University Settlement gets a mention in a recent New York Times article about the difficulties of trying to learn English in the age of COVID, and one of our students shares her experiences. Click here or on the image above to read!
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To Madison, Who Asked Why I Write
Today, I write mainly to breathe. It wasn’t always like this, or maybe it was, but only now I realize the importance, for me, of writing. After some time, even things that one doesn’t choose end up being part of one’s life. Therefore, today, I would say I write to keep myself alive. I recognize how bold this statement sounds. I don’t like to admit the seriousness of this subject. It sounds a little desperate, making a confession that strong. I’ve never thought of myself as someone radically committed to a “life or death” idea, but I guess I’ve gotten to a point where I need, once and for all, to rely on something. That is writing. All this nonsense makes me think that I also write to understand life; not only life, but existence.
Yet, saying I just want to understand is very vague; I don’t really recognize the deep meaning behind it. I am not searching for words just to translate whatever I am feeling or seeing. It’s more like modeling, like an engineer does. The more I think about words, the less I see them divided between sound and meaning. To me, words are pieces from a Lego box, available to any child who wants to play and build whatever they desire. I like being this child, writing things and creating possibilities.
I also write to control my own story. It’s my narrative; I’m the agent behind the facts. It’s ironic when, at some point, I realize that as much as I try to keep things organized, I always end up at a new starting point, knowing nothing. Sometimes, I feel like I’m becoming crazy. On the other hand, without words, I would never stay sane. It’s so contradictory. If only I was a little bit more succinct. The thing is, nothing moves me more than blank pieces of paper, a little notebook with pens and pencils. When I read a good sentence, when I learn a new figure of speech, when I see writing so good it makes my mind stop working, I feel this love invade me. It’s like I am facing the primordial, the basic goodness of us all. I just want to do the same.
Here in New York, I have been writing specifically to not lose track of who I really am. As an immigrant, I find it more and more complicated to locate myself while I roll from one culture to another, shaking the moss off my identity’s surface whenever a new aspect suddenly appears. I have also been writing to reconceptualize what culture, belonging, longing, and loving are.
If I had to choose just one answer, though, I would say I write mainly because I love words. I love words until the point that they are not necessary. I love words because even better than them is silence, but without the first I would never be able to know the second. So I write to maybe one day run out my need to say things.
Crazy Family Time
Qiao Zhuang (Grace) Zhang
When my husband came back from work at night, I felt like I was facing a formidable enemy. I put on gloves, wore my mask, carried my two-percent diluted bleach water, and sprayed it on his hands, hat, coat, pants, shoes, lunch bag, etc. And then as he entered the house and went to take a shower, I sprayed everything he could possibly have touched. I alerted my kids to keep a social distance from him. I doubted if it would be okay for him to eat at the table, or if he should just stay in his room without coming out. As time went by, I accepted this new normal. If things happen, they happen. I can’t be like a crazy spinning top, sanitizing all day.
According to my sixth sense, I got a mahjong set before our quarantine. I taught Jason to play; he picked it up quickly. Irene was like a scholar; she asked too many questions to learn. Mahjong is usually played by four people. As my husband was blessed to have shortened his business hours, I asked him to join us last night. He said he wanted to sleep after eating. Jason was watching his screen on the couch. I told Jason that his father was lying; he wanted to lie in bed watching TV and his phone simultaneously. I asked Jason to set up the cushion carpet on the table, and I poured out mahjong cards from a box. I said we would play four games, so each one of us could possibly win once. Three of us sat down and started to stack the cards in front of us. Irene was still on her Apple computer while texting on her phone. Father said she studied hard to get into the Ivy League. I said two Apples would kick her doctor’s degree away. She finally joined us.
Father won the first game. I won the second. Irene won the third game. So we hoped Jason would win the fourth, and everybody could switch back to their own screen time. Father put down his cards and claimed he won again. I examined his cards, and found he had too many twos. According to my knowledge, he didn’t win. But he insisted. I took a picture, and shared it with my friend groups. Immediately, they responded that he didn’t win. We continued the game, and I won. I said we wouldn’t stop the game until Jason could win once. Irene won the fifth game. I asked Jason if he didn’t win because he didn’t get the special card. He said he didn’t. I said we would change the rule for him. We would change the special card until he got one. I drank a little. I joked a lot. I observed I had less self-repression after drinking. I enjoyed the freedom of being half-drunk. Jason said, “You’re high.” I believe all of us will remember this special family time, as I don’t recall many four-people moments in my married life. I wish we could create more love moments in our future.
Every couple years we publish a collection of writing from our Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley. Our latest collection is called Remember, and it’s full of stories and poems about NYC, technology, family, art, and the pandemic. Here’s a sample for you:
Mariana Lemos Duarte
I am not sure why this memory returned.
Maybe because of the silence in the street,
Or because of the fear dancing in the air,
Or because of the sun that insistently
invades the floor of my kitchen.
When I was a girl, I used to count the hours.
I used to wake up early just to have more hours to do nothing.
I used to sit on the top of my bunk bed just to have
a different point of view of things.
I used to look out the window to find the Cristo Redentor.
I used to stop whatever I was doing just to see the sunset.
Now, I always have an unfinished task on my to-do list.
And these billions of incomplete to-do tasks grow in a way so
fast and deep that I lose the joy of doing nothing,
And these billions of incomplete to-do tasks grow in a way
so fast and deep that I forget to look at things from a
And these billions of incomplete to-do tasks grow in a way
so fast and deep that I find myself thinking: Why does
the sunset take so long?
Suddenly the time goes so fast that I lose
the ability to count it.
Stop! The world has stopped
To remind me of those days
When I used to count the hours.
Are you beginning to read stories in English? Do you need more practice?
Come join other ESOL students this fall to practice your reading online! We will take turns reading aloud together from two or three books.
You must register with your email address in order to receive the link to participate. The link will be sent to you by email approximately one day before the discussion. You will need a device with audio and/or video and an internet connection to join.
- Friday, October 16, 2020, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Friday, October 30, 2020, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
End times are approximate. Events may end early or late.