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Dillard, China, and a Metaphor You Can Try at Home…

May 20, 2006

I’m drained and headache-y from too much sun today. I went to the beach, and count my Saturday well-wasted. The proof of my existence today: new tan lines. Transient, but present. Progress of a convoluted kind.

Oh, yes. And I ingested some new knowledge during my few hour bake-off with young families, retirees, and tour-ons (my own linguistic blend: tourist + moron. i am obligated to loathe them for clogging up my living space with directionless cars, and tasteless apparel. Plus, it is sort of family tradition to live in a beautiful climate, resent people who occasion it, and turn a profit at their expense. Voila: tourism is what came after cotton in the South.). Tangent. Sorry.

I am reading Annie Dillard’s Encounters With Chinese Writers. For two reasons: First, I leave for a visit to China (Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an) two weeks from tomorrow. Second, ANNIE DILLARD INSPIRES ME WITHOUT FAIL. I love her. Love. Her. She is my favorite writer (mark my tense muscles…extreme passion, extreme restraint)!!! If you haven’t, read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. You will never look at the world around you in the same way. And it won a Pulitzer. Amen. Alleluia. I’m done.

Back to Encounters…it was written 20ish years ago, about Dillard’s intellectual pow-wows with Chinese writers, in China and the U.S. They are anecdotes. And I am not looking for Chinese truths in them. I know Dillard’s style: she zooms in on life, explodes intricacies by lacing them with incredibly interesting bits of trivia, factoids of an unbelievably appropriate nature. This book is no exception. She tags Big Questions with keen observation and scientific fact.

For one thing, no Chinese history or political science exposition would teach me a better, clearer way to look at trees or soil in China. The land itself, which I will find to be a golden loess, is as elucidated as the skin of the people that walk on it, according to Dillard. Don’t miss the facts either: CHINA IS THE ONLY ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT EARLY CIVILIZATIONS THAT STILL EXISTS. I need no convincing of the importance of gorging my imagination on this antiquity, this exoticism for a few weeks. Dillard just hands me evidence at every turn.

I leave you with a metaphor we can all try at home:
“If you look at your right palm, you see a map of China; the rivers flow east, and most of the rest is high and dry; the arable land is like dirt collected in the lines of your palm.” (Dillard, 23)

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