My Life and Times

Something Imaginary

Something Imaginary

I’m not yet assimilated

I’m falling asleep, dreaming, I can’t remember about what. When I wake, my nose is bleeding. No surprise, since I am a defective and sickly child. Alongside my asthma and vertigo, I have inherited weak blood vessels in my nose. My mother had hers cauterized, a red-hot rod prodded deep into her nostrils so the delicate, veiny frills would flatten and cease to bleed. I was a replicative mistake, the blood gushing out of my nostrils. I’m kicking and screaming.

One Part Retribution, One Part Redemption

One Part Retribution, One Part Redemption

On Binyavanga Wainaina, 1971–2019

Wainaina was in fine form the day we met, a mind on fire, and a cultural worker at the height of his powers. So the news this past week that we had lost him so early at age 48, of a stroke, hit my world hard. I had seen him in Berlin a couple years back, at one of the gatherings at Savvy Contemporary art gallery. He had suffered a racist attack while in Berlin, but was unbowed and determined to continue his sojourning. For many of us in diaspora, losing Binyavanga Wainaina felt like we were left with one less heartbeat in our chest. We have to spread his message to the world; we have the technology.

The Pink

The Pink

Happy new vagina

I suppose what I’m saying is not that the desire for a universal is politically defensible but, more simply, that the desire for a universal is synonymous with having a politics at all. In a punishing twist, feminism has become both the preferred name for this desire and the very politics which must not claim it. Indeed, the minimal definition of a feminist might be a person who, affirming that women will never constitute a political class, privately hopes it might happen anyway.

On Tinder

On Tinder

The strength of my desire, previously unknown to me, feels overpowering. It also feels necessary, which means that it is dangerous.

As soon as I hang up, every movement feels curiously weighty. Things somehow mean more than they used to. I sit for a while, feeling the rug under my legs, then slowly wash my face and feel the water bead on my skin. I stare at the bones of my face in the mirror, and I look shadowed and unrecognizable. A liquid warmth spreads through my body. I complete the assignment.

Travels with Joni Mitchell

Travels with Joni Mitchell

An oeuvre inaugurated by disavowal

Around 2014, I began to talk to friends about Joni and was disappointed—surprised—by how little they knew. These were people who listened to music. I had a conversation about her with a highly accomplished ex-student in New York, a writer who had musical training, who thought I was talking about Janis Joplin. This was related to a problem: the plethora of Js among women musicians of the time, which led to their conflation into a genre. Janis Joplin, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell: the last three especially were seen as interchangeable. Even if I put down my ex-student’s confusion to uncharacteristic generational ignorance, I found that, on mentioning Joni to a contemporary I had to work hard to distinguish her from Joan Baez. My friend had dismissed—not in the sense of “rejected,” but “taxonomized”—Joni as being part of a miscellany of singers with long, straight hair, high, clear voices, and a sincerity that shone brightly in the mass protests of the late ’60s. Visually, in her early acoustic performances with guitar, and even in her singing, she appropriated the folk singer’s persona to the point of parody, while the songwriting was absolutely unexpected. To prove this to my friend, I played her “Rainy Night House” and “Chinese Café / Unchained Melody.” It became clear in twenty seconds that Mitchell was not Joan Baez.

Conversations with Bongjun

Conversations with Bongjun

Cards, tunnels, a rocket ship going backward

Oh! I thought. This sounds like the kind of man for me! I didn’t know at the time that he was interested in how jokes work because he wanted to figure out how humor could topple dictators and children of former dictators, specifically South Korea’s president at the time, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Korea’s old strongman dictator, Park Chung-hee.

Grief Network

Grief Network

“Do you want to turn your notifications off?” Twitter asked. No. I went to work at 9 AM and told my boss it was very important that I stay online.

Most people I knew didn’t say anything. I got some texts from friends and acquaintances, some to say I did a good thing, most to ask if I was OK. A few days after our tweets first hit, I was messaging a friend and asked him if he’d seen them. He had not. “Not to be not-all-men . . .” he texted, “but not all men.” Another friend messaged me on Facebook to ask how things were. “Your Twitter has been a little dark lately,” she said.

Maybe Nothing Had Happened

Maybe Nothing Had Happened

What did feet feel toward hands, their pretentious, elegant cousins?

Like many people my age, like Molly, I’d been deeply in love with this man, and had spent hours hurling myself spastically around the house to his songs, and I’d continued to be a partisan of his music and, what, brand, until the music got so boring that it wasn’t worth the energy anymore. Whatever bad shit he was into, I probably would have stayed loyal if there’d been worthwhile product. The sadness I felt watching the movie had something to do with a person’s art betraying them, of watching a man who has grown bored with the possibilities of his craft attempting to find, somewhere in his past, something worth preserving, and finding nothing.