I've been working tirelessly with my agent on my revisions for The Ninjas of My Greater Self for a solid three months now and we are finally done with the substantive edits, which feels fucking incredible. I'm just waiting for a few blurbs from some literary superstars and then my agent will officially begin sending out cover letters to editors. I'm exhilarated about this. I'm also mildly terrified. I mean, these next three to four months will shape my literary debut in the New York publishing world and also have a major impact on my literary career. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it's actually true. I've been waiting my whole life for this moment. My fingers are crossed.
I got the great news yesterday that my short story "Conspiracy of Lemons," which is part of my conceptual short story collection, City of Sand, was accepted in Witness, a journal I've been sending submissions to off and on since 2010. It's incredibly satisfying to finally get a piece in that literary journal. Stay tuned!
Only in a Japanese RPG can a boy band save the world from the nefarious empire and its demonic biotechnological army. In Final Fantasy XV, four male friends led by its visual kei leader, Noctis (whose name means “night” in Latin), use the empire’s language of violence to decolonize the kingdom of darkness. Somewhere, Fanon’s ghost is drinking sake and smoking Peace cigarettes in celebration.Read More
Today I got an email telling me that my personal essay, "When Words Make You Real," was accepted in the mixed-race anthology The Beiging of America, which is awesome. I'm happy, proud even, to be part of such a groundbreaking but also crucial anthology exploring what it means to be mixed race (in my case, hapa) in America.
I found out today that my novella, The Laws of Drowning and Rhetoric, is a finalist in Curbside Splendor's Second-Annual Wild Onion Novella Contest, which is fucking amazing and wonderful (though I won't let myself get too excited because the other three finalists are all talented and worthy). For those of you not familiar with Curbside Splendor, it's one of the best indie presses in the whole goddamn world (it's true). And what's even more awesome, Curbside Splendor is a Chicago joint, which makes me happy and proud to be part of this contest since Chicago is and will always be my hometown. The winner will be announced in the beginning of December, but I'm not gonna lie, it would be fucking incredible to win this contest. It would be a dream come true. It would help build my career. It would help me stay connected to my city forever. It would be incredibly encouraging too. And considering that I've been working on this novella for ten years since I started my MFA, it would be life-changing for all the work I put into this manuscript. But for now, we'll have just have to wait and see. Fingers crossed, man. Fingers crossed.
In this confusing time of professional androgyny and male disempowerment, men were wounded birds. Dual income households had emasculated them of their sacred institutions of power. Wings clipped, humbled and demoted to democratic gender roles, men had no choice now but to accept their new gun-to-the-head humanism and become motivation speakers and fitness gurus, construction muscle and Pentagon Yes-Men.Read More
Maybe, she’ll buy a one-way ticket to Seattle and throw her dirty underwear off every bridge. And maybe, she’ll buy a ticket to Montréal and then OD on Oaxaca smack in the Greyhound bathroom like the lead singer from Blind Melon.Read More
Today, I got the great news that a chapter from my novella, The Laws of Rhetoric and Drowning, was accepted by Hobart, which publishes fantastic fiction and interviews, among other things. I'm really happy to see this piece put in the public eye! Stay tuned for more deetz.
There was a flower arrangement to our entrées, a harmony of light and darkness inside the dining room, a small ceremony for the chilled chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes, crisp Arugula salads, haunting ginger slices and incinerating Thai soups, that was uniquely Japanese in spirit and decorRead More
I just got the awesome news today that my lyrical essay "Obāsan in a Cup," which is part of my experimental memoir Dream Pop Origami, was accepted in the always-awesome Guernica Magazine. Even more shocking, it will be published tomorrow. Many thanks to the smart, perceptive, and insightful suggestions from Raluca Albu, the CNF editor at Guernica. Stay tuned!
I agonize over my own workshop pedagogy now that the mic is in my hand. This agony comes partially from memory: I remember the completely avoidable trauma I experienced in my own MFA program as a hapa fiction writer whose racial and cultural legibility was confusing at best and dismissed at worst.Read More
Matthew Salesses runs and directs an awesome column at Pleiades about workshop craft and workshop pedagogy and I'm happy to say that my essay "The Velocity of Flying Objects" about my own workshop methodology will be published soon on the magazine's website. Stay tuned.
I got the good news recently that my flash fiction piece "Living in the Future," which is part of my short story collection Atlas of Tiny American Desires, was accepted in the literary journal Arts & Letters and will be appearing in either the Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 issue. Nothing like a short story acceptance to keep my spirits up.
Compared to my friends on the tenure track, my deal isn't as sweet, but compared to my friends suffering through the adjunctification of academia, my life is pretty damn good. So, I finished reading and grading 60 final portfolios two days ago after reading 60 advocacy projects the week before, which means I'm now free until classes start in the fall. That's to say, I'm fucking free for a few months!
Last summer, I made the colossal mistake of playing it by ear, which got me dropped in a wormhole. One minute I was playing video games obsessively on my PS4 without a care in the world, spending my free time mindlessly like a rich baron, then my fam came up for a long weekend, then LB's fam came from Chicago, then LB and I went to Scandinavia, and then the next thing I knew, my summer vacay was fucking gone. Suddenly, I was psychologically preparing myself for another year of teaching, my first paid summer just a tiny dot in my rear-view mirror. This summer, I vow (strong word, I know, but I mean it) to not let this summer slip by. Yes, I'll sleep in and enjoy my time off like a profligate Beverly Hills lawyer watering his lawn obsessively but this time I want to find a good compromise between wasting the summer away and scheduling the shit out of it.
These are my goals for this summer:
1. Play the second and third Unchartered Remastered Nate Drake games and remember why I was once so obsessed with Indiana Jones as a kid (well, minus the Temple of Doom, that one totally sucked)
2. Play Final Fantasy X-II in time for the epic release of Final Fantasy XV that was supposed to come out like ten years ago
3. Finally play Raymond Legends (it's been in my wishlist for years now)
4. Begin working on my second LP, which will be mostly post-rock instrumental music (piano, strings, and some beats)
5. Since LB and I will be back in Vienna this summer for a few days, I'd like to study German this summer
6. Study 日本語
7. Run three times a week, lift weights twice a week, and possibly (but not realistically) take a spinning class
8. If a manuscript of mine gets accepted for publication soon inshallah, then revise that for much of the summer first and foremost (still waiting to hear back from a few presses). Either way, revise my manuscripts and work on my third novel
9. Submit short stories and lyrical essays to journals
10. Invest in my wardrobe some more because you know, I don't already have enough excuses to buy shit online (or enough button downs, for that matter)
11. Meditate regularly
12. Stop going to be bed at 4 in the morning
13. Get some new ink on my right arm
14. Blog more often
15. Read the complete graphic novel series about the Shōwa period by Shigeru Mizuki
16. Read 1-2 books by Susan Sontag
17. Read another novel by Zadie Smith
18. Read another novel by Salman Rushdie
19. (Re)-read one "big book" this summer: the choices are DFW's Infinite Jest, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Ulysses by James Joyce, or Underworld by Don Delillo.
20. Finally read Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist
21. I know this is a stereotypical LA thing to do, but maybe whiten my teeth because I drink so much fucking tea, it's ridiculous
22. Stop making so many damn lists . . ..
By this point, most of us have already read part or all of Junot Diaz's critique of MFA programs in the New Yorker as being oversaturated with white faculty and white writers. If somehow you've been hiding in a capsule hotel with a nasty case of Malaria so you haven't been able to catch up on the world, you can check it out here:
Are MFA programs too white? Junot Díaz reflects on his experience: http://t.co/ebVcYqyM2u
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) May 4, 2014
Anyway, Junot Diaz doesn't need me to defend him in any way, but I do have a few things to add to this discourse concerning the role (and also the constraints) of race in workshop. Here are my thoughts:
1. Most of the pissed-off comments on the New Yorker website are by white educated readers, which proves the very point Junot Diaz was making about our cultural inability to tolerate, moreover, accept race as both a construct and also a cultural and literary reality for writers of color. In fact, the response of most of the posters mirrors the response of many writers I knew in my own MFA workshops concerning race, who either saw race as an ideological and thematic obsession for writers of color that made their writing polemical somehow (because writing about being white is never polemical), an impediment to some imaginary "pure" prose school that was supposed to focus on the universality of human beings and not their particularities, or a direct challenge to literary realism that has been dominated by white, upper-class, heteronormative, East Coast writers for so long now that the"white" narrative has become a synonym for "neutral," "standard" and "uncontroversial." In fact, whiteness is still part of the literary default settings: if an author doesn't specify the race of a character, most readers still assume s/he's white unless there's a stereotypical race marker.
2. One thing most commenters failed to understand about MFA programs is that they don't share the same theoretical training or theory-obsessed culture as the English PhD programs that MFA programs are usually part of. For example, critical PhD students rarely enroll in MFA workshops because of enrollment caps in workshops and many MFA students avoid literary theory classes whenever possible. What this means is, it's very possible (and also very normal for MFA students) to avoid any and all conversations intersecting with minority discourse, postcolonialism, queer theory, marxist theory at all. The point is, most MFA programs are dead spaces for the examination of racial discourse and the analysis of non-white cultural/racial narratives. In fact, in most MFA programs not located in Oakland, California, race becomes a venereal disease that no one wants to talk about. They don't even wanna touch it.
3. As a hapa who reads white but is actually part Asian (Japanese) and part white (French and British), I'm actually on both sides of this dynamic. And I have to say that I mostly agree with Junot. I encountered a shitload of resistance when I wrote about non-white characters during my MFA years in part because of the assumptions that other writers made about my own race (which filtered what they believed I was allowed to write about and what I wasn't). I remember in one piece I submitted to workshop, I had a desi character who I was very fond of. For a draft, I found her to be smart, independent, complex, and intriguing. But the workshop completely rejected her characterization, not because they found her to be an Indian stereotype (for this would assume familiarity with Indian culture), but because they didn't understand why I had an Indian character in my manuscript at all. One white student even suggested that I put an Indian character to spice up my chapter. That's a verbatim quote, by the way. And when even one of my Pakistani writer friends (another desi!) in workshop vouched for both the cultural authenticity and also the uniqueness of her character, the workshop rejected his comments and then spoke over him. Think about that for a second: a group of mostly white writers telling a hapa writer and a Pakistani writer what was culturally authentic and culturally permissible in workshop about non-white people. The reality is that having mostly white writers and mostly white faculty can create a hostile MFA atmosphere in which people either deny that race exists at all (either in the world or on the page), they treat race as if it were some cultural crusade to punish white people or they assume that race in fiction and in workshop is always an act of tokenism, shallowness, political correctness, white guilt or even more paradoxically, of racism. Even worse, many white writers and faculty treat race, the issue of race and racism and racial constructions like a didactic exercise that writers bring into workshop in order to teach the workshop something, as opposed to simply being a reflection of non-white reality. There must be a reason why there are non-white characters in this short story, they say inside their minds.
4. Of course, writers in workshop should call out racist, hackneyed or shallow characterizations of characters of whatever race, but this shouldn't create a culture of fear or intolerance in which either people are too afraid to talk about race and racism or deal with race or racism in their own writing, or where writers are denying the cultural vocabulary of writers of color (or characters of color). And yet, I saw this shit all the time in my MFA where white writers were the most intolerant to the topic and the examination of alternative racial realities in writing. And the thing is, there were more than a few writers of color in my MFA (desi, Asian American, Latino), but none of them ever contributed to the discussion of race in class whatsoever. In fact, most ran away from the topic at all, maybe because they didn't want to get dragged into the cesspool of race, derail the workshop flow or maybe they didn't share any "radical" views about race at all. Or maybe they believed that art was about people, not race, and so they sympathized with the subtle white persecution of race in workshop. Either way, and this is precisely where I partially disagree with Junot Diaz, even the inclusion of more writers of color in workshop doesn't necessarily dismantle the structure of white supremacy that operates silently sometimes inside workshop. Especially if those writers of color have been trained (brainwashed) to believe that literary merit, not the translation of literary merit through the lens of class, race, gender, etc., etc., should be the sole criterion of workshop analysis.
-To read more about my thoughts about the construction of race in writing, workshop politics for writers of color, and the importance/impossibility of writing non-white cultural narratives, you can go here.
-Additionally, to read more about the ongoing problematic of teaching creative writing workshop as an instructor of color, and also the no-win situation of being a writer of color inside a creative writing workshop, check out Matt Salesses smart piece in NPR, "When Defending Your Writing Means Defending Yourself."
The period between March and June has always been, and will probably always be, a dramatic time in my life. Most of the best (and also worst) news I've received is during this time frame. For example:
1. Winning the Sparks Prize
2. Getting rejected from the JET program (for being too old)
4. Hearing back from all the tenure track jobs you applied to, where they gush about what an insanely large and especially talented pool of candidates there were, which made their job especially difficult
5. Seeing my short story on Tin House's website
6. Getting accepted in Notre Dame's MFA program
7. Visiting Rome, Hong Kong, Macau, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, and London
8. Finding out whether I'm getting (re)hired at UC Irvine after an exhaustive application process
9. Getting married to LB, something I never thought I'd do and something I never wanted to do until we fell in love
This list could go on. If we were at a café, this list would go on. But the point is, shit always goes down this quarter. Sometimes, it's bad. Usually though, it's good. But it's always crazy enlightening (and crazy dramatic too). So, it's with immense curiosity (and slight trepidation) that I wait to hear the state of the world for me in 2016. Stay tuned, people. Shit could get crazy.