My sister Kwan believes she has yineyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco.
"Libby-ah," she'll say to me. "Guess who I see yesterday, you guess." And I don't have to guess that she's talking about someone dead.
The Hundred Secret Senses (1995).
Everyone must dream. We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming — well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate. Isn’t that true?
My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the JoyLuck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago. My father thinks she was killed by her own thoughts.
Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine.
Your father is not my first husband. You are not those babies.
Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.
I was no longer scared. I could see what was inside me.
After the gold was removed from my body I felt lighter, more free. They say this is what happens if you lack metal. You begin to think as an independent person.
I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you're in control.
My mother had a look on her face that I'll never forget. It was one of complete despair and horror, for losing Bing, for being so foolish as to think she could use faith to change fate.
I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself. I won't be what I'm not.
Only two kind of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!
I began to look at all events and all things as relevant, an opportunity to take or avoid.
I remember wondering why it was that eating something good could make me feel so terrible, while vomiting something terrible could make me feel so good.
Now that I'm angry at Harold, it's hard to remember what was so remarkable about him.
I saw what I had been fighting for: it was for me, a scared child...
That was the night, in the kitchen, that I realized I was no better than who I was... And I no longer felt angry at Waverly. I felt tired and foolish, as if I had been running to escape someone chasing me, only to look behind and discover there was no one there.
Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.
On the third day after someone dies, the soul comes back to settle scores. In my mother's case, this would be the first day of the lunar new year. And because it is the new year, all debts must be paid, or disaster and misfortune will follow.
I have always known a thing before it happens.
It is because I had so much joy that I came to have so much hate.
I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?
I don't feel the need to be a role model, it's just something that's been thrust upon me. Teachers and a lot of Asian-American organizations, for example, say to me, "We need you to come and speak to us because you're a role model." ... Placing on writers the responsibility to represent a culture is an onerous burden. Someone who writes fiction is not necessarily writing a depiction of any generalized group, they're writing a very specific story.
Other Asian-American writers just shudder when they are compared to me; it really denigrates the uniqueness of their own work. I find it happening less here partly because people are more aware now of the flaws of political correctness — that literature has to do something to educate people. I don't see myself, for example, writing about cultural dichotomies, but about human connections. All of us go through angst and identity crises. And even when you write in a specific context, you still tap into that subtext of emotions that we all feel about love and hope, and mothers and obligations and responsibilities.
One relative felt that the story of my grandmother should not have been revealed. My grandmother was the woman (in The Kitchen God's Wife) who had been raped, forced to be a concubine, and finally killed herself. My mother, though, got equally angry at the relative and said, "For so many years, I carried this shame on my back, and my mother suffered, because she couldn't say anything to anybody." And she said, "It's not too late; tell the world, tell the world what happened to her." And I take her mandate to be the one that is in my heart, the one that I should follow.
I've long thought about how life is influenced by death, how it influences what you believe in and what you look for. Yes, I think I was pushed in a way to write this book by certain spirits — the yin people — in my life. They've always been there, I wouldn't say to help, but to kick me in the ass to write. ...Yin people is the term Kwan uses, because "ghosts" is politically incorrect. People have such terrible assumptions about ghosts — you know, phantoms that haunt you, that make you scared, that turn the house upside down. Yin people are not in our living presence but are around, and kind of guide you to insights. Like in Las Vegas when the bells go off, telling you you've hit the jackpot. Yin people ring the bells, saying, "Pay attention." And you say, "Oh, I see now." Yet I'm a fairly skeptical person. I'm educated, I'm reasonably sane, and I know that this subject is fodder for ridicule. ... To write the book, I had to put that aside. As with any book. I go through the anxiety, "What will people think of me for writing something like this?" But ultimately, I have to write what I have to write about, including the question of life continuing beyond our ordinary senses.
People look at me as this very, I don't know, Confucius-like wise person — which I'm not. They don't see all the shit that I've been through.
Reading for me was a refuge. I could escape from everything that was miserable in my life and I could be anyone I wanted to be in a story, through a character. It was almost sinful how much I liked it. That's how I felt about it. If my parents knew how much I loved it, I thought they would take it away from me. I think I was also blessed with a very wild imagination because I can remember, when I was at an age before I could read, that I could imagine things that weren't real and whatever my imagination saw is what I actually saw. Some people would say that was psychosis but I prefer to say it was the beginning of a writer's imagination. If I believed that insects had eyes and mouths and noses and could talk, that's what they did. If I thought I could see devils dancing out of the ground, that's what I saw. If I thought lightning had eyes and would follow me and strike me down, that's what would happen. And I think I needed an outlet for all that imagination, so I found it in books.
External success has to do with people who may see me as a model, or an example, or a representative. As much as I may dislike or want to reject that responsibility, this is something that comes with public success. It's important to give others a sense of hope that it is possible and you can come from really different places in the world and find your own place in the world that's unique for yourself.
I was writing for businesses. I think my mother was a little skeptical in the beginning, but fortunately, as a free-lance writer I was successful almost immediately. And so she was very proud, because she measured success in terms of money, which is what I started to do as well. My goal then, became to increase the amount of money that I made each month. Not simply each year, but each month — I mean, talk about pressure — to have more billable hours each month. So that by the end of my third year of being a free-lance writer, I was billing 90 hours a week. I had no time to sleep. I had no life. People said I was crazy, that I was a workaholic. And I couldn't understand how it was that I had these wonderful clients, and I was making all this money, and I wasn't happy and I didn't feel successful. That's when I started to write fiction.