My autobiographical comic 2020: A Year in Taiwan is now available for the Kindle app on Amazon:
Adrian Cone has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Soon after I moved to Cincinnati, we met at Princeton Junior High and became best friends immediately. Childhood can be a rough time, especially at middle school, and the joy that came with hanging out at his house playing video games and watching cartoons are among the best memories of my youth.
These memories will exist for as long as long as I still do, and a piece of Adrian’s spirit will live in this way. I will never forget the ups and downs we had, all over the world. It was the friendship of a lifetime. We were teenagers together dodging responsibility and testing the limits of what we could get away with, then we were twenty-somethings trying to figure out who we were. In our thirties, we were finally men.
He spent much of his life in military, in large part I believe because he wanted to see the world. It worked. He was well-traveled, racking up experiences all over this planet.
Adrian lived all over the United States, from coast to coast. I have the fondest memories of when he visited me in California and of when I visited him in Seattle. He also worked in Bahrain, learning about and appreciating Middle Eastern culture. He traveled to Australia, and visited me in China. I can still recall the joy of discovering the Hong Kong skyline together after we found each other at the airport. The years passed but we easily just picked up where we left off.
He was a passionate man. Whatever he did, he did it with 100% of his spirit. He may have changed his focus from time to time, going from one thing to the next, but what an honor it was while it lasted to be obsessed over by Adrian Cone.
If he got a job, he worked at that job as hard as he could. If he had a cause, he believed in that cause with all his heart. If he loved, he loved with every fiber of his being.
To be honest, I’ve always been envious of this ability. I have never met anyone like Adrian, and I never will again.
Over this past month, so many people have come together to remember our dear friend and family member. He will absolutely live on in all our memories.
He was so many things to so many people. He was a father. He was an artist. He was a brother.
I know he was in a lot of pain recently. But that wasn’t all he was. I hope he is at peace now.
I truly believe his spirit lives on, through the love of his children and through the love of all of us still here.
Let us never ever forget.
Love and Other Moods is a novel with a lot to say. The new book by author Crystal Z. Lee takes place in Shanghai, starting with the backdrop of the 2010 Expo and continues on for several years through that decade. This makes for a good introduction to all the various elements that make up Rising China in the 21st century. Ostensibly, the character of Naomi Fita-Fan is the main protagonist. The half-Japanese and half-Taiwanese character, who does feel like a semi-autobiographical placeholder for the author, is a sophisticated businesswoman who comes of age while maneuvering throughout this complex landscape.
However, the city of Shanghai itself is the true star. The book continuously pours over details describing the evolution of the megapolis, full of history and politics and food and culture. The detailed backstory of the human characters generally serves as part of the world-building of this setting. The family backgrounds, the infodumps, even the dating scene these figures find themselves in—it’s all about making Shanghai as real as possible.
Although much of this describes a very upper-class scene, almost a “Sex and the City” in Asia, there is also a dark underside occasionally explored. Mentions of prostitution and drugs appear from time to time, which can be shocking in its contrast. The main hardships that the characters experience range from questions of identity, such as prejudice against Naomi for being Japanese in China and for being Asian in America. There is also tragedy and even violence that permeates through the history of this Communist land, as the main love interest Dante knows well.
Towards the end, the book becomes more of a conventional story. A typical love story in many ways, as the protagonist comes of age and deals with the challenges that arise from growing up. The generational divides that make up family, such how to get along with a family and how to define one’s own, are an endless source of conflict. Through all the heartbreak and even (spoiler alert) children, the relationship between Naomi and her best friend Joss is still just as valued as the romantic side.
Love and Other Moods might be classified as “chick lit,” and female readership does seem to be the intended audience. That said, anyone would enjoy learning so much about modern China by way of this book, and it is a valuable resource in capturing that moment in time…
Crystal Z. Lee takes the reader on a dazzling tour of hyper-cosmopolitan Shanghai. Here, the city is not romanticized in the typical manner, but portrayed the way it really is: exciting, loud, dizzying, sexy, sometimes risqué but always authentic. Love and Other Moods expresses the truthful energy of Rising China over the past decade, which those who’ve been would instantly recognize, and those who haven’t will find fascinating. It’s one of the most international places in the world, where everyone has a story, and some of those stories are told right here in this novel.
Love and Other Moods is published by Balestier Press and is available on Amazon.com.
Turtle Burn, Taiwan’s spinoff of the avant-garde art festival Burning Man, will take place over the Tomb Sweeping holiday
In the mountains of Yilan, far from the confines of everyday life, people gather during the holidays to celebrate. Outlandish costumes are the norm. The fashion styles run from Mad Max-inspired outfits, to anime cosplay, along with colorful makeup and dresses for both men and women.
It’s time for the Turtle Burn, the official “regional Burn” of Taiwan. This is a spinoff of Burning Man, the world’s largest art and music festival held annually in Nevada. For one week a year, over 70,000 people camp out in Black Rock Desert to attend this seminal countercultural event. All over the world, there are also smaller regional Burns, and the Turtle Burn will be a more intimate affair, capping at 150 people.
Although the main Burning Man event was canceled last year due to COVID-19, the Turtle Burn did have a successful opening in 2019 and plans to continue annually. The latest will be from April 2 to April 5, over the Tomb-Sweeping Festival holiday weekend, at Shanlinciji campsite.
The site is filled with several “theme camps,” which groups organize in order to spend time with likeminded friends and to pool resources together. One is the Tavern of Truth, headed by Kate Panzica, which holds a free bar to give drinks to everyone who strolls by.
“Educating both foreigners and locals on the Ten Principles is a net positive,” Panzica says. “I think it’s great for folks to explore themselves and what they want to be in the ‘default world’ as well as a Burn.”
The Ten Principles of Burning Man, written by late founder Larry Harvey in 2004, are: Radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.
These guidelines help to make the event stay as ethical as possible, and people are encouraged to clean up after themselves and promote sustainable living. Radical self-reliance refers to how attendees must bring their own food, cookware, tents and other camping supplies. People are encouraged to contribute to the culture by building their own artistic creations, whether individually or as part of a group. And after the event is over, they must make sure to leave no trace by cleaning up all “MOOP” — matter out of place.
For four days the Turtle Burn will hold a variety of workshops and activities. The gifting principle doesn’t just refer to handing out free drinks or personalized jewelry, although that is also common. It can also be expressed by giving one’s time by hosting workshops.
In the past, these workshops have included improv comedy sessions, where participants learn to play and practice their comedic skills, yoga classes for keeping fit, lip-singing performances, fashion shows on a makeshift runway and even impromptu puppet shows. Some camps contribute at meal-times, cooking pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches to share with the entire community. At night, fire-dancers are a particular attraction of any Burn, dancing to the beat of electronic music and entertaining others as they express their craft.
“I was part of the Queen of Hearts camp,” said Michi Fu, sharing her experiences. “We had a shared costume closet with a full-length mirror to encourage radical self-expression through costuming. I sang with my furry, lavender bunny ears and turquoise silk robe and we all had hand-cranked ice cream.”
On the final night, tradition dictates that a wooden effigy is to burn. This started in 1986 at the very first Burning Man in San Francisco, as a symbol of how to keep the creative “fire” burning on even after the event concludes. At the Turtle Burn, a two-meter wide wooden turtle sculpture is scheduled to be set aflame. Dale Albanese, Taiwan’s official Burning Man contact, said of the installation: “There’s a sense of buildup and tension, and this sudden quietness and a collective shared spirit. You hear the oohs and the aahs at similar times. There’s a kind of shared attention. We’ve all been busy doing our own thing, and then there’s a pause. A reset. It’s also a moment to open up and say it wasn’t just about me.”
As 150 artists and performers gather their community together to continue the Turtle Burn tradition, they are also planning for next year and beyond. Tickets for this year’s event have already sold out but there is a waiting list. For more information, visit: turtleburn.com.
In this day and age, is it worth it to revisit Lolita?
For me, after I got very into audiobooks over the past decade, I recently had to ask myself this question. As I exhausted all my favorite novels and must-read literary canons over the last few years, #MeToo then happened. I found myself wondering: Has this book, as they say, aged badly? Fanciful prose or not, is Nabakov’s famous opus no longer appropriate in the 21st century?
I do remember reading back in my precocious and wannabe-edgy early twenties; why I specifically recall posting quotes on MySpace. There was no question that I was absolutely mesmerized by the language. Was younger-me, however, glamorizing child abuse way back then?
The whole molestation and kidnapping plot struck me as fucked up, surely, but like in a literary way. Honestly, I don’t think I was ever quite the sort to romanticize the disturbing premise as a “love story.” Yet it was quite fascinating.
I did consider it brilliant, and worthy of the reputation. I did watch the two film adaptations as well, which did not hold up. But now, as a more well-read and more knowledgeable man (of Humbert’s age no less!), it does feel kind of wrong to just read this like a normal novel.
I’m not saying old problematic stories must be—as they say so insincerely—“cancelled.” But I am saying that there are some questions that need to be considered. We need to think about these things.
Anyhow, I apologize for this droning disclaimer, but allow us to enter comedian Jamie Loftus’ 10-part Lolita Podcast. I first became familiar with the Robot Chicken writer’s excellent Mensa podcast, which highlighted so many problematic issues with that particular organization. It turned out, her latest was the exact context I so very much needed before revisiting.
A progressive and feminist take on Lolita comes at as a welcoming time as ever. It may be even more relevant to male readers (the demographic who tend to grossly take the notorious unreliable narrator at his word). As Loftus share so expertly, there is an extremely long and detailed history of popular culture not getting the point of this book.
Firstly, let’s make it absolutely clear. There is no question Humbert Humbert is the villain of this story. This really isn’t interpretable, look it up, author Vladimir Nabakov wrote extensively on how opposed he was to glamorizing the abuse of 12-year olds and calling it romantic. Again and again, he fought with the romantic notions that outgrew his novel and into its various adaptations.
Merely a cursory literary analysis gives endless evidence: Pedophile Humbert is introduced as a criminal in the introduction, the unreliability of his narration is laid out instantly! He is profoundly unlikable, and is consciously intended to be that way. He constantly lies to everyone around him. He spends his free time at the pool ogling children. He is contemptuous and hates all around him, insulting every random he meets with the worst kind of snobbery. Seriously, just because he claims he toxically loves one person so much and that is supposed to make him some sort of flawed hero?
He is pettily cruel to his new wife Charlotte Haze, he gaslights her, he fantasizing killing her in excruciating detail, he dismisses the tragic death of her son. (So much death, by the way. A theme that sure comes up a lot with his mother and his exes. But I digress.) Hell, if one really reads between the lines, he may have killed her himself and lied to the reader about the car accident just as he compulsively lies to his victim and every single person they meet. He drugs her with sleeping pills, then he drugs the eponymous character on their first night together so he can take off her clothes and fondle her, all while writing beautiful poetry of the sky-blue color of these rapey creep pills.
Indeed, Nabakov seems to be taking up a personal challenge to create the most creepy and cringing scenarios imaginable, and then dress it up with the most flowery of poetic language like it’s some kind of dare to see if the audience will buy his take. This takes seriously writing skill, no doubt. It can even be funny. But how very unfortunate that so often the public does just and are so easily impressed with this guy.
On the subject of the unreliable narration, the most egregious monstrosity of all must be the first rape after he picks her up from camp. The famous line, “Gentlemen of the jury. I wasn’t even her first.” As if that mattered. But whatever adolescent sexual experimentation his victim may or may not have engaged in, the very next day she specifically states that he “tore something inside me.” He was just plain lying through his teeth.
And then, the heartbreaking quote that really gives away the nature of this relationship. “You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.” To further illustrate, how Lo “sobs, every night, every night.”
So romantic, amiright? Furthermore, he threatens that if she turns him in then she’ll be a pitiful ward of the state. He calls her a whore and a slut and unjustly imagines the worst sexcapades. She accuses him of rape multiple times, using up a significant allotment of her rare moments of dialogue with which to express her truthful side of the story.
As a reader, I wholeheartedly thank podcater Jamie Loftus for preparing me to read between the lines with such careful analysis. Thank you.
Well, after that summation, if I may, I’d like to add some conclusions I have come to on my own. Much has been said in criticisms of the assumption that Delores Haze is a “brat.” There is the issue of the so-called perfect victim, how that shouldn’t matter, but upon my reread that still doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t help thinking she’s only a normal child. Was Charlotte really a terrible parent who hated her daughter, or were they just having the normal bickering that happens in any family? The poor girl was certainly traumatized after the sudden death of the mother. Furthermore, there is the indication that she flirts with Humbert and has a crush on him: Again, he’s a damn unreliable narrator sociopath. Perhaps just let the kid be herself without putting so much on her.
My main maybe-somewhat-original perspective, is that I contend Clare Quilty does not even exist! That is, perhaps he was some celebrity playwright within this world, and perhaps Humbert was jailed for murdering him after inventing a reason. But I do not believe Quilty was following them around their Americana road trip, and I do not believe he was the one who helped Delores escape. There were other ways, and it must have driven Humbert mad to never know. He is a controlling paranoid predator, who admits hallucinations by the way, and the whole gimmick of someone driving behind does not ring true. That she ends up with an even worse abuser after leaving his clutches is just something his mind would project and imagine. The perfect rationalization for it all. I don’t buy it.
So, these are some of my thoughts after re-reading the book. On the subject of the podcast, the literary analysis and interviews with Nabakovian scholars made a supremely positive difference. But Loftus’s contribution doesn’t end there.
In fact, Lolita Podcast is as much about society at large as it is about one book. Popular culture has taken the trope of the sexy underage lover, sadly influenced far more by movie posters and YouTube clips than by actual reading, and the social impact is terrible. There’s the online Tumble “nymphet” fashion scene (ugh) which I previously knew nothing of, and that Lana Del Rey sure hasn’t helped. As a casual movie buff if nothing else, insider information about the 1962 Kubrick film and the horrible world of Hollywood was crucial and interesting. The 1997 film, featuring noted problematic male Jeremy Irons, was even worse. Note both of which aged up a star character who was twelve in the source material. There were also a couple of bizarre aborted stage productions which further reinforces how bad the sexualization of children has been, and how more modern audiences still don’t get it. The interviews and biographies of the main actresses showcases how their voices deserve to be heard. An important and informative work of journalism indeed.
Loftus concludes by asking the question of whether yet another adaptation would still have relevance and make a positive difference. For one thing, it’d be nice to have one helmed by a female creator for the first time ever. While there is the controversy of utilizing teenage actresses, and another question of how simulating ages can be just as bad, Loftus concludes animation may be the most ethical way. I’d argue a graphic novel could work, but in any case point taken. A new take does seem necessary. The themes of abuse and grooming and gaslighting are absolutely as valid as ever. The trope of a “Lolita” (and Loftus compassionately makes sure to always call the character Delores), often taken up by an opportunistic news media sensationalizing real-life tragedies, is still a term in our language today. The public deserves to know better of what this really means.
The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov is a horror story told from the point of view of the monster. It is, I strongly argue, a masterpiece of horrifying and toxic obsession. The ultimate anti-love story.
In the decades since, this tale has permeated the broader culture at large, drifting far from its literary roots, and the world has quite literally lost the plot. The solution is not to try any ill-fated attempt to send Lolita down the memory hole, but to think harder, and fix this mistake of pop culture by staying true to one brilliant author’s intentions and share the truth. Lolita can be a powerful tool for education on toxicity and abuse, and it is still worth a try.
Traveling by motorbike from Chiayi city (嘉義) up to Alishan Mountain (阿里山) and surrounding villages in central Taiwan, during the Lunar New Year holiday
What a month it’s been. What a four years it’s been.
At the time, I felt I didn’t have much to add to the January 6 conversation. The new year was fresh, and I felt optimistic. The Senate election in Georgia gave me hope for my country, and also hope for my personal issues in feeling so much anxiety every damn time there was an election.
While the lawsuits trying to overthrow the presidential results were disconcerting at first, they were of course absolutely pathetic and nothing to worry about. If anything, it just energized the opposition more and more seeing that wannabe dictator lose dozens upon dozens of times all over again.
That said, America is kind of broken when the leaders don’t concede in lost elections anymore. If we’re not all playing by the same rules, the social contract doesn’t work.
It makes for some very dangerous shit.
Then, on the 6th, all those horrifying images. What can I say about the stupid bullshit insurrection that hasn’t been said already?
I’m just sick of the excuses these past four years, with various apologists saying that “the resistance” has been overreacting and he’s not really that bad. Fuck that perspective.
This was an evil unique to American history. And yeah, a lot of evils that happened before were also bad. Many things have been bad. It would be nice though to get to have some progress in the 21st century, to get better as a society, instead of having this terrible form of bigotry and authoritarianism backsliding so horrifyingly.
It’s damn irritating.
Well, guess we made it to the other side. Inauguration has come and gone and all that.
Peaceful transfers of power aren’t a thing in America from now on, which we’ll have to get used to forever. Doesn’t really feel like mine is a normal country anymore. It was quite a record, all those centuries.
I didn’t appreciate how important that was before. Took it for granted, didn’t we?
So. That said. Of course America is not suddenly a utopia just because one terrible menace is out. It’s important to hold the new president accountable, and corporatism and all the other -isms affect both parties. Still, I believe that this administration will be held more accountable due to the new generation that has awakened politically. It’s not going to go back to the complacent status quo. A whole hell of a lot of people will demand better from now on, and that is something to be optimistic about indeed.
Healthcare, police brutality, universal basic income, economics, climate change, discrimination, sexual harassment, war, diplomacy, foreign policy, the courts, technology, automation, misinformation, education, and of course the dreaded pandemic. At least there’s a good chance now that it’s all going to get better!
But I don’t feel like I’m qualified to be a political commentator any longer. I’ve shared how I felt from time to time in these writings, and I certainly have a lot of opinions. I may even review a book on current events from time to time.
Yet, when the boring and flawed party is back in charge, then I get to take it a little easier. I deserve it.
Let’s enjoy the promises of this better future, and not worry so much. At the same time, let’s still stay active and demand a more equitable system from our lawmakers.
Vote. Learn about the issues. Educate yourself for God’s sake. Also, at some point, do take a break and relax when possible…
Well, looks like we made it. A whole new year.
What an accomplishment!
Feels like the time for one of those particularly reflective end-of-the-year retrospectives, doesn’t it?
Much has already been said about how unique a time it has been, without getting into the morbidity of the topic. Perhaps I cannot add so much. Suffice to say it’s been hard times for a hell of a lot of people. No doubt about that.
Just hope it’s not terribly naïve to be cautiously optimistic now that we will soon enter a new era…
Life is never easy, and there will be a lot of challenges ahead. That said, it simply has to get better.
Things seemed to have truly turned around, or at least started to turn around, just at the very end. Politically speaking, that is. Yes, things are by no means all better just yet. That will take a lot of work, but the worst is seriously over with back in the home country and that makes for some real reason to feel hope.
Anyways, personally life is good here in Taiwan and I am grateful to be here. I get to be part of a positive community, I get to work for a living (though I don’t love that part), and I even get to be creative and then share my creativity from time to time. This current year started out with a cancellation of a book fair, and then we all had to wear masks. Blech. I would have liked to promote my own books a bit more, make some progress in that field instead of hit pause. Yet I did get to do a book fair last month so that was cool.
I changed jobs this year, I participated in an unlicensed regional Burn event, and I only traveled in-island. I even voted.
I survived the holidays, and now there’s only one more all-night party to go to with which to ring in the new year and that’s gonna be a lot of fun 😄
Like everybody else out there, I have many goals for 2021. I need to catch up on my own prose writing and share a new novel when the time comes. Exercise, studying, I generally need to get it together personal growth-wise on so many fronts.
I also look forward to watching many movies after we’re all vaccinated and pop cultural life goes back to normal. I have much to read and series to binge.
So much to do indeed….
At least we have a chance.
Here’s to the rest of the world, maybe just maybe we’ll make it ~
I don’t know how to feel about the rush of current events.
There is obviously some very good news. It was long dragged out, but seems to be coming to a close, and celebrations are indeed in order. That feeling of relief as a dead weight is assuredly going to go, sooner or later. Incredible times, especially after so much uncertainty.
But it’s still a lot to process. I’ll spare any readers from all my obnoxious political opinions, well-thought as I’d like to think them to be, and just express how this state of affairs still leaves me anxious.
I’m no pundit. I have my perspective, and I like to read and review and share my thoughts, but there’s not really any reason people should listen to me.
That said, I simply cannot escape this terrible sense that tens of millions of my fellow countrymen are undeniably bad people. I had no idea it could get this bad. It’s not worth it anymore debating and talking about fake news and racial bias and social hierarchies and brainwashing etc. It’s a fact and here we are. They are bad people and there so many of them.
What is my country and the world going to do?
Well, turns out in the end, the good guys (or at least the moderate-not-that-evil guys) have won/will win. The fight for so many issues goes on, for healthcare and peace and freedom, no doubt about it, and at the very least there’s still a chance now… perhaps state of the world can actually survive at this rate and progress…
I voted from afar. Funny thing, as a matter of fact, it’s the first time I have voted for the winning team. It seemed an emergency so I had to. But I remain an American abroad, a privileged expat, incredibly lucky to live in the only country on earth to have defeated the pandemic. I do have to wear a mask everywhere, slightly annoying, and there’s danger from the mainland, but above all I am in the greatest social democracy in Asia and I am grateful to be here.
Been weird staying on the island for an entire year. No travel, no airplanes. No visiting relatives, no exploring new cultures. And yet right now I am far luckier than the vast majority of the planet.
To feel hope for the environment of this world, for the climate, for the very air, and to have so much reason to worry at the same time. It’s all come to ahead, and 2020 isn’t even over. It looks like the danger to democracy isn’t going anywhere in the next couple of months, plenty of anxiety is going to continue. At the same time, hope exists. Humans may, believe it or not, make it through this.
Going back to ‘normal’ or not, there is a future. If we can survive the grueling present.
This damn year. Let’s try to make it through this, everyone.
All Flowers Bloom, written by Kawika Guillermo and published by Westphalia Press, is a book that is difficult to define, let alone review. It is ostensibly a novel, classified as queer speculative fiction, but there is not exactly a plot to follow. At least, there is not just one plot but at least 26 smaller stories within. The protagonist is not only one character, but a multitude of characters linked by a resurrected soul repeating through time in chapters labeled from A to Z. Gender and nationality and circumstances change again and again, leaving the reader with strong impressions but hard to remember details… Not unlike a dream that way.
The main character, if a name can be given at all, is called 871. (The only other character, just S.) The only consistent setting to keep track of is the strange surreal limbo known as the Ilium, the afterlife waystation described irreverently as some kind of gaudy cruise ship, a lonely sort of paradise. There, this soul finds him or herself occasionally between lives, reflecting on what has come before.
That reflection is often about love, for this is above all a love story. The most epic love story imaginable, consisting of endless lifetimes as two souls find each again and again in new circumstances. Guillermo shows much range in writing about so many times and places.
When the journey begins, far back in Biblical times, the prose is already eminently powerful in describing the obsessive struggle to go on. “The day didn’t come by itself. We had to push the sun up, lift it with our arms to keep time from standing still.”
The whole setup of this world is not explained in so many words initially, leaving the reader to interpret. Eventually, some questions are answered, such as in a certain lifetime when the two intertwined souls find themselves in warring tribes and a shaman explains, “You were in love before you were born.”
However, another theme other than love that keeps coming up is the concept of death. There are the suicides, the lives failed. One lifetime ends with the execution of a Roman slave, a tragedy finalized by the beautiful line, “The debris of time stripped away until I collided with your corpse.”
All over time and place, the book keeps going. The Kanem Empire. Colonized India. Every land from history that can be imagined. In imperial China, the soulmates are prostitute-courtesans unable to admit they are lovers. Sadly, in many of these timelines love is a sin. In so many cultures, their love is a blasphemy. They are infidels.
Soon, the chapters begin to catch up to the 20th century, featuring American servicemen, World War II from the perspective of a German POV, and the nearly-modern 1970s. Meanwhile, in the afterlife ‘Pleasure Cruise’, he/she laments on all these past lives while hibernating eternity away. Yet if this sounds too serious, there’s also plenty there to lighten the mood “Heaven has alcohol,” they say. “That’s what makes it Heaven.”
This sort of book can be a challenge, admittedly. The questions asked and unanswered repeat themselves at times, the fanciful wordsmithing is something the reader can appreciate and also something that can be exhausting. “The stream was a consciousness,” the text explains, a metaphor most literal.
In Book Two, the poetry continues but suddenly an even more ambitious genre begins. As the present time comes and goes, we enter the science fictional era. So begins tales of the corporate wars to come, of digitally uploaded sentience, of post-humanism. This makes for some truly surreal futuristic sex scenes.
Foremost, this is still a spiritual tome. From the Islamicist references early on, to a bourgeoning Buddhist enlightenment as the novel progresses, religion keeps coming up. One question that is repeatedly asked and never answered to satisfaction, is that of who and what is a god.
“Do gods exist?” (s)he asks.
“We’re the only gods I know of,” is answered. “We are the only true gods.”
“We’re souls, not gods.”
“We. Are. Gods.”
And back and forth it goes into infinity, never truly explained.
Millennia later, it turns out that this story may be more cynical than all that love talk previously implied. Not that there wasn’t foreshadowing. “Love is a false desire when directed at one rather than many,” warned the Buddha. A good reviewer shouldn’t give too much away, but perhaps there’s a lesson in there about how when we get what we want it doesn’t always make us happy. Even if it takes four thousand years.
If all is erased, then was it just meaningless? That is up to the reader to decide. In the grand scheme across epochs, there were three phases: Generation, Optimization, and Destruction. Interpret that as you will.
As for the title, early in the book we are told that not all flowers bloom. Yet later, after so much philosophizing, another conclusion is reached. All Flowers Bloom!
So there is reason to hold out for hope after all. Don’t ever forget it.
What I Says: An autobiography about somebody unknown and done in the format of a comic, how could that work? Well it worked for me, I really enjoyed reading this, I can’t stand those autobiographies by famous people full of name dropping and desperately trying to make every aspect of their life interesting. Always Goodbye is the sort of book that could be about you, the reader, if you are a child of the 80’s then you’ll see similarities to your own life in this book, as Ray Hecht describes events you’ll be going “I remember that” and you’ll end up on your own journey down memory lane. And being born in the 80’s means a lot of big moments in your life would be defined by technology, getting that first email address, joining myspace and Facebook, games consoles and smart phones are all big points in Rays life and until reading this I have never thought of things like that before.
A huge part of Rays life has been spent reading and making comics, falling in love with Marvel and DC universes and because he has that huge knowledge about comics it has made this book much more special. Some clever little bits really bring this to life, describing his parents, birth, upbringing and how they met was cleverly done, drawn as a column with each event side by side worked well. Each chapter starts off with a year of Rays life and the first window shows a significant event from that year and I loved trying to figure out what they represented. There was the odd quirky bit thrown in too which gave me a chuckle, favourite bit was Ray sat at his desk at school and the writing about the scene takes up so much space that he has to have his head at an angle.
The comic has been hand drawn, which gives it a personal touch that would have been taken away by a piece of software, whenever Ray draws one of his girlfriends the amount of detail increases until they are almost glowing, it shows just how important they were in his life.
I have really enjoyed reading about Ray’s life and now wish I had a time machine to go and get my hands on the sequel in 30 years time 🙂
Always Goodbye by Ray Hecht
A review of the graphic novel
Ray Hecht’s autobiographical graphic novel starts with his birth in Israel, where his parents were immigrants, and ends up with him working in Asia. Moving to America as a small child he has an unstable upbringing, thanks to his Ukrainian mother and American father divorcing. The drawings and the layout here obviously took a lot of work and I dare say it may have been easier just to write the narrative, however, this was a more interesting way to tell his story. Each year is introduced with a picture of a key event and I laughed when I saw OJ’s Bronco being chased by police down the highway for 1994.
Things start out well for the family in America, but after a few years the cracks begin to show and his parents get divorced in the early nineties. His mother remarries a none-too trustworthy Israeli man and Ray stays with his Dad, who trains to be a nurse. Ray does recognise his father’s efforts to better himself. His sister is academic and as she grows up gets sucked into a conservative Israeli world that Hecht wants no part of. She learns Russian and presumably Hebrew too — as she moves to Israel and gets married there. Ray’s trips to Israel don’t work out well, it’s not a place he connects with. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that he prefers to study Japanese and later Chinese.
A self-confessed nerdy child, Hecht struggles socially and finds solace in comic books. (I was waiting for his reading to break out from the pure escapism of comics and this does eventually happen.) A convincing portrayal of how America can be a lonely place for a teenager, a lot of this must have been hard to bring to the surface again. One major problem for him is always moving from school to school, as the title indicates it is “Always Goodbye”. Probably the most painful incident is when he gets kicked out of school for something he says about a mass shooting. Despite being an introvert, he makes various efforts to improve his social life, investigating subcultures — punk, Goth, arty-type, straight edge, hippie — looking for something to hold onto. His friends do the same thing and he falls in and out with them depending on what phase they are in — a problem of a fractured society: you can join many different tribes but a sense of belonging is not guaranteed. He does some hallucinogenic drugs, but the answer doesn’t lie there.
In his early twenties Ray moves out of his Dad’s place and back again several times, in a non-linear surge towards independence common in his generation. He has a string of dead-end jobs in various States and then vaguely commits to life in California. Salvation comes in the form of China, recommended to him by a random character at the Burning Man Festival 2008. Like many young Westerners who go to work in Asia (me included), it’s the first time he has the luxury of living alone in a decent apartment. He begins teaching at a kindergarten in Shenzhen, the huge city over the border from Hong Kong where everything is new and exciting. He mentions the bootleg markets and this reminded me that one of the pleasures (and even social activities) of living in China back then was shopping for pirated DVDs; now of course we just download movies without leaving the house. He survives the kindergarten, moves onto a Korean owned school in Guangzhou, and escapes the English teaching world to become a copy editor.
Ray realises that a lot of the expat life is about drinking and tries to find meaning through writing and dating. The dating doesn’t go so well, but gives him material to write about. While many say it’s easy to get an Asian girlfriend, it doesn’t work out most of the time because of different expectations and, sure enough, Hecht takes us through a few awkward flings. The world of online dating also turns out to be a wash-out. Despite these romantic failures, he publishes a novel and eventually gets involved in a serious relationship with a creative South African woman— i.e. finally he has some good luck. I was interested to read that he initially went down to Hong Kong every six months to get visas, but later got a ten year China visa. Surely long term visas like this are not on the table anymore?
The text isn’t that polished and there are still a few mistakes to be ironed out, or perhaps they were left in the on purpose to emphasize the DIY nature of this work? His analysis of society is usually spot on and you can see a narrow view of the world broadening as he travels more — this gives the story a nice arc. As a thirty-something he ends up in Taiwan, looking at current events it was probably a wise decision to leave China and move there.