iamjwang

writing and editing

oh, reader! (writing career update)

I’ve been feeling depleted and tired despite a perfectly lovely holiday season. My positive interpretation of this is that it meant I was very present during the holidays, giving my energy to the people I was with and the things I was doing. My negative (or factual) interpretation is that now that I’m firmly past my twenties, my energy levels will just never be the same.

Today at least, my brain chemistry is helping me latch onto the first interpretation. Also, this beautiful magazine celebrating all things reading, issue 014 of Oh Reader, certainly helps. I picked it up in Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles just before New Year’s Eve, aided in my quest by my partner. As far as I know, the magazine is only available a B&N stores or via subscription (subscribe here).

hand holding issue 014 of Oh Reader magazine

I had started looking for this issue since the beginning of December…because a personal essay of mine was published in it! See opening pages below. I didn’t have any input on the accompanying art piece, though I’d expected one would be paired like for other pieces in the issue, but I absolutely love it. It hits right in the feels. My essay is about growing up as the only English reader in my household, and how that was both liberating and isolating.

issue 014 of Oh Reader magazine opened to the pages of author's essay

It’s an incredible moment, and I’m still soaking it in because I had happened across a summer issue of the magazine just last May or June. I read it cover to cover on a plane ride and later found out that the magazine was open to pitches. I’d already had a personal story idea churning in my mind, but I hadn’t determined the format or outlet I wanted it to come to life in, beyond unorganized brainstorming in a phone note. I probably broke every rule about submitting a good pitch, because I brain-dumped 500 words, just letting my emotions take over. But…it worked. It struck a chord with the editor, who emailed about four months later to accept my idea for publication. I had truly forgotten about it, or forced myself to for all intents and purposes. To sustain any sort of writing life–any creative life–you must learn to quickly forget about not being picked, or else it’ll eat away at you.

I distinctly remember seeing the email come in on my phone while I was brushing my teeth and frankly in a low mood. I was astounded, but not because it took four months to hear back. (If anything, that’s fast in the world of publishing.) I’d never pitched a magazine before, and I was also nervous to actually produce a coherent essay from my pitch.

There are many sayings about how constraints or scarcity breed invention, innovation, and so on. Well, having to tame my thoughts into a piece with a word count limit and a deadline definitely bred a tighter essay than I could’ve imagined. I was panicking two days before the deadline because I hadn’t figured out my ending. And then, deadline magic hit–the last two paragraphs arrived to me in a burst, and–just as miraculous–I didn’t hate them either. Cue Jimmy Neutron brain blast!

Thank you to the magazine staff and my fellow contributors for creating an issue to remember. As I run my hand over the nice heavyweight paper again, the last thing I’ll say here is: I hope print never dies.

a full zodiac (blog)

My dad passed away on this day twelve years ago. A full Chinese zodiac cycle, if I want to put it more poetically than saying twelve or a dozen, which makes me think of eggs. 

It was a rough twenty-four hours and change leading up to his passing. Not comprehensive and in no particular order: panicked calls for a ride to the hospital, notification that his leg would need to be amputated, papers I was told to fill out as the immediate next of kin, updated notification that the infection spread and more would need to be amputated, a decision to let him go, a chaplain I screamed and truly roared at (I’m sorry now), a heart rate monitor flatlining just like in the movies, family members arriving in time to say goodbye, friends holding me upright. And a deep confusion about the root cause of why my dad had to die. 

I’ll probably never know because I got some well-meaning but potentially misguided advice to write to the hospital for compensation for what happened to my family. There are more details, but I’m keeping this short. They ultimately told me they wouldn’t let the doctors(?) talk to me unless I retracted the letter. By then I was a freshman in college, far from home, trying to pick up the books I needed for my classes. I gave up the fight. I had to if I was going to function. We didn’t want the money, and I made myself not want the explanations because as my mom and I told ourselves and each other: what does it matter he is dead. 

Not proud of it, but I’ve had plenty of dark, unforgiving thoughts since then. I keep reminding myself to reach for the logic–whatdoesitmatterheisdead. And over time this has allowed me to say “oh yeah, he passed away before I went to college” in an allegro tempo, at a mezzo piano volume. Factuality confidently performed.  

I don’t do a post on this every year, or for that matter a practice, ritual, whatever. My grief is more tame now but still unorganized. For some reason this year just felt like enough years later to record my thoughts somewhat coherently. Maybe next year, lucky number thirteen, will be when I get to coherently. Maybe I’ll even do a listicle instead: 13 Things I’ve Learned from 13 Years Grieving. (Kidding. Barf.)

OK. I got what I needed to get out. Thanks for reading.

crying at planes (blog)

You know how people say people cry on planes? Something about being anonymous and therefore uninhibited and maybe a little unhinged. Maybe that’s just me. Well…apparently, I—a fellow people—cry looking…at planes. Riddle me that. 

On my trip home for the holidays this year, I took these photos and this video because I was so overcome. By what I was not sure. I just became drawn to the tall, well-lit, brightly patterned, upward-pointing tail of the plane ✈️ next to mine, and then as my plane and others lined up to taxi on the runway, I felt so much admiration, awe, and also…aww. 

??

Meeee too.

On a logical level, I could trace it to how I’m a generally orderly person, and seeing the orderliness of air travel always strikes a chord in me, even though it doesn’t always feel that way for, say, a passenger whose luggage gets lost. 

You might look at the date of this post and think: ah, she’s sad about going home for the holidaysMaybe the holidays are hard and emotional. Maybe there’s someone who should be home too, who isn’t. Cue sentimental holiday commercial. 

None of this is wrong, but none of this is it either.  

So what the hell is it I’m blathering on about then? Look, that’s what I said to myself as I did the hard work of not avoiding my feelings—hey look, personal growth!—and drafted these words. I literally did a shimmy and shake of myself to try to make myself articulate. And now I know. 

I’m in a state of life now where I’m really forcing myself to ask: where should be home? I know where has been my home. But where should I settle down? Or is even that notion a myth? 

And what I’ve hoped is that the answers would come to me on one of the many long-haul flights or drives this past year, some planned and some surprises. But there haven’t been any eureka moments. No answers just coming to me. So I’ve been so frustrated. I’ve done the analyzing and planning, plus overanalyzing and overplanning approaches, but they didn’t work. And now it seems this “go with the flow” thing is, well, I guess it’s flowing but to where?

But I wonder if it’s been trying to show me another point: I cannot force an insight to come when it’s convenient for me. When I can fully bask in the weight of ~what it means~. When I can…gasp…overanalyze it. 

Oh. Ow. Okay. Onward. (Upward, please.)

a “best american” nomination! (writing career update)

No, I am not in contention for a citizenship-related prize. But I got my surprise of the year earlier this week when I found out that Hypertext Magazine, who published my story “In the Bag” (and which I now realize I forgot to blog about), nominated it for the Best American Short Stories anthology. Here and below is Hypertext’s Instagram post where I found out about my nomination.

I’m not sure how I missed blogging about the original acceptance and publication of my story in Hypertext, which happened in April and this summer, respectively. It was my first earnest attempt at injecting magical realism into my fiction. I also projected a bunch of personal quirks and fears into it. The story had been rejected by the handful of other literary outlets I’d submitted it to, so I was elated when Hypertext picked it up. In other words, I didn’t expect the story to get this far!

It would be insane if it got placed in the BASS anthology, since a lot of writers with bigger reputations than mine have been published in it. I’m not going to get ahead of myself. Honestly, I’m dealing with a huge creative block and period of “life questioning” right now, so more important to just live and let live I think…

fried chicken for the soul (writing career update)

Okay, I really liked the title I chose for this blog post. However, I must caveat that my microfiction piece I’m celebrating the publication of references sexually suggestive behavior around a minor.

I know, after reading that sentence even I am wondering “yay or nay?” Well, I’m the writer of this blog post and the writer of the aforementioned piece, so I’ll let you know that it’s more of the former.

With the warning presented above, here it is, entitled “Like a Brother,” recently published by The Offing online literary magazine and shared on their Twitter. A screenshot preview of the link is right below.

from https://theoffingmag.com/micro/likeabrother/

On a writing mechanics level, I’m proud of this piece because I’d never tried the microfiction form before, and it demanded extreme compactness of plot and foreshadowing, characterization and voice, and of course, length. This is not to say that my piece is representative of the form; there are many others on The Offing site and other literary sites that can expand one’s understanding of the form. I read many of them before attempting my own. I’d submitted three to The Offing, one of them as short as a sentence, and this one was accepted. Incidentally, it was the longest one of the bunch.

On a topic level, you might still be wondering how I could be celebrating a piece with a heavy and discomfiting “reveal” at the end. This piece was inspired by true events in my life, though writing “trauma porn,” however fictionalized, was not my intention. I acknowledge that these events had an unmistakable influence on me, but they do not have traumatic effects on me.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I transfigured these events into art. I just made art using what I have.

Is that the same thing?

skating again and falling again (blog)

For most of my childhood and ten years, I was a figure skater. More than that, I proudly called myself a “rink rat.” I’m not entirely sure where the moniker comes from, but to me, I took it as someone who spent an inordinate amount of time at the ice rink, so much so that they lived there…like a rat.

Real cute, eh? If you just think along the lines of Angelina Ballerina, it could be!

Really it was because besides training for my own skating goals, I also skated on something called a theater on ice team, taught lessons to toddlers up to adults, and worked in the rink’s pro shop. The latter two activities were more out of necessity, though I did enjoy the company of my students and most of the people I got to work with. I like to think that all the social interactions I had made it easy for me to strike up a conversation with most people I meet today. And maybe even helped tip the scales during my college interview.

I am skating consistently again now, only in the San Francisco area, a much different place to where I grew up. Everything has been harder: falling on the ice is much more daunting, getting to the rink is a greater logistical challenge, making progress on what I’m training is incredibly…incremental.

The other toughie? The loneliness.

Figure skating is largely a solitary endeavor. Yes, there are figure skating clubs you join to be able to test, compete, and participate in other official activities. Yes, you may strike up a conversation with skaters your age (in my case, adults) and begin to make friends. (The difficulty of making real friendships requires an entire other post that I don’t have in me right now, and others have explained it much more eloquently than I could.) And yes, you may pay a coach for a weekly private lesson. But the actual skating and practicing is done by yourself. Unless you pursue a paired or group discipline of skating, you are out there alone. There is no ball passing, no teammates encouraging, no apparatus or item to hold onto. Just you on top of thin metal blades.

As an adult my age, it feels indulgent sometimes to spend time and money on this activity. It is so completely and utterly for me and me only. Not only that, on my worst days, an imaginary, annoying Asian auntie voice in the back of my mind nags, “Why are you spending so much time in this icebox? You won’t meet your husband here!”

And then I fall, because losing concentration means losing track of what my body needs to be doing to execute a movement correctly. And then I’m butt-first on the ice, a little dazed and wondering if I’ll be able to walk the next day.

When I taught the littlest tots group classes, the first thing we taught the kids was how to fall down and get up, and off the ice to get the hang of it first. You don’t hesitate, get onto your hands and knees, steady into a squat, and gradually pull your body upright. The basic principle doesn’t change, no matter how advanced of a skater you become.

Lately, I’ve forgotten the other most important lesson: I will fall. I have to remember this applies elsewhere in my life, too.

I’ve recently been dumped you could say, despite mixed but overall encouraging signs, and I’ve been doing my best to pull myself back up quickly. For all intents and purposes, I’m up now, but the bruising has made me cautious, defensive, even indignant. These are not a good combo for future success, on the ice or in relationships.

I remind myself that I pursue skating for a reason. When the conditions are right, I experience a sense of euphoria I can’t get from anywhere else. But while the release is effortless, getting there requires time and intentional energy. It’s unavoidable. On my darker days, I wonder if I’ll ever get there. On most days, I know that the pain in the moment will not last.

What I need to know on and off the ice: I will not be down forever.

My lace, wanting to give up.

oh, daddy…and mommy (writing career update)

Is the title a little clickbait-y? No! Get your head out of the gutter.

Just kidding. It is definitely meant to pique interest. (And it clearly shows where my mind can go.)

OK, let me finally get to the point.

I AM SO EXCITED THAT MY FLASH FICTION PIECE “TONY” WAS PUBLISHED ON ASIAN AMERICAN WRITERS’ WORKSHOP TODAY! I AM NOT CHILL!

Alright, back to chilled out, mature sentences. (Inside, truly, I am still excited beyond measure.)

You see, writing is something I do for myself, but let’s not kid ourselves. Having other humans recognize something valuable in your writing and ask, “hey, could we share this with more people?” is some kind of magic, let me tell you. (Having it be shared on a reputable and righteous publication is a big freakin’ bonus.)

This story is near my heart because I pulled things from the depths of my heart to give it life and fullness. Things that I did not know could ever be transformed into an artistic form. People that I knew did not become Literature-ized often enough. (There is an amazing quote by Ocean Vuong on this idea in his interview with Seth Meyers here.) It honors my parents who raised me on blue-collar jobs deserving of respect like any other job, but often lacking it in reality. It was my way of saying thank you to them for showing me that caring and nurturing are superpowers. It reminds people to hold onto their imaginations and see the value in fostering the imaginations of others, instead of closing, closing, closing, which is easy, easy, easy.

Here, I give thanks to a Stanford Continuing Studies short story course I took taught by Matt Sumell and to his and my classmates’ sincere, helpful feedback, because while I brought the story to the class, they gave me the encouragement to improve it. And of course, thank you to the gracious and insightful editors at AAWW for getting it ready!! I am now, even more than before, truly of the belief that the shorter the form, the better the workout for a writer.

I could talk on and on, but I’ll let the piece speak for itself. I did my best to pack in a lot of punch.

At the end of all this, I just want to say (okay…admit) that this is actually my first ever “accepted for publication” story, and I hope I never lose the ability to feel this elated and fulfilled by words. Thank you for reading!

I’m not great with screenshots but here’s my try! Thank you again to AAWW and my editors!

wait but why? (blog)

[Topics explored: bilingual; languages; Chinese; intentions; curiosity; benefit of the doubt; talking with strangers on airplanes; The Atlantic magazine]

Contemplating art (I know nearly nothing about art) at The Broad Museum, Los Angeles, USA

Why has it been so long since I posted to this website that I pay SiteGround to host and claim my domain name? And that is coming up for renewal next month? And therefore causing me some anxiety about my low post rate? (Yes, this is also a bald attempt to draw attention to my referral link here. A girl’s gotta get that bag, er, a few free months of hosting rather.)

Alright, I should take a deep breath. Just write and create for me, right?

This is also what I said to myself on one of the legs of my flight returning from Palm Springs. (The second part came later…that is, now, as I write.) Why?

Towards the end of the flight, an old white man in the middle seat next to me asked me, apropos of nothing, if my magazine was (in) Chinese.

It wasn’t. I had open on my lap the latest issue of The Atlantic, an American magazine that is definitely in English. I forgot which article in it I was reading at that moment, but it was definitely in English because I can’t read more intellectual, “fancy” material in Chinese. I am sad about this for reasons upon reasons, but I acknowledge while I’m fully bicultural in my social mores, language-wise I am clearly stronger in English–writing, speaking, and in this case, reading.

Of course, a few ways I could’ve reacted:

a) flipped a sh*t and asked him, “what is wrong with you? Can you not clearly see that this is in English? You think because my face is Asian that I can’t read English?”

This didn’t happen even though I am prone to sh*t-flipping because my rational brain said “he looks to be on the older side and therefore maybe has vision difficulties I mean god knows without corrective lenses I am blind as a bat.”

b) tried to smile and calmly explained that no, my magazine is in fact in English because I am not as fluent a reader of Chinese as I’d like to be

Ding ding ding. Well, maybe I spoiled and hinted at it above.

c) said nothing

This didn’t happen because I am educated and was level-headed enough to speak up for myself. This is also because this wasn’t one of those high-stakes, high-danger encounters that keep showing up in the news. Exhibit A, B, C, D – plug to the NextShark team for reporting, always. #StopAsianHateCrimes #StopHatingAsians (I know there’s a more popular hashtag out there, but I have mixed feelings about the mixed signals it can send.)

So I’ve given you the answer as to what actually transpired: b. The man responded by saying something along the lines of oh, got it! He couldn’t tell because of his age and being without glasses.

Ahh. “Haha, no worries! I do wish I could read something this dense in Chinese, but I grew up here so.” Shrug.

OK! He didn’t mean anything by it other than being curious and seeing (the wrong) things. OK!

Right?

Right.

Right?

Let it go. I’m getting off the flight soon. We were silent the whole flight. He probably just wanted to start some conversation. Not everyone is like you, you who is perfectly fine with not speaking with people for an entire day because they TIRE YOU OUT.

I am proud of the way I responded: it was factual, unbothered, and ultimately ended the interaction in a way desirable to both of us.

More importantly, I operated under the principle of staying open, open-minded, open-hearted. It is more of what we need in the world today. That’s about as much of a statement regarding world affairs that I feel qualified making.

But there is definitely a niggling thought in the back of my mind that goes, “Why the f*ck do we have to always be calm? Why can’t we lash out every once in a while because god knows we deserve to? Why do we, or rather other people, give so much benefit of the doubt to those who doubt, mock, or prod at us?”

Cue searching for my stress relief squishy toys.

So: who is the “we?” Why didn’t I say “I?” Short answer: Asian. (For the more enlightened, they’d maybe tack on American, Canadian, etc. But you and I both know that people see and think “Asian” first.) Longer answer: because my face is my face, I’ve learned that people tend to–incorrectly–not see us as individuals. This grates at me. And yet, there is a strength to being “grouped” per se. It’s how people think of voting blocs and customer groups, e.g., “XYZ-Americans will be the deciding voters in this election,” “the spending habits of ABC consumers are changing how retailers think about [RETAIL CONCEPT HERE].” In summary, thank you for trying to understand any of this.

And this is why I am back on here again. I spent a lot of time recuperating from my trip and digesting this particular interaction, trying to make sense of it. Putting fingers to the keyboard, with the ultimate intention of sharing my thoughts out into the ether of the internet, has helped me because I’m forced to put a form to the swirl in my head. Maybe it’ll help someone else think through tangles, too.

Maybe someone will say: I get you. I see you. I want to hear you.

And that is why I paid for another year of being able to say to my friends, “Sometimes I share my thoughts at iamjwang.com. No pressure though.”

jennifer wang (actor) and amelia rico (director)

OMG, it’s the NY Times! (acting career update)

Forgive me for gloating, but I want to take a moment on this blog of mine to totally geek out and celebrate the team at Main Street Theater (MST) and myself for our work in staging the first “digital premiere” of The Book of Magdalene (promo video on YouTube here)! Today is the last date of the play’s digital run, and while it’s been a strange and difficult pandemic world for live entertainment to navigate, I am truly hopeful that more plays will be recorded going forward. Is it that I don’t believe live theater and events will ever return? Absolutely not. In fact, I am kicking myself for not going to more concerts pre-pandemic (but immensely thankful that Netflix has not one but two concert films of Ariana Grande’s). It’s because when I get to be part of a purposeful, meaningful, and hopeful new work, and also get to embody more diverse representation on stage, I want to share it with as many of my family and friends as possible. Although we filmed at MST in Houston, I had friends who could watch in San Francisco, London, Atlanta, and more. Many of them shared their impressions of the show with me, as well as messages that stuck with them, things that puzzled them, and general feelings of excitement and happiness for me. I am super gratified by all of these but especially the last part, because in those periods where I was stuck in traffic going to auditions and wondering if I should give up on my love for performing, I kept going with the encouragement of many of those same cheerleaders. This lead role was of course a win for me personally, but I also see it as a win for my support network and their love. I did not let them down.

Digital poster art for The Book of Magdalene, a play by Caridad Svich.

Recognition from family and friends is number one, but it certainly got easier when the play was reviewed and covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Houston Press, and so many more esteemed outlets! For better or worse, recognition in one of these long-running outlets is an immense mark of legitimacy. I can confidently say for everyone at MST and myself that we were beyond thrilled! I’m grateful to all those who took the time to see and think critically about our show. I’ll share a few wonderful quotes below, followed by a few more behind-the-scenes photos…including my funny mug in the NY Times!!

“The dicey thing about putting theater online is how easy it is to, accidentally, make it seem like something else: a panel discussion on Zoom, maybe, or a not-great video. But Caridad Svich’s spare and immediate new drama, ‘The Book of Magdalene,’ feels every inch a play…even before a giant cicada puppet makes a fabulous cameo.”

Laura Collins-Hughes for the New York Times, February 19, 2021

“Symbolism-intensive and purposefully poetic in diction, “The Book of Magdalene” is not the sort of play to which I ordinarily warm, but its stageworthiness is self-evident, and Amelia Rico, the director, and Afsaneh Aayani, the set designer, have served Ms. Svich outstandingly well. Good cast, good costumes, and a giant insect puppet whose unexpected appearance (in both senses of the word) will startle you. Even if you don’t care for magical realism on or off stage, you should consider giving this one a shot.”

Terry Teachout for the Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2021

“[Len] is played by Jennifer Wang, whose beautifully luminescent performance is the anchor of this dreamy, poetic play…Delicately directed by Amelia Rico, the production features design that cleverly hints at the dystopian society without going full-out Mad Max. The sets by Afsaneh Aayani are spartan and effective and the costume design by Victoria Nicolette Gist is positively ingenious, featuring garments that are both familiar and odd. Both the lighting (by Grey Starbird) and the sound (by Janel Badrina) compliment the video format and provide nuance in the moodier scenes.”

Nella Vera for CultureVulture, February 2, 2021

“The austere set design, by Afsaneh Aayani, lends a proper touch of surrealism to Svitch’s verselike rhythms. (Both the Times and the Journal were rightly taken by a rather large cicada puppet’s scene-stealing walk-on.) Rico’s alternating between close-ups and wider shots, coupled with Grey Starbird’s haunting lighting design, help foreground Len’s inner turmoil.”

Chris Gray for Preview – Houston Chronicle, February 25, 2021

For the photo slideshow above, I of course had to highlight our amazing cicada puppet by Afsaneh Aayani!

I hope to have more happy updates for 2021, but even if there aren’t any more mentions in the papers, I am already super grateful for these memories to carry me through the rest of the year. Thank you!

grace and gratitude (acting career update)

In spite of all the complaining I could’ve done about 2020 and its ills, I chose to check myself. My family is well enough, all things considered, and that matters more than anything.

Anything beyond that I’ve considered a plus. And one huge plus I got to experience, coming to a screen near you, is The Book of Magdalene, a new play by Caridad Svich. It’s a new work that was written in the summer of 2020, so it’s literally of the times. Main Street Theater in Houston, Texas put up the “workshop digital” production of the show, and I had the honor of playing the lead role of Len. I was cast in December last year, and our show streams from February 11-21, 2021. I got to explore so many feelings in the performance, and all together, I deeply enjoyed the thought-provoking but ultimately hopeful show. Caretaking, providing solace (or is it?), feuding with friends, seeking answers to the big questions in life…a true treat.

I’m in the first row, first from the left. Around me are my talented castmates! Names are in order from left to right, top to bottom.

A little behind-the-scenes tidbits from me: In accordance with the new reality we’re living in, our cast rehearsed over Zoom videoconference first. (Many a “you’re muted” utterance occurred.) We then filmed in a black-box style theater with a small but passionate group consisting of cast and crew, supported by a wonderful theater staff. (I am so grateful my costume was, let’s say, forgiving, given pandemic anxiety snacking.) We upheld stringent safety and health standards in response to the pandemic, and of course, there was no audience. While the communal experience of watching stage lights go up is not available to us in the near future, the benefit is that anyone around the world (with an internet connection stable enough for streaming video) can experience this new work. It excites me and also makes me nervous: will people enjoy the performance? Will they walk away with that tingly feeling that we seek from live events?

I have to remind myself that none of that is in my control. What I can do (or could, I should say, given we’ve finished filming) is trust my director and crew, and give my 100% when performing with my castmates. I like to think I did all that, and I look forward to hearing what friends, family, and audience members say! From the entire team behind The Book of Magdalene at Main Street Theater, we’d be grateful for your support of this show and the arts.

For now, get hyped by reading this wonderful writeup of an interview with Caridad on The Theatre Times; she has a compassionate intellect. Finally, I’ll leave some amazing production photos here by RicOrnel Productions!

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