TALES OF AN ORANGEPEELER
an archive of pleasures, wounds, sublimations
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Returning to a clumsy paragraph or an irritating idea, I frown, snip off a dangling sentence, exchange one word for another, while knowing too well how easily impeded I become by the way I locate myself within history, fiction, relationships, etc.
Vexed, I bite my lip, and wonder why I continue to write. (Why are you here, reading what I write?)
I'm at work, typing with my fingers sticky with plum juice. As juice drips unto my desk, I smile at the stains, these furtive signals of a lust for life that even the sterile environment of capitalist endeavor could not subdue.
At the worst times, anxiety overwhelms me; it's within me, around me, permeating everything that surrounds me, an anxiety that is peculiarly and intimately American, the anxiety over not being or having enough. And with anxiety marches repression—of the senses, of the necessary acuity towards the social and economic inequalities of the present—all that is sacrificed, driven underground, for the acquisition of money, money that will go towards tomorrow, later, the things that will make you happy (later, tomorrow).
And, of course, I don't want to feel anxiety. Instead, I want to say that I could live simply, and live my dreams of a simple life. That I could live out of my suitcase, if need be, and write to write, for my loved ones and myself--and not because of a hefty advance that would satisfy other people's expectations (or lack) of me. That I could live without fear (for myself, my loved ones) of rape, the effects of global warming, AIDS, the military industrial complex, the banal and everyday violence/subtle or not/of racism...!
Maybe my upcoming trip will revitalize me. (Is this what every future expatriate and self-exile think, smugly assured of their return ticket?) If I left American soil, the soil that nourishes and represses me, maybe I could truly create a meaningful existence, within a chosen community (and, yes, I'm well aware that "community" can be a nostalgically romantic notion) founded upon a similar desire for a creative and meaningful life. Maybe, then, cynicism will not triumph.
How can I re-define what is American about my condition here, as a young Asian American-born woman living in a world dominated by transnational economic interests and racist colonial legacies? Going away wouldn't help much. (I mean, America is wherever I go, within me, an idea and reality that has become an inextricable component to my sense of the world.) Departure only allows me to escape long enough to recollect the fatigued parts of myself. It's not enough for me to be a vagabond, a wanderer (as if without past or future) witnessing and writing about beauty and only beauty.
"The pursuit of individual happiness has been acknowledged as a universal right. Yet the existing social conditions make the individual feel powerless. He lives in the contradiction between what he is and what he would like to be. Either he then becomes fully conscious of the contradiction and its causes, and so joins the political struggle for a full democracy, which entails, amongst other things, the overthrow of capitalism, or, compounded with his sense of powerlessness, dissolves into recurrent day-dreams."—from Ways of Seeing, John Berger
Responding from Granada, Spain, Rini writes: "Sometimes I think about absolutely nothing on train rides, sometimes I think about the last sentence I read, the last metaphor I found beautiful. Sometimes I think about how nice it would be not to have cigarette smoke blown in my face everywhere I go in Europe. Sometimes I think about the Portuguese brothers I met in Amsterdam, or Anlou tipsy at the garden festival in Paris. Sometimes I think about the old man at the chicken and cider restaurant in Madrid, and the Flamenco dancer in Sevilla. Sometimes I think about the years ahead, the possibilities, the work, the anxiety... Sometimes I think about children, sometimes I think about love, about loneliness, about what I will eat next, about the next city I will visit, the next book I will read. Sometimes I think about home, my family, my friends...how truly lucky I am."