By Jenny Zhang.
10:45 AM, my bed
I wake up and see a a text from my friend Gabe asking me, “who would your dream mentors be if you could choose,” and I think: bell hooks. I’m not ashamed at all that at a dark half-basement party in the Bushwick Bed-Stuy triangle the night before, I ranted about not having any mentors and my lifelong desperation for one and how it makes me feel unfit when people want me to be their mentors and even though I feel like a loser every single day—a writing loser, a career loser, an ambition loser, a schmoozer loser—I won’t let that diminish or invalidate the envy that other people may feel toward me, that my own desperate desire to have more is not grounds for dismissing those people who think I don’t even deserve what I already have.
I pee, drink water from the tap, go back into bed and I’m suddenly hyper conscious that my farts are little and soft and warm and would be almost cute smothered under my blanket except they smell truly awful and that’s that last thought I have before falling back asleep.
I wake up a second time and think I should stretch but instead look at email on my phone and send a few pointless Happy Valentine’s Day emails to people for extremely calculating reasons that have to do with $$$
I put on Close Lobsters and get out of bed.
12:22 PM, my living room and kitchen
I feel sheepish because last night after coming back from the half-basement party, I fell into a slightly manic state and became convinced I could DO IT ALL and thought that my destiny was to conduct an amazing interview with Louis CK and I literally made a to-do list in my Evernote titled, “Tomorrow ya stupid piec of cunt lint” [sic for ya stupid piece of cunt lint] with a unmarked check box that says “Louie” and then another unmarked check box beneath it that says nothing.
I put on a shirt but no underwear or pants and grab my 10 pound bag of rice to make some rice porridge, or congee for annoying people who correct my English translations of Chinese food I grew up eating.
While waiting for porridge to cook, I make coffee and pour a shit ton of Coffee-Mate in my mug. When I was a kid, I loved Coffee-Mate so much that I would spoon it directly into my mouth, and since I hated actual milk, I came up with the brilliant idea to make Coffee-Mate milk, which I assumed would taste exactly like the other disgusting faux cream product that I was massively into: McDonald’s coffee creamers (I would down twenty of them at a time). The problem was I didn’t realize you needed hot liquid to make the powdered flecks of CORN SYRUP SOLIDS in Coffee-Mate melt so I just had this huge glass of water with eight scoops of Coffee-Mate floating on top and ended up dumping it down the sink and feeling guilty for weeks after.
I listen to Even As We Speak while googling “how to remove turmeric stains from a mug” and open twelve tabs but all of them are for removing turmeric stains from clothes or plastic and I feel confused. I shut off my computer and start reading Monkey, the first volume of the English translation of the Chinese classic Journey To the West by Wu Cheng’en.
God I fucking hate English translations of Chinese writing. I fucking hate it when they literally translate the name and everything feels so distancing and alien and orientalist. I hate seeing the name “Son of Vacuity” appear in the novel instead of the transliterated name: Sun Wukong. I put the book down after a whole five minutes.
I take out all the little bits of food that I’m going to eat with my porridge: fermented bean curd (chunk) with sesame oil, preserved bamboo shoots with all those little pickled red peppers and red chilies smothered in oil, pickled cucumber (chili), this little oblong tin can with a little salty fish inside with tiny bones you can chew, with Chinese preserved black beans.
As I’m placing each of these things into little glass bowls, I think about the conversation I had with Gabe at the half-basement party about poetry and accessibility and reaching a wider audience than this bubble of poets who consort with each other and sleep with each other and read each other and review each other and blurb each other and invite each other and publish each other. We were talking about coming from worlds (him: rural, southwest, working class, me: urban immigrant enclave, another country, poor for a decade) that have no connection to this world of poetry and wanting desperately to bridge where we come from to where we are. I was saying that I feel so trapped and sad sometimes and I wonder if I am tokenizing myself. I wonder if I am permitting things that disgust me, like how I am always translating the world I come from so that it can be consumed as entertainment for the world I currently am in. I don’t know how far I will go to make my life readable and seeable. “I already put the subtitles on!” I shouted.
I was shouting last night about how it feels to give a poetry reading to a mostly white if not entirely white audience of uber literate, uber well-read, uber educated poets about being an immigrant and an alien. “I bring this poems to you already translated into the most simple possible fucking language so that you don’t have do any work, you don’t have to learn about anything outside yourself, you don’t have to do any research at all, you don’t have to care. I’ve already done it for you. I’ve put subtitles on it for you and you still come up to me after the reading and make me feel like a stupid chink, a stupid immigrant.” I almost cry as I’m saying all this but Gabe’s roommates comes over at that precise moment and we joke about something and I feel powerful that I’m able to switch so quickly from almost crying to knocking those jokes back, snap snap snap.
I lose twenty minutes to social media scrolling and feel a really intense, slow fart buildup so I put on some pants to protect my pink velvet couch from the oncoming onslaught of microscopic shit particles
The porridge is ready but I’m too wrapped up now reading Charlotte Shane’s latest TinyLetter essay and sending it to my friends who are sex workers. Some of them won’t read it and some of them will be horrified and confused by the idea of a sex worker who doesn’t seek stability or the kind of fuck you wealth that high paid sex workers are always in close proximity to but never in possession of. I also forget to drink my coffee and I feel slight panic and slight relief in knowing that I’ve now reached the part of my day where I forget to drink my coffee and then microwave it for 45 seconds and then forget to take it out of the microwave and then have to microwave it for another 45 seconds and this goes on until I finally drink the coffee or night falls and I decide to leave my coffee in the microwave in an effort to not waste and tell myself I’ll reheat it up the next morning and drink it then, but usually by the next morning, I forget I have day old coffee in my microwave and end up making a fresh batch, whereupon this entire cycle begins again.
I call my mom because I miss her and my dad so, so much and wish I was at their place in Forest Hills. On the last episode of Girls, Shosh won’t let Ray go to Forest Hills to buy clothes at a department store (sidebar to the sidebar: I’ve never seen a department store in Forest Hills), and Shosh talks about it in horrified terms as if it were the drug and murder capital of New York, but when I was little, Forest Hills was THE NICE part of New York. We dreamed of the day when we could afford to live there, and now my parents actually do… after thirty years of dreaming.
On the phone, my mom tells me that she and my dad went out for a walk and ended up buying a bunch of seaweed wrapped rice triangles from the Japanese supermarket. “We gave three to your brother and your dad and I split one. We also split a package of instant ramen. Your dad asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner and I said, oh hell no, I don’t want to be squeezed into some restaurant with everyone else. I don’t care about that,” she says and I say I don’t care either, and then in Chinese, I say, “if someone truly loves you, they are good to you every single day, not just on the one day a year when you’re supposed to be good to someone,” and she says, “Exactly,” and we talk about how Americans always want these ritualized, set holidays where you are supposed to care about something or someone and we laugh at how dumb Americans are.
Then my mom excitedly tells me about this joke she got in her email this morning.
“A girl asks her boyfriend one day why is the order of the English alphabet A B C D E F G? Oh, the boyfriend says, I can tell you why. It’s because it stands for: a boy can do everything for girls.”
“Oh my god,” I say. “Too cheesy.”
“Just listen,” my mom says. “So the girl is so moved and she falls deeper in love with her boyfriend and they get engaged to be married and on the morning of her wedding day, she asks her boyfriend, ‘Wait, what about the rest of the alphabet? Why is it H I J K?’ and the her boyfriend smiles slyly, and says, ‘That’s a really good question. I wish you had asked me that earlier. Its H I J K because he is just kidding.’ The end,” my mom says and we both crack the fuck up at the cheesiness of the joke, and I think it’s such an immigrant joke because clearly the girl in the joke is trying to learn English.
Suddenly, I’m hit with such a wave of sadness because I know the conversation is coming to an end. I know I won’t be home tonight to eat my dad’s special claypot rice that he cooks in a regular non-claypot with bitter vegetables and Chinese sausage, and I won’t be there to watch my father soak my mother’s calluses like he does every night, checking on her every five minutes, ladling the cooled water out of the basin and pouring in fresh hot water so that the temperature is perfect the entire time.
I get off the phone and put on a super boring lecture on China’s cultural revolution. After five minutes, it’s too boring and I switch to an iTunes U course from Columbia University on the “Early Middle Ages” and eat my porridge and all my fermented and pickled vegetables.
I listen to Zebra Katz, Big Freedia, Nicky Da B, and Cap’n Jazz.
I look up Nicky Da B and the first thing that comes up is that he died in September. He was 24.
I eat six foil wrapped gizzards from China and three of them come with a little chartreuse-colored pickled pepper.
I microwave my coffee for the fourth time, this time for 25 seconds. I really hope I remember to drink it this time.
I alternate between reading Monkey and Jonathan Spence’s The Search for Modern China, which feels weird because my whole life, people who are outside my world and my culture and my life get to be the authority on it. They get to describe me before I do. They tell me that my description of my life is inauthentic and contains factual errors, that people who have lived their whole lives in China have a biased and wrong view of their own country, and that the only people with a truly unbiased, rational understanding of China are white academics and journalists who have spent several years or months or weeks there. I’m often too tired to argue so I laugh a lot instead. I wish I could read Chinese texts but I’m Chinese- illiterate so I’m stuck with white people westernplaining my country and my origins to me. When I was younger, an older white man once wrote me a check to cover my rent and because of it I felt compelled to go on a date with him and let him spend the entire night teaching me about Chinese people and Chinese food—what cuisines existed in which regions, what customs were customary, blah blah blah. He was wrong about almost everything—all his knowledge came from a six week tourguided trip through China. I know there are plenty who might say that was a small price to pay, and I know there are just as many who might say that I put up with too much.
5:12 PM, Retro Fitness Gym
I get on the elliptical and watch two old episodes of Parks and Recreation and feel very romantic and satisfied.
6:18 PM, my apartment
I get home and immediately cram several slices of gravlax salmon that I bought from my first trip to Russ and Daughters, two days ago. This is also my first time eating gravlax. I eat the slices sanding up with my coat on and my gym bag still hanging from my shoulder. Then I pull out the cheese I bought last night: goat tallegio and hard sheep cheese from the Pyrenees and half a thing of really, really dry sausage with garlic and pepper and continue to eat standing up. I know I have to shower soon so I cram three pieces of sausage into my mouth, one in each corner of my mouth like a chipmunk, and one just in my mouth, regular style, ready to be chewed. The idea is while I am chewing on the center piece, the two sausage slices in the corners of my mouth can be safely stored and unchewed until I am done with the center piece so that I can extend and prolong the sensation of eating sausage while I’m showering. By the time my hair is wet I have no more sausage in my mouth and I can’t figure out if my method of trying to “store” sausage in my cheeks worked, but the flavor is still in my mouth and it feels good.
I get out of the shower and wonder what I always wonder after washing my hair: do other long haired people not stick their broken hairs on their shower walls to keep their shower drains from clogging or does everyone just clog their showers and kill the environment with that toxic liquid that you use to unclog drains? I’ve never once seen these hairs on TV or on the big screen.
I heat up some eggplant and pork leftovers with rice and eat it, and then I heat up some celery, garlic, and chicken with rice and eat it, and then I heat up some brussel sprouts and pork and peppers and rice leftovers and eat it.
Since my bathroom is TINY and the tub is literally right next to the toilet, I pee while washing lingerie in the tub with one hand and wringing it dry while wiping myself with the other hand.
8:08 PM, American Two Shot
I’m at the Adult Mag erotic reading at American Two Shot with my friends Chris and Anthony. My friend Christina is already there. As soon as I get inside, I see Arabelle looking like a punk angel and I see Ben for the first time in a long time and he whisper-introduces me to Moira, who is wearing beautiful red lipstick, and we whisper about wanting to reach over the bar counter to grab a Bud Light. They leave and I keep looking at the 24 pack of Bud Light and expecting Ana to notice my greedy gaze and offer me one, but then I think, whatever, I should probably stick to wine or spirits since I’m essentially wearing two onesies, and one of the onesies has buttons all the way from my buttcrack up to my collarbone.
8:42 PM, Wine shop next to American Two Shot
I grab my friend Christina and we run out just as an actress from Glee is faking an orgasm. Later, I ask my friends Anthony and Chris what that was, and they tell me they were acting out the fake orgasm scene from in When Harry Met Sally. Whenever something is acted, especially if it’s well-acted, I lose interest. Just as we leave, we run into Jordan who is in town because he’s producing Sheila Heti’s play All Our Happy Days Are Stupid. He’s going to the reading too, and I tell him that he just missed a fake orgasm and hurry the hell up, who knows what else will happen. Christina and I go into the wine store next door and I buy a 17 dollar twist-off bottle of white wine. We talk about anal sex really briefly and exclusive sex parties organized by richies, and talk bitchily about whether or not we think anyone at this reading has ever gone to a swinger’s club or sex party or actually engaged in “subversive sex.” I say that most people I know who have do it partially because they plan on writing about it and that annoys me, even though that person is pretty much also me. We go back to the reading and everything is great because now we have a bottle of wine and are drinking out of it.
9:45 PM Sel Rrose restaurant
Christina, Chris, Anthony and I go to this place on Bowery to get oysters, small plates of shrimp and chorizo, fries, and more fancy, pretty-looking booze. On the way there, we talk about how almost no one read their own original sex writing—except my angel Arabelle who can do no wrong—and we ask ourselves, “Is no one writing about sex anymore?”
12:52 AM, Sing Sing Karaoke bar
Instead of going to this Valentine’s Day party in Park Slope, I end up in a taxi to Sing Sing where we are meeting up with two other people I don’t know who Chris and Anthony do know. We get a private room and Anthony and I start it off with Newfoundglory. One of the two people I don’t know leaves after not very long and I somehow feel like our drunken exuberance was the reason why, but whatever. I feel basically invincible because I try singing “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush and “Work It” by Missy Elliott for the first time and kilt it.
1:45 AM over the Williamsburg Bridge
I’m in a taxi with Chris and Anthony, and the other guy from Karaoke and whose name I forget is sitting in the front doing something with his phone that looks really trippy. I tell Chris and Anthony that I’m supposed to record this day, which is why I tried to read impressive, serious things, and listen to impressive, eclectic music, and force myself out of the house and even went to a reading and invited my friends to go to make it look like I live a full, active, rich life and Chris is like, duh, that’s unspoken and given, everyone does that when they know they have to write about their day, and everyone knows that everyone does that. He thinks we should still go to the party in Park Slope, but Anthony refuses, so we compromise and get a pitcher of beer instead at a bar in our neighborhood that I’ve never been to because I’ve never been to a lot of places in Williamsburg, and we talk about the possibility of honest blurbs for books, and I drunkenly declare, “I would blurb any one of you if I ever became famous enough for you to care.”
3:29 AM, my pink couch
I’m sitting on my pink couch, listening to Kate Bush and smelling my feet and my pussy. The latter because I’m checking for signs of a yeast infection or a bacterial infection, and the former because I like the way my feet smell.
Take a few naked selfies, eat Korean spicy ramen with an egg cracked over the top while watching six minutes of Parks and Recreation. I read the first ten pages of A Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante before falling asleep.
Jenny Zhang is the author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find (Octopus, 2012) and the non-fiction chapbook Hags (Guillotine, 2014). She writes for teen girls at Rookie magazine & occasionally tweets @jennybagel. She’s currently working on her first novel.
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This is my favorite journal entry I have read in the past 3 years. (And I have read a lot.) Thank you. Thank you.
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