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Hong Ying: A Pre-destined Writer

(Hong Ying)

Fortune tellers gave many explanations about the mole at the center of my right hand. Yet I believe in just one of them: my livelihood depends on this hand.

My life is filling writing paper with characters. And when it comes to the arrangement of those characters into a story or a poem, and make it catch readers’ eye, luck rather than talent comes first.

Since 1980s, I have been making my living by pen. At that time, due to my high aspiration and for novelty, I enjoyed the game of lining characters, creating flourish pen names for myself, and seeking inspiration in low quality wine.

In those good old days, the payment out of a few poems published was enough for an enjoyable month. When money ran out, literary inspirations came flushing. My drumming stomach was filled with wonderful poetic phrases. People willing to lend you money were always available.

With my first payment of 30 yuan, I ate out with a girl friend. We chanted poems while eating. The nice meal cost me only six yuan.

Now that amount is nothing. But making that amount out of poetry-writing seems harder. The rich have shunned us.

In a big family dwelling in a small place, I wrote on the floor in my childhood. A piece of stone served as my desk. I longed even in my dream for a table in a room of my own.

Some overseas writers said they had changed beds frequently. One even claimed 300 times, still less than the times I have changed my desk.

Only when I was 29 years old and settled down in London did I have my own desk and a room—the first time in my life.

Many people ascribed this change of luck to my husband. I needn’t run desperately around in this hush world to make a living, they said. Of course, before the marriage my eyes had been wide open for candidates, and blames had been heard for being too picky—my prince of charm must be kindhearted, well-learned but not a bookworm. My husband has been exactly the right sort. He has a lifetime tenure at a university and he adores my writing and me. With a tolerant smile, he just shrugged off the topic after I related about my past, a past most men would mind. Heaven must have taken pity on this poor girl, for the first time in my life and the god of fortune was smiling toward me.

Each day sitting before the table with joy, I am busy filling paper with characters. When strange birds keep singing in the three old trees outside my window, phrases flow from my pen with ease.

There is a mirror on the desk. Watching my eyes in it, I see stories revive. Awaking next morning, I find a mischievous spirit dancing in what I have recorded, but more often, I see piled-up nonsense. I know a devil is watching from behind, so I quickly put what I have written on fire.

Fighting against the devil is my agony in writing. Understanding that few of my words are satisfying and will be discarded, all I can do is writing even more. I am proud of myself being self-support in an alien country.

I like visiting two places: new bookstores and second-hand bookstores, where you can see clearly how trivial a writer might be. No matter how great he is, his books are no more than supplies for old bookstores. This may be the best way to cure the psychological obsession of writing.

More writing means fewer friends. Around my house there lie deserted lands, claimed to be haunted. Sometimes I am able to catch the sight of a beautiful red fox peering into my garden. In this rainy town you have the feel of a ghostly world.

Ghosts exist beyond this world, a place completely different from this one. Ghosts are actually people in conflict with this world. They do not need human contact. Each one lives in his own island.

I visit them by boat. The sandy beach is my paper, and the footprint my characters.

(china.org.cn 04/30/2001)

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