Why Writing China Feels Like The Lost Highway


I took a trip to China and left my daily notebook behind. There are two kinds of writers: those who can write away from their work spaces and those who can’t. I read once that Gabriel Garcia Marquez can’t write away from home. I have a hard time writing when I’m away from home too. It’s always a challenge. And I find it hard to write while I’m in the moment of an experience, like on a trip. It’s like I need to filter it all through over time before getting that objective/subjective tension that leads to writing. Photographs don’t help either. For me, I need to be in the moment and then stew on it all for a while and then write about it. It’s like the character in Lost Highway said, something like “I don’t like taking pictures because I like to remember the moment as I experienced it.”

In this trip to China I thought I’d work it into the character of my novel. I had fantasies of ripping through my notebook each evening, or dancing on top of my computer keys at night working all my experiences into my character–didn’t happen. And now that I’m home, it’s still not happening. I don’t know the angle I’d take, and I haven’t had the time to reflect on my trip to see it creatively–it’s still too new and too factual. I don’t want fact–I want poetic fact. I want truth without necessarily being factual, or quantitative or chronological about it.

I still haven’t found my notebook. It’s somewhere. I write in it daily, but haven’t now in almost two weeks. And I’ve dumped this blog for that time too.

But you know, with anything it takes breaking a habit to enter a new one. By writing and publishing this post, I am willing my way back on track.

Now maybe I’ll get around to finding that notebook . . .

This Blog Post Months Later . . . 

If I could be the kind of writer that can write phenomena as it happens. If only I could stare out onto a busy street in Chengdu, as pig bladder from that evening’s hotpot stews away in my burning stomach. If I could write how tea is served at meetings, and how it is perfectly polite to slurp while someone is giving a presentation; and how it took me only two days of meetings to become a shameless raving slurper of the finest green tea that has ever passed these lips. If I could write it all as it’s happening—the bamboo groves, the silent workers in green fields, the red lanterns, the thatched huts, the orange trees . . .

But I have a hard time writing like that. Instead, my pen sits in my pocket, or back at the hotel room, and I quietly gaze out of taxi windows, and pray to God that some day I can make sense of it; that someday the experiences will knit together like quilt making patterns and connections in ways I would not have thought while my hand slips out the taxi window and I feel water droplets form along my wrist. To catch phenomena as it happens—to be that kind of writer . . .

I have returned to this blog after a long time away. There is never reason for me to write; nothing burdensome to release onto the pale white surface of the screen—nothing but desire shot through with a sense of duty. To write . . .

A duty to Whom?

I throw words up, and

Let God sort them out—

That’s how it feels some

times it

seems . . .

And China remains

hidden in my unconscious

as time,

nothing but time and

reflection, draws it from

the depths of memory.

A scene from my trip comingles with a story I heard one day on the way to the Rocky Mountains. The story takes place in Japan, but I transport it effortlessly to China; and my soul transmigrates to the protagonist, and he falls prey to a most obscene display of humiliation. And the forlorn buildings at night and the swishing traffic become the backdrop of an encounter with the supernatural—

past experience becomes myth . . .

A favourite movie line comes from David Lynch’s Lost Highway. The protagonist is asked why he does not take pictures. “Because I want to remember things the way I remember them . . .”

That’s the remembering

of a writer.

That’s the writing

of remembering.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s