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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Major Shout-out to our AWP Panel in The Atlantic

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Last year, I wrote a panel proposal on writing outside of your race in fiction for the AWP Conference 2014. Writing characters of another race is a topic with which I have long been entrenched–since the days of being in an MFA program, and I was psyched when it was accepted. This an important topic that begs discussion, and is yet rarely discussed in open space. And I was thrilled to have an opportunity to discuss something so sensitive at AWP with some respected writing friends and mentors.

At AWP a couple months ago in Seattle, we (Randa Jarrar, Patricia Engel, Mat Johnson, Susan Ito, and I) had an amazing audience turnout for our panel entitled “How Far Imagination: Writing Characters Outside Your Own Race in Fiction”–people spilled out into the hallway in attendance, and sat on the floor all the way up to our feet. At 10:30am in the morning on the first day of the conference, no less.

Needless to say, I was pleased with the reception. We had a very intense and enriching panel discussion, and then we segued into a Q&A that was largely audience-driven. I’m not sure in hindsight, as moderator, that I made the right call in calling first on a man who interrupted the panel mid-discussion.

“I have a question!” a man called out in the middle of our discussion.

I told him to hold off until our Q&A session. And so when our Q&A began, I felt obliged to call on him, first. Because I’m polite. And I’m a fairly competent moderator and I figured I could handle most conflict. Even though he is the kind of person who will interrupt a panel in mid-discussion because He Has A Really Important Question. I kind of regret calling on him first. But it at least opened the gates wide open on what is sensitive terrain.

And we made some lively and important points on the panel, much thanks to our brilliant panelists.

There are a couple reviews of our panel up on the web. There’s a brief one here. And if you want to read about our panel in detail (albeited biased detail), The Atlantic did a write up of AWP and gave a major shout out to our panel. I’m very delighted at the amount of real estate allotted to us, even if it did make panelist Randa Jarrar sound shrill and reactive, and the dude-with-a-question into a well-intentioned victim. But then again, I think you could write an entire article about the complexities of our panel topic and how they play out in the writing world.

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Excerpt/transcript of our panel after the jump…

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CD Giveaway: ANIMAL HOURS

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When I do a giveaway, they are usually books. Books I love. Books written by friends, mostly, because I want to support their work.

But the reality is that we writers are not only influenced by books, but also by music.

Like, I know jónsi is going in my novel acknowledgements. His music has accompanied the majority of my novel writing. He transports me. And helps me connect with myself and words and story. But I am always looking for new music–because there are days I need to unlock another corner of my mind for a scene, a character, setting, or new mood.

The music to which I write has to meet the above requirements.

Someone special and important in my life released his album last week. Orion Letizi’s record, DO OVER by ANIMAL HOURS, is a muse. You can download DO OVER on iTunes or cdbaby–but I’ve also decided to do a giveaway of DO OVER here on my blog.

The music is “indie-pop”–people have compared it to music by Elliott Smith and Beach House. There are days on which I’ve written to the album–and it’s produced some of the following lines in my novel revision/draft:

Migration during wartime is more push than pull. Nothing pulls you forward, nothing guides you, there is no hand outstretched towards your own. You stumble and fall and pass by orphaned children and mothers whose breasts have gone dry and who hold starving children, who cry without tears, because their bodies have no water to waste on sadness and pain and frustration. These people remind you that you are lucky, despite the blood soaking through your socks and shoes and your own stomach turning on itself in hunger, as your body eats muscle off bone.

The above is a rare peek at my novel-in-progress (I don’t usually share my work when it’s in progress) and will likely be revised further. It’s not perfect, but it came out of music. Music is inspiration.

There are some early comments on the album here and there on FB and twitter. Buzz will likely grow. And I hope you’re part of that buzz.

To that end, I’m doing a giveaway of the CD. I hope you win. If you do not, I hope you still buy and download some tracks or the album in its entirety. It’s about starting your life over. I think we can all relate to some or all of that.

Here’s how to enter:
1) Leave a comment below. (I appreciate “likes”–but that doesn’t enter you in the giveaway) You can say anything you want–e.g., you can choose to tell me why you want a copy of the album, or share an anecdote about something you had to do over…or just say you want the album because you want the album. Do fill out your email address when you fill out the fields in the comment box (it won’t be published to the world, but I will need it in order to contact you in case you win)!
2) 1 entry per person. If you tweet about this giveaway (please tag @xtinehlee in your tweet so that I can track it), you get an extra entry.
3) The giveaway is open worldwide.
4) If you win the contest, I will email you for your mailing address.
5) Winners will be chosen by a random number generator.
6) I will be announcing the contest winner on the blog. None of your personal information will be posted, aside from your first name and last initial (or the nickname you choose to list in your comment). If you see that someone else has entered the same name as you, please try to pick a different nickname to call yourself, so as to avoid confusion.

The deadline to enter a comment/tweet is Monday April 21, 2014 12:00pm EST. The winner (picked at random) will be announced Monday April 21, 2014 by 9:00pm EST.

GOOD LUCK!

UPDATE 4/21/2014:

Before we begin–just wanted to note that ANIMAL HOURS was blogged on The Bay Bridged with very flattering commentary. RAD.

Okay…now we begin.

Each entry was assigned a number (in the order comments were subbed or tweets, tweeted).

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Thanks for all who publicized the giveaway!!! (I hope you find your way to a copy of the album–available on iTunes).

I had the Random Number Generator pick a number…

And then I clicked the button…

*drum roll*

*drum roll*

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And the winner is Patrick!

Patrick: I’ll be contacting you for your snail mail address shortly. I hope everyone else finds their way to a copy of ANIMAL HOURS DO OVER, soon! Thank you all for participating.

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M is for Mourning: Ziggy the Wiener Dog, 1996 – December 17, 2013

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Ziggy the Wiener Dog’s cremains had been ready for pickup for several months. For three months, in fact.

“Do you want to pick him up?” I made the rare call to him to ask.

“No, can you?”

“All right. You okay with waiting?”

“Yes.”

And I took my time. After wading through the raw emotions when I picked up Scarlet the Wiener Dog so immediately after her death, I learned my lesson and took my time in carrying him home. I wanted to be ready. I waited. I waited months. I waited until the trees blossomed, and then after the blossoms fell.

I picked him up a couple weeks ago, my grief long processed in a grueling succession of bad news after next. He was in a box. A small box. He was a good dog until the end, always low maintenance and accommodating. His life with me bookended an amazing chapter in my life.

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I adopted Ziggy a couple months after my fiance broke off our engagement–there he was, a trembling little dachshund in my life. It was February 1998, in the middle of a rainy El Niño season; he had been found wandering the streets with his sister-dog. I was alone, too. Next year, the fiance and I got married.

I had no idea what would happen ten years hence, but I knew I would have a dog. He ended up being my constant for fifteen years. And he died a week after my husband asked for a divorce. If I had made this timing up and workshopped such a story, I’d be criticized for being too “device-y” and the timing too coincidental. But it happened. He came and went with my marriage like a wedding ring.

Ziggy just–died one evening. He rose, teetering, from his bed. Since Scarlet died, he spent a lot of time in that bed, napping.

My mother’s helper asked, “Um, is Ziggy acting weird?”

We were sitting in the den, playing with my baby before bedtime. I looked over. Ziggy was not walking straight. He had trouble standing. “Yes,” I said. So much had happened in 2013, I didn’t want to look yet another other Bad Thing in the eye. So I looked away. “I think he’s dying.”

“Really? What should we do? Shouldn’t he go to a vet?”

It was 7pm. He would have to go to the emergency vet. I shrugged. “I don’t think there’s much we can do. I’ll take him to the emergency vet. But he’s probably going to die.” I know I sound cold, but if you were there, you’d have heard the pathos in my voice. Also, I’d given up on all good news by that point.

I emailed my husband. I typed, If you want to see your dog, you should come see him now. I don’t know if he’ll live another week or another hour, but now’s the time.

So much had already happened.

I drove Ziggy to the vet, about 5 miles away, across town. The drive took the length of an Adele song, “Someone Like You.” At some point during the drive, my husband called.

“Are you serious?”

Yes, I said. Your dog is dying. Where are you?

Far away, he said.

Ziggy stopped breathing as I handed him over to the pet emergency veterinarians, a team of UC Davis doctors who then asked me, “Do you want us to resuscitate him?”

Why? I asked.

Because he’s stopped breathing.

Oh, I said. He was over 17 years old. It was time to let him go. No, I said. He’s an old dog. He had a good life.

“What’s happening?” I could hear the husband on the phone. This intertwining of my lives. The present, the past, the near and the distant.

“He died.”

“What?”

“Probably from a heart attack or stroke. My guess is a stroke.”

And then my ever-stoic husband started crying.

So much had happened.

My life was officially a country song.

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***

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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View from the Slushpile

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I’m the Fiction Editor at Kartika Review, and I take great pride in sifting through KR’s slushpile (I personally read the whole slushpile) and connecting with the work of other writers. In fact, great friendships have come out of the slushpile; I keep in touch with them to this day, and hang out with them at AWP and online on twitter.

But the slushpile is not without its gripes. And I decided to tweet about some of the things I experience each time. I tweeted in real time, and I hope the advice is well received. My friend Elizabeth Stark aggregated them on a blog post at Book Writing World a few days ago.

Here is part of the list…

1) Reading thru @KartikaReview slush pile. Do NOT start ur story with 3 pages of ITALICS. No. Just, no. nonononononooo.

2) Reading thru @KartikaReview slush pile. Do NOT start ur Asian-themed story w mentions of rice paddies/kohl/silk/lotuses/etc. NO. nonononono.

3) Reading thru @KartikaReview slush pile. If ur NOT Asian, I do NOT want 2 hear abt ur travels thru Asia fucking prostitutes & smoking opium. (Don’t wanna hear if you ARE Asian, either–but so far, it’s not a trend for writers of Asian descent to write the above, thus the specificity).

I am considering tweeting about manuscript protocol, too…

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Acknowledge Beauty

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I was walking into the corner cafe to get coffee a few months ago. In the flurry of ripping off my gloves and hat in the sudden heated indoors, I nearly bumped into a beautiful woman.

This was New York City, where an acquaintance advised me upon my arrival with, “The people here are beautiful. A 10 anywhere else? That’s a 7 in New York City. And a 10 in New York City? 13 anywhere else.”

“Okay,” I said.

“No seriously. The people here are gorgeous. So gorgeous you think this is what people are supposed to look like.”

When you are surrounded by beauty, you can become blinded by its prevalence, take it for granted. When friends come over to visit me in Berkeley, they often ask me, “Do you even notice how pretty it is here?”

I always pause before replying, because I never like my answer. I see the landscape around me come into focus–the hills lush with greenery, the Bay Bridge looming in the distance, the light glinting off the pewter water, the sky blue and maybe misted with fog. The faint smell of jasmine. My answer is, “Most of the time I don’t.”

Someone I know has a ritual–at the end of each day this person says, “Another beautiful day.”

My reaction at first was, “Did you doubt it would be beautiful?”

“No, I didn’t doubt it. I just wanted to say it was a beautiful day.”

Huh. But then there was this woman in front of me. Tall, even though tall doesn’t mean beauty to me. Slim, even though slim doesn’t mean beauty to me. Alabaster skin. Raven hair. The most serene of facial expressions. Cheekbones that would cut my finger. Lips like cherries. The combination of her features were Snow White, incarnate. But still–it wasn’t just her appearance–it was something deep inside her psyche that struck me, made me stop peeling off my gloves.

“You’re beautiful,” I blurted.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“You’re beautiful!”

“Oh!” And then she blushed. She really blushed. I was shocked at her reaction, and it made her all the more beautiful. That she could be thrown off by such a compliment. That she wasn’t jaded by her beauty.

Acknowledging beauty is a powerful act. Do it. Tell someone beautiful that you think they are. Acknowledge a beautiful day. Acknowledge landscape. Acknowledge feeling. Acknowledge sensation. Acknowledge.

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The Summer of 1995

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The Summer of 1995 was a huge turning point for me. I was 21. I’d just graduated from college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had dreams, but they were just that–intangible. I was laying down the template for my future. I hadn’t yet met the boy I would marry. I was searching for the meaning of life–more specifically, my life. I was struggling. And I completely broke.

I apparently wrote much of it down in my diary. Which I found. And I thought I’d share some of what I wrote with you. Here are some excerpts:

June 24, 1995:
You know, you ask for Spring to end…and Summer solstice starts and the world boils.

June 27, 1995:
I’m going to try to adopt the Daoist method of just finding my center and waiting for things to come to me instead of searching frantically for whatever. It takes enough effort and focus as it is just to reach out and grab what passes you.

July 4, 1995:
So anyway, I’ve decided to switch my reading from Foucault’s Pendulum to Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee. I think I could write a book. If only I could be more imaginative! Or rather, more complete with my imagination!

July 9, 1995:
JW of course, showed up at 5am this morning. Didn’t fall asleep til 7am or so.

Woke up to congo drums from above again.

Check this out: I live below a congo drum instructor who gives lessons on weekend mornings.

July 14, 1995:
I spent lunch hour mulling. MULLING. Just mulling SHIT. I’m trying hard to be good to myself and do the right thing, but it’s so much easier to be careless. It’s so much easier to say who cares and indulge and put feelings aside and fuck all night with a guy whose priority in life is to not deal.

July 23, 1995:
Still in a funk. Being suicidally depressed is unbelievable. I think I usually just lie stunned at its power, this monster hold on me. I have spurts of energy, nervous energy and I try to do all I can during those periods and other times, most of the time, I just lie debilitated in tears or numbness. But the energetic times scare me. I want to live again.

July 28, 1995:
It’s been hard. I’m seeing a doctor on Tuesday. J gave me a squash. For some reason it made me happy. I think it’s one of the few things he’s given me, and it was given to me when I felt like I had nothing in my hands. But Squash? I think I’ve lost it.

July 29, 1995:
So yeah, it’s weird I’ve found hope in a yellow squash. But when I sit with it or think about it, I feel better. I figure hell, “whatever gets me through the day,” no matter how fucked up. So I sit with the squash.

July 30, 1995:
Today from 3pm to 7pm…I had a hard time. J called at 5pm in the middle of the hardest part and broke the trance, the ritual, the whatever. It was strange talking to him with bloodied wrists wet with warm water while holding a bloody napkin. I know, I’m so insane…yet sane. Afternoons and evenings are the worst.

August 6, 1995:
I’m at Moss Beach! At the marine life preserve, sitting on the sand by the tidal pools. The place here is teeming with life. Hermit crabs, sea anemones, and eel-like seaweed. This is the most peaceful I’ve felt in awhile. This place. With the waves. With my feet dug into the sand. The earth so giving and hard. This place where earth and rock meet water, where sun and moon struggle.

August 20, 1995:
I must write a book. I must write books, plural. That is what would make my soul happy, I think.

JW says he likes it when I’m a bitch. That no one cares if you’re depressed. It’s better to be a bitch than to let people know you’re feeling fucked up.

But then again, I fell in love with a yellow squash, which sits wilting in the stay-crisp drawer of my refrigerator. Anything I suppose can be for real, even love for a yellow squash in a period of malignancy and despair.

August 28, 1995:
I guess you try to do whatever makes you happy in the little circle of air you’ve carved away for yourself. It’s not big, but you can be happy there.

September 4, 1995:
Watched Mortal Kombat w JW today. Possibly the worst movie I’ve ever watched in my short life. It was so bad I enjoyed it.

I’m going to refuse to be dependent on anyone for my own happiness. My parents can depend on me for their happiness, but I refuse that vicious circle. That felt good to say. Everything for a long time will be for myself–well, but not at the expense of others. But if it’s a choice between me and others, I will take the one that’s best for me. My happiness is my own.

I have to change my life or die.

What was a turning point in your life?

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