Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Writing

Prioritizing priorities

Before we start, the four advice columnists I regularly read were featured in a column in Buzzfeed about life as an internet columnist. I was legit excited to see all of them in one place, but I was sad that none of them were people of color (as far as I know). It was a good read, and I thought I’d share it with y’all.

Now. On to the post. I have several things I want to do in the new year. So many things. All the things. It’s the story of my life. I’m not satisfied with anything. Wait. That’s not completely true. I am satisfied with writing 2,000 words a day. I could do more, but it’s a good base. Other than that, though, I am dissatisfied in all areas of my life. I know I need a therapist, but I don’t have wherewithal to find a good one. My last one came recommended, but I don’t have anyone I can ask this time around. Also, I really appreciated my last therapist, but there were a few glaring issues. One was concerning race issues. She wasn’t cognizant of the nuances, or rather, she had a hard time with stepping outside the American way of thinking. It’s the same issue I have with advice columnists, come to think of it. Any time race comes up, I just cringe. Even if the columnists themselves do a decent job with their answer, the comment sections are a mess (at least the three I read. I don’t read the Dear Prudence comments because they are a hot mess and not moderated as far as I know). It’s simply different for someone from the dominant population, no matter how many friends, lovers, family they have who are minorities.

The problem with finding a therapist of color, however, is that I live in Minnesota. That’s the first problem. Secondly, finding an Asian therapist who is also amenable to queer issues makes it even harder. Let’s face it. I’m a freak in so many ways, finding a therapist who is empathetic to all the issues is a fool’s errand. I know some of this is self-defeatist talk, but it’s also the reality of being a weirdo. In addition, I have to have a therapist who is intelligent enough to call me on my bullshit. Because I know psych lingo and because I have brains, I can run rings around many therapists. I’ve done it in the past even when I knew it wasn’t to my benefit. My defenses are so ingrained, my impulse is to protect my neurosis, much to my detriment.

First up.

Publishing my book

Or rather, a book. Any book. Which book? I don’t know. Or rather, I have a few ideas, but I’m just not sure which one I want to push. I have a trilogy I started sixteen years ago, and I’ve finished the second book in the trilogy. The first book is on my fiction website right now, but I may pull it down if I focus on publishing it. I really like it because the protagonist is unlike any other I have written. She’s brash, confident, and gives no fuck about other people except in a very basic moral way of treating everyone with common decency. She cares about very few individual people, and even with them, it’s limited.

In the second book, she’s aged sixteen years, and while she’s older, she’s not always wiser. She has the same friends she did from the first book, and she relies on them when she gets in trouble. It was fascinating to me to write her sixteen years later, and I look forward to another sixteen years later when I write the third book.

The other option is the current trilogy I’m writing. Yes, I like trilogies, so sue me. I write mostly mysteries, and I think that the series drag on for too long. I’ve decided that seven is the maximum any series should go, but does anyone listen to me? No. My current trilogy is an urban fantasy mystery, and the protagonist is pretty similar to the protagonist of the other trilogy I mentioned. Pragmatic, not very emotional (though she has more of an excuse as she is not human), and not much of a people-person.


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Navel gazing for the new year

One of the worst things about my depression is how it makes everything at least twice as difficult. I am my own worst enemy, as I have noted time and time again. For those who have never experienced depression, it can be difficult to comprehend just how time consuming it is. A small example: when I have to go out, say to taiji, I first have to convince myself that I will go. Even if I want to go, the idea of driving fifteen minutes to get there is daunting. On my worst days, it seems impossible. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it in my past. It doesn’t matter that I can do it in my sleep. Every fiber of my being does not want to do it ever again.

It used to be that way when my BFF and I used to go out dancing. Both of us suffer from depression and the overwhelming desire never to leave the house. We’d talk about how we both had to stop ourselves from cancelling, and we always had a blast when we went out. Not only was it difficult to make myself leave the house (my leaning towards inertia is high), but I would imagine everything that might possibly go wrong while I was out. Again, even for something as simple as going to taiji, I ruminate about will it drain me (not completely invalid when I’m sick), can I put up with talking to people for that long (an hour and a half. Not exactly earth shattering), etc. I go to the co-op afterwards, which brings with it a whole new set of worries. Even something as banal as talking to the cashier can tie me up in knots.

I mention this because there are two things I really want to focus on in 2019. As I’ve written before, I am not big on resolutions, but I do like to set goals for the upcoming year. The difference to me is that goals have steps with concrete actions that seem achievable. By the way, I hate ‘actionable steps’. I know what it means in context (something you can actually do as opposed to a theory or an idea), but to me, actionable means something that you take legal action on. It’s a personal pet peeve, but it sticks in my craw every time I read it.

All of that is explanation as to why I tend to have the same goals every year, even if I have concrete steps I can take to actually meet the goals. I  have to overcome my inertia to even get to the point of doing something about it. Then, I have to deal with the negative self-talk. No matter what I’m doing, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “What’s the point? Why bother? Nobody cares.” Some days, it’s better than others, but it’s always there. It’s happening as I write this post. Most of the time, I can ignore it enough to get what I need done if it’s part of my routine. But, if it’s something new, then it’s much harder. Or if it involves driving. Which is one of my least-favorite activities in life.


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More things to ponder in the new year

As the year draws to a close, I’ve become more pensive than I usually am. Which is pretty pensive to begin with. This has been a rough year for me emotionally, and I have no  idea why. It started roughly six months ago, and it’s only gotten worse as the months have passed. I know what the answer is. Therapy. The thought of it makes me sigh and recoil inside myself. Not because of therapy itself. I am a big proponent of therapy, and it is one of the main reasons I’m still alive. My last therapist helped me with some really serious and dark shit, and I’m eternally grateful to her. So why my resistance to finding a new therapist? There are several reasons. One, I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was fourteen. That’s thirty years (quit my last therapist a few years ago), and I’m tired of it. Two, finding a therapist is hard. Before my last therapist (and she was a recommendation), most of my other therapist were crap for various reasons. The biggest was that I could run rings around them. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I need someone who is smart and savvy enough not to let me get away with shit. The fact that I have a psych background and am VERY good at speaking the jargon makes this a tall order.

In addition, I thought I’d get over it. Or rather, I could wait it out. Since I pulled out of my last chronic crippling depressive episode (lasting decades), I’ve had low-level depression with short periods of more intense depression. The latter have always been relatively short (a few weeks) before returning to my norm of low-key depressed. This time, it’s been months, and it’s only getting worse. I’m still able to recognize that it’s not a part of me and that it’s irrational, but it doesn’t help. My brain tells me that I might as well be dead, and even though it’s manageable most of the time, there are flashes of ‘do it now’ that are harder to  ignore.

I know the depression is bad because things that are hard for me to do in the best of times (set up an appointment to have my tire looked at) are now nearly impossible. On Saturday, I had to talk myself into going to taiji. I wanted to go, but I really did not want to leave the house and drive somewhere. To be fair to me, I had been dealing with a migraine, and was still shaky from it. It’s been years since I’ve had a full-blown migraine because I can usually catch it in time, and I had forgotten how debilitating it can be. If I catch it at the very first signs of a migraine and pop a couple Excedrin Migraine pills, it subsides into a low-key throbbing headache for a couple of hours. This time, however, I was already at the gritting-my-teeth phase when I noticed it. I popped two Excedrin Migraine pills, but it didn’t do a damn thing this time.

You’d think a headache would only cause your head to hurt. Nope. My whole body was drained, and I spent two full days just lying on the couch with the lights off, curtains drawn, and moving as little as possible. I managed to do my work, but it was slow-going. I could watch videos as long as the sound was very low, but I consider myself fortunate. I know that many people are immobilized by a migraine; I could at least move.


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Depression infusion

a mirror to my soul.
Unrelenting gloom.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month because why not? I’m already up to 32,000 words, so I don’t think I’m going to have much trouble meeting the 50,000 words goal. I never do as writing a plethora of words is not an issue for me. I mused about looking more into the business side of things, which I have yet to do. Or rather, the marketing side as it’s much different in this digital age. Authors have to push their brand (themselves and their books) on social media in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I know it’s the way of the world now, but I have a very Taiwanese horror of promoting myself. I’ve talked with my mother about it, and she feels the same way.

Speaking of my mother, watching her twist herself into knots over my father has been disheartening, depressing, and enlightening. She’s using his illness as a reason to let her weaknesses run rampant. Let me be blunt. She is a control freak (I come by it honestly), and she is a constant worrier (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). The problem is, anyone would be worried in her position. My father just went through a ten-hour surgery to deal with three fused vertebra. Plus, we believe he’s in early onset dementia. That would be a lot to deal with for any spouse. However, my mother goes past worry into straight up obsession. Whenever we talk, it’s all about him. She may ask me how I’m doing, but once I say, she veers immediately back to her own health for a minute or him.

It’s not conducive worry, either. Conducive worry leads you to make a reasonable plan in order to deal with the situation. Then, once you make the plan, you put it out of your head and the worries are mostly allayed. I know it’s unrealistic to expect her to be completely blasé about it, but it’s all she can talk about. She’ll say something like, “I can’t leave him alone” followed by, “What if he falls when I’m not there?” and she’s off on a tangent about the fear of him falling for ten minutes. She sounds like the voices in my head when they go off the rails.

Normally, I try to listen and make soothing noises in her general direction. However, the last time I talked to her, I tried to inject some reason into her brain. I know, I know, but I had to give it a shot. After she was panicky for ten minutes about something or the other concerning the minutia of my father’s condition, I told her as gently as I could that constantly worrying about it didn’t help. I said she as a therapist knew that. She admitted that she it was her control issues at play, but she quickly glided over it.

I’ve said it before, but watching her interact with my father, or rather, watching her obsess over my father is the main reason I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship. Why? Because I see too much of myself in her. I know how easily I would slip into that mindset, and I see how hard it is to get out. She’s convinced herself that she *has* to worry about my father to this extent, and while, as I said, it’s reasonable for her to have a lot of worry, she’s pushing it to excess. She’s allowing her own mental health issues to drive the bus, and she has an excuse/explanation any time I bring it up.

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NaNoWriMo confessionals

I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times in the past decade, and while I haven’t done it every year, any time I did participate, I completed the original goal–handily. I have a personal goal of writing 2,000 words a day, and I’ve been doing it consistently for many months if not a year. This means if I just continue doing what I do, I will easily meet the NaNoWriMo goal.

One year, I set my own goal. I decided I would edit a manuscript I already had, and that was very satisfying in its own way. I’ve realized that while I appreciate NaNoWriMo and thinks it’s an excellent way for people to make themselves write if they ordinarily wouldn’t, I have no use for the original goal. I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment in meeting it, so the whole thing is a bit hollow for me. One year, I set the goal at 200,000 (I think). I made it, and that was quite the thrill. However, I’m not sure that setting an arbitrary number is the most productive use of my time. In addition, I have OCD tendencies, which means I fixate on numbers as if they’re gods.

It was one of my biggest problems when I was dieting. I had all these numbers that Meant Something, and they slowly morphed into the be-all, end-all. In addition, the final number (the goal weight I wanted to be) kept moving any time I got even close to it. The first time I started a diet, I was counting calories. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but I started assigning values to the numbers. Some were bad and some were good. That spiraled into they were all bad, and at the end of that road was anorexia/bulimia.

The second time, I had a goal weight, plus I used a tape measure. I was losing roughly a half inch a week, and that quickly became the standard. If I didn’t reach that half inch, it would make me miserable for the whole week. In addition, I had a hard and fast rule about how much exercise I had to do a day, and I thought it was reasonable that I set it at 2 hours of aerobics every day and forty-five minutes of weight-lifting every other day.

It works the same when I’m writing. Because I have a personal goal of 2,000 words a day, I have a mentality like, “Reach 500 words and take a mini-break.” “Reach a thousand words and do one mission/quest in MHW.” It’s not a bad way to write, but it can become rigid. My own weird brain thing is that things have to be broken up into quarters. In this case, quarters of a hundred. I’ve told this story before, but I used to have a compulsion that if I saw a clock at any quarter of the hour, I had to rapidly count to 25 (another quarter) before the clock changed. My last therapist once asked me what would happen if I didn’t make it, and I said I would be upset. She persisted, asking me what practically would happen, and I was flummoxed. I couldn’t answer her, of course, and that was the beginning of the end to my counting.


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50 goals for turning 50

In taiji yesterday, a classmate was talking about celebrating her youngest stepdaughter’s birthday. She (the stepdaughter) turned 51, and my classmate said that ‘young’ is relative. She also mentioned that the stepdaughter made a crack about some old man, and her sister said that someone who had just turned 51 should be careful about calling someone old. It got me to thinking about turning 50 and how I’m not ready for it. I’m 47, and, yes, I know that’s closer to 45 than 50, but this birthday was really hard for me for some unfathomable reason. I don’t usually care about age, and I’m not upset about being 47 specifically. It’s just that it crept up on me, and I don’t know what happened to the last ten years. I’m nearing half a century on this planet, and I have nothing to show for it. It’s messing with my mind, and I think par of my current depression is because of this.

So. Resolutions.

1. Health. I’ve talked several times about not being happy about my weight. It’s not about health, though I’m sure that could be improved as well. It’s that I hate the way I look, and I want to do something about it. I thought giving up gluten and dairy would help, but it hasn’t. Probably because I started eating rice again which is SO GOOD but calorific. I haven’t eaten as much as of late, so that’s probably helpful. As much as I love rice (and I love it a lot because I’m Asian), it doesn’t really have any nutritional benefits. I’ve also cut out potato chips, added them back, and cut them out again. I’ve slowly added back fruit and veggies, and I cut down my caffeine intake by four-fifths.

Which, by the way, was by far harder than giving up dairy and gluten. I was so logy and cranky, I could barely function. It was two weeks before I felt human again, but I’m still adjusting. I have one cup of tea/coffee a day and have completely given up pop. I had some while I was in Malta, but those were extenuating circumstances. I will have a glass occasionally if I’m dining out, but more often than not, I’ll stick to water.

Side note: I want pizza right now. I want it so bad, I can taste it. There are many tasty substitutes for many gluten and dairy foods, but gluten-free/dairy-free pizza just isn’t that tasty. A local pizza joint had a fall special a few years ago that had sausage and sauerkraut, and it was amazing. So delicious! Heavy as hell, yes, but I would eat it every day all day long. I have a feeling I’ll break soon and get one because I can’t stop thinking about it, but I don’t want to fall off the gf/df wagon. I did while in Malta, but again, it was extenuating circumstances. How the hell could I not try pasta in Malta? Especially pasta with cheese in it?

I need to start cooking. I’ve said it several times, but I’ve yet to do it. I’ve boiled gf macaroni and added spaghetti sauce to it, but that’s not exactly cooking, now is it? I should get a pressure cooker because it’s magical, but it seems like a lot to learn. I could be wrong and probably am, but that’s how it appears to me.

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Getting out of my own damn way

I’m my own worst enemy, and I know it. I can think about a hundred things I want to do or should do, but when I actually get down to the nitty-gritty, I start throwing roadblocks in my own way. I immediately think about a million of things that will go wrong, and then, more often than not, I end up doing–nothing. One big decision I made in my life was going to SF for grad school in writing. Writing & Consciousness, to be more specific. Yeah, it’s SF. Whaddya going to do?

Immediately, I was inundated with doubts. I poured them all out to my therapist, one after the other. After listening to me for twenty minutes or so, she stopped me and said, “Minna. Half of the things you imagine will never happen, and things will happen that you can’t even dream of right now.” I know it sounds cliched, but it really hit me hard. I didn’t have much control in my early life, so now, I worry obsessively as a way of trying to feel as if I’m in control. Her timely reminder that I can’t control what happens was what I needed, and it emboldened me to go forward with the move. The results were mixed, but I at least fucking did it.

You’d think I’d learn something from it, like, yeah, do something, anything, and just keep it moving. I’ve said it before, but one thing I really admire about my brother is that he’ll get an idea and just do it. If it doesn’t work, he’ll move on to the next thing. Now, obviously, there are downsides to that (like wasting time on unfinished projects), but it also means he can shrug it off when something fails or when he goes to the next project. Plus, he actually finishes a lot more things than I do. He once told me he had no regrets in his life, which blew me away. I regret everything in my life–everything! Even the good things, I can find a reason for regret.

You know what? I should take a positive example in my life–taiji. I had taken it before, and it was a terrible experience. Once I was recovered from it, I decided that I wasn’t going to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I liked taiji itself, and I wanted to take classes again. Of course, my brain was telling me a million reasons why it was a bad idea, but I managed to push through it and started researching nearby studios. I had a few things I were looking for–one was Asian-led. I let that one go pretty quickly, though, because I live in Minnesota. the second one was that the teacher was a woman. That one was a bit more fruitful, and I was encouraged. The third was no payment schemes. What I mean is, there are some martial arts schools that are more interested in getting paid than in teaching. A common way is to have paid belts. (There are no belts in taiji, or shouldn’t be.) There was one studio that insisted on a uniform and that you had to buy everything through them. NOPE.

I came across my teacher after hours of searching, and I have to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve learned so much from taiji, and it keeps giving to me (even if I’m currently frustrated with it because of all the changes). It’s hard for me not to think of all the ways I’ve failed, though. All the bad decisions I’ve made, many of them in my personal life, are scarred deeply in my soul. Sometimes, I can’t help thinking about them and picking over what I’ve done wrong. Or, I Google my exes just to torture myself. (Not all of them, just the ones I regret where things went wrong.)

I tend to let things happen to me rather than actually be proactive about things. There are things I want to do, but I have a real fear of actually doing them. All these doubts besiege me, and I end up paralyzed emotionally. Let me give you a current example. I blog (duh), but I know that podcasts and vlogging are the ways of the future. Or, having a strong social media presence and piggybacking off that. Or streaming if you’re into video games, which I am. I *know* all this, but am I doing any of it? No. Why not? I’ll tell you why, one by one.

Podcasts and vlogging: I hate the way I sound and look. Now, I know the former is pretty common because we can’t hear our voices as they sound to others. I’ve accepted that I have a voice that others find soothing and pleasant, so I can deal with it. Barely. As for the latter, I hate the way I look. A lot. For several reasons. As I’ve noted before, I don’t look in the mirror unless I actually have to, and every time I do, I cringe. I don’t know if I can get past that barrier, either for vlogging or for streaming, but I know that people respond better to face cam than when there isn’t one (for streaming), especially with women, but that brings up another issue with women and streaming–the rampant sexism that women have to face online. On the one hand, there’s the death threats, the rape threats, the ‘you don’t belong here, bitch’ threats, and such. On the other hand, there’s the stalkers, the obsessed fans, and the “I want to get in your panties” assholes. For whatever reason*, misogyny just spirals out of control online.


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Writer’s block/Being too hard on myself

butter wouldn't melt in my mouth.
Lily White in the house!

I am having a hard time writing these days. I keep thinking that everything I write is stale, boring, and redundant. Fiction and non-fiction. Why say anything when it’s all been said before? Or, conversely, why say anything when no one gives a fuck what I have to say? Not me personally, though there is a dose of that as well, but someone in my demo. I’m an old, fat, bisexual Taiwanese single woman, and when you put all those together, it adds up to one big pile of who gives a fuck?

I’ve been reading some old posts/fiction writing I’ve done, and I used to be really good. On social media, I’ve made a declaration that I’ve changed my name and my party because being a right-winger as a writer is waaaaaay more lucrative than being a bleeding heart liberal. I changed my name to Lily White, and I changed my avatar to a stock photo of a blond woman conservatively dressed, sitting in a prim pose. I’ve included it at the top of this post. In doing so, I remembered that I had threatened to change parties before for the same reason. I dug up some old posts I wrote on the subject, and damn it, they were fucking hilarious. Here’s an archive of the posts if you want to peruse them.

What’s changed since then? Too much online consumption. You probably think I’m being facetious, but I’m not. Most of my Twitter feed is very politically involved, and while that’s generally a good thing, there’s a downside–I’ll get to it in a second. One of the things that tripped me up growing up was how constantly I was told on a subconscious level that my opinion at best didn’t matter and at worst was full of shit. For many years, I felt as if I didn’t have a core, and whatever anyone else said automatically was right regardless of what I thought/felt. I’ve gotten better at it, but it still lingers.

Twitter reinforces those feelings when I get a million* tweets saying something with which I don’t agree. I start doubting myself, and I stop wanting to talk about that issue. For example, policing how other people talk, the liberal version. People trying to show how woke they are by constantly pointing out how oppressive other people is wearing me the fuck out. It’s a good thing to think about other people, but it’s taken to an extreme that makes me uncomfortable. Also, just because YOU think something is problematic, it doesn’t mean it actually is. One example, the word stupid. I don’t use it about people (“He’s stupid”), but I do use it about ideas, actions, experiences, etc (“This is stupid. I’m not doing it.”). Some people strenuously say that it’s ableist, and while I can maybe see it for the former, I don’t see it in the latter case.

Some words have multiple meanings and focusing on one to the exclusion of others is ludicrous. One I can speak even more definitively about is depression. Some people who have it get upset when people use it in this way, “I was so depressed today that I had to work late.” They say it’s appropriation, diminishing what actual depression feels like. As someone who has experienced severe depression as well as low-grade depression, I call bullshit on this. Even if the other person isn’t using depressed in exactly the ‘correct’ manner, you know what they mean. That’s half of communication–getting your meaning across.
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Shaking Things Up

let's tidy up in here.
Clean up in aisle 5!

I’m getting better, but I still feel I’m on the cusp of a relapse, which is no fun. I’m also musing over my writing life because, well, to be frank, blogging isn’t doing it for me any longer. Or rather, blogging every day isn’t doing it for me any longer. I still enjoy writing blog posts, especially the POOG posts, but it’s becoming to feel more like a chore given the political climate of the country right now. Plus, I’m beginning to think that shouting on the internet isn’t really doing anything meaningful, but I don’t want to give it up completely.

On the other hand, I have been neglecting my fiction blog (minnahong.com), which–good lord. I just checked, and I haven’t touched it in over three years–doesn’t feel good at all. minnahong.com used to be my blogsite, but then I decided I wanted to use it to promote my fiction instead, and I switched it over. Obviously, I’ve been letting it languish, and I’ve recently decided it’s time to change that. I want to state it out loud because I’m terrible at actually implementing change. I’m hoping that by letting it be known, I’ll be spurred into action.

To that end, I’ve decided on a 3/2 split with three days of blogging here and two days of posting fiction there. I’ll continue with my old novel, Trip on This, and I may start up another old novel I wrote (haven’t quite decided which or if I actually want to do that. I may just want to focus on Trip on This and then the sequel which I recently wrote–sixteen years after the original).

This is all tentative right now, but I’m planning on doing blog posts Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ll keep to the current topics (personal thoughts, health, and popular culture/fun/POOG posts, respectively), but I reserve the right to change that up in the future.

Then, I’ll post chapters from my fiction on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday will be Trip days (I’ve already posted two chapters), and Thursdays will be, well, we’ll see what I decide. That’s the tentative schedule for now, but again, I reserve the right to change it later if I feel the need.

Personally, I’m in a foul mood, and I don’t know why. I’m hoping that changing things up with my writing will help with the general ennui I’m feeling. By the way, that Google art thing matched me with a painting called Ennui by a Japanese artist (can’t find it right now), which is a lounging woman in a kimono. It doesn’t look like me at all (to be fair, it was like a 40% match), but I love that it’s called Ennui. I changed my name on Twitter to M’Ennui Hong for a few days because it amused me so much.

My sleep has been astonishingly bad lately. Not as bad as it was twenty years ago, but astonishingly bad for me lately. Which means I’m getting better. But it also means my depression is hitting particularly hard right now. The only positive thing I can say about the depression is that I know it’s not rational, which makes it slightly easier to believe.

Modeling Your Minorities

Back in the Stone Ages, I attended grad school for Writing & Consciousness at a schoool that was several years afterwards stripped of their accreditation*. It had its positive and negatives, and the best thing it did for me was made me write every day. Prolifically. Anyhow, I wrote a short story (more like a novellla) about a young woman who was sickened by all the serial murders and rapists (how apropos) who weren’t prosecuted for their crimes for one reason or another. She decided she was to be the avenging angel, and she tortured and murdered several of them (all men) in particularly brutal ways. She mimicked their behaviors to torture them, and I’ve never written anything like it. It was so brutal, I had a hard time reading it myself.

My adviser, who was Mexican himself and was well aware of racism in America, suggested I make the protagonist white so that people wouldn’t get hung up on the fact that she was Asian. Which she was. Did I forget to mention that? I make most of my protagonists Asian queer women for obvious reasons, and this one was no exception. I’m not sure I made her queer, but she definitely was Asian. He said that if I made the character Asian, that was all people would talk about, and the meat of my story would be lost.

I get that. He’s not wrong, and it’s still a pervasive idea that if you have a minority as a character, you need to highlight all the differences over and over again. Recently, Leonard Chang, a mystery writer (whom I’ve met in real life once back in the same Stone Ages) discussed how he had’s had editors in the past who’ve told him to Chink it up with his characters (my words, not his). One editor wrote in rejecting Chang’s novel, The Lockpicker (which has since been published):

What fails for me is that it [that] virtually nothing is made of the fact that these guys are Koreans. I suppose in the alleged melting pot of America that might be a good thing, but for the book it doesn’t lend anything even lightly exotic to the narrative or the characters.

Emphasis mine. The implied thinking is that why one earth would we want a novel with Korean characters if they’re not going to act Korean? They might as well be white guys, amirite? From the same link, which, by the way is Teen Vogue. They’re doing great things socially and politically, and how I wish they existed back when I was a teen. Anyway, Chang also said a different editor had this to say about his characters:

The characters, especially the main character, just do not seem Asian enough. They act like everyone else. They don’t eat Korean food, they don’t speak Korean, and you have to think about ways to make these characters more ’ethnic,’ more different. We get too much of the minutiae of [the characters’] lives and none of the details that separate Koreans and Korean-Americans from the rest of us. For example, in the scene when she looks into the mirror, you don’t show how she sees her slanted eyes, or how she thinks of her Asianness.

Again, emphasis mine. The first part is the same as the other, but the bolded part adds yet another wrinkle to the othering grossness. Because being Asian is foreign to them, it’s of utmost interest. For those of us who are Asian, it is but one aspect of our personalities. I can guarantee you that I don’t stare in the mirror, pondering my ‘slanted’ eyes** and think about how Asian I am. It actually reminds me of a quote I saw about how if you read a book and all the women are talking/thinking about their boobs, it’s probably written by a guy. Same principle. Those of us who have grown up having boobs for most of our lives, it really isn’t a day-to-day topic burning the forefront of my mind.

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