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Was It Gu For You?
A man and a woman are having breakfast. The man is wearing a robe.
“Staying home again?” the woman says.
“I should be better tomorrow,” the man says, sweating. “How long does the flu last, anyway?” He swallows a couple of aspirin, then vomits. The woman grabs his arm to help him to the sink, but he screams in pain. She pushes back his sleeve to show a large purplish reddish bruise spreading from his elbow. They look down and his knees show the same. THEME MUSIC.
Back at Princeton Plainsboro, House consults his team. The man is now peeing blood and shows signs of oncoming renal failure. What to do???
Cameron & Co check out his family history and learn he was having an affair with a Chinese woman. They try to take blood but can’t, as his blood won’t clot. Blood is beginning to pool in his brain, the clock is ticking.
Foreman breaks into the family’s house. After searching, he learns the man’s daughter was a Wiccan and graduated to darker arts. She has terrariums with scorpions, crazy looking caterpillars, etc. They test the critters for poison, but none of them are a match for the man’s symptoms.
Chase mentions a book he once read about a Chinese empress who committed infanticide with gu, an ancient witchcraft. The traditional preparation of gu involved trapping several poisonous creatures into a box and letting them battle it out. The one that survived absorbed all of the toxins combined.
“That’s stupid,” House says, but it gives him an idea. “Check the mistress’s credit card purchases.” He pops Vicodin like Pez. “Let’s see if the Orient Express was carrying any fuzzy passengers.”
It comes up clean, but Cameron has a hunch and goes through the family’s trash. She finds a receipt for the purchase of a Giant Silkworm Moth Caterpillar, as well as the dead, fuzzy body of one. It was the daughter all along.
The daughter meant to poison her father’s mistress, but accidentally ended up poisoning him.
House is able to order an anti-venom from Brazil, where the caterpillar originates from. The daughter is arrested while glaring at House through a glass partition, and Foreman asks House if he believes in curses. House says something depressing and cynical. “The only curse is living” or “trusting other people” or something. He rides off on his motorcycle, alone.
A Tree Grows In Jersey
Two teenagers are talking by a school. One of them is smoking a cigarette. “Dude, that’s the bell,” the other one says.
“Just give me a minute,” Smoky says. His friend runs towards the school. Smoky takes a drag and flicks the butt into a neighboring yard before heading in after him.
Switch to the yard’s house, where a woman is watching daytime television. Presumably, her husband is at work, her kids at school. She sees smoke coming from the backyard and runs to put out the fire. But as she hoses the yard with water, she starts screaming—her skin blisters where the water touches her. The smoke engulfs her, and she passes out, using her last ounce of strength to put out the fire. A fire engine is heard as we zoom in on her face and the Massive Attack theme song begins.
House and his team try to treat her for the fire damage, but when she wakes up, it turns out that she’s blind—nothing to do with the fire. The blisters on her skin are also not fire-related.
Foreman and Chase inspect the house for toxic cleaning products, but the family is a bunch of hippies and only uses Seventh Generation. They go out into the yard to see if any plastic or paint was burned. “This is a pretty weird tree,” Chase says Australianly, and touches the bark. His finger blisters.
They learn that the woman and her husband bought a manchineel tree seed on their honeymoon twenty years ago. They knew the fruit was poisonous, but had no idea the tree itself was dangerous. Smoke from it can cause blindness and throat swelling, and even standing beneath the tree while it rains can produce blisters on the skin. After three days, the woman regains her sight.
“Maybe hire someone to destroy that tree,” House says. “Unless you plan on building a treehouse in it.”
Afterwards, the team puts on their coats and gets ready to go out to a bar. Cameron invites House to go with them and grab a drink. “Thanks, but I’ll just throw these in a blender,” he says, shaking a bottle of Vicodin.
At home, House is seen coaxing jazz notes from a grand piano. He pauses, takes a bite out of a green apple.
On Friday, I attended the Boston Public Library Foundation’s first annual StorySlam, a charity event supporting programs and services at the Boston Public Library.
Tickets were $40, and the donation included a drink ticket (as well as some snacks to nibble on).
Sorry for photo quality, but the lighting at the BPL was dim. No excuse for the uncomfortable look on my face, though.
StorySlam panelists included Betty Lehrman, Helen Lewis, Doug Lipman, and Audrey Mardavich (all of whom have had professional experience with theatre or storytelling), with comic Wes Hazard and novelist Norah Dooley as co-hosts. It was a pleasant surprise to see Wes, a fellow Emerson College MFA alum who I’ve had the opportunity to watch perform at the comedy club at Remington’s (now shut down).
The theme for the StorySlam was “Overdue,” an intentionally general word that speakers could interpret any way they chose. The stories ranged from the obvious “overdue book” to the “overdue loss of faith in a neglectful mother.” All stories were taken from the speakers’ own experiences.
StorySlam was broken up into two rounds:
-the first five speakers were chosen in advance from their online entries and judged by panelists
-the second five were picked randomly from a hat, with the favorite chosen by the audience. (My boyfriend voted for the woman with the overdue baby, while I was touched by the one about a girl’s gradual realization of a cheating boyfriend.)
Both groups had a five minute timeline and were prohibited from using notes. It was impressive to watch someone shyly walk up to the stage and then launch confidently into a story without hesitation or missteps. As someone who is terrible at telling stories in real-time (I’m hopeless if I can’t write it down first), I really enjoyed my first story slam, and I even walked away with some ideas on how to improve my public reading.
If you’re curious about attending an event like this, there are some similar ones coming up:
- Every Wednesday at 8pm is a poetry-only open mic at Cantab Lounge. The next open poetry slam is June 11.
- June 16 at Club Passim, long-form storytelling with Regi Carpenter
- September 15 at Club Passim, storyslam
- October 6 at Trident Booksellers & Cafe, storyslam
Some more information about the Boston Public Library and event partners:
After StorySlam, as my boyfriend and I walked from Copley Square to Chinatown, we passed the filming of Black Mass. Nothing to see, really, since the street was blocked off. Just some vintage cars. It was fun to see where the crew had moved, since the last time we’d spotted them was in our own neighborhood, 0.2 miles from our apartment. Still haven’t seen any stars, but maybe there’s still hope? In any case, our night was finished off with dumplings, so it was a successful summer night.
I’ll now leave you with this photo of a sleeping Moxie, dead to the world.
…Moxie Mondays! In which, every week, I blatantly take advantage of the public’s love for cats by posting a video or photo of my own feline terror.
Moxie is a year and five months old. She is a domestic medium hair who was found on the streets of Dorchester, MA with two kittens (who have since been adopted). Her hobbies are chasing rubber balls face-first into hard surfaces, and chicken.
And in honor of our very first MM (Moxie Monday), a photo AND a video.
Onto less furry, and more papery, business: the non-writing of my novel. Also known as The Re’search (which is Research, but said in an elegant British accent because I’m classy). This research is not limited to google searches and wikipedia articles. I have actually gone to a library. I have also bought novels by Vietnamese American authors, and I’ve rented movies by Vietnamese directors, starring Vietnamese actors. Serious business here!
For now, I just want to focus on some of the literature. More specifically:
The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs (nonfiction)
The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan (fiction)
What drew me to The House on Dream Street was the firsthand account of living in Vietnam. While I’ve been to Vietnam twice, those short visits (almost three months combined) can’t replace the day-to-day details of actually living and working in a place. The House on Dream Street is a travel memoir recounting Sachs’s repeated trips to North Vietnam over the course of two years.
Sachs, an American journalist, impulsively drops her life in San Francisco for a new one in Hanoi. She settles into a garishly decorated room at a young family’s house, tentatively forging a friendship with the quiet, retiring wife of her landlord. But as Sachs’s grasp of the Vietnamese language grows, so too does her relationships with the local people, and her confidence navigating the chaotic streets and markets of Hanoi. She falls in love in Phai, a motorcycle mechanic and close friend of the family she lives with. Their whirlwind relationship falls apart when, after six months of living in Vietnam, Sachs decides to return to the States. Back home, she realizes her connection to Phai was just a physical manifestation for her obsession with Vietnam. But Sachs can’t let go of Vietnam, and returns again and again, each time revealing a new glimpse of life among the impoverished farmers, the bohemian socialites, the high energy executives, and the veterans.
The House on Dream Street is a lushly rendered introduction to Vietnam, and while I enjoyed the fleshed-out conversations and snippets of insight into the culture, the view of Vietnam is an intensely narrow one. All trips combined, Sachs spends less than a year in Vietnam, and her struggle with the language grants her an outsider status for a portion of it. As Sachs didn’t visit Vietnam intending to document her experiences as a memoir, her interactions with the people around her are unreliable. Before reading, I assumed Sachs had lived in Vietnam for at least several years and was disappointed to find out her longest stint was six months. Overall, this was an interesting read, but not a particularly illuminating one for someone already well acquainted with Vietnamese culture. Only part of my novel takes place in Vietnam, but as I’m not a fluent speaker either, I thought I’d rather be safe than sorry when depicting life there.
Like any person writing a story, there’s a huge fear that it’s already been done and done better. The Reeducation of Cherry Truong sounded uncomfortably familiar to the premise of my novel (French Vietnamese family members, secret letters, traveling to Vietnam), but as I read, those similarities became more and more superficial. Which was a relief, because this is a beautiful novel, both in story and craft.
The night before leaving a Malaysian refugee camp for a new home in Paris, Grandpere and Grandmere Truong learn that their son Sanh will be heading instead to America with his wife and child. Their daughter-in-law Tuyet, devastated by the Truongs’ refusal to find a seat for her mother on the escape boat to Malaysia, has decided their chances are better in America. And so splits a branch of the Truong family, with consequences lasting decades.
After such a tumultuous history, the characters of The Reeducation of Cherry Truong are obsessed with the past, and none more so than Cherry, the daughter of Sanh and Tuyet. Intelligent but reticent, she sits on the sidelines and watches the family drama around her unfold. The novel is told from the perspective of several characters: both of Cherry’s grandmothers, Cherry’s mother and father, both of Cherry’s cousins in France, and Cherry herself. It begins with Cherry’s brother’s exile to Vietnam, and Cherry’s reflections on it serve as a narrative catalyst: each chapter afterwards alludes to a different time period, uncovering multiple generations across multiple countries, accompanied by letter excerpts. In less capable hands, this could be confusing and murky, but in Phan’s confident and clear-eyed prose, the effect is of a pendulum swinging back and forth, each tick growing more and more resonant. Through the years, her characters struggle for redemption. None are ultimately sure if they’ve succeeded. At the heart of it all is Cherry, who collects her grandparents’ letters and reads them for answers to how her family has divided and evolved. In the States, in France, in Vietnam, she watches her relatives with intensity, comparing their lives and wondering how things could have been if they’d never been separated. The family drama comes to a head in a near fatal incident that splits Cherry’s family forever.
Growing up, I never read any Vietnamese literature, so The Reeducation of Cherry Truong holds a special place in my heart. I’ll be continuing to search out novels by Vietnamese American authors, but as far as I know, this one is the most modern.
Even the bears will believe
I’m out in the prime cut
of the big green.
Behind me is Ed and Rowdy, members
of an up-and-coming subadult gang.
They’re challenging everything,
including me. Goes with the territory.
If I show weakness, if I retreat,
I may be hurt, I may be killed.
I must hold my own if I’m gonna stay
within this land. For once
there is weakness, they will exploit it, they will
take me out, they will
decapitate me, they will chop me into bits and pieces.
I’m dead. But so far, I persevere.
Persevere. Most times
I’m a kind warrior out here. Most times,
I am gentle, I am like a flower, I’m like…
I’m like a fly on the wall,
in any way. Occasionally
I am challenged.
And in that case, the kind warrior
must, must, must become a samurai.
Timothy Treadwell’s words from the opening of Grizzly Man, formatted by me into a poem. I’m sick, so I’ve been watching a lot of shows/documentaries about exotic pets. I recommend The Elephant in the Living Room!
I think I am half in love with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s received a certain amount of attention lately for her TED Talk on feminism (sampled in Beyonce’s song “***Flawless,” and credited with a misspelling of her name), the arrival of her latest novel Americanah, and the film adaptation of her novel Half of a Yellow Sun (coming out this summer!). Talented, eloquent, and influential—she’s someone to watch.
But what struck a personal chord in me is her TED Talk on “the danger of a single story.”
Like Adichie, I began writing stories as a child long before I had mastered handwriting. My first story is in marker, penned in a notebook with wide-rule and dashed lines for teaching the shapes of the alphabet. Like Adichie, I was an early reader. And what I read were stories about white characters.
I devoured Louisa May Alcott, the Little House books, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Secret Garden, Heidi, A Little Princess, Julie Andrews Edwards…and they still hold a special place in my heart. But over the years, a strange dichotomy arose in my mind. There were people who lived in the world, like me, and then there were people who lived on in stories, who exemplified humanity and always would.
Adichie says it best:
“Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.” (02:36)
I am not Nigerian. In fact, as a person of mixed race heritage (Vietnamese and white, to put it simplest), I am not any one thing. What I wanted to be was white, pure white, with “corn silk” hair like Lois Lenski’s Mary Jemison and rosy cheeks like Heidi. I wanted to live in a household that drank tea and baked buns, I wanted to watch my mother sit at her vanity and apply pink lipstick, wriggle into a silk dress and go out to dinner with my father. I wanted a white teen experience, to worry about who would ask me to dances and to define myself in terms of social status instead of race.
The sandwiches I brought to school were seasoned with soy sauce. For school picture days and Valentine’s dances I wore traditional cheongsam (Mandarin gowns) my mother brought back from Vietnam, and wondered why when a blonde girl wore a cheongsam it was sexy, and when I did it was embarrassing.
Whereas the western world finds the eastern exotic, I found just the opposite.
“My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer.” (01:26)
I was thrilled to hear Achibie mention ginger beer, because it has stuck in my mind for years after reading Julie Andrews Edwards’s Mandy. Nothing seemed so exotic to me as eating bread and butter and washing it down with a glass bottle of ginger beer. In this way, my memories of the British books I’ve read have a nontarnishable luster of charm to them. I couldn’t relate to this world, but at the same time, it seemed to be the only one that mattered.
And so the stories I wrote were of the white experience.
“All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.” (Adichie, 00:56)
It is only very recently that I’ve fully embraced my heritage. Throughout my life I’ve gone from wanting to be completely white, to wanting to be completely Asian, to now accepting I am what I am. For the first time, two or three years ago, I wrote my first Vietnamese story. And now I am working on my first Vietnamese novel.
At first I was concerned about my authenticity as a Vietnamese writer. I wondered if my characters were stereotypes, and then realized they partly were. Not only was I discounting my own experiences as a Vietnamese American, but I was guilty of seeing a single story of Vietnam. A “single story” is a flat image of a culture. To see a Mexican immigrant. To see a poor African (and to reduce the entirety of the continent to one country labeled as “Africa”). For its reputation as a melting pot, we Americans seem to live in a vacuum.
Achibie mentions the reaction she received from her college roommate in America:
“My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feels more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.” (05:02)
Vietnam’s single story is the war: known as the “Vietnam War” in America and the “American War” in Vietnam. Vietnam has a history of occupation, but it has a present we tend to overlook. My novel mentions the war, but it is only one facet of Vietnamese culture. I will not let my heritage be defined by tragedy, the way I am so much more than the difficulties of my past. The goal of my novel is to create a second story of Vietnam, a second world in the hopes that multitudes will open up.
let people know
VIETNAM IS NOT A WAR
but a piece
“shrapnel shards on blue water”
-lê thi diem thúy
Still, every once in a while, I enjoy the taste of ginger beer.
If you want to watch the full video, it’s right here:
And if, for whatever reason, the video’s not showing, click here.