Word of Mouth

How can words – flimsy phantasms – traverse the tortuous emptiness between our estranged solitudes?

Why speak? (Silence tempts me.)

Do I use words or do they use me?

Twenty-One Things to Do with Words

1. Greet and take leave

Greetings and Leavings

          I cannot list everything I’ve left, everything that’s left me. When each moment is a short hello shading into a long goodbye, every utterance is a leavetaking.

2. Identify objects

Things I Touch Everyday
A bed.
Underwear, a t-shirt, pants.
A refrigerator.
Spoons, forks, cups, plates.
A toothbrush, toothpaste.
Tea, a tea kettle, a stove.
A calendar.
A penis.
Pencil and paper.
A chair, a table.
A timer.
Books, a dictionary, a thesaurus.
CDs, a stereo.
A computer.
A phone.
A microwave.
Keys and doors.
Toilet paper, a toilet, a tabo.
Soap, shampoo, towels, cotton swabs, tissue.
Lip balm.
A pillow, a blanket.
Our habits are speechless. They command our bodies without words.

3. Identify persons

People I’ve Been Told I Resemble

           My father, my mother, my brothers (except my brother with the Chinese eyes), a frog, Boy George, Andrew McCarthy, the Dalai Lama, my lover, . . . Who else will I look like in coming years? And after death, what faces?

4. Ask about a newcomer

The Pleasures of a Newcomer
You crackle with a stranger’s electric aura, magnetizing – positively or negatively – the desire of others.
Your senses are magnificently, magnifyingly receptive.
You become an amateur anthropologist, fascinated by the queer customs of the natives; even your own habits start to seem peculiar.
Your past melts . . . Who will you be this time?

5. Count

Ten Most Common Words in Mazemapping (excluding articles)
I - 809 occurrences
to - 792
of - 791
and - 687
my - 547
in - 520
is - 317
was - 269
it - 258
me - 246
Ten Most Common Nouns
Ten Most Common Verbs (excluding auxiliary verbs)
3, 1/1000, √2, C, Π, dx, ≠ , ∅, . . .

I am not one.
I am a fraction.
I am irrational.
I am imaginary.
I am a circle.
I am imperceptible, incommensurable, empty . . . I ≠ I

6. Describe objects

Delightful Things
Purple, blue, green, black, red Clairefontaine Mosai notebooks.
Hand-knit cotton scarves.
Wide-open windows on summer days.
Long rambling letters full of little intimacies.
Things that look like one thing from afar but turn out to be something entirely different when you get up close.
Red things.
Clean bare feet.
Flowers whose names I don’t know. (Perhaps I’ll learn them someday, though I’m not sure I want to.)
Pencils that feel just so in my hand.
Scratch-n-sniff stickers (even the pig ones!).
Comfortable chairs where one can read for hours.
Promiscuous lists.
(What Sei Shonagon said to Lady Murasaki
          Lady Murasaki: Life is not a list.
          Sei Shonagon: Even less is it a story.)

7. Describe food

Sweet Things
Fuyu persimmons in November and December (and then waiting for ten months to taste them again).
Crème brûlée with a burnt sugar glaze that cracks with little taps of my spoon.
Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk.
Atis, lansones, mangosteen, manga, rambutan, bayabas, kalamansi, langka, alatiris, santol, chico, guyabano, . . . the fruits of my tropical childhood.
Jiffy corn pancakes (made with lard!).
Egg custard tarts and sesame seed balls at dim sum.
Kozy Shack rice pudding while watching television.
Super dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao).
Tapioca pearls – smooth and slippery on the tongue – in warm coconut milk.
Halo-halo, barquillos, pastillas de leche, turrones de casuy, ube halaya, yema, . . . memory’s irretrievable sweets.

8. Give commands and instructions

How to Obey

           What I learned in school: How to obey.

          I’m ashamed to admit, even now I sometimes wish I had a master – a benevolent one of course, but a master nonetheless, one who’ll relieve me of the anxiety of desiring by telling me exactly what I want. (Better yet, he knows what I want before I do.)

9. Talk about yourself

Unspeakable Things
Being TNT.
Becoming gay (only with my family, above all my mother, though she clearly knows that of which we do not speak).
Anything I fear might disturb the ideal image I wish you had of me.

10. Recount memories

Forgotten Things, Unforgettable Things

          Every memoir is a pale shadow of its silent double, comprising the forgotten that cannot speak and the traumatically unforgettable that won’t.

11. Introduce members of the family

Things My Family Taught Me
From my father I learned how to buy a car, how to tip a stripper, how to escape.
From my mother I learned how to write my name, how to love music, how to suffer in silence.
From my sharp sister I learned how to eat heartily, how to defend myself from germs, how to use intelligence as a weapon.
From my angry brother I learned how to ride a bike, how to hide porn, how not to be angry.
From my ultra-religious sister I learned how to be undogmatic about my atheism.
From my quiet brother I learned how to keep on asking why.
From my confident brother I learned how to catch a wave.
          Though in many ways they taught me to be me, I cannot identify most things I learned from my family – I know them without knowing them. (I don’t know myself. I don’t want to know.)

12. Claim ownership

Things I Own
Things I Don’t Own
My thoughts, feelings, and perceptions – transient souls.
My face.
My fears and desires, shrinking and swelling my mind.
My vagrant penis.
My impossible imaginary self.
My fickle fortuitous beliefs and unbeliefs twisting and turning me this way and that.
My father’s lusts, my mother’s wishes, staking their conflicting claims on me.
My genes, voluminous book of the dead.
My books, music, clothes, scribblings.
My shit.
My epiphanies, involuntary memories, and moments of being – fortuitous flashes of sublime impersonality.
My stupidity, obliviousness, and zomnambulism.
My spontaneous lies, ramifying out of control.
Words, impetuous demons, imperiously possessing my defenseless tongue.
The living and the dead making themselves at home in me.
Time, loopy time, fatally spiraling me in and out of myself.

13. Express likes and dislikes

Pleasing Activities
Reading “women’s” and “young adult” novels when I’m feeling sentimental.
Swimming and watching half-naked men swimming, and then afterwards seeing them naked in the showers.
Making up names for the anonymous flowers I come across (roses and sunflowers are about the only ones I know by name).
Going to gay bars thick with men in shadows.
Tongue-kissing a handsome man.
Gossiping about people I really like or dislike.
Chewing chewy pig’s ears marinated in garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce.
Writing in a new Clairefontaine notebook. (O brave new world!)
Dreaming of Zanzibar – the breezy beaches, the spicy food.
As a child, overhearing guffawing grownups telling what Filipinos call “green jokes” (they believed I was still too young to understand).
Receiving a long slow blowjob that brings one to the edge again and again.
Pronouncing the soothing final m in “mantram.”
Smelling peeled persimmons, reminiscent of semen and swimming pools.
Stroking mine or – even better – someone else’s stubbly just-shaved head.
Stoking the suspenseful feeling – what agony, what ecstatic disaster is coming? – of being in love.
Learning funky new hip-hop steps.
Happening on an open-sesame question that lets me into you.
Getting so turned on that my hardon is pointing up to my chin.
Doing front handsprings on a trampoline.
Overhearing foreigners speaking their language in a café or some other public place (they think nobody knows what they’re saying) and understanding some of the words.
Searching for something important and stumbling into some delightful thing that makes one forget what one was looking for in the first place.
Watching weepy movies.
Going to the farmers’ market every Saturday morning and watching the kumquats turn to persimmons, cherries, nectarines, blueberries, plums, . . . as the seasons turn.
Making a list of pleasing activities – one feels one could go on forever.
Being blown hither and thither by desire’s vagrant whims.
Annoying Activities (and Passivities)
Sharing a restaurant table with fussy eaters.
Trying to write when one is horny to distraction.
Dancing to tedious music at a club when one is dead tired but one’s companions are still bouncing with energy (what drugs are they taking?).
Grading papers.
Having to wait when one can’t wait.
Getting a crick in the neck (one has to turn one’s whole torso just to look left or right) from sleeping badly.
Discovering strange bumps on one's body (especially on one's penis).
Going to an STD clinic just because one is feeling paranoid.
Cruising men who pretend not to notice you.
Attending a party where one doesn’t know anyone, but everyone else seems to know each other.
Playing a game one has no chance of winning.
In a chat room – fishing for hours without hooking a trick.
Eating leftovers from a delicious meal – they always look worse than leftovers from an ordinary meal.
Seeing pee stains on white briefs.
Looking for a job.
Watching experimental films that torture time, making a few minutes feel like forever.
Listening to music one likes over and over again, and then not liking it anymore.
Being assailed by Catholic guilt and Filipino shame when one is just trying to have a good mindless fuck.
Pretending that ugly babies are adorable because their mothers are showing them off.
Waiting for a lover who knows he can make you wait.
Finding oneself performing habits that have long outlived their usefulness.
Seeing the better but doing the worse.
Wallowing in the disappointment of a frustrated expectation.
Wallowing in the disappointment of a fulfilled expectation.
Making a list of annoying activities – one feels one could go on forever.
Being blown hither and thither by desire’s vagrant whims.

14. Tell time

Ways to Feel Time
When you feel like peeing – don’t.
Smell yourself from time to time on a hot sweaty day (don’t wear deodorant).
Go slow. Slower. Slower . . .
Interrupt one of your habits.
Memorize a sonnet.
Arrange to meet a lover who’s always late because he desires you far less than you desire him; show up early.
Sit with your boredom; resist trying to distract yourself.
Listen to Stravinsky with your eyes closed.
Just breathe.
Take a walk to nowhere in particular.
Get up in the middle of the night and read Proust when everyone is sleeping.
Plant herbs; use them in your cooking.
Cut yourself and watch your wound heal in its own time (you don’t have to cut yourself – an old wound will do).
Stay up past your bedtime till you get your “second wind.”
Wash dishes to wash dishes.
Give it away (you know what).
Translate haiku; if you don’t know Japanese, learn it.
Write a letter in long hand, then use snail mail.
Plot the seduction of someone “out of your league.”
Spread rumors and wait for them to boomerang.
Eat blueberries one by one till your tongue turns blue.
Go out; leave yourself at home.
Clocks kill time. Kill your clocks!

15. Talk about past events

Reasons Not to Have a Past
I don’t want to drag a long heavy tale around.
I want to begin again, again, again . . . (In the beginning was a maze . . .)
I still don’t have enough tragic cunning to transform every It was into an I wanted it thus.
Every past is haunted, shrieking with ghosts.
The inconstant past makes a liar out of me.
My ancestor’s fatal obsessions keep fighting over me.
Each habit I’ve contracted adds another link to my chains.
Memories are nostalgic tyrants.
Besieging the present, the past cuts me off from myself.
The past is the tomb of the present – I don’t want to be buried alive.
Time goes faster and faster as it passes; before long it will run ahead without me.

16. Talk about the future

Pleasing Fantasies about the Future
I win the Nobel Prize twice – in literature and in peace – but decline both times for some noble reason.
An anonymous patron endows me with a generous annual stipend for life.
I inherit a beach house in Spain (never mind that I have no Spanish relatives).
All my students love me, especially the handsome ones.
When I’m 64 I’ll be living lustily with two (three, four, . . . !) lovers in a polyamorous household.
My looks become “distinguished” as I get older. (Idealistic young men are always falling in love with me. What a nuisance!)
Advances in genetics give me back a full head of hair.
Hindus turn out to be right. I am reincarnated into an astonishing series of unimaginable beings.
          The future is a figment of the imagination. (Someday I’ll stop wishing, but not yet – let me dream a little longer.)

17. Talk about habitual activities

Habitual Things
Masturbating in the morning before I start writing, then using Kleenex to wipe the ejaculate off my belly and sniffing the semen-soaked tissue before I throw it in the trash.
Snacking on sweet or salty things while I’m writing.
Sleeping on the left side of the bed.
Writing with a pencil and an eraser. (I wonder if my eraser is my pencil – sometimes it feels as if my writing is composed entirely of canceled words, my work a worn-out palimpsest of scratches and erasures navigating perilously between silence and nonsense.)
Making a semblance of order outside me when I’m feeling chaotic within.
Ordering scrambled-egg-barbecue-pork over rice at the Chinese restaurant down the street to reward myself for some accomplishment.
Soaping myself twice in the shower (I also still shampoo my head twice even though I’ve been bald for seven years).
Craving Filipino food whenever I visit my family.
Reading the fat content off nutritional labels.
Whenever I’m feeling oppressed by my obligations – going online to hook up with strangers.
Hankering for sweets after a meal, no matter how full I am.
Using a kitchen timer to time my writing.
Finding out when a writer I admire wrote his or her first novel to reassure myself I still have time. (Virginia Woolf began writing The Voyage Out when she was 24 – she took nine years to finish it; Joyce was 32 when The Egoist started serializing Portrait; Proust began the Recherche when he was 38; Beckett was 32 when Murphy was published; Jean Rhys’s first novel came out when she was 38; Faulkner started writing Soldier’s Pay when he was 28; Henry Miller was 39 when he began working on Tropic of Cancer; Willa Cather was 36 when Alexander’s Bridge appeared; Edith Wharton published The Valley of Decision when she was 40; Paul Auster was 36 when Squeeze Play [out of print] came out; Sebald published The Emigrants in German when he was 49.) The funny thing is, I don’t even want to write novels.
Smelling my pinky after picking my ear.
Trying to pop my pimples when they’re not even “ripe.”
Shaving my head before I go out and want to look good.
Creating lists of things to do and crossing off each completed task with immense satisfaction.
          Too much habit blinds the senses, deadens desire. A body without habits, however, is like quivering flesh without a skeleton or skin – it can’t stand up or hold itself together. Everybody needs habits to hold them up, to shield them from the ferocity of life. The most important question of ethics is – Which habits?

18. Describe something going on

What’s Happening
This . . .
           . . . and . . .
               . . . this this . . .
                     . . . and this too . . .

19. State existence

Strange Books (If they didn’t exist, somebody would have to invent them.)
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.
Spinoza’s Ethics.
The 120 Days of Sodom.
Tender Buttons.
Une Semaine de Bonté.
Finnegans Wake.
Exercises in Style.
Life A User’s Manual.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
The next book I’m going to write.

20. Express ability

What Can a Body Do?
It can touch.
It can love.
It can break.
It can kiss.
It can taste.
It can blow.
It can fuck.
It can burn
It can freeze.
It can die.
It can sleep.
It can leap.
It can dream.
It can try.
It can wake up.
It can sing.
It can dance.
It can play.
It can imitate.
It can repeat.
It can excrete.
It can steal.
It can feel.
It can laugh.
It can cry.
It can laugh and cry.
It can see.
It can remember.
It can forget.
It can imagine.
It can doubt.
It can think.
It can say.
It can lie.
It can write.
It can do.
It can wait.
It can sneeze.
It can throw.
It can smell.
It can eat.
It can want.
It can point.
It can search.
It can come.
It can go.
It can run.
It can stop.
It can change.
It can give.
It can make.
          Touching and changing, loving and giving, breaking and making, my body is becoming becoming.

21. Express obligations or responsibilities

Things to Do Today

          Live, just live.

          I touch the world with words, phantom fingers of my mind. (With my tongue I taste you, tender stranger.) Crossing the chasm between us, words weave our divergent solitudes. For a moment, an intimate web vibrates in the vastnesses of silence . . . before melting back in time. Life strikes me dumb – and forces me to speak.

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