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…
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.
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 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!
[Topics explored: bilingual; languages; Chinese; intentions; curiosity; benefit of the doubt; talking with strangers on airplanes; The Atlantic magazine]
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!
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.”
[Topics, not necessarily in order: the nature and meaning of “work”; pens; ballet; airplanes; writing; re-learning; figuring out what I really want; how to get what I really want]
As I’ve pivoted to working from home during this pandemic, I’ve been doing less of some things and more of others. In the latter group? Finishing pens. Or using up pens. Or running out of ink. I can call it many different ways, but for some reason, “finishing pens” has stuck as my favorite. Maybe because it’s the most efficient. I finished a writing course through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies department lately, and one of the students had shared a revision guide by a famous editor (think: Farrar Straus and Giroux level): the first tip was to “omit needless words.” Or, to go the opposite and maybe more subjective route, while “finishing words” is the shortest at just two words, “finishing” is linguistically appealing to me. I’m also no poet nor musician, but the amateur in me finds some melody to the phrase, too: the musical rhythm it might correspond to could be a triplet then quarter note. Ta-ta-ta, dun. (Yep, that’s the proper notation alright.) After all, writing can be done for different purposes, and sometimes, it’s just about what sounds nice to the writer, or what gives the desired effect.
All this to say, I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in finishing pens and the rediscovering of the tactile art of writing by hand again (omit needless words!) during this otherwise shite time. I wanted to honor that feeling by going on a journey with a sentence and then a paragraph, a good sentence and a good paragraph. To me, at least. Good in that I limited the amount of parenthetical interjections (my bad habit, oof!). Good in that damn, I was able to find some art or melody in my words; there is room for neither in the emails I write for work. Finally, good in that I was able to put some of the mess of my thoughts into an organized, comprehensible form for sharing. Though if I think about it, it’s only because I know I’ll be sharing them on the interwebz that I can even make them comprehensible. If you’ll notice, I haven’t posted in a while–despite having plenty of thoughts–because I went through yet another period of asking myself, “If a writer makes a blog post and there’s no one who reads it, did the words land?” Yes, that was my rendition of the question about a tree falling in a forest.
There is another thread here, which is that I’m going through the fits and starts of learning to work for things again.
This sounds hilarious, right? We’ve all been working this year: working from home, working in tough environments (which could be home), working to retain a shred of our sanity.
I mean in terms of working towards something I really want and that fulfills me, beyond the types of things attached to being able to keep one’s job, such as a promotion or at least a good performance rating. Something like strength, meaning, integrity, community. All those “fluffy” things that I re-realize every few years are difficult as hell to maintain. They change form, I change, climate change–you get it.
I think the analogy I’ll use here is an airplane. Specifically, the conditions required for one to fly. The explanation makes you marvel at science, math, physics, all that good stuff (though apparently there are still ongoing attempts to explain…?!). Basically, there are many forces and factors that have to align for a plane to be able to fly (and carry people and luggage and and and).
To continue the analogy, I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been able to “take off” and keep myself in flight for a short while post-college. But I am now hitting that point where I don’t know whether I want to land my plane and board another one, or keep flying in my current one. In this analogy of course, my fuel supply is limitless, a very bold assumption.
To make the choice, I have to do a lot of work. Some of it mental, some of it physical–if what counts as physical is typing a gajillion Google and YouTube searches for variations of “how to figure out what you want to do with life.” Little of it is easy. Little of it is glamorous or pleasant or Instagrammable.
And this specifically is where the work has re-begun for me. Not only working on finding my next “plane,” but learning to sit with the discomfort and enjoy the small, positive breakthroughs that occur as I’m working on that. (Like my small flash fiction win! Or getting signed to a new talent agency!)
Here we go with another analogy. I promise it’s the last one for this post.
One of my hobbies is ballet, an interest I began to cultivate after serious figure skating became too hard on my body, and I’m a total nerd about it. I watch it. I read about it. I listen to its (traditional) music; the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” from the Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky is a bop and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. I try to dance it adequately, nothing divine like Marianela Nunez – there’s an accent on the “u” and a tilde on the n, but I clearly haven’t figured out WordPress formatting quite yet.
In ballet, before dancers can progress from soft shoes to pointe shoes, they work to strengthen what I’ve heard called the “intrinsic” muscles in their feet. Their daily dancing already provides general strengthening, but then they also must do targeted exercises that prepare their feet, ankles, and entire legs, really, for the safe and precise technique required of dancing en pointe. But this ritualistic strengthening doesn’t end when dancers go on pointe or go professional. In fact, from what I’ve observed about ballet, and really any other demanding activity–physical or non–what separates professionals from amateurs is this constant working of intrinsic muscles and basic skills. But it’s also the mindset that distinguishes: there is a deep respect for how there is really nothing “basic” about basic skills. In fact, there is a love and admiration for honing them, if my watching hours of Royal Ballet rehearsal videos (thank you YouTube) has taught me anything.
This is sadly what I realized I’ve forgotten. I’m ashamed, honestly, because “doing the work” is how I got a ticket for my plane, got my plane to lift, and so on, but I still somehow let myself get complacent and unhappy. But I hope to keep the sadness brief because it also provides clarity on what to do or how to think from now on:
Enjoy the work of finding my next work or line of work, starting from the basics (researching, meditating, thinking, making lists, tearing up lists, etc.)
Also, get comfortable with the fact that the “work” is endless, which I am earnestly trying not to see as a death sentence (I know, #dramatic much)
Actors talk about needing to enjoy the work first and foremost. (Whoops, guess I broke that “no more analogies” promise.) Pithy motivational calendars or quotes remind us to “enjoy the process,” or “the journey matters more than the goal.” But if you’re anything like me, these words never really sunk in until you’ve had to, well, find enjoyment in a process or journey. Maybe this is what acting teachers mean when they want you to personalize the text. Maybe it’s because we’re attracted to glamour and memorable milestones in life, such as graduations, weddings, and so on. There are also so many challenges still to overcome, which I acknowledge could be even harder for those not in my position. That can easily be another post.
For now, I wish you luck in your process. Tell me about it?