Thursday, January 31, 2008



Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary defines jealousy as:

"Suspicion of a wife’s purity, one of the strongest passions (Num. 5:14; Prov. 6:34; Cant. 8:6); also an intense interest for another’s honour or prosperity (Ps. 79:5; 1 Cor. 10:22; Zech. 1:14)."

Incidentally, the same dictionary defines the waters of jealousy as:

"Water which the suspected wife was required to drink, so that the result might prove her guilt or innocence (Num. 5:12-17, 27). We have no record of this form of trial having been actually resorted to."

No record? Of course. Why use water when "the result" could be more quickly obtained with blood. But what, I wonder, was "the result"? Easton's doesn't tell us and I for one am glad. This absence inspires me. I envision levitation, vomiting, cursing.


Nowadays I think we have a more reasonable (at least less gender specific, and clearly less misogynist) view of jealously. Wikipedia says simply:

"Jealousy typically refers to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur when a person believes a valued relationship is being threatened by a rival."

I prefer this modern, friend-focused version of jealousy and all that it implies: backstabbing, fist-fights, hot tears!

Both definitions, though, have one thing in common: betrayal.

The jealousy you're talking about, I think, really, is a jealousy over yourself. You're jealous of that young kid, back there, full or promise, so happy with the accomplishments of others, so un-disgusted with himself. He's betrayed you. You write:

"Of the many things I wish I could tell my younger self, the danger of jealousy is one of the most difficult to part with. I am sure there was a time when I felt that I was who I was - there must have been a time like that...But now I feel like there's no way out of certain things: self-disgust, for example; also shame, a sense of failed promise. Does this mean that I'm growing up finally?"

Perhaps your younger self, the one who betrayed you, wishes too that he could tell you many things, such as: Is that you there, sitting on the sidelines, scratching your elbows? Are you still doing that? No wonder you're disgusted! I thought growing up means growing out too...

Of course, growing up probably doesn't mean that. From what I know of growing up--which is, admittedly, not much--growing up probably means growing down, growing in--learning, somehow, to feel comfortable in your own skin, your own soul.


I had a Korean friend named, let's say J. After high-school we grew distant. Then one day, out of the blue, I wrote him an e-mail:

"I've known you for a long time and have been your friend for a long time, but I have always felt that you were never really "open" with me or anyone about how you were feeling. For example, you always used to seem to downplay the fact that you're Korean; even when we asked you to speak Korean you never did. Back then, and still to this day, I feel like a lot of the time when we speak you try to impress me with certain things, like your salary for example. It seems to me that you were always having a hard time finding your place, especially as the only Korean in the group, and perhaps you did these things to compensate for what you felt you were lacking, which in reality, WAS NOTHING.

You have always been kind, intelligent, and fun to hang out with, and I have always considered you a friend, but NOW, as we grow into adulthood I would like to be friends with you, without the added bullshit. I want to understand every part of you. Hell, I don't even care if I have to learn Korean! I always have wanted to know that part of you. But you never gave it up."

Of course, this e-mail came to J. as a shock. He wrote back a long, intense e-mail (probably the longest thing he had ever written or ever will write) basically laying it out on the line, speaking of an illuminating trip to Korea, and how, back in the states he would go to Korean bars and feel incredibly out of place, how he was now trying, trying, trying, to figure out who he was, but it was hard, so very hard. And he told me he was a bit jealous--jealous of the ease with which I walked through life, my white guy in America-ease, my popular-guy ease.


It's strange then, to me, that you write about your jealousy over Asians who were younger, smarter, and better at what you do best. Of course, most of the Asians I've known (in school mostly) have been younger, smarter, and better at what I want to do best. (I remember, specifically, two Korean girls in my ceramics class: there disturbing, exquisite talent created the most beautiful ceramics figures I have ever seen, all the more beautiful when placed near my blobs. Ceramics: one of two classes I've failed. The other one: gym.) But I can't help but think of Asians in America divorced from my impression of J. and his struggles: feeling a bit alienated, unsure of his culture, perhaps even embarrassed.

But who am I to question J. really? Who am I to demand: show yourself!

This is an easy demand, perhaps, when you speak from my viewpoint: White guy in America.

Am I so thickheaded?


Is it so easy for me though? Probably, yes. But I'm certainly not dominant. Just because I'm the majority doesn't mean I feel major. Often, I feel very minor, a tiny universe to my own, utterly different, so idiosyncratic, so in need of my strange rules, my necessities: my insulin, my three-square meals, my Noni-juice.

I don't always like to show this odd part of myself, but who am I supposed to be, if not this weirdo?

I think what we share, something that's basic, is how much the sense of betrayal really influences us. We don't feel right when we don't feel like ourselves. We feel like we've betrayed something essential and were jealous for what we could be.

For J. the situation, living in America, divorced from his heritage, only accentuates the struggle: Who the fuck am I?

But the question itself might be ridiculous. How do you answer that question, after all? Probably, you just live. I think this is what I mean by "growing in" instead of out. It seems like it has to be easy, but sometimes it's hard. I think it's hard, maybe, because we spend so much time thinking about growing into something, becoming something--a good husband, an adult. But maybe it's as easy as Not Thinking--instead of becoming, maybe just being.

But what do I know: I flunked ceramics.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

No Matter How Good You Are, There Will Always Be an Asian Man Who Is Younger, Smarter, And Better Than You At What You Do Best

Frequently, that man will be your best friend.


The history of my life is in many ways a history of the Asian friends who have been better than me at what I do best. I'm not sure how far back records go, but beyond the border of my birth-picture I'm pretty sure there's a Japanese boy eating his foot.


"Watch out!" I want to yell at my baby-self. I want to warn him to pay no attention to what is happening one dish over.


There is so much to say in these situations! For example, I want to say, in second grade you will befriend Shunsuki Eno. His house is covered in blue shag; there is a Yamaha organ with an ungodly number of sound presets in one corner of it. The bench is so tall that your feet barely reach the ground - but this is appropriate since Shun himself is at least twice as good a piano player as you. He does not look at his fingers while he plays.


In addition to the organ Shun will have a Nintendo. But it's a strange Nintendo: smaller, with bright, pastel-colored games that cause him to whack disdainfully at the controller. None of its games will work on your console.


At one point you will decide to design your own video game; so you will sit on a wall drawing the slime from Legend of Zelda until your mom comes to pick you up. Shunsuki will let you keep his drawings.


Later, Thomas Aquino will own that rare thing: a Sega Genesis. You will never get to play it. You will never want to play it: you will prefer watching him play, cross-legged on one of his tessellated floor pillows, lunging through Strider, hacking apart Golden Axe, or manipulating the gigantic four-dimensional quilt of Sonic the Hedgehog. You will watch him play these games with your heart in my stomach - you will want him to win so badly! And when he does win, you will feel a warm feeling spreading through your body like pee or the seat-heater on your family's Volvo. Even when you're outside - even when Tom's mother kicks you off the Genesis, and you go outside and tie firecrackers to small lizards, you will continue to feel this.


You will be, according to your sixth grade science teacher, "fiercely competitive." And this will be a terrible and exhilarating feeling at the same time - one that you will savor for years, that makes you more unhappy than any other friend, girl, or even parent. At this point, finally, you will begin to beware your Asian friend.


The Asian friend of your youth will occasionally be Jewish. Don't let this fool you.


He will be an only child; or he will have a sister who he worships.


Tri Vinh Van, location currently unknown. Of all the Asian friends, he will be the most mysterious. A gentle man whose generosity is at times princely, at times merely Canadian. The first one to broach, unabashedly, the Insolubility of White People. The borders of his life will be bizarre, even dangerous-sounding, but he will maintain a clear and untroubled brow. When you drop out of touch with him you will begin to doubt that he ever existed.


Boxers, Hockey Players. They will gravitate to sports and video games, both of which they will beat you at. They will be dogged and quick and above all else hungry for love and attention. They will have pity on you, but this pity will be tainted by your weakness, which will disgust them. Weakness: one of the few things that you will learn without hesitation to call your own.


There will be problem areas. Girls, for example: the time Dewi Dynoot puts paper-clips in your hair. You thought you were just playing around and in doing so proved yourself part of the Insolubility of White People. In this way you will betray, again and again, your Asian friends. They will repay you in kind through their excellence at what you do best, or by stealing girls from you. You will repay them through your excellence at what they do best.


What will it take for you to understand the serious of this? The older you get, the less you will know. Conversely, your Asian friends will get younger, more talented. They will succeed where you failed.


At which point you will have to discover their secret.


You will have to find out how to use this feeling or be destroyed. On the other hand, if you are not destroyed, you will owe one more thing to your Asian Friend.


Of the many things I wish I could tell my younger self, the danger of jealousy is one of the most difficult to part with. I am sure there was a time when I felt that I was who I was - there must have been a time like that. I remember it as if it were this morning, before some long nap I fell into. But now I feel like there's no way out of certain things: self-disgust, for example; also shame, a sense of failed promise. Does this mean that I'm growing up finally? I am convinced it must be, that I'm not alone.

How can I possibly be alone?


On the other hand, I am pretty sure that Shun would never allow himself to be this way.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Anti-Castration Epic


Writing as life seems like one of the main currents of Seventh Draft, and frankly I can't see anything more writerly than putting your all into a MySpace comment. Sure, we're all addicted to the opus - but good is good and the stank of quality rises no matter how small the stain.

I think of it in terms of energy. You've got X amount of energy and you want to make something with it - want to bend the world and feel its kiss or disgusted slap or whatever. You do this because you're inadequate, a Castrato of moon-mash, too awake for an animal but otherwise powerful sleepy. So you doodle in your margins or write notes that no one will ever find. You lavish attention on the world the way you would lavish your hand on the back of a particularly lustrous golden retriever: because hair is soft and your hand can feel it.

The no "good" reason part is why art is heroic. I mean, I'm all for taking your shot at the title, writing a three-thousand page epic on the tobacco industry or rhyming enough couplets to get you into Guinness, but that's not really the point, is it? That's the world's work, and though art is always of the world, it needs to possess multiple dimensions to be real. It needs to have velocity, to be shooting off in all directions - to be shooting especially into those dark spaces and unborn minds that whose existence it can't even begin, at the moment, to imagine. Because it can't imagine them, it has to be as generous.

Art has no good reason and needs none. It's gratuitous, unnecessary - but if performed sincerely, it manages one of the most amazing inversions of existence and ends up being the most vital and useful thing in our toolbelt. Trusting in its utility doesn't have to be a faith thing, either. Think about how many beds you wouldn't have been able to get out of if it wasn't for Anna's squint. Or how you might not have been able to look yourself in the mirror if it hadn't been for Jens Lekman singing to his hairdresser,

"Your hands are soft.
Your hands are soft, just like silk.
You're a drop of blood.
You're a drop of blood in my glass of milk."

Words like these do more than just suffuse my life with romance - they shape my thoughts, give me a pattern to run myself through. They give off sparks that seem inexhaustible to me, and I know they have real effects in the real world. For one thing, they have made me prick my finger so that I could see exactly what a drop of blood in a glass of milk looks like. I think I know the girl he's talking about.

Art is art, writing is writing, and passion/emotion well-arranged will deliver itself, no matter what. Fuck the consta-poo-poo of masterwork and genre and follow delight, perversity, what ever you want to call it like a bird-dog. Because at this very moment, whether you like it or not, you are writing your life.