Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

I first read Don Quixote when I was in grammar school.  §

Is it possible to have writers’ block for months?

Probably not. What you see here is a failure of courage.

I’ve been having one of those periods in life during which the courage to write fails me. You find yourself trapped between telling the truth, which makes for better writing, but can be very painful and not a little bit boring, and not telling the truth, at which point there’s really no point in putting words down anyway.

The truth? I won’t get to all of it. But but maybe there’s a bargain to be struck, a compromise, a partial deployment.

— § —

A knight escorts his queen through a high mountain pass atop which a voracious dragon lives. His mission is nothing more and nothing less than to achieve her safe passage.

They approach; they are seen. The inevitable ensues. They make haste and the knight fights valorously in rearguard action, maintaining position between predator and queen, who runs breathlessly ahead.

It is only the knight’s presence and continued fight that preserves life and limb, but the knight cannot hold out forever . At length, he will lose, and be torn apart. But perhaps by then the queen will have escaped.

I am the knight. My children are the queen.

— § —

The largest tree in my yard, which is very large indeed, is dead. The lawn is destroyed because the underground sprinkling system leaks badly enough to damage the house’s foundation if left on, but is buried deeply enough to be unserviceable without heavy equipment.

Patio is rotting. Supports of patio and carport are rusting. Windows leak and are becoming difficult to keep together. One of two furnaces is out of service. Basement is now partially asbestos-free but remains unusable. Interior of house requires painting. Wiring is suspect. Bathrooms require refinishing. Plumbing is suspect.

I could try to find a way to come up with tens of thousands to invest in the house, but the house is not mine and at some point I will likely have to leave it; such an investment is difficult to justify. On the other hand, there is no one else that will come up with tens of thousands to invest in the house if I don’t.

Car is aging and transmission shows signs of typical wear. Seats are cracking. Suspension is failing. I could try to find a way to acquire a new, far better one, but is that the wisest course of action when the house is as it is?

Student loans remain as large as ever and will not be retired before I die, so it is difficult to be motivated to make “progress” on them. I could pay two years’ entire salary and not retire them. So where’s the motivation to spend an “extra” several hundred here or there? It feels like burning money.

Alimony payments remain an albatross. Working at foreign employment, healthcare costs remain high.

Divorce remains the same intractable situation it always has been and always will be. The project to ensure the best possible environment and developmental situation for my children remains a difficult and vexing one. Disagreements about childrearing inevitably remain, and must be managed without breaking peace.

Age continues to progress. Infirmities continue to progress. I cannot do the things I did when I was thirty, much less the things I did when I was twenty. Mental fatigue is no longer the issue; physical durability is.

Social life is difficult. There is virtually no subject about my life that I want to discuss, with anyone—because it is uncouth to go on at length about your problems, because it is tiring to have to think about them out loud, and because there is virtually no way to avoid them.

What can be afforded? Both everything and nothing. There is no good answer. When can I host guests? Now I suppose, but properly, never. When can I get away for activities? I can’t. When will any of these things change or make sense? They won’t. There is a strange, surreal substance to it all.

— § —

There is no moment of the day, apart from moments at work, during which I am not either conjuring with one of the innumerable intractable and unsolvable problems that I face or during which I am not effectively hiding under my desk.

The workday, ironically, has become escapism. At work, I am competent and I know what to do.

Neither holds true outside of working hours.

Do I talk about this? To anyone? Certainly not. Particularly not to my children, who deserve, after everything, a sense of security. And not with my ex, because it’s just not on. And not with my closest friends, who know all of it.

Men aren’t particularly helped by talking as women are. Talking doesn’t solve any of the problems; it just sucks time away from any attempts to mitigate and manage them. Talk isn’t just cheap; talk is destructive.

Yes, at times I’m quite lonely, but this mere fact is not its own solution, as so many presume. Things happen for reasons. To alter them, the reasons, too, must be altered.

— § —

How did I get here?

There is no one wrong or fateful decision.

I’ve reached the age at which “you’ll understand when you’re older” makes a kind of sense to me. Life is infinitely complex, things accumulate and interact with one another.

I went to grad school. Twice. I committed myself to an academic career. Then, I didn’t and got married and had children. Again I didn’t when I got divorced; I stayed where I was to parent. Do I regret any of those decisions? No. Nothing was, in particular, a bad decision.

What was bad was all of them together.

Could it have been avoided?

And me still be me? I think not. Maybe this is what is meant by “destiny.”

The die being cast isn’t fate, nor is it any one point of inflection. The die being cast is yourself, not yourself as a momentary quantity, but yourself as a tendency and as a trajectory over time.

It’s hard to see how any of it could have been different, without my having been someone else to begin with.

— § —

What now?

I need to learn to do new things that I haven’t done before.

Hire people to do things. Start businesses. Invest money, perhaps. I didn’t learn how to do any of these things in the lower-middle class family that raised me.

In fact, the values were all precisely opposite to these.

Don’t hire people; always do it yourself. Don’t risk your time and money on a business, when most of them fail; find a good employer, earn their loyalty, and climb the ranks. Don’t invest money, it isn’t safe; put it in a bank and let it stay there so that it will be available once you inevitably need it.

I’m not sure whether it’s that these strategies aren’t viable any longer, whether it’s that they are methods for remaining trapped in a precarious existence and always have been, or whether it’s that they simply aren’t reasonable for me, in my particular life.

What I do know is that I have long struggled to move beyond them. Not as a matter of principle or fear, but as a matter of knowledge.

How, precisely, do you hire someone to work on your yard? And what sort of someone do you hire, and for which tasks? And where do you find them? And what does it cost? And what is involved? And what parts will I be responsible for, and what parts will they be responsible for?

Is this what is meant by people that “never became adults?”

But if so, isn’t it true that for some of us, the previous generation also “never became adults?” Or is it simply that the postwar form of “make due adulthood” is no longer adulthood, has passed into anachronism?

— § —

I took a radical step and cleaned those windows that I swore I’d never clean.

I do miss the view that I had before—the view of essences and of implications. Instead now what I have is a kind of antiseptic clarity.

Consider it to be a spell, an attempt at magic; what is needed now is not just the evocation of, but the arrival of antiseptic clarity.

— § —

So here it is. For the first time in months, I’ve written something, given myself permission to write something, mustered enough courage to write something.

There are so many, many things that I am fighting, and so many ways in which the fight cannot be indefinitely sustained.

I’ll suspect die young. I’ve always suspected it, strangely.

But perhaps I’ll manage to shepherd my children over the mountain pass before that happens, and to leave with them forever the frozen image of the fight being fought with determination, whether or not with skill, and to also leave behind for them to discover someday a few relics that were on my person at the time.

I’m very, very far from home. And I am not well-acquainted with dragons as a species. I fight because under such circumstances, there is nothing else to do.

Legacies aren’t something you’re meant to think about in your ‘40s unless you’re very wealthy and have been thinking about them since your teens, since in such families they’re a practical, everyday, intergenerational matter.

But I think about my legacy every minute of every day.

Right now, today, included.

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