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Before you is an offering of words from Katharina Mei-Fa Leung Brinschwitz. Born in 2000, Brinschwitz is a Cantonese-Aussie German first-gen American who lives and creates in the Pacific Northwest on unceded ancestral lands of the Duwamish and Coast Salish People. She identifies as queer, neurodivergent interdisciplinary artist and author. Her creative practice is fluid and takes on many shapes. Each form is a meditation on the space between things. Suffering and compassion. Craft and fine art. Waking reality and dreamstate. In the following exhibition of poetic prose, there are recurring words, ideas, phrases, and feelings. This provides an intimate look into the repetition of Brinschwitz’s brainspace and is an invitation to recite the mantras with them.
My intention is to make art that opens space for introspection and connection to self, people, and the natural world through exploring fundamental questions of identity, difference, and belonging. I aim to create media that directly challenges the dominant culture of white supremacist-ableist-colonialist-patriarchal ideologies. I am a product of globalization and was raised in America by immigrant parents. I have been taught to embody the values that enact detrimental harm on all people and places. My art practice is a way for me to unlearn and begin healing generational trauma by looking at the intersections of myself and others with greater compassion. My art addresses the hardened spaces of ourselves and asks us to soften into a tenderness that births liberation. Carving out space in the world through my art to speak about our interconnectedness is my intervention of dominant perceptions of meaning-making.
Flickers of Memory is an archive of poetry and prose written in the spring of 2022. The pieces are a mixture of memoir, love letters, zuihitsu, and stream of consciousness essays. Across this blend of work I explore the positionality of the second person. You. I have always been drawn to the second person perspective in books; Choose Your Own Adventure novels shaped many of my formative years. In this exploration between first and second person I hope to craft an intimate space for us to meet on any level you feel ready for. Interwoven in these stories are shards of love, loss, spirit, resilience. A finger painting of words assembled with the intent of honoring beginnings and ends.
I wonder what the difference between creative and non-creative is. Fiction versus non-fiction. To be understood and to not be understood. In this weaving of words we call language, the English language, a coffin is crafted for us to rest in. And in the delusion of immortal slumber, our mental landscape(s) have binaries as the default processing system.
It is either this or that. Correct or incorrect. One finite answer.
Our languages leave chasms of unfathomable sense. Rifts between.
Such space that dared not be explored.
Complete or incomplete. Ease or unease. It could be mine as I claim it, or we could mine for the jewels hidden in our unexplored caverns.
Learning to love another is like learning how to speak in poetry. Nay, it is not enough to rely on roads previously paved.
This makes white men snarl.
But he does not understand how little I care for the confines of “proper” English. I speak improper and wild. I claim and reject it. I am a symptom.
Or am I asymptomatic? Maybe both. I dive into drunken grass-style calligraphy. Asemic writing is a shadow of convention. It suspends disbelief and asks you to look and read without comprehension to reach comprehension.
I was just shy of my tenth sun revolution when I learnt the word Double Agent. A wild word, a word not on the spelling list that came weekly assigned. I used to believe that my fifth grade teacher, Mister McKnight, was a literal knight, or at least of lordship lineage. On occasion, he’d pull out a deck of riddling words. On this day, under a whirring overhead projector, the class murmured at the word “AGENT” printed twice in a typeface black and bold. Double Agent.
We would all be happier to know that we are both. Made for the Light and Dark.
We are the space between the ends. More of an “and” than an “or”.
Cinnamomum camphora, more commonly known as the Camphor tree, can be distinguished by its grand stature, rugged furrowed bark, and obovoid green leaves that alternate up stems. Camphor is known for unapologetically taking up space – swaying 70 feet tall and growing twice as wide. They live lavish lives in their homelands of Southeast Asia, doted on and revered by their keepers. The people who call them sacred. Holy. For a loving relationship that has spanned multiple mortal lifetimes, Camphor gifts her people in return endless medicine. She cures the coughs and stuffed nasal passages, her seedlings’ roots settle stomachs, her oils soothe pains of joints, and her leaves enrich the peoples’ food with aromatic spice.
Brought to foreign lands against their will, Camphors were introduced to Australia in 1822 as ornamental trees. The British colonists thought they could tame them, trim them and cultivate them into something civilized and proper. Manicuring trees seemed to be a good pass time to forget the Black War’s genocide of Aboriginal Australians and Tasmanians. However, Camphor escaped the settler’s cultivation. With homesickness fueling her rage, she grew steadfast and strong. Just before winter’s door, their small green bulbous fruit turn brilliant black and begin to drop to the sandy earth that Camphors prefer to make their home in. Producing one hundred thousand seedlings per tree, Camphor takes no chances on survival. Like the loving mother that the homeland keepers know her to be, she ensures that her offspring will thrive.
The Camphor tree lineage has continued to travel across seas. Reaching Florida in 1875, she now lays claim across the southern dryer lands of what is currently known as North America. Floridians and Australians bond over this “pest tree”, groaning at the rate she spreads. When they no longer could control her, the exotic aesthetic vanished. Camphor trees remind us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And that strength is in numbers. Don’t spend your time dwelling on if people like you. They don’t. Or at least not all of them. Sometimes our existence is inherently oppressive. Many ecosystems are not prepared for Camphor’s aggression. However, wetter climates escape their wrath, as Camphor despises damp feet.
Camphor trees comfort the diaspora children. They bond over being rooted far from their ancestors. Both are clever, adapting to the onslaught of projected hatred. Camphor is labeled as a loner, the medicinal fragrance from their leaves not only repels insects but other plants as well. Their children, both seedlings and humans, heed teachings that urge them to embrace their abundant nature. Some will mock and scorn them. They will be called excessive and invasive. Some will celebrate them, revere them. They will be honored for their medicinal gifts. Some consider them holy. Camphor is spiritual, political, grand, and assertive. A displaced survivor turned an undeniable thriver.
Midnight musings have a fickle way of finding the thoughts that grow like slow mold along the recesses of the brain. I have a sense that I am disliked and although I do not think I am terribly upset, I must be as this is the third night I lay awake and let it plague me.
1. I must remember that when I have the courage to be disliked, I am free.
2. “If I am to be jailed within the limits of your imagination, you have to remain there as the guard. I’m Free” — Janaya Khan
Gloom hangs around us, air pressure so low eardrums ache like a virus that holds your sinuses hostage. It’s raining hard, and yet, you could not wait for calmer weather. Or perhaps it is I who called you ; the enemy to defend against. You close the gap and take the first swing, wide and carelessly thrown. I let it hit me anyway. Contact on the upper cheek feels akin to when your mother calls your father home. You didn’t even f king close your fist right, . As you yowl, I lay motionless against the mud. Swamp-like in the downpour of emotions.
3. Exploitation and pleasure can share the same bed. Am I a hypocrite?
. In Hong Kong, no one lives on the fourth floor. When did we begin fearing death?
5. “My desire became a leash to choke me with” — Jess Zimmerman
Attachment theory tells me that I had a fucked up childhood. Two years of psychotherapy and now I know that I am neurodivergent and the world makes a little bit more sense. Enmeshment. Accessing sun faded memories is an unusual form of torture. Pain and pleasure have always shared the same bed in my house and it is like choking on a half-DEAD
means it’s half-ALIVE
bird, swallow it whole even if you have just had knee surgery and are missing a bottom row of teeth.
6. Justifying violence is stupid
7. Redefinitions of desires
8. Wrestling in the mud with the Beast of discomfort
Untold truths do not feed the hungry but still, best to tend to them soon or she will reach out from within your
depths and hold them there, against your gullet, until you choke on
despair and self-loathing.
You sit crosslegged on the edge of the freckled grey concrete step and try your best to ignore the creeping ache that has begun sinking its teeth into the fascia of your right knee. Above you, a small rusted windchime greets the breeze that carries in the scent of freshly upturned earth, aerating while the pollinating flora dance heavy in the wind. Strands of sunlight tumble through the large maple’s evershifting leaves, animating them in multidimensional hues of gleaming green emerald, softened peridot, and dark nephrite jade. The tips of some are still kissed with a red blush that once covered the leaves’ expanses at birth.
You uncross your legs, the creeping ache taking shape, more violently than you anticipated, and you silently curse yourself for not uncrossing and stretching sooner.
Your mind drifts to a conversation that took place at the Admiral’s House. Or leaving it, I should say. The full moon hung high in the nearly cloudless sky that night, and you remember gazing up to marvel at it. A small but unexpected treat to have it greet you after twelve hours of grueling labor. You were one of six, clad in black slacks and dark button-down dress shirts, descending at a weary pace the steep and winding driveway set in cobbled stone. It was wide enough to haul a boat. It reminded you of your hometown with absurdly wide streets, paved originally by maritime folk when every family used to own a fishing boat. There’s something ancient about living near the sea. It imbues you with knowledge and reverence for the dance between tide and moon. As you went to verbalize your lunar awe out loud (and to no one in particular), the oldest woman in the small company spoke. During the evening’s lull periods, you often overheard her bonding with the scullery staff on the perils of aging and knee surgeries. She said, in a tone that was more sorrowful than bitter: “Chronic pain changes you. I’ve seen it change people, not necessarily for the better.”
Chronic pain changes you. It is this phrase that has stuck like stale gum married to the underside of a middle schooler’s desk. You speak blessings over your kneecaps, hoping the pain shapes your life with wisdom and tenderness. You fear its ability to harden, to clutch tight to the unfairness of life, and the fury at situations that cannot be changed. You were baptized in St. Thomas Moore Parish Church as a toddler but sought refuge in Greenwood’s Sakya Buddhist Monastery. In the divorce, Buddha became the reliable tender, God the forgetful sire. Sometimes you wonder if the Catholics would call you an abomination. A great fear of “God” flows through you, steeped in bones before your time. It can be blinding. The knee pain helps this. A newfound courage to accept teachings in any and all shapes has come into your being, and the universe (the world wide web) brought you to a serenity prayer. You’ve been working on some exposure therapy to the word God. So, when you come up against unbearable times, I may find you asking them (because God uses them/them pronouns in your reality) for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
There are still times when you think that all words are meaningless and fall out of spell. That is until you hear the whispers of lovingkindness in the steam that rises and dances on the rim of your morning cup of tea. The glissando of dispensing water into a bottle. A stranger’s soft smile. In these unforeseen offerings, you find the bravery to grant them (words/Dharma/yourself) permission to come alive once again.
In a rush, I’m scrambling over liquid ground beneath my bare feet. Seagulls raise eyebrows at the entrance I make; a crashing of symbols that frantically displaces resting sand on the quaint beach. The tide is as high as my hopes for smacking down on some salty sand. The wind whips my hair wild, black strands crescendo at nature’s command. It is as though both ocean and sky are celebrating my arrival; they tango towards me, the ocean waves foam eggshell white and linger on the warming granular rocks. Overhead, the sun peeks through clouds that have been stretched thin on an invisible loom. They’ve all conspired to prepare a feast just for me. I drop down to my knees, letting the millions of greyish-blue granules give way to my weight. Desaturated sepia tones blur my vision. I sink both hands deep into the beach until I reach new sensations of chilled, dormant particles. It is there, at least wrist deep, that the banquet begins.
You watch in semi-formed horror as the naked, chubby Chinese toddler stuffs handfuls of sand in their mouth. It isn’t a delicate business. In fact, it’s rather awkward. The unskillful Tetris-ing of alternated clenched fists through a tiny jaw, accompanied by sucking and puckering sounds that would make your mother flush, trigger sensory meridian responses up your unsuspecting spinal column. You realize you’re gawking now but can’t seem to turn away. The fists have fallen, and the saliva factory is working overtime. Bliss is etched into the soft lines of the sand-eater’s face. Your throat goes tight as mirroring neurons fire, and then you tremble with an ironic craving for a savory treat. Your toes curl and flex in the lukewarm sand and you finally break your gaze from the child to marvel down at the unknown delicacies you’ve been resting on.
You remind me of a certain quality of candlelight. Draped are the red-orange hues across the landscape of your bareback. I’ve witnessed you twist and turn into gnarled beastly forms and although you hate those parts of yourself, they have become the current for an unmistakable love between us. It is when I witness you in the quiet night against this candlelight that I am revealed in a terrifying honesty. What was once forbidden to me I find in your startling forwardness.
Why do I hesitate to reach toward your open palm?
It’s the seemingly small offerings that simultaneously ensnare and liberate me. They create a shaky tenderness that I’ve asked you to come home to. I learnt woodworking just to craft this drawbridge. And now I wait alone, staring at your silhouette that stands on the other side of the moat. I do not need to see you to know it is fear that swims behind your eyes as you stare into waters that fortify your heart.
Your burden is something you believe everyone can see, like a blood-red target plastered to your forehead that invites in all wrongdoings. I’ve watched sweat slip down your temples and pool in pockets of your collarbones. I remember the first time I saw you smile. It was a flash of discomfort, slightly too constricted, performed, and pressured. As if you hoped that the world would turn away, that I would turn away from you.
But here we are instead, nestled in a cavern that resembles an abyss. A womb. This is a space where I can no longer see you. Only feel you. The index finger of my left-hand traces bone structures that in another lifetime rested on the ocean floor.
Smatterings of all the things I wish to tell you hang from the ventricles of my heart. Your laughter is soft and quiet but as real as the rising sun. I feel a special type of pride to know you’ve taken refuge in our shared breath. Your quips send hiccups that bubble under my sternum and press against vocal cords that sing a sense of longing to know the maps carved into your skin. You and I live in tandem, an alignment that can have no labels except for kindred flames.