I have an official website

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I have an official website at www.christinehlee.com. Whee.

I’ll be moving my blog there, go forward.

Update: New blog posts are at www.christinehlee.com/blog/.

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Writing Process Blog Tour

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Margaret LaFleur and Vanessa Martir tagged me to be a part of the Writing Process Tour.

I’m supposed to answer four questions about my writing process and then nominate other authors to tag and post to their blogs.

Happy to participate, especially since I’ve not blogged in awhile, and need to pop my head back in here.

So…

1) What are you working on?
My novel. (I’m always working on my novel). And because it’s Summer, the time of year when I always run into writer’s block, I’m giving myself permission to work on short stories. And essays. The essays are the beginning of a memoir, which I have begun writing.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I hope it differs in many ways–with regard to structure, idea, diction, etc. But mostly, I hope I tell stories that haven’t yet been told before.

3) Why do you write what you do?
I didn’t grow up with anyone writing what I needed.

4) How does your writing process work?
With stories and essays–I come up with an idea or image that gives me some passion. Immediately thereafter, I think about how I will structure my essay or story. Once I’ve got the structure down, I am able to complete a draft. Subsequent revisions include investigating craft–like language and also theme and making sure there are several layers to the piece.

With the novel–it’s just write, write, write. And rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I have thrown away two times as many words as I’ve decided to keep.

I nominate all of you to do this!

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This is an Anthem

I am under the spell of Sia’s new song CHANDELIER and its video, featuring Maddie Ziegler.

I’ve been listening to it for hours and for days.

Also viewable on Sia’s blog

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Alphabet a History: L is for Loveliness

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(An excerpt from diary, July 1989)

Loveliness is one letter away from loneliness.

There is something about writing for me that is lovely and lonely all at once. There are so many more things I am able to express and say through writing that I can’t say in real life. Mostly, because I write what I am unable to feel in physical reality.

Maybe it is because while growing up, I did not have a safe space in which to cry and experience sadness. I had loving parents whose definition of love involved teaching me how to survive war-scale tragedy. To that end, crying and sadness were not tolerated.

I needed somewhere for my intense sadness to go, and so I would stay up all night and write letters to my friends. And write in my diary. And because cutting too is a version of writing, I would carve morse code into my wrists. Because emotions. Because writing was my safety. Because writing became my language for desolation. For pain. For sadness. Because I could write all night and drop tears on paper and the paper and the ink never told me to stop weeping and the paper and ink never judged me for what I felt. Because I could cut into myself and release pain. Because all of this could be done in silence. In private.

And because all of this could be done in loneliness–because I could rip up the paper when I was done. I could roll down my sleeves. But the words were out there. I was creating loveliness out of loneliness.

As I write this, I cry. I weep for that girl. If I could go back in time, I would tell her to cry her eyes out for as long as she wanted, that it was okay. To beat against the walls. To scream. I would hold her. And if she wasn’t ready to be held, I would tell her I would be there when she was ready. I would stay through her rage and sadness and I would tell her she didn’t need to be funny or strong or charming all the fucking time. And when she felt elation, I’d tell her to let loose with abandon.

I am still that girl.

When I see my young daughter, reaching her tantrum-tinged toddler years, I hold her. I tell her she can’t always be cheerful, but that I will wait until she calms. And we will figure out what it is she wants, together. I am determined to be her safety in all dimensions.

I have people in my life who do that for me, now. Who hold me. Who show me there is another way to be. For that I am eternally grateful.

Given the above, I smile when people ask me why I write.

I write, I say, because writing saves my life.

Most people don’t realize that I mean that on literal terms.

When I had my stroke, I wrote my way out of it. I have written my way through love. I have written my way out of heartbreak. I have written my way into exploring ambiguity. I have written my way out of censorship. My writing has made me grow up. My writing has given me a bar for which I should reach. My writing has kept my heart open, even if times a crack.

Writing has saved my life, and it continues to save me. It transforms my loneliness into a loveliness. And I hope in turn, it transforms the loneliness of my readers into loveliness, an exquisite beauty.

And in that way, I hope my writing saves your life, too.

Loneliness is one letter away from loveliness.

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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Alphabet a History: N is for Numbers

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The horror of numbers.

I wrote a post entitled N is for NYC–the place where in hindsight, I see my life turned tack and pivoted with dizzying fashion in my most beloved city. I thought my life had capsized, but it had not.

But then the Sewol ferry disaster happened. A capsized ferry. Hundreds of children on a field trip in the cold water. And their parents on the shore, waiting for them to come home. Too many of these parents are taking home bodies.

I am not tuned into every disaster in the world. If I were, I’d die of heartbreak.

But there are certain disasters that pierce my heart. That keep me riveted. Like 9/11, when I could not be torn from the news. Or Hurricane Katrina. Or the earthquake in Haiti. Fukushima. The death of innocents. Combined with injustice. Stir with the injured parts (unknown and known) of my soul and psyche, and you get obsession.

I’ve been following Joseph Kim on twitter, as he reports from the site of the tragedy. For the past week, he has been updating his followers with the numbers of the rescued, missing, and the dead. I haven’t turned on CNN, which is a huge deal and progression with my OCD (usually I’m riveted to television news during such sagas). He stopped reporting body count numbers a couple days ago.

I was relieved. The numbers are clearly going to be high. They are already too high. They are going to rise. The number of missing will likely and eventually match the number of the dead. Rescue workers are weeping as they come out of the water and carry the bodies. The vice principal of the high school, who organized the fateful field trip to Jeju, hung himself from a tree after 11 hours of interrogation by police and then 2 straight days apologizing to grieving parents.

The suicides and suicide attempts will continue to happen. The culture in Korea is one about taking responsibility, and where regret is not an issue taken lightly. And suicide is less shameful than letting other people down. The death toll will rise. The numbers will continue to increase.

The numbers.

12.

Then 15.

Then 20.

Then 50.

Then 100.

Then 108.

Now the autopsies. The parents are opting to do autopsies on their children to see if they died from drowning or hypothermia before putting them into the ground. And in doing so, they are discovering approximate time of death.

One of the victims passed away hours before discovery.

If only, if only–if only the passengers had been evacuated. If only the weather had cooperated. If only they had been found sooner. If only the captain had been at the wheel. If only the crew (with the exception of Park Jee Young, who died trying to save as many lives as possible) had done their jobs and stayed with the ship. If only there had been adequate safety precautions and training.

Hours. Numbers. Minutes. Days. Numbers.

I myself am doing a fair amount of waiting these days–waiting for the words to come to my novel. Waiting for the Muse. Waiting for paperwork. Waiting for resolution. But my waiting is nowhere near the perpetual misery of the parents.

And nowhere the hell of the students who struggle/d to stay alive in that sinking ferry waiting to be saved.

Help comes, but sometimes it is too late.

That is the hell of asking for help. Of being vulnerable in the world. Of waiting at other people’s mercy and power.

Numbers. Days. Hours. Minutes. Numbers. Waiting.

As time ticks down, the numbers of the dead increase.

AND DAMMIT: I already did N. I did not have my coffee before I wrote this. Remind me that I need to write “L” next. I guess I really like the letter “N.”

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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Windows

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On Windows in my life…

1.
My childhood bedroom window used to have no sheers, just a patterned blue cotton fabric that my parents urged me to close in the nighttime. The walls of my bedroom were blue. A few years later, my parents asked what color curtains I wanted. Because I liked yellow, I asked for yellow curtains.

Did I mentioned I had light blue walls?

Blue + yellow = green. For ten years, I swam in swamp green. A decision made when I was eight years old colored my teenage years.

With the yellow curtains came sheers. My dad still told me to shut my curtains in the nighttime. My silhouette could be seen he said. I never wanted to shut them. I didn’t want my room to be green. And if I could not see out, who could see me inside?

2.
“In California, people really don’t like curtains,” said our interior decorator. She was excited to have clients who wanted curtains. My husband and I, both born outside of the state, wanted curtains with swags and jabots, borne of fabric so thick that light would not be able to penetrate. I wanted to shut the light out, and he wanted a luxe treatment. With every flourish and fabric we chose, her face beamed.

When she gave us her proposed drawings, we were filled with glee.

The lace curtains from Sears, circa 1950 from previous homeowners, came down. The upholstery-thick fabric went up in our south-facing bedroom.

I slept until noon for the first time in years.

3.
“Or you could just not care and not get shades,” said the shade vendor, who was fidgeting with my sink faucet, which had nothing to do with windows, so why was he touching it? “Sometimes, these young girls, they just hang out in their windows, like they want you to look at them.”

Ew.

“The people across the Bowery from you–they had to get curtains once this building went up.”

I wanted to usher him out the door. He’d already given me a price on the sunshades that bore the inclination to do so, and now I could smell the sweat on him in the new apartment festooned with half emptied UHaul boxes, a handle of a saucepan sticking out of one, and sheets pouring out of another.

I had been waking up at the break of dawn since we moved in.

“Get eyeshades said my friend,” and so I began to sleep beyond dawn, and until the sunlight moved across the room until I could feel the heat on my body.

At night, the tenants in the building across the street stare. I got binoculars. And stare back.

I put up California king flat sheets.

4.
It’s been 2 months since we moved in, since we got the exorbitant quote for shades. The sun comes up earlier now, and I awake briefly to fumble for my eyeshades. After several eyeshades, I have come across a pair that I like.

The binoculars are put away. I saw a naked woman in the hotel down the street, applying lotion for what seemed like an eternity. I told myself to not apply lotion in front of my open windows in the nighttime.

5.
I’m back in Berkeley now. In NYC, we ended up getting cheap curtains from Bed Bath & Beyond–blackout shades and cloth curtains. Totally utiltarian and functional. I slept. I am back in the house with the French upholstery fabric curtains. I am back walled off from the world.

And yet I cannot sleep in. Because I’ve a toddler who screams awake each morning.

I love her, but I cannot sleep.

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Subculture Subconscious

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This is a draft of a post from July 15, 2013…back in the deep throes of my postpartum depression and new motherhood. It’s unfinished. I didn’t post it, because what was there to say? What point was there to make? That this new life was difficult? That I was dying? But I want to post it now.

It’s not like this anymore, but I wanted to put this up, because it’s like this for a lot of people. And if I’m honest, I still have moments that remind me of these:

 

Motherhood.

I literally felt like I was slowly dying. Like when people asked me how I was doing (“How are you?”), I would answer, “I am slowly dying.”

For the record, responding with “I am slowly dying” is a conversation-killer. There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.”

There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What do you mean?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.”

There’s not much you can say to that. Except, “What’s wrong?”

To which I would reply, “I am slowly dying.” Because I felt like the life force was draining out of me. Because I’d gone well under pre-pregnancy weight and now I was balding and I couldn’t remember anything anymore and all I wanted to do was sleep but sleep was the last thing I could do, because I had to take care of my kid-who-kicks-me-in-the-head-all-night. No matter what I ate, I’d keep losing weight. I figured out how to make fast-as-hell meals. I ate cheese cake. I ate ice cream. And yes, there were days I had zero time to eat at all.

My kid, otoh, has been Happy As a CLAM. (Why do they say that? Is it because clams look like they’re smiling?). She giggles and coos and smiles. She is thriving. She’s enormous–in the 97th percentile in height and weight. I could see my weight transfer to her body, my hair loss translate into her hair growth. I loved her to death. Literally.

Because in a sense, I am dying. I’m saying goodbye to my old life and building a new one. I am re-examining my life, my own childhood, in this little girl. I’m revisiting my childhood bliss and pain. What hurt me? How can I not hurt her?

When Serena becomes Catwoman, she dies. Peter Parker gets bit by a spider and gets ill, and becomes Spiderman.

Add on top of that–the psychic mirroring a child creates. It brings up all this past trauma–and if not trauma, emotions. Re-examining my own childhood. Re-examining my parents and my own parenting. That plus the sleep deprivation brings everything to a Whole Nuther Level Of Crazy.

But here’s the thing–a few things are saving my life these days.

My friends. In particular, this tribe of parents. In particular, the tribe of moms and stay-at-home-dads.

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