Piecing Together the Pieces

“We imagine things are not so fixed and integrated into waterfalls…” ~ F.W.

I’ve heard nostalgia is a liar, one that makes the past shine brighter than any polishing you remember giving it. A gleam in your rear-view mirror you can almost place. Always vanishing in your blind-spot when you try to slow down for a closer look. Nostalgia teases for its own sake, its own amusement. Or, so I’ve heard. I’ve also heard they don’t make nostalgia like they to, though. And, that makes me laugh. Mixes longing and sadness with fondness. Creates bittersweet.

Nostalgia, I find, tends to be similar to if not interchangeable with bittersweet.  While reading High Muck A Muck, I found myself thinking a lot about, as you can no doubt guess, nostalgia and the things that oft cause its blossoming. For me, it was almost hard not to. From the light washes of colour to the seemingly “light-handedness” of the text (its font) to the text itself as it appears, everything appears fading if does not outright fade from sight. Your memory of the words or the figures or the people is the only thing left. I think this idea is best symbolized by the deep, blue smudges on the body background of the “main page.”

Each richly pigmented dot is a memory–it contains a story and characters, depth beyond its borders. But, the dot is also smudged, its deep pigment uneven upon a closer look. When I look at those dots, I remember some lines from the story–“anger at the empty, emptied, voice…”, “Trust ugly words to show how heavy beauty….”,  “Don’t mention yourself when you show a family portrait…”, and “nostalgia is the future….”–images of the characters, the timber of a voice but, ultimately, my impression is imperfect. Shallow is some places. Bleeding through in others.

This piece’s connection to nostalgia is further solidified by the fact that almost the entirety of it unfolds atop/from an image of the body. Memories are stored in the body. Build up on the skin like residue. A film (of which we had many in this piece, if you’ll mind the play on words). The body is the storehouse for memories. It is the gateway to memory. Something that does not go overlooked in this piece. “The Liver, the Stomach, the core and the surface, the rock and the lake. These are the gates and you can either kick them open or walk through in silence.” it says in the British Columbia book. On the body map, the place where the liver would be located is where blue and cream collide, water and flesh blend. Streams of blue become veins and veins, streams of blue. There is an ambiguity created here. No clear separation. Is the Victoria island/mass breaking away from or joining with the rest? It becomes a metaphor for the overarching idea that courses through this piece: that Chinese-Canadians are neither Chinese nor Canadian. They don’t know where they fit. Canada is the found home but China is the home home. Or, it was.

Yearning flows throughout this piece, literally as you move from one point, one memory to the next. “Lillooet could sound like jade.” “Far means near/ the rule is similar…” “The valley is not empty/ full of ancestors…” “a China in the heart….” There is so much longing to have it both ways (if only) in this piece. Navigating it is like driving towards the origin of a heat haze–you’ll never reach it. I click and click, move from one dot to the next, but I never find closure. No comfortable answer. No comfort. Only bittersweet.

 

“it’s not the heart has wings

but just the mind that clings…” ~ F.W.

 

**Edit: I mentioned a book early–for British Columbia–and didn’t really explain it. In High Muck A Muck: Playing Chinese, there are multiple ways to navigate. Or, rather, there are multiple ways to read the same text. It can be presented via clicking on characters on a page, watching a video, or clicking on a book icon in the corner (if there is one) and reading. The content really lends itself to this multi-modal expression.

Speaking of content, I hope you’ll excuse my lack of analysis on the actual content of this piece. I chose to stick to the context of the content instead because, well, I feel like I personally don’t have the context to reply to this piece. Whenever I tried to speak to the content of this piece, I found that I didn’t have the words. They wouldn’t come. Experiencing this piece and talking about that is one thing but commenting on the experiences of the real people who created this piece just felt–just didn’t feel like my place. And, I hope you’ll excuse the oversight this time and respect my boundaries on the issue.

Image courtesy of the Electronic Literature Directory.

 

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