Hello, this time and space, here I am. I had been trying to get here on July 29. That would make an exact two-year mark. I would’ve left such a mark nonchalantly, not mentioning it anywhere; it’d be a private joke only my reader and I understand. When it was clear I couldn’t make it on time, I frustrated the way a planned joke couldn’t land. For a few days I was thinking about faking it, you know, with the website admin trick. In the end it all seemed overly contrived. So here I am now, arrived at last, where I hadn’t thought I would be, but where exactly I should be.
Read a beautiful time-travel story on my way here. It’s unlike any time-travel story—full of imaginations, granted, but also luxuriant with wisdom and strength. It is so intricately layered that at some point, a person in the story is stepping into another story and met another person in that other story. But only ever so briefly, like all mystical encounters should be. It has sentences like this: “Like infernal fire, grief burns but does not consume; instead, it makes the heart vulnerable to further suffering.” I wonder what it means. I wonder if it had said “invulnerable” it would also make sense. The kind of word magic a fine writer can wield to make entirely opposed things plausible at the same time is both fascinating and alarming. And this: “Coincidence and intention are two sides of a tapestry, my lord. You may find one more agreeable to look at, but you cannot say one is true and the other is false.” I wonder if I had also mixed those, deeming something as accidental, as happened-to-be, when I had always willed it to happen, ardently, tormentedly, clandestinely.
Who I am, basically, seems to predestine where I’d go.
But I have arrived, following this predestined journey. Once arrived I do not want to travel any more. Even time-travel. From where I am I take a good look at two years of happenings, unfolded like eddy currents. The long sequence of dates and titles speak back to me, flickering between warm tears and bitter sighs. It’s almost like the current’s own voice, not mine. Softly and collectively they ask: if you travel back, do you still want this?
Mr Piano was the hardest of all happenings. It took me the longest. Not only was the story hard to tell, but the telling of it, the self-probing dredged up trauma that often stalled the process. After it was finally done, I sent to Haitao, manually, as in, texting him with a link, since he quitted social media and had no way of receiving my usual new post announcement. A modern-day equivalent of delivering a letter by hand, which, happened to be accurate, as Mr Piano is a love letter I wrote to him.
Haitao’s immediate response, upon receiving the link, was “I am in Bali.” Classic. Later he said traveling with a toddler is nothing you want to be envious of. A few days later, he said “It reads so sad,” and that opened exchanges of long ruminations about life that usually take at least a series of drinks, or a series of small talks, for even close friends to reach. If in any way my writing helps open up a deep conversation faster, I am happy.
My friend Eric gave me a book “Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) Of Artmaking,” saying it reminded him of what I write. I had since taken that book with me on travels to remind myself of his understanding.
The sadness, the fear of art and talent, are all very accurate. When we were little, reading comprehensions at school always come with a single right answer. I am glad that every answer can be the right answer now, as long as one cares to comprehend.
In one of the travels I am in Hawaii again, same as two years, twenty two times ago. The day I arrived, I arrived a typical San Francisconian—with boiling anxiety and unquenchable frustration. All the negative emotions I intended to escape from, they trailed right along.
And I gasped at the contrast when they ran face to face with all the Hawaii-ness: glowing sun and water, flapping flowery shirts, air of touristy bustle, and names with way too many vowels. In that moment of contrast the realization is loud and clear: wow I am unhappy.
The tropics make it difficult to mope. In San Francisco dread can be rightfully displayed; no one will ask you why, or encourage you to smile. Here it is unfit to not be overtaken by joy every single minute.
But it is a good thing to feel unfit. The first few years in U.S. I had been used to feeling out of place. It’s not a bad feeling, then, it was only natural. I hadn’t developed much personality to be in place with anything, and was ready, to the point of eager, to be of any kind. So it was easy to be uneasy, normal to be strange. The constant pressure of fitting in in my early twenties shaped most of me.
I’m thankful to those who liked me in those years, despite my lack of personality.
Only recent years I started to feel like all the freedom is in my hand; I could be however I want to be. If I don’t feel like going out I can confidently stay in. If I don’t feel like talking at dinner parties I don’t have to say a word. And I do all those without feeling bad, without wanting to be another kind. I am no longer easy to mold by surroundings. But did I earn that right, or have I closed off from adaptation?
Now I miss feeling unfit. I think that internal force of wanting be part of something guides me, and that uncomfortableness drives maturation.
It could be true that I had stopped growing. The recent years are more about being a settled idea of self and less about a moving target of who I want to become.
But, did the gradient of self-change reach minimum because I am finally in a place, a group, I want to be in? If anything I feel more alone, but more comfortable with the aloneness.
It seems to be true that people converge to places of locally similar souls. People that fight, unify their thoughts, in order to represent a larger body than each of their individuals, so the goal is grander, value is larger, and everything is easier to justify. Their individual existence is bettered by a (not entirely imagined but likely self-aggrandized) collective existence.
Tempting that concept may be, twenty years in China wore me out of unifying. In fact, I want to stop thinking about representing anything. A lot of problems arise due to the (often unconscious) generalization of an originally selfish act into a larger, more noble purpose. I want to stop thinking that way, to the extreme that I want to find the very selfish reason for all the things I do and remind myself of only that.
Why do I do good work? Because I want to be respected for it.
Why do I fight for equality? Because I want better things.
Why do I fight for other people’s equality? Because that aligns with my value and I want to be regarded as a person with good values. Because an empathetic me makes me feel better.
Why do I write? Because I want attention. I want to be seen. I will stop claiming the more noble reason of making connections, representing other voices, or helping anyone in a similar condition to feel understood. If those happen I am very very happy. But I don’t ever want to noble-ize it. I want never to assume myself bigger than I am.
On announcing “Dear Deuce”, the site that houses my writings, the site you are reading now, I said, In 2018 I didn’t write as much as I would’ve wanted to. Instead I directed some of my good sensitivity and literary energy to conversations that were eventually not quite heard. Looking back nine months later that sounds spiteful. I was basically blaming people for not hearing me out. What makes me deserving to be heard in the first place?
I think what writing does to me is it dramatizes, the passionate, hysterical, overwrought and angry elements of life as I know it, in a world where most refuse to recognize them, or dismiss them as trivialities.
Sometimes such an exercise of overanalyzing, of heightening and aggrandizing, of caring deeply and holding on to emotions tightly, appears vulnerable, but sometimes it soothes. And other times it is simply sensory enjoyment.
So the current plan is to continue the dramatizing.
I obviously dramatize. For example one day (my diary says August 18) I wrote this down: The insecurity of making a life in a strange land is killing me.
Surely it did not kill. I am still alive.
I don’t think people hate dramas. They go to theaters for them, don’t they? All the high arts are dramatic. The fine line between what’s art and what’s vain is just whether you are appreciating other’s matter, or your own.
It is fashionable in this climate to act aloof. Maybe I am finally getting the hang of this. I am a slow learner. Learning by running into walls is slow.
Evidently some learning took action; my writing is getting aloof. On August 9th I wrote: my country is far away. That is not dramatizing. I think I just missed you.
At this point it might be clear that I intend to make 22 of these, to commemorate Post Number Twenty Two. It might also be clear that I’ve grown impatient and wanting to see the end, as each piece is getting shorter. In the time travel story, the character, who time-traveled, was imagining all kinds of endings, as us readers, while the story is going; a piece of writing so engaging that we feel like living right in the narrative. Eventually it is none of the ones we imagined. But it is simply great.
A writer always has the beginning and the end constructed first, I think. The impatience is about wanting to show the long constructed end.
But I am bad at ending things. I make ends so badly that I often have to start over again, to make a new start just so that I can run the course, and remake an end.
In that sense I characterize life in the form of many badly tied loops.
Writing about life makes time discrete, like the only moments you really live are those you later write about. But you are not shortening time through discretization. Because it also makes time nonlinear. Those you write about, get to live longer, flourish, and prosper.
Like the colors you see in tropical Hawaii. The bluest blue, the greenest green. It is not that you can’t see them elsewhere, in fact, in this digital age you can see anything anywhere. But the difference is, here when you see it, you finally believe it. I don’t think I ever truly believed, or appreciated, a beautiful picture on screen, however intense the color is.
So when you read and watch dramas, maybe you never really believe it. Enjoying is not the same as believing. Until you write down your own, you never really take it in.
On September 1st I write: my dusty friend is back.
I understand the way that writing romanticizes. So Mr. Piano is likely not so handsome. But what does it matter? He is still the most amazing gift I have ever received. Deuce is likely not the most perfect companion. But he was there.
Some days a random dog belonging to a random person passes me on the street, it stops and looks at me, so attentively and for a long period of time. Its owner would apologize and try pulling and dragging, but it would refuse to move and fixate its gaze on me. I think I know where that gaze is from, what it’s about.
I know, I know. I am sorry I didn’t take care of myself as I promised I would.
Some other things I want to apologize for:
I am sorry for avoiding eye contact when you show your care.
I am sorry for not responding to your words to act like I am superior.
I am sorry for being elsewhere when I am with you.
The single reason I am apologizing is probably that I am problematic. I do not deny this, but I do think immediately: who isn’t?
Others having a similar problem doesn’t render my problem any smaller, I know. But it does make it less original. And without originality I fear being forgotten. Don’t we all take up activities to make us more distinguishable? Otherwise we dissolve, into the sea of voices and faces.
But the meta-problem of the problem is that I don’t want to take the path everyone suggests, seeking professional help. At least not before I figure out what it really is. For me. Every struggle could be traced to a basic desire. Could it be that we simply could not face a desire?
To call it a problem is to make it smaller, vainer than what it could be. It must mean something more, something bigger than just a difficulty in life. Something that points from my current situation to my eventual being. Something that catapults me to find more about myself, to pursue that all-important goal of “self-knowledge.”
To know what this sea is I will have to sail through it all by myself, like Oedipus, down the track that leads to the revelation of some original crime, some original truth.
How can we be so presumptuous to claim we’ve tackled the inner workings of people’s mind? How can we be so certain about curing mental problems? What is curing, really? It is reductive to say cure, even. Like if you say you want to solve life.
Someone says he spent ten years to understand me. He hopes to spend another twenty to cure me.
I think that proposal of a cure might actually work, because it is not realistic.
Funny I used the sailing analogy above. Because I absolutely hate outdoor activities.
Something I can finally be content with, and do not pretend that I am any cooler. I do enjoy walking in the woods, but other than that I do every kind of exercise indoor. I am the kind that travels to beautiful places and works out in the hotel gym.
There. I am unfit in California.
I wonder what effect time has on a piece of writing, or twenty two of them. Looking back at each of the twenty two, I am no longer in any of its turbulent, raw, and rushed circumstances of its composition. Time has reduced mountains to molehills.
Time has also added to those molehills a certain uncanniness—by allowing the events, the feelings, and the act of writing to share a single spatial and temporal moment, it makes a peculiar, pressurized meditation of the intermingling. There’s sometimes a darkness in that intermingling that feels like depression. But some illuminates me how writing can navigate fear with attention.
I don’t know if I should believe that. Fine writers can make anything believable just by saying them beautifully. I envy that power.
I am glad to say that the prescriptive severity of this darkness has receded me, at least for the moment. But the importance of allowing myself to stay in its grip for some real time has not.
What I have been writing about is a person’s relation to time, to feelings, to memory and to other beings. I do not presume generalization but maybe those are not too untethered from what life presents to you all who read me.
So yes, if I travel back in time, from twenty-two to zero, do I still want this? Yes. A thousand times yes.