A Lesson in Forgiveness.
I’m looking out the window right now to an outside scene filled with sunshine, trees, and laughter.
The furniture isn’t anything notable, but it does fill the frame. There’s a worn glass table, dusty and in need of some love outside the sporadic barbecue, some ratty iron chairs with ratty faded cushioning, and a hornet’s next somewhere above, the occupants of which are trying to figure out their own lives than worry about the activity below.
On the inside as well as the the out, this Sunday carries with it an energy that allows us to appreciate what we’re doing, and where we are. It tells us to slow down, refocus, and breathe.
It’s beautiful out there, and the sounds of the acoustic guitar let’s me know that someone around here is paying attention to the suggestions of today, and allowing the heart to do the rest.
As Sunday ticks down, let’s enjoy it. Get outside, throw on some pajamas. Stay away from a false energy that tells you you need to rush. Get done what you can, but let tomorrow work itself out. I’m going to do something along those lines as well. There’s a couch in front of me. A comfy one.
It’s the end of the working day and I find myself in a library. What a place. Books everywhere, shelves of them towering from the floor to the ceiling, and every rack is full.
Since I was a kid, books have been my friends, my very good friends. I was never the quickest reader in the class (even now it takes me some time to sit down and get to the end of a hefty book), but I always loved the idea of the story. I figured that anyone who knew a lot of words could create a story – could weave any tale she wanted. So I started writing.
In December of 2008 I started writing. Didn’t really know where to start; just picked a thought-train in my head and went along for the ride. Ended up with a short story which I ran past a few friends and family members. It never went anywhere, though I was proud of it at the time – still am, I suppose, it being the first story and all.
But let’s skip the details other than this crucial one – to write well, one must learn to read well. You have to read – a lot, and, I admittedly haven’t been doing my part on this. We can sit back and blame the I-NEVER-HAVE-TIME gods for as long as we wish, but one day our own time will run out, and somewhere around there we’ll have to ask ourselves what all those excuses were worth.
The library is a grand place to be. Worlds, events, and characters just sit there and wait for us. We just need a bit of focus and effort and the ready rhythm is ours.
If you haven’t visited a library recently, it’d be a good idea, at least for a browse, maybe some nostalgia. Hell, you may even pick something off the shelf.
It was a pack of blue dogs that tore down the doors to Pappy Dan’s barn – that I remember. I wasn’t but yay tall back then, what? five foot nothin’. Fifteen, sixteen years old? But I remember it clear as day. I remember it all, even the yellow of the flames that set the whole damned place afire.
Billy was wearin’ his overalls that mornin’ – the dark blue ones, almost black. He come runnin in the bedroom hollerin’ som’n ‘bout “Grady, you gotta come! You gotta!” He come runnin’ up to the bed with his hands shakin’ all kinds a crazy like one a them salesmen who just gotta tell you somethin’ about what they’re sellin’, but they ain’t too sure you gonna like it, so they just sit there twiddlin’ their thumbs or scratchin’ their knees or somethin’.
“Come on, then!”
I moaned. “All right, then.” Course I was already transfixed on the smell of Mama’s pancakes from somewhere down in the kitchen. So, I get out a bed and dress myself in som’m I felt presentable enough for pancakes – them old worn out jeans from yesterday’s crop walk and my hat, the one I work in, and I go downstairs.
Mama was down there standin’ at the stove, flippin’ jacks like she never done before in her life. The smoke come from that stove was white as any quick-movin’ cloud you ever seen, and just as quick. Mama had on her white-and-pink farm apron, the only one she ever did like. She wore it like she wore her own hair atop her head.
“Siddown Suga’ Boy; these flapjacks almost done.” Billy come down the steps like a damn elephant just when I get to my seat. Still he sat there all kinds of fidgety, and babblin’ on about this and that.
“Grady, I ain’t lyin’,” he said. “You NEED to get on out there with me. You have got to see these damn things!”
“Billy Dean Gansey!” We both looked up and seen Mama turned starin’ at Billy with her black-tar spatula up in the air and the white smoke of the fryin’ pan still skippin’ on up into nowhere behind her. Cursin’ was considered an O-ffense in Mama’s eyes and he know he was guilty. His eyes were two white saucers when I turned and got a glance of ‘em.
“Sorry mama,” he said. He seemed sincere enough, bowin’ his head. Seemed like it was good enough. Mama always taught us to be polite and respectful. When she turned back around, he lifted his head up and looked at me. He started raisin’ his dark brown eyebrows up at me in funny ways and jerkin’ his head back toward the porch screen door. I wish I was good at secret languages, ‘cause then I sure as hell wouldn’t be sittin’ there lookin’ like I was tryin’ to put together one o’ them puzzles with a lot of pieces.
“Now,” Mama came back to the table. “You boys go on ‘n eat up. It’s another God-given-gift of a day outside. Sun shinin’ ‘n all. Y’all need to be out there soakin’ it up ‘n whatnot.” She dropped a pile of jacks right down in front of us and let two long silver forks fall from her hand and clank on the smooth oak of the kitchen table. Righ next to that she set a hot glass bowl of maple syrup with a big spoon for spreadin’. The table rarely had anything on it that wasn’t supposed to be there. Mama was real good about keepin’ it clean. Said it wasn’t good to live in squalor, unless we wanted to fashion ourselves a house of swine, which I found out was another word for pig, and not a kind of drink grown-ups had a dinner parties.
Breakfast filled me up and I was still thinking ‘bout it as Billy was draggin’ me out through the screen door and haulin’ me across the front drive space to the barn.
“Billy, you remember to keep that barn door locked; you hear me!?” We stopped and turned to see Mama’s stern form full in the open doorway of the porch we had just left. That white and pink apron seemed to be a part of her – a part of her that I still remember. They were hues of the colors that seemed to blur and resonate at the same time, shouting through the air and growing stronger the longer one’s eyes held onto them.
“You ain’t never gonna believe this, Grady. These things ain’t nothin’ that belong to this earth.” We walked up to the rusty red of the barn and he stopped to turn back to me as his hand rested on the door.
“You ready?” He asked.
“Just open the damn things,” I said, waved his hand away and pulled the door open, even against the creaks which told me better.
They were a deep and sick yellow – the eyes of the damn things, and I’ve never known my body to react in the way it did next. I slammed the door shut and yanked on Billy’s overalls. “Run you idiot!”
“Grady, dammit!” Billy yelled, running, I know now, ‘cause I caught him off guard. “I’m supposed to lock the damn –“
And the dogs didn’t wait for him to finish. There was a shotgun blast behind us as they tor from the barn, and I was startled into shock. The rest of it all happened so damn fast, I ain’t even sure I can tell it right.
There were just streaks, lines, of blue, I guess is the best way to say it. Dust and flame is what I remember, and in one half blink of my eyes, my house, my family, my room, went up in a hay bale of fire. There were two streaks of blue blazing straight into the side of my house, the white and green house I had known since, well the house that had been there since my granddaddy, and splinters and chunks of wood exploded from the side as these blue-blazzin’ sons o’ bitches blew right past everything. They were in and out of the house walls leaving nothing but an instant yellow flame.
The barn was next. The place I never shouldda opened. The chicken coop, Daddy’s two Cadillacs, and the John Deere…every bush, every tree in a 100-foot span, all went up.
And the blue devil dogs burned their way out of there, and left me and Billy starin’ behind our open house, and the barn I should have kept closed.
The lights are on,
Dining room, living room, down the hall,
It seems like there should be life in this place,
But it’s empty, and no one’s home,
And no one’s been home at all in two weeks, three, maybe more,
People walk through here, of course; there are bodies,
You see them, pretty sure they see you,
But the concrete and wooden flooring of their world is nothing you can see
You lose count of the days, and the hours,
You can visualize or look at photographs, but
You miss the real smell of real flowers.
It’s dark; that’s a certainty. Check the clock – 9:43
People are home, but the house is empty.
And you think maybe you should move,
Because these hours have become quiet on you.
Something I thought was worthy of a reblog for all my fantasy nerds out there.
Every one of you has done it: fallen in love with an epic, fantasy series that goes on and on forever. The ones that begin so grandly then morph into a multi-volume nightmare that never seem to end. Even the authors know they are bloated beasts, for example take Tad Williams, writer of the “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” series, who labeled that trilogy “The Bloated Epic.”
Having gone through this horror myself more than once, I wondered what fantasy series in my life (I was born in 1970) were the longest and most bloated. Not “bloated” in the sense that they were terrible reads (though there are some that were horrid) but rather that the author had contracted “Herbert’s Syndrome,” in which he/she gets overwhelmed by the temptation to keep expanding his/her popular universe. (I’ve read that the Fantasy Review came up with the label “Herbert’s Syndrome” when Dune creator…
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“大家好!” (da4 jia1 hao3*)
These were the first words my Mandarin instructor greeted the class with when I first stepped into Chinese 101 at the University of Hawai’I Manoa somewhere around 1999. Cutting to the chase, I’ve maintained study in the dialect (Mandarin. There is no true “Chinese language.”), but before June of this year, had not really spent any considerable time in a Mandarin-speaking country. But, that has since changed.
We took a 3.5-week hiatus from all things North American and journeyed to the Far East for a nice sojourn in China and Taiwan.
BEIJING – 北京
After a six-hour layover in Moscow, we opened with Beijing, arriving at one in the a.m. without a ride. Shuttle service to our hotel (three minutes away) stopped running at midnight, and the meterless taxis either didn’t know where it was (despite the printed address in my hand) or charged too much. But we learned about the prices afterwards. The gentleman who finally agreed to take us charged 200RMB. Was that a good deal? Kerrie and I looked at each other and shrugged. Sounded like it may have been cheap. Sure.
… it wasn’t.
First impressions – thumbs down.
Let’s just get some sleep and discuss in the morning.
Our time in the capital was limited to a total of three days and we woke up at around 5:00 a.m. the same day (body clocks were jacked) and made our way for the Great Wall. From the airport, we made our way into Beijing and went another couple of rounds with the illegal taxi groups – the ‘black cars’ as they were affectionately known. No; we won’t mess with that again. There had to be a bus. There was, and thank the gods; the heat was just too much.
The trip to the Great Wall (of the many entrances available, we were headed for八达岭 ba1 da2 ling3) was short and air-conditioned. All seats were filled with either other tourists or students on a school trip. Once we were there, it was just a matter of doing what everyone does at this architectural marvel – walk. I can’t venture to guess how far we walked. We just wanted to take in the experience. It was up and down, and flat, and jagged, and full of people, heat, and incredible scenery. And for some reason, people were coming up to me asking me to hold their children and take pictures with them, using their cameras. When did I reach celebrity politician status?
Tiananmen Square was next. It was bigger than I imagined, and on the day we went to see Mao’s body, it teemed with people. I laughed at how many bag checks there were. This wasn’t just at Tiananmen Square either. It seemed that no matter where you went, you had to check your bags. Subway station? Bag. Getting on a bus? Bag. Tiananmen? Bag. Bathroom, restaurant, need tissues/chopsticks/chips? Bag.
They rushed us through so quickly that I really couldn’t make out whether his ear was truly falling off or not like the rumors were saying. Cool experience, nonetheless.
The city is chalk full of so many beauties, and though we were happy to have been able to get to all the known tourist destinations, we certainly were saddened not to be able to see more of what the city had to offer.
SHANGHAI – 上海
Shanghai was next and we knew it would also be a swift stint of sightseeing. Definitely in possession of more of a cosmopolitan feel than Beijing, this city On The Ocean seemed to be in full developmental bloom, and as I had long heard, fashion and shopping were perennially en vogue.
There was an anomaly which seemed to catch our attention on the first day there, however, and that was the Jing’an (静安寺)Temple. It was the location of the temple which caught us off guard. It’s Shanghai, right, so you’re thinking high rises, commercial edifices, municipal/civic buildings, maybe some parks. You think of temples too (it’s China), but you just don’t think of them being in the middle of the city, which was where this particular temple was – in the middle of the city. There were the high rises, buildings, etc., on all sides, and in the middle of all of that was this revered temple called ‘jing an’ (literally: Quiet Peace). It was inlaid and constructed with beautiful golden materials so that it shone in the middle of the day. The architecture on the inside was very pretty, intricate, and worth the visit.
There’s this saying in Mandarin which states that ‘Heaven is above, and Suzhou and Hangzhou are below,’ equating these two towns to Paradise. Suzhou was pretty. We only had a few hours there (took a tour), but the places that we saw were very nice. There were some gorgeous gardens in this small town, and the river tour was excellent.
For the Western tourist, you’re used to quietly touring – that is, touring on your own and going at your own pace.
Doesn’t work that way in the Chinese world; they’re talking all the time. The bus ride was fine until the tour guide got on this microphone at the head of the bus and speakers above us rained down an ear-splitting cacophony that made me afraid. It was as though the voice of an angry god were unleashing some loud fury upon my ear canals
…and it didn’t stop.
It was all-day thing. Every time we got back on the bus, we had to listen to this man yell at us. <sigh>
So that was fun.
No, seriously though, Shanghai was great, and there was quite a bit to do in the city if you’re into fashion and modern China. If you want to meet the old China, it’s just a short trip outside the city.
HONG KONG – 香港
One of my favorite places in the world, Hong Kong delights. We flew in at around noon from Shanghai (we must have somehow booked a flight run by the same company as our tour group because again, speakers of loud cacophonous demonic advertising invasiveness hovered above us the whole flight – sucked), and took an easy airport express into Kowloon. Our hotel, the BP International, was superb, located in the middle of the city, with easy access to everything (busses, subway, trains, food, prostitutes, more food…it was great).
We were in the city a total of nine days and were able to meet up with some long-time family-friends and enjoy many of the marvels of this incredible international port city.
One of the first stops was the Great Buddha (大佛) statue at the very edge of the MTR network on Lan Tau Island. If you’ve ever read the timeless book Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse (the all-blue paperback from the ‘90s), there is a representation of Buddha on the cover. This Great Buddha in Hong Kong was the one used for the cover of that book. At least that’s the story we got, and we believe it, so that’s that (I just tried looking it up and I got nothin’… so must be true).
During my time at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), I did a presentation on Macau**, and was fascinated by it. I knew that, at some point, I would have to go there, to be there, to see it. And that’s what we did – woke up early and took the nearest MTR (subway) to the ferry port, hopped on a ‘super ferry’ and rode over to Macau.
All of the ferries I’ve been on, apparently, had no balls. They were pussy ferries. I say that because when we were on this ferry, I asked if I would be able to get out and walk around on the outer deck. My dear friend, WW (蕙蕙) told me that it wasn’t the way it worked there. The inside of the boat should have given me a clue – it was the same seating arrangement as the airports (assigned seats, seatbelts, drinks, etc.). And once that thing was out of HK harbor, it moved.
We were in Macau in 30 minutes because our boat was a rocket.
I had to gamble in Macau because:
A: I didn’t know when I would be back (knew I would be, just didn’t know when) and,
B: I had to say that I had gambled in Macau.
So, I played Craps until I was up $30US (~500HKD). SWEET!
We then proceeded to take several busses into Taipa (氹仔) to see the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The walk was quick and we were on a time crunch, sadly. But we did it. Portuguese architecture was omnipresent there, noticeable in everything from building exteriors to the black-and-cream tiled walkways of the plazas abutting the ruins themselves. We did not have the time to examine any of the local cuisine, which wasn’t that much of a loss for me. I know Macao will happen again, and when it does, I’ll be waiting.
The food was unreal in Hong Kong, and there was a limitless supply of it. Kerrie and I are vegetarian, but our dietary ethos is modified a bit when we travel. We tried every part of the pig, I think…well, I guess not every part of the pig, but a liberal portion. It was Kerrie’s first time to try chicken feet, which she enjoyed. And yes, she’ll tell you that personally if you ever ask her about it.
The time, as always, flew by, and nine days later, we were on our way to our last stop in Asia.
TAIPEI – 台北
Japan has always held a special place in my heart, and Taiwan, in many ways, brought me back there. There are reasons for this, on which I’d rather not take time to spend on here, but let’s just narrow it down to location and history for the time being.
It wasn’t as hot as it was in Hong Kong, but Taipei was still heated.
We were able to see the respective memorial halls of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, which were nicely presented and well-guarded. At each of these exhibits, there are two fully uniformed guards facing each other on pedestals. They are frozen, mannequins, positions they hold for an hour, at which point they have to be relieved. There are red ropes, and onlookers are given peremptory commands to turn off their flashes. The ceremony can then begin.
Taipei is a city of convenience and we found there to be much more social order and courtesy than in Mainland China. I mean, you can sit there and argue that places like Japan and Taiwan are small, and you’d be right. Geographically, they are small, but they also know how to make effective, efficient, and frugal uses of their resources. Public transportation is easy and convenient, the general populous is made up of gregarious people who are courteous hosts, and there’s no real feeling of being rushed.
We patronized more night markets and sucked down more bubble teas than we could count, and we loved it.
It would be a lie to tell you that I’m well-versed in the area of evening entertainment in Asia. But I will say that in my non-well-versed experience, no one does the night market better than Taiwan. It’s just something they’ve perfected over the (100+) years. There are tons of people huddling and shifting down a main walkway buttressed by small single stalls and stands selling foods of varied shapes and scents – everything from mouthwatering melon slices on skewers to sausage plates or noodle-and-vegetable dishes.
Regarding Stinky Tofu –
I’ll cut to the chase. Since I was young, I have loved food and can eat anything. For many years I have heard of the “stinky tofu,” and how it tastes better than it smells. This I have believed. I thought, when I go to Taiwan, I’m going to try this stuff, and I’m gonna love it.
I was wrong.
I tried it, and yes (by perhaps a degree) it tastes better than it smells.
But, let’s just say that it’s not my favorite and call it good.
I wish we had time to go to Hualian; I really would have liked for Kerrie to see it. It just wasn’t the right time on this trip, and there’s so much to see in Taiwan outside of Taipei. We love this city.
We flew back to Seattle via Seoul, and were content to know that we filled our time with wonderful memories and beautiful people.
Mainland, Hong Kong, or Taiwan – if you have even the slightest desire, you must go.
* – in Mandarin, each utterance, each Chinese pictograph carries its respective tone, numbering 1 to 4.
** – the proper noun is spelled (properly) as ‘Macao’ in English, though it is more commonly seen as ‘Macau.’
No you’re not. You’re not ‘just saying’ anything. If you were ‘just saying’ something, there would be no reason at all for you to say whatever it is that you’re just saying. It would just fall from your face, unbidden. But that’s not the case, is it? You’re not really ‘just saying’ anything, are you? You’re saying something purposefully and, in your mind, it has some sort of pertinence to a subject that you and your listener are/were probably just very recently discussing.
Her: You want a pair of shoes?
Her: You sure? They’re Crocs. They’re just like the ones you used to have, the ones I got you but lost. And look, they’re green.
Her: And they’re 25% off. (shrug) Just sayin’.
Lies! You’re NOT just saying for the sake of ‘saying’! You’re saying because you want me, err…him, to A: feel guilty that he lost a perfectly good pair of Crocs (ones that he happened to like very much), and B: you want me, err..him, to understand that were he to be interested in a new pair of Crocs (although he probably shouldn’t get them because he always loses the gifts you get him), now’s a good time because they’re on sale.
So no, we all know now exactly what you’re really saying when you say that you’re ‘JUST SAYING.’
Few of us, I dare say, ‘just say.’ The one example of one such person who ‘just says’ at times is Steve Carell’s character, Brick (the meteorologist) from the Anchorman movie series. Nothing more than a walking spout of non sequiturs, Brick’s utterances make no sense and have no logical reasoning for their existence or conversational positioning.
So, do we get it now? Can we stop (at least lessen) our ‘just sayings’ so that those listening can make sense of our words when and where we use them? When you want to say something, fine – say it, state it, spew it forth and seal it with a full stop. But, for the gods, at least admit that you’re doing it on purpose, not simply because it was an overweight stone of blather which (despite your effort against it) forced its way through your lips and polluted the conversational air.