Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Writing

What to do with my life

Once when I was in my twenties, my mother was probing me about my life goals. Which, that’s a mother thing to do so I can’t blame her for it. At one point, though, she was exasperated at me and snapped, “Do you not want to work?” I, being stupid, took her at face value and said, “I would prefer not to.” The disappointment in her face and tone was heavy. She made it very obvious that she thought I was a failure for admitting that.

Story of my life, though. One of the things my last therapist said to me that turned on a lightbulb was after I was lamenting about all the ways I had failed my mother. I was very much aware of my mother’s checklist of things that her daughter should be. Skinny was at the top of that list (but not skinnier than she was because that made her jealous0.

Side Note: After I came home from the hospital, eating was difficult because my father could not understand my diet. I did not eat gluten or dairy. He and my mom would eat something with one or both of those and he would offer me some. I would decline, which should have been the end of it, but half the time my father would question why I didn’t accept it. He would say, “Don’t you want any?” Not in a nasty way, but in a puzzled tone. I would explain I couldn’t eat it, and  I could see that he didn’t understand. That was fine. Annoying, but fine. It was when he conflated my hospital experience with my diet that it got frustrating. He thought my doctors had put me on the diet and would ask when I would be off it. He couldn’t understand that I had been eating that way for several years, which, again, was fine in and of itself. It just got old after some time.

Anyway, my mother wanted a skinny, feminine, perfect clone of herself. She wanted a daughter who had a career, yes, but also was a mother of two children. Someone who went to church every Sunday and was heavily involved in the church life, and someone who did not swear.

What my recent health scare had done for me was make me see with brilliant clarity that my mother does not like me. I already knew she didn’t love me as a person (I will concede that she loves me, her ‘daughter’)., but it took me longer to realize that she doesn’t like me. At all. She likes nothing about me, in fact. Not that I do Taiji (she thought it would invite the devil to dance on my spine. Which is surprisingly poetic for her, but a bunch of horseshit) nor that I am a writer. The one short story she read from me elicited the only comment of ‘there’s a lot of swearing in it’ and nothing else. She doesn’t like that I’m fat, single/unmarried, and she most definitely does not like that I don’t have children.

She doesn’t like that I don’t have a regular job (which is fair), and she doesn’t like that I have a cat. She wishes I cared more about performative femininity, even though she has a complicated relationship with it herself. Yes, she wears makeup (has eyeliner tattooed on her lids), but she does not wear skirt/dresses much, and she is much more comfortable in pants. Plus, she plays sports. Or used to, anyway. She exercises every day, too.

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Not that you’ll listen, anyway

I was talking to my brother about dating (because he currently is), and he was joking that I should meet the women he liked before he got serious because I’m good at reading people. I laughed and said that it would be futile because NRE (New Relationship Energy) is strong and nobody listens to someone who warns them about a partner.

He demurred, saying he would listen to me because he trusted me. Which, flattering, but I knew better. I said to him that no one listened to their friends when they were in the throes of passion. I wasn’t throwing shade because I had done the same thing myself. It was just human nature to be flooded with pheromones and not thinking straight.

My brother laughed. We moved on to talking about me doing a service for people where I read their dates like a fortuneteller, which, again, there’s no money in that. I mean, not only because it takes time for people’s personalities to fully out (and maybe years before what I predicted would happened actually came true). I said that there was like 5% of people I could not accurately read. My brother asked if I’d even know that I couldn’t read the person accurately. I said yes, so he said I could turned them down from the outset, but thinking about it more, I’m not sure I could. The one kind of person that slips by me at times are charming narcissists. I can peg them most of the time, but those few times I can’t, it’s disastrous.

I am Cassandra. I am extremely adept at reading people, but I am not believed. I gave my brother two instances of me reading someone accurately, but the people around me not believing me. In the first instance, when the person was found out to be rat bastard (for a completely different reason), people were shocked. “Who could have predicted?” they said. “No one!”

Me sitting over there like:: “Uh, me?”

It’s weird to have a revulsion for someone who is held in high esteem by those around you. I thought I was crazy for not liking or trusting this guy. When it was validated, but for the wrong reason, it was even worse. Others thought he was terrible, but the specific reason in that case was not him being terrible. In other words, people suddenly saw him for who he really was, but at the wrong time.

I have mentioned before that I don’t like telling people about themselves. I don’t mind doing it with my brother because he accepts it without getting defensive. Most of the time. THere are a few sore points for him, too, as there are with anyone, but in general ,he’s eager to hear what I know about him.

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Out on a limb

My brother is fearless. He has the mentality of ‘why not try?’ If something doesn’t work, he shrugs his shoulders and moves on. He rarely lets a failure bother him, and he takes what he has learn with him into his next venture. The downside to this is that sometimes, he wastes time, money, and effort in a project that he doesn’t take to completion, but it doesn’t bother him at all.

Now. Part of this is the  fact that he is a man and that means he has much more leeway in the two culture in which we live. Boys are heavily favored in Taiwanese culture, so much so that even he has noticed that my parents give his opinion more weight because he’s male (than mine, that of a lowly female (in their eyes). It’s one reason I have gender issues, which is not the point of this post). Ian commented that my mother would ask for my opinion, but then ask my brother without accepting mine. I actually think that’s more an anxiety thing as she’s done the opposite, too. She never accepts the first answer as correct on its own. But, yes, she does give more weight to what my brother says than to what I do.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me that my brother sees this happening, too. It’s one thing to realize it on my own, but it’s another thing to have back-up on my opinion. It’s easy for me to gaslight myself and say that they don’t mean it, it’s just their culture, etc., but when my brother says it out loud, it validates my feelings.

My mother is a Debbie Downer in general. Any idea you bring up to her, she immediately crushes down. K and I have talked about our respective upbringings. Her mom was of the mindset that everything would work out no matter what choice you made (which came with its own issues) whereas mine believed that you were fucked no matter what choice you make. Not that she would use the word fuck, but that’s her mentality. K’s mother always sees the bright side whereas my mother only sees darkness.

I take after my mother in that I can always see the flaws of something, but I’m getting better at realizing I don’t always have to bring it up. And I try to make it constructive and not just complaining. If I want to complain, I do it here!

When I told her I was bi, she asked me what’s next, animals? By the way, I have no idea how that became a thing. Going from same-gender relationships to fucking goats. When I told her I was getting a tattoo, well, let’s just say she voiced strong disapproval. The times when she doesn’t actively say she’s against whatever I’m doing, it’s clear in her tone of voice or her face. Oh, and when I told her I was practicing Taiji, she said it was a way to invite the devil to dance on my spine. And she was being earnestly sincere.

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Turning love into a chore

I taught myself to read when I was four. Even before that, though, I was enamored with writing. My mom likes to tell the story of how I would ‘read’ the newspaper when I was two–while holding it upside down. I knew how to read by the time I went to school, and I was in a special reading class with one other kid in the first grade. We both read several levels higher than the other kids, so we were pulled out and sat down in a room on our own. The details are cloudy, but I seem to remember that we were allowed to read pretty much whatever we wanted. So, less a class and more an independent study.

I read the Little House on the Prairie series, which was one of my favorites. Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read each book several times and was enamored by her life on in the wild. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that she was an unreliable narrator (every story she told was how great she was and how much more clever she was than everyone else). I cannot blame her because why wouldn’t you center yourself in books you’re writing about your life?

I did some Googling on her when I got older, and it was grim. She became a Republican, decrying social safety nets, even though her youngest sister was on welfare. That really put a damper on my enjoyment of the books, I’ll tell you that much.

I also decided to read the dictionary when I was in the third or fourth grade. I got bored around I, but that didn’t stop me from calling my bullies ‘unintellectual imbeciles’. Hey, cut me some slack; they were really mean. Then, in ix grade I decided to read the longest book I could find. That would be War and Peace by Leon Tolstoy. I got halfway through it before giving up when I couldn’t keep the names straight. Everyone had a half-dozen nicknames, and I had no clue what was going on. I also read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and hated it. Why did Hester Prynne get all the crap for sleeping with John Proctor? And why is she so adamant about protecting him? And, yes, I know that’s part of the purpose of the book. Didn’t stop me from hating it.

I started writing creatively when I was seven. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m sure it was brilliant. I wrote a murder mystery in fourth or fifth grade, complete with very shitty illustrations. Look, drawing is not my forte. I can’t be expected to be good at everything. But the story itself was solid and indicative of my mentality–revenge is best served.

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Getting meta with it

Hi, I’m a writer. I have been a writer since I wsa seven. I have written poetry, short stories, novels, novellas, screenplays, and more experimental works. I read House of Leaves back in the day (did not care for it) and really dug the idea of it. I also read other experimental authors, less famous and female, queer, of color, etc. I like the fresh perspectives, but it’s not for me. I will say that I was turned off poetry because it seemed so antiquated and stale. Plus, I had a teacher who told me I had to capitalize and punctuate (never heard of e. e. cummings, apparently), must have a title (I just used the first sentence of each poem as the title), but at least she didn’t say I had to rhyme. It was a terrible class, though, and nothing Advanced or Creative about it.

I’ve read books about writing and suggestions from authors about how to write. The most common are tips such as write at the same time every day, write first thing in the morning, and have an outline. In fact, the latter is one of the most consistent pieces of advice I see given about. Make an outline. You have to have an outline. Outline all day long.

Now, I want to make it very clear that I am not anti-outline. If it works for you, have at it! I’m sure it’s helpful for many writers in part because it’s given so frequently as the number one tip. So there has to be some value in it. What I AM saying is that I don’t use outlines. Ever. I don’t find them useful and in fact, I find them restrictive.

Here’s the thing. I always have scenes racing through my brain. Before my medical trauma, it went like this. I would  get a germ of an idea. Say different species of beings (not necessarily aliens) who live in our world and interact with humans. They are superior to humans, but are treated as lesser. I really wanted to do a contemporary urban fantasy (NOT sci-fi) murder mystery. The main character was an Asiatic-looking creature who was part of the patrol for her species. And then it was revealed over time that many nefarious things were happening at the agency, oh, and it’s a trilogy. A very loooooong trilogy. But it started with a germ of an idea that festered and simmered in my brain for weeks.

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I wrote a thing about my life and Elden Ring

I wrote an article about my medical trauma, Elden Ring, and Taiji weapons–and it was published by PCGN, who are a big deal. A really big deal. I got the gig through networking (Ian works for them), which is the first time that’s happened for me. Ian approached me with the idea and in the past, I would have dithered until the time had passed when it would have been optimal for me to accept the offer.

I am often my own worst enemy. I delay doing something until the decision is out of my hand. I feel bad the whole time, but not bad enough to actually do it. This time, however, I jumped on it for two reasons. One, writing about Elden Ring! That’s all I’ve been doing for the past month–might as well make it official. Two, my life in the last six months! It’s become normal to me (for lack of better word); it’s nice to be reminded that it’s truly a remarkable story.

It was an interesting process. I always think about my pieces before I actually write. I basically write it all in my head. I don’t do outlines, by the way, at least not written ones. Then, I regurgitate everything onto paper (screen), writing madly to capture every thought.

Side note: My brother and I used to argue about how to use Google. He liked to use as general terms as possible to get more results than less. I, on the other hand, use very restricted terms because I want the best possible results. About a year ago, my brother admitted I was right (oh, how sweet!).

I bring this up because it’s the opposite of how I write. When I write, I just put every possible thought into the piece. I was given 2,000 words as a soft limit; my rough draft ended up at 4,000 words. That’s right–I doubled it up. That’s not uncommon with me. I used to write 2,500 words on the regular for a singular post.

Now, it’s more like 1,200 – 1,500, just because I have learned to hold myself back a bit. I can still get verbose, however, as that is my true nature. Still. 4,000 words? That was pushing it quite a bit. And I left a bunch out as well.

It took me three or four days to write it all down. Then, I got the metaphorical red pen out and started slashing. In my mind, I wanted to cut out a thousand words from when I was in the hospital and a thousand words from when I left the hospital and went home.

Basically, if I waffled at all about a paragraph, it was out. Normally, I have a hard time editing, in part because I was very precious about my words. Even though I am prodigious with my words and can vomit a million words a minute, I felt as if each one was a polished pearl. Which, obviously, is bullshit.

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Open world in real life

Despite my rebellious nature, I tend to follow the rules more often than not. I am not going around being lawless willy and nilly. I mean, I guess you could say my whole life is against the rules to some people. I have not managed to hit one ‘normal’ milestone–and, yes, I’m proud of it Not in the ‘give it to the man’ sort of way, but that I managed to hold firm to my own values despite great pressure from my mom–e,r society. But mostly my mom.

In video games, there is a genre of games called open world games. You can probably guess from the name that the world is, indeed, open–although that can be interpreted differently in different games. Mostly, it means that you can go anywhere you want at any time instead of having to progress down a linear path. The problem with many of them is that in order to fill the world, they add repetitive quests that you just do over and over (such as collect fifteen feathers in each section. Or they make you get things for people, snidely known as fetch quests. Or even worse, you have to escort someone somewhere and they walk at half your speed. Looking at you, Skyrim. I didn’t realize just how annoying that was until I played The Witcher 3 in which the NPCs jog along at a brisk pace.

Side Note: I cannot wait to play Elden Ring which is basically an open world Dark Souls IV. I will admit trepidation about it being open world, though, because the many dungeons dotted around the world have been described as this game’s version of Chalice Dungeons. Which I hated. Absolutely hated. Someone in the RKG posted that in his opinion (because of course it was a him), you hadn’t really beaten Bloodborne if you didn’t do the Chalice Dungeons. Which, I mean….I hate gatekeeping in general. Saying someone isn’t a true such-and-such fan if they don’t do x, y, or z annoys the fuck out of me. In this case, the Chalice Dungeons are mostly for grinding. Yes, there is at least one unique boss in them (can’t remember if there are more), but it’s still mostly for grinding. I tried to do them, but I just found them confusing and boring. One thing I like about FromSoftt games is how different each area is. All. The. Chalice. Dungeons. Are. The. Same. I got hopelessly lost in them and I gave up after doing…I don’t even remember which dungeon. My favorite outfit is in the dungeons, but fortunately, early on. (Bone Ash Set.)

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Blogging is dead. RIP, blogging.

I have been a writer all my life. I started writing (very bad) poetry when I was six or seven and wrote my first short story (along with really bad crayon illustrations) for elementary school. It was a murder mystery set in a school in which the unpopular girl is murdered. I don’t remember by whom, by probably the popular girl. Or maybe it was the other way around. It was probably the other way around, actually, knowing me.

I spent most of my free time reading and writing. It was in part because that’s what I enjoy doing and in part because I had no friends. I was a weirdo with many home issues–and I was (and am) Asian before it was trendy. There were people who were friendly enough to me, but no real friends. I think it’s also because I was so downtrodden by the time I was seven (when I first thought about killing myself) that I wouldn’t have accepted any overtures of friendship even if they were offered.

So I retreated into the fantasy worlds of the books I read and the ones I created. I always had a storyline going in my mind–at least one, but usually several. I found the real world lacking so I was grateful to escape into my mind. And the books I read when I was younger ranged from Trixie Belden to The Scarlet Letter. I read the latter when I was in fifth or sixth grade just because it was in the library, I’m betting. I hated it. Even at that age, I thought Hester got a raw deal. Also, why was she shielding the priest? It turned me off Hawthorne. I also tried to read War and Peace around the same time because it was the biggest book I knew of. I gave up on it halfway through because the names were confusing me. I didn’t realize connect that everyone had a half dozen nicknames so I thought they were all new characters. I never bothered to pick it up again, which has not bothered me one whit.

In college, I made the conscious decision not to read dead white men any more than I had to. I had one white dude tell me it was just as discriminatory for me not to read white men as it was for the entire educational system to only have people read dead white men. Putting aside the fact that I am just one person and it’s a false equation, I retorted that I bet I had still read more dead white men than he had writers of color. He had nothing to say to that. I would still say the same to anyone who questioned me about it now. I’m also not saying I wouldn’t read white men–just that I would need an awfully good reason to do so.

I started writing fiction because there was no one like me in the books I read. Back in the aughts, Asian women became hot. But, it had to be first generation Asian women who were SUFFERING. They had to be married to asshole men and be downtrodden in their lives. They had to have abusive mothers as well and they were absolutely not allowed to have any joy in their lives. Basically, The Joy Luck Club writ large. I remembered I was in Modern Times bookstore (RIP) is San Francisco with a friend, leafing through the new Asian books, when I was pushed to exclaim, “If I never see another book about three generations of miserable Asian women, it’ll be too soon!” My friend was embarrassed, but I was pushed to my limits with the notion that Asian women could only star in books if they were miserable the whole time.

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NaNoRebel month is here again

It’s November, which means it’s NaNoWriMo! Was I planning on doing it before my hospital visit? Not really. Would I have ended up doing something for it? Probably. I usually do because, well, it’s there. Why not? I’m going to be writing, anyway. Why not do NaNoWriMo? I can start a new novel and whip out 50,000 words in a month. Let’s do this thing! In the past few years, however, I’ve grown bored with it. 50,000 words a month is not a big thing for me (and, yes, that IS a humblebrag. Wait. It’s not humble at all, so it’s just a plain brag). I didn’t like the stricture of starting a new novel because it seemed so random and unnecessary. And restrictive. I ain’t mad at it because it got a lot of people to write who were hesitant about writing. It’s overall good, I think, but it was in the need of an update.

On my own, I started messing with the formula. Starting a sequel to a novel. Editing a novel. Then, I found out that NaNoRebel was a thing and I was intrigued. It basically said, “Fuck all the rules. Do what you want as long as it’s writing-related. Even if it’s tangential. Edit a novel? fine. Write a multimedia performance piece? You go! Word count? What’s that? The freedom of NaNoRebel appealed to me because there were no rules. As someone who writes every day (or did before the hospital), I wrote three to four thousand words every day. 50,000 weren’t no big thing.

I’ll admit it. NaNoWriMo felt stale. There was no thrill, no excitement. It’s like the lover you know too well. Yeah, you might get the orgasm, but it won’t be as explosive as it used to be. Then, NaNoRebel swept in on its Harley, revving the engine outside my apartment door at 3 a.m. You have my attention! It looked so goddamn sexy with their legs casually spread across their hog—I knew I had to take that ride, even if it ended in a spectacular crash. I hopped on without donning a helmet and raced off into the night. My heart pounding so loudly, I could hear it in the stillness of the night. The crisp, autumn air blowing in my face, making me feel alive.

Wait a minute. What am I talking about? I forgot for a minute. Oh, right. NaNoRebel. It  was a breath of fresh air after doing vanilla NaNoWriMo for several years. NaNoRebel assumes that you don’t need urging to write–no, you need permission to spread your wings and fly! Be as creative as you want to be. There are no limits except those that your mind imposes on you. You want to write a stream-of-conscious poem that consists of you adding one word a day? Go for it! You want to write in Windings? I’m sure that’s fine as well.

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Learning the rules before breaking them

There’s a saying in writing that you have to know the rules before you can break them. I agree. And I am at the point where I knowingly break rules I think don’t make sense. Such as using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence as I did in the last sentence. Or ending a sentence with a preposition. That is one I do a lot because I don’t see any reason not to do it. That’s pretty much my excuse for anything I do that breaks the rules in writing–it makes the flow better. I’m about communicating, not about the stiffness of rigid rules. I will not give up my semi-colon, however; that, I will not do.

There’s a similar thing in taiji. The first thing you learn is the Solo Form, which is the basis for everything else in taiji. I hated the Solo Form when I first learned it. That was over a decade ago. I got used to it, but I never liked it. With the long form (Master T.T. Liang’s form), there were just so many things I didn’t like about it. A few years ago, my teacher’s teacher modified it to be more in line with Master Choi’s teaching and suddenly, I liked it much better, especially the Fast Form. I was talking about it with my teacher during our last private lesson because I was saying how when we used to do the whole form, my lower back would start to hurt at the end of the first section. By the end of the third section, nearly twenty minutes later, my whole back would be cramped up and it would hurt. I didn’t understand how this was supposed to be good for me!

In addition, I had the habit of collapsing my back knee which gave me tendonitis around my knee. I had mentioned that to my teacher when it was the worst (about five years ago) and she gave me tips to deal with it. They helped, but it was a lot of effort to reverse the damage. Anyway, I was saying how I could do the whole current form without my lower back hurting and I couldn’t figure out why. My teacher mentioned the change in form and it clicked in my brain. I mean, of course it made sense that changing the form would ameliorate the pain, but I just didn’t think about it. My knees don’t hurt, either. The difference is that this form is focused on the martial arts applications whereas the old form was more for health benefits. It was more theoretical and difficult to get exactly what you were supposed to do.

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