R2: The Rice Review is honored to be part of The Creative Process, an exhibition and international educational initiative traveling to leading universities. As part of the exhibition, portraits and interviews with writers and creative thinkers are being published across a network of university and international literary magazines. The Creative Process is including work by faculty and students of Rice University in the projection elements of the traveling exhibition.
This interview was completed by Mia Funk.
Novelist and short-story writer Yiyun Li discusses her two homelands – the China she left when she came to the University of Iowa to study immunology, and America, which has been her home for almost 20 years. In novels like Kinder than Solitude and The Vagrants, and short story collections A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, she has impressed critics and fellow writers with the grace and subtlety of her writing, even as she tells stories so truthful and critical that she won’t publish her books in China. Michel Faber, writing for The Guardian, said, “Yiyun has the talent, the vision and the respect for life’s insoluble mysteries...[she] is the real deal.”
Li has received numerous awards, including Whiting Award, Lannan Foundation Residency fellow, 2010 MacArthur Foundation fellow, 2014 Benjamin H. Danks Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize, among others. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. She has served on the jury panel for Man Booker International Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, and other. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space.
In the US, she discovered her love for literature and studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop with Marilynne Robinson, whom she credits for teaching her to read deeply, but the writers which Li says have been a deeper influence on her are William Trevor, Elisabeth Bowen, Tolstoy, and Turgenev
I met Li in Paris during the Festival des Écrivains du Mondeand reconnected a few months later for this phone interview.
Someone asked me why does Kinder Than Solitude start with a death? And I always think, death is not the end of the story. Death is always the starting point of the story. Death is such a—well, there’s no private death. You know, if you think about someone, in the newspaper someone died yesterday—in New York, she was murdered, that went really public. But even when a very unknown person dies all of a sudden, I think it’s no longer private: people would come to the memorial service, people would talk about the person. I think that really death moves people beyond their control of themselves. So I think for that reason, I like to think about death as the detail of a bigger story that no longer belongs to that person.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
It’s like an unraveling. So you see how did that person become unraveled, and all the threads that brought them there.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
So for a while, you were an involuntary soldier in the Chinese army?
For about a year, yes.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
So, what was that experience like? How did you draw on that for your writing later?
I think, in retrospect, I really appreciate it. And partly because I went there when I was 18, and I came out when I was 19, and that was the time you started to develop your whole, I guess, life philosophy and your view of the world. And I went in, when we talked about anger earlier, I was much angrier than when I came out of that service. Partly, I felt that I was– I went in with this– you know young people... I went in with this urge to become someone, to have like a big personality. To become—to have character. But I realized—it’s really boringafter a year—I realized I could become a personality, and I was a personality, and I was a character. And it was rather disappointing. And again the moment you put yourself in that situation, a lot of things are black and white. The army is bad, the people who oppress us, it's the army—they're bad. Then it's not true, everybody is so complicated. So I came out, and I think the moment I left the army, I knew that I could never judge anyone and I became really ambivalent about a lot of things.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Yes, exactly, the army forces you into false positions. And fiction is like the opposite of that. It’s all the shades of gray.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I was curious. I'd read something else–I guess you must have–you witnessed an execution before?
Yes, that was when I was, even before elementary school. So probably when I was 5.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Wow, that’s quite extreme.
Yes, it’s interesting. I didn’t really feel anything weird. As children, everything comes to you very naturally because you just remember these moments without understanding them. And only when you’re a grown-up you look back you realize there’s more to that understanding.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
So was The Vagrants sort of your way of making sense of that, and then the wider story of what happened in that time?
Yes, I think so. And I felt it has the setting of 1978-79 which sort of overlapped with my views and my confusion and in a way, I think writing is always a way to sort out your confusion.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Yes, because you were saying, you were taught never to put your thoughts into words, and that must have come out of the cultural revolution. Do you think your writing is part of—you were formed by the cultural revolution in a way?
Well, certainly my decision not to write in Chinese is formed by that, I think. Not to put your thoughts into words is a lifelong issue. My parents and they would teach us these things, and so you learn early on these things are not– you’re not supposed to do these things, and I think for me– it’s interesting because as I look back, I think maybe I didn’t have any thoughts because when I was told not to put thoughts into words, maybe I just didn’t have the words for my thoughts. Maybe I only started to really think hard when I started to think in English. So in that sense, maybe I think English is not my second language, but both are my first language. So I would say yes, I think the long detour to writing was partly formed by the cultural revolution.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
And I can imagine how frustrating, as someone who is a potential writer and is curious about people to have people hiding their thoughts and not saying. I mean, there is almost like a constant mystery to try to figure out what’s really being thought, and what’s really going on. Did you find you were like that, as a kid? Very curious, asking lots of questions?
I was really curious and never asked questions because you also learned quickly not to ask questions. I mean that is very Chinese. When you were young, you were not as confident as you wanted to be so whatever you wanted to know people really did not care about those things. So I didn’t ask questions, but I was very curious. I offended people when I was really young because I was so curious I would stare at them, just for a long time.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Me too. I did that kind of stuff.
I know, isn’t that fun, to stare at people. People would really be offended, and they would say very mean things because we were staring at them, so I was curious, yes. And that’s the part where nobody really explained the world to me.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
It’s nice to have wonder. It’s really unfortunate, that’s sort of the thing about growing up. You’re supposed to learn not to do these things, not to step on people’s personal space, but the wonder of the child–and I think that’s what all kinds of writers, all kinds of artists, have–this wonder, this curiosity. It’s fortunate for their career that they can keep that alive. It keeps you young, in effect. So, of all the characters you’ve written, who is the closest to your own personality, would you say?
That’s a very difficult question. All my characters…I would say the narrator in Kindness, the novella. I think she probably is close to me in many ways. Not my story, but she speaks in a voice that is close to my voice.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
She also has your reading habits.
She does, certainly, she does. She loves a lot of writers I do as well. And then I think also with The Vagrants—people ask about that too—with The VagrantsI felt when I was writing it, I felt very close to Teacher Gu, the old man. I sort of felt I lived with all the characters in that novel. But I lived the novel through him more than anybody else. He’s close to me. And then with Kinder than Solitude, it’s very interesting. It’s so difficult, I felt—I still feel very close to Aunt, the mother.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I thought about the silence too, her quietness.
I mean certainly I am mystified by her and joined to her, but I also feel very close to her. And I asked my best friend, and she likes her too, which is very reassuring.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I don’t know if you want me to say–because it’s a bit of a spoiler to say that–but I don’t consider her a real murderer. It’s complicated.
It is. Someone asked me if she did intend to murder. I don’t think she even knows herself. She just half-heartedly does things, and when you talk of the consequences, it’s interesting because for her she views the world a little differently from us. When I say from us, I mean from everyday people. But she actually did not think about the consequences and, I don’t know, she’s just not concerned with consequences, which is fascinating to me.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
It's like she looks at her actions from the perspective of a long time–how do you say–it's like a leader views things that happen that are incidental. Like a death as opposed to the big scheme, the big story.
Yes, I know, when you think of the way she looks at herself, I always imagine, like you turn the telescope the wrong way, and you put your hand in front of the telescope, and your hand becomes further away? And it’s really far and small and boring? And I think the whole life she has lived is that way. Like this reverse telescope, and she can look at her life, and somehow she can say, “That life is so far from me,” but I think there are just only a few moments in that novel where she says, “Well, that’s me.” Most of the time she says, “That’s someone. That someone is interesting.”
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PORTRAIT OF YIYUN LI
by Mia Funk
“There is a clear-cut: old life, that's old country,and here's there's new life, new country. It is an advantage. You are looking at life through an old pair of eyes and a new pair of eyes. And there's always that ambivalence––Where do you belong? And how do you belong? And I do think these are advantages of immigrant writers or writers with two languages or who have two worlds.”
I liked the image suggested by Li’s description of looking at life through an old and a new pair of eyes. Her writing is characterized by subtlety and characters who do not always directly express their emotions. Often their true feelings, motives, actions are submerged, and so I thought it would be interesting to show Li with her eyes closed, with her face reflected in the water.
Li told me about her admiration for Patricia Highsmith’s stories, which she calls “masterful because nothing happens. Really, nothing happens and you feel the danger, the threatening that something is going to happen, like a death or something, but really nothing happens. And I think that touch, it’s the same touch. It’s to allude the reader rather than to impose something on you.”
Things happen in Li’s books, of course, but her writing also has an alluding touch. And so I thought it would be more interesting for the figure on top to have her eyes closed. I saw her as a kind of iceberg in warm waters. Writers often say that they feel most alive when they are writing, effectively, when they are dreaming, so for me, it made sense for the face of Li above the water to have her eyes closed.
Now that she has lived over 20 years in America, the majority of her adult life, she told me she’s “on the cusp of becoming an outsider, and on the cusp of becoming a foreigner in China. I know the language, I can decipher people’s facial expressions which, all of those things are super helpful. So you’re both inside and outside at the same time.”
So these were some of the sources I drew on when I was doing her double portrait, as well as her books A Thousand Years of Good Prayers; Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; and Kinder than Solitude.
We’re coming up on finals season now and with all those essays and problem sets, it can be hard to gather up the energy to read something for fun. But if you’re still hankering for something literary, worry not: Netflix has been outdoing itself with a steady stream of high-quality book adaptations that are sure to take your mind off GenChem, senior design, or Orgo. Want all A’s? Look no further, because I’m sure one of these is sure to fit the bill.
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events
If these strangely pessimistic, uniquely verbose, darkly comical books weren’t a part of your childhood, you’re still in good time to become a fan of Lemony Snicket and the Baudelaire children with the brilliant Netflix adaptation that is now in its second season. Originally thirteen books, each one is split into two hour-long episodes that perfectly capture Snicket’s sharp wit and cynicism as they narrate the tragic story of precocious orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. This adaptation includes details of the intricate plot that previous adaptation have glossed over and perfectly captures the steampunk gloom of the original books. Featuring a star-studded cast with big names such as Neil Patrick Harris as antagonist Count Olaf and Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, this show is sure to ruin your day in the best way.
Based on the strange science fiction novel by Jeff VanderMeer, this movie starring Natalie Portman is a slow-budding, aesthetically beautiful work that leaves you strangely satisfied, even if it does raise more questions than answers. Centred around an all-female group of scientists that ventures into a The Shimmer, a wildland from where no previous research time has returned, Annihilation is filled with shifting landscapes, vivid colors, and strange creatures. Although the film deviates quite significantly from the novel, its great cast, soothing soundtrack, and amazing visuals make it a more than worthwhile watch.
3. Alias Grace
This Canadian-American adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name is, in my humble opinion, the only one of these three titles that by far surpasses the original literary version. Centered around accused murderess Grace Marks, the Netflix miniseries organizes the confused and rather underdeveloped narrative from the novel into a coherent, riveting narrative that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Combined with a stellar cast and well-executed plot twists, this is a nice and easily bingeable series perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, period dramas, or psychological murder mysteries.
That’s all for now, folks. Happy finals!
Written by Mariana N.
As Owl Days approaches us in the last two weeks of classes, I’m looking forward to speaking to prospective students and parents about why they should choose Rice. I like talking to prospies because they make me feel like an expert on Rice, even though I still need to use Google Maps to find my way from the stadium to the north colleges. Talking to prospies also allows me to reflect on the person I’ve become since coming to Rice, how I’ve grown and developed, what new opportunities I’ve had, et cetera. For example, this is the person I was when I visited for Owl Days:
“I’m at Rice. My host has a freaking rooftop suite with a view of downtown, like, come on! I wish I just went to this school. All these events are tons of fun, but it’s such a chore to have to text my host every time I want to get in and out of a room. I wish I just went here already and was just like a regular student. Like, let’s do it, you know, let’s get this thing going.”
And this is the person that I’ve grown to become in two semesters here:
No, but really. I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had here that I don’t think I could have had anywhere else. I have met so many wonderful people over the course of nine months that I can’t imagine my life without, I’ve taken so many cool classes and had a ton of exciting experiences, I’ve learned so many lessons about independence and self-reliance, and I’ve come away from this year knowing that other people have read my writing on the R2 blog, which has been a dream and goal of mine probably since I was in elementary school. (Well, I didn’t know about the R2 blog when I was in elementary school, but you know what I mean.) My only regrets are that, like I said a year ago, I couldn’t choose Rice earlier, and that I took 24 credit hours in high school that will never transfer.
Written by Rynd M.
Spring. It’s a time of newness, and a time of change. The world comes out of its grey depressing shell and explodes into a web of color, life, and pollen. Birds sing, flowers bloom, and thousands of beetles walk across Rice sidewalks. The Earth is not the only thing changing during this special time. Our lives at Rice change as well. Clubs elect new leadership, a new guard of student government takes over, seniors prepare to leave the Rice bubble, and newly accepted freshman prepare for the adventure that lies within it. Though a beautiful time, it can be a tumultuous one, with the stress of impending change compounding the general stress of life.
So, in an effort to remind you about the magic of spring, here are a few quotes about this special season.
"Spring is nature's way of saying let's party." -- Robin Williams
"Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush."
-- Doug Larson
“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”
― Victor Kraft
“The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse - neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.”
― Amy Seidl, Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World
“In springtime, love is carried on the breeze. Watch out for flying passion or kisses whizzing by your head.” -Emma Racine deFleur
Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night. -Rainer Maria Rilke
If these hastily assembled quotes failed to brighten your day, then maybe the thought that summer is only a few months away can put a smile on your face!
Written by Joshua A.
Quotes Aggregated From:
We all know the story – there are a LOT of things we always say we would like to do, but we never get around to doing it during the school year. Well, Spring Break is next week, and it’s an incredibly valuable time to reset for the remainder of the spring semester. In my experience, resetting can best be accomplished by finding one of those things that were “too difficult” to fit into the hectic semester and do them now.
So, looking over our staff’s recommendations from this semester, here are 4 challenges for Spring Break to help you reset and check off your 2018 literary awareness list:
1. See an art exhibit
If you’re a Rice student hanging out in Houston over the week, you’re going to want to get off-campus and out into a new part of town. Rice is right next to a number of great art exhibits and permanent collections of art, music, and literature. Check out, for instance, our recent review of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. If you haven’t been to the Menil, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the other staples of the museum district, why not check them out now? Or head to more specialized museums like the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Art Car Museum, or the Printing Museum.
2. Find a new form of expression
This sounds vague, but there are a lot of cross-medium artists and writers out there, and what better time than Spring Break to open up a new genre of information and expression? Some of our recommendations in the past have included social media poets (https://www.r2ricereview.com/blog/social-media-poets), or other formal styles of poetry (like Haikus and Villanelles). Lastly, if you’re not a podcast type of person, this is a great time to try to see if you could be a podcast type of person (see recommendations here: https://www.r2ricereview.com/blog/category/podcasts).
3. Just crack open a new book
We’ve reviewed books a lot on this blog, ask you might expect. While it can sometimes be possible to find the time to read lighter, breezy books, Spring Break might be your opportunity to get through one of the books that demands a lot of your emotional energy. Check out some more meaningful books here: or challenge yourself to a longer book, like Infinite Jest (which, by the way, is how I spent Spring Break 2017, and 10/10 recommend).
4. Visit new libraries and independent bookstores!
There are great independent bookstores all over the world, no matter where your travels take you. The same goes for libraries, which can be unique and really great places to just spend a morning or afternoon. If you’re staying in Houston and haven’t already, this is a great time to take a look at Brazos Bookstore, Murder by the Book, and bookstores that we haven’t even had the chance to cover.
These are just some suggestions and recommendations to get your ideas going. If none of these stand out to you, check out our other reviews of literature, film, art, and culture in general by clicking around the Recommendations tag of our blog, or come up with your own! Happy reset week!
Written by Erika S.
Hey you. Yes, you. Have you ever read a book, be it for a Lit/English class or for your own enjoyment, and been left feeling like what on earth was that? What does that EVEN MEAN?
Well, I certainly have. As a self-proclaimed lover of post-modern and post-post-modern fiction, more often than not, things tend to get a little bit weird. Usually, they get very weird. I am not ashamed of sometimes having had to resort to SparkNotes or Shmoop in order to understand some of the rougher, more challenging chapters from some of my favorite books. But no more! I’m here to share what has become both my literary guilty pleasure and a very helpful addition to my life: podcasts. about. books.
David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft: these authors may seem to have very little in common, but something they do share is that they are all the subjects of highly specialized podcasts. These shows are run by amazing literature nerds who are dedicated to creating episode after episode chock full of biographical information, book summaries, and literary analysis in order to share the life and times of some of their favorite authors with other bookworms like you and me.
Think about it like having nerdy comedians give fun, yet accurate, summaries of your favorite books, on demand. That’s essentially what a literature podcast is.
You don’t have to be a fan of obscure po-mo to enjoy the literature podcasts I’ll talk about in a sec, though A lot of literature podcasts focus on YA novels, modern thrillers, and fan favorites like Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire, while others concentrate on tried-and-true classics from authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Alexandre Dumas, and Emily Dickinson. The truth is that, if you’re interested in something nowadays, no matter how obscure or strange or unusual it may seem, odds are there’s an entire podcast (or at least an episode or two) out there dedicated to it. That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts: more and more people are starting conversations about the things they love, regardless of how niche the subject matter may seem, because they know there’s someone out there who feels the same passion for it that they do.
Here’s my top three literature podcasts, in no particular order:
1. Oh No! Lit Class
Join English postgrads Megan and RJ as they cover a different literary classic each week, giving accurate, if unconventional, summaries of novels, plays, and poetry, as well as interesting takes on the authors’ biographies. If it was required reading for your high school, odds are they’ve covered it (or will cover it) in a way you would never have imaged in your 10th grade English class.
2. Pynchon in Public
Do you like Thomas Pynchon but don’t know quite what to make of The Crying of Lot 49, let alone Gravity’s Rainbow? Fear not, this show’s crew has got you covered. PIP focuses on anything and everything Pynchon, offering detailed chapter summaries and analyses with a healthy dose of very useful historical context, as well as the odd episode focused on the strange and mysterious life of Thomas Pynchon himself.
3. We Love Dick
Contrary to the X-rated content that may appear if you google this title without adding “podcast” at the end, this podcast features a lovable cast determined to read, summarize, and review every single work of fiction written by Philip K. Dick. Large doses of banter, unrelated tangential conversation, and a lot of sci-fi weirdness is guaranteed, but the show never loses sight of its goal: to bring more and better Dick to the people.
If none of these sound particularly eye-catching, go take a look at the iTunes section for Literature Podcasts: you’ll see what I mean when I say there’s an amazing amount of variety. Whether you want a precise and concise summary of that book you’re chugging through for English class, or just want to hear people talk about your favorite writers, odds are there is indeed a podcast out there just right for you. It’s all a matter of finding it.
Written by Mariana N.
Art that helps me see and address my shortcomings:
Fear of Failure/Self-Doubt → Confidence
These are a few of the mediums that have influenced how I think about failure. My attitude of persistence and tenacity has been defined in part due to the below books, poetry, and music. My optimistic and cheerful mien can also be attributed to the art I am exposed to.
Good Enough by Paula Yoo (book)
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (book)
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (book)
"What Kind of Asian Are You?” by Alex Dang (poetry)
“Packing for the Future” By Lorna Crozier (poetry)
“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors (music)
Spotlight: Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume (book)
This is a book I read in the 3rd grade, from which I learned to embrace what makes me different. The main character in this book, Cornelia, is the lonely child of two musicians, who find solace in words. Cornelia’s aptitude for language sets her apart from her peers, but finds herself a friend in a new neighbor, an elderly woman who regales Cornelia with tales from her youth. I wouldn’t define myself as shy, but similar to Cornelia, I find it difficult to connect with others easily. This book taught me to put myself in difficult, uncomfortable situations, and gave me the confidence to be more outgoing.
Procrastination → Smart Work
I am and always have been a hard worker. However, a lesson I still struggle to learn is how to work smart, not hard. Smart work, entailing time management and organization, is the key to success in not only school, but also everything else I am involved in, from playing tennis to playing my clarinet. Below are a few mediums that have taught me to redefine what I view as work and understand the implications of procrastination. While I still struggle daily to practice the concept of delayed gratification, these have inspired me and have given me the tools to change my habits.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (book)
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (book)
“Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban (TED Talk)
Gifted Hands by Ben Carson (book)
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin (sculpture)
Spotlight: “Postcard” by Frank Ticheli (music)
This uniquely challenging piece was one I played with my band in 10th grade. Up to date, it is the hardest piece of music I have successfully performed, and it represents months of practice and dedication. This piece represents the difficulties and joys of the learning process; to learn a skill or concept, we must always start with the basics, no exceptions, and once learned, the skill/concept must be practiced until flawless.
Stubbornness and Hubris → Selflessness and Empathy
Pride and a single-minded focus are not necessarily bad, if one also practices the complementary traits of selflessness and empathy. My difficulty is finding the balance. To what extent should I remain uncompromising and driven by self-interest, and to what extent must I sacrifice what I want to what is right? These mediums, especially The Mahabharata, help me understand not only the facets of my personality, but also my role in society.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (book)
“Stories of Akbar and Birbal” (animated cartoons)
The Onion (website)
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (play)
Heidi by Johanna Spyri (book)
Bhagavad Gita (ancient epic/book)
Spotlight: The Mahabharata (ancient epic/book)
I consider myself to be religious person, and one reason for this is that I believe that religion provides us with a moral compass and general guidelines on how to live. Having been raised with the stories of Lord Rama, Krishna, and the Pandavas, I feel that it is only natural that I take these stories to heart and allow them to shape my view of myself and the world. Reading the Mahabharata, an ancient epic that describes a war between the families (the Kauravas and the Pandavas) of two brothers, I was taught the dangers of arrogance, jealousy, and lack of discipline. I was also taught that what is right for me may not be right for someone else- the concepts of right and wrong are not as easily defined as I naïvely believed them to be.
Written by Sree Y.
Like...regular books? Like in a bookstore?
I mean, yeah, like regular books.
I don’t know, I think there’s two reasons that people write. Either that they love it, and they like telling stories, or they’re passionate about something and they want to get it on paper, or they’re just passionate about something. Like people wonder why I write for the newspaper and do opinions and stuff since I don’t talk a lot.
You do opinions?
I’m more surprised that you have time to write for the newspaper.
It’s like extra homework.
Okay, let me ask you another question. Your favorite book is Anna Karenina.
Why do you like it?
I mean, honestly...because I just got so sick of reading in high school because you’re forced to read so many books you don’t like that I just stopped reading completely, until I chose that class...it was just so different. The style of writing. Every small thing had some bigger thing about it, and every time I read it again I notice something new.
What did you learn?
What did I learn?
This is important. I have to finish my blog post.
Don’t cheat on your significant other...I’d say that’s probably the strongest message. Or like...stay away from men named
Men named what? Bromsky?
Like V as in Volcano. Vronsky.
I don’t know, it seems like something that would be more modern, because you have a love triangle, and a secret forbidden romance, but I really liked the writing style. Like the plot seems modern but the writing style is so different. It’s like a puzzle.
Do you think books should have a lesson? Or, like, do you think when someone writes a book--okay, the way I’m asking this is like, really bias-ing, but I don’t know how else to ask it. Like do you think you can learn something from a book that the author didn’t like--you know, or is it just like--you know. Okay, that’s my question.
I don’t think every book has an explicit lesson in it. I feel like people that write books probably have some reason that they’re writing it, but I don’t think that necessarily comes out in the writing. At least for me, more often than not I will learn some lesson from a book, but I don’t think it’s the same for everyone. I think the way you interpret a book is different based on how you think.
Written by Rynd M.
Thoughts on the Cultural and Personal Value of ‘In(di)visible’ at The Station Museum of Contemporary Art
The Station Museum of Contemporary Art, as I wrote the first time I wrote for this blog, is the kind of space that contextualizes art in order to inspire deep cultural and ideological impact. With their new show, In(di)visible, The Station has once again pulled together an art exhibition that does just that and more.
I think about it even now, weeks after I attended the opening with a couple of friends. I remember that on the ride home from the museum that night, the three of us sat in complete silence, each of us drawn into ourselves like springs retracting after being stretched too far. Looking for some kind of reconciliation with our feelings through an understanding we were not very likely to find. That sense of pulling, at least for me, began the moment we walked through those gallery doors. It was the effect of being drawn into and through an exhibition operating on a multitude of artistic, emotional, and intellectual levels. It was the kind of show that forces you to think, to feel, and then to repeatedly challenge those thoughts and feelings.
It would be worthless to try to describe the exhibition itself, for at the core of its ability to so deeply impact the viewer is the way in which each piece so intimately conveys its own narrative as a part of the larger story, through the physical space and in conversation with the viewer. It is a story that needs to be told personally, the kind that gains meaning only by virtue of its being told and retold, given a space in which to exist. This is how it creates change on an individual level, in hope for change on a higher, cultural level. It gives voices to those previously silenced and challenges the unilateral narrative that is Western history. It is the tales of the old and the young, first and second generation immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and more, told from a variety of perspectives and conveying a multitude of ideologies. These are the stories of the subaltern set center stage. In action, this exhibition is the very embodiment of its name—the act of unifying ‘invisible’ people and giving them absolute autonomy in the telling and creating of their past, present, and future.
To walk through this exhibition, then, is to engage the entirety of your humanity with the humanity of their experiences. To feel time and space collapse somehow when history is terrifyingly similar to the present. Although not Asian, as an immigrant myself I found that this exhibition forced me to look into a part of that experience I had been reluctant to challenge before. And thus, with my head against the car window on that exceptionally foggy night, riding down dimly lit streets that all looked almost the same, I found that the ambiguity of space right then was ironic. I couldn’t help but think, over and over, about why it hurts us so much. Why, when space changes, and cultures converge, we are so afraid. Why we are forced to choose between cultures, between nations, between mother lands and mother tongues and places and languages that are new to us.
I cannot say that I have any answers, although I feel at least closer to at least understanding where these challenges come from and why they matter. And so I would say that, regardless of your thoughts or knowledge on immigration, Asian American culture and history, and even art, these are questions worth asking, and this exhibition is one worth seeing.
Written by Ana Paula P.
Imagine this: You and your family are heading back from a late family gathering. Your dad is driving while your mom is sleeping in the passenger seat. You’re staring out the window in the back seat and your siblings are babbling away. Why can’t they ever stay quiet, it’s past midnight -ugh! The soft radio makes you slowly drift off to sleep. CRASH. A rough jerk and bright flashing lights suddenly wake you up. The front of the car is completely smashed. Your dad is struggling in the driver’s seat while your mom is unconscious and covered with shattered glass. You start panicking and can’t think straight but manage to find your strength and get out of the car, screaming for help. Cars pass by, but no one tries to help. ‘I’ll call the ambulance for them’ they all think, and drive away. But then a white Honda finally stops and offers to drop your family at the nearest hospital. It’s a young girl. Late teens? She doesn’t seem fazed by the situation at hand. A hurried car ride later, you see the doctors tell your father that a few more minutes might have killed your mother.
Wow. Standing in the ER with your sibling cowering behind you, you realize just how close your life was to come crashing down. You have no idea how to thank the girl enough, but you make a promise to yourself that you will never let her go.
And this is how I met my best friend.
When I was driving on the highway that night and saw the distressed family by the roadside, I didn’t think twice before pulling over and offering a ride. It was something I didn’t give much thought to. They need help. There was no more to it. But I never thought that my choice between stopping or not determined whether someone died or lived. My one act changed the entire path that my friend’s life took. That one action made possible moments like the mother waking her children up in the morning and attending my best friend’s graduation. Did I realize the enormity of my decision when I stopped? Of course not. Because many of us underestimate our power to change other’s life.
And that makes sense once you realize that we ourselves are unaware of how observing other affects our own actions and behavior significantly.
Humans are social creatures which means a big part of our lives is influenced by our interactions with the world. Which is why even though we think of our actions as personal, only affecting our life, they can have a significant impact on others.
This is our hidden power. Our ability to change the lives of people around us. Just look around you. Every person has their own life story, their own background, defined by the people they meet, and you can be a part of that. And it doesn’t require you to open a charitable hospital or volunteer in a third-world country. You can change people by the way you behave and carry yourself.
I remember the time I was at a supermarket with my family when my attention went to one of the counters. An employee was talking to a very frustrated customer. The man was being unnecessarily rude and refused to cooperate but there was no frustration in the employee’s eyes. Throughout this incident, he didn’t lose his composure, rather doing all in his power to solve the conflict as soon as possible. Although we never directly interacted, I still remember this scene vividly and find myself thinking back to him whenever I’m in a stressful situation.
We have this incredible power to change someone’s life completely. Sadly, the same power can be used to destroy.
It’s easy to forget the things you’ve said to someone. It’s easy to not think much of your actions. Everyone makes their own decisions in the end, right? You can’t be blamed for someone else’s actions.
But now think back to how you stopped wearing your favorite t-shirt just because of that one comment you got the other day, or how you started wearing your hair a certain way because a coworker complimented you once. You make so many decisions based on other’s actions and comments. Don’t you think others do the same?
So now you know of your hidden powers. Which side do you choose?
Written by Diksha G.
April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.
-T. S. Eliot
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.