This past week has been one of the most difficult weeks in the entire pandemic. A white gunman shot and killed eight people in Atlanta-area spas. Six of them were Asian women. They were loved and had full lives and I grieve for them and their families. My family lives in Atlanta, not far from where one of the shootings occurred. Suddenly my mom’s texts warning me to stay home because “the worst may be yet to come” don’t seem so extreme. I now send her the same messages.
I have also been writing about grief. It’s one of several topics I’ve been wanting to write about for some time, but didn’t know how. Sometimes I haven’t fully processed personal events because they’re too close or painful. Other times, I don’t know what the purpose of the piece would be beyond “this thing happened to me,” in which case I usually journal about it instead. But most of the time, I don’t have a meaningful story to tell. What I have in my head just feels like raw material that I haven’t yet figured out how to shape.
One of the most useful things I’ve learned about writing and pitching, especially when it comes to nonfiction, is that you must have a story or argument. When I first started writing personal essays, I thought “I want to talk about X” was enough. But a topic is not a story. Your writing is unique because of how you talk about X and what a reader might take away from your piece.
Like many people, I have my weirdest thoughts in the shower. Especially now, when it is one of the few places where I’m free of Slack and Zoom. A few weeks ago, I was in the shower mulling over a book I’d been reading when one of those “aha” moments hit me. The book was also about grief and loss and it sparked something in me: here was the angle for a story. I immediately ran to my computer and started jotting down ideas for a personal essay in an empty doc, finally able to put words to an experience I’ve wanted to articulate for so long. After a few days, I went back and began to construct a narrative arc and a more detailed outline. It's been so long since I felt that innate urgency to write.
You might have lots of great ideas but haven’t figured out a way to activate them yet. I don’t necessarily believe in waiting around for inspiration to strike and think brainstorming is a practice. But it’s just as important to let those ideas marinate. (I much prefer to say that my ideas are ~marinating~ rather than abandoned.)
There is plenty of psychological research that suggests doing nothing is essential for creativity and innovation. It’s only when you’re not doing anything that you can step back and reflect. In my case, I’ve been thinking about this topic for three years and only just now found a way into the story and feel ready to write about it.
Rest. Read. Go for a walk. Dump all your thoughts and don’t worry about being coherent. Write something completely different. You never know what will flip a switch and provide that entry point into the story you want to tell.
NBC Asian America has a useful list of anti-racism resources, guidance, and tools. Hollaback is offering free anti-harassment training and has a helpful PDF around bystander intervention. Some organizations to support: National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the AAPI Journalists Therapy Relief Fund, Red Canary Song, and Welcome to Chinatown.
- “A Literary Guide to Combat Anti-Asian Racism in America” by Jae-Yeon Yoo and Stefani Kuo (while also acknowledging that, as Lisa Ko puts it, “white supremacy will not be dismantled through diverse reading lists”)
- Sumana Roy on revising the postcolonial syllabus: “This, too, should be part of the decolonizing-the-syllabus mission: to dismantle the binary between postcolonial writers as content writers and Western writers as experimenters with form.”
- Sign up for the Fairest Writer Spring Workshop series with Meredith Talusan, Jenna Wortham, Emma Copley Eisenberg, Peter Kispert, Jess Zimmerman, and Kima Jones. All workshops are free over Zoom.
- “When the World Is on Fire, Write” by Alexander Chee
- Author Leigh Stein is teaching two writing seminars in April. Through The Resort LIC, I attended her workshop “Conceptualize A Book That Sells” and found it super useful, with a lot of practical advice that helped demystify different stages of the publishing process.
Recent reads & other media
I’ve been deep in books about millennials: Luster by Raven Leilani and Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen. Petersen’s book is a great expansion on her viral BuzzFeed piece. She combines first-person interviews with historical research and analysis on the social, political, and economic factors that created this generation and the unique form of burnout we face. Leilani’s novel captures a lot of these anxieties, plus the additional challenges faced by Black millennial women. I wasn’t totally sold on the central relationship between Edie and Eric that most of the book hinges on (I found Edie’s relationships with Eric’s wife and adopted daughter much more compelling). But overall I thought it was a really strong examination of art, performance, sex, race, and loneliness.
I watched both seasons of Barry over a weekend and laughed so much harder than I thought I would. It was E’s birthday last week and we celebrated with scones, omurice, and Jennifer’s Body, which is truly a cult classic of the late 2000s. We also watched A Knight’s Tale which features Heath Ledger jousting every other scene and Paul Bettany as a drunk, slutty Geoffrey Chaucer.
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~ meme myself and i ~
Cat vs. dog vs. bag of chips. PTO stands for “Prepare The Others.” This man’s Bobby Flay impression killed me. How the mRNA vaccine works. Wearing a mask makes me feel like an MCU character. I’m constantly haunted by Glee.