I am moving.
BUT NOT FAR!
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I am getting a smart phone.
Nothing represents the desecration of human society more than a smart phone. I see only peril in hand-held machines that can communicate, give directions in vague British accents, and allow us to become merry cartoon whales that fly atop rainbows without the aid of recreational drugs. They embody the beginnings of a cruel dystopian world where smart phones evolve into hyper intelligent phones and, eventually, into pretentious, liberal arts educated phones in New Hampshire that pontificate about whether a box of dinosaur shaped cereal featured in a Francois Truffaut film represents the extinction of meaning and feelings.
All of this being said, I am getting a smart phone. It is a decision that I made with scrupulous consideration – and by scrupulous consideration, I mean desperation and hypocrisy.
Why, you ask, has it taken an inordinate amount of time to transition to a smart phone like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa? I have been in possession of a simple flip phone for over a year – generously lent to me after I literally washed my previous device and failed to revive it even after frantically shaking it in a bag of brown rice.* Like most things that generally suck, I managed to find proverbial and literal silver linings such as:
• Never having anxiety about anyone stealing my phone – and feeling either greatly humored or worried about the status of mankind at the prospect of its theft.
• Upon hearing a joke about the pre-historic ages directed at my phone, having a discussion about how brontosauruses are not actually real dinosaurs.
Alas, endless discussions about pseudo Middle-Triassic reptiles have been significantly outweighed by:
• Eliciting laughter from someone in a bar after taking out my phone – a kind of laughter I have not heard since I was a little, puffy, otter-like adolescent changing for 7th grade PE.
• Having my co-workers hear every single letter I punch into the phone when I send a text message.
• Being forced to put a moratorium on the phrase, “That’s so 2008. And you’re so 2000 and late.”
• Wanting to express, via T-9, that something, someone, or some situation is “cool” only to send “book.”
• Not reaching a significant benchmark at the age of 25 – and that is hearing Ah-ha’s “Take On Me” in the morning as my alarm ringtone.
• Making the following flow-chart documenting the process that I must go through since losing the function of three buttons on my phone:
*This actually happened.
I am thinking it is a Memorial Day, indeed.
For much of my young adult life, I have written, near obsessively, about the things that I do not know – namely about the life my father led before he was recruited to fight other Vietnamese people in the Vietnam War. I try to sift through the silence, relying heavily on history books and literature to compose a narrative that I still know very little about. I feel as I have spent my years and my youth endlessly scavenging and rummaging for pieces of a story that I am not quite sure is mine.
In the little that I do know – strung together by pictures, bits of conversation, and academic text – I can only write. I write partially to record the history for myself, but mostly because the story feels so inconceivable that, in verbalized discussion, it sounds fictitious. In writing, I can cite the sources, I can refer to history, and I can defer to pictures. In my own family narrative, I still harbor an incessant need to show proof that what I say, in its seemingly hyperbolic nature, is true.
And so I preface the forthcoming story with a picture:
My father is in the top row, the farthest left. By his accounts, most of the men in this picture have died – causes of death are various and unknown. Herein lies what I know to be factual: My father was in first years of studying law when he was recruited to fly cargo planes for the South Vietnamese Air Force. In 1975, when the city of his birth proverbially fell to communism, he could not return home lest risk political imprisonment. In the 1980s, he received a letter informing him that his father – my grandfather – had died in a re-education camp in the northern region of Vietnam. In a tale that reads almost Homeric, it was my grandmother who traveled up the spine of the country to retrieve her husband’s body so that he could be buried, rightfully and honorably, in the country’s southern terrain. I attest that all of this is true.
Today is Memorial Day and I question, as I always have, the sentiment of the occasion, how it is separate from Veteran’s Day and, most importantly, how it can be a holiday of nationalism when the ramifications of war seep across borders and generations. The tragedy of war (and its constant repetition through history) is not solely in those who have died, but also in those who have somehow managed to live – and what it means to survive those who have survived. One of the greatest tragedies of my lifetime – one that pervades my daily life – is that my father would have been a far better lawyer than a solider. Yet he (and to an extent, I) was never given the opportunity to live and tell that story. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to believe than this one.
I am an adult solving pseudo-algebraic equations.
In January, I reached a milestone that, for many, is a cause for elation, despair, and the production of semi-racist television shows: I turned 25. Of course, on the day that I turned 25, my comprehension of the day’s significance was rather minimal – except that I had turned an age that was a multiple of five and, as we all know as fact, any number that is a multiple of five is vastly superior to multiples of two, three, or four.
Alas, I felt such a benchmark to be so trivial that I began to notate occasions that would justify the magnitude of this well-documented, important age. I have come up with five such occasions (this is intentional because, as we all know as fact, multiples of five are quite excellent) and have put them in very simple mathematical equations. The following are inequalities that prove that I have “come of age” – moments so poignant that they indicate my rise in maturation’s cruel, cruel echelon:
- Using the last five dollars in your possession to purchase beer. < Using the last five dollars in your possession to purchase tampons.
- Sleeping on a bed with pillow cases of a solid color – a deep, almost brooding violet that supposedly* reflects my disposition on life. > Sleeping on a bed with pillow cases containing cartoon monkeys swinging through a vaguely Hawaiian backdrop as they clutch coconuts – a pattern that supposedly reflects my penchant for…cartoon monkeys swinging through a vaguely Hawaiian backdrop as they clutch coconuts.
- Wearing a prom dress to a wedding you are attending. < Wearing a Bridesmaid dress from a wedding to a prom that you are chaperoning.
- Sipping a “Natural” Light in the basement of a dilapidated row house that smells distinctly of urine, marijuana, and assorted Kraft products as I ironically berate over-privileged, private college educated students. < Sipping a Tecate at a dive bar that smells distinctly of urine, marijuana, and locally, organically grown onions as I ironically berate hipsters in a pair of jeans that are, like, really, really (dangerously) tight.
- Discussing colonial powers with professors. < Discussing the days of professors with colonial powers.
*Editor’s Note: ”Supposedly” means “absolutely not”.
I am going to let my words speak louder than my words.
You call yourself, a writer, but it is merely a title of what could be rather than what is. You call yourself a writer — you take the long walks, you scribble furiously, you stop, mid-step, to harness a thought. And yet, there is nothing to show for your walks, your scribbles on tattered bits, your urge to stop foot traffic to grasp on to a sentence that is moving so furiously — too furiously — through your mind. You call yourself a writer, but still the very place that holds much of your writing has been left untouched for nearly four months.
These past few months, you have oscillated between incomplete pieces and half written thoughts, perhaps because all that hopes you have in one thing you know are unbearably high. And so you do everything else because, a bag of Cheetoes and a 10-part YouTube version of Home Alone later, you can merely call yourself a writer and continue dreaming of the day you are one.
Perhaps it is time that you abide by all that you told yourself, otherwise you will find yourself writing, yet again, about the writer that you could be — the writer that you will be if you simply stop the calling and started writing.
(Half of) what I promised myself:
"In writing, I traverse geographies that are otherwise inaccessible, position myself in histories that I have missed by a generation, and vicariously hobnob among socialites who, in the non-fictitious world, would not endure my awkwardness. I am mesmerized and provoked by the Mark Doty’s of writing – assemblers of language who can describe clocks, and cupboards, and dogs in a way that is methodically intricate, yet smooth, effortless. I let the Dickensian characters who await their lovers – daily, elegiacally, outside physical and figurative prisons – set unreasonable, hopeless standards for my romantic partners. Writing moves me – to tears, to pretension, to espousing all the adages and Oprah-laden clichés about the power of words.
I am also moved, literally. My relationship with Vietnam – the country of my parents’ births, the land in which they fled and are estranged – is fragmented, embodied by silence, wired American currency, drunk uncles crooning Vietnamese karaoke ballads, discolored, caption-less photographs of Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Houston. I attribute the assignment of Tim O’Brien’s war and craft memoir, The Things They Carried, to igniting my obsession with reading, interpreting, and reconstructing geography through memory. Then a college sophomore at Georgetown University, I read O’Brien’s interpretation of Vietnamese terrain – “the mountains”, “the mosquito nettings” and the “extra bug juice” – and realized that I had yet to define the country of my heritage in my own language, with my own narrative. One year later, I sat by a window on a train, watching the lush rice paddies of Central Vietnam turn into a haze of green hues. I was surrounded by snack sized packages of sugar encrusted squid, the smell of condensed milk swirling with French roasted coffee, the sound of Vietnamese men bemoaning the long wait for singular hole that was the makeshift toilet. It was my first exposure to Vietnamese land and the first writing of my own Vietnamese American story that would later become my undergraduate thesis.
I moved to California immediately after graduation from Georgetown, carrying preconceived notions of the state and two oversized suitcases – the reliable bags jammed with rolled t-shirts and miniature toiletries that I had unzipped on my first days as a freshman in college, as a visitor in Saigon, and now as an educator in San Francisco. In nearly three years, the California I have created as a College Counselor is one of movement between story and storytelling, narrative and narration. At [School Name], I manage the College and Career Center, a small space facilitating the college application process for the school’s 1200-strong student body. Most of the students are sons and daughters of Filipino and Central American immigrants and the pride of their working-class families – almost all will be the first in their families to pursue a post-secondary education. They are teenage parents, undocumented Americans, ardent believers that Stanford is superior to heaven, chronic procrastinators, young Latinas who despise machismo but love mathematics, the victims of sexual abuse, alcoholic fathers, overscheduling and poverty. It is my job to help authentically translate these stories into lines on an application and a 500 word (or less) personal statement. I transform learning style into writing style – the English as a Second Language learner who desires line by line analysis, the quiet and thoughtful environmentalist who needs questions and quiet to construct beautiful, ethereal language. I move students from their “home” language to “academic” language, from idea to outline to composition. The dozens of free writes, marked drafts, and polished personal statements I protect in manila folders embody my own evolution as a reader, writer, and teacher. The stories are palpable reminders of an exhilarating, exhausting experience that I hope will translate into a career teaching composition at a community college – an institution most of my students will navigate in their lifetimes. Just as the College and Career Center is an indispensable space between students and their final applications, in California and in my students, I have been convinced that the community college is an invaluable passage between high school and a 4-year institution.
I am compelled, once more, to be moved by writing.”
I am writing a book.
As I sat on the bus this morning, I came to the conclusion that I must chase after my girlhood dream of publishing a book – namely a premature memoir that will bring revolutionary wisdom unto the world. It will extrapolate heavy philosophical and near-Biblical revelations from the stories of my formative years. It will relay insights so profound in publication that, inevitably, I will be considered a viable GOP presidential candidate among other positions of negligible political power (i.e. City Comptroller). It will elucidate, it will expound, it will launch my seventeen day marriage to the Heiress of the La Quinta fortune.
Ergo, I have begun the production of said book the way that most pieces of classic, canonical literature have been conceived: By writing a series of possible titles and choosing a cream color pallette as the backdrop of the cover. Mmmm, Cornsilk.
- Choosing laundry over sex: A lifetime of counterintuitive productivity and neatly folded underwear.
- Eating exceptionally crunchy saltines during a particularly intense meeting: A memoir.
- Grab somebody sexy, tell them hey: Vicarious dreams for my children, as told by major recording artist, Pitbull. And a few puns!
- If the crotch of your sweatpants feels particularly restricting, indeed they are on backwards: Elucidations from a Sunday morning.
- Collisions with colleagues as you cradle a decadent Spongbob Square Pants Piñata in public: On character building and alliteration.
- Sea otters: Marine mammal friend, grade-school resemblance foe. How to rear your children away from gawkiness and toward social success!
I am going to a wedding.
For much of my life, I have associated weddings with tea ceremonies, Celine Dion, and witnessing my old Chinese uncle getting blasted after a tea ceremony, singing a karaoke version of a Celine Dion song, and puking in the back of a Honda minivan. I was rather young when the aforementioned happened and, until recently, such a memory became as quintessential to weddings as cake, dresses, and my mother’s posse of friends filling up an entire table and eating a whole duck – without the full consent (or invitation) of the bride and groom.
This past weekend, I experienced a wedding from a different perspective: as a close friend, a member of the bridal party, and a witness to event that is difficult to process in words. This is a rare instance in which the language that I depend on for capturing the colors, the vibrancy, and the emotions of such an affair is insufficient – even petty. To describe the haze that was violet dresses, a luminous couple, a formidable Southern California sun, and frequent declarations of beauty, love, and family, is to write in a series of understatements.
I cannot accurately depict the glance between the bride and her mother mere moments before we walked down the aisle – a glance so silently powerful that, even in its brevity, elicited tears from both a fellow bridesmaid and I. I cannot adequately portray the collective awe of the congregation as the bride entered the nave of the church or the delicate, yet assured manner in which the groom took her hand. I cannot and thus I will defer to photographs (which ultimately will defer to my memories). At least I can now replace the image of my uncle yakking Remy Martin and Chinese food onto the seat of a small Japanese vehicle with something far more bearable and more splendid.
And just as my notion of weddings has changed, this weekend has, appropriately enough, reinvigorated my love of writing. Very few people know how tumultuous the relationship is. I actually liken the medium — my passion — to quite a few negative attributes: pretentiousness, self-righteousness, being a space cadet, self-indulgence, non-productivity, James Franco, a vacuum of time and space in which 100 hours of thought is condensed into 20 hours of work, which results in a piece that can read in 10 minutes. Perhaps these are just the worst qualities I see in myself, particularly when I write.
For this wedding, however, I was given the opportunity to contribute through writing. The parameters were simple: take a bunch of words that few people have heard of and write party-related sentences under their respective definitions. Each table at the wedding would be given one word, functioning as a table number. I was given the creative space choose the words and to construct the sentences, so long as I relegated myself to only a few Jesus jokes and Nelly lyrics.
Over the last few weeks, I looked through hundreds of words, piecing together sentences as if they were puzzle pieces – moving commas to add rhythm, turning declarative statements into interrogative sentences, adding quotation marks as I felt necessary. It is a project that I enjoyed very, very much — in part because the writing was, for once, able to add to an event that was greater than writing itself. 13 of the 22 sentences below:
1| Vernicle [vur-ni-kuhl] noun: Cloth with image of Christ’s face impressed upon it.
“Look, I know people may feel a little weird wiping their hands on these, but they are soft and were on sale at Target,” Jess informed Ronnie of the vernicles she purchased for the wedding reception.
2| Wegotism [we-go-tism] noun: Excessive use of the pronoun “we” in speech.
In an unfortunate case of wegotism, Austin’s and Mark’s best man speech took an awkward turn as they concluded, “We love you two, we adore you guys, we support the both of you, and we hope that we’re going to have a great wedding night.”
3 | Koan [ko-an] noun: Nonsensical question given to Buddhist students for contemplation.
Jess and Ronnie decided not to hire the monk for their wedding when he began the interview with the koan, “What you gonna do with all that junk? All that junk inside your trunk?”
4 | Parousia [par-ou-si-a] noun: The Second Coming of Christ.
“Look busy!” The wedding guests screamed upon hearing that the paraousia would occur in 15 minutes.
5 | Wasserman [wah-sur-muhn] noun: Man-shaped sea monster.
The media speculated that it was wasserman sighting, but it turned out to be merely Lady Gaga in the frozen fish stick section of Vons.
6 | Callipygous [kal-uh-pahy-guhs] adj: Having beautiful buttocks.
“Yeah, callipygous is not really a first date kind of description,” Ronnie told Jess after she tried to compliment him on their first night out.
7 | Epithalamion [ep-uh-thuh-ley-mee-on] noun: Song or poem composed for weddings
Upon hearing him belt, “Good gracious, ass bodacious,” Jess and Ronnie were appalled that the wedding singer chose Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” as inspiration for their epithalamion.
8 | Prosopography [pros-uh-pog-ruh-fee] noun: The description of a person’s appearance.
“Yeah, I’m not sure ‘Shawty had them apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur.’ is the best prosopography of Jess for this occasion,” Jen suggested to Ronnie while reading a draft of his wedding vows.
9 | Viripotent [vi-rip-o-tent] adj: Fit for a husband; marriageable
“HOW IS THIS SUPPOSED TO TEST MY VIRIPOTENCY.” Ronnie yelled at Jess, as she handed him a map and released him in the forest wearing a bear suit.
10 | Reniform [ren-i-form] adj: Shaped like a kidney
In a terrible bout of misunderstanding, Jess and Ronnie had insisted that their cake be as beautiful as a “giant Renoir painting” — while the baker had heard “giant reniform pastry.”
11 | Sabrage [sey-ber-eyj] verb: The Act of Opening a Bottle with a Sabre.
“You know, those bottles are twist off,” Jess said to Ronnie after his sixth act of sabrage.
12 | Janker [Jan-ker] noun: Long pole on wheels for transporting logs.
“So, we weren’t able to book enough cars to take you all to the reception, but we hope you enjoy these jankers that we made last night,” Jess announced to the wedding guests as they stood outside the church.
13 | Eirenarch [Ei-re-narch] noun: Officer in charge of keeping the public peace
Jess and Ronnie could not believe that the security company’s version of a wedding eirenarch was a man in a Carebear suit who offered free hugs and threw neon glitter at pouting guests.
I am, with the help of cost-benefit analysis, making good adult decisions.
Adulthood is perilous — a terrain made difficult by the flurry of crossroads in daily life. Adulthood is like a Choose-Your-Own Adventure Novel in which decisions, which are quite plentiful, will almost always result in being 15 minutes late, and will practically never end in saving children from a pack of wolves on a snow-filled mountain in Nepal and whilst being declared a hero by local sherpas. Adulthood is like living in a giant dome in which William Shatner reads over-quoted Robert Frost poems blaring from a loud speaker every five minutes. What, young adult, shall I do this morning? Will I drink coffee or shall I settle for tea? Will I wear pants or this muumuu? Is this old person really old enough for me to give up this seat on the bus or am I feeling like a reverse-Rosa Parks-esque asshole? It is a world that I have learned to navigate using (probably incorrectly) the concept of Cost-Benefit Analysis. What are the costs? What are the benefits? After the weighing of the two and an analysis, what is your decision?
Yes, I am using the concept incorrectly. Nevertheless, here are some examples that, I hope, will inspire:
On Personal Health:
Benefit: That cookie looks quite delicious.
Cost: It fell on the ground, you Neanderthal.
Post-Calculus Decision: Nom, nom, nom.
Benefit: There are only so many exclamation points and emoticons that an e-mail can contain. Not informing the author of this stylistic faux pas is a disservice to the history of civilized, modern communication and writing.
Cost: The writer is your mother. She survived the Vietnam War and proceeded to give birth to you without the use of pain-reducing drugs. Consequently, you are as square as the state of Wyoming (I thought we got over this phase of tucking your shirt into a belted pair of pants, poindexter.), but at least you have a complete set of phalanges.
Post-Calculus Decision: "Hi mom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love you too!!!!! :) :) :) LOLZ OMG."
Benefit: You know what would make this story that you are telling more interesting? Lies. OR ANOTHER BEER.
Cost: The image of your future college-bound child taking out a loan at the neighborhood Wells Fargo, explaining to the loan officer that his mother is “like a total lush.”
Post-Calculus Decision: Downgrade from Blue Moon to Tecate. No, no, sir – not the bottle. Give me the can.
On the Future:
Benefit: It’s graduate school, you mere baccalaureate degree toting heathen! Having a phD English officially renders you significantly more significant than a significant number of people on quite significant topics like the ramifications of parenthetical asides present in the nineteenth-century dystopian circus novel and the symbolic implications that such a literary device perpetuates, namely the colonization of homosexual clowns and/mimes and/or seals in Dickensian-era factories.
Cost: Remember that year you pulled an unprecedented number of all-nighters and made friends with the library custodian who vacuumed the basement cubicles at three in the morning? For your undergraduate degree? And the goal is to become less of a space cadet, remember?
Post-Calculus Decision: Law school, naturally.
I am writing a memo.
To: Governor Rick Perry
From: The State of Texas
Subject: Conclusive Findings from the Committee on State Biological Heritage (CSBH)
Since 1845, the State of Texas has remained an ethnic and gender-neutral entity, assuming the identity of the greater, contiguous United States. Whereas the State of Texas may seek succession from the Union, it is imperative that the state adopts an independent identity, specifying an ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
Consequently, on January 9, 2011, a non-partisan committee consisting of 11 representatives from various jurisdictions within the state convened to conduct heavy genealogical and historical research. The body would like to report that after an extensive, exhaustive six-month review, it has reached a definitive finding:
The State of Texas is, indeed, a Gay Mexican.
Upon such a conclusion, this body highly encourages the following action items, effective immediately:
- Halt such proceedings as the August 6th day of Prayer and Fasting, sponsored by the American Family Association. And get over yourself, girlfriend!
- Resurrect Ann Richards, the 45th Governor of Texas, from the dead and permanently ordain her as presidente y muy fabulosa!
- Usurp Davy Crockett’s raccoon hat as an official state souvenir. This is an independent proposal strongly recommended by the body as witnessing large, European tourists putzing about with stuffed raccoons on their respective heads is just, like, really, really stupid, y’all.
- Consider formally changing the name of the State of Texas to Alejandro, Fernando, and/or Roberto. Just don’t call (us) our (original) name.
- Allow for the open flow of immigrants and emigrants at US Customs and Border Patrols in Laredo and El Paso, replacing the loud blares of “This is the United States Border Patrol” emanating from stationary speakers to a constant rotation of “Borderline” by Madonna.
- Again, zing.
- Tell your wife Anita we say, “Haaaayyyyyyyyy!”
El Republico del Tejas
Editor’s Note: This is not a real memo.
Editor’s Note: If you are gay, Mexican, or a Gay Mexican who is offended by this piece – my deepest apologies. Let me buy you a martini.
Editor’s Note: If you are a generic Texan, Republican, or a generic Texas Republican who is offended by this piece – I could give a flying rat’s ass. Why don’t you buy me a martini?