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Six Augusts ago, I started something new. My newlywed wife and I left the comfort of the clouds of Seattle, and headed to the comfort of the crowds of Boston. Not new for me (I’d been in Boston for four years for school), but this time I was returning with responsibilities.
Two Augusts ago, I started something new. My wife, my reason for getting up each morning and taking my first breath, decided I should take two breaths each morning, one for her, and one for our new daughter. More responsibilities.
Today, I start something new. Writing every day. Responsibilities.
It’s intimidating, that’s what it is. By “it”, I am referring to writing these entries. Note to anyone contemplating doing this in the future – do NOT sample other people’s entries or read a random entry from previous journals. It will only serve to dismay you. Because you won’t be as creative in creating original entries. Because you won’t be as nearly well-written in 500 words, much less 100, than in some of the entries you’ve seen. And by the second entry, you will be doing what I am doing. Staring at the screen in dismay.
Wait, scratch that. I’m done.
In two days my daughter turns two. I don’t know which makes me sadder: that her first two years seemed like two seconds, or that every year that passes means I am that much closer to losing her.
Fathers love their daughters with a love that is inexpressible. No man will love Angie more than I do. But Angie eventually will love a man more than she loves me. It is the most painful of all unrequited loves.
All that should matter to me is that my daughter is happy. Yes, but why can’t that happiness forever come from me?
I wrapped presents for my daughter today. I think I wrapped eight presents, maybe nine. I wish we would buy more presents for her. I want to give her a million presents. Nothing makes me happier than watching her eyes sparkle when opening gifts.
My wife reminds me that Angie doesn’t even play with half the toys we buy. And that growing up she had nothing and she was happy. That spending time together as a family is a better gift. I grew up having nothing, and I hated it. I don’t even want to give my daughter the choice.
Happy Birthday, Angie!
I’m joyous and crushed all at once. Joyous because everyday Angie surprises me with something new she’s learned to say or do, my favorite of which is “I love you, poppy.” Crushed because these new things are signs of advancing age.
The cliché is she’ll always be daddy’s little girl. Today I certainly dispute that. I blinked, and she turned two. I’ll blink again and she’ll be married. She’ll always be daddy’s girl, but she’s no longer little. My wife asks me what I expected to happen. I don’t know, but certainly not to feel this heartbroken.
Two quick pieces:
Calling Out Your Name
I called you honey. You weren’t so sweet when you left me.
I called you baby. You didn’t even shed a tear.
I called you angel. You told me to go to hell.
I called you beautiful. You didn’t even look back.
I called you yesterday. You didn’t answer.
Excuse Me, Mr. Schultz
Happiness is a warm puppy.
Or a cold turkey.
Or a Spanish fly.
Or a quick, red fox.
Or a lazy, brown dog.
Or a whole hog.
Or an old, gray mule.
Or a one-trick pony.
Or a high horse.
I watched you sleep this morning. The window was open. The cold awoke me. It’s not a habit of mine, watching you sleep; more like a treat. Watching you sleep, I realized how little attention I pay to you sometimes. I don’t trace the curves of your nose with my eyes as often as I used to. Or tingle at the flutter of your closed eyes. Or smile at the blush of your cheek matching the redness of your thin lips. Not often enough. Watching you sleep, I could myself sleep more peacefully, but I was too busy treating myself.
“Sorry.” Is this their new tactic to get change? Sitting on street corners, heads down, empty hat or cup out? Does it matter?. Eggs on a bagel special? I wonder if this place is any good. You’ll get breakfast but you can’t spare change? Sorry, Jesus. I can go back and give him a dollar. Or I can make this light if I run. Rats. Missed it. I should have gone anyway like those two did. Maybe I should go back and give him a dollar. Now it’s too obvious. Are you rationalizing or reasoning? I don’t know. Sorry, Jesus.
I don’t know which is more acute: my sicknesses (mental & physical) or my hypochondria. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder. All the signs are there: the fixation on routines and the inability to shake these routines. I’m mildly diabetic: the post-meal tiredness, the thirst, the sugar-induced strange behavior. Yet I’ve never been clinically diagnosed to have these diseases. And hypochondria? The signs are there, too. Example? I heard about Asperger’s Syndrome yesterday (a mild form of autism), and for a minute, I worked through the symptoms to see how many I possessed. Question: is self-diagnosis of hypochondria another symptom of hypochondria?
My dad used to have this yellow straight comb he got during the Vietnam War. He brought it with us to the states. One day I was rummaging through the medicine cabinet for something. My brother was flushing something down the toilet. I accidentally knocked the comb from its shelf. It bounced off the sink into the toilet at exactly the moment my brother flushed. It disappeared before I could react. When I told my dad, he said he’d that comb for 18 years, and left. I don’t think I’ve ever disappointed him as much as I did that day.
In today’s Peanuts, Charlie Brown poetically states that "Security is sleeping in the back seat of the car. When you’re a little kid, and you’ve been somewhere with your mom and dad, and it’s night, and you’re riding home in the car, you can sleep in the back seat. You don’t have to worry about anything. Your mom and dad are in the front seat, and they do all the worrying. They take care of everything."
My family never took long trips, and we kids used to get nauseous going around the clover-leaf returning home. Coincidence or appropriate familial metaphor?
Let’s settle this argument once and for all, for all of geekdom. Attack of the Clones or Fellowship of the Rings? Well, Fellowship was nominated for a dozen Oscars; Clones won’t be nominated for anything. Fellowship had a better, more coherent plot; Clones’ plot jumps all over the universe. The acting in Fellowship never made you cringe; in Clones you wanted to beat Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen with a tire iron. Fellowship had dialogue that sounded poetic and appropriate; Clones sounded like it was written the night before by tenth-graders.
Then again, Yoda wielding a light saber. Case closed.
I’m on the 15th floor of a building with 34 floors -- more than halfway up. Up enough to glance out my window and see the backs of birds, the roofs of cars, and the tops of the heads of people. I see twenty other buildings, and peer into windows trying to find people like me who are halfway up. In all but one, the dust on the drawn shades reflect emptiness. Why is this city growing taller if the people who should be halfway up are instead laughing up at me from the tops of their heads down below?
i dreamt that ten thousand angels danced on the head of a
colors spinning into blurs of mixed dabs
on a used palette where
i lay me down to sleep
praying the Lord my soul to
held close to my shivering breast
beneath the waves so cold
defining the struggle to keep afloat
with visible breath
arisen on the third day
working miracles on the seventh day
while the weight of the world induces
purity via pressure
exposing the sins of individuals
for all to see leaving me wondering
how they can dance so closely then
My ethnicity is an acculturated light switch; I can turn it on and off. There were scholarships which hinged on being Vietnamese. There’s that speech where I mentioned I was making “my people” proud. There’s that article in the Vietnamese press about an award. Then there’s the DC trip to accept an award where I told my parents to leave me alone, to stop speaking Vietnamese. I didn’t want to appear the immigrant, the boat person who’s good at math who can’t speak English. My mother mentions it whenever we argue. “Just like in D.C. when you yelled at me.”
Happy Birthday, Debbie!
You are the reason I get up and take my first breath.
The night we danced at the convention I took you into my lungs and wanted to keep you there forever.
The night I proposed every breath left me through my one down knee.
On our wedding, I don’t know which left me more breathless – the first sight of you in fancy white, or the organ march and the guests arisen.
They say that when couples sleep beside each other, their breathing synchronizes. Then your breath as mine will exhale love until the very last.
My mother never smiled. Except once when she handed me an envelope from a college I’d applied to. Her smile grew as I read the acceptance. We never hugged. Even at that hug-appropriate moment, instead she awkwardly placed her hand on my arm in a congratulatory handshake kind of way. Her smile insinuated prior knowledge of the acceptance. The seal indicated a resealing – I assume she’d sliced open the letter with the short-bladed knife she used to clean fish, and then glued it back. Perch scales and Elmer’s never before helped to contain such bursting pride, such subtle awkward love.
You walk home one September afternoon. The leaves are barely changing. You spot two red-oranges, and a yellow-red. They remind you of Florida. Of that swimsuit on that chick immodestly flaunting herself. You pass a CD store. In the window you glimpse yourself in the glass. The contentment in your CD-window-image's smile makes you stare at your reflection. The store-owner is smilingly proud of the display that has captured you. But you've captured yourself. For a time as quick as an autumn breeze and more striking than a body on the beach, you feel in yourself peace, surpassing all understanding.
a watershed vision:
i stare into your eyes and wonder
if the blankness i see
is more you than a reflection of me
wading through rods and cones
and fields of irises
dressed than the lilies and find
the well from wherein
you drink memories of when
i seemed appealing
seeing then how my projected image
returns upside down
in the bending of a spoon
that can catch a falling tear
and crack a mirror’s image
to something less than reality
and i withdraw to close my mind’s eyes
so I can see you more clearly
My parents say I was a horrid baby. I cried all the time. By “all the time” I mean I cried continuously from about nine months to three years old. Because I cried so much, my dad had to find creative ways to shut me the hell up. One time when I was three, sitting on the sidewalk miserable and grumpy, my dad pointed to the ants crawling on the ground beside me. "If you don't stop crying, they'll bite you and kill you." I stopped crying in sheer horror. I haven't cried since. You know, because of the
Everyone has prejudices. Everyone is a bigot toward some group of people. There are hateful prejudices that are indefensible and untrue: women are the weaker sex, Polish people are stupid, Orientals are bad drivers. There are biases that hold a modicum of truth: Jewish mothers are pushy, Asians are good at math, French people smell. Then there are stereotypes that are completely true: Canadians love hockey and Vietnamese men make the best lovers. People I am biased against include: Canadians, Star Trek fans, country music fans, TRL fans, Aussies, and the French. And don't forget stupid people.
Today and tomorrow I’ll post three short pieces. Here’s one:
“I shouldn’t have made that bet.”
“You didn’t know his dad would do this, Jack.”
“It seemed like a can’t lose wager.”
“A candle-stick-maker for a dad. Who’d have guessed it?”
”I thought he was a baker.”
”No, that’s his mom. His real dad was a butcher.”
“Whatever. Anyway, how tall is that thing?”
”At least four-feet. Think you can clear it?”
”Don’t know. I’ll try my best.”
“Well, take a running start, close your eyes, and leap. Keep telling yourself, it’s just a candle-stick. It’s just a candle-stick.”
on’t stop taking me -- I’m all you’ve got.
verything else is rotten.
eaning only I can save you.
very pill you take is one step closer to clarity.
eally, have I ever failed you?
pen your mouth and open your eyes.
ook around, but I’ll always be here for you.
The Butler Did It: A Mystery
Who wrecked my car? They did.
Who drove? He did.
Who went with him? She did.
At least you called the cops. We did.
I did a good job convincing them, huh? You did.
Did you hide your mom’s body? I did.
I don’t believe in reincarnation, that bad/good karma controls a future destiny. If I did, I imagine the hells that await writers with bad karma are future careers as Hallmark writers. I imagine a born-again Dostoevsky, punished for vodka-driven excesses of his former life, trapped in a 15th floor Manhattan office drafting overly sentimental mush for a picture of a dew-covered rose next to the feet of a newborn baby. I imagine him not grasping for the phrases to polish off a soul-searing portrait of human essence, but rather trying to find yet another rhyming phrase for “I love you.”
Looking Through Glass
on windy days i imagine
soaring through my window when
the time has come
for me to fly
and the dormouse
and the weasel and the field mouse
will forever lose their eyes
on rainy days i seek out the
circus umbrella who is
said to talk
about the weather
you open its polyester skin
of many things
it mentions then
is that canvas will bow to wind
and the rhythm
on pavement goes
stomp scrape stomp
and the rhythm of seas
on waves of gold goes
Looking Through Glass (continued)
on sunny days i dream
that i were made of herring bones
and sealing wax
with an external coat of cream
and the hollow knocks
and the muffled thwocks
resound slowly down the stream
on quiet days i hold court
with popes and princes
entertaining fine notions
about why the ocean
dances less greenly
and why the sea
sings less bluely
and other such nautical things
and the rhythm
on desktops goes
knock pound knock
and the rhythm of planes
on clouds of green goes
Looking Through Glass (continued)
on snowy days i escape
from the frozen breathing of crows
is boiling hot
whose clipped wings
are certainly not
and the tautness of phone wires grows
and whether the emperor
expects like devotion
and whether pigs
expend like emotion
i’m certain no one else knows
on final days i keep reminding
myself and others
that those that
forever shed their feathers
and the rhythm
of my thoughts
and my essence goes
silence quiet silence
and in the rhythm of souls
on beds of ease goes
My father once struck my brother with a stick. Not the ones we cracked, whereupon they’d snap when they reached our legs. A whole stick. It’s abuse now; it was abuse then. Pride restrained the sounds of all but falling tears from my brother. The resulting bruises lingered longer than the initial hate. My father hobbles now, needing a cane he doesn’t use. His legs act up nowadays -- twisted ankle here, sore calf there; the frailty of his legs a fitting judgment against past actions. Maybe a reaction to irony prevents him from using a cane, another whole stick.
“Sorry.” Don’t give me that look. Like I meant to step on your heel. Walk faster, then, bitch. Crap, swore again. Sorry, Jesus. I should have given them a dollar. Is UHO even a real homeless organization? Is she a volunteer, or is she homeless? She’s so young. She should get a job. Unless this is her job. That’s right, taxi. I have the right of way. I could get killed if I glare too long. If I were indestructible I’d flip you over, cab. You’d hit me and bounce off my leg. Then I’d flip you over and run.
Meal: Chicken and rice.
Scene I: The little one who’s not so little self-feeds and ketchup attaches to her left cheek. Our first protagonist (you) uses the bib of the little one who’s not so little to tenderly remove the ketchup.
Scene II: The second protagonist (me) self-feeds, and in his haste, chicken attaches to his left cheek. Our first protagonist uses her own napkin to tenderly remove the chicken.
Scene III (finale): The second protagonist ever grateful for the first protagonist’s continued gentle care clumsily writes this play to say I love you.
Is completion always accompanied by sadness, or is that my unique phenomenon? Finishing tasks and responsibilities feels good: getting something out of the way, a sense of personal triumph, the ability to move on to something new, relief over goals accomplished. But isn’t it often tinged with melancholy? Can it also feel bad: a challenge no longer before you, a desire to be doing again what you’d been successfully doing before, nostalgia over what was and won’t be again? I’m delighted that August is over and September ahead. But these words are my children and they’re already off to school.
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