To Cain

I still can’t quite believe that you’re gone. I’d always thought that we would meet up again some time in the future if I were ever in Vancouver, or maybe in China again, or wherever our paths might have crossed in this world in the future, as people do.

You were always kind. Always. I’ve never heard you speak uncharitably of someone. You were probably one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. You were certainly one of the most earnest and honest – so much so that I didn’t really know what to make of you at first, and for a long time. I remember the night I first met you, you were so different, and everything that came out of your mouth was so serious and almost uncomfortably heartfelt that I didn’t know what to make of it, because most people aren’t like that. I remember you telling me that your parents had named you Cain after Cain in the bible because they thought God had been unfair to Cain, and I remember thinking that anecdote seemed to perfectly sum you up in a way I couldn’t quite explain. I still feel that.

The more I got to know you, the longer we were friends, the more I realized that you really were just one of those people who seemed incapable of being false or insincere. When you were, you seemed ill at ease, uncomfortable. You seemed to deeply mean everything you said, and the things you said were always life-affirming, thoughtful, and heartfelt. You had a way of speaking that made me feel like I was of value, that I mattered in this world, that I was a force of good. I have no doubt you also made your students feel this way, which is perhaps one of the most important things a teacher can do for a student. Almost every conversation I had with you were conducted in terms that were epic and philosophical and metaphysical that it bordered on being humorous; it was almost funny how incredibly sincere you always were, how holistic and interconnected your worldview was.

I wish I had told you more what a talented writer you were. I remember reading the beginning of your novel, and listening to all the writing pieces you’d share during our little writing group meetings. Your writing was so distinctly you, so bursting with life and intensity that it felt like you had poured absolutely everything about yourself in your writing, and I remember how I had envied your ability to be so unafraid and unfiltered on paper.

These past few days, I keep remembering things about you, conversations we had, the way you looked when you were happy or sad about something. I remember the long walk we took along the boardwalk that night in those last few days in China when almost everyone had left for the summer already. I am grateful for that memory and for all the things you shared with me about your life. If there had to be a last memory, I am glad that that was ours.

You were a good man and a good friend, probably a better friend to me than I was to you. I wish I had been a better friend. I wish what happened hadn’t happened. I wish I had made it more clear to you that you were of value, that you mattered in this world and in my life, and that you were a force of good in this world.

I don’t know if there is an afterlife, and I can’t remember if you believed in one, but it seems like something you would’ve believed in. I hope that wherever you are, you are at peace.

Haters gonna hate.

          Generalizations are fun to make in part because they allow a person to assume a position of “truth-telling” without demanding from the teller any of the rigors in telling the truth. They are also generally safe from serious reproach, for in dealing with opinion, what is there to argue with except against the observer’s accuracy of perception with the keenness of your own?
          Consequently, this also means that most generalizations rarely ever find consensus; there’s always going to be that guy in the group to helpfully point out that, well that’s just, like your opinion, man.
          Things turn even more problematic when it comes to generalizations about groups of people, perhaps because aside from being merely unfair, reductionist, and impossible to do with any real degree of nuance or sensitivity, it is morally dubious to even attempt to reduce a entire country, a people, a culture and history into one ambitious, sweeping sentence.

          All that being said, I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway with China.  
>> Continue reading..

Some thoughts on family

          I am spending the holiday break in Shanghai with my grandmother. She lives on the second floor of an apartment building in the former French Concession on a street called Xin Le Lu, which translated means “new happiness road.” The building is small and aged, like many of the inhabitants inside, and each apartment is shared by two or more families, as many of the older styled apartments in Shanghai are. My grandmother shares with the Wu’s, who have lived there for as long as I can remember and have a boy in the family a few years older than me whom I used to chase around the apartment and bully (so I’m told) back when I was still living there with my parents. They own the two rooms near the front of the apartment, my grandmother owns the two rooms near the back, and the kitchen is shared, as is the hallway in between.

          This is the apartment that my grandfather fell in love with and insisted on moving into when he and my grandmother were young and just starting their family, and after my grandfather was gone, this is where my grandmother raised her three young children on her own, my mother the oldest of the three. The walls are cracked and discolored with age now, and the rooms cluttered with a lifetime of possessions tucked away in dusty drawers, cabinets, and shelves, but whatever may be lacking in space on the inside, the neighborhood more than makes up for, and I think that Xin Le Lu is still one of the prettiest streets in Shanghai, although I admit I am not an objective judge. The street is quiet and narrow, lined on both sides with the tall stately old French sycamore trees that line so many of the streets in the French Concession. The trees are bare and knobby now, but in summertime the branches are so heavy with leaves that they bend and meet with the other side in the middle of the sky, creating a tunnel of green over the sidewalk speckled with dots of sunlight peeking through from the gaps and holes above, and I remember walking underneath that dense greenery in summers past, listening to the cicadas that would fill the humid air with their sounds and make me think of my grandfather and how he would catch the cicadas with traps, fry them up, and give to my uncle to eat as a treat.
          In America, it is and has always been just my parents and me, and when I’m there I often forget that anything else came before, but when I’m in Shanghai, my concept of time widens, and I am reminded that the three of us are not simply some lone detached unit whose history only began when I came into this world and was taken to America at the age of four by parents who’d decided to forge new lives in a new land where they knew almost no one, owned almost nothing, and worked long days and even longer nights like so many immigrants do. Sitting here in the room where my mother grew up, I’m reminded that we are in fact tied to a longer family history of parents and daughters and grandparents and great grandparents and everyone who came before, all of whom gave birth and lived and died in this place that is now foreign to me, and that in this place, my mother and my father were born and were young and grew up and fell in love and got married and had me.  >> Continue reading..

China and life and stuff

          I first left for China back in February of last year so early on a Wednesday that the sky was still cold and black when I left for the airport. I was not well rested, having used up most of my energy those last weeks saying goodbye to the people I love most in this world, late into the night and long past practical bedtimes. The packing I had left, of course, for the last minute, as usual, and had managed to get in only a few hours of sleep before it was time to get up.
          The entire trip would take two days, three planes, one bus, and an overnight’s stay at a hotel in Narita, Japan to complete, but I didn’t mind the transfers and complications. I enjoy the process of traveling almost as much as I like traveling: I like the personal challenge of packing as light as possible, I like leaving hours in advance for the airport, I even like going through the security checks, and after having gone through them, being left luggage-less with hours to idly pass in the airport before my flight. I like the way airport terminals feel – the insular airless quality to them, the way white light permeates through the walls and makes time feel irrelevant, disorienting familiarity and routine.  >> Continue reading..

Taxi cab: a mildly amusing anecdote

          It was close to the end, on a slow moving Friday, that I decided to leave on a train for Connecticut to spend the weekend. It was a decision I’d made quickly earlier that same day while at work, and the location I had decided upon just as quickly after briefly looking on a map: a small town near the coast, chosen for its inexpensive hotels, its convenience of transportation, and its distance away from the things troubling me in New York.

          Once the plan was made, the next few hours dripped by as I watched the clock hands move. I ended up walking out of work ten minutes earlier than I should have that day, flying up Broad Street with such haste that I clipped the sides of several unsuspecting bystanders who looked to me with surprise, but I didn’t care what they thought of me nor did I slow my pace until I was outside my apartment, where I stood for a few seconds with my hand on the door before unlocking and pushing it open in one quick motion: everything lay quiet and untouched, private and still – no one was home yet. I walked around the apartment grabbing things – a few items of clothing from the white dresser by our bed, my electric toothbrush, three of my most well-worn books from the bookshelf – then threw them all into my bag and left for the subway to the train station as fast I could walk.
          Grand Central was more grand and more beautiful than I remembered. The last time I was there he was with me and we’d run through a long echoing terminal so that we wouldn’t miss our train to the beach, my summer sandals slapping smartly against the grey stone floor.
          That Friday, I was alone, though still in a rush, but for different reasons now. I looked for the booth with the shortest line and bought my ticket from a woman whose quick words and efficient movements eased my restlessness and impatience.
          The earliest departure time left me with more than an hour to kill, but I had a train ticket in my back pocket now, a bag of comforts by my side, and the promise of a weekend all to myself ahead, and these things, too, were calming. I found an empty bench off to the side of a walkway and sat against the marble wall for a long time watching people walk by in clusters and groups, alone, in twos and threes, to and from the gates and shops and restaurants. Then I read until it was time to leave. Right before boarding, I took out my phone and composed three versions of the same text to him, then deleted them all and wrote simply that I would be gone for the weekend.   >> Continue reading..

New York and I, and goodbyes

          Why why why is it like slogging through molasses to begin writing again after you haven’t in a while?

          But I’ve been busy, sort of. October was eventful with new friends and dear old ones, with quiet hellos and quick goodbyes, and wet with squalling rapacious winds and rains; then as slyly as it came, October vanished, Autumn settled even more firmly in place, and there was bite to the air.
          Almost all of my October was spent from morning to night on a class that I’d been taking. I’m not naturally inclined toward the lifestyle and habits of a good student; school and I don’t get along and we never have. But I was on my toes this time, and I cared, which made a difference: for once, in all my pathetic years of formal education and half-(cl)assed efforts, I didn’t procrastinate on every assignment ever given, I kept reasonable sleeping hours on weekdays, I made a conscious effort to pay attention and participate in class, I did homework at home. I studied (a little). What’s more—and for those who know me best, this next detail will astonish more than the rest—I maintained these good studenting behaviors for the entire length of the course (more or less). That’s right, the entire length of the course (more or less). And for such unprecedented diligence, I was rewarded with finally experiencing what it’s like to not be a terrible student. (It’s not bad.) Of course, it helped that the class was only one month long, and thankfully, too: I was running dangerously low on steam by the end, green and tender as I was to any kind of marathon effort in this discipline.  >> Continue reading..

Books and bruises

          I was rereading a collection of short stories by William Trevor when I came across a passage in one of his stories that gave me pause. I remember the first time I read the story I had stopped at the same place, and something about it stayed with me, because ever since then, at odd moments here and now, that passage will flash through my mind and I can still feel the potency of it.

          An infidelity occurs in the story, and the passage takes place in the middle of a difficult conversation between the husband and wife. The wife has just confessed to her husband of the summer love affair she had with a man named Sebastian. She says to him:

I ended it. And besides, it wasn’t much.

          And then the passage:

A silence grew between them. ‘I love you,’ Sebastian had said no longer ago than last June, and in July and in August and September also. And she had loved him too. More than she loved anyone else, more than she loved her children: that thought had been there. Yet now she could say it wasn’t much.

          Few tasks are more tedious than explaining in detail why you love a piece of art, so I won’t — but I love this paragraph, and I love the last sentence of this paragraph. It is so well written, so plain, and so true.  >> Continue reading..

Plans for the year, and staying in

          It took about two days for restlessness to elbow its way back in and make its presence known by declaring in firm stout tones that pshaw, it wasn’t satisfied, and hell no, it wasn’t about to go away, and listen, whoever was considering that nesting shit had better get that idea out of their heads and quick. The other side didn’t put up much of a fight, to be honest, and so once more, I was all ears and eyes and arms and plans, and here is what is up: I am leaving New York and moving to China for a year to teach English. That’s the plan, anyway, and assuming no debilitating personal or emotional or physical or political or environmental catastrophes happen between now and the next few months, I will be standing in front of a class of surly, sweet, pimply, porcelain-faced Chinese teenagers by January. Or February.
          So – as my lease ends on October 31st and I have no intentions to renew, my time here in New York is coming to an end, which strikes me as somewhat ironic, because I am finally happy in New York, and am in fact the happiest I have been since moving here. But I have two good months left to “live it up in in the city” as my housemate put it when I told her I was moving out, and while I’ve never been good with goodbyes, two months should be long enough for even me to get right.  >> Continue reading..

25 and 26

          A trivial coincidence to start: it is about four in the morning and it has been about four months since I last wrote anything in this blog. I would prefer not mention that one time I resolutely resolved in writing to write in this blog more regularly, but I will, because fair is fair, and consistency is a real bitch of a habit to nail down when you lack…well, consistency.
          So there we are, but no matter, no matter, for what’s passed is past, and I am here now, sitting cross legged on my bed, breaking the silence of my prolonged absence: Hello there. And how are you all doing?
          It is – or it was my birthday, but the calendar date alone doesn’t seem enough for the change somehow, and so I am burning through these last few hours of the night and into the early morning, when I hope to feel like someone who is 26 rather than someone who is turning 26. I expect this transition will click firmly into place with an audible click here in the quiet of my room when the moment arrives, and that it will feel as significant and as different as I want it to be. That is the hope anyway, and if there were ever a time in the day when these intangible shifts might feel tangible, it is during these abandoned hours between three and five, when the darkness outside is in its deepest hues and the world is more slender and more honest.  >> Continue reading..

Two Sundays

          Two Sundays ago, I had gone to sleep the night before at some ridiculous hour approaching dawn as I so often do on Fridays and Saturdays—which really is a terrible habit, but time just seems to disappear from me those nights—and I awakened in the early afternoon to slanted beams of sunshine that lit the white walls of my room with long angular planes of light. It was a welcome change, as the days preceding had been overcast and wet.

          I left the house soon after with vague plans to spend the day in a nearby café several blocks away, but the weather was so warm and golden that I turned right on 10th instead of going straight, and found myself in Prospect Park. I walked along a dirt path that cut and curved through the park grounds, keeping under the expansive stretches of shade cast by small scattered groves tall and rich with foliage, and after a while, stepped off the path and into the grass and walked until I came across a small hill, where I kicked off my sandals and sat down. I decided to spend the afternoon there, in the generous shade of an enormous tree whose long outstretched branches sank with the weight of its thousands of leaves that rippled and shimmered in the sun like millions of little feathers.  >> Continue reading..


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