The Pondering Grapefruit
a blog of moments
This fall, I sold out of all my copies of The Washing Room. As I wrapped up that last book for shipment, I felt a welling of pride in having completed a project, but then after that, to my surprise, came a prolonged aftertaste of relief. I was so glad to be done with that story. Since that day, I have reflected a lot on the role of stories in my life, and of that I have three main things to say:
1. All stories end;
When The Washing Room first came out, I treated it like my own child. I shared news of it to everyone I knew, I let people hold it and caress it, and I saw it as a part of me. The process of writing, revealing, and conversing with others about my depression was deeply therapeutic and incredibly relevant to my life during that time, when healing was my main focus and desire.
More than four years later, I’ve reached a different stage of my life. A lot of healing has already been done, and while I am still mending my scars each day, the battle has moved to a different field. The themes of Washing Room don’t really apply to me as urgently as they used to, and more so just rest in my pocket like a warm reminder of where I’ve been. What strikes me is that, while I used to pass that stone to others occasionally, I now feel super protective of it, and kind of don’t want people to know about it at all.
Kind of sadly, it’s because there is still so much mental health stigma, and now that I am focusing on my career, it feels incredibly dangerous to have that knowledge of me so publicly known. But, since I am stubborn and refuse to give in completely to the stigma, I choose to remain true to my original intention of writing the book, which was to make my story available to others as inspiration. So it is there, a bit hidden, but not destroyed, like a rare orchid in the woods to be stumbled upon.
And so, The Washing Room is done with. It feels good to be able to move onto whatever is next… perhaps The Drying Room?
2. Stories can be retold;
After The Washing Room came out, I thought that I would never write from my childhood again. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I felt that the details of my childhood were like flowers in a field that, after being plucked into a story, would wither and expire.
In general, I have a tendency to not want to go where I have been before. I order new dishes at restaurants all the time and actively resist from ordering the same dish twice. When walking I avoid walking down the same street twice or retracing my steps in anyway.
But recently I had a conversation with a friend who told me that John Updike basically wrote about his childhood in every book. Each time, with slightly different variations, and it worked damn fine. “And even if you dedicated your life to walking,” she said, “you wouldn’t be able to walk down every road.” Updike walked back and forth on one road and each time found new perspective which turned it onto all the roads in the world.
Inspired by this conversation, I want one of my next major projects to be a revisiting of my childhood, from the lens of an adult piecing it all together rather than a teenager who was gazing into the abyss for the first time. So this winter, when I’m home for the holidays, I plan on interviewing my parents to put together our family story. If I can understand all that came before me, I have a feeling it will add meaning to my own story.
And I’ve already begun to do this a bit. I’m starting to see that my story is not one of depression, but of trauma. Even clinically, this makes sense. I have been reading a lot about trauma and going to seminars on the treatment of trauma in various populations, and learned that people who present with certain symptoms like anxiety and depression really are just showing that from unresolved trauma. Once the trauma is addressed, the rest fade along with it.
In terms of intergenerational trauma, a phantom of a storyline appears: The trauma held by me, an incredibly silent and confusing and grey childhood that filled me to the core with loneliness, was passed down from parents who never had good role models for affection. Both sets of my grandparents were abusive and cold in their own ways. And why were they like that? Perhaps because my great grandparents lived under French occupation, when people were starving and oppressed.
So, the root of the trauma is colonization? Abuse? Oppression? I don’t know, but this is the beginning of a story retold.
3. Stories are just stories.
As someone who loves stories more than anything, I forget that in the end, life is life, and stories are stories. I’ve often felt like my life was a movie, but one day my ex told me that that’s a very dangerous way of thinking. That comment stayed with me, and I’ve slowly begun to understand why that is so.
When a story is compelling enough, it can easily become our life. I’m thinking of someone I know who is a poet, and whose poetry is filled with beautiful women whom he is in close contact with, but never in the way he wants. One girl makes a frequent appearance. In his real life, he shies away from women and doesn’t talk to them at all. Sometimes I wonder if he loves the story so much that he'd rather embody it rather than bending to the potential cadence of his own life.
When a story becomes stale, and we continue believing it, it becomes a lie. One scary realization I’ve had is that I’ve been lying to myself with a particular story, not about the thread of my life, but about who I am. I’ve always told myself that I am someone who is very creative, hardworking, kind, and many other sexy sounding things, but one day during a mindfulness practice I realized that at the core I just want to be safe. Underneath that outline of a capable, fierce and determined woman is a little girl trembling behind a door.
I am glad that The Washing Room came to an end because now I don’t have to live under that theme of being someone who is battling depression—I can be so much more than that. Lately I have been spending a lot of time with Little My Ngoc, the protagonist behind the door, and I think she will turn into something quite remarkable.
Now that we’re approaching an end to 2017, I want to invite this new mode of thinking into the new year: May you have the creativity, not just to write your own stories, but to also abandon your stories, and just be free.
About this Blog
I have no idea how to describe what my writing is about. I just write. I post when I can, which can be weekly or monthly depending on where the universe is taking me. As for the Grapefruit, my Vietnamese nickname, Buoi, means grapefruit.