New Flash Essay: Hong Kong, My Twenties

2020:published in the journal Under the Gum Tree

Trotting downhill, toward the Star Ferry terminal, a pungent smell drew me to a nothing-special corner shrine made of concrete. It would never be listed in The Lonely Planet. It was hung with red lanterns and banners. Additionally, fifteen or twenty coils of incense the size of birdcages dangled from the ceiling. The bottom end of each was burning. The smoke could have choked an ox. I breathed in anyway, breathed in the burnt intimacy. I didn’t know much about intimacy. Sex, sure. Before leaving for Hong Kong, I undertook regular affirmations, “I am having a wonderful travel affair.” In the 80s, affirmations were to be chanted in the present tense, three times per affirmation, staring straight into the mirror.

Inside the temple, I watched everyday Chinese people shake bundles of incense in front of their foreheads and then place the slim grouping of sticks upright in sand-filled troughs before altars bedecked with red candles, idols, and strings of electric lights. Red. Made me wish I had their faith. Unsure of my welcome, I left for the sweaty street. Countless, crushing people demonstrated identifiable purpose, an after-office squash to catch a train or bus or ferry so like my routine this past year in Tokyo, no ferries, loving Japan but hating everything about teaching English except the salary that would afford me these next two months with nothing but my backpack and Asia. A friend planned to come with me. Then her boyfriend wanted her stateside.

On the sidewalk, the thronging Chinese bought plastic shoes, household goods, leafy green vegetables, whole fish. Some large animal’s organs. Cow? A goose minus its head, body split to display glistening innards. The long neck flopped.

“Gross,” I said to no one. It was one, big, lonely planet.

An escape from the street presented itself as a café painted a quiet green. Under the ceiling fans, older men in black pajamas sat in pairs at wooden tables, invariably in the same position: one leg tucked under the bottom, the other dangling not quite to the floor. Each pair concentrated on a game of Go, black and white boards, black and white stones. I took to a table, to be ignored for some time. Eventually, the waiter, unbidden, placed within reach a chilled schooner of tan-colored liquid. It tasted like sweet, milky rice. The men continued their game. The ceiling fans rotated.

A gush of rain drew me to the open window. The pavement was so hot that the water hissed, hitting it. Though I did not go on to have a wonderful affair, the affair I did have was the best I could do. When my two months ended, I returned to the orderly numbness of myself in Tokyo. For my next vacation, I visited my father in the States, He took an opportunity to explain why he always had to have a girlfriend outside his primary relationship. He said, “I need some place to flee.” More than fifty years old and still, the man could not handle intimacy. That was not going to be me.

 I returned to Japan. Three months later, three more months of a life that appeared antithetical to a Western concept of progress, I spent a week feeling as if my brain was un-bending. Finally, I woke from a dream, a thousand fractured images of sexual abuse. I told my acupuncturist, “I don’t want it to be my father.”

He said, “Whatever it is, it’s already been.”

A different day—there were a lot of seemingly random days, during that time—I sat on the grass in my favorite park, Ki-chi-jo-ji, sat in the weak sun that was stealing looks through the cherry blossoms. Had it been a more organized day, would I have found this new affirmation: “All I need is amply provided for, and I am safe.”

It was my father. 

I was safe.

People always want to know, how old were you? Did your mother know? From the time I woke from that dream, it would be seven years of dark nights and ultimate faith before incest became merely the data of my childhood, before the hiss of that downpour began to reveal the abundance of its possibility. I soared: a decent job that I actually liked; my first not-just-screwing relationship, one that lead to marriage. Two children, now teens. A house. Everything normal girls expected. When I stood at the window of the green-walled café, the rain bouncing off the street could only smell as fulsome as two months of freedom. I could have continued teaching English, spending two months of every year in a different Asian country, hoping for the best affair I was capable of. Could die alone. A third question people ask: how did you get through it? They mean the abuse. I hear: the years after surviving it.

There is an old story. A disciple goes to the Buddha, asking for the secret to happiness. The Buddha asks, “Did you eat today?”

“Yes.”

“Did you wash your bowl?”

“Yes.”

“Did you do a good job?”

Goals for 2019

Alle’s commercial goals for2019

Last year, I joined a number of Facebook groups starring real, publishing writers. Many were focused on commercial publications than literary, especially high-level publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

I queried a few placed. Crickets. I elected to finish out 2018 per my goals – literary publications – and to start factoring in the commercial media in 2019.

First step: identify dream publications. Step Two: approach.

  • The New York Times: queried 3/17 with travel article culled from my recent Asia trip.
  • The Washington Post: Queried the Parenting section on 3/17 with a short humor essay regarding my less-than-nurturing behavior during the death of my daughter’s Guinea pigs (scuttling, gnawing creatures). Was rejected 3/19.
  • Huffington Post: Submitted the Guinea pig tale: “A Good Mama and a Decent Human Being.”
  • The Cut: A section in New York Magazine (NOT The New Yorker), very “hip.” Formerly interested only in essays, they announced on 3/18 that they now take fiction. On 3/18, sent flash fiction featuring sharks, rats, bad stew, and nunchucks. Only from my wickedly feminist imagination could this story spring.
  • Catapult: features long-form memoir (maybe 5,000 words). I have nothing for them, right now.
  • Longreads: ditto for their requirements, and ditto for my stock.
  • LitHub: Strikes a nice balance between literary and commercial. Submitted an essay, “Mouthy Ugly Genius.”

A New Video for an Old Essay

One of my favorite essays, The Brass Ring, published in Creative Nonfiction Magazine in the 1990s. The Euonia Review (I can’t pronounce that, either) re-published it in 2016.

I’m having so much fun making trailers for my new publications that I’ve moved on to fluffing the old pubs. Enjoy! But don’t forget to come back here to read the essay.

Rounding Down “Round Down”

jmwwI began “Round Down” at least a hundred years ago – okay, probably fifteen years ago – in a Hugo House class taught by Brangien Davis on writing humor. I hoped it would be a funny little piece about cheating in eighth grade. I titled it “The Rhenquist ‘B’ Incident.”

No one wanted it. No one gave me any feed back. It was “Dear Writer: NO” the whole way. I found the first traction with it when I began to go deeper, when I found the bravery to explore the weight that a family legacy of cheating had on me.

“Round Down” as it stands now visited the submission boxes of 24 magazine since I began tracking submission and rejections, three years ago. I have no idea how many rejections it faced when the sad sucker was in the form of “The Rhenquist ‘B’ Incident.”

Thanks so much to Jen at jmww for recognizing my brilliance.

 

 

Spank children harder.

Here at About Childhood, we blog about childhood. Subtitle: Answers for writers, parents, and former children. Big focus on writers, these days. (HAI-ku, HAI-ku.) Back to childhood for a moment, in a way that floors me beyond comment.

Finney
Finney

TOPEKA — A Kansas lawmaker is proposing a bill that would allow teachers, caregivers and parents to spank children hard enough to leave marks.

Rep. Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, says she wants to allow up to 10 strikes of the hand and that {sic} could leave redness and bruising. The bill also would allow parents to give permission to others to spank their children.

Source: The Associated Press.