John Tang

Write like You’re Writing for the Newspaper

Posted in Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 6, 2012

Writing for the Newspaper

I had an idea Turkish author Mr. Pamuk inspired: Write as if you are preparing the news. That’s how I’ve been working for the last week, trying to self-publish a collection of short stories staple bound and on computer paper. I liked the texture of the cover and the harsh feeling when the pages unfolded. I print at home on Brother’s laser printer and order my covers from San Mateo for six cents a page. Where did I get the sudden burst of entitlement to my craft, one of my friends might ask. I would have to explain the argument I had with my parents about going back to Okinawa.

I told them I was unhappy in California, frustrated no one from overseas wanted me in their country. My suspicion was that I was Chinese American well seen in the last name of the patriarch: Tang. They advised me to find an administrative position around, and I agreed with some reasoning behind it. There was no incentive for me to remain in the country. I had no sacred relationships or a job. Nor did I identify myself with the culture or the architecture. The comedy was the best thing about the country, but it brought out the worst character in me. I’m sorry, I told my parents, I’m simply unhappy. They kept to themselves eating their McDonald’s burger and fries.

I texted my friends they needed to send me the image of the cover and the inside sleeve for the magazine. I explained the Pdf files needed to be in order so the printing press could have each image together. But then I remembered you could separate files and give them instructions. I was excited for the magazine Brevspread. My brother Tim Tang did the cover. With a James Jean’s influence, he rendered an ancient stork rising out of a golden tea box holding a grenade in a calico sling. For a staple-bound magazine, I was proud of it. For some strange reason my parents believe that I am bored.

Why the hell do you want to go to Okinawa? My mom said. You don’t even know what’s out there. Goddamn it. Matthew, you’re really trying my patience.

I’m sorry…I’m wrong…I’ll find a job tomorrow.

Don’t give me that shit. She didn’t listen to me. Tomorrow, you’re going to go to the outlets and apply—wherever, to Nike, to Kohls, to Banana Republic—I don’t want to hear this shit about Okinawa. I’m not going to let you waste your money. No, you’re on a loan, Matthew.

I graduated with bachelor in English from UC Davis and a master in English at San Francisco State University, with a TEFL certificate for a hundred hours. I sat on 5,000 dollars.

Okay, I will.

That didn’t happen. I applied online to more positions in Okinawa, including a concierge position at a hotel. I quickly grew bored and wandered beside my bookshelves. I remembered an interview from Pamuk as I picked up his collection of essays Other Colors. He said he was a national writer who picked up all his skills in Istanbul. Although the country betrayed via incarceration, he held no remorse. He also said another interesting thing. Before his daughter was born, he’d write from ten o’clock at night to three o’clock in the morning, when the city went to sleep.  By morning, he said, it felt like I had prepared the news for the city. I shared similar sentiments as I finished my first collection of short stories in one weekend (this was a different project from Brevspread). Feeling its feather weight and touching its stapled spine, I felt like a newspaper boy ready to deliver then by hand. I hadwished I could be an international writer like Pamuk or Marquez, the original planter to my desires, who wrote in France, Columbia, and Mexico.

You better do something about it now. My brother Tim said. Or maybe you just didn’t want it.

If someone can just give me the platform, I’ll leap.

It was quiet. I left out the part where my mother cried to my dad, and he later came back to scold me for my romantic dreams. The truth was that we lived in Okinawa for nine years. I remember the clean architecture and the warmth, the typhoons which short-circuited the whole city and the Habu snakes which inhabit the trees and the sugarcane fields. I was ready to accept that. Keep it simple, my father shouted. Goddamn it, it’s Sunday. I didn’t disagree with the candid truth coined by Occam’s Razor. In fact, I tried to apply to my writing one sentence at a time. The context was however different. While I meant skill trade, he meant for one night.

Tomorrow, my mom came to our workspace to say. You’re going to apply to the outlets. Or how about applying to Travis School District?

It made more sense to apply for Travis School District because of my background and aspirations.

Marquez said the first night he landed in the city where he studied law, he slept in a prison on bed of hay fermented from sweat the night before. He stopped writing to focus on school, when one of his friends told him to write about a riot in the city. He did and became a journalist. At the same time he continued to write short stories without royalties. I look at Marquez’s humble life and unseen events, and thought writing for Okinawa for the rest of my life would be fine.

I felt exhausted applying to fourteen different places, schools or hotels, in Okinawa. I thought about applying to Travis School District around my house, but was stopped by Pamuk’s collection of essays. The first paragraph was about the things around his desk, an essay which he wrote for Ox. It was simple infatuation for the things and their shapes and their smell. I put that in my backpack. Then I read a paragraph from a short story I haven’t completed. It was from Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Sachi, a mother, had just cremated her son in Hawaii, and she visited the spot where he was attacked by a shark and drowned. I was three paragraphs in before I knew it. I needed to disconnect from his humble pros so I could apply to the school district. I put that in my backpack. I remembered how happy I felt around literature. How it forced you to focus to have some kind of pleasure. How you were not yourself as you naively followed the character. How it required your entire being. How it warned you about how you perceived your life.

I thought the people of Vacaville needed to know about this, so instead of visiting Travis School District, I wrote about it in the Cultural Center Library.

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