a Collection of things arranged in order

Sunny Chan

Things in my room that I like:

  • windows, the kind that push out rather than slide open.
  • poster of James Dean.
  • birthday card from a friend.[1]
  • potted plant, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, that only grows when kept in the sun and only flowers when kept in the shade. currently displaying 23 crimson blooms.
  • photograph of my father, aged 26, five years before I was born. left over from an old passport, rescued from the junk drawer in my parents’ house. his face was smooth and his glasses were enormous. taken when people were still allowed to smile in their passport photos.
  • wind-up toy dinosaur.[2]
  • shelf full of books—top shelf for reference, second shelf for books I’m emotionally attached to, third shelf for books I academically admire, and bottom shelf for books that don’t fit into the above categories. (books I don’t like or use at all get put into storage or sold to a second-hand store.)
  • half or maybe most of the documents on my desk. (why do I keep anything that I don’t like in my room? I’m fairly stringent about the people I let myself  sleep with or near, but I’m willing to sleep in the same room with objects I abhor.)

Things I like that come in cans:

  • peaches.
  • condensed milk.[3]
  • really tame practical jokes, because I’m a wimp and only like pranks if they’re innocuous.
  • cream of mushroom soup.
  • tennis balls.
  • moist dog food. (not to eat, of course. the smell just reminds me of my dog, when he would get wet food as a special treat, a change from his usual healthier, but in both senses of the word drier, food.) (he died three years ago.)
  • laughter.[4]

Things I like that start with W:

  • wishful thinking.
  • waffles.
  • whale falls, the phenomenon of.[5]
  • “when I die” vs. “if I die,” how people choose which one to say.
  • wooden cutting boards rather than plastic ones.
  • writing on someone else’s hand with a sharpie.
  • the word “welkin” in place of “sky”.[6]
  • warming up after walking home through knee-deep snow.

Bibliography [7]

Georges Perec did it better, in 1978.

Spongberg, Alison L. and Paul M. Becks. “Inorganic Soil Contamination from Cemetery Leachate.” Water, Air, & Soil Pollution 117 (1–4): 2000. 313–327. Web.

Michel de Certeau was audaciously optimistic about creative consumption and the everyday ways in which ordinary people (not can but do) subvert the impositions of sociocultural producers through re-appropriation.  Once, while reading The Practice of Everyday Life, I became so moved that I started crying, but it could’ve just been my ovulation cycle.



[1] “Dearest Sunny, Happy Birthday! I hope your birthday in Vancouver is fantastic and filled with all your fancy new genius friends. I still miss you dreadfully and I can’t wait to visit you in April. Please forgive how short my emails have been. School owns my soul and my time on this earth (but not my heart, a sizeable portion of which is reserved for you).” The picture on the front of the card is a cartoon fawn frolicking in a field of smiling toadstools. The sender has been my closest friend since my first year of university, and has a habit of writing to me as though she’s partially stuck in the late Victorian era.

[2] Dinosaurs, scientists are certain, most definitely had feathers. But they haven’t always been certain, and so representations of dinosaurs have traditionally been scaly. Now that we know the facts, nearly all depictions of them, especially those aimed at children, continue to be scaly. The public have been so used to seeing smooth dinosaur skins that the paleontological truth looks distorted and strange, while the actual distortion looks familiar and acceptable. Scientific accuracy matters to scientists, not to the manufacturers of dinosaur toys—they just want their dinosaurs to be as palatable as possible, and if a little fiddling helps the image go down easier, then what harm could come of millions of children perpetuating illusions through play? A common argument for peddling smooth-skinned dinosaurs toward adults is the claim that feathers just aren’t frightening. Marketers maintain that Jurassic Park wouldn’t have worked if the big bad one had fluffy down. I assume these people have never looked at a golden eagle and imagined what it could do if it were the size of a house.

[3] Condensed milk on toast is a classic staple of Hong Kong-style diners, or 茶餐廳 (“cha chaan teng”). Growing up, I would eat it for breakfast at least once a week. The toast is hot but the thick, sweet milk spread over top is kept at room temperature. When you crunch into it, the bread hits your tongue first, rough and grainy like sand that’s been baking under the sun. The condensed milk clings to the roof of your mouth like a salve, and you have to chew a few times before the flavours integrate. It tastes like cream but sharper, like maple syrup imported from that land you’ll soon immigrate to but better, like being almost late for school but slowing down to relish your breakfast anyway because it’s just so, so good.

[4] Canned laughter was invented in the 1950s by a guy named Charles Douglass. People had known for a long time, from radio shows and psychology studies, that laughing is a communal experience. Humans laugh easier when there are other people laughing around them. But filming a sitcom in front of a live audience isn’t always possible, or desirable. People might laugh at the wrong time, or laugh too loudly for too long, throwing off the rhythm of the actors. Douglass first invented “sweetening,” a way to edit audience laughter to make it better than the real thing. He inserted additional laughter in places that needed an extra chuckle, or faded out the volume when the audience reacted harder than producers wanted. Like making preserved fruit, Douglass then progressed from sweetening to canning. Spending hour upon lonely hour listening to decontextualized laughter taped from mime shows, Douglass created a huge recording of every viewer reaction noise a show might need. His original laugh track is still used by television programs to this day, to sweeten real audience reactions or simulate them entirely.

Since Douglass first made these recordings in the fifties, a lot of the folks we hear laughing in our living rooms every week are now dead.

[5] Whales usually die in shallow water, where scavenger species devour their carcasses in a matter of weeks. Occasionally, though, they die farther out from shore and their bodies sink to depths of over 2000 metres, onto an ocean floor comparatively barren of scavengers. This unexpected cascade of nutrients, this whale fall, attracts an influx of giant isopods, shellfish, nematodes, hagfish, octopi, sea cucumbers, molluscs, and bone-eating osedax, creating a discrete ecosystem that can last for decades. An ephemeral city of life and death, built upon an architecture of bone, an infrastructure of jutting ribs large enough to hold a car, carpeted by plush colonies of tubeworms. With enough time the white skeleton becomes invisible, covered over with polychaetes that suck on lipids buried in the bones, dotted with blooms of bristleworms like scarlet and neon flowers. A whale-shaped mass of a million non-whales. Some of these species can only inhabit whale falls, shipwrecks, and collapsed kelp beds. They only live if others sink. A wriggling potpourri of organisms, all possible because somewhere overhead, a massive heart stopped beating.

I have recurring fantasies of dying in the wild somehow and having my corpse consumed. Caskets are terrible environmental contaminants.

I fear cremation.

[6] I am ten and seeing the word “welkin” for the first time, in a line of a poem. It sounds like “welcome” and “well kin,” it feels beautiful on the lips and it makes the tongue tap the back of the teeth in a way that “sky” doesn’t. I am ten and my teacher Mrs. Grieves is the smartest person I know, so I ask her why I can’t stop thinking about this word, even days after we’ve moved on to a different poem.

“Why don’t we use it all the time?” I ask her. It keeps repeating in my head, welkinwelkinwelkinwelkin, and sometimes after I wake up but before I brush my teeth I mouth it into my pillow. “Welkin.”

“It’s archaic,” she explains, and then she explains that that means old and fallen out of favour.

“But it’s so nice,” I say. “Welkin.”

“You can still use it if you want. It’ll just be deliberately anachronistic.”

Are kay ick. A knack rin is tick. Those words are amazing too.

[7] βιβλιογραφία, “book writing.” Writing about books. Technically, enumerative bibliography compiles every publication in a field into smaller distinct categories for reference. Sometimes people use the word “bibliography” simply to mean works cited, a proclamation of intellectual honesty in list form, a pre-emptive defence against charges of plagiarism. But there’s also something mystical about bibliographic citations. They invoke the muse after the fact. They hint at provenance, at pedigree, at parentage. They’re a glimpse into what had to come together in order to birth a new narrative. Bibliography is heraldry.

Sunny Chan studied creative writing at the University of Alberta, Canada, and has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia, also Canada. She is currently in the English Ph.D. program at UW-Madison. Her current favourite reptile is the New Mexico whiptail, which reproduces only through parthenogenesis.