thankful // zine fest edition

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My zine fest season is officially done!!! Whew. I am so, so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to travel up and down the California coast this year.

When this whole thing started about a year and a half ago, this didn’t even seem like a possibility. At my very first fest, all I had was my li’l copies of Wallagalore, some business cards, and a whole lot of self doubt. Fast-forward to my last fest in Pomona, and I had six (?!) published works, an actual tablecloth, a candy dish, and the same self doubt!!! I have grown immensely as an illustrator, storyteller, and human. I have met tons of talented artists. I have explained to a white man why the fetishization of Asian women is wrong. I feel like I’ve done everything and nothing at the same time and it is all so exciting!

But before looking forward to next year, some thanks are in order.

Organizers/Volunteers

Everyone who puts on these events is amazing. Each fest I attended was so well organized and everyone was incredibly welcoming, even though things get hectic during check-in. In my entire life, I organized one event for 75 people, and wanted to curl up into a ball and cry, so I know this shit ain’t easy. Cheers to those who dedicate their time to organizing such large groups of weirdo artists!

Vendors

Meeting people is awkward. Being assigned a tablemate that you don’t know is awkward. People who make art are awkward. Put all of these things together, and you have a good idea of what zine fests are like. That’s just real, especially for me—an introvert that would rather check every room on every floor of a building before I ask someone where the bathroom is. But what’s also real is that I’ve made some fantastic connections as a vendor.

I started making things to express very specific things I was feeling, like having to eat a ketchup sandwich at age 23 because I couldn’t afford lunch. What I didn’t expect was that something so specific to my life would also ring true in other people’s lives. And what was even more unexpected is that I would… gulp… be able to talk to strangers about how weirdly similar our lives are. Am I still afraid of people? Yes. But do I now know that people at fests are good folks who make great art? Yes, definitely!

Supporters
My family and friends are my biggest fans, for real. If you’re reading this, and have come out to an event to hang out with me or bought something from me, you are officially the best. My friends have showed up at the farthest, most random fests I’ve tabled at. They’ve driven through the desert to get to Joshua Tree and risked getting stuck in a sand dune like half of the vendors did. They’ve found me in the middle of San Francisco, where I was surrounded by waaaay cool Bay Area creators, and one-hundred percent not expecting it to be freezing cold. They’ve been the first to order from me when I announce a new project. They’ve just been there.

My mom volunteers to buy me things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, like a rolling cart (I was literally storing everything in an old cardboard box that was falling apart) and a folding table when I was freaking out about how to even get one.  She even showed up at a fest and bought out most of my inventory on what was otherwise a slow, kind of depressing day.

My partner has traveled with me to all of my events, and acts like it’s nothing to drive me, carry all my shit inside, and then go hide somewhere for 8 hours because I don’t want a white man trying to sell my books about Asian-American identity.

Without this core group of people, I’d be lost and sad and would become hungry and grumpy at fests, and I just really, really appreciate them. So, if you’re reading this, thank you times a million!!

For now, I’m going into hiding for a little to recharge while I reflect on how everything ran this year. I’m planning to draw and write and paint and read and go to Disneyland to eat. I have some projects in the works that I am super excited about. I also have some stuff that I’ve been putting off that I am not so excited about. I feel overwhelmed and underwhelmed and everything in between. But most of all, I am thankful for all that has happened, and can’t wait to do it again next year!

Spooky Silly

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I take Halloween very seriously. If a costume requires a custom sweater not sold in stores, I’ll sew it (by hand, because I don’t know how to use a sewing machine). If a character is blonde, you bet I’ll be in a wig even though I have an abnormally large head and even simple headbands give me headaches. And, if I’m Walter White, of course I’m going to walk around with dime bags filled with blue rock candy that I had to buy in bulk somewhere in Commerce. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone that takes this beautiful, should-be-national-holiday more seriously than I do. Unless that person is, like, a literal ghost or something.

I haven’t always been like this. In fact, I used to despise Halloween. In Kindergarten, I was Sailor Moon and dressed up in this fabulous outfit that my grandma sewed for me. I liked the clothes, but refused to wear the wig (26-year-old-me is disappointed rn). It got worse from there. As I got older, I began to think that dressing up was lame and only did it so I could go trick-or-treating. Thus, began a long string of forgettable, store-bought costumes that I chose based on how “normal” they looked. (Though, I was Helena from the My Chemical Romance music video once. Kinda proud of that one.) I prided myself on being mature and serious, and Halloween just didn’t fit that aesthetic.

Then, something changed. In college, I started watching this super low-key, cult-fave show called “Adventure Time.” I was obsessed. It was so weird and unique and just… silly. Watching it made me feel like it was okay to have fun—that it was good to not take oneself to seriously all the time. It’s fitting that my first real attempt at making a costume was when I grabbed a blue shirt, green felt, and puffy paint (also, a hand-sewn white hat from Etsy) and made this:

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I let go of whatever was holding me back. I didn’t care about what others thought. I had fun. I felt free. And I didn’t look back. The next few Halloweens consisted of me dressing up as Walter White from Breaking Bad (yes, with blue rock candy), Mabel and Wendy from Gravity Falls (I also sewed a giant mistakenly two-legged Waddles), Sadie from Steven Universe, and most recently, Webby from Ducktales. I looked for any occasion to be in costume whether it was at Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland or Comic-Con or just… life in general.

I adore the silliness of Halloween and am grateful to have a day dedicated to being creative and leaving all the stress in your everyday jean pockets back at home. I enjoy planning months in advance for what I’m going to make and what wig I’m going to buy and what shoes I can make use of. I find satisfaction in standing in the middle of a thirft store, looking at a still from an animated cartoon and trying to figure out how I can recreate that in real life. I love going out and seeing what others have managed to do with their costumes and how much fun they’re having. Halloween is truly a time of inspiration for me, and I’m so glad I was able to stop worrying about being cool and started worrying more about if my skirt is the same exact shade of purple as it is on a 13-year-old animated character.

What are some of your favorite Halloween costumes? And what are you doing this year? Let me know!

#goals

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It’s time to take action. I’ve been talking a lot about ideas and things that make sense theoretically, but I think now’s the time we work on making things happen.

I’m a goal-driven person, and always have been. One time, in first grade, we had a “fun” competition in which we were supposed to read and report on as many books as we could. I stayed up all night for a week, reading any book I could get my hands on, fueled by my desire to be the best. Well, I came in second place. As a result, I was the second person that got to pick a special prize from the treasure trove of first grade wonder. I chose an out-of-the-plastic-bag Beanie Baby from McDonald’s. I’m sure there were better prizes (mostly because my teacher was like, “are you sure about that?”), but it didn’t matter. I set a goal, didn’t quite make it, and was rewarded with sweet, french-fry-scented Beanie Baby loot.

The same thing happened in sixth grade band, when we had an assignment to draw as many treble clefs as we could in a week. I wanted to do 1000, so I spent all of my free time drawing the little squiggles on college-ruled paper. I ended up doing 12,060. Yes, twelve-thousand. And sixty. My prize was a “what the fuck you weren’t supposed to take it that seriously” look from my teacher, and, like, 500 chewy fruit candies I got poured into my arms in front of the class. I like having goals. I like doing better than I set out to do. And I maybe kind of like to win. Embarrassingly so.

That being said, this month, I’m back on my bullshit, setting goals and motivated to accomplish things. I wish I could say I’m tackling them like I did in first and sixth grade, but honestly, those goals were achieved in a tornado of anxiety that someone was going to be better than me, and I maybe don’t want to be in that headspace again.

My goals today concern my wellness and growth, and instead of working as fast as a 6/12 year old possibly can, I am taking it slow, micro, and allowing room for/and even welcoming error. I feel like I’ve been thinking about so many things in a strange, cerebral way without actually trying to change or improve, mostly because I so easily forget about things, but also because sometimes goals are overwhelming—especially ones that concern big ideas where you might not even know where to start. So, this time, I’m taking those ideas and distilling them down to small, manageable, physical things I can do every day (erm… every day I remember to do them, that is).

I want to practice compassion.
I think I’m a nice, pleasant person that lacks patience. It’s a tall task to ask myself to empathize with every stranger’s every situation, but it’s more manageable to stop myself from rolling my eyes at the person in front of me at the post office that didn’t put a zip code on their package. I also want to be more compassionate to non-humans. It’s easy to smile at dogs and pet cats only when they want to be pet (but is it, really??), but what’s even more conducive to my goal is to not kill bugs in the apartment, and instead, trap them under a cup and toss them outside (gently).

I want to be more present.
Ah, the goal of every basic girl that has a lotus tattoo and posts pictures in yoga poses on IG. But, I really do seek to be more present for people. I’ve noticed that during most of my conversations, I am thinking about the past, present, future, my dinner, and wondering how long until I can walk away. This leaves me feeling guilty, and wishing I had taken the time to truly connect with that person. Luckily, this can be remedied by listening with intent. I want to slow down, make eye contact, and listen with no ulterior motives or distractions, knowing that the veggie stir fry I want to think about can wait until the conversation is over and the moment has passed.

I want to grow as an artist.
The OC and SF trips really inspired me to experiment more with that I’m drawing and writing and making. It seems that every time I feel inspired, I don’t quite act on it, and end up forgetting I was ever interested in watercolor painting or abstract drawing or doing anything that I don’t usually do. But hey, now that I’m putting it out there, let’s get into it. I am going to draw more. I am going to look at more work by different artists. I am going to read new things. I am going to keep a notebook and pen handy everywhere I go, and not just in my purse shaped like a strawberry.

If you also have goals and have a plan to achieve them, I’d love to hear! Or, like, not, if you’re uncomfortable with sharing. But I think we’re on the right track here. Let’s get going.

fresh predicament

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I’m back! This past month, got a few (eight—unprecedented!) days off from work, did some light traveling, and came back with a clear head. For so long, I’d been weighed down by constant work to be done, fatigue, and overall feelings of un-wellness that I thought I could outrun by doing more. That didn’t work lol. But what did work was taking a little break from all of that stress. Though, it did also create a whole separate issue.

BUT FIRST, the trip!

Every year, my extended family holds a reunion, and this year it was in the San Diego area. This is one of the highlights of my year, not only because it’s an excuse to take off from work, but also because my family is kind of great?? It’s always a week of little stress and even less sleep, but that’s okay. This year, it arrived at the perfect time, right when I needed to get away from the toxic people in my life and surround myself with the opposite.

The following week, I went back to San Diego, but this time, it was for another annual event—Comic-Con! This is easily my favorite thing that I do all year, and this time did not disappoint. We got to see friends, buy a lot of cool (Peanuts!) stuff, and meet new friends. And—this was extremely special—we got to reconnect with Leonard Maltin. In addition to being a fantastic film critic, he’s also an adjunct professor at USC, where my partner and I met. In our senior year, we both took Mr. Maltin’s film symposium class, and long story short, that’s why we’re together today. That, plus listening to a handful of my favorite creatives talk about their work, left me feeling excited to tackle all of my projects I’d left behind. I was SO ready.

However, I came back to find that I was not faced with a different problem. Apparently, a clear head and happiness are maybe not as conducive to making sad girl things as I’d have liked. I’d been so used to being inspired by being sad, looking sad, and acting sad. It’s kind of my thing. To not by consumed by negative feelings was a weird thing. I felt that I lacked inspiration to make things I wanted to make. I was emotionally content, sure, but not content with the lack of emo girl work being produced.

So, I sat for long periods of time. I watched the news and waited to feel sad about the decline of the country, but felt more inspired to create change. I scrolled through my IG feed, looking to feel both jealous and disgusted at the amount of superficial frenemies I choose to surround myself with, but I ended up just shrugging it off. I sought out toxic people on social media to look for reasons to be upset, but ended up coming to the conclusion that we are all just people who want the best for ourselves and our loved ones, even if some people are, like, dumb af. Like, who am I? Who is this calm adult that doesn’t pick fights and call idiots out? I was getting frustrated with myself because, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t find it in me to be bothered. And thus, I didn’t feel that seething, “I hate the world” drive to make the kind of work I’m so used to putting out.

So, I sat again. I thought about what was stopping me, exactly. I’d been so used to taking my negative energy and channeling it into something else that I’d made it seem impossible to produce work any other way. Now that these feelings and the immediacy were gone, I felt stuck. As a person that has relied on emo tendencies to get shit done for the past 15 years, I felt like I suddenly didn’t have anything to talk about.

But the thing is, those feelings don’t just disappear. I still remember writing sad poems about getting threatened by a bully in seventh grade because I talked to her scene kid crush on Myspace. I can recall every time I’d accidentally read the comments section and cried because people are actually evil, especially when they’re on the internet and anonymous. And in the future, I’m still going to face rejection that makes me question my career choice and entire existence. The feelings will always be there. My inner emo kid is always here and accessible, even if I’m currently not feeling sad and lonely and disappointed and like I want to scream into a microphone about death and/or heartbreak.

The past couple weeks, I’ve been looking for new inspiration that doesn’t require that I feel like the world is ending. I’ve been walking a lot. I’ve been exploring the idea of compassion and how to make it cool. I’ve been watching Sailor Moon. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be sad to write sad things. Sure, it’s easier to make things when I’m hurting. And no, this doesn’t mean that I must suffer to get things done. But damn, I do like being dramatic.

 

healing // harmonization

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Phew, I have been struck by an asteroid-sized amount of negative energy and just plain bad luck this month, I tell ya. There’s been enough family drama to make me want to dissociate from the world, my wallet got stolen, and also I got hit by a car?? Life has been a mess. But despite all that has happened, I am here, in okay health, and also not dead. In fact, we are now more than halfway through 2018, and I’m using this as a time to reflect and examine the sources of toxicity in my life, looking for ways to either change my mindset or to remove such causes. This month is about recovery.

BODY

On a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I was driving on the freeway when a tire on the car next to me blew out. This sent the car flying into mine, dragging us both across the freeway and into a barricade on the side of the road. Super dramatic, I know. I walked away with a sprained thumb and neck, and a compressed disc in my back that’s currently making my whole left arm feel like a noodle.

For me, physical recovery is the most challenging. I like to move. I like to push myself. And now I’m in a position where, if I do either one of those in excess, I am in danger of not being physically able to move like I could before.

To lie down with a pack of frozen berries behind my neck for 20 minutes at a time was miserable at first. To not be able to bear weight on my arms was frustrating, when I’m used to doing 20 minutes of plank exercises a day. To have to pay attention to how my body was feeling and think about how this affects my future was a new concept. Just a month ago, I was constantly in an “I need to work out” mindset. Now, I am in a place where I’m telling myself “It is a privilege to work out,” and perhaps this is what I needed. Exercise is now a luxury to be afforded when I have first properly taken care of my body, and has made me grateful for everything I cando from day to day.

WORK

I love my job, don’t get me wrong. But it is a very physical one that can become quite exhausting. At times, I have felt myself grumbling in my head, “I have to go to work today,” which puts me in a bad mindset, making me feel likeeverything—from brushing my teeth to having to get out the keys to my temporary car—is a chore.  Since the car accident, my mindset has changed. Now, I get to go to work.I have the physical strength to get in my car, drive across the bridge (when the stupid entrance is open) from Long Beach to the South Bay, and set foot in an environment that cultivates such positive energy for the people who walk through the doors.

I get to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives every day. It is a privilege to be in such a position of influence.

The same goes for writing. Constantly writing towards a goal can be draining. For eight years, now, I’ve been writing with the intent to receive awards and money,

I have been so focused on the greed associated with what I can get out of writing, instead of focusing on what I can givethrough writing. I’ve toyed around with the idea of writing with intent, but have never quite understood it in a way to mean more than “write a vague religious message into your stuff like in 7th HeavenorVeggieTales”. I get it now.

My past few projects have been me writing with a purpose, whether that be to represent the underrepresented, to shed light on the need for emotional intelligence, or to connect with anxious, emo, death-obsessed young girls like me to let them know that it gets so much better than getting threatened by a scene kid bully when you talk to her crush on Myspace. The simple switch in my mind that took the I have to write feelingand turned it into the I get to writefeeling has left me feeling refreshed. I get to use my voice. It is a privilege to be in this position where I can attempt to use my words and experiences to connect with others. I will try not to take it for granted (I’ll have to remind myself of this when I’ve been stuck on a scene for an hour and only have an empty bag of Vons tortilla chips and an especially long, obscure internet history to show for it).

RELATIONSHIPS

Relationships can be a huge source of drama and toxic energy, and the ones that I get to maintain have seemed particularly cumbersome as of late.  I’ve pored over past conversations and interactions. I’ve wasted hours obsessing over weird hypothetical situations that could very well occur in the future. I’ve spent more time wondering how I was being judged during conversations than listening to what’s actually happening. It made being around people difficult.

And then I stopped.

I let these feelings—these worries about these people go. What a freeing feeling it is to not be consumed by such negative thoughts for 90 percent of my day. Or to not accidentally spend an hour on Facebook looking at someone’s face and thinking about how much it bothers me. Or to not stress about how I will have to inevitably deal with them at some point because, as much as I’d love to, I can’t just go off the grid and live in Idyllwild for the rest of my life.

But I can release the notion of thinking I’m responsible for what other people do. I am not accountable for how I am perceived by those who want to see the worst in people and the best only in a selective few. I am not responsible for decisions people make that do not involve me or my input. I am, however, in charge of living life in the present and doing my best to demonstrate compassion for others when the time arises. I am in charge of reminding myself that we are all humans with the same capacity for love and hurt. And I could also, like, not go back and “unlike” every one of someone’s pictures on IG that I “liked” out of courtesy three years ago. That’s just petty. (But also some.)


Recovery is tough. Slowing down when you feel like everything is speeding up around you is tough. Not giving into drama and resisting the temptation to call someone out on their bullshit via a public IG comment on one of their selfies is tough.

Healing is a journey to be taken in steps at your own pace. Maybe one of those steps is demonstrating compassion and not trying to climb out of your moon roof to yell “what the fuck” at the guy who just hit you on the freeway when all he was doing was coming over to see if you were okay because he felt bad. Maybe a step is slowing down and listening to how your left arm feels on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “ok” and 10 being “like a noodle.” One of those steps could even be one moment in which you sincerely say “hi” to that girl who did you wrong and just leave it at that without mentioning you know she once said your haircut was weird.

I invite you to take a moment today to heal, to recover, from whatever you find necessary. Take a deliberate breath, take a mindful step, take your finger off the “post comment” button.

aging // enlightenment

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This is my first newsletter as a 26-year-old!!! That’s right—not only am I now in my late-mid-twenties, but I also have to find my own health insurance and hope that I will not require a hospital visit because I can literally not afford it. I am less than thrilled with the amount of unsolicited responsibility I’ve been gifted.

This is the first birthday for which I haven’t been jazzed.  In the month leading up to the big day, I spent nearly every day navigating the Covered California website only to find that once I picked my ideal health insurance plan, my application wouldn’t go through on the site.  And then when I tried to live chat with someone for help, they disconnected after not resolving my problem. Also, I got the flu, followed by laryngitis and the whole time, I had to think about what I’d do if I had a terrible disease and didn’t want to pay to go to the doctor.

Not only this, but I’ve been consumed by this dark, sinking feeling that’s been whispering in my ear, “You haven’t accomplished enough and you’re almost 30, you loser.”

I’ve always been a fan of deadlines. Perhaps it was because I was on the staff of a fantastic high school newspaper, and knew the importance of getting things done on time. Maybe it’s because I’ve always up for a challenge since first grade, where I stayed up reading a reviewing 15 books one night so I could finish first in a competition. Though, something tells me it’s a product of my high-functioning anxiety more than anything else. I’ve always liked to get things done. I like the process of doing just as much as I like the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve completed a project. Even now, when I don’t really have deadlines because I’m floating in a strange unemployed limbo, I still like to set goals just to prove to myself that I can achieve them.

The thing about this most recent “deadline,” however, is that I didn’t even know it existed until it was too late. I’ve seen Facebook “memories” that tell me I graduated four years ago, and have officially been out of college longer than I was in it. I’ve yet to be paid for an industry job, and always seem to come close, only to fall on my face. I’ve seen my peers land jobs and get paid to do what I want to do. A wonderful combination of all these experiences culminated in me freaking out because compared to some, I have accomplished very little. Suddenly, I felt like I had missed my first deadline. (Literally the first. I have never turned anything in late. Thank you, stress hormones!)

I wish I could say that I discovered a magical solution that will make someone be less self-critical and more excited about the future in an instant, but I can’t. Over a number of weeks, I did a lot of sitting around, grumbling to myself about how I shouldn’t have looked at someone’s Instagram feed because I would draw comparisons. I did some Twitter scrolling, busying myself with Chrissy Teigen food pictures and occasional advice from board artists at Cartoon Network about how to be successful (tip: you have to go to Cal Arts). I took a lot of naps in the middle of the day.

And slowly, as I continued on with my life and my work, I came to realize that my life was not actually caving in with each passing second as I neared 26. And then I started to realize a few things:

1. Work is work, no matter how much you love it.

I tell myself that what I do all day isn’t really work because I enjoy doing what I do. However, this isn’t 100 percent true. It is work. If you are dedicating time and effort to something with a goal in mind, it is work. If you are working towards your dream career, then the steps you’re taking are work. If you whine alone about how you don’t want to fix the plot holes in a story, it is work.

And if you work, you need a break. For so long, I’ve called everything but breaks, my “breaks.” I’ve taken walks for the sole purpose of ironing out character details. I’ve watched documentaries that were secretly research for whatever projects I was working on. I’ve written blog posts I called “venting,” but were really just created as content, and were not actually for my well being at all.

Honestly, I’m still working on this one, so I can’t say I’ve ironed all the details out. But something tells me it will involve yoga or playing Mario Tennis for the Nintendo Switch or something like that.

2. Every person is on his or her own path, and these paths will greatly vary from one person to the next.

I uttered variants of this to myself time and time again, but I finally believe it. No one’s career path is going to look the same as the next person’s. I mean, maybe if you’re in the tech business (is that even what they call it?), you get a paid internship and it turns into a job right out of school, but for creatives, this is often not the case. So much of our success depends on luck and timing, and these are things that are out of our control. Behind almost every success story, there are so many weird things that had to go just right.

What we can do, though, as we’re waiting for that sliver of opportunity, is to work on things that make us happy. Make things that only we, as unique individuals, can make. Create things that make our hearts sing.

To compare oneself to someone else is unnecessary and not useful, and will literally just make you anxious and not want to do anything, and that’s how you end up taking a nap for 3 hours in the middle of the day. I would know.

3. I am okay.

I have loved ones within driving distance and/or a phone call away, a roof over my head, and a tiny, semi-full fridge. I’m doing just fine.

These are the things that keep me going when all I want to do is give up and take a job as a corporate shill, knowing that while I won’t be happy, at least I’ll be able to go to the doctor without going into debt. They help me remember that I have control over how I feel, even when I don’t have control of external forces. They let me know when it’s time to take a step back from whatever I’m doing, and stop thinking about the future for a moment, and that doing so won’t literally kill me.

Along the way to this 26-year-old enlightenment, I picked up a few other, less momentous, but also kind-of-important tidbits that help me from time to time:

-You can apparently put wax paper in the oven.

-Get a credit card with good cashback rewards.

-The imperfect produce subscription box is insanely affordable if you keep referring friends for $10 off codes. (If you want my code, let me know. You get $10 off, too!)

-Sometimes the best thing you can do for your body is to let it rest.

-Quit hate stalking your enemies.

-Wear a moisturizer with SPF.

-Wear moisturizer in general.

-Sleep aids are not evil.

-Sulfates are, though.

-Eat when you’re hungry.

-Breathe.

These, combined with everything else I’ve learned along the way to 26 have soothed my fear of impending doom, and made getting older a little bit more pleasant. I think I’ll be just fine, after all.

heritage

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Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! To be completely honest, I’ve had my ups and downs with identifying as Asian-American. I’ve gone through times in which I completely owned and flaunted my Asian-ness. I’ve also at times felt like I wanted nothing more than to be a blonde gal with hazel eyes because I was so sick of being APA. Though, upon reflection, these two opposites have one common, yellow thread that runs through them—portrayal of Asians in the media. And for a while, as an Asian-American artist, I was not doing my part.

For a long time, I did not see the beauty in being Japanese. I knew we made things like Dragonball Z and Bleach, but that’s about it. Yes, I once proudly displayed my J-Pop CD booklets in the front of my school binder for all to see, but that came to a halt when, one day, the High School Board of Cool Kids decided that liking Asian things was “fobby,” and therefore, lame. So, I put my anime DVDs in the same box as my “Alvin and the Chipmunks” cassette tapes, and pushed them into the dark part of my closet—you know, that place where you put those shoes you impulse-bought but never wore because they hurt—to stay hidden forever.

When I started to consume media that the cool kids approved, I discovered that I was wrong my whole life, and that Asians were actually never very chic. We were Nelly Yuki, the snitch from Gossip Girl, or Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. We were all either brainiacs or completely socially inept, if not both. We were dehumanized. And this was just coming from television and movies that I enjoyed. I didn’t want to think about how else Asians were being portrayed in things that I didn’t like. All I wanted to do was dissociate from my Asian-ness.

When I went to USC, I only wrote characters that were white. The things I was watching told me that there was no value in being APA, so that’s what I accepted as the truth. I did it because that was the norm and that’s what appeared to sell, but also because I did not want to cause anyone the pain I had suffered from watching those Asian stereotypes on my screen. I didn’t think that I could do anything to change what people thought of us, so I didn’t try. Please cringe, so you don’t do the same.

It was, admittedly, only recently that I’ve begun to see the beauty in my heritage—enough to be able to flaunt it just as I did L’arc En-Ciel’s Smile artwork on my notebooks in eighth grade. I am a fourth generation, Japanese-American. I know what it means to have grandparents who were interned as a result of xenophobia. I know what it means to grow up in the San Gabriel Valley, and to have experienced the wealth of diversity the area has to offer. And now I know what it means to be in a position to tell stories like mine.

We are not all anime lovers. Though, personally, I thought Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood was absolute perfection. We are not all Nelly Yuki. Though, if we characteristics of hers that make us perfectionists inclined to succeed, that is okay, and will get us far in life. We are not all Long Duk Dong. Though—nope. We’re just not. I think it’s time that we own our unique stories and share them.

 

 

happy anniversary, wallagalore!

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Exactly one year ago today, I held my book release party for my strange li’l novelette, Wallagalore! That’s right—it’s been a whole year since we all crowded the tiny but mighty (and semi-air conditioned) Women’s Center for Creative Work to eat tacos and take pictures in the photo booth! It’s kind of crazy how fast time has gone by and how quickly my lil community has grown since then. It’s also kind of crazy how much my life has changed.

Before I released Wallagalore, I feel like I was loosely associated with the people around me. By that I mean I sometimes went outside, sometimes talked to people, and mostly didn’t follow up if I said, “we should get coffee.” To be fair, I still suck at the latter, but at least I’m going outside more, and I now feel connected to people and places and to what brings us together.

On the night of the official release on April 18, I tabled at Tuesday Night Café as the featured visual artist. I knew I was going to have to say a few words about my work, and myself, and was kind of dreading it. I’ve never liked to talk about my experiences even though my work has always been deeply personal.

Whether I was writing about my fascination with religion (and the satire of such), feelings of not being good enough, or neuroticism when it comes to hating when people move my belongings, I was always able to safely distance myself from everything, convincing people that I wasn’t, like, that attached to things. I did this so people wouldn’t ask about what inspired my stories because talking about oneself can be strange and embarrassing and uncomfortable, am I right?

With Wallagalore, I couldn’t quite do that. I pulled from so many parts of my life that I couldn’t deny that, yeah, that’s literally my dad, or that yup, that’s my actual job, or even that yes, I really did get kicked in the head in a mosh pit and got a concussion. In a way it was scary for me to be putting so much of myself out into the world for people to see and judge and eventually ask me about. But in a way, it was also somewhat liberating to not have to deny that everything in Wallagalore is me.

In the few moments leading up to my two minutes on the TNC stage, I hastily scribbled down some words, trying to describe Wallagalore in a way that would have universal appeal. I’m not sure I accomplished that, but I did talk about my parents. When it all boils down, Wallagalore is about family. Underneath the breakup and Mormon hipster and escaping a murderess from Nebraska, it’s about my relationship with my dad.

From then on, I knew how to talk about it, and learned that this family dynamic—pretty specific to Asian-Americans—was something that resonated with azns and allowed us to bond over our unaffectionate parents. I was amazed that this little story that felt so weird and nuanced and specific to my life was helping bring together a group of people that felt the same weird, nuanced, specific way.

Because of the response to Wallagalore, I’ve released three other illustrated publications, each dealing with things quite personal to me. I’ve attended a handful of open mics and zine fests, and I am still blown away when people tell me that they feel the same about “yellow fever”, or trying to act “so happy for you”, or about their post-grad, twentysomething “crises”. I feel like I meet amazing storytellers at each event I table at, which is pretty great considering I hate people, like, 95 percent of the time. I’m working on that, but hey, it’s only been a year.

If you’re new here, welcome. If you’ve been with me for a while and were at the release party, I appreciate you so much. All of you are integral parts of my community, and I hope that we continue to lean on each other and share each other’s strange li’l stories.

P.S.
To celebrate the anniversary, I’m discounting Wallagalore on Amazon for the rest of the month– get it for $8 here!

24 day crash

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I check Instagram out of habit (or because I’m a masochist, but probably both) and see that people close to me are nominated for awards, getting new jobs, and making money doing things that I do for free. I “like” the posts to feign enthusiasm, then I look at where I am, sitting in my car in between work shifts, using the 48 minutes I have to try to make something happen that will make me feel like less of a failure. Yet, every time I try to catch up, I feel like I just tumble more towards the end of the pack.

I am not used to being behind. Hell, I’m not even used to coming in second place.

I think about high school, when the only thing I was rejected from was Prom Committee, and that’s because I was too busy doing other extracurriculars that didn’t involve choosing what color balloons would go best with a “Night on the Red Carpet” theme. I think about college, when I could stay up until midnight working, and then wake up at 5am to continue where I left off without a hitch—all because I once heard James Franco say that he thought sleep was wasted time. I think about everything I’d been able to accomplish before, and get frustrated that my productivity seems to be slacking in comparison to my peers, and I hyperventilate, thinking that I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough.

I wake up. I’ve fallen asleep again, goddamn it. Time to go into work.

These feelings started a while ago. They continued onto the next day, and week, and month, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like I could use a nap. I think about taking it easier, but when I think I might follow through, I see another post on Instagram telling me I have a lot to do to catch up.

Soon, I find that I’ve worked 24 straight days in a row. That is 24 days of work that pays, work that pays less, and work that doesn’t pay at all. On this 24th day, I feel tired, but not much more than usual. I have been out since 5am, fit in a lunch date with a friend, and make it back to my apartment to rest for a few minutes before it’s time to leave again. I toy around with the idea of taking an eight-minute nap, but decide against it because I know I won’t want to wake up.

I leave for work when it’s time, and still feel tired, but this is normal. As I continue on the road, it feels less normal. It is painful to stay awake, but I am sure I can will myself through it. I think, “if I can just make it halfway, I’ll be good to go.” I think, “I am physically and mentally weak if I pull over.” I think, “Maybe I shouldn’t be listening to NPR right now.”

I can no longer tell if the fact that I cannot hold my eyes open is normal or not. On the one hand, it makes sense that I’m tired, seeing as I’ve had a long day. On the other, it doesn’t make any fucking sense because I am an adult—not a child who needs to be put down for a nap every day, yet here I am: a 25 year old who cannot deal with the fact that she is falling behind in life, lacks an apartment with the appropriate amount of space to shelter a cat, and is about to lose her health insurance.

CRASH.

I wake up and I’ve hit the cement divider on Crenshaw Boulevard. I put it in park, turn on my hazards, and sit. My left ear is ringing. I smell smoke from the side airbags that deployed. My glasses are surprisingly still on my face, despite falling off like clockwork whenever I look down, or jog, or watch a movie. Of course those fuckers stayed on this time.

I call my boss to tell her I can’t make it to work. She gets my shifts covered, and I don’t feel relieved as much as I wish I hadn’t lost out on at least $50.

I call my boyfriend and tell him I fell asleep. I start to cry because I feel like garbage. Garbage that couldn’t drive three more fucking minutes to get to her workplace without hitting a goddamn cement slab. He tells me he’s on his way to come get me.

I call my mom and tell her what happened. She asks if I’m okay, and I say, yes, like it doesn’t matter. I am stupid and tired and feel even more stupid and tired as I think about what just happened. She keeps telling me she’s glad I’m okay, and I want to tell her I don’t care that I am. But I don’t because that’s probably not what she wants to hear after her daughter just collided with a cement block at who-knows-what speed.

A car stops behind me—it’s an old Lincoln, and I’m not going to guess what year because that’s not my thing. I don’t even know it’s a Lincoln, really, until the guy who’s driving it tells me. His name is Steve, and he’s from Louisiana, visiting his mother in the area. He’s pretty old, so I start to wonder how old his mother is. He asks what happened. I get out of the car to tell him, seeing the damage for the first time. It’s not nearly as bad as it feels, but I still break down and cry more out of frustration that after all of this, THAT was the damage.

He puts out flares to direct traffic away from me as I open my trunk and hood because apparently, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you fall asleep and veer onto the shoulder, into a five-foot-tall wall. I then sit inside the car, and he tells me about the flares—he had just gotten them today from a friend who found them in his garage. They are from 1971, which he finds hilarious. I don’t know if that’s old in flare years, but I laugh along. I hope he doesn’t tell me “everything happens for a reason.”

He recites the AAA number off the top of his head because he doesn’t have a smart phone. We get a tow truck out, and he waits with me, entertaining me with car facts and instructions on how to put flares out. I can tell he’s trying to keep me distracted, which would usually bother me, but I’m too tired to be difficult at this point.

I look at the clock and think, “maybe if this is done fast enough, I can make that second shift and not be out an extra $25.” Then I think this is maybe what got me here in the first place, so maybe I should just call it a day.

Everyone texts me, saying they’re glad I’m okay, but all I kind of just want to die, tbh. I tell them I’m fine, though, out of courtesy. Little do I know that I’m about to be given a rental car with no power locking doors or electric windows.

emo girl mixtape // 2009

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sad girl playlistThis post is accompanied by this playlist of sad songs that I made when I was heartbroken in 2009. Listen to it as you read along, for the whole experience (and for some throwback emo tunes). If you want more playlists + content like this, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter!

“I hate myself more than I ever led on / I’m burnt out / at 22”
TORTURES OF THE DAMNED, BAYSIDE

It is 5:00pm– a half hour after I ruined my life. Possibly for good. Definitely for the rest of senior year.

To relieve my pain, I have rolled three of the chairs at my grandma’s house together and I am laying on them like a bed, face down. My earbuds are in and these lyrics blast through, drowning out the noise from the evening news on the television. Typically, I’d be hovering around the kitchen, wondering when dinner would be finished, or getting the plates set out on the table. But today, I don’t feel like doing anything except lying here, listening to this melodramatic song on repeat.

I guess I should stand up, unless I want them to think something’s wrong. I mean, there is. But no one has to know that.

“I’m noooooot ooookay / I’m not okaaayyhaaayyyhayyyyy”
I’M NOT OKAY (I PROMISE), MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE

I am now driving back home when I turn this song on. I like it because it reminds me of the stickers from the top of CDs— you know, the ones that keep the case sealed. I collected these, sticking them on he wooden door to my bedroom, like a collage to show the world that, fuck yeah, I own 117 compact discs. And fuck yeah, those are all loaded into my 16gb iPod so I can listen to my non-conformist music whenever I want.

When I visited his house for the first time, I noticed he, too, had a collection of stickers, but on his wooden bed posts. We’re meant to be, I thought. I asked him about it once, and he nodded and smiled. This wasn’t an uncommon reaction from him, as on a good day, he managed to utter three words to me or anyone else.

“And I can’t make it on my own / because my heart is in Ohio / so cut my wrists and black my eyes  / so I can fall asleep tonight, or die”
OHIO IS FOR LOVERS, HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS

Whoa now, getting a little dramatic there, aren’t we? Heartbreak sucks, but today– a couple hours after I texted, “I like you” to him, told him not to look at the text until I said he could, and had to painfully pry the head shake “no” out of him when I asked if he “liked me back”– mine is not Hawthorne Heights bad. But I’ll spend a couple more hours being dramatic because it still sucks.

“Stop burning bridges / and drive off of them / so I can forget about you”
TELL THAT MICK HE JUST MADE MY LIST OF THINGS TO DO TODAY, FALL OUT BOY

I wanted nothing bad to happen to him. On the contrary, it was I who was dumb. I made up signs and symbols that said we were meant to be— like the fact that we both wanted to go into the film industry (In truth, I hadn’t wanted to until I heard that he did). Or that we both liked the same music (I beefed up my The Shins collection and pushed my From First to Last to the bottom of the pile of CDs in my car I left there, hoping he’d see them and want to swap). In doing this like this, I created a fictional narrative, one that could only end badly for me when reality came crashing down.

I can want nothing bad to happen to someone, yet sing along to this song that implies the opposite because I am sad. I am giving myself that.

“If you leave / don’t leave now / please don’t take my heart away”
IF YOU LEAVE, COVER BY NADA SURF

It’s been 16 hours. I have watched three John Hughes movies + He’s Just That Into You because tbh, I hate myself right now. I feel like Duckie at the end of Pretty in Pink, watching Andie run off with Blane as this song plays in the background. Duckie and I are alike because we kept prodding, even though it was clear our feelings weren’t being reciprocated. But Duckie was smart because he didn’t say, “Did you know that I like you?”  and get a shrug in response. Duckie didn’t say he wanted to make short films in an attempt to get closer to Andie. Duckie got that girl with the puffy sleeves at the end, and I am sitting here with no one; nothing.

I haven’t left that oversized green chair I set up in the middle of my room in hours. I figure if someone asks me what’s wrong, I’ll just pretend I’m asleep. That sounds like a good plan.

“Take the pain out of love / and then love won’t exist / everything we had … is no longer there”
EVERYTHING WE HAD, THE ACADEMY IS…

I never liked this song, but it’s starting to grow on me.

“Even if I spend 2004 / listening to Morrissey in my car / I’m better off alone than I would be in your arms”
POPULACE IN TWO, FROM FIRST TO LAST

A couple days have passed. My From First to Last CDs are back at the top of the pile in my trunk. I’ve started to take some of the plastic cases out to make room in my car, and in my heart, which is easier to do now, knowing that I won’t win him over with my impeccable music taste.

I sing along to this song at the top of my lungs. In this moment, it is 2004, and Sonny Moore is my Morrissey. I suddenly feel a little more alive. Better listen to this song 46 more times.

“Swing, swing from the tangles of / my heart is crushed by a former love”
SWING, SWING, THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS

A week later. The songs about death are still in rotation, but less so. I still want to die a little (a lot), but now I know I won’t, unless I get hit by a car or contract ebola, like in that movie with Dustin Hoffman that we had to watch in health class that one time.

I have stopped avoiding the route that leads to his house. I have stopped taking bites of the communal chocolate ice cream straight from the carton because that’s what females are supposed to do when dudes wrong them. I have stopped feeling like my whole world rides on us getting into film school together (spoiler alert: I did, he didn’t), and living happily ever after with two cats and maybe a dog, and probably not a kid.

“Although we’ve come / to the end of the road / still, I can’t let gooooo”
END OF THE ROAD, BOYZ II MEN

I can actually let go. I am fine. The only person this song reminds me of is Seth Cohen on The OC (That’s a lie, but I’m trying to speak truth into existence). I feel stupid. I feel sad. I feel everything at a time when I want to feel nothing. But I am mending. I am starting to laugh about the whole situation with friends over boba. I am starting to feel like a functioning 17-year-old again, whose only worries should be school and boys– oh, wait. I am starting to make new playlists in iTunes to preoccupy myself when I feel like trash.

I still listen to My Chemical Romance, but because I’m, like, really into horror right now (this will pass), and not because I actually want to die and/or be on the foggy brain meds my favorite bands sing about so often.

I think I’m okay (I promise).