Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: linchi12

Chi, 2/26/16, Journal Entry

Sleep paralysis a couple nights ago. First time in a while. The dark figure in the doorway. Its skin is red and black, I know, though I can’t see its face. Only imagine. Nothing is visible, really, except the image my mind projects. I can’t move, can’t breathe. Just wait for it to end. 

I’ve learned to squeeze my eyes shut, tight tight tight, to try to wake myself up. It’s really the only thing that works. 

In high I would try to move my legs, or raise my arms, twist my shoulder. It started happening so often that I started to try to fly. To “lucid dream” or whatever. I always thought that was a load of shit, but people say they do it. I only managed to do it once, and it felt like i was in control for a minute, darting out the door of my room and through the house and out into the open air, but then everything was black and i was sleeping and I woke up gasping. 

Eventually I took to squeezing my eyes shut, or imitating the motion in my brain, in the hopes that I would squeeze them enough so that my eyes would snap open. It wasn’t the not moving that bothered so much as the not seeing. Always been visual. It’s how I learn, remember things. Images, handwriting, letters and numbers. I don’t know what I would do if I ever went blind. 

Chi, 2/20/16, Winter’s Bone

More than anything it was really the end that I just couldn’t get down with. 

The noir, murder mystery atmosphere and expertly woven story and the creative and unique language choices grabbed me from the start, which is why I felt so unsatisfied by the ending. Something was missing. By the end of the book I was left wondering: has anything really even changed at all? 

With relatively minimal backstory, the reader is dropped into the world of the story, taken for a ride, and then yanked back out (a technique which I love). At least that’s what I was expecting and hoping for, but, alas, that wasn’t the case. Rather than be yanked out of the story, after bloodshed and drugs and more bloodshed, we are gently placed at the stoop of Ree’s porch to study the horizon and imagine what the next adventure is. A children’s book ending to a gruesome story. 

The last word, “wheels”,  leaves us with the image of Ree embracing freedom and seeing the world as her proverbial oyster, when in fact nothing has really changed. More people will be killed, more crank will be cooked, life will go on. Dead dad or not, Ree is not free and most likely never will be. She is tied to these mountains just like everybody else. Does she know more now than she did before? Yes. Will life change drastically for her now? No, probably not. At least not for a good while. Working your way up from the bottom is no easy task. And yet we’re left with thoughts of hope and feelings of closure. It’s off-putting, considering the story is nowhere near closed and life for Ree is hardly any more hopeful. Generations have lived and died without leaving the Ozarks, and it will be no walk in the park for Ree to be the first to jump ship.

Of course there are going to be questions at the end, but the ones posed just don’t feel realistic. It’s a storybook ending that sweeps everything that just happened under the rug – just another folktale, and they lived happily ever after. Please. A weak and tacked on finale to a captivating and mysterious and beautifully written story. 

Chi, 2/16/16, Journal Entry

When I was kid my buddy Kyler and I would go off romping in the woods around Hansen Elementary School with straight sticks for swords and curved sticks for bows, hooking rubber band chains around each end of the stick, and we would pretend we were warriors and survivors straight out of Tolkien, renegades traversing the land. Hordes of bad guys would come charging at us and we’d fend them off with arrows and sword blows and then we’d wander through the trees looking for a post-battle meal of some poor slain animal.

I always had it in my mind that it was an impossibility, pure fantasy that I loved to imagine and play out in my mind, but probably would never attempt, probably didn’t even want to. Survival like that always sounded romantic and rugged, but lonely, which is what I feared the most, being stranded somewhere alone without the warmth and camaraderie of another human. 

“I wouldn’t care,” Kyler said. He had no qualms, no reservation in imagining a life without friends or family. I always got the sense that he didn’t much care about his home life, a thought that made my stomach sink. I would have felt terrible if I left my family, terrible for how sad they would be discovering my empty bed, for how lonely I would be wandering through the world alone. 

But Kyler was always defiant, hot-headed, had the me-against-the-world syndrome something fierce. He was growing up without much of a dad – his dad was always away on a fishing boat in Alaska or somewhere, and when he wasn’t, he was drinking – and he hated most of the jarheads and knuckleheads and softies that his mother dated. 

“He was never around when I was a kid!” he blurted out drunkenly one summer night, his words loud and rolling. “And now he is around and he’s still not here!”

We were up in the hills of Capitol Forest, roasting weenies and burgers over a fire-pit filled with beer cans and empty liquor bottles. We all laughed at him, and somebody yelled out “daddy issues!” and we all laughed some more. 

Later that night we threw logs and decomposing stumps on the roof of his Subaru and drove through the trees whooping and hollering into the night. We rolled over bumps and into divots and through deep, muck. He popped the car over an especially rowdy bump in the road and the biggest log on the roof bounced high and slammed down onto the wagon’s trunk lid. The window shattered and glass cascaded down into the trunk and everyone shouted “shit!” and “goddamn!”, and in the morning while everyone rubbed their heads and remembered, Kyler laughed manically and sipped a morning beer and raised his arms to the valley rolling towards the west. 

He’s got a kid now, if you can believe it. A little boy that I haven’t met yet. Little trouble maker probably. No doubt Kyler will be a better dad than his was. Another young man learning how not to be. 

Chi Lin, Oscar Wao – Diaz (Fukú) (close reading)

Chi Lin

EOTS – “Oscar Wao” (Díaz) Close Reading

 

Fukú

In the early 1940’s, right around the time of the Fall (237), the beginning of the end for the family Cabral, a new field of scientific study was emerging. C.H. Waddington, a British geneticist, was in the process of coining the terms epigenetics and genetic assimilation. He was studying the cause and effect relationship between external environmental factors and genetic variation and hereditary succession, ie. whether or not acquired characteristics could be passed down from parent to child. Epigenetics looks at aging, addiction, obesity and metabolism, depression and mental health, any condition that is acquired from the outside world in the span of a lifetime and the capacity for that condition to be passed down from one generation to the next. Think: slavery, famine, generational trauma. Fukú.

What intrigues me is how different schools of thought, say, one scientific, one spiritual, can develop such similar philosophies. Fukú: the curse of the new world, the shadow of evil that laps at the heels of the victims of colonialism. In the Cabral lineage, the fate of Abelard and his family set the tone for the rest of the Cabrals that succeeded them. Paranoia, anxiety, depression, and most of all, horrible, horrible luck. Beli es una negrita, born sick, passed from unloving hand to unloving hand, and even when she does find Sanctuary (259) with La Inca, nothing can protect her from the constant stream of misfortunes that await her. She passes this curse to her daughter, who has her own fair share of traumatic experiences, and to her son, who lives in perpetual injury. Dealt bad cards. Jinxed with bad luck. Fukú.

After the Irish Famine, geneticists conducted studies on the descendants of the survivors. Even generations later, descendants had a notably higher tolerance for hunger and a higher capacity to stave off starvation. Numerous papers have been written on Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and indigenous generational trauma being passed down transgenerationally. What parents or grandparents or great grandparents go through doesn’t fade quickly. Genomes change, phenotypes are altered, switches are flipped, and somewhere down the line someone feels the pain like a phantom limb.  

It seems only appropriate that Díaz would include footnotes in this text. This book is as much a study of fukú as any of Waddington’s papers were ever a study of genetics. Fukú is as colloquial as epigenetics is technical, but they are, at the core, congruent philosophies from parallel disciplines. Díaz presents the reader with the question: what’s more fukú than this? This story isn’t the “scariest, the cleverest, the most painful, or the most beautiful”, but it’s the one that has it’s fingers around his throat, and what’s more fukú than that? (6). As Yunior, as any good scientist would, he tries to prove his hypothesis wrong in order to prove it right. He shovels piles of evidence down our throats, arguments to the contrary, the fukú of Abelard, the fukú of Beli, the fukú of Lola, the fukú of an entire country enslaved. Look at these stories, they are brutal, indignant, heart-wrenching. But in the end it’s Oscar’s story that endures, that has us limping, stumbling and falling to the final page where we roll to a stop and finally take a breath. Hypothesis tested. Study concluded.

There are countless disciplines with countless interpretations and ways of making sense of the world, of giving meaning to our experiences. Whether you call it a curse or genetics, science or spirituality, it’s hard not to hold on to something like fukú, something that binds the past and present, ancient and contemporary. Maybe Oscar sacrificed himself, Frodo style, jumping into the fiery lava of Zafa martyrdom in the hopes that he would lift the curse from his people. Maybe he just had bad genes and worse luck, figured he would try for one last hurrah, because what was there to lose? I like the first theory better. Maybe that’s the point.

Chi, 2/08/16, Journal Entry

Men think with their minds, women think with their hearts. That’s what a friend of mine used to say, and I used to believe him. We looked out at all the beautiful, dark-skinned flacas strolling up and down Broad St,, with their boots shorts and spaghetti straps and Dominican flags painted on their cheeks, banners and streamers waving everywhere, the smell of roasted meat and Spanish rice thick in the air, and I knew that the welling in my chest and the smile on my face didn’t have a damn thing to do with my mind. But who was I to say.

Heart, mind. Mind, heart. Of course our hearts don’t feel. Then why do they hurt so good? Why did my ex double over and clutch her chest when I told her we can still be together, I’ll just look at you differently? Why did she keep saying my chest hurts, I can feel my heart breaking? The heart and the mind, man.

That was the same one who had two kids at twenty two and a star around her belly button that the second one gave her. I give her hell ‘cuz she gave me stretch marks, she used to say. But she loved her kids, even she was worried about her son becoming a faggot – a concern that brought her very close to tears once – because he was growing up around only women and his voice was high and and soft and he was a real nice boy, gentile to the touch, and a little bougie.

He was a kid that needed a man around, in the words of his mother. She used to ask me to hang with him, watch the games and talk to him and all that, try to get him to like basketball and stop watching My Little Pony. His mom got her nails done, changed outfits five times before leaving the house, had a weave or a perm most of the time, used to get down in the living room to that bullshit they play on Hot 106 and his sister was the cutest damn thing you ever saw, so what did you expect? He was a lady’s man. A man of women, women who needed their little man to to become a man, a man who was hard and who didn’t g.a.f., who was cold and about his money and who hit first, or at least harder, and who would hit his girl if she got an attitude, maybe just a little bop, or a big one, but hey, that was Kingstree. That’s what men did.

Last I saw he was still a nice boy with a shy smile, skinny and tall like his mother, rocking a polo that was a little too small.

Haven’t heard a peep from her in over two years now that I think about it. Probably won’t either. Not that I want to, it’s just weird to think that there was a time when we talked every day, when I knew her in and out, and now there’s just a girl out there who looks like her, a girl I used to know to the bone that I’ll never see again, who has probably already changed so much that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

Chi, 2/1/16, James Pike

Joan Didion writes in a matter-of-fact, journalistic style, sprinkled with some cynical humor, not always discernable as purposeful or not, in short, to the point pieces that each contribute to the overall narrative. The length, rapid-fire nature and lack of unnecessary transitions between essays draw me to this book, and reflect a kind of style that I often draw upon in my own writing.

Some memories are short-lived, snapshots, some are longer, spanning days, weeks, months, and I think that often stories can stand alone no matter the length, whether a sentence or fifty pages. And I appreciate the notion of leaving it up to the reader to connect one story to the next. Because, really, that is how memory and trains of thought operate – there is never a voice in our head that narrates the transition between memories we visit and thoughts we explore.

So far, I especially enjoyed her recounting of the time she hung out with The Doors, and the segment about the life and death of James Pike, American. Though I know little about Pike, or his mother, I can only imagine the kind of household James grew up in that ingrained in him the sense of entitled exemption from commitment that Didion describes. A single son raised by a single mother – mama’s little angel, granted the world and all its spoils.

I never much cared for religion, so it gives me a certain amount of satisfaction, albeit malevolent, I admit, to picture a good little Catholic boy, swaddled and smothered and spoiled, walking out into the desert expecting to experience some kind of spiritual enlightenment only to be met by the blistering, unforgiving sun winking up at him from the bowels of his empty silver spoon. A morbid and spiteful thought, I know, but I can’t help but feel some amount of satisfaction and glee, the spoiled brat.

Poor guy, though. After all the preaching about heaven and hell, he ended up rotting and being picked apart by buzzards and insects, alone, dying, most likely regretting everything that happened in his life that brought him to that final resting point in the desert. There is no heaven or hell, if you ask me, only biology, and he must have had quite an eye-opening closing ceremony when he realized that. Maybe he should have taken his head out of the clouds. I guess I could say that about a lot of people.

Chi Lin, Tokyo Story – Ozu (close reading)

Chi Lin

Tokyo Story – Yasujiro Ozu

 

Like Shukishi and Tomi, my own grandparents are quite stoic in their own right. Having grown up in a traditional Taiwanese village and worked his way up through the capitalist world of higher education, degrees and hard work to build a stable career for himself, my grandfather has always preached to me the importance of family values and security. As I am the first born son after him (he had three daughters, one being my mother), he was overjoyed when I told him I would be pursuing a degree in biology. And equally disheartened when I bailed on it after two semesters. Watching the three fathers in Tokyo Story drink sake and ramble on about the inevitable disappointments their children have become, I thought back to my grandfather, and wondered about the things he must have said about me. The timeless notion rings true: it is their disappointment that hurts the most.

I resisted writing about Tokyo Story at first, mostly because it hits very close to home. The stoicism, forced pleasantries, patient, surface-level conversations. The grandparents’ mundane, uneventful visit with their children. I kept picturing my grandmother at the kitchen table working out Sudoku’s and rubbing her knees while we all got ready to go to the movies. I kept thinking about how diligent I try to be about calling my grandfather regularly, and then how short-lived and uneventful our conversations are. I guess, as the film points out, there is much more to conversations than the words.

For how much dialogue is in the film, they say very little. For how drawn-out the film is, very little happens. The meat of the film is in its commentary. Specifically, its commentary on the subtleties and stoicism of eastern Asian cultures; generally, its commentary on humanity as a whole and our propensity (and failure) to hide our emotions. Why do we mask our emotions so incessantly? Why do we fake smiles when we’re sad and lie about being angry and downplay our happiness and excitement? I may have forced the film to fit into my own train of thought, but what I gathered from it was an argument that I believe to be true: many of us, especially in eastern Asian cultures, prescribe to an overly indulgent school of thought that promotes compassion and contentedness unconditionally and exclusively in a way that limits a full and honest experience of life.

One of the most revealing aspects of the film is Noriko’s smile. Even without her breakdown at the end, her pain is apparent – it wells in her squinted eyes and seeps through her teeth. Setsuko Hara gives us all we need to know in these perfect, gruelling expressions. When Tomi dies, Shige and Kyoko cry, Koichi’s normally stern expression turns grim, and even Keiko drops a tear in solitude, but there is no greater sadness in this film than Noriko’s consistent, dutiful smile.

I find a parallel here with Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Dalloway, of 1920’s England, and Noriko, of 1950’s Japan, characters from seemingly two worlds apart, when stripped down, share much in common, most importantly a vital, life-changing marriage and subsequent masking of a secret as a result of those marriages, which, it is important to add, are both rooted in honor and duty above all else. Though their marriages progressed in somewhat opposing manners, they both end up, in the end, hiding parts of themselves away from the world behind facades. In the same way Mrs. Dalloway hides Clarissa behind her name and her parties and her dresses, Noriko hides the pain and shame she feels in the wake of her husband’s death behind her smile and her kindness. Both characters long for a time in their past when things were simpler, when they didn’t have to hide.

Truth be told, it was Noriko that made this film real for me. Her character is the spearhead of what I gathered to be the major question that this film brings up: why do we feel the need to hide? Ozu might argue that the “death before dishonor” sentiment echoes in all facets of our lives, so much that to speak ill about a dead husband or not to cry at your mother’s funeral are the worst possible examples of behavior. I don’t believe Shige cried out of genuine sadness when her mother died, and I don’t believe Noriko felt much compassion for her husband, but honor and duty required them to keep their masks on. So why do we see that same masking of emotion here, now, in a culture so far removed from the 1950’s Japan portrayed in the film? Maybe it’s a fear of vulnerability. Maybe it’s done out of politeness, I don’t know. But at the end of the film, when Noriko’s facade finally cracks, as an audience member I felt a certain amount of closure and reassurance. She’s human and she’s scared, and she shouldn’t have to hide it. 

 

Chi, 1/19, Joe and Wendy

Joe and Wendy spoke to each other, or rather, Joe spoke and Wendy responded, Joe being the young, charismatic black man raised by strong, patriarchal men, and Wendy being adopted, a young Asian woman raised in a white household, with a quirky demeanor and a slapstick kind of humor. They sat in her car one day after school, smoking, Wendy thinking about grades and exams, Joe already seeing the light, the end of his high school career that would end prematurely without much consequence.

Wendy had no doubt already stolen and pawned some of her mother’s jewelry when Joe told her: you have to do this, and this, and this differently, and look at that this way and so on, the kind of lecturing his father gave him.

“It was just a necklace and some earrings,” Wendy said with a giggle, per usual, and Joe no doubt felt he owed her some fatherly advice, the kind he was given by his father.

Schooling her to the truth, he called it. What school? The streets, I suppose, hard knocks, no books. What truth? Well, the truths of life, of course, the truths that he was taught – the way we talk and walk and see the world unfolding as a series of events, which we later reflect on and consider and maybe squeeze a lesson out of, where to go and where not to go, where not to go alone, who not to talk to, when to run.

“You can’t just flash all that jewelry around, all that cash,” he finished his thought aloud, to which Wendy without notice wrinkled her nose and felt the familiar flush of heat in her cheeks whenever someone told her what to do, and then laughed.

“Whatever,” she said, irritated now the more she thought about it, the more she knew he was right, but who was he to say? He wasn’t her dad. Her dad wasn’t even her dad. Who was anyone to tell her anything? No one. But she has to know, Joe thought to himself, that it’s dangerous to be out in Olneyville and Hartford in a car like hers, looking like her, dressed the way she was dressed, toting around gold and diamonds like they were nothing.

“You have to be careful,” he said, and thought back to the time when someone had pulled a lick on him and he was sincere in the fact that he didn’t want that to happen to her, so he kept talking and she kept brushing him off, a collision of worlds that barely knew each other, the two of them. I don’t need this, she thought. She needs this, he thought.

What he didn’t think about was as much as his father had shared with him, all the long car rides and late-night talks about life, school, girls, sports, the truths, secrets that Joe, Sr. wished he had known and that spurred his enthusiasm as a father, knowing he would prepare his son far better than his father had prepared him, despite all that, Joe didn’t think about how much he learned on his own, how much he had needed to learn on his own, and how little advice really does when pre-emptive as opposed to retrospective, especially at the age that they were.

Anyway, here we are, Wendy thought. It doesn’t really matter anymore, “I already sold them, don’t worry about it.” She heard the words come out of her mouth, but she was already past it, over the conversation, over Joe telling her what to do.

He was serious and she wasn’t. That was the root of the problem. She hated that everyone was so serious all of the time, because really what’s the use – it was a thought that entered her mind often, when she hiccupped or tripped or stumbled on her words or said something outlandish and misinformed – what’s the use in being so mindful of every goddamn thing you say or do? Doesn’t that just take away from the impulsiveness that makes life so interesting, the spontaneity that breaks the monotony of this mundane existence, history lectures and parental guidance, rigid schedules, deadlines, routine? She shuddered at the thought, something so confining as a routine – dear God, strike me dead – because what else do we have besides the excitement of the unknown? Lord help us, the incredible boredom of those who value a structured life: parents, adults, baby boomers, the corny old fogies, phonies, lonely behind their picket fences. Ick.

She pictured a shadowy hand, hairy and pale like her father’s, turning the knob on a gaslamp, and the knob squeaked and stuck, but his grip was firm, and the flame grew smaller until it was a crescent of blue burnoff clinging to the wick, gasping and thirsty, and was out. The wick smoldered, a cherry, a kernel, a wink, and smoke swirled and spiraled upwards into darkness and she swore she would never live that way. To bring order to the madness would be blow out the pilot light, poof!, no more.

“Where are we going?” Joe heard her ask, and he rushed back into the car on Broad St., which was turning on Eddy, and he couldn’t remember where he had been just then, but he remembered that Chi had just gotten out of class and would be expecting them to pick him up. The three of them, the car, the after school bliss. They might end up at the water, at Roger Williams, in the parking lot at the end of Swan St., on the Eastside in some shady, wooded nook. Somewhere in there Amory would jump in. Thus was the daily routine. They were the crew, the car their ship, and they sang the shanties blaring on the radio as they sailed through the corridors of Providence, free at last from the confines of their respective prisons.

Chi Lin, Week 1, Opening Comments

Barry Kimm passed on April 8th, 2014, four days before my birthday, and nine days after the death of his wife, Susan. When Susan was diagnosed with cancer, the two of them dropped everything and took a road trip around the country, seeing everything they had never had the chance to, documenting their travels and taking photographs, their shared talent and passion.

Susan passed on March 29th, and Barry soon followed, taking his own life, unable to live without her. The memorial service for Susan became the memorial service for both of them. They lived as one and died as one.

The man himself never meant much to me. I’m fairly certain that he never knew of my existence, nor was I aware of him for much of my early life. As a child, the idea of my biological father wasn’t anything more than a blurry figure in the distance, static, unimposing, and unimportant. Until the young man who would eventually raise me introduced himself, the only form of fatherly love that my infant mind had grown accustomed to was my grandfather’s, and I lived the early years of my life in blissful ignorance, devoid of any notion that there might be have been someone else out there with whom I was inherently connected.

My acknowledgement of the “missing-link” within me coincided with our move across the country. At eleven years old, still afloat in the euphoric ignorance of pre-pubescence, I found myself riding shotgun in a blue 1994 Honda Civic hatchback, packed to the brim, as my adopted father steered us further and further away from everything I knew. We departed Olympia, Washington in the summer of 2003, en route to Providence, Rhode Island, a 4 day drive if your pushing it, and a journey that I would become well accustomed to. 

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The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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