For Mom

For Mom

Suting

I promise to try and not let the loss of you heavy my steps. Instead, I will find freedom in your freedom. I miss you. You are near me now, but so fast disappearing. You are the glimmer of white in the distance, the sweetness of the ache in my chest. I love you. Pale blossom: your fragrance is sweet even as it leaves me, like a vanishing trace of angels. I thank you for my life itself.

—March 23, 2013

 

This was for Mom. I wrote it last year, but I never posted it here. Today, it seemed appropriate.

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Legacy

Dad and me

I was, apparently, a hella out of it baby who slept lots.

Dad died three years ago, this morning. 6:47 am, to be exact. I was awake for it, by some betrayal of my body, staring at my phone as the minutes counted down. The battery died before I got there, cheating me out of the most self-indulgent memorial I can fathom (besides, of course, this). I remember the exact time because I can still hear the doctor’s voice pronouncing it; somewhere, it’s still echoing in my ears. And in that place there’s a pathetic fallacy: eternal late winter without the hope of spring.

But, here and now, I know tomorrow will be warm, at least.

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I’m Actually Going to be Published. In a Book. That Will Actually be Bound. Like Books Are.

Something I wrote is going to be published.

It’s not a book.

But it’ll be in a book?

And it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written.

Thank goodness. I really don’t want to peak in college. That would just almost be as bad as peaking in high school, which, come to think of it: I may have actually peaked in high school.

Nah. Well…maybe. I’m way less cool in college, that’s for sure.

Mathematician John Nash was obsessed with making it before thirty: apparently a number of his contemporaries did their best work in their youth. And while Nash did do great work which eventually won him a Nobel Prize, the prize in question was for…economics. (And strictly speaking it’s not an actual Nobel Prize because it’s not in one of the original categories; it’s actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.)

Okay, as a writer/sound engineer I think I may not actually be allowed to take shots at economists. Also, my sister majored in econ. So everyone should just pretend my math major friend said it instead.

“As a writer.” Do I get to say that now? Probably not: that’s like calling myself a blogger because I keep this site. The terminology is technically accurate, but but you’ll never be able to take yourself seriously.

Anyway, just like every liberal arts-based university in the US, NYU students have to take an expository writing class in freshman year. Because I’m in Steinhardt, the red-headed stepchild of our fine university, I had to take two, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I wrote something my professor liked so much that she suggested I submit it to Mercer Street: the publication of our school’s expository writing program. Every year, around thirty essays (out of 500+ submissions…I need to make this sound as good as possible) are chosen for a new edition. And this year, one of my essays—Beyond Death: The Aesthetics of the Human Corpse—made the cut.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that's the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they're actually printed now, though.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that’s the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they’re actually printed now, though.

As you can extrapolate from the title, the essay is about art and death and dead bodies and poses the question: who do human corpses belong to, anyway? So you know, basically all the bright, positive things you expect me to write about from reading my daily ramblings.

Whatever. I get two complimentary copies and a $35 gift card for the NYU Bookstore. Obviously, I’ve made the big time.

Okay, I usually like to at least end these things on a positive note (see previous entry for a particularly poignant one) but we’re going to take the time to talk about how sad this is. On the submission form for Mercer Street it says chosen essayists will receive a $35 “honorarium.” Hey College of Arts and Sciences: just call a gift certificate a gift certificate. I’m a nerd. I guarantee you that if you’d given me actual money I would have spent it on stationery and books anyway.

Well…a book, some pens, and maybe a froyo. I’m a fat nerd.

Explaining Myself with Help from a Song Dynasty Cityscape

I think people misunderstood my last entry. Or maybe I led them to the wrong conclusions; I apologize for that. I am not a basket case, but writing is an exhale for me. It is a way to repel the forces at war inside myself, which sounds incredibly hackneyed and I almost winced when I wrote that because I am not a tortured artist by any stretch.

Forgive me, I can’t explain myself plainly at the best of times. I don’t carry conversations easily, you might find. As many words as I may spit into the air over my lifetime, all my better and more intimate thoughts make their first homes on paper.

But it seems my stupid scribblings fail to convey what I mean even now, so I’ll speak through the ancients. To paraphrase from Dream of Red Mansions: referencing an old thing, after all, is better than creating a new one.

And the best allusion, the best metaphor even, I have to explain my state of mind is this:

Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Or rather, just a snippet of an 18th century reproduction of the 12th century original which is 17 feet long. Click the image to view the entire original scroll.

This is a detailed view of a painting called Along the River During the Qingming Festival or Going Upriver on the Qingming Festival or whatever slightly inaccurate translation that you prefer to refer to it as. Painted by Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan this panorama stretches over seventeen feet long. Seventeen feet.

The room I’m sitting in right now probably doesn’t even have that much square footage.

And it’s not an empty scroll of Zen landscapes (each with a wide textile border) instead it depicts the day of the Qingming Festival in the Song Dynasty capital. The temporal setting of this work, the Qingming festival, is sometimes translated as the Tomb Sweeping festival. It’s the day you go to clean up and honor the graves of your ancestors, which were usually out-of-the-way places. Chinese people didn’t believe in keeping their dead close. Better a tomb be kept where no road would ever be built over it.

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape hands...

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape handscroll Along the River During Qingming Festival, ink and colors on silk, 24.8 x 528.7 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there’s a beautiful paradox here, because this painting isn’t about death at all: it’s about life, flowing into the capital like a river from the mountains. This scroll is bustling with people and activity, growing more populated as the landscape slowly changes from bucolic to urban. Its people are clothed richly and poorly. Stylized though they may have been, the painting is populated by recognizable characters: from peddlers and actors to even tax gatherers. It was a snapshot of a vibrant, living city on a day dedicated to remembering the dead.

And what I mean to say is that I’m living that duality right now. I grieve in bursts, but I don’t spend my time wallowing in a pit of tar-like sadness. In fact, at this precise moment, my major concern in life is that I can’t sleep because of words and also because of the late-running birthday party at the bar across the street. But at the same exact time, the greater context of my life contains death and I do spend days dedicated to remembering. But even on those days there is life. While I sometimes speak hopelessly, theose feelings are passing. Like ships on the Qingming, they must still leave the harbor despite the day. Because the painting, after all, is populated by the living, and they have their tasks.

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape hands...

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape handscroll Along the River During Qingming Festival, ink and colors on silk, 24.8 x 528.7 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to the Keyboard.

Image

Grand piano guy at Washington Square Park

It’s Sunday at noon and I’ve been in the library for about an hour already.  I don’t know how I’m supposed to concentrate when there is so much blue sky outside the window, but I couldn’t bear to go down into the bowels of Bobst, where there is no sense of time and even your directional orientation is only a trick of architecture.

Today is reverently cloudless.  The kind of blue that reminds me of summer days in California when I used to roam through the dead canyons to the strawberry fields, or cross the tiny trickle of a creek that ran adjacent to our disgustingly uniform housing development.  There is an idyllic quality to my memories of California now, not just for the gorgeous stoop of flowering trees or the joys of being fifteen and surrounded by the most friends I’ve ever had in my life, but because my parents were still alive then, and my sister and I shared a room with sky-blue walls and secrets.

We had an old Yamaha piano that none of us could play properly, but I don’t think I can separate the sound of my sister practicing on it from any part of my childhood.  Pachelbel was just making a comeback and I wasn’t yet sick of hearing her play it.  Music from the Amelie soundtrack was another favorite: so cool and French, an escape from the unrelenting cheerfulness of life outside.

Pianos.  I can’t get away from them.  My mother, apparently, took lessons specifically while I was in the womb.  She remembered as little from them as I did.

I miss her.  I miss Dad, too.  I miss Dad in a different way: because it has been longer, I guess.  Because I never felt like he hung around much more than his allotted two weeks afterwards.  But I miss driving with him at night: our paper route that wove among those haciendas lit up in the darkness.  I miss seeing Calavera at night, with its massive hill overlooking a city turned into fairy lights.  I miss making up stories for them.  I miss Dad driving in the dark, 10 miles an hour as I tried to hit driveways but miss cars.

There was one night when, going down Chestnut, we stopped at a stop sign for thirty seconds too long.  “Sorry,” my dad said finally, shaking his head.  “I was waiting for it to turn green.”

Take me back to those days please, when I was a bookishly smart teenager with the universe’s nerdiest glasses perched on my nose and two parents and a sister and played the cello badly and was on the JV academic league and paid no thought to life after debt other than maybe having unreasonable aspirations of being an architect and literally building the world.

It’s no good to wish for it.  Time can be stupidly linear when you least expect it.  You were forced to grow older, and change into the girl you are now: the one who should be writing about censorship because she actually cares passionately about it, the one who in twenty-five minutes will head to a practice room and, with a classmate, pound out seventh chords on yet another Yamaha piano in an attempt to imprint the intangible into her mind.

Pianos.  We’re still at pianos and a sky blue with secrets.  Life is like the world, in the same way time resembles space. They both aren’t that big at all. Or rather, they are large but repetitive, baffling but stupidly beautiful.