Mundanities #1 Home

Every morning I wake up to the sound of sweeping. Below or above I’m never sure. But the steady hush of straw on concrete is the first sound I hear.

 

After that, it’s the Squabblers. I’m not entirely sure what they look like. They are the birds here. I hear them from up in the trees but don’t see them come down. They always sound angry, like they are arguing with one another. I think they must not like it when the sun comes up. I only hear them squabbling in the morning.

 

Then there is the steady hum of traffic and the voice of my neighbors lifting up from below. I hear the scrape of feet on cement. A baby’s cry. The whir of a washing machine below me, the trickling of water from above.

 

My flat is not much to look at. At first glance it looks nice enough. Slick linoleum tiles that resemble polished wood. Bright white baseboards, trim and coffered ceilings. Textured paper lines the walls, shiny and dotted with the spiral pattern of flowers. I can never quite tell what color the wallpaper is. Depending on the light, it either shines a pale pink or a more subdued beige. The door handles are ornate, fake brass and carved like the detailed hardware of centuries old homes. Each is equipped with a pair of keys dangling from it that I never bothered to move. The lights are equal in show. Ancient calligraphy etched into the light boxes to resemble old lanterns.

 

Of course, upon closer inspection one is bound to notice the dark spots on the wallpaper, bruising purple. They are likely to notice the unevenness of the paper too, asymmetrically pasted in each room. Notice the seams gaping and folding down like the dog-eared pages of a book. They will see the coffee table held up by copious amounts of tape. They will notice the mark of water on the ceiling. See the warped floorboards gathered together like the peaks of tiny hills, sputtering black water from below with each precarious step. They will see where the raised step outside the bathroom has mostly rotted away, black and peeling. They will observe the ever pervasive and cloying smell of damp and mildew. If they stay long enough, they will catch a glimpse of the tiny dots of mold peppering the walls throughout the week before they are scrubbed down again with bleach.

 

My apartment is not always pretty. And while it is my refuge from the world, sometimes I truly loathe the tacky wallpaper and lament the perpetually wet floor. I get angry at the damp smell that persists here in winter, trying in vain to find better ways to air out the place.

 

But it is home. At least for a while.

 

Sometimes I hear the cries of the newborn from the apartment below in the early hours of the morning. Above, I can hear the tinker of a piano. These things remind me of a home far away. Of my sister’s tiny little fingers curled into fists. Of a piano collecting dust in the corner.

 

My neighbors keep their windows open. In the evenings, I hear the sizzle of the fire. The cooking smells drift out of their open windows to greet me as I come up the stairs. The food doesn’t smell familiar and it makes me miss home.

 

On the way back to my flat I see the grandmothers with their grandchildren. They play in the neighborhood playground together. A girl, not yet two and with a gummy smile only punctuated here and there with a tiny tooth, sees me. “Ayi!” she yells. The grandmother smiles and there is something familiar in the gap between her two front teeth.

 

Ayi!” she cries again and toddles toward me. And I am home.

 

Ayi means “aunt.” It’s a respectful term you’d use to address a woman old enough to be your mother.

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Mundanities

Mundanities

 

Here I am, making up words again.

 

I’m not sure what to do with the collection I have of these. But since my time here in China I’ve written a few things about my life. Some of them are in the form of personal essays, some of them have turned into stories with a life of their own and others are really just the day-to- day mundane things that make up a life.

 

So this will be a series entitled, “Mundanities,” for some of the day-to-day things that make up my life here in China.

 

 

As always, I hope these find you well,

 

–M

Greetings From Beyond the Firewall

So apparently China doesn’t like WordPress too much and I have difficulty accessing the site, hence my lack of posting.

I’ve been in China for roughly about 7 months and have opted to stay for another year.

So far my time here has been a mass of confusion, delicious food, social faux pas, indescribable joy, and me speaking terrible Chinese. It’s a work in progress.

Hopefully I can start telling you all about it soon.

Until then,

-M

Life Update

I’ve been in China for about 3 weeks now. So much is different. The sights, the smells, the sounds. It’s been an adjustment, which I’ll write about more in depth later. But for now life is good. I am content.

Bird Clocks, Woodpeckers and the Art of Storytelling

I went for my usual morning walk and spotted a woodpecker in the woods. I hear woodpeckers a lot here, but I seldom see them. I was walking when I heard the familiar tap tap tap nearby on my left. I looked up and there it was; scaling the pine tree, tapping experimentally here, moving to another branch and tapping there. Dark wings enfolded around it like a kind of velvet, feathered cape, head bright red and styled high. I stood there staring at it for a while and on the way home I kept thinking about it.

I thought about myself as a child staying in my grandmother’s house. In her bedroom where I slept (my grandma slept on the couch), there was a solar bird clock. I can’t remember who had given it to her, but I remember that it was a gift and it drove everyone –except my grandma and me–crazy. On the clock there was a picture of a bird in place of the numbers, each number was a different bird. Every hour on the hour during the daylight hours the clock would chirp–it would make the particular noise of whatever bird of the hour it was. I don’t remember all the different birds now, it’s been too many years, but I do remember that 12 o’clock was an owl.

I feel like I should also note that my grandmother had one of those singing bass fish on the wall. Another gift.

On my way home I kept getting this singular image of a young girl and her dog bird watching. It was this image that brought on a short story that I sat down and wrote immediately upon getting home. It’s about four pages and I’m sure in need of revision, but I’m happy so far with the bones of it. (Granted, I may hate it tomorrow. Such is the life of a writer.) The story flowed easily and ended up being a much different story than I intended. Really, it’s part of the same story though. A longer story.

Sometimes we like to think of writing as this kind of almost religious experience brought on by a muse. And while this sometimes can and does happen, when it comes down to it, writing is a lot of hard “ass-in-chair” time*. Just showing up and writing something, anything. Beautiful. Ugly. Brilliant. Shitty. Sometimes you end up writing a bunch of crap until you finally reach something good. But rare moments like this, where the story comes out cleanly without prying, are always a welcome blessing. And I, for one, am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

-M

*Frank Conroy

 

A ramble on transitioning and catnaps

My visa will be available to pick up tomorrow (in theory, shit happens). On the 31st I will be boarding a plane where I will be for 15 hours until arriving in the Far East. I am nervous, but very much looking forward to the experience. (The plane ride however, not so much).

Since I am leaving soon I quit my job here in the States. Ever since, I have descended into what I call, “the vortex of sloth.” My job was a big part of my routine, or rather, it was my routine. Everything I did revolved around my job; from planning free time, to meal prep, to running errands. Now that I have an abundance of free time, I find myself accomplishing far less. And by accomplishing less I mean that I spend a great deal of time not leaving the house. And napping. Lots of cat naps.

On a positive note, I have managed to implement an exercise regime. And while my writing progress has been slow goings, it is no longer stagnant. It’s so easy to get caught up in checking things off your to-do list everyday, instead of living from day to day. That’s not to say that having goals and checking them off your list isn’t completely healthy or necessary. But sometimes it’s okay to float a little. To consider. To weigh your options. From working two jobs and managing to cram in school work I’ve had little time to really spend with myself. I was always moving. Now that I have a bit of stillness in my life, it can feel like a lack of progress.

But for right now I’m transitioning. I have to remind myself that’s it’s okay to be in transition. That although I may not constantly moving the way I was, it does not mean I am not in motion. I am making strides. I am making a life for myself. I am navigating my future one day at a time.

–M

Book Stash: Book Recs

As evidenced by the scarcity of posts on this humble blog, I have not done much writing lately. However, I have been doing a lot of reading. Here are a few things I’ve read recently that I quite enjoyed.

Snow, by Orhan Pamuk

This novel takes place in the city of Kars and follows the journey of the poet, Ka, who has returned to his native Turkey after being a political exile in Germany for twelve years. While his stated purpose in returning is to write about the suicides of several Muslim teenage girls referred to as “the head scarf girls,” he hopes to also become reacquainted with the beautiful–and recently divorced–Ipek.

The heavy snow in Kars temporarily cuts off transportation to and and from the city and as a result the city is isolated. During this period of isolation Ka meets a cast of characters; from Ipek’s ex-husband, to alleged Muslim extremists, would-be-writers, and a curiously dangerous acting troupe.

Snow deals with the conflicts of Eastern versus Western, secularism versus religion, and tradition versus the modern through the lens of Ka in his quest to find love, god, and poetry.

4.5/5

 

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels, by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Marvels is a look at the development of modern surgery through the life and practice of Dr. Thomas Mutter. While the Mutter Museum is still around today, a collection of medical oddities to educate–and fascinate–all who view them, little is known about Dr. Mutter. The man kept no diary (neither did his wife), there is little left of his correspondence, and he had no children. What is known of Mutter is what endeared him to his students, his patients, and the medical world. His style, passion, flair, compassion, and cutting-edge ideas continue to be put to use in surgery today.

4/5

Once upon a Wednesday at 2pm

By chance I saw you,
standing across from Union Square.
I knew it was you from the nape of your neck,
the one I memorized as it retreated from view
all loose hairs and flush red.
I wonder
if it remembers the imprint of my lips,
heat-seeking,
mistaking your warm for warmth.
I wonder if you remember still,
Me,
tracing constellations in the freckles on your cheeks,
as if your face was somehow a road map to the stars.
How silly was I to think
I could make a holy place of a boy who forgets,
to have and to own are not the same?

Musings on Moving, Missing and the Mundane

An update.

If everything goes according to plan, two weeks from now I will be on Chinese soil.

Two weeks is a short amount of time, but China still feels like such a distant thing. The realities of packing and moving haven’t set in yet. Or more accurately, the panic of packing and moving hasn’t set in yet. The most I’ve done is make a tentative list of things to take with me. What do you put on a list of things to take with you across the world?

I keep trying to imagine what my days will be like there. There is a jogging path close to my flat that overlooks a river and mountains. I wonder what kinds of sounds I’ll hear, what kinds of flowers and birds I’ll see. I wonder what the view will be like from my bedroom window, if I can see my neighbors or the distant mountains. Of course there will be temples and the Great Wall, and markets but I wonder about these small, mundane things.

I’m preparing to say goodbye to this place. I don’t know that I’ll ever be back. I’ll have no one here to come back to. For a while I really loathed this place, and while it is not on my list of favorites now, there are some things about it that I’ll miss.

I’ll miss my morning walks. Trying to find the locations of woodpeckers by following their sounds through the woods. The random deer sightings, particularly a mother and child pair, shying peeking through trees, nibbling on the neighbor’s bushes.

I’ll miss these woods. I’ll miss the sweet musk of late spring. My blackberry brambles. The little wild rabbits.

I’ll miss my car. I’ll miss the long drives on winding, wooded roads, singing at the top of my lungs with no one on the road but me.

I’ll miss my dog, who sadly, I cannot take with me.

I will miss the man who looks at me with stars in his eyes. Who opened up an entire universe with his smile.

And of course my mother. My mother who drives me crazy. My mother who interrupts. Constantly. My mother who will buy me sweets on the days I am sad. My mother who does not understand me, but always tries.

 

–M