Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

thoughts on being and writing and my life  §

An uneasy morning. I have been trying to think, trying to reflect on things.

Everything is confusing to me these days, muddled and odd. It shouldn’t be this way. I feel as though there is a stronger core of being in me than there ever has been in the past, which stands to reason, since I’m older and more experienced than I ever have been in the past, as well as more credentialed.

I’ve written books, traveled most of the country, earned multiple degrees, worked on assembly lines and as management, earned through my artwork, founded companies, and read broadly.

I think that last one may be part of the problem: I am always reading these days. It has been a number of years since I regularly wrote creatively—not just wrote, but wrote creatively. Personally. There was a time, years ago, when I was an undergrad, during which I wrote almost continually. About myself, the things that I thought (not just political things, but all things), and about how I felt. “Men must talk about themselves until they know themselves” goes the saying, and I think today that it must be true.

I need to write more. Just about whatever, this and that. I need to post once a day, maybe twice a day, yet limit the number of times in a week I’m allowed to mention politics or philosophy. Also, I need to “design down” a little bit. This thing is so polished, so visual, so fast. On my side, it looks like a webform, it can be wedged between visits to CNN.com and my bank account and my approach to it is no different. Click. Click. Type. Click. Posted. On the front, it’s all colors and images and shapes.

There was a time not so long ago when this was just a diary. Not a blog, not a home page, just a diary online. It was black on white with a date. That needs to come back in my next incarnation, which I’ll probably build over winter break. I used to write in emacs—a text editor—for the postings. It was an act apart, a transcendence of my daily routine for a moment, to reflect back on it as an object. It wasn’t just another thing to do in a quick hit after laundry and before lunch.

My high school English teacher, years and years ago—Kathryn Romney was her name—said that the most important thing for a writer to do is write. Not to forms, necessarily. Not another chapter in the novel each day. Just write. So that you know how you think, how you feel. Good things will follow because you and others will read what you wrote and find it insightful.

The insight is in the honesty, and that honesty is lost… well, not lost… but maybe submerged when writing becomes a means-end oriented act, where the goal is to get some point about something out there, or to express some opinion in a public place, rather than merely to reflect.

I still have some of my ancient web diary code, written as a giant shell script for bash. I wonder if I could resurrect it in place of these “blogging” systems, since I’m really tired of “blogging.”

This New York (shall we say) excursion has been different from all that went before it in that I can see in this one the light at the end of the tunnel. Whether I get a Ph.D. or don’t ultimately, this will be my last visit to the academy. Suddenly I see “real life” and “middle and old age” open up before me like a meadow, like arctic tundra, like something that’s big, empty, open, full of an infinite number of directions.

And I ask myself: “What do I want, not now, but later?”

I guess it’s a classic question reformulated. The parental version is: “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

For the first time ever, my answer is not “probably still in school.” This new answer opens up a whole realm of new possibilities. School is, after all, an entire lifestyle, a fully constructed set of circumstances, living arrangements, financial arrangements, relationships… it is an entire world unto itself. I often wonder if maybe this is why I’ve always hesitated to leave it: I’m invested and comfortable in the lifestyle that it circumscribes.

But soon, in a few years or maybe even sooner, depending on how winds blow, I’ll leave it forever, and be just myself and whatever I’m able to build for myself out there. What do I want that to be?

When I make for myself an idyllic scene, the “postcard from my soul,” if you will, I see myself middle aged, living somewhere suburban. How very ugly and American, I know. But that’s what I see. I live in a house (yes, it’s white) and have some semblance of a yard. I am mowing lawn and raking fall leaves and I’m happy about it. I have a dog. I watch football. My career? Either professor or writer, both of which now feel at least somewhat open to me. I have a wife. I (gasp) probably have a kid or two.

Recognize it? Yes, it’s the ugly American mythology. And it’s what I imagine to be the logical destination of all of youth, whether I’ve realized it before or not. Of course, my version is different from the traditional one in many ways as well. The house is smallish, probably 1,500 square feet or less. I’ve installed solar panels and wired the place for energy efficiency. I don’t have too many things. There is no giant television set, a relative lack of gadgetry and consumer goods. There is some basic, long lasting furniture and a computer for writing, etc., and whatever the rest of the family needs.

Family. That’s another thing. Mine and my spouse’s. They come and go, they visit, we are on good terms. There are people in my life, and they are not just neighborhood friends, co-workers, or acquaintances. It’s a warm, live-and-let-live sort of ethos with gentle nudges toward anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism, environmentalism. It’s very autumnal.

It’s not a kingdom. There are no edicts. It’s not me towering over my own space and the things that I claim, dominating them and everything that surrounds them in isolation.

Autumnal. I love that word. I love the season, I suppose. I think the picture in my mind must be New England somewhere, though God knows where, and of course since my family is west, far, far west, I’m not sure how that all works out.

I suppose it doesn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are revelations for me here.

– I want to live in a house in the suburbs, not an apartment in the city?! Apparently.
– I like to mow lawn, rake leaves, and shovel snow, when all these years I thought I didn’t.
– I require falling leaves once a year. It is the season of my regeneration.
– I maybe don’t want to be as alone as I thought I did.
– I really am finally ready for a career, either in academics or writing. It’s been a long time coming.
– What do I really think about having kids? I’d always ruled it out. Now I’m not sure.

No doubt all of this musing will cause everyone I know except my own family and my adopted brother to disown me. Certainly most of the women and most of the progressives in my life will now be angry and disillusioned. I myself am a bit confused.

But I’m sitting in New York thinking, “I don’t want to live in New York. And I don’t want to be alone and work for myself and my own career for the rest of my life. I want to mow lawns, relax on a hammock, garden, teach.”

Maybe even teach K-12? If you’d said to me a year ago that I’d someday say “Maybe even teach K-12,” I’d have laughed like a hyena. Now… Now I remember all of the things I did in grade school. Gluing together hallowe’en decorations. Being taught how to write my first poem. Playing dodge-ball. In a world of negativity and cynicism, there are two places that I realize still hold no taint for me, or that I will not allow be tainted:

– Home, complete with family, wherever that eventually happens
– Childhood, even though bad things can happen during it

I suppose this is a kind of personal manifesto that says, I will someday make for myself a warm, busy home and I will someday find a way to reuinte with childhood, whether through education or through writing.

Let the dominoes fall as they may.