Thanatopsis

Grandpa is dying. Above the altar on one wall of the house are portraits of my late grandmother, uncle, and step-grandmother. There is a fourth empty space. We are waiting for Grandpa to die.

The penultimate time I visited him was about a year ago. I remember holding his clenched fist as we sat in silence. As I tried to ease his glass-like fingers apart I almost began to cry. I wanted so much to lend him the youth and energy and time I was wasting. I wanted so much for him to not continue existing, but to be alive.

I used to be frustrated by the language barrier between us, and I hated knowing I would never be able to hear grandpa’s stories for myself. Hearing my aunts and uncles’ anecdotes were only briefly satisfying, but never quite enough. All I could do was look through the yellowed black-and-white photo albums and run my fingers over his careful pencil handwriting. All I could do was hold his hand.

That day I pushed him in his wheelchair out to some distance from the home’s swimming pool so he could see some color other than the grays and reds of his room. I sat beside him while my aunts chatted in the shade.

Then I began to talk, slowly at first. I told Grandpa of everything I was worried about at the time and what I write about. I told him about what kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up and of how I’ve learned to appreciate my heritage. I told Grandpa how I knew he probably couldn’t understand what I was saying, but also why that was okay. I told him about all my favorite things. I told him how I wondered what his favorite things were. The entire time he was quiet.

I wrote in one of my college essays that I don’t want people’s stories to vanish when they do. This, I think, is partly why.

Later we settled Grandpa into his bedroom again as it was time for us to leave. He said something, doubly indiscernible by my ears because his voice is so weak and he only speaks Vietnamese. An aunt translated.

“He said you remind him of your mom.”

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On education

I realized that I’ve been leaning toward pretty deep topics ever since I started this blog.

Today the substitute teacher made a valiant attempt to actually teach in econ class. He asked, “How many people are here so they can get a good job?” I abstained because I think that’s a shitty reason to show up to class. Everyone else who was paying attention raised their hands. My friends looked at me quizzically.

I don’t know about you, reader, but I actually like to learn.

As a first generation Asian American I’ve endured my fair share of stereotyping. It was as if any time I performed above average it was due to my parent’s ridiculously high expectations of me rather than my own efforts.

Well I don’t even live with my parents. They probably just expect me to survive. As for my aunt, she’s always expected me to do my best, toughen up, and avoid excuses.

I always thought of college as a way out, and for years I was swept up in the same grade-obsessed frenzy as my peers. We were all attempting to stack up credentials and inflate GPAs in the hope that it would all cushion us against failure, that ultimate fear.

Somewhere along the way I rediscovered my love of learning.

I stopped worrying about lining up volunteer hours and maintaining high grades for the sake of college. I took classes I was genuinely interested in and took to reading more outside school. I re-prioritized and consequently enjoyed school more.

Here’s the punchline: I’ve been rejected at 3 schools, wait listed at 4, and accepted at 1. I’m still currently waiting for 2 more decisions, although there’s no way I’m getting into Cal.

I’m not feeling inadequate like I would have if I were the the same person I was freshman year. I’m not feeling totally ecstatic at the prospect of living on the east coast just yet, either. I’m at an odd state, suspended in disbelief.

I may just be in denial, but for me it isn’t about the name of the school, or whether I’ll acquire a high-paying job, or whether my peers will approve of wherever I eventually SIR.

I think it’s more about how my 11 year old self would never have thought she’d get the chance to go to college. It’s about how I used to dream of bright lights and the endless sounds of cars.

I need to re evaluate.

Talk

Little talks

Me: I like your nail polish. It’s really pretty.

C: Thank you! I just got this one at Walmart and it lasts so much longer than the more expensive ones.

Me: Well, the more expensive nail polish is for people who don’t work with their hands.

C: (smiles)

 

Me: I feel like all I ever have are teenage girl problems.

S: You’re a teenage girl.

I can talk

M: Wait, Brenda are you interested in going into magazine publishing or investigative journalism?

Me: (“YES“) I don’t know. Maybe.

A: Don’t give her any ideas.

 

Me: Can I ask you something?

A:

Me: Hello?

A:

Me: Why won’t you talk to me?

A:

Me:

Everybody talks

Me: Good morning.

J: Hello. (pause) I guess you’re going to leave now because Kenny‘s over there.

Me: Don’t be silly.

 

Everyone: Aren’t you excited? Aren’t you?

Me: I am.

in Just- spring

Now more than ten years later, my way of organizing my life is through compulsive list making. To-do lists, not-to-do lists, don’t-forget-lists, grocery lists. I make outlines. I add to my bucket list when struck by inspiration. I make wish lists and lists of movies I’ve been meaning to watch as well as books I’ve been meaning to read.

I finally got around to reading Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book. Incidentally, she was also a list maker who used headings such as “Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster” and “Hateful Things.” My favorite quote from The Pillow Book involves Shonagon recounting a breathtaking scene of morning dew on a spider’s web.  She writes, “I later described the scene to my friends. What impressed me most was that they were not at all impressed.”

That was an excerpt from my application essay for UChicago in response to the prompt “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” It becomes relevant eventually. With an eventful two weeks ahead of me I decided to glean all that afflicts me.

Things That Make One Nervous

  • heights
  • when someone you’re expecting is late
  • waiting
  • people who stare
  • people who wink creepily at you
  • smoke
  • people who look like they’re judging you
  • stains
  • owing money
  • secrets
  • heavy footsteps
  • senior projects
  • deadlines
  • college decisions
  • fragile objects, like Grandpa’s hands or shelves of glassware
  • when the right words threaten to jumble up into the wrong ones

Of happiness, or the warm and fuzzy post

Today in Spanish our discussion group was faced with the question, “If you were to die tomorrow, would you be content with how you had lived your life?” Two years ago I would have given a definite “no.” This year I surprised myself with an unwavering “yes.” It’s not as if I’ve done anything particularly outstanding in my 17 1/2 years on Earth and of course I still feel like I have much to see and do while I’m still here. I’m just not bitter anymore.

I think it’s easy to be bitter, and I have ample reason to be. I’d be the first person to call myself a particularly irritable person. On top of that my life is considerably more convoluted than the average American teenager’s. I could be angry at the world like my more cynical friends and lash out against the darkness. I could be discontent with the world like my more idealist friends and curse the darkness.

I used to crumple under what I used to believe was life’s conspiracy against me. Only recently did I learn and accept that there was never really any external conflict aiming to crush me at all. It was only me versus myself, a worthy battle. I can go more into specifics in a later post.

The point is that I’ve lit a candle.

Underneath the mundane anxiety from wilting grades and calc tests I point and laugh at the way fat crows hop along the empty streets to no one in particular. I step out from a snare of frustration with the way my past refuses to be finished with me into a friend’s plain words of wisdom. The sun poked its head from behind the clouds one dreadful morning to say hello and I returned the salutation.

I find that life is infinitely more enjoyable if you keep yourself, mind, eyes, ears ,though not necessarily your mouth, open.

Keep warm.

I am here, I am here, I am here

I don’t even consider myself a writer at times, just someone with eavesdropping and graphomaniac tendencies. I do need a new notebook.

“Justify the margins” refers to the quote from Wicked by Gregory Maguire:

Can there be a higher desire than to change the world? Not to draw Utopian blueprints, but to really order change? To revise the misshapen, reshape the mistaken, to justify the margins of this ragged error of the universe?

It’s a question I’m trying to answer. I didn’t even like the book itself all that much. I’ve read too many dystopian books to be afraid of the end of the world.  Those weren’t even related thoughts.

Let’s get organized. I like lists.

Things I find it difficult to say:

  • “I love you”
  • “I like you”
  • “I’m sorry”
  • “You’re right, I’m wrong”
  • “Your fly’s open”
  • “Hey, read what I wrote on my blog”

We’ll see where this goes.