For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “Is this a potential friend for me?” but “Is this character alive?”
– Claire Messud
“… father always says, the only way to get these ang mor gau sai to respect you is to smack them in the face with your dua lan chiao money until they get on their knees.”
My mother’s captain, her prince, was gone. She waited and waited for him. Eventually she left him, but leaving was never what she wanted. Maybe, if he had asked, my mother would have boarded that ship. If she could not be his greatest adventure, she’d have settled for sharing it.
Our favorite stories can be like lovers. Make sense to me, we ask them. Make sense of me. Here, fix these hurting parts. And stories do, sometimes better than our lovers.
We all carry a small catalog of unsealable wounds. Maybe these breaches of conscience that retain their power to sear are necessary reminders of our own boundaries. We touch them to remember. To prevent future transgression. But no sting compares to this one. It carved something out of me. A space that filled with the shocking light of how much I could hurt the person I least wanted to. It was the first love that made sense of the word tender, which refers not only to a gentle feeling, but to the ache and vulnerability of loving someone. Which is not the same thing as protecting them.
when your little girl
asks you if she’s pretty
your heart will drop like a wineglass
on the hardwood floor
part of you will want to say
of course you are, don’t ever question it
and the other part
the part that is clawing at
will want to grab her by the shoulders
look straight into the wells of
her eyes until they echo back to you
you do not have to be if you don’t want to
it is not your job
both will feel right
one will feel better
she will only understand the first
when she wants to cut her hair off
or wear her brother’s clothes
you will feel the world in your
mouth like marbles
you do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to
it is not your job.
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us,” he says after the phone stops ringing. “Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads–at least that’s where I imagine it–there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.”
He took a taxi over, showed them his credit card and license, then rented the car for two days. The white Familia parked in the lot was, as advertised, totally unobtrusive. Turn away from it for a moment and every memory of what it looked like vanished. A notable achievement in the field of anonymity.
On Sunday, most people crowded into the eleven o’clock mass. Well, some people, a few, went to early six o’clock mass. They were given credit for this but they deserved none for they were the ones who had stayed out so late that it was morning when they got home. So they went to this early mass, got it over with and went home and slept all day with a free conscience.
“Because,” explained Mary Rommely simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”