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Read an Excerpt from Bahar Orang's Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty

Bahar Orang_Author Photo_Credit Padina Bondar

Author Bahar Orang's Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty (Book*hug), is an exploration of beauty and its role in the human experience: what we love, care for, and value. Part essay, part poetry, Where Things Touch draws on Orang's work as a physician-in-training to uncover how beauty's influence permeates every aspect of our lives, from our personal histories to the environment we exist in. Ultimately, the appreciation and love of beauty is tied to the impulse for care, inspiring and connecting with the most noble qualities of our humanity.

Today, we're thrilled to present an excerpt from the book below.

 

Excerpt from Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty by Bahar Orang:

 

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Perhaps my project began when Solmaz Sharif wrote

 

 

My life can pass like this

Waiting for beauty

 

 

 

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Perhaps my writing, here, is the articulation of a series of ruptures—all the times I appeared to be waiting but was actually searching. My search has changed, though, because I hardly know anymore whether I can even articulate that aporia that is beauty, or if it even wishes to be expressed at all.

 

 

 

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And then there is your beauty, a beauty that appears to me rather like the sun, rather like the moon.

 

 

 

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And by this I mean that every lock of curly black hair extends from its root, reaching beyond itself, light and messy and stubborn. And we might say you have an olive complexion, a chromatic kind of fairness that glows into the night.

 

 

 

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And there is, somehow, the presence of beauty between us. A beauty that offers more than its playful glimmer; a beauty that opens its arms to us, considers stillness as its impermanent home. We could not rush to capture that beauty, such an impulse would be its opposite.

 

 

 

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But here I am idealizing beauty, purifying beauty, as though it’s not wrapped up in the mess of desire and regret in which we live, as though beauty does not already reside in a home of fragmented language and memory.

 

 

 

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Because your ex, the person you dated before me, won’t stop calling you. You say you once found them beautiful.  You say this with your arm leaning against the windowsill, next to a potted purple hyacinth, a sombol, not quite in bloom, that lives free from doubt or withholding, that knows just what it needs, the sun.

 

 

 

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But before I go any further, I have this to offer, a touchstone:

 

 

There’s a strangeness, for sure, but a sense of recognition, too—the moving image is like something that’s escaped from the fissures of my own heart. I guess perhaps a wistfulness, but only the wistfulness of everyday life, the poet’s feeling that all of us feel all the time. And a sunset, very slight, casting a yellowish glow over the street, small circles of light reflecting from the car’s windows; we watch from a car driving behind two men on a motorbike, riding down the streets of Tehran, one man trying to steady a bouquet of crooked pink flowers and their too-long green stems. The flowers might be dahlias, kokab. It’s the final scene of Kiarostami’s film Close-Up, and we’ve arrived, I’m sure, at one definition of beauty — a sort of lighthouse, somewhere to start.

 

 

 

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I’m sitting in a psychiatry clinic, on my first rotation as a medical student. I wanted to start with psychiatry because the sight of blood still makes me uneasy. It’s too much redness at once, a colour too arresting, too unambiguous, without intimation or forethought. I can’t find the words, there are no words, really, for a red that symbolizes nothing, that is only the thing itself. Red for red’s sake.

 

 

 

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Instead of words for red, I have images. In particular, the moving image of the artist Ana Mendieta: her hands and arms coated with blood, pressing herself, her arched body, against white sheets of paper, and then dragging the red, a slow descent, down the wall to the ground.

 

 

 

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This piece, Body Tracks, is not an abbreviation of the body, not a memory, not an imprint, neither imitation nor abstraction, but a new fragment of self, in which the palpable body—its bone, skin, and sinew—cannot be repressed or destroyed. Blood, or body tracks, seems to efface the limits of the body, and even in witness, or in spectatorship, we become linked to that body, in all its utter and abject materiality.

 

 

 

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Every colour is a kind of beauty, and Mendieta’s red might insist on life, after all, on an embodied life, where only things felt can be known, can be beauty.

 

 

 

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Another red thing: poppies, khash khash. Poppies are not meant to be potted, they can never be kept by florists, they are wildflowers that resist any other kind of life. What happens to beauty when it’s removed from its own dirt? If you pick a poppy, it withers within the hour. How simple a practice, then, to let flower, let flower, smelling its own earth.

 

 

 

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The poet Sohrab Sepehri: As long as the poppies bloom, life must be lived. I’ll come to think of this line many times through the long and strange months of my training, imagining a poppy field at night, with quiet as the language and abundance the only course.

 

 

 

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There’s a tall doctor sitting before me, removing an invisible fleck of dust from his suit. We’re discussing a pregnant young patient whom we just met. He insists: this woman has borderline personality disorder. Borderline patients, he says, are afflicted with “chronic feelings of emptiness,” with “unstable relationships,”

with “a shifting sense of self.”

 

 

 

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It’s strange to sift through his language—sometimes they are borderline people, other times they have a borderline diagnosis, and still other times they have borderline traits. Which is it? Are they their personality or do they contain a personality? What is the structure of personality? This seems essential to know, because how else can we trace the borders that are dashed or wrecked, or know what’s swelling at some seam? And how to test the hypothesis that personality, or person, should be an integer, fixed and immovable?

 

 

 

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I take notes as he speaks, but remain expressionless, resisting his gestures that beckon me to mimic, or share in, or forgive him for his exasperation,

his amusement, his dismissiveness of our patient. He will later write in my evaluation:  you appear very serious and stoic, and this will be misconstrued by patients.

 

 

 

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At this clinic, the psychiatrists can be hesitant to take on so-called borderline patients. Of course, most of the borderline diagnoses are women, and the hesitant doctors are men. I try to suggest this obvious pattern to my supervising physician, and a knowing look crosses his face, like suddenly he has me figured out.

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Bahar Orang is a writer and physician-in-training living in Toronto. She has a BASc from McMaster University and an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto. She completed her MD at McMaster University, and is now completing specialty training in psychiatry in Toronto. Her poetry and essays have been published in such places as GUTS, Hamilton Arts & Letters, CMAJ, and Ars Medica. Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty is her first book.

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Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty

To devote oneself to the study of beauty is to offer footnotes to the universe for all the places and all the moments that one observes beauty. I can no longer grab beauty by her wrists and demand articulation or meaning. I can only take account of where things touch.

Part lyric essay, part prose poetry, Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty grapples with the manifold meanings and possibilities of beauty. Drawing on her experiences as a physician-in-training, Orang considers clinical encounters and how they relate to the concept of beauty. Such considerations lead her to questions about intimacy, queerness, home, memory, love, and other aspects of human experience. Throughout, beauty is ultimately imagined as something inextricably tied to care: the care of lovers, of patients, of art and literature, and the various non-human worlds that surround us.

Where Things Touch is an exploration of an essential human pleasure, a necessary freedom by which to challenge what we know of ourselves and the world we inhabit.