After spending four years with the research, writing and re-writing that shaped Eve of a Hundred Midnights, I feel sometimes as if I've lived in Melville Jacoby's shoes. At least, I feel as if I've seen the world through his eyes. As you can see in the following photos, Chongqing was a place of extensive striving and, after years and years of bombing -- during his stints there in 1940 and 1941 Mel experienced 168 air raids -- deeply scarred yet incredibly resilient.
My head hurts. My carpal tunnels hurt. My blood is mostly coffee sludge. I've become a master of doctoring up Top Ramen. I know the shame that is ordering pizza from a place three blocks away because I can't be bothered to stand up because this sentence is connecting with that one and this with this one and oh my god I'm actually writing, there are words coming out and they make sense and I actually think I have something here and wow I'm going to win the pulitzer and.
By now, anyone closely following Melville Jacoby's story knows a little bit about Chan Ka Yik. Last week, a few members of my family and I met Chan's daughters for something of a reunion between our two families. As I've already described, that was itself was a lovely experience. But Chan was not Mel's only friend in China, nor was he the only Chinese man Mel met who later moved to the United States. My visit to Palo Alto also stirred up a fantastic coincidence. This is the sort of thing that can provide a completely different glimpse three quarters of a century in the past. Click the link to read about that coincidence, and to hear the fantastic discovery I made as a result of that visit.
I was digging through the collection of materials I have at my place related to Melville Jacoby and found a photocopy of a lovely letter written to Mel 74 years ago today. The note was sent by Chan Ka Yik, one of Mel's best friends. The two were roommates at Lingnan University in Canton (now Guangzhou) while Mel was an exchange student there. The letter responds to an earlier mailing Mel had sent. It describes Chan's fondness for his roommate, and, in many ways, is the sort of letter anyone might send to catch up with an old friend. But these greetings are described against a backdrop of war. Though calm seemed to have returned when Chan wrote the letter, it was clearly still a presence.
few weeks ago I started typing on one of my dad's old typewriters. The arms of each key on the Royal Arrow moved slowly, as if moving through molasses. My words tripped over themselves, caught in the machine's throat. Dust dulled the dark gray casing of the machine. Another typewriter sat on a table across the room. A portable Corona, its curved black shell was decorated with a gold-colored paint, although the decoration was muted somewhat by the years passed since the machine was owned by the journalist Melville Jacoby, a cousin of my grandmother's who died in an accident in the Pacific as he covered World War II. Also known as Mel Jack, I hope to share his story another time -- I only invoke him now because I can't help thinking about those machines, about what it feels to squeeze words onto those pages and what it feels like at this moment to string words across this screen.