Remember for the Third Time

Here’s yet another story from Remember, a collection of student writing from our Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley.

To Madison, Who Asked Why I Write

Marília Valengo

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.

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Remember Again

File:Triples-ma-jiang.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another story from Remember, a collection of student writing from our Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley:

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.

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Remember

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:

Counting Hours
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
       different perspective.
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.

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Writing Class in the Time of Coronavirus

Like our other classes, the Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley continued online this spring and recently had their final class of the school year, a screen shot of which is above. Thank you to June, her student assistants Kristi and James, and her students for persisting through these tough times. Below is a story by Afroza Yasmin about her experience with coronavirus which will be included in the upcoming writing class collection:

My Days of Coronavirus

Afroza Yasmin

From the beginning, we were very alert about Covid-19. When people couldn’t find masks, gloves, or hand sanitizers in the grocery store in my neighborhood, I had already collected these necessary items, including disinfecting wipes, alcohol, hand soaps, etc.

In early March, my daughter came home from medical school in Pennsylvania during spring break. One day, she started reading online about the coronavirus. At that time, the first few cases had started in the Bronx, Harlem, and Westchester. She told me that this virus would go into every household. So she advised that I go shopping right away, to buy those kinds of things. I realized that maybe two years ago, Jon, my teacher at University Settlement, showed the film Contagion in class. So I thought this virus was going to spread like the pandemic in the movie. I was shocked and fearful, so I ran to the supermarket, bought those items and also bought some groceries from the grocery store.

Then we stayed home as much as possible. Sometimes, my husband would take some of the food and give it to his family, friends, and our neighbors though drive-in. When he went outside, he always wore a mask and gloves. At that time, our daughter had exams, so she went back to Pennsylvania.

A few days later, in the middle of March, my husband was sick. He had a high fever, coughing, and a light breathing problem. Then, after a few days, our two sons and I were also sick. We didn’t take a test, but we looked online, and we had symptoms of the coronavirus, so we made some video calls with our doctors. They gave us cough medicines and antibiotics and also advised us that we had to stay home for two weeks. We took the medicines. My sons and I felt a little better, but my husband didn’t recover; his symptoms kept coming back.

I know these kinds of symptoms. Sometimes the medicine doesn’t work, so we decided that we would do some homemade therapy, like warm water with lemon and honey, clove powder and black seed powder, and also some ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black seeds, and cardamom, made into a drink, like tea. We drank this at least two times a day. Also, I put a pot of steaming water into my bed and we covered ourselves with blankets at least three times a day. This type of treatment uses breathing exercises of inhaling and exhaling with hot boiling water. In addition, we gargled three times a day, with some salt or alcohol in a glass of hot water. After those kinds of treatments, everybody was recovering.

Now it is the month of Ramadan. We are fasting and enjoying it. Now we stay home as much as possible. We have to be grateful that we are all still breathing and active. Every now and then, I go outside my apartment, and I hear the sound of sirens coming from the ambulances on every corner. But there is still hope. I hope everybody enjoys a happy and healthy life at this moment. Stay safe and be strong in this crisis.

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