Boredom (Born from general confusion stemming from lack of clear direction/complete misunderstanding of life’s purpose.)
Stay indoors, in a room with bad lighting but many makeshift ashtrays. Arrange and rearrange your comforter into various malleable structures. Stand back and give names to the newly birthed forms. Now it is a manatee. Now it is Abraham Lincoln’s headless body. Now it is a giant nose. Applaud yourself for your mastery, for now you can be fairly certain of the potential you possess as a visual artist.
Write a letter on your arm to the boy named Bunny whom you met on a train in Croatia. The one who spoke to trees and set his watch to random hours as his way of time traveling; write to him that you hope he is still alive and insane. Tell him you are glad you’re not him and even more glad you’re not with him.
Grief (Not your own grief, but your father’s grief, after your fourteen-year old-dog dies. He calls often, sobbing into the receiver. Even though he’s a fifty-five year old man who should know that a blind asthmatic Basset Hound was not going to live forever. Grief that hardens when you realize that life has gradually become very hard for your father, and you’re at a loss as to how to help him. There are many ways of living life, places to hang hopes and direct love, and it’s quite obvious to you that a very old dog was probably not a good place to hang his. So it’s specifically that kind of grief. )
Let his phone calls ring and ring. It’s been weeks of teary phone conversations. Delete voice messages robotically, holding the phone away from your ears. If your heart is the fruit from which the nectar of comforting words could be squeezed, that fruit is rotten and dry. The dregs could be called mockery. They would sting him bitterly. Then it helps to imagine the dog dead. Your former puppy now bloated, stuffed and disgusting. Hate the dog. Never love the dog again.
For relief, buy a six-pack of beer and a bag of jalapeno potato chips. Fall asleep with crumbs on your face. He will not call you for a month.
Inappropriate Feelings (Toward married Contemporary British Drama professors.)
Go to his office hours religiously, bringing in new opinions on plays he’d recommended. Show him plays you’ve written inspired by plays he’s asked you to read. Fiddle with framed photos on his desk as you talk about your family, his hometown, your boyfriend, and his wife. Laugh a lot. Babysit his three-year-old daughter Elaine, and while she’s asleep, go to his room and smell his shirts.
Agree to dinner with him downtown, tell him things about your father you’ve never told anyone else. You will begin to feel queasy when you realize this is the first time you’ve ever been alone with him outside of school. When he asks you up to his studio loft to show you his sculptures, say, “Cool! Definitely!” with eyebrows arched gleefully. When he goes to stroke your hair, act surprised, say something antiquated like, “Oh my!”
Take his clothes off while making out with him on his couch. Make mental notes of the peculiarity of his needy old man lips, his loose old man skin, and his strange wrinkly old man hard on. Something will happen right then that’ll make him seem less a sexy gentle intellectual uber mensch, and more just like the guy who whistles at you outside the bodega. Your inappropriate feelings will then be dissolved into a satisfied curiosity, and you can pull back now, walk out of the apartment, leaving him naked, bewildered, gasping.
Self Doubt (In your abilities as a playwright stemming from Inappropriate Feelings towards married Contemporary British drama professors.)
Change your major to Archeology, to Criminology, to Library Science. Take a semester off to work at a florist across town that specializes in enormous apology bouquets.
Write a play about a large wrinkly alien who terrorizes Los Angeles.
Fear of Flying (Because every time you fly, you land somewhere new, and you have to make new friends.)
Leave something you love in every city you’ve lived in. A record player in Shanghai, a kitten in Seattle, all your CDs in Paris. That way you’ll always have a reason to retrace your steps back to your old friends. So it means you won’t have to stay away forever. Learn to enjoy being alone, appreciate the silence of dinners where an entire roast chicken can be gnawed away without conversational interruption. You are free and oh so mysterious. Think, friends, who needs friends?
Bilingual Heartache (From someone breaking your heart in a foreign language. It is like regular heartache but somehow it’s painful in a creative new way. )
Go through your memory bubbles with a big red marker and cross out all those strange words that stirred you to hear.
“Bonsoir mon petite chat, voici un cadeau!”
“No tenga miedo. Estoy aquí.”
Take the marker to the memory of international terminal goodbyes, when your tears found their way into the corners of your smiles. It will help slightly.
Pray that a painful cold sore appears on your face so that you can instead wallow in self-pity.
Self Pity (A byproduct of chronic dissatisfaction with your big uninteresting face.)
Get your nails done by a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese girl who probably weighs about as much as one of your thighs. After she puts your hands in a bowl of smelly water, she rubs lotion into your fingers. She looks up at your face and says, “Your hands are so white and soft, you never do any housework do you?”
Open your mouth to protest, as if she were your mother, but then realize she guessed correctly. Nod. Lower your head.
Dwelling on the Past (You remember seeing your parents waltzing in the living room of the first house you lived in. You think about your father bent over the floor above newspapers looking for work, on his knees like a wounded animal. You hear the echos of your mother sobbing in the shower on your first day of school. These memories become a fable, entitled the “Legend of Mom and Dad” and they are tied to you like a cloud-shaped balloon above your head.)
Begin researching random things of interest. The history of Jamaica for example, the tragic disappearance of indigenous people is a good place to start. Start a blog about Jamaica and Jamaican cuisine. Establish a huge internet presence.
Insomnia (Because now you that you spend so much time on the internet in order to avoid Dwelling on the Past, your eyes look bruised and your face is yellow.)
Make paper planes with New Yorker subscription postcards. Re-arrange bedroom furniture. Tipple Nyquil from the bottle and as your arms go numb and your chest sinks to the bottom of the mattress, think how much better life is now. Really! Your parents are no longer married but everyone is eating high quality organic produce, only alone. Only now no one gets to argue with anyone. Isn’t that better?
Desperation (General lustiness with no valid prospects.)
Make up a long sordid story about the time you made out with a bartender who looked exactly like Joseph Gordon-Levitt ( Could it have been another Gordon-Levitt brother?) and then proceeded to fuck him on a park bench. You were wearing black leather boots up to your thighs like Catwoman, and you straddled him right there, under the moonlight, in front of that bagel shop you like. People could have been making bagels for the following day and they could have watched you. You know what? They were, and they did. You are a woman of incredible sexual prowess, you are wild and you are trouble.
Tell this story to your friends, their friends, even your brother. Watch their faces as you imitate Gordon-Levitt’s O face.
Double Shame (The first shame is when your grandmother, with her crooked stroke-ruined face, shits herself when you have friends over. The smell of shit fills the house, your friends file out, and you are filled with shame. Now comes the second shame, in that you realize she is your grandmother and you love her and without her there is no you. She has survived so much, with so much bravery and dignity. What have you got to show for yourself? More shame. Double edged shame. Double double shame.)
Kiss her on the cheek until she loves you again. Until you make believe she forgives you. Until you make believe you forgive yourself. You try to avoid her on weekends. You stop inviting friends over. Every time you are filled with this double shame, you smother her old wrinkly cheek with kisses.
Regrets (Big ones. They look just like your mother’s and they are getting worse. On top of inheriting her big laugh, cute feet, and smiley eyes—you also got these. Not wanting to disappoint others leading to betrayal of self, and loss of hope for romance. Marrying the wrong man led to a lifetime of resentment and unhappiness. Her regrets take you over, until you drink her bitterness and cry her tears. These big regrets your mother keeps handing to you, they take root, scratch, and grow.)
Take up a persona of a really matter-of-fact, optimistic young lady. Occasionally spout hippie aphorisms like, “I believe in happy endings!” and “It’ll all work out for the better!” You hope this will soothe her regrets before they bludgeon you emotionally like a baseball bat full of nails.
It is the only way. After all, your mother is still your closest friend and you would be afraid in a world without her.
Family Pressure (Not directed at you, but at your much-older brother’s marriage issue. He is so old, not very tall, and his hair is receding, they say. You must act fast! It is your responsibility! How can you go on with your own life knowing that he, your very own brother, has no wife and child! How can he live like this! So lonely like this?)
Promise your parents and grandparents you will find your much-older brother a suitable wife. Say you’ll introduce him to your older friends, your language tutor, there’s even the neighbor of a friend, whose party you went to a month ago, who is probably single.
Don’t actually do anything. Why would you do something?
Humiliation (From listening to the guy you’re finally sleeping with chatting with his out-of-town girlfriend on the phone, in your bathroom.)
Act really cavalier about his having a girlfriend. You are not like other girls, you say, and demonstrate it by bringing up many times how “cool” with everything you really are. Watch his director’s reel while wearing his socks. He holds your hands when you sleep and you wake up smiling. This is love, you think.
Imagine throwing yourself against him, an imaginary camera follows at half speed as lights blur and you’re suddenly more beautiful than you really are. And he will turn around and see you with this teary fine-boned face and realized it’s you he’s loved all along. It could all be different, you tell yourself, if only.
After that, stop seeing him and start dating a boring and balding accountant, named Linus. Linus only has time for one girlfriend.
Terrible Taste (In boyfriends, marked by erratic, impulsive decisions based on purely subjective and questionable qualities. One bad choice after another. A long time ago a boy said that you purred like a little cat while you were asleep. The accountant finally says, “You know you fucking snore, right?” He also says your feet are fat.)
Look down at feet. Your stupid little feet and your sausage toes.
Confusion (While visiting your much-older brother’s newly purchased well-furnished condo, find a DVD collection entitled, “Sexiest Gay Romp, Miami!” Maybe it was mislabeled? Stare at the framed pictures of his first and only girlfriend, study her glassy dense-looking eyes. Maybe she’s just really nice? Remember all the times he flirted obnoxiously with waitresses, does that mean anything? Think of his devotion to church, the time he took you to an N’SYNC concert, does that mean anything?)
You tell your family your brother’s just a player and you don’t bring up the DVDs with him. There are some things you cannot say to your older brother. He keeps you at arm’s length, as if you’ve never grown out of being a nosy toddler. Mysteriously you still love him, but you don’t know if he knows. You help him hide his secret, his shame, and you don’t try to comfort him. Does this mean anything?
Wanton Tenderness (Mercenary empathy for strangers you have nothing to do with.)
When the old man alone in the restaurant begs someone on the phone to join him for dinner, resist the urge to comfort him. Watch him order all the dishes again once the first round gets cold and fight the inclination to join his sadness.
Seriously consider adopting a slightly disabled cat.
Baby Fever (Contracted while Facebook stalking the loveliest young couple who seemed so beautiful and in love and full of hope. You’ve never wanted a baby but now you’re cooing at anything short and chubby in elevators.)
Realize that the last thing you want to do is procreate with the narcissistic man-child accountant. His hair is receding into the shape of a yarmulke, what would your children look like? Break up with yet another boyfriend.
Stomachaches (Having ignored his phone calls, your father now comes over to your apartment bearing cream puffs. You are initially happy. You love cream puffs! But then he once again tells you his divorce story. How your mother so cruelly told him she never loved him, and how lonely he’s been his entire adult life. He describes to you his past mistresses, girls around your age, who also never loved him. He is losing his shit, he is crying. You stuff your mouth with cream puffs so you can’t say anything. You eat an obscene amount of cream puffs. You swallow without chewing so you don’t, so you don’t set off another round of tears. But now you have a stomachache.)
Move to a city a thousand miles away.
Longing (After you realized every real lover you’ve ever had has moved on and you’re going to movies alone and giving cuddly couples dirty looks in the dark. Longing that tastes bitter like your fingers after you absentmindedly kiss them remembering someone else doing the same.)
Take everything beautiful in every relationship you’ve ever had and bring it down to a word. Fedora. Champagne. Objectification. Fetish.
Anxiety (Stemming from unfulfilled potential, general nail biting about the future.)
Stop drinking coffee, start rolling cigarettes, bake cookies and share.
Gain weight and fret.
Fag Hag Fever (Puking outside of a gay club after too many tequila shots, while your gay best friend rubs your now whale-sized back, mechanically, as if he were washing a minivan. In your drunken rampage, you ask him, that if you two were the last people on earth, would he consider loving you?)
Join a gym and torture yourself. Once you become skinny again you can puke outside of regular clubs.
Discomfort (From seeing your mother kissing another man.)
Stare at the bouquet of white lilies on the kitchen island with disdain, will them to die with your hatred.
Sadness (Seeing your father in his big house alone, surrounded by plasma televisions, fridge full of beer, computer full of porn, asking you to play another round of Wii with him.)
Take him shopping for new clothes, sign him up for dating websites, and discuss the women with whom he chats on the Internet. Act as if it’s not incredibly disturbing to you, though it is. When he calls you slurring on the phone on a Saturday night, drive to whatever bar he’s at. Collect his things, carry him into his car, take him home, tuck him in, and never mention it to him because he will not remember.
Sadness (Gay brother sadness.)
Suggest a weekend trip to San Francisco where the two of you go to museums, poetry readings, and champagne tasting. He gives you many good side hugs and laughs at all your stories. As you’re about to get on the subway, agree that you’ve both had a marvelous time. As the train passes, your long hair flies up like a curtain around your face and only when the tracks have reached their crescendo, shout to him, “You don’t have to be ashamed!” “What did you say?” he shouts back. When the train is quiet, you reply, “Nothing.”
Sadness (General sadness about futility of life.)
Sadness (For your mother never having been in love.)
Pick a night when your mother’s running errands. Sneak in, break water pipes and flood the house. Three inches of water will cover the living room, the carpet will be a beige sponge. The wood floors your dad put in himself years ago will flare out at the edges like books turned upside down. Your cat will probably retreat to the bathroom sink.
When your mother opens the door, water will pour by her feet into the garage. She will turn on the light, and then turn it off, afraid of the electric shock. In the dark your mother will scoop water out of the house with bowls and buckets. She will unplug appliances dutifully.
She will call you, excited and giddy. Her sad disposition will be broken with the thrill. She will be laughing and splashing when she tells you something exciting has happened. A big undeniable something.
ContributorXuan Juliana Wang
XUAN JULIANA WANG is a New York-based writer born in Heilongjiang, China. She is a recent Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and holds an MFA from Columbia University.