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Making Moves

Freedom is mine and I know how I feel.– Nina Simone (Feeling Good)

Dear Friends,

The guys across the street, in front of the Bisma Mini-Market,  play chess from afternoon to late evening. Everyday I walk by, and there are four men around the table, two of them in deep concentration. They sometimes pause a moment to say hello, then they continue playing. For the past two days, I’ve had breakfast and lunch at Kopi Bisma, which is directly across from them, so I have been watching their deliberate moves and steady hands for two days.

chess

Chess is a complicated game that I haven’t learned to play yet. I say yet, because I’d like to learn to sit for hours at a time and control a kingdom. Watching those men has peaked my interest in the game, so I wikipedia’d the rules of the game and read this: Chess strategy is concerned with evaluation of chess positions and with setting up goals and long-term plans for the future play. It’s often said that the game of  chess is like life, and the voice in my head has signaled that it’s time to consider future plays and make some moves. It’s clear that what must happen will happen, and it’s best to accept what unfolds; however, I know that I must be an active participant in this game of life, set intentions, and place myself in the right situations to realize my goals.

I will never reach my goal by staying in the same place all the time. I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads. – Paulo Coelho

Thus, the time draws nearer and nearer to leave Ubud, a most paradisiacal place. Yes, it’s heaven: overhead fans whir all day; girls have flowers dangling in their hair, secured by long, black strands; many smile their greetings; men wear their flowers tucked behind their ears; shoes are optional; the sunshine and rain play constant games with each other; yoga mats, like prayer mats, connect us to the universal energy source; receptive eyes see nature in bloom and in flight; the ground vibrates with life, and the air smells like jasmine. Perhaps, it’s heaven, because we all behave heavenly here. Yet, it’s soon time to go.

Perhaps, Ubud is to be a personal refuge, not the place to live for a lengthy period, at this time in my life. In regards to Tokyo, though it’s comfortable, safe, convenient, and a million other adjectives,  it’s time to move on from there as well. In September, it will have been three years in Japan, and though we’ve served each other well, it no longer holds the same charm.  Three days ago, I woke up at 4 am thinking, “What next?” A voice in my head answered that question, and told me that I’m free, that anything and anywhere is next. There’s nothing more exciting than realizing that I’m not only the hand, but the chess piece ready to be placed somewhere new. Early in the morning, in the dark, cool room, the lyrics of my sixth-grade graduation song floated to the forefront of my mind, “It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.”

Here comes the flame: my days are going to change again soon, and it will be time to learn a new language (spoken and unspoken), meet new people, see new sights, settle into a new way of life, sit by new rivers. It will all be new, and simultaneously very familiar and right, because I chose it. (Things don’t happen to us, we create them if we’re acting consciously.)

Here and now, lushness surrounds me. Who was it that built this village in the middle of a riotous garden? The trees, animals and flowers grow around us, and our souls grow to meet them. We live in the garden; we spread our arms to the sun; we are rooted in peace. Life’s a chess game, and the freedom to choose how and when to play surely feels good.

See you soon,

Val

p.s This is exactly how I feel:

On Love: How It Lingers, How It Lasts

Was there a garden or was the garden a dream? – Jorge Luis Borges (Adam Cast Forth)

My mother skypes me in the morning (my morning, her night), and fills me in on the hummingbirds who’ve flown into her house and act like its theirs, her garden and its beauties, the concerts or shows she’s been to, the latest Jamaican political news/scandal, her latest writing projects, and how hot it is in Kingston. A few days ago, when she was talking about the “pleasant” heat, and the sweat beading on her forehead, I said something to her that I’ve never in all my years said, not even as a teenager when it was always on the tip of my tongue (and thankfully stayed there),—“Mummy, shut up.”

However today, her aim wasn’t to torture me with the glorious sunshine and heat that she’s reveling under, but to share stories on love. When she starts to talk about the past, it’s when I’m most attentive.  She didn’t say, “Let’s talk about love,” but she did start talking about one of her favorite subjects, her father. I never met my grandfather DJ, as he died decades before I was an egg/sperm cocktail; but when my mother shares stories of her childhood and her father, I think of how love lasts; I think of how the smallest acts of true love never leave us.

It’s amazing how one’s life can boil down to a few often repeated stories—the ones we choose to remember, the ones we can’t let go or the ones we choose to relate. This morning, my mother told me (again) the story of my grandfather bringing home treats for her, her sisters and brother. This isn’t my story to tell (maybe), but I will anyway… He didn’t have much money, due to life circumstances, but on Wednesdays, he would bring a small carton of ice-cream home for his four children to share. A little ice-cream may seem insignificant for those of us who have so much, but for his children, it was an incredible joy. At nine or ten, to my mother, that vanilla ice-cream may have been just a wonderful delight (“Yay, ice-cream!”), but as an adult looking back, that ice-cream was more than just milk and sugar. It was pure love. He brought what he could, sometimes it was a bag of yellow plums, sometimes a bag of cane… sometimes, it was as simple as sharing rice from his dinner plate.

In February, where romantic love is pushed like crack on an urban street corner, I can’t help but think of love in all its manifestations. I’m not in love, so I’m thinking of those I love/loved in a non-romantic sense, how much I’ve been loved and how love never leaves. I’m thinking of laps that were always open and waiting for me to lie in, arms that held me, broad backs that I piggy-backed on, shoulders that I swung on, dinners that were kept warm after a long day, patient ears and minds that listened, and special trips for ice-cream on Sundays.

It’s much to have loved, to have known true joy,

To have had– if only for just one day–

The experience of touching the living Garden. –  Jorge Luis Borges (Adam Cast Forth)

p.s For my mother:

Moving On

…practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

(Excerpted from “One Art”- Elizabeth Bishop: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15212)

I have two days left in the U.S. Though I waited for the shipping company for over a week, TransCaribe finally arrived with the three storage barrels that were needed to ship my belongings to Kingston; and now, everything’s packed, including my suitcase of Una and Mizani hair supplies. Yes, both hair care companies have websites and international shipping, but the state of black women’s hair– those that have relaxers– in Europe scares me, hence the preparedness.

The shipping company, in true Caribbean fashion, took their own sweet time in bringing the three jumbo barrels. Apparently, in Jamaicanese, “soon come” means approximately nine days or more from the hour one’s called. I’ve been away from Jamaica too long, I remember “soon come” meaning “at least a few hours or less than a week,” but nope, it means “over two hundred hours.” My mother, in true motherly fashion, worried and nagged until they came. Then in truer Jamaican fashion, we delayed packing, and fled to the Village to consume Italian food.

Packing was delightful, a delightful purging and remembrance. Since the barrels are narrow, and hold a maximum of three-hundred pounds, only the most essential items can be deposited. In the trash went old college essays (years old), magazines, cds already uploaded on my ipod, an irreparable geisha doll from 1988, and an eight page letter from a guy listing the many reasons that he wasn’t in love with me (why in God’s name was I holding onto that?!).

I packed the essentials, which included cards, mementos and letters from my eighth birthday onward (“Happy 13th, 15th, 21st, 23rd”…yikes, on and on); the most precious and oldest item, a copy of Mr. Meddle’s Muddles from my brother.  Reading the old cards, I remembered incidents long forgotten, and reminded myself that I loved and was loved by people no longer in my life. There were names on cards of former friends of whom I can’t recall faces, and sentiments on high school birthday cards like, “For all that we’ve been through,” and “We’ll be friends forever.” I wonder what we’d been through, since I certainly can’t remember any life-changing events in high school. A college friend gave me a birthday card that jokes, “We will be free.” Judging from the cards, it seems that life has been zany, funny, wacky and “profound.”

And here we are– this chapter of living and working in the U.S, which lasted three and a half years this time, and resulted in major losses and gains, is now almost over. It’s easy to become comfortable (even in a less than ideal place), and though I know it’s best to move on, it seems strange that I’ll have to start all over again. Again. Soon, it’ll be time to make new friends, navigate a new train system, learn new neighborhoods, decipher a new language, minimally decorate a new apartment, and redefine myself. The best thing about a new environment is that it can lead to a constant redefinition of oneself.

Every day, friends ask me if I’m excited or assert that this must be “such an exciting experience.” Yesterday, a friend on Facebook wrote that not only must I be “excited and happy, but nervous and sad as well.”  It  struck me that Anna hit the emotion that I hadn’t quite defined on the head. In this tumult of packing, shopping, organizing, meeting up with friends for last drinks and suppers, closing accounts, wiring money, and telling acquaintances about my impending adventure, there is sadness. I’ve given up a bi-weekly paycheck for uncertainty; I’m also giving up my beloved NYC, the known, a cheap place, and an uncomfortable yet sure existence.

However, as I sat after packing with my mother, Lady Marmabug landed on me. She sat and drooled on my finger for some time (I hope that was drool). This site: http://www.symbolic-meanings.com/2007/11/13/brief-symbolic-meaning-of-the-ladybug/ informed me that the ladybug represents luck, love, and protection. Thus despite apparent losses, I’m excited  to see what there is to gain.