notes from two years ago: dare to say it, risk. understand what you
want to say. words from sue macauley. tessa asked if I wanted to write.
sue said to start with something. I dug out an essay I wrote last year
titled `culture, ethnicity, race and feminism', I thought it might give
me that something to start with. but it was strangled by its own halo.
religious. well meaning. devoted. it irritates me. bores me. but I want
to write. and I feel stink for not remembering details. for not being
able to recite to you facts. sue said to aim for emotion not information.
she asked if i wanted to be involved. a review of a play. it was so exciting...
so exciting `cos it's you... i keep forgetting. a solo performance by lynda chanwai
earle. called ka shue, letters home. music by karen hunter. directed by jim moriarty.
supported by asia 2000, creative nz, christchurch arts festival. the system approves.
and it seemed logical for me to be interested in a half-caste artist. and I felt
nervous and excited cos it matters. and i got dressed up, and i carried a pen
and notebook, and I wore my silk brocade jacket and checked my chineseness in
the mirror. my eyes looked squintier with my hat on.
the intensity of her beginning alienated me. alone, yelling. energy projectiles,
vigorous, propelled across the theatre. alienated by some stuck up idea that
was instilled in me when i was too young to know, michael. about being obedient
and inoffensive and humble. and i was annoyed by her accent. false, dishonest,
exaggerated, animated. and i wondered who her audience was. i wondered if she
knew it was me. she declaimed cliches. a single sentence scribbled from a book
by clemence dane came to me: "she did not have sufficient originality to
be unfashionable." i was alarmed by how well i knew this story. between
feminist studies and amy tan it's all covered. let them feel secure in their
knowledge. repetition makes things true. chinese for beginners. first chinese
play from nz. teach them. affirm what they know. inscrutable dog eaters.
merissa said she was a good actor, and the evening post said `chanwai earle is
a striking performer elegant and true'. i felt acted to. told, taught. didactic.
three generations of chinese women. that sentence makes me stiffen. like the
words identity and body and space. women. she was all of them, chopping and changing
between people. inconsistent. i liked that. who are you? digital. made up of
discrete dots. memories. photographs. independent of one another. autonomous,
these moments. all lined up. and she switched roles, not linear and she said
the coin is made up of three parts, gold and two swords.
across a taiwanese street, in a different lifetime, a boy recited to me at the
top of his lungs the english he knew. Hello. I love you. Fuck you. tiananmen
square. bok choy. concubines. is this what it is to be chinese? culture clash.
half-caste. this is why i was asked to write. 'cos we're the same. her and i.
half castes. she was a scheming popo, like my grandmother, who screws up her
face as she disapproves of her daughters in law cooking. and a friend of my mum's,
good, hard working, plum in your mouth mother. and a ditzy young woman. painful.
the other people i recognised. but how can you be yourself? maybe she's not anyone
i know. i was so eager to recognise her, to know her life. so eager to map her
onto me that i didn't notice her. didn't take note. duane michaels said things
are what we want them to become. and i feel disappointed in myself for not being
open to her, for being nervous about writing and about meeting her afterwards.
holding on too tightly to what i want to believe. i enjoyed her schizophrenia,
her multiplicity. pulling me in. jarring me. being many, contrary. capricious.
the evening post sensibly noted that "the different attitudes and concerns
of the women are vividly portrayed." déja vu. three generations of
women. the wall was half-built already, i could feel my eyes roll. jesus. is
there no more than this? three generations of women, the chinese version. what
does it mean? all the stories we know? shadows on the wall death puppet show.
HELLO? I love you. Fuck you.