3. Begin in the mirror

Dec 31 2020


I'm trying to decide whether a work of fiction or creative nonfiction would be the best to begin with. Anyway, the fiction would be very poorly disguised. A girl returns home from college to see herself in the bathroom mirror of her childhood - the ceiling is too textured, the carpet too damp, the frames on the walls all hung too low. The top of the fridge is too close to within reach. There she is, in precisely the same frame, with precisely the same limits in her mind's eye, none the wiser, only more sighted, and therefore the sorrow is able now to be named as well as its source.


We begin with her coming back. We begin with the smell. We begin with the fear of the patch of mold by her window and the fear of the twin mirrors in the middle of the night. The fear eats at me - does it mean I brought them back from Taiwan? Was I the vector after all of something near microscopic despite my bleaching and sunning and freezing and demented agony?


What can you give people that others cannot? You can give them Bi Gan in words. Jia Zhangke on a page of English. So it goes. I do not know of women Chinese-American authors who have ever done such a thing. Think of banyan and a January morning in Southern Mongolia and kissing someone goodbye at the Greyhound terminal in Philadelphia one cold spring and you will have it.


Reading Terminal Market. I think I remember now. A sudden industrial outcropping from Chinatown - the word formica comes to mind although I do not know what it means - and the chairs piled up in the snow in Manhattan Chinatown. A snow barricade of sorts in the pay-to-park lot.


Other things you return to - but even though you pass through the adventures with Bryant they do not feel ventured - they feel only checked off of a list. When you were traveling alone or with silent others it did not feel that way... I need to relearn how to look through the alleys full of snow to find the cathedral.


If my relationship with Nathan was just a little more fantastical. He was missing two fingers. I felt like I had nowhere else to go. Suddenly in a relationship, I'd forgotten all about the potential of being alone and surviving nonetheless.


Begin in the train on new years day, waiting to brush your teeth. See your grandmother. None of the stories make sense in your mind. Dive into the story of your grandmother then. Find the story of the postmaster waiting in there somewhere. End with being shaken awake in the Beijing airport by someone thinking you were about to miss your flight to Ulaanbaatar.


Begin by kissing Alan goodbye.


Begin in a pie shop pretending to have a highly agitated adult conversation on the phone with Nathan, hoping for the attentions of the workers there.


Begin in the narrow blue room overlooking the frozen Han river.


Begin in the mirror. A story of religion and obsession. Of waking and dreaming. The hospital in gray traffic. The sad pink satin of Kunqun opera in Suzhou one January.


A chronicle of that relationship is in order. I think I can do it now.


Sanity becoming intermittent, like a sudden stretch of intact Great Wall, detached again.


Jan 2nd 2021


You saw your father again today - somehow he seemed even older. There is more darkness delineating his teeth again. In my mind's eye they are all still young, still in their thirties and I'm still wearing peter pan collars and the burnt orange pinafore.


Finished watching Burning and appreciated the feeling much more than before. It satiated something in me as soldiers in the desert lusting for plums. It also made me see its genius, which is greater than what I could conjure up for a retelling of Nathan's story. Visual storytelling is very different from verbal, however. The film could move suddenly from our protagonist typing in Haemi's room to Ben in his bathroom, whereas to do so in fiction and claim the transition into fiction would seem too arbitrary.


Coffeehouse culture. Cooking pasta while listening to music. These are things that are Western and therefore imbued with prestige. We don't do this sort of thing. We don't listen to music like that while cooking in our own homes. We don't cook Italian in our own homes, not like that.


Jun 27 2022


It's been long enough - time to publish this post. I'll begin here.

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