Tag: halfie stuff (Page 1 of 5)

HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Margaret Dilloway

On Monday I decided to ignore the computer and silence the phone, and to just read instead. Partly because I have a book club meeting coming up, and partly because I could feel that my mind and body needed this. It’s so easy to be a slave to the screen, to social media, to all the alerts and messages vying for my attention. I wanted to assert my freedom. I wanted to establish a boundary.

It was wonderful. I read ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes in its entirety. (And I used up the better half of a tissue box while doing so!) I can’t remember the last time I sat and focused on one thing that way, for that long. It felt great. Almost like meditation.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I don’t have favorite lines from it to share and reflect upon. It wasn’t quotable in that way. I think part of the reason it could make a great movie is because it’s more about the plot and less about the prose. Also because Emilia Clarke has been perfectly cast as Louisa.

How to Be an American HousewifeAnyway, I do have a small backlog of books that are quotable, so I’m going to highlight one of those today instead. First up, my friend Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. This book came out a few years ago, but the subject matter is timeless to me. It’s about a Japanese woman reflecting upon her early life and what led her to marry an American man, as well as about their daughter’s journey back to Japan to reconnect with family and culture.

“You are right to be afraid,” he said, “but where does this fear lead you? Nowhere. You must let go of fear.”

It’s easy to tell someone, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” But the truth is, there’s plenty to be afraid of, so I love the idea of accepting fear as reasonable and real, but then setting it aside anyway. It’s hard — but valuable — to be able to sit with an uncomfortable feeling without letting it overtake you.

Forgiveness is a skill that, like cleanliness, should be learned early and practiced often.

What a smart and beautiful analogy. I’ve read a little bit about forgiveness lately — especially in the wake of the Charleston shooting, here and here. I’ve also been thinking about forgiveness in the context of an old friendship that soured. What I realized is that I may not fully understand the nuances of it. I think I’m better at forgetting, burying, “moving on.” But maybe that’s not the healthiest way? Maybe I need to practice more.

“Is it funny to feel homesick for a place I’ve never been before?”

In my opinion? No. Because that’s how I felt the first time I explored Madrid. I recognized it as a home of my heart, even though I had never been there before. (At least not in this lifetime…)

“If you wait for happiness to find you, you may be waiting a long time.”

I think I’m good at this one. My whole life, I’ve gone after what I wanted. I’ve failed often enough, but I try not to let that deter me. I guess it’s the whole “you can’t win the lottery if you never buy a ticket” thing.

Do not protest against life’s strains, but let them unfold and carry you through wherever they may.

This one is harder for me. I’m an emotional person, so life’s disappointments and injustices do hit me hard sometimes.

Sometimes letting go brought more peace than holding on, I realized, though it was harder to do.

And this, to me, seems very interconnected with the previous quote, as well as with forgiveness. All I can say is, I’m working on it. On all of it.

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Spirits, banquet, smoke

1.

A stout white tower rises from the mountainside. Sloping blue roof. Lotus fountains and twin temples at the base. We drive through the mist and into the heart of the mountain. Take an elevator up. We are greeted by long corridors of polished wooden cabinets, and the ocean-deep silence of the dead.

We seek my grandparents. We find them. My cousin unlocks a cabinet on the top row, and I can read my family’s name inside. Hello, A-ma. Hello, A-gong.

We speak without sound to the ashes of our loved ones. Their spirits listen. The language barrier doesn’t matter anymore, but still I wish I could offer something more than love and regrets expressed in the wrong tongue. Next time I will bring a note and leave it on the tiny golden shrine.

Next time it won’t be thirteen years since the last time.

2.

Tonight we are celebrating. Celebrating my marriage. Celebrating the long-awaited return of my mother to her homeland. Celebrating four generations and countless branches of family.

Looking around the room, I see my mother’s chin, my grandmother’s eyes, my grandfather’s nose. Pieces of myself echoed in the faces of people I hardly know but fiercely love. Their voices make a strange song, loud and lovely. Their laughter is like wine, loosening my thoughts and filling me with warmth.

The lazy susans spin with an abundance of food. Lightly fried frog legs, and fish simmered in a golden sauce. Gelatinous sea cucumber, and a steaming bowl of abalone soup. Fat pink prawns. Crisp green beans. Soft taro. Fresh-cut fruit. It’s an endless dance of dishes. I’m dizzy by the end.

3.

On Chinese New Year’s eve, we gather at my uncle’s house. My aunt has been chopping and stir-frying all day, and a savory steam fills the air. But before we sit down to eat, my mother leads me and my husband out to the living room. She hands each of us a slender stick of incense and then motions to the family altar. She wants us to bai bai.

My husband looks to me for guidance, but I’ve never done this before. I glance at the dark red lacquered wood, corners carved into dragons. The main shelf is crammed with sculpted buddhas and other deities. Red and jade and gold. There are fresh flowers, and two small urns with sticks of incense already burning. Smoke rises in thin, lazy drifts.

We step forward to light our incense, then press our palms together, trapping the incense in between. We bow our heads in prayer. I wonder what my husband is saying to my ancestors, or if he is speaking to his own.

That’s none of my business. I pull my focus back. I thank, and I ask, and I thank again. My hands rock back and forth, the glowing tip of the incense swaying with them. This is tradition. Foreign and familiar at the same time. Like my family. Like me.

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Stuff worth reading

“Newsflash: Sometimes It’s Okay To Not Follow Your Dreams” by Kelton Wright

Maybe it’s brave to quit your job to go paint in Peru for a year, but it’s also brave to work two jobs to help pay for your mom’s medical bills. It’s smart to stay at the law firm until your loans are paid off. It’s OK to only tolerate your job but love your hobbies, because as soon as passions are turned into careers, you risk turning love into work.

So you don’t love your job — who gives a shit?

Are you happy with yourself? Are you happy with the way you treat people? Are you happy with your life?

“An Interview with Finalist Isabel Quintero” at YALSA’s The Hub

Living on the hyphen is a complex cultural existence at times, and we’re often pulled in many directions where allegiance is always demanded. It is a fractured state of being, though I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.

“Is Being a Writer a Calling or a Job?” at the NYT Sunday Book Review

No young writer can know how rare inspiration is — or how, in its place, the real talent turns out to be sitting down, propelling oneself, day after day, through the self-doubt surrounding our nebulous enterprise, trying to believe, as when we began, that writing is important. Not to believe that literature — other people’s writing — is important. But to believe that our own writing, imperfect, unfinished, inevitably falling short, might matter to anyone else.

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Salt, mountains, light

1.

Sizzle and scent. Warm, chewy layers of dough and oil. The salty notes of scallions.

I have dreamed of this. Literally and figuratively, I have dreamed of walking down the side street by my jiu jiu’s house and buying fresh cong you bing from a street vendor. Now we’re finally here, standing in the small crowd around the stall, waiting for our order to be filled.

I watch the woman spread a pancake over the flat round griddle. Little drifts of steam rise from the belly of her cart, and the dough hisses as it burns. She slides a spatula under the pancake and flips it. More hissing, more steam.

People press in close, talking loudly. I let the unfamiliar words sail over me. They melt into the voices of shoppers walking up and down the street, perusing the other stalls, and mingle with the low hum of traffic from the main avenue nearby.

When our pancakes are ready, the woman hands them to us, folded like crepes and wrapped in waxy paper. We take them back to my family’s dining table, and we bite into the moment of truth. As our tongues dive into flavor and texture, we can’t help smiling. 

It’s even better than I remember. Even better than I dreamed of.

2.

When we spot the “restaurant” and decide to give it a try, he is skeptical. The place is little more than a shack on the side of the mountain. A cinder block structure with no front wall, just wide cement patios and a roof of corrugated metal. The open-air kitchen is all stone and soot.

But he is too hungry and uncomfortable to protest, so we go in.

My yi zhang orders who-knows-what for everyone to share. While our food is being cooked, we find plastic chairs and wooden stools stacked in a corner, and we arrange them around a table for ourselves. Another group settles in — college students, maybe — and a pair of cyclists after that. Suddenly the place seems lively and warm, rather than shabby and strange.

We chat in a halting mix of Mandarin and English. We enjoy the breeze that blows in damp and green.

Dishes are brought to our table as soon as they are ready. Pork fried rice and three different kinds of vegetables, all homegrown nearby. The food is simple, unassuming, and delicious.

We eat ravenously. We devour the mountains.

3.

The night market begins with a bright red archway, which is doing its best impression of a Buddhist temple gate. But neon lights betray the imitation. Everything is flashy and loud, blaring against the ink-blue sky and the sleeping city.

Like a school of fish, we slowly shuffle along with the throng. Our eyes scan each booth, searching for a snack or a trinket that we might enjoy. Shoes, toys, cell phone cases. Stinky tofu, crab legs, oyster omelet. Eventually he settles on strawberry juice — fresh, but watery — and grilled corn on the cob with spicy sauce. I indulge in an egg tart, the custard creamy and rich on my tongue.

We came here to satisfy our appetites. Not just for food, but for life. For an experience we can taste, and take home in our hearts. So much has been out of our control — but this? This chaos is ours.

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A long way from home

1.

We are two old friends catching up in a busy café. The smell of fresh bread wafts over the lunch crowd, everyone abuzz with pent-up energy from the rainy day and waning holidays. My friend is so tall that I feel like a child sitting across from him. But I listen attentively as he describes the various heartaches and struggles he has faced over the past four years.

Needing distance and a change, he has decided to leave our hometown and strike out on his own. I’m proud of him for making such a bold and difficult decision. I’m excited for him and all the new things he will experience. But I’m also sad that it has come to this, that he couldn’t find what he needed in the place where we grew up, with the people who were supposed to nurture him. He’s strong for all the wrong reasons.

Now he’s taking that strength and heading out a long way from home.

2.

When I left home over ten years ago, it was for college, not forever. At least, not intentionally forever. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know when — if — I will go back. I’m not opposed to living there again, but I’m not drawn to it either. I guess only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it’s harder than I expected to live far away from my parents. I worry about them a lot. About their age and their health. About their house and their cars. I worry about them working too hard and not eating very well. Most of all, I worry about whether or not they’re happy. And I worry about them worrying about me.

If you could put all of our worries into physical form and lay them end-to-end, maybe they would cover the the hundreds of miles that separate me and my parents. Maybe that’s their purpose, in a way. To bridge the gap. To connect us. To keep us intertwined, in each other’s hearts and minds, even when we’re far apart.

3.

This year, my mother and I will return to Taiwan for the first time in over a decade. I’m excited, and I’m scared. I can’t wait to see the teeming capital, taste fresh scallion pancake from a street vendor, smell the damp green mountains and the smoky sulfur pits. But what if Taiwan doesn’t live up to my treasured memories? Or worse: What if I don’t live up to Taiwan’s expectations of me?

I don’t know if everyone has these kinds of complicated feelings about their grandmotherland. I only know that I’ve been battling a sense of inadequacy my whole life, when it comes to my Asian heritage. Yet at the same time, it’s such a strong part of me. My values, my personality, my experiences. I don’t speak much Mandarin, but I sense there’s a deeper sort of language that I share with the place where my mother was born.

Maybe going back will prove that. Maybe not. I have to remind myself that either way, that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about visiting with family, both living and dead. It’s about walking the same streets that my mother walked as a child, and listening to her stories. It’s about introducing my husband to one of my favorite places on earth. It’s about reacquainting myself with the part of my heart that lies an ocean away.

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