Again, a myriad of beginnings. I start and I stop. I erase, I delete, I edit, but it is never enough. I am not satisfied with my ability to express what I feel. I tried to write during the summer. I tried to write after Mr. Turner died. I tried to write about religion, lack of religion, and science. I tried to write about my dreams, about millennials, about terrorism.
Nothing is ever right. It seems now that even the confidence that fuels my attempts is false. When I read it back, it’s not right. It’s never precisely what I am thinking. In despair I sometimes think that I will never find the words or turn of phrase. Or worse, that they do not exist.
Even while I live in a plethora of material, I cannot get it out of my head. I moved again, this time very far away, to a temporary teaching assignment in Thailand. Although I lost my words before this I feel it now like a plague. I do not speak Thai. Scarcely a soul in town speaks English. Living side by side we try to communicate, using mimes, pointing, gestures, facial expressions, and on occasion Google Translate. However most often this absence of language leaves me silent.
I am trying to build an essay, starting with the fundamentals. There are a probably a million ways in which Thailand is different from any culture I have known in the West. But the climate, the food, the politics, the hard beds, the unique bathrooms, the bugs, the motorcycles, the lack of sidewalks – I don’t want to talk about these things, not here, not now. There is something more central that I need to illuminate first. Their lives, their culture, their upbringing, their influences, their surroundings, their national identity, their language, their history…the circumstances that have created Thailand as it is today.
I stop. Because I cannot take myself out of my Western brain. How is anything I reflect on about Thailand going to prove anything? My perspective is American, and even that perspective I tried to erase and replace with a French one. I am a product of the West, of white people, of middle-class suburbia. Are my feelings about how Thailand functions important at all?
If I manage to arrest my brain spiraling into oblivion, arguing about race, culture, identity, politics, history, gender, society, poverty, advancement, animal abuse, genocide, climate change, and globalism – I think this:
Live among these people. Breathe deeply. Let go of judgment. Embrace differences. Encourage exchange. Share. Ground yourself in humanity.
And P.S. – My Western colleague and I study Thai for a minimum of 30 minutes every night. We are making slow, but noticeable, progress.