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Remedy  •  18 February 2021  •  Non-Fiction

Simple Things

By Anna Xu
Simple Things

Twenty days before my twentieth birthday‭, ‬I cut off over half my hair and felt‭, ‬remarkably‭, ‬nothing‭. ‬I looked at my hair on the‭ ‬ground as I stood up and thought‭: ‬I am very good at creating reasons to hold onto things‭. ‬

In the car‭, ‬my friend sits next to me‭. ‬She sees me close a notification that reads‭: ‬5‭ ‬minutes remaining for Instagram today‭. ‬Good on you‭, ‬she says‭. ‬

No‭, ‬I say‭. ‬It doesn’t work most of the time‭. ‬Actually‭, ‬it never works‭. ‬

She nods her head‭, ‬she tells me she knows‭. ‬I try to clarify‭. ‬

I mean‭, ‬I say‭. ‬It’s me‭. ‬I have no self-control‭. ‬

I get you‭, ‬she says‭. ‬I get you‭. ‬I used to have one of those on my phone too‭. ‬

I ask her if she still uses it and she tells me she doesn’t‭. ‬In fact‭, ‬she deleted it a long time ago‭. ‬But it gave me a sense of time‭, ‬she says‭. ‬Sometimes‭, ‬just having a sense of time is‭ ‬good enough‭. ‬

In‭ ‬‘The Art of Cruelty‭,‬’‭ ‬Maggie Nelson writes‭: ‬“knowing the truth”‭ ‬does not come with redemption as a guarantee‭.‬

I am sitting on the couch at the time I’m reading this‭. ‬My nose stings from the ammonic residue of my dog’s pee‭. ‬It’s still the comfiest place in the house‭. ‬The sun casts a light onto my page and every so often I have to adjust myself slightly‭,‬‭ ‬so my shadow does not swallow the words‭. ‬We have tried many times to get the smell out‭ ‬—‭ ‬that part is easy‭. ‬The hard‭ ‬ part is training him to stop‭. ‬Both are tiring in different ways‭. ‬I read on‭.‬

—nor does a feeling of redemption guarantee an end to a cycle of wrongdoing‭. ‬Some would even say it is key to maintaining it‭. ‬

On the bus‭, ‬I feel a sharp pain in my side‭. ‬It is like nothing I have ever experienced before‭. ‬The location is foreign‭, ‬coming from somewhere I didn’t know I could feel things‭, ‬until now‭. ‬I have been dealing with digestive pain for the past five years but I can feel this is something different‭. ‬The bus is full and I think to myself‭: ‬I am in the worst pain of my life and nobody here suspects a thing‭. ‬This was not alarming so much as it was amusing‭. ‬So rarely does life actually pan out like an absurdist play‭. ‬

I drink water while typing‭ ‬‘sharp pain under ribs left side‭.‬’‭ ‬As I am up to reading the list of life-threatening causes‭, ‬the pain subsides‭. ‬Somehow its disappearance is more frightening than its arrival‭. ‬

I get to my friend’s house‭, ‬where everyone else is‭, ‬and I tell them the same story‭. ‬I’ve had that before‭, ‬one friend says‭. ‬It means your ribcage is growing‭. ‬

I ask her if it’s common and she tells me‭: ‬more common than you think‭.‬

Privately‭, ‬I keep lists‭. ‬One is a collection of people I have seen in public reading‭. ‬In this‭, ‬I write the date‭, ‬the book‭, ‬a line describing where I was and what I was doing‭. ‬On the train to a friend’s birthday party‭, ‬one reads‭. ‬5:44‭ ‬p.m‭. ‬There is another list‭: ‬I call this one my will to live‭. ‬There are ten items‭.‬

I am at the halfway point between defeat and despair when‭ ‬I read‭: ‬revolutions are about simple things‭. ‬The gesture is small but‭ ‬its impression is enormous‭. ‬I baked a loaf of bread the other day‭. ‬I‭ ‬watched it rise in the oven‭. ‬Then and during times since‭, ‬I catch the thought repeating itself quietly in my head when I am alone‭. ‬I can trace its outline‭, ‬the words like cumulus clouds‭, ‬forming their shapes dense and distinct‭: ‬revolutions are about simple‭ ‬things‭. ‬

In Sally Rooney’s‭ ‬‘Conversations with Friends‭,‬’‭ ‬the protagonist‭, ‬Frances‭, ‬is in a church on the verge of fainting‭. ‬She‭ ‬ tells us‭: ‬instead of thinking gigantic thoughts‭, ‬I tried to focus on something small‭, ‬the smallest thing I could think of‭. ‬The following sequence is transformative‭, ‬a journey through the cycles of relation‭, ‬within which we all carry out the day‭. ‬Physically dormant but‭ ‬mentally expanding‭, ‬we watch Frances‭, ‬delirious‭, ‬locate herself in‭ ‬ the midst of something larger and looming‭. ‬Her first thought is‭: ‬someone once made this pew I’m sitting on‭. ‬Here‭, ‬Rooney seems to be saying it’s always possible to land on your feet no matter where you are‭. ‬You just have to start with the simple things‭. ‬

Jenny Offill in‭ ‬‘Weather’‭ ‬says it in another way‭: ‬commit to‭ ‬ the next day‭, ‬the next hour‭, ‬the next minute‭, ‬even‭. ‬

My partner once taught me a game‭. ‬What is special about this game is that it never ends‭: ‬one person asks the other which direction the city is in‭, ‬and then you have to point as quickly as you can‭. ‬Where you are doesn’t matter‭. ‬It is almost a leap of faith‭. ‬Wrong‭, ‬he said‭, ‬the first time I tried‭. ‬It’s in the opposite direction‭. ‬

Nowadays I am getting better at locating where I am‭. ‬I am able to walk from one end of a street to the other without having to check the map‭. ‬Outwardly‭, ‬I do not seem to be an obsessive person and so I know this‭ ‬means nothing to anyone except myself‭. ‬Sometimes leaps of faith are‭ ‬necessary‭. ‬Simple things‭. ‬Trust me‭.‬

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