Unwriting myself

Once, I was a contender. Now, I’m not so sure.

L played the Talking Heads to me for the first time last night and I cried it moved me so much; this is not your beautiful house, this is not your beautiful wife. I don’t even have a house or wife, but it already feels like I’m gonna get both wrong.

I went to see L again this weekend. She was so beautiful, so enough. But I couldn’t get out of my head. Everything felt like it was ending. She goes to Helsinki in a month to study art history and I am going to stay here, in my lonely apartment and interview for an environmental campaigner position I don’t even know if I want.

I want to make art, not advocacy. Are people even convinced by activism anymore? It makes me feel nothing. Activism tries to make you feel the rapture of art; the galvanic, hot surge to do something. But you know whatever pleasure you get is not quite free.

I wanna make art that is funny and moving and surreal. Like Hannah Gadsby’s Happiness is a Bedside Table, where she spends the entire show talking about body issues and then strips down to a swimsuit and saunters out of the room. I want to make art like Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which always lights a fire inside me – a damp, woody campfire of humour & melancholy. I wanna make art like Chris Kraus, whose book, I Love Dick, I read on the bus ride home after the last time I saw L. I read it as if to save my life, to breathe through the pain that had just been inflicted, as if it were a structure for my suffering. A reason to keep living, to keep reading. Last night, I woke up in bed with cold feet, forgetting where I was, curled up and afraid.

In my first year of university, I wrote a piece for a student magazine that lots of people liked. It was even commended in a literary competition. I never quite recovered from the praise of that period. I spent the next three years writing garbage. First, a vaguely racist piece about Indigenous Australians, then a piece about suburbia in which I misquoted Sidney Nolan, and finally, something boring and technical about a student election.

I have arrived at the endgame of my self-destruction: a piece of writing about how I can no longer write. I’ve lost the ability to cause rapture in people, to hold them (or even myself) to a light and clarity that might otherwise never be found.

When I had my panic attack last night, I kept saying that I needed to figure out what to do with my life, and L just kept insisting that now was not the time to think about this. But if not now, then when? Everything feels too much.

L could always just write. When we first met, we were both only in our teens, but even then you could just tell she was going to be great. I read this blog post of hers about the relationship between maths and comedy and instantly fell in love with her. I spent the whole piece waiting for it to become awkward or clunky, but it never did. When you read L, you are safe, in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.

Sometimes, when I miss L, I go back into my inbox and read the old emails she wrote to me. My favourite one is about the Finnish writer, Tove Jansson, and Jansson’s book of seasons. The email is beautiful and even in the years after it was sent, when we were no longer talking or in love with other people, or things were just all too painful, I would still go back to her words: it is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin. There are no stars yet, just darkness.

It feels like I am reaching for something, and I’m worried that if I don’t get there I will simply fall away.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I think writing isn’t about anything. It’s not an answer to a question, or an argument to be perfected. Life is like this also. The aim is not to get it right; it is to make it beautiful. This is why I loved L, and this is why I wanted to be a writer. I am scared to have lost both.


Image: Vincent Ferron / flickr

Tina Huang

Tina Huang is a Chinese Australian writer based in Sydney. Her work has appeared in Lifted Brow, Cordite Poetry Review and Overland. You can contact her at tina.j.huang@gmail dot com

More by Tina Huang ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays