A Month in Obsession: January 2016

Obsession: An idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.

What are the little worms that have been roaming the neuron and synapses in my brain this month? Let’s find out!

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On Failing at Blogging…Again and Again

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Look at today’s date. Then look at the date of my previous blog post. Look back again. That is right. It’s been close to a year since I updated this thing. I don’t know if it’s the longest blogging hiatus I’ve ever taken, but it’s for sure not the first one and the ones before it were also month-long affairs.

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Shameless Self-Promotion: Is This A Thing? Anniversary Show!

Between hacking away at my novel, procrastinating on blog posts, and delaying the start of my podcast, I have been consistent in one thing: helping run the Live Lit show Is This A Thing? And this Monday, my fellow co-producers and I will be able to pat ourselves on the back for making it to our first anniversary ever.

What is Is This A Thing? What is Live Lit for that matter? Live Lit, or storytelling as it is also widely known, is the practice of telling stories in front of an audience. There is a thriving scene here in Chicago (as you can attest in this and this article), a city that literally has a different Live Lit show every night of the week. Is This A Thing? might be a drop in the bucket within the community but it’s our specific drop in an ever rich bucket, and that’s what counts.

My yearlong foray into this community has been heartening, inspiring, and welcoming beyond belief. We wanted to pay that same kindness forward by encouraging new and aspiring storytellers to take the stage. And though we’ve had some fantastic seasoned writers at Is This A Thing?, I’m most proud of the fact that we’re giving newbies a chance.

Our anniversary show will feature six storytellers, including yours truly. We’ll have Live Lit bingo and, possibly, cake. The shenanigans begin at 7pm at O’Shaughnessy’s on Monday, February 9. FREE!

“American Born Chinese” or How One Reconciles with the Hyphen

755081My mother once told me an old Chinese parable.

Gene Luen Yang is not our mother and his story is not old nor strictly Chinese but what he offers in his award-winning graphic novel is, at its heart, a parable about the hyphen. What do I mean by hyphen? The much maligned one that Toni Morrison refers to in her famous quote, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” The hyphen as a metaphor for then tension, rejection, and discrimination African-American, Mexican-American, Asian-American, EthnicOther-American communities face within their own country has been frequently examined in a myriad of academic and sociological ways. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the hyphen can’t also be a locus for the unification of the multiple identities that make up one person. And if so, if that hyphen can’t itself be a source of empowerment and reconciliation.

This might be the first time I’ve used the word “locus” since grad school. Bad blogger, bad! Moving on…

These were the questions that popped into my mind as I read American Born Chinese. The novel begins with three distinct storylines. The first is that of the Monkey King, a deity who is nonetheless rejected from the heavens where the immortal gods live. The second and core story is that of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American student who wishes nothing else than to not be the token Chinese-American student. The last is the tale of Danny and his absolutely, over-the-top, cringe-worthy cousin Chin-Kee, who looks and acts like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but with some updated pop culture references under his wing.

As each of the three stories unfold, the smart reader will realize that they’re interconnected. More over, each one seems to speak to a fragment of Jin, who is experiencing the micro-aggressions that can turn insecurities about your place in the world into horrifying ordeals. Through his story we see the frustration of being automatically grouped into a category that might not fit, the different cultural upbringings that can wreak havoc on a first date, and the fact that those around you might never see you as being worthy of their care or respect. Chin-Kee, with his buck teeth, perfect grades, and retro views on women, is the embodiment of what Jin fears: being seen as a stereotype. As for the Monkey King, his spiritual journey becomes a vital component to Jin’s own personal development. (No spoilers for now.)

All three of these characters meet at an end that is a somewhat bizarre, but hopeful in terms of answering Jin’s existential questions. From a fragmented stories, a novel becomes  whole. Those connecting tissues, that hyphen that binds all three characters together, ends up being their saving grace and what ends up saving them from social isolation. Even better, it’s what ends up saving them from being isolated from themselves.

 

Already Failing Your New Year’s Resolutions? Me too.

resolution I, my friends, am an overly ambitious person trapped in the body of a procrastinator. Want proof? Here are all my goals for this year:

  • Polish my 1st novel: The manuscript is finished but I have yet to resolve two plot holes and line-edit. Oh, and cut about 20,000 words.
  • Finish my 2nd novel: It’s crawling along at a glacial pace.
  • Get an agent: Cause maybe I need professional eyes on my first manuscript and I’m not getting any younger.
  • Apply to low-residency MFA programs: I just can’t help but accumulate as many degrees as I possibly can.
  • Read at 6 shows: My desire for immediate acceptance and validation borders on the neurotic.
  • Get 100 rejections: Finally! A resolution for the perpetually pessimistic!
  • Launch my Podcast: Jay did it. That’s not what the podcast will be about.

This list is insanity. I’m well-aware of that. I’m also very conscious of the fact that it might all be damn near impossible, especially when my energy levels will also be divided into other plans and objectives that have nothing to do with writing. (Ukulele! Trapeze! Portuguese! Travel to two new places, one in the US and the other abroad! Succumb to my vanity and go back to my New York City weight!) The person that created that list did so with my most ideal self in mind. The person who has to execute the list is the watered-down, messy, imperfect, TV-addicted, Facebook-stalking, web-surfing lazy butt. How, I pray, can we get these two opposite sides of me to work together? No, really internet strangers, how? You weren’t expecting an answer, were you? Over the years, I have created a strategic blueprint that is in no way fail-proof and is only moderately successful. If it were a food, it would not be FDA approved. If it were machinery, it would only be sold to struggling nations with lax regulations. If it were a dude, it’s the guy you settle for because he seems NOT crazy and can hold a steady job. It has, however, been better than anything I’ve imagined over the years. So until I can download infinite amounts of will power, here is what I do to finish a solid 17% of what I set out to do.

1. Know My Energy Levels I’m the person who gets fired up at  new beginnings, transitions, the first day of the month, the early hours of the day, the dawn of time. You catch my drift. There was a wind chill warning for Chicago yesterday and I actually went to the gym for the hour-long torture session that is yoga. Why? Because I’m riding the delusion that comes with the New Year, the totally false notion that I’m a much better person than in 2014. This will fizzle out in a month. Therefore, I must seize the day now, Newsies-style, and run myself to the ground.

2. Forgive Myself Once I fall from grace and collapse back into my lazy-self, I can’t wallow in self-pity. No teenage-like tantrums about how it’s all or nothing. I didn’t write for a week? Too bad. Give yourself a pat on the back and commit to changing. Today. Take it one-step at a time, like a recovering alcoholic.

3. Divide Large Projects into Smaller Chunks I’ve been doing this since college and it’s what got me through those years without ever pulling an all-nighter. Writing a novel can throw anyone into the largest, darkest,  existential abyss. Writing one page? Not so much.

4. Embrace Mediocrity If all you can muster is 5 minutes of writing time, then give yourself a high-five. That’s more than zero minutes. In fact, it’s more than 95% of people who claim to be working on The Great American Novel do in any given year. (You can identify them by their ironic tees, their penchant for divey bars in gentrifying areas, and the way they like to school others on how their reading preferences are so not mainstream. Extra points if they reference a foreign author but completely botch the pronunciation of their name.)

5. Make It Interesting A lot of people feel comfort in the ritual of their craft, whether by making sure their coffee is just so before starting or doing it only when the blood of an innocent virgin is spilled onto a pink crystal under the full moon. If that works, you do you. I think those structures can sometimes be incredibly stifling and a perfect excuse to not get your butt on the chair. Every time you feel like you’re incapable of writing in a particular environment, I dare you to try it anyway. Chances are you’ll do just fine.

6. Reward Yourself I’m the kind of dork that is still chasing the totally meaningless A+ whenever I write. No one is going to pat my head and give me a gold star anymore. Therefore, I do it myself. Brag, boast, drink champagne, indulge in a Netflix marathon. Realize that worrying about writing is a huge privilege that only a select few can afford. Cause most people are trying to survive wars and famines and whatnot. Perspective.

What are your writing goals? Tips? Suggestions? Comment below!