Still Alive, Still UPBEAT

So I finally quit my soul-sucking job as a grant writer. I didn’t last very long (six months), but I got tired of applying to jobs in the meantime and waiting to hear back before I put in my two weeks. Luckily I have good friends, supportive parents, and a very stable girlfriend. I’ve taken a significant pay cut but now I’m working for a bookstore and life is slightly less heavy.

Untitled by jamieswang on Flickr.

Untitled by jamieswang on Flickr.

Mostly every day is still a struggle between problems with self-worth and anxiety. I’ve found that working in retail helps twofold (kinda) because I’m on my feet all day and I’m mostly smiling at customers all day, which convinces my brain to think, “Hey, we must be happy!” It’s nice to be working in a more open environment, surrounded by things in which I’m interested, as well as to be working with more amiable coworkers and managers.

Still, the struggle to remain UPBEAT continues. It’s been about two years since I started my novel and I am still struggling on the precipice of the 50% mark. About a quarter of the time I wonder if this project is still worth the struggle when I could just as easily take up something new. Another quarter of the time the apathy takes over and I distract myself with reading and crocheting and all the shiny new TV shows Netflix has to offer. The rest of the time is taken up by Real World concerns and the slog through the actual writing, novel or otherwise. (Shameless plug: I am still regularly writing on media representation and diversity for OKPotato and we should all be proud!)

So, here are some great distractions for the rest of you also struggling to write!:

  • Anything by Helen Oyeyemi. I’ve seen her name on Tumblr for a while, so I picked up Mr. Fox and White is for Witching and added them to my To Be Read pile. I’ve only gotten around to both recently and they are fantastic. The former is about an author’s muse confronting the author’s penchant for killing off his female characters. Together they rewrite fairy tales, transforming the real world into Mr. Fox’s stories. The latter novel is a challenge well-worth it, a Shirley Jackson-esque gothic house horror mixed in with racial politics. Oyeyemi’s other books include Boy Snow Bird (a twist on Snow White) and The Icarus Girl (a horror story with Nigerian mythology).

    3

  • I recently spent some much-needed and precious alone time with my girlfriend and we made the mistake of deciding on my Netflix DVD queue to help us bond. We watched South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, Stoker (2013). We knew it was a psychological thriller going in and we were excited to see Nicole Kidman angrily acting opposite Mia Wasikowska but we also had no idea about any of the plot points.

    The movie follows 18-year old India (Wasikowska) following the death of her father. Her grieving mother (Kidman) accepts support from her long-absent younger brother-in-law, Charlie (a very creepy Matthew Goode), who immediately moves into the house and begins to approach India as a kindred soul. (SPOILER ALERT) Basically this turns into the incestuous serial killer romance I never knew I wanted or needed, complete with piano orgasms, hunting metaphors, and lots of dramatic dysfunctional family yelling.

  • Lastly, if you’re as stressed as I am, I highly suggest crocheting and heading over to my friend Jojo-gurumi‘s page for some really cute, fairly simple patterns.

Got any more distractions for me or words of wisdom to keep me from going astray, readers? Let me know in the comments. As always, check Chebk and I out at OKPotato for book reviews, writing tips, and discussions of diversity in books, movies, and more!

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Being an Adult is Hard

I’m sure if I google this blog title I’ll come up with millions upon millions of results, but that would be depressing so I won’t risk it.

Lately I’ve been complaining that no one really prepared me for my twenties. Nothing I learned in high school health class seems applicable now except how to balance my checkbook, which…I don’t do because I don’t use my checks. (Side note: I’m sure all the sex ed would have been helpful had I been straight. Whoops.) I would also be lying if I said I didn’t know what I expected for this time of my life because what I expected was to be a published author, writing all day and night effortlessly, not having to worry about the daily work grind. I was allowed to be an idealist for 25 years of my life. I’m sure there were naysayers aplenty that I just ignored. So now I’m facing the reality of it all: I am the one who did not prepare myself for my twenties and, fuck, it wasn’t a good choice.

I pushed myself hard through school but never really pushed myself into working to sustain it because I was lucky enough to have my parents to help with schooling while I still lived at home. That’s a goddamn lot of privilege, I am well aware.

So, now, here I am working part-time, writing the rest of the time (or trying to) and struggling ALL the time. My girlfriend of four years is still in school to get her second degree in the sciences but she has also added on a full-time job. We see each other a lot less and, if I take on a full-time position at my present job, we will see each other only on weekends very soon. I’m learning pretty quickly how naive I was to think that we could keep each other as a main daily priority through all these very sudden Adult Decisions. It’s jarring and depressing and nauseating.

I am trying to finish my novel to maybe make my teenage dream a reality but the lingering thought through everything now is: What if I just don’t make it as a writer? What if this is it?

The important thing, I know, is to try because that is the only way to climb up out of the mire, but then there are still so many other people that are going to be left to fill my position and that…that is also depressing.

So, because today is so dark, a brief list of good things to hold on to:

1. Good relationships all around
2. An almost half-finished novel. (Dear self, That is something, whether you choose to believe it or not. Love, Me.)
3. No rent to pay. What a spoiled brat.
4. A writing group that believes in me enough to try to convince me not to work full-time and sell my soul.
5. I don’t know, puppies or something.

I’m trying. I say this a lot now days. I think that may be the point of my twenties.

I am going to make it through this year if it kills me!

There and Back Again: A Blogger’s Tale

At 4’5″ I still qualify for some hobbit-related licenses. Also, can I just say: There was a kind of tragic, but arrogant victory in leaving my NaNo 2014 fail up for so long, wasn’t there?

Well, I’m back! — but I have not been idle. I have been working tirelessly with Chebk to kick our shared blog, OKPotato, into gear, where we focus on media representation and diversity in stories. Please, also check out the guest blog I did for Cynthia Griffin on self-editing, (which I hope to be expanding on here very soon). Books have been read and weird short stories have been written but I have admittedly been neglecting this blog and…my novel.


I have no idea what I am doing with my life besides wanting to be a published writer. Paradoxically this has been keeping me from writing because what if I fail? I know, in my head, that the trying is more important that the not trying, but these past few months have been an uphill battle.

Still, I’m back in the saddle and I have a really good support system cheering me on. Chebk and I are doing a daily blogging challenge for January, so you can see some of my writing there. I will also be updating weekly to biweekly here starting with a truly embarrassing anecdote-based blog Chebk has been pushing under the guise of a human interest piece, so look forward to that, friends.

For now, happy belated new year, and let’s get this party re-started.

NaNoWriMo: Day 16-18

Laughably behind on NaNo but I’m convinced I can catch up by the end of the month. Foolhardy delusion though it may be, I’m still glad I took on this challenge because at least something is getting done, even if I don’t meet the full goal.

In the meantime, as I continue to procrastinate on today’s work, Cya sent me this lovely gif:

Bob Ross, patron saint of self-doubting artists.

Thus, I present to you a list of things that I have put (forced) into the world of my novel for my own happiness…in no particular order:

  • A large group of main characters
  • A flying vehicle that is more home than transportation
  • Discussion of mental illness through characters (panic disorder, PTSD)
  • Characters across the entire spectrum of LGBTQAI, who are not solely defined by their sexuality
  • An all-POC cast, with a focus on Asian Americans
  • Homages to my friends and loved ones: crocheted animals; all Spam meals, all the time (albeit under a different name); the shame and gratitude of everyone who has ever sat with me through a panic attack; dinosaurs and cephalopods and technology, oh my!
  • All the badass womens.

The rest of the stuff is the hard part, of course. I am continually reminded of how far out of my comfort zone I am whenever my characters and I are confronted with all the difficulties I throw at them which I know nothing about. All this science fiction stuff makes the problems about five thousand times harder to resolve and make logical and make feasible, all while keeping my crew in character and off-kilter enough to keep the story moving. There have been six different versions of what happens after their ship is hijacked by another rogue crew: Negotiation? Hostile kidnapping? Calm explanation and recruitment? Different permutations of characters have been taken and left behind and each time I think I’ve made a final decision, I think of new trajectories the overall story could go if I just change this combination of characters or this bit of dialogue.

How do you make peace with your choices? I’m starting to think that peace doesn’t come until the very end, if that. These drafts will forever be in limbo until the whole story is laid out and ultimate decisions can be made. If this ever gets published, I’m sure there will be regrets and secret stories testing out the possibilities left untouched (secret post-hijacking dance party~ Massive orgiastic rave to Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends”).

Another image that should have been forced into my story.
…There’s still time.

As I wade through all the possibilities for this next chapter, make sure to look for my post tomorrow on OK Potato. Check us out on Tumblr too. Annnnd I am on Twitter SO throw book recs at me!

NaNoWriMo: Day 14 & 15 (Diversity in Stories)

Today and tomorrow are more marathon writing days, but for now, let’s talk about diversity in stories!

Yes, good. Thank you, Mulder.

Granted, The X-Files is not exactly a shining example of diversity in media, but Agent Scully is a fairly fantastic example of women’s representation in media, which is part of what I want to talk about today. The irony that I used the picture of the white male character to lead into this post is not lost on me, but look at that tumblr text post caption. Let’s fix that:

Taken from here. Rad.

That’s better.

The novel I’m currently working on for NaNoWriMo has been a long time coming and centers on a group of entirely mixed races, particularly mixed Asian Americans. Five of the six characters are female and my male character, Gregor, is treated deliberately as a token male. Much of this was decided in reaction to the representation of diverse characters in the books, movies, and TV shows I consume.

I love stories in all incarnations and I things are generally starting to get better in terms of media representation — sort of. Different races are at least kind of present in most media, although very rarely as main characters, let alone speaking characters. (I am forever upset at how Glenn Rhee is being used in The Walking Dead. WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL. ROLLING IN THE DEEP.) Different sexualities are becoming more present, especially in TV, and I can sort of think of a few examples of disabilities and representation of various body types. Asexuality and intersex genders are still conspicuously absent but Laverne Cox’s new The T Word series, focusing on transgender youth, gives me hope that audiences are being primed for true diversity in media.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC's The Walking Dead.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC’s The Walking Dead.

However, you will note that all of my examples are based on visuals — television and film, even music videos. Literature is the trickier subject. Certainly you can easily find nonfiction books on people of color or different genders and sexualities. Rifling through fiction to find specific types of diversity can be frustrating and, often the ones you do find focus specifically on the Otherness of that character or use diversity in supporting characters, not main. I can easily find fiction with Chinese main characters set in China (especially historical fiction), but finding Chinese American characters in modern settings outside of Amy Tan books? Very hard. Especially if I want to read about steampunk Muslim girls battling mechanical cephalopods or 60s Japanese biker boys wooing the black girl in the poodle skirt at the local malt shop. Even just a book about the Okinawan girl battling depression and anxiety in high school in America — where does that exist? (Sorry for all the Asian examples, but I am Japanese-Okinawan and deeply, deeply deprived.)

These stories matter, too, and waiting around for someone to provide me with those books hasn’t done me much good in twenty-five years. I took on a science fiction novel as my first challenge in order to use a diverse cast, as science fiction generally seems more receptive to that kind of representation. My niche is modern, realistic fiction, so it is a bit of a stretch for now, but I want to eventually move into basic representation — the everyday lives of characters that aren’t white, able-bodied, middle-class people in dire love triangles, who consider themselves Special Snowflakes that have led them to be “outcasts” their entire lives. That is all well and good, and those stories can matter and make an impact, but we as readers need more than just the same stories that have taken up our bookshelves for years and years.

Cya and I are launching OK Potato: Diversity in Media Reviews on a quest to seek and promote media representation in books and to discuss these issues more in-depth than this single blog post. I will still be discussing NaNoWriMo and basic writing progress and tips here, but I hope you’ll join us on our journey to bring diversity in media into the mainstream!

More on NaNo next time, guys. Thanks for reading!

NaNoWriMo: Day 11, 12, & 13

Writing every day shouldn’t be this hard and yet here I am: at a wall. Right back where I started.

Back to 90s/00s X-Files computer scenes because I found this one waiting around to be used in my NaNo folder.

Back to 90s/00s X-Files computer scenes because I found this one waiting around to be used in my NaNo folder.

It is way too easy for me to get distracted when I am stuck for new ideas or a decent scene transition. About 90% of the time I know what I should do to get past the hard parts (100% of the time that answer is just write it and fix it later), but I usually like to pretend the other 10% actually exists and I am an insufficient writer and person.

Things I have done in the past few days to avoid writing:
-Watched “Galaxy Quest” for the first time with the justification that Netflix could take it off any day now, which is a clear and blatant lie. (Side note: It was great and I had all the feelings.)
-Attended a farewell party for a military friend who is just going to be back from Alaska in two months anyway. I usually avoid these social gatherings because my anxiety goes through the roof. Most of the people in attendance are classmates from high school who I haven’t kept in touch with since high school. I ate a copious amount and spent most of the evening talking to the few people there I happen to see on a weekly basis anyway.
-Accompanied my girlfriend to various errands to get out of the house.
-Marathoned previous “Top Chef” seasons to justify our lackluster feelings for the current season.
-Went to bed unreasonably early, telling myself it would only help me write better the next day.

Bad writer.

The realization of how much I’m going to have to edit is more than a little disheartening, especially because most of what I’m writing for NaNo is a reworking of what I had already written of Part Two and previously deemed garbage. Most of it is being rewritten from scratch, which helps things interesting, but I’m having trouble convincing myself that this is different and slightly better garbage than the original. It gets easier to just not write than to keep writing what doesn’t feel right.

Of course, all the writers say that’s how it is and just keep going. I’m sure one day in the future, assuming I ever finish this project, I will say the same and use this blog post as an example but — right now is still awful.

To make things more awful: To catch up with Cya’s 75K wordcount, I have to do 5K for the next three days. Which I want to accomplish. NaNo is great for me because I am secretly competitive and this public self-shaming of blogging and NaNo count puts the pressure on me. It’s like being back in school, the only time I was ever on-time with any writing.

You will note that there is no actual writing advice here, only shame and apathy. (Maybe tomorrow, friends. Maybe tomorrow.)

ON A BRIGHTER NOTE, Cya and I will be making a joint announcement this weekend, but before that — to keep up with my every other day blogging, which I missed yesterday — I will be doing a short blog on diversity in fiction, particularly science fiction since that’s my current novel genre. So, look for that tomorrow I guess.

NaNoWriMo: Day 9 & 10 (Mental Health and Writing)

Despite surviving my marathon writing this past weekend, it pains me to inform you, readers, that I am still actually behind on my word count.

As some of you may recall, Chebk, the platonic mistress of my heart, had challenged me to writing 75K this month, as opposed to 50K. She argues that she believes in me and my writing abilities and that 50K is cake for me — but the truth is simply that she revels in my tribulations and bathes in the tears brought on by lack of ideas and awkward sentence structures. She is the Lady Bathory of my writing life.

To catch up, I will be writing about 3500 words per day to make 37K by this weekend but, readers, I AM SO TIRED.

potato1

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

And by tired I mean it is getting hard to write, for various reasons. Which brings me to the topic of this post: Mental Health and Writing.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression in the second half of my freshman year of high school. At this point, both were debilitating. I could not get past second period most days and was going home by 10 AM every day approximately 80% of the week. About eight different doctors declared me physically fine. My parents were upset, my teachers were upset, I was upset. At this point in my life, there was zero writing happening unless you count maybe Xanga or MySpace (yeah, yikes, went there). I lost about 15 lbs, which is significant for me as I stand at 4’6″ on a good day thanks to my Asian genes.

After about six months of crying every morning, knowing I would have to go to school and get through it, nauseous enough to be relatively useless, and angry that this was happening at all, I had a mental breakdown. I had newly discovered a fair coping mechanism in the weeks before this: screaming into a pillow. It was effective up to a point. Now picture the small Asian girl unable to stop screaming or crying until hyperventilation kicked in and parents had to knock down my bedroom door to get in.

Okay, what does this have to do with writing?

Okay, sure, writing is a good way to vent and all that, which, don’t get me wrong, it is. I will testify to this until my lungs fall out. Nothing feels better than a good midnight vent to Mic Word that I can save to a folder no one will ever see. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be on the screen and out of my veins. I get that. I advocate it.

Yes, although maybe less masculine tears than Hemingway’s need to be shed.

The reality as a writer is a little harder. I’m never going to publish those late night spiels, for instance. So when you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get down to your novel or what have you, how do you write while still depressed? Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s not like there is exactly an uplifting answer here. One version is that you sit down and get to it, come hell or high water, but I mean, those are pretty words in the face of depression. I dealt with the rest of my high school years by continuing to blog, turning real emotions and problems into convoluted imagery and run-on sentence ideals. If I could turn everything ugly into something I could feel relatively proud of, it was worth the continuing battle. Making my life into a story made it manageable, quantifiable. The story of my first girlfriend and our subsequent break-up(s) became a twisted story of our one date in Chinatown. The pig’s heads that hung in the butcher’s became the main image and my narrator walked through the filthy alleyways with a bloodied head in hand, a burden and companion. Similar to reading a narrative that plays with your emotions, writing out the situation detached me enough to find a way to at least a satisfying ending (even if at the moment it came out in vengeful, bitter words). I could put the emotion to rest for a least a moment and catch my breath in the real world. It helped me keep moving.

This continued well into college, going through different stages of evolution. Towards the end of my graduate courses, it had become somewhat an obsession. I was trying to examine my own mental illness in my writing like a constant tic, especially my anxiety as frequent panic attacks have plagued me for the past ten years (though gotten significantly better in the last five). Part of my justification for this intensely introspective, somewhat morbid prose was that readers deserved better media representation of mental illness in literature, ones that didn’t always end with a happy-ever-after cure but that focused on how the main character would be dealing with this daily, every day, maybe even forever. The harder part to justify was trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with me to make me this way.

How do you write when you’re depressed and want to do nothing, including not writing? If you’re me, you burrow into the depression itself to try to figure it out in words. Words are the only thing that have ever given me solace or made sense in the midst of madness. The stories of others that were easy to empathize with gave me hope — that’s generally what they’re there for, I assume. I suppose my advice would be to find something you can latch onto that lets you get catharsis from your writing. Throwing yourself or your problems into your characters may not give you real life solutions but it can give you reason to believe that by trying to make your characters better, you have a chance at building your own narrative for the better, too.

This is probably not very helpful, but it’s what I got.

Link to my Tumblr for a reference post for various mental illnesses and related resources. We’re all gonna get through this, friends.