Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Manipulating the Narrative

ORIGINAL CONTENT

I’m erasing myself from the narrative
Let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted when you broke her heart
You have torn it all apart, I’m watching it Burn

(Hamilton)

The fragility of the narrative is an interesting one. As Eliza’s broken hearted anthem to “erase (herself) from the narrative” insinuates that any narrative can be molded and shaped to produce a certain desired perspective for future generations.

Perhaps one of the most successful narrative manipulation was achieved by a group of southern socialites called the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They picked and chose what to highlight and what to omit, delivering this pseudo-history of the South’s participation in the U.S. Civil War, not as a war of keeping slaves but rather one to be revered, full of heroes.

As I journal / scrapbook in my Hobonichi, I come to realize that I am recording pieces of not only my life but the lives around me, the world as it is today. In the same vein, that which I choose to omit will be as if it never existed, or happened, and with time, it will simply fade out of existence.

What a horribly powerful tool the written word still remain.

So the true question here is should serial killers, mass shooters, and all the ills in the world be forever commemorated for future generations to read about, for the few misguided to be worshipped, perhaps even emulate? Perhaps a pact should be made to report on these atrocities but no name and no photos – deprive them of their narrative but still allowing the world to see the extremes travesties humanity can create.

Twenty years from now, how will January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol be remembered, be taught, be talked about? How will the COVID-19 pandemic be reflected in history? Will there be a continuous debate whether over 600,000 American deaths were staged like the moon landing?

When I was in my journalism class we learned about the different truths and how few things we read are actual truths. As human beings, it is near-impossible to write without any underlying biases. However, I do believe if we are conscious of the fragility of truth as truth actually is, then perhaps we can continue to strive for the lucid unicorn.

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: A Day in the Life

ORIGINAL CONTENT

There’s a constant gentle breeze nudging the nearby trees sway this way and that. The air is dense and warm, feels sort of like trying to breathe in a plastic bag and it is only mid June. Large dark ominous clouds scattered across the sky, with the sun totally hidden.

My hand dangled off the side of the bed and I am slow to wake to the licks of the Weimaraner. He’s telling me it is time to leave the comforts of my fresh cotton sheets but I resist and withdrew my hand underneath the covers. The Dane makes a huge commotion on the bed getting up, turning around, and lurk at me patiently. I opened one eye to see a set of nostrils and floppy face, in fear impending slingers, I leap out of bed and begin my daily routine.

It’s my day off and I am especially slow in my movement. I looked forward to going to an early morning OJ class so that I can go about my day. The Weimaraner caught a glimpse of the Lucky Japanese Jizo Family Praying garden statute temporarily propped up on top of the bookcase in the living room and growled at it. He must have forgotten it was there after barking at it for a solid 15 minutes the day before. My day is filled with the jingling of dog tags, the low hum of the refrigerator, and the ceiling fan leisurely circulating the air between the air conditioning coming on.

I sit at the kitchen table procrastinating on writing with a few rounds of Bejeweled. Then I searched for a new featured image to top off my posts, followed by refilling all the dogs’ water bowls with fresh water. I glanced over at the sink full of dishes and at last, I chose to open a new daunting blank page to fill with words.

It’s rear to be off work, at home, without the constant blaring of the television. It has almost become an anomaly as the Hubs prefers the background noise where as I prefer the stillness, the calm, the elusive hush which allows me to think and formulate coherent thoughts. It’s a compromise that I have learned to accept after 26 years of marriage. However when moments as today surfaces, I cherish it as a gift, a reward, one I should not waste on playing MouseCraft.

Writing, like any other art form is a perishable skill. However, on the flip side of that, is the more one writes the easier it is to write more – at least it is true for me. I have committed myself to journaling/scrapbooking in my Hobonichi everyday in order to be accustomed to the act of writing daily. It has provided a very liberating platform to write as I please while capturing glimpses of my day-to-day life. The act of having to formulate a complete and coherent thought has made a significant difference in fostering a more consistent blogger which I hope is one step closer to finishing my CNF manuscript.

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Just Not Bad

ORIGINAL CONTENT

It took me a year and a half to lose close to 40 lbs. It took an additional five years for me to give up on struggling to maintain an illusive number in exchange to pushing my body to do things beyond my own expectations three to five times a week. OrangeTheory Fitness is a workout regimen that has built-in goals called “Benchmarks.” These Benchmarks keeps me motivated and provide continuous new goals to work towards.

I remember when I ran 10.0 mph for 30 seconds, I thought to myself, ‘that’s not bad for an old lady.’ And then I remember when I continuously improved my 1-mile benchmark time from 9:43 to 7:42, again, I thought to myself with satisfaction, ‘that’s not bad for an old lady.’ And when I completed my first full Dri-Tri (2000m row followed by 300 bodyweight exercises and finished with a 5k) in 47:46, I thankfully did not finish last in my heat and again, I thought to myself, ‘that’s not bad for an old lady.’

Up until I saw the 1-mile benchmark results and was pleasantly surprised that I out ran others 5,10, 15 years my junior. I thought to myself, ‘that’s not bad for an old lady.’ When I finished my first full Dri-Tri, I was shocked that I came in first for my age group and completed the simulated triathlon under participants 5,10,15 years my junior. And still I diminished my accomplishments and thought quietly to myself, ‘that’s not bad for an old lady.’

I just completed installing a paver patio by myself and I came to conclusion that maybe I have been selling myself short and instead of saying ‘that’s not bad for an old lady‘ maybe it should be ‘just not bad.’

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Never Alone

ORIGINAL CONTENT

I looked up from the toilet and see one bright blue dopey eye peeking through the crack of the bathroom door. A little sigh escaped past my lips and I reached up to close the door a bit more but not latch it. A bulbus nose nudges the door open enough so that I can see the one brown, one blue eye, harlequin Great Dane impatiently waiting for me to finish my business so that I can let him out to do his. Since I’ve had children and one dog after another, I can’t remember the last time I went to the bathroom without an audience. It is one of life’s little luxuries that a mother and dog owner freely surrenders.

The pandemic triggered safety protocols to work from home. And as the universe would have it, a once-in-a-life time offer to permanently work from home came about. Each morning my eyes open to a pair of yellow eyes of the Weimaraner, eerily staring at me to my left and a giant Great Dane anus connected to four outstretched legs to my right. I reluctantly leave the warmth of my covers and fresh cotton sheets to go downstairs surrounded by overexcited dogs eager to relieve themselves. Sometimes I have to rush out to the backyard before the morning light with my high power flashlight looking to bag up dog feces, hoping that I do not step in it first. I absent mindedly fill the dog bowls with food & water and the early morning stillness is abruptly interrupted with the sounds of savages scarfing down their breakfast as if they have been fasting for weeks followed by tongues lapping up water with equal velocity.

We all return to bed for a nap until it was time for me to log in for work. I sit in front of the dual monitors clicking away for 8 hours, periodically disrupted by a large bulbus head nudging my elbow for attention. The college sophomore frequently bounces downstairs with some revelation or complaint, often in the middle of a video conference call. I force myself to break for a 30-minute lunch and often make a cup of tea that sits neglected for hours because an unexpected urgent matter demands my immediate attention. At 5:30, I log off and four times a week I make my homage to Orange Theory Fitness, otherwise I do not leave the house and I am never alone.

At night when the Hubs is home, I attempt to steal a few minutes of solitary quietness and retreat to the bedroom. I sneak upstairs hoping to evade the Great Dane following me like a baby duck, softly closing the bedroom door behind me. On successful escapes, I giddily smooth the sheets on my bed before getting in and savor the few minutes of being alone, not needed by anyone, not having to fulfill a need. The temporary tranquility is often short lived as the college sophomore bursts in to share his frustrations of online courses or the sound of dogs stampeding up the stairs to retire for the evening … and my day restarts like Groundhog Day.

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Labels

ORIGINAL CONTENT

Labels. Many frown upon them. There seem to be simply an overwhelming amount of labels that an equally overwhelming amount of people have chosen for themselves. Even those who refuses conformity and declare themselves free of such social constraints, in it of itself, the declaration is a form of labeling.

But labeling is not all bad and for some, a label can provide much needed answers and lead to resolutions. For example, figuring out that I have FODMAP food sensitivity not only alleviated my frustrations but the label provided a roadmap of how I can curtail my nutrition so that I can eat and feel good. Often times not knowing, no label, is much worse but I can certainly understand that for some, all the labels are just nonsense.

When it comes to personality traits, we are often presented with two choices – extrovert or introvert. However, extrovert and introvert are only the two extremes on a spectrum and for years, the Hubs was convinced that I was an extrovert but I knew better. The key element in determining where I fell was who each personality recharged. The extrovert is energized with other people, while introverts needs mass quantity of time alone. While I can find enjoyment in crowds, parties, or group events, my tolerance has limitations. And when my energy is all gone, I can’t retreat to a quiet place fast enough to recharge. I am what is called ambivert. Ambiverts have both introverted and extroverted tendencies and often lean towards one end of the spectrum or the other based on the social situations.

Quarantine during COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for many people for many reasons. For some it was the sheer inability to fulfill the very basic human need to socialize with other sentient being. While for others it was the inability to leave one’s quarters with a bit of cabin fever. For me, it was the lack of opportunity to have solitary time to recharge.

I was working from home. Thing 2’s classes were all online. We, like many other families partook in getting a COVID puppy which is essentially like having a child without the benefits of a diaper. Being a homebody, sometimes I felt as if it was difficult to just breathe because there were no where for me to hide to recoup 5 minutes of no obligation, no interaction, and just sit in priceless utter silence.

I remember that I would ride my scooter and brave the cold just so I can scrape some time of being alone but it’s not quite the same as being able to curl into the corner of a comfy chair, with a favorite book, and a cup of hot tea. On the weekends, the house was even louder and more populated as the Hubs would be home.

When I hear that many single people were drowning in loneliness, I often internally marveled at their luxury of being alone. I suppose that the grass is truly greener on the other side.

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Me, According to Facebook

ORIGINAL CONTENT

I am fat, looking for a quick-fix weight loss supplement. And if the quick-fix doesn’t pan out then I will build a home gym and in the interim use shapewear to mold myself to the standard society has deemed physically appropriate. I am a young vegan mother looking for organic toys and Christian preschool, who is also looking for a online masters program in the fine arts, no wait, I am a seasoned man who needs supplements to enhance muscle mass. I have high interest in expensive food subscription boxes, love organic makeup, wants mensural underwear, love romance novels, purchase my wardrobe from home brew clothing brands, and perhaps most unfortunately, I am also inflicted with Cauliflower ear.

This is who I am according to the Facebook algorithm.

The Facebook algorithm is at a minimum somewhat inaccurate – at worst, laughable. As I sit here reviewing the ads for today, I rack my brain trying to recall what I could have possibly browsed that triggered an onslaught of romance novel ads. *shudders*

It occurred to me the hazards of these algorithms and how it can truly manipulate one’s perspective with just one-wrong-click. Once an end user clicks on one ad, one photo, one story, the algorithm awaiting in the shadows will begin to orchestrate similar ads, photos, and stories to bombard the end user’s news feed(s). Unless the end user is consciously aware of the system’s tendency to manipulate what is in the news feed and purposely & actively counter the AI by browsing other topics, the viscous cycle will only increase with ferocity.

It is foreseeable how the malleable or the lazy can be easily herded down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and be enveloped in a circle of unfounded rumors treated as facts. The malleable will take what they read at face value, questioning nothing, regardless of the source of the information. And from my experience being in various Facebook groups, the lazy will blindly rely on a bunch of strangers of varying degree of expertise instead of doing their own research from credible sources.

The lack of curiosity and the willingness to believe without question is a phenomena which I can’t quite comprehend. For me, I question everything and until I can confirm it for myself from multiple credible sources, I read everything with suspicion. Perhaps this is another benefit of being neglected as a child. I had to due without a parental figure to conveniently provide answers, instead I had to resort to finding the answers for myself, by myself.

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Ugly Chang

ORIGINAL CONTENT – HARRY POTTER BOOK SERIES SPOILERS (So if haven’t finished the series come back when you’re done)

Unexpectedly, I was on a 3-hour layover in Chicago and I was simply looking for something to pass the time. This was the days before smartphones and free Wi-Fi. I saw a huge display in the airport bookshop of the Harry Potter series. Apparently the first two books were 20% off in anticipation of the release of the third book. I had heard so much hoopla that I thought, why not – I have nothing to do for the next three hours anyway so might as well see what all the fuss was about. So I purchased both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

This was the beginning of my descent into the magical world of all things Harry Potter, Hogwarts, and Sorting Hat. I loved the books, the story, the mystery wrapped in magic, family, and friends. JK Rowling is a maestro, effortlessly and elegantly guiding us readers into a fictional world which we collectively want to will into reality. She arranges her words with such cadence that lures me to read on, ‘one more chapter,’ I would say to myself. ‘A few more pages,’ I would promise myself. ‘Another paragraph or two,’ I would continue to negotiate with myself. And before I knew it, it was 0230 and I had to get the boys ready for school in 4 hours. It was an escape from being the mom, the wife, and the household CEO. It was as if I was invited to temporarily indulge in the lives of these characters which I just could not abandon in their hour of need. Rowling is a true artistic master of the written word and with such regards, established an air of perfection – whether true or not.

On September 8, 1999, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released in the United States. I forego to lines of Harry Potter fanatics and waited until after work to pick up my copy. Despite many not particularly fond of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it was my personal favorite. I intensely identified with Harry with his longing for family and against all odds, crossed paths with Sirius Black – his feared champion against a cruel world. Perhaps I was even a bit envious of Harry as I had to grow up being my own champion.

The third book in the series was also the introduction of the one and only Chinese character, Cho Chang. Cho was introduced during the Ravenclaw verses Griffindor Quidditch match.

“The Ravenclaw team, dressed in blue, were already standing in the middle of the field. Their Seeker, Cho Chang, was the only girl on their team. She was shorter than Harry by about a head, and Harry couldn’t help noticing, nervous as he was, that she was extremely pretty. She smiled at Harry as the teams faced each other behind their captains, and he felt a slight lurch in the region of his stomach that he didn’t think had anything to do with nerves.”

JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I remember how excited I was that a Chinese character was going to be a part of this world. Cho was the perfect combination of intelligence, athletic, and pretty. If I had a bone to pick, I would say her name had always bothered me. Although Cho was described as “extremely pretty” her name disappointedly failed to reflect that. For many years I wasn’t sure if Rowling was being clever or just ironic, ironic in terms like nicknaming Hagrid ‘Tiny’ or Gregory Goyle ‘Einstein.’

The name “Cho” to a native Chinese (Mandarin) speaker can be interpreted to two very common words and neither are flattering. The first is “Chǒu” (醜) with the “ǒ” in the third tone, meaning “ugly” as in Ugly Chang. The second is “Chòu” (臭) with the “ò” in the fourth tone, meaning “smelly” as in Smelly Chang. I had considered that perhaps Rowling was confused and had intended for “Cho” to be the last name, as traditional East-Asian names often are arranged with the last name first and the first name last. So if Westernized, it would be Chang Cho – Change being the first name and Cho being the last name. However, that is not what Rowling had written or how Cho Chang was introduced. Granted, Google didn’t launch until 1998, but I can’t imagine that any amount of research would have avoided such a peculiar choice.

Perhaps Cho could have been Zhūbǎo (珠寶) Chang. Zhūbǎo (珠寶) is a rather common girls’ name meaning “jewels” as in the child is the parents’ precious jewel, which is a lovely sentiment. Or better yet, perhaps Cho could have been Měilì (美麗) Chang. Měilì (美麗) is also a very common girls’ name literally meaning “beautiful” and easily Westernized to “May Lee” or “May Li.” Perhaps those were too common or too ordinary or even boring. However, the main character’s name is “Harry” which was ranked 30th most popular boys’ name in 1994 and had never fallen out of top 50.

So if commonality is not the concern then I can’t help but wonder why Rowling felt compelled to emphasize a Chinese character in such a manner. Names likes Emily Chang, or Sarah Chang, or Olivia Chang seem not to be quite Chinese enough. It certainly seem to be a misguided notion that Chinese characters have-to-have a traditional Chinese name in order to be Chinese enough. It all seems a bit thoughtless. It also leads me to speculate whether Rowling have any Chinese friends or acquaintance or even someone at the Chinese take-out to bounce names off of before going with “Cho.”

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Girls’ Trip Complicated

ORIGINAL CONTENT

Anyone who knows me know three things about me – #1- I love Harry Potter, #2- I have embraced being fun sized, and #3- if I had to declare a role model, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be it.

So when the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland, Ohio announced that there would be a Notorious RBG exhibit, almost immediately I texted M to make a girls’ trip out of it. She secured a lovely Airbnb, our exhibit tickets purchased, and we had a tentative agenda for two-days of food indulgence and good conversations.

However, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but to be burdened with safety concerns. Being of Mongolian-Chinese descent, in the year 2021, I had thought being verbally and physically bullied were just bad memories growing up in Flushing, New York. Never would have I dreamt such concerns would arise again in such ferocity. But sadly, I was wrong.

The previous administration routinely engaged in inflammatory language to rile up their cult following while stroking their own egos and disregarded the consequences. It does not take much for any minority group to be the scapegoated, much less being called out in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. A Korean GOP candidate recently joined in the tirade singling out Chinese immigrants hoping to endear herself to the cult members. She brazenly made incendiary statements followed with a pompous declaration that she was entitled to say such things because she was Korean. However, what she fails to understand, is that it makes no difference if one is Korean or Chinese or Japanese because to some, we are all chinks & gooks and all should go back to China, although many of us has never been.

After serving 11-years in the United States Army, I feel like I have earned the right to feeling safe in my own country. I shouldn’t have to warn my elderly mother to only leave her house if it was on fire. And a perfectly simple girls’ trip shouldn’t be complicated with strategies of how to minimize my Chinese-ness so that I am not targeted.

I use to ponder when I will be American enough. But now I understand it was never about assimilating in order to be American. No. It always has been about how to minimize my foreignness.

Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) I Write for Myself: Just Write

ORIGINAL CONTENT

Stories swirls about my brain like an annoying nag. So many had come to me but I ignorantly denied the compulsion to give them life. ‘I’ll get to it later,’ I’d reassure myself. The words gradually visited less and less often often, forcing to annotate the fleeting sparks of creativity at its’ convenience rather than mine. To my disappointment, I have not made much in the way of progress in finishing my book since obtaining my MA. As a matter of fact, for all my plans of grandeur, I have not even had the motivation to submit the publishable essays to editors to be considered to be published.

My line of thinking was that I didn’t want to piece-meal my best work by publishing them prior to my book being ready. My reservation was that I didn’t want to write new book-worthy essays and have them disqualified to be published because they were previously published on my blog. My fear was that I couldn’t present the perfect, publishable essay in every blog post, hence ruining any chances of book agents, editors, or anyone in the publishing world to see me as a worthy undiscovered author. My strategy was to segregate book-worthy essays, from blog-worthy essays, and to only post the most perfect essay that will go viral & effortlessly lead to being a published author. However, what resulted in all my extravagant planning and strategy was being too overwhelmed to write at all. The very idea of reserving one set of writing for this and other writing for that caused me to forego writing all together.

Until one of my best friends in the world inspired me to do something different. I seem to have an odd talent in making friends with those younger than myself … sometimes by decades. This persistent phenomena perhaps is an attestation to the maturity of all the wonderful brilliant women I call my best friends, or its an attestation to my own lack of maturity … who really knows. Nevertheless, my best friend M is probably the most ambitious person I know. To witness such conscious, proactive, and strategic effort in self-advocacy in a male-dominated industry was awe-inspiring.

So much so that it forced me to re-evaluate my ultimate goal(s) as a writer. Do I need the validation of having a published book in order for me to be a writer? Do I want to write because I feel like I have worthwhile stories to share or do I only write with the aspiration of being published? What is my definition of a successful writer?

That is when the concept of Zìjǐ Xiězuò (自己寫作) (roughly translated to I Write for Myself) came into fruition. At a bare minimum I have to actually write to be any resemblance of a writer. And in order for me to write, I have to let go my personal mandate that being published is the only worthy reason to tell my stories. I cannot continue to create an infinite amount of hoops for myself to jump through in order to start writing. So here I am. Writing. First time in years. Feels rather good.

Much Needed R&R

It had always been a personal life goal to earn a masters degree. As an immigrant who came to the United States knowing only two English sentences, I take particular pride in my accomplishments. I was the first in my family to earn a bachelors and now a masters.

The online masters in Creative Writing was both satisfying and frustrating. In particular, the capstone curriculum seemed to have been polluted with busy work and/or repetitive fruitless exercises which, at times, greatly hindered the reaching of the mandatory 50,000 words goal.

After what seemed like an unusually long two and a half years, I celebrated my achievement with splurging on the framing of my diploma and not writing anything for the next five months.

I had completely burnt out.

I didn’t even turn on my computer except to play an occasional Bejeweled.

It has only been within the last six weeks or so that I didn’t mind sitting down at my keyboard and type. The state of my blog can attest that I had to vacate any and all exercises which remotely resembled homework.

So hello there & welcome to my blog!

Please take a look around & rummage about.