Monday, May 29, 2017

Walls and me.

When I was 17 I discovered that I could punch walls. I had emotions I didn’t know how to process. Angers and frustrations I didn’t know how to articulate, or who to assign to. So I gave them all to the walls. I punched the walls again, and again. Hard. With both hands. My knuckles swelled up and bruised for days. It was painful, but it was liberating. I was so swelled up on the inside, I needed physical proof that my emotions were real. And the bruises, they reminded me my hurt was real.

A friend noticed this and bought me boxing gloves. “Use these next time, please,” he said. I stopped punching walls the next year and replaced it with other forms of self-mutilation. Ones that weren’t visible on the outside. One that didn’t leave physical scars. They made me feel alive. They numbed me back down.

I started doing it again recently. I hadn’t planned it. I don’t ever just say to myself “let’s punch some walls tonight.” It’s always a surprise even to me.

It begins with a sadness that I try to contain. A sadness I don’t know how to address. So I put it away. But sadness brews. And as it does, it’s mixed with dangerous emotions like frustration, fear, shame. For now, no one else is aware but me. Once I’m completely swelled up on the inside, I finally realize I need to communicate with the recipient of these emotions. Six months ago that person was my mother. Yesterday it was my partner.

They dismiss my emotions. They question my logic. They tell me to re-think. They want me to feel something else.

I state my case again, nicely.

They state their recommendations again, annoyed. They say they rather be doing something else.

By now, I’m much more than sad. I’m beyond frustrated, or scared, or ashamed. I’m wronged. I’m shamed. I’m denied. And I’m angry. I’m angry they’ve dismissed me. I’m angry they’ve questioned me. I’m angry they want to dictate my feelings. And I’m hurt. I’m so sad and hurt that the people closest to me refuse to hear me.

I’m powerless.

I realize I’m already crying. I feel the swelled up emotions inside me wanting to burst. But I don’t know how. I feel so powerless.

I remember the last time I was here and wonder how I’m still here. Why haven’t I moved after all this time? How long will I stay? Will it be any different next time? My body is aching for the next time I’m here.

My body wants to fight. So I smash the couch seats. They’re too low. I stomp on the ground. It’s awkward. For a moment I almost smack my calms on the coffee table, but I don’t want to hurt the coffee table.

Things I can’t ruin. Things I won’t ruin.

The walls.

I turn to the walls.

-

I’m better about it this time. I stop myself before hurting myself too much. After all, I need my hands – to type, to do the dishes, to carry groceries, to text message. I burst open the bedroom door, and I say sternly. “This is bullshit. You created this. I don’t care it’s 3am. Get up and deal with it.” I’m still crying.

My heart’s still sunken in the morning, and I’m not functioning fully well. But at least I’ve stood up for myself.

I can feel my knuckles starting to swell, and they might bruise in a couple of day’s time. But I have my physical proof that my emotions are real. And the bruises remind me that my hurt has been real.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Texas.

Notes from my 3-week travels through America. Day 10.

In the past 7 days, we’ve driven 17 hours through 1,500 kilometers in Texas. My primary job as the backseat passenger has been to translate the Google Maps woman:
Google Maps Woman: “Get on Interstate 69 / US-59 from South West Freeway Service Road” (Translation: Take the next right to go under the freeway.)
Google Maps Woman: “In 300 feet, follow Interstate 69 and merge onto US-59.” (Translation: Stay on the ramp and head straight.)
But when she has just said to “Stay on Interstate 10 East for 228 miles,” (Translation: keep going for 3 and 1/2 hours), I have to find something else to do. 

We are a crew of 3 in this black Chevy rental. I like the backseat because I can keep to myself. Traveling 80mph doesn’t encourage much talking anyways. The wheels churn loudly below me, and the engine hums and drowns out even the music that's playing. On long stretches, it sounds as if I have on a pair of good noise-canceling headphones. 

I’ve had to be self-sufficient in the backseat. I have within my reach:
  • 3 items of clothing of varying thickness for all temperature range: a thin scarf, a light cover up, and a sweat-shirt.
  • 3 types of liquids for all types of moods: a coffee when I’m drowsy, a juice when I’m woozy, and a litre of water when I’m… thirsty.
  • 3 types of storage systems for any reason to leave the car: a 22L Gregory backpack for the hike, a shoulder purse for Dairy Queen, and a pair of cargo pants with multiple pockets for the gas station.
  • 2 ways of taking photographs: a camera phone when I need to be quick, and a DSLR when I’m feeling bold.
In Texas, oil refineries, mega churches, and football stadiums compete for scale. In a sea of grass, long horns gaze up to us cars passing through. Every horn looked different to me, but I was sure we looked all the same to them. I imagined Townes Van Zandt singing next to one of them horns, that scruffy horn nodding heavily to Townes. Cows don’t understand poetry, but they probably understand his solemn music. We have a phrase for this in Chinese: 對牛彈琴, which literally means 'playing music to the cow.'

Occasionally, I can hear lyrics from the speaker:
“All my ex’s live in Texas, da da da da da in Tennessee.”
Three more hours on Interstate East 28. When we get to Louisiana, the roads would become bumpier, the people slightly larger, and the fields filed with more dust devils.  I can’t make out the lyrics on the Zydeco mix, but it sounds to me like 鳳飛飛 of the 1970’s.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Descend into San Francisco.

Notes from my 3-week travels through America. Day 1. 

Half-an-hour prior to our descend into San Francisco, a Chinese woman behind me slides into the empty seat next to me and asks for help. She’s holding a U.S. Customs Declaration form. She asks me to fill out the blank spaces for her. 

There are 15 questions on the blue and white form. I go through each line, explaining where to write her name, how to find her passport number, and how to spell “Hong Kong” - where our plane originated.
- 這裡寫妳的姓氏”
“我的姓啊,可以写中文吗?”
“寫英文吧” 
“中间名,这是什么?”
“這不用管它,下一欄是,妳的名” 
“下一欄是,妳護照所示國籍,妳是中國國籍嗎?”
“中国,是的,中国”
“那寫中國吧”
“英文嗎?”
“恩,中國的英文”
“中国的英文呀...”
我把她的護照翻到封面:“這上面的英文字,照抄吧”
She smells like almonds and tells me she has a green-card, and has been living in America the past four years. Her husband has a job in the city and she spends her days teaching Mandarin to children. Even at work she doesn’t use English - there’s an interpreter. She has just gone home to Guangdong for the first time. She now lives somewhere near San Francisco - 在山上, she says - and wants me to call her the next time I’m there. 
“妳是好人”, she says, “怎么帮我忙”. 
Despite my prejudices, this is what we do in a foreign land - we help each other - right? I’m reminded of the 80-year-old Chinese couple from the inflight movie I just saw, 不二情書》("Book of Love", 2016) , who lives in Los Angeles, never learned English, and has a hard time functioning in the community after their English-speaking children moved away. (This film is really about Tang Wei 湯唯, 吳秀波, and the book "84, Charing Cross Road". But here, we see the old couple as a beacon of stability, longevity, love, and kindness.)

I gratefully take down her information and promise to reach out next time I’m there. Her name is 趙 Annie. She prefers 赵. 

(On my connecting flight to Dallas, I sat next to a Hispanic man whose backpack wasn’t under the seat in front of him before take-off. When the flight attendant came to remind him, he responded with “Yo no hablo Ingles.” The flight attendant grunted loudly in obvious annoyance.) 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Words are forced onto him.

I once asked a writer friend why he wrote. 

We were having dinner in Little Italy. As an Italian descendent, he would later tell me stories of how his grandparents came to America. He wrote short stories and poetries. To pay the bills, he edited periodicals and taught writing at a local college.

He looked at me. His face was so stern, his muscles so tight, his eyes really intense, and he was just... silent. He was in agony. It was as if he had a horrible medical condition and I had just asked him why he was receiving treatment. It seemed that painful. Finally, he let out four very simple words. 

"Because I have to."

Writing doesn't come to him naturally, he said. Rather, the words are forced onto him. They invade his thoughts, and the only way to get rid of them is to write them down. I still don't know whether he was in such agony because of this painful process; or because he was puzzled that I didn't understand immediately something as obvious as 'the need to write.'

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pete 'was', and he 'did'.

"Who was it, Pete? Who went everywhere on the bike?" I asked William over soup on 永康街.

His expression was explained by what followed, "Pete? Pete died." It happened less than a year ago. Pete was on a cruise ship in Japan with his best friend when the ship docked without him.

I first met Pete on Fourth of July, 2002, on the roof-top of an apartment in Taipei known as the Alligator Apartment. It overlook 松山 Airport and is perfect for fireworks, but the police also knew this, so they had forewarned the hosts against such a light show. The hosts - four American expats - kept a pet alligator and we crowded around the pond, making bets on when the 'gator would finally catch the mouse on the styrofoam.

I'd gotten invited by my coworkers from the newspaper, and that was the first time I ever saw them outside the office. I'd just started my internship. Over a can of Taiwan Beer, my editor smiled big and told me my first article "sucked rock hard." I thanked him for the honesty.

It was at Alligator Apartment that I first saw Pete. We were sitting by a wall, or could it have been the edge of the roof? I remembered him because, for awhile, we sat next to each other and we didn't talk. We met again a month and a half later at Jr. Cafe.

(The alligator died the next winter during a bitter cold blast. The roommates allegedly stuffed the reptile in a garbage bag, tossed him out, and along with it, their early dreams of home-made leather belts.)

Pete was playing foosball when I saw that he looked awfully familiar. That was very possibly the first thing I said, "Where have I seen you before?" (I would later learn that this is a popular pick-up line.) That began a conversation that helped us to trace back to the Alligator Apartment. It turned out, Pete had recently left the paper. We knew the same people. That evening, I'd just finished my internship, and the coworkers were giving me a send-off. I was to depart the next morning back to the U.S. to college.

This was mid-August, it was 4am, I was 18, and I didn't want to go home. College seemed so far away.

We went to Pete's instead. It was just around the corner. There were four of us, and we cramped into Pete's small room inside his apartment. We sat on his mattress on the floor as he told us about the flooding in his room earlier that week. The ceiling leaked and he woke up finding he was on a boat, or maybe an island.

He was barefeet. I'd never really seen a grown man's foot before. There was something about them notably different. I then went to the bathroom and puked. I had had too much beer. I made the amateur mistake of depositing into the sink and clogging it up.

There was nothing special about Pete's room really except for the large bookshelf. He was a philosophy major. I left at 7:30 that morning with a reading list from my new friends. I had a 10 o'clock flight. Pete gave me his business card, with no cell phone number. It said Peter. I don't remember his last name. I didn't expect to see him again.

Two years later, I was back in Taipei. I went to 公館 to see Alex, some guy from San Francisco Maria wanted me to meet. I felt nostalgic as I walked from the MRT to Alex's apartment - it was on the same block as where an ex-boyfriend had lived. In the room with Alex was a guy named Pete. I didn't recognize him then.

"Have we met before?" It was he who remembered me this time.

"No, I would have remembered." I was so certain. I didn't know anybody named Pete. I knew a Peter, but I had forgotten about that. Peter had longer hair.

Then I saw his foot.

This Pete had white, large feet, with great distances between each toe. Then it hit me... I'd seen this before! I zoned out of the conversation trying to figure out... where have I seen this before? Where have I seen this? Then I remembered.

I told Pete how glad I was to see him, because for two years, I'd felt terrible about clogging up his sink. (I had been too chicken shit to say anything at the time.) He laughed and said that doesn't ring a bell at all.

Two days later, we caught a Mr. Eyeball 眼球先生 show at 紅樓劇場. We then biked to 東區 and saw School of Rock. By we biked, I mean Pete biked while I stood on the back and enjoyed the scenery. He biked everywhere. That made me nostalgic. The last time I went on a bike acorss the city was in 6th grade when I caught a Robot Show at 世貿館 with a couple of boys. We biked from 民生社區 and back.

After that, Pete and I said bye again. He was leaving Taiwan for China, for good. I didn't expect to see him again.

But of course I saw him again. I always saw Pete again. A year later, I saw a Japanese reggae band at the WALL when I saw Pete again. He'd gone to China and come back. We exchanged very little words then - it was loud. I thought, now he's back, I'll catch up with him next time I see him.

* * *

This is my belated farewell to Pete. I'd like to think he is on an island somewhere, barefeet or maybe cycling through the mountains. I didn't know him too well, but I liked bumping into him from time to time, here and there. It's a strange feeling, knowing he doesn't exist anymore, that he simply was, and that he... did. It's unsettling knowing that I took our coincidental encounters for granted, and that there's no next time. Pete was about 33 years-old.

Pete, may you rest in peace. I'll catch you later.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas, again.

I landed in America on Christmas Day. (Was it Seattle or San Francisco?) It was 1995. And I had sat next to my father on an EVA plane. I watched "Santa Clause," the funny movie I wasn't allowed to see with my friends earlier that day. "There's no time," father had barked. "You could miss your flight. It's too risky." This was a tragedy, I was going to see it with a boy I had a massive crush on!

Eleven years later,  I would've spent half of my life in America, and my first Christmas alone. I'd watch "The Mummy" and "Mummy Returns" on USA Network, and a game with the L.A. Lakers at Miami on ABC. I'd read Albert Camus's "The First Man" and ponder what to have for dinner. I'd make instant noodles with two dropped eggs. But before that, I'd look to the clock and see that it was 4:20. I'd reflect on how much I've changed in the last 11 years, and how, at 22, I still have so much more to learn. I'd find that I've not much clue who I am or what I want to do, but I'd know that I would go into work the next day as usual. I'd miss my coworkers as I work the 9-hour-day in the half-emptied office and wish I, too, were on vacation. After that, I'd maybe get a haircut or just walk from 64th and 2nd to Columbus Circle and catch the express train home.

(I wish an express train home was that easy.)

I'd watched "The Mummy" in the movie theatres at Greenfield one afternoon in spring 1999 with Alex B and Cleo S. I'd screamed when the mummy crept up, not because I was scared but because Cleo creeped from behind and made me squeal. I'd lost contact with Cleo S from Caracas, Venezuela since he graduated a year ahead of me. One Saturday night, walking from the Student Center, we were around East Hall when it began drizzling. I asked him how to say "it's raining, but the sky is beautiful." One summer, I'd dreamed that Cleo was dead. When I woke up, I wrote him a letter telling him how relieved I was to have woken from the dream. He never saw that letter. Neither did he see the subsequent letters I wrote later that summer.

Though a search for him on Google warrants no results (that I can understand), I know he is somewhere and well. Merry Christmas, my friend, and a happy new year.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A dancing man.

Sitting outside Bubbles, the laundromat between 119th and 120th, reading a pocket book on Degas and waiting for my clothes to dry, a man down the sidewalk was holding a phone against his ear and looking down at his feet as he lifted one foot and spun 360 degrees on the other. When he got closer, I heard music and realized he had not been talking on the phone. He had been listening to music as he practiced steps up and down the sidewalk and around the block. I looked away when he caught me staring. I looked down and pretended to read about Degas' ballet dancers.

When I looked up, he was still dancing.

Fifteen minutes later I was folding my fresh laundry when he walked by.

"Sorry I kept looking at you. It was really enjoyable watching you dance." I didn't get to tell him.

I looked again as I left the laundromat. He was using my dryer.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Finding Rona Jaffe at 14th + 6th.

A NYC woman who was known for her novels, screenplays, and her foundation that supports young female writers passed away in late 2005, left behind an apartment in Upper East Side, which her lawyer came and claimed. Perhaps feeling that her belongings were of no use to him, he threw them out or gave them away. At age 74, Ms. Rona Jaffe did not marry, bore no children, and had no surviving relatives (she was the only child).

A man walked by and discovered that among the books, letters and magazine articles Ms. Jaffe had authored, there was an extensive collection of drawings and illustrations R.jaffe - she signed - had made before she entered book publishing. She had been a regular art contributor to the student newspaper at Radcliffe College, where she attended from age 15 to 19, and kept a record of every piece of work she had published. She sketched often, practiced the figure, and developed eventually a style that is clean, crisp and extremely funny. Her subjects included planets, light bulbs, books, magic carpets, mailbox, the little objects in her everyday life from which she found pleasure. Some were narrative. Almost all were done in black ink. The drawings were small, concise, fun and extremely delightful to view.

This man holds currently the largest collection of art works by Ms. Rona Jaffe. I gladly bought a print for $20.

Questions:
- What are the limitations and freedom to selling such work, acquired by a total stranger (with the consent of the lawyer) after the person's death?
- Who buys such drawings, that were done by a writer?
- How much is this worth?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Love note to my sculpture studio.

Tonight is the empty kind of night. It's cold. The cement is wet. Even the wind feels wet. Is that a minivan approaching or is that the wind?

This studio was where I spent countless afternoons, evenings, and late, late nights. There was country music. There was Spanish music. There were dust, buckets, stools and dusty desk rollers. There was wax, there was clay, there was plaster. There were nude models, and Lifesavers on hot liquid bronze. There was never a ruler. Why was there never a ruler?

"Watch," Andrew the T.A. said, the first time he showed us welding. "It's kind of like magic."

Then there was that time. It was a few past midnight when we stood close and glued each other's pieces. We held them together and laughed. We teased. We ate. We worked and we didn't sleep. I loved your smell of the furnace, the crucible, the burning metal, the chipped wood. Then there was the time we smuggled wine into the gallery. It felt like forever. Yes, we were together for one whole year.

Good-bye, Pendleton 113. I will miss you.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Searching for Mickey(angelo).

After a Friday evening at the sculpture studio, C.D. took us, Leslie, an aspiring architect, Heidi, a thesis student, and I to dinner at a Shanghai restaurant in town. We sipped on tea while C.D. drank merlot. C.D. is famous for his presence - tall with broad shoulders, he takes long strides, taking his time in looking far - and near. He wears a grey gentleman's hat, a long green coat, and a brown leather bag on his left shoulder. He has been compared to Einstein for his white hair and moustache. Students who don't know him describe him as "the mysterious man who walks through Jewett Arts Center."

C.D. has spent the recent several decades carving stones and searching for Mickey. And when C.D. says Mickey, he really means Michelangelo. If you've been to Harvard Square, you might have noticed a piece of granite carved, "Newtowne Market", at the park by the Kennedy School of Government. The stone is one of his many public works scattered throughout the region. Others include pieces at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey and the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts. His most recent is a 9-and-1/2-feet tall head of Lady Justice in front of the courthouse in Stamford, Connecticut.

"We are always looking for inspiration from great artists and hoping for their touch on our work," he said to us. "But there was only one time when the angels came down and helped me." He recalled when his work on Justice led to extreme frustration and uncertainty as to what and how he was to continue. "I couldn't've finished it without their help."

C.D. talked about his traveling days, including the time when he was 18 and sailed off from Argentina without a passport. He reminded us to have confidence in ourselves and our own work, and stressed the importance of the willingness and daringness to invest in ourselves, with money and with time. Many alums get into their top-choice graduate schools "because they are aggressive," he said. C.D. has been teaching at the College for 22 years.

We were the last to leave the restaurant. We hopped into C.D's SUV and went off to Blockbuster where we spent 30 minutes walking through every aisle. In the end, the four of us checked out five movies. Outside Blockbuster, C.D. took out from the plastic bag a DVD for himself and said to us, (almost giggling), "Here you go, here are your movies!" He dropped us off at our dorms each with our movie-for-the-night. I borrowed a TV from a friend down the hall and loaded the DVD player.

"Good Night. And Good Luck."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A man who wants to go to Taichung.

EXT. MRT KUEN-YANG STATION, TAIPEI. NIGHT

I am sitting by the curb waiting for my father to pick me up for dinner. My stomach growls. I look at my watch. It's 7:22pm. To my left there's a man walking down the sidewalk. Young, probably in his late thirties, he is seemingly normal: wearing a white shirt, a cap, and a pair of khakis. He stares at me as he walks past me. I notice that he is not carrying anything.

EXT. MRT KUEN-YANG STATION, TAIPEI. LATER

From the corner of my eyes I see him walking back towards me, staring at me. Finally, he stops in front of me.

Man: Excuse me. Is this Kuen-Yang Station?
I look to the giant "Kuen-Yang Station" sign behind him.
Man: How do I get to Taichung?
Is he playing with me?
Man: Can I take a train? Where's the train station?
Me: You can take MRT to Taipei Train Station.
He looks over to the MRT station behind me. Unsatisfied.
Man: Is there a bus I can take?
Um...
Man: I was told there's no bus that goes to Taichung.
Me: Right.
Man: Is there an airport? I want to take an airplane.
Well...

Man: So I should go to Taipei Train Station?
Me: That's the easiest way.
Man: Ok. Thank you.
He looks up and walks away. Several steps later, he turns around to face me again.
Man: Do you work around here?
Me: Yeah...
Man: What do you do?
Me: I'm a teacher.
Man: Teacher. Okay. Thank you.
Of all the professions in the world, I'm not sure why I said teacher.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

My 8th Thanksgiving.

Waking up in the middle of the night poses several problems. It's pretty lonely. No one else around you is awake at this hour. Those who are awake are usually in another time-zone, available only on the internet, more specifically, the MSN. Sometimes being active at this hour is a good thing - there is no distraction. I can lock myself down to that story I've working on or that geology lab I still need to complete. During holiday seasons, though, there is no such luxury of school deadlines. So I research my career opportunities. I spend two hours visiting web pages of companies I would like to work for, only to realize I am searching into the wrong industry. I create a Microsoft document, saving it as CoverLetter-inprogress.doc, then I move it into a folder marked, Professional. I'm probably going to forget about this folder soon.

Being awake on the early-morning of Thanksgiving in Massachusetts is tremendously lonely. As an internstional student having always lived in schools, I have spent Thanksgivings with middle school teachers and their families and high school friends and their families. Now I understand that staying on campus during the holiday is bad for the soul. This year I organized a Turkey Bus for students to get to and come back from Times Square, for $25/a piece. I collected tickets and saw 54 happy spirits off. I wanted to be leaving too as I sent away the bus. Instead, I walked back to the sculpture studio and felt a little bit sad.

Last Thanksgiving I was doing school work when Jesse picked up me on a super short notice and took me to his family's lodge in western Massachusetts. There were three cats there and they didn't create an allergy attack. The year before that, I'd flown to San Francisco and ate at the Stinking Rose. The year before that I went to New York City, pissed off my friend then bought her a bouquet of purple flowers.

This Thanksgiving I sit in my room and watch the first snow of the year. It's so sparkling. Unfortunately, there is no one to share it with, so I light up a cigarette, a companion at any time of need.