Thursday, February 27, 2014

new month, new project.

A writer's worst enemy can often be her own mind. There are times when I'll have a million ideas and want to write them all down immediately. Other times, I'll sit down and writer's block gets the better of me.

Last weekend, I stopped in at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble on an errand, and passed by a table on the second floor stacked with journals and planners. One of the journals had a green cover and the words "I Can't Sleep" on it. Each page was titled with the prompt: "Why I can't sleep tonight:" and there was space to write and draw alongside quotes by famous people who also had trouble sleeping.

The journal made me think about these writing exercises my grade school teachers had us do from time to time. They would ask a general topic, and we could write whatever we wanted.

I wandered over to the Education section of the store to look for a book of writing prompts, like the ones I remembered my old teachers had, but couldn't find one. The only books to help kids write were guides to writing standardized test essays.

So instead, I went home and purchased this:

And have adapted the prompts into my own project:

Fill-in-the-blank Friday!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

made to shame.

My mother made every trip to the fabric store an adventure. We would walk up and down each aisle, playing "I Spy" and commenting on everything: the ribbons, the cross-stitch patterns, the cake molds. We never needed any of these things, but if we made the trip an exciting outing, it would seem less mechanical and tiresome.

By the fifth grade, I wore headscarves daily. The materials we chose were often dark and subtle so that none stood out too much. My mother informed my teachers and school administrators about my condition because headscarves were not part of the school's dress code. But among the white polo shirts, navy pants and gray jumpers, my headscarves always stood out.

One day, a fourth grade substitute teacher stopped me in the hallway on my way back to my classroom from the restroom.

"You can't wear that scarf," she said, motioning to the blue velvet covering my secret.

"It's OK," I stuttered. My cheeks turned bright red, and I didn't know how to explain. Would an adult believe an 11-year-old girl?

She held her hand out. "That's against the dress code. Give me the scarf or you'll have to go down to the principal."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

the way i see it: have a little faith.

The hardest thing I've ever had to do was belief in myself.

With every step I've taken in life--every theater stage I stepped out on to perform, every location change I've ever made, even the graduation speech I stood up in front of my college to give--it's always been done with anxiety and fear. I would work myself up into a ball of stress and then eventually close my eyes and just run forward into the unknown, and pray to God I wouldn't just fall off a cliff. I've never in my life walked into anything with pure confidence, which makes me feel like such a fraud when I cheer others on to chase their dreams.

But when Nichole asked me what I felt I learned in the 24th year of my life, I think the answer would be: I learned to have faith in myself.

I learned to trust that I am more than a cog in someone else's machine, more than a pawn on someone else's chessboard. I learned I can own my narrative and my voice, all while being part of a team too, and I learned I could do all of that because I had the right people who made me embrace humility and then put their trust behind me to encourage me to do the work they knew I was capable of all along.

To be just 24 and to have been told most of her life she wasn't quite capable, that was huge.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Some late night near the end of 2011, Jenny and I had just left an ugly holiday sweater party and were walking the wrong way back to the apartment where we were staying. We didn’t realize it until I saw the alphabet going backwards, and even then we went two more blocks down the wrong path before deciding to turn around and call it a night.

But before we realized that and before we backtracked, we were walking and talking about something fairly inconsequential for 2 a.m. in the dead of winter. We passed a couple sitting on the steps in front of a row of houses. They were having an intense discussion, and I remember glancing down for a moment at the girl with her head in her hands, but we kept walking because it was cold and all we could think about was tea and warm blankets.

And then we heard shouting. We stopped and looked back and the guy was standing and punching down at the girl--screaming at her, hitting her--and people were walking right on by and trying not to look. I couldn’t not look.

She was screaming. He kept hitting her, and for a moment I saw a flash of a girl I recognized.

Next to me, Jenny snapped.

"Are you serious?" she asked. "Is this serious?”

She didn’t hesitate and ran back toward them. The guy saw her, stopped, and ran away. The girl was huddled into a ball on the ground, her arms wrapped around herself. She was crying, and Jenny sat down next to her and put her arms around the stranger. I shook myself out of my daze and joined them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the living room.

When you walk through the door of my parents' California home, you're immediately placed in an impeccable living room. The white couch is adorned with silk pillows, the piano is dusted and ready to be played, and my mother's glass cabinet of international collectibles is unmissable. It's a living room, by name, but I don't remember much of my life happening in that room.

The room was always a room for entertaining, a room for visitors. The real living room, as far as we were concerned, was through the dining room toward the back of the house: the "family room," we called it. There was a plush floral couch, a TV next to shelves of videos and books, a corner for our toys when we were young, and a desk that held our computer--before laptops ever entered our lives. It was a room where we did all of our living. It was a room just for us.

But in every TV show I watched growing up, there were never two rooms for living as a family. On the sets of every sitcom family's home, the front door opened up straight into what I knew asthe "family room." It was the main room where the sitcom family would sit down for "family meetings and where conflicts and resolutions would often take place.

I could never understand how a family could keep its problems so close to the surface. How was it so easy for the Tanner girls to open up to their father? How could Will Smith be so candid with Uncle Phil after his father walked out on him yet again?

I never saw a family that looked like mine on TV. The TGIF lineup I watched religiously contained a variety of non-traditional families (single parents, extended families), but there were hardly any characters I identified with at all. In my family, we didn't talk about problems the way the families on TV did. When my parents fought, when my dad got mad at my sister and me, when I was bullied at school or got a bad grade--our first instincts were never to sit down and talk about it. In my family, as with many Chinese families I came to learn over the years, we kept our problems in the back--in the family room.

If TV shows were a portrait of American families, I often wondered what that said about mine. 

Monday, February 10, 2014


We met six years ago at the bottom of a staircase.

I wanted him because I thought he was bad, but he turned out to be good and one of the greatest friends I ever had until he cut us all out and became a stranger to the world.

But before he left, he put a firm hand on my shoulder and said, “Stop,” and I thought a lot about that conversation in the years that followed because he was the first person to look me in the eye and say, "You’re worth your life."

your worst date.

Someone asked me last week to describe the best date I ever went on. I don't think I have an answer to that (there have been plenty of decent and pretty good dates/things-I-think-might-have-been-dates), but I don't know if there's really a "best" or "perfect" label I can slap on anything right now. But I can tell you my worst--or, at least, the oddest one:

I met B on a bus in Maryland. I was heading home after work and had forgotten my book at the office, so I had nothing to do but eavesdrop and, apparently, think of ways to complicate my existence. B was talking to the bus driver about when his stop would be coming up because he was still trying to figure out the lay of the city after moving from California, and because it had been two very long weeks since I moved was still friendless and bored, I decided to insert myself in their conversation.

"You're from California?" I asked. He looked over at me, which I took as a cue for some reason to literally get out of my seat and sit next to him. "I am too!"

We started talking and I learned he was in DC for an internship for the fall (he was a college senior) and was staying with his uncle just a mile from where I was living. Before I got off the bus, he asked for my number and I gave him my work email address instead (because that felt less complicated), and texted my best friend about how I finally made a friend (how kindergarten, I know).

The next day, B emailed me and asked if I wanted to hang out that weekend. I had told him I was still new to DC and he said he could show me around since he'd spent a summer interning before on the Hill. I said yes, we exchanged numbers, and met up on Saturday at the metro stop--where he instantly started rambling about the day he had planned out in hopes I would have fun because he wanted me to like him.

If there's one thing you should know about me, it's that I'm really bad at discerning signs. The first time one of my exes asked me out on a date, I had no idea it was actually a date until he kissed me at the end of the night and I said, "Wait, was this a date?"

Yes, I am both that oblivious and that awkward. If you want me to know it's a date, you should probably hire a skywriter.

So when B started talking about how nervous he was, the thought, "Is this a date?" crossed my mind once, but then I ignored it because I didn't want to ruin the first friendship I thought I was making in DC. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

growing up is hard to do.

I never had a "dream job," or one that I ever realistically pursued. When I was a kid and someone asked me what I thought I'd be doing when I grew up, my only answers were vague hopes: I wanted to be an archaeologist. I wanted to be an Olympic gold medalist. I wanted to live in a house made of cheese.

Three distinct problems:
  1. I hate dirt. I also don't think I understood what being an archaeologist would actually entail. 
  2. I'm the least athletic person most people in my life know.
  3. Unfortunately, a house made of cheese is 100% structurally unsound. (But it would age incredibly well.)
The idea of having a job was terrifying. My dad used to come home from work and spend an hour venting out his frustrations of the day to my mom. Why would I want to do something for a living that made me feel like dying?

"If I ever wake up and realize I hate my job, I'll quit," I wrote in my diary in sixth grade.

That's so much easier said than done when you're 12 than when you're 18 or 22. Although I had several reasons for quitting the grocery store in college and for moving from one internship to another in the span of one month in the fall of 2011, I don't think I ever really lost the naivety of the girl who wrote that sentence.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

not a nightmare.

So we’re all in this room, and we made some weird suicide pact because, one by one, everyone is preparing to die.

One person starts and takes a giant pair of sewing scissors and stabs herself and twists, then hands the scissors over to the next person. Then the next person. Then the next.

It’s finally my turn and I look down at the blood dripping from the shears. People to my left are dying, and the ones to my right are anxiously awaiting their turn.

I can’t do it. I freeze.

Instead, I pass the scissors on to the boy next to me and ask him to stab me in the back. He nods and, without hesitation, embraces me in a deep, strong hug. It’s a familiar hug. For a second, the anxiety melts away, and I close my eyes and exhale just as he plunges the blades into my flesh.

And because you can’t die in dreams, I wake up.