Category Archives: The World

Alphabet a History: N is for Numbers


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.


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.


Filed under Alphabet: A History, Life, Memes, The World

Sleep No More: Novel Writing

Sleep No More

Sleep No More, as described by The New York Times, is “‘Macbeth’ in a hotel,” because it’s kind of a play kind of performance art kind of voyeurism kind of spectator sport but not really any of the above. Which is why the NY Times calls it “‘Macbeth’ in a hotel”–the vaguest of monikers.

And yes, it has a little to do with Macbeth. But not really. Kind of.

The hotel in question is called “The McKittrick Hotel” built out of the ruins of three abandoned Chelsea warehouses (it’s not really a hotel, and never was a hotel, so again, kind of but not really).

Sleep No More is fiction down to the studs in which the audience spectators roam without agenda or direction. In which spectators are as much the performance as the actors; at one point, I looked around the room and wondered if the actors saw us in the same way we saw them, as we stood in masks that hid facial expressions.That they were our mirrors as we were unto them.

For the first hour, I roamed confused and alone and dismayed and frustrated and frightened, fighting every impulse to tear off my mask and leave. I didn’t really “get it” and felt very lost, just as one might feel when invited to a large, sprawling, ghostly, hotel all alone. But not really alone. Because you’re surrounded by other ghostly masks.

But then–a character rushed by, followed by a handful of white-masked spectators. I followed. Her hands bloodied, she attempt to wash them; ah, Lady MacBeth.

It was then I had a character to which I could be devoted. To follow. To be my proxy for the landscape. My curiosity intensified, and my fear receded. I followed the character through all manner of darkness to the end. A character can be a very effective tour guide.

My Sleep No More experience was not very different from my creative process. I understand that everyone’s experience is unique and based on the solitary–the performance is designed to that end, the masks making it so that people have a hard time reuniting within the space, the darkness making it so people cannot see each other. Together, but alone. Kind of.

Sleep No More:
I’m led through a winding tunnel void of light–some people feel their way through–and in my case, I yelped and a member of SNM’s staff walked me through, my hand on his elbow. Thinking I was going to DIE. Thinking no one told me about this darkness. Thinking what had I gotten myself into. Thinking hell no. Thinking I had to do this.

Darkness, (not so) coincidentally is a state that I associate with my creative process, and the source of my inspiration. It is discombobulating. It’s frightening. Terrifying. Like falling. Like dying.

Continue reading


Filed under New York City, The World, Writing

Land’s End Great Gatsby Mansion: Last Moments

A Sands Point Gold Coast mansion known as Land’s End is being demolished this week. The house is also known as the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s mansion in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Fitzgerald lived for a time in Great Neck, across the water from Sands Point. I imagine he sat, with pen in hand, seeking inspiration and staring across the Long Island Sound, at the houses along the water with their carefree parties…just as Jay Gatsby stared across the Sound from the same vantage point and reached out his arms to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

Long Island Sound

I once spent an afternoon with a photographer who told me he went up to the Sierras to photograph Autumn foliage, but he got there too late after a storm–the leaves had fallen. So he photographed the forest floor, which was lit up with the confetti of golden Aspen leaves.

Today, I woke up in pain with a locked neck, but knowing the mansion was going down any minute, the demolition having started a few days ago on Saturday, we raced out to Sands Point, meandering the roads, passing numerous residents walking dogs in the mid-day fog, until we found the estate. My husband is a genius at locating obscure destinations.

We told ourselves that even if razed to the ground, it would mean something to stand on the site. What remained were two very large chimneys, and a small vertical section of the house, also containing two chimneys, still standing.

To see this, the last remaining day of a grand house of privilege that inspired an even grander idea, was privilege.

It was awe inspiring. Ghastly. A ghost.

It was not gone yet.

Land's End: gate unlocked

The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time, and has been for 20+ years, for myriad reasons. For language. For structure. For its innovation. For its portrayal of the American Dream. For Gatsby. Because I am a child of immigrants who believe in the Dream. For my love of the 20s. For my childhood in the 80s, paralleling the 20s. For desire.

The object of Jay Gatsby’s desire was Daisy Buchanan, who resided in the house with the green light at its dock. This place with the pool at the edge of the land, and a lawn that runs all the way to the pewter water. It was Fitzgerald’s desire, too.

Land's End: gate

I like to follow rules. I am such a rule follower that when someone tells me to “chill out,” I tell myself, “The rules are there are no rules.”

My husband has been convincing me to break a few rules here and there. For the last two weeks, he has been regaling me with tales of trespassing.

We didn’t know I’d trespass today.

I broke a rule for these pictures–the gate was unlocked, and I walked past the no trespassing signs. I walked no farther than halfway to the house, way short of the detritus and the one or two lonely and steadfast workers dismantling the structure.

I once held a cat, a victim of a car accident, and watched it die in my arms. Its amber eyes lost a depth to them when the cat died, the color turning into straw.

The ghost of the house remains–I can still see the outline of its great shadow, and its footprint underneath the rubble, void of valuables and brick, long auctioned off before destruction. It was huge and looming.

Inspiration cannot be dismantled.

More links on the Great Gatsby mansion:


Filed under Life, New York City, The Personal, The World, Travel, Writing

No words

Rinno Ji in Nikko

As for the Japanese earthquake + tsunami…I haven’t written up a post, because I have no words. I am overwhelmed by the images and the stories coming out of Japan, from stories about the survival of one baby, to the many many deaths and news reports highlighting shocked and weeping parents searching for children and people searching the debris for loved ones, to stories about cats and dogs being found alive, to the news about pending nuclear reactor disaster, to stories about the small core group of nuclear reactor engineers (heroes) staying behind to work on the reactors, to footage of the first minutes of the tsunami, to stories about little towns that are no more, to the many many personal stories that touch my quivering, heavy heart.

I have no words. And you can pray, but I’m sorry, prayers can only do so much, because if you believe in G*d, he’s already sent an earthquake and a tsunami, and now it’s up to humans to pick up the pieces. So send money, if you can. Because right now, that’s better than any blog post. And because in this situation, prayer helps yourself more than those in need.


Filed under The World

Anti-Asian Racist Video

If you’re on my FB and/or follow me on twitter, you’ve seen my updates on the anti-Asian racist video by Alexandra Wallace. For a second, you just wish this were fake and unreal–but it is sadly for real. She really is a student at UCLA…who at one point in the video does a rendition of “Ching-Chong-ese” that outdoes Rush Limbaugh’s version.

I have too many stories that include people like her, in my life. I am angry and hurt by her actions and words–but I am not going to retaliate by calling her names. I do hope she gets disciplined, and is mandated to attend diversity appreciation classes. And in my dreams, I hope she is sent to Japan to help the tsunami + earthquake survivors that she demeans in her video. (If Gilbert Gottfried’s contract with Aflac is rescinded because of his untimely jokes about Japan’s tragic natural disaster, I don’t see why she should go unpunished).

I hear that an Asian gang has a hit on her–but that’s not cool, people. No need to go there. I see lots of people backing her up, and saying she is right–and that just makes me very very sad. Why do THEY have to go there?

Her words are the kind of thing I heard everyday while growing up, 25+ years ago. Back then, we just bore it in silence, or did our best while standing alone. Now, I’m inspired to see an entire community stand together and push back…and to see that community being comprised of not only Asian Americans, but all of our friends. We have more power as a community than we have ever had, and I am so so proud of how far we have come.

And here are some sites that can provide you with better updates:

  • The LA Weekly Blog has updated news on the situation. Last night, Wallace issued a curt apology. Not enough of an apology. Not enough.
  • The Daily Bruin is reporting on this as well. The article includes quotes from administration that disapprove of her behavior. Even if she’s invoking her First Amendment rights, they are disgusted that she is using them to proliferate hate.
  • New Yorker in Seoul has a blog post up, one that includes the Asian Pacific Coalition at UCLA’s articulate letter responding to the matter. They advise the following:

    1) Email Chancellor Gene Block (chancellor AT ucla DOT edu) and Assistant Vice Chancellor Robert J. Naples (rnaples AT saonet DOT ucla DOT edu) to report this matter as a violation of Student Conduct.

    2) Post a message on Chancellor Block’s Facebook page expressing your concern:

  • On March 18, Alexandra Wallace posted an apology and announced that she will be dropping out of UCLA. Was this of her own volition (“there are toooo many Asians heeeere!”) or did the administration “encourage” her to withdraw? (UCLA is taking no action against her). Either way, I am sad that she received death threats–I had hoped this was a learning opportunity for her, and I hope it still is.


Filed under Life, The World

Literary Auction to Benefit Team Jender

spectrum in the sand

We are holding an auction on eBay to benefit the leader of Team Jender, otherwise known as Jennifer Derilo, who is currently kicking Hodgkin’s Lymphoma’s arse (does Hodgkin’s even have a butt? Well, we’re kicking its fictitious butt, then).

The community around Jennifer (aka “Team Jender”) includes some amazing writers who have, out of generosity and a recognition of her fight, offered up some unique items. These items include manuscript critiques and signed books and signed galleys and artist books, all of which are listed below at the bottom of this post. Even if you don’t know Jennifer, the items are of incredible value!

As of September 9, 2010, we have more amazing auction items up for bidding! They are listed as follows:

(manuscript pages are to be double spaced, 12 point font, with 1 inch margins).

I do want to take a bit of space here as to the beneficiary of this auction…(the LA Times Book Blog featured our auction and cause the other day):

Remember your 20something and 30something years? (And if you’re in your 20s and 30s, think about all that you’re up to right now, about all your hopes and the freedoms you have).

Now think about having Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is a name for cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system, which means something very important in your body. Think about how scared you might be, how you would have to brace yourself for the arduous fight for your life. Think about what kind of strength you would need to fight for your health, something you’d taken for granted uptil then, something that 30somethings aren’t supposed to normally confront.

And now think about having to wage this war without medical insurance coverage. Think about not having any savings to fall back on. Think about kicking off your early 30s with a massive debt.

My friend Jennifer Derilo is in such a situation.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, and find her name familiar, it’s because she contributed to the Literary Blog Relay here, writing about her battle with Hodgkin’s. She is a talented writer, one we need to save and help.

I know you might be busy, that you might not have the funds…but I am hoping we can collectively help defray some of her medical costs. I am hoping you will still say yes, you can help.

Please check out the eBay auction! And please spread the word about this auction.

If you would like to make a direct donation via paypal, the fundraising account (aka Jennifer’s account) there is teamjender AT gmail DOT com.

If you need to EMAIL us, please do NOT use that account, as that account was created purely for paypal account purposes and is not checked regularly. Leave a comment here instead. 🙂



Filed under Helpful, Life, Literary Auction, The Personal, The World

Rejection: Man, Woman

plum blossoms

I got a rejection letter in the mail today. The rejection letter was from/for a fellowship that was by all definitions a longshot for me (add in the current economy, and make that longshot a pipe dream, given the influx of applicants for such things now). I didn’t think I would get the fellowship, but I still put myself out there, and I still dared to hope and desire.

I sensed a rejection before I even tore the envelope open; it was an anorexic envelope that included one sheet of paper, a sheet that was filled with three typed sentences that took up only a little more space than the fellowship’s letterhead logo:

Ms. Zilka:

I am sorry to inform you that your application for a 2010-11 ***** Fellowship was not selected by the review committee. The committee is able to award only two fellowships this time, and it received over 140 applications, so please forgive the impersonality of this letter. We do sincerely wish you well with your writing plans, and we wish we had more fellowships to award.

I swallowed a sigh and walked into the house, the mail cradled in my left arm and my iPod in my right hand. I peeled the mail off my arm (I was sticky with sweat from a workout that entailed going up and down hundreds of stairs) and set it down.

Then, I sat myself down. I had been hurt worse from rejections before; I had sort of expected this, but I really am just sick of being hurt by rejections. I thought of all my friends who seemed to handle rejection better than I did, and thought of what they tend to say: “They suck, they don’t know what they’re missing! I guess I didn’t fit their mold, I’m too unique. They only pick one type of writing, my writing’s too radical. Wow, they suck because they don’t know how great I am.”

The voices were all male. Because these were things said by all my male writer friends. Hrm. Coincidence, I thought. Mostly, I was sad about how I couldn’t pick myself up. I was sad that I couldn’t find a way to boost my own ego, and that I would allow myself to go to emotional hell and back, each and every time I faced an emotional hurdle.

Because I couldn’t find a way to affirm myself, I went to my Facebook page and wrote a status update that read,

“Instead of running out & eating a donut for consolation/therapy, I’m going to do what a friend of mine did & ask to hear nice things from my friends here on my FB wall, instead. (please let there not be zero nice things).”

Within an hour, ten friends leapt to my rescue and wrote beautiful things in the comments. They were things I should say to myself, but somehow never do (what I tend to do is criticize myself into oblivion–and on most days I tell myself, “Keep going anyway”). I was so overwhelmed by the thoughtful generosity and kindness of my friends that I decided to compliment them in return. The thread has turned into a lovefest, one that reminds me of the importance of friendship (I vowed a few years ago that I would have GREAT female friendships in my life).  If you’re not the mushy kind, you may barf now–but even you may be touched by what my friends wrote on my wall.

My friends prevented me from going into a tailspin, one with which I am very wearily familiar. Thank you to all of them.

Coincidence or not, none of those first ten responding friends were men (as of this writing two hours after posting a request for “nice things about me” only one male friend has posted–and he is an especially empathetic soul from my college days). And p.s. I have a ton of male friends on Facebook.  Dudes, I do not fault you–because I am wondering if there is just a different venue of support when it comes to ego-boosting here, when it comes to the genders.

I can’t help but bring up the patterns–they are too obvious to ignore: the pattern that (most, but not all) men know to boost their own egos and the pattern that (most but not all) women don’t take rejection well.  Also, there’s the pattern that women can express their support and ask for support, perhaps, in a way that men don’t/can’t.  I wonder if women get their ego boost from external sources, like I just did.

I wonder if boys/men get rejected over and over from an early age in ways that girls/women do not. I can think of one example, dating, in which men are expected to initiate the request way more than women. I remember that in college, whenever I would ask a guy to go out on a date with me, the answer would inevitably be yes. When I asked why it was that I always got “yes” as an answer (even from men that I thought were “out of my league”), a male friend said to me in a “duh!” voice, “Because women never ask men out. We’re going to fucking say yes if you ask us out!”

I wonder if boys/men face a different emotional battlefield and thus develop thicker skin. I have never seen the men closest to me in my life, cry more than once, each, and that was when facing incredible emotional trauma. I was shocked by the nature of their weeping, like a rusty machine trying to move, their tears falling but their bodies unfamiliar with the mechanism of crying so that the sound came out in an unwilling way, so that I heard an almost choking sound. Women, for the most part, cry more often than men. We may face a battlefield, and we may have issues with vulnerability, but I wonder if it’s nothing close to what men face in terms of being able to show vulnerability. We cry. We ask for support. We receive support. I’m not sure men can do this to the same effect.

I once made a comment about how “men love playing video games, especially little gameboys with little screens that they manipulate with their thumbs.” My Famous Pulitzer Prize Winning Writer Mentor gave me a sharp look and said, “Think about what it is that is done to boys and men that makes them want to shrink life down to a little box and their thumbs.”

I thought about that. And I’m thinking about that now when it comes to the male psyche and ego and their ability to handle rejections. That perhaps males have to figure out a way to survive by developing internal mechanisms to boost their own egos. Because the world won’t do it.

For the record, my Facebook status asking friends to say nice things about me was not my own idea; a friend (who happened to be male) had asked for “nice things” on his Facebook wall only a few hours earlier. In a few hours, my wall was filled with amazing and generous and thoughtful and kind and intimate comments. His was filled with funny, witty banter about how he didn’t smell, how he could make good howler monkey noises, and other humorous remarks expressing resistance to comply with his request.

The only people who said truly nice things about him were women.

I lament the fact that I can’t find a way to boost my own ego.  But maybe those who know how to boost their own ego have had to fight bigger wars, and thus that ability comes at great price.

There are men who take rejection hard–there are men who have killed themselves over rejections.  Some of the kindest, most empathetic and encouraging words I’ve received in the wake of rejection are from men. And there are women who can brush off rejection.  But what I’ve witnessed is what I’ve witnessed, and the pattern I’ve seen is real.

I have no answers, only many questions–and I welcome you to enlighten me.


Filed under Literary Rejections, The World, Writing


pumpkin rocks

(For those of you who don’t know, who for some reason have internet but don’t check news or Facebook or twitter and hang out with people who don’t check news or FB or twitter, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, had an earthquake with catastrophic consequences this week).

I have been watching the images from Haiti, aghast and speechless with horror and heartbreak. For every person rescued, many others are languishing and dying under the rubble of concrete buildings. I wept last night as I ran while watching television when a man ran up to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta with his 15-day old daughter who had a severe head laceration. His wife, the child’s mother had died in the earthquake, that child was all he head left. Every news report is accompanied by the wailing of mourners in the background.

Our fellow human beings are being subjected to suffering, and we need to not only send prayers but actual help, just as we did for Hurricane Katrina. The vast majority of us are unqualified to help, and so we *must* send money. We all have something to give, even if money is tight. Instead of dining out, send that money to aid organizations. Instead of buying that dress, send the money to aid organizations.

It’s as easy as texting “HAITI” to “90999,” which will contribute $10 to the Red Cross that will be charged to your cellphone.

If you want to donate more than $10, you can donate to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders or go to the White House Website to look at its list of other organizations you may want to consider supporting.

We are not helpless, because we can ALL help. And should.

My friend is putting together a bakesale for Haiti on Saturday January 23rd, from 10am-2pm, in various locations throughout Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco (Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Gioia’s Pizza in Berkeley, and Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco). Spread the word. There is more than one way to send money to Haiti–you can buy a cupcake and benefit Haiti, too.

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Filed under The World