to thinking of the opening scene in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and then I settle into the fact that it’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to settle with yourself, in your thoughts. It’s perfectly fine to be as you are.

So I passed the day sleeping under a hut fashioned out of coconut leaves and trees. I sampled local barbeque. I kayaked out into the ocean against some pretty rough current that had me scared for a bit, but then I returned to my breath and everything was set to rights. The shoreline came into view. I swam in salty water and made small talk with the two people who live on the island, and I envied them their quiet. Only for a minute. And then I suddenly became grateful because I’ve spent this year, perhaps so many years too late (!!!) making time. Trading in handbags never worn for experiences. Making less to feel more. Focusing on the content of my character rather than how my jeans fit.

Admittedly, this is hard as I live in New York, and it’s a city that isn’t always kind. I used to know a woman who said to me once (after I had gained a little weight), nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. I think about the woman now, and how she’s frightened of her own solitude. How she’s the master purveyor of things, and instead of thinking something negative (which is so very easy to do), I silently send her the strength that she will one day find her own private island.

This is the yoga, I think. Cultivating experience that you wish onto, and bring to, others. This is the work, and it’s constant.

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1 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos from your wonderful vacation.
    I live in Haifa, Israel, by the Mediterranean sea and can see it from my window and it takes only 5 minutes to get to the beach but I guess I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. When I read your post it made me realize how much we should appreciate nature. Thank you !
    Michal

    Posted on 12.9.13 · Reply to comment

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I like these characters. I like imbuing my dark sense of humor into my work. I like leaning away from. The weight of language and literary fiction to tell a story as simply as possible. And believe me when I say that simplicity is fucking hard. Writing lean, impactful sentences are hard. Conveying so much in a small space feels, in a way, like poetry.
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I WAS supposed to have made headway, but that didn’t pan out and it’s okay because I was more focused in relaxing. I was more in awe of the landscape and people than I’d anticipated so all I wanted to do was be outside. Funny for someone who holes up in her Los Angeles apartment, but I digress.
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I’m at 52, so I suppose this thing is real. Light in the dark and like that.
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My wake-up call was a phonebook packed with numbers but no one to call when I was breaking. What changed during that dark time was this: I began to live small and this is, I assure you, is a good thing.
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Small isn’t a pejorative. It’s about getting surgical about the people and things that inhabit your life. Cut the barnacles. Eliminate that which is extraneous and unnecessary. Don’t settle for common or this is how it’s always been done. Small is about the amount of noise you allow in. It’s about making the choices that won’t please the majority of people, but you end up pleasing yourself. It’s the difference between living in a mansion and creating a house that is a home. Fewer, better are words whose meaning has shifted for you. They are words of wealth. And more suddenly feels like a burden.
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