on the essay

“This is an impossible communication: but that’s the only kind we want.”

“The Voyager Golden Record is the furthest edge of longing.”

“This is not a desperate experiment, or an essay ‘about’ desperation. It is in no way ‘loose’—we are simply looking for ‘the one.’”

“An essay is a kind of powerlessness. The record runs out of juice out of the range of the artists’ control.”

“Because some readers, you know, will hear anything: an essay is an attempt to survive itself.”

[April Freely, on the essay and the Voyager Golden Record]


[image source]


An art piece “Palimpsest” is part of the digital exhibit on immigration at the Wing Luke Museum. The collages are an exploration of dislocation as an embodied experience for immigrants and children of immigrants: the distance between past and future, the relationship between body and landscape, and the simultaneous erasure and rewriting of histories.


And one of my “Letters to Mao” is in the latest beautifully designed issue of Ninth Letter. Other poems in the series (in Mid-American Review & Web Conjunctions) can be read here.

joshua tree national park; secret gardens

July 2014: desert birthday


And more, more notes on bewilderment:

“To engage repeatedly with those patches of darkness, those nights of history, those places of unknowing”

“The language of nuance and ambiguity and speculation”

“While there are many Woolfs, mine has been a Virgil guiding me through the uses of wandering, getting lost, anonymity, immersion, uncertainty, and the unknown”

“In To the Lighthouse, Woolf wrote: ‘For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself… To be silent; to be alone… Her horizon seemed to her limitless.’”

[Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable]

hk protests


NYTimes: “Crackdown on Protests”

Live feed on Reddit



[Oct 4] Earlier in the week I wrote something about HK, it’s in The Rumpus. Doesn’t articulate everything I am trying to sort out, but it is a piece of it.

[Oct 16] “Umbrella/Shield Poetics”: more processing on the HK protests at the Kundiman blog. Post #1 comes from my friend, #2 from me, and #3 will be posted Saturday.

[Oct 24] And an essay by a friend in The Atlantic.


For example: “Class struggle” is codified differently within particular historical/cultural contexts. In China, or among those who left (escaped) during the Cultural Revolution, it means Mao and the Red Guards, a corrupt government, a widespread trauma. As a child, “Communism” was only ever a terrible Evil, and it was a surprise when I got to college and examined the ideas of Marxism/Socialism; I had to re-contextualize these.

Related or unrelated, “democracy” must mean something different to Hong Kong than it does to the West. Or it is undoubtedly shaped by the West, but what does it represent exactly to Hongkongers? How does it manifest?

SCMP: “Benny Tai Declares Start of Occupy Central”


[Oct 28]: Or how “democracy” and “propaganda” are codified on the Mainland: Guernica: Interview with Evan Osnos. The ability to have a voice is a moral imperative, but beginning with my Fulbright year I’ve wondered about how our Western conception of “democracy” has become its own specific categorical good, moral right, that one takes at face value rather than as a culturally nuanced ideology. 

{secret} gardens

“It has something to do with preserving life’s mystery; with leaving certain things undescribed, unspecified, and unknown; with savoring certain emotions… It depends on an intensified sense of life’s preciousness and fragility”

“Each of us has a certain resolute innerness—a kernel of selfhood that we can’t share with others… There can be something enjoyable, even revelatory about that feeling of self-protection, which is why we seek out circumstances in which we can feel more acutely the contrast between the outside world and our inner selves”

“By learning to leave your inner life alone, you learn to cultivate and appreciate it… And you gain another, strangely spiritual power: the power to regard yourself abstractly. Instead of getting lost in the details of your life, you hold onto the feelings, the patterns, the tones” [On Virginia Woolf & Privacy]


Perhaps that is the allure of lyricism, even when essaying (“to balance our need to be known with our need to be alone”). There is a compulsion toward truth and the articulation of truths, but there is also a compulsion toward opacity, shadows, white space.