Monday, May 25, 2020

Phuc Tran's "Sigh, Gone"

Phuc Tran has been a high school Latin teacher for more than twenty years while also simultaneously establishing himself as a highly sought-after tattooer in the Northeast. Tran graduated Bard College in 1995 with a BA in Classics and received the Callanan Classics Prize. He taught Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit in New York at the Collegiate School and was an instructor at Brooklyn College’s Summer Latin Institute. Most recently, he taught Latin, Greek, and German at the Waynflete School in Portland, Maine.

His 2012 TEDx talk “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive” was featured on NPR’s Ted Radio Hour. He has also been an occasional guest on Maine Public Radio, discussing grammar; the Classics; and Strunk and White’s legacy. He currently tattoos at and owns Tsunami Tattoo in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his family.

Tran applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new memoir, Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Sigh, Gone is a scene where my brother and I (ages 7 and 9 at the time) are ignoring my parents’ demands that we go to sleep. We are jumping on our beds and wrestling, and my father is incredibly exasperated. He comes into the bedroom, screams at us, and we ignore him (which leads to some unforeseen consequences on page 100).

I would say that page 99 is as good a page as any to illustrate the central bonds and fissures of the book. My father, stern and exacting, yells at us, and my brother and I are thick as thieves, co-conspirators for all manner of tomfoolery. (My brother was my steadfast yes-man, and in Freudian parlance, we were both ids with nary a superego in sight.)

There is humor (in the telling of the story) and familial tension on page 99, and those are key elements throughout the book. I would say that a missing element would be the lens of classic literature. As a framing device, each chapter’s stories are told through the lens of a classic work of western literature (The Scarlet Letter, Madame Bovary, The Iliad, The Metamorphosis, etc.). It’s a fair sample page of the book (I’d give it a 7 on a scale of 10).

Sigh, Gone begins with my earliest memories as the only Vietnamese refugee family in a small Pennsylvania town in the ‘70s and ‘80s; it’s a coming-of-age story about finding my place in the world with the help of great books and punk rock. How do we make sense of who we are and where we live, sense of what our place is in it? How do we make sense of the contradictions and complexities of who we are/were and who we want to be? I wrangle with these questions, especially as they are affected by immigration, race, class, and cultural divides. There’s a healthy dose of Star Wars and ‘80s pop culture thrown in there, too.

I hope that Sigh, Gone is an invitation to readers to consider their own complexities and not to ignore them. We are paradoxical, and those tensions are not hypocrisies but depth of character and richness of experience, and they should be told and celebrated.
Visit Phuc Tran's website.

--Marshal Zeringue