Zoom School Permanency

In the nature of Zoom school making everything online, I think I have become more effective at this school thing. I’m taking 3 English classes: this Short Story class, Shakespeare and a Comedy class, so I’m swimming between Discussion Boards! Since the very nature of writing is the extraction of language from mind to matter, the constant intentions to solidify amorphous thoughts into objects to share with others is truly magical. I would imagine an in-person class would have more conversations, which can be super useful, though a step removed from sharing a revised version of an idea. At least with Discussion Boards we can formulate our thoughts in a semi controlled space, and attempt to extract clarity into the embattled internet.

Reading Shakespeare has been one of the most painful joys in my life. Once you get over that “WHY does this make me want to procrastinate?” mentality, his work transports you into uncharted territories of exploring ideas of power and influence; rhetorical language; ideas of morality within the act of revenge; and ideas of women in society and how their identity is tied to virtue, mostly in the name of control. These are ideas of life! You know, that thing we’re trying to understand on a daily basis? To any serious writer, I highly recommend the Shakespeare class offered at PCC to expand your toolbox of imagination in the possibilities of a story.

Though the teacher in the Comedy class has been pretty hands off, the content so far has been enjoyable to read and watch. We are also studying works from the 1600’s, more specifically, the Restoration comedy, The Country Wife. It’s a very kooky play about a couple from the country who visits the city, where the man in the relationship does not want his wife to cheat on him so he tries his best to lock her up away from any luring eyes. I found the play quite fascinating in its exploration of themes regarding double identities, public vs private life, and control through ideas of virtue. Thoughts and ideas that are so relevant to our current realities.  

November is soon approaching. I’m not prepared for NaNoWriMo but I’m excited to see if I can force myself to keep a daily schedule when the time arrives. Wah!

Word count: 383

And Still I Sang

My family is cursed. Even though there is this overbearing weight of fascism’s immediacy, held together by a world pandemic, SCOTUS hearing, a super spreader presidential election, and the police state, my only goal in life is to reverse this curse. 

There’s this Quora article on the topic of people’s hatred of musicals. They say, “Nobody in real life just breaks out into a song! Musicals don’t make sense!” I am learning to sing and cannot tell you how healing and beautiful musicals are. There’s so much sadness when Glenn Close sings “Send in the Clouds” in her realization of her mortality and the failings in her life, demanding the clowns to show up. Or The West Side Story’s “Maria”, “Say it loud and it’s music playing, say it soft and it’s almost like praying – Maria, I’ll never stop saying Maria.” I don’t know the secret CIA code to breaking my family’s curse, but I have a suspicion that the recipe is in the lyrics of musicals. To be so in love with somebody to understand the poetry of musicals is definitely a type of super power.

It’s so clear that capitalism in the US has left us all here to die. 200,000+ dead. $1200 for 8 months. I don’t want to sound too morbid, but yikes, it’s hard to deny the unnecessarily cruelty we Americans endure. We’re always told: “But it’s worst – Look over there!” And we’re like, “You’re deflecting. Our claims are valid.” According to the Wikipedia tab I have opened on Marxism, the next step of capitalism will be socialism. 

When there’s tension at the house, I sing. My go-to these days is, “On My Own,” from Les Miserable. In a previous vocal class, we picked songs from musicals, and I picked this one. I remember Katie Holmes singing it back in her Dawson’s Creek days. There was this somberness to her performance that I connected to. The song is about Fantine, walking at night, alone, pretending that her crush (who is in love with somebody else) is beside her because he’s the only thing that gives her happiness. I guess I’m sending out energies to my family: It’s okay to be alone, and still, sing about the joys of life.   

To sing well, one must be fully awake, in mind and soul. Singing requires the whole body to perform. With the ultimate downfall of capitalism, I hope to be a singer for communist America. For then my family’s curse will be broken and I can sing in a troupe, to inspire others to sing through their curses, too.

Word Count: 424

The Retired Housewives of Nova Scotia

In the story Admindsen, we meet Vivien, a teacher, who enters her first day at a hospital setting school for special children in the rural parts of Canada. When a male colleague asks about her first impressions of the snowy town, she says, “It’s like being inside a Russian novel.” He prompts her to name which Russian novel. She doesn’t want to say the obvious, War and Peace, but in a stunned moment of not knowing any other novel, she says, “War and Peace.” To his response, “Well, it’s only the Peace we’ve got here.” 

From the Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro, with origins from small town, Wingham, Canada, shares short stories in her collection, Dear Life: Stories (2012), taking readers into the rural lands blanketed icy and placid, where plot lines crack open at a glacial pace, interrupted by whispered dramas, and tindered by the lives of the ordinary and mundane. As Munro is a white lady, her short stories naturally center white lady protagonists with imperfections into journeys of their ho-hum lives in finding love, hiding secret loves, or surviving the absence of love. Munro’s stories explore themes of country vs. city life, the realizations of aging, and escaping by train rides, each story piercing the saran wrap pressed over women under patriarchy. 

In the story In Sight of The Lake, we follow Nancy, a city lady who must go to a rural town to see a specialist for her memory loss. Her adventure follows her complications looking for the doctor’s office, where her first misstep is the inability to remember the doctor’s name. An encounter with a man gardening on the sidewalk directs her to the complex by the lakeshore. After she takes his suggestion to drive up that avenue, she has an anxious moment to consider etiquettes:

She had thought that she would come back through the village to thank him again and tell him if it was the right doctor. She could just slow down and laugh and call out the window. But now she thinks that she will just take the lakeshore route and stay out of his way.

In Sight of The Lake

Munro allows her characters to explore their minute worries without any consequences to the plot. Furthermore, when she arrives at the complex by the lakeshore, Munro dedicates two paragraphs describing the scenery with the lattice fences:  

A spacious parking lot. One long wing with what looks like separate compartments, or good-sized rooms at least, with their own little gardens or places to sit. A latticed fence quite high in front of every one of them for privacy, or safety. Though nobody is sitting out there now that she can see.

 Of course not. Bedtime comes early in these establishments. She likes how the lattice provides a touch of fantasy. Public buildings have been changing in the past few years, just as private houses have. The relentless, charmless look—the only one permitted in her youth—has disappeared. Here she parks in front of a bright dome that has a look of welcome, of cheerful excess. Some people would find it fakey, she supposes, but isn’t it the very thing you would want? All that glass must cheer the spirits of the old people, or even, perhaps, of some people not so old but just off kilter.

In Sight of the Lake

In addition to writing in an omnipresent narration, which creates distance between reader and character, the descriptions of scenery from a consistently medium to wide frame, sections one to feel more like a voyeur, rather than a guest. 

Corrie is Munro’s most alluring story of the series of short stories. She introduces Corrie, a lonely woman with a limp, in a secret love affair with a married man, Howard, where a former maid, Lillian, finds out of their entanglement, who subsequently pursues to blackmail the adulterers for money that must be dropped into a postbox. A risque subject matter that entices the audience to witness Corrie, in a somewhat desperate situation, overcome threats by making bold decisions in order to get what she wants, but not always what she needs. 

She had never realized how much it weighed on her, she wrote, but now she could see it. Not the money—as he well knew, she didn’t care about the money, and, anyway, it had become a smaller amount in real terms as the years passed, though Lillian had never seemed to realize that. It was the queasy feeling, the never-quite-safeness of it, the burden on their long love, that had made her unhappy. She had that feeling every time she passed a postbox.

Corrie

Corrie’s story is crafted in a way to draw out the minute details of her world by feeding clues the size of breadcrumbs. There’s a payoff, you just might have to sled across Canada to find it. Here, Munro’s symbolism of the postbox powerfully gives light into Corrie’s realization of her bitter feelings towards Howard. 

If all the main characters from each story were placed together in a reality show, it would be The Retired Housewives of Nova Scotia. With Munro, the stakes are as high as cushioned SAS platform shoes: safe, subtle and without urgency. I would recommend Munro’s book to those who find pleasure in being patient with reading, who are looking to be more subtle with their writing, and who can be satisfied with the delight in an epiphany. Otherwise, it’s envious to witness a white lady so relaxed. 

Word Count: 609

Homemade Memories

During the beginning of the pandemic, finally, with some time off to breathe air into life, my sister and I started cooking meals together. We took our taste buds to the coast of Vietnam and into the inlands of India’s spicy territories. Soon after, we formulated a schedule where my mom, my sister and I would all take turns each day to present dinner for each other. Cooking isn’t easy. And cooking for your judgmental family (myself, included) isn’t any easier. You sometimes wonder if cooking pasta in a vat of Vodka would make everybody happier. But ultimately, with cooking, one must come face to face with the recipe and the process of collecting ingredients, measuring them out, and following each step one by one. With written recipes on random post-its and stained index cards, they will one day be destined for a family cookbook to endure the legacies.  

Before the pandemic, I would usually go to Banh Mi Che Cali across from campus at least 3 times a week, whether it was for their Pho or fried chicken wings, it was dependably good and cheap. Arriving home from school, my mother would usually have dinner made. Some nights were better than others, but anything was honestly appreciated. On days I didn’t have school or work, and just a day to mosey around, I could even have lunch with the leftovers from the night before. That’s if my older sister didn’t come home from work during her lunch break to eat the food first. Theoretically, it’s not a huge problem; like, we’re family and we shouldn’t limit our food or love, but my mind started running when I thought about how this working lady was having 3 meals a day at home, without much contribution. Plus, it didn’t help that I kept thinking, “Didn’t she study at the Cordon Bleu?” I knew we needed to have a conversation.  

Way before the pandemic, when my father was still alive, and I barely had memories, we would hear his truck roaring home from work, the engine on its last leg and the clanging of loose tools ricocheting in the truck’s bed. My mom always had to have dinner ready; that was her role, and if dinner wasn’t ready, the whole house would roar again. As a boy, I was hardly in the kitchen, except for the rare occasion when we were making eggrolls, all seven children would be running around and a group of us would be filling the stuffing into the square egg wraps and rolling them into bite sized cigars. On days my mom had to follow my father for a day of work at the construction site, then my older sisters had to learn their way around the kitchen: they played mother on those days. 

It was during dinner one evening when I decided to broach the subject with my sister. She sat across from me, and while I was fiddling with my chopsticks, I said, “So, I’ve noticed that you come home every day to eat lunch.” She lowered her head, her body tensed up. I know that we are supposed to use “I” statements and to not accuse, however, when talking to those who your only shared commonality is the shared knowledge of walking around eggshells, I just didn’t know who “I” was. Suddenly, a memory of mom making a distasteful comment of my sister’s daily sojourn home to eat lunch appeared in my head as an escape route, so I decided to throw my mother under the bus. A joker’s grimace formed on her face and I knew I had bruised a sore spot when she darted, “Oh, because mom only wants to feed the boys, huh?”

Still enduring the pandemic, and cooking meals to escape into parts of the world I could only dream of, the gift of cooking becomes the cultivation of instinct. The one who wears the chef’s hat learns to feel for mouth watering experiences, how to taste the multitude of spices on the rack and how to trust the palette to decide if adding just a tad bit more salt will do the trick. One thing that cooking does not forgive is skipping steps. Zapping something in the microwave will result in something from the microwave. Frozen dinners do not appear into the family recipe book by virtue of pressing buttons. Homemade memories require taking a recipe in, measuring it out, and taking it one step at a time.

Word Count: 748

Slice of Life: His Secret Batcave

“Here,” I sent the text, scurrying to put my gloves back on. High winds streaked through the corridors of Long Island City, previously an industrial working class center, now gentrified boxes of window paned lofts. The front door finally buzzed and I let myself in. Room 412. Up to the 4th floor, the placard outside the elevator pointed rooms 415 and lower arrowed to the left. 414…13…and here we were, 412, the door left ajar.

Wearing a grey satin robe, I couldn’t tell if he looked like his picture or not, but I suppose he wasn’t exactly a catfish either. “I only have lavender lotion,” he said. “That works,” I replied. His satin curtains dropped to the wooden floor.

He laid as flat as a corpse on the bed. I swung one leg over him, mounted on top. Rubbing lotion between my hands, I placed both palms onto the trough of his lower back. Like magma, the heat radiated into my innards. Working up his arch like a diver into a pool, I immersed myself in his ocean. To swim the abyss of a man I began chatting with on the m4m section of Craigslist, I had reached the edge of my cliff. So void of touch, I jumped.

Stroking back down to the rim of his cheeks, I spread them wide, and like a pop-up book, specks of brown disks flapped vigorously around his orifice. “They’re warts,” he explained his secret batcave, “I have an appointment with a doctor to freeze them away.” I returned a smile and went back to smoothing out his back.

Perhaps dancing in the deep blue sea wasn’t the best idea to collect warmth. A stranger’s body reduced to his coral reefs growing outside of his control, yet unforgivable in the gentrified image of my escape. I asked if I could sleep on his couch for the night because I didn’t want to take the train back home in the frigid cold.

Word Count: 323

Ten Random Facts About Myself

  1. As I’m picking up French again during this pandemic, memories of my year abroad in Paris have percolated back into my psyche. Thankfully, I’m seeing mostly positive experiences. It was a real joy to have lived abroad.
  1. I never understood white noise machines but since getting one on a whim, I program ocean waves crashing every night before bed. I used to want silence but am adjusting to the life of noise. 
  1. Experts on the internet recommend limiting baths for a maximum of 30 minutes to avoid dry skin, so now I find myself lying naked, in an empty tub, reading my Kindle for another half hour. I don’t know what the Epsom salt does but I like them anyways. 
  1. A few years ago my family adopted a stray dog who has been a pain and a blessing in so many ways. Caring for an animal requires communication, patience, and love. 
  1. I attended highschool back in the 2000’s and was a normie, clarinet player, marching in the band. Never once did I ditch school, nor get high.  
  1. While in college in SF, a friend once talked about her recent trip to New York to my confusion. I eventually moved to New York because I wanted to learn geography.
  1. Pushing myself to become a mediocre singer from once being tone-deaf has been the closest I’ve come to achieving the impossible. 
  1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is my favorite movie by German New Wave director, Fassbinder. The design of a movie about the meeting of two disparate souls plays as eloquent as literature. 
  1. My shopping addiction is IKEA. I’ve never been one to shop for clothes, but a nice wicker basket for storage will bring me endless joy. 
  1. Making this list reminds me of filling out OKCupid surveys and how I have never found a true connection from a dating app. 

Word Count: 309