O brawling love, O loving hate
There’s a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo and Juliet adaptation, memorable among others, where Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio in his infancy) sits by a heart-shaped rock with room for a leonine bullet, craving the love of one who will not love him. It seems only relevant to romantic love, unrequited love. It seems impossible, upon first viewing, to see it in any other light.
The scene played in my mind as I considered the kinds of veneers that easily peel, slanting and slouching, sliding into their own malaise. Some that come off like a fruity sticker to reveal that the facts of life we once considered dull or chipped, come finally to the surface as real.
Don’t forget that Mercutio, played by Harold Perrineau, is the star of Luhrmann’s decadent, “modern” interpretation of Shakespeare’s most well known play. He introduces Romeo to drug-ridden insanity, sane mischief that tastes sweet on the lips. Is it any wonder people do anything not to take a pill that makes them miserable?
“O heavy lightness, serious vanity, Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!”
Epothecaries of Valence
Being out was as vivid as I could picture, except the colours were a little dull like the small metal taste on my tongue. By being out, I mean physically, not in the sense of being queer, although that was a possibility.
It’s only when you encounter someone else who is alone on a walk that you realize how alone you are, I contemplated. I walked by a stranger who also was walking by himself.
Away with Style
There were moments of levity, I thought of tweeting. I thought of saying many things, but in the end I couldn’t. I didn’t have a laptop, nor access to a phone. I’d been here for almost a month, the unit of measurement I used like a stick against the wall with the sun high.
When I spoke with my mom, she likened the distant parts to a dream. It must have been silly to see things in retrospect. I did think so, this I agreed with. I woke up from a nap to a concerned FaceTime with she and my sister. I shouldn’t have been feeling so tired, and this I agreed with.
I took a visit from Zander before I slept; he was Lexi, then Lexus, then Alexander and not Alexa under any circumstance. When we hugged goodbye, I felt it was a real hug, but when we saw each other again, it was like a caricature of a visit, some sort of rough ending to a bad song. He wanted to let me know he needed to dump me (our love was platonic) and he didn’t date Chinese girls (I am Chinese by ethnicity).
It seemed like we were balanced on the fleshy entrails of some dream that I couldn’t wake from no matter how hard I tried. I was still in here, with a computer now and a phone. But I was still here. My mother worried relentlessly and I loved her for it.
I dreamt of a wedding, what it means to be engaged. I awoke during the night, only to be misunderstood as sleeping, and then misunderstood again. These small intimacies, vague epistolary moments, haunt me even still.
I dreamt of travel, of one foot in front of the other, of cliches and dutiful phrases, bound together with images imbued with happiness, not sadness, nor shame.
I’ve tried writing about this in any other way but academic. I didn’t want to do research on the ways in which mental health and illness were construed, how they were talked about. Steve, the peer support worker who came in two Fridays I was here, am here, said he was a consumer and survivor, a PWLE (person with lived experience). All of those terms resonated me, but I didn’t want to write about how mental health and mad studies were stretched across their own domains.
I wanted to write about Symposium, the book I received, with some sort of claim written in. I didn’t want to know what else wasn’t true.
A river runs through a field; a river runs through a pipe.
The little coffee table was rearranged in the living room, from its position in front of the couch to a horizontal arrangement with a small yellow “bee” chair with its back facing the window. Mom had a problem with one of her vertebrae, which had jutted out of place from pressure and was causing all kinds of pain. (The incident that may have set it off was when she and I were taking a bath in a childhood tub, and she got up forcefully banging the small of her back – and the bone there – on the mouth of the faucet. I remember her expression of pain very clearly, and the lines of scraped skin there for some time after.) This required her to move from the couch onto the children’s chair. The living room was always, as I remember it, in a state of misarrangement. A bit of a mess, though a friend once said she liked it because it felt “lived in.”
I was very captivated by Andrea Lee’s reading of Haruki Murakami’s “Barn Burning,” whose title is taken from a story of the same name by William Faulkner. I felt that the story though it is allegorical is really about the distance between people, and of course this metaphor of barn burning, the physical act. The “morality” that is the delicate balance between parallel worlds is the morality that is either abided by or violated by a person’s duality. How it is possible to be both good and evil, but the recognition sometimes evades the observer who is too passive and misses what is right in front of him. This fact inspires tragic anger along with the death of an innocent. The feeling this draws is not to be underestimated in “storytelling” which in this day and age can be written off as some corporate invention. The narrator, who is a writer and observer, finds himself drifting closer and closer in psyche and intimacy to a man who is presented as having destroyed a young woman who was important to the writer, but never to society. It is a story that seems totally relevant to the state of affairs in this, early January 2020. (But then again, of course it would seem that way.) The United States took an act of war against Iran; wildfires burn for more hectares in Australia than the Amazon and California; people are mistaken for innocents because others are too busy to get to know them more deeply, and evil continues to refract a small amount of mystery.
Each of us does at times want appear noble, a mark of having read some books in school. But you are, in the end, judged by the work that is actually done.
Lonely on a dancefloor
I was thinking about how I should respond should someone ask me where I was at the end of the decade. The satisfying version would be, “in the Amazon,” which is partially true, but not very precise. Amazônas is the name of the province in Brazil which encompasses the rainforest; Amazonas is also the name of the analogous departments in Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. It also would not be accurate to say so, as I was only at the edge of this part of the Amazon River, not the forest, known for “as encontras das aguas,” where black and brown waters meet. For some reason, as I was thinking about the question, I pictured myself on a dancefloor somewhere undiscerning and without a shape, not alone but invariably by myself. There must have been some vague music playing in the background – as not a connossieur of great music (the type who likes anything but not everything) – I could not decide which soundtrack should burn in the echoes of this distilled fantasy. The picture was half full, as a glass. I was in the bottom third of the frame walking out of it, while at the top there was some purple tinged resonance of an air of greed, or lust. Something that would captivate an audience.
But isn’t it the morning that matters? I woke the next morning without an alarm, and got up at around 7:10, made coffee and eggs in the shared kitchen downstairs, and put on my repellent to cover the scars of bites. I had “lost,” or dropped, or had stolen, my debit card the day before, which in the way that things are lost gives way to guilt and mourning that are totally unreasonable and not brief. I feel that I am better at being more concise with it, able to shed with lighter effort the mourning like a skin, of things lost which lingered and which were held for so long that they began to accumulate meaning. It is a wonder artificial intelligence seeks to become more human; and it is no wonder this is an easy feat, easier in all the ways it is possible to transform without a purpose, will, or saying.
This is too morose for New Year’s Day, and I apologize. At least there is the smell of coffee, the oils and the aroma that could accompany almost any edible fruit. As for the dancing, I must admit I can’t. It is not simply a matter of trying – which I’m used to – and not, I think, a question of talent. It is sheer intuition: that other institution which connects parts of the brain to the body, the muscle, the movement.
I am reminded of what the novelist Otessa Moshfegh mentioned in passing on a podcast, where she was telling an anecdote she had heard which goes something like this: When you are writing a story, there is going to be a breakthrough moment where clarity sets in and the story becomes lucid. But the experience is like being trapped in a room with no visible door. Although trapped may be a tinge too forceful, since you are there of your own will. (Something like that other joke, about being trapped in a haunted house in a dream.) You only know that there is a trap door, but you don’t know where. You know it is possible to find a way, but the way does not appear until it does. I have found this maddening and terrifying since I became aware of it, the picture of a room with square beige walls lingered in my mind. So, it is possible for me to one day spontaneously know how to dance, but until the day arrives the thought is moot, a complete waste of feeling. This is an insane inducing madness. It is easier to write without thinking of such things.
Is or is not beauty of consequence in this world? maybe what I mean is, is it useful? Does it help one person, or the masses? If the latter, I want it. If only one person, I suppose I should want the person to be me.
This trip I have been on, four months without having written a single word until now, has shown me the peculiarities and insufferabilities of being human. Human nature feels very close from this vantage. Hard to explain, without showing photographs of mountain-carcasses and carapaces made of bloody veins. Of the moon, a sliver of some physical substance beyond reach, but so plainly simple. It is conventional wisdom among rougher folk that the more people you meet, the more intelligent you are. Maybe this intelligence is useless in society, but the fact remains. People are not knowable in the ascetic sense; but to glean what people are is to have to confront yourself. Meeting people, seeing the exactitude with which every person has qualities deemed universal – that myth generated by fiction – is almost excrutiating.
For example, I have learned that, most people when they say “generally speaking” they mean “specifically.” When making broad declarations about how things “generally are” in a country, there is an ironic, maybe stupid, consideration of factors very close to home. We can barely help it; please don’t think less of us for our overextended educations. There is a cultural myopia that comes with living in the Americas more so than probably any other region on the planet. The assumption is that this is the centre, assuming a centre. Of thought, of moral duty, of undying, immoral obligation to one’s own entitlements. Even when things go badly, there is an assumption that it could only be this way. Everything in our history, our memory, has led us here and has held us politically captive. In other regions of the world, I imagine there is more leniency in this regard. Things have changed, continue to change, and whatever havoc we have stirred in other lands have had some consequences. And we still mean to fix our mistakes. There are signs of life in other parts.
It is difficult to photograph the landscapes along the desert road from Tupiza, Bolivia, to the salt flat in Uyuni. The colours become muddled, they are too subtle for photography and blend into one another, creamy, creating a sight only able to be beheld in that time and place, with the naked eye.