Scarcity by Kim Liao

most memorable ribbon december 2011– Oh wait I forgot to tell you the best part, Dave says as we walk along the warm city streets towards home, talking about the glorious madness of artists and scientists when they are deeply consumed by creative work.

– What’s that?

– The amazing Russian vision-imaging computer science professor I told you about—he’s blind!

I drop all my books on the sidewalk.

* * *

pedestrians in crosswalk can only see jeans and sneakers

Greetings to you from Intention Valley, far deeper and further below sea level than Death Valley, in the barren desert of my mental geography. The lost echoes of misconstrued voices reverberate, but no one hears.

Like Beethoven. Although he was a musical genius before he started to lose his hearing. But I have to wonder sometimes if maybe on a subconscious level, he anticipated the irony.

Weeks later, it occurs to me that maybe the vision imaging computer scientist got into his field because for him, vision is so precious. Because a sense of sight was something he never took for granted. Maybe with scarcity comes a true appreciation of value—and with that, or because of it, obsession. Genius. Inspiration.

I think of Thomas Mann’s words: that writers are the ones for whom writing is more difficult than other people. Maybe those who turn to writing are really crippled communicators, not actually better at using language but worse. Or, perhaps writers see more clearly the vast chasm between what is said and what is meant.

Greetings to you from Intention Valley, far deeper and further below sea level than Death Valley, in the barren desert of my mental geography. The lost echoes of misconstrued voices reverberate, but no one hears.

I think of how instead of speaking that night, I dropped my books all over the sidewalk, and Dave had to help me scoop up assorted papers and articles and notebooks. I have never been able to tell him the unspoken thoughts that hover in my head over our long meandering conversations like a low fog.

* * *

We walk on. Dave tells me that he thinks obsession with one’s creative work leads to more meaningful results. It is a highly reasoned point, but also the admission of a fellow obsessed mind.

He works in mathematical algorithms; I work in failed utterances. In the borders of what language can’t or won’t or shouldn’t say, but does. And vice versa. Sometimes I wish I could explain why this leads to sleepless nights, or how it feels to be overcome by that frustrating yet oh so exhilarating, even sexy, burning fire to simply express.

But I guess that he imagines how it could feel, from his vantage point on the other side of the number/word divide. When I tell him my stories about my current writing project, a coincidental set of peculiar experiences that leads to the story now unfolding under my pen, he listens in a kind of tempted rapture. As if I hold the recipe to a magical chemical he wants more of. It’s a heady feeling.

For this and so much more, I am so grateful. And so much more than grateful.

However, when we reach the point where the city streets diverge, north pointing towards his apartment, south towards mine, all of these thoughts fly from my head and my lips. Instead, I look at his dark curly hair, long nose, open face. Why always this scarcity of words and meaning? I wonder. We need a new word, new idiomatic phrase, new dictionary, new mythology, a new language to explain what you are to me.

– I’m going to try to cross at this traffic light, I say instead, and turn away with a half-wave.

– Good night, he says to my back.

I don’t have enough time left to cross the street, so I run.

kim liaoKim Liao is a 2010-2011 Fulbright Taiwan Research Fellow, and has also received writing grants from Harvard and Stanford Universities. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Fourth River, Fringe Magazine, and others, and her essays were short-listed for awards by Bellingham Review and Fourth Genre. She is currently finishing her first book, Girl Meets Formosa, a family memoir and adventure story. Find out about her writing and adventures in Taiwan at GirlMeetsFormosa.com.
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  • What a lovely piece! I love the balance of language/math here… I often think that those equally obsessed with either find something utterly fascinating about the opposite, because we understand so wholly, but really don’t understand it at all?

  • I love this piece! 😀