#2051 | dirty

A few things:

1. Corona has messed with my hair real bad, not even going to pretend this is a look anymore so much as it is a sign of the times.

2. All i wear now are various sets of pajamas – I now have a rotating wardrobe of fancy pajamas, chill pajamas, and i’ve-given-up pajamas. This old star wars t shirt and pj shorts are basically part of the last category.

3. the other day, as i was working in the living room, my dad looked at me and asked why i type like im fighting enemies off in some video game. so i guess i know now why my back hurts all the time. it’s because my posture sucks and i left the orthopedic love of my life in new york.

4. i was sick all weekend – not pandemic sick, just stress sick i think – and so hibernated nonstop, essentially, and just emerged from the haze of slumber to the very happy news that i’ve been awarded the Felipe P. De Alba Fellowship at Columbia University, which is the first time i have been a fellow of anything, except for maybe when i was 10 and sorted into Yellow house in primary school, and all my friends in the Green house laughed at me for being a yellow yellow dirty fellow. Well, now i am the dirtiest fellow of all, so jokes on them.

x
J

#2050 | Athena: A whole mood

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My cat is doing a very good job of channeling the grouch in all of us right now. I suppose one can get accustomed to anything: frustration, exhaustion, misery, claustrophobia, the like. For example: when I got back from New York over a month ago, I was at Peak Depression, a total nightmare to be around, not that anyone was, you know, around, since we were all on lockdown and I was quarantined, squirreled away in solitary confinement for two weeks. But my friends showed up magnificently, like Harry Potter’s friends who sent him cake and letters when the Dursleys locked him in without food, and to be honest, the misery was quite cushioned with love, at least for me. Slowly I have graduated from plain and perpetual wretchedness to my current state of fluctuation – ping-ponging between optimism and total incapacitation. Is it like this for everyone? I imagine it is, worse, better, who knows. The problem with despair is that it is myopic. The problem with me is I find this unacceptable. I cannot fathom a situation I cannot muscle my way out of with sheer pigheadedness, though of course when you come up against an invisible enemy there’s not much you can do. Instead I have thrown myself into pantomimes of productivity, doing exactly three sit ups then curling into a ball, reading voraciously to make up for my inability to write, cursing people who are quite happily writing and posting about it, cursing myself because I am not. Everything is so slow. My brain, my body, the world. Except for time, which goes, without regard for its occupants, spending months of our year frivolously. And my cat, for whom at least the world has caught up to speed, finally meeting her on her wavelength of irascibility.

x
Jem

#2049 | Word of the Year

I am so sick and tired of the word unprecedented. Who would have known that when history arrived, it would look like this, take this shape, coagulate into this slimy, stale form. Who would have known that the war of our generation would have come so quietly to arrest us like this. Here we are, facing down the invisible enemy; it has arrived, we are tense, our backs ache, yet we cannot move.

Here we are, waiting, waiting, locked in this neverending game of chicken.

J

#2048| I am not a robot

It’s been a very odd and solitary month, you guys, one spent mostly closeted in my room in Manhattan for two weeks, then, punctuated by a brief interlude in the air, in a temporary service apartment in Singapore, under quarantine, and now, back home, shuffling between a makeshift study and a makeshift bed, living underwater in new york time as the rest of singapore continues on GMT+8.

It was with this sense of cotton mindedness that I came to the sign-in page of my blog today, thinking to myself that i must write something, but not knowing what. For some reason, a few websites refuse to keep me signed in, the new yorker, the new york times, the paris review, and my own website, this page, jemmawei.com. All websites i pay to access (or in this case, host) and all of which boot me out unceremoniously after the session ends, requiring me to sign in again, and again, and again..

Anyway. Every time I come to jemmawei.com to sign in and write a post i need to verify my human status, tick the innocuous i am not a robot box, which i’ve never thought much about, but today i came to it and thought, what if instead of wallowing in this grumpy haze, this pandemic panic, i opened my mind up and sharpened my attention to every microscopic detail, saw each question posed as an opportunity for a prompt?

I am not, of course, saying that the same grey i am not a robot box is what inspired californian based writer Minyoung Lee. On the other hand, what a perfect balancing clause – i am not a robot, but make me one.

All of that to say that I read this wonderful short story today on Monkeybicycle, and now you can, too.

Make Me a Robot by Minyoung Lee

x
Jem

#2047| Soft wonder

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Cleanness by Garth Greenwell, copy from Definitely Books

Just a minute or two ago I turned the last page on Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness, the title story, not the collection; the title story which is located somewhere in the middle of the book, and gasped. As I was reading I remember holding my breath, mouthing the words, tracing them over with my tongue and pen, just stunned, astonished at how beautifully woven his words were, how precise, soft, clear. Stunned, I said it before, but must say again, I finished, and immediately exhaled, all the wind that had been stored up in me rushing out at once, whistling between my teeth. When the air was all gone I inhaled again and said, to an empty room, oh.

I could not bring myself to continue to the next story, I had some other things that needed to be done, a shelf to be built, a few submissions to review for the Journal’s Spring Contest, a housemate to talk to, exchange words with, something we previously took for granted but recently formalized due to extenuating circumstances, other things, as I said, that needed to be done, but I could not do them. It seemed a small violence to allow new words or actions to enter, to dissolve the temporary bubble that the story had spun. I was still in the space of Cleanness, which I had only just joked about a day before (to myself, only, but still) as being thematically appropriate for our times.

In the space of the last week my life has allowed tremors to take hold, what’s the point of using euphemistic language, here is what it is: i have drained my life savings and put my life on pause to be here in new york city, to attend my dream school, pursue my dream tribe, and crisis has wrapped the city up in its little finger. Everything is over and we are all staying home. Or perhaps it is not over but it feels like it is: how can it not, when half the city and my house is fleeing, if they can afford it, the other half is aggressively sanitizing, campus is locked down, i am communing only with paper and through the screen, Am I in quarantine, no, but i might as well be. Quarantine! I am not quarantined so much by a sickness i do not have but by a bittersweetness, a lack of foresight into even the week after, a fear of the turbulent finances that this whole situation has thrown us into. It’s too bad, my friend said, about your school, i’m sure youre disappointed, and i thought to myself, disappointment, what is disappointment, some people can afford it, not I.

I want, more than anything, i think, but i have thought wrong before, so maybe this time too, who knows, but I want to be proven wrong, to look back in a month and think: aha! an overreaction, your melodramatic side resurfacing, as usual. But I kept calm before and look where that got me. For the last week i have had to force myself to slow, enact and enforce a new metronome to move through my day. I made a checklist – every day i would try to do at least four things from a category of five, here: write, read, exercise, errands, assignments. If i am to be stuck at home the least i can do is be productive, but the truth is you really only value isolation when you have chosen it, made time for it, not when it has been thrust upon you. I suppose that is true of most things. Anyway, Cleanness had been on my list for a long, long time, and i slipped it in my bag out of habit, then took it out, because what for, i am not going anywhere, i dont need a bag.

And it was good, very good, and i thought, oh, this quarantine is not so bad, im making progress on a variety of things i suppose, and then i got to the middle of the book, to the center of Cleanness, and stopped short.

I sometimes wonder if I make a bad book reviewer, etc, because i find it so hard to talk about the beautiful, I don’t want to break it apart and analyse it, i want to hold it in my hands and just make the sound the protagonist’s lover makes in Cleanness the story, the unnameable sound of homecoming and pleasure. I will have to move on, at some point, i know, and quite soon too, if I don’t want to roast in regret tonight at having let hours slip by unproductive, I will have to do the things: build the shelf, reply emails, edit work. But it is in this moment now, just after the reading, that I sit at present, with it in my hands, turning it over, trying to hold on to it, draw the moment out. It is in this moment that i tap these words out, from my end of an isolation which has so easily slipped into a more serene solitude, on my screen, to yours.

x
Jem