Category Archives: Favorites

My honest writer bio

please don't eat us.  we're not REALLY hot dogs.

After reading Ellen Potter’s amusing post entitled, “The Big Fat Lie of the Author Bio,” my enterprising friend Nova wrote “a more honest author bio,” and challenged other writers to do the same.

Aha! A challenge! I shall take thee up on your (thy? dammit. I suck at Old English? Middle English?) quest! Um.

My official bio, up at on my About page, reads:

My work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as ZYZZYVA, Verbsap, and Yomimono. An adjunct instructor at a local college, I received an Ardella Mills Fiction Prize from Mills College in 2005, placed as a finalist in Poets and Writers Magazine’s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmertrain’s Fiction Open in 2009.

I earned my undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and my MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. I am the Fiction Editor at Kartika Review and, in addition to writing short stories, I have a novel in progress.

It’s so sanitized. So professional sounding.

My more honest bio (written spontaneously, because honesty comes without premeditation) would read:

Christine works at a dining room table surrounded by piles of teaching materials and student papers that need constant grading and she writes with a needy geriatric wiener dog who smells like corn chip Fritos on her lap and another needy wiener dog with feral survival tendencies who is up to no good somewhere in the kitchen. She dotes on her husband who dotes on her and together they get through her sporadic writing self esteem troughs that sometimes attack daily and sometimes leave her alone for weeks. She should be running and exercising, but instead she is baking cookies and eating them. By herself. In front of her laptop. Trying to revise her novel. She is very pale.

What is your honest author/writer bio?

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Articulating Pain: Expectations on Expecting

bellflowers

There’s an iPhone4 advert series that shows various people talking to each other thru FaceTime, an iPhone app that allows videoconferencing between phones. In one of the adverts (youtube link here), a woman calls a man, with a facial expression that I can only describe as Infinite Glee and Joy and Smugness; she begins by saying, “Hey do you got a minute? Are you alone?”

The glee on her face betrayed the understatement. F*ck you, I thought. I saw it coming right then.

“Well, you know that THING we’ve been working on for awhile now?” she continued. Ohgawd. Here it comes.

The man replies, “No way.” Yah, me too. I flipped off the television screen.

The bird didn’t stop the inevitable. She continued (because she’s an advertisement on television, not a real person), “Mmmhrmmm–You’re gonna be a dad!” I knew it. Argh.

I.hate.that.iPhone4 advertisement. It smacks of all that frustrates me about societal expectations of women and couples without children. That conversation, that situation (of being “with child”) is supposed to be the symbol of The Greatest Joy.

This advertisement bothered me. I went ahead and tweeted, “I just flipped off the iPhone 4 commercial where the woman tells her husband via phone video, ‘You’re gonna be a dad.'” And found that I was not alone in my frustration. Really not alone.

And then this morning I read Eve’s amaaaazing post on the Empty Womb and Self Actualization (there’s an actual psychological pyramid of needs by Kenrick that puts parenting at the top, thereby equating parenting with self actualizationg! zomg). In her post, she details the psychological aspects of the issue and offers a few suggestions, one being that parents share the downs as well as the ups of parenthood to the world and do the justice of offering a balanced portrait (instead of smugness). Her post explained my frustration and anger with the iPhone 4 advertisement. And it helped me articulate some of my personal thoughts on societal messages about Parenthood as Ultimate Joy and Self Actualization.

When I was studying with an Orthodox rabbi for conversion to Judaism, I learned many things. For example, I learned the laws of kashrut, the debates within kashrut, I read the Kuzari and learned history and learned to ask questions (being Asian, one of the greatest hurdles to my learning process was that I initially found it very very difficult to question an authority figure or an overriding law, which is precisely the method of learning a rabbi embraces). I studied for five years. I learned things with which I had conflict, like the Orthodox Jewish stance with homosexuality (which officially is not in support of homosexuality in case you needed that stated).

And I read a line in a book by a female author describing Jewish life that sticks with me to this day: “A childless couple in the community is pitied.” I had never seen it spelled out like that before. It stung even then, before I knew I would spend over 10 years trying to conceive without success.

It stung because it is true. A childless couple, or childless person, is pitied.

Pitied. Not accepted. Not extolled. Not empathized. Not sympathized. Pitied. To see as lesser, to feel sorry for.

As in, missing out on The Greatest Joy.

And I am reminded of this constantly. From a guest at a wedding sitting to my right, who inevitably asks, “Do you have children?” To which I answer No. To which he replies “Why not? You really should have children. They are great. You should have children.” To which I decide to reply Because I can’t have children. Thank you. (I have many responses; this is one I save for the truly obnoxious because it is a conversation killer). To which he continues, “You should try IVF, have you heard of IVF?” To which I *want* to reply What is IVF? I have never heard of IVF! But instead I reply It doesn’t always work. To which he responds “Yes it does! C’mon, you can’t tell me it fails! Everyone I know who’s had it done, conceived!” To which I want to reply are you really that f*cking stupid but instead say No, it only works a percentage of the time. You should look into your facts…and on and on and on. I can only summarize the conversation as a painful exchange, one that begins with the man extolling The Greatest Joy, urging membership, and then insisting on ways to join, all the while showing utter ignorance.

Someone who is a part of my daily life came up to me not too long ago and said with utter sincerity (and joy), “You don’t really finish growing up until you have a child.” He knows I have been trying to have a child for years and years. I was silent. I wasn’t sure that was true. But I didn’t have a rebuttal until months and months later when a friend of mine told me, “You should have told him you don’t really finish growing up until you’ve had a stroke at the age of 33!” That’s an awesome line from an awesome friend. A little too late. But it gave me a good laugh and helped me imagine a different end to that exchange.

I have had to hide the status updates of so many of my friends on Facebook, because of what I call “smug Mommy updates.” It makes me feel I am lesser, even if they don’t feel they’re consciously doing so. There are mommy friends I haven’t hid, and those are the friends whose updates are more balanced: not only are their kids cherubic at times, their kids also slip out of their diapers in the middle of the night, roll around in their doody and smear doody on the walls. Their kids are beautiful and they have videos of kids singing…and their kids also have rockin’ tantrums. This is real, this is beautiful, this does not make me feel lesser, and does not fill me with heartbreak.

Even an article in nymag entitled “All Joy No Fun; Why Parents Hate Parenting”, one that portrays parenthood as being absent of fun and enjoyment…ultimately defends parenthood as a bastion of Joy.

At times I am bitter, but most of the time, I am not bitter. I am happy. I am a joyful person who happens to not have a child, and who wants a child (one! I just want one!). My infertility brings me pain; as far as I know, pain can coincide with happiness and joy. I am happy for my friends with children or who are pregnant, even if sometimes I can’t stop crying while saying I am happy for them. Sometimes I wonder if my grief stems from societal expectations and pressure as much as it comes from within me. My grief probably is complicated by these societal messages and this feeling of exclusion as much as it stems from a real desire for a child.

An addendum: After I wrote this post, I kept thinking about all the myths out there and how they are furthered by the stupidity of people like…screenwriters. There is nothing that has infuriated me further than the Sex and the City movie (the first one) where Charlotte is suddenly pregnant after having adopted her first child, Lily. The screenwriters even had the gall to have her character squeal, “I’m pregnant. I guess if you relax and adopt like they say, you will finally get pregnant on your own!” That they turned her character and her infertility from something meaningful (her conversion to Judaism in the TV series, although a bit speedy/easy, was something that rang a little true…and her struggles with infertility even truer) to something that was an insulting cliché disappointed me. That people turn to me and say stuff like, “If you stop trying, you’ll get pregnant/Why don’t you adopt?/I know someone (probably Charlotte) who adopted and then got pregnant,” is just so sad. And after a little bit of googling, I’ve found I’m not the only person who thinks/feels this way.

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Low-stakes writing

Squirmy Scarlet the Wiener Dog

A Famous Writer once chided me about blogging a few years back. She told me that her Extremely Famous Writer husband and she decided to stop blogging, so that they could save their words for their novels (said Famous Writer now tweets and facebooks like no tomorrow, though, so go figure). Blogs, she said, were a waste of words. Hrm.

I’m not stopping the blogging (and private journal writing), because it affords me a “low-stakes” place to communicate with the world via writing. As a teacher, I’ve learned that it’s important to provide my students with an opportunity for “low-stakes” writing assignments; a venue for writing that might provide challenge but is worth very few points, a venue for writing that gives my students permission to take chances and risks with their writing without being paralyzed with pressure or fear of consequences for said risks. Or just to get their ideas down on paper as they come, as is the case with my blog.

I realize that I’ve made many things in my life unnecessarily “high-stakes”; thus, my joy in writing and engaging has been diminished. Time to remedy that. Time to explore, without fear of consequence, and time to explore without wondering if it’s “the right thing” or “perfect” the first time around. While revision wills me to confront my errors and shortcomings (of which there are many–so many, that I wilt in front of my own writing these days), and is very uncomfortable at times, it’s still a low-stakes game, not the high-stakes I’d hyped it up to be.

I can make mistakes. It’s a rough draft. And after this set of revisions, it will still be a rough draft. And after another set of revisions, it will again still be a rough draft. It’s low-stakes. Time to explore.

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This is a really long story about my relationship with my body

finger puppets

I have had a really bad relationship with my body. A *really* bad relationship with my body. At the horrible risk of offending the quadriplegic community, I will say that for most of my life, I have been a psychological quadriplegic; my psyche was disconnected from my body. I did not include my body in my decisions, life, goals, etc. My body had let me down so often, that my entire life was in my head; my life was invested in academics, in reading, in writing, in conversation.

Everything, I thought, was mind over matter. Exercise was painful. Mind over matter. Backpacking, one of my favorite hobbies, was still painful. Mind over matter. My body brought me no joy. Pushing my body through the journey was a means to an end, dictated by my mind. Get to the top of the mountain and digest the view! F*ck the vomiting and the pain. Get through it. My body brought me no joy.

My body was the cause of psychic pain: in grade school, a very ungifted child at any form of athletics (except hula-hooping, and I’ll get to that later), I was always picked last. When you get picked last time after time, you learn to divorce yourself from the source of that pain, and that pain was my body. There are students who fail in school, and after awhile, they remove any self esteem from academic success.

I learned, strategically, to position myself as the CAPTAIN of teams in grade school. Guess what: I was a wizard at strategizing so that I picked the strongest teams. The “Dangerous Dandelions” won every single soccer game during lunch hour. I positioned myself as a fullback and prayed the ball would never come my way. It never did. Everyone on my team knew better than to let the ball get to me. I was proud of them for being so wise.

I was good at hula-hooping. But that was because my dad thought that hula hooping would chisel away at my belly fat. I could hula-hoop for an hour straight. I was a wizard at hula-hooping. Still, it had been a painful road; I had to hula-hoop in front of my dad who made me hula-hoop for an hour on end.

When I told a friend in my mid-20s that I didn’t work out because it was so painful and difficult, he gave me a response that was straightforward and true. He said, “Christine, if it were easy to be fit, everyone would be fit.” Oh. I realized that it wasn’t supposed to be easy. But–still, why was it so difficult for me? Why did I pass out during workouts? Why did running leave me dizzy and gasping for air, and often, throwing up by the side of a road or by the side of a treadmill?

My body was a source of pain in so many ways; I wasn’t allowed to date in high school. I was taught to cover my body up. I was told my body looked horrible in a bikini, not because it looked horrible, but because, in hindsight, I realize it was a way to prevent me from wearing a bikini. But the message came through, all the same.

When I got to college, and experienced the first amorous pair of male hands on my body, I stiffened. I divorced myself from my body in a way that I’d divorced my body before hundreds of times. My body was no longer there. And because I went numb, I let the boy go too far; I’d never been kissed before, but there I was, being kissed. His tongue was cold and probing and I wasn’t there. So I didn’t stop him. It wasn’t until my roommate walked in, saying, “Oops!” that I was able to snap out of my stupor and tell the guy, “I just want to go to sleep.” He was confused. And he was angry later, when I told a mutual friend that his advances were unwanted.

Future amorous encounters were just as uncomfortable. Had I been abused? No. I just couldn’t STAND my body. The next time a boy touched me, it tickled. It.tickled. I couldn’t stop laughing. It.tickled!!! I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t get relaxed. I had to drink to be touched. My friends heard me recount my dependence on alcohol to be touched and they became concerned. But it was what I had to do to divorce myself from my shame around my body.

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Happy Bittersweet Complicated Mother’s Day

mom and me circa 2007

Mother’s Day is bittersweet in our household, because motherhood is complicated, and motherhood is different people and histories and situations now.

I love my mother, who has had my back my entire life. I know she will always take my call and all I have to say is “I need you” for her to drop whatever she’s doing to come to my side. She is the model of unconditional love.

She provides me lots of amusement, too. Her phone calls to me resemble that of Margaret Cho’s mother. When I imitate Margaret Cho’s comedic routines about her mother’s voicemails (*booooop!* Mahgalet! Theeej eeej your Mommy. I jus wanna call yooo to tell yoooo dat Grlampa and Grlamma, they gonnna die! Uh–not today, but someday! So don’t be suhprlised! (pause) Also. Don’t tell dem! That’s not niiice, that’s not nice! Ok. Bye! *boop!*), my mom rolls over laughing. Because that is the kind of shit she tells me.

I miss my mother-in-law, who was killed suddenly only a few years ago. I don’t think any of us have gotten over her death; we all miss her. That’s all I will say in a public forum, but know that my grief goes miles.

I am happy for all my mama-friends who have lovely children. My mama-friends work hard and have deep compassion for their children, and I am glad there is a day of recognition for them. (May your children cook you a better meal today than I did for my mother on Mother’s Day while growing up; once, I cooked her split pea soup, a very very crunchy split pea soup, because I didn’t know you had to cook the split peas down until they were soft (the good cook in me now cringes at how I merely boiled the water, merely blanched the vegetables and split peas and said with great pride, “eat my soup, I made it for YOU, Mom!”)…Guess what? She ate it ALL, as I asked her, “Don’t you LIKE it? Why aren’t you smiling while you eat it?”)

And–I am sad because there are women who cannot enter this sometimes smug bastion of motherhood. And it’s my mom who I turn to for comfort when the pain feels especially daunting (think of that scene in “Julie & Julia” when Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs reads a letter from her sister announcing a pregnancy and says “I’m so happy for them! I’m so happy!” and breaks down in tears, clearly in grief for her own childless state). I’ve been trying to have a child longer (eleven years and counting) than I’ve been writing this novel of mine. Both bringing me agony this week.

When I call my mom and communicate this pain, she says without irony, “Unh–don’t worry, Christine. Being mommy is hard! Take up all your time! When you have baby, your life ends! You don’t need to have baby, so hard and waste of time. Notice I don’t push you to have baby? Because I want you to live your life.” Bwahahahaaa.

Once I asked her, “Do you regret having me?” To which she responded, “No of course not! You and R****** are best things to me!” with the same exact sincerity she used to reassure me to not have a child.

There are other hilarious phone calls, too–I once called her from Hangzhou, China, abandoned by my paid-by-the-hour driver who insisted a certain sight took an hour to see (it took 15 minutes) and who drove off promising to return in an hour. Bored, and unable to call my husband who was in a business meeting in a hotel room in Hangzhou that day, I called her while sitting on a bench by a lily pond, and the phone call went like this:

Me: Mom! It’s me! I’m in China!
Mom: Oh! Where are you?!
Me: I’m.in.Chi.na! I bought some tea today!
Mom: Unh! You bought tea? Christine–don’t drink it!
Me: What? It’s the best tea!
Mom: No, don’t drink it! Pesticides! Give it to your friends as presents instead!

Then there was the time she came home from work and offered me one of her kazillion pieces of advice, always packaged in some random out of the blue but very practical manner–and in hindsight, I now realize it must have been an extra brutal day as an intensive care unit nurse. Before dinner she leaned over and said to me, “Christine, never get tattoo on face. You know, when you die, if you have eyebrow and eyeliner and lipliner tattoo, it doesn’t look good at all. My patient today was so pale and blue. And then tattoo makes worse!” Got it.

Another phone call went like this (we were caravaning to Yosemite, and lost each other–but when she got to the Valley, she called my cell):
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: Mom! Where did you guys go? We looked back and you weren’t there anymore!
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: We’re by the general store, come meet us here, Mom
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: We’re by the general store, come over here.
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: You want us to meet you by the Lodge?
Mom: Okay! See you!

Happy Mother’s Day. To those of you missing your mothers, I give you a big hug. To those of you who have lost children, I give you a big hug. To those of you struggling to have children, I give you a big hug. And to those of you whose mothers are still living and in your life, I hope you give your mother a big hug today.

Update: Here’s a writer after my own heart! Anne Lamott writes, Why I Hate Mother’s Day.

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phase 1: done

completed first draft of novel

Yesterday was a good day. In the morning, I wrote a couple thousand words, and then in the afternoon, I went snowshoeing in some of the most beautiful landscapes out there: the Sierra Nevadas, dusted with at least a foot of fresh dry powder snow.

Today, I finished the first draft of my novel manuscript. It is the weirdest, yet most satisfying feeling, ever. Bizarre in that I can’t believe I’m done with the draft after four years of stop and start and stop (and stroke) and stop (and recovery) and in 2009, start and finish for good. And for dramatic measure, today is the third anniversary of my stroke, one that left me with a damaged short term memory and thus unable to write fiction for a year. When I fully recovered in late 2008, I vowed I would finish this novel, and…I did.

I’m telling you–this is a surreal feeling, I just can’t believe I’m done with the draft. I had to tear myself away from the computer when I realized, “Uh, um. I think I’m done. If I keep writing, uh, I think I’d technically be revising.”

Also, in the span of time it took me to start and finish this draft, so many things have happened in the world–we’re talking wars begun (but not ended), our first African American president elected, the biggest economic recession/depression of our lifetime, etc.) Some of my friends have given birth twice in that time span, gotten married, bought houses.

But phase 1 (complete first rough draft of the novel): done.

Now, a week off from writing the novel. And then: revisions. Yes, plural.

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