Can’t really believe I’m writing to unicorns but I saw your post on someone’s wall and figured hey, why not. I’m 27, my family doesn’t understand me, I don’t understand myself, blahblahblah, so what. So the thing is, I really want to write. I think. Or maybe paint. Make art. Be an activist. Leave some kind of legacy for the world, live forever, be enshrined in immortality — yeah, although it’s embarrassing to admit, that’s what I want, except I don’t know the specifics. Plus there’s all this other stuff I should do, like do more yoga and apply to grad school or get a better job with health insurance or clean the bathroom regularly and eat more vegetables or meet more (better) men and be a kinder person. I’m not depressed, really I’m not, I mean I can do all the normal stuff, go out with friends or whatever, I have a sort of job that’s enough for now because I live cheap, even though I hate the job, and I want to get out of this town, and I don’t really want to go back to school because I still have all that debt, and it just seems like anytime I want to do something, I feel really, really, stuck in a way I can’t even describe because everyone is like, It’s not that bad, or Why are you being such a drama queen, or Why don’t you just do something about it then, and I can’t because all these voices in my head are like, Who the fuck do you think you are to do that, what makes you so fucking special.
—Dramatic Desi, Stuck in Sioux City
Dearest Dramatic Desi, Stuck in Sioux City,
First of all, the unicorns want me to tell you that you are, actually, special.
While the tears of a phoenix heal, the blood of a unicorn confers immortality. But I know you’re not one to go about slaughtering unicorns, so I wonder if it’s time to take a good look at how else you might extend your life.
It seems to me, Dramatic, that you’re living too small. You’re hanging out at “not that bad,” but in your hot red heart, you yearn for art and unicorns and “so fucking special.”
In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation on the preciousness of our human lives is a foundational practice. This Precious Life by Tibetan teacher Khandro Rinpoche describes the 18 qualities that make human life precious.
Can you believe it, Dramatic? Eighteen? Can you think of 18 (or more) ways that your own life represents an awesome opportunity?
I can. We could have been born as mosquitoes, or roaches, or vipers. But instead, here we are, in these soft, unprotected bodies, with our wild gelatinous brains and sultry hearts protected only by delicate arches of bone. Breathing in. Breathing out.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” asks the poet Mary Oliver. And Rilke: “You must change your life.”
The fact that you’re writing to mythical beings today, Dramatic, tells me that you are ready to change your life. It also tells me that you have a healthy imagination, sense of humor, and perhaps a bit of desperation. These are all excellent traits that will serve you well in your journey.
So, begin. Make one small change today: tilt toward your desire.
This slight adjustment may, at first, take place only in the mind: perhaps a resolution not to beat yourself up for being who you are, for surviving whatever you have survived, for yearning toward what others around you don’t dare imagine. It may last only twelve minutes before your old pattern reasserts itself.
Resolve to enjoy those twelve minutes — 720 seconds! — of freedom to their fullest.
Tomorrow, make it half an hour. The voices you’re carrying around with you are strong, Dramatic. They won’t go down without a fight. You’re not being a drama queen; you’re being the ultimate realist. So expect the fight, and fight.
Then tilt a little further: Write down your intention, the one you sent out to the unicorns: I want to leave some kind of legacy for the world. Post it somewhere you can see it.
The next day: Read it. Several times. All day long.
And know — believe — there will come a day when you are ready to tear it down, because you no longer need it. “The time will come / when, with elation / you will greet yourself arriving / at your own door, in your own mirror,” promises the poet Derek Walcott.
However, there is no rush to reach that day. There is no deadline. This is your life: This slow, beautiful, precious leaning, and learning, is your life. This fight.
The more you win, the more you tilt, the more you will fall into—in love with—yourself.
Does this sound too simple? I’m sorry, Dramatic; I don’t mean to deceive you. You know better than anyone that it is not simple. You might — no, you will — need support, though I can’t say exactly what form that support will take: different friends; professional healers; self-help books; knitting; the love of a dog; a beautiful new journal where you write down every single possibility? I don’t know.
What I do know is that, as you hone your intention, as you relax into it, the way will become more clear. Your commitment is, itself, a process of purifying.
Purification has gotten a bad name, as it’s been associated with born-again rituals of deprivation and chastity. I’m trying to talk about something different here.
When my mother used to make ghee in suburban Michigan, before there were Indian grocery stores everywhere, we would boil several sticks of butter. It’s amazing, what happens to all those solid sticks exposed to heat.
First they melt. You have to watch the pot and keep the heat low, so they don’t burn or stick.
(What needs to melt in you, dearest Dramatic?)
And then, sometime after it gets all soft, the butter-soup comes to a boil. Through boiling, you end up with a hot, golden, clear liquid.
Where did the solidness go? It did not evaporate. It simply transformed.
A spoonful of hot ghee is nothing like unicorn blood; and yet it is a way of extending the life of the butter. Ghee does not spoil outside a refrigerator. It does not burn; its tolerance for heat has risen. You can fry anything in it, for it has emerged from the heat ready to take on the flavor of all the spices.
And its own taste changes, deepens, becomes richer. It adds a wealth to anything on which you spread it. It is more pure gold, more essence of butter, than a pale yellow store-bought stick ever will be.
You might even call it erotic, in the sense that Audre Lorde speaks of the erotic: “a resource within each of us … firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed feeling.”
Getting to what really turns you on, Dramatic, could be the hardest thing in the world. It is the work of a lifetime. It is as difficult as a poem, and “men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there” (William Carlos Williams). Really, they do. Suicides, homicides; arguably, many come from this same lack, this hollow. A neglect of what is precious about our lives.
Now I’m going to tell you the secret to immortality, Dramatic.
We extend our lives by giving something to people that they will cherish, and carry with them, and pass on to others. We become bigger not through self-sacrifice but by being more ourselves, and then becoming brave enough to show our truest, most precious selves to the world.
A final word of advice, Dramatic:
Don’t try to change everything at once. Some people can do that. Not you; not yet. Pick just one thing — it doesn’t even have to be the biggest thing. It might be very beneficial to start small.
Tilt, and watch the whole world shift.
Ask the Unicorns is an advice column about living the creative life, written by Jaggery Contributing Editor Minal Hajratwala and channeled directly from the ancient unicorns of the Indus Valley. Got a question about writing, reading, relating, creating, or being desi? The unicorns know. Write to AskTheUnicorns@gmail.com. Please indicate whether you would like us to publish your name or keep your question anonymous. All questions will be considered for publication; they will NOT be answered individually.
Minal Hajratwala is a writing coach, co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, author of the award-winning nonfiction epic Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents (2009), and editor of Out! Stories from the New Queer India (2013).