Tag: 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.

Theory in practice

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.

– Albert Einstein

This morning, listening to blues. I know what you’re thinking about the blues. But I mean the kind that makes you want to dance with slouchy legs and melting hearts across dim rooms. So I’m dancing across the wooden floors at the office. And I can see him start to grin, wanting to dance with me. And I nod slowly, grinning back, playing air guitar to the music.

In the kitchen, she watched me grab the almond milk from the fridge. “Wow, I was looking for that. I feel like I am always looking for (and never see) the thing that is right in front of me.”

I laughed, “I think that is a general human thing.”

Today’s random tea mug has the silhouette of a wild deer, stately despite its inherent vulnerability, with antlers cradling the sky. These mugs are in rotation, and I choose one daily according to how I feel. That’s a theory, anyway. Maybe the selection is really just subconscious and doesn’t mean anything at all. More on this later.

***

There were the colors of Rothko and what I saw as the sea and the reflection of color of the sky when it is dark. Not black, necessarily, but something that doesn’t impose a color at all so that we may fill it with our own hues. My friend has a tattoo on her wrist. It’s a Chinese character that means “emptiness” but it’s idiomatic because it connotes “a space waiting to be filled,” which is arguably different.

There was you — afraid (or preferring not) to be alone, or maybe just overly accustomed to access and affection, or maybe just as a matter of coincidence, or maybe existing in another life or universe, or maybe just doing without thinking, or maybe really wanting something different — holding another woman. There are always theories about these things.

I hardly ever understand theories in practice. How things should (in theory) be possible but aren’t, or even more so, how things have never seemed possible but suddenly become so (in practice). Like how if someone uses the same ingredients as my mother does in her cooking, the end result should taste the same. But it doesn’t. Like how, even before now I should have always been able to wake up overwhelmingly sad next to someone on a Sunday morning and yet talk rationally, with love and respect, about matters of the heart. And then by the same afternoon, risk delight. Risk falling deeper into the space waiting to be filled.

There were empty highways. Rain, the kind that makes the temperature drop 30 degrees in a few hours. The kinds of blankets and the kinds of looking-into-eyes that make irrelevant the potential (and temporary) discomfort of things, like inclement weather. Like vulnerability. Almost makes them beautiful. In an absolute (because you claim not to be a relativist) way.

And at the end, there was you, grinning, because we got to dance together to the blues. Proclaiming with the kind of excellent danger in your voice that has tried to warn me since I met you: “Well, at the very least it’ll give you something great to write about.” And there is me, writing in run-on hopefully-lyrical phrases. Paying attention to the facts. Being joyful in spite of them.

But if I paid attention, really paid attention maybe I could ignore the mountain of sadness and she might entertain and distract me and I would think this is life. The romance and the sadness. I am in it now.

Poetry is just the performance of it. These little things, whether I write them or not. That’s the score. The thing of great value is you. Where you are, glowing and fading, while you live.

– Eileen Myles

Just in time, Stevie Ray Vaughan croons in Texas Flood:
Well it’s floodin’ down in Texas
And I’ve been tryin’ to call my baby
Lord and I can’t get a single sound
Well dark clouds are rollin’ in
Man I’m standin’ out in the rain