19 The Birth Of Miss Nothing…
A person's ability to act in accord with her own conscience depends upon the degree to which she can go beyond the limits imposed by the society in which she lives, to become a citizen of the world. The most important quality she must possess in this is the courage to say no, the courage to refuse to obey the dictates of the powerful, to refuse to submit to the dictates of public opinion.
In the early autumn of 1990, my mother's heart condition brought on a serious heart attack, and one night, sometime after a last wrenching bout of pain, she "died" quietly in the midst of her dreams.
I put quotation marks around "died" because that was what the doctors and the others around her said.
But that was not the way I saw it.
Lying there in her sleep, Mother looked wonderfully serene, as if she were having a beautiful dream. Perhaps she was dreaming that she was strolling down one of Beijing 's broad, paved avenues. I knew that after she got sick and had difficulty breathing, she especially liked open spaces with lots of green trees and lush grass, and the grand streets of Beijing were a perfect match for the ideal streets of her dreams. I imagined that in her dream that night, she was surveying that city where she had lived for more than fifty years through those eyes that would never know youth again, ardently looking at every old tree along the streets, every old-fashioned doorway, and even the stray stones along the roadside worn smooth with time. She looked intently at every wall she passed along her way, as if searching for the secret dreams of her youth hidden in the patterns etched there by the rain and grit-laden winds. Like a pair of loving hands, her eyes caressed the passing scenes along the streets. Time seemed to be flowing backward, and from the deep sockets of her eyes there issued a cloudless radiance.
She so looked like she was sleeping that final night, that I could not believe she had died.
And from that time I have also harbored a quiet secret in my heart: my mother, in actuality, had not left me. Because she couldn't breathe properly, her organs slowly atrophied, perhaps very much in the way that things left in badly ventilated places go wormy, so she got rid of her body and became invisible. She was playing a joke on the living.
But the doctors and the people around me had no sense of humor. They insisted that she was dead, period. Even the stupid professors in my school believed this, and they said I was losing my mind and sent me to the hospital for treatment. (That was where I met Qi Luo, the psychiatrist I mentioned at the very beginning.) The school also used this as an excuse to make me discontinue my studies.
In my heart, I have gone over the factors involved in my case many times, and I know the source of the problem. The key thing is the fact that I still don't know whether the bullet that pierced my calf was red or black. The two different colors for bullets indicate two different things. This has a bearing on all my other problems.
But I never found the bullet. It was total chance that I got caught in the line of fire. There was nothing I could do.
I remember that at the time, when in confidence I told Doctor Qi about my conjecture, I saw him write in my case history: "block in logical thinking; excessive fragmentation in symbolic thought association."
I regarded him as a friend, but I found out that he was not on my side.
So after a while I didn't talk openly with him anymore, though he still wanted to help me. I lied to him all the time and didn't let him know what I was really thinking, but this didn't stop him from wanting to be my friend. He was always loaning me psychology books to read. I really learned a lot from those books, which helped me to eventually understand myself and straighten myself out.
In the beginning, I insisted on telling the people around me, "My mother hasn't really died; she's just playing a joke on us."
But when I talked like this, all of them (except Doctor Qi) felt uneasy about me and then started to avoid me, as if they were afraid.
Eventually I smartened up and didn't talk that way anymore. But in my heart I knew that what they saw as reality was false.
I went home and looked in the mirror to find out what it was about me that made them avoid me. There was nothing about my appearance that was frightening; even my eyes weren't swollen, because I hadn't cried at all.
Why should I have cried? I didn't in the least believe that my mother had died, as they all said.
After Mother's body was gone, all the sounds in her apartment, such as the ticking of her wall clock and the gurgling in the water pipes, seemed to die away.
But her clothes were still alive, I'm absolutely certain of that.
Often, I would knock on her door, then, opening it with my key, I'd go in, saying, "Mama, are you sleeping?" After that, I would talk with her clothes for a long, long time. They were definitely alive, because I clearly heard them talking to me.
One evening when I was out for a walk, I saw a girl who looked a lot like my friend Ho. She was standing under a scholar tree watching the dancing shadows of the leaves beneath the street lamps. For a long time I stood watching her as she watched the shadows moving like dark clouds.
At last, my curiosity got the best of me. I went over and asked, "What are you looking at?"
Of course, I really didn't care what she was looking at, I just wanted to get a closer look at her face.
Pointing to the mottled shadows that the leaves under the street lamps cast on the pavement, she said, "Look at the way the leaves are shaking. There must be an earthquake."
I said, "That's impossible. If there was, you'd feel the shaking too. It's just the wind."
The girl said, "But look, the tree's trunk is shaking too."
I stepped back out of the tree's shadow and looked up at its trunk and main branches, and they were indeed moving – quietly, almost imperceptibly. Extending my arm, I touched the tree to see if this was really so. Like great heads of flowing hair, the shadows of the trees were dancing in the lightly moving air, their roots like giant buttons fastening them to the earth.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of this.
But whether or not it was an earthquake didn't interest me in the least. An earthquake was nothing compared to the upheavals my heart had been going through.
I said, "How can you stare so long at the shadows of the trees under the street lamps? It must be terribly boring."
The girl said, "What else is there that's interesting?"
I said, "I don't know."
After Mother was gone, in the evenings I would spend a long time sitting in my room watching how the sunlight slowly shrank away from the walls. I also followed the tracks of a mouse as he moved about secretly over the course of a day, and I measured how the footfalls of winter first found the tips of my fingers, then slowly covered my whole body. This habit of watching was something that came to me only after all my dearest friends had left me.
So I totally understood this girl.
The wavering shadows of the trees suddenly made me feel that there was a separation between my own body and the insubstantial things around me. It was as if there were a crevice between me and the rest of the world, or a great glass screen, and anything that passed through it lost all substance.
My mind suddenly changed, it was no longer my own mind. The person standing there was no longer me, it was someone called "Miss Nothing."
This peculiar feeling lasted for only a few minutes, then it was gone.
After that, the lineaments of the girl's face gradually became clearer to me. She did not really look that much like Ho, it was only her outline in the distance that seemed a bit similar.
I turned to leave.
"Good-bye," I said.
That evening in my mother's apartment, I opened her closet and told her clothes about this encounter.
Mother's clothes said, "The girl must be very lonely."
It was amazing, it was just as if my mother had been speaking.
Once, on another evening, when I was walking aimlessly down some street, the pale pink light of the setting sun fell through the gradually thinning leaves of the trees onto the faces of the bustling crowds below, and the sweet fragrance of autumn floated on the air. All the shops were closed and the broad street seemed filled with casually wandering souls. Cars flashed past me, weaving their way to and fro.
I was seized by a sudden impulse to throw myself under the wheels of the speeding cars, unable to resist the feeling that it would be a kind of reincarnation, that I would be reborn.
Just then, a handsome young man came up to me, breaking my train of thought.
He said, "I want to give you a pair of tickets."
I was a bit nonplussed, but eventually said, "Tickets – to what?"
"To a disco dance," he said.
I said, "Why do you want to give them to me?"
He laughed, said nothing, and swung around and left.
That evening I heard the sound of my mother's voice in the air in her apartment. "Don't go to the disco dance. Maybe it's a dark plot, or maybe it's an open plot."
I was frightened. Why would anyone want to hurt me?
In the end, they sold my mother's apartment to stop me talking to her clothes – "abnormal behavior" – and to give me something to live on.
That's the money I use to cover my living expenses.
But this didn't stop us from talking to each other. And anyway, I could still keep listening to my own silent thoughts. There was always the sound of conversations going on in my head. They were filled with the things I thought about but hadn't yet spoken.
One afternoon, I was sitting on my sofa just about to open a book when I noticed a spider on the ceiling. I watched him for a while, but I couldn't figure out what he was doing tucked up there the whole day. A misty drizzle was blowing against the screen on my window. I watched the threads of rain as they slowly trickled down to congeal into large drops, like little damp birds clinging to my window screen.
I heard a voice that seemed to come from an invisible tongue somewhere in the air saying, "Read, read!" So I bent my head and started to read.
I remember the book was Kafka's Metamorphosis. It was a novel I had read before, about a man who turned into a huge cockroach. But for some reason the work had not struck the passionate chord in me that it did that day. I was wildly excited and agitated.
I read and read. I don't know whether it was something in the book that had infected me or something else, but suddenly I felt something inside me tugging, or tearing, or flowing, or walking, or crawling, something I could neither place nor identify. I was highly agitated. Finally, I thought that maybe it was masses of little black words scrambling back and forth in my veins like so many insects.
With that, I went to get a pen and some paper so I could copy down all those insectlike words crowding through my veins.
It was from that moment that my life of ceaseless writing began. And once that life began, it could not be stopped.
I wrote a story at that time that was different from Kafka's: How a Person Turned Into a Book.
I took evolution as my starting point:
They say that mankind evolved from animals; therefore, human beings should not eat pork, beef, or mutton. Furthermore, animals evolved from plants; therefore, human beings should also not eat vegetables. And since vegetables grow up out of the earth, mankind should not tread upon it…
If we were to accept this theory of evolution, we would have to forever keep our feet on our shoulders, and it would be impossible for mankind to continue. So I think the theory is fallacious.
I think that our endless journey down the road ahead of us is what gives shape to human evolution. For every ten thousand kilometers we walk, we evolve one step. For every time we walk through the life span of a clock, human history evolves one more level.
Later, I drew a schematic picture of the molecular structure of Earth.
I continued writing:
From the moment we entered the stage of civilization, humanity has been swallowed up in an endless sea of written symbols and signs that seep down into the core of our breathing, crawling all over us like ants, in and out between our bones. Just how these "ants" have the ability to gnaw away a person's bones and turn her into a book is another long and complicated evolutionary process…
A confused mass of totally disjointed thoughts kept crowding their way into my head, from every direction and of every ilk. Anything might come suddenly into my head, and just as suddenly turn into something else equally unexpected.
Before I knew it, the paper was covered with strings of words.
What's your name? My name's Ni; I look like I'm one person, but actually I'm several. Familiar place. One foot running off in different directions. An ear in a flower garden listening, a knocking sound. My one true love. Psychosomatic amnesia. Everywhere. Nice guy, okay. Look before you leap. Machine gun. Have some more. Ahh, yes, rumble, rumble… crackle…
I must have been pressing too hard. My fingers were so stiff and sore that I had to stop writing and flex my wrists for a while.
When I looked over what I had written, I found that not a word of it made any sense to me.
After writing for a while, I began to feel tired. At the edge of my field of vision, a glass sitting on my desk caught my eye. From it, the fragrance of fresh red wild strawberries was slowly spreading. I felt an immense thirst, so I got up and made a cup of tea. When I came back and sat down on the sofa again, I felt like there was someone sitting across from me, staring at me.
Just as I was about to sip my tea, I heard a voice whisper in my ear, "Drink, go ahead, drink."
It started to rain, and when I jumped up from the sofa to close the window, I saw a thick silver-gray mist gathering everywhere, crushed down by the countless feet of the thickly falling rain, the entire city like a deserted ruin. Gradually, my thinking was steeped with the darkening color of the evening sky. It lurked behind every raindrop. Staring at those thoughts colliding with the approaching shade was like staring into my past. I jerked the curtains shut, refusing to face memories.
I hurried into the bathroom to go to the toilet. When I pulled the chain, there was a strange voice mingled with the rush of water: "thuss-pakezarathustra! thusspakezarathustra!"
Frightened stiff, I ran out of the bathroom.
But again, I heard a voice mingled with the thump of my feet, crying, "Endure, endure!" Chasing my feet, it beat them into the living room, where it circled and burst with a sound like a brick being dropped on the floor, leaving me totally helpless.
I couldn't take it anymore. Frightened out of my wits, I collapsed on the sofa.
In the ensuing days of confusion, to evade those overpowering fears, I started frantically putting down on paper any and everything that came into my head. I didn't eat, I didn't drink, I just kept madly scribbling – more and more and more:
The Bible says that God is a "shepherd" and that human beings are "lambs that have gone astray" and can't find their way home. This is seen as the essence of the human tragedy. I think that it is ridiculously naive for people to yearn to sit and talk as equals at God's table. Because they are not his equals, exchanges between them are impossible. If this is not so, then why don't we human beings have exchanges with extraterrestials? And why don't we have exchanges with ants? Because we exist on different levels. In relationships involving superiors and subordinates, exchanges are two-way in form, but the messages of the two sides are in essence totally different. The "shepherd's" concern for his "lambs" and the "lambs'" expectations of the "shepherd" are totally different. The main questions of concern for the "shepherd" are the quality of his mutton and wool, the fertility of his flock, how long it takes to fatten them for market, and the natural environment; while the "lambs" hope they will be well fed, that their keep will protect them from the cold, and that they will not feel the sting of the whip. If the "lambs" raised by the "shepherd" do not stay obediently in their fold or shed, but take it upon themselves to go into the "shepherd's" sumptuous home to exchange ideas, then of course they will have violated the ordinances of heaven and will be dealt with accordingly…
Concerning Miss Nothing
Put simply, there is no me. I should clarify what I mean by "there is no me." A cold wind blew into my brain through my forehead, dividing my hair into three crystalline, glittering brocade segments falling straight over my shoulders. These three segments represent the three sections of my mind. The part on the left is my unwillingness, which goes against my wishes; in the middle sits my equivocation – yes but no; and on the right, my desire. I stood in front of the mirror and looked at the black wings moving on top of my head. Those black wings, the color of June, suddenly snapped, but the bird on my head flew away, leaving only a thick heap of feathers. Each day was darker and more cheerless than the day before, as if the world were rotting away.
I wake up to discover that my skull is empty. An uneasy silence on the edge of words pervades my body. I am afraid, terribly afraid. I want to go home, back to that old familiar place. The door to the glass-enclosed, abandoned garden is tightly closed. She is not to be seen. She has been put into an oval wooden box. Her legs grow unsteadily out of the box. She is the expressionless face of death. This coffin walks toward me. I don't know what to do. A secret is hidden in its wreath of fake flowers.
Strangers keep coming over to shake my hand and flash some kind of secret and important hint to me about the existence of a "germ factory." I hear the sizzling of an atomic pile. Something keeps circling around me for some reason. Looking everywhere, I discover that this city is not my home; the square has disappeared. Even the rusty frames around the windows are gone. The sloping, narrow alley that used to kiss my feet is overgrown with weeds and moss. It is silent.
All the people that I knew masquerade in make-up, they are not real…
I no longer exist… I have disappeared…
I am Miss Nothing.
The New Emperor's New Clothes in Cartoon Captions
Q: "Hello. How come this cartoon is just a blank sheet of paper?"
A: "You mean to tell me you can't see it?"
Q: "Where are the new clothes?"
A: "The emperor is wearing them."
Q: "Then where is the emperor?"
A: "He left after he put on the new clothes."
Q: "Oh. So that's it. How stupid of me."
A: "So, you see, I'm a fantastic cartoonist."
One Way of Being a Master Teacher
You're a girl, stunning double-X chromosomes, so young and sexy you make a man's head spin. You see on the desk that XY-chromosome male chop, carved in relief, and the man sitting stiff and buttoned up behind it – the strategist, the maker of plans, the masturbator (sorry, master teacher – an inadvertent error), his big red fists the symbol of authority. You ring the rusty doorbell, but there is no response. He purposely busies himself with boring trivialities, his hands filled with countless numbers. Every number that falls on the paper has XY chromosomes. To him double-X chromosomes are germs, evil spirits. His clandestine yearning for double-X chromosomes cannot be openly, honestly put to paper. He shuns them for fear they can't be shunned. You step into the room and move toward him. He quickly backs away and huddles up in the corner, fearfully gripping his hat, hat in a hat… My hat, he shouts. As if your approach must make his hat fly away.
The Origin of Money
He constantly has to go for a piss – off to the washroom once every minute, back and forth, taking a drink and getting rid of it. Every visit is a solemn moment of hope and struggle. If the piss won't come, he strains with all his might, even for just one drop, while the thin liquid in his veins flows unconcernedly. He imagines his sperm are swimming freely in his bladder, frolicking like little minnows. If he keeps going to piss, he'll fill the bowl with flashing crystals of sperm. His sperm are his gold… so he can't stop pissing.
Artificial "Interpersonal Relationships" in the Garden of Mankind
I'll be "nice to you" if you'll be "nice to me." – This is not at all what "I" want in an "interpersonal relationship." Admittedly, one person's circumstances in life are very frequently influenced by the circumstances of someone else. "I" am not in complete charge of my own life. "My" happiness is very often a gift that "you" have given me. "I" exist only through "you." Nonetheless, I insist that it is only when "you" and "I" strip away our private agendas that we can have a genuine relationship. Our multifaceted world has obliterated the pure "you" and "me." "You" and "I" have already lost control of our destinies. Let me tell you a secret: "I" am not I, and "you" are not you. We don't know who we are. "You" are in make-up and "I" am a pretense. The masquerade ball in the garden of mankind is in full swing…