Letters (Un)Remembered

In an effort to exorcise my past and to clear out clutter, I have decided to take on the dismal task of working through a collection of letters that date back to my childhood. The collected letters made its way to my home here in Austin on my road trip back from San Diego after my father died the end of 2018. Why did I collect all the letters, notes, cards, and invitations I have ever received, and then decide to keep it going after all these years? I don’t think it was a conscious decision–more like this is where all letters, notes, cards, and invitations ought to go, a way of organizing things that I could not decide were worth saving so the pile grew larger and larger over time until they became this nostalgic thing I’d eventually get to sorting out.

At first, I thought of burning them. But too cliche. Then with all this time on my hands during Summer of Pandemic, I decided I could turn it into an art project. I’d been wanting to return to my childhood art practice of paper mache, and so was born the dualistic opportunity to preserve (albeit in a distorted fashion) the letters of my past rather than burning, shredding or destroying them in some way. Before tearing the sheets of old-fashioned letters and saturating them with glue and water mixture, I read them. I read the letter from a someone named Linda Belcher–that’s right–the name of the mother from Bob’s Burger’s–whose name rang a bell but even after reading her hand-written letter on stationary from 1984 (making me 15 years old) I could not for the life of me remember who she was. Even after she said she missed California (she now lived in Texas) and Montgomery Junior High where we both went. There was one dated July 26, 1999 (making me 30 years old) from a friend named “Carmen” that I imagine would have made me blush at the time. Carmen said she was enclosing three photos that included a photo of me and that when she went to get them developed, the civilian manager who worked there saw my photo and liked it, said I was very pretty and would like to meet me. When she picked up the photos, she thought he would have forgotten but he asked “Where’s my girlfriend,” and proceeded to give his phone number to give to me. Wow, bold I thought, and still couldn’t remember. Carmen decided on her own that I would not call him because as far as she knew, he was not a Jehovah’s Witness (I was a devout one at the time). All this to say that though she wouldn’t dare give me his number, she wanted me to know I had an admirer. Though I remember my friend Carmen, I don’t remember a single thing about this incident or this admirer, which is especially surprising to me because I was awful self-conscious even at 30. After reading it, I decided not to include this one in my collage. I wanted to preserve it as is, for what–I’m not exactly sure. Which is to say, this is going to end up being a long, interesting excursion down (un)memory road. I have all summer. By the end, I hope to have determined which letters should end up in the recycle bin and which ones should be salvaged for a future return to the past. I could end up with a bin of letters again or a letter burning ritual in my backyard.

Running Solo

Most runners nowadays have to run solo because of the restrictions in place over the Corona Virus. I just read this encouraging article from Runner’s World I want to share for those of you feeling discouraged about all the events cancelled in light of social-distancing: https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a31737816/how-to-run-by-yourself/?source=nl&utm_source=nl_rnw&utm_medium=email&date=032220&utm_campaign=nl19785516&utm_term=RNW_Paywall_Newsletter_List

Other circumstances forced me to slow down my running habit to a near trickle–my diagnosis of Urticaria (chronic hives) in recent months. I was hoping to work my way back to the goals I had achieved, such as running 5 and 10K’s at a pace I was happy with. Now, even if I want to, my efforts might become limited as it is some places, such as Spain, where apparently running outdoors is against the law. I’m grateful I have a jogging buddy in my husband Ryan; we run in the early morning hours when there seem to be few of our neighbors out. We don’t have indoor running equipment such as a treadmill, but we do have a stationary rower and bike. But there’s nothing like running freely in the outdoors, and I think I’ll take advantage of this freedom while I have it. For your other running-lovers, what are you doing to compensate for the loss of running events and running partners/groups?

Release of Giving Up the Ghost

My book is officially released today. Please visit my store to order direct. Cheers!

First Reading

I read from my book for the first time last night, at our first open mic of the year. I chose the first piece “Day of No Dead” because it isn’t too long or too short. When I got to the part about memories returning without effort, “her left leg trembling. The shock I felt at seeing her head nearly bald…Bending over to kiss her cheek,” and especially at this moment: “seeing dismembered strands of hair strewn on the pillow,” I choked up. I paused, tried to contain myself, almost didn’t go on. I couldn’t believe it–a rush of emotions completely through me off, un-beckoned, most likely repressed for too long much as a buoy forced underwater popping up unexpectedly. Perhaps it was guilt I had openly confessed in this piece–of mourning more for a lost pet than for a dying sibling. Or tangentially, still grieving over my father’s death one year and two months ago now. My relationships with both were not “typical,” whatever that means. As I ponder it now, I had conflicted feelings about both, which according to Zazen Buddhism, is essentially more about me than about them. I feel the loss of my father more strongly because I was in closer contact with him than with my sister. In his musings on the Singularity, Kurzweil claims that you really do lose a part of yourself when someone you love dies, the pattern of thought tied to that person. That part of your mind atrophies. And so I had lost touch with my sister long before she literally died. Yet memories of our youth filed deeply away, still within reach. Of course, when I read the part about seeing her shriveling body–a traumatic sight–it triggered all sorts of sadness, anger, misery, and confusion over what I was losing–a component of my lingering childhood and adolescence. You cannot cut ties just like that, no one can. And when you try, all the more mired you become, like trying to erase the stench of a dead skunk. I nearly stopped reading, but my kind audience, particularly a current student in English who had also read a brief but sweet poem about feelings. She said, “You can do it.” And I did. I had to forgive myself for indulging, I swallowed and went on to the finish, encouraged by kind faces of those enduring my long-winded essaying on the necessity of obituaries, and their overall failure to encapsulate any life.

Book shipment arrived!

Preorder my first book Giving Up the Ghost (and other Hauntings) at my store.

Runner’s Log: Before Going Mad and Retiring as a Running Monk

Illustrated Book

Memories of Death

Here I subject dreams on the first year anniversary of my father’s death to the plot of narrative:

In my dreams, I walked down the street with a group of strangers, and we glimpse a tidal wave and scream. I pinch the waist of a woman and apologize. We brace ourselves to be swallowed up by crashing waves, but somehow the waves stop short and when we turn around I shout “Look at the beautiful stingrays and they fall from the sky raining down, not hitting any of us to our surprise. Then robot humans descend and step out of their costumes; again we scream with gratefulness–our saviors. A castle appears, opens its doors and we wonder, was this all a hoax to get us to enter this carnival of delights? Or had the tidal wave been real? We were just lucky to have survived and the men in costumes just so happened to arrive–serendipitously–so that the near tragedy of death by tidal wave could be transformed from to fancy simply by coinciding with the sudden appearance of a castle from the sky?

*

Music with hard drum beats and rapid rhythms plays while we hastily clean out Papa’s house now that the morgue has taken his body away.

Soft lilting melodies (like the Titanic theme) play when we are sorrowful, when we weep in our own way in solitude.

*

Mind summons intellect to project structure and story onto the chaos of dream and memory, unlike animals who live in the present and care nothing for past and future. We humans categorize and fit events into calendar time, but memory and dream do not play by the rules, so… today on the first calendar year anniversary of Papa’s dying, I do not grieve the way I expected to. I did yesterday unexpectedly on the drive to work remembering lucidly: the early morning hours when I and the hospice stranger look after my comatose father and waited for the oxygen machine to stop torturing with its oppressive rhythmic sound. And of course it did, upon Papa’s last breath. I wish for happier memories to rain down like the stingrays, jellyfish, and angel-like machines of my chaotic, splendid dream.

Update on hives

I have an appointment again with my allergist tomorrow. We’re going to try the skin allergy test again, if I can become asymptomatic; unfortunately, the 5-day break from my meds has caused another outbreak of rashes and hives–this time, swollen lips, hives on my arms, face, and legs, and a hot rash this morning on my neck. At my last appointment, the allergist diagnosed me with a hyperactive/misdirected immune system. But I also brought up how in my 20’s, I was diagnosed with borderline lupus. Could it be that those symptoms have returned? It seems so. Lupus is a difficult disease to diagnose because if the blood test for it (ANA) shows positive, this may not be enough to diagnose Lupus for certain. Apparently, if you show 4 out of 11 common symptoms for Lupus, then you probably have it. For my appointment tomorrow, I plan to bring it up to the doc again and ask for that test because I do have at least 4 of those common symptoms. The worst physical symptom is when practically my whole body becomes inflamed and itchy, and the only way to get immediate relief is to apply cortisone cream all over. Even then, it sometimes takes hours to cool. These symptoms in turn cause me to feel depressed and anxious, and thus a cycle develops. I also get moody and cranky, but try not to show that side of myself too much with my students.

Runner’s Log: Before Going Mad and Retiring as a Running Monk

Almost done with this art-book. Here is a page close to the end:

Run Date: Sunday 10/6

No Fitbit Data

  • “I know about your fucking unalienable rights” woman on another leisurely walk with gramps.
  • Old white dude with camouflage hat who wore a “Come and take it” t-shirt on a previous walk.
  • Coincidence? I bet the beat-up car in the parking lot belongs to the free-thinking gal while the big-ass built-in-Texas truck belongs to the gun-loving Trump-supporting old dude with downcast eyes.
  • Little old lady walking her deaf dog; when we met her last time, she looked amused upon our calling Mei-Mei a jerk.
  • Two bikers in fancy biking gear.
  • Two large dark-chocolate colored identical-looking dogs walking their owners.
  • Male twins walking one big dog.
  • Two late teens/early twenties-ish girls having their photos taken. One was dressed in a fancy formal maroon-colored dress while the other wore jeans and a white t-shirt. I heard the latter refer to her girlfriend as the one who “never likes the pictures we take.” Good for them being out in the open as a lesbian couple here in suburban conservative Texas.
  • Two dead frogs flattened on the sidewalk. One was being eaten by a swarm of ants, probably the one we addressed last week as poor, poor, frog. I admire ants for their tenacity and simultaneously despise them for their ability to so completely consume and infest. Ants, like other creatures, act on pure instinct. Do we deceive ourselves into thinking we are free?

The Hives

The past several weeks have been a mixture of positive and negative experiences for me: My first book (a collection of narratives) is forthcoming in a few months; I ran two 10K’s within two months–a first for me; I’ve developed chronic hives, which not only cause physical suffering, but anxiety, depression, and frustration from not knowing the root cause. I’ve been working on a new project called “Runner’s Log: Before Going Mad and Retiring as a Running Monk,” an illustrated creative nonfiction work-in-progress. One of the concerns that comes to the fore in this new project is this development of hive breakouts that seem to tear down all the positives that have been coming to me. I feel most alive when I run and draw and write, and depending on the results of the allergy test I’ll be taking in a couple of days, I may have to cut down on running. Then I worry that–with the history of cancer in my family–could these breakouts be a sign of something more serious than allergic reactions? If I stay on the meds the doctor put me on for allergies/hives, I also may not ever be able to drink again. Not that drinking is necessary for my happiness, but it is enjoyable to drink a glass of wine or Sake here and there. I’ve been feeling very tired as well, probably a side-effect of the powerful drugs I’ve been taking (I’m currently taking an oral steroid for this latest hive break-out, which spread to my neck, my face, my lips), which is making it difficult to do anything useful really, outside of teaching. So I binge-watch Netflix shows for a few hours not without feelings of guilt (I ought to be forcing myself to write or draw, shouldn’t I?) But it is what it is, I suppose, and all I can or should do is take it one moment at a time and let things take their course, wherever they may lead.

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