“I would hope that readers…approach the book, read it, and—not necessarily take anything away, you know, not possess anything, but perhaps just more of themselves. They could see more of themselves in the book, and they could carry that and—and—and participate in more parts of their lives than before.” -Ocean Vuong, when asked “What is your hope for readers with this book?”
“If we are lucky, the end of the sentence is where we might begin.” -Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Here’s a funny thing that happens these days: I sit in a room, flicking back and forth between my computer and my phone, pausing Netflix, eating a little, poking idly at some task for work, and hours collapse without much. They close like a book I didn’t start reading. Here’s another thing that happens: I run off to the park, maybe a few minutes late because it’s weirdly feeling harder to be punctual. I walk across the grass, wave to a friend, and we sit under a tree. We smile. And even just twenty minutes opens wide and green, a leaf well suited to drinking in the sun.
Ocean Vuong helps me understand why. He makes me want to write a book, like he wrote a book, to reach out toward my mother. And another toward my father, more to each of my brothers, my friends. He reminds me, in the meantime, to pick up the phone and call. Past that, to focus on the call, the words and silences, instead of fumbling my hands with washing dishes or folding laundry. When I was invited to take a job halfway around the world, and didn’t know what to do, I wrote a little. I wrote my confusion, my muddy thoughts, looking for a sentence that ended somewhere I could begin. When I was struggling with someone I love, I wrote again: a loose page of my hurts and hopes, looking for a way through the brambles. Looking for where to start.
The art I make, or hold, the philosophy I wander through, the board games I play, the conversations I have—I wonder how much of all that is looking for where I can begin. Once I look at a tree I can see its branches, pulled full like a pair of breathing lungs. Once I’m listening to a friend it’s easier to hear. These days some struggles—how to connect, how to help move toward more compassionate systems; even where to live—can start feeling impossible. Impassible. Without a start. And so, says Ocean Vuong, we listen, sing, dance, watch. Write.
“If we are lucky, the end of the sentence is where we might begin.”