Category Archives: On My Mind

An Unidentified Emotion

I had an interesting experience and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I think I could call this experience jealousy, but I honestly don’t know if that’s right.

I overheard someone I’d just met talking about something that she has, which happens to be something I deeply want. My immediate thought was, Oh. You, too? As in, yet another person who has this thing that I cannot seem to have.

But then this person started to talk about working so hard to get it, and all of the obstacles in the way, and how the struggle is finally over! And my exclamation point is absolutely genuine because that is such a joyful thing. If I want something for myself that I find valuable, I want it for everyone. Well done. Enjoy. Live peacefully.

So there’s that.

But I also stepped outside of myself enough to notice how I was reacting in the moment, which was not with any particular warmth. I wasn’t involved in the conversation when this topic first came up so it was easy to take a moment to look at myself. I didn’t have to a) look like I was listening or b) pay attention, and I quickly realised I didn’t want to do either of those things. Here’s another one, I thought, who has succeeded where I have failed.

Note that many of these words are a product of looking back on my internal response; I don’t know that I would have described my emotions this way in the moment but this is what I have been left with.

A predictable progression from here, as the conversation unfolded, is to ask what’s wrong with me. Why can’t I have this thing, too? I know enough psychology that I laughed at myself when it happened and I practice enough meditation to swiftly walk that feeling back and away. It isn’t about me at all.

When my new acquaintance promised to tell more in the future, I caught myself rolling my eyes internally. Physical distance and some time has me wanting to hear the story. Good for you, new acquaintance. Be content. Be happy.

And then the conversation shifted and all moved on.


I am now left with a question. Was that jealousy? I honestly don’t know. If so, it’s not the green-eyed monster I read about and was so frightened by as a child. I decided very early on that I never wanted to feel such a thing.

Merriam-Webster says that jealous has four definitions:

  1. hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage
  2. a. intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness / b. disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness
  3. vigilant in guarding a possession

None of those seem right, either.

So if it’s not jealousy, what is it? What does it say about me? Where does it leave me? And what do I do about it?

I didn’t know so I wrote this blog post. I still don’t know. Language interests me and maybe there’s a word for this feeling in another language. Maybe I’ll look around for one. I think I’ll call it “the time I might have been jealous” and keep an eye out for it in the future. And maybe then I’ll know, or maybe we’ll never meet again.

And that thing? I hope you get it, too.

Demons Lurking: A Story

So yeah, that’s what’s new, he says before taking a sip of his coffee.

Sounds okay, she replies. Her smile is easy and playful.

He nods.

There’s a lull in the conversation earlier than expected. Both take a moment to stare into their cups. As suddenly as it came, the spell is broken and they talk like old friends; some laughter, some teasing, an admirable effort to make the present feel like the past.

But then they land where they always do – at the end. Experienced here, they stop themselves before they really get started. They’ve been down this road before.

Simpler matters occupy them and she thinks for a moment that the sharp distance might grow softer. But only for a moment.

The jangle of bells at the door announces a new customer who looks around and spots them with a wave. She places her hand on his shoulder as she reaches the table. He smiles broadly, introduces the two women, moves his chair so the newcomer can take a seat. The second woman’s greeting cracks the quiet of the space and the first woman returns it politely but with an emotionless smile, eyebrows raised at the man in an unspoken question.

The first woman waits. Time stops. Distance reshapes itself as a valley between mountains.

The second woman’s smile widens, an almost giddy grin. She opens her mouth to speak and changes her mind.

The pause is too long.

The first woman takes one last sip of her already empty coffee. She checks her smile and finds some warmth. Great to see you. And she means it. Nice to meet you. Take care.

And you.

The pleasantries are exchanged automatically, the next steps determined without notice.

When she leaves, it is with the barest hint of hesitation. Bells jangling agin, I follow at a distance. She’s distracted and doesn’t notice. She walks quickly and I stay carefully behind.

She travels several unseeing blocks before pausing to get her bearings. She’s been here before. So have I.

She checks her watch. After some hesitation and with controlled deep breaths, she begins walking again, this time with purpose instead of flight.

A few more blocks and she enters a small bar. I’m not surprised when she takes her usual seat at the high top counter stretched across the window. When a server comes over, she inquires about happy hour, selects a glass of wine, and hands back the menu with a smile that reaches to her eyes.

We’ve been here before.

I sit not far behind and watch her pull a notebook and pen from her bag. But rather than begin writing, she leans back in her chair and stares out the window. Shapes and colors pass. I sip my drink and wait.

The arrival of her wine awakens her from her reverie and her body relaxes. The wine does what wine does and soon she’s writing, writing, writing. I’m sure she doesn’t notice that the glass is empty, but then there’s a second grateful smile to the server who comes to offer her another. She checks her watch.

Her writing slows with the second glass and I watch her stare out at the world in between flurries of pen on paper. I’m nursing my beer. The notebook and pen are put away before the last sip of wine is drained.

For a long time she looks out the window and I don’t know what she sees. Her body is quiet; feet usually restless remain still and hands sit folded on the counter. Occasionally I watch her shoulders move in a sigh. I settle into my seat. We’ll be here awhile.

When she pays the bill, smiling once again at the server, I take this as my cue and follow her out the door. She crosses the street before I’m ready. I wait for one more light and by the time it changes, I’ve lost her.

No matter.

We’ve met before. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

Dreaming of Purple Mountains

I’m not sure when it started, this dreaming of purple mountains. But when I look for you behind closed eyes, I know that’s where I’ll find you.

The mountains have always been purple. Deep purple, dark purple, thick lines, visible brushstrokes. Hints of lavender and a touch of violet or indigo, depending on the light. A painting.

The mountains are gently rolling in some parts and in others, steep and jagged. Sometimes there are clouds, too, tinged with dusky blues and greys. Often a few lingering white puffs across the sky. But sometimes there’s just a vast bright blue. The sun is shining. The grass is soft, the bright green that begs you to take off your shoes and play. 

I’ll see you in the purple mountains, I think before I fall asleep.

Behind my eyelids, we’re skipping up the hill and we’re laughing.

Neither of us are strangers to this place, to this watercolor illustration out of a children’s story.

But where did it come from? The first time I said it out loud, I knew it was right.

Where did it come from and, more to the point, how did I know you’d see what I saw? Where do you come from? What lives have you lived? 

Who are you? And who am I?


I live in a world where we say goodbye on the last day of school in June. Not just, “Goodbye, have a good summer, see you in August.” There’s some of that, certainly, but there’s also, “Goodbye, friend, as you journey to another part of the world. Maybe we’ll meet again one day.”

Maybe we will. 

It’s hard to send off the colleagues who have become friends and friends who have become family. I hope they all find their own purple mountains, the realization of dreams both articulated and hidden, wishes both acknowledged and buried. 

Yesterday I told a friend, “I hope it’s everything you hope it will be.”

He replied, “I don’t. I hope it’s everything we need it to be right now, but I’m not done yet.”

I smiled. “Then let me say it again. I hope it’s everything you need it to be right now, and that you voyage on.”


This makes sense to me. It makes sense to keep looking for the purple mountains in whatever form they take. It makes sense to dream of them and find that I’m not the only one up there dreaming. I’m not the only one up there looking and imagining and creating.

I know too many people who stopped looking. Maybe that’s the right decision for them and I certainly respect it. But it’s not the right decision for me. I tried to put the dreams aside, to look for purple mountains somewhere else, but I couldn’t find them. In fact, I lost them. For a time, there were no mountains and where they had been was full of holes and erasure dust. I tried to wipe it off but it was hard to see through the smudges. 

The mountains were gone and I drifted in the space where they had been.

The most frightening feeling I’ve ever had was not being able to imagine tomorrow. I remember the first time the mountains were hidden in black.

It’s hard to explain this to people who stopped looking or who found their mountains without much getting in the way. Compared to many people I know, I think I’ve lived a lot. My purple mountains with springy green grass were trampled on once but I am filled with gold bubbles when I dream of them now.

Yes, this is hard to explain. I don’t mind when people don’t understand, and I take responsibility for not explaining very well, but I do mind when others do not respect that the right thing for me to do is keep looking.


Sometimes I think I’ve found you. And having worked so hard to get back there, how could I let you go?

When I close my eyes, maybe I’ll see you and learn of the lives you’ve lived. You’re right there beside me, dancing up the purple mountains into the white cloud blue sky, barefoot in the grass. You believe in a world that might exist in a children’s story.

How did I know you’d see what I saw?

Neither of us are strangers to the purple mountains. Maybe they won’t always be everything I hope they’ll be, but maybe they’re everything I need them to be right now.

And then we’ll voyage on.

Kandy, Sri Lanka – April 2016