In my primary-school textbook, there was a memorial poem dedicated to a respectable writer, two lines of which I somehow have not forgotten: “Some people are living, but already dead; some people have died, but still alive.” It may be the time I began to know that living bodies could be different from one another to the extent that some resemble those underneath the ground when they walk in the sun the same as us. Later, the reading and writing of Chinese language brought me the experiences of vigor, and later than that, my pursuit for the same experience in language distracted me from the reality.
In certain periods in my middle school days, I was proud that I could recognize and imitate some patterns of language of texts in my textbook. At that time, I found these patterns mature and admirable in contrast to mine, and I especially preferred one that looked brief and stiff. One day, my mother examined my homework and read an assigned essay, one that was also written in an imitative style. “Is this written by yourself? “she asked.
“Yes. Of course,” I answered.
“Oh, it really seems to be XXX’s essay,” she said.
I assured her, then she asked, “Why?”
I probably answered, “its’s just for fun.”
Then she expressed her surprise, and said, “This style is too old for you…it is lifeless. You’d better write in your language.”
I did not understand her then. In fact, I thought this effect was actually what I wanted. The essay assignments were always personal narratives; to me then, the imitated styles covered my past embarrassment of writing or reviewing my essays, which were childish and overly exaggerated. Nevertheless, I still found a problem in this imitation — the embarrassment did not totally disappear.
Things changed in my ninth grade years. My readings revealed to me not only styles to learn, but also different souls. I read classic poems and essays, vernacular essays and narratives, as well as modern ones. The writers of some passages, as I imagined, had a broad vision and a strong spirit; they to some extent resembled the chivalric, omnipotent kung fu characters who bloomed the flowers in their suppressive reality. Here is one example written by writer Lu Xun in the preface of a collection of essays in the 1930s:
“It is the night of the end of the year, and the night will be fulfilled, and my life, at least part of it, has been spent on writing these boring things, and what I have acquired is my own soul desolate and rough, but I do not fear these, do not want to cover these, and somehow even love them, because this is the scar of my wandering and living in the sandstorm (Lu 5, my trans.).
The passages like this excerpt were written based on the authors’ experience instead of boast. Roughly then, I began to realize that to blindly imitate styles could not be enough to myself; only writing with my effort and spirit can make my essay not be embarrassing; and only to develop a strong soul, can I express a strong soul. So I started to read more books, and reflected to myself now and then. Looking back to those essays, there are some of blunt imitation, some of deliberate mystification, some of hypocritical lamentation, but also some of vitality. In other words, the process of creation and expression before and during writing provided me with comprehension and joy, which I deemed to be what being alive should feel like. Besides writing, I also tried to live as strong as the words; when I studied and exercised, I focused on the results instead of cutting corners. I ran three rounds on the playground in the morning as required, made effort to come up with the solution to the last math problem by myself, and often went for a walk and appreciated the varying color of clean autumn sky in the evening. From these processes I thought I had understood something in my daily life that was worth writing in my essay assignments with confidence.
However, the change of realization of language was accompanied by a greater expectation for vitality that later deeply influenced me. The larger, more distant worlds in readings often induced strange feelings such as grandeur, solitude, and peace. For example, when reading two lines of a classic poem one morning— “Quercophyllum leaves fell on the mountain road, orange flowers illuminated the wall of the post house.” [“????????????”]— “my heart felt stir and silence, as if the leaves fall on it,” according to my notebook. And I thought I should definitely be “alive” when I was reflecting or writing with those sudden thoughts and emotions. In late autumn, when the wind went cold, I was particularly drawn to the evening in the campus; I walked, recalled the lines and passages with implicit expectation to feel the excitement in the chill once again, and stopped, and wrote thoughts in the notebook.
And it could be this longing for the feeling of vitality that resulted in my departure from real life later as I rose into my high school. The less extensive school environment, the unfixed college application requirements, the peer pressure, and most importantly, the doubt about studying abroad… they were all sources of my anxiety; I seldom had extensive thoughts, and even study became uninspiring any more. On the way back to the International department in early spring, I often recalled the past; from comparison, I reached the conclusion that my present state of living could not be called “alive”. I also recalled my past experiences of being “alive”: to learn, to solve difficult problems, and to read and write. Therefore, I tried to put more focus on my environment and did not restrain my emotions, in the wish to feel the overwhelming emotion and record it, as justification to myself that I am being alive again. I typed on my cell phone one day when watching the school sports meeting:
Here is not my place, and I am not the person who hided Three Points One Exercise (an exercise book) and camera underneath my coat (to write exercise and take pictures everywhere). The new livings, with their fresh blood, walk, stand, and swarm without urge or constraint, while I live on my obsession.
I did describe my true feelings just as before. The difference was that I had seen an extended world with figures of vigorous spirit, while in this language immersed with feeling I cannot see anything. The language of mine was the reflection of my limitations. What I had written was no longer a combination of expression and exploration, but a combination of expression and retention, a nostalgia for the atmosphere of writing instead of reality. Still, this situation was not qualified be called as being alive.
Finally, I stopped writing personally and stopped worrying about the question of going abroad, and thought vigor may be an illusion, while being “dead” is inevitable. Later, in preparation for a math competition, I acquired the joy of learning again, and used it against my doubts about self and its outcome. The outcome was actually fine. After that, I thought I found what I had lost, which was the belief in the possibility to amend the present and create new paths to live, the result of which could be vigor. Then I realized an implicit feeling not indifferent, not overwhelming, and not fierce as the memories about being alive, yet I call it an ordinary form of being alive, for it gives one strength and hope. In fact, since people and environment varies, there are no definite solutions for “being alive,” while the determination to overcome difficulties and keep being alive could be more stable. And I also hold that, without the intention to fabricate certain emotions for myself, someday Chinese, or even other languages, shall present their random and mysterious gift of real vigor to me again.
Lu, Xun. “??”[“preface”]. “???”[“Canopy Collection”], 1st edition, Beijing Xinhua Publishers, 1956, pp.5.