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!
This past Friday, I was incredibly honored to have received an Honorable Mention in the Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Contest held by WOW! Women on Writing. My story “Meeting Robert” met some success; what a way to start my weekend!
It’s even more gratifying that I had entered this contest before, back in 2018, I believe. I had received notification that I was a finalist but ended up not advancing to the contest winners. Since it wasn’t my first rejection (or silence, which is de facto rejection), I archived the contest winners announcement email and moved on with life and continuing to try. I try despite knowing I have peers who are traditionally published authors, who have sold screenplays, who have done [insert this thing I haven’t done yet but am weaponizing against myself as a time-bound measure of success because no matter how many encouraging “to each their own time” Instagram posts I’ve read I haven’t truly internalized being happy for myself and others yet la la la…]
To be truthful, I hadn’t entered another contest until later this spring, when I had nowhere to go during quarantine and therefore some time to write. It’s not that I hadn’t written in between these two WOW! contest entries, as this blog can vouch for me :). But I was simply afraid to enter another contest and face another rejection, even though realistically, I’m not alone in this fight to write and love it despite the self-doubt that comes with it. What I did in this case was to reframe the contest into an accountability mechanism for myself: I believe I had improved my craft in the interim, so I would put that to a test by finishing a piece and letting it fly.
I think another thing that worked this time was that I wasn’t afraid to let a (trusted) friend read it and really constructively critique it. When they asked me questions about what a sentence was supposed to mean, or even whether I could split a long sentence because they didn’t understand it, it opened my eyes as to the “vacuum of just me” I was writing in for a while. (That sentence just now? I probably could’ve broken it up too…!) At times I caught myself being defensive and wondering “but this is understandable to me!” But writing is meant to be read and understood by others, so I coached myself to stay open when I wanted to close myself off. It also helped to remember that it would’ve been disrespectful to my friend taking the time to give me quality feedback. (If someone makes general statements, then you probably want to look for productive critique elsewhere.)
With all that said, I’m sharing my flash piece “Meeting Robert” below. As I didn’t place in the top 10 but in the top 20, my story wasn’t published on the WOW! site. Cracking the top 10 is my next goal…!
“I feel like a kid again, but not in a good way.” Catherine closed her eyes and laid her phone back down on the coffee table. Her first instinct was to beeline for the fridge and grab the bottle of wine, received from her company’s holiday party two months ago but untouched since. Every year, she wished she could ask her dad what he thought of the brand, so they could admire it or joke about how her company was cheap. Truthfully though, alcohol wasn’t her coping mechanism of choice, but maybe taking a swig would make her feel like an adult again. She resisted only because Nick stood up with his arms outstretched, waiting for her. It reminded her that some things would not change, not yet anyway.
He enveloped her, and she wiggled her chin in her usual spot, the inviting dip between his neck and clavicle bone. “Oh, there were good things about being a kid? Of course not.” Nick’s chuckle reverberated through his body. “Joking. Did it work? Nope, sorry.”
Nick leaned away so he could read her instead of answering himself again. When they’d first met in their high school algebra II class, Catherine couldn’t stand this quirk of his: Did you get the bonus question right? I bet you did ‘cause you always do. Are you going to the pep really later? Nah, lame, right?
Eventually, she understood it wasn’t that Nick was rude or had ADHD. He liked her. She hadn’t believed it, but her dad had called it. He was right, as usual. More surprisingly, he didn’t go all tiger dad on the development.
She finally let go of Nick, and they both sat down, eyeing her phone. A preview of a follow-up message from her mom glowed. No doubt the name of Houston’s new dim sum restaurant she’d just invited all of them to eat together at, including Robert. She’d timed it well: Catherine and Nick were driving back to Houston from Austin for the long holiday weekend. Robert had said it would be his treat.
Of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of restaurant guests her mother had waited on since Catherine’s father passed unexpectedly when she was in high school, Robert had managed to become something more. An old anxiety gripped at Catherine’s chest. Who’s to say that Robert was the only one? Had her mother had dates—or god forbid—dalliances with other men who had “wavy, coffee hair” and love “all kinds of barbecue, especially Korean?” At that point in the call earlier, Catherine’s filter had broken, and she barked that Robert must’ve forgotten they were Chinese.
Catherine would ask herself these kinds of questions to get through all-nighters in college, masochistic as it was. They’d kickstart her motivation again when it’d waned. They’d be enough to get her through a paper, an internship application, another student event to organize—gold stars to bring back to stick on mom’s fridge. Would they be enough to distract her mother from needing someone else?
“Cat.” Nick’s hand on her knee finally registered. “Think of it this way. It’s just one meal. We can go on Monday, the last day we’re in town. And we can head back right after. I’ll let you sing from the bad pop song list. We’ll get the unhealthiest snacks from Buc-ee’s.”
“Do I have another choice?” Catherine locked her gaze on Nick, but found her vision clouding. She would not cry about Robert.
Nick struggled with whether to keep talking it out with her. He didn’t continue. He’d let her answer for herself. Of all the times to do so.
“Traitor!” She thought. Her dad had trusted her around Nick, a precious blessing. Now Nick forgot that this made him special and kept pushing her along to the inevitable future. Where she needed but didn’t want to be. “It’s like you don’t even consider my dad.”
Catherine thought she’d only been thinking the words. They struck Nick, and he returned with his own. “Have you considered that I was considering your mom? How long has it been, ten years?”
It would hurt less if there was malice, or even judgment, in his voice.
This time, he continued. “Meeting Robert doesn’t erase your dad. Not unless you do. That’s the real choice, right?”
Even though this blog shows that my last one-pager post was from June, I have been writing in this journal on a more consistent basis. It partly comes from a place of self-flagellation (my friend gifted me this journal two years ago…) and of plain self-doubt. There is the recurring question of “what’s the point?”, which has also come into my thoughts as I considered whether to renew my domain for this site.
In the end, I decided to keep it on, as the cost is negligible compared to some other things I’ve been splurging on, and part of me hopes that it’ll be a good repository of my headspace in this period of my life or the inspirations most salient to me now. A sort of digital “Pensieve” 🙂
Prompt: She was the new girl. The one who sat in the cafeteria at lunch alone. Maybe she was from the next state over. Maybe she was from another country. I wanted to know everything about her: her mother’s name, her favorite movie, if she had brothers, sisters, what she…
Response: …did on the weekends when her friends bailed on plans they’d made together. OK, that’s me starting to project, and I own up to that. I’m about to get up and switch to her table when Matthew — my Matthew, well not as in boyfriend or anything but my best friend who I would not turn down an invitation to become more than a friend — swings his ratty backpack onto the bench seat and offer her his hand to shake. I have many questions. One, I thought he was making up a physics lab, or doing an extra one because that’d be who he is. Two, I thought he’d come to me first, and then we could welcome and absorb the new girl into our weird circle, if she wanted to join. By the looks of her open-mouthed laugh now, she’d follow Matthew anywhere, that’s for sure. I haven’t seen him look up and around for me at all. Want as I might to include myself, I’m not sure he’d want me there. I’ve never had a thought like this before, and it creates a weight on my chest and I put down my food, preventatively reach for a napkin. My things I want to know about her have changed: How are you not nervous to laugh that big in front of him? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you like Matthew?
I started reading a new young adult novel, if it’s isn’t obvious already.
Somehow, it is June. I thought it’d posted a one-pager in May (AAPI Heritage Month, woo!), but I let things slip again. I’ve frankly been wallowing in a shit period of self-pity about various things in my life, so today I tried to take on an optimistic tone in my scribbles. I’ve reverted back to contemporary realism from fantasy last time, but it’s definitely influenced by the rom-com novels I’ve read within the past year. Sometimes when you’re working through shit, you just gotta let yourself have some cheese.
At the start of the page, I didn’t think I could go on. But I reminded myself that the page isn’t meant to be a final draft; it’s a work-in-progress. Like life.
Prompt: It quickly became a game: who was going to say the first word, who was going to smile, who was going to pretend to cough, and who was going to make the first move. Jack stared straight at his coffee, stirring and stirring it even though he drank it black. Sammy…
Response: …resisted staring for too long, since there’s that thing where humans, like any other animal, can tell when others have them in their sights. Truthfully though, Jack was. There’s that other thing where people say you’ll just know when you see the other person. Sammy didn’t believe in love at first sight, or at least, she’d learned from enough encounters that alcohol-tinged vision really could grant most people a favorable glow. But Jack. Even a table away in this Starbucks, Sammy could feel possibility again. And that was what she’d needed after, due to some cosmic freak scheduling, attending three weddings in the past six months, either in a friend group or alone. Everyone around her, it seemed, was pushing their lives along, one milestone at a time. She felt she’d settled, lost control or the drive to get off the path she was on. In a job she was adequate at, in a city she could enjoy enough. But Jack. She had seen him here two weekends in a row now. She was nervous. She wasn’t good at this kind of thing, not like her friends who grabbed what they wanted, and got it. But Sammy had to start. This pretending and not living could not continue. “Hey…” she began.
I could’ve sworn I’d posted something (or had written a one pager to post) between March 27 and today, but it looks like I overestimated my willingness to think through even a page before going on vacation and visiting family. Today I’m happy with myself for finally being over my jet lag and having slept through a night without waking up in the middle of it. Even happier, I coaxed myself to write a page with another genre in mind–fantasy!
This was difficult for me, as I realized it’s been a while since I’ve even read fantasy or even YA fantasy, and also because lately I’ve worried that I’ve begun to lose my imagination. That’s of course not the biggest problem in the grand scheme of things, but for someone whose life goal is to publish a novel–I’ve already achieved my goal of writing one, technically :)–it is a real concern. However, I’m also beginning to believe that it’s truly a muscle everyone can work on. Although speed is not the most appropriate metric to measure myself on, I’d like to eventually write some fantasy without telling myself I can’t and then getting up to check my phone, take a sip of my tea, fix my cuticles, organize my stationery…you get the drift! This time, I thought back to the first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, which I watched having watched well, two episodes of the first season ages ago. Here goes.
Prompt: After three days, the storm let up and the winds died down. But there were dark clouds on the horizon, and we knew we didn’t have long. They’d be out looking for us, so we had to load up on supplies, hit the road toward…
Response: …my cousin Silmka’s settlement further down the river. To be honest, I couldn’t be sure that she would welcome us, let alone protect us from the [Driftlings] we’d gotten off our tracks–up until now. Of course, I couldn’t tell the rest of my party any of this. Party isn’t even the right word for us either. We’d banded together out of a lack of alternatives: me, a former tutor in the castle, then other castle residents fighting now to survive alongside the less privileged settlement dwellers who were suspicious of us and always would be. Like Silmka was of me, or became so after I had to start keeping my correspondence with her plain and unspecific, when she’d wanted to press me about my students or their families. She, in turn, made it plain that I’d become one of “them” now, and our letters had ceased. But when one from her arrived three weeks ago, asking if I’d heard anything about recent Driftling sightings–before they turned into massacres–and whether as blood family I would honor our bond and share information, I’d told her. That the security and military ministry heads had gathered some survivors to [“]study their immunities.[“] I’d risked a random search of outgoing letters from the castle. Silmka hadn’t replied, but I’d hoped she honor our bond in exchange now.
Hello 🙂 It seems indulgent to, but I’m adding a smiley right off the bat in this post because I’ve written another one-pager before March ends, thus preserving my once-a-month streak…for now. 🙂 (Thanks for indulging me that second smiley!)
This one ended up being a sad one as well; perhaps I’m a glutton for this kind of emotional pain? Kidding, half. I’m quite happy about this one-pager honestly. It’s been one of my most cathartic ones, and I’ll keep my preface brief today by saying it’s grounded in the very real experience of losing my father before I felt like I was a complete person. Consequently in the years since, it’s been a lot of reaching backwards for memories, much as I always try to live my life moving forward.
Prompt: I looked up at the night sky and thought of the stories he used to tell about the stars, the constellations, and it seemed sad that I couldn’t remember a single one of them. There’s a string of stars called Orion’s Belt, and I think Orion is known as a hunter, but I’m not sure of what. It’s funny to think that, because in a way I’m a hunter, too, only I hunt…
My response: …for memories of him. In some ways, it isn’t hard to because we have several shelves in the gameroom full of photobooks my dad stuffed with important and not-so-important records of our time as a complete family. I prodded at him as a kid, trying to find out why he insisted on including the photos that didn’t make sense to me to include: ones in which my chin was tilted so I had chins, ones where the sun’s glare had caused overexposure, ones where my mom’s hand stuck out, because she wasn’t ready. “These are also important to remember,” my dad had said. “And besides, we have plenty of room in the books to fill.” And so, it’s those “in-between” pictures that make the memory-hunting hard again. They remind me that every moment then, we were living and creating home in our minds. When the photos aren’t enough to sustain me and soothe the ache of knowing home is a place i have to recreate without my dad, I try our home videos, or more like the ones he taped. When those fail, I lie down, close my eyes, and have to do the devastating work of waiting patiently and actually making my mark: hitting upon a moment I’d thought I’d lost forever and will stay lost to a home of the past, once I open my eyes again.
Looking at the gap between today’s date–when I’m posting this one-pager–and the date on which I’m claiming I wrote the one-pager, you’d be right to wonder, “Did she post-date so that it looks like she’s keeping up a good, almost monthly cadence?” :] I’m happy to say that I did not do such a deceptive thing, though I do wish I could keep up a more frequent cadence. (I’ve got a week left to get a March one-pager in…) This time, I simply forgot to post this one-pager after I wrote it.
I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m finally not writing for attention. Because honestly, no matter how many times before when I’ve tried to convince myself I don’t, I do in fact crave people’s eyes on my writing. It’s why I have and still try to maintain a cadence on this blog, no? (Though above all, it is for me to see my growth, or have a laugh!) Alright, I’m through being self-analytical now, I swear. Just always trying to stay honest.
For February’s one-pager, I was inspired after reading a book from a genre I have put on the backburner for a while: romance! (Why on the backburner? Perhaps a little disillusioned with the lack of romance in my life…nah. :]) And the book: One Day in December by Josie Silver. The story starts, as the title suggests, on a cold day in December, and my mind naturally drifted towards ice skating, the sport I was enamored with throughout my childhood and teens. To be honest, I still am, and I love the idea of trying to tell stories around ice skating and specifically ice rinks. They seem like cold, confined places, but there are characters and stories to be found everywhere in them, from the people who work in the shop to the coaches and skaters themselves–figure or hockey, though I wrote this one-pager around figure skating.
Here’s what I came up with…
Prompt: She has this gentle laugh that sounds like running water. I’ll do almost anything to amuse or entertain her, just so I can hear it. But she’s not laughing all that much anymore, is she? Ever since…
My response: …the figure skaters had their winter ice show, she hasn’t been to the rink. Or if she has, somehow I’ve missed her every time. I’d like to think I have better luck than that. Even before she stopped showing up on Saturday night public skate sessions, I saw the shadows under her eyes. When we exchanged our usual groans about the past week of work, the corners of her smile barely bulled up. There was something more than her joke of a manager or workmates not picking up the slack. Those things seemed to be easily forgotten when she did a spin the way she wanted or I purposely wiped out in a funny way so I could hear her laugh. The thing is, I had a chance to ask. I knew she had a boyfriend; he’d come skating once or twice with her, with us. But mostly, she came alone. She hung out with me, talked with me, a guy who’d taken skating group classes with her since we could only toddle around and just hoped not to fall and break ourselves. We exchanged numbers at her suggestion when we set up semi-private lessons for a few months. Those stopped because–she said–for budget reasons. For my good, I erased her number after that. We talked on the ice. Maybe they moved away–for one of their jobs. Maybe she misses me too somehow, and I’ll find her again.
Wow. The gap between this post and the last one-pager goes to show how easy it is to look at my red story prompt notebook each night, week, month and say, “I’ll write later.” Today I walked myself to a Starbucks and am trying to set a good tone for the rest of this new year.
I didn’t realize it until I was about a third of the way down the page, but I was inspired by two Netflix finds I’ve consumed. One is a short two-season (god please let there be more) series called “can’t cope won’t cope,” about two Irish twentysomethings in a codependent friendship that is falling apart fast. At first, it seems like it’s the fault of Aisling, a girl who won’t admit to her alcoholism and almost complete lack of direction in life, leading her to lean precariously on her friend Danielle, who’s trying to get somewhere in life with her art. But then it becomes clear that despite her frustration, Danielle can’t let Aisling go either.
The second find was a short (for a feature at least) film called Six Years, executive produced by the Duplass brothers. The title comes from the length of the relationship that Mel and Dan, two young Austin-ites, have been in. About to join the workforce post college, they’re on the cusp of deciding whether to stay or go their separate ways, literally too. Their love is young despite the length of time they’ve devoted to each other, and therefore rash and impulsive, leading to a night in jail, stepping on broken glass, and a bloody crash into a dresser drawer. It’s a movie with seemingly low stakes and an everyday problem people might face, but it’s because of that and because it’s done so well that I didn’t check the time until I was twenty minutes from the inevitable ending.
So you can see where my inspirations for Harold’s motivations came from. 🙂 Here goes.
Someone wrote that insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result each time. By that definition, Harold was surely insane. Once again, he was…
…sitting in his car in the guest parking spot outside Hannah’s block of apartments. Or townhouses. She was the stickler for describing things accurately. She did it with her feelings, too, and the last conversation they’d had—or spiel she gave—had made it clear there was no reason to believe she’d answer her phone now and come out and take him back in with her. At least, relieve him of the awkward wave and smile he directed at one of her neighbors, who’d always, and also now, flared at him for parking (taking up) a spot meant for guests. Goddamn. He was an interloper now. That’s what her neighbor’s look had said no matter how much he wanted to rebel against it. An intruder. Harold raised his free palm and drove it into his steering wheel, narrowly missing the horn. Thankfully Hannah’s neighbor was out of earshot, unable to hear the growl that escaped Harold. Harold and Hannah had been together for five years. Her slap to his face last week was not the end-all to them. They had been through worse—bruises, cold shoulders, doors slammed so loud his ears rang for hours afterward—and didn’t react like this: pretending the other didn’t exist. His existence depended on hers, and she would come out. He always made the first move.
I’ve been doing more daydreaming than putting pen to paper, but finally got myself to write in my story prompt journal yesterday while waiting for a movie.
When the panic attacks came, she always found it helpful to imagine herself as a fish breathing through water. If a fish could find enough oxygen underwater, so could she. She identified with fish for other reasons, too—the way they…
My story response: …took their time as they guided through their habitat, without any specific place to go, it seemed, not unlike her. Six months ago her mother couldn’t hold on any longer, leaving her only daughter to keep on living somehow, with both parents gone, their once nuclear family extinguished forever. So she’d taken a leave from her job, requesting a month at first, to have enough time to hold the funeral and wake, fall apart or explode or withdraw whenever any small task of organizing the legal and medical affairs of her mother, or any small task for her own living, sent her into a half-day long sobbing spell. Then, another month, and it became lethargy that dragged her to the couch, the floor, the earth. Being somewhere less rushing with life, closer to the earth, had been a friend’s idea, out of concern, but also likely out of fear that if they didn’t intervene, more tragedy would follow.
And now, even though she never swam in the lake herself—she didn’t like being in water that was opaque—the man playing a piano, a stand-up one (but still)—beckoned her to step closer to the lakeshore. He played the keys—how did this instrument get here? Over these rocks and sand?—with a fervor of a composer trying to catch up to a melody only he knew, or as if to keep the lapping water from washing him and his piano away…
Partly inspired by: a post by @everchanginghorizon on Instagram, of a man playing a piano by a shore. Screenshot below.
A dear friend gifted me a journal featuring story prompts on each page. Today I’ll begin posting my entries as I endeavor to fill the journal…
You know when even the things you dislike about a person make you love her even more? Well, that was Mary. On the one hand, she…
My story response: …was obstinate beyond the point of it being attractive for a woman. I only say that last part because I’d experienced the opposite in the previous few women I’ve dated or spent the night with. When we went out to eat, too lazy and languid to expend the effort to cook for ourselves, spent from our bedroom exertions, they’d loll their heads against my arm, telling me to pick. It put me on edge again, aware that I had to “perform” once more and rack my brains to choose correctly, or risk losing even more favor, first because I hadn’t been able to satisfy them in bed. Mary was something to get used to. When we debated current events, it would take me a second because I’d be astounded by how much conviction she had in her position, and how hard it would be for me to deliver a convincing, let alone logical, comeback. We’re on the train now, sitting knees to knees in the seats on the second level that I used to glare at when I was by myself, on the way to confront the management of a concert venue we were at a week ago. I don’t do confrontation, but Mary, oh Mary. She wasn’t going to let them get away with their snarky email response to our respectfully worded complaint. Our knees touch. Her eyes glint. She’s not changing her mind, despite my clammy hands. Mary…