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.

One Page for 10/21/2019 (fiction)

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.

One Page for 6/1/2019 (fiction)

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.


The words:

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.

One Page for 4/20/2019 (fiction)

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.


The words:

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.

One Page for 3/27/2019 (fiction)

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.


For ambience:

The words:

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.

One Page for 2/10/2019 (fiction)

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…


For ambience:

Photo credit: Bethany Knipp at Community Impact Newspaper

The words:

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.

One Page for 1/6/2019 (fiction)

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.


Ugh I hate this new block editor.
No idea how to rotate this while editing on my phone.

Prompt:

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…

My response:

…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.

One Page for 11/24/2018 (fiction)

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.

journal entry 11/24


Prompt:

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. everchanginghorizon Instagram

One Page for 10/7/2018 (fiction)

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…

10072018 one page story


Prompt:

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…

Partly inspired by:

NaNoWriMo 2017: The Now What? Months

From emojipedia. I do not claim any rights.

I wasn’t sure whether to tack on 2017 or 2018 after NaNo in the title of this post, since I thought I might confuse people (or myself, reading this later on :P). Technically I won back in November, but my novel process has continued until now. The NaNoWriMo organization formally calls January and February after NaNo the “Now What?” months and encourages people to pull out their first drafts and revise them. Therefore, 2017 won out, and also I realized, duh, NaNo 2018 would mean this November. Silly me.

After a long January, I ended up with just shy of 81k for my manuscript! I wish I could say writing the last word came with an elated sigh, fist-pumping, and other celebratory gestures, but really, I kind of just sat there thinking to myself, “I’m done?” While my story ended where I plotted it to, I felt unsatisfied somehow. My friends tell me it’s me being a perfectionist, and they’re right. Because now what? Well, once I’d done what I could for my manuscript, it was finally time to find an editor!

Finding an Editor

I’ve learned so much through this novel writing and creation process, and one of those things has been just how many types of editors are involved with a book. Again, I’m self-publishing, so I don’t have the support of a publishing house and editors on their payroll. Before I waded into Google search results, I figured out what types of editing I needed at this stage. Below is a quick-quick summary; italic text represents the kind of work I just contracted an editor for (!):

  • Developmental/content editing: Called by differing names, this stage deals with “big picture” items like plot, characterization, style, structure, and other aspects of storytelling. It goes without saying that this stage of editing is incredibly important, and while I’ve pored over my plot outline, character bios, and even visual mood-board thousands of times, I (and any other human writer) need a second pair of eyes. I found a lovely editor who specializes in YA fiction, and I am so anxious to see what she has to say. Frankly I’m also bracing myself for the worst, but I need the detailed notes, not any ego-stroking!
  • Copy-editing: Here the editor is looking for any overly repetitive sentence structures, appropriateness of word choice, and clarity of meaning. (Yes, that last bucket was a bit of a cop-out on my part.) While we say that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, said covers are well-made to get a potential reader to pick up the book and peruse its pages. The copy editor’s goal is to help make the words on those pages shine and serve the story.
  • Proofreading: This work is done on the manuscript just before sending it off to be published. Here the proofreader is making sure all the i’s are dotted, t’s are crossed, and–you get the idea–no other grammar and spelling errors remain. (I’m definitely not ready for this yet!)

Now, how did I find my editor? To be honest, I was firstly constrained by the spring/summer publication date I’m aiming for, so immediate availability to start on my manuscript was my first filter. Then, or maybe ranking equally as important, was expertise and experience in my genre of YA contemporary. Beyond that, I evaluated based on email exchanges, information available on the editor’s website (prior books they’ve worked on), and also price. Good editing is invaluable, but girl is definitely on a budget. Instead of going on freelancer aggregation sites, I searched in Google via keywords: YA, contemporary, romance, editor, content, developmental, etc. I was able to find an editor who could do passes for both content and copy editing at the same time; I can’t tell you how thrilled I was by that!

Now What?

After I get comments and notes back from my editor, so begins the trials of squaring my impressions after reading my manuscript with her suggestions, then of course, revising (cue tears).

This may seem bold, but I’ve also learned (from many helpful “author-tube” YouTube channels) that you do not in fact have to agree with everything someone giving you feedback says! Of course, I hope you, like me, show your work to people who are invested in its success, your happiness, etc. However, at the end of the day, I know it is my story that I want to tell. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post soon about how to balance the protective author brain with outside feedback! Stay tuned…