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Wurt I Rurd Thurs -Wurk-
Indelicacy, Objects of Desire, JinJin Xu
-My little sister got COVID and I’ve spent the last week getting tested every other day. The thing is, the vaccines do work & her breakthrough infection was actually very rare & most likely happened because she was overworked and tired. It’s been over ten days and most of her symptoms are gone except for a cough that, according to her doctor, will last for a few months. I deeply do not want this shit!
-Obviously, I go into states of despair. I picture everything I love about my life crumbling away from me. It’s almost a meditation. Like: okay, can I live without this? Exactly how miserable will I be? I live in an empire & very likely, you’re reading this from one. Despite all of my parent’s struggles & my own, my life has been good & I have never known the exact horror of uncertainty, how it makes every passing moment, every drink with a friend, every laugh, every bad dance move, every unfinished coffee, precious.
-Sometimes I don’t even want to write down my nice beautiful days because I want to leave it to the Melissa in the past. She can have all of it, those memories. She can enjoy them.
DISTRACTIONS AS JINJIN XU
JinJin is a poet and filmmaker. She is the 2020 winner of the Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award and her poetry and essays have received honors from 92Y Discovery Prize, Southern Humanities Review, Tupelo Press, Poetry Society of America's Cecil Hemley Prize, Global Research Institute (Athens), and two Pushcart nominations. Her films have exhibited at Berlin’s Harun Farocki Institute, NYC’s The Immigrant Artist Biennial, NYU's Production Lab, LA Design Festival, and she was a curatorial fellow at the Flaherty Seminars.
Did you grow up in a house with books or were you the weirdo reader?
There weren’t many books but reading was a constant: after dinner, my family would sit together on the couch reading our own newspapers—I had the Children’s Daily, of which I would cut out beautiful phrases and make collages. I was obsessed with words and would read everything I could get my hands on, which weren’t necessarily books, but like the label of trash cans, instruction manuals, propaganda posters. My parents were busy and for a while, I was raised by my aunts in the countryside, and there, I mostly listened to their stories. Apparently I would beg every woman, auntie, grandma, stranger I met to ‘Tell me a story!” I also spent a lot of time alone, raised by audiotapes. My favorite was the epic “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” which ran six tapes long—from the minute I woke up, I would plug in the tape, and then re-tell the whole epic thing to strangers from beginning to end.
Later, when my parents decided to toss me into an English language school without knowing a word of the language, I began listening to English audio books—I think that was when language became textural for me, like a material to be held, to be listened to with strangeness—until one day, I suddenly realized this nonsensical language has emerged into clarity. Perhaps that is why I try to treat language as a physical thing, to taste the words, to maintain its strangeness.
When do you feel smart and when do you feel like the opposite?
I almost always feel dumb and unsure, especially when talking about poetry. Honestly, most of the time I feel like I will never understand what a poem is doing—nor do I want to, I think. I only ever feel sure of myself when I am writing and being carried forth by that inexplicable motion of language. Since returning to China last year, however, I’ve been trying to write in Chinese, which makes me feel ever dumber but forces me to confront long-asleep sounds, syntax, logic, selves, fears, to remind myself not to take writing for granted, to not get too comfortable.
What is something you consider reading that isn’t actually reading?
Swimming, which, like reading, has saved my life. The perfect day is spent reading in between being swept away by cold waters—the entirety of the immersion, the meditative and continuous waves, being at the mercy of something larger than self. Swimming shares the feeling of reading, writing, or simply being awake and alive, which is how a good book feels—not escapism, but being here, here, encountering a truer self.
In the future what will reading look like, for you & for the world?
It’s true that it has become harder and harder to focus on reading; sitting down with a book can feel like an act of intentional luxury. I can’t imagine the future of reading but I have been thinking about my dwindling tolerance for trauma in literature or the kind of thing that’s purposefully experimental to fuck with the reader. I remember how into dystopian literature we were as teens—at 17, I recommended McCarthy’s The Road to my mom and she was like, this is really terrifying, I already have enough grief in my life, why would I want to read this? I remember thinking, how sad, I hope I never become like that. But recently, with the grief I’ve been carrying, I more and more feel like I want to be held by my books, to feel that the writer cares—if not about me, but about the other, about the reader, about us when the world is on fire.
What was the first time you read something & were like “What if I also made something for somebody else to read?”
Again, it goes back to the epic《三国演义》 “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” that I mentioned earlier, how natural it was for me to inherit those stories and to pass them on to anyone who would listen. How I lived in that landscape, how the stories lived inside me, the schemes, the violence, the warfare and brotherhood and bloodshed—stories probably inappropriate for children in the west—but moved me so much I needed to share them. And yet, my own writing has always felt like creating a private language, I think poems need to come from a private place, to articulate something we do not yet have language for.
When does reading fucking SUCK and when does reading rule?
Forcing myself to read when I am grief-brained and numb to the world SUCKS—and simultaneously its opposite, falling into the intimacy of another when this world feels spiritually draining and lonely.
THE BOOKS THAT I READ:
INDELICACY BY AMINA CAIN
Arti recommended this book to me on one of my visits to Playground Annex, where she works. I took a twitter break because I found myself spiraling & thought to myself: what if I did this in private? I read this in my mom’s kitchen while she was at work. Her old cat stared at me and meowed and I felt very peaceful. Indelicacy is about this woman who works as a janitor in a museum and just wants to spend all of her time writing. One day this rich dude comes through the museum and she ends up getting married to him & begins to lead a life of luxury, but this life of luxury comes with it’s own shit that also keeps her from writing. Not a lot happens in this book but it felt very PLEASURABLE to read it. I am a sucker for a book that is just about what writing feels like. It made me be like oh yeah in many ways this is my entire life and how I feel inside of it. Some nice lines for you:
“My notebook in my hands changing the energy in the room. All of us do this, change the rooms we’re in.”
"There will be another party, or there will be another person in my life.”
"She’s carrying with her that other time. We all carry our lives in us, not just our problems or nightmares, but something of what we were before.”
“Who am I if I’m not writing? I’m a person in a dance class, then I’m walking next to a dump.”
OBJECTS OF DESIRE BY CLARE SESTANOVICH
I was sent this book by an editor at FSG which made me feel very famous. Of course because it was sent to me I was like, “These stories are probably so bad,” but uh, they were so good. My favorite one was called “Terms of Endearment.” In it, a woman writes a letter to this unrequited love while reflecting on their shared friendship with a toxic friend whose life starts to fall apart. I tore through the book but I can’t exactly say what it was all about. It gave cinema to ordinary life. I was crying about something that had to do with Tupperware, but I’m always crying. The stories reminded me that that what makes short stories great is that they are short and that often, the interior the of the character can be seen in their surroundings and that the character doesn’t have to be saying stuff like, “I watched a child bike by,” but like, “A child biked by.”
HERE ARE SOME POEMS!!!
admit it ur broken
it happened long ago but
just now, in the middle of the fucking
drinking & dancing & ibuprofin in the morning,
we’re getting a look at the ragged brown cliffs
inside of us, the streams flowing & the trees
that look like vegetables & the 1000-pound bear staring
back with no humor or love.
it’s all so frightening & hot, like adam driver.
u climb to the top of somewhere w/ ur one warm body & see it all:
the beauty that doesn’t give a shit about u,
could very well kill u & it makes u think about god.
okay: i don’t know what i want!
except for a map & somebody
at the end of it.
he was obsessed with saying we are just machines
nothing is true & nothing lasts forever.
we are plastic stars stuck to the ceiling!
we are animals, too!|
we are sad aliens kissing & killing each other
accidentally on purpose!
there’s a buff hornet
carrying a cicada over a fence.
there’s a person-length
dry erase board on the street
& i didn’t write any poetry on it.
i’m a wet little idiot
floating thru space with u.
THERE IS AN INTIMACY (2)
when the mosquito returns to me
& I can’t even see it. i’m all what are we, etc
even tho mosquitos are all single moms
taking the nutrients from my plasma to make
little mosquito babies, w/e.
my mom told me that when she was younger
she thought every country had their own sun & moon.
isn’t that something? hey when u look up
there, who do u think about?
i want a baby
if it’s by accident @ 32 & i’m fucking loaded.
u can project yourself onto anything, u kno.
u can watch the movie of what u think u need
play distorted on anything’s face.
so i turn on the light & i wait with a shoe
for the thing w/ eyes that needs me.
it’s all over, my darling.
it’s already begun.