Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Writing

Losing the Veneer

I was at a wonderful Mediterranean buffet with Ian a few days ago for lunch, and I was trying to pick something out from between my teeth. TMI and kinda gross, I know, but it’s pertinent to the rest of the post. I felt something give in my mouth, and it was the top of a tooth! It didn’t hurt at all, though, so I knew I hadn’t broken a tooth. Believe me. I’ve had that happen, and the pain is agonizing and intense. This time–nothing. I cautiously touched my tongue to the space it came from, and it felt smooth. When I saw it, it had a metal plate in place, and I figured out with the help of Google (which may or may not be correct, naturally) that I had broken off the cap to the crown and not the crown itself. It’s just the top of the tooth to make it look like an actual tooth, but it’s not the crown itself. I have it wrapped in a napkin, and my dental office was closed on Friday when it happened, so I’m hoping after I mea culpa my dental office for not being in for years, they’ll be able to easily replace it. I read articles about how you should temporarily glue on the crown, but it was mostly to prevent from infection and if you’re feeling pain. As I have a metal plate covering the actual tooth and don’t feel pain at all, I decided just to wait until I see the dentist. Why mess with it if it’s not giving me any trouble or pain? In the meantime, I’m careful to clean it and I’m trying not to eat on that side of my mouth, but it’s not been a problem thus far. It’s weird to pass my tongue over it and there’s no top to the tooth, but it’s nothing more than an anomaly.

The reason I mention this is because I feel this way about my life right now. Putting aside with difficulty all the shit that is going on in this country right now (not to mention the world), my own personal life is going OK. I’m in a better place emotionally and mentally than I have been in a long time if ever, and despite the bouts of depression I get from time to time, it’s nothing like I used to feel on a regular basis. It disappears in a relatively short amount of time, but I still gingerly probe my emotions regularly to see if I’m feeling the pain. Most of the time the answer is no, but once in a while, it’s yes. This is where the analogy breaks down, so I’m going to abandon it for the rest of this post.


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Fake It Until You Make It

I have a hard time believing in myself for many reasons, most of which are boring and way too common. Low self-esteem, perfection, all-or-nothing, blah, blah blah. Part of it is because in my family, every decision is made only after all the possible problems are talked about and dealt with. Endlessly. It’s not bad to think about issues, but it can be bad if it’s ninety percent of the conversation. I was just talking to my bestie, and it reminded me of something we used to talk about back in the day. When she was having problems with her husband, her mom told her that she would be fine either way. that struck me because if I were in the same situation, my mom would tell me why it would be hard to deal with either way. Neither mom is wrong; it’s just a different way to focus on things.

I mention this because I was talking to my parents about going back to school for a grad degree in psychology. We were discussing the pros and cons (mostly the cons as is our wont), and somehow, we got on the topic of the actual coursework itself. I said that would not be a problem, and my father told me not to be so sure. What I heard was that I was overestimating my intelligence and that I would have a nasty shock when I was actually faced with reality. I talked about it with my mother at a later date, and she said it’s probably because he had such a difficult time when he was earning his PhD (in econ) and was just projecting his feelings onto me. Which, duh, because narcissist. Anyway, I said to her, “I have enough worries and anxieties about going back to school. This isn’t one of them, and I don’t need it to become one.” The one thing I’ve counted on my entire life is my intelligence. More to the point, school is easy for me. I’m not saying the work won’t be hard, but will I be able to do it? Of that I have no doubt.

It upset me because it’s a pattern in my family. Don’t you dare show anything remotely resembling pride about anything because then you will be seen as arrogant. It’s part of Taiwanese culture, but it’s also my father’s neurosis. He needs to be validated from the outside and the center of attention, but he also has a horror of appearing arrogant. He was scolding my mom for telling people she went to a sandplay conference in Hawaii because he thought it made her look like a braggart. He said, “I’ve gone all over the world and participated in OPEC conferences, but you don’t see me mentioning that!” I said, “Why not? It’s what you did. There’s nothing wrong with saying it. Also, if I ever made it to the NYT Best Sellers list, I would be bragging about it all over the place.” He went on to say, “Is she the only one who can do this?” in reference to the conference, which made me gleeful because I could say, “Yes, she is. She literally is the only person who could have done this.” I mean, how many times do you get to say that in real life? My mother established the Taiwanese Sandplay Association and is the only person qualified to represent it in certain circumstances, and she should be fucking proud of herself! She wasn’t even saying it to be proud, however, just stating it as a matter of fact. It’s only my father’s neurosis that twisted it into something perverse, plus the fact that he hasn’t handled being forced to retire* with any grace at all.


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The Frustration of Art

I remember fondly my twenties for one reason: I wrote as if the world wasn’t watching, and I was damn good. I reread some of the things I wrote back then with amazement. My writing was fresh and alive, and the words just popped on the page. I’m talking specifically about my fiction because I didn’t start blogging until later, but it remains true for the first few years I blogged. I was good, damn it, and it actually saddens me to read my old works because I feel as if I’ve lost a step or seven in the passing years. Why? I have a few reasons. Let’s tackle fiction first.

One reason I started writing fiction was because of my frustration at not seeing stories that resonated with me as a Taiwanese American bisexual woman. Even now with literature being more diverse than it was twenty years ago, finding those specific parameters aren’t easy. Taiwanese is a subset of Asian, and we’re not talked about very much. Hell, most people only know that we’re great at producing electronic goods. We used to be known for manufacturing cheap goods as well, but that’s slowly gone away.

Most Americans don’t know or care about the fraught history of Taiwan concerning its relationship with China, which is frustrating, but understandable. It has no affect on Americans, so why should they care? It’s not something I write about much, but it definitely influences my writing. In fact, I think I may inject more of it into my writing, come to think of it. Anyway, I don’t have a problem with making my protagonists Asian, specifically Taiwanese. Or women. Or bisexual. The problem is that I’ve been writing the same variance of a story for many years, and it’s becoming stale to me. I’ve reread some of the more recent fiction works I’ve written, and while they’re still good, they’re not singing to me.

To clarify, I can read something I’ve written and recognize that it’s a solid piece of work that might interest a reader who’s never read anything of mine. To me, however, it’s old hat. In addition, I like to put in black cats because I’m a huge black cat lover, and I want to mention my passion for taiji as well. Again, these aren’t problems in and of themselves, but I feel as if I’m in a rut. In addition, my fiction writing has gotten more prosaic, and I’m not entirely pleased with it. I recently wrote a sequel to a mystery I wrote sixteen years ago, trying to recapture the feeling of the original, and I just didn’t feel I did it justice. The protagonist is one of my favorites in a large part because she has no fucks to give, and she’s mostly amoral. That’s not fair to her, really. She has a moral code; it’s just different than most people’s. God, I love her so much. I really wanted to bring her back, but I’m a different person than I was when I first wrote her, and she’s different now, too.

I feel as if I’m restricting myself too much in my fiction by making my protagonists like me every time. I’m trying to mix it up, but I really want to see someone like me in fiction. I think the problem is that I need to get that novel published before I can move on. I’m not good at the business end of art, which is something I’m realizing in my blogging as well. I have this vague idea that I can self-publish, but if I want to go that route, I’ll have to do more of the business shit myself. That’s not something I’m interested in at all, but I could learn if I choose to.


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Mysterious Me

writing by hand. how quaint.
Let the ideas flow like ink from a pen.

I am an inveterate mystery reader. I consume them as if they were chocolate, which, in case you don’t know, is on a daily basis. I’ve fallen off them a bit lately, but I can still read a four-hundred page mystery in a couple hours. Side note: When I’m flying, I like to read a mystery or two, then leave it in the bathroom of the airport or the plane. If it’s the latter, I like to imagine a flight steward finding it and taking it home. Anyway, I mostly read female authors and any authors of color, queers, and anyone on the fringe. A few decades ago, I decided to try to write one. Since then, I’ve written several, and most of them have a protagonist who is female, Asian, and queer. Black cats and taiji are prominent as well. In other words, they’re me to varying degrees.

I don’t have a problem with that because there are no books about people like me. I’m at least two standard deviations away from the norm in so many ways. I’m Taiwanese American, which, by the way, is a thing in and of itself. I am NOT Chinese, and I WILL correct you if you call me Chinese. That’s not what this post is about, however, so I’ll move on with difficulty. I’m bi, which for me means liking sex with men and women, but leaning towards partnering with men. I’m over forty and not married, so I have to start paying attention to those scare warnings about women over forty being more likely to be run over by a bus while fleeing from terrorists than to get married, but here’s the twist: I don’t want to get married. I never have, and I highly doubt I ever will, so joke’s on you! I don’t have kids, and I’ve never wanted them for even longer than I’ve never wanted to get married*. I’m agnostic, which makes me suspect to both believers and atheists. I lean towards believing there’s a laissez faire kind of god if there’s one at all. It created the world and then fucked off, becoming immediately interested in something else.

I have two black cats, well, one now. I adopted brother cats, Raven and Shadow, many moons ago, but Raven died this past December. I’m still adjusting, and in my current mystery novel, the main character has one black cat (a girl) whose brother cat had suddenly died. My writing is therapeutic to me, and I’m working through my grief by writing about it. I can change and shape what happens in my fiction world to a certain extent, though my characters refuse to talk to me if I make them do things that are egregiously against their nature, and by writing about my grief in the fiction world, I feel as if I can get a handle on it. In real life, I’m mostly numb about it, but there are moments of intense grief. Shadow is much more vocal now than he was while his brother was alive, and I think it’s because he relied on Raven to do all the communicating before. Shadow is much clingier now as well. He used to be somewhat aloof, content to being on his own for several hours, before running up to me and demanding attention. Now, he’s constantly meowing at me from the other room, mostly on my lap as he is now, and I know he’s dealing with his grief in his own way. Interesting note: I discovered if I whistle in response to his meowing, he comes running to me. He’s never done that before, but I’ve never whistled at him before, either.

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The Sound of Silence

all i do is write, write, write.
The pen is still mightier than the sword.

When I was in my twenties, I had stories in my head all the time. They were clamoring to be heard, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I could write for hours with the words just pouring out of me, and my biggest problem was knowing when to stop. It’s the same when I started blogging. I had so much to say, and there seemed to be so little time to say it in. I was passionate about my opinions, and I wanted the world to know what I had to say. Even when I was depressed, I could write. It’s the one thing I didn’t have to force myself to do. I couldn’t make myself take a shower, but I sure as hell could type thousands of words.

When I first started writing at the tender age of seven, I wrote poems. They weren’t great poems, but they were heartfelt. I never much cared for rhyming or more traditional poetry, but I loved free-form, and I wrote what I considered prose-poetry before it became a thing. I found it limiting, however, especially as I did not enjoy reading poetry, and I eventually switched over to prose. Part of the reason is because I loved to read, but I never saw anyone who looked or acted like me. I’ve nattered on about representation in popular culture so I’ll skip that whole spiel right now, but I felt a longing in my heart any time I read to see someone, anyone, who looked like me and/or had a life experience that was at all similar. There’s a Toni Morrison quote that has stuck with me about this sentiment:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

–Toni Morrison

She also has said unapologetically that she is a writer for black people, and she doesn’t have a problem with that. She said it was “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old colored girl from Lorain, Ohio.” I felt the same about much of what I read. Even if something was exquisite literature and moved me, there was always something missing. There was an explosion of Asian immigration stories when I was in my mid-to-late twenties (I blame Amy Tan), but they didn’t feel that relatable, either, because they were ¬†about Chinese laundries, broken English, and three generations of suffering women. It became so prolific, I remember standing in the middle of Modern Times (used bookstore) in San Francisco, seeing another spate of books like this, and loudly declaring, “If I never see another book about three generations of suffering Asian women, it would be too soon!” My friend shushed me, but I was fed the fuck up.

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Writing Fiction: Getting Back on the Horse Again

old school writing
Creativity is flowing.

NaNoWriMo started today, and I managed to write 2,750 words. That’s more than enough to meet the goal of 50,000 words for the month, but I’m not happy with it. This is part of the problem with my OCD trait rearing its ugly head. When I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, I decided that I’d go back to basics since I haven’t written fiction in quite some time. 50,000 words. That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing creative. That breaks down to 1,667 words a day, which is something I can do in my sleep*. As I was writing today, I thought, “I should make it 2,000 words a day.” When I passed that, I thought 3,000 sounded better. I have a tendency to move the goalposts any time I reach a goal, which means perpetual frustration. Instead of being happy that I’ve written 2,750 words when I haven’t written fiction in months, I’m pushing myself to write an extra 250 words to reach the totally fabricated number of 3,000.

As I wrote in a previous post, I’ve been upset with myself because my brain hasn’t been providing me with stories lately. When I was in my twenties, I would sit down at my computer and just knock out several thousand words in one sitting. I have a dozen finished novels and probably fifty or more short stories, and I took it for granted that I’d always be able to write at such a prodigious pace. In the last year or so, my fiction writing has slowed to a crawl. I have several theories as to why that is, and I’ll enumerate them now. The first is that I ‘watch’ videos as I’m writing, but that one doesn’t really hold water because I’ve always had something else going on while I’m writing, mainly music. I never really understood why I did this, but the best I can figure is that it’s my version of a white noise machine. When I write, I need something to filter out the dross so I can focus on the ideas that matter. I know that it’s breaking all the cardinal writing rules, but as I said in my previous post, fuck writing rules. Except, write, write what you want, and do whatever it takes to help you write. “Write first thing in the morning.” Most people have other jobs, and I do my best writing late at night, anyway. “Don’t edit as you write–just write.” Nope. Editing as I go is the way I write, and that’s not going to change any time soon. “Don’t throw away anything you write.” Hell, no. Some of my shit is so bad, it deserves to be relegated to the trash heap.

I already have enough of my brain mandating what I should and shouldn’t do. I don’t need any more rules and regulations to live by, especially ones that come from outside sources. I’m kind of a dick in that if something doesn’t make sense to me after I examine it, I ignore it. I will listen to someone criticize my writing, but I rarely make the changes they suggest. I have a vision when it comes to my writing, and it takes a lot to sway me. Yes, I’m a delicate flower whose writing is more precious than gold. I jest, but it’s not far from the truth. I will say that when I was in grad school for writing, I took several classmates suggestions for one of the favorite stories I wrote, and in the process, I killed the story. When a story is vibrant, it shimmers as I read it. With this story, it glowed after I finished it the first time. With every edit, the shimmer faded little by little until the words were totally flat by the time I was done. I was so distraught, I metaphorically shoved the story into the back of a drawer and tried to forget it even existed. Years later, a friend mentioned that she loved that story, and I reread it for the first time in several ¬†years. It was still flat, but I was determined to revive it. I took out all the updates I made, painstakingly, piece by piece, and I reinserted the grimmer vision I had originally concocted for it. When I was done, I could see the shine again, and it might not have been quite as bright, but it was alive once more.

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Do You Even NaNoWriMo, Bro?

write, baby, write
Let’s get cracking!

I saw a tweet that mentioned getting ready for NaNoWriMo the other day, and it took me by surprise. For whatever reason, November always creeps up on me, and this year has been no exception.

What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? It’s a world-wide event that occurs every November in which you write a 50,000 word novel in that one month. You have to start on the first day of November* and stop at midnight in your time zone. There are NaNoWriMo support groups across the country, and you get motivated messages from the NaNoWriMo team throughout the month as well. There’s no reward at the end except a badge for your website page and the satisfaction of writing 50,000 words in a month. It was established in 1999, but really seemed to take off in the past decade. There has been debate whether it’s a good thing or not because the only goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Some people think it allows more dreck to be created while others see it as a way of encouraging emerging writers. I’m in the latter camp because I know how hard it can be to just sit down and write. I’m not a big fan of the plethora of shit that is published, but that’s not the responsibility of NaNoWriMo. Most pop culture is dross, and it’s been that way since the beginning of art. It’s not as if a novel written in a month is immediately going to be published, anyway, so there’s little danger that a novel will go directly from NaNoWriMo to the shelf.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times, and it’s always jump-started my fiction writing. I’m about to say something that will make many NaNoWriMoers mad, but it’s really not a humble brag. I’ve never had a problem meeting the word count goal because, as you can probably tell, I’m a verbose writer. “Why use one word when ten will do?” is my motto, and I follow it passionately. The first three years I participated, I wrote a complete novel of more than 50,000 words plus a good chunk of another novel. I reached nearly 200,000 words (or passed it) one year, and I’ve gotten past 100,000 more than once. The last few times I participated, I decided to set my own goals rather than just aim for 50,000 words.** Before that, I had taken a break for a few years because I was just…not bored, but…not enthused about doing it. Part of the fun is seeing if you can meet the goal, and without that tension, it really just fell flat for me. By setting different goals, I reinvigorated my excitement for NaNoWriMo without aggravating my OCD tendencies.

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