All I want to do now is write. I know what is coming – the feeling of rapidly being sucked into another world, a familiar one, yet one that causes so many inspirations, real and extant now, to fade away into the recesses of time like a morning dream. I know what the words spoken will be. I Can’t Believe I’m Back. And as beliefs remelt reshape reharden the interior meanings will be locked deeper. Now I want to release them, now before time is overripe; they will erupt through the surface like a float released, buoyant on a sea of clarity.
Osho says that all beautiful states are paradoxical. He gives the example of love – that state so often described, encircled with verbiage crowding around the Kohinoor at a guarded distance; the words try to extend to meet it, physically touch it, but are gently held back by some mysterious force, the denial of contact. Love as experienced – not as talked about, not as imagined – conflicts unfailingly with rational thought. It seems impossible; it fits into no plans; its arrival or departure guarantee no warning. It operates completely contrary to the established rules. We can deny that it exists, and thereby kill it in ourselves. But even this is an affirmation of its reality, for what other realities can we erase simply by believing so?
Walking down a back street of Mengla I think about the separation of time and space between creative thought and the expression of it. The beautiful state of inspiration is a sudden free fall, a slippery misstep that sends us careening out of control, no chance to put up our defenses, very little to reach back through the envelope of reason and grab a pen, a brush, a tape recorder and we are swept away! The conflict arises for me because I want to savor the moment, but then save it for later. Maybe it will be useful for me. Or I could share it with others. I would like to admire it. The paradox is that if we are not creating at the moment of inspiration, if we try to bottle instead of channel, when we do create the inspiration will be gone and our works lifeless.
In the Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang, Laos, the gifts of various countries to the state are on exhibit. Of unflattering note is the cabinet in the northeastern corner of the display hall. Contained within are the gifts of the United States of America. Wooden plaques commemorating this or that diplomatic event. The key to the city of Knoxville Tennessee. A plain pen holder that manifestly has never been used (are they ever?). A plastic model of the moon lander. And a special gift, the grandest of them all, presented with a written note from Nixon: encased in a bubble of epoxy, a tiny black rock hangs suspended and suffocated. The note indicates that the imprisoned object is of nearly incalculable value. It is a Moon Rock, retrieved, hand picked from that smiling sphere a quarter million miles away – an amazing feat possible only thanks to the dedication and determination of a generation of extraordinary engineers, scientists, and fervent masses. But if so, is this really a heartfelt gift? Or simply a laughably immodest demonstration of a country’s ego, the enormity of which warps sense with such gravity that this sad stone, this pinnacle of modern achievement, this victory of political ideology is perceived to be beautiful? It is nothing so profound. Compared to the delicately embroidered gowns from India, capriciously carved ivory caricature of Confucius from China, ethereal painted pottery from Japan, meticulously ornamented goblets and silverware from Thailand, it is a stupefying tribute to ugliness and thoughtlessness. For even a two line aside scribbled on a napkin by the president in a moment of reflection would have had more life and beauty. The overall impression is that the United States is a country that has forgotten all that is beautiful. Insincere flattery is its art and craft.
Like the black rock I freeze the dream in place. It is on display, to be marveled and ogled, praised and appraised. But it is just the corpse of a dream, locked between It Was and It Will Be to eternity. The Uncertainty Principle prevails; I have completely lost the sense of its direction. Where was the dream moving to? Into which spaces was it extending? It goes nowhere now. I have seen it; to view it a second time is not necessary. I have severed its ties with the past; now it does not float in a stream but stands in a dour puddle. No future is possible. The knowledge that inspiration was once alive, but then was slain by me, collapses upon my worthless pen like a millstone. (I must write nownownow.)
Down a bumpy dirt road past the teacher’s college in Luang Prabang, a peaceful field of green nurses the bones of Chinese immigrants from Red River County in Yunnan province (çº¢æ²³åŽ¿). Weathered tablets chiseled with amateurish characters tell of their living to a ripe old age in the new land; born during the first world war, recently deceased. These are the ones who spoke Chinese no longer, who took Lao, sticky rice, That Chomsi gleaming down from the apex of Phusi Hill to be emblems of their home. Flanking this humble patch of graves is the Vietnamese contingent. Black and white photographs slotted into the tomb markers, some recumbently rectangular, others shaped like stupas, testify to the premortem forms commemorated. And just a bit further down the chirping path blossoming with butterflies, there is a small whitewashed temple where young novices, monks in training, are having their last meal of the day, before the high azimuth sun.
Their slender, wispy forms belie the number of their years; they are 15, 16, 17, and look scarcely ten. The more I observe, the more I feel they are not at all the sage aspiring lamas of Tibet. They are simply children. The oldest, Somsanouk, is eager to try his self-taught English with me. The other boys are curious and helpless; they cannot understand our simple conversation, and my conscientious Lao is still hopelessly limited. I can only smile and laugh with them, which is enough! They are not bored. Somsanouk asks me if I can buy a book for him, “New Interchange: English for International Communication.” He has nothing to study from now, and he really wants to learn.
I ride Chetak to the Phusi Market. The first volume of “New Interchange” is 22,000 kip. Of course it is photocopied, the textbook and workbook cleverly bound into a single volume of thin darkly-inked pages. There are accompanying tapes; they are another 38,000 kip. I bargain givingly and pay just shy of six dollars for the lot. (Seventy for the real deal.) Does she wonder why a foreigner buys an English book? Her quizzical smile.
It’s past seven when I return to the temple. The novices have just finished their evening prayers and gather around me as I extract the prize from my backpack. Gingerly, reverently, breathlessly, Somsanouk receives the book from my hands. His faces glows with a flushed radiance. He opens it as if it were a thousand-year old manuscript that might disintegrate from a single negligent touch. He is completely absorbed for a moment. Then he beams at me, “Thank you very much. You really are a good friend.” It is the incomparable smile of a child who receives with awe the Christmas toy of his dreams, who never expected anything more than another anonymous day of hardship, whose dream was nothing more extravagant than a small wooden airplane, a pencil, or a pair of warm shoes. The expression of boundless joy I have rarely experienced. For having shared his beautiful smile, I feel a gratitude perhaps surpassing his own.
Richard and I meet an older man from ZÃ¼rich, Switzerland who tells us he is sponsoring the university education of two brothers, the first of whom he met as a novice. We get to talking about accommodation in Luang Prabang. “When you get to be my age,” he explains, “you need a bit of comfort.” He pays 120 dollars a night for the comfort he needs and the swimming pool. Richard and I hide our shock and incredulity bordering on bitterness and outrage, until he leaves us at least. How can reality have such a quality of absurdity? Our rooms are 2 dollars a night. Yet we are all the rich foreigners.
I take a bus to a city near the Lao-China border. The sawngthaew for the rest of the way barely manages to avoid becoming mired in the sinking wet mud. Is this really the main overland transport corridor linking Laos with the red giant? It is more believable on the other side, where a tidy row of sparkling Chinese storefronts springs from the good earth like a moist mushroom grove after tender rains. As I step towards the line of demarcation, familiar shouts erupt from minibus drivers, hailing me to come with them into their cars; a gaggle of money changing women prepare to swamp me with generous (according to them) offers for my remaining kip. According to them. According to. Ecstasy Of Chinese! Immediately I elevate to a height towering over the linguistically bewildered foreigners in tow. My potently pumped muscles inflate and bulge under sweat-stained T-shirt, sinews bristling with raw willenergy, the backpack a mere fiber-strapped raisin on my hulkish deltoids. I HAVE THE POWERRRRR!!! Stepping across that line, through that portal, I transmogrify from meekish wayfaring ant to chest-pounding superbeing. The minivan barely has enough room for me! My chi-filled corpuscles sprawl out over three rows of seats and my skull leaves a lasting impression on the roof.
Wait a moment. One paved moment. Unzip and reveal the cellphone from protected pocket. Reality wavers and scintillates in superpositions of states. I could collapse to a singularity like that dewdrop I once was in a shrew’s instant, if. If. Nokia wake up.
å¥å·ã€‚ A circle completed.
I sit unsatisfied in front of this word. This and the next. In Lesley’s apartment embattled with afternoon air flushed with squealing children’s footfalls, ungraciously honking motorcycles and taxis sweeping them to the sides of the road, pop music brazenly saturating the would-be silences in between. I fight with my pen, but they have me by the ears. Already I yearn for the expansive spaces of hills rustled by Tibetan winds, crackling wood stove reveries, crab-crawled sands. Give me this space. For no reason do I leave but to save myself.
Beloved friend, this chapter is ended. An era unto itself. I am grateful for our bonds, whether new or old, near or far, by blood bread or breath. May they transcend the trials of psychology and geography and grow into trees reaching into the sublime, branching to infinitude. Please accept my warmest thanks for accompanying me on this most mystical and improbable of journeys. A journey into the selves of the world and the self of my self. I am eager to share so much more with you. For the journey, unlike the chapter, is never ended.
Drying the ink this page
Dipping deep into the well again
Haw-Bin / Bino / çš“æ–Œ