writing and editing

Month: May 2020

Shoebox Confessional: Part H

Dear reader,

If I wanted to break my current form and make the title of this post more eye-catching (read: clickbait-y), it would be called “How to Lose a Friend in 10 Years.” Additional subtitle: how I, a coddled millennial, learned that good things don’t last forever. But people would expect a list-icle, and this is not one. 

It wouldn’t be a very long and annoying listicle though. The only item on it would be: time. Its eroding power isn’t something I learned about recently, but I always try to forget it. Deny it, if I’m being honest, as somehow for me, the dissolution of friendships is even less pleasant than romantic breakups. Maybe because I’ve learned that friendship is the foundation to any relationship. That’s really all there is to it.

Thank you,

J Wang

The story I used to tell people about how we met was that I was mesmerized by your skirt when you first walked into our high school Japanese class. Some might consider this an expected, maybe even cliché, entry way into a female friendship. Taking gender out of the equation though, the piece you wore would’ve been a work of art in anyone’s eyes. When you stood, the cotton material fell almost to your slim ankles, so unlike mine, and unfurled visions of tropical splendor, the brushstrokes of the leaf and hut prints delicate yet evocative of another pace of life. I can see now how it might’ve appeared to be an item made for tourists, but no. The way you carried yourself in it suggested it had more meaning and maybe even a history, that it was a treasured heirloom. But to you whom I’d known for a minute up until then, I’d simply said, “I love your skirt.” And that was enough. You welcomed the compliment and soon, me. A new friend.

But technically, you had not been totally unknown to me. A few days before, I’d seen you when I stepped onto the ice to begin another session of struggling to master moves for my next figure skating test. You’d zoomed by, unafraid of your speed and potentially colliding with the other skaters, a foil to my cautious self. I admired that but really it was more so your lack of hesitation to assert that you had arrived, a new face here to stay. And after we’d shared chips dipped in your mom’s guacamole, study sessions that were too short but maybe also too long thanks to our goofing off, and shifts working together in the rink’s pro shop, I wanted you to. 

And you did. Through my ambivalence and “hater” period, when you successfully convinced me that prom must not be missed. Through the greatest surprise of my life, when you brought me back down to earth and assured me that it was true: I would be going to a college few get into and few thought I could get into, including myself. And shortly after, through the most painful, unexpected grief I’ve experienced, even though you could not be with me in person. In your stead, an arrangement of white flowers shaped like a puppy arrived at my door. The delivery man did not know what depths he’d pulled me out of. That you’d pulled me out of.

We would be forever friends, I’d thought. So many people dream of finding their true romantic love, but for an only child like me, our kind of bond was my unspoken wish. A sister before misters. Unoriginal and oversimplified, but I clung to the phrase. Near the end of college, during which we kept in touch over separate continents thanks to that relic Skype, I thought back to an article that had made its way around the internet, saying that if a friendship lasts seven years, it was likely to last forever. I counted up our years: by the time we graduated with our bachelor’s degrees, we would be firmly over that mythical line. A wish realized. Even better, soon you’d be back in the same country after our diplomas were in hand.

For a year or two afterwards, reality and fantasy were one and the same. We were both working adults with some amount of discretionary income to use as we pleased. Over one long-awaited three-day weekend, we reunited in the happiest place on earth. Riding with the top of your convertible down, my heart flew. We had made it back to each other. Our sixteen-year-old selves could not have imagined the lives we’d created. 

There was my error. I marveled at our present through the lens of the past, while you must have already begun to move on to a future without me. Seven, eight, nine, we climbed but didn’t make it to ten. Monthly calls turned into biannual turned into no more. Then, I learned, secondhand, that you’d wanted to exclude me.

So recently I’ve found different evidence to sustain me: one study found that most friendships don’t last more than seven years. With that in mind I can say we had a good run. Above the average, enough to celebrate and little to regret. 

Maybe we’ll be in the same place again someday, or the same context, the more technical term. There could be something else of yours that I’ll love. But you can be assured, it’s not a new wish of mine. I have no more claim on you than you on me now.

Old friend, love you, too.

batshitrich (poem)

Dear reader,

I let this short poem quickly flow out of me after wanting to find a different way to express my frustrations as an Asian-American in the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. A bit of my logic follows. Also, warning on some strong language in the poem; the title of this post should hint at that.

On a global level, we’re in unfamiliar territory as our previous normal ways of life and the systems we’ve built to support it are undergoing a reckoning. Since I’m not a policy expert, and journalism outlets such as NPR are covering these aspects better than I can, I won’t discuss that much further. (Check out these episodes from NPR’s The Indicator From Planet Money: “Essential Workers” and “Why We Didn’t Prepare For The Pandemic.“) I just ask that we all think about what the pandemic has brutally taught us about what we need to change and rethink. Vote with your votes and consumer dollars.

Although The Indicator hosts discussed why we as a world economy didn’t prepare for this pandemic, I can’t say that I personally haven’t prepared — at least mentally speaking. As soon as I heard about this virus first appearing in mainland China, I knew what the knock-on effects would be for me as an Asian-American. At best, wary glances whenever I go out in public in this time. At worst, well, unfortunately, I don’t think there is a limit to what people can do. When I go out for walks now, despite being in a community where Asian faces are commonly seen and (begrudgingly?) accepted, I see my light exercise hand-weights as more than just an exercise tool, I have to admit.

I’ll note that I am, in fact, also in some new territory personally since poetry is an art form I’ve been able to appreciate, in most cases (don’t @ me). However, writing it is something I last tried in high school…maybe. This has been a humbling growing experience. So thanks for bearing with the length of this letter (and a helpful postscript) compared to the poem itself. Chalk it up to my nerves. I’m not so confident a writer where I let my work stand on its own with no preamble right now, I have to admit.

Thank you,

J Wang


this all started with us eating bats
they snap
but well our food has always been weird
they sneer
of course, our food meaning the real stuff
not counting the supersized sodiumized sweetified deepfried deboned
they love
     but honestly I've been corrupted and sometimes that is just the right stuff
     isn't that just batshitrich?

this all makes me think of that factoid the Bei Jing
or was it Wu Zhen or Yang Zhou or wherever 
my mom or grandma god I miss her took me that one summer
-- anyway, that tour guide 
they explained 
that you see these bat motifs 
(my Chimerican brain immediately went to bat mobiles) 
in this architecture because 
they were good to have around because 
they sounded the same as
fortune fú and fú
so they are fortune

I never saw bats the same way after that tour wherever
and I swallowed that fact and kept it in my belly because 
I know now
this heritage is my fortune

this all made me think though
why did some of us have to go and eat bats
(I didn't and I'd never)
was it for the fortune because
seriously, can we stop believing that that's how this works?
no -- seriously, can they stop believing that that's how this works?
don't they want to save their fortunes?  
they made it worse for faces like mine
f u!
I'm no better than they are
     that's just

my mom and dad always said
     all the knowledge you learn goes into your stomach
     it'll feed you and you'll always have something to eat
this time, I let myself be fed what
they thought and said

this started
this started.
so there are those who really deserve some fu right now
yes, I mean fú 
yes, let fortune favor us all
as some of us favor fú 

P.S. Depending on your screen resolution, this poem may not reflect its original formatting. For a little more context, check out these links about how bats are seen in traditional Chinese culture: The Silent Language of Jade” in Honolulu Magazine and commentary on a Chinese tapestry by the Met Museum. And a short history of Chinese food in America and American Chinese food by Time magazine. I scrutinized as much as possible to ensure that these are reputable information sources. There’s a lot of batshit trashy content out there.

From Yang Zhou, China, I believe.

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