Writing found me by no accident. Before I was 18, I lived a life of misery and tragedy without knowing it. When I went to college, the renowned Beijing University and studied physics, I discovered the literature and realized that I lived a typical writer’s life. It is my duty to write it down and tell it to the world.
After this realization, writing has become an obligation and has followed me from Beijing, China to St. Paul, Minnesota. No matter what I do, I always manage to find time for writing.
Initially, I wrote about my family exclusively. I actually just wrote about my mother who married a much older man, my father, who beat her while drunk. My mother was exceptionally beautiful and courageous. Even under the totalitarian communist government, she had many affairs behind the curtains. She compared herself with Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. To add complication, I fell in love with her Vronsky, Uncle Yuan. My love story with my mother’s lover had won a second prize in the WICE sponsored Paris Writer’s Workshop. Also because of my mother’s life, I published my first novel “Last Kiss In Tiananmen Square” in which she was the most beloved character and overshadowed the main character Baiyun who was based on my own life. I also have written a short story collection “Chinese Lolita” in which my mother, her childhood or her shadow appeared everywhere.
Until five years ago, I have always been writing about my mother, my own tragedy filled childhood and part of my adult life in US that was influenced by my mother and my childhood. For instance, I also married a much older man and lived a rather interesting life with him except he was very nice to me.
In the last few years, I started writing about other people who were not my family, not related to my mother, my former husband or boyfriends. I have been writing about interesting people I met at work. My first piece “Asshole” was a hit when I read at the Reading by Writers program at the University Club. Then I wrote at least five more stories and each one of them brought laughter to my friends at the writing group.
I realize that my writing has become more public since I joined the writing group where each one of us has to read out loud. My writing has transformed from private painful therapy into a form of entertainment. I think this is an important transformation for me. My writing has found a public voice. Even though I was writing about other people, I was still writing about myself. I’m still discovering myself. See the following example:
If I could, I would smash his ugly face. If I were allowed, I would pull his blond hair off his stupid head. If I don’t get into trouble for killing him, I would stomp him to death. That was how much I hated him for calling me “Stupid”.
I met him at work, which is how I meet most people nowadays. Work had become my home away from home. His name was M. He was a short, blond and well built middle-aged man. When I first met him I found him weird because besides constantly typing at his computer, he also would continually eat Grape nuts. He always kept a big bag of it in his cube. Who would eat Grape nuts all day for fun unless he was a “nutty person”. For a while, our workgroup either had celebrations for finishing our projects to the 50%, 90% or 100% point, or “Goodbye” lunches for many contractors we had laid off. I could soon be one of them. Sometimes I could imagine myself lying on the chopping board, being slaughtered or simply being run over by a car. Luckily I was still working due to my long hardworking experience or my pleasant personality. Maybe it was both, or neither. Surviving as a contractor in a technology company was not easy. Not showing up at parties would not be looked upon as a positive. Once I asked M whether he was going to a free lunch/barbecue. He said, “No. Why would I want to socialize with people who are not married to me or related to me?” This comment was the most blatantly anti-social behavior I had ever seen. I was even impressed. I mentally added another comment next to his name besides “Weird”, “Lovely eccentric”.
One day, he came near my test station to talk to D who was my friend and also a Caucasian. There were many East Indian engineers working here. I thought M had a hard time relating to them due to his small pea brain. Even though I was not Indian, I had already made many Indian friends within a few weeks. He started talking to D about “chips”, the “computer chips”. I was fascinated. Even though we were engineers here, most people preferred talking about potato chips. After half hour of intellectual jostling, my mind started wandering. I knew what his problem was. He couldn’t stop once he started talking. D was smart. He told M to talk to me instead, so he could get back to work. I didn’t know when I stopped listening. All I knew was that for the next half hour I just nodded my head while whispering to myself, “Nerd, Nerd”. I definitely would put “Nerd” next to his name. I began to worry that if I kept listening to him, people would start calling me “Nerd”. That was how serious it was.
One day, I was sitting in a station next to M’s station, typing away. The reason I used this station was that it had a faster computer. Since I had automated my tests, I could let it run by itself. So I started chatting with him to pass the time. He told me that he was going on vacation. “Where are you going?” I asked. He told me about some place in Iowa, which sounded so boring that I didn’t pay attention to which town it was. He told me that he could put in 40 hours work in two days and go on vacation the rest of the week. I looked at him with my mouth open. “How could you do that?” I asked. “Just work 20 hours a day!” He said causally. “I can go 20 hours on and 4 hours off.” He was not only weird but also the hardest working person I had even known. Later I found out that he actually didn’t work twenty hours a day. He just said it. Did he try to impress me? If so, there was no need. He had already impressed me with his weirdness.
I didn’t know at what point he started to dislike me. He gave me no reason or warning. All he did was being rude to me. Then I realized that it was not him who didn’t like socializing, but rather the other engineers who didn’t like to mingle with him. Also he had a habit of ignoring every woman engineer’s opinion.
One day, I saw him chatting with another engineer, which intrigued my curiosity so much that I made a mistake of joining in. Of course, it was not pretty afterwards. He and the bearded engineer were talking about driving accidents. I remembered that I had something spectacular to report.
“One day, as I was driving to work, the car in front of me rear-ended the car in front. I slammed on the brakes, knowing that it might be too late. Miraculously I stopped just one inch behind the car. Hurray. Without stopping for another minute to calm down, I went around the cars and drove away because I didn’t want to be late for work.”
“Do you know there is a state law requiring a material witness to an accident to file a report with the police?” He cocked his head with one of his satirical smiles.
“I didn’t know that.” I said honestly.
“You are stupid for not knowing such a simple law,” said M.
He called me stupid. He called me STUPID. I didn’t remember anyone ever calling me “STUPID”. I could feel my head expanding, blood rushing toward my brain, and vessels on the verge of bursting. Actually, a few capillary vessels had already burst.
“You, asshole!” I couldn’t help blurting this out. “You, asshole!” The second time, it was louder.
Then I raised my fist.
“Stop, lady.” He tried to stop my fist from hitting his face.
“You stop! You try to use the rule: that the more you ignore a lady, the more she likes you. Let me tell you that I’m not that kind of lady.”
I hit him in the face. The blow was so weak that didn’t break his nose or anything. He smiled, a big smile showing his crooked teeth that I had never seen before.