Category: writing

a birthday post: If not now, when?

rosejumpingpuddles.GIF

I often forget my age. People still indicate their surprise at it, tell me I look “so young.” Which I don’t mind, I hope they will always say that. The edges of my eyes have deeper creases now, but I am happy that they have been carved by the ridges of joy. I still feel young, I still run into the water and leap across puddles when wearing rain boots. The main thing is that I fight harder to get to a place where fear isn’t so large anymore.

Hope is larger.

****

I love the summer: the never-ending daylight, the it’s-too-hot-not-to-eat-ice-cream weather, everything in the middle of bloom.

This is how I feel about my age now. The middle of bloom, and filled with the sort of hope balanced and made wise by the clumsiness of past seasons. It will be a strange, beautiful decade. I am approaching a time when it’s very possible that the life behind me is as much as the life I have ahead of me. I’m more aware of mortality: my family’s and mine.

I’ve arrived at more crossroads than I care to count. This has been a groundbreaking year filled with change and uncertainty. In some ways, I have never felt more grown-up and ready. In others, I have never felt like such a novice.

I keep a list of ongoing resolutions on the last page of my notebook. I don’t make new ones for my birthday, but the one thing I’ll say for this year is: spend time on love. Say it out loud and more often before the day you won’t have a chance to.

As we get older, the number of trials that love puts us through increases. I stumble a lot in finding patience, and I dwell on the past. Forgiveness is difficult, vulnerability sometimes even more so; yet love asks you for both. The awkwardness and tears and stiff moments during which silence hangs in the air like a brick wall: they will all be worth it. No condition lasts forever: the friction we face, the disease that a loved one may survive or not, the agility of our bodies, the argument we initiate, the exhilaration of novelty, this life, this body, this heart, this youth. What will you hope to be (for your loved ones, for yourself) on the other side of it all? Dear Forgiveness, if not now, when?

In the past, I have often let my fear get in the way of love. Not sure who wrote it, but this note captures it well.

“Very often the things we fear most are not only bearable, but transformative.

We will all, many times over, have to reconcile the life we planned with the life we’ve got. And usually the life we’ve got is better.”

My life at 32 is so different from what I planned it to be, but I would not exchange it. I’m taking the leap, I’m all in.

***

Rose Kuo super Mario

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.

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use (National Poetry Month)

It’s been a year since I embarked on a solo road trip along the West Coast and subsequently started a separate blog to jot down travel notes & inspiration. I also recently composed my first poem since 2009, so maybe one day I’ll finally start sharing my own poetry again. I loved what Ayana Mathis wrote about her trajectory as a writer. Like her, I started writing short stories when I was very young, then later I wanted to be a poet and I blogged my own poems in middle and high school. I’m not sure where my interest in writing my own poetry went, and my love of reading poems was sporadic but has never faded. In my day-to-day relationships, up until recently, I rarely mentioned poetry. Friends found it difficult to relate. As Jia Tolentino wrote about teaching poetry, “Not that I talk to anyone about poetry, ever. My relationship to it is sidelong and almost entirely private. I can’t write it; I read it irregularly. […] I could only locate myself as a student, with no authority, no important opinions, no sense that I was ever correct. And that, in the end, is what made me free.” Meanwhile, Ayana Mathis writes:

I was suspicious of all of the things I wanted, writing or otherwise, simply because I wanted them. And so my desires were reduced to beautiful dreams that floated through my adolescent and young adult life, only acted upon in halfhearted fits and starts. Five or six months of furious writing were followed by a year or two in which I didn’t pen a single line. I never made any real attempt at publishing my work. Better a dream deferred than hopes dashed.

I’ll blog more about Ayana’s essay soon. My friends tell me to be braver with my writing, they tell me I’m too cautious. There’s probably truth in that.

***

I collected many more quotes and poems on the other blog I created last year, but I promised to share here during National Poetry Month a few more of the poems I’ve enjoyed.

The masters of information have forgotten about poetry, where words may have a meaning quite different from what the lexicon says, where the metaphoric spark is always one jump ahead of the decoding function, where another, unforeseen reading is always possible.

– J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year

Some little tastes of poetry for National Poetry Month after the jump below. By the way, Amazon has lots of deals on classic poetry compilations. You can also get Emily Dickinson’s complete poems on your Kindle for free!

Read More

“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.”

Read More

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here

I am struggling to find the words to describe how I feel about the events of the past 48 hours.

My parents immigrated to America in the 1970s. I feel hot tears build up as I think about the freedom that this country represented for them, for their entire families that depended on them, for the hope they upheld by investing every last penny in a one-way-ticket to get here. Everything, for the dream. They lived in trailers in South Carolina for years. They borrowed utensils from each other, made home-cooked food for their neighbors no matter the color of their skin. They didn’t speak a lick of English, yet found ways to wade through textbooks of technical and medical language. They overcame discrimination, shame, fear. They thought they could be safe here. Many others did, too. What is happening to that dream? How can we forget the freedoms our country was founded upon, how can we lose ground in our path of progress towards the fundamental truth that we are all created equal?

We cannot, we will not.

Here I am, born and raised as an American. Here I am, feigning fluency. Here I am, speechless and appalled at the events, yet ready to speak loudly in the ways I can. Donating, calling, writing, conversing, collaborating with friends to create art and dialogue. (Kristan sums it up well in her post from today.)

I’ve referenced this Elizabeth Alexander poem a couple of times on this blog and on Twitter, but here it is again. I hope we can continue to march together, into the light.

Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander

(A poem written for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration)

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.