Saturday, May 26, 2007

Life & Its Realism

Coincidentally I have been reading/watching/coming across three artistic works that touch upon the topic of death.

The first one is Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which has now been turned into a play starring Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway. A candid and heartfelt reflection on the sudden death of Didion's husband in Dec 2004. A mental and psychological recount of the year immediately following the incident, compounded by the unexpected illness of her daughter who - as I was told - too passed away after the book was finished.

It's a story about grief. There is no magical solutions to the process of mourning or grief offered by Didion, only her honest sharing of her various emotional responses to grief, whether failed or ill-attempted. But it is precisely such willingness to talk about it, contemplate it, and admit one's utter inability to deal with grief until the moment comes that makes this book a powerful one.

As a 27-year-old who has never confronted death or witnessed the passing away of a close, loved one in life, this book humbles me.

The second one is a newly released movie called "Away from Her" directed by Sarah Polly and based on her original story titled "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." A story about an elderly lady dealing with Alzheimer's disease and the process of pain on the husband's end as he witnesses his beloved's condition worsens to a point where she no longer remembers the decades of marriage that they have once shared together. A slow, quiet, mellow film in which emotions are expressed only through subtle words if not faint facial expressions yet deeply felt through by the unfolding of the story and juxtapositions of streams of consciousness from the past.

It very much reminds me of my landlady's situation, whose husband suffered from Alzheimer's disease and just passed away about a month ago. My landlady's case was a much more happy one as until the very end her husband still in some vague sense recognized her as one of once shared intimacy. In the film, however, no traces of memory are found till the final end when a twist in the plot is introduced.

When memories dwindle away the heart certainly still feels. Yet whose heart does it still bond to becomes a much more complicated question. It makes one wonder whether or not the meaning of life in fact exists very much in one's sheer neural ability to make connections with the past or one's ability to remember things done and said in the past. In a ironic sense It seems as if the past determines more of the future or that it is the present/future that is haunted by memories or the very absence of the past.

The third one, "The Namesake," a film adopted from Jhumpa Lahiri's fictional debut is a beautiful tale of an Indian immigrant family arriving in the U.S. in the early 70s. It's not a film about death yet death does take place in the middle of the film, almost in an identical fashion like Didion's experience. The family does pull together at the end as the mom returns back to India and picks up singing again by the Ganges River while the son reconsiders the meaning of his Indian name and cultural identity.

How would I ever cope if the same thing falls upon me one day? Could I boast greater strength to go through such an unexpected turn of event in life than the wife in the film?

But one does cope, and one has to cope not so that life could go on but becauselife does go on regardless, as all three stories have taught me. When Dec 30, 2005 hit, Didion realized her year of magical thinking had to end, for any retrace of any day past 12/30/04 would no longer carry the presence of her husband. From that point on, it is no longer "he" or "his" or "him" or "them." It's "she" and only "she."

As a 27-year-old I do think quite a lot about death. But as Morrie has taught us during 14 of his Tuesday lessons, one only begins to learn about how to live when one begins to know how to die or what dying is. Once you know what the ultimate destination in life is then you could go ahead and plan life up until that point, even though that point is never known to any of us.

You Sit Down to Dinner
And then-gone

Such is life, in its most realistic light.

梅ちゃん at 2:36:00 PM

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Friday, May 25, 2007

難題

I'm facing a difficult choice.

I'm searching for a temporary shelter for my 100+ books for the next two years - potentially two, that is.

"You can't see where you might end up be 2 years from now? Does the decision need to be made now then?" A friend was startled to hear about my difficult choice at dinner tonight.

No, pal. I can't even envision what life is going to be like by the end of September, let alone 2 years from now.

Still, my 100+ books are in desperate need for a temporary shelter.

So, the options on the table:

1) A long-term storage space somewhere in the neighborhood; no temperature/humidity control though in order to save cost, sadly.
2) Renting a storage container that resembles something more like a mobile, public lavatory. The picture of it still makes me laugh hysterically -- stacking up all my precious books/household belongings in a mobile-/public-lavatory-like "container"?!?
3) Turning a study carrel into a secret warehouse, from floor to ceiling -- as long as I can close that door and lock that lock, no one is going to find out yah?

Someone told me that the U.S. Postal Service has cancelled the sea mail service effective from May 14th on.

No longer the friendly sea for the int'l mobile I suppose. Ai yo ...

梅ちゃん at 2:26:00 PM

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

HouseCooling Sentimentality

I just sent out the evite invitation for my housecooling party this Sat night.

Somehow the process of writing it brought me much nostalgia if not tears at the brink of falling.

Last year around this time, my ex-roommate and I - the quintessential nomad of this current day and age I kid you not - put together that invitation and threw a legendary houseclosing party that I know for sure will never be topped from that point, whether in the consumption of alcoholic bottles or the number of people present ...

Evite stores all of one's past addresses and earlier when I was scrolling down the list and trying to choose the right address, 25-33 @ PT, 10-22 PT, and my current address popped up.

How I wish evite could be forgetful at times so that I don't need to be reminded of the residences that I had/have dwelled in over the past 3 years in Cambridge.

"HouseCooling ... One Last Time" I wrote, as the title of this party.

One last time in Cambridge perhaps, but surely not going to be THE last time at least in the next x-number of years to come.

So the nomad packs up and down the journey she flies ...

... in 20 days.

PS: Right after the above entry was written, the following song streamed in fron iTune:

-----

*Our House* by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

I'll light the fire
You put the flowers in the vase
That you bought today

Staring at the fire
For hours and hours
While I listen to you
Play your love songs
All night long for me
Only for me

Come to me now
And rest your head for just five minutes
Everything is good
Such a cosy room
The windows are illuminated
By the sunshine through them
Fiery gems for you
Only for you

Our house is a very, very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
'Cause of you
And our la,la,la, la,la, la, la, la, la, la, la.....

Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
'Cause of you
And our la,la,la, la,la, la, la, la, la, la, la.....

I'll light the fire
And you place the flowers in the jar
That you bought today

-----

A song that I wish to be singing someday and somewhere with someone I suppose, as the next evite on a housewarming party being composed?

梅ちゃん at 3:38:00 PM

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

棉花棒與柔軟劑的哀愁

有幾件家居物品到了學年末總逃不過被我拋棄的命運。

比如說,棉花棒和衣物柔軟劑。

這話該怎麼說?

首先,這真的不能完全怪我。在美國,棉花棒總是以巨大盒裝的形式販賣,而且一賣就是三、五百根(可惜我又不鐘情只有少少三、四十根的旅行簡易包)。一個學年只有8個月,而8個月乘以30天也不過是240天。240天就算是一天用一根也消耗不完那一大盒三、五百根的棉花棒。學期末了在瘋狂打包狀態中幾近抓狂的我自然沒有心力去照顧那剩下的100多根棉花棒,只好採取放棄態度。

「再買吧,反正一大盒300根也不過美金5塊錢。」

每每就如此一邊自我安慰,一邊將棉花棒孤獨的遺留在「捐獻箱」裡,期待下一不知名房客好好用之。

那衣物柔軟劑又是怎麼一回事?

同樣的,不能怪我。在美國,衣物柔軟劑有兩種。一種是液體式的罐裝包裝,而另一種是盒裝的抽取式「柔軟片」,也就是將柔軟劑濃縮成一張薄薄的紙片,在衣物烘干時放入烘干機裡使用。

液體式的柔軟劑一般是以一加侖為單位,而抽取式的「柔軟片」是以40張起盒。同理,若是以每兩周洗一次衣服的頻率去計算的話,一個學年8個月下來也不過會洗到16次衣服。即使在衣物過多的情況下我一次使用兩張,柔軟片最終也只能在被用了32張之後又面臨被拋棄的命運。

更糟的是,因為每個人喜歡的柔軟劑香味或有不同,看著那剩下少數幾張柔軟片的我總在想著 --「算了,讓(不知名)的他們自己再去買好了」-- 之後略帶傷感地將柔軟片盒拋入垃圾桶中。

面對如此多搬、多移動、租房總無定所的主人,我的棉花棒與柔軟劑們注定要面臨被遺留下來的哀愁。

又或許這世界的商品市場終究是為居所固定的人群們服務,特別是在甚麼都以特大號形式消費販賣的美國。

暑假到了,我在東京又將面對同樣的難題 -- 我要再次讓我的棉花棒與柔軟劑在暑假結束之際面臨被拋棄的哀愁嗎?

還是我該在塞爆又超重的行李箱裡帶上這個學年剩下的那100多根棉花棒與8張柔軟片呢?

後現代・学术游牧民族之難題啊~ (又或:游牧時代棉花棒與柔軟劑之哀歌啊〜)

梅ちゃん at 2:23:00 AM

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Connecting the Dots

- 2 Conversations -

*Conversation 1*- Sunday night @ a small Japanese izakaya joint that experienced a strange power shortage that night; lights flickering on and off while my friend SA panned out her reflections on work over the past 8 months.

"I just can't bring myself to care more. I mean ... We spent days trying to track down this one shirt that is missing somewhere down the production line ... At the end of the day - who cares? I don't, at least."

Guess nobody could've envisioned that the day when the application was sent out. Ralph Lauren, NYC, and then HK/Singapore. Why not?

"Still, I guess I'll give myself till the end of the year to really stick it out and see where it can take me. But really, sometimes I feel like if I could quit the next day and just stay in HK and open up a new chocolate joint or what not, I would be much happier."

Same here, girl. I still have doubts about my program, and can you believe that I'm 3rd year into the program? Almost seems too counter-intuitive to quit.

"I eat crap all day at work. They work you so hard and in such long hours that you don't feel like eating anymore even though the company pays for everything. They put you in the best hotel, fly you on business class, and there's business expense for the good sushi joints in town ... But these days, nothing tastes like anything to me."

Alright, I guess I do appreciate my small cup of Latte and blueberry tart at Darwin's at 3 pm in the afternoon, even though at 2 am I continue to work and many times including Sat/Sundays as well.

"The other day there were 14 of us in the room for a RSEA reunion. Guess what? Only 3 ppl really enjoy what they are doing; the rest of us all HATE our jobs. I mean, literally, we HATE our jobs."

So I guess the RSEA degree didn't help much ...

"Nope, not at all. It was just a way for people like us who don't really know what we want in life to delay the process of thinking about what we want by another 2 years. 2 years have passed and we still don't what we want."

Well, at times I still feel that way, girl. Is this what I wanted? What was I thinking in the first place?

"You know what the real problem is for our generation? It's not about the lack of choices or opportunities but the fact that there are too many of them. And we get spoiled."

Nodding, I took another bit of the daikon-shiso salad in front of me.

*Conversation 2*- Tuesday evening @ a local sports bar joint with friends of House Church 2 years ago; been over 6 months since some of us saw each other last, and very likely the very last time I saw a number of them for a while.

“Dude, your friends G and C in SH – they are INCREDIBLE!”

I know, pal. I know.

P – “I mean, they are such intelligent and sharp women … They work hard and play hard yo.”

I know. Who would guess that none of our lives beat the lives of a full-time missionary and a self-employed entrepreneur working on a yak-yarn social enterprise?

And I couldn’t help but wondering if I would ever get myself out of this program and get myself closer to where they are.

“Out there to save the world, man, that’s what they are doing there. Crazy people.”

I know, crazy people, for the better.

Time for me to move on as well, pal, in a few weeks. Yet, not sure if I’m out there to change or shape the world into a better place. At this rate, it seems like life carries no more priority than getting a pass mark on that exam which – as they say – tests you on anything and everything you ought to know about a) sinophone literature, b) overseas Chinese history from the 17th-century on, and c) Japanese colonial literature in the Chinese-speaking community within the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Anything and everything that one ought to know? What does it have to do with changing or shaping the world?

I’m not sure, pal. If I had the answer I guess I wouldn’t be writing this entry right now but would be more studious in preparing for my meeting with my professor at 4:30 pm tomorrow afternoon.

It’s all about connecting the dots and finding the ultimate meaning within the seemingly meaningless yah?

Someone gave me a great piece of advice – 2 weeks before the date of the general exams one should stop reading and simply sit down and start connecting the dots. It’s not about “what is the main gist of Skinner’s argument?” or “how would you compare Shi’s epic novel on HK with Huang’s narration of women?” It’s more close to “how you would add or amend Prof. Xia’s History of Chinese Literature?” or “what would be the 10 main titles on the syllabus of Japanese colonial literature in Manchuria if you are to teach this course next semester?”.

Professors can tell me the gist of the books or compare and contrast the two different works out there for me. But it’s up for me to connect the dots and create my own innovative blueprint of the field. Whoever finds the niche excels.

And my job – besides getting myself to pass the generals – is to sit down and think about all the dots at hand and the way to connect them all towards the end goal of changing and shaping the world into a better place, even by a tiny fraction of an inch.

Thanks for the reminders, pals.

梅ちゃん at 1:34:00 PM

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Overload

2 or 3 reading meetings per week with professors for the generals exam prep ... The end result - intense information overload. My brain is fried.

讀文學,做文學批評工作是很有意思的。可是要在半天內翻完十多本書並從中歸納出個架構和解釋 -- 真沒啥大樂趣而言,不過是在交差了事。

「囫圇吞棗」 -- 最近唯一總結的讀書心得。

半夜一點了,明早再繼續吞棗大業吧。

梅ちゃん at 3:03:00 PM

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Language: Bridging the Unbridgeable?

I started my very first blog on Xanga in Oct 2004, a month after returning to the U.S. to start grad school. Though the precise reasons for starting the blog can no longer be recalled at the moment (I used to think that with so much yet to be seen and learned and experienced in China during a regular day of busyness, what's the point of posting one's inner musings and miscellaneous thoughts online as an exhibitionist?), I do remember this dying yearning to have a space where my inner thoughts and struggles and whatever intellectual or miscellaneous musings may be shared and listened to. Although solitude has long become a characteristic of life throughout the years, never had I felt that isolated and alienated during that first initial month or two in grad school. Having found a great group of friends in SH whom I could share so much of my identity with or be understood fully as well as accepted pleasantly, I was shocked to see that the sudden disappearance of that community of friends. What was even harder to take was the realization that I myself was the very person who put an end to those days of living in a community of kindred spirits, except that even that realization itself was too often denied than admitted.

To many others, blogging may just be another thing in life where they have a community of friends or readers, whether met or unmet, personally known or unknown. To many others, it is a slice of reality through which a certain dreams, aspirations, complaints or woes could be uttered, shared, or released from the inner heart. To some others it may even just be a thing to do from M to F during some down hours of the day while sitting in the office. Certainly, there are people who make a living out of their professional blogs or start off their careers or reputation through by way of such a cyber medium.

For me, though, this sometimes is the only place where I could be completely upfront and honest about myself and to myself. This is where my state of being would finally dare to come out and express itself, allowing that inner voice to take over and speak forth that inner mind that too often self-selectively shields itself from the public or the routines of daily lives. At least in this space, I have the freedom to speak my mind while giving the reader the choice to listen or to walk away.

Stripped away the need to respond or smile or nod or laugh or cast an eye of consent in an immediate manner, I free myself from the pressure to act a certain way to make the listener comfortable while in the meantime liberating my listener from the pressure to take in my daily rants or sentimental utterances if those things fail to ring a bell inside.

At least I put the stuff out there, and the listener/reader is given the choice to walk away or engage further. No pressure on both sides and at times, a unique form of mutual understanding emerges, sometimes much more genuine and straight from the heart than all those social conversations done in a face-to-face manner.

But since I switched to Blogger I've lost a large group of readership. I don't deny that in the meantime I perhaps have picked up a few new ones along the way, but the loss is obvious, and at times it brings me to lament the limitations of language and the inevitable fact that language itself - in the fashion of a particular cultural and linguistic tradition - is key to human communication despite our other common languages such as shared pasts or experiences.

Since my migration to blogger, I've been thinking a lot about how to resolve such issue of language barriers. Could there be a possibility where people who speak or write different languages still communicate? Translation certainly is one of the ways, yet when translation isn't available, what would be next?

More importantly, is it "language" that sets such barrier or it's more of the entire system of upbringing experiences and cultural traditions embedded that language system that ultimately set people apart from one another or strike an unbridgeable gap between two beings? And if the latter is true, how could the act of bridging ever take place? Or does it even need to take place?

These days I often find myself frustrated by the lack of shared common experiences with people. As much as I try to listen, understand, or imagine myself going through the moments that I’ve never been given the chance to really live through those moments first-hand with others, I sometimes still wonder if true empathy could ever be attained. After all, "living" itself is precious, and if I have not been able to partake in that process of "living" in the past, could true understanding really arise?

And since the notion of “understanding” is a like a two-way street, likewise, consistently throughout the years I see the inability for others to understand me even if they have the best intentions in heart. If experiences themselves have failed to strike a common chord due to the very lack of them in the past, could language – whether in written or oral form – itself now contribute anything to the resolution of such unshared stories or memories of one’s past?

And can I call myself a student of literature, an aspired writer-wanna-be, or potentially a literary critique in the future if I can’t even figure this important question out?

梅ちゃん at 3:49:00 PM

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Grad School Rant

週一早上從紐約坐了五小時的車回來,疲倦神智不清到極點。感謝來自城市街道規划井然有序的紐約客司機,居然在隧道和Big Dig高速道路上大玩迷路游戲,office hours 遲到近半小時 ... Thank God it's the last week of school.

最近在某些層面上諸事不順。買了兩年半的二手書桌椅幾近報廢,從哥那兒承繼下來的PowerBook G4第一次在我長達15年的蘋果電腦使用歷史裡漏氣,發出垂死前的哀號。不得已,辛苦做了一年TF退回來的tax return全數捐獻給新的MacBook購買基金 ...

值得高興的是,這是人生第一次擁有一台非二手亦非水貨的貨真價實新品(淚)!更感動的是,新的電腦可以任意簡繁互轉,從此不用再因用拼音系統打簡體字而和之前速度緩慢的軟體糾纏不清。(淚 x 3)!

距搬家打包生活作息開始瘋狂的日子不到一個月。是該繼續努力維護一般居家生活簡潔和秩序,還是該就此放棄?反正幾個禮拜後家裡能看到的不過是成堆的紙箱,包裝紙,泡棉,膠帶,和寫地址的簽字筆。

Another bigger question - where shall the mailing address to which all those boxes be sent to? Taipei? Tokyo? Or a split between a few friends' basement in Cambridge?

After the very last lecture for sophomore tutorial on Tuesday, Prof. C took us out to Grafton for a quick mid-afternoon snack/drinks. Everyone started to share about their plans for the summer and/or schedules for the upcoming school year. One of the TF's shared with us the joyful news of a upcoming baby, and the other invited us to the party of yet another advancement of his age. Prof. herself talked about her sabbatical projects in TW, and very soon the conversation moved on to what to do with getting help from a Filippino nanny in TW while still keeping your own intimate time with a 2.5-year-old son, to how it is like to be in a position of double alienation after years and year of being away from her - once - home country. Right before I dashed out for another meeting, we were discussing the idea of getting a storage container for all the books accumulated throughout the years.

"Somehow there is a strange sense of security knowing that all of your books are contained, sealed, and nicely stuffed in a cube-meter-square container. The only problem is you never know when it'd arrive, sometime between the next month or three months from now?" Prof. C commented.

Someone should eventually come up with a Friends- or Grey's Anatomy-version of grad student/academics way of life. Although since there would be neither beauties nor prince charming and only dates with the diseased scholars in the world of books and JSTOR articles in a 24-hour library - if one wants to be as close to reality as possible, that is - then I guess no TV stations would be stupid enough to put that series out there during prime viewing hours on, say, Thursday nights from 9-10 pm.

Even though I still think the drama would be fun enough to watch - just to get a sense of what it is like to be living constantly below the povery line, under exploitation by the university employment agency, and with the reality of always needing to deal with a long-distance or cross-Pacific-Ocean relationship, whether dating or marriage.

還是好好研究我如何能多睡幾個小時好了,這樣比較切實際。

梅ちゃん at 3:40:00 AM

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