major laser

i can’t speak enough about how amazing amanda seales is. i love her podcast small doses so much, and i’m glad she’s on hiatus from it while she’s on the road with her show, because it gives me a minute to catch up. the current resonance is the side effects of the curve (with bresha webb) episode. hashtag, getting my life.

i posted a few childhood photos on the gram the other night, 30% for my ego because i was called a “not very attractive child” and 70% because i look exactly the same, and i cannot believe that anyone would have such poor form as to insult someone’s baby picture at all (and this is different from calling someone’s baby ugly) and also how they cannot see how insulting your kid picture (that looks exactly like you) is insulting you. for the record, i don’t give a shit if you think i’m attractive or not, i’m not for everyone, but i do care if you do not have the good sense not to be disrespectful, unnecessary, and straight-up rude. i’m glad you feel so comfortable in your honesty but consider it an original nose/ass/titty/lip day in kardashian town before you are invited back, or for the first time, really, since you also just forced your way in to insult my space and my baby picture, into my home again. all offers for cooked food have been redacted.

one of my friends noted that my collar said “poop”, and that’s something that i’ve never seen before. amazing.

another one of my friends commented on my baby teeth, and that’s true-i have my adult teeth in now, so my smile is less jagged. i also don’t have the best haircut or outfit (i pick my own clothes now) but i was a fucking child. i also wear glasses now, so i suppose that changes my face.

there are two details that stand out for me in that picture that i have not considered for a long time-the first is the pineapple necklace that i’m wearing, which i just remembered in that moment was from my mother.

i don’t know where that necklace ended up, or if i knew to keep it because i would’ve had a memento of her (of which i otherwise do not), but i guess knowing that i’m wearing it around my neck in one of two pictures that i have of myself as a kid is important enough, so i’m great-full to this asshole for being so obnoxious that it led me to this appreciation.

the other is that at this point in time, i still had a mole under my left eye. i wonder how much more interesting my face would be now if i was allowed to grow into it. i don’t have it anymore because my father heard from a fortune teller that it was the reason that i cried all the time, and he had it lasered off my face when i was seven years old.

what the fuck with people who cannot handle their feelings?! maybe i cried all the time because my mother left me (and you). maybe i cried all the time because i didn’t know where i was half the time that you dropped me off in strange homes to live while you were on “business trips”. maybe i cried all the time because i woke up cold in the backseat to the streetlights because you drove around until i fell asleep to 103.5 easy listening radio while you went to fuck women because you were too cheap to pay for babysitting. maybe i cried all the time because i was a child and didn’t know how to process my feelings or know the responsibility that i would have to shoulder over the years that i had to raise you. maybe.

i was awake for that laser. it was 1987. i’m sure the technology has advanced in the subsequent years, but this may be why i’ve been scared of lasers ever since. why i’m generally distrustful of medical practitioners. maybe this is why i cannot keep my eyes open to put contacts in. i haven’t thought about this for a long time, maybe since it happened.

but the most fucked up thing is? it didn’t work. i have cried about everything ever since. i cried when this asshole left my house. the difference now is that i know that it is strong to cry. it is strong to acknowledge and feel my feelings. perhaps i have always known that. the difference is that nobody can ever take that away from me again. imagine being so terrible of a parent that you would rather subject your child to a traumatizing cosmetic surgery just so you could possibly avoid having to talk to her.

imagine hating yourself so much that you don’t see your own leaps in internalized racism that seeing my baby picture as looking like yours means that i am ugly. naaaaw, b. you can just miss me all the way with that bullshit. it took me a while, but i see how ugly you are now.

this also reminded me of a thing that i also forgot that my dad has done my whole life, and i finally blew up at him over it when i last saw him two years ago-my dad always says “the chinaman does this”, “the chinaman does that”, and it’s so packed with racist vitriol against the chinese that i never understood until i realized that he was still mad at my mother (who is chinese malaysian) for leaving her. this, along with “i don’t like crying babies”, was in the revolving soundtrack of my youth. the problem, of course, is that i am half my mother, so he was constantly disparaging his chinaman crying baby for her whole life. maybe that’s why i left home at seventeen and never looked back.

i may never see him again. but that may not be such a bad thing. i’ve had problems with boundaries, but the voice that says “hold up” is getting louder and louder, and i’m glad i’m crawling towards listening to folks who keep telling me who they are. i trust the process.

“don’t change who you are, just change who you are talking to”. –amanda seales

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family trouble (still)-edited by joy castro

“He possessed us with his unfulfilled dreams.” (138, A Spell Against Sorrow, Judith Ortiz Cofer)

this book has obviously resonated with me, as i am s l o w l y writing an autobiographical performance piece, one that i’m not exactly sure what to do about since a large part of the family element revolves around a person with whom i am cultivating a relationship with for the first time.

life is full and we are blessed. i have learned a lot the last two nights that i’ve gone out back to back-at night, after full days of work. i’ve learned a lot about how people are in the streets and on public transit.

two nights ago, i had dinner at doomie‘s with some co-workers, and didn’t realize how close to my house this was. i’ve only actually seen the obnoxious neon sign that reads “what vegans eat” when i pass by, but hadn’t registered that this was the new hipster hotspot.

i haven’t had an actual big mac in forever and eight years, but i have to say that their vegan one tastes pretty identical. the portions are large, the atmosphere is fried, and the propaganda is thick for the proselytizing. a sign at the bar reads, “mix drinks, not morals”. i mean, there’s gotta be something about a super judge-y movement that promotes vegetable fibres when nary a fresh vegetable graces the plates-i’m just saying-at least give me the option of a salad if you’re going to force your agenda down my throat. but i know, it’s a vegan junk food place. but it just reminds me of my college roommate who was all rah-rah vegetarianism but subsisted on a diet of coke, ramen noodles and oreos and drove around town in a vw bus, burning fossil fuels like a mug.

that location is interesting, as i have seen it be (and die) many restaurants, including a vegan sushi takeout place, complete with fake schrimps and fish, but i don’t recall it ever having a liquor license, so maybe that’s the difference. there’s a “new” guu across the street too, but looking at the menu, it feels like an imposter. things don’t usually trickle down from the west coast, but i think in this case…they did.

i also learned a thing or two about the 47 bus, as i walked my coworker to the queen and landsdowne stop that was on neither queen nor landsdowne. shoutout to the woman who helped us out, though i need to extend that to all the public transit angels that i’ve encountered lately-from the lady cyclist who told us as she passed that the king car was stopped on saturday morning and prompted a ragtag cab with my downstairs neighbor to meth boo last night, but more about her later.

one of the things my dad always said was that he would “enjoy his life later”, as he was nothing but miserable, resent-full and tired of his job while he was working. it inspired me not to defer happiness and pursuing/supporting dreams, and also wish that he would get there, because there are no guarantees. i’m happy to report that he seems to be enjoying life after retirement.

on a related note, i started my jfl 42 with maria bamford last night. the evening started strong with a bonus jackie kashian, and lots of fascinating topics were discussed, but my favourite quotes of the set were:

“are people still doing that? THE WAR IS OVER! there’s plenty of pantyhose for everyone!”

“she’s like an old baby”

i was feeling tired around 1pm, but inspired by a coworker’s desk construction in the hallway and my friend brian‘s house of dead animals to stroke (latre) so i motored on to orisha lemanja‘s equinox art exhibit.

i got a bit lost on the way, as i discovered the difference between weston road and old weston road-shit! i knew i should’ve listened more closely to the drake song!

anyways, after some walking and wandering, i was saved by a woman with four teeth and braces.

visualize that for a second-four teeth, and braces. (yup, i’ll wait). she was so sweet and pulled out her phone to help me solve the mystery, and it’s a good thing that i still have my text messages from two christmases ago, because that’s when i figured it out, and she re-routed me and i gave up to go home, so boarded the 168 going to dundas west station with her.

but as i started to recognize my surroundings, and heard more of meth boo’s story, i realized that i had come too far to quit, so i walked across st.clair to keele and boarded the 89.

i heard a lot of interesting conversations on the assorted buses and streetcars i was riding including:

“he texted me that when i came home next i should give him head”

“ally-i thought you broke that off?”

“well, i was planning on ghosting him, but now he’s texting me this and i don’t know how to respond”

“i don’t think there is a response”

“well, i didn’t, then he texted me jk and monkey face and….”

huh. so that’s the proper usage of the monkey face emoji?! who knew.

on the pitch black and humid first day of fall, i left the bus victorious as church ladies were singing the high praises and mans was boarding with an arm-full of pomeranians. it was worth the trek to see the artist, her stunner of a mother, her gorgeous son, and her pieces lining the deck and yard. i picked out the one i wanted, not knowing that it wasn’t a piece that was available, so cast my net in for prints of that one, and bought an available piece instead.

i got a smile from baby boy, which was priceless.

my ride home was smooth sailing (since i knew where i was going), i just wasn’t expecting so many folks to be tore up on a thursday night on the bus. but hey-it’s a rollicking place, this town.

there’s a new popeye‘s at st.clair and dufferin, which means the library is flanked by popeye’s and church’s, which is a metaphor for my life on the east/west coast if i ever saw one.

my bed is going to feel so good after a long day of being someone who says what she does and does what she says, and dammit, am i ever great-full. for all of it.

(more) family trouble-edited joy castro

“At the end of the day I tell myself that I learned from my brother and my father, both lovers of music: that rest is the name for a particularly useful form of silence that comes between notes. Without the rest, music becomes an exercise in endurance. Without the music, there will be no rest.” (156, pre-ibid)

“I wanted my story to be one worth saving.” (150, Things We Don’t Talk About, Aaron Raz Link)

this was the quote in the collection that made me rethink this whole blog and how i’ve been cataloguing other people’s words for the past few years now. it made me want to tip the ratios and balances.

it’s how we go along until we go a different way.

my dear friend nadia said once that there’s only so long that we can watch other people do badly what we do well before we have to step up to the plate.

but how long can we witness other people doing what we do well before we’re inspired to do the same?

well, that shit could be our whole lives.

i know that in my personal case-i’ve never rushed a book or a poem or a performance because i have seen so many shitty poems and performances (the book is king, and there are so many great ones out there) that i try not to subject others to any of that mess.

i want to be a teacher in a few years when i’ve lived some more life and have something to teach. that being said, i teach every day and i don’t need a dais to do it because i never stop learning.

my apartment is a mess and i’m kind of proud that i’m writing my way out of procrastination, or perhaps power because i know that very quickly, i could transform it-i’m just wielding this “power” not to. just because.

but these are the little ways that we are shifting the focus in our own stories at every moment to create meaning or understand our narratives and get closer to the person we are at all times.

but especially when no one is paying any attention.

family trouble-edited by joy castro

“I am not criticizing a lack of imagination in the good, good people who attend literary readings.” (17, Chewing Band-Aids, Jill Christman)

i am, boo.

i know, i can a hatin’ ass hater sometimes.

and the point is that people are reading and showing up for authors and readers, right?

i just gotta be extra with my expectations for people to be original and better and ask engaging questions because that is the way to show a writer that you respect her time and energy and work and that having an original question means that you were inspired (maybe) to have an original thought, or at the very least-you have something better than the same old same old questions that everyone ever asks and hears.

but life isn’t like that-we have to keep going through the same things over and over until someone comes up with something different, and even that is not original. we don’t have that many moves as humans. there are only 12 notes. but damn isn’t it great when someone comes up with something fresh?

it’s possible. it’s necessary. and it’s yours to choose. every single moment.

i got to the end of my podcasts yesterday-i know. i mean, most of them will refresh soon, but i got to zero. because i blew through a lot of the philly free library podcasts in short succession, i noticed one gentleman who shows up to ask questions on the regular-his voice is distinct, but his agenda is more recognizeable.

i don’t know if they just can’t ban him or kick him out, but everyone always seems stressed that he always makes his way to the microphone, and his questions are always long and more statement than question followed by awkward silence.

if nothing else, this dedication to his cause, combined with the unintentional record of his attendance broadcast to millions in the podcastophere is a legacy that that guy has that others do not.

does he deserve it?

i don’t know. i don’t know who’s qualified to decide what legacy anyone deserves, but it’s something.

and that’s what’s interesting about this collections of musings of people who have had (to) fight their own families for their parts of their stories. once again, this came off the branch of the meghan daum tree, as one of the contributors of the selfish writers compilation also shows up here.

albums on repeat (that i wish were longer): wayne tennant-songs in a minor key, gabriel teodros-lentil soup ep
album that i’m keeping because it’s signed to me: jeff spec-rhythm and blues (homie hella sounding like jay on the last few tracks, and it’s always nice to hear ishkan‘s voice)
album that i almost gave up because of the misogyny: blackstreet (but the harmonies tho, damn!)

the sympathizer-viet thanh nguyen (part too)

“We spoke of our new geography in our own version of English, each syllable stressed, Chicago becoming Chick-ah-go, New York pronounced closer to Newark, Texas broken down to Tex-ass, California now Ca-li.” (66)

“We did our best to conjure up the culinary staples of our culture, but since we were dependent on Chinese markets our food had an unacceptably Chinese tinge, another blow in the gauntlet of our humiliation that left us with the sweet-and-sour taste of unreliable memories, just correct enough to evoke the past, just wrong enough to remind us that the past was forever gone, missing along with the proper variety, subtlety, and complexity of our universal solvent, fish sauce. Oh, fish sauce!” (67)

“So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead.” (69)

“The workmates I met later that night in the hotel bar were less thrilled about the weather, none of them having ever been mugged by the full-force humidity of a tropical climate. It’s like getting licked from throat to balls by my dog every time I go outside, the unhappy production designer groaned. He was from Minnesota. His name was Harry. He was hairy.” (144)

“Before the communists won, foreigners were victimizing and terrorizing and humiliating us. Now it’s our own people victimizing and terrorizing and humiliating us. I suppose that’s improvement.” (146)

“The Chinese might have invented gunpowder and the noodle, but the West had invented cleavage, with profound if underappreciated implications. A man gazing on semi-exposed breasts was not only engaging in simple lasciviousness, he was also meditating, even if unawares, on the visual embodiment of the verb ‘to cleave’, which meant both to cut apart and to put together. A woman’s cleavage perfectly illustrated this double and contradictory meaning, the breasts two separate entities with one identity. The double meaning was also in how cleavage separated a woman from a man and yet drew him to her with the irresistible force of sliding down a slippery slope. Men had no equivalent, except, perhaps, for the only kind of male cleavage most women truly cared for, the opening and closing of a well-stuffed billfold. But whereas women could look at us as much as they wanted, and we would appreciate it, we were damned if we looked and hardly less damned if we didn’t. A woman with extraordinary cleavage would reasonably be insulted by a man whose eyes could resist the plunge, so, just to be polite, I cast a tasteful glance while reaching for another cigarette. In between those marvelous breasts bumped a gold crucifix on a gold chain, and for once I wished I were a true Christian so I could be nailed to that cross.” (232)

today’s collection is the meat of what’s bold and brilliant about this book-no injustice left behind. i love that the author is able to poke and prod at everyone’s delusions and failings, and dismantle all sides.

just like kanye in “golddigger”.

the sympathizer-viet thanh nguyen

“Like all good students, I yearned for nothing but approval, even from fools.” (62)

“I pitied the French for their naivete in believing that they had to visit a country in order to exploit it. Hollywood was much more efficient, imagining the countries it wanted to exploit.” (129)

“This the writers apparently took as an implicit metaphor of our country as a whole, wanton and yet withdrawn, hinting at everything and giving away nothing in a dazzling display of demureness, a paradoxical incitement to temptation, a breathtakingly lewd exhibition of modesty. Hardly any male travel writer, journalist, or casual observer of our country’s life could restrain himself from writing about these young girls who rode their bicycles to and from school in those fluttering white ao dai, butterflies that every Western man dreamed of pinning to his collection.” (110)

“But amnesia was as American as apple pie, and it was much preferred by Americans over both humble pie and the fraught foods of foreign intruders. Like us, Americans were suspicious of unfamiliar food, which they identified with the strangers who brought them.” (188)

“Isn’t it funny that in a society that values freedom above all things, things that are free are not valued?” (141)

“What do those who struggle against power do when they seize power? What does the revolutionary do when the revolution triumphs? Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others?” (365)

and folks, we have a pulitzer prize winner. the aaww picked this one, the author appears in a photo with the homie brandy lien worrall, and the book contains the squid masturbation story to end (and begin) all squid masturbation stories.

i can’t help but be proud of this one, even though it comes from south of the border, and the american vietnamese experience is much different from the canadian one, and the author probably wouldn’t blink an eyelash or claim me back-i don’t care. i am proud and i love this book.

i love how he just gets into it. how he complicates the spy narrative, and looks at the reasons that some people would claim to be something or believe something, when none of us are who we claim/think/want to be. and yet, we are. i love how brave it is to admit that freedom isn’t free, and the ability to point that out in a contemporary context by illustrating the past(s) that we seem doomed to forget.

i love how meta the book is as a book that examines other cultural artifacts and their construction, as well as the importance of making cultural representations that flesh out our identity (simply by existing).

i will recommend this one to my dad-i don’t know if he’ll read it. but for some reason, i’m seeing his copy of mcnamera‘s book about viet nam on the third shelf of the hall closet in our old home.

huh.

finding beauty in a broken world-terry tempest williams

“A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.” (6)

“11. The play of light is the first and last rule of mosaic.” (5)

“Under the Christian emperor Constantine, mosaics were lifted from the floor to ceilings of worship. Glass replaced stone; light shimmered as Truth in the Houses of God.” (11)

“You learn the rules. You learn the discipline. And then you break the rules to find your freedom.” (24)

“Out of randomness, you create order. I express something very deep and then deny it immediately.” (25)

“I used to believe that truth was found only below the surface of things. Underground. I was a disciple of depth. What was hidden was what I desired.” (29)

i didn’t pull any passages (directly) relating to the prairie dogs, but that part of this book is what stands out to me. it’s what i remember. it’s their spiritual little faces that i see when they are kissing to greet each other, or holding a piece of carrot to eat-it’s the prairie dogs. you know that silly job interview question of what animal you would be? well, that’s me-the prairie dog-the unsung hero who makes a difference in her community who takes great delight in the privilege of eating and greeting, who lives to turn the sustainable land and bear witness to the beauty around her, even when it comes in the form of tragedy.

i also learned a lot about mosaics, their making and their history. i am ever fascinated by how canada fancies itself a mosaic as a badge of honour, all the while turning a blind eye to the fact that we are a nation built on the backs of government-sanctioned broken families, and that is why we have inherited all these shards. and that is why we are so fucking sharp.

my forever 27 piece is all about this, and i know it was directly influenced by this book.

i first read terry tempest williams because mark gave me her book when women were wolves, without having any idea about how pertinent it would be to me, or how perfectly timed. she came up again in that wonder-full anthology about writers choosing to be readers not breeders. basically, i’m ready to cosign that she is one of my favourite writers, and that i’m so glad that i get to live in a world where she writes.

with so much gratitude,
thank you.