Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: writing

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.
Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Try a Little Tenderness

One of the downsides to being sick is that I get depressed at the same time. It’s understandable, but it’s difficult to handle for someone (me) who has dealt with depression all her life. When I say depression, I don’t mean the blues or feeling a little down. I mean, “There’s no point. It’s all hopeless. I might as well be dead” feelings. The worst part for me is that it makes me not want to write, which is akin to death for me. My brain tells me, “Your writing is shit. No one cares what you have to say.” I read what I’ve written, and it’s horrid.* I’m hard on my writing in general, but I know I’m being extra-hard on myself.

I woke up this morning and thought, “I hate all my writing. I should just stop.” I actually considered quitting for several minutes, and then I stumbled across an article about Mr. Rogers on Facebook (h/t Krista Elliott) that made me feel better. The author, Anthony Breznican, recounts a terrible time in his life when he felt hopeless about his writing and life in general. He’s from Mr. Rogers’ hometown of Pittsburgh, and he (Breznican) caught an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on the television in the common room at his college. He watched the whole thing and felt better. Later. he ran into Mr. Rogers and poured his heart out to Mr. Rogers about how hard a time he was having and how watching one of Mr. Rogers’ episodes helped him. Mr. Rogers actually sat down with him and related his own story of grief (losing a grandfather for both of them), and said that it never went away, but the love was always there.

The story really resonated with me because of the writing aspect, and it was exactly what I needed to read at the moment. Writing is a lonely business especially for an intense introvert like me, and it’s hard to see the end of the tunnel when there’s no light along the way. It also reminded me that there is kindness in the world, which is hard to see when things are dark all around.

Breznican wrote this article in response to the Manchester bombings because the quote by Mr. Rogers about always look for the helpers was making the rounds, and he (Breznican) wanted people to know that Mr. Rogers was the kind and gentle soul he appeared to be.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading