You haven’t heard from me in awhile. 11 days is the longest I’ve actually gone without posting since I started this blog, over a year ago. But it’s not cause I’m bored and not because I’ve given up, not because I’ve run out of things to say (I don’t think that’ll ever happen—sorry).
It’s because I’m filling up.
It’s like carbo-loading before a big race; it’s like tapering off your work-outs to store energy for the moment when it really counts, the thing you’ve been training and training for—sometimes, this time, without even knowing you’ve been training for it. The alignment of events is freaky, which only serves to confirm what my gut tells me is true: this is the trip I’ve been waiting to take.
I kept wanting to cop out. Which is how I knew it was for real, something I was truly scared of. “This is silly,” I’d catch myself saying. “You don’t need to write about all this; just go to SE Asia and bomb around and see the sights and don’t worry about writing this story you’ve been feeling swim around in your blood for the last ten years.” I found out my landlord won’t let me sublet, that my health insurance premium has gone up, and that I’ll literally be bankrupting myself by taking this trip. Why not just scrap the whole thing and curl up in the safety of the familiar?
But I’ve learned recently that what is familiar isn’t always safe. Take, for instance, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes on the desperate breath of a desperate boy: this is familiar. Take all the little ways I’ve learned to abandon myself, to not have to feel feelings, ways I’ve gathered like precious gems I won’t dare let go of: these are familiar. Take the black panic of a forgotten memory, the way it murmurs like voices behind a locked door; take running and running from this thing inside you that won’t sit still, not ever: this too is familiar.
Sometimes what is unfamiliar is actually safest. Or the thing that might save you, save that piece of you you’ve been trying to smother your whole life.
So a friend put over 700 songs on my ipod recently—really cool, diverse, obscure stuff. Some of the most interesting: Cambodian Cassette Archives. Considering how much art and music was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge, the fact some of these tracks survived at all is astounding. The synchronicity spooked me, especially considering that this friend didn’t know anything about my upcoming trip.
I was watching TV at my parents’ house, aimlessly flipping through channels. I stopped on some award show for humanitarian efforts, teary Hollywood stars giving medals and clapping solemnly. An NGO that works with disabled Cambodian youth was being highlighted.
I spent the other night wiggling down the rabbit hole of hyperlinks and Google searches, and found a couple NGOs that deal with the exact issues I’m hoping to explore in my travels—in short, the effects of trauma on the children of survivors, people who didn’t necessarily experience the initial trauma themselves.
Finding these organizations, obscure and underfunded, was like a kind of validation—that I’m not making all this shit up; that what I’ve observed over the course of my life isn’t anecdotal but part of a larger phenomenon, a star in a constellation, the part of the survival story that doesn’t get told: what happens when the physical horror ends, when you come to the US with a head full of nightmares and a pocketful of nothing, delivered into the heart of East Oakland or Long Beach or DC. That for a whole generation, this is where the story begins.
And goddamnit, it’s a story that deserves to be written.
So I’m reading my ass off. I’m writing individuals and organizations about interviews and site visits. I’m taking notes and making lists and drawing arrows, the connection between things I’d always suspected were connected, but couldn’t ever really prove. And I’m not blogging so much.
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re standing on the edge of something? Has there ever been shit you’ve kept black your whole life, but always kinda knew was still there, a type of gravity everything kept coming back to and coming back to?
Little memories have been popping up the last couple weeks, like sparks flashing—things I’d forgotten or hadn’t thought about in a really long time, except in passing. I reread my last post, and realized it was no accident that I compared Pol Pot to a dead uncle. Because I have my own dead uncle I don’t remember, don’t think about, except in passing.
So what happens when you dive into that black? When you unlock that door and let the murmurs have a voice?
I don’t know, but we’re gonna find out.