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).