"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


What does it mean to be a "me"? What is the "I" that speaks when I open my mouth and say things that "I" feel?

I am a baby in front of a mirror, watching the baby in front of me move her hands and feet when "my" brain tells hands and feet to move. Is this what it means to be a "me"? To know through observation what the self can do and observe its movements as if observing another person through a window? I learn what I look like by sitting in front of the mirror and tracing my movements through space and learning the way my face looks when it feels different ways.


I am a kid at my first sleepover. For the first time I observe the habits of other girls before they go to sleep. When you are alone in your "youness" for so long you take things for granted, assume they are that way for everyone. I wear nightgowns to bed and never brush my hair. Other girls wear long plaid shorts and spend a long time brushing their thick brown hair. They eat pancakes for breakfast with lots of syrup, and I'm used to eating rice cakes or porridge with my Mom and Dad and sneaking sips from their coffee. I start brushing my hair and wearing plaid shorts too. Later when all the girls start shaving their legs I ask my mom if I can start and she says she never shaved her legs a day of her life and why should I? I resent her at first but I think about my Mom and how beautiful she is and I used to look just like her, and she looked just like me when she was young, and I think I can wait and think about shaving. I grow out of it - 25 years old and I've never touched a razor to my body and I am glad I never will.


I ride in the car with my Aunt Peggy, who isn't related to me, but she's my Aunt's sister-in-law and I've been told to be nice. She looks me over, observes my tom boyish clothes, my sneakers and baggy t-shirt and my plain haircut and she's got a full face of makeup which seems strange to me because I've never seen my mother wear more than some perfume and blush even when she goes to a fancy restaurant. Aunt Peggy tells me I'm "white" because I grew up in Kentucky and my Chinese isn't great. I squirm in my seat a little and try not to let my face show how much I want to hate her right now.


In middle school, all the black kids in my general classes make fun of me and pull their eyelids tight and make horrible sounds at me. They throw trash at me when the teacher is turned around. In gym class we do fitness tests and I can run faster, longer and do more pushups than most of the boys, and my body fat index is only a 12%, and still the teachers and older white girls in class tell me it's only because I don't have any breasts and they make me feel small and powerless. In the locker room, I'm ashamed to change out of my gym clothes. I don't wear a bra yet because I don't need one and I feel ashamed. I wear my gym shirt under my uniform until the gym semester is over.


In high school some boy named Peter makes fun of me and calls me Su Ling, like he's so funny. I hate him in a way I can't articulate and can't do anything with because if I tried to do anything it would result in some kind of violence. So instead I bottle it up inside me and it hurts me more when it should be hurting him. He calls me Su Ling and pretends to speak Chinese at me. He asks me if I can shoot fireballs with my hands and when he finds out I am good at English, that I can write and read, he says I must be "half and half." I want to exact violence on him and think that if I knew how to shoot a fireball now would be the time to find out.


I have my mother's nose and my father's chin but my eyes are mine. I grow up thinking I am small and short and skinny and it isn't until I am an adult that I am told I'm pretty for the first time, that I'm "tall for a girl" that I'm "tall for an Asian" that I'm strong and fit and sexy. It's a new thing but I never get used to it, and never can get enough of it.


Some people say I look just like my father. Some people say I look like my mom when she was my age. Other people say I look like Anne Curry, or Mulan, or… I get mistaken for "someone I know" a lot. I wonder if there are only so many combinations of features and everyone's unique combination eventually gets repeated. It's inevitable.


I've been thinking about genetics a lot. I look at people and I wonder what pieces they got from their parents. I look at my parents and try to imagine if they knew when they got together what their babies would look like. I look at couples and wonder what the products of their coupling will look like.


I think back on childhood and adolescence and I think "I'm lucky I got out alive." So much self-hatred and uncertainty about who to be and how to be. So much judgment and scrutiny. When I was teaching middle school I observed my students with a certain level of curiosity. I never had an unattractive student. They all seemed perfect and cute and delightfully endearing. Do children realize how perfect they are, how needless of change? When I was a kid I sought to change everything about myself, the shape of my nose and eyes, the texture of my hair, my skin, my voice, the thickness of my eyebrows, the length of my arms, the size of my chest, the size of my lips. All I could see as a kid was flaws and how to change them. At some point that stopped and I grew into a confident woman who can see the individual beauty in each person, including herself. That is a remarkable thing. To look in the mirror and see flaws but embrace them, to observe them and know that they belong to you.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Moment

i've been watching the aftermath of the news of Osama bin Laden's death unfold on the internet, feeling really disjointed and weird. i feel like this should be one of those momentous moments that ppl remember, like when 9/11 was happening – i remember being in my sophomore AP Psychology class and remember my teacher saying to us while we watched things unfolding on the tv "you're going to tell your kids one day that you remember exactly where you were, who you were with, and how you felt the day those towers fell." and i knew then he was totally right. i remember going to AP English after that, and seeing everyone completely devastated, collapsed on their desks, sobbing and clutching onto their friends. one boy in particular caught my eye, my friend David, who sat underneath the tv, ashen-faced but silent, and unemotional. it was his birthday. his father was murdered when he was younger. somehow that last point is relevant because it made me think he was experiencing this in a way none of us could understand. i wanted to experience his Moment, the way he was feeling things. i wanted to know what strength or understanding or strange disjointedness he was experiencing that made it possible for him not to cry. i remember thinking that it takes a strange kind of strength or self-knowing not to cry just because everyone else felt obliged to cry together. i wonder now if he could foresee the aftermath of this very public grieving, the impending, unavoidable result of such a moment. already, not even before the end of the day, i'd heard classmates, even friends, wish aloud for Osama to die. not long after, and we were propelled into a war that has lasted almost half my life.

and now this. i just got back from visiting my grandparents, opened up my laptop and went to facebook, and saw my friend's post:

when i read that, i was excited, because i read "got" as "captured and took into custody," not "have his dead body in possession." i checked twitter next.

perhaps there is something to be said about the places in which we experience these Moments. when 9/11 happened i was surrounded by people, just as perplexed and distraught as i was. there was comfort and also escalation to that. there was a sense of acceptability, of belonging, to a shared sense of sorrow. you couldn't buy an american flag for weeks. everyone's tree had a yellow ribbon on it. neighborhoods never felt more united. and isn't that weird? i felt weird about it, how strange a Moment could make your world, and never knowing when it would return to normal again. that is how 9/11 and the days after felt. or maybe it was high school (although, one could argue That Moment lingers still, even nearly ten years after it happened).

this time around, i am alone, in my room i lease from an old lady i barely know, where i just moved about a month ago to start a job i didn't feel particularly strongly about but took out of desperation because my unemployment was running out and i got laid off from my school district last year. there was no one around me when i heard the news, i watched it happening from my laptop screen, one page refresh after another, a stream of posts on twitter, facebook and tumblr. i'm not sure if my physical alienation can take full credit for my sense of detachment in this Moment, but perhaps it plays a part in the experience.

my feelings on This Moment, as i'm experiencing it thru my lens of the internet, are that it feels totally alienating and weird and definitely sickening.

like, i'm really disturbed to see how many people are coming out en masse to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. and what's more, to do it with such camaraderie. reports were saying people in NY were honking their cars, screaming jubilantly, people in LA were going to the bars to have drinks with one another, chants of "USA" reverberating down every street. what?? the very public performances of celebration (who can be the most excited, the most patriotic) coupled with the unquestioning acceptance of such are making me feel very uneasy. everyone delighting so publicly in the USA successfully exacting revenge on ONE individual is really, really weird. i can understand a feeling of relief or closure, feeling like we can finally end the war and bring all our troops home, but screaming and hugging random "fellow Americans" in the street and feeling like America is super awesome? i just don't feel like this is one of our prouder moments. in fact, it makes me really sad, because what we are celebrating is not Justice, but Vengeance. it is the eruptive self-acknowledgment of a society and culture of violence, one that does not end with this death, but continues onward from it. Obama has already said that the "work" in the middle east will continue, and Homeland Security is already predicting "retaliation" attacks from the aftermath. it reminds me of the end of the movie Memento, in which *SPOILER ALERT* Lenny crumples up and burns the polaroid of the murder he committed, in order to perpetuate a narrative that gives him a sense of purpose but ultimately necessitates further murders.

what i would like from This Moment is some reflection. i would like public officials and leaders and the media and celebrities and my friends and everyone to rethink our narratives. if our world would find it just as easy and acceptable to celebrate peace, as we do revenge, we would have an entirely different world.

i feel like i've had several of these Moments in my life already. 9/11, The Day Obama was Elected President, and now The Day Osama bin Laden Was Killed. i'm still waiting on The Day The War Was Declared Over.

oh and also, because of This Moment, this happened...?
and this:

text reads: "PARTY IN THE USA! let's be honest... it's what we were all thinking." oh? i guess i never got the memo...

[shakes head]