Heavy Blue Notebook

In a conversation with myself yesterday (I know, I know) I thought of this big blue old-school notebook and said, “You should just type that stuff up and put it into a book with the other little books in your Chinese cabinets.” So I dug it out of the old trunk that came over from somewhere with someone in my family and looked at it.

It’s the Pearl Buck project that I never finished. The notebook itself is an interesting relic — it and the printer paper which is that paper that had holes on both sides. Some of it is on regular legal sheets where I had typed it with my electronic typewriter. It was a cool typewriter with enough memory to erase a whole line of typing. The printer appeared when my neighbor loaned me his MacIntosh computer and printer while he was out of the country. He had to talk me into it, saying, “You’ll like it” to my “I don’t see why I need a computer.” This was 1985. Along with the project is a small file box filled with index cards with sources and annotations. That has been retyped onto some of these pages.

Looking at it yesterday I see I got lost in the project and it veered from Pearl Buck to Chinese literature. It wasn’t a total detour since the thesis of the project is that Pearl Buck is at least as much a representative of the Chinese literary tradition as the Western.

Though she spent her childhood and much of her adulthood in China, she was not allowed to return in 1972 when she applied. She had refugeed to the US in 1934 during the Anti-Japanese War. In recent years, she’s been “redeemed” in China.

[Pearl S. Buck] remained a Communist Party non-person until, in 1991, anticipating the centenary of her birth the following year, a group of Chinese scholars committed to the importance of her representations of China, proposed a national conference to re-consider her work and legacy. The proposal was approved by the provincial authorities in Jiangsu, where Buck had lived through most of her years in China, but then quashed at the ministerial level in Beijing. In 1997, another proposal was — how shall I put it? — semi-approved: Buck could be discussed but not named in the conference title. Instead, discussions of Buck’s writing were smuggled in under the rubric “Chinese-American Literary Relations.”(Peter Conn, “What the Remarkable Legacy of Pearl Buck Still Means for China” Atlantic Monthly, 2012)

It might have been that my little project could have “mattered,” if I’d finished it but two things came in the way, the major one was technology the secondary one (which was related to the first) was marriage. My neighbor came back, reclaimed his computer and printer, and I was left with the typewriter that was no long sufficient. The Good-X and I went shopping for a computer. I wanted a Mac. After all, my work was saved on disks the Mac could read (imagine that, disks…) But he was a Commodore fan and wanted me to have an Amiga, and as he was the breadwinner, he won. I began the task of retyping the whole thing (god forbid that computer systems in 1988 were universal) and gave up.

Thinking about that now, I wonder why the Good X who wasn’t going to actually USE that computer had anything to say about it at all? Just because he was a programmer? Hmmmm…

Anyway, “my” book has since been written and in China which is awesome and how it should be. But I was wondering; would you all go crazy if for a while you read something about Pearl Buck every time you opened my blog? I promise; it’s interesting and strange. And, if Bear, Teddy and I have a good ramble I will interrupt this program for a word from my sponsor (me). I need a project, and this seems like a good one. And, when I finish, I can jettison the historical notebook and its contents, lightening the old trunk by a good 7 pounds.

33 thoughts on “Heavy Blue Notebook

  1. You are so funny. OK, I like Buck. Interesting and and strange is, well….interesting. And your sponsors–Bear and Teddy–will surely have some fun commentary. Let the posts begin.

  2. I think that would be very interesting, Martha! I remember when my former husband had a printer using paper like in your photo. And I had an electronic typewriter like you describe! It was amazing at the time and felt quite magical to me.

  3. Peal S. Buck brings back memories of 6th grade and Mrs. Woods. She talked to the class about Ms, Buck’s work but I think I’m the only one who took any interest. The main work that I remember is “The Good Earth.”

  4. Some ideas are carried around for decades until they are “ripe” and then they fall like fruit into our lap. Ideas that take a long time to mature are by no means the worst -as we know. And our subconscious deals with our thoughts without us noticing it. Under no circumstances should you throw away old notebooks before they have been processed, even if it takes time.

    • Thank you! I’ve been watching the public broadcasting series The Story of China (in 6 hours????) and feeling frustrated with it then realized the guy doing it is 1) a historian, 2) doing PR for the PRC and 3) MY show would be different. That’s where I got the idea along with the thought that everyone who’s been in China for a while thinks they know China but you know, we don’t. I only know even a fraction of what I know, if that makes sense. So, looking again at this unfinished project I thought, “Well, it’s interesting anyway.” We’ll see.

      • Chinain 6 hours, yes. It’s like the Chinese tourist who make Europe in 5 days.

        We love China and we hate it. I forgot who said that, but I can only agree with that. And understanding China? I studied Sinology, lived in China for 5 years, traveled there at least 20 times, was married to a Chinese woman, read and still read many books about China, but I wouldn’t dare say “I understand China” . It’s like talking about a painting: we can only understand based on our way of thinking, our knowledge …

        By the way, Jean Cocteau (I’m sure you know he was addicted to opium) wrote about opium: “If a Turkish peasant smoked opium, he would see big potatoes”. From today’s perspective, this may not be politically correct, but it hits the nail:)

        • I like Cocteau’s idea a LOT. I don’t understand China. I CAN understand why people love it, but as with all love (I think, but I’m no expert on love in spite of a life time of research, ha ha…) part of the beloved is in our idea of the beloved and what the beloved gives us. China gave me a LOT. I wish I had not come “home” so soon, had stayed longer and learned more, but I didn’t “get it” so home I came. I thought my marriage mattered. It didn’t. I missed the mountains, but when I got home, I saw they hadn’t gone anywhere and weren’t likely to. Within 24 hours of my return I knew all of that. One thing I got from China was that if I travel somewhere, I should stay for a while. Ah! In Milan I wanted to see La Ultima Cena. I had to wait four days for an English tour. When I got there, I was the ONLY non-Chinese tourist. Later on in that (bizarre) journey I was buying coffee near the duomo. A Chinese girl was trying to buy a coffee. I was behind her in line and found myself in the very strange position — once in a lifetime — of translating from Italian to Chinese and back again. Neither my Italian or my Putungwah is great, but they were enough for that. πŸ˜€

  5. Go for it! I know next to nothing about her, so I’m ready. πŸ™‚ That notebook brings back memories. The dot matrix printer too. I also thought it was magical – but the most magical was the first time I typed a complete sentence on a computer and didn’t have to hit “return” !! Wow! It was also the mid 1980s, but I still remember the moment in great detail. I may get inspired to pull out half finished stories I typed onto that same kind of paper. I actually had floppy disks containing most of them and a few years ago found a disk reader with a USB connection. I was able to transfer files to my Mac! But I still kept the papers….

    • I think for us paper is how you keep the important stuff, still. I’ve typed about 1000 words today. It will appear starting tomorrow! It’s literary history and criticism both. Interesting project and one I should have finished. One thing I kept the Chinese novels written by Pearl Buck’s contemporaries so who knows? That not hitting return was BIG. And the speed at which I can type on this keyboard compared even with the fastest electric typewriter — it’s amazing.

      • It is definitely how we keep important stuff. More real. More tangible. But, oh, the space it takes up. 1000 words…wow! I bet it will feel good to finish this project, even if not on paper this time! I can type fast now too. I learned how to type in high school and I remain convinced it was the most valuable class I took (“Related Business” where I learned to type and write a business letter, etc.). Real life skills and all that.

        • I took typing but I didn’t really learn until I was working as a secretary at the university of Denver College of Law and had a very particular boss and I was typing my thesis. I’m really grateful for it because I’ve had to earn my living that way a few times! πŸ™‚

  6. I didn’t manage to get to Pearl Buck Memorial House in Nanjing while it was open. That’s a project I’m putting off, and now it begins to seem harder and harder.

    On another matter, the Guangzhou that you knew was very different from the one I saw. I wonder how people came through that change. It must have been a quiet disruption too. What happened to them? How did they cope with changing prosperity? Where are they now?

    Talking to people I get some feel of how they adapted to the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. But this would have been an equal disruption: from poverty to middle class in one generation!

    • Yeah — your photos of Guangzhou inspired me to put my little China book together. I found going “back in time” (going from the US to Guangzhou) much easier than returning to the future (returning from China). My Chinese brother went home to GZ pretty often from Canada until his mother died in the late 90s. He told me Guangzhou was changing very fast and I would not know it. I’m sure he’s right. Even my university is in a different place completely and it is now enormous with satellite campuses all over South China. I watched some interesting films in the past few years — Chinese films — that take up that very question. One (and I can’t remember the title, I’m sorry) was set in Sichuan and that’s what it was about, the psychological pain for older people seeing their pasts erased. Pretty brave film.

      One of my Chinese students a year or so before I retired explained to me that 1980s China still exists, but the Party is very careful that it isn’t “seen.” She said, “You wouldn’t feel strange everywhere, Martha. Even in the cities the China you knew is still there.” She was from Shenzhen which was a very small fishing village in 1983. I looked at photos of Shipai Village it had become what it was starting to be when I lived there (a blight) but it and Dongguan (which it seems has been preserved) are surrounded by fabulous development of the Tianhe district (my school was in that area) and it hasn’t changed a lot. Shipai Village has changed more than Dongguan. It’s crazy. Part of me would like to see it, most of me would not. The subway runs along the route our broken down bus used to travel. Some of the same stops.

  7. Of course. Fire away. I have her cook book! In past years it got a lot of use. (Back when I had the energy to grind and roast all my own spices and make my own garam-masala.)

  8. I’m in! You know I’ve been a β€œhit and miss” reader due to my crazy schedule. I just adore your sponsors too. I’m ready teacher! πŸ’›β€οΈπŸ’œ

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