micro memoir | On Becoming Brave
I didn’t associate the adjective brave with myself until recently. At an interactive installation in Gangnam, I was asked to write down a hope. So I wrote, “I want to be braver,” and hung it up under the date I wanted it to come true.
In fact, even before then, I had been braver than I gave myself credit for. I’ve been the woman who went alone to the U.S. at 15 to pursue a better education, who staged a one-woman rebellion against ostentatious donations, who alone backpacked Mexico without a plan, the woman who battled monsters in her dreams and fought devils in her wake, who constantly disobeys, figures, fashions.
But the moment I think of is none of these, it is the end of my first college year, when I left San Francisco in the tsunami of COVID-19 — a much too technical, dispassionate, removed name for the biggest human event in our lifetime yet that was to go down in history, that would take up a substantial chapter in a history textbook in 3021, that we would tell our grandchildren about. This last prediction comes with a lot of premises, but we will assume those for now, for we have narratively heftier things to deal with on the table.
In packing up to go home, I threw away a lot of things. I left behind a Parker Palmer book and an Hermann Hesse book. Let Your Life Speak is weighty physically with annotations from two time periods of my young but awake life, heavy emotionally with the gift giver, a mentor who I never gained friendship with. Siddhartha is dense with question marks, representations of ignorance from when I first read it at 16. I have never read Siddhartha completely and comprehensively, yet in my life it reoccurs reoccurs reoccurs, symbolically as samsaras, harking back to discussions with my transitory soulmate, the climate of Mexico, and my long, painful, necessary existential crisis.
They were important books to me, and this reason precisely made me desert them. They were important for a historical Arden, an Arden of the past, not the Arden in the moment of the tsunami, not the Arden now. So they stayed, on a communal bookshelf in the mezzanine at 16 Turk Street. I was brave then. I was a brave Fight Club disciple (not a loyal one, considering I just broke two rules of the club). I said “yes” to letting go of everything.
I’ve become a much gentler version of Arden now in the regard of throwing away and owning minimal physical belongings. I just need to know that I can do it if I wanted to, that my ability to let go is a hidden power, an expansion pack, a usually invisible limb that can get the world it’s not looking. I’d love to become an octopus with limber tentacles that reach every opposing end of every possible spectrum — minimalism and materialism, obedience and rebellion, ascent and depression, ebb and flow. That summer, when I arrived home, I started reading Tagore’s poems. I remember one: “The world is the ever-changing foam that floats on the surface of a sea of silence.” That’s how I experiment and experience in this world — Experimentar, as Mexican friends say.