Category: prose

Vulcan

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

― André Gide

The air carried something damp and anxious, waiting to pounce. The feigning of its innocence was aided by the sun, but we could see right through it. We brought our own shelter, mended it, inspected the stakes. The stakes were too high (so we found a mallet to drive them closer to the ground). I repeated, “The stakes are too high.” Is it better to abandon this shelter, find something apart, something easier, sturdier? Something we won’t have to think about, something we won’t remember but won’t regret either?

We make synonyms out of “heart” and “shelter” and then you point to your chest. You are the window, I have been the door. One day perhaps we can both become the light that falls across when the window and door are open. I remind you that it isn’t just you and me. The whole world is out there, and I stumble across words and history that could break me apart. We wonder if, with what we have built together, we can succeed at shielding ourselves from the tumultuous elements.

So we will try. We crawl in, with the agreement that we are just testing it out. We decide on a backup plan should our shelter not hold up. Inside now: it is dark and dry, your skin is humid, your eyes glisten like a North Star. We lie down side by side. You take my hand in yours, and we stare upwards into the orange darkness while listening to the pounding of rain on the thing we call a home.

Carl Phillips writes:

I have seen how the earth erodes differently
from the way that trust does. Likewise,
I know what it means, to come to love
all over again the very mistakes I
also know, looking back, I might better have
strayed clear of.

What have I achieved with my mistakes, with love, anger, fear, hope, despair? With careful capitalization and punctuation? With the damming of emotion? There is so much I want to tell you about how I feel, but we humans are “civilized” now, we must strive to be calm and collected and productive and rational and calculated. Women are asked to be “more like men” in order to “succeed” in this world.

Yesterday I read about science fiction robots who long to become more human; in this case, the robot decided to take up painting as a way to get closer to humanity. Though we as a species value logic and that which is rational, let us not forget the value of our humanity. We possess the unique ability to feel, to see and create beauty, to despair so that we know what it is to hope.

I am familiar with the color of our trust but I have noticed that it changes when seen from too much distance. From this distance, you tell me I have met the quota for being emotional for today. You say: okay, no more. You say: time’s up. You say: you only get a few chances, and you’ve used yours up. You say: someone else is waiting so I have to go now. You say: I am going to dinner. You say: this was not scheduled on my calendar, to talk to you.

I blink. I feel myself becoming the closing door, not yet the light that falls through it.

I wonder what Rothko would have thought about the robot that takes up painting to be more human. “Untitled,” is what he would have thought about it, maybe. “Brown and Green.” But when you look at the thing that is labeled untitled, the light becomes the story. The story changes, and sometimes it was not scheduled on your calendar to change. So you don’t expect it. But here are the colors as they are right now, at this hour, in front of you, looming. There are things you never noticed before, but it is still the same painting. I try to remind myself that perhaps even fragility can have resilience. That something delicate is not the same as “not strong.” There is a sense that the stories that need telling are hardest to tell, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

How can I combine urgency with delicacy, the way Ocean Vuong does? The stakes are high. To determine whether our shelter can hold, you bring along your roadmaps, measurements, and tallies. There is data, there are ratios, there are cardinal directions, there is a start and an end. As for me: I don’t think we simply strive to arrive. What about how we feel along the way? I threw my compass away years ago. 

There’s a light that can make
finding a thing look more than faintly
like falling across it—you must kneel,
make an offering. I threw my compass away
years ago. I have passed through that light.

“A Little Life” (or, more straightforwardly: “Taiwan”)

“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.”

— Stewart O’Nan

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.

— John Guare

阿姨 sits down next to me and notes admiringly that I have been glued to my book the entire trip. “You’re so studious,” she said. I’ve always loved to read, I confessed. My parents would scold me at breakfast and dinner and in the car. “Stop reading at meals, pay attention, your eyes will go bad if you read while the car is moving.”

I told her I am currently reading an excruciatingly sad novel. “Doesn’t it color your mood?” she asked. “Of course,” I responded.

“Why don’t you only read happy things then?” I laughed and shrugged. I’m reminded so much that I am too emotional anyway, why not face it head on? Someone once told me that the world is wrong to frown upon emotion and vulnerability. So many people deem it weak, but perhaps it can be considered bravery that one opens herself to feeling. I admit I probably also want reassurance that writing about sad things doesn’t preclude becoming a good writer.

I know I will always be a person who thinks about feelings too much, but there are worse things to be in this world (as we are reminded daily by the news). The sad literature and events in life are what provide contrast for us to know what contentment is. The adversity we face is what prepares us for what we need to do to attain peace.

I guess the thing about the sad novel is that it reminds me of the obscure details, the tiny things that make waves. The tiny obstacles that can turn ships, but also the tiny miracles that can turn tides.

***

For months after I bought the plane ticket, I was anxious. I was convinced that my family in Taiwan would scold me:
1. Tell me that I’ve gained weight (which is senseless to say since: of course I was going to look different. The last time I was there was over a decade ago).
2. Comment with dismay about how I am “still single” and childless.

The way I’ve learned Asian families do.

My mom insisted that my arrival to be a total surprise to everyone. I was concerned about this, too. What if grandmother is out somewhere else when we arrive? What if I give her a scare? My mom reassured me. “Don’t worry, grandmother is always there. Where would she go? And don’t worry, her heart is very healthy.”

***

Grandmother was sitting in the yard with her friend when my father and I first walked up. She did not see me at first. When it became clear the visitors were here for her, the friend helped her to stand up. Her face was cloudy, her eyes squinting through the distance to see. I called out “Grandmother, it’s me, 樂樂.”

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To temper intellect with emotion

The first light snow, innocent and small, building and climbing. Sarah Ruhl contemplates, “A suspicion that lightness is not deeply serious (but instead whimsical) pervades aesthetic discourse. But what if lightness is a philosophical choice to temper reality with strangeness, to temper the intellect with emotion, and to temper emotion with humor. Lightness is then a philosophical victory over heaviness. A reckoning with the humble and the small and the invisible.”

He told me once that perhaps the automation of the decisions he has to make with his intellect will allow for more room in his life. “More room? To think more?” I wondered. “No, of course the goal is to make as much room as possible for feeling more.”

A month later, walking through the 30-feet high banks of snow, my eyes buried in a book. Accompanied by heaviness that trudges in with the cold and makes its home across the middle of winter. Heaviness, one could call it, or instead choosing to see lightness in it as a different response to the same thing.

Later, discourse on the philosophy of language and how it applies to water. His homemade shakshuka paired with my curious feeling of pursuing home, as if it were a thing with legs that could choose to dodge me. That there is divinity in the unknown. The acknowledgement of a thing versus an acceptance. The question of, “Are you interested in the way he would dance tango, if he learned? The kind of leader he would be, and how he would dance?”

I tempered intellect with emotion.
Not so much a need for knowing as a desire to experience, I realized.
Because I already know exactly how he would dance if he did learn.

Kinnell declared, “It’s the poet’s job to figure out what’s happening within oneself, to figure out the connection between the self and the world, and to get it down in words that have a certain shape, that have a chance of lasting.”

I write because I’m chasing an immortality in the certain mortality of our love. You insist that it exists. I stand in awe of what those first tiny snowflakes became in such little time. Curiously, analogously, I know already that I must open my eyes (and myself) to find that mountainous immortality safely hidden within the tiny, humble moments that you have left behind for me as torch lights in the dark.

Only when I find it in the moments will I then be able to talk of decades. Only then will I find victory over heaviness.

As Kinnell suggests:

How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
is
to open ourselves, to be
the flames?

M train

I’m sitting on a train watching the night pass by, punctuated by glowing street lamps and the glittering, anonymous bodies of water reflecting them.

Reading excerpts from Patti Smith’s M Train. Is that meta? “It’s not so easy writing about nothing,” she proclaims.

A life is such a short time, and yet when he tells me to take it a day at a time the end of today always seems to be eternally far away. Some days I try to believe him when he tells me that there is something greater to it all, but this attempt at trust is not without a rising feeling of catastrophe. As Ben Lerner writes: “I felt, amid a general sense of doom, that other worlds were possible.”

I’m quiet in the mornings, thinking about how we will never truly land together. Not the way I imagined things would land. They warn me about it still: the sudden dropping, the letting go, the inevitable aloneness.

Do engineers plan for the details of exactly how the outcome looks? Or do they plan how to get there and stand surprised yet still admiring of the end result? Is there some disappointment? Most likely.

I remain in a state of anticipation (preparation?).

But I guess the moment we learn about gravity, we’re thinking again about how to achieve flight. And when already in midair, we’re looking for the safe fields in which to set down and tuck in our wings for a night.

The train is late arriving at the station. I was never meant to overstay.

falling in love challenges the reality to which we lay claim, part of the pleasure of love and part of its terror

Yesterday evening:

“I don’t need to assign you any homework. The possibilities of your already fluent mobility seem endless. It’s a rare thing.”

More rain. We stayed up talking about taxonomies. As I drifted off to meet you in my dreams, I felt the weight of soreness in my shoulders from attempting handstands. With satisfaction, I likened it to the soreness in my heart. That’s how muscles feel when they get stronger, so I’ve heard.

There are these moments of terror as you invert into a handstand: your head closer to the ground, your feet reaching towards the sky, your mind freaking out at the possibility of toppling over. The only way to reach beyond is to sit with the terror, practice being with it, realize how to exist with it and that you have the ability to rise above it.

We spend so much time trying to tame this world, to assign classifications, to understand taxonomies. There’s a world beyond definition, though. Below: two pieces on this strength to create openness even in the face of terror, to challenge the world as we know it by turning upside down. To maybe discover “what no one expects: the exquisite range.”

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