The Time Junot Diaz Talked At Me

junot diaz 2.jpgTwo years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning Junot Diaz stood in front of a packed auditorium and read to us a passage from his book, This is How You Lose Her. It’s the story where Yunior cheats on his girlfriend, Alma, who has a “long tender horse neck” and grew up in Hoboken, “part of the Latino community that got its heart burned out in the eighties”.

Diaz read slowly. Enunciated. And we were captivated.

Except I didn’t know who he was. Someone in the news room just said he was famous. I didn’t put two and two together to realize that this Junot Diaz was the Junot Diaz, author of Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. So the significance of seeing–being read to by–Junot Diaz in the flesh did not occur to me as I pointed my massive camera towards him. Click. He said something to me about him not doing anything particularly cool. So why was I pointing the camera all up in his face? (Hey, I’m just here with the newspaper) Looking back, though, he talked at me. 

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Diaz talked about collective student insecurity. And fragmented activism, and what to do about it. He talked about a whole slew of things that I jotted down in Notes even though I wasn’t even the one writing an article about him.

I googled him later and then it hit me–he’d written the Cheater’s Guide to Love, the one I read in the New Yorker summer of 2013. The first time I read the story I awoke drenched in sweat and read it again and again. Some of the metaphors I repeated over and over, tucked into my mind, then toyed with for years afterwards.

I write this as I finish reading This is How You Lose Her for the sixth (or seventh) time.

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Reflections in the Water

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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; Freud theorizes that we all harbor some childhood wound we’re all seeking to recreate. Mistake one, mistake two, mistake three, mistake four. But four wasn’t insanity. And four wasn’t an old wound. Four was, instead, ironically, cheesily, gradually then all at once, one of the best things to happen. A summery wish granted, a wintry curiosity piqued: reflections in the water (I did it again I did it again I did it again)

City Respite

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To escape the city, venture deeper into the city; a necessary paradox when surrounded by people, crowds, movement and noise. Many weekends I’d escape into Center City, where I’d burrow myself in a coffeeshop or bookstore. Though I’d remain constantly surrounded by people, it was a way of finding solitude, an otherwise rare beast on the urban campus.

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Summer Rain and Cigarettes

Cigarette smoke makes me think of China. I remember the way it’d fill up the room in my Uncle’s absence, then stay still, holding its breath for several hours. In the streets, in the markets, in the restaurants, there they’d be, the cigarettes clutched-clasped-dangling between people’s fingers.

Last summer we got caught by Mei Yu. The plum rain. The constant downpour of gloom that cooped us up at home. Monsoon season? I asked. No, responded Wiki: the East Asian Rainy Season.

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So I cut my hair. I painted. After the rain, I ventured outside in some grey oversized sweater (so poorly underdressed in a city where women tottered around in heels over broken concrete and construction) to photograph people, strays and the occasional chicken.