On March 24th Bill Dodson wrapped up the annual Bookworm Literary Festival here in Chengdu with his talk on doing business in China and his book China Inside Out. You can read his blog This is China! here.
After spending 3 weeks with 12 different authors Chengdu is going to feel a bit quiet, so if you’re feeling inspired to write after listening to all of these authors we recommend stopping in at the Bookworm on Wednesdays to give it a go.
The next meeting of the Bookworm Chengdu writing group is Wednesday, March 30th at 19:30. Our prompt from the week is: write a story in pictograms (Chinese doesn’t count), or about pictograms.
If you plan to join us your prompt should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by the morning of Monday, March 28th for critique on Wednesday night.
See you on Wednesday!
She’s singing with the boys. Buddy Holly Glasses taps a soft beat with his spatulas while pounding a lonely heartbeat on his kick-drum. Soft, soft, tremble on the snare. Baldy has his eyes closed, but he’s looking for something; searching for the next key, waiting for her cue. He keeps a moody melody. Blue Cardigan stands in the corner out of sight licking his lips; running his fingers through the moves, silently practicing the groove. She sits on a stool, with a heel propped on a rung, hunched over like a wilted flower. She’s got a lot to say, but only needs a few words to say it. The drums and keys keep the beat.
When Blue Cardigan is ready he starts low and softly makes his way up. The saxophone does the talking for him, and she feeds off the blue notes. ‘Darlin’ she says, and it’s as if Ella Fitzgerald is standing in the room, but I’m pretty sure I’m looking at a twenty-two-year-old Sichuanese girl. ‘Is she with you now?’ she asks, but seems to know the answer already, with a whisper of hope in her defeated voice. ‘Does she hold you true, like I used to; like you used to,’ she stands up from the stool and saunters over to Yankees Hat, hands resting on his bass, sitting this one out. He receives her grief, but looks indifferent, unable to answer her questions. The others focus on their instruments; fueling her fire; aiding every desire.
‘All the promise gone, traded for lies you see in her eyes!’ she howls. Blue C’s sax and Baldy’s keyboard soar with her voice. Holly’s heart skips a beat and he snatches at his cymbals. A silent pause in the room. All motion waits for her cue.
‘Darlin’ she picks up the tune again and the boys chime in. ‘you’re not my Darlin anymore,’ she finishes and the band leads her home playing the notes of heartbreak and shattered hope. I sit at the edge of the bar with a full beer mug. Entranced by her grief, I couldn’t take one sip. I’ve never pretended to be a jazz man, at most I’m a novice, but tonight I was diggin’ it. I wave at the bar tender, ‘who is she?’ I ask.
‘Mei Mei,’ he says. I sit puzzled.
‘Little sister?’ I say. He nods his head and laughs. ‘She’s got a fantastic voice. What’s her drink?’ The bartender holds up a Tanqueray bottle. ‘I want to buy her an whiskey “Impressed Gin”.’ I say looking over the drink menu.
He gets a glass from under the bar and fills it with ice. ‘Make it a double’ I say. He pours the gin over the ice and breaks open a can of seltzer. A lime wedge is the coup de grace.
‘Fifty kuai,’ he says.
‘Outrageous!’ I say, but I still hand him a green Mao. I grab the drink and turn around to walk it over to Mei Mei. When I spin around she’s right in front of me. I freeze for a second and she looks annoyed that I’m in her way. I hold out the drink. ‘I love your voice,’ I say like a tool. She snatches the drink from my hand.
‘Thanks guy,’ she says and follows the rest of her band up the stairs.
‘That was fifty kuai well spent you jerk,’ I think to myself. I watch as she climbs the stairs then looks back about half way.
‘You coming, or what guy?’ She says with a standard Chinese accent. How she managed to sing like a soulful black beauty is beyond me.
‘Right behind you, sis,’ I say. She shoots me sly grin. I rush over to the stairs and leave my untouched beer behind.
Things are slow in Chengdu between Christmas and Chinese New Year with everyone using the holiday sandwich to flee Chengdu’s “nuclear winter” views. So the writing group will be back up and running properly from February 16th.
If you care to join us in person, we’ll be meeting at the Bookworm Chengdu from 19:30 in the back corner. The Bookworm staff like to keep us hidden away so we don’t scare the other customers.
If you’re keeping up with us and our prompts, the prompt for the 16th is (and because I’m feeling cheesy – drum roll!):
write something Chengdu focused that takes place no more than 10 minutes from your apartment
In other news, MaLa’s 2nd unveiling approaches! It will be released into the wild in March.
The blog was quiet for Christmas and New Year as tech support shipped themselves home in a shiny box for a few weeks. Now that the festivities are finished, just in time for Chinese New Year, we’re back and typing.
The prompt for this week is to write a scene from the perspective of the other sex i.e. if you are female, write from a male point of view and vice versa. There was much enthusiasm around the table for making this a sex scene but I say any scene is okay.
Farewell to the phone numbers between my thighs. To the men who have scarred, bruised, and left their marks with my permission. With my welcoming in those who did not deserve an invite or even a whisper of my availability.
There was Mark. An engineer from Chicago. Yes he lived with his mother at the age of 30. But could I blame him for wanting to care for an ailing parent? Sebastian was too much of a mother lover. He was harmless; wouldn’t even step on the water bug crawling along the kitchen floor. Tony would have squished out its guts with his Timberland hiking boots that he wore year round. Kindrid was Jamaican, the word “mercy” was foreign to his ears. Marcy, he believed in redemption. Too bad a stray bullet to the head cut his life short. Sidicious was a vegan of 15 years, with a penis that easily vouched for it. He never allowed me to love him. Scottie hated that I didn’t love him enough. Nigel called me frugal. Duane believed I was an intelligent shopper, yet an unintelligent human being. Rojas wanted our existence to be unheard of. Now Ely, I could have married. But when one is caught kissing another woman in a nightclub it diminishes all prospects of a future. David couldn’t stay out of the nightclub. Edris couldn’t stay employed. Jeff wanted to play drums all day. Malachi hated the white race. Rob hated the black race, but ironically loved me. Jordan had four daughters. They thought I was too young. Dylan thought I was too old. He was 18. Nathan didn’t believe in condoms. Jay didn’t believe in sex. Nagrom didn’t believe in God.
When someone say’s they are exhausted, doesn’t it mean all the energy needed to continue a behavior is no longer? Doesn’t it mean all prospects to execute a previous action is gone? If so, I am exhausted. I leave the phone numbers to drop to the ground. My shoes, rubbing them into the asphalt. One by one, they peel off my thighs. New thoughts begin to enter my mind, blocking previous memories from any sort of breathing space.
December keeps getting more interesting with two choices for your prompt this week:
Christmas Horror or Christmas Whore
It’s up to you.
In the beginning there was darkness and chaos. And I created a reader in my own image, and saw this was good.
That’s really how it was. Outside it would be eight in the morning and it would still be nighttime. It was as if the Party had forgotten to divide the day and the night. And chaos was everywhere. Just listen to cacophony of horns and watch the barbaric motorists. People drove like Mongolian warlords jousting in the primordial chaos at the beginning of the world. And in those days, there were only two types of weather. Cold, wet days. And relatively dry days. Both types were dark and dreary. But on the cold wet days, the sidewalks were slick with grease, excrement, and mystery. During dry weather, the sidewalks were sticky like the floors of a Saturday matinee.
As a consequence of this, I never went out. I wrote instead. I found these conditions conducive to staying indoors. I wrote many things in those days. Most of it was drivel that wound up in a file folder labeled Do Not Open Until Doomsday. Some was okay. That stuff was fun to write, but when I saw it again I found that it not good. And that too wound up in the file folder. I had yet to write something that I felt was really good.
My words did not come out of the darkness and chaos. That would have been a miracle. Instead, words seemed to coalesce out memory and dream. Sometimes, it was only an idea or a question or a word that would launch an article or story. Other times, it would be something I read that would trigger my own response. But want I really wanted was to escape where I was in life. I wrote because the words transported me elsewhere to where I really wanted to be, which was always on the road to somewhere else. I wanted sentences that grew wild like a forest primeval. Once, I created two sentences. They were the best sentences I ever thought. But then they disobeyed the rules of grammar, and they grew feral and lusty, and I evicted them from my imagination and onto the page. They took on a life of their own. I feigned anger. But I saw that it was good.
I wanted words and sentences that took me far and away from the real world and into another seeded with possibility, mystery and wonder. So I wrote a sentence that pulled readers along. Most readers would grow weary, but then I would lead the one reader on with an idea here, or an image sprouting there by the wayside. I used whatever it took to get this pilgrim to keep moving through a bone white desert. Sometimes it took bread. And other times wine. Until finally the reader would make it to journey’s end.
The reader must have faith in me, for through me is the way, the truth and the life. The way is filled with hardship and ordeals, and of course you must have the heart to endure labyrinths and quests, and appreciate that this is all about the journey and not the destination. And so the reader must ramble along over the plains and mountains, zigzag along windy trails full of crossroads and intersections, and enjoy the blistery wind upon your cheeks, the icy sting of random snowflakes nicking your cheeks and then melting, and there is the sound of rams clashing, their horns clap like a crack of thunder in the crags above, and then moving onwards, your calves and thighs burning with fatigue and your chest heaving and breathless, you will eventually find something wholly unexpected and delightful: An ancient monastery with white brick walls and red and gold roofs, perched upon a precipice overlooking a great cloud ridden abyss of darkness and chaos. It is a good place to rest. A lama will greet you and tell you stories. You can put your pack down and rest by the fire. Somebody will bring you a clay pot of hot tea. It is as if you had been expected.
To ring in the Christmas season the group decided last night that the next prompt should be – write your own creation story.
The best response to the prompt gets published here, on this blog.
Act 1 Scene 2
Murdock sits in the chair behind his book-piled desk. Enter the dwarf.
Murdock stands up, squinting and blinks twice to make sure the shapeless, strange dwarf that is standing at the door is not an illusion. Then he sighs.
If you are really there, my friend, speak as if the tongue is properly tickled.
I do come to see you, Sir, the mellowed version of you full of resonance of solitude. The vintage of you is beyond the taste of wine grape.
Solitude, it sounds like the word has a home. I’ve lost my love for 30 years. 30 years since she passed like a shadow crossing my life. A life without love should be cut short like a stolen time hung on the blade of the Macbeth’s sword. But I am a coward. Under the moment-changing sky, I worm my way as if I have a purpose.
Your mind is troubled heath, yet your breaths whistle significance. Years of work do serve a purpose.
What you see is not what it really means. Look at those books, stacks of drafting paper, blood stains that sickness has produced and the phantom of the past moments. I heard nothing but my own murmurs, I devoured loneliness like water, but I was still alive, how shameful! Like a thief lost the control of his guilty hand, a rat fed on its own shit. Time is only a flower in a mirror, untouchably fading away. If 30 years have served their purpose, you tell me, why I am still here, out of shape like an abraded image in a picture and not sharing a tomb with her?
Pain is a pass to heaven if you do believe in God. You loved like a baby has been baptized. It’s only a matter of time for you to be with her again. Please don’t censure loneliness—a freckled personality will do nothing good to you.
So that’s why you are here. To remind me of the meaning of life as if the number of my days will still increase.
I’m here to confirm the value of your life, sir. Your efforts and those energy-driven hours like dots and lines of a design. You have never broken the promise made to her, like a part of nature accords with the physical laws.
That’s a compliment you have delivered?
That’s encouragement, sir. It will reassure and refresh your mind like a pioneered breeze of spring.
Murdock brought his hands to his eyes, palms up.
But I will decline. Look at the pair of hands, stiffened by the half-eaten year. They are already aged, sallow like pears. But, I will be happy as I approach to a tomb. Heaven has opened its mouth and I will slip in with hope like a balancing tail.
I would rather want you to stay for a while like a season.
But without love?
THE DWARF smiling
Love is something you’ve already changed into energy. Love is what it is now. Go back to your work and you’ll thrive.
Murdock slowly turns back and walks toward his desk.
But the days without my wife feel like an airless bag I have put my head in.
Trust me, sir. Sadness is temporary like a dream-rocking sleep.
Murdock sits back in the chair and the dwarf exits.