I’m sitting at my desk (after clearing off the chair) completely overwhelmed by the hoards of overdue library books sticking out their bookmark tongues from various depths, the scattered post it notes and scribbled over receipts serving as plot altering reminders, the articles and ebooks I’ve yet to discover, the photography books of children’s drawings and wistful faces that offer with their open smiles my first glimpse of a foreign people, a foreign religion, a foreign land; one that I have chosen to write about. As I sit here, I keep sighing. There’s more than just a deadline crouched up there on my shoulders– there’s also a looming, hideous, jagged toothed doubt grinning down at me. He speaks to me in the moments between words, my fingers hovering over a broken thought, “What do you know about Tibet?” he asks, “about these people, the Buddhist and Bon religions? And since when did political issues ever find a crack to seep through in your thick skull?”
He’s right, damn him. I know nothing. I’ve never been there (of course not, I’m an armchair traveler by habit with no money of my own and even less ambition). The language is foreign, and the area is so remote, and so closed off from the rest of the world, that I can’t exactly rely on simple Google searches to give me accurate translations. To tell the truth, I can’t even remember what led to this interest! How is it that two weeks ago I found myself in an eastern new age book store, breathing in incense and scanning titles about Tibetan rituals and art while my 5-year-old made soothing, if unexpected, music with a soft wand rubbed inside a stone singing bowl? I blame the indigo awnings for drawing me in from the city street, but no– it started even before that. A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a serenely smiling, bald man in bright crimson robes emerging from a Chicago gas station, and couldn’t shake his image from my mind. I didn’t know what, or who, he was, but I recognize his bronze complexion and simple attire in the many photographs and descriptions I’ve come across lately about Tibetan monks. And even before that random encounter, there was something– something calling me to that brilliant, broken plateau at the top of the world, ringed by snow and the ominously creased faces of the Himalayas.
All of this was spinning like some nebulous, unborn galaxy of possibility in my mind when my Editor contacted me about a potential project. She was in need of a novella, a romance, speculative in nature and bound to the white heart of a winter holiday season. Everest, with its flash of blinding snow, surfaced through my clouded mind. Or perhaps it was the rounder, more cheerful Kailash, the mountain sacred to so many religious people, both east and west. Whatever the peak, I knew I’d already begun preparing for an adventure, my mind and library packed with images and art, sorrow and songs, from a place as distant as any fantasy realm. It was only natural to take up this journey, which was fast becoming a personal and spiritual wandering of my own right as it was. Devoid of bravery, I won’t likely be pursing a visa or demonstrating against an intrusive, culturally destructive government that is oppressing an innocent population, but I think I might just be able to reach into the bruised hearts of so many writers and draw from their courage to tell a story. Not a non-fiction piece, not even, necessarily, a realistic tale, but a story I hope to be true at least to the steadfast spirit of the Tibetan people I have come to know and love from a distance.
In fact, the story is almost finished, and there is no irony in that fact that it involves a love affair between a Tibetan and an American, for that is what this process has been for me; a long distance pining for a land and a people who have somehow invaded my dreams. If I can meet the deadline and somehow manage to impress my high-class editor with my imaginings, I will soon be telling you much, much more. Meanwhile, I’ll take up my pen and my packfull of research, and resume the pursuit of my big, hairy abominable doubt as he flees through the blinding blizzards across the roof of the world…
- My desk (and chair) buried beneath books and propping up inspirational images of the haunted and beautiful Tibet. My curious 3-year-old makes his appearance as well, wondering what all this stuff is that is taking mom’s attention from him.