Monday, January 27, 2014

Where Did They Go? -A Writer's Love Letter to His Estranged Characters



Lately, I've been feeling hollow. In the past, I hollowness was a happy feeling for me. 

It was usually a term I associated with the vacancy left in my center after writing a story for several hours. I would be filled to the ears with creative energy and I would let it pour out of me. An hour or several hours later, there would be half a chapter sitting in front of me. It was never perfect and sometimes, I would comeback to my pages and wonder why I had been so excited about these ramblings in the first place. Nevertheless, the warm hollowness was something I treasured.

Now, the hollowness I sense comes is of an entirely different nature. On the inside I feel dry and cracked, crumbling. As a writer, as a human being, knowing the act of creation is the most precious experience of all.

Sometimes, though I fear that there is little creativity and imagination left in me. The yearning for my internal reservoir to be filled has never been stronger. 


I remember the times when I had so much to write that I would stay up to 1 or 3 oclock in the morning to finish a chapter or an important plot point. Now, I can barely squeeze enough creative ink out of myself to jot down these few lines of white text. 


Creating, was such a vital aspect of my life. Writing, was the greatest blessing of my life, even with the moments of pain and struggle. 


It was a real and genuine experience.


There were times when I would cry over a character's injury. I felt my heart skip when I discovered two people I had written into existence belonged together. I relished the excitement of unraveling a twisted and confusing plot-point. I cherished the metaphors and similes that I knew would stick in readers' minds even if it was only for a few minutes. 


I miss these sensations. I miss feeling the anguish and joy that came from pouring every dream and thought inside me onto paper and forging it into something smooth. 


Most of all, I miss the characters I shared these times with: 


Asia, Joshua, Kwanga, Hajar, Ismail, Sarah, Kareem, Meda, Andur, Gershom I miss you. You were never just fictional to me. You were flesh, hair, blood and spirit. You were so real there were times where I truly believed all it would take for you to materialize in front of me would be a turn of my head or a well concerted long blink. 


You were and remain, friends and companions. You came from me and yet I learned from you. Making you, molding you, understanding you has made me a different person then the one who first brought you into the world.   

But despite all we shared, I know we have estranged.

Recently I wondered, where did you go? Where did all the people, places and events that used to be so real to me meander to?  Furthermore, why did so few new lives stroll into my mind in your absence?

For the longest time, I thought that you had simply skipped out for a while. I thought for sure you would return. I assumed your loyalty was infinite regardless of my actions or inactions. 

I blamed the creative drought inside me on a lack of Inspiration. I blamed her for leaving me, for being a flirtatious wandering, unreliable partner that never had enough time for any one person in her life. 


I expected her to bring you back. I believed she would ultimately fill my reservoir.

This is not so.

Now, I realize that I was merely punting responsibility. I blamed fate and forces beyond my control, I cursed my parched soul as my lot in this universe. The truth was you left because I failed to keep up with you. I failed to finish your stories and put in the time and effort required to make you a part of my life. 

The waters came from working with you. I dug and dug with you, and as I tunneled down deeper and I found more and more well from which to draw on. 


Like any friendship, any relationship, I needed to spend time and effort on you to make my connections with you real, and eventually I stopped putting in the hours. I got lazy, I got lethargic. I failed to finish the work I had begun with you. I got tired of digging.


 I failed to give final, complete meaning to your lives. I made you suffer, change and grow. There was potential in you to shine and I failed to understand what I had in you...until now.


I didn't take care of you and because of this you drifted away. Before I understood what I had done, you were all gone and I soon forgot how I had made you in the first place. 

It wasn't just creation, or Inspiration that pushed me. It was also sheer effort, it was a willingness to sit down every weekend, no matter the circumstances and make sure I spent at least a few hours with you. I put in this time, because I believed I could make something beautiful and meaningful. I put in this time because I believed in you.

Though I've forgotten much in a year and half, I realize that I need you and a host of new characters in order to make this world a place I truly love and enjoy existing in. 


Creation, shaping individuals like you, is an essential part of my being. I don't want to do without it anymore. 


I will have a difficult time starting over, I'm sure. Undoubtedly you won't be exactly the same as I remember. I won't be the same writer I was either. 

I think though, this is a very good thing. I know there's so much we have to teach each other. As I work on new stories and finishing your own, I want you by my side guiding me with the lessons we learned in those long night typing sessions so many years ago. 

I know I can't rely solely on Inspiration and you to fill my reservoir. I want to put in the work to fill myself again. I will chisel away at myself and dig beneath the coarseness inside me until I strike water. When it bubbles up, I truly hope you come and join me for a drink.

With Great Affection Now and Always,


Monday, January 6, 2014

Letter to a Girl at Tuol Sleng


Dear Girl,

I wish I could begin this letter by addressing you with your name. I also wish I truly knew who you were and where you came from. I don't know who your father and mother were. I don't know if you had brothers sisters that you knew and played with. 

I hope you excuse my lack of knowledge. I know words are weak. Yet I pray somehow, someway my words convey my heart's meaning. 


You were one hundreds of faces I saw in the solemn halls of Tuol Sleng Prison. You were one out of thousands who passed through that dreadful place on your terrifying journey to Choeung Ek. You were one of three million who never returned from the killing fields. 


Yours is a single death. A drop in a vast bitter ocean that has drained over the years into history books and documentaries. 


All too often, you and the people who shared your fate remain only figures and statistics. I only knew you as such before I followed in your footsteps in 2013. I saw the same buildings in downtown Pnom Penh you saw. My soles touched the same floors yours did. I saw some of the same trees you saw at Choeung Ek before you disappeared beneath the ground I walked. 


Books and educational TV specials, hardly prepared me for finding you. In the quiet of Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek my mind was overpowered. Silence is often a fertile grown for the imagination. In soil so dark and bloodstained it grows rancid, pungent visions. 


I know I could never understand what you went through. My mind can't capture the last thoughts that went through your head, the sounds that filled your ears, the smells that clogged your nose. Those final moments before you died are yours and yours alone.


Still, the horror and sorrow of your face and your story, the story of millions, moves me to write you and apologize. 


I am truly, deeply sorry. I never raised the fist that extinguished you. I never held your spent body in my arms and tossed it callously into a pit like rubbish. I never issued the orders to arrest you or your family. I never labeled you 'enemy of the people' 'traitor' or 'spy'.


Even so, I must apologize. As a human being, I must lament and come pleading before you. 


I am sorry. 


I'm sorry you died. 


I'm sorry you suffered. I'm sorry that men who should have laughed with you, sheltered you, and comforted you slit your throat instead.


I'm sorry their humanity couldn't prevail.


I'm sorry the rest of the world looked on, with arms at their side, tongues locked away behind their lips. It wasn't the first time. I doubt it will be the last. We looked away from 10 million in Europe, 2 million in Armenia, 1 million in Rwanda. We look away from the pain and degradation we see everyday in our cities and hometowns. We know we shouldn't, we know we should be stronger. When Cambodia sealed its borders and the Khmer Rouge reveled in their insanity, we should have faced the horror. When they came for you we should have said 'No, not her! Not today! Not ever!' But we were silent. We chose the easy path. We chose blindness, deafness, dumbness. We could not acknowledge the carnage. We did not have the courage to lift ourselves up, out of our routines and petty concerns. We did not have the will to reach out thousands of miles across the world and lend a helping hand when it was needed most.


The truth is, too much of the time, we humans are a sad and weak lot. We love to praise high ideals yet seldom have the stomach to stand up for them. We are more interested in our clothes, dead end jobs, petty work-place troubles, and favorite TV shows. We spend so much of our time making unimportant things vital to our existence. 


It's so much easier to worry about our laundry and diet than confronting the devil inside us, the demon passed from every man and woman to the next generation.


I'm sorry this is the case and that more people don't ponder this bile inside us. 


I'm sorry more don't look back at your tragedy and ask 'How can we make sure that little girls, like you, don't have their heads bashed in by the hundreds?' 



Most of all though, I think I'm sorry that you only knew so little of this world and this life. 


I'm sorry you'll never grow tall and lovely. That you'll never have the chance to drive a motorcycle or car. That you'll never know the thrill of falling love or the wisdom that comes from a broken heart. I'm sorry you'll never have the chance to go to school, work a job, have little girls and boys of your own. 


You were cheated of the chance to know all this and for me, this is perhaps the saddest thing of all. 


If I could, I would see you standing, running walking, breathing smiling laughing. I cannot make this so. 


All I have are these words to offer you. All I have is apologies and one thing more. 


I have my sight. And you should know, I see you little girl. I will not turn away. And now, thanks to this post a few others will see you as well. Perhaps, one day when we see your face in another suffering man, woman or child we shall finally have the courage to say n-o. The chance to at long last earn and acknowledge our humanity. 


May you rest quietly, little girl. Rest and dream of better times than the ones you knew in our sad, angry world.


You have my best wishes.

See you,


 When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget. 

-Christina Rossetti-