Today is the real first warm day of the season, though I’m dumbfounded as to what season it is. Snow had drifted earlier last week, and friends who’d made the trip down to DC to see the annual sakura show last weekend had complained that the cherry blossoms are late in coming. Spring was certainly biding its time, enjoying its occasional taunts of sunshine and warmth. Yet today, in all its brazen boldness and prowess, intruding daringly on an unprepared mind, summer announced its arrival!
Waking from a nap in the afternoon, I lay in bed quietly savoring the chatter of birds and mingled laughter of neighbors wafting in through my open windows, the drawn red curtains turning the bright sunlight a bit softer and more bearable on the eyes. In that odd moment between sleeping and waking I was confused about where I was. In my dreams, the gay voices had been speaking Chinese; in my waking, I caught whiffs of cooked food and the delicious smell of spring dirt, I could almost hear the straining of roots and grass that were delighting in the sunshine, and fancied for a moment that I was in the deep American South. The American South! An almost laughable idea really, but at moments when dreams and reality intermingle, almost anything can be true.
I’d never been to the real American South, not unless one counts that trip two years ago to Florida. The Southwest and Midwest and Northeast I’ve known and lived, but of Alabama and Tennessee, of Georgia and Louisiana, of the most mysterious American heritage, I have never seen, except through the eyes of great writers, between the pages of great books. The quiet Southern drawl, the old-fashioned Southern manners, Southern belles and Southern culture, had always lured me. Amidst the heat and humidity, time stood still.
That such a thought should enter my head on this summer’s day is probably due to the book I’m currently reading, Sophie’s Choice. Rich in its description of music, literature, love, hate, sex, slavery, murder, suicide, the book covers at once the best and worst things in life. Styron effortlessly alternates light and dark in between the pages of his work, so that the reader is often cruelly beaten down from the height of euphoria, or gracefully rescued from the depths of despair. Styron’s gift for allowing the reader to walk in the shoes of his characters is beauty unimagined. As I saw New York through the eyes of an aspiring young Virginian writer, the truth about slavery and prejudice glared at me. As I observed American life in the pretty head of the concentration camp survivor, Sophie, I began to perceive the petty unhappiness that plague those living in privilege and wealth. Indeed, to quote Sophie herself, this “unearned unhappiness” would disgust those who have walked through the bowels of hell, and still held on to spunk and love for life.
I have come to believe that the genuinely accomplished artists of words and thoughts have walked through life experiencing excruciating emotional pain. Many have suffered through poverty, widowhood, abuse; many have lost home and country. And as I pore over their unspeakable pain that somehow they’ve managed to put into words, I realize how petty and shallow my own writings are, how naïve of thought and self-absorbed of feeling. Indeed I have seen little of this world, and words like “hardship”, “unrequited”, “covet” hardly exist at all in my dictionary. My little prayers of wanting a long-distance love relationship to come into fruition, of willing my scientific experiments to work out, even my most fervent prayers that my father will come to God seem inconsequential to the many pleas that greater human beings have and are sending out for the race of humanity.
I have led a life of privilege, much as though I think otherwise. A well-off family, a fledging scientific career in an Ivy League university, reciprocated love, these all I have, yet still I feel they’re not enough. Perhaps greed is one of my gravest sins. Yet I’m reluctant to admit I have enough, or heaven forbid, too much, lest God hears and tries to take some away. In all aspects, I have lived in emotional and material comfort, and perhaps can never gain the depths a writer needs. Secretly I hope that I will never be plunged into destitute loneliness in which calls for God simply echoes but are never answered. And so, coming into full realization of what a shallow person I really am, what “unearned unhappiness” I allow to torment my soul, perhaps it is time to come to terms with the fact that my glorious visions of a writer are just NOT MEANT TO BE.