‘The evolution of my brother’ Sour heart, Jenny Zhang
He was growing up. He was growing out of the speech disorder. From that point on, in order to be his, I had to request it.
As we’ve talked about the appropriateness of writing other people’s stories in class this year, I initially made a decision not to write about my sibling Thea and her transition into expressing herself as a woman. There are so many aspects of her experience that I will never understand or even be privy to. At first I thought that this meant it wasn’t a subject I could write about. However, after going home and seeing her graduate as Thea, I realised that there could be a way to use writing about my relationship with her to offer her a form of support and acknowledgement that I’m not always able to give in person. I wouldn’t ever try to tell her story. But there is a story and a relationship that we share between us.
I pulled out my copy of Sour Heart because I remembered Zhang writing about sibling relationships. In ‘The Evolution of my Brother’ Zhang presents a really beautiful portrait of a relationship between an older sister and a younger brother through mostly short sharp scenes and dialogue. Some of the scenes run for a number of pages, another—the one where they sit on the curb waiting for an ice cream truck—is one paragraph. You trust that each piece is serving a purpose, painting very detailed and strict picture of this relationship.
Mermaid Boy, John Summers
I forgot to note down a line from Mermaid Boy before having to take it back to the library, but there is a scene where Summers follows his neighbour into a house next door to his flat that has really stuck with me. Summers pays witness to the flatmate’s switch between charming friendliness to aggression in a hallway, while watching the man interact with another woman who also lives in the house. His stories were disconcerting and uncannily, real. Weirdly, real. As in, there were things he wrote about that I would have just left alone as an unsettling memory.
Specimen, Madison Hamill
If it wasn’t something I’d done, it had to be something I was.
While reading these essays, everything seemed to suddenly click into place. I realised this is what is meant by creative non-fiction. She writes stories rather than essays, even more so than Rose Lu, whose pieces were similarly compelling for their story-telling effect. The pages are teeming with scenes and characters and dialogue. This all sounds extraordinarily obvious as soon as I write it down on the page, however it helped me to understand where I needed to take mine in telling stories with reflections that pull in a reader in the same way as a piece of fiction. It’s lucky that Hamill and I write about very different topics, as I kept consulting her collection of stories like it was a dictionary—searching for clues on how she did it, starting my essays with a line of dialogue because that’s how she has started hers.
‘Hey white people, look around’, Brannavan Gnanalingam, Stuff
There’s also something much darker about the ‘lol, Wellington is white’ crowd. If you say that we don’t exist for the purpose of a cheap joke about a city, you’re saying we don’t actually belong in your definition of our city.
When I first read this at the end of last year, I felt almost sick with shame. I have regularly been that person who quickly claims Wellington is monoculturally white, often to my ethnically diverse friends, some of whom have had their families living here for decades. These claims have also often been premised on a sense of self-superiority in being from Auckland. Bran’s piece was powerful to read. It helped me realise how dangerous and harmful those narratives are, and how incredibly important it is to constantly interrogate them on an ongoing basis.