Word Crossing

For Yury Olesha

I am a bustling intersection, a dangerous crossing bristling with risk and possibility. I am a tricky traveler tripping on an always-forking road. I am a monster, a phantom, a dream, riddling wayfarers at fateful crossroads. I am a strange attractor making divergent paths meet. I am this slippery moment, continually splitting into past and future; a fluctuating present, made of changing yesterdays and tomorrows, constellations of past and future worlds where I exist and don’t. I am a palimpsest, so multifariously overwritten it makes addicts of deciphering swoon. I am a motley novel, a crazy quilt of quotations – stolen fragments from the mouths of the living and the dead. I am a golden shelf of favorite books; there’s still plenty of room – I’m waiting for you to write.

Contemporary things in prose can have value to the contemporary psyche only if they’re written in one sitting. Reflections or recollections of twenty or thirty lines . . . that’s the contemporary novel.

Every moment is a novel – not just the moments that are happenings but also those that are not-happenings. Traditional novels leave out uneventful moments, which are exactly what I’m trying to capture in my writing – the momentousness of the ordinary, the passion of each unrepeatable moment.

Let me write fragments without starting them. Everything I write is a piece broken off the middle of something that has no beginning, something that was already going on before I knew my name, before I could say “I,” before I was even conceived as a quickening question in my mother’s womb.

What is life, if not the fugitive interludes that flare between our countless deaths?

I’ve been disintegrating for as long as I can remember, for as long as I’ve been forgetting. How can I say “I” when there’s so little of me left?

Every loss leaves a question. All that’s left of me are questions – nothing else.

I was born in 1970, so I missed Stonewall, Apollo 11, and Woodstock in 1969, l’année erotique. My time began the year floppy disks and bar codes appeared.

I want to tell my story without telling stories. (I don’t have a story – just a body in pieces and some broken words, so I’m playing with these scattered fragments, forming transitory patterns that I contemplate for a moment before I scramble everything up again.)

Though I loved being read to by my mother, I had little curiosity about reading till I was forced to do it in the first grade. (Because of this my first contact with reading is inextricably linked to coercion.) Before then, the black marks in books whispered no siren promises to me. After suffering my mother to teach me to write my name, I showed no further interest in the secret life of letters. It’s true I’ve always loved the picturesque or funny sounds of certain words, but I never felt any desire to decipher the dark scratches in books. I had a cousin, however, who was already a ravenous reader when we were four or five years old (even then he was already wearing thick glasses). The grownups were very impressed, but I couldn’t see why. I’m still not impressed by the inky procession of words across a page. As a reader, I’m more susceptible to the sensuous seductions of a book – its distinctive color, smell, heaviness, . . . As a writer, I prefer the blank page – the whiteness of possibility – to the overwritten one, dirtied by words. Yes, words are dirty, irredeemably impure – that’s why I love them.

It’s very hard for me to write a sentence . . . The sentence suddenly breaks in two, and I’m left hanging, holding onto some piece . . .

Like a miragelike pointillist seascape, my writing is all dots and dashes, ellipses and interruptions, for I have set myself the impossible task of writing the forgotten, the lost, and the unspeakable; my scribblings a broken record of failed attempts to remember and to speak. Every reconstructed memory, each stuttering utterance misses the mark, but the amnesia and silence of these essays sometimes have their accidental ecstasies blossoming unexpectedly in the suspense between words.

I don’t remember a time when English was alien to me, yet it must have once tasted strange in my mouth. The first TV shows I watched were American cartoons – Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, The Wacky Races, My Favorite Martian – so English’s strangeness must be beyond remembering, for there was always already a television blaring American laughter in the house. After I started school, where everything (except Tagalog) was taught in English, Tagalog began to feel more and more exotic as my tongue increasingly conformed to English’s Teutonic contortions. By the time we reached high school, we were studying Tagalog as if it were a dead or foreign language (a nineteenth-century epic read like Beowulf to us). Yet English is not my mother tongue – every word I speak reminds me I’m an alien.

I have no straight thoughts, only stray ones.

Word by word, I’m building a private Babel, reaching for an unknown summit where I can make sense of a world not made of words, not made of sense. Everything tumbles down, words scatter, but gathering them in again, I erect another precarious tower from my passions’ rubble.

When will I have enough strength to resist the seductions of metaphor?

From time to time I'm tempted to give up writing. Perhaps I should only be a writer every other day. And on the alternate days, what reticent Hydes should I become so my erratic Jekylls can speak?

Who will buy my frangible metaphors?

My writing desk is an optics laboratory. Everyday I grind and polish glassy sentences into all manner of lenses. Try this one. And this one. Now try these two together, these three. Here's a microscope, here's a telescope. What do you see?

I want to write a book about everything I don’t remember.

Supposing (it’s presumptuous to suppose) I’ll live to 64 (three of my paternal uncles died well before they reached that age), at 2, I would have lived 1/32nd of my life; at 4, 1/16th; at 8, 1/8th; at 16, 1/4th. Now 32, I would have already lived half of my life, the shrinking ratios rushing toward my imminent disappearance, as unaccountable as my gratuitous appearance.

Overwhelmed by time’s rising waters, most of us exchange our airy hopes for sinking memories. But time also flies - why don’t we fly with it?

Words are masks; the writer, an extravagant masquerade.

I travel farthest, fastest when I’m still. Running away, I just find myself going in circles.

The sun - my heart’s fiery clock – blazing timekeeper of my ephemeral combustion.

What is the sun? There is nothing in my human life that could have been managed without the participation of the sun, be that participation overt or hidden, actual or metaphoric. Whatever I have done, awake, or in darkness, whether as a young man or an old one, I have always been on the tip of a sunbeam.

<< An Autobiography of My Mother
>> The Case of the Missing Clocks

eXTReMe Tracker