Still Reading Pham Thi Hoai’s “Nine Down Makes Ten,” Begun Two Weeks Ago

Will self’s life ever settle down?  Will she ever be able to curb the impulse to travel?  Or will she continue in this comical way, never being at peace for, as her Tita Ateta Gana, a very wise woman, once prophetically said after listening to self tell a hair-rising story about delivering Sole Fruit of Her Loins in Stanford Hospital, after 17 hours of labor:  “Everything happens to Batchoy.”  She didn’t know how prophetic she was!

Will she be able to get through 200 pages of Don Quijote tomorrow, in order to avoid her overdue fine getting any bigger?

Is she really planning to take Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady with her to Venice, in hardcover, even though it takes up approximately 1/4 of her suitcase?

Is it good not to worry about clothes when one is traveling?

Will $150 worth of pain medication be all that Bella The Ancient One needs to survive the next two weeks?

Can self make it to Trieste?

Can she sit 13 hours in an airplane, in an economy seat, without her neck absolutely killing her?

Will she ever be able to finish anything she starts?

Two weeks ago, she began reading Vietnamese writer Pham Thi Hoai’s story in Another Kind of Paradise:  Short Stories From the New Asia-Pacific, edited by Trevor Carolan.  My, that story had her in stitches!  She was absolutely entranced.

It is written in very dense paragraphs (translated from the Vietnamese by Peter Zinoman), but the tone is wicked sly.  It’s about an unnamed woman’s various lovers.  Self reads about Lover # 8:

The eighth man had the hair of a poet, the face of a poet, and a soul especially given over to poetry.  Such qualities are found only in people who have a lot of time and no concrete obligations in life.  When engrossed in the rising and falling of his watery waves, and once acquainted with his passionate love of writing —  swiftly, without semicolons — I began to understand that the most worthwhile obsession is an obsession that is actually independent of the object of fixation.  The object is only borrowed as a pretext, a means, an environment, through which or in which the obsessed person can project his own eternal and essential hunger, thus fulfilling the requirements of death — the dissolution of the ego for something, anything, that exists independently outside of one’s self.  Perhaps that obsession should be controlled.  At some point the most mundane catalyst, a skirt or a fallen leaf, is enough to provoke a series of captivating chain reactions, while at another time much more important objects will inspire only an absurd indifference.

Here, by the way, are a list of things that have remained constant in her life:

  • Her undying commitment to Apple, especially her MacBook Air
  • Her love of blogging, and her corresponding need for the internet.  Dear Cuz Maitoni once aked self:  “Must you always take it upon yourself to entertain the whole world?”  That is such a very pertinent question, Dear Cuz!  Self knows not why.  On this question, she is drawing an absolute blank.
  • Her conviction that she is absolutely made to travel: no matter how unsure she is about her cooking, or her housecleaning, or even the value of her writing, she has only to plan a trip when  —  VOILA! — happiness and confidence descend, and she can brave anything, even the worst bad hair days.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


  1. Jill Widner said,

    April 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Glad to hear you continue to travel. Makes me want to do so as well. Do write about what you find in Venice. I spent a few days in Rome en route to a conference last month and was constantly lost, but loved every corner I turned. And I hope you make it to Trieste. Have always loved the name. And the thought that Joyce finished Portrait of an Artist there and that being there enabled to write about here or vice versa.

    • April 11, 2013 at 7:17 am

      Jill! I WILL make it to Trieste. I’m so curious about it, all the more so now that I know Joyce finished Portrait of an Artist there. Thank you for sharing that.

  2. April 13, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Wow – happy travels and hope you can sleep there – though I just read it’s normal to wake up at night for about two hours.

    • April 13, 2013 at 5:26 am

      Ah well, there are times — like at writers conferences — when I get very, very overwhelmed. But you know, the conference in Berlin where I met you: amazingly, the day I arrived, I felt very rested. That’s why I remember Berlin with such good feelings! Have you been back?

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