The Art of Living Backwards

Dreams, wishful thinking, and regrets plague us constantly, keeping us from ever fully living in the present. I know that I would like to be little again, dancing in the aisle at baseball games and playing The Price is Right with my stuffed animals. I wish I could take back the time I gave up playing piano for months so I could run cross country, that I could re-say goodbyes with the words I thought up afterwards.  In Artful Dodge 52/53, Michael Lee says the same with the first line of his short narrative, “Teacher Zhang and Teacher Hua.”  “I wish,” he begins, “that I could tell the story of Teacher Zhang and Teacher Hua backwards,” which he then proceeds to do, rewinding the tape of their lives with words.

The story proceeds from the “end,” where the narrator and Teacher Zhang stand in Teacher Zhang’s “hovel,” but slowly things begin to change.  Teacher Hua, who died from cancer, comes back to life, “taking her first breath.”  Some things are gained and others lost, old loves are never met and forgotten, cats shrink into kittens.  Lee does a wonderful job presenting the teachers’ lives, unraveling the thread of time like a Christmas present.  What I find the most interesting about this piece is that it does not end at the “beginning,” but thousands of years before, a reminder that we truly begin years before our births.  Still, all things are a cycle, whether backwards or forwards.  We do not exist, we exist, and then we do not exist again.  Birth to death, death to birth, we are always looking back.


—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor


About artfuldodgewooster

Ohio based literary magazine, now over twenty years old, still in print, and gradually spreading across the digital world. Official Website:
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