Big Sun

In watercolor pencil, pencil, and marker.

Stories of My Me and I (A work-in-progress)

These stories consist of my most prominent memories, whether of I as actor or me as acted upon or somewhere in between. I see the world as a stage and we the actors; sometimes I play main actor and sometimes supporting. Since these are my memories, I cannot help but tell their narratives from my point of view, while if you play a part, you’ll see it from yours. Even when the situation lends more power to one more than others, say, the main role, you tell the story from your vantage point, thus granting you a prominent role in the whole affair, that of of director. If all the world is a stage, then we are the actors and acted upon, depending on my (or your) particular vantage point, which in turn requires a subject (I or You) or object (Me or You) with a particular vision.

 

Though I am drawn to Buddhist and Taoist thought, I cannot agree that there is no “self,” that selfhood is a delusion, for the very act of memory reveals that some consistency exists that is compelled to tell a coherent story of said ‘self.’ The fact that selves change does not prove there is no self, just that nothing stands still. Multiplicity also does not require the lack of a core. The Pacific Ocean produces an infinite number of waves yet still is considered one entity. Now, to what extent experiences, events, and situations have a bearing on the constitution of self, to what extent they are a part of Me or I, I cannot say with assuredness. This is one of the questions I ask when going into this project of telling the stories of my life. I’d like to try and resist the urge to apply order or meaning to my stories, to force a unity upon them when there may not be any. Once I’ve laid them out, who knows what will come of it for either me or the reader. The freedom of not knowing might be the most exciting aspect of my endeavor. As the saying goes, it’s the journey that counts; whether the arrival is a letdown or not, don’t fret just yet, I tell myself.

 

Rather than in chronological order, I will convey stories in the order they come to me and label them as it seems fitting. The force of order cannot be completely avoided, for one memory is certain to trigger another and another. And so it goes.

 

*Disclaimer: The nature of memory—fragmented, questionable in veracity of especially material details—compels one to embellish when it seems necessary. I tell as I remember in hopes that any flourishings will not detract from the gist, which is everything.

 

(My Cows)

I try to imagine what it was like before I existed and to picture the world carrying on without me around. But I cannot see the world without “my” presence because “I” is there behind the camera, or if I manage to pretend “I” isn’t there, some form of “me” lingers in the fringes: A shadow, a painted prop, or a stranger who happens to be standing around.  Oh, a paradox of the most frustrating kind, even more frustrating than trying to make sense of the contradictions inherent in the time-travelling self.  And yet, I know there was/is an endless world without my existence. I/Me/My is not remotely necessary for the whirring of the world around. And yet, I feel as if I’ve always been even though I can’t remember being born. Am I the same person I was when I was a child? My eyes are drawn to me in photos, and when I see my young self, more times than not, I cannot remember doing what I’m doing in the picture, not even when it’s a photo of some important event, such as a graduation or birthday party where I received the best presents. Which makes me suspect that I am not that little person, not anymore. Am I out of my mind if I suspect that the I of now was never her at all? Or not for very long?

(Anonymous Notes)

With no addresser or addressee, the words nevertheless struck me as purposeful, intentional, fashioned just for me:

You think you’re special, but you’re not.

            Or

You think you’re better than everyone else.

            Or

You’re a stuck-up Bitch. No one likes you.

Though I don’t remember the exact wording, the gist:

You are so stuck up. What makes you think you’re better than everyone else?

 

When I mentally unfold the first note, (were there others?), the words sting as much as they did when I was fourteen.

I feel weak and dizzy, then gain my bearings by latching onto memory.  Closing my eyes just makes the room spin all over again. Slack-jaws, chins on hands, elbows on desks and a sea of heads turning in my direction. My face reddens. I avert my eyes to the small cubby that holds the notes and my school supplies—college-ruled spiral notebook, Hello-Kitty pencil case, my sticker collection—childish hobby of trading stickers and displaying them in shiny album sleeves in the 7th or 8th grade. Montgomery Junior High in the 1980’s just minutes from the Mexican border. The school could not afford to purchase new desks for its minority student population, so our desks are wobbly, some balanced on slim books or wads of paper. She stuffed the anonymous letters into our shared desk, I believe, in English class or Reading. Reaching back in memory some 35 years removed requires a great deal of concentration. I fill in gaps. I see: Gum-smacking chatter and giggles, whispers and knowing nods. I glide through dizzying sights and sounds: feathered bangs, knickers, suffocating smell of sweet sweat and aerosol, my heart beating so rapidly it might leap out of my chest.

Could the letters have been meant for someone else who sat at that very same assigned desk? If I could somehow get to the roster, steal it when the teacher isn’t looking, or distract him and take a quick peek, then I could narrow down the possibilities. But what if I don’t recognize any of the names? If only I had gotten a school annual, then I could memorize the names and match them with the corresponding photos. What then? Stupid plan; even if I do recognize any of the faces from campus—but then maybe I’d remember a scowl, a shove of the shoulder through the hallways at lunchtime or morning break. I wake from my reverie and replay the harsh words in my head. You know me and you don’t. Who do I think I am, avoiding eye contact, hurrying through the hallways making a beeline straight for class?  And yet, if you really knew me, you would understand that my seeming aloofness is not an indication of some superiority complex, but rather, of insecurity.

I search for the notes in my treasure chest to see if I had stowed them away with other mementos and objects I have collected over the years, an array of items of varying degrees of significance: typical souvenirs such as dried up pens from Disneyland and tickets from my first concert; my two front teeth I had pulled out in my early 20’s because they made me look buck-toothed; a broken angel given to me by the guy to whom I (mostly) lost my virginity. I say “mostly” because my gynecologist explicitly revealed that my hymen was only partially broken from this first sexual experience. I decide to hold onto the pink fairy-girl with broken wings and rosy cheeks, even if a bit creepy of a gift in hindsight—just in case—I’m not sure of what. To my surprise, the anonymous notes are not anywhere to be found, not stuffed away in a notebook or in the pages of one of my favorite books of my youth—Watership Down, Anne of Green Gables, or Beverly Cleary. I look but to no avail. I tell myself that I don’t need physical evidence because my memories are lucid: crumpled college-ruled paper with frayed edges indicating the paper was torn from a spiral notebook, smudged lines and pencil marks, the words written in block letters rather than in cursive, the culprit intent on staying anonymous. I apply the skills I’ve acquired from practicing mindfulness meditation to squelch all thoughts but those that matter, to get closer to my antagonist’s identity. I pause for memory’s witness and give it my undivided attention. Nothing. Just as then, so now, I am no closer to identification. Someone who disliked me so, or someone envious for one reason or another, which frankly, is still beyond my grasp. Why has this memory stayed with me decades later? Why do I go at it like a mysterious case to be solved? Whatever the case, the sense of significance remains. The opinion of an essential stranger confirmed my skewed sense of self.

(When I started to become cool)

“A lot of guys like you,” tall girl with dirty blond shoulder length hair, or mousy short brown girl with stringy hair said while getting dressed in the P.E. locker room. Partially hidden behind the red locker door (red, grey, what difference does it make?), the deliverer of the unbelievable news stood with more confidence than I did in her bra and underwear.

“A lot of guys like you too,” I said, hugging the towel that draped my curve-less body. Just a little white lie I couldn’t back up with any evidence, because one, I didn’t know “a lot of guys,” and two, I didn’t know what they thought about her let alone what they thought of me. How could it be? My greatest insecurity: I–a nothing compared to the popular, athletic, cool kids who wore Mary Janes and brand name jeans, who got to wear heavy mascara and feathered bangs, while I wore a bare face and hand-me-downs from K-Mart sales.

That night I night-dreamed with my eyes wide open. Could it really be true? Should I ask for more information, such as “How do you know?” or “Who exactly?” “Elaborate, please.” No, let me indulge a little longer in the fantasy.  A lot of guys like you. I’d have been happy with one, even though I could not describe my dream guy. That would come later on in junior high, in the 9th grade, which means that most likely the anonymous notes happened around the same time. I was hated and loved? I was so confused. What had I done or what was Me like to arouse such opposite reactions? I’d never had a boyfriend. And that was just fine, I had no desire, no self-consciousness over the matter until my girl pals had admirers and were asked to go around. Until then, I had been happy reading books, collecting stickers, building things with Legos and play-dough. Once in awhile, being distracted by strange sensations.

*While dreaming, I reach into my panties and rub hard. When I awake and smell my fingers, they smell sour; there’s a powdery residue in the slit that needs to be rubbed again, this time with soap and water, but I’m afraid to be aroused again. I try to describe the experience to Mama, and I ask her what this is about, and she says it’s normal, that sometimes she rubs that part on the faucet in the shower. 

 

 

On turning half a century

Turning 50 is no milestone considering the increase in the average lifespan–50 is the new 30 and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have reached this age. “I’m turning 50 in just a couple of months,” I told my dad, and just like he always did, he reminded me that by comparison, I’m still just a baby. His “Baby.” I’m missing his presence especially today. He had just turned 84, and then he “passed away.”

I know I have much I’m grateful for, including a sweet, caring husband with whom I share an odd, peculiar sense of humor. That is to say we make each other laugh in a most unique way. Like everyone else, I don’t know “how much time I got left” (as my Papa put it)–but it’s probably a good idea for me to pause today and take stock: Where have I been and where might I be going? I agree with the philosopher Todd May that our mortal lives are fragile, and in the face of it, accepting our vulnerability is about the best we can do and that the projects we lay out for ourselves even though we know we each will die someday can give our lives meaning in a silent universe. Of course some argue that universe is not silent, you just have to stop and listen. That’s okay. Each has their own way of sense-making a universe that often seems senseless and chaotic. I’m still here and I suppose that’s enough reason to keep pushing on with glimpses of hopefulness every now and then.

On Different Kinds of Love

New graphic project underway…

Release of Animal Hearts Issue 2

ahissue2cover

When we last saw Ernie, she had escaped to Animal Sanctuary with her original pig Obie. Issue 2 follows her mother M’s point of view as she searches Ernie’s “Animal Hearts” blog for clues as to where Ernie is. In this issue, we meet HH (Hole in the Heart), a Jewish mother whose young boy is in need of a heart transplant and whose father is opposed to an animal organ transplant. We also learn more about Ernie’s past, about the company responsible for her transplant United Revive, and about Animal Sanctuary’s efforts to fight for the rights of animals and clones alike.

*Go to my store for free PDF copies of Issue and 2 or order a print copy. Follow my RSS feed and receive updates on my work in comics and speculative fiction.

Ode to Death

Papa and Mama died 20 years apart. Mama died in 1998 and Papa in 2018. Mama in October, Papa in December, both near year’s end.

I was born in 1969, which means Mama died when I was 29, so would not see me turn 30, and Papa died when I’m 49, so  will not see me turn 50 in two months. Both died when I was on the verge of something–what some would call a landmark event. Or a new beginning.

The piano movers picked up the Young Chang upright piano Papa bought me in either 1999 or 2000. I’m afraid I don’t remember the exact year, just that it was not long after Mama died, but I tend to think the gesture was partly out of tenderness and partly out of grief. For I reminded him of Mama, he often said, he called me Baby, a term of endearment much as he was lovingly called Boy, all his life by his siblings in the Philippines.

Moving the piano from his house in San Diego to Austin will cost 1200 dollars, probably more than the twenty year old piano is now worth. I looked up the year the piano was built using its serial number, and discovered it was built the same year Mama died, 1998. I’m not sure what this all means, but I’m compelled to force connections or to find patterns in matters beyond my control, so that I can find a commonality in my grief.

They both died from cancer, their deaths left me parentless. It feels as if Papa’s death hits harder, but only because his death is fresh, and I have lived a greater portion of my life with him in it than without.

I will miss–

calling you at least once a week, hearing you say “I’m okay,” when clearly you are not, and then turning the attention away from yourself to the other, “give my love to the other half.”

hearing the concern in your voice when you say “Take care of yourself” and “your health is your capital.” You worried about us girls because so far the women in our family, Mama and Dyna, both died from cancer.

the way you’d get lost in memory, your eyes losing their present focus, seeing hazy images of things long past, caked with grime and dust.

how you would eat in silence at your favorite restaurant, Zorba’s, savoring your food slowly and with care. This memory pains me now as I clear out the kitchen cabinets, throw out the unopened bottles of Ensure, half eaten microwaveable meals. Dozens of frozen single Sara Lee cheesecakes remain in the freezer and some in the vegetable bin. You told us many months ago that you couldn’t taste food and had to force yourself to eat. The signs were there, but you kept going on while we were besides ourselves with worry, on call, phones never shut off, knowing one day soon we’d get the phone call. You’d pour salt on already sodium-rich food to make it palatable. You went from a robust weight to less than 120 pounds, from high blood pressure, to no pressure at all. The gasping for breath, wagging of the tongue in your final moments. Dressed in diapers, secreting liquids that had to be sucked from your mouth, into a tube, then into a canister. The sight of unused packages of adult diapers makes me so sad, yet it all comes together like identical bookends, a cycle of birth and death. You used to say life was too short and you aimed for age 120. We used to say that you’d probably outlive us all, considering your strength and your stubborn will to live. Each birthday, your ritual was to read the number of the Psalms that matched your age to show gratitude for having lived that long. You were once a baby gasping for air, wailing and screaming in your first few moments in this world, and you went out gasping for air but keeping your cries to yourself. Somehow, despite the pain and sadness, it seems like this is how it’s supposed to be. Death–both a friend and an enemy.

I don’t know what all this really means, only that I wish to both forget and to not forget the terrible thing I witnessed: I alone of all your children, saw your last gasps for breath, your last sigh I could have sworn was a call for my name, but couldn’t have been–was your last breath an inward or outward breath? You said you didn’t know how much time you had left, but that you were ready, you lived a long life. Were you really ready? Did you feel alone? Were you afraid? Did you hope to see Mama? Is she there with you? You are buried on top of her, just as you wished, and you died at home. Was that a comfort as you slipped away into unconsciousness? They said you could hear me, but could you really? No, really? Already some days have passed that I haven’t thought much about you. I’m afraid–To forget seems to mean to move on and seems to equate to erasure, which in turn means I too shall one day be forgotten and erased. And I’m not ready, not yet, until I am. And then…

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