Born in Oakland, California in the early 70s, I spent the first seventeen years of my life living in the suburbs of both Stockholm and San Francisco, between the golden state and the welfare state. I grew up bilingual and bicultural and say that I am “home” no matter where I am. I received (or claimed) my undergraduate education through the University of California campuses at Davis and Berkeley, and remain indebted to teachers such as Wendy Ho, Thom Gunn, Kathleen Moran, Sandra McPherson, Ruth Frankenberg, Colleen Lye, and Barbara Christian for educating me in the pleasures and contingencies of being a critical scholar and practitioner of many things.
I moved to New York in the fall of 1999, with my two close friends A and M. We flew TWA. I worked at MoMA, index Magazine, and doing various odd jobs to put myself through graduate school at Bard College. Since completing my graduate degree, I have made a living and a life as an educator at various public universities, including UC Davis, Montclair State University, and now at Hunter College, where I am Acting Director of their Asian American Studies Program.
My practice continues to center upon dislocation, translation, intertextuality, and memory. I recently completed a manuscript of poems, entitled A Machine Wrote This Song, and I am in deep with a long essay entitled “The Autonomic System.” In addition, I am restarting my “Projections” project, looking at maps, the law, and the language of forgetting.
For a brief bio – suitable for journals/events – please see the bottom of this page.
from A Machine Wrote This Song
To prove I am sorry I shovel snow into the night.
I wash every rug in the house and hang each one inside out to dry.
You need a ride to the pharmacy and I arrange for an operation.
This is the year of the ox so I build a clay replica of your childhood. The clay is from China and I store it in a warehouse down the street.
You consider the ox brutish, so I sweep out the hallway and wish you could sleep sounder, longer.
When you pad down the hallway at night I offer you milk, lozenges, television, and inky self-portraits.
You take it all, hoard it in your room with everything else you filched from my childhood.
I am late so I bring something home that I think will offset our expenses.
You cook artichokes and when mine falls to the floor, you say we are still shaken by recent events: the death of my grandfather, thirty years ago, is one of them. Another is the way someone talked to you on the train when you leaned across for the free weekly.
The minor transitions disturb you, as does the wind, so I build us a chamber. You call it “mine’s” and I am too young to argue.
THE AUTONOMIC SYSTEM
About the Essay
My mother came to San Francisco from Vaxholm, Sweden, in 1965. After a few years in California, she met my father, a third-generation Japanese American, born and raised in Honolulu. My parents fell in love in a lingering aura of civil rights, third world movements, and second-wave feminism – all had of course made a small clearing for people of color and women in 1960s and 70s, and my parents’ opportunities were indirectly and directly shaped by those advances. The text I am currently working on utilizes letters, audio recordings, interviews, translation, and poetics to explore the cultural imaginings that surrounded my parents when they met, and to in that process also mine the psychic repository of my family. How, for example, was their relationship shaped by nationally delineated racial binaries, the “good” and “bad” immigrant, social welfare agendas (embodied both by Johnson’s Great Society and Folkhemmet), and neo-colonial trade and labor imperatives? Further, how can this narrative perform a yellow intervention in the black-white (increasingly brown-white) polarity of U.S. race relations, and by extension, allow me to locate myself as a mixed race individual in the national(-ist) discourses of both Sweden and the U.S.?
Most of my childhood memories involve views from this angle: the upward gaze of a small girl in the passenger or back seat of a car, everything seen through the gentle convex bulge of a window cropped by metal and plastic. What I see is 1980s California, its sprawl evinced by cinder-block construction and large billboards advertising hundreds of three- and four-bedroom homes. I see the Lite Brite luminosity of San Francisco as we crossed the Bay Bridge. A large cross on the hills along 580 between Oakland and Pleasanton, with a large hillside sentence reminding us that Jesus Is the Reason for the Season.
* * * * *
The color of the waiting room chairs: deep orange. The framed prints: watercolor landscapes. The flooring: brown carpet. The color of the walls: what do you think? The light: early afternoon in California.
If someone dies on a Sunday, it is like your car breaking down by the side of the highway after business hours. Given the mysterious nature of my father’s illness, as well as his interest in the notion of progress, he had repeatedly expressed a desire to donate his brain to science, and then, specifically, to the Mayo Clinic. When I think of the Mayo Clinic, I think of a scene from the movie Airplane! in which, during a split-screen phone conversation between two characters, the Mayo Clinic is depicted as a place where the walls are lined with shelves holding jar upon jar of mayonnaise. For whatever reason, neither my father, my mother, nor I had thoroughly considered the logistics of this donation, and so, although I had been the one to fax the necessary forms to the clinic only a few weeks earlier, I found myself dumbstruck when the moment came to articulate my father’s final wish to the nurse who was on duty in the E.R.
The hospital had a separate windowless room where I assume they delivered bad news to next of kin. My mother and I sat in that room with the nurse, and I slowly explained my father’s situation, his desire to see his brain analyzed by experts, our confusion about how to proceed. My belief that hospitals operated according to a clear protocol was immediately dispelled: in the end, it came down to favors and convenience. The pathologist on duty did us the favor of removing my father’s brain from his dead body, putting it on ice in a styrofoam box, and shipping it by Federal Express to the Mayo Clinic, with Dr. Dickson on the receiving end. If I tell the story for shock value, I usually begin by saying that I had to Fed-Ex my father’s brain to the Mayo Clinic, but the story is then instantly a lie: I did none of the Fed-Exing myself, and although it did go to the Mayo Clinic, it went to the Florida outpost, not the iconic midwestern beacon that has cared for the likes of John F. Kennedy, King Hussein, and Eddie Van Halen. I did not handle my father’s brain, did not even see him once he was dead (my mother and I automatically refused the nurse’s offer to let us view the body), and the Mayo Clinic footed the bill for shipping. My involvement in my father’s death consisted of looking around the room, taking in colors and degrees of light, observing the nurse’s gestures and the phenomenon of climate control: refrigerated air coursing through space like so many streams of spilled water, the hair on my arms standing up despite the knowledge that it was in the high 90s beyond the tinted glass doors of the emergency room entrance.
Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cells (B) from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899.
Instituto Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Madrid, Spain.
Jennifer Hayashida is the translator of Fredrik Nyberg’s A Different Practice (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007) and Eva Sjödin’s Inner China (Litmus Press, 2005). Additional work has appeared in journals and art exhibitions domestically and abroad, most recently in the Spring 2009 issue of Salt Hill and as part of the 2009 Luleå Biennial. She is currently a 2009 NYFA Fellow in Poetry, and was a 2008-2009 Writer-in-Residence through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Program. She recently completed a manuscript of poems, entitled A Machine Wrote This Song, and is now at work on a long essay entitled “The Autonomic System.” She lives in Brooklyn NY, and is Acting Director of the Asian American Studies Program at Hunter College, The City University of New York.