I was sorting through my Evernote archive, attempting to order hundreds of untitled fragments and unclassified notes, when I found the draft of a letter that I wrote for someone’s birthday, but that I suppose I’ll never send now. I forget so much, so that often, I scramble to pin down in words a passing moment, to still and frame the fleeting duration of a thought or impression. I started writing a letter months before I could give it, not realizing then how much I trusted that what I wished to say would not change, that the characters in my narrative would follow a familiar plot, that their bantering would go on, that they would want more of the same. Who gets blindsided? The naively structuralist over-read.
What to do with this fossil of a feeling? I could, I suppose, read the letter as if I wrote it for myself as a locus of my own affection — for if the radiance of attention is what tends love, then surely one can beam this light reflexively?
Missed missive (2):
In Tagalog, the word “giliw” and its adjectival and nominal iterations (“magiliw,” “kagiliw-giliw,” “kinagigiliwan”) denote tenderness and regard, gleam and grace, dearness and delight. I wish you the brightest of days, Giliw, who are one of the kindest, funniest, finest persons I know. This world, I find, seems lighter, more kagiliw-giliw, because you are.
(Alas, this will not do, for I cannot with any sincerity address this message to the self I know, haha. Guess I’ll just throw it away.)
Thought bubble while grooming my eyebrows one cold January morning and reflecting on a recent conversation and a line from Brenda Shaughnessy: It is in the nature of things to change (to move, to end, to die), and perhaps feelings are most mercurial and evanescent of all (a prime lesson of A Midsummer Night’s Dream!), but that doesn’t mean we are powerless to exert a stabilizing force on what is in flux (consider: promises and plans, codes of belief, customary practices, social institutions, dams that shore up rivers, the idea of a house and a family as home). When I say “I love…” I am not just expressing a feeling, I am making a commitment — that my statement of fact retains a claim to truth, because I am someone who likes to think I speak truths.
Dear one, not everyone tries to be so earnest.
Lately, I have taken to sitting in the dark as evening approaches midnight, gazing out the wall of glass in our 8th-floor hostel common room, searching the lit-up windows of surrounding residential towers (Siu Hong, Beneville, Fu Tai) for signs of life obscured by distance, laundry, and drapery.
A dressed-up memory of a conversation recorded one night four months past:
I say, in Hong Kong condominium lights replace stars.
I say, sometimes at night I sit by the window and watch other windows. I watch the movements of silhouettes. In one room, somebody is hanging washed underwear. In another, somebody is drawing the curtains close. Once, I think I saw the shadow of a man dancing. I watch how, one by one, the windows in the towers turn black, while a few stay lit through the night.
He says, it’s like art, isn’t it, this collection of figures living in boxes. When you look at them from afar.
Some nights, I am visited by old anxieties I try no longer to sit down and talk with, because the world’s problems are manifold and dire, I tend too much toward the comforts of solipsism, and I should rather be writing research-related thoughts. Fortunately, in the structures of my previous pieces I may rehearse the processing of stale sentiments, such as this, from four years ago: there is no need for longing.
Romance is rare and thus so rarefied, in the way we speak of it and act on it and think and think and think about it. We cling to it. I clung to it … and I am sick of it, its high highs and low lows, its lightness and weight, its bondage to the other. There is a gentler and more constant love that rises from self-regard, from the affection of family and friends, from consideration of the sky and trees and rocks and wind and sea, from the defense of beliefs and the pursuit of passions, from the appreciation of what is. This love is more grounded and free. And it is enough. I am saying it is enough, for me, now. There is no need for longing.
Dear one, when will you acknowledge, in your heart of hearts, the banality of romance?
Ah, but that something is commonplace does not mean it has no value. We need air to live, don’t we?
Yes, but need is different from want, and I try to temper my desires, I disregard anyone who doesn’t want me.
Lately, I have taken to sitting in the dark as evening approaches midnight, gazing out the wall of glass in our 8th-floor hostel common room, singing lachrymose love songs in my mother tongue. I sing for no one (and I stop singing when somebody comes), only it pleases me to sail smoothly through refrains, hitting high notes without my voice breaking.
Your language is too neat, too poised, too polished, I’ve been told by literary editors and in writing workshops. I write the way I put on makeup: more artfully when I feel like shit.
Or: these days, when I meet a wild, messy, intractable feeling, especially when it is my own, I prefer not to hug or shake hands with it, but to mannerly move away.
Dear one, I’m afraid you are forgetting a lesson: that the articulation of feeling is not a demand or admission of weakness, but of the courage to accept vulnerability as a condition of strength.
Fine, but why rush into risk? “Having loved enough and lost enough, I am no longer searching, just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain, but being a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land.”
“And you know what? The real things… the things that last… they wait for you. Sometimes that’s the only way I can tell if something’s real or not. I go real slow, and if it stays with me, I know it’s for real.“
A toast, then! To the ceaseless striving for a cute and drama-free inner life! History already is too much with us; whatever it is of experience that may be isolated from history (and I do like to believe there is some part of our being that transcends the historical — call it spirit or soul, I’m a humanist at heart), one must take care also to isolate from needless pain. And so one learns — to discriminate between what is worth bruising for and what is not, to determine when to hold on and to let go.