Stories that Matter

Source: Image by jointcracker  (cc)

Source: Image by jointcracker (cc)

My Facebook life has to be perfect, because if my story didn’t exist online, I’d disappear. Having no likes on a post is like me standing at the edge of a cliff, shouting into an abyss but not hearing an echo. I wait and wait and then I start to wonder if maybe it’s not the echo that’s the problem, it’s my voice. Because what if I think I hear my voice, but really the sound just never existed in the first place? Maybe my mouth is a figment of my imagination or a tumor in someone’s brain.

School taught me to dress for the job I want, so I dress my profile for the life I want. We’re all made up of stories anyway, so somewhere along the way I decided to write my own except I somehow ended up writing shitty fanfic about people who aren’t me. In anime, characters with the loudest hair matter the most. Maybe that’s why I color my hair so often.

My profile is starting to remind me of this creepy photo I saw on Reddit of a decapitated woman dressed up like a doll. NSFL. Not suitable for life. Not because I post photos of dead people, but because my profile has turned into a Pinterest collage with vacations and family and friends and pets and a fulfilling career. I’m thin and beautiful not because I am in real life, but because I watched a vid on Vimeo once on how to pose in front of a camera for the most flattering photos.

I looked into deleting Facebook once and ended up deactivating my account instead. Temporary deactivation is safe, permanent deletion too scary. I ran away from my Facebook life just to prove that I could, then I physically ran away too.

I think I was hoping for something magical to happen when I ran away, like maybe I’d glomp onto that one magical turn of phrase and be instantly transformed into somebody who mattered, and then I’d drive home a brand new person brimming over with inspirational desktop quotes. The only thing I learned from that trip is that it’s impossible to leave Facebook behind. When you reactivate your profile, everything is as you left it. The Internet has a longer memory than I do.

***

I once read this short story in high school about a girl who found solace in sitting fully clothed in an empty bathtub. Its cold, hard shape kept all her bits and pieces safe while the rest of her fell apart. When she climbed back out, she was fine, just great, thank you very much. I don’t remember the rest of the story, but I remember wanting to try it once, except the tub was dirty, and I didn’t want to clean it.

There was also this short story about a girl who drank milk before every meal. It was a certain kind of milk drank in a certain kind of way that made it easier for her to throw up her food afterwards. I remember this story was an English assignment, and my teacher talked about how eating disorders are bad, but all I got out of it was so that’s how you do it. Except I hated milk, and I hated having to taste the same milk twice.

I see stories everywhere because I’m addicted to metaphors. Maybe I’m a tragic comedy in two acts or maybe a cautionary postmodern tale. Life has to impart some kind of meaning, right? There has to be some tiny thing that seems insignificant at the time but carries through to the end—an empty bathtub or a cup of milk—something that can be identified and analyzed. Like, when I sit down to write a story and end up staring at the blank page instead. I know empty spaces are supposed to be filled by things—something is better than nothing—because why am I here if not to be filled by pretty things?

At Starbucks, I write stories about characters who never achieve their goals or characters who get everything they want then find out they wanted something else all along. In college, I learned this is a postmodern thing. Something something about how the war screwed everyone in the head, and now we write these stories about people who feel increasingly disconnected.

And love stories. I love writing tragic love scenes like the ones that happen the night before you wake up in bed to find yourself alone. You don’t know why he left, but when you reread those scenes you know exactly why. There are a lot of furrowed brows and trembling fingers and ellipses. Also boobs. And engorged members. Writing sex can be a lot of cock this, cock that, but it’s also about one or two (or more) bodies filling empty holes. I like to think our bodies tell the kinds of stories we’d never dare to say out loud.

***

I watched a YouTube video on Bruce Lee once. The slant of his eyes and the curl of his tongue made me think of fortune cookies and gongs. He talked about being like water—formless, shapeless—but I didn’t get it. I think it’s because I’m not Asian enough. I’m neither wise nor mysterious, my eyes are only a little slanty, and I only have an accent when I try to speak in my native tongue. And instead of learning how to be like water, bits and parts of me end up trickling down the drain. All that’s left is a cold, hard tub and an empty glass once filled with milk. All that’s left is my reflection.

All that’s left are these words.

I’m writing a lot more these days. A decade of work and grown-up responsibilities made me forget the person I wanted to be when I was a kid. Back when all I did was daydream about incredible, fantastical worlds, I hid books in my jacket sleeves, snuck them into class, read them when I was supposed to be learning algebra and geometry. I wrote my first short story in math class behind my teacher’s back. I thought I was being so sneaky, but I only just realized that maybe my teachers let me get away with it because that quiet Asian girl with her nose stuck in a book was the kind of person who mattered.

My dad asked me recently how anyone could choose to study English all through high school and college. For once, he wasn’t angry. He actually wanted to know why, and I found out that after all this time, he thought studying English was learning how to spell and how to use grammar properly. When I told him about stories and how much they mattered, he laughed. Not at me, but because he was relieved that his daughter knew how to spell.

And maybe that’s where I went wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to please him by tacking on a management degree and moving to the states to work in a big building behind a big desk. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped reading and writing all these years because being a writer is about having a voice, and somehow I’d lost mine along the way all because of a misunderstanding about what it means to study English.

Maybe it’s not about deleting my perfect Facebook life, because even my profile is a part of me like how a lie becomes real when you tell it to yourself too often. The Internet has a longer memory than I do, and Google knows me more than I know myself. The problem is that I was born before the Internet was born, and the person I am—the one with the stories who mattered—never made it online because she used to write on paper with ink instead of on a laptop in Starbucks.

Writing is a little like standing at the edge of a cliff, but instead of shouting into the abyss, you listen to the world that’s always been inside your head. It’s dizzying and crazy and none of it makes any sense, but the sound you hear is so much more beautiful than the echo of a million Facebook likes.

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