January 26, 2010

Lady Pain

The lady on horseback eludes me still,
Black hooves upon rock
Stamping the hills
And the break in my belly
Parting the earth
With a sharpness
The sword has never seen.

January 24, 2010

31-28 Saints: A Reason to Believe

Well, the New Orleans Saints are going to the Super Bowl. At this moment, fans still linger at the stadium, not yet ready or willing to depart from the site of victory. Bourbon Street is saturated and pulsing. Here in Lafayette, just outside our house, neighbors are shooting off fireworks and lighting up the streets. State-wide ecstasy. Why? Or, more specifically, why am I ecstatic, too?

Because this state has needed some victory. We've needed something to be proud of. We've needed a moment of strength.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've always seen Louisiana in the bottom of every prosperity list (education, economy), and in the top of every undesirable list (crime rate, corruption). At times, we've come close to some kind of redemption, but we've never, ever quite gotten there.

And of course, there was Katrina. In every aspect, that hurricane changed the face of our state. We took a blow on every side: loss of life, loss of property, loss of face, loss of morale. New Orleans was the epicenter of the damage, but the tremors reverberated beyond our state's borders.

Tonight, what drew me to stand with our Saints was not statistics or a long love affair with football. It wasn't peer pressure or duty. It was the sense of hope and unity that's swept over this place.

Everywhere I go, I see the fleur-de-lis. I see black and gold. I see people of all ages and walks of life pressing their shoulders behind our team. Something to stand for. Something to believe in.

I always thought I'd be the last person in the world to wax sentimental about football, but...it's happened. The people of Louisiana touched my heart today, and the Saints are carrying it with them to Miami.

Geaux Saints! We believe!!!

January 23, 2010

The Sign - prose

Each time the month is upon me and a familiar fullness rests on my belly, my hips, the roundness of my cheeks, I search through memory for signs, for marks of prophecy threading over my breasts or folding in my bowels. For a certain kind of sleep or the need for extra air.

And then the month is here, and my heart exhales, and my bones break and my muscles fail onto them, spent and dried out, another echo, "You have passed the house."

The last is a period. The end of a thought. A declarative statement, precisely punctuated.

January 22, 2010

On Bicultural Identity, Assumption, & Communication

I'd like to know...Do the present generation of biracial/bicultural Americans struggle with the same crisis of identity I do?

For many years, I felt like an anomaly -- an Asian/Caucasian woman with deep Asian roots, but raised in the South; brought up with pervasive Asian influences, yet ingrained with Southern customs. A person who has been known to say "ya'll" and "pau" in the same sentence. An Asian-looking girl with a Southern accent. At times, I've felt like a social hiccup -- "a fly in the buttermilk," as Mom would say.

It's one experience to be biracial, but quite another to be bicultural. I mark a clear distinction between the two. There are many biracial people who are raised in a monocultural home, meaning there is a predominant culture they learn to identify with. And then, there are biracial people like me who were raised in a bicultural home heavily influenced by two cultures instead of one.

At home, there's little conflict because the two cultures meld to form a single home culture. In the immediate family, there's safety, security, and understanding.

But in my experience, however, the home culture terminates at some point. For me, the societal cultural influence I grew up in (small, traditional Southern town) was not only equal but surpassed that of my home culture. In a sense, the societal culture became the default by which all others were measured (Who's to blame for that? I may never know). That further complicated things, as I was not only challenged to establish my identity within my extended family, but also within the wider cultural structure of my region, a structure in which my bicultural perspective and identity was neither understood nor accommodated.

For the longest time, I had a great chip on my shoulder because it seemed the people around me regarded me with uncertainty, confusion, and/or suspicion (or didn't regard me at all). But, I've concluded -- How can I expect society to recognize and respect my identity if I myself don't recognize (and therefore am unable logically respect) it? No one can tell me who I am; that person, I must discover for myself.

And how important is it, really, to be able to express in mathematical or social-scientific terms WHAT my culture is? "Racially, I'm half-Caucasian and half-Asian, but culturally, I'm half-Pacific Islander instead of Asian, because my Asian father was born and raised in a mixed Asian/Pacific Islander environment." Huh???

Should I be able to condense my cultural identity for the sake of interpersonal communication? Is it necessary for me to offer to people a basic orientation, and if so, what purpose would it serve? To allay fears? To offer a sense of security? To establish a starting-place for interaction?

Does all this circle back to a fear of the unknown? Like trying to decipher a new acquaintance's core beliefs, disposition, or posture, in order to protect both parties from offending or being offended?

Idealistically speaking, two people ought to be able to approach and learn each other in a natural way without resorting to prejudgments or strategic positioning, but I just don't believe that's most often the case.

Personally, when I meet someone new, I'm immediately attentive to certain characteristics or mannerisms that might reveal a unique aspect for which I may need to conscientiously exhibit respect. Maybe it's a perspective unnatural to me -- for instance, the equality of ages -- which may be held sacred on account of religious beliefs, cultural tradition, or personal philosophy. Personally, I believe in a hierarchy of seniority, but if I were to meet someone who felt age preference is fundamentally unfair, of course I might take care to conduct myself a little more reservedly in that area as long as we're in each other's presence -- this, in order to be respectful of another's beliefs, and also to preserve the avenue of communication between us.

So, I suppose I'm guilty of prejudgments and strategic positioning, too, but in the spirit of furthering relationships.

What does this have to do with culture? I was going to write, culture (especially where minorities are concerned) is often one of the most obvious characteristic a person reveals on first sight, but after a moment of reflection, I believe just the opposite is true. This is where unjustified or inaccurate prejudgments come into play. Frequently, because a person is a minority, an assumption about her culture is made, and then, she either fulfills the assumption -- to the relative comfort of all -- or she breaks the assumption, which may result in discomfort and strained communication.

And this is such an enigma to me because I can neither fulfill the assumption nor break it, because the reality of my identity is somewhere in between. For me, this means people often choose to remain outside the circle of communication, or step into the circle of communication only to learn their previous assumptions were not quite right. That can make for some embarrassing situations, for both parties.

I'm not bitter or cynical about all this. I'm not a lonely person. I don't feel like an exile or an outcast. I do feel misunderstood sometimes, but thankfully, I prefer a smaller circle of intimates, so in the end, it all works out.

As always, though, I want to understand. Someone once told me, "You're a mystery even to yourself," and it's absolutely true. I'm not proud of it, but I can't apologize for it either. Questioning myself has gotten me this far, and I can't say that's a bad place to be.

Friday 5 for January 22: Personal Adds

1. What’s your favorite “just add water!” food? (Weird. This is the second time in January I'm using this answer.)

2. What’s your favorite thing to add vinegar to?

3. What’s something weird you’ve added to normal food? Hey, I live 30 minutes from the factory. I wouldn't say the sauce is "weird," but the food combinations we grow accustomed to aren't always..."conventional."

4. What’s your favorite thing to add whipped cream to? (Sorry. Just being honest.)

5. What’s something you refuse to add anything to, even though most people add something?
Traditional Spellings.

(To participate, visit Friday5.org.)

January 21, 2010

On Aging

For every new day this body lives, a new member of it begins to protest. This is aging, slow resignation to slowing. Creeping past the era purposed for giving life, for habitation -- into an era of living as breathing, of inhabiting.

I feel like a liar, and my height, my stature, my close-set Asian features are the lies.

Crows' feet, laughing lines, the thin skin on the backs of my hands, the perse and violet bloodworms rupturing up and down my thighs...they do not lie. Neither does a ready appreciation of simplicity, an absence of passionate ire, an agreeable settlement with Destiny for far less glamor and recognition than my younger version thought she deserved. And most honest of all, contentment, reserving nothing for herself.

The next act is not mourning or pining or envy of the young, as I was led to believe it would be. I think the time for taking passes away in the blink of an eye, and suddenly, what we have left is for giving, and hoping the gifts are worth something.

I was a child for only a day.

January 19, 2010

Zip-Zip, Tap-Tap, Scrape-Scrape-Scrape

At the Dentist

Moe wept in a corner of the waiting room, great heaving sobs as if her heart were cracking wide open.

The dental assistant called me over and whispered the details. "The dentist calls them 'zip-zips'," she said, "because the cavities aren't really large enough to drill. It only takes a second to take care of them. Maybe if you tell her that, she won't be so scared."

Too late. Someone already said it: "CAVITY." Moe has two -- one on each side where her cheeks rub her molars. For a kid who's been blessed with unblemished teeth all her life, the news was devastating.

I tried to console her, sprinkling her with reassurances "zip-zips" aren't REALLY cavities. But she's too learned for that.

I thought we were in for a long, tearful ride home, but Moe stopped crying as suddenly as she began. It wasn't because she found comfort; it was because she stuffed her fear way, way down deep inside where it'll stay until her next appointment.

Six months from now, when the dental assistant calls her name, Moe's fear will violently reemerge and she'll take off at a full sprint trying to escape the premises, like she did at the doctor's office the last time she had immunizations.

The poor kid feels cursed, having the family's first cavity. Nothing I say will make her feel better about that.


Library Children's Section

The girls left me at our table and disappeared amongst the bookshelves. I settled into my seat and into the silence, staring out the window into the courtyard. Dead leaves swirled in lazy circles across the patio bricks. A gray squirrel ran back and forth through the fence, smuggling acorns to his hidden cache.

Back and forth, back and forth
...with his shivering tuft of tail flagging behind him. Back and forth, back and forth...with my eyelids slipping slowly, slowly down.

At the table next to me, a woman with silver curls clicked away at the soft keys on her laptop. Tap tap tap.... The sound was soothing, like a little wooden clock, ticking only loud enough to let me know it's working. Tap tap tap.

"I'll just lay my head down for a minute," I thought.

A jolt went through me. My eyes snapped open, and then I was surrounded by giggling, chattering kids. A friend grinned back at me from across the table. "You were out cold."

So I was. About twenty minutes cold. I blame the squirrel, silver curls, and soft keys.


Evening Serenade: Nails on Chalkboard (in the Key of D)

Homeschooling tonight was as easy as dragging an anchor across a coral reef. Rocky's decided to conscientiously object to quadratic equations. Priss has declared she won't be diagramming any more sentences.

Under normal circumstances, I'd cheerfully summon the patience and resourcefulness to add a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, but not tonight. Not, not, not tonight.

What I really want to do is read more Disgrace, critique a few peer article submissions, and maybe play some good-for-nothing games on Pogo. What I'm really going to do is pay the bills and write more lesson plans for the kids to reject tomorrow.


One Wish for the Weekend

To drive to Lake Charles to see Doubt, playing at Acts Theatre. I know Meryl Streep (love), Philip Seymour Hoffman (love), and Amy Adams (love) aren't billed for this particular performance, but Doubt is, without a doubt, a hot script.

Facts & Feelings - Jan. 18th

1. supine -
  1. lying on the back, face or front upward.
  2. inactive, passive, or inert, esp. from indolence or indifference.
  3. (of the hand) having the palm upward.
2. buttermilk at bedtime

3. bought fresh flowers for the dining room table, just because

4. mouse in the garage

5. great Forest fire

6. I'd like a fireplace in every room in the house.

7. You may scoff at us for shopping the aisles in a single-file line, but you scoff more when we don't.

8. He's graying at the temples, and I love it.

January 15, 2010

Friday 5 for January 15: Misses

1. What’s something you frequently misplace? My anger.

2. For whom are you often mistaken? "That lady who works at the nail salon."

3. When were you last misinformed about something important? The (un)death of a dear friend. Secondhand misinformation, though. It happens.

4. Where in your home do you have a seemingly random collection of miscellanea? Laundry shelf.

5. Upon meeting someone for the first time, what qualities in the other person are likely to cause you to misjudge him or her? Shyness can often be mistaken for snobbery.

(To participate, visit Friday5.org.)

January 14, 2010

Depression after loss of a parent

William Styron, on depression following the death or disappearance of a parent:
(from Styron's Darkness Visible)

The danger [of depression] is especially apparent if [one] is affected by what has been termed 'incomplete mourning' -- has, in effect, been unable to achieve the catharsis of grief, and so carries within himself through later years an insufferable burden of which rage and guilt, and not only dammed-up sorrow, are a part, and become the potential seeds of self-destruction.


Closure, but never healing. So perhaps this is what happens when closure occurs over infection.

January 12, 2010


So suddenly, gazing at life's underbelly. Separate, compartmentalized from the constants: thankfulness, joy in the little things.

I don't so much feel sorry for myself anymore when these times roll around. I suppose, instead, I grow angry and impatient, willing the sore away with small bursts of positive thinking.

And writing.

I consider perhaps I write too much. There was a time when I thought letting often was a good thing, the healthy thing. But often, these days, it folds back on me when I look at the result -- words that are impotent, ineffective, purposeless.

I could be miserly about it and save up all the angst and weariness for something dramatic, at least fruitful. But then I run the risk of venting in other ways that hurt the people around me.

The novel is a catch-bin. I ought to collect the rain.

January 8, 2010

Friday 5 for January 8: Last Resorts

1. What’s something you wear only when you’re just about out of clean clothes? What clean clothes?

2. Who’s someone you hang out with only if nobody else is available? Myself. I never get to spend time with her one-on-one, so if no one else is around, I jump at the chance and call her up.

3. What’s something you eat only when the budget is really, really tight? How 'bout instead, "What's the only thing you eat when the budget is really, really tight?" We can only afford to eat one thing:

4. Who’s someone you call for help only if you absolutely must? Mom.

5. What’s something you’ll watch on television only because it’s slightly better than watching nothing? Infomercials, but that's only when I need something on the TV to put me to sleep.

(To participate, visit Friday5.org.)

January 2, 2010

Novel Plotting: Cut & Paste

Okay. I've got to figure this out.

Original manuscript contains TONS of bird-walk, stream-of-consciousness scenes. Probably the majority serve no real purpose but word count, but there are others that were written on the prodding of instinct. At the time, I wrote them from the In-Zone.

The problem is, in revising, I've thus far gone back and struck most of those out, because I haven't felt they're necessary to move the plot along. However...they may be essential to defining the depth of my character.

Now's the time to analyze all this. Six years ago, I was too close to the subject matter to be able to tell if a scene belonged. I think I can be objective now that I'm distanced.

So, I'm going to have to do a little work to arrange the content into tangible parts I can manipulate. And I don't mean Post-It notes on a dry-erase board.

I need to be able to cut the actual manuscript into scenes, put them into little pockets, label them, and arrange them on the wall. Every story within the story, every anecdote and flashback must be positioned so I can see from afar:
  1. what my main character has remembered
  2. what piece of the puzzle the memory represents
  3. if the memory is essential
  4. how the memory is essential
  5. where the memory belongs
Just the simple task of printing out the original manuscript is not simple at all. The original doc has html code peppered throughout, so I have to go back and clean it up.

Then print.

Then cut.

But I feel better about it all. I need to give myself some credit. The streams-of-consciousness passages I wrote into the first draft served purposes for the time. Some of them are too weak to keep. Others just need a good polishing. Whether I drop parts or beef them up, the editing will bring the story one step closer to completion.

And that makes me very, very happy, because I realized today, counting back...I've been working on this book for SIX YEARS.

Six years.

January 1, 2010

Friday 5 for January 1: Newness

1. What’s something that’s better when the newness has worn off? Obviously, blue jeans, shoes, gum, towels. Less obvious...marriage, parenthood, death.

2. What’s something you already own that could stand to be replaced by the newer version? My rear end.

3. What’s something that was better before someone made it “new and improved?” Ding Dongs, Twinkies, the Volkswagen.

4. Of geographic locations whose names begin with the word “new,” which seems like the most interesting place to visit? The New Apple.

5. On what date will 2010 no longer feel like the new year? Not what date -- what check number.

To participate in Friday 5, visit Friday5.org.