What did I learn in China?
1. I learned that I am not a sardine. I got on Harbin’s [metro] buses at different times over the 5 weeks and learned when not to take a bus and when to grab a taxi instead.
2. I learned to pay attention to my environment. Silence and close observation work well in unfamiliar spaces.
3. I learned that pedestrian rights aren’t really a thing in Harbin. I would be rich if I counted the amount of times I almost got hit crossing the street when the sign said, “Cross the street.”
4. The 12-hour difference between U.S. and China showed me what it means to enter a different time zone & realm. In truth, it represents time travel, which means I have experienced the science fiction genre [which is not fiction at all. Hhhmmm].
5. I do not like strangers coming up to me [paparazzi style] to take my picture, so being famous may not suit me well. But I’m not opposed to trying out 30 minutes of fame every so often.
6. I learned that having a small cute dog in the store, in the mall, on the bus, in the community…is similar to U.S.’s love for dogs. Some of these pups even wear shoes or socks or something similar to human coverings, which is why I think their dogs were actually humogs or hogs (human+dogs).
7. Big Lesson: When or if you receive rejection, make sure you have a 'go-to' spot [which may be a person, place, prayer]. And when you don’t know what your next step in life is, be grateful that you have a now-moment and breeeathe. Just breathe. Long deep breaths.
8. I learned that rice wine is soooooo good. So so good.
9. Trust what your body is saying to you. Look, I’ve eaten more spice and tofu than ever before. I’ve also consumed something (unsure what) that kept me in the bathroom throughout the night. TRUST your body. In my case, flushing it out with water was key. Water has been one of my greatest allies in China.
10. I learned that I’m not a comedian, but I think I’m kind of funny.
11. If you are in China or certain European countries, walk with tissue, especially when you have to use a public bathroom.
12. I’ve spent a good portion of my time depending on my teaching partner who knows way more Chinese than I do, who has a working WeChat app (mine stopped working a few weeks ago), who is adventurous and is traveling in Beijing and other areas in southern China currently. She has taught me to push the envelope and explore.
13. Make the best out of situations that don’t go your way. Do not travel with complainers. DO NOT travel with complainers. I am grateful for Tiffany Diebold (teaching partner). Here’s hoping I travel with others who are as adventurous, bold and spritely.
14. I didn’t pack much clothes, and even then, I still didn’t wear everything. I had to throw out one of my favorite pants because I wore it so much that a BIG hole formed on the upper-inner-thigh. Each trip shows me how very little I need.
15. I am a writer. I write. I love to write. In all my years I have questioned whether or not I had something to say on paper, and China gave me the answer: You do, Traci. You have a lot to say. You are a talker…writer…talker…writer…If to no one else, at least to yourself. DO NOT MUTE YOUR VOICE!
16. And finally, Home. I learned how appreciative I am to be home.
Goodbye and Thank You So Much, China.
p.s. So now that I am stateside, do I continue this blog or should I find somewhere else to go for another 5 weeks and do this all over again?
My friend who studies 4 languages and also loves crow’s feet inspired this poem:
I know a man who loves crow’s feet
he says the lines of maturation take on civility
the way we eat soft bread
sip sweet wine
drink thick soup
he bends his head to the left then to the right
and looks upon wisdom
in burnt pupils thinned eyebrows cotton skin
he calls on years of steadiness and experience as a golden rule to define
he stopped watching media long ago (which was only yesterday)
he wants to celebrate age
he wants to feed hunger
he wants to give grace
he wants beauty’s best
We, he says, become beauty’s best by being
benevolent bold and bedazzled
through our crow’s feet
Thank god I finally have my crow’s feet.
This poem is about age. One of my students talked about her favorite Chinese actor who appreciates crow’s feet. She told us the actor believes it conveys the sort of wisdom you can only attain when you have lived for a period of time. There is something to be said about fine wine (i.e. aged wine).
When I ask my mom for help and she agrees, upon completion she sometimes says, “I don’t think I offered you much. I wish I knew more.” That’s funny. Her 7 decades to my 4 decades tell me otherwise.
Do I believe every older person (however you define older) is wise? No.
Do I believe there are young people (however you define young) wise beyond their years or simply wise? Yes.
Age is a funny fickle thing. We are told not to speak of age and never ask a woman her age or weight. I guess it must be okay to approach men and ask them their age, which I have often done. Commercials advertise age and weight all the time. My body creams and facial cleansers boldly state ‘anti-aging’ components. My products, I suspect, are ‘against aging.’ Does that mean they can stop aging or reverse the process? I can answer that – I should demand all of my money back.
Curious, why is a woman called a cougar if she dates someone younger? How much do you know about cougars? I’m into cougars because they are from the feline family, and I have a feline at home. He’s 8 years old. In human years that’s 48, but he acts like a big baby and follows every person around in the house [maybe that's normal for some latter 40 year old humans]. Cougars are often referred to as mountain lions, panthers and pumas but they have roughly 40 other names as well. They are the most widely distributed feline species in the western hemisphere (North and South Americas), and they’re not quite endangered yet, but I wouldn’t put it past humans to mess around and do something that shifts this dynamic (I’m sorry, was that pessimistic?). They are said to be solitary animals although in truth, they have their own social system. Did you know that cougars give birth to a litter of 1 to 6 cubs, which are born blind. Sight comes roughly 10 days later. And their eyes shift colors – blue to yellow over a period of 6 months. Wow!
Are you wondering why I am giving you this information? I just want to know why women are called cougars. I’m still trying to make a connection. I did learn that there was a Canadian website called cougardate.com which targeted older women and tomboys who weren’t looking for commitment. Also, there was a sitcom called Cougar Town, but the name cougar was clearly well established by the time this 2009 sitcom came out. Maybe we can venture back to 1967 when The Graduate came out. Cougar-licious!
Did you know that cougars average a lifespan of 15 years and can live up to 20 years in ‘captivity’? One more interesting piece of information: there is a hybrid species that is created from cougars (i.e. pumas) and leopards mating. They are called pumapard. I wonder if this is like wolves (a.k.a. lycans) and vampires coming together to make some sort of lycire or lycampire breed (i.e. lycan + vampire. Yep, I’m into such creatures).
*Another thing, my brother named me Tiger. Yes, I am from the feline family. Either that or I am a witch with a tabby-cat.
Back to age. If women can be called cougars, then men should be called what? Nothing is coming to me. Maybe men are called Normal (sarcasm).
Another question: Why is it important to have flawless skin? And does ‘black really not crack’? This is an odd statement: “You don’t look your age.” What age is that? Is that not a comparative statement? If I am 40 and 40 looks this way, then in actuality, I do look my age. If I am 18 or 54 or the fortunate age of 90 and people constantly say, “Nooooo, you’re kidding me. Stop lying!” What other factors are in place for me to look my correct age? Isn’t it possible that 90 and 54 and any age you pull from the sky look good (whatever ‘good’ is)?
When I taught spoken word, at some point I would ask students to describe what they look like physically? The general descriptions are short-tall; big-small; black-white; brown-blue eyes. But I needed more because as one knows, we generally size people up before they open their mouths. Example, I have a light faded black birth spot under my right eye, and under both eyes the skin is darker brown in the shape of a falling half moon [maybe the sign of age or wearing glasses]. I can tell you the size of my hands and the pulsating veins that stick out, depending on how I flex and bend my fingers. I can talk about how my body reshapes itself in certain clothing, and I can share more stuff about my face. We definitely love to concentrate on the face. Is it true that attraction begins with physicality? Because if so, I am clear as to why many of us have self-esteem issues.
I wish the idea of getting older would be celebrated not by an endless amount of candles and the fact that ‘you aren’t dead yet.’ I wish we could sing praise to our changing bodies: Every soft curve and added line to our visage is a mark of inner/outer intelligence; and a gathering of wrinkles is an opportunity to caress. We become squeamish to the thought that people of a certain [elder] age kiss, make out, hold hands, and we balk at our youth liking each other at too young an age. We are also very particular about how our skin unfolds in the public, so we do an enormous amount of private work - sometimes, dangerous and destructive private work. We contort ourselves in harmful ways because we are listening to something/someone outside of ourselves. But what if we said, “It’s skin.” Not that it’s just skin, but that it is skin. It layers our organs; serves as a shield; it adjusts to the environment; it outwardly manifests the shifts that occur inside our bodies; it is malleable, pliable, flexible, supple, stretchable, yielding. It has fight club moments, but thank god it can heal itself under the right conditions. It is worth touching softly, kindly without additives and preservatives. It does preserve though. It can hold the best of adornments (i.e. tattoos, piercings, and more). It walks into each day acknowledging the phases in life, but it is not aging towards death. My pre-menopausal/peri-menopausal/post-menopausal does not apply OLD (although 'old' is a word in the dictionary). It isn’t something that I should hide from, right? This 'condition' does not affirm that I am incapable of creating another being. I know the medical field has its purpose and is praise worthy for all the diagnoses I’ve had over the years. And again, my one-step-further into this earthly experience is something to be in Aaawwwe of. Therefore, I nod at the one-two strands of silver that streak my forehead; and I smile at the sunken indent in my cheekbones that wasn’t there a decade before; and I stretch a little more due to stiff muscles and an aching back; and I freely hand out long thick sanitary napkins to other females who cleanse monthly [opinion: we must talk descriptively about the menstrual cycle more]; and indeed I give thanks for the coming crow’s feet that welcome a new version of myself called, Beauty’s Best.
In graduate school I was in a theatre production on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I played a slave woman whose child was snatched from her. One of two lines that I spoke in the play was, “My baby! My baby! Don’t take my baby!” I hated that role but I thought, “This is my big break.” I recall sitting with the director, who seemed quite fond of me. His appearance was a cross between actor John Hammond and director Steven Spielberg. I remember once this director said to me, “You will always play the sidekick. Your roles will be someone’s best friend.” Nothing more, maybe something less – like the slave woman who screams, “My Babyyy. My Babyyy. DON’T TAKE MY BABY!”
Guess what? I don’t want to be just someone’s best friend, sidekick or playing a slave woman screaming after her child. I have best friends and I happen to be pretty damn good at being one. Question: have you ever noticed how we differentiate best friend with good friend with just-a-friend with acquaintance with colleague with ‘crush’ (crush: often someone you barely know, which begs the question: what are you crushing over?).
Once I was close to being married. Very close. We ended it a month or 2 before the wedding date. I was going to walk down an aisle. I purposely wanted the wedding in Italy for a few reasons:
This is what I know about myself and more traditional wedding-like characteristics. I don’t like white. White dresses. White laced dresses. White laced satin dresses. White long laced satin dresses that require heals. I do not want a whole bunch of witnesses watching me walk down any aisle. I do not like the wedding song. I do not like the two aisles indicating bride’s family and groom’s family. I do not like wedding cakes or layered wedding cakes with lots of icing. I do like these things for my friends and family, but for me - Nope. I do not like public displays in such a ceremonial manner. And I most certainly do not like being photographed as the center of attention for such a ceremony. But I love the idea of being the photographer for someone else’s wedding.
What do I like: Being arm-in-arm with my dad walking me to the justice of the peace, mom on the other side as well (both as witnesses) while I exchange poetry to the air (and the person I am marrying). And I would agree to this because I think my parents would enjoy the brevity of such an event. But truth, I really don’t think my parents care. I have the type of parents who [at this point in life] just want me to be happy - married or not.
My parents have been married for 48 years. We (humans) celebrate decades of marriage. We glory in the amount of years people have been together, but do we know what happens behind closed doors? Do we know the changes that occur over short and long periods of time with the two who have committed themselves to each other? Are we encapsulated by this hallmark moment that swirls center stage? Do we return to this sacred vow-exchanging moment when the shit hits the fan; when the shit reeeally hits the fan; when the shit is just shitty and you can’t use air freshener, patchouli incense or wide-open windows to bring the two back to those vows?
I met someone from China who expressed a desire to be married as a way out of her day-to-day routine. I met someone from China who said wearing makeup here is a sign of respect. I met someone from China whose parents stressed, “Be a biologist, not an artist. How will you make a living?” I met someone born in China who told me the purpose of getting married is to procreate. I have met so many different opinions about marriage and love and makeup and making up…I am reminded as to how we make life up one day at a time.
My cousin in NY would make fun of me for speaking to people on the street. A stranger might look at me, I would look at him/her, eyes meet and I would say, “Hi.” The unwritten rule is that you don’t speak to NYers, unlike other people in other U.S. locations. It's a given to say "Hi" to strangers down South - that's not strange at all. But I refuse to obey this [NY] antic. I’ve always said “Hi” to people in the public, especially if they are glancing my way. In China, the stares are evident. And if they are boring a hole into my skin (i.e. which is everyday here), I break the trance by saying, “Ni Hao.” Some Chinese people nod, some speak and some look a little shocked. But alas I have walked by 3 or 4 very brown people. In every instance, we make eye contact and before I can open my mouth, they have beat me to the punch, “HI!” There is glory in familiarity. We know. We just know. We know and nod to the knowing that this place has very few of us who wear brown naturally. That is not makeup. But it is funny how the impression of lightening this natural brown suit is a desire to attain some sort of make+up+world. Lightening the skin may offer something more desirable for some (in China and other places), possibly an apple pie hopefulness with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. The color white is not my choice because it is everywhere around me [without actually being everywhere around me], and it symbolizes something false. It is a binary concept. A construct. If you aren’t white, you are black. If it is not day, it is night. If it’s not dark, it is light.
I, however, look for color. I look for bright and bold and stripe and checkered and polka dot. I demand a splash of paisley and throw some albinism in the mix (which I would argue is not a lack of anything). It is a special coloring that we must credit with power. If you question my words, read Akata Witch and Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor. I am light and dark and everything in between. We cannot be separated. I repeat, we live on a continuum.
I look for insatiable patterns and textures thrown together that occur in the moment when two (or more) are gathered. And when the shit is rough, we call on prayer or chant or elemental callings (fire, air, water, earth). Maybe I am calling on love or lovemaking. This lovemaking looks nothing like the scenes we see in the movies. I’ve watched some pretty convincing lovemaking scenes but I have yet to see lovemaking at its greatest height that does more than satisfy the moment. What I imagine can’t be put into a movie scene or television show. A matter of fact, it is pretty hard to write about. But I sense it. I feel it. I can reach out and almost touch it. I can whisper it into the air, and Lovemaking hears me calling. And that is the contract I believe I am calling forth. A contract that doesn’t count the amount of years we’ve been together, especially since people keep preaching there is no life guarantee tomorrow. It shows up in the moment and it knows my name. It does not misspell or misunderstand or misinterpret. It does not mistaken. It may rearrange the letters in a word; it may even remove a few letters. It always journeys with me through the good and bad and again, everything in between.
I end this blog with this: I can be many things - a mother, best friend, sidekick [and other assigned roles] - but namely, I align myself among the stars as a star, and as such, I must not settle for make believe, makeup-ing, mistakenings. I must lovemake, make love, love-in-the-making to humbly & honorably be called