From far away

They arrive gradually. Each one in turn is slotted underneath a single magnet. Eventually more will be needed, to keep up with their flow. They go up backs face out, a collage of hand-printed lettering. Their fronts contain scenes from this country or others, strange photographs, or sketches made popular not by the artist’s fame but by their very printing.

The longer I inhabit this house the more crowded that space will be, on the freezer’s front. Eventually these first to arrive will be replaced, their pictures long forgotten. They will be read one last time, to revive the memories, and placed in a box that has come with me from Houston, from Shanghai. That box is filled with similar already, and though I can not remember from where, the list of from who comes easily to mind. These ones, fresh delivered to a mailbox I have owned but a month, are a good representation of whose handwriting might also be found in that box. Because, like all habits, that of postcards written and stamped is one born out of repetition, reinforced by reciprocation.

Turning them over now, a momentary cataloguing of their pictures presents me with the Potala Palace, proof that my friends, again, have been on journeys I meant to take myself and have so far not managed. The next is of Brandenburger Tor, ensuring that my catalogue of famous monuments enshrined on postcards continues to grow. It too is proof, though of a different kind: that friends from Shanghai were not as daunted by Europe’s expense and moved eastward. The lessons are similar though, that all of the places I wished to go, whether to visit or live, are as accessible now as they have ever been. Yet here I sit, receiving these in a city in the country of my birth, the borders of which I have not crossed for more than a year.

The last is of Old North Wharf on Nantucket, a beautiful shot of houses with their boats at anchor in place of a lawn. It is America, in the view of water and peace, something I appreciate, from my house mate in Shanghai, who is likewise learning a new coast. It has traveled long, chasing me here from Colorado, to which it was sent at the end of the summer as I fled westward.

As we settle so too do I send out these missives, currently featuring whimsical Japanese art, to the corners of these United States and a variety of countries. I must learn where the post office is, and mailboxes. These worthwhile efforts are fueled by our decorated freezer, and the envelopes of longer letters that lie in the phone nook. For the most part they are small stories of happiness, and share a sense of wonder. Because although we are not beyond our borders, we are exploring, learning a new city and state. And after so long parts of America are as foreign to me as anywhere, all the more so because they ought to seem natural.

I am grateful though for the reminders of places and people I always mean to see, and one day will be glad to.

Letters to Senators part 2, health care


I am writing you on behalf of all Americans. Not because all Americans agree with me, I know they do not. However, I am writing on their behalf as well. I am writing because there is a serious disconnect in our country, specifically in our government, about those very US citizens.

Health care. There is a lot of meaning in those words, almost all of which is neglected by the current debate. The point of it all, of making people healthy, keeping them that way, and improving the human lifespan while minimizing suffering, seems completely overwhelmed by the problem: cost. What we need is not better insurance, or wider-reaching coverage. Somehow, with the floating of those two concepts, the actual need, for healthier humans, has already been removed from the stage. Cost and coverage have replaced care, prevention, and healing as the focal points of need. And that switch allows for more callous, crass and otherwise reprehensible behavior.

If the conversation were re-focused, so that the sentence “deny someone coverage based on existing conditions” became “do not heal someone who is already sick” the awkward nature of the argument would be more obvious. Does anyone in our country NOT want care when they are sick or injured? In a democracy, a country run “by the people, for the people,” how then can we engage in such an argument, where part of society can advocate a solution that simply does not hold with their own desires?

If everyone wants to be cared for when they are ill or injured, how can anyone be against universal health care?

Please, in our current debate remember that “coverage” is not “care” and “insurance” is not “healing”. Remember those who have worked their entire lives, yet never been offered health care by an employer. Remember those who were born with a disease or a disability, even a treatable one like asthma or poor vision, and yet are forced to pay constantly for renewed “prescriptions” that are simply a continuation of what they have lived with forever. Remember that no country in the world spends more, for less, and that no matter the risk, the system we have simply does not help the citizens of our country.

Thank you for your continued work for all of us.

Irving in the dark

Tonight I am biking home from the video store, where I wheeled my Haro in and stuck Appleseed in the DVD return and wheeled out again, gliding down the sidewalk in the nine pm dark. Black hoodie no lights and a grin I crest one of the rises, happy to be back. They aren’t hills, I live out where it’s flat, where from the roof the sun sets on the Pacific, and where the wind from Asia shakes the trees. Tonight I am coasting down a sidewalk, silent, and the man walking out of the gym, shorts and sweat-wicking top, never sees me, his headphones in and head covered in sweat. I see him and dance past, my BMX nimble, its tires freshly inflated. Down the slope I go, past Roaring Mouse Cycles, who will swap out my brake cables on Tuesday next, something I’d thought about doing in Houston. But boxing and shipping and storing were in our future, this bike’s and mine, and those leave a lot of dirt on the chain, on everything, that needs cleaning and straightening.

Tonight we are done with that, this bicycle and me. Bought in Los Angeles while I was living in China I think it is glad, after our year’s sojourn in Houston, to be back in California, within reach of the Pacific. So am I, glad to be slipping down Iriving amidst the cars and fixies, late night diners and homeless men who accost me, “hey you on the bike!”

This little trip to the movie store is one of our first jaunts, just a quick spin up to 9th and Le Video, home to the greatest selection in the city, or so I was told. Our neighborhood seems to hold the kind of balance I have been seeking, it feels like, for years. Tonight though I am going for speed, for the thrill of no hands in the dark, and the strange acclimatizing that happens on returning to a BMX after a summer of riding full-size mountain bikes around Colorado.

Yesterday I watched the neighborhood while we wandered, the sounds of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass resounding over the trees.

“There’s a good balance here,” I said, “a few Vietnamese restaurants, a few Thai, a donut shop, all filled with people who speak Chinese.”

“I know,” she said, “it’s like being in Asia again.”

“But it’s got what I always wanted,” I said, my point coming together slowly.

“A donut shop?” She wasn’t far wrong.

“Yes, and a pizza place, and a bar that shows sports and serves tacos and is full of people I can talk to.”

“A mixture of Asia and the parts you like of New York,” she said, “in a neighborhood near the Pacific, and the park.”

“It’s small enough for me to know and foreign enough for me to feel alone,” I didn’t say, but have thought all day.

Tonight I know it’s all these things as I unlock the gate with my bicycle in one hand, and walk in to our courtyard quiet and warm. Half of the apartments are lit and the wind, which howls in from the ocean and down the streets, is held back by their walls. Chelsie the cat is no where in sight, but I know she’ll come visit when the afternoon sun pours in our windows. Her owner often wanders up, after an hour or two, to look for her through our open door. He’s content to have her wander the building, and we likewise, another part of the neighborhood not our own but familiar, and becoming home.