This Book Will Change Your Life.


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  • This Book Will Change Your Life - on earth we're briefly gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

    There isn't any gain from having a dialogue about which traumas are worse than others. The question is how can we prevent traumas from happening in the first place. However, I can compare my own personal traumas to one another and I can acknowledge that some traumas truly don't compare to those of others, say those illustrated in on earth we're briefly gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, which is yes, gorgeous despite the pain, sadness and loss (or the recently consumed The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld). Still, both seek to illuminate their respective story arcs, as well as the possibility and futility contained therein through the metaphor of the butterfly, their place in the universe and our collective imagination. Personally, I've spent little time thinking about butterflies at all. But that doesn't mean I don't associate them with trauma. When my older son was a little boy someone gave him a butterfly kit, which allowed us to grow butterflies from egg to adult in our home. We watched them on a nightly basis as they grew and ultimately spread their wings in the cylindrical, mesh habitat that was their home and the idea was when they were truly ready to fly, we were to release them into the sky. When the day came my son refused to come outside with me, because being a January baby it was winter in Chicago and utterly frigid. At no point did it click for me that the butterflies would not be willing to fly into the winter air, but they would not, and that became immediately, sickeningly obvious. They hovered there, in the habitat, flapping their wings, the wind slicing across the sidewalk in front of our building, and after they wouldn't leave I was forced to drop the kit and their still live bodies down the trash chute. Is it too much to say I was traumatized by the abject horror of the whole experience, when one considers the traumas Vuong's protagonist (and Denfeld's for that matter) suffers - violence, child abuse, bullying, racism, xenophobia, isolation, homophobia, drug abuse, death, and the never not presence of the Vietnam War in the form of his mother, grandmother, and his own DNA? It is embarassing to me to even identify it as a traumatic experience, and yet, I cannot and will not ever shake that moment when I opened the netting, and the butterflies, moved but for a moment, then stopped, and it finally occurred to me what I was doing. All or none of which has anything, or everything, to do with on earth we're briefly gorgeous, which reads like an extended poem and takes a life lived in all its horror and nihilism, and still finds beauty and hope. So much so because of Vuong's gift of stringing the right words together in the right ways and in such a fashion that they nearly float above the page, begging to be absorbed, in the way trauma is absorbed, cellularly, and moment by moment, changing our lives, as we filter the spikes of trauma lives doles out, be they butterfly or violence. Now, you might ask, will on earth we're briefly gorgeous change your life? And I might answer, it will, because it will linger, and that lingering will take root and wait for its chance to reappear and remind you that, I was here, you read me, I am part of you, and now we are one.