Stephanie Karlik

Month: June, 2013

Junot Diaz

Transcription of last two questions:

White Woman: You describe this depravation you grew up with and these, forgive me, crazy role models, which forgive me if you can for being White, but that is a universal experience in many ways. But in any event, how do you explain the fact that you succeeded so beautifully and didn’t succumb to all the other things that could’ve happened to you and didn’t follow all these dysfunctional paths?

Junot: But who says it hasn’t?

White Woman: Oh, come on.

Junot: But wait a second. No, no, no, but wait a second. I’m not just being tendentious. I just think that this is the mythography of America, that we just love to think that… the American mythography is progressive, this idea that everything moves upward, and people are always on this journey to improvement… and “how did you make it?” Listen, guys, this is very important to understand. I don’t speak the language of “make it” because you well know that our instance, our moment in late capital has no problems, through its contradictions, occasionally granting someone ridiculous moments of privilege, but that’s not what matters. In other words, we can elect Obama, but what does that say about the fate of the African-American community? We have no problems in America awarding individuals of color momentarily as a way never to address the structural, cannibalistic inequalities that are faced by the communities these people come out of. And the record ain’t done yet. Last time I checked… Has anybody tabulated my full account of cruelties towards people? No, like, I just mean it. I don’t think we can safely say just because someone has some sort of visible markers of success that in any way, they have avoided any of the dysfunctions. That is the kind of Chaucerian, weird physiognomy as moral status. I just think that, in fact, none of us, we don’t know anything about anybody. Certainly, I think that yes, I’ve made a certain level of status as an artist and as a writer, but what I’m reminded of most acutely is not of my quote un-quote “awesomeness” or some sort of will to power that has led me through the jungle of a maze. What I’m aware of being here is that I am representative of a structural exclusion, that room is made for “ones” so that room does not have to be made for the “manies.” That’s what I’m really aware of.

Hilton: Plus, who’s to say we’re not crazy?

Junot: I know I’m fuckin’ nuts.

La Dominicana: I’m sure you felt some sort of displacement within society and especially your own culture. How did you overcome that?

Junot: Again, I don’t think these things are… these are not… I think we accept too much at face value these ideologies of transcendence, that one overcomes their… I guess, my first thing was I noticed nobody was at home. This idea that some of us are less at home than others, that’s a big fuckin’ laugh. I think some of us have better operational masquerades than others. But last time I noticed, you know, America isn’t epically addicted to cocaine, especially White upper-class America because it feels at home, because it feels comfortable in its own fuckin’ skin, because it feel like in its place. I just think that, it’s just that, some of our displacements are pathologized in ways that other people’s displacements aren’t. So that we try to explain everything, it’s because we’re immigrants and we’re of color. Because that’s the way the society explains everything. If I tomorrow blow up a building, it’ll be like, “Ah, fuckin’, an immigrant.” Right? Because that’s the easy go-to myth. I just think that for me, I quickly realized that from everything that I saw, that there is no transcending the human experience, that there is just, you’ve got to fucking realize, that most of us, and I’m just saying this to leave room for some super humans out there… Most of us feel permanently displaced. Most of us feel savagely undone. Most of us try everything we can to try to manage our fears and our insecurities. Most of us are profoundly inhuman to ourselves and other people. And that makes us no more valuable, no more worthy of attention and love. And my thing is that I didn’t transcend all this stuff, I’m just like, you gotta live with them, man. I think that there’s nothing like trying to run away from all that stuff to guarantee their supremacy. My idea is to try to change at least the percentage of the vote. These voices are always going to get a vote, but do they always have to have the majority of the vote?

Hilton: They don’t get to win all the time.

Junot: Yeah, man. So you try to distribute who you are in different proportions. But the transcendence myth, I think will just do you in, in the long run.

Hilton: Did you ever see that extraordinary moment on Oprah and Toni Morrison’s son had just died, and Oprah says, “I’m very sorry to hear about your son, but now you have closure.”

Junot: Oh, Oprah.

Hilton: And the camera mistakenly went to Toni’s face, and she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ll be sad for the rest of my life.” And this idea of the arrival myth, is what you’re speaking of, that once we arrive… but one of the amazing things about America and Americans is that they never do.

Junot: No. And tomorrow, listen guys, my first reading was at Boston attended by one person, my best friend Shuya Ohno. That was my first reading, and that was about my first twenty readings. Today, all these fine faces here, and I really appreciate the support for me and Hilton, but tomorrow, you’re back to one person. America is not like Latin America that tends to be much more committed to its artists, that you could be thirty years in the game and not publish one book and people are still like, “Yo, you matter.” Guys, we are a fickle fickle nation. Today’s arrival is tomorrow’s “See, I told you. What a fraud.” And somebody will come along, and that’s the reality of it. This is not… I love you guys, and I appreciate you being here, but if this is why you’re doing your art, you’re in for a lot of pain, a lot of pain. Guys, I see you. I’m trying to be here 100% for you because you made your night out, you know, like really be present, but at the same time I know that I’m back to reading to my boy Shuya, always in my heart, because that’s the place where most of us end up as artists and you gotta be comfortable there, man, no matter what your fantasies of supremacy and of success are because tomorrow that’s where you’ll be at. And it’s ok. I forgive you the way I forgive myself for being human and not producing what will keep you famous and rich. It’s like none of us can equal that, and it’s absolutely ok. The best part about art is that as long as the civilization survives, somebody out there will keep one copy of your text, perhaps, and perhaps, that will give comfort, inspiration, and more importantly, a space for an individual to be in touch with their humanity, to be temporarily in touch with their best selves which is fragile, flawed, weak, scared, and that’s all we can ask for in art. And I think that’s what’s worth working for. It’s worth preserving. And I think that’s the moment why most of us go this very long, shadowed path into producing this art because we fundamentally believe that what we do is the best of what we call human, the best of us, even if at times we don’t like to recognize it.

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Schedule B

Schedule A: M to F, 9 to 5.

Schedule B: 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結.

Sights and Sounds of New York City

I was back in New York.

Chillin’ on a bench in Central Park.

 

Eating baos at Eddie Huang’s Baohaus.

 

Playing sake drinking games with Giri-giri san and Champion Cuddler.

 

Sitting on the bus as New Yorkers refused to hold back their feelings on other boroughs.

 

Watching street dancers back at Central Park.

 

And in the end, I could only confirm what we already knew: no place does bagels, breaking, boroughs, and brutal honesty like New York City.

Still I Shine

(Inspired by Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”)

=====

You may slander me most viciously

With all of that free time,

You may sling mud at my very face,

But still, like stars, I shine.

Does my comedy upset you?

Why wear that cynical frown?

‘Cause I stand like I’ve got gold bars

stacked up in a bank downtown.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like lights beaming bright,

Still I’ll shine.

Did you want to see me crippled?

Slumped down and far from fine?

Tears falling like weeping willows

Sobbing for what once was mine.

Does my confidence offend you?

Don’t you act so asinine

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got diamonds

Draped around my sharp neckline.

You may bite me with your venom,

You may murder me in your mind,

You may hunt me with your hatefulness,

But still, like jewels, I’ll shine.

Does my openness offend you?

Does it hurt that I will dance

Like I’ve got oil wells in my back yard

and a lover waiting in France?

Out from a zig-zagging history

I shine

Out from a past of adversity

I shine

I’m a fruit tree, rich, rooted, and strong

Growing and giving, I sing my peace song.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

We shine.

Into tomorrow so gorgeously clear

We shine.

Bearing the gifts that our ancestors bestowed,

With brothers and sisters, we build our abode.

We shine.

We shine.

We shine.

=====

“Still I Rise”

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestor’s gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

She Has This Hunger

When a once do-or-die work ethic turns into more die and less do, things can be rearranged.

An athlete knows that she can do more, that she can show up to the courts earlier, that she can crack away on the ball machine longer, that she can want to win more.

She also knows that she can sleep less, that she can hang out less, that she can talk to fewer, that she can want to be within an accepted range of normalcy less.

Some might call it crazy, but I’d just call it hungry.

Since when did it become taboo for artists to have an athlete’s work ethic?

The artist has no choice but to feel, but feeling doesn’t have to get in the way of producing.

Why shouldn’t the artist work like the athlete?

If the athlete can get up at 5 A.M. to hit the gym, the artist can get up at 5 A.M. to hit the canvas.

The athlete gets paid to move and inspire people. The artist does the same.

If the latter doesn’t treat her work with the same ethic and weight as the athlete, she simply isn’t at the top of her class.

She gets up a little earlier, works a little longer, and plays around a little less all because she has this hunger…

Autobiography Insert

Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy was getting his hair done next to me at the salon today. He was the one who was mauled by the tiger during a show. He barely survived and is in a wheelchair, helped by an assistant to get around.

I overheard him say, “You have to have passion!” to a stylist in conversation and gave a little fist pump for emphasis to go along with the statement.

That a man who has endured so much can say that was pretty inspirational to me.

 

光明道 The Way of Light and Clarity

(Calligraphy by Audrey Liao)

I recently have been meditating on the Chinese words 光明.

“Guang” means light or illumination. “Ming” means brightness or clarity.

I came upon these words while listening to a pastor give a sermon in Chinese. Rather than trying to understand his whole lecture, my mind grabbed onto the two simple words “guang” and “ming.”

Since then, these characters have been on my mind a lot. I visualize them. “Guangming” is something I’d like to cultivate within myself so that I can radiate it onto others. This requires a lot of mindful practice and is an ongoing way of life. I’m calling it the “光明道 (guangmingdao)” or “the way of light and clarity.”

How do I define guangming then? It is a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual orientation, as well as the extension of that, a set of behaviors and practices.

I actually believe that it’s more beneficial to look at the three characters, “guangmingdao” in reverse order.

道, meaning way or road, is the road that you will be walking along as you live your life. Breathing, waking up, eating, drinking, traveling, working, interacting, feeling the range of human emotions from anger and depression to love and joy, and my favorite: sleeping. It’s your job to do those things.

明 is next, again, meaning clarity. Clarity derives from self-knowledge and a knowledge extending beyond the self. I believe that clarity comes from the asking of questions, from curiosity, and from a deep desire to understand all that is. This may mean reading books, listening to speeches, interacting with different kinds of people, traveling to new places, moving the body in exploratory forms, or anything that allows for expansion of the mind and exposure to ideas that you might not be exposed to in your immediate environment. Knowledge has been passed onto you by your family, your residential community, in your primary and secondary education, and perhaps even beyond at the university level or grad school, but is this knowledge really knowledge? It’s up to you to decide. I encourage people to push their limits and move into uncomfortable areas of thought for deep contemplation.

光 is last, meaning light or illumination. Through the previously mentioned deep contemplation and cultivation of knowledge, one becomes aware of many things, most importantly, the value of human life and the present moment. From this place of great security in oneself and sense of purpose, there you can radiate your energy onto others. You are readily available to smile, help, empathize, counsel, lead, and inspire.

Guang. Ming. Dao: simultaneous processes because you will always be in a state of dao, living your daily life; always in a state of ming, being a curious observer of the world; and always in a state of guang, beaming your energy onto others.

Dear Wanderlust,

Do you remember when we first got together? We couldn’t stay away from each other. I’ll never forget that time you took me to ride horses through the Andes with an Argentine gaucho guide. The sunset was orange and purple, and I thought that my horse would just gallop me into the horizon, and we’d melt into the sky. We were on the road for a while but then family beckoned, and I had to go home. You kept right on traveling, sending me the occasional postcard, one time from Paris, one time from Prague, reminding me of all I’d left behind.

Life seemed to return to normal for me. I was gradually forgetting about you, but then you showed up on my doorstep one day unannounced. I suppose I could’ve turned you away and told you that period of my life was over, but how could I really do that after all that we’d shared? I let you in for what I thought would be a harmless cup of tea and before I knew it, we were falling over from laughter as we recalled our adventures. There was a moment in-between the laughter when I looked up at you and knew we’d get back together again. The feeling you gave me was too comfortable not to. A cup of tea eased into an all-night affair and soon enough I was regularly coming into work late with bags under my eyes and disheveled hair, nodding off at my desk over a cup of coffee, praying for dear life.

That period was hard. I was filled with so much indecision. I wanted to resist you, but you made it impossible.

One day, you came to my place and said enough was enough. You were tired of our secret nocturnal affair. You wanted to be together together. So you convinced me to quit my day job and run off with you, promising that I could come back if I really wanted to. I believed you and quit my job the next day.

You told me you wanted to take me to see my ancestral homeland, that I could learn the language of my predecessors if I stayed long enough, and it’d be rewarding someway somehow someday. You were right. I’m so glad you pushed me. I’m not sure I could’ve done it without you or if I ever properly thanked you. I know I started neglecting you after awhile, but it’s just that identity was all that was on my mind then, something neither of us really anticipated.

When I left you to go back home again, I had things I wanted to do in America, family to spend time with and stuff. I was unsure of whether we’d really broken up or not. You kept calling long-distance, remember? Just as I was settling in, you told me you’d found a place where people were full of imagination and creativity, that they wore costumes on the street and bought plush toys and knick-knacks just for the hell of it, just because it was cute, just because it was fun, just like us!

You sold it so well that I came to be with you soon after, this time convinced that we’d stay together, that I’d be your Asian Alice in Wonderland. We had fun for a while. Remember how we ate pieces of chicken butt off of sticks all the time? You thought that was hilarious. I thought it was just good food.

But then our wonderland turned into a radiation-filled wasteland. There was a price to pay for all the fluorescent lights we loved to dance around in. We took off for fairer shores, uneasy about staying in the land of chicken butt skewers and cesium.

When we were told it was safe, we went back apprehensively, but I knew neither of us would stay long. I was mad at you for leading me into so much uncertainty, so much danger.

Coming back home this time, I’ve really let you go. You keep calling me, just like in the old days, but your adventures don’t even sound fun anymore. They just sound, well, dangerous and I know you hate this word, but I’m going to say it anyway… irresponsible. I’m not judging you, nor am I saying you should change. I’m just saying that I’ve changed. You tell me to relax because I’m in L.A., that everyone here has Peter Pan Syndrome so it’s no big deal, that I’m not even thirty yet, but I kind of want to start living like I’m not some character in a made-up story, ya know?

I want the best for you. You should be with someone younger, someone who’s bursting at the seams to see the world with you, full of wonder and curiosity. Don’t you want to see that twinkle in a girl’s eye when she looks at you, the feeling that she needs you, must have you, can’t live without you? There’s someone out there dying to be your new muse. I met a girl named Hipster the other day, and she seemed to be just your type.

It pains me to tell you that I can’t be that girl for you anymore. In fact, I think I’m dropping “girl” from my vocabulary in reference to myself from here on out. See, it’s just that I’m tired. Do you see those wrinkles on my forehead? They got there from raising my eyebrows so much, sometimes in bemusement, sometimes in agony, sometimes in shock, sometimes in bliss. But those are stress lines, ok?! Stress.

I’m not worried about you. You’ll be fine. I hope it doesn’t hurt you to tell you this, but maybe it’ll help you to move on more quickly so I’ll tell you anyway. I’ve met someone new. His name’s Career. We were acquainted before, but nothing ever happened between us because of my relationship with you. He told me he always had his eye on me, that he hoped I’d be around and available someday. It might be too early to say this still, but I like him too, and I think he might be the one for me.

So I’m sending you this box,

full of all the things your future muse is gonna need. Don’t mind the wrinkles. No, not the ones on my forehead, the ones in the clothes. You know I’ve been living out of suitcases for some time now. I’m enclosing:

an Oaxacan hand-embroidered dress

a Harajuku doll dress

a goth loli get-up

a Pocahontas skirt

my favorite “Miso Hot” tank top

a black qipao from Shanghai

some Colombia and Spain soccer jersey zip-ups

a Chinese-inspired strappy red dress

pink spandex leggings

a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt from Seoul

hot pink Thai pants

Hello Kitty pajama pants

a Brazil tank top I wore under Christ the Redeemer

a geisha t-shirt

a stretchy mod-Alice dress I got in L.A.’s Fashion District

and a punk belt with skulls and pink bows.

You don’t have to tell Hipster they’re from me.

The truth is I’ll miss you, and I’ll think about you every day. It was a good run. Altogether, about ten years. I’ll always cherish the moments we spent together and I’m sure every now and then, I’ll think about you, me, the horse, that orange and purple sunset, and wish we could all just melt into the sky.

Who knows? We may even see each other again somewhere on the globe, though it’ll never be the same. Until then, be safe. Get tested for STDs. Call your family. And don’t forget me.

Love,

Stephanie