I cut the string a few days after the Chinese New Year welcomed in the Year of the Monkey. I waited the extra days because I was tentative about cutting something that had been with me for an entire year, something so passive-aggressively attached. I didn’t think the cutting would hurt—the attachment didn’t go that far. But I did wonder what I would do with the string once it was no longer a part of me. I felt as though I couldn’t throw the string away, and yet to keep the ratty thing was also unappealing. The string was an accumulation of time, had gathered the experiences of that year more accurately, and certainly less ostentatiously than any journals I’d kept, any reflections I was attempting to write.
I see how tradition can curdle; how tradition can camouflage and domesticate violence, excuse ineptitude, and encourage ignorance. I see, around me, people questioning tradition, plumbing its darkness, tearing it down. I applaud them and their necessary efforts. I don’t believe their destruction of tradition infringes upon my own. Yet I do still want to explain how tradition can make a new country, its written and unwritten rules, inhabitable. I want to explain my sliver of truth.
My mother tells me that if I want the novel I’m writing to be a bestseller in America, I should put in a couple of ghosts. Americans love ghosts, especially Chinese ghosts. I stammer back that I’m not selling out, and that I will never write about ghosts, Chinese or otherwise. “Remember the fortune cookies you used to get all the time?” she says. “They said, ‘Listen to your mother.’” “I only got that fortune three times,” I reply. “Three times in one year,” she says, wrapping up the conversation.