#1: silence

on a late june evening, the seven of us were lying on the pier with our legs dangling over the edge. i was at the end of the row, and as we giggled and squirmed i wondered if i’d fall into the lake. when i stretched them far enough my toes could skim the surface of the water. the lake mirrored the sky’s brilliant blue-gold fire, and the hills across from us were outlined in pink. for a few precious minutes silence descended upon our group. that brief moment seemed to expand to infinity; the entire universe was before us, deep and contemplative and enormous, and it gleamed with the sun’s last light.

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thoughts on translation

It started when I wrote an essay explaining the phrase 阳光灿烂, which is one of my favorites in Chinese. It’s difficult to describe just how beautiful I find 阳光灿烂: the literal English translation is ‘brilliant sunlight,’ but when the four characters (yáng guāng càn làn) filter through my teeth the way light filters through leaves, when I see the sun at the front, the mountains, the fires that rage in between, and the smoke that shrouds flowers on the mountainside as they burst into flame, I know that ‘brilliant’ is only an adequate translation, nothing more. There are nuances to the phrase that exist only on paper, in the original language; English loses the neat precision and perfect square aesthetic of the four characters.

Later, I read an article in which the author, who’s from Mainland China, describes her deliberate erasure of Chinese in order to fully embrace English. I’m still unsettled when I think about it now. Politics aside, Chinese is an elegant and ancient thing, crafted with artistry in mind. A mere two to four characters can hold boatloads of wisdom and meaning. How can anyone choose to forget this language for English? To be fair, English is just as fascinating and complex, if not even more so, since we can continually add words from different languages to our vocabulary and create exceptions to any rule we have. But wouldn’t it be better to know both languages intimately? There was a quote I came across that went along the lines of, “Everything I know about language is everything I know about life.”* So the more you forget, the less language you know, and your world just – shrinks.

I mean, I know where the author’s coming from. Whenever I visited China when I was younger, even if it was only for a few weeks, my conversational English always deteriorated. I could still write in English quite well, since I kept (and still keep) notebooks wherever I went, but I’d forgotten “how to English” and became proportionally better at speaking (and reading and typing) Chinese. It’s so easy to focus on mastering one language and forgetting others through disuse. But I think it’s important to know more than one language, particularly if your first is English. In this globalized era, everyone knows English. And that can be awesome and convenient, but I’m afraid that if we’re all monolinguals, we’ll miss much of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

There’s another kind of translation that I keep thinking about, lately – the translation of thoughts into words. For me, at least, there’s disconnect between what I think, what I want to say, and what I actually end up saying. This disconnect got Darcy in trouble with Elizabeth, and he had to fix it with a written letter. And this makes sense, since writing gives you time to contemplate, to take back mistakes. I can articulate my thoughts on paper so much more eloquently and fully than I can ever speak them, and it can be frustrating, especially when I meet people for the first time and I struggle to talk to them. It’s like my mouth opens and words nonsensically and uncontrollably tumble out of my mouth. But what happens when the writing stops? If I stop keeping a journal, if I don’t document my thought processes in written form, do those thoughts cease to exist? What if in the future, my notebooks are posthumously published? People will judge me based on what I’ve written, even if it was originally in private – think not just of Kafka, Plath, and Nin, but also of Shostakovich, Warhol, and Napoleon, among so many other figures in our history. Notebooks provide insight, but only if you write in them. Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking, is able to revisit both her life and that of her husband’s through the extensive records they’d both kept – notebooks and index cards, paper scraps and Word documents. My fear of forgetting is one reason why I keep writing. I don’t want to lose my grasp on Chinese, and I don’t want to lose my thoughts. To lose those things is to lose parts of myself.

In school, we recently covered a unit over translated poetry. We read different versions each of Rumi’s poetry (in snippets) and Borges’s “Historia de la noche,” then discussed what was more important in interpretation – accuracy or poetics. When you translate, what do you abandon and what do you preserve? How well do you need to know the language you work with? (Nabokov knew English and Russian with equal fluency, and he translated his own work, thus retaining the original intent of his writing. The same goes for Samuel Beckett with English and French. So I wonder what I miss when I read the English version of Camus’s The Stranger, Rilke’s poetry, or Ocampo’s short stories – anything written and translated by two different people.) For our assignment, we had to translate a poem from a language in which we’re at least familiar. I chose a poem by 骆绮兰, a female poet from eighteen-century China. This particular piece happens to come from a set of eight, called《纪梦诗八首》 (“Record of Dreams, Eight Poems”), so you can probably tell why I was attracted to it.

I haven’t formally studied Chinese for a year now, so it felt nice to return to it. This translation’s not perfect, of course, but I like to think it’s fairly accurate. I loved the imagery she evokes here; in preserving that, I ended up with a more literal interpretation. I hope you like it!

dream3luoqilan

*I just Googled this quote to verify the source, but all I got were Tumblr posts for some reason?? If any of you recognize this quote, please comment below or message me!

déjà vu

There are people everywhere.

Crowds of pedestrians surround you and spill out into the street. They’re all dressed fashionably, either vividly colorful or blatantly monochromatic, and they seem to hurry from one destination to another. You try not to feel dowdy in your jeans and sneakers as a woman with dark red lips and towering high heels glides past you with the grace of a dancer. Stop being so self-conscious, you tell yourself. You should be used to this by now.

You’d dreamed of escaping to the city for ages. Mom had fed you countless horror stories about the Big Bad City (“A college freshman got pushed onto the subway tracks, you know! And another girl got stabbed in the neck in broad daylight!”) to try to dissuade you, but you didn’t take her cautionary tales seriously. Millions of people lived in the city, you’d reasoned, and why couldn’t you do the same?

Now that you’ve wandered onto an unfamiliar street, however, homesickness starts to creep in. Dimly, you remember a surreal summer evening, at the edge of dusk, when you and Penny had stood in the center of an empty road and felt day-old heat against your bare feet. (Penny had still been your best friend back then. Hooking her arm into yours, her eyes faded from blue and pink to purple to black as she watched the sky fall asleep. Your heart thrilled when she turned towards you and smiled. You had never loved anyone more.)

It’s impossible to go barefoot in the city, though. There seem to be teeth everywhere. Shards of glass line the gutter, and sharp pieces of metal glint in warning. Odors rise from mysterious brown puddles while piles of trash clutter the sidewalks. The thought of walking through all of that without wearing shoes makes you want to vomit.

“Watch where you’re standing!” someone shouts, elbowing past you. Jostled out of your reverie, you keep moving, blood pounding in your ears as you stare ahead and take care not to step on anything too revolting. Cigarette smoke curls high in the air and almost looks beautiful in the sunlight, but the stench reminds you of shriveled black lungs.

Despite the noxious fumes and the waste and the dirtiness, however, you love the city. You love the energy that thrums off the crowd with the regularity of a beating heart. You love how streets weave in and out of each other, how you can walk from the library to the market to the gardens in less than ten minutes and take the train for any distances greater than that. The city’s so different from home, where everything had felt languid and drowsy. Even after a year, you still marvel at the novelty.

Penny would have loved it here, too. You try not to think about her nowadays. You left home to move past your grief, after all. But the city constantly reminds you of her. You can imagine her sitting on the roof of your apartment at the crack of dawn, waiting for the city to wake up and come alive. She’s dancing effortlessly through swarms of people, her hums and laughter ringing above the noise. She’s leaning against you on the subway ride home from campus, breaking the general quiet with stories until it’s time to get off –

Penny’s not here.

Like the city, Penny could never stay still. She’d first disappeared from the school you both attended, moving on to university two years ahead of everyone else. Less than six months later, she vanished a second and final time on a plane that flew into the ocean.

You’d felt so lost at the time. Why did she leave home – without you? How could she leave you behind and not look back? And how could the world swallow her so cruelly? You fled to the city when home, the place the two of you had explored since you were four, became too unbearable to stay.

You still miss her like a phantom limb, but the sadness is briefer now. She’s finally stopped haunting your dreams; you feel relief and a twinge of guilt when you wake up without tears drying against your cheeks. Maybe I can keep going without her, you dare to think that morning, and you feel a little less hollow.

Sometimes, though, you try to catch pieces of her from faces gleaming in the crowd. You see someone with her eyes, or her laughter, or her birthmark just above the jaw. It’s silly and impossible to find her, of course, but you do it anyway. You only give yourself a few seconds at a time – you’re not allowed to stop, to stare, to search.

Today, you lock eyes with her.

Your stomach does a flip. She’s standing on the other side of the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to change. You blink once, twice. She’s still there, and her gaze, appraising and familiar, is on you. You recognize the quirk of the lips, the sharp chin, and the dark eyes set against high cheekbones.

It can’t be Penny. She fell into the Atlantic years ago. But this lookalike crosses the street with the same confident step, her arms bare and her hands resting comfortably in the pockets of her track pants. Her hair’s pulled back into a russet-colored knot at the base of her neck, rather than cut into the straight, short bob you remember Penny wearing. The two of you continue to watch each other over the din of the crowd, her eyes never leaving yours as she draws near. She’s already breaking the rules you’d set for yourself when you first came to the city. No staring! you think frantically, but you can’t tear your eyes away.

The two of you are only a few feet away now. Now that you’re closer, you realize with a pang of bitter disappointment that the doppelganger’s eyes are green, not the warm brown you remember. Her cheeks are smooth and devoid of any birthmarks.

She’s really just a lookalike after all. You almost laugh. Leave it to the city to find Penny’s ghost.

Just as you glance away and pass her, she stops and seizes your arm. You jerk to a halt.
“Are you who I think you are?” she asks desperately. Your mouth opens, closes. “I’ve missed you,” she continues in a rush, stealing the words from your mouth. Her eyes shine. You swear they look brown at that moment.

“Penny.”

Your voice cracks on the second syllable. You can’t believe she’s actually there, standing with you in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Let’s talk,” she says, taking your hand. Everyone else seems to melt away. When she tentatively offers you the same smile from years ago, you can’t help but hope that this isn’t a dream after all.

je te veux

ALTERNATE TITLE: “thoughts of an art thief after stealing ib and her husband”

the first time was on a whim –
that crucial split second where one might choose
to listen to gréco instead of piaf, or take
a right turn and not the road stretched ahead,
only this choice involved a slim pocket knife
and barely detectable flicks of the wrist.

she could feel blood rush to her face,
heat tinging her ashen cheeks.
her hands trembled.
she looked down at her worn shoes,
her wrinkled dress that rustled with every step.
no one knows – no eyes have seen
what i have done.

the second time was out of desire.
she saw intimacy and her fingers itched;
her hands moved on their own, the blade
of her knife gleaming in the dim light
like her smile a few hours later
as she studied the stolen prize
on her bedroom floor.
she admired ib and her lumpy coral sweater.
how comfortable she must have been
lying in bed, pat’s arm looped over her waist,
his veins silvery pink against his skin.
how protected she must have felt, how loved,
under the constant gaze of her father
as he emptied his palette of earthy colors
onto the canvas.

she felt the eyes of everyone she passed.
hard as she tried, guilt remained palpable
in her fingers, her throat, her spine.
she glanced once at her hands and choked
back a scream at the rust-colored paint
dripping between her knuckles.
terrified, she didn’t look again.
she couldn’t stop thinking about the knife
burning in her pocket that day,
the uneven edges of the painting
where she’d removed it from its frame.
she had never felt so cold.

why had she thought she could have ib’s warmth
for her own just by taking it?
now her actions could not be undone,
and the painting sat patiently on her desk at home,
waiting to be found.

(more…)

The Novel: a confrontation between the Writer and her Protagonist

“Please stop following me.”

She felt ashamed of the whine in her voice and the desperate tone of her words, even more so when the Protagonist cast her a look of pity.

“You were the one who dreamed of writing a Novel.” Such cold words.

“A rejected novel,” the Protagonist continued, draping herself across the empty desk, “will always be better than an unwritten one.” She reached over and seized the notebook sitting silently beside her, and casually flipped through it. “Empty pages,” she said, with a hint of contempt. “What will you do, my dear Writer? Do you even deserve your title?”

The Writer trembled, and suddenly thrust another notebook at the Protagonist. This one bore a dog-eared cover, and held pages smudged with lead. “I did write! I planned out the entire novel!” the Writer cried, blushing furiously. The Protagonist stared at her, then nodded. Quiet prevailed for the next hour, save for the rustle of paper as the Protagonist carefully turned each page, pouring over the writing as though it were Scripture. The words were hastily scrawled for most of the notebook; the Writer didn’t want to lose any ideas, since they rarely came to her.

“Lovely stuff,” the Protagonist murmured when she finally shut the notebook closed and gazed at the Writer. “A sprawling plot line, with rather vague descriptions. You cleaned it up quite nicely at the end, though. Why aren’t you writing the actual Novel now?”

The Writer bit her lip.

“I’m…” She paused. “I’m afraid. Of writing. Because I don’t think I could ever properly convey the Novel with my lackluster skills. The ideas are too grand and brilliant for me. If I were to write it, they would never reach their full potential. If only another Writer could take my place instead…” She buried her face in her hands and choked back a sob. The Protagonist regarded her silently. A shame that my Writer is such a small mouse, she thought, scrutinizing the Writer’s small, thin frame and disheveled hair. When she looked up again, tears threatened to fall from the corners of her pale eyes.

“I’m sorry that I created you, only to give up,” she whispered.

The Protagonist had had enough. She leapt from the table and slammed the notebook into the Writer’s chest, ignoring the latter’s cry of surprise and pain. “You haven’t given up at all, shameful coward!” she cried. “Just look at all the outlining you’ve done! Stop wallowing in self-pity! Get some confidence and start writing! I won’t stop following you until you’ve finished the first draft.” The Writer nodded nervously and dried her eyes. That’s right, she thought. I need to put an end to my spinelessness. “Now?” she squeaked, noticing the time on the clock, and how dark the room’d become. The Protagonist merely rolled her eyes. The Writer chided herself for putting off the daunting task yet again, sighed, and opened up the blank notebook.

And thus began the story of the Writer, the Protagonist, and the problems they faced while creating a Novel.

~

[note: nanowrimo starts next week!!]

dream (3)

she tasted salted toffee and melting chocolate on her tongue, but when she opened her eyes, she found herself crouched beside her beloved older brother. “the Organization wants us to secure the ubiquitous black suitcase,” he said, as though she hadn’t fallen asleep at all. (maybe she had, maybe she hadn’t, but at the moment it didn’t matter.) instead, she clicked her tongue. “where is it?” she asked, and he nodded towards the oddly shaped building in the center of the city. “right there. it’s close enough to the ocean for us to escape from the rooftop to the shore, then make our way back to the Organization’s HQ.”

“let’s do this. how many are there?”

“at the moment? eighteen.”

“nine each, then.”

“yep.”

she felt the utmost bliss as they scaled the skies, running lightly through the air as though they were out for a typical morning jog among the clouds. they managed to avoid the crows that followed them, detonating bombs made of legos whenever necessary. even when one of the enemy, disguised as a traffic cop, pursued them two hours later, she was buoyed by an insane tranquility. even as he chased them across the rooftops of three different wal-marts, and followed them into the ocean when they swung off that last building, she didn’t panic at all. neither did he, the older one. in fact, he casually turned to her as they landed smoothly into the waves. “perfect,” he declared, smiling radiantly, and her heart swelled at the brilliant light of his confidence. she understood what he meant when they reached the HQ, entered the building, and watched as three gigantic jellyfish tore apart the enemy and consumed him at the door.

“do we have all of them?”

“i have half. Did you drop any, by chance?”

he laughed. “nope.”

she felt such immense happiness that for a moment, she thought she would burst like one of their handmade lego bombs.

if only they could do this forever.

janowrimo update (2) – productivity

i’ve been keeping a journal.

it’s one i started on january first. the gist of it is to write one line every day that summarizes whatever you did that day. these past entries have been rather dull, and are more about school than anything else.

today, however, was quite productive.

i’ve written several pages of my novel, and i like where it’s going so far. i think the eureka! moment was when i finally felt comfortable with a certain writing style (which in this case is first person pov, present tense). rereading some of my writing now, it actually sounds similar to how i write on this blog. i don’t drop all caps while writing by hand, though, because that would probably develop into an awful habit that i wouldn’t be able to break. whenever i read my posts here on citrusy, i always imagine myself whispering the words. that’s not what i’m aiming for in my novel, so sticking to the standard writing style works.

in other news, i also finished the majority of my assignments, worked on some of the pieces i’m going to compete with next week (for piano), and practiced baking lemon bars. my friend’s birthday is this tuesday! and we’re going to celebrate at school. birthdays are always super happy occasions. c:

-ktc

janowrimo update (1)

i’ve been writing in chunks.

the dream scenes come first. they’re the most important parts of the novel, and i want to practice writing more of these outside of janowrimo (hence the ‘dream (#)’ posts on this blog). the parts that my main character spends awake (ie, when she’s at school) will be written later.

another thing – my main character’s personality and situation.

that is both wonderful and awful. my mc is socially awkward and clumsy. not the cute kind of clumsy, but the clunky clumsy that causes secondhand embarrassment. she’s also insecure about her academic future, being a high school student. what does she enjoy doing? what are her interests?  what will she do about her grades, p/sat scores, extracurricular activities? what university will she attend, and what will she major in? then there’s the fact that she’s attending a high school that none of her junior high friends went to; she’s frightened, lonely, and lost. how will she make friends if all she wants to do is stay in bed and sleep?

is this okay?

would people like this character of mine? she’s insecure, clumsy, awkward, and shy. she doesn’t say much in class, and is afraid to talk to her classmates. character development throughout the story will change this, yes, but will people be willing to start out with this main character?

what do you think?

janowrimo

november is my favorite month of the year. can you guess why?

yep.

nanowrimo. it is the only month that i’m motivated enough to rush-write a novel (and spend the other eleven months editing it).

i recently fell into a writing slump (because of life problems and all that), which is the main reason why i started this blog…so i apologize for the low quality posts i’ve written so far. i just feel so tired; i wish i could just lay on the floor and sleep for three years, you know? though that’s impossible right now…

ANYWAY. i’ve decided to do nanowrimo this month, and hopefully climb out of this hole i’m in. six days late (and counting) – hurrah!

the rest of this month’s posts will consist of updates regarding janowrimo. i spent quite a bit of time this winter break outlining this project of mine, and i’ve decided to move to the next step. why wait till november?

is anyone else doing this? if so, message me. we can talk! about! writing! 😀 and maybe boost morale.

oh, and here’s some music. just, if you’re in the mood for piano. yeah.

-ktc