I finally refused it all—the romance
of the past, the heaven of family.
I denied the apocalypse of genes, the passionate resurrection
Of memory, the pierced and reborn body we call the story
Of our lives.
T. R. Hummer, from “Worldly Beauty,” in Walt Whitman in Hell (Louisiana State University Press, 1996)
In the cul-de-sac, I remember her telling me that growing up is like this: a series of refusals and denials. I think the most important thing she ever said was that you might get a year older but still not have grown up a day. I remember nodding in silence with the scrapes and bruises on my knees and elbows, and I just knew I should listen because she was the college kid with the double major and the hot boyfriend who would put a ring on it that I always knew I wanted.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I would see many shades of violence in the years to come as a result of my apocalypse of genes. You learn that metallic taste of blood in your mouth, and you wonder if there was ever really the heaven of family or the brotherhood of your best friends that would have your back until both realized you loved a little differently. Flashes of skin against locker, word against heart. Smile with no teeth because it’s just ambiguous enough.
Then four years happened, and I thought there’d be a passionate resurrection, or some resurrection of passion. I met him and him and him and him. In the middle of it all, we walked the line. Little accidents, a hole made through and through, little fantasies pierced.
A house full of scraps of poems, unused ideas. A nest of thoughts, the wood chips from an industrious carpenter of the word. Their abundance, like froth, around my existence, excess, boiling over. I don’t know why I sentenced this or that poem to non-being, to silence; why I wrote down this, but not that thought. All froth.
I was sifting through Barthes’ Mourning Diary again for an epigraph to my project, and I was really struck by the introductory remarks by one of the editors. It asks us to consider the Diary as a hypothesis of a book he desired: these little “wood chips” of an idea that overflow in their “abundance.” Little quartered pieces of printing paper, a line or two, often filled with dashes and sentence fragments. Yes, yes, form matches content. In a very crude sense, it’s a scrapbook for maman. Yet I think of the book’s method as a kind of wish fulfillment. A wishing well of sorts. Certain things thrown in for good measure, others that rest on the rims, the edges. What doesn’t make it into the book is perhaps the closest that Barthes gets to the question of “mourning,” or perhaps “suffering” as he at times prefers to call it.
My project, too, will be a hypothesis. As Barthes repeatedly questions the primacy of psychoanalysis, I, too, will be subjecting this hypothesis to a battery of tests. Battery in all its extensiveness, in all its violence. Theories, methods, dialogues, a necessary din of voices other than my own. But beside them will be my “field notes,” my little jottings amassed over the years in a box that will attempt in some way to theorize from the personal, situated within lines of blood, states of mind. Silent gravity and its fields, pressure points, wishes thrown into the well. Hayward’s “critical enmeshment” rather than “personal account,” these lively relatings. Or put even simpler: a boy can wish, right?
The concert hall beers come down from last night, and I’m weighted with that morning gravity that only intensifies as the years tick and tock their way into my layers. I’m drawn into the center of my bed, sheets like kudzu, my back screaming in its cackling tongues. For a moment, I turn over too quickly, and I fear I’m going to collide into him next to me. Is this what it is like to sleep with a shade?
A Sunday when I wish I had a bottle of that eki kyabe that saved my life when my vision splintered into the concrete at the station. Thank goodness R. was there to get me back to our little garret with the bunks. Tucked away in the banks are episodes of Scrubs we shared, little moments of exchange when you mocked my inability to pronounce good German, and the laments of having to wear a full suit into work when it was in the 90s every day. You’d laugh at the poor taste of your customers, an awkward laugh because you didn’t pay this much to make espressos for other gaijin. We handle different paper now: you, currency; I, monographs from the PR section ofVan Pelt. We fly into different currents, streams of capital that capitalize us, that we think we can capitalize upon. cha-ching, cha-ching. You just made two times my stipend. Perhaps the only thing I’m more full of is bullshit.
I take a long swig from my canister, and I slam it back on the nightstand. I’m just so fucking thirsty.
Coastal Brake takes me into pointillism, and I see peaking out of my pocket the last blue thing you said just as I take a sip of Yards. A thanks that sits on the screen, a clump of letters pushed into a sound as I imagine you saying it. Closure in a swirl of lights, a set of dream-beats because it’s never meant to come to anything but ghostly dives. The half-hug you shared last week didn’t bring you back to the night I kissed you with that eighty-year-old pu-erh still on my lips. I wanted you to tell me you had a reservation for Tria on 12th, so we could go back to the cheeseboard and the search for street parking, where I could give you only bad puns and bad luck. But instead, you tell me you’re taking good advice, and I have no witty riposte to thumb to you by phone. I muster up a goodbye, a good luck. All these, a dictaphone’s laments.
All I ever did to that apartment was hang fifty yards of yellow theatrical silk across the bedroom windows, because I had some idea that the gold light would make me feel better, but I did not bother to weight the curtains correctly and all that summer the long panels of transparent golden silk would blow out the windows and get tangled and drenched in afternoon thunderstorms. That was the year, my twenty-eight, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every word, all of it.
Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That” (via commovente)
As the pages are left unwritten, I do everything to prime the space for better writing. Books and papers queerly sitting on the edges of my desk and shelves, that napkin from dinner that has that hideous stain from my coffee mug, the way the stapler is on its side like it too is in agony. I have my MUNI subway prints framed, scraps from the sketchbook on foam board, string and instagram squares. I cannot stand the hospital white walls, so I throw slivers of my life upon them, my little theatrical resistance, my kitschy poetics of space.
Am I four years from what you learned, Joan? Or is it that I’ve felt that knowledge sooner that I feel as tangled as your silk in the wake of the storms? I discover while breaking, these promises that can shake a man. I will never tell him because he has too much of Orange County in him to bear the blows, so I plead the fifth and take on all fours the irrevocable little truths while I chew and blow bubbles with white lies.
I’m on my hands and knees scrubbing at the tiles and the tub from the seventies. I want to know that every evasion, every procrastination, every word that I have wasted and will waste, all of it, will count. 350 words, 60 double-spaced pages, I love you, I promise, goodbye.
Mom told me I suffered from the “hundred days crying,” the Chinese phrase for baby colic. Hours on end of high-pitched crying until I was “blue in the face.” She would often cry with me in her helplessness as I’d often begin my bouts just as Dad left for his late shifts at the stock market. It was in these very early moments of our relationship as mother and son that we bonded through our paroxysms. A mutual kind of despair, mine so much intense yet less fraught than her own, this woman of just over forty. No one, especially those living in the neighboring flats in our high rise, had any doubt by the time I was three weeks old that I had a voice. One born from a certain malaise, what the old fortune teller at Temple Street would later tell me was a tristesse the moment I entered this world.
I only recently found out the fugitive damages of these hundred days. Vocal nodules and calluses from my crying spells that left my vocal chords swollen. No whistle tones, a diminished range, breathy breaks. I remember Mrs. S. used to play me pieces from her castrati CD, and I used to cry at the Ave Marias. I remember when V. squeezed my hand as I hit the high note at our first Christmas recital. I spend a lot of time now re-membering my voice, a reconstruction of some prior moment when I could still control this instrument that reminded me everyone of my presence. Mom says she seldom hears me now, but I tell her she’s not listening. I’ve trained another voice, a different voice, one that you all in the ether perhaps hear more clearly than anyone else.
"Life would be worth more to you: some real knowledge would give you an interest in the world beyond the small drama of personal desires. It is the curse of your life—forgive me—of so many lives, that all passion is spent in that narrow round, for want of ideas and sympathies to make a larger home for it."
I spend the hour with K. today parsing out the narratives I’ve spun about D.’s sudden reappearance in my life. I want to fault him for the half-apology he gave and scratch off the sugar I’ve sprinkled on it about how his actions have a history behind them that I need to better grasp and find space in my heart for, especially after S.’s tragic death a few months ago when everyone refused to believe domestic abuse was a tragedy for gay men, too. But it gets a little labyrinthine today, and I crush my styrofoam cup because I see the lit pathways closing before I can even get my breath across the threshold. I expect to see a minotaur, and I meet many because I am here, airtight, within these walls of my own words that I’ve disciplined myself to tell. I take a page out of an illusionist’s book and take to breath training, but I’m faltering now as the narrow rounds hem me in.
I think of the draft of my memoir due by the ninth: this first attempt at tracing the curse of my family’s small drama of personal desires. I fear to see what Cassandra once did.
"An honourable life? Yes. But the honour comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honour in donning the life as a livery."
I tried the monastic thing once before. I remember my feet being barely able to touch the floor beneath the dinner table when the family took a trip to the monastery just outside of the city. Dad wanted to do calligraphy like grandpa used to, and my mom wanted the peace from the SMS stream and conference calls that kept her up at night. We all felt the strangely liberating burden of having to abandon our things. Little satchels and bags with odds and ends we felt we should have with us once we crossed the threshold into a certain silence that is now a dying breed. I make peace with the tatami, and I fall asleep with the taste of that cold mountain water tofu, daikon and lotus, all lingering. This is the clean simplicity of shojin ryori (精進料理) wrought by the disciplined hands in the fields and in the kitchen. A monk’s meal to reward the patience I simply do not have.
Yet, in almost a decade and a half’s time since then, I still don’t know what to do with myself in that kind of suspended time. In that kind of meditative silence that leaves me restless. Perhaps it is my assumption that such energy must be potential, must be in potentia for some proper usage that I am mostly deeply mistaken. I think now when there are just hundreds of pages to a read per day that I know nothing of what it means to pursue an “inward vocation.” There is no hard-won anything. Merely hardness, bad faith, and a scholar’s habits donned like a threadbare livery.
I am afraid to stay here alone, I have nothing except my bodyCzesław Miłosz, ”The Song” (via cerasiferae)
— it glistens in the dark, a star with crossed hands,
so that I am scared to look at myself. Earth,
do not abandon me.
I break the weather strips around my patio door and my windows, and the heat comes this time as a wanted guest after months of frosty trespassing. For once, I am bare to my meandering bones, yielding myself to the spring night which envelops me as I have craved. In nothing but mysterious skin: I am afraid without him. Where these wandering limbs might fall without his force, his form to keep me in the bounds of my slumber, the sanctity of this bed a bit too firm for my taste. I dream of sinking, of sinking just deep enough where I cannot parse my weighty loads, but not to the point where he cannot thrust his hand beneath the surfaces to drag me back into the light of us. I draw him beside me, all this with the pencil that keeps me flushed. Drawn together, then and now.
The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamily self-aware, the submicroscopic moments. He said this more than once, Elster did, in more than one way. His life happened, he said, when he sat staring at a blank wall, thinking about dinner…
He said we do this all the time, all of us, we become ourselves beneath the running thoughts and dim images, wondering idly when we’ll die. This is how we live and think whether we know it or not. These are the unsorted thoughts we have looking out the train window, small dull smears of meditative panic.
Don DeLillo, Point Omega (via liquidnight)
Irreducible, these precarious lives. Yet I record, document as if life itself depended on it. Stashes of notes and notebooks in a line that create the faintest traces of a life. When years are suffused with the submicroscopic and the little hoards of quasi-philosophical questions that gyre and gimble. The micro, the subterranean that comes up for a gasp or two when the mindfulness devolves into panic. Insight collected into panic diaries. A word or two, a sentence with that cloying phrase that you cross out over and over until it is a palimpsest of some fantasy under erasure. I slap shut the book: dull smears, running thoughts.