About a year ago, I hustled a trip back to SoCal, booked the flight ticket a week before leaving, texted to the one I was going there for right after the confirmation letter arrived in my inbox. My flight there was partially Paul Kalanithi partially an endless waiting. The suitcase was packed two days before I leave. No need for a huge prep for a week’s trip, no matter how far is it.
I’ve found out, only recently, how embarrassing it is where modern technology leads us to, you know, like the sausage in between two bread buns one stands for the past, another for the future. We are so in between that an eleven hours across continent flight plus a four hours overlap plus a one hour in state flight seems like a distance neither too long for you to feel those critical tiny feelings which forms the tipping point of our future, nor too short for you to be straight minded casting away your kindness and patience and sympathy towards something you had already denied.
So I’ve been putting up so many photos, pieces and fragments, onto that album titled “the assignment album” with all letters lower cased. Then you see also, how moments rolling into days, days into years, years into decades, (?) decades into life. (will they?)
My new scheduled departure date is again approaching, but I haven’t told you that I had been stop hopping and hoping. That around trip we talked about to Alpha Centuri, it probably wouldn’t close the gap, but it once burnt my flesh and now still flicking in the back of my hand.
I’ve got tons of homework for myself, about the museums, about coffee shops, about apartment homes, about many of the upcoming cheering reunion, about my ocean, about the wind…but here it comes, again I cannot devote to the homework. Maybe I won’t be packing until the day before I set off. And there is only one thing haunting throughly, piercing the peaceful nights, creating dreams of my childhood best friend and secret assassin plans and monsters about to devour half of this world, it goes like will you come back will you come back will you come back will you come back will you come back will you come back for home or just for me will you…not even a question.
I see you like trimming stuff, for those physical trims, you never failed. But I had laughed at your failure on trimming the intangible. Lines of lines of encrypted codes, converging into a small potato chip, in Super Bowl, others’ holiday makes no difference in our lives. But your lines, they do converge onto the chip, and it failed you. You made a joke on that, instead of laughing, I laughed at the failure. Such an Ahole I was when we first met.
I bought many gifts, boxes of chocolate, nights open for going out with anyone available in sight, night dresses, lip gloss, instruments paints brushes not for art but for killing time, never enough for all things in my plan by then, so abundant and skinny when I’m left all alone.
You don’t know the room, do you? The one he held her entering into, the shadows casted on the wall, an empty room full of light that makes time sacred. That’s when a moment becomes forever. It happened before. I sing that song a lot in the summer, now don’t you understand that I’m never changing who I am. I thought it’s easy to stop at the moment and never look back, but I was so wrong that I bear all those wronged ideas you may have about me. The faked world of the adults you opened up for me, surprisingly and sadly, doesn’t looks like what Neil described. Even it is a lie, I still go a long way behind for its complexity, for holding up the fervent expectation to find something relevant or could be consider as your creator. Now don’t get me wrong again, this is just “spiritual”, I’m not even as half religious as you are. But faith is contagious.
Back to my homework, it never get to the top of my list just because I know the answer to the chapter quiz is coming and I don’t want to overthink it.
Do you think it’ll be misty while I’m around?
“It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again. That’s the thing about things. they fall apart, always have, always will, it’s in their nature.”-loc 59
“He’d imagined death would distil a person, strip the rotting rot away till everything was light as a cloud. Seems the self you get left with on the shore, in the end, is the self that you were when you went.”-loc 67
“But the sea? Silent, like sea in a dream.”-loc 157. The sea had never been quiet. But in my memory, it is. It is always quiet in my memories like it comes out of a dream.
“Daniel lies there very still in the bed, and the cave of his mouth, its unsaying of these things, is the threshold to the end of the world as she knows it.”-loc 379
“It’s not what I mean, she says. I’m tired of the news. I’m tried of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.”-loc 571
“The word gymkhana, Daniel said, is a wonderful word, a word grown from several languages.
Words don’t get grown, Elisabeth said.
They do, Daniel said.
Words aren’t plants, Elisabeth said.
Words are themselves organisms, Daniel said.
Oregano-isms, Elisabeth said.
Herbal and verbal, Daniel said. Language is like poppies. It just takes something to churn the earth round them up, and when it does up come the sleeeping words, bright red, fresh, blowing about. Then the seedheads rattle, the seeds fall out. Then there’s even more language waiting to come up.”-loc 673
“Collage is an institute of education where all the rules can be thrown into the air, and size and space and time and foreground and background all become relative, and because of these skills everything you think you know gets made into something new and strange.”-loc 702
“Elisabeth opened her eyes. She saw Daniel open his eyes a moment later.
Later that night, when she was home and falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV, Elisabeth would remember seeing his eyes open, and how it was like that moment when you just happen to see the streetlights come on and it feels like you’re being given a gift, or a chance, or that you yourself’ve been singled our and chosen by the moment.”- loc 726
“Time flies, Elisabeth said.
Well, yes. It can do, Daniel said. Literally.
Elisabeth doesn’t remember much of the above.
She does remember, though, the day they were walking along the canal bank when she was small and Daniel took his watch off his wrist and threw it into the water.
She remembers the thrill, the absolute not-doneness of it.”-loc 750
“A minute ago it was June. Now the weather is September.”-loc 833
“He is thin and small, sixteen summers old but he thinks he’s a man.”-loc 952
“Boy on a train.
Blink of an eye.
Old man in a bed.
The old man in the bed is confined.
Wooden overcoat.”-loc 977
“Which would you choose? Daniel said once. Should I please her and tell her she’s guessed right, and that I’m a recently retired Rambert? Or should I tell her the more mundane truth?
Definitely tell her the lie, Elisabeth said.
But think what will happen if I do, Daniel said.
It’ll be brilliant, Elisabeth said. It’ll be really funny.
I’ll tell you what will happen, Daniel said. This. You and I will know I’ve lied, but your mother won’t. You and I will know something that your mother doesn’t. That will make us feel different towards not just your mother, but each other. A wedge will come between us all. You will stop trusting me, and quite right, because I’d be a liar. We’ll all be lessened by the lie. So. Do you still choose the ballet? Or will I tell the sorrier truth?
I want the lie, Elisabeth said. She knows loads of things I don’t. I want to know some things she doesn’t.
The power of the lie, Daniel said. Always seductive to the powerless. But how is my being a retired dancer going to help in any real way with your feelings of powerlessness?
Were you a dancer? Elisabeth said.
That’s my secret, Daniel said. I’ll never divulge. Not to any human being. Not for any money.”-loc 1097
“They walked past the shops, then over to the field where the inter-school summer sports were held, where the fair went and the circus. Elisabeth had last come to the field just after the circus had left, especially to look at the flat dry place where the circus had had its tent. She liked doing melancholy things like that. But now you couldn’t tell that any of these summer things had ever happened. There was just empty field. The sports tracks had faded and gone. the flattened grass, the places that had turned to mud where the crowds had wandered round between the rides and the open-sided trailers full of the driving and shooting games, the ghost circus ring: nothing but grass.
Somehow this wasn’t the same as melancholy. It was something else, about how melancholy and nostalgia weren’t relevant in the slightest. Things just happened. Then they were over. Time just passed. Partly it felt unpleasant, to think like that, rude even. Partly it felt good. It was kind of a relief.”-loc 1103
“There is no point in making up a world, Elisabeth said, when there’s already a real world. There’s just the world, and there’s the truth about the world.
You mean, there’s the truth, and there’s the made-up version of it that we get told about the world, Daniel said.
no, The world exists. Stories are made up, Elisabeth said.
But no less true for that, Daniel said.
That’s ultra-crazy talk, Elisabeth said.
And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That’s my suggestion.”-loc 1150
“I don’t like it when the summer goes and the autumn comes, she said.
Daniel took her by the shoulders and turned her round. He didn’t say anything. But all across the landscape down behind them it was still sunlight blue and green.
She looked up at him showing her how the summer was still there.
Nobody spoke like Daniel.
nobody didn’t speak like Daniel.”-loc 1425
“It is possible, he said, to be in love not with someone but with their eyes. I mean, with how eyes that aren’t yours let you see where you are, who you are.
We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters.
It’s the only responsibility memory has, he said. But, of course, memory and responsibility are strangers. They’re foreign to each other. memory always goes its own way quite regardless.”-loc 1553
“It is a privilege, to watch someone sleep, Elisabeth tells herself. It is a privilege to be able to witness someone both here and not here. To be included in someone’s absence, it is an honour, and it asks quiet. It asks respect.
No. It is awful.
It is fucking awful.
It is always awful to be on the literal other side of his eyes.”-loc 1620
“Would you actually like to time-travel? She said. If you could, I mean, and time travel was a real thing?
Very much indeed, Daniel said.
Why? Elisabeth said.
Time travel is real, Daniel said. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute.
He opened his eyes wide at Elisabeth. Then he put his hand in his pocket, took out a twenty pence piece, held it in front of Barbra the cat. He did something with his other hand and the coin disappeared! He made it disappear!
The song about love being an easy chair filled the room. Barbra the cat was still looking in disbelief at Daniel’s empty hand. She put both paws up, held the hand, put her nose into it to look for the missing coin. Her cat face as full of amazement.
See how it’s deep in our animal nature, Daniel said. Not to see what’s happening right in front of our eyes.”-loc 1676
“It’s a question of how we regard our situations, dearest Dani, how we look and see where we are, and how we choose, if we can, when we are seeing undeceivedly, not to despair and, at the same time, how best to act. Hope is exactly that, that’s all it is, a matter of how we deal with the negative acts towards human beings by other human beings in the world, remembering that they and we are all human, that nothing human is alien to us, the foul and the fair, and that most important of all we’re here for a mere blink of the eyes, that’s all. But in that Augenblick there’s either a benign wink or a willing blindness, and we have to know we’re equally capable of both, and to be ready to be above and beyond the foul even when we’re up to our eyes in it. So it’s important- and here I acknowledge directly the kind and charming and mournful soul of my dear brother whom I know so well-not to waste the time, our time, when we have it.”-loc 1791
But his brother decided to sell his home, his home and his sister’s paintings, his library, his mom’s jewelry, and his clothes would all be gone.
He was reading an old old The Miserable with a worn out black dust cover, across the table in pancake house. I never expect he would start talking to me.
“I used to drink coffee with milk and cream too. But I don’t do that any more because I travel a lot. Milk and sugar quality and availability vary from one country to another. But black coffee is always the same everywhere. You know, how bad could a cup of black coffee be? So I trained myself drinking black coffee.”
His apartment smells ancient. Tiny dust particles floating in the air, in the sun light shining through the big window. Or winter snow dancing in the air, sucking in the ripples of the sound wave in the big city. I used to sleep over on his couch in his library room, in which he still have a picture of his old girlfriend in her 20s on the small wardrobe top. That room reminds me of my grandma, and it reminds me of the Museum of Innocence. Whenever I woke up earlier than the time we set to get up and have breakfast, I read those huge illustration books. Dali, Van Gogh, Monet, and others we could find in the Art Institute.
“Do you think I could get the job?” I asked when he drove me to my first job interview.
“I don’t know. But I do know that you just need to be you and let them see whether you really fit that position or not.”
It was summer time. I get confused about years and I don’t care neither.
“Let’s assume that I would live till my 90s, I would have another 20 years ahead. But the time I could use for travel would be less than that since my physical condition may not allow me to travel to another continent 10 years from now.” I was sitting on his couch, amazed by his estimation about his own life, and naively believed every single word he had told.
There is no reason, you see, why anyone who has firmly grasped the fact that there’s nothing frightening in the absence of life should find anything frightening in life.
My last semester at school, I started to read The Night Circus. I had seen it in his library, and he told me it’s about magic and a circus. You know, kid’s story. Do you like it? Yes I do. Would I like it? Yes, I think so. It is really like you said about magic and a circus. I thought it must be a love story. It is simply about magic and a circus. You told me I would like it too. Do you like it? Yes I do.
Sometimes I ask myself, how come we went to so many book stores together, and we keep going back to the same one. Sometimes he buys a book or two, sometimes I buy one, but mostly, he told me books he knew, books he has been reading, books he had read. I get nothing to do, so I just wandering around, and read. Did I ever told him or not, this is how I wish myself to get old.
It is about the right time that I’m reading Ali again. I mentioned her to him before, when it took me a whole year to finish Artful. Now she is writing, about us. There is no plot, no drama, no story line. Only two people, one is young, another is old. It is about the enlightenment, the accompany, the conversations, the tiny fragments of time. The fence Daniel and Elisabeth shared is no different from the brick building; the depiction of paintings is no different from those real sculptures, paintings, collages we’ve seen together.
I order a Vanilla Blonde every time I went back to the campus bookstore Starbucks. He told me it is what he orders every time on State St. I haven’t been to that store for three years already, while I could still calculate, before using the too general a word “years”.
This could goes very very long, maybe not forever now. I’ll just stop here and let Ali say the words for us if that’s okay.
People say you are good. We do now.
It is right about the time for us, but too late for you.
I still remember the New Year’s Eve, how I standing in the middle of the hall that full of your paintings, knowing for sure that this would be the place I’d be back again and again for a home.
Do you know that snowy winter, I’ve visited MoMA only for the real Starry Night, the one appears not only as my footprint, but also as my sloppy faith towards life; and the huge puzzle hanging on my bedroom wall, it kept me accompany through my loneliest days and nights? I was standing in front of the genuine work of yours, the one I’ve been looking at for so many times from so many places, feeling it worth all.
When I moved away, one of the biggest concerns is I’m gonna be far away from you. But I already knew that I’d make it for your Bedroom exhibition no matter what. It was around Valentine’s Day, and I thought people in the museum are really considerate and romantic to make it happen at that time. They made a Night Cafe for guests sitting and chatting, and they copied your Bedroom so that people may book it for a night to stay in your “truth”.
So many texts and works, movies and music are made for you; those texts are connected with each other, they talk to each other, they show us, they sing. I’ve never found the missing piece in my puzzle, and it is so beautiful because of that imperfection. That’s when I started to know I could fall for an imperfection just for what it is.
Do you know the show Dr. Who? They made an episode that the Dr. goes back in time and brings you to the modern world where you see all those who admire and respect and fervently love your work studying there with great appreciation. And you in that fiction? You cried. Is it a fiction, or it is the truth in another universe?
The day I went back for the Bedroom exhibition, I was sitting in the Night Cafe when an old guy sitting across the table started talking to me. He said “Please sit down, now, what would you like for a drink?” I remember it cuz I wrote it down that day. I also wrote at the end of my journal:
“How can I not fall deeply and tenderly in love with you?”
You see? We feel what you felt through your work, and to your work.