This week I have been particularly interested in Rachel Khong’s The Freshening, published in The Paris Review. It’s a sci-fi tale of Americans vaccinating themselves against race. The Freshening itself in the story is an event where government agents visit your home and inject you with a serum which changes the way you see the world. It makes you see everyone like you — so in the case of our protagonist, as an Asian woman. Once injected she sees everyone as an Asian woman, including her father, people on television, Christopher Reeve as Superman.
Here’s a little snippet:
What I like about all of it is this exploration of tension — the desire for it at least. There are amusing complaints that there is no one looking at her butt at the gym, or that people find their spouses less attractive because they look like themselves.
While her grief for her mother is being processed, the lamenting the loss of her mother’s smell — “there’s nothing on earth that smells like her any more” for example, she has feeling of erasure of her own culture in the world around her. When everyone looks like her, including superman,
The story doesn’t give us answer of course, it wavers like its characters about whether such a thing would be good or not. Our protagonist is nudged into having a party where a new drug is to be taken, one that lets you see the world as it was before. Our protagonist is confused, the new world they live is is certainly better, but she still misses the old one.
Which is the through line with her mother. Her mother who was somewhat cruel, cold, difficult to elicit praise from — and was the only real connection to her heritage. Ridding the world of perceived diversity, in this case, causes a break in history — making the foreignness her mother felt less valid, less valued because she herself is less able to feel the difference her mother felt.
This week’s song is Towing The Line by Ben Howard. Bit new for me as I’d previously disliked most of his output, it’s grown on me.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own. This is me enjoying your poetry when you send it to me to read immediately after writing it. Chickens should be decent too. If I was meant to send you something, don’t worry, it is happening very soon, and then you will wish it hadn’t! Here is a thread of things I did. I am going to be old again soon, so I apologise in advance if I run out of steam — hopefully there’s somewhere for me nearby that isn’t a scrapyard. I have some work coming out in Bone and Ink on the 19th November — one is called Essay on Islands while another is called The Sexual Content of Torture — which shows at least, they have a broad taste in subject matter.