Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Writing Political

Apologies for missing the weekend post. It is week six of the quarter and things are busy. A full working draft of a major paper is due tomorrow, I have a midterm on Thursday morning, and there's a lot of small background stuff that needs to get done. Also applying for jobs in Germany, but I have a good support system for that so I'm less panicked about it than I would be otherwise.

A song that I've been listening to on repeat, in both the English and French versions, for the past hour and a half:

MIKA - Elle me dit + Emily (French/English mashup) from Brainwasher on Vimeo.
Elle me dit / Emily - Mika


On Friday I stayed up until 0400 and finally, finally finished the UM Graz section, which means that yes, the huge major climactic scene of the story is written. I know it doesn't strike the right tone that I want it to--I want an eye of the storm effect, but for that to be meaningful you have to see some of the storm, even if from a distance. In general, the things that I write come out less intense and immediate than when I first imagine them. This isn't just a problem with the last scene that I wrote: the story until that point needs to escalate. More fire and brimstone before they get to the climax.

Two more sections to go until the end of the story: Vienna and Epilogue. I have five weeks of the quarter left, and Spring Break, so I can't slack and might have to shorten Vienna to make it. But it seems that if I can make myself sit down with the story on a weekend night, I can get out over a thousand words in a session. This is the opposite MO of the one that I usually promote (write a little, more often). But six classes + competition team = very little time during the week.

I think I'll make it. If nothing else, I can throw myself into the writing during Spring Break to finish before I go to Germany. I haven't even started thinking about what I'll write there--maybe short stories? I don't know. When you've been living in a story for two years it's strange thinking about other writing projects that are not yet close to critical mass.

On Saturday I went home for dinner to celebrate Lunar New Year. It was good to see my mom, sister, and cat again (my dad was out of town). Sometimes at school it's hard to remember that there's anything outside of school that matters. Looking at people at school, it's hard to remember that they have a story from before they landed here; and it is just as easy to forget that in relation to yourself.

The girl who started writing Ubermadchen in 2014 is vastly different from the person who is working on it now. I won't really be able to talk about this until the story is done, but I think I've become more political since then. A major reason I chose UM over another writing project was because I was disappointed in myself for having such male-dominated casts for most of my other long works. The racial/ethnic diversity of the cast was because a major facet of the magic in this universe is that magical talent is randomly distributed, and it's just that only the ruling classes get it trained. Marilla was lesbian because it just seemed to fit her.

Now, it isn't entirely different. The cast demographics are justifiable in-story, and Marilla (the viewpoint character) deliberately does not get on political soapboxes (although Josefina does). But I'm keeping it in the background of my mind, what it means to have a troop of five female-assigned educated outlaws saving the day by incorporating magical lessons learned from a variety of sources. In revision I'm going to have to consider the political context of the story more carefully, as well as how the events of the story may riff off current events.

But--I can't have this in the forefront of my mind as I write. Maybe other writers can, but I can't. When the one romance I depict is between the metal-magic tank of the group (Katya) and a compassionate, bookish nerd (Levi), the question in my head is not "how can I make this more feminist" but rather "what interaction makes sense given these characters' personalities?" Not that "how can I make this more feminist" is a bad question to ask--just not one that helps me in the moment.

It is a question that I'm asking in relation to Orsolya, however, but even then it's more of a proxy question for "what is going on in the story that is out of character?" Maybe that's what I should do while in Germany, plan out the revision of Orsolya, because the story as written does not go in a way that I like or that makes sense, and the story needs to expand. It's going to get political, and I think that's a theme that shows up that reveals my naivete: how often powerful individuals who don't even work within the system utterly disrupt the status quo. "Screw the rules, I have power."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Apologies for missing both of last week's posts. I actually did start writing something for Tuesday, but it was about the raging dysphoria I was experiencing that day and it was not fit to publish. I needed to write it; it did not need to be read.

But it did need to be talked about, and that's something that I am taking away from last week: the value of conversations. I don't like talking for the sake of talking, I don't like the sound of my own voice, but I do like talking as a way of communicating experience. Talking about dysphoria and where it comes from and what to do about it helped me a lot on Tuesday.

On Wednesday one of the RAs hosted a discussion about class privilege, and I was reminded of how to listen: when to speak, when to shut up. Namely, if the conversation is stalling, ask questions or share your experience; if the silence is instead because people are processing something, hold off a little. Be aware of how much space you're taking up. Be comfortable with silence and with sound.

It's been about a year since I broke up with my ex, and I've been thinking on and off about how and why I ended things. I debriefed with my sister right after it happened but haven't done too much analysis since then, but some conclusions I've come to is that I, like most people, have different tiers of closeness with people. People with whom I can talk about serious topics are at a higher level, and so a new rule I've instituted for myself (which won't be relevant until after college, probably) is that I won't date anyone who is not at the level at which we can talk about race.

I had a lot of conversations with my ex--a typical date consisted of getting lunch and then walking around for hours talking. Looking back, I wonder what we even talked about. Education, science, things that happened in high school, and so on. Never about race or sexism or...

Ultimately, I broke up with the guy because I no longer had feelings for him, and in the absence of those feelings I had no desire to keep putting the work into the relationship. And part of the reason I didn't want to keep putting the work in was because we were growing and changing in different ways, and the kind of conversations that we were having were not only not the kind that I needed to have, but I didn't think he could have those kinds of conversations. In other words, we could not communicate about the same things.

There are peacetime friends and wartime friends, by which I mean there are friends around whom I feel the need to pretend that everything is fine, whom I do not trust to be there for me in the way I need when I am not doing well. Then we have wartime friends, friends with whom I need little preamble to get to real topics, friends in front of whom I can be upset and not worry that they'll be freaked out.

Of course my wartime friends and I don't just unload our agonies upon one another. Wartime friends mean we can also celebrate our victories together too. Silliness and seriousness both require a greater degree of closeness than even intellectual smalltalk, because happiness and sadness are both vulnerable emotions. I am lucky to have people who don't make me feel weak or like a fool for expressing either.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Crossing the Line

My dorm did an exercise on Wednesday night that I've been thinking about since then. It's called Crossing the Line and involves a moderator reading a series of statements. Without speaking, students who agree with the statement/feel as though it applies to them step over the line, face the rest of the people who didn't cross, and then walk back when it's time for the next statement.

Topics covered: class/SES/income level, religion, race, gender/sexuality, mental health, body image, friendship, feeling understood, feeling like an impostor. Miraculously, with over a hundred people, no one made a joke out of the experience. I was extremely tense the first ten minutes, and then after that, the sense of vulnerability stopped being quite so terrifying.


Statements that I mentally flagged as interesting:

"I identify as a person of color."

I crossed--obviously. But some other people whom I would consider POC did not.

"Based on my family's income, I am upper class."

I crossed, because my parents' earnings do fall into a high income bracket. But if asked what my SES is, I'd probably say "upper middle class." I don't identify as "upper class"--and yet, class privilege works in my favor. In the debrief afterwards, a lot of people said they felt that class and economic status were not topics they felt comfortable discussing--but that they also wanted to start having these conversations.

"I am not the gender to which I was assigned at birth."

I crossed. Apparently some people to whom I am close felt vicarious happiness for me as I did so, which makes me happy, because despite being only one of two people who crossed, I didn't feel particularly afraid/anxious/like a freak. I've been out in my dorm since the beginning of the year and it's helped make me more comfortable in who I am.

"I am lesbian, gay, or bisexual."

I didn't cross because I'm not. Later someone suggested to the moderator that in future events, the statement be made more inclusive.

"I consider myself physically unattractive."

I crossed. I don't think my face is unpleasant, but if I had to pick attractive v. unattractive, I'd go with unattractive. And that doesn't mean that I have low self-esteem or that I feel bad about it. Do I exist for the aesthetic pleasure of others? Is my worth dependent upon how good I look? Some people do feel good when they look good, and that's fine, that's great--but beauty is not something that I think deserves to be a universal value, and I don't need to think I'm good-looking to be happy with myself.

"I feel as though someone in my dorm really knows me."

I crossed, but one of my good friends didn't. That honestly kind of hurt--but it's not my place to get defensive about it. Still need to talk to this person (not about that statement in particular, just in general).

"I have reached out to people outside of my friend group."

I crossed, because I have really solid friendships with some of the frosh whom I did not know before, and I'm happy about that. But a lot (a lot) of the RAs did not.

"I do not feel comfortable talking about alcohol in my dorm."

I didn't cross, but a lot of people, especially freshmen, did. I didn't cross because my policy on alcohol is and has always been "no," so there's nothing to discuss. This is one of my blind spots.

"I am a pacifist."

I did not cross, because while I think that there is too much violence in the world, there are times when I think it is necessary. Self-defense, for example.

"I would fight in a war."

I hesitated, then decided that given my answer to the previous question ("I am a pacifist"), I would be hypocritical not to cross. So I did. I think it's true.

"I feel as though I am a part of the dorm community."

I crossed, and so did everyone else. There may be some sample bias going on (not everyone in the dorm attended, and those who chose not to attend may have done so because they didn't feel a part of the community), but it was a good one on which to end.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Building a Path

I left out some stuff that happened in the second half of the week from the Sunday (er, Monday morning) post. Namely, I had a rather intimidating interview with the director for the Germany study abroad internship program, leading to some minor freaking out, resolved mostly by meeting with my very kind advisor and resolved almost completely by a spate of emails on Friday morning that resulted in me shifting around my class schedule one week before the deadline.

But this feels right. I was worried that my schedule this quarter was too weak--not because I want to suffer, although I am susceptible to the kind of academic machismo that leads people to think that 17 units is too few. Rather, I was worried about getting off track with my major and hindering myself from becoming the person I want to be in order to carry out the work I want to do. This rights things. Less theory, more practice. I'm in a BIM class, which feels really good because building software skills is fun. I'm back in the research lab, which also feels really good because I enjoy working with the people, and it's one of my advisor's labs.

So I'm taking 19 units still, but they are the right nineteen.

I also got some good work done over the weekend on Ubermadchen. Marilla is going to pray, because that is what works best for her in terms of getting her mind in order, and then everything explodes (not literally), which means I have two scenes to write to finish up the Graz section. The second of those scenes is the climax of the entire story, so it's going to take a few sessions to work through unless I blow off other commitments this weekend, which is tempting. I don't know if I'll be able to. I'd like to. I've been in this story for two years and getting it closer and closer to the finish is exciting.

(Then I have to plan and write the Vienna section and the epilogue, but that is mostly denouement stuff so it can hang together more loosely, by which I mean I probably won't take a long time planning it out.)

The path forward is clear--not in the sense that it lacks obstacles, but rather, I can see it. What I'm doing now is building skills, creating knowledge, making a story. I think that for me, what is most psychologically rewarding is not so much being productive as constructive. Not so much getting things done as getting things built.

I am laying bricks now.


Liebe ist Alles - Adoro

Monday, January 18, 2016

Listen to the Silence 2016

Meant to write this up on Saturday night, but got busy.

On Saturday I attended Listen to the Silence, an annual conference on Asian American issues held on campus. A lot of attendees were high school students, or students at other local universities such as UC Davis and Santa Clara.

I attended all three rounds of workshops but had to leave right after the last one, so did not go to the performances that closed out the day.


Workshop One: Asians for Black Lives

In a movement that is not about you, let your involvement be informed and requested by the group that is at the center of it. Be supportive, say your piece, but do not speak over the people in whose name you organize. Do this, however, without treating the central group as a monolith.

Reaching networks of people who can help out: balance scope with trustworthiness. People's safety and liberty are at stake in movements such as this. Be careful whom you trust, but also know that sometimes, you have to move fast.


Workshop Two: Chinese American Coming-of-Age

Chinese gender roles are a fun (read: not fun) addition on top of the misogyny we are already steeped in. Family relations in particular. As the second female-bodied person in my family in my generation (or: as the younger of two sisters), I may not have existed if my parents had stayed in China.

The model minority myth is damaging in a whole lot of ways, from creating a false "racial hierarchy" that places minorities in opposition to one another to adding extra stigma to "unsuccessful" East Asians to glossing over the problems in Southeast Asian communities.

Meta-comment: there were several workshops on South and Southeast Asian issues, but the imagery around the conference was strongly East Asian, which is also a problem.


Workshop Three: Environmental Justice in API Communities

Could have focused more on the local connection. But environmental justice as an idea and as a movement is important for someone who considers sustainable development a key theme of their future. The EJ movement really began at the People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, where they adopted 17 Principles of Environmental Justice. Previously, the POC-led SouthWest Organizing Project had sent a letter to ten mainstream environmental groups calling them out on their exclusivity.

Nature is not just wilderness. It is the systems that underlie human life, and it includes humans.


Turning over some of these thoughts still. But it was good to spend most of a day gathering material, gathering new perspectives, being reminded of the wider world and how I may have to navigate through it. Talking to high school students also was a valuable experience because I can see myself in a lot of them--quiet Chinese girls who are trying not to take up too much space. I still am not bold, and my voice carries about two feet, but I am more comfortable talking, giving my opinion, and not worrying about seeming dumb. If I seem dumb, so what? I am dumb. But I'm dumb and I'm learning, which is the important part.