And the blog stops, again, in a blur of fun and happiness – I am someone who writes when the mood turns a little bittersweet. Otherwise, I am too busy laughing and dancing, and probably screaming, to scurry thoughts away on the page.
I write my best when feeling only a tempered joy.
Obviously I would not be the first, or the thousandth to say – writing comes with figuring out why things feel a certain way. Sifting through the temperedness, the sadness, and the joy; in this case, on the tempestuous topic of home.
André Aciman addresses both these topics of writing and home in his wonderful essay/afterword, Parallax:
“You write not after you’ve thought things through; you write to think things through. You chisel in order to imagine what you might have chiseled with better eyes in a better world.
You turn on yourself, and turning gives you the illusion of having a center.
But turning is all there is. Turning is all you have.
Or to put it in different terms: you do not see things; you see double. Better yet: you see that you see double.
You wish to see one thing: instead, you see parallax.
You may want truth; but what you reap is paradox.”
Here is something lifted out of my notebook – then indubitably changed during the process of transfer from pen to page to keyboard – and now, edited, transformed. Shifting all the while, until it is a different beast altogether: an essay of some kind.
Here is a paradox, seen in parallax, scribbled while thinking too much after a strange dream.
My cats blink their eyes slow. The rain falls into tea flowers outside.
It feels like Christmas even though its been years since lights and trees. There must be some spot on the tin roof next door, bent and moved to be unintentionally tuned like a xylophone – because when the rain plinks, it plinks like a note from my music class in the fourth grade. From the warmth of bed I wonder if I could climb outside and hit the roof in a certain way to stop this irregular sound.
The answer is, of course, a resounding no.
I fall into sleep and drift to a place I do not come back to now.
I walk with my mom through the old part of town. We are strolling through a night market in the day, the only neighborhood in Taipei where you can find traces of colonial history. Life seems largely unchanged.
Here, just here.
At the market a dog runs back and forth from steaming silver pot to steaming silver pot. He must live there – what a life, to be a smiling dog at a street food stand! All those smells, all those different people coming to huddle arounds bowls of clear chicken broth dotted with goji berries, warming sesame oil pooled on top.
When I think of my hometown, I think: green and ancient island, drenched with moss. The mountain rises up as a backdrop for the city. Brutal apartment blocks squatting in front of a wall of ferns. Highway overpasses sweeping; neon lights and subway lines spreading like the wide gray river that laps the city shores. Inching forward farther than a city of its reported size (4 million) should – I think.
Are those population estimates really correct? I don’t see how one could capture this kind of urban sprawl. Do they count the tin roofs tacked on top of twelve story buildings?
Still, I do not mistrust the order of Taiwanese society. The bureaucracy ticks on with each flicker of a fluorescent light in the offices from which it is borne.
There is no air of panic. Taiwan is not careening into corruption, not imploding into anger and despair, nor surging forth into a progressive future. Here, we move along slow and steady lines, backed by cultural tradition and a mountainous spine.
Only the bougainvillea grows violently over narrow alleyways.
A puff of color, sagging, as a motorcycle winds by.
Some places I have thought I could live:
- Amsterdam – for its twinkling canals and very humane Dutchness (well-enunciated English words and pickled herring get me going, but – winter);
- Bangkok – for its cosmopolitan craziness (the familiarity of home in giant malls and spicy food on a stick, with a tinge of jungle atmosphere, but – pollution);
- Antigua – for distant volcano views and quaint cobblestoned streets (but perhaps – too quaint for me);
- Medellín – for the green hills being soaked with urban sprawl; wide smiles and loose hips shaking; fresh juice served on bustling streets (my number one option to be explored – but – only if I get deported)
Listing these places out, I see Taiwan in all of them. A common thread of mountainous landscapes, good cloud shapes, and a certain light.
This room with the tin xylophone outside is not the one I grew up in.
Now, I am someone with a home of my own. I know (can spot, pare out) the difference between here and there – even though this could trick you into being my room, with my books on the shelves.
How better to measure a self than what one chooses to read – to look through the titles and see what books have been most creased along the spine. My favorites have been held over many a bathtub, pressed into different sized backpacks and boxes. The pages have absorbed the energy of my hands. The words, a part of my being.
When I read them again now (squinting through bathtub steam, pressed against a chilled airplane window), they are an incantation, drawing up a thousand tissuey thoughts of who I was the last time.
Like revisiting places you once called home, reading leaves you falling over peppered pieces of your past self. A long lost ghostliness of wheres and whens and the state of my consciousness unfurling in that very then.
Battered books are fair play, but how many places am I willing to imbue with sadness, too?
Back to Parallax – Acíman recounts his friends words to him, spoken out of exhaustion from his misplaced nostalgia for home, or the feeling of such.
“You’ve never loved either Paris or New York or Alexandria. You love all three. You hate one because you can’t have the other. You love one but wished you loved the other instead. You love them all. You hate them all.
You don’t hate, you don’t love, you don’t even care, because you can’t love, can’t hate, wished you cared, wished you didn’t, don’t know, can’t tell.”
I can no longer tell either – what more of a home am I still looking for, if I have these already? Here, I turn in on myself. Acíman responds to his friend – and to me, I think –
“Is there identity in dispersal?”
Here, in this lamplight, the old scars reappear.
I am haunted by walls that never saw my younger self. Whispering back childhood hopes never shared. Here, I am feeling the full spectrum of human emotion… better than earlier, when I tried to run away from feeling.
Running just leaves you with the pinkish vomit of sushi swirling suspended in the bathroom sink. A sardonic vein sneers (as I push regurgitated tuna belly down the grate): this is the closest thing to Christmas confetti my house has seen in years.
In my dream journal that night, I write:
the house in my dream nearly collapsing manifold influences water creeping and yes there was a seal
my brain was making sense of itself
a thousand jokes we make with ourselves, our minds are our own prisons
no wonder we wake with a sense of clarity
One time I said, or aspired to, the idea of home being wherever you are.
I’ve come to see that for me, home is not an ineffable thing, but something grounded in physicality. In my new home in Northcote, the afternoon light hits with rainbows. There is magic in having all the things you own (exempt are too-heavy-to-ship books relinquished to childhood shelves) laid out with ease; in postcards pressed into paint with the pads of your thumb; in the drape and the silk and the smell of your very own clothes.
There are cypresses outside my window, and further, roses line the street in the early summer. So many roses! Those years of pruning, those decades of domesticity I have yet to know.
I want roses and thyme and a little lavender, too. To boil a pound of berries on the stove. Gathering, cooking, canning, cracking open; feasting and sharing; primal and whole. These ancient thrums of hearthy abundance.
No surprise, for this Cancer, to come to find home such a spiritual thing. A created life: self-preservation in the preservation of plums; recipes for love and ritual, too.
Home, a something.
See it in double.
The rain is gone now and I can hear a wood pigeon cooing outside. I feel my hometown’s landscape refracted in sound. Creation and softness, juggled in my hands like two crystal balls.
Is there identity in dispersal?
Yes, if home can be counted in birdsong.
~ painting is : the badminton game by david inshaw (1972) ~