Nonfiction / Brian Oliu

:: Belonging ::

0.1  Running is not where I belong.

0.2  I do not need reminding that translation is supposed to be hard: the Catalan language is filled with swishes and slurs: my grandmother says that it sounds like it is meant to be spoken with marbles in your mouth—a smoothness snatched away with the puffing of cheeks and the sloshing of tongues. No matter how many times I see the words unfurl, I forget which ways the glyphs lean: acute or grave, the sound of an O going inward or outward: some days I can’t tell the difference between a swallow or a spit.

0.3  I am sitting with my foot elevated on a coffee table in a house that I just moved into. We have put the books on the shelf in alphabetical order. We have decided what cabinets the wine glasses will be stored in: the mugs are next to the tea, the pint glasses underneath. It is August, and I am always tired—the heat of the season squeezing everything I am trying to hold on to. I have not run in three weeks: my old pair of running shoes frayed at the little toe—the pieces of nylon sticking out into the humid air like cats’ whiskers. I have been moving, I tell myself. I have no time for routine.

0.4  My grandfather was a petroleum engineer. He went where the crude oil was: overseeing new refineries being built that would desalt and distill. We joke with my grandmother about the number of houses they lived in over the years: from Bad Homburg, to Barcelona, to Vigo, to Zaragoza, to Cartagena, to Manzanares, to Bucaramanga, to Tulsa, to North Bergen, to Paris, to Glen Burnie, to Old Bridge, to Frankfurt, to Mercerville. It is a romantic notion to chase oil—to leave city and country to find work—but then again, it isn’t.

0.5  I have lived in four cities. I have lived in less than ten houses. The house that I am in is a house that I lived in previously: it has been remodeled—there is no longer a deep orange carpet turned brown from dirt. The bathroom has been remodeled. There are cabinets that have been torn out from the walls—there is a sticky residue left behind where they once were. We think about all of the people that have lived in these houses before we fell asleep on couches within their walls, yet we do not think of the ghost of the house itself: how each coat of paint eliminates a sense of what it was: how something that was once a part of a home is cut out from it and left on the street.

0.6  It is easy to imagine gasoline being extracted into its purest form: that at its base, crude oil is sifted down into something more majestic—a force for expulsion, combustion. Instead, the oil is cracked: the heavy molecules broken into smaller, lighter fragments meant to fuel jet engines; that instead of sifting through, the core must be shattered and reassembled: instead of finding fire underneath us, it is salvaged violently from what remains.

0.7  Hi ha abundant evidencia que l’adquisició de fons, o d’una base, o de «l’endurance», millora els temps de totes les distancies. There is abundant evidence that the acquisition line, or a base, or “endurance” improves time for all distances. I am sitting amongst boxes: there are tables pushed up against the wrong wall—I am a guest in my own home. I have not run for three weeks because I do not feel comfortable leaving this house in fear of it becoming unfamiliar while I am gone: the knives finding the right drawer, the bananas in the wire basket—a home building itself without me, leaving me baseless.

0.8  I used to dream about burning the fat off of my body: putting a flame to my stomach as my skin caught fire—the bulk dripping into my new bathroom sink, the remnants greasing the air. This is all wrong, my grandfather would say, and he would be right: we have no need to render tallow—there is nothing here to use to propel ourselves forward, ijo. We are more than what is left over.

0.9  I am never more aware of my body than when I am not fluid: how my arm’s range of motion is limited by injury, how I need to roll my shoulders back to prevent my chest from being pulled forward toward the hardwood floors. It feels like I am still inside of something: that I am wearing the skin of a man who believes he can start again, of someone who has to act when the heat goes out. That I am working with a language that I do not know and never will know: I will be asked the name of my grandfather’s book and I will be unable to pronounce it—that the process will sour to carbon, that the world is waiting to overcorrect, that instead of combusting, I will corrode to stillness.


From the writer

:: Account ::

We have all heard the concept that Montaigne refers to as “essaying”—how every essay is an attempt to help comprehend and explain what is happening in the world, less about trying to create an absolute and more about taking reader and writer on a journey where there is no concrete idea of where the trip will end up, but the routes being taken will somehow bring both parties to a larger concept of truth. For me, this project I have been working on embraces that idea, but more specifically the concept of failure: that these are essays about something I am not very good at (running) and something that I struggle mightily with (translation). The structure of the pieces reflect this: they are kilometer markers that continually reset at the end of each piece/chapter of the book. They never get over the hump of that first mile.

This piece very much embraces this idea, as when I was writing it, I was taking a self-imposed break from running in order to move into a new home. In my mind, I was replacing the act of running with the act of moving, even though they are entirely different processes. The key to distance running, according to my grandfather (as well as many other running experts) is to simply keep running and never stop: to acquire a base of running where you feel comfortable at any given moment to go out and run a certain amount of miles or for a particular amount of time. Being such a novice, I feel as if I am “base-less”—that whatever is within me is not real: that this body is not my own, this house is temporal, and there is no state of running I can rely upon. This piece, as well as many others, are “attempts at failure,” essaying with what appears to be a dark outcome, yet with the hope that these échecs bring something that drives motion forward.


Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He is the author of three full-length collections: So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections; Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games; & Enter Your Initials for Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam. i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms), a memoir in the form of a computer virus, is forthcoming in 2015. His works in progress deal with professional wrestling and long distance running (not at once).