Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sunday, 17 August 2014



Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Nice and depressing, just the way we like it

"I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any-after all, most people are unhappy, don't you think? Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth." - Philip Larkin

grape vines and lullabies

When I was small (like, less than five years old), we lived in central Taipei with my grandparents and my father's siblings and their families. The house had maybe three or five floors, and my grandfather owned the whole building, so we could run around on every floor. 

On the rooftop there was a garden with grape vines and a rope swing. When my brother and I were kids my father used to play the guitar and sing for us and he wrote us songs. He wrote me a lullaby that him and my mother used to sing to me - it mentions the grapes on the rooftop, ripening as I slept. 

When I was eight I had my kidney surgery and I was in the hospital for about two months, constantly in pain. My mother would sing me that lullaby in the hospital room to put me to sleep.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


Occasionally, I get a letter from someone who is in 'contact' with extraterrestrials. I am invited to 'ask them anything.' And so over the years I've prepared a little list of questions. The extraterrestrials are very advanced, remember. So I ask things like, 'Please provide a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem'

- Carl Sagan, Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark

Monday, 11 August 2014

This is kind of embarrassing but...

I was listening to This American Life and one of the episodes mentioned someone who saw a photograph of herself as a teenager and was surprised because she thought she was actually quite pretty (though she didn't think so at the time).

This reminded me of yearbooks from grade school. I went to a nice primary school in a fairly well-to-do neighbourhood. The teachers were nice and (I think) the students probably were too (it's hard to say as I had little social interaction with them). But these were pretty messed up times because my parents sent me there to live with my extended family (along with my brother). On top of not speaking English, I was missing home terribly and feeling quite isolated. Also, around the same time (though I'm never sure exactly when), the uncle I was living with started to sexually abuse me.

I think I spent a lot of school recesses lying under a tree at the edge of the school's park, far away from the playground, staring up at the (unbelievably) blue sky, watching clouds go by between the branches. I can't recall any internal monologue during these hour-long meditations, or ever being bored.

Some years after that (not sure when) I found the yearbooks from my primary school. There were photographs of all the kids I had gone to primary school with. I think we were mostly in the same junior high school then (I must have been about 13 or so). I took a knife and a thick black sharpie and carved up the faces of my classmates and scrawled profanity all over the pages (mostly personal attacks of the one-word variety directed at them).

I suppose in part it was because I was a social outcast. A few people even bullied me, but not many (especially not after I beat the living daylights out of one of them). Mostly I was ignored and/or feared. I remember one classmate asking me (in genuine confusion) why I am nice sometimes and mean sometimes. I didn't know how to explain that my worldview and my thoughts were different from his - that I was in a very different place mentally, and that I couldn't tell enough of my story to make him understand why I was the way I was. It felt like we'd never meet in the middle.

Another part of me was just angry because my peers didn't appear to be miserable. Then (as now), I had a strong impulse to be the person I envisioned in my head. I wanted to have blue hair. I wanted to wear corsets and garters. I wanted to stab myself repeatedly in public and bloody up the lunchroom so that everyone would know I was emphatically not ok (I had blue hair, and wore corsets and garters, but I didn't self-mutilate in public). I resented them because they seemed normal and happy, when I wasn't either of these things (whether by inclination, or by circumstance, it seemed).

In retrospect I realize that it's just as likely that they were dealing with their own crocks of shit. But that wasn't really something I had access to at the time (even now, I don't know for sure. I just imagine that it is a possibility). Mostly I've given up being angry at myself and everyone else, especially after my uncle died and I realized that I'd never be able to bring about the sort of justice I'd spent years and years gearing up for (I tried though, even though it was the hardest thing ever).

The other night as I was cooking dinner with Julian he was teasing me, pretending that I am young and naïve, that I wouldn't know what to do if I was kissed. I had to tell him that this is one thing you can't tease me about, because I will cry. I was young and naive once, but the first man who kissed me was a predatory pedophile extended family member, and I still lament the fact that I will never know what it's like to be kissed for the first time by a boy I like.

Sometimes the things I think are both mortifyingly embarrassing (like mutilating those yearbooks), and really just quite sad. But this is kind of where I talk to myself and to anyone else who cares to listen, so there's no point in pulling any punches. 

oh Hank

"You've got a million-dollar talent, son, but a ten-cent brain" - Roy Acuff to Hank Williams, on the dangers of his alcohol abuse

it was working until it wasn't

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

- Jack Gilbert, "Failing and Flying"

the heart's stubborn pretending

The soft wind comes sweet in the night
on the mountain. Invisible except for
the sound it makes in the big poplars outside
and the feel on his naked, single body,
which breathes quietly a little before dawn,
eyes open and in love with the table
and chair in the transparent dark and stars
in the other window. Soon it will be time
for the first tea and cool pear and then
the miles down and miles up the mountain.
"Old and alone," he thinks, smiling.
Full of what abundance has done to his spirit.
Feeling around inside to see if his heart
is still, thank God, ambitious. The way
old men look in their eyes each morning.
Knowing she isn't there and how much Michiko
isn't anywhere. The eyes close as he remembers
seeing the big owl on the roof last night
for the first time after hearing it for months.
Thinking how much he has grown unsuited
for love the size it is for him. "But maybe
not," he says. And the eyes open as he
grins at the heart's stubborn pretending.

- Jack Gilbert, "Getting Old" 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Garden Party

{Facebook: everyone has been having an unspeakably exciting time. what have you been up to?}

It's too much pressure, really.

Today I went to Julian's grandfather's garden party. We had fine weather, abundant food/drink, and shaded pavilions surrounded by greenery. I accidentally landed in the (secretive and unexpected) fish-pond. (to everyone's immense amusement).

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ” 

- Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

(yes, that is a mountain of wurst)

... and I adore these party lights. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Everything changes (but nothing does)

During my first year at Edinburgh I discovered Basildon Bond letter paper and also blank white postcards from the post office. I would copy out poems and stick them on the fridge once a week. Then I'd remove the old ones and put them on my room door. Sometimes people would be caught standing before my door, lost in reading some line or other. 

I guess I did that because I had to talk to someone - even if the words weren't mine, and they were only scratched onto a page. These bits of paper moved several times with me and are probably still in a box somewhere, in my storage room in Taipei. So much of myself is in there. 

In my fourth year I posted them on the living room door (I used to work in the living rom). Every time I was exhausted by my work, I would get up and walk to that door, stretch, and read some poems to myself. Then I'd ask if there was anything else in the world I'd rather be doing, and the answer would be "no," so I'd buckle down again. (those were good simple days).

When I fell in love with Richard I was surprised by the fact that he read Jean Rhys. I was equally surprised by the fact that he didn't read poetry. I began to copy out poems again, but this time they were given to him for journeys away from home, or stuffed into his pidge once a day to be discovered there when he came into college. 

I recently began this habit again and it's amazing how the tactile sensation of copying out words that speak to me still calms my mind. 

Here's one I discovered long ago. 

When the little devil, panic,
begins to grin and jump about
in my heart, in my brain, in my muscles,
I am shown the path I had lost
in the mountainy mist.

I'm writing of you.

When the pain that will kill me
is about to be unbearable,
a cool hand
puts a tablet on my tongue and the pain
dwindles away and vanishes.

I'm writing of you.

There are fires to be suffered,
the blaze of cruelty, the smoulder
of inextinguishable longing, even
the gentle candleflame of peace
that burns too.

I suffer them. I survive.

I'm writing of you.

- Norman MacCaig, "Of You"

Thursday, 7 August 2014


Three what? Three whales? Three subatomic particles? Units make a big difference, you know. 

You know, the guy across the hall...

is probably trying to be friends with you. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Days like this

... I'm glad I workout.

This is for you...

(and this, and this, and this too).