On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous- Ocean Vuong

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Quick feelings

“Because submission, I soon learned, was also a kind of power. To be inside of pleasure, Trevor needed me. I had a choice, a craft, whether he ascends or falls depends on my willingness to make room for him, for you cannot rise without having something to rise over. Submission does not require elevation in order to control.”

“He loves me, he loves me not, we are taught to say, as we tear the flower away from its flowerness. To arrive at love, then, is to arrive through obliteration. Eviscerate me, we mean to say, and I’ll tell you the truth. ”

“They say addiction might be linked to bipolar disorder. It’s the chemicals in our brains, they say. I got the wrong chemicals, Ma. Or rather, I don’t get enough of one or the other. They have a pill for it. They have an industry. They make millions. Did you know people get rich off of sadness? I want to meet the millionaire of American sadness. I want to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and say, “It’s been an honor to serve my country.”

The thing is, I don’t want my sadness to be othered from me just as I don’t want my happiness to be othered. They’re both mine. I made them, dammit. What if the elation I feel is not another “bipolar episode” but something I fought hard for? Maybe I jump up and down and kiss you too hard on the neck when I learn, upon coming home, that it’s pizza night because sometimes pizza night is more than enough, is my most faithful and feeble beacon. What if I’m running outside because the moon tonight is children’s-book huge and ridiculous over the line of pines, the sight of it a strange sphere of medicine?

It’s like when all you’ve been seeing before you is a cliff and then this bright bridge appears out of nowhere, and you run fast across it knowing, sooner or later, there’ll be yet another cliff on the other side. What if my sadness is actually my most brutal teacher? And the lesson is always this: You don’t have to be like the buffaloes. You can stop.”

“We try to preserve life—even when we know it has no chance of enduring its body. We feed it, keep it comfortable, bathe it, medicate it, caress it, even sing to it. We tend to these basic functions not because we are brave or selfless but because, like breath, it is the most fundamental act of our species: to sustain the body until time leaves it behind.

I’m thinking now of Duchamp, his infamous “sculpture.” How by turning a urinal, an object of stable and permanent utility, upside down, he radicalized its reception. By further naming it Fountain, he divested the object of its intended identity, rendering it with an unrecognizable new form.

I hate him for this.

I hate how he proved that the entire existence of a thing could be changed simply by flipping it over, revealing a new angle to its name, an act completed by nothing else but gravity, the very force that traps us on this earth.

Mostly, I hate him because he was right.”

“They will tell you that to be political is to be merely angry, and therefore artless, depthless, “raw,” and empty. They will speak of the political with embarrassment, as if speaking of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

They will tell you that great writing “breaks free” from the political, thereby “transcending” the barriers of difference, uniting people toward universal truths. They’ll say this is achieved through craft above all. Let’s see how it’s made, they’ll say—as if how something is assembled is alien to the impulse that created it. As if the first chair was hammered into existence without considering the human form.

I know. It’s not fair that the word laughter is trapped inside slaughter.

We’ll have to cut it open, you and I, like a newborn lifted, red and trembling, from the just-shot doe.”

“All freedom is relative—you know too well—and sometimes it’s no freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there, as when they “free” wild animals into nature preserves only to contain them yet again by larger borders. But I took it anyway, that widening. Because sometimes not seeing the bars is enough.”