Of all the gifts endowed to me by the sweeping American holidays—all the idleness and ennui suddenly crammed into the year’s end, all the exquisite disappearance of your ordinary connections (you can warmly imagine amid the silence of your inbox their hearty laughter with family, spread across the country’s corners), and all the life reckonings and familial obligations no longer suppressible—the losing of time and space must be close to the top.
There’s a moment, somewhere in between the holidays, when I stepped off an airplane, a swirl of chilly air engulfed me and left me suddenly disoriented: Where am I? Could this be Chicago, DC, or SF? You certainly cannot tell them apart from how the temperature has been behaving this winter. The reality of “where” as a defined, inducible feature of my current existence starts to act all shaky. I look to my side in a wishful desire for an unshakable element, and your uncertainty to me is the only unwavering certainty I know of.
There’s another moment right before Thanksgiving, a day meaning little to us in the diaspora, except for conjuring a sense of homelessness, when I felt like sharing everything I know with you. You don’t complain about things you never had. You only mourn what was once so close and had to be given away to the slippery concept of time. Years of furtiveness lent the blunt revelation a severe gravity, but you didn’t seem to mind taking it on as your weighty responsibility. Really glad we are friends. Many times have we said this to each other.
Then there’s the last two days of this year when there’s finally some sun. A long, winding, black journey back served as a reality check: the night is still too cold to be with, no matter how sunny the day looks. In the end, all the courage that has been yeasting up during the day, is easily defeated by one lone trip at night.
The very last day of this year sets everyone adrift in the thinking of the past decade. There is, of course, a decade of passings I could deliberate over, the particularly strange, convoluted path that had taken me here. But I am at a place where unexamined reflections carry the danger of self-delusion. That place is called the in-between land. It is where you are before you “get there”, before you “figure it out”. It is where before reaching an end, any end, you feel terribly stuck; where there’s still a long way to go, but the momentum required to keep going is waning.
Feeling stuck is where values are clashing, where the world of simple is in battle with the world of muddy, where aspiring to be humble wrestles with the shallow need to pretend, to remake identities on the cheap, to shine buttons in public. I had wanted to be driven by a simple mission, to be in pursuit of pure truth and beauty, but couldn’t help getting swayed in the winds that bluster over us, and getting carried away by the superficial glitz and gloss.
If you resonate with some poignancy like mine, you are likely an in-between man.
You may be a woman of my generation, in between the traditional convention and the budding feminism. You realize you are your biggest enemy, not others, not even men.
You may be one of the immigrants, in between the old life you left behind and the new life you are trying to fit in. Home is either far behind or way ahead, but never anywhere close.
You may be a Chinese of my generation, in between diametrically opposed value systems created by an exponential growth of collective wealth, political power, and social status. You were once brought up to happily live and die for the greater good, but have later been taught to happily live and die for yourself. So far you have reached neither end, nowhere, except the only achievement has been the dropping of the possibility of “happily”.
To all likeminded. To all possible versions of you and me. To bosses that are not bossy enough, lawyers that are not lawyerly enough, tech workers not tech-y enough. To all coming from one world and trying to make do in another. To all that face internal conflicts and contestable questions posed by more than one worlds.
I want to let you know that I have found us a place.
It has all the in-betweenness you can imagine: an island in the middle of water and lands, perfectly located between America and Asia. An American island with mostly Asian people. It has garlic shrimp in butter with rice. It has pancakes and waffles made with mochi. It has matcha lattes. But most importantly, look how happily it fuses them, how comfortably it takes them all in.
So I was in Hawaii again, the fourth time in two years. And this time it is no longer a vacation spot. The juxtaposition of very west and very east chords creates a soothing effect.
One day in between the fast switching sun and rain, I looked out to a double rainbow and felt finally welcomed. There was a cloud so low that we drove into it. There was a hike so tough I fell in water and mud with the biggest smile. The world is so beautiful that it’s finally worth living in.
⋅ ⋅ ⋅
The best book I had read this year has been “Tiny Beautiful Things”, by Cheryl Strayed. But the last moments of this year found me reading “The Light of the World: A Memoir”, by Elizabeth Alexander, and it has given me a shiny new purpose. The way she writes about her late husband, the purely meditative and elegiac account of every little bit of details of an otherwise ordinary man, moved me profoundly. Could it be that the eventual meaning of experiencing all humanly things, of knowing you all, of seeing it all, is so that I could write? Could it be that exactly how much I’d be able to write about this, is a fine measure of how much I should spend my time? The rather harsh criterion might lead me to treat experiences of human relationships with more care, more awareness that’s not centered around immediate paybacks, or materialistic rewards, but the poetic concept of writability.
Every moment should be lived for, and judged by, whether or how much I’d be able to write about it later.
Just like how I have been secretly gauging the closeness of people, by how comfortable one is to take over the kitchen while at the other’s place. To this my dear friend suggests “friends with kitchen rights” as a wholesome new term.
The best show I have watched this year has been “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. The fullness of her life lifts me up. My favorite piece of story had been “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang. My favorite piece of my own had been Mr Piano.
With these I let the remaining part of the year privately pass, and let myself anticipate little but save most to the imagination. That way I can surely carry the same amount of love and loss and longings and regrets forward, not leaving any of them behind, into all the homelike and un-homelike scenarios of the coming year. I used to expect step-function changes on significant dates. I now only love continuity.
It takes a lot of imagination to love something. What’s observable is usually not lovable.
And if there’s one more thing I want to say about the past year, it’d be: Twenty Two was too long. Said by my most faithful reader. The eruption of words suggests an eruption of feeling.
Words are too literal. My musician friend says. That’s why I prefer music.
Not mine. I think.