Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Frost on the glass. Book after book. Daughters and seasons.  §

My daughter came into the kitchen while I was sweeping and said,

“Dad, reflect on your place in life.”

She didn’t say it as preface to anything. She meant exactly what she said. I said,

“I do that pretty much all the time.”

She then said,

“Good for you. My place in life is that I’m your daughter.”

That was it. She left the room.

— § —

I wrote my first book when I was 15 years old.

I was already at university but I wasn’t old enough to drive. I had a Tandy Model 102 laptop—reporters used to use them, look it up—and while I waited every day after classes for my mother to come and pick me up, I’d sit and write chapters.

I wrote the whole thing in about a semester.

It was never published, but I still have a copy somewhere. Frankly, it probably could have been, looking back, but I had no idea how to go about things then.

It was already autobiographical, in a way. It was about dropping out of high school to go to college—pitfalls and success tips.

— § —

I didn’t grow up.

It has become more and more clear to me as time wears on that while others around me aged, moved on, grew up—I didn’t.

Right before my daughter had come in, I was listening to Seasons, that song by Chris Cornell from Singles that defines the early ’90s in some ineffable and inescapable way. It’s still my song. Every note, every word.

It’s often remarked that I look young for my age. Last person to tell me that was my doctor, and he wasn’t lying. My hairline isn’t receding. I don’t have many wrinkles. I look around me at people my age and I think they look old.

When she left, I unpaused the song and continued to listen to it as I swept the floor, washed the countertops, thought about how I still wear jeans and a black tee and leather shop boots and think it’s fine, like the world never moved on.

— § —

They say that if some event catches you out, has an impact, arrests the full stride of your life and prevents you from striding any further, you stay that emotional age forever.

I suspect it’s not just emotional. There’s at least a bit of the physical in there, too.

Something stopped me, froze me all the way back then and I haven’t moved since. Sometimes I sit and try to figure it out—try to remember what may have happened to capture me and never let me go, not let me progress, grow up like all of my peers.

I don’t know what it was.

A lot of things happened, but none of them that I remember seem like the right one. They just all seem like the things that happened. But there must be something that I never got over, because it’s clear that I’m not over it.

Otherwise I wouldn’t sit around and listen to Seasons on repeat.

— § —

Monday is double-malaise day, and this particular Monday doubly so.

It’s no one thing, just the accumulation of many, many small- and medium-sized things that happen, hour after hour, until you’ve had enough and you’re ready to sit down hard and sigh.

Like an old man.

And yet—and yet.

— § —

For a brief moment, I thought I might date someone.

Then, like always, I had the realization that our ages were mismatched. Not in years, but in some other way, in the other way that matters.

In the way that leads me to think about my place in life all the time and to listen to Seasons on repeat.

You can’t really accuse me of self-indulgence. I hold down a good job. I’ve climbed the corporate ladder, written a small pile of books, earned a Ph.D. I parent two kids and make sure that they do their homework and carry their school equipment with them when they go out the door.

I keep the kitchen floors clean.

But it’s really not about all of that, is it? Not really.

It’s about something else—not just a matter of thinking all the time about your place in life, but also a matter of just what you say that place is, once all is said and done.

I don’t care about any of the things I’ve done.

I think the greatest things I’ve ever done are little things that nobody knows about. Particular pictures I’ve taken. Blog entries now and then on this blog. An old watch that I once repaired. The book that I wrote at fifteen and never published. The cat that I adopted from a McDonald’s dumpster. The fact that I helped the kids make their names out of Lego blocks.

You can’t carry that value system into the world of adults. So, frankly, I never really entered the world of adults at all.

— § —

I wrote my first actually published book when I was 22 years old. I was wrapping up my double major. Macmillan called me and said that I was on a list of undergraduates with expertise and asked if I wanted to write a book. I said why not.

I wrote the book. They printed it. I took pictures of myself standing next to it in Canadian bookstores on road trips with single friends.

I kept on writing books for various publishers until I was 30. Then I stopped.

By the time I was interested in the fact that I was writing books, I was done writing books.

Now they sit on the shelf like archaeological artifacts and never get dusted off. I half forget what’s in them.

— § —

Once upon a time, I threw a frisbee down a giant hill next to a river over and over and over again, morning after morning for hours, so that my little big dog could run underneath them and catch them.

He’s dead now, long dead in fact, but the air that was under those frisbees is still out there somewhere, floating around New York.

— § —

Maybe it’s all for naught, I don’t know.

Days pass. Some days, like today, are tiring enough that the malaise kicks in. But what it never does is fix me, wake me from my paralysis, caught somewhere in the ’90s as a young man thinking about my place in life.

I wasn’t lying to my daughter.

I think about it all the time. It may be the only thing I ever really think about.

— § —

There’s another way to explain to people (my ex-wife among them) why I don’t date. It’s because the people I meet never become real to me. They’re all ghosts in a way; they must have lives somewhere, but not anywhere that I can access, not in any way that I can taste or smell. They’re fictional standing in front of me.

And at some point you feel guilty about that. You realize that you can’t give them what they want—the respect of personhood—no matter how hard you try. There just isn’t enough of them to substantiate themselves.

I think my ex-wife would agree with this if she sat down and thought about it enough. People are thin, like diner coffee or clifftop air. They’re barely there.

I have maybe five or six people in my entire life that exist.

The rest is fiction.

Irony being that I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but seem unable to do it. Maybe because you have to be real and see real to create imaginary. If you’re already living imaginary, one step less real is—nothing at all.

— § —

It’s December, but only for a moment.

Then, it won’t be again. Time is a bit like wind. It passes and there’s a bit of a chill involved and then it’s gone before you can really grasp what you’ve experienced—but it hasn’t stopped because it never stops, even if at any particular moment you can’t put your finger on it.

It all blends together.

— § —

Around bedtime, my daughter asked to see a picture of my former cat—whose life overlapped hers by a year or two at most. I knew there was a picture here, so I used Google to pull up the entry and show it to her.

She said, “You have your own website?”

I told her that I had several, and showed them to her, and then showed her my Amazon author profile and my photo library for sale on Alamy and a couple other bits of online biography.

She said, “Are you famous?”

I said, “Not really. Rather, I’d say that I can be found if someone wants to look.”

She said, “Oh, like me. Former national champion at taekwondo. Nobody really knows, but if someone wanted to look for you, or to look for the kinds of things you once did, they’d find you.”

I said, “Yeah, pretty much that.”

She said, “I think that’s better than being famous, because it’s real.”

Then we looked through some of my photos and she told me that she liked the nature pictures that I took. She recognized some of the places. She was excited.

Finally I told her it was time for bed and we turned off the tablet.

— § —

Once, as a teenage undergrad, I sat in a graduate film class I’d been given special permission to take, in the darkness, in a theater somewhere on the University of Utah campus, watching a French new wave film.

I don’t remember the film at all.

I frankly don’t remember anything I saw on the screen all semester.

I vividly remember the the darkness, the air around me, the spring in the seats, the cold metal sides of the seats, and the fishing hat full of hand-tied flies that the professor wore.

I got an ‘A’ in the class.

The professor wrote me a recommendation to attend the University of Chicago, where for my first week I did nothing but play video games in my tiny dorm room and order Chinese takeout—a week that I remember more clearly than anything else about my time at Chicago.

The tiny room, the little Thinkpad, the dim table lamp, the window overlooking the Midway, frost on the glass.


— § —

What does it mean that my daughter told me to reflect on my place in life?

It’s a strange moment when you recognize yourself in your child.

But strange or not, the moment passes.

Life goes on—well, while it does, that is.

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