The Pondering Grapefruit
a blog of moments
ooOn Thanksgiving weekend, I went to see The Color Purple performed at the Schubert Theater in Boston. I was surprised that I was able to go at all. A week before, as part of my new goal of being more connected to the world, I was looking up events in Boston and found that the show was playing for the next two weekends.
I knew I wanted to go but hesitated because I didn’t have anyone to go with at the time. None of my friends close by liked musicals, and those were did were out of town. After several days of mulling, I convinced myself that I needed to see it solo so that I could nurture more emotonal independence.
Unfortunately, I ended up going with someone. Before I bought the tickets I asked my housemate, C, if she wanted to go—I remembered that she enjoying going to the movies and had also helped choreograph a few dance performances. To my surprise, she said yes! In the end she managed to get us $24 tickets in the orchestra, so perhaps it was a fortunate thing after all.
As I sat in the theater, I first had an incredibly hard time paying attention. I had just eaten a very heavy meal, and my poor brain could not follow the storyline because all the blood was rushing to my stomach. However, after some food had cleared, I was finally able to digest what was occuring outside of my body. Soon I began to experience the full range of human emotions. By the end of the first part I was crying so much that C had to give me a hug.
It was hard to believe that the show was real because the singing was impeccable. I felt like I was watching a movie with an excellent soundtrack full of incredible, powerful black voices. We could hardly stay in our seats, yelling and wooping and rooting for Celie, Nettie, Shug, and Sofia.
The next day I found myself much more vivacious, making jokes and feeling like more wholesome. I realized that something in me had lit up after hearing so many black voices and seeing an all black cast alongside so many black people in the audience. All these voices reminded me of my childhood, where I grew up alongside so many black communities in Atlanta. Watching The Color Purple had uncovered a part of me that had gotten dusty in spending so much time in predominantly white spaces.
Because life, like food, is both bitter and sweet, I woke up this morning feeling quite down even though the past few days had been filled with much vitality from The Color Purple. I admit to calling my mother to speak about my woes. She recommended, as my spiritual antidote to heartbreak, a Vietnamese song about burying romance in a grave.
While we talked, I spoke very loudly in Vietnamese. It felt good to speak my language into the world without shame. If the landlady downstairs can shout in Chinese to her son, then I can match that with my own language and have it echo throughout the house.
I listened to the song while walking to work, and then on repeat for the rest of the day. It was good. In fact, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Each language communicates sorrow in a slightly different flavor, and this song spoke to a side of my heartbreak that had not been heard before.
Growing up, I only engaged with Vietnamese music when singing karaoke at family events. After a while, I sang fewer Vietnamese songs and more English songs. Eventually, I stopped singing Vietnamese songs altogether. And while I had at points sung in Vietnamese, I never listented to it for pleasure. I excluded it from all my playlists so that I wouldn’t be fobbish—all I wanted was to assimilate and be American.
I’ve gradually learned over the years though, that it’s useless trying to be American. Most people will not see me as fully American even if I tattoo the flag on my forehead. I mean, I’ve already gotten a college degree from one of the supposed top institutions in America, and people still are surprised that my English is so good.
This morning was the first time in my life that I had listened to Vietnamese music for pleasure. Walking down the streets with Vietnamese words ringing in my ears, I felt rebellious, as if I was marching with a whole army of friends who were born of the same soil, and who spoke the same language. And because no one around me spoke Vietnamese, it felt like a secret that I could keep in my pocket as a warm reminder that I am not alone here. As long as I can speak, hear, and sing in Vietnamese, there will always be a home for me away from home.
Someone once told me that any song that gets stuck in your head actually is giving you an answer that you need at that time. It sounded ridiculous, but as I’ve paid attention to the music in my head, it made uncanny sense. Whenever I’ve been brooding and gently existential, I hear Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. Recently, after my breakup, I found myself constantly singing Bjork's "It May Not Always Be So." Tonight, I began singing a song in the shower that was from my teenage years, “Listen” by Jennifer Hudson, about finding one’s own voice.
It certainly seems that I am finding my own voice, now that these forgotten halves of myself are being brought out again. I’ve discovered how much I missed hearing certain voices in my life, and hearing those voices again brought me back to the voice that I’ve missed the most: my own.
I find myself speaking louder, sassier, less apologetically. I’m growing less afraid of my own voice, and as I gain more confidence in it, there is less and less need to substitute other people’s voices for my own. I had been letting others speak for me so much these past few years, that my voice dwindled without me even knowing. There is also less need to remain quiet in order to maintain peace. I’m discovering more and more how to be angry, to be upset, and to still be ok in the midst of emotion.
Of all the things, voice is perhaps one of the most unique traits of each person. Not just the quality and tone of the voice, but the way it speaks, the cadence, rhythm, language, and volume. Voice is the genetic imprint of the soul, and to find your own voice is to connect ever more deeply to your soul.
In a few days, I will be performing a Vietnamese song in a world music concert. After all these years, I’m singing again.
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.