writing and editing

Month: April 2020

Shoebox Confessional: Part A

Dear reader,

The confessional that started this series was about an old romantic relationship. This one is about a friendship, and I surprised myself by writing a longer piece for it than the first one about feelings unspoken.

Actually, I talk about feelings unspoken here, too, but unfortunately they’re of the more petty type.

I’ve kept this letter shorter because I won’t lie, writing the confessional itself was hard enough. However, confronting the hurt I’d caused, when I haven’t articulated it so fully before, was a necessary form of self-flagellation. Maybe there is no need to publish this, but I was inspired again by an NPR podcast I listened during the past week. The episode is here and called “Do Self-Help Books Actually…Help?” Kristen Meinzer, one of the women involved in a social experiment of living by self-help books, explained that displaying the results and struggles of the experiment helped to create a community. She was able to see that people connect through vulnerability, and so she felt that if she “can start that dialogue by being shockingly vulnerable at times, that’s awesome.”

This is hard to do in practice for so many reasons, including cultural and psychological factors. But it’s a noble goal, and I couldn’t agree more.

Thank you,

J Wang

P.S. I should’ve explained sooner, but the person’s first initial is what I’m using to name each part in this series. It’s TBD as to how I’ll deal with same first initials. I’ll probably add their last name initial, still keeping it anonymous enough.


I know I lost you, A, because I forgot how to be generous. The same kind of generous as when I don’t hesitate to donate three hundred dollars for refugee aid but also don’t broadcast my contribution to family, friends, or strangers. Until now, that is. Perhaps this is the issue. Maybe I didn’t forget how to be generous because I never knew. After all, this need to be recognized for how good I’m being—or more specifically, how much good I’m doing by someone—is the complete opposite of a genuine giving spirit and who a friend should be. I’m a fraud or was, as I like to think, but not anymore. Even though I view myself as having improved in this aspect, if only to preserve the remaining friendships I have now in my mid-twenties, it doesn’t mean I get you back. I don’t really deserve to. 

We found each other on the ice, and then had so much to share off the ice. In a population of our fellow tween figure skaters who found us offbeat for not sharing their love for One Direction or Justin Bieber—baby, baby, baby, ooh, be damned—you were my lifeline. We both liked anime before Michael B. Jordan being a fan of it made it cool. You shared with me your earliest versions of singer-songwriter style tracks, not fully formed but I found them incredible anyway, given my untouched music composition notebook. I put together poor imitations of outfits I’d seen in Teen Vogue and served as your photography study. 

With you, I could be my full weird.

How stupid it was, then, for me to resent you over some money. This was a hazard of friendships crossing into adulthood that no one had warned me about. In any case, hindsight is not twenty-twenty. Hindsight is being able to objectively see what happened between us but still not comprehend why I could convince myself to think so poorly of someone I’d shared my tweenhood with. How I could not be giving with what I had, like you always had for me, even if it was only time that you could afford to give.

After months of anticipation and saving up for your Los Angeles visit, you and your flight finally landed at LAX. I remember feeling like the night was forgiving for summertime, and how maybe that was what kept people’s tempers cool in the notorious traffic circling the LAX terminals. Making LAX trips was an act of love, the local pop radio station hosts often joked, and I still agree. I’d been able to at least keep that self-congratulating quip to myself.

You had made a list of the things you wanted to see and places where you wanted to eat and take photos of. I had helped vet and curate, using my extensive three years of experience in the sprawl of LA as a guide. I offered to add Disneyland to your joy, using up the last free passes I had saved from my former job. You were staying at my place, minimizing your costs, and since I had a car and did drive, I’d be driving us everywhere. I understood my role as a hostess. And as a thank you, early on in your trip planning, you had promised to treat me when we got to the Korean barbecue item on the list. It sounded like enough. It should’ve been. 

At the time of your visit, I was back to searching for full-time jobs after spending a year trying to be a writer, living a cliche. You’d been there for me through it all, giving feedback on passages of my mediocre novel and listening, or reading, my venting in the messages I sent: sometimes a torrent of clips, sometimes bigger blocks of frustration. And I didn’t just come to you about my novel. The stupid ubiquity of unprotected left turns in LA. The confusing parking restriction signs, one stacked on top of another, so how I was supposed to make a call while navigating a busy street? There may be a more technical term for it, but I can say I was generous in this crap way. 

I’d known my risk of failure was high, but the living of it, trying to get out of it, and sitting through traffic getting to tutoring jobs to survive it changed how I saw things, and in uncharitable ways. The days I spent with you weren’t paid vacation days. (I know they weren’t for you either, though I couldn’t see past myself at the time.) When I had to tutor a client during your visit and dropped you off at the movies, I breathed a sigh of relief, alone in my car again, even though before your visit, that kind of loneliness and the romance to it had long faded away for me. 

For all the years we’d been friends up until then, I should’ve been able to admit all this to you at some point during the week you were with me. Instead I stayed tight-lipped and acted my way through it badly—as in, not good at it. You saw through me earlier on and asked if anything was wrong. If you’d known, you may have pitched in more. Even if after my admission you couldn’t though, at worst you’d just see me as a cheap hostess. At best, we’d still have an open line between us, and I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I had a narrow fixation on what it meant to give. You had already helped me so much, and I wanted more. I never acknowledged how your tendency to empathize and receive could exhaust you, how much of a burden I was to you, then I went and made you feel like one in an unfamiliar city, when you were meant to be a guest. I’m sorry.

We didn’t discuss again the now-obvious mask I’d put on before you left, and after you flew back to Houston, I saw the advantage of our message exchanges in a different way. Before your visit, I could pour my sorrows out to you and not worry about the toll it might’ve taken. Separated again by a two-hour time difference and the advantage of a backspace button, I chose not to be upfront about how I’d really felt. You shared videos of fun things you came across on the internet. I replied immediately with a short acknowledgment of mutual admiration. I thought my act was working. You must’ve thought you could go on, too.

You didn’t. 

This time, the big block of words came from you, and you were clear. I was not good for you, you realized. 

The sad thing is, I kept trying to act. I told you I couldn’t see what about my recent responses made you feel belittled or not taken seriously. You told me if I couldn’t see it, then I never would.

Just like with the novel I gave up, I respected that we also had to end. I respected your choice to go.

To soothe my ego, and because she is my mother, my mother agreed with me that you should’ve done more of this for me and I couldn’t have done more of that for you. But in the end, this was a friendship between you and me, and I did not do well by you.  

You were not the first friend from my grade school years who I assumed I’d get to keep growing up with. And when we could still be vulnerable with each other, I had learned that I wasn’t the first for you either. By now I hope you’ve found a new friend, or many, who make you feel confident in that, yes, they value your company. They share your interests without hesitation and unconditionally. They are people you want to keep close as long as they’ll have you. For having known you for the years that I got to, I can only imagine how lucky they are.

Shoebox Confessional: Part M

Dear reader,

I’ve named this series the way I have because I’m writing it with my laptop perched on top of a large plastic storage container that’s serving as a shoebox.

Why a series of confessionals? And why don’t I have a proper desk?

The second question isn’t as important though easier to answer. I am still in the unmoored phase of my life, and where I can avoid acquiring heavy objects, I do. Interpret that as you will, though to be honest, it ain’t that deep. (For those who need it, an Urban Dictionary definition is here.)

As for the first, the content of these confessionals have weighed on me, and I finally decided to give them words, as a way of owning them and also letting them go. Recently, after listening to a poignant NPR podcast episode called “The Reluctant Immortalist,” I learned that a tiny, otherwise insignificant animal called the hydra is potentially immortal. This is due to its unique biology, with more details you can learn in a separate article here, but boils down to how it’s essentially continuously shedding what (cells) can no longer serve it or even harm it. From the podcast: “The best guess scientists have these days as to how it cheats death, as Rob Steele explains, isn’t just its crazy stem cell production, but its highly unusual ability to let go.”

Where this analogy ends: I don’t see these memories as no longer serving me, but as lessons. I looked to the earnest style of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first in a young adult novel series I love by Jenny Han. Sharing them though, letting them go on my site here, which is maybe brave or maybe brazen, I can hold myself accountable. Names have been redacted out of respect. Maybe these memories will become or beget something else. And perhaps someone else, after reading, becomes inspired to take the time to reflect on significant episodes in their own life. On this topic, I’ll admit that I used to not be a fan of memoirs or non-fiction. I almost exclusively read fiction, unless non-fiction was demanded for academic work. This is largely because it is a lifelong dream of mine to (traditionally) publish a worthy novel. Of course, to do this, one not only has to read great examples but also to write. For roughly the past two years though, I had stepped away from writing for so long, scared of the blank page or screen and overall feeling like an impostor. Through writing these confessionals, I’m finding my way back into writing in general. What a joy it is. And during the time of COVID-19 we’re living in now, we should allow ourselves that when we can.

Thank you,

J Wang


Ever since my dad passed away, I became accustomed to sleeping next to my mom in my parents’ bed whenever I was back from college. It wasn’t so strange to me, since the king size had become too much for her.

One night when M crashed at our house, after making sure he had what he needed to sleep, I turned away and headed to my parents’ room as usual. It was only after our stilted greetings the next morning and after M had left when I realized. Fully awake, a more coherent reading of our texts had clarified things. I wasn’t supposed to turn away and follow my mother. He thought I’d join him in the room he was staying in, a room we’d converted into a guest room. He’d wanted to bang, in short. Didn’t I?

What I’d wanted to find was some sentimentality in our simplistic messages. It wasn’t there. And really, should it have been? I was home only for a short fall break. But I guess his thinking was: we’d had something for each other once, and since then, we’d both had more experiences in and out of relationships. These should have been sufficient ingredients to set off a physical reaction. If I hadn’t wanted more at the time, I might’ve gone for a bang, letting it serve as a delayed declaration of sorts. 

When we were together in high school, I deemed “I love you” off-limits. I’d simply felt that it was cheapened when said too often. That went for expressing affection for my friends too, so at least I was consistent. I thought that it had to be reserved for when people really knew and felt deep regard and care for one another. Maybe my friends and I did, despite the small scales of our lives then: soothing each other over the sting of an A- versus an A, preemptively grabbing straws for each other’s bubble tea. But in my eyes, we weren’t truly responsible for anything beyond being our parents’ children, so I didn’t believe we could commit to or feel anything profound. Of course, I’ve learned since then.

So was it that I felt I had to save it for a big, pivotal moment? I had my chance at senior prom, the quintessential American high school event I hadn’t wanted to go to but did, thanks to my former best friend. I can’t remember M without her, but she is another memory. She’d been the one to push M and me together, prompting him to ask me to be his homecoming date. What I had with M, I owed to her. 

What happened instead has been my wondering until now if I should’ve just said it. Should’ve just snuck away to the bed he was waiting in.

In any case, I know now that by any average, reasonable person’s definition, the affection and care M had shown me when we were younger was love. Driving to the hospital and waiting with me and so many others for the inevitable passing of my dad, even though I had not flung myself into M’s arms, cried on his shoulder. Then years later, calling me to tell me that his father had passed away, too, and that he wanted me to know before I heard it through the grapevine. It was a kindness to me, even though it’s unlikely that I would’ve found out that inelegant way. Most of my surviving high school friendships are too tenuous, rarely getting past the basic updates out of politeness, for sensitive information like that to be divulged. So in recalling this gesture of M’s, I found another reason to believe.

I must have always known it was love. And though it’s passed, I’ll treasure that sense of high regard and care forever. I can’t ask for more, not when I’ve had friendships I believed to be forever dissolve instead. 

Thank you, M. And did you know? In my main college application essay—also so long ago—the alias I gave to the little boy I wrote about was your name. That was my first paying homage to you, however small. I don’t think I ever told you, just like I never said I loved you.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén