The primary expression here is puzzlement, some indication that Ethan does not know his own mind and suddenly realizes he does not know his own mind…
-Robert Pippin, Hollywood Westerns and American Myth: The Importance of Howard Hawks and John Ford for Political Philosophy
I have some friendships that began online simply because they placed two frames from two different films side by side, or one below the other, with perhaps not even a name or a title, and I liked it. Through 0s and 1s I would see the infinite play of identity and difference. In the context of years of comparing frames to other frames, for the minimal and maximal differences and identities, of finding, in its rub of fragments, new counter-histories, accomplishments, and signs of a future cinema waiting to be plucked out anew, it should have been clear that at one point we would bump into the prequels again, as the prequels, in their form, are the essence of film criticism for those with a tumblr. Bill Krohn commented that Star Wars is nothing but the continual reversal of signs, and what better form than the comparative screen capture to understand this series. Like all comparisons without writing, either you see the connection, you see the lineage or you don’t. If the comparison is trivial, the connection too loose, we may see that we are not in a thinking of montage but simply a sequence of shots. But all the comparisons work in a thinking of montage that turns the images into something both prequel and fraternal. Every true work of art re-invents the tradition it belongs to, opens up what came before it, and is the condition of what is old to persist as still new. A true work turns its predecessors into unexpected prequels.
The transitions between scenes, the different wipes that go diagonally, turn the screen into blinds, into squares, a minute hand on the clock, become more and more pronounced as the prequels succeed one another. Indeed the prequels are a question of transition, of succession of one form of government to another. It becomes most clear in Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, as Neil Bahadur pointed out, the very colour of the political world changes. All I would add is it appears like a diagonal wipe that is often seen across the films, except here there is no wipe at all, the world itself is in transition, no need for the subjective jump of the actualized wipe.
The lack of the wipe, of the transition, does not mean there is no transition occurring. In fact, the lightsaber duel between Darth Tyranus and Anakin manifests the actuality of transition within the battles themselves: in close-up the lightsabers act like the transitioning wipes, opening or closing down the frame, the blue or the red floating atop the faces, in the heat of battle political realignment can occur. Each attack on the other is a transitional wipe that only returns one to themselves. Even the sound during this sequence emphasizes the moving of the sabers about themselves rather than the actual hitting of two sabers. Via over-anticipation of the coming hit, we touch air, a pure rotation -
die Zuschauer sich drehen, rotating around itself, like a Kuleshov effect that returns to Darth Vader again and again as he looks at Skywalker, and the Emperor.
The decision to kill the Emperor emerges through a Kuleshov effect, or to put it another way, decisions arise through projections, through the coincidence of a blank face estranged from itself. The K-effect exemplifies that one does not know their own mind, but knows this, and perhaps only this opaque blankness. What is precisely blank is that this decision, to save Luke, repeats a decision when he saves Palpatine in Episode III. The first time, he loves Padmé, the second time, his son. In truth the decision is the same each time, it is its own K-effect, whether one is good or one is evil is a pure projection on the same decision. Anakin is the chosen one, as he only chooses the one choice, out of love, twice. The one decision is a clone of the other, a cloning of the chosen one. If to the question rye or wheat, Verdoux says “Yes,” if Anakin is asked, good or evil, he will reply, “Yes.”
Throughout, Anakin always has a Master. He says Obi-Wan is like a father. As Darth Vader, he is almost constantly kneeling. Finally in Episode III, Obi-Wan says: “You were my brother Anakin. I loved you.” Neither Master nor slave, but kin. A figure of equality. Neither the law of the Jedi nor the desire of the Sith, but love.
Episode III ends in elation as we know what happens in the later episodes. At this mid-point in the story, we are in Anakin’s position: we see the future (which already happened). And what happened? The choice of love, twice. Neither beyond good, nor evil, but the risk of living through both.
He failed where others succeeded, he succeeded where others failed: he took control of the universe. Anakin turns the world into a green screen, destroying and creating the conditions to love unconditionally.
To choose one, or choose zero, is the question of the digital. The genius of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, a landmark in digital cinema, is that it poses the question of the form of the digital against a critique of democracy. Yes (1), the form of digital offers a true choice, No (0) democracy does not offer true choices. Schelling saw that evil is more directly spiritual than the good in its cold abstract hatred of reality. The unrepentant joys of CGI is evil in this formal sense, and beautiful for the same reason. In showing the rise of evil, we need the digital imagination unfettered by the studio interference, democratic test-screenings, and the care of making a movie ‘for the fans’, the majority. In Les trois désastres, Jean-Luc Godard claimed that digital will be a dictatorship. If celluloid long takes were democratic in its manipulation, then the case is not that of democracy vs. dictatorship, but that dictatorship is the truth of democracy’s purely formal manipulations. The democratization of the digital cinema, in terms of criticism and filmmaking, must be coupled with the digitization of democracy, the shift in making transparent all the points, decisions, zero and one, that show its formal identity to dictatorship.
At the level of the Jedi vs the Sith, in the concrete moment of decision, there is nothing to say that the Jedi are better than the Sith. The Separatists and the Republic are both headed by Palpatine, which is to say, the Republic’s war against the Separatists are an outgrowth of the divisions produced by democracy itself. As a political problem, the solution of more democracy, or in another popular phrase, a real democracy opposed to a fake one, is false and explains nothing. When Lucas claims that the Republic is the Empire, we have a speculative judgment, which is to say, there is only a formal change in the transition. As Palpatine says, its a point of view, and the Jedi and the Sith are alike in almost every way. The glow of the lightsaber on the face of the warrior is an instance of a K-effect with no need for an opposing shot to infuse a blankness with meaning.
Thus when Anakin makes the choice, the same choice of love, in Episode III and VI, in fact nothing at all is learned. His choice was correct both times. The first choice of love destroys the law of the Jedi, and the second choice of love destroys the desire of the Sith. Love is beyond good or evil and he brings balance by destroying them both. “You were the chosen one!” Obi-Wan yells, and yet, Anakin was, always will have been, chosen, by his own choosing. The mystery of the prophecy remains a mystery to those who believe it, but not to the one who needs not to learn it. If nothing was learned, what was learned was the nothing of subjectivity, to be nothing but equal to one’s choice.
The logic of the digital continues as when Obi-Wan tells Anakin that only a Sith deals in absolutes, only to later say “Senator Palpatine is evil” to which Anakin replies “In my point of view, the Jedi are evil”. Exhausted, Obi-Wan yells “then you are lost!” Of course many commentators on this and other popular films will claim that the ideology is always inconsistent, and designed that way to attract the largest possible market. However the issue is not inconsistency itself, but which inconsistency? Only the greatest philosophers and artists contradict themselves, since they approach a real point of tension that cannot be easily dissolved into the morality of their time. A true artist will create the precise contours of ideological inconsistency, and situate us at various points of impasse. Any film without this tension is perhaps neutered and of interest only for patting one self on the back for being on the right side of history. Instead, working in these tension spaces, we find that not only is the future open, but so is the past itself. After all, that is the creative struggle in creating a prequel.
If Lucas’ Star Wars writes the transition of one frame to another, there must be something shared to register the change from one to the other, a part of change that itself does not change. That is, we must assume an invariance that is discovered by the back and forth between one era to another. This is projection. As Daniel Morgan writes that for Godard: 1917 is 1789, and so is 1848, and Weimar in 1945 is Weimar in 1806, and finally Berlin of 1944 is Nosferatu’s village of 1922, as seen by Godard in the 1950s at the Cinémathèque Française. Pedro Costa makes a similar remark when he says “There will be someone from Finland who’ll ask about Fontainhas. Fontainhas is Russia in ‘17, it’s Hollywood in ‘34. It’s not more or less than that.” Neil Bahadur, commenting on Straub-Huillet’s Fortini/Cani: “street scenes take on multiple meanings: 1976 Rome serves both as stand-in for 1940’s Germany, Italy, and France, reminding us how easily citizens accepted fascism […], then also as 1976 Rome in relation to history - […] democratic systems try to design us to ‘forget’ the past, and spaces which haven’t changed at all.” Lucas makes a similar projection. The original Star Wars was inspired by the Vietnam War, and many commentators related Episode II to the Iraq War, Anakin kills the ‘sand people’, and slaughters the men, women and children, “like animals” because “they are animals” (to which Padmé comforts with a link of humanism to the justification of terror: “to be angry is to be human”). Lucas in 2005: “The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we’re doing in Iraq now are unbelievable.” To track the invariance of democracy becoming itself, i.e. a dictatorship, the projections of studying history become strikingly compressed into what is called a “[fleecing] and plunder” by Jonathan Rosenbaum: “various planets recycle the stereotypical settings, costumes, hair styles, and accents of Renaissance Venice, Africa, India, China, and the Middle East.” What is a street scene in Straub-Huillet becomes an abstraction of stereotypes of entire planets, and the legend of stereo continues where democracy projects dictatorship. Or to put it like Pedro Costa speaking on Rossellini, the degree of abstraction gets higher and higher as the prequels progress. And what is key here is that we are truly in a deadlock, and its a deadlock that is in our past, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The relation and reversibility of democracy and dictatorship is a true problem not to be solved simply by choosing one over the other as they are the same. It is democratic to have to choose one or the other, which is to say, it is a false choice, and at the same time, it is a forced choice, dictated to us. Like Stalin speaking on left and right deviations, he claims that they are both worse. Anakin finds that both the Jedi and Sith are both worse, opening the space for another possibility. I don’t see Luke as a Jedi, as both Obi-Wan and Yoda claimed that he must kill/confront Vader to become one, and thus both the legacies of the Sith and Jedi die with Anakin. What we are left with, in the final shot, are a set of different species with the false forced choices of Jedi and Sith no longer operative, just a generic set with in an open space of perhaps new decisions, where even the Jedi who show up as immortal ghosts are ambiguous in their consequences, as it is a desire of the Sith to be immortal.
Self-abolishment would be the true solution, a world without either Sith nor Jedi. The passage of a Tramp to Hynkel to Verdoux, or a child slave to Anakin to Vader, is always a question of ridding the conditions that forces one to choose or exist in such a manner. But to get where we want to go, we need the passage through CGI. JJ Abrams, claimed what was great about the original trilogy is that it felt real. That black and white good and evil distinctions have the air of the real whereas the impasses of democracy/dictatorship appears ‘fake’ should give us a signal to pause. The inability to believe CGI and political imagination is the true failure. As Dan Rubey pointed out in his classic article on Star Wars for Jump Cut:
Darth Vader’s use of the Force in the council meeting to control his opponent and Ben Kenobi’s use of the Force to get by the storm troopers;
or the “bad” guys’ destruction of Alderaan and the “good” guys’ destruction of the Death Star;
or the attack and penetration of Princess Leia’s ship by Darth Vader’s men firing laser guns, and Luke and Han breaking into the control room on the Death Star in the rescue of the princess;
or Darth Vader breaking the neck of the technician on Princess Leia’s ship and Ben Kenobi dismembering the alien in the bar scene;
or the pursuit of Princess Leia’s ship by the enormous ship of Tarkin and the pursuit of the imperial fighter by the Millennium Falcon; and so on.
…that is, there is no true difference. That the original Star Wars could present these judgments in a register of realism, points to the dead end of realism as a register of thinking the present of choosing good or evil. In realism, there is no difference, and perhaps to see where the line between the two lines up, we need a different form.
Beginning with Episode II: Attack of the Clones Lucas placed a primacy on the computer generated imagery, the use of blue and green screen, and the least amount of physical sets possible. On the first day of shooting, Ian McDiarmid would address crosses and markers while on a podium in an elevated pod. Brian Jay Jones wrote that many of the actors felt anxiety when performing within the blue screen - crucial to note, as it is only anxiety and enthusiasm that do not lie. If anxiety, as relation to the real, appears when actors are surrounded by a blue screen, perhaps the filling of the blue can be called courage. As Slavoj Žižek comments on Leslie Kaplan’s essay-poem L’excès-usine, it’s not only that factory life is alienating as a self-enclosed universe, but the fact that this space is cut off has its own emancipatory actuality.
For what is the prison in THX 1138? In Neil Bahadur’s reading, THX and SEN are placed in prison when logic and emotion are discovered. As punishment, they are in a white space without any orientation. In this space, conventional cutting and framing is manipulating. But perhaps we should instead see that the coherent representation of the space allows for determination and orientation, and it is indeterminacy that is imprisoning. THX and SEN are unfree by fleeing from determination, the prisoners are all the more determined, unable to make a coherent space to track their own movements and exit. As any artist knows, it is the blank canvas that is ultimately imprisoning, and the first act of freedom is making a mark to orient oneself in it. Ultimately THX escapes and sees the sun. Bahadur claims that Lucas retrieves the world back from the deception of images. I would only add that by Monday, June 26, 2000, after seeing the sun, Lucas envelopes himself back in the prison, except this time it is all blue instead of all white.
For the battle is to be fought here: there are no images, no world to reclaim that would be without mediation. What was a scene of disorientation in THX 1138 becomes the ground of orientation, of infinite possibilities, in the making of Episode II. The only escape from alienation is its redoubling.
Where Lucas praises the freedoms of Soviet artists as opposed to his own freedoms as an American independent, it must be stressed that Lucas constructed a new alienation, that is, a new freedom: not a State art, but an art without the State, while never not confronting the state of the art.
After finally escaping the studio Lucas then faced the demands of the People, the mass audience, as an external measure of what he should do; this is one of the most bitter reversal of signs in the history of cinema, the reverse of the State and the Mass. His escape was a victory, but a bitter a victory, as bitter as Darth Vader being born as Padmé dies. I was always struck by the beauty of the moment where Padmé “for reasons we can’t explain, is losing the desire to live,” - naming the children, she willingly dies, for Mother is not the destiny of woman, and children are not reason enough. The sheer heat in which these decisions are made is dizzying - before dying, with knowledge that Anakin has killed younglings, she still tries to restart their love. It is this stuckness to the real by the Skywalker family that forces history into motion. Which is to say no artist will ever escape external obstacles altogether but the problem is how to choose, how to choose our measurement and distance from the obstacle, which itself is a form of sticking to it.
What is worth sticking to, what is worth keeping? Even in a digital world, hair still moves in the wind, like Griffith’s wind in the trees, a minimal index that these actors are in the world that we see while also pointing elsewhere. Yet we stay here. In fact, it is staying in the present that is Anakin’s most difficult task, for he can see the future. At the close of Revenge of the Sith, we are also tempted to look into the future, since we know how it all ends, what happens in the other films made in the past but presenting a future, and we rush to make connections before they happen. We are, for once, within the subjectivity of Anakin. The temptation of those chosen is to know how things end and act with this knowledge. The bliss of the final iris to space is to know what it is like to be tempted by the truths of the future, and the future of truths – gladly acting according to what will have been, while changing those very coordinates in the same motion.
I imagine in Gotham phrases like “it’s to die for” has been unofficially banned. Because when you know there’s at least one supervillian in your town who knows way too much about poison, a barista complimenting your beverage choice with that phrase seems more like a threat
Song: Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself) by Ne-Yo
Word Count: 5.0k
Description: With Jimin away on tour, you are left to your studies and an empty apartment. Unsure of the date of his return, you search for a distraction from the loneliness only to find yourself in the middle of a battle with your inner demons. It’s not until Jimin makes a surprise appearance that you are able to pick up the pieces and discover what it means to love yourself.
summary: Every year, you and Sam Wilson meet at the same place, on the same day. And you talk about how the crueler events in life have changed you from the people you once were, and the life you were supposed to have.
pairings: sam wilson x reader (formerly)
warnings: mentions of death, sadness, angst, probably swearing because it’s me.
A/N: ok this was just an idea i had and i wrote it to get it out of my head. also, sam wilson is a precious angel and doesn’t have enough fics in this world. even if it’s a sad one. this has nothing to do with the book/movie of the same title. i just liked it.
September. You could always feel it coming, like a bird knowing when to migrate or a flower getting ready to bloom. It was just time. A feeling that settled over you quite suddenly every year, causing you to glance at the nearest calendar only to be reminded it was still several weeks early. And you always did your best to ignore it, to let the weight accumulate like a sand dial emptying its contents directly onto your shoulders. It became a waiting game. You functioned just fine - you had grown far too accustomed to this yearly routine for it to bog you down anymore - but you watched the days go by. July flowed into August, and August seemed to barely register in your consciousness before it was September. And then things began to slow. It was the 1st. Then the 5th. Then the 9th. Then it was the 13th.
he taps her shoulder, exactly three times, with a pen. gently. no — cautiously, akin to a feral animal. it’s not that he’s scared, definitely not. it’s the familiarity of it - the sickening nostalgia of their connection that makes it somewhat… disturbing. disgusting. ❛ your heart’s frozen, yet you still shiver. is it the softness on its edges? or is petersburg’s cold reality too sharp for you? ❜ // . @forgivist.
“This was really nice tonight.” He was almost singing to himself as he rounded your large kitchen island, collecting empty wine glasses and bent beer cans. Liam looked something like a cartoon child, his smile thin, but bright. He was actually shining as he walked underneath the fluorescent lights, but he couldn’t feel the truth of anything going on around him. His world was still all a glow and that was all he was aware of.
“It was.” From your chest, you let out the words without much thought at all. It was easier to lie because the truth would cause a conversation that Liam wouldn’t like. It would confuse him and therefore lead to an argument.
You two hadn’t actually been a couple for three months yet you were still barricading him from the facts like you did when you were his girlfriend. You only did it to keep him selfish because only when Liam was selfish was he truly happy and, as his devoted girlfriend, you wanted him to be happy more than anything you hoped for yourself. For nearly a year, you broke your back to keep him straight and narrow and when he decided he was bored and wanted to see what else was out there, you were left as a hollow shell of yourself always one fall away from breaking into a million pieces.
Thanks to Andy, he was back in your life. You and Andy’s girlfriend, Daisy, still hung out together every so often and when Andy had swung by two weeks on Sunday to pick her up from your place, he had Liam with him and you were forced to pretend like you hadn’t at all been affected by his abrupt and rather cold decision to take off. He was leaning up against the passenger side door of Andy’s car, his hands in his pocket, talking to you all about a trip he was planning to take with his mates and how he was looking forward to the film premiere. You were mostly listening to your own thoughts as he spoke, but you were pretty sure all you replied with was: “That’s great…”, “I’m so happy for you…”, and “Cool”. It was pleasant and plastic at best, but Liam wasn’t much for depth.
“I’m so glad we can hang out.” Liam revealed with a heave from the bottom of his chest as he approached you by the sink, your arms elbow deep in soapy water and dirty Ikea dishes. The glasses in his hands clankly loudly, but it was nothing compared to how bombastic his grin was. “I love that we can be friends.”
It was probably the few generous glasses of wine you had allowed yourself at your fun little dinner party that you had, reluctantly told Andy Liam could come, that made you so honest, but your cheeks sort of grew like a flounder fish at his comment as you concealed a feverish giggle.
“Friends?” You questioned the word as if it was one you had never heard before in your life. “We hang out once since we broke up and now we’re friends?” You kept your own smile up while you cornered him with the question, tilting your head upwards to see his own grin vanish like cigarette smoke in winter air.
“Well…uh…” Liam checked with his shoes, leaning against your counter top, trying to figure out the right words to explain himself. “I think of you as a friend.” He admitted confidently, his eyes batting up at you the way they always did when he wanted something.
“I was being polite tonight, Liam, not friendly. I’m sorry if you mistook my kindness for friendship.” Your giggle was gone, you were direct as you slid your hands from out of the dishwater and wiped them on the hand towel around the stove’s handle.
Liam was speechless. He had never seen you stand up for yourself because, when you two were a couple, you didn’t. You let him shine by dimming your own light and it was only when he left you that you remembered how to turn your wattage back on. He had to find you in the kitchen again when he finally picked his stunned stare and parted mouth off the floor. You were back at the generous wooden table, picking up the cloth placemats one by one. He watched you over his shoulder before turning around like a dog hunting it’s tail to face you properly.
“What did I do?” He asked and you had to look up from your busy hands to see that his question was truly sincere. He actually had no idea. All you could do was continue to tidy up since there were so many ways to start the answer.
“Why haven’t you left yet? Everybody else has gone home.” You decided it was the best interest of your sanity to bypass his inane question all together. Sighing, you carried the stack of placemats through the kitchen, opening up a closet door to toss them clumsily into a hamper that was mostly full of towels and one stained shirt.
“I wanted to stay and spend time with you.” Standing up straight, he confessed, moving to rest his forearms and chest against the kitchen island that was keeping you two apart. “Catch up. I mean, you’re still really important to me…”
“Oh, please…” Stopping still in your tracks, you turned half way to look at Liam with an expression born out of disgust, eyes squinting with contempt. It was like he had just let out the most pungent odor into the room. “You know what,” You shook your head first and then waved your hand at him, back and forth. “Guys need to stop doing that. You need to stop watching these romantic films with your girlfriends and then paraphrasing lines the leading men say. It doesn’t do anyone any favors.” You advised him, the words fresh though they had been buried inside of you for eighty days or so.
“What is wrong?” Liam asked, huffing, frustrated that you weren’t easy to be with anymore. You wouldn’t just go with his flow, but instead marched against his parade.
“What’s wrong?” You repeated, almost humored, as you turned to face him completely. “What’s wrong is you’re standing in my kitchen acting like it’s bizarre for me to have a problem with you when not even three months ago you just left me after I did fucking everything for you!” Your arms were stretched out above your perfectly styled hair before you let them down onto the island, gripping the counter and staring straight at him with your eyes lit up like fireworks. Liam, the boy who could talk about nothing for hours, was silent so you continued holding the floor since you felt you were on a well-deserved roll. “Not even a week after you rip my heart out, you’re posting pictures of you drunk with these strange girls in their crop tops and with their tongue rings, like I’m not even a blip in your head….” In case he needed visuals, you pointed to your own forehead with an index finger sharply. “What is with everyone and posting pictures for proof of their stupid and, frankly, boring decisions? Like I am haunted by every single weird mistake I’ve ever made, I can’t shake anything, not even you from my memory, and you’re trying to decide what fucking filter your pub crawl looks best with!” You hadn’t even realized how much anger you had bottled up in you like packed sand in a coke bottle, lost in the rippling waves. Maybe, you had gone a little off topic, but after the things you had put up with from Liam and the times you kept quiet when you really needed to scream, you felt entitled to a miniature rant. “So, give me a pardon, Liam, for when I don’t want to hug you and hear all about how great your life is without me because I made you my fucking world and let it spin around your promises that you didn’t even hear yourself making.”
Liam’s face seemed drained of its color, your verse a cold slap from the hands of reality that he couldn’t quite comprehend. He had no idea you felt that way. He had thought you were okay because he never thought that you couldn’t be.
“I…I….I don’t even know what to say….” Without surprising you, he admitted after swallowing a dry spell in his throat. His mind was slowly going over ideas, but you had been so sincere and honest that anything he could come up with would only sound like a line, like one of the things you had just told him not to say.
“Don’t say anything. Just do what you did and get out of my life again. I can’t be friends with you.” Just like you had imagined yourself saying if you ever had the chance, you told him, the words burning a hole in your chest.
Finally, Liam peeled his sticky palms off of your counter and carried his head low as he inched his way out of your kitchen, doing just as you had said.
“Wait…” You could hear him with his hands in his pocket, keys jingling as he tried to shuffle into his shoes at your front door. On your tip toes, you rushed over to watch him leave. When he broke up with you, you had been too hurt to walk him to the door and you always wished you had a visual for the moment for a masochistic reason you weren’t really sure of. “If I was your friend, I would tell you that the next time someone mistakenly gives you love…try not to shit all over it.” That was all, you said it with the little fire left in your mouth, and watched as he let himself out your door, onto the stoop, with remorse in his eyes. It was the first time you saw anything that resembled an apology from him and, almost instantly, you knew you could move on.
It was the definition of a pleasant surprise. Right before walking out the door in your favorite, but criminally underused, pair of heels, you had almost lost your nerve. You had it in your mind that you were better off staying home this Friday night, alone with Netflix and a “slice” of pie that could feed a family of five. However, your friend was already waiting in the car outside and she had begged you to come out. You hadn’t seen her in ages, but that was because she was only your friend through Louis and you had distanced yourself from him when you two broke up.
You two were each other’s first relationship and it had only ended because of the XFactor hoopla. For a little while after the show, you tried to keep your relationship going, but the odds were stacked like Jenga pieces against you and before “What Makes You Beautiful” even debuted, you two had split up. It wasn’t out of hard feelings or anger that you two had broken up, your lives just carried on separately and silently. Well, his not so silently.
As soon as you arrived in the VIP area of the club, you saw Louis sitting around, smoking and drinking stout, with the friends that you used to call your own. He jumped to his sneaker covered feet at the sight of you, throwing open his arms and letting you walk between them before he wrapped you up in a warm hug. It felt just like how it used to except he was stronger now and your eyes weren’t looking down at wisps of hair, but at pieces of ink sneaking out of his t-shirt. Without any struggle, you two slipped into your old ways, reviewing the stories that made up your relationship, sharing embarrassing inside jokes with everyone, and even re-enacting the afternoon Louis managed to get you two locked in a car wash in his mom’s van.
When Eleanor arrived, looking as if she had just robbed Topshop, you worried that the energy would shift and he would begin to ignore you, but nothing changed. He introduced you two and she was very cordial with you, asking you about the little she already knew of you and telling you about her day. For lack of a better word, it was just nice and you were glad that you had decided to come out.
“Enough talk. I want to dance.” Drunkenly, your old friend threw her hand between yours and Eleanor’s faces to pull you up and take you to the dance floor. Happily, you obliged. They were playing a weird remix of a classic 90s song, it felt only right to move your hips and shimmy your shoulders to the beat, mouthing the words you knew.
With a beer in hand, a tall guy that looked to be around your age, smiled and joined you and your friend. He was just being goofy at first, swinging his arms around and even showing off his version of the sprinkler. After he had made you laugh a few times, he stepped in and danced closer to you, leaving your friend out completely. You weren’t thinking about going home with him, you weren’t even thinking of talking to him, it was just harmless fun, so it didn’t bother you when he put his empty hand against your hip, his fingers pressing into your pink skin. You fixed a funny expression with your eyes, keeping everything chill, but when you looked up at him, he lost balance. It took a second for you to register that he had been shoved forcefully from the side by Louis.
Your ex looked infuriated, how you imagined he would look if someone was attacking his girlfriend, but the thing was that you weren’t being attacked, and more importantly, you weren’t his girlfriend.
“You got a problem, mate?” Finding his footing again, your dance partner put his beer down on the crowded floor before cracking his right knuckles into his left palm, eyeballing Louis like he would make a great supper.
“No, we got a problem.” Confidently, Louis corrected. “Don’t fucking touch her.” He tossed out.
“This your boyfriend?” The guy asked with a flick of his chin in Louis’s direction. You were silent in order to let Louis tell him that he wasn’t, but nothing came out of his mouth, not even when your eyes pleaded with his blue pupils.
“No, he’s not…I don’t….” You tried to muster out a response, but your head was spinning and you wished you were sober enough to really understand Louis. “Sorry. Excuse me.” You held up your finger, shouting over the music as the song moved on. Walking away, you thrusted your palm into Louis’s back and led him out the smoking doors, joining the hoard of nicotine addicted guys in plaid and their underdressed female companions. “What was that all about?” Louis always had a temper, but it hadn’t bothered you when you two were together. It was inappropriate now and seemed completely out of place. In fact, you had forgotten what a hothead he could be in the blink of an eye.
“That guy wanted to fuck you.”
“So?” You let your face prune up in confusion. Of course, you hadn’t picked up those kinds of vibes from the dancing guy, but it wouldn’t have mattered if you had.
“You don’t want to fuck him. I was just protecting you.”
Like Daffy Duck’s, you swore you felt your head do a full 360 turn on your neck.
“First of all, he didn’t want to fuck me. Secondly, I don’t want to fuck him. Third, don’t tell me what I want to do and who I want to do it with.” You wiggled three of your fingers in his face before bringing up your fourth. “And I don’t need you to protect me. We, you and me, are not together and we haven’t been for a long time!”
“I was just protecting you.” More defensively, Louis repeated himself.
“Well, don’t protect me. Jesus, is this what being your friend is now? If that’s the case, count me out.” You were having a lovely time, but tangling yourself up in the confusing web that was Louis and his forever chaotic life did not appeal. You had grown up plenty since you two were the couple you once were and you couldn’t swallow the idea of him being such a reigning presence in your life again. “You have a girlfriend that you can act jealous over. I’m not yours anymore. If you haven’t forgotten, that was your decision.”
Louis opened up his mouth to speak, always needing to say too much, but you held up your hand like a referee would a yellow card.
“It’s very sweet that you still care about me and I care about you, but you got to figure out some boundaries or we’re going to have a problem.” Finger by finger, you removed your hand from the air and turned back to head back inside, going to the dance floor right away to rejoin your friend and an Ace of Base classic.
Bending your knees, you stood in front of the television and loaded a disc into the BluRay machine. On your first date, just over two years ago now, you and Niall watched The Blues Brothers and it was his suggested that you two do it again today after hanging out all morning at the park, kicking around the ball and eating ice cream on the bridge over the small stream. It had been really fun and you felt nothing, but grateful to have him back in your life. Even if you two were just friends now, it was still good to be able to bury the hatchet and hang out. It wasn’t as if you two had parted on very good terms. You were constantly going back to one another just to fall apart again. In fact, you two were going to go insane if you didn’t take a break from each other. It was hard, but you knew you were both better for it.
“You know, I don’t even know if I remember much of this movie.” While sitting back down on the couch, enough room for a small lap dog between you and your ex, you mused. “Well, I remember the end and Aretha Franklin…” Just thinking about the two crazy scenes caused you to faintly chuckle.
“It’s one of the best.” Niall chimed in, a last sip of his brew swallowed as he put the glass bottle down on the coffee table that you had your feet up on.
The movie had only been playing for a few minutes when you felt his hand slide up your bare leg, your shorts revealing the limbs that used to be placed under his arms during long trail hikes or wrapped around his waist as you shared secrets under blanket forts. The opening credits had yet to finish and Niall had completely deleted the space between both of you and was turned slightly to give you more attention. Nervously, your chest collapsed inward as you held your breath. It wasn’t very different from your first date actually. Every time you felt his blue stare on you, you nearly broke into a sweat rarely seen outside of the Sahara desert.
“Niall…” Round and skittish, you looked at him like you were ten years younger than you actually were.
His smile was discreet as he inched closer, shushing you like someone would a colicky baby, before closing the gap between you both. He was kissing you just like he used to, only he had picked up some skills and chapstick along the way. Like butter on a cookie sheet, his lips slid over yours and he used his tongue to open up your mouth, giving himself a small passage way to your peppermint cavity. Over and over in your mind, you just kept thinking about how bad it was that you were enjoying this, enjoying him, and that his calloused finger tips could still cover you in goose bumps. Your nipples were hard under your sweater and, as if he could read your mind, he took the hand resting by your side and guided it over his crotch, his jeans knit tightly together over his own stimulation. He groped your hand, urging you to mimic the action, but somehow, the tiniest bit of strength inside of you took over and you practically rolled away from him as John Belushi contorted on the flat screen in front of you.
“No.” In a very quiet voice, one suited for church, you directed your stare onto dial, eyes dialated to the size of mason jars, and shook your head.
“Come on…” He chuckled, giving his blond hair a toss with one hand raking through it.
“No. I really did invite you over to watch a movie…not to…watch a movie.” You emphasized, but Niall was still smirking. Either he wasn’t listening or he really didn’t believe you.
“You used to like kissing me…” Mr. Know-It-All, Niall reminded you, moving closer again and running his hand over your exposed knee closest to him. “We can’t have fun anymore?”
“I’m not like that and you know it.” Bringing your chin down in order to shoot him your best ‘get real’ stare, you stated.
“I know a couple different sides of you.” If he was being honest, Niall always felt lucky that he had been privy to a private side that only a select few got to know. You allowed him to your own backstage area where few had been before and fewer since. You were like the a precious stone that only a selection could touch. He always liked that you had picked him. He didn’t always feel worthy, but he was still damn happy. “Come on, it’s me. We know each other…” You didn’t need to be reminded of your history. It was hard to forget on a normal day, but especially hard to forget when he was grazing his fingers up your leg, on his trail to your pot o’gold.
“Niall, we’re just friends now.”
“No, they don’t.” Did he really think this was the first time you had had this conversation?
He was biting his bottom lip, trying to supress his desire, but it was hard with all the memories of how good it felt to be caught up inside of you. His hand on your leg, massaging it, might have been driving you wild, but he had forgotten just how much like cotton your skin felt like and he wasn’t sure he could stop himself from just lightly running over it.
“Yeah, they do.”
“No, they don’t.” Like a child, you argued back with a smile. Niall showed off his straightened teeth and moved in to kiss you again. His lips were planted for just a few seconds before you pushed him away with both hands on his chest. “Niall, you used to respect me. You used to call me beautiful and listen to me…what is this?”
“Tell me, honestly, you don’t want to hook up.” Niall slouched against the back of the couch, his arm melting into the cushion, as he looked at you like you were an unimpressive audition at The XFactor.
“I don’t hook up with my friends and we agreed we would just be friends.” It wasn’t meant to sound like an ultimatum, but the way Niall folded his arms over his chest and moved to put his back against the couch, he must have taken it that way. Slowly, you focused on the movie, but you could tell Niall’s brain was reeling. He was struggling between respecting you and walking out. Unfortunately, he was even more attracted to you now that you weren’t taking his shit, but he was too proud to apologize or try for a second chance.
“Of everything, I’m jealous you’re going to Columbia.” Filled with stardust and friendly envy, you shared with Harry as you sat across the small café table from him. You blew over the top of your paper tea cup again and brought it back to your lips to try and sip. “I wish I could snuggle up in your suitcase. I’d go home after Columbia, I swear.” You joked playfully.
It was Harry who had reached out to you. Out of the blue, he sent you a ‘how are you’ text and while you were caught off guard, you replied kindly. It was nice to hear from him again and you were ready to move on. Before you two ever took up with one another romantically, you had been casual friends and he was one of the funniest people you knew amongst other things. It felt harmless to text back and forth. It was just by chance that you two were able to meet up for tea months later. He felt like a friend now, so it wasn’t a big deal.
“You’re totally welcome to come!” Harry didn’t even take a second to reply. He joyously jolted forward and nodded in agreement. You had just been messing around, but he sounded serious, he even looked it. “We would have a blast.”
“Next time.” Still playing around, you winked.
Before Harry could carry on, his buzzing phone caught his attention again. It had been going off nonstop, singing like mosquito at a summer camp out, but you just ignored it. Obviously, he was an in demand guy.
“Fuck.” Under his breath, Harry let out as he checked the phone’s screen. He put it back down once it went motionless, but right as he went to speak again, it started to vibrate. “She is so fucking annoying. Jesus.” In a normal tone this time, Harry muttered and picked up the phone to turn it’s power off completely.
You kept your eyes on the water in your cup. There was a part of Harry’s life that you didn’t want to know and that was his love life. While you wished him only the best, you had made up your mind before coming that you wouldn’t talk to him about what was going on in your romantic world and you wouldn’t ask him about his. Considering, you used to be his main girl, it felt a little bit tacky and wrong to hear about what was going on in that part of his world now.
“I’m sorry. She’s just on my ass these days. We had our issues, [Y/N], but you were never annoying. She’s got it down to an art.”
Simply, you just smiled at him and said, “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t compare her and I.” It wasn’t fair to either of you and while you didn’t really care about her, you were going to look out for yourself.
“I couldn’t.” Without picking up on what you were getting at, Harry continued. “You two are so different. You always didn’t make mountains out of molehills. Everything with her is the fucking end of the world. Last week, I went out to pick –“ He was scooting forward on his wooden chair, ready to dive into his story, but your shaking head made him fumble. “What?”
“Don’t tell me about her especially if it’s complaints. Don’t you understand how awful that is?” Harry wasn’t reacting. He looked at you as if his head was full of crickets and filled his mouth with coffee since he didn’t know what to say. “We were great, you know I treated you like a king, and you dumped me. That’s fine, I don’t care now, but then you invite me out and talk about how annoying your girlfriend is to me, but you’re still with her. Come on, Harry…” He could play cute and charming with all the reporters he wanted to, but you knew him and you knew he was smarter than that.
“Sorry.” Sincerely, he offered. “I’ve just always been able to tell you anything.”
“Well, we’re friends now and you can talk to me about anything….except that. If you’re happy, tell me, because I want to know, but otherwise,” You mimed locking your mouth shut and then tossed the imaginary key into his mug.
Folding his arms over his side of the table, he smiled down at your actions and how cool you were being, and silently continued to complain about how his girlfriend wasn’t that cool at all.
Everybody knew that you and Zayn were going to see one another again. For too long, you two had been such important people in each other’s lives, you couldn’t just give that up because the relationship didn’t work out. You both had to take a lot of time hide away and lick your wounds, but eventually, after seeing one another at a friend’s birthday dinner, you decided that you would hang out when he was back in England again. It was a slow gradual rebuild, but you both hoped that eventually you could return to how you used to be: thick as thieves.
With coffee, there would be forced conversation. A movie would be weird with the silence and darkness taking the lead. Going out with friends kept you two from reconnecting. So you decided that a long leisurely walk was the way to go. You and Zayn had gone for so many when you were friends before and then after when you got together. The mornings, you would hike up to the top of the hill and slowly pace your way to the bottom before rounding the path home. On sunshiny afternoons, you would practically cover the whole county and then, late at night, when you felt restless or bored, you two would stalk through the darkness hand-in-hand. It felt natural to go for a walk together and there was absolutely no pressure to entertain the other. The world around you to was interesting enough.
After an hour of trading thoughts on where you were in your lives, sharing what had been going on since you said goodbye to one another and finished your relationship a year ago at O’Hare airport, you two sat down a cement bench. His Convese feet kicking up dirt between the bricks while you rested your feet on your toes, pushing the fabric of your shoes together. You were sitting on your hands, watching the stones like they would move at any second.
“It’s across that way where we found that dog, right?” Pointing through a forest of broken trees, Zayn asked. He couldn’t remember exactly, but he was positive it was somewhere nearby where you two had been wandering on an impromptu adventure when you stumbled across a stray little mutt, rescuing it in his zip up and taking it to the closest shelter.
“I think so.” You nodded, remembering that it was.
“I really thought you were going to adopt it.” Thinking back, Zayn shared, remembering just how sad and worried you were when you two left the little pup with the volunteers.
“I probably would have had you not been so loudly against the idea.” Shrugging, you looked forward as the moon was pale and just beginning to show itself in the sky. It was your favorite color, the one it only became when the sun was finally giving up and the moon was ready and willing to take over. You called it pixie blue, but you were sure it had a real name that someone made up when they used it to paint their bedroom walls.
“We weren’t ready for a dog….not one with so many medical problems.”
Squinting, you let that afternoon play out in your head like an old movie that was sitting in the attic of your brain. Zayn had sprung into hero mode, squatting on his knees and coaxing the scared canine over with an open hand, tender coos, and warm eyes. You stood behind him for backup, letting Zayn take the lead as he was so good at doing. He peeled off his zip up sweater and wrapped the puppy up in it once it let down it’s guard, carrying him back as you navigated the two of you out of the forest area. It was the only time he let you drive his car, content on cradling the puppy in his lap the whole way into the city where the shelter was located. You remembered how Zayn had his hand resting on the small of your back as you two stood side by side, answering all the questions you could to the volunteers that ran the place. Before you could even remember how the puppy cried for you two to stay, you felt your own eyes watering and you closed them to try and keep it inside.
“You okay, [Y/N]?” Hunching over, Zayn checked, squinting his dark as ash eyes at you as if that would help him figure out what you were doing with your own pupils. “What’s wrong?” He worried that, maybe, something was going on with you that you hadn’t told him yet. In the back of his mind, everywhere he went, Zayn always hoped that you were okay. He gently put a hand on your shoulder, but you jumped at his touch and sat up straight.
With your wrists, you wiped at your crying eyes and tried to sniffle your emotions away.
“I’m sorry. I thought I could do this, but I don’t think I can…right now…” Painfully, like you were being sliced in the middle, you admitted.
“What do you mean?” His brows folded over his eyes like origami, making him appear as confused as he was.
“There’s too much between us. It makes this hard.” For the first time in a few minutes, you looked right at him, watching as your words danced into his head and twisted his expression from puzzlement to pure melancholy.
“[Y/N]…” He whispered your name, the darkness growing around you both as you sniffled again.
“No, no, it’s okay. I just…I’m not ready to just be friends. I’m sorry.” Standing up, you began to walk the way you came, collecting a good amount of space between you and your best love.
* Hopefully these ones were enjoyed. I’m going through something in this second and this was the healthiest way to vent, I guess. Let me know what you think. And I am getting to all the one shot requests. If you haven’t got yours yet, it’ll come.
How then is it possible to withstand feelings of powerlessness?
Put one foot in front of the other. Scrawl one honest word after the next on the parchment of the heart. Make your life a flaming arrow aimed at the dry and rotted heart of the system or make your own heart a warm hearth of compassion for its victims, as you negotiate its cold realities.
“There are fixed points through time where things must always stay the way they are. This is not one of them. This is an opportunity. A temporal tipping point. Whatever happens today will change future events, create its own timeline, its own reality.”- Eleven in Cold Blood
“Listen, there are moments in every civilizations history, in which the whole path of that civilization is decided, the whole future path. Whatever future humanity might have depends upon the choice made right here and right now.”- Twelve in Kill the Moon
McArthur Swindle, otherwise known as NuNu or Nuski, was an affiliate of his cousin Lil Durk. He was shot and killed in a Chicago mall parking lot days after his music video for “OC” had been released.
In 2013, I was a part of a VICE documentary crew looking to shed some light on Chicago’s troubled history with violence amid its newfound fame. Our cameras captured a sliver of daily life in Chicago’s Southside, plagued with violence, its residents hardened from the cold reality of gang-ridden streets.
As with many Black Americans born into impoverished neighborhoods like Chicago’s Southside, they look to move to more affluent neighborhoods with their newfound wealth. The city’s brightest star Chief Keef is the template for this, having relocated to the posh neighborhoods of Chicago’s Northside, but the same violence he left on the city’s Southside followed him to the suburbs.
The first time I cut my own hair it was after a long period of emotional plague associated with my physical and mental abuse had come to an end following an altercation with my abuser. I had stabbed his shin with a Khukri – a curved Nepalese knife quite similar to a machete. He had tried to assault me while I was suffering from a crippling fever and in the sheer hysteria I was experiencing between pain I was already under and the pain I expected him to put me through, I found the nearest cudgel & jabbed it into the loose meat wrapped around his tibia. He let out a malignant bawl and limped out of the tiny kitchen. That evening it was decided that I would leave for a boarding school by the next semester and the period between that day and the hour of my departure to the hilly town where I completed the remainder of my school education was unblemished by any attempts on his part to encounter me in any way possible.
I don’t remember his face very well except for my nightmares where I can see his insufferably bucolic gaze hulking over my petite frame. Then, I remember his face right down to every precise coordinate of the misshapened nose, the fetor of tobacco emanating from his dust-smudged mouth. Mostly I remember how he had started – by tousling my hair, by telling me how it was like “Chinese silk” & how special it made me.
So, when I finally rid my days of his presence, I took a pair of kitchen scissors to my long, ebony strands and soon the floor looked like a massacre of ravens. It wasn’t an act of haste or anger – it was done very slowly, with calm and almost practiced strokes and though it was my eponymous attempt at barbershop antics, the result wasn’t all that asymmetrical or uneven. I looked like a sullen pixie and I liked it. I sat in that sea of hair and carefully palmed the confetti of tresses as if I had just lost a pet and I was running my fingers through its dead- cold fur. Suddenly the reality of the act struck me – I was now shed of what was constantly reitrated to be the essence of my beauty. I was now distinctly and beyond a shadow of doubt – “ugly”. I think in our hour of grief, we lose the idea of object permanence; we become infants who believe that what is not there right now, will never ever be again. We wither periodically with a pendulum of pangs; we assume that once separated from a part of ourselves we considered so central to our identity, we can never reclaim that lost territory or its peaceful vantage that inverted our gaze towards our own existence.
By the time I reached the boarding school, my sprite-cut had slowly bloomed into thick even if somewhat brusque tendrils & I remember entering the dorm with a harp shaped hairpin clasping my tender locks into their rightful place so I didn’t appear the proverbial pirate with a god-gifted eye patch made of my own fringes. That hairpin was the conversation starter that led me to meeting the Naz/Noush sisters who went on to become my room-mates for the rest of the year. Farinaz and Farinoush were Persian sisters with an age gap of 2 years separating them. Naz, the elder, stoic mathematical genius and Noush, the younger, impish & very fashionable budding basketball champion. Besides their well enunciated and diverse personalities, the two girls also differed in the texture of their hair. Naz had crow-colored, chock-full ringlets sprouting from that near Einsteinesque head. Noush had honey tinged satin flowing out of hers. It was almost as if Naz’s impulsive waves were a sharp antithesis to her patient endurance whereas Noush’s velvet-feathered serenity contradicted her prank-happy grins.Their mother visited them twice every month & every visit was a culinary revelation with well packed plates of chelow kebabs, shishlikh, zereskh polo, tah-chin, vinegar drenched olives garnishing august salads. Mrs Ghorbani was a wine complexioned woman in her early 40s and aside from the two girls she had a son who was our consistent eye candy through the hostel years. She always wore beautiful cashmere jackets and paisley printed scarves covering her forehead. Naz said her mother was not so much as pious as she was obedient. I fail to recollect how we segregated the individual meanings for those terms so as to establish clear parameters for contrasts. The Ghorbani family had fled their native country during the Khomeini era and had been vagabonds since them. The girls were toddlers when they were first displaced and had lived in almost as many countries as the years on their birthday cards. Often when Mrs Ghorbani visited she would sit with us on the wide swing by the chapel garden and talk to us about music or dance or something equally pleasant and non-political. In all my bursting curiosity and childish candor I blurted my undying interest in why she always kept her head covered. She suddenly looked pale; a swan anticipating an archer. Quickly though, she calmed down and handed me an almond muttering something about how as women got older they lost their hair and she kept it covered to protect it.
Later during the night, after her mother’s departure, Naz told me that when her mother lived in Iran, she was once arrested by the secret police for some of her copper-tinted curls showing from under the chador and she had received 10 lashes as the designated punishment for this assumed offense.
I stayed up till late wondering about how a slithering leather whip in motion looked a lot like a witch’s braid shaking its angry sting at an offender. I wondered if Mrs Ghorbani’s welts would have borne the same shade as her uniquely hued hair.
Till then I had never seen someone brutalized before my own eyes but I had once tried homemade remedying of my househelp’s daughter’s injuries who was around my age when the incident occured. She’d come home looking for her mother; her unkempt frock in tatters, snot caked around her nose and her lips & a deep stench rising from her. Some boys had chased her down the road, she said. They had tried to drag her into the skeletal ruin of a long abandoned house, she said. They had pushed her face into the mud and used electric wires to whip her malnourished back. They had poured kerosene on her hair, she said. They wanted to turn me into a cherry bomb, she said. She was a lower caste than the culprits so she was no longer a person in their eyes, merely a pawn, a pandered object. Ironically, she belonged to a village of ‘untouchables” whose shadows weren’t even allowed to fall onto the temple courtyard and yet the very men who would cut off her father’s tongue for speaking to them, didn’t feel a lot of impurity impinge on them when they tried to violate her. She had bit one on the hand and had run like she was a puma on steroids. She had come straight to our house looking for her mother. As she spoke my mind digressed to the time I had seen my grandfather cook fish on an open coal oven and I thought she resembled the char of that burning softness. My grandmother was sleeping and so I took her to the bathroom and helped her clean herself. Then I made a paste of sandalwood and turmeric for her back. What I remember most was how tufts of her sand-stained, matted plaits floated into the drain. I think I smelled kerosene on my fingernails for days onwards. I woke up at midnight with images of matted hair filling up my throat.
Every time the thunderbolt of my own depression struck me with a calculated violence, I would feel magnetized by the aura of sharp, razor-edged glint of things surrounding me. Over a period of time, I taught myself to eschew the ones that left me with grotesque mementoes dug into my arms and instead choose ones I could willingly gift a fraction of my falling self. I would cut my hair instead of my hands or my knees or my stomach. I learned to let go in these slight steps. Unlike the first time, this time I knew that was I was losing with the knowledge that this part of me was far more likely to return with more lushness and less mistrust as compared to what I would lose without consent; that which would be taken from me unwillingly; its legs failing, its face- the demeanor of a wildifire swallowing everything in its path.
No longer did beauty sleep in the comfort of this guileless veil. I couldn’t hide behind the opaque, obsidian enclosure of what had grown from me. At the same time, when it grew back after I had threshed it, I was revived by its incendiary fervor to emerge again. I was thankful for the option of being able to pour it to the front of my face and make my own private room for reflection under its elaborate serape.
During my first stint of volunteering, a young Liberian and I sat under the ragged canvas of a refugee camp and roasted peanuts as the rain’s heartbeat pulsated against the widespread thicket. Her hair was shorn and the baldness was a second even if darker moon in the thinning light of the first one. I didn’t know of her name except that she called herself Eba and had pink nails. She wanted to be a beautician, she told me. She offered to make cornrows for me and I told her of my habitual hair sniping proclivity. I wondered why did she not grow her own hair. She said she couldn’t after the soldiers poured acid over her head. She said that once she made it to Netherlands, she would save money and buy a wig of dreadlocks. The word always sounded peculiar – dread and locks. The lock of dread, the dread of locks. I gave her my mailing address and asked her to send me a picture of herself when she made it through.
Through the forest, as the roads diverged and converged, their truncated arteries growing under the willow’s weep, their forked tongues pointing out to different surrogate shanty towns clanking their canister of chores, I saw women sit next to the asthmatic hearth and dress each other’s hair. In this bleak, acrid stain of a landscape, they gripped some vague hope in the loose fists cinched around each other’s tresses.
I, of course, came back and stood speculating in front of an ornate, ivy-filigreed mirror – an heirloom from my grandmother who oiled my hair on winter mornings; a domestic concoction of sapindus extracts, coconut oil and shikakai. Her gentle rinse was a ritual for cleansing that extended beyond the grime and grit that had collected in my schoolgirl’s ponytail.
A while ago I watched the very erudite inspection of hair and the its political heritage by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in conversation with a very white guy who seemed baffled with the love for hair and efforts afforded to its maintenance. Her precise humor, her exquisite laugh peppering the length of that dialogue. She spoke of hair in conjunction with race, love and exile – physical and/or spiritual.
In Hindu mythology, Draupadi – who was betted at a game of draught that led to the epic battle of Mahabharta – decides to keep her mane unwashed till she could bathe it with the blood of the man who stripped her in a full assembly of kings and courtiers in an attempt to insult her husbands (she was married to the 5 Pandava brothers who were vanquished by their cousins in lust for the kingdom they had inherited). She keeps her vow. Even if it means the extinction of an entire bloodline of kings.
At every stage that I let go of my hair, I also let go of the inherent fear that the things I was born with or into, that I didn’t have an intrinsic control over, were irreplaceable; that the paradigm of this loveliness bestowed upon me always had to be physically determined and socially approved. Similarly, every time it grew back, I was bred bolder in my belief that with time all that seems forfeited or sacrificed is reincarnated and learns to occupy its own riotous expanse.
Science says that any given time, any two strands of hair can be in two entirely different growth phases. This endowed me with a sense of relief; it was ok to not always be congruent, aligned and organized on the same dimension. It was ok to tumble along a spectrum. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t ready or complete - or incapable of developing further.
So I go back to being a young, trembling creature kneeled in the sable sea of my own aftermath and the tiniest cry wells up in the very pith of my ribcage. Then I look up and I see someone new, someone who wasn’t going to let anyone harm her anymore, someone who had been dragged through broken glass and somehow managed to maintain her passion for the dance of fate. Someone who was slowly transforming into a phoenix. Someone who would be reborn every time she changed the shape, the summary of her hair. It wasn’t cosmetic. It wasn’t clinical. It was akin a seed that raises its small knuckles against the hardness of husk, makes one persuasive dent after another till it has broken into the sun that it deserves.
Recently I had a sudden threat of breast cancer thrown my way and my closest friend placed a loving arm around me to ask – “Are you worried about losing your hair?”
The words barely come to my fingertips, yet their volume is deafening
in my heart. I live my story, i live my writings, they are not simply a
fantasy, or the hollow pandering of a madman.
There is a deep
hunger. “Why do you want to fight?” “why would you wake up so early just
to exercise?” “But its so cold outside?” “But its raining?” “But i’m
tired?” “But i already worked today?” “Why would you do that to
yourself?” “But that sounds like it hurts?” “But that sounds scary?” But
i don’t want to put in the baby steps of progression to become an
actualized version of what i see before me after years of effort and
There is a deep hunger, a hunger for challenge, strife,
difficulty, and the things that cause you fear that need to be crushed.
To seek out things that will sharpen you, toughen you, strengthen you,
that will give you grit and mental toughness as well as physical
There is a deep hunger for the things that prepare
you for eventualities that may never be actualized, but its not in the
destination is it? It’s always in the journey. And those whom you travel
with. To feel that bond, one forged by similar experiences that many
will sadly never know, to traverse challenge, face difficulty, to do
what others cannot or will not, and to be brothers and sisters in this
To forge the body, mind, soul, and spirit in the crucible of
self imposed discipline and adversity is the thing i respect most. To
have the strength of will and discipline to subject yourself to ruthless
and unending challenge and difficulty to forge your body, sharpen your
mind, and temper your spirit.
To focus on death and imagine
yourself slain by any cause, event, or weapon, to come to terms with
your own death through a near life experience, or to meditate upon it
and come to terms with the inner truth, that you are mortal and nothing
you do matters anyways, but its important that you do it.
kindness you show others can inadvertently spark the flame of passion
within them if they but see an example they strive to emulate and are
easily welcomed into the life of those persons who push and motivate
I think about these things a lot, more than i probably
should, about our mortality, about every lost life i hear or see, I’ve
lost family, i’ve lost friends, i’ve lost people i’ve held dear, and at
one point i nearly died myself. None of these things has brought a tear
to my eye. All that occurs is that i reflect upon the impermanence of
our mortal coil and our wish for an eternal presence of ourselves we
deem the soul.
I think about how small we are, ants on a blue
marble hurtling through a universe too large for us to fathom. I reflect
on killing, war, battle, and death. To think about the samurai and how
so much suicide and killing took place because of politics and ego, to
think that an artificial game we called society caused the deaths and
suicides of so many. Every time i watch a war movie, every time in any
action movie, i always look at the characters blurred out in the
background and i see them fall down in death and i wonder within the
context of the story; who was that person?, what was their name?, how
old were they?, what were their parents names?, when a city is blown up,
the million is not a statistic, each number is another individual
pocket of space occupied by that particular grouping of atoms held
together by empty space and energy, capable of perception and
independent thought based on experience and learning that creates the
person whom that number represents.
Every person, you, me, that
person working at the gas station, we all occupy space within this
universe, the atoms that make our bodies are like a cloud of smoke, some
slough off the rest follow on our paths we walk, we are clouds of flesh
that think and feel, and nothing else can occupy the space that you do,
if a knife occupies the same space, then you lose vital blood and your
smoke cloud will dissipate in time and what happens to your mind we
I think. A lot. About a lot.
temper all action and reaction with the knowledge i reflect upon,
nothing matters yet it is important that we continue living and not
wallow in our apathy, We are all unique and yet the same, We all want
My happiness is simple, and i relish the moments i get
to spend with those who share my ideals, Few possessions, only the
necessary, the well used, the cherished, the things that serve a direct
purpose, nothing superfluous, nothing gaudy, nothing to declare status
or wealth because neither are important to me. Only time is important to
me, the limited resource i have little of, that i want to spend doing
what makes me happy, challenging myself, forging my body into steel,
sharpening my mind by reflection, reading, and talking with others about
these thoughts i have, and to strengthen my spirit by living in a
disciplined pocket of space i deem my world.
There are trees to
be climbed, trails to be ran, lakes to be dived, rivers to swim,
mountains to climb, and zombies to escape from.
Life is bright
and beautiful, and the ending of it is sad, but in the end nothing
matters, and yet its because of that fact that everything matters, in
the face of cold reality we truly huddle together for warmth and
companionship, and the truly strong are those who open their arms and
welcome those who are cold.