Impermanent Thoughts

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For the last few years, I have been toying with this idea of impermanence. The idea of death and loss, and then, the acceptance of this impermanence of life.  I’ve always had a strange affinity for danger. As with all stories of death and its derivatives. It started small: dipping my fingers into candle wax, taking my seatbelt off a few minutes early to feel the last three bumps as the car comes to a full stop. The danger was in the small things, the things I could get away with. Balancing on a crack along an endless sidewalk like a hovering, with two arms stretched wide, on the thin pavements carved in between roads, island gardens, as if it were a tightrope, and I, a performer. Otherwise, the danger was in walking on, sometimes in the bike lane, and feeling the cars rush by, death ruffling its clothes against my skin. In keeping my eyes open during roller coaster rides. Or in making eye contact with someone, and allowing myself to be seen. Because sometimes, the simple act of looking back, unflinching, insecurities and all bumbling in the background— that’s danger.

That danger was empowering, and I embraced it. It was a way for me to take control of my life: of where I walked, who I spent my time with, and what I did with my time and my body. It seemed dangerous, then, for an immigrant girl, an indian-american, to walk smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of things. Girls, especially girls from the east, were known to be shy and quiet, supposed to be submissive. And so, it was a power statement—a loudness— to walk on, unafraid. One that I had learned from a young african american gentleman or a book he must have written, an autobiography, to walk fiercely on, in one straight path. Don’t react to where others are, he said. Don’t step to the side for somebody else to pass. These words mattered to me somehow. I was a quiet girl except for these moments. And so, I held on to these dangers.

I did not then have the luxury of opinions. I did not think I had the right to voice my opinions, political or otherwise. I was not African American. I was not Muslim. I was not Jewish. All of whose people shared in a collective struggle against racism. Indians, on the other hand, had a fairly brief history and were only talked about offhandedly, in discussion of curry or poor hygiene or funny accents. I always had to distinguish myself from this stereotype, felt compelled to tell people but I don’t eat curry. I’m different. I was in a state of constant self-doubt of how I smelled and looked and acted in front of others, always conscious of how I was being perceived. Why is he at such distance? Does my breath stink? Or is it just something in the brown of my skin that seems to push away everyone? I wanted to tell them that brown isn’t contagious. It isn’t something you can catch, like a cold. I imagine that’s how people with Aids felt, too, back when our understanding of the disease was minimal and people were afraid to touch and homosexuality was not yet established as anything other than taboo. I, too, was oppressed. Like the Jews. Like the Blacks. Like the Muslims. Like the homosexuals. Like anyone, like everyone, I just wanted to feel human, complete. But back then, I was still other, less than. A woman.

I do not know why I was so ashamed of being Indian— an Indian woman. Of course, then, I hadn’t thought of my rejection of Indian culture as shame— just a push against those first impressions. I didn’t want people to look at me with the smug satisfaction in their eyes like they know me because they had an indian girl in their first grade class and she was a bitch. In fact, the first thing I told everyone I met was that I was born in Russia, a small lie, but that was enough to bring people to take a second look, enough to push people to think about me one step further than that indian girl with extremely long hair. Another indian girl with really, really long hair. How long did it take you grow your hair out? Can I touch it? Why do you always oil and braid your hair? Is this part of your religion? I especially hated that question. It was as though all of my decisions, my intentional carefully-thought-out decisions— to be vegetarian, to grow my hair out, to hold onto culture and tradition and eastern values— were not decisions at all, but something I did just because I was raised that way and knew no other way of life. I don’t think people realized that my parents were not oppressive and old-fashioned and sure, they set rules for me to keep me focused on my studies and to keep me safe, but I had choices— for my career and for my life. And perhaps that is how I finally grew outspoken. Telling these small lies to passer-by’s that could never be fact checked, never bringing someone close into my life, close enough to see past my lies. These dangers mattered so much to me, these tiny pushes towards something more. Not just another Indian girl.

And then one day, I found myself  preparing to jump off a fifty foot cliff and thinking, this is it. Goodbye. And I really thought I was not going to make it out alive even as I saw the kids climb out one by one with an injured arm or a sore back from the shallow water underneath. I really believed it, that I was going to die right then. And I was okay with it. You can never feel as alive as in the moments you risk losing everything. What was I thinking?

One day speaking in front of a classroom, teaching. Then, sometime later, and more recently, writing to a man in prison through a nondescript and poorly funded website, writeaprisoner.com. It was a fascinating place for me. There were pages upon pages of prisoners listed, of profiles to scroll through, men and women of all ages and races, all looking to find a soulmate, an intimate partner. I had no intention of going through with any such intimate interactions as I knew how many such interactions could result. Still, I wanted to challenge my comfort zones, to amp up the danger. For me, it was simply an attempt to complicate my perception of criminals. To allow someone outside of my normal means of communication an intimacy that I grant persons I meet or come across out on the streets or in my setting, and to acknowledge their existence and their humanity. Why I chose a murderer to connect with and reach out to, I still don’t exactly comprehend. Was it to amp up the danger? Or because I felt murder was an indisputable moral offense whereas shoplifting and petty thefts as more morally ambiguous and therefore easier to empathize. I wanted to feel an empathy for the worst of the worst. I was testing out what it meant to love and what love meant to me. I was thinking about the ambiguity of love, of loving through circumstance, above circumstance. Unconditional love.

I understood, as I continue to do so, that I lived a privileged life, free of many human struggles and I wanted to understand a person’s motives for committing such a crime, something so easily viewed as bad or wrong. But especially, I wanted to see them as more than just a criminal. Just as I wanted people to see me as more than just an indian girl, a stereotype. It was my attempt to humanize someone, a man, who others might look down upon or not want to sympathize/empathize with. That was my goal. It was why I wrote. It was the why to many things: the need to create complexity, a push against preliminary judgements. And after that, it was an attempt to justify my intense love for the world, to explain why was it so easy for me to take this risky step of reaching out, of why I was so generous with my love.

But even while setting in stone all these tiny rebellions, I was afraid. I was afraid of nearly everything I ventured out to do— even afraid of being so alive because I wasn’t ready for it all to one day come to an end. To receive the short end of a great adventure. I thought what would happen fifty years from now? How would I feel anything if I felt everything now? I thought of feeling as something that diminished over time. And to an extent, I was correct. Nothing quite compared to my first feeling of love or waiting by the sidelines for my first martial arts fight or my first experience swimming (drowning, really). And I reluctantly grew apathetic to certain conditions: sights of homeless people with tents set up for the rainy days, ambulances and wrecked cars huddled along the sides of freeways. I was afraid to feel and I was afraid of losing feeling. At some point, I, in my naivety had thought, that if I planned it all right, I would just hit a giant wall one day and lose all these emotions. It was mostly just love which pained me the greatest. I did not ever dislike a person so greatly or feel a relationship so strained or burdened as to resort to a hate. If I ever did hate, it was always underlined by a souring love.

As for love, I was never cautious with it. I thought the more love I gave out early on in my life, the faster I would be able to run out of it. Just stop feeling it entirely. If only that were true. How after crying at my grandfather’s funeral, afterwards I would have found great peace in not being able to feel any more, in the loss of emotions. But instead I felt shame for the briefness of my pain, of his absence, which I felt little of because of our brief exchanges. The grief was short-lived that day, but later on, I found that even when I thought I could not possibly feel more deeply or when I could not be more passionate, my body would surprise me. We continued to feel his loss days after, years after his burial. I found these feelings to be a privilege as well as a great burden. Still, had I been given the chance, I would continue to seek feeling, this aching pain that continues to remind me that I am alive and of those who are no longer.


Not sure where to spend your night? No problem. Each dorm explained.

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In the last three years at Riverside, I have stayed over at lots of friends’ dorm rooms, partied all night (eh.. more like studied all night).

Aberdeen-Inverness: I’ve stayed over at Judy’s place in A-I. I’ve also been there to play pool or ping pong with friends. I hear its perfect for more social people, who don’t mind loud noises next door from people having sex four doors down or snoring roommates. It’s a bit crowded, but it makes for a good experience for your first year.

East Lothian/West Lothian: I shared a three-girl bedroom at East-Lothian, visited West Lothian to see friends. I felt East Lothian was perfect for me because I am the kind of person who likes a balance between personal bonding with a few close friends and some crazy partying (not that I really partied freshman year… or sophmore year… or junior..okay yeah, I didn’t go to crazy on the party scene, but I get pretty crazy all on my own). West Lothian I heard had really low ceilings back in the day, but I heard they recently renovated all of lothian, so yay!

Pentland Hills: I needed a place to stay one night after I got locked out of my apartment (check out when I was homeless here) and my waterpolo friend, Bri, was kind enough to let me stay over at her place and I got the chance to bond with her and her roommate Maile (who is also really sweet). Pentland is pretty quiet and most first years complained that they didn’t get a chance to meet people, so make sure that if you’re the kind of person who needs to socialize and interact and can survive without your own bathroom and don’t mind sharing, choose Lothian or Aberdeen Inverness.

Glenmore: I visited my friend Tarn at Glenmore and I think a bunch of us went to a party and it got late so I ended up taking over the bed while all the others slept on the couch. I felt awful though, but hey, perks of being a girl. The place is really nice, but expensive!

Falkirk: My second year at college, I lived in a shared room at Falkirk. It was an experience. If you are the kind of person who likes to be surrounded by like-minded people and don’t really like being alone, this is the perfect way to go.

Oban: I was going to transfer out after my second year, but glad I didn’t because Oban was super close to school and it was a great deal for its worth. I got the room to myself and my roommates were pretty cool. The only downfall was that I lost my keys so I had to break into my apartment almost every day! Glad no one else tried to.

Bannockburn: My friends Shannon and Lilly both lived in Bannockburn and I have stayed over at both places. The place is nice, kinda small, but great for low budgets. If you’re the kind of person who just wants a place to sleep at, but close enough to campus–this is the place to go. The only thing that stopped me from staying here was that lots of my friends’ complained about bug/insect problems, so be sure to bring bug spray with you to college.

Sterling: I stayed over here quite a bit my second year of college and it is a great place for off campus living. I believe dogs are allowed on the first floor of the building and there are tons of grocery and shopping stores right across the street.

Grandmarc: I needed a place to stay for a month while I was taking Organic Chemistry over the summer, and I got a great deal. I got the entire place subleased to me at 400 bucks for a month. It came with the parking pass and a key card and all utilities were included. Plus, it is right across the street from the University Village.

University Village Apartments: Four girls from my hall at Lothian lived at the UV Apartments sophmore year and it was a ton of fun visiting them. We ordered pizza, went to the beach to paddleboard and it felt like I was a young freshman all over again.

So yeah, I’ve stayed at a lot of places with lots of friends, and I’m honestly so very lucky to have so many wonderful friends who have helped me out at times of need.

Hope you get to experience all these places for yourself!