Of all the infinite levels at which humanity can be interpreted, from quantum to cosmic, the only one at which anything matters is eye level.
Becoming a good writer…
“You can’t beat the weather in California”
Yes you can. Unless, of course, you aspire to eliminate all discomfort, variety, and dynamic from your life. Seasons are a time reference. Without them, before you know it you are 42 with color-leeched tattoos and a blond ponytail yelling “yeah! perpetual summer!”. I was weaned on the colored seasons and cold coasts of the East. I inhabit four places every year. I know my home through the filters green and white and blue and amber. Each filter brings different features of my environment into focus. The perfumes of a budding forest and savoring reacquaintance with the sun. The sound of summer canopy drunk with rain. A field before a wood, all dressed in white, sinless, pure, and blank.
As a child, when people would say it was “so humid outside”, I misheard them as saying it was “so human outside”. A “human” day meant that it was going to be oppressive, sweaty, and sticky. Being the shy, nervous child that i was, this expression made sense to me.
the city with a film on the sky
Guangzhou, known to the west as Canton, sits at the mouth of Pearl River delta in Southern China. It houses anywhere from 8 to 14 million people, depending on how you delimit the city, and whether or not you include migrant workers. Guangzhou is a vital import/export ventricle for the industrial heartland in which it lies. The orange haze that hangs above the buildings makes edges murky and leaves a gritty sweet taste on the back of your tongue. Neon lights get caught in it at night. In Winter, the eastern half of China is covered by an even gray smog-blanket that blots out the sun. For lack of a more potent phrase, it’s polluted as fuck. Of the world’s 30 most polluted as fuck cities, China responsible for 20 of them. But I read that even for China, Guangzhou was exceptional. It certainly tasted that way. Weeks later, a Spaniard named “Bictor” would tell me that it was common for foreigners to start losing clumps of hair after several days in the city. Chris and I only stayed for two. We unknowingly selected a hostel in a swanky neighborhood where the hostel staff was strict and robotic. We checked in around 9am.
An hour later, this:
The maid enters the dorm and I smile at her politely from up in my bunk. She spots the towel I’d snatched from the linen closet draped over the railing of my bed. She runs from the room. She returns with an unamused man in a suit and glasses. They yell at each other in Cantonese, fitfully glancing at me while I pretend to read. The man walks over and inspects my bunk. I had hidden the towel, suspecting it may have been the reason the maid had scampered off, though I really had no idea. The man looks at the bed frame, the two yell some more, and he leaves. What the hell was that. After Chris finishes his shower, the man returns and approaches us.
“You take my tour,” he says.
“You take my tour today,” he insists.
“We didn’t sign up for any tour.”
“You take my tour. 9:30. Half past 3.” He is getting frustrated.
“No, we’re leaving the city today. We can’t do that.” We are trying to be courteous, but the last thing I wanted to do that day was wait around for a compulsory tour of this creepy hostel.
“You take my tower!” he shouts.
“take…your tower?” I am thoroughly and genuinely confused.
“TOUR! T-O-W-E-R!” His face is red.
“YES!!” He’s fuming. “MY TOWER!!”
“What?!” I had no idea what he is talking about and he was just getting louder. He started to rouse the other guests still asleep in bunks around the room. There is no way I could have taken his tower. He had clearly mistaken me for somebody else who could pull off such a feat, like David Copperfield, or David Blaine, or David Schwimmer. Amidst the yelling, I started to wonder, could this be a historical grievance? I began thinking that perhaps he wasn’t berating me merely as suit-man to travel-boy, but as China to America. I started scanning the shallow recesses of my knowledge of Chinese history, searching for what atrocious event he could be referring to, involving America, China, and a tower of some significance that was… taken… ??
Make Your Bed
ROOMMATE 1: Why don’t you make your bed in the morning?
ROOMMATE 2: If you make yourself a pancake, do you draw a smiley face with the syrup?
ROOMMATE 1: ‘course not, that’s the saddest thing ever… ah
Ni Hao Ma?
i spent the month of January traveling through China. China. CHINA. And dipped briefly into Vietnam. It was very surreal and very super. I’d like to post some excerpts from my leather-bound travel journal, accompanied by photographs of the wildest, strangest, most frightfully hilarious place I have ever been.
January 6th, 2011.
The bus ride from Nanning, China to the Vietnamese border was five hours. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring Nicholas Cage played continuously. I talked to a soft-spoken, kind-eyed Vietnamese teenager named “Nam” in his broken English for the entire ride. I don’t think he knew his name was how vets abbreviated his country. He was from Hanoi but studied in China. He had been hopping from bus to bus for five days to make it back to his family for the New Year. He said his overgrown cocaine pinky nail was for scratching. Later, he finished the rest of his blow before his father picked him up at the border. He told me that once Vietnamese girls find a boyfriend, they stop speaking with other men. I asked him if his girlfriend talked to other guys. He quietly responded, “yes, becuss i let her.” I asked him if his girlfriend and his female best-friend get along. He paused to search for words. “They play wis each ozzer while i am away.” Nicholas Cage shot magic from his wand. Nam smiled at the bus TV. “Oh. I…lub…Nicholas…Cage.”
Vietnam is a completely different animal. We left China through Friendship Pass. How optimistic. The border is a haphazard mob waving passports at three military-clad agents behind glass. Halfway down the list of forbidden items on a hanging placard reads “NO ANIMAL CARESSES”. It may have been worth risking my camera being smashed on the tile floor by a Chinese police officer for a picture. We drove through hills of burnt red mud, past terraces of dry rice paddy stubble. Straw, conical farmer’s hats spotted the fields. Arbitrary trash fires, haze, and people just shivering. Not shivering while doing something else but shivering as if it were its own complete activity. Closer to the capital city, old men gather and chitchat on exit ramps. Old women sell fruit to bikers on the side of the highway under bright red Party billboards.
Who says you have to own a frock coat, a bowler hat, and have intercourse through a hole in a sheet to write an aphorism?
Let’s say the following are gestating.
Flirting: the cause of, and solution to, adultery.
Virtuosity simply means freedom from the fetters of mimicry.
If you can’t think of something new, resuscitate something old. The universe recycles; context conceals.
Comedy is the poor man’s philosophy.
There are no new ideas, only new ways of putting them.
If a walk doesn’t make you feel better, you didn’t walk far enough.
(Ok, that one’s not really an aphorism; it’s just a spoonful of cold, distilled Truth)
Caricature is the birth of art, honesty is its life purpose.
Paul Auster said “stories can only be told backwards.” Improv tells stories forwards.
What you learn from your parents is never what they mean to teach you.
And a couple from the pros:
You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.
– Camus, The Fall
In the end one loves one’s desire and not what is desired.
-Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
I just found a short story I’d written for 9th grade English. I think it was our first assignment. I have no memory of writing it, which makes it seem like it was written by a different person. In a sense, I guess it was. I’ve often wondered what was truly on my mind at fourteen. The answer is: the Dust Bowl. Apparently, the Dust Bowl was on my mind. When I was fourteen, before I had ever kissed a girl, I spent time thinking about the Dust Bowl.
So, here it is:
Sometimes…I thinks about jus’ pickin’ up an’ leavin’ this here place. I thinks about leavin’ the dustbowl, an’ livin’ somewhere that dust don’t control every aspect of my life. My whole world revolves around dirt. An’ if that ain’t sad I don’ know what is.
This mornin’ I went to take a shower, but all that came out of the faucet was thin mud…that don’t bother me though, not even eatin’ dust-caked food at every meal will bother me. What gives me a bother it that my four-year-old brother, Joey, is sick, he has worms—at least tha’s what Mr. McDuffie said. Mr. McDuffie ain’t a doctor but he is pretty darn close. Mr. McDuffie says that Joey probably got worms from falling down the hole in the out-house. I say he got them from sharing a water bowl with T-Bone, our sheepdog.
I on’y goes to school two times a week. My teacher is Mrs. Lesher, she don’t know that both of my parents is past away. Mrs. Lesher believes we’s is in for a big dust storm pretty soon. She is a real smart lady, Mrs. Lesher, and she is probably right, I don’t want to believe ‘er, even though I do. All this talk about a monster dust storm reminds me of what happened just over a year ago.
I remember the weatherman said it was gonna be big, the biggest. Pa said it was gonna be bad, the baddest. How is you supposed to prepare for something like this? That’s how we was thinkin’. Board up the door an’ all the windows? Well, we did, but that didn’t help any one bit. The entire town was supposed to go to the church for the dust storm, but we didn’t make it in time, an’ then we was afraid to go to the church ‘cause we thought we might get trapped in the storm while we was travellin’ to the church. So we ended up takin’ refuge in our tiny, creakin’ wooden cottage that we called home. The storm came in like a lion, an’ left like a…lion. The storm had the unearthly screech of fifty locomotives. The whole house moaned and whined while the dust tore at its sides. We was all scared, especially Joey, who didn’t quite know what was goin’ on. Then Pa stood up an’ he started to get on his coat.
“Where are you goin’ Dylan?” Mama asked.
“I’ve got to secure the cattle,” Pa said back.
“I’m gonna come with you,” said Mama.
“No, Marie, it’s not safe.”
“I know that. Tha’s why I gotta come,” insisted Mama.
I begged both of ‘em not to go. Before I knew it, though, they were both out the door, an’ I was covered by a wave o’ dirt. We waited, Joey and me, huddled in a corner for hours an’ hours on end for my parents to return… I think Joey might still be waitin’.
‘Family tree’ is a good analogy. As a tree grows, limbs divide and sprout off one another, as progeny sprout from their parents. The newest, most immature, green branches sit always at the highest or furthest point from the trunk. They are the most delicate and most flexible. They soak sun and wave and sway and dance and shake and shiver in high winds. Their parent limbs are dry, hard, wooden and do not sway so easily. As the tree grows outward and upward, the immature limbs become stiff and thick, and eventually become covered by their children, who block the sun and breeze. Every branch, at some point in the tree’s life was limber and bendable, and fluttered in the sun and warm breeze until the twigs sprouting from them radiated in all directions and left them fixed in the leafy shadows of the blotted sun.