Another missive from me, Molly, here, in China. Couple of updates on the China site including lots of new photos and some poetry from the students: http://mollybee.org/china.html
The other night I stood marveling, looking up between the concrete walls of an urban ravine, clutching an invisible bucket to my chest-- feeling as if I were Copernicus at the bottom of his well-- and discovered something incredible. There are stars over China. Two months of an upward unknown, hidden by pollutions of air and light, but in the crispness of that night I could finally observe them. There it was, the Teddy Bear Constellation from my youth, known to most as Orion. There, Auriga with Capella and her three baby goats. But only the brightest-- like Cassiopeia and Ursa Major show; not all are present and accounted for. And it's hard to tell when some are missing, or when one is about to fall. That's why it's a good idea to carry an invisible bucket, just in case.
A man and a young child slept on a blanket on the sidewalk, disheveled, a few belongings set about. I rummaged for some coins to set in his collection box. But before the disks stopped tinkling in his tin, I regretted having played into his pity trap. I then immediately regretted regretting my alms, that I was the sort of person who can be so cynical and callous. I thought I recognized him, the child, and the blanket from Wenzou, another part of town. It appalls me to think of a child raised in such conditions. An apparently able-bodied man who uses this child as a tool to garner effortless profit. A conniving rapscallion who will pass on the tricks of his tradelessness to others, the babe included. I suspect the child, likely malnourished in any case for want of food and love, is not even his. But I don't know this or anything about him. Who but the most needy would abase himself in such mortifying humility? Isn't anyone who asks entitled to a crumb? Am I qualified to judge the content of his character and the designs in his heart? Is it right that I, possessor of papers, should begrudge him the passing flash of a few clinking coins? This country is full of people who earn less than they deserve and would benefit greatly from an extra dollar a day; even the rich maintain their clutching desires for more. Throughout the day I feel eyes clawing at me-- they would have everything I possess, down to the spread of the skin covering my body. There is not enough to give to all, but who deserves some over others? The ancient, the obviously unable to work, the hideously disfigured, the ones who do something to entertain me? There are some who demand rudely and shove their collection cans against me brusquely-- they see none of my silver. There are those whose eyes are quieted and dulled with despair-- I feel for them... into my pockets. It's up to the whim of my conscience what I share, but I feel it's always best to err on the side of kindness-- even when it is unwarranted.
Mitch's mother's mother's younger brother is in town visiting-- Great Uncle Paul. He's pretty self sufficient, even without the language, and traipses about town during the day. On Saturday, we went out and about and headed back to Brown Sugar so that I could catch a game of go with the boss. We stood outside the cafe and Paul says, "You know, I swear I was here this morning. Yes, right up there is where Karin works. She called out to me, 'You look like a Californian.' and we talked for a while." I got a little jittery and asked, "Karin, Karin Faulkner?" thinking no way, no possible way he could say yes. But yes, he said, and showed me her business card, "Karin Faulkner" in ink on paper, so it must be true. You see, Karin Faulkner was my elementary school writing teacher! So I did a jittery jig and spun some circles exclaiming that I had forgotten that she'd been in China for six or eight years. And here she was in Xiamen, being my neighbor, four blocks up the road, as it turns out. Paul had an errand date with her in the morning, so I decided to crash it.
She sauntered up in the sunshine to meet us outside my gate, and Paul said, "I forgot to mention that Mitch has a roommate. This is Molly." And I couldn't contain myself so I told her she was my writing teacher in elementary school. She twirled an incredulous jittery jig clockwise to counter my chiral mirrored sinistrokes, and exclaimed, "Molly! Molly Boynoff?!" as she too remembers me. It's a rather extraordinary meeting as she was quite formative in my young writing career. When I was in fifth grade I wrote a edgy poem about my mother's older sister which she had blown up to poster size, let me pick out the fonts and everything, and hung in the hallway for everyone to read. I was so proud! Well, we were thrilled to see each other again, 18 years later and doing similar things in the same city in China, both working on the side for Times, and writing. She has no room for surprise though, because just the previous day she had given Paul a sample of her writing "Apology to a River" and had dedicated it with the line, "There are no coincidences." True story. This follows an entirely different story about reuniting with my elementary school art teacher, the both of us sitting naked in a cattle trough at a hot springs in the middle of the Nevada desert off a dirt road off a dirt road off a dirt road off a paved road off a random highway somewhere. Not the most likely of occurrences, especially when you consider that I am from a town of only 245 people. With two teachers so well-met, I now want to collect the whole set. Maybe my math teacher and I can meet up in Thailand next year?
So we spent the day purchasing things for her move to a new apartment in town. Lumber and lights, brackets and bulbs, a toilet seat and a drill set. I found cheese and avocados at a German imports store, and a fresh baguette at a fabulous cafe, which I brought home triumphantly to Mitch. Not the cafe, just the baguette, cheese and aguacates. Which is a huge deal since he's been in China for eight months and done without. This was all highly exciting, and Karin got emotional about finding duct tape! And we went back to her house where I got to meet her darling cats and played a game of... Boggle!!! She has Boggle! A truly wonderful day!
On Facebook, (because I am a zealous convert... I am a BELIEVER!) I rifled through some links and found a network for my school in Mendocino. Through it, I was able to connect with people I hadn't talked to since grammar school. I saw a list of their names, many of them with pictures of how they had grown up. It was like a pan-decade graduation ceremony, each of the names representing a different life that had touched mine, all their accomplishments and accolades laid out before God and the Internet to bear witness. They are giant balls of light, rolling across uncharted heavens, being the people I never will, having experiences I never could-- by simple virtue of being Molly and no other. They are, as are you, my Experience Extensions in a space-net I want to keep a hold on always.
My fever of frustration and anger has broken. For months I silently endured the chain smoking in my school office, thinking that it was a cultural norm that I needed to respect. When constantly exposed to cigarette smoke, my lungs scream and my throat scratches dryly and my eyes burn and I am easily irritated and feel the effects of the nicotine long after I've left the office. But I am an outsider and I thought it was not my place to change the operating norms in the office, since cigarettes are so accepted here and there are no complaints from any other corner. I didn't want to jeopardize my working relationships with everyone at the school by single-handedly taking on the role of ass-pain-cause-of-resentment at Yingcai. But in speaking with other teachers at the school, I learned that not only is my office the only egregious one at school, but also there is already a school rule forbidding smoking in the office, with a fine of 100 yuan per cigarette. With this knowledge, I no longer felt in the wrong to formally ask my boss to change the ways of the officemates starting the next morning. This whole last week I have breathed relief.
I think it's hilarious to ravage an ear of corn, for example, and then report to the provider of said edible that my corn is broken. "What?" My corn is broken; it stopped working. I think I need a new one. But Mitch would not put this in the category of "hilarious." And this all started when I told the smoothie guy that my smoothie was broken, it had stopped working. I rattled the straw around in the empty container for effect, but he just looked quizzically at the bottom of the cup and then set about to make me a new one. This is followed by my asking for a mushroom smoothie the other day. I said "mo gu" instead of "mu gua" but I just went with it. Yes, a mushroom smoothie please-- with seaweed. "Uh, we have cucumbers but no mushrooms or seaweed." Do you have mice? "What?! No." But I hear mice. Do you not have mice? "Oh, yes, we have mice." Well, then? I'll have a mouse smoothie. They *love* me. But mostly it's because I always pay in fives.
I think often of generational knowledge. Of how we have bands of scientists and mathematicians and artists that we send out to gather information and inspiration and bring it back to the hive. All this collection is stuffed lovingly into the flesh we've created from flesh, flushing the most important things on down through a river of meat-time packets. Thus we ensure further complications and the survival of our progression. It makes it increasingly interesting now that we are a more notably exponential expression after so much apparent linearity, though looking closely, one can see the curve was always present. I wonder where our exploding point is, where we fall through a hole in the graph-- our Asymptotic Apocalypse.
Paul informs me that orangutans are the only animal other than humans who ever copulate face-to-face. He thinks it might be an intelligence-related thing. Or is it because most all animals aren't anatomically suited for such a position? Though apparently none of the other primates who can, do. Does it have any significance?
Are you crazy? Is that accepted yet as a virtue?
Are you extraordinary? If not, you might want to look into being crazy.
Though I might be the wrong, or definitely right, person to ask.
I am free-writing NaNoWriMo this year but in the meantime, I pledge to write a love letter per day for the next month. Respond to this email if you want to be one of the thirty lucky recipients of a paper love letter, possibly including calligraphy or other art. Include your snail-mailing address just in case I am a dolt and lost it/ don't have it. If you've read this far in this letter, you deserve a love-letter. Really. So let me know if you are reading these words. <--