Greetings from the other side of marriage! I am remiss for not writing to you last week, but I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of my impending nuptials. I was married to Molly R. Gutman–now Molly R. Webb–on June 18th at approximately 18:00 PST. It was a wonderful party I’m told–even though I remember little of it after the ceremony. I was there for the ceremony entirely, present, aware, attentive to the angles and shadows, following the color of my bride’s irises as they slide from hazel at the rim to a near yellow at the event horizon.
But see here, already I am drifting into other ceremonies. I apologize. I do. It was a happy day. One of the happiest of my life. But friends, I pray that you have few parties thrown in your honor. It is like being at a gala in which you hear rumors of your own attendance, but can find no evidence of it in your experience. You are not your own, even though ostensibly everyone there is at your disposal. It is a monstrous but beautiful thing to not be your own, to be only the rumor of you. My friends, if I never attended another party before the last one thrown in my honor, I will count myself lucky.
Of course, as I wax pseudo-philosophic on my wedding day, I am trying to get to another point entirely–so often the case with me, I’m afraid. Ah, this rambling nature–these out-of-control verbs–untamed even here. I am now, as I write to you, sitting on our hotel balcony in Siem Reap, Cambodia, watching the dawn, a little bit drunk on the morning. My newly minted wife has given me permission to spend a bit of time with you before we head down to breakfast, and begin our tourist free exploration of Angkor Wat. It’s the beginning of monsoon season hear in Southeast Asia, and so the number of visitors is floating somewhere near zero. We saw an old German couple on the river yesterday, and a few Japanese, but few others. My job–and my wife–are allowing me to document our trip, and if you are inclined you can follow its more mundane aspects here.
What I can’t tell my readers, however, that I can tell you, is how deeply uncomfortable I am voyeuring people’s poverty. That’s what the trip to Kampong Khleang felt like yesterday–a “traditional” village that is kept so, so that tourists can see what a traditional fishing culture looks like. Of course, my discomfort is only compounded by the understanding that my own conspicuous consumption brings me no closer to happiness than subsistence farming. I feel guilt for having so much, and compounded guilt that having so much makes me no happier. Access to medicine and potable water, however, are luxuries I do not second guess, and the few signs I saw describing “fresh water” projects for the indigenous people assuages my discomfort at being fleeced by the locals for trinkets and tours.
My friends, I have never been a comfortable tourist–my narcissism often convinced me that people were concerned about my actions when they were usually not even aware of my existence–but as I’ve gotten older, that self-centeredness has become porous, and I find myself surrounded by people. A little bit tired, often hungry, curious about strangers, confused about tomorrow, and for those who don’t have overmuch, willing to share what is briefly theirs on this too short river trip up the way.
May your days and mine find us surrounded by people with whom to share all that we have and all that we don’t.
I hope you are well, and that you accept this small gratitude for your attention.