Friday, October 16, 2015

2015 (So Far)

I've been terrible at updating my blog, my love and joy, and it's practically criminal, friends. But I thought I'd give some updates as I return to writing here more frequently (one can hope, one can hope).

Firstly, some good news! I've had a list piece published in McSweeney's Internet Tendency! This is truly an honor and I'm currently at a loss for words, but you can read it here: "The Writer Exits Dramatically."

I've also had a crazy piece posted in Entropy, another site I really respect and admire. It involves, um.

A relationship? It's called "Scenes from a Relationship," and you can check that out here, friends.

I've also continued editing and writing pieces for the Critical Kpop site that Zander Stachniak and I have started, which is a big reason I haven't written much here. I've committed to Kpop this year, but Read My Blog Please is the one I have to keep coming back to you know? But anyway, you could check that site out here! Here's a picture because you love pictures, apparently:

I'm also editing fiction at Ghost Ocean Magazine, and the brilliant Heather Cox just did a redesign of the site. Issue 17 just came out and it's beautiful (words, images, site layout, etc). You know what? You're beautiful too. Here's our old logo, but you can check out the new look for the site here.

And what else? I've recently returned from a Writer's Residency in the beautiful Fergus Falls (right in Minnesota). I had three weeks to work on my collection of short stories, which I completed, thanks to the wonderful people at Springboard for the Arts and the Hinge Arts Residency Program. They're just some of the most supportive people I have ever met! Check them out!

Did I mention the residency is on the campus of an old state hospital (the Kirkbride) and has loads of history? I should have mentioned that. Next time.

And that's it for me on the creative front! I'll be posting more updates soon! Hopefully some more good ones!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Coming to Terms with the Disturbing Chronological Inconsistencies in Dr. Seuss' Animated Grinch Trilogy

The Grinch

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We all know the story. A grumpy old Grinch grinches his way to Christmas by disguising himself as Santa Claus, with his faithful dog, Max, and stealing Christmas, literally, from the unsuspecting and benevolent residents of Whoville. His devilishly evil plot is thwarted by the Whos themselves, who sing together, happily, despite the absence of their materialistic belongings, embracing the basic fundamentals of the Christian holiday, of love and devotion, and commitment to Christ (we can suppose). Touched by this basic decency, "Maybe Christmas, perhaps, doesn't come from a store." the Grinch's heart grows three sizes that day, and instead of suffering from an abnormally swelling heart and dying instantly (this movie admittedly does take some dramatic licenses), he gathers the strength to save all of the gifts that nearly plummet off his mountain, and returns them to the Whos of Whoville, though they really didn't need them anymore because love. Finis.

Except not finis. Emboldened by the success of this iconic Christmas movie, their were two subsequent followups to the 1966 tale, which bring up serious questions within the Grinch canon (we will ignore the more recent 2000 live action film of the same name, starring Jim Carey, and The Grinch in the Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, with the assumption that they exist in a realm separate from the animated chronology).

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977) 

The Grinch Halloween

The superior of the two follow ups would undeniably be Halloween is Grinch Night, which, needless to say, attempted to do for Halloween what the character previously did for Christmas, presenting a story that would embody the true meaning of the holiday. One wonders what stories could have unfolded if the character had been given other holidays. Perhaps a Thanksgiving story, or Easter, or maybe Hanukkah? Eight Holy Days for the Grinch. The possibilities, like the holidays, are endless.

But, I digress.

This story takes an expectantly darker look at not just the character of the Grinch, but the surroundings of Whoville. What's most bizarre is the shift from the kindly world of Whoville from the first film to an existence wrought with peril. While Whoville itself is rather idyllic, a sudden and dark "sour sweet" wind awakens, in the surrounding forest, the Gree Grumps from their tree stumps, causing them to growl and howl, awakening the inhabitants of the sinister pond, which houses large green sea monsters, that subsequently yowl. The cacophony of sounds signals, and thereby outrages the Grinch, who, as tradition dictates, decides to make his descent into Whoville and cause untold mischief.

And truthfully, the mischief is literally untold - we have no real sense of what exactly the Grinch will do once he arrives at the base of the mountain, and how many times he has done this unspeakable evil onto the Whos of Whoville, though it seems like an ongoing conflict - the Whos even have a call center that monitors the Grinch's activity.

A young Who named Euchariah is the one who thwarts the Grinch's schemes, not through basic decency, but by constantly getting in the way of the Grinch and delaying his arrival. Perhaps it's because of the "trick" dimension of the holiday that this solution is called for, though it is far less fulfilling than the redemption song of the previous movie.

The Grinch uses his demonic powers to scare Euchariah, giving an unsettling scene of ghouls and ghosts that puts into question the very nature of the Grinch.

Nightmare Grinch

As he was presented in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch was just a grumpy outcast in the mountains. Here, he's the lord of monsters, a keeper of frights, a representation of evil. It's a startling change, one that gives a different, unsettling angle to the rest of the Grinch trilogy. Yes, the Grinch is thwarted, and time for him, this time, runs out. He returns up the mountain, vowing to return, hinting, perhaps, of the Christmas scheme to follow.

This can almost be viewed as a prequel to his Christmas vengeance, ignoring the fact that he is somehow the Demon King (who doesn't use his demon powers, for whatever reason, on the Whos during Christmas). Though it is strange that the Whos seem unconcerned of him during Christmas, perhaps they never faced the Grinch during this holiday.

But then there's that damn dog, Max. At the end of Halloween is Grinch Night, Max leaves his spiteful owner and takes up with Euchariah, which brings up the question: how did Max return to the Grinch between this movie and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, if it has, in fact, taken place before that movie's chronology.

Max Grinch

Did the Grinch kidnap Max during the next Grinch Night? Did Max run away from Euchariah and his family? Did something terrible happen to Euchariah? These sinister questions dampens any catharsis felt for Euchariah and his heroics by the end of the movie, as one can gather that an ignoble end awaits him. If Halloween is Grinch Night somehow takes place after How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and one can argue that, considering both the power the Grinch now has accumulated and Max being featured with the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas), then it puts into question the very idea of change and growth in the character, dimming the genuine cheer of the Christmas classic. But maybe the third film will enlighten us to the Grinch's chronological character arc? But then again, maybe not.

The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982) 

Grinch Cat in the Hat

Which brings us to the lesser Grinch movie, The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. And when I say lesser, I mean far lesser than the previous two Grinch movies. What's appalling with this movie is the absolute disregard of both the continuity that has been established in the Grinch canon and the textured characterization inherent in the previous interpretations of the main characters. That's not all. The animation is subpar. The songs are without melody. The color palette is sickening and inconsistent. The language is decidedly faux-Seuss, with an occasional rhyme but with none of the absurdity.

We open on a beautiful day (where? Clearly not Whoville as there are no Whos present). Even the Grinch is in a good mood, until he reaches his reflection in the mirror, who has a mind of his own (a psychological representation here, predating Peter Jackson's interpretation of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by two decades). What's interesting is not the representation of this mirror duality, but the oath that the mirror requires the Grinch to recite: "A Grinch is unhelpful, unfriendly, unkind. With ungracious thoughts, in an unhealthy mind." (and so on, and so forth)

The Grinch Oath

This oath implies that the Grinch is one of many Grinches, all born of this singularly foul disposition, which brings up larger, unintended philosophical questions regarding learned behaviors as opposed to instinctual drives (nurture vs. nature), but also could possibly clear up the inconsistencies that these three movies have created.

Namely: Every Grinch in every Grinch movie could be a different Grinch. That would explain his redemptive arc in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and his devilish turn in Halloween is Grinch Night, to this grumpy figure who is not even in Whoville for his confrontation with the Cat in the Hat. That would explain the very different characters we see in all three movies. But what it doesn't explain is that damn dog. Max, once again, proves to be the wrench that unhinges the wheels of any practical analysis. How can the Grinch be different Grinches if they all own a dog named Max? This cannot be so, unless there are a species of Maxes that are always called Max (nothing in the Seussian nomenclature would lead to this conclusion). Moreover, if there were a breed of Maxes all called Max, why would all of the Maxes accompany Grinches?

No, this is the same Grinch and the same Max, and they are not in Whoville anymore, but they have run into the popular and cheery Cat in the Hat who behaves decidedly unlike the character from the original animated movie (let alone the book it was adapted from).

Cat in the Hat the Grinch

The Cat in the Hat in The Cat in the Hat was a madcap character, clever, a little mean (but meaning well). He's an agent of destruction. A hurricane - a force of nature that brings calamity to the lives of the children he entertains/torments. Who else would be just the right match for the Grinch? That was probably the impetus in the creation of this movie - these two opposing forces of indomitable will. Dr. Seuss's Batman vs. Superman. 

Except this Cat in the Hat doesn't match wits with the Grinch - he plays victimized foil to the Grinch's repeated bullying. The cleverness is gone. The biting humor is absent. Yes, in a way, the Cat in the Hat does start this conflict by leaving his car in the middle of the road while he picnics (very unsafe), impeding the progress of the Grinch in his own car. He even calls the Grinch, while apologizing, "Mr. Green Face," which, at the very least, is fucking racist.

The Grinch responds by chasing the Cat in the Hat's car with his own, nearly killing him as he races home. This is when the true extent of the Grinch's power is revealed. While the Cat in the Hat sings at his home, he is disrupted by, as the Grinch calls it, "the Acoustial Audio Bleeper." This device disrupts and gargles audio in any way the Grinch sees fit. It even has a fifty-mile radius, which is very impressive for a prototype model. You may be wondering how the Grinch has become so technologically adept, and you would be right to do so. He seemingly reveals startling new abilities with each animated movie. In this movie, the Grinch is a technical genius, reaching near god-like levels. He even has his own "Dark House," which emits literal darkness on the Cat in the Hat and any other surrounding victims.

Dark House Grinch

The Grinch can control sound. He can control light. As the movie becomes more abstract, it's as if the Grinch can control reality itself, changing the composition of matter and the very laws of the physical world.

The Grinch abstract

By the end of the movie, the Cat in the Hat confronts the Grinch, through song, reminding the Grinch of his dear old mother. Maybe this was to coincide with Mother's Day, keeping with the holiday spirit of the other Grinch movies? It does seem forced, but a redemption is a redemption, and the Grinch changes his ways, at least for a little while, and there is "peace in the land" (wherever that land is).

This resolution, of course, is problematic. This redemption is not as fulfilling as the Grinch's redemption in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and it's even lessened by the mere fact that in order for these two movies to coexist, one of his redemptive periods proved to be fleeting, as he needed to be redeemed again later (regardless of which movie comes first chronologically). Which puts into question whether his second redemption would prove to hold up after all, or if he would backslide once again to his Grinchian roots. Which puts into question a person's ability to change, truly change. Are we destined to error again? And again?

Coming to Terms with Inconsistency

Whichever way you believe is the chronology of these movies, says something about you and your character. Let's say you think the chronology goes as so: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Halloween is Grinch Night, and then The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. You would be a traditionalist here, following the chronology of the literal release of these animated movies. You'd think that the Grinch redeems himself during his Christmas escapade, but that the darkness within him eventually takes control, leading to his Halloween evil, and then, in his later years, after moving beyond Whoville, his fight with the Cat in the Hat. You'd also believe that either Max returned to the Grinch before his final movie (Max leaving him in the Halloween movie), or that the Grinch took Max back by force. What does that say about your moral view of the universe? That change, much like light, is relative?

What about this chronology: Halloween is Grinch Night, followed by How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and then The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. You might follow this chronology because you believe the Grinch at his darkest, most demonic should come first, and everything else is his slow redemption. But what caused him to leave Whoville to end up wherever he ended up in his confrontation with the Cat in the Hat? Was Christmas not enough to soothe his miserable heart?

Or are you like me, and believe that How the Grinch Stole Christmas absolutely must be the endgame here because there is nothing in the narrative that is as cathartic as the Grinch's heart growing three sizes and saving Christmas for all the Whos in Whoville. A story-focused chronology. In this case, the inferior The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat would come first, followed by Halloween is Grinch Night, leading to, of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You'd have to reconcile that the redemption during his foray with the Cat in the Hat was a false start - that the Grinch needed to struggle more to convincingly change and grow. He descends into darkness as he realizes that his heart is still too small, moves to Whoville, terrorizes the Whos, loses but then recovers Max (in my mind, by force), before, years later, his demonic and scientific powers waning but his cleverness at his peak, he truly redeems himself by learning the true meaning of Christmas, and subsequently, the meaning of his life.

None of these scenarios are a real comfort. Any way that you look at it, the moral questions that these animated movies pose far outweigh the simple messages they originally intended. Looking at these three movies, I am left with uncertainty. Does the Grinch truly change? Or is he just a repeat offender? Is his cruelty and heart destined for eternal conflict? Is it in his very nature, as one Grinch of many, to be deceptive and mean? Let's say the Grinch can't truly change, even after everything he's been through.

Then what chance do any of us have?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Some Non-Linear Reflections on Tom Cruise Science Fiction Movies

Tom Cruise fights Tom Cruise in the desert after realizing he's one of many Tom Cruise. We want to root for our Tom Cruise, but also cringe at seeing Tom Cruise, any Tom Cruise, in pain. Tom Cruise fights Tom Cruise and a gun is discharged, Tom Cruise's lover: shot by mistake. The old maxim, we realize, is true. When Tom Cruise fights Tom Cruise, everyone loses.

Tom Cruise loses his son when aliens attack. Not to death, Tom Cruise's son literally runs away from him. If you were Tom Cruise's son, would you leave Tom Cruise? No, you would not leave Tom Cruise. The film stretches believability.

I am aware that Tom Cruise practices Scientology.

Tom Cruise's face is disfigured in a horrible car accident. We do not want to believe that Tom Cruise can be disfigured, so we follow Tom Cruise in Tom Cruise's quest to re-figure Tom Cruise's face. That is 70% of the movie, but we care just as much as Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise wears a mask but if I needed a mask it would be Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise fighting drones. Drones cannot hit Tom Cruise. Drones disintegrate everyone in Tom Cruise's vicinity but will not disintegrate Tom Cruise. The bullets miss Tom Cruise by mere inches but of course the drones are doing this on purpose. The Drones: "We cannot kill Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise can never die."

Tom Cruise gets his Tom Cruise eyes taken out of his Tom Cruise head. The Tom Cruise eyes are placed in a bag and can be used to open doors at the plot's convenience. Is Tom Cruise still Tom Cruise without Tom Cruise eyes? If I surgically implant Tom Cruise eyes into my head will I be Tom Cruise? Phillip K. Dick asks the important questions.

I have not seen Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow yet. I regret that every day.

Tom Cruise flying Olga Kurylenko over mountains. Tom Cruise can not be killed. Tom Cruise shoots drones out of the sky and Tom Cruise crashes, but, don't worry, Tom Cruise is okay. It's like a video game, Tom Cruise's life. Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko crash into the desert. Tom Cruise finds the other Tom Cruise. No one wins.

Tom Cruise is called Jack, John, Cage, Ray, David, Jack again, but his name is Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise fights Tim Curry. Tom Cruise sends Tim Curry into the void but Tim Curry can never truly be destroyed. Tom Cruise knows this. And now, so do we.

Tom Cruise finds his son's murderer, or so Tom Cruise thought. He was not the murderer, and Tom Cruise realizes this after deciding not to murder him, even though it's foreseen that Tom Cruise murders his son's not-murderer, but then the not-murderer pushes Tom Cruise's gun into him and makes Tom Cruise murder him (the not-murderer), which proves that no matter what you do, Tom Cruise is inevitable.

Tom Cruise kills Tim Robbins because Tom Cruise thinks Tim Robbins is creepy and aliens. Tom Cruise's daughter is scared so Tom Cruise has to do what Tom Cruise has to do, and that's kill Tim Robbins. Tim Robbins invited Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise's daughter into his home, but Tom Cruise kills Tim Robbins. Tom Cruise is not a murderer, Tom Cruise is just the killer of Tim Robbins.

Tom Cruise loves Penelope Cruz. Tom Cruise loves Olga Kurylenko. Tom Cruise loves Jessica Capshaw. Tom Cruise loves Mia Sara. Tom Cruise loves Emily Blunt. Tom Cruise loves Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise in every Tom Cruise Science Fiction Movie. He is the same Tom Cruise, always.

Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman fly to the spaceship, in space. The spaceship is full of Tom Cruise, millions of Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman intend to blow up all of Tom Cruise. This cannot happen, but it must: Tom Cruise is the only one who can kill Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman hold down the nuclear detonator together, they annihilate each other and Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman die, and all the millions of Tom Cruise die, they're all dead.

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow always dies and comes back. I haven't seen Edge of Tomorrow. I realize that.

Tom Cruise gives Max von Sydow a chance to kill Tom Cruise but Max von Sydow kills Max von Sydow because only Tom Cruise can kill Tom Cruise.

Olga Kurylenko, bleeding. Picture it. Tom Cruise fought Tom Cruise in the desert and Olga Kurylenko is the one that is shot. Tom Cruise cancelled out Tom Cruise. That's the only explanation.

Tom Cruise kills Tom Cruise after Tom Cruise can't get back Tom Cruise's face, but Tom Cruise is alive in the machine and brought back in the future, outliving everyone in death. Tom Cruise is the resurrection.

Tom Cruise annihilates Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman and millions of Tom Cruise. How is this possible? It is not possible. Look, in the clearing, Olga Kurylenko. There is Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise can never die.

Monday, May 26, 2014

GUYS, Listen. You Really Should Have Some Girl Friends.

Boy and Girls can be friends too!

And I don't mean girlfriends either (though they are great too), I mean friends that just so happen to be, unavoidably, girls. What I'm saying is, guys, I'm sorry - Men, not only should you have women friends, you need them.

You need a girl friend because we need to get over this backwards friend zone mentality that somehow gives pity to those that we assume are trapped within it, when, in fact, we should all be just thankful that we have a friend in our life, any friend of any sex or race or orientation, because we shouldn't need sex to realize the love we feel for them.

You need a girl friend, you need many girl friends, because the next time a girlfriend dumps you, your girl friends, being girls themselves, will understand probably better than anyone else why you were dumped and, just maybe, you'll grow from that experience instead of becoming needlessly bitter.

Why would you want to escape a friendship?

You need girl friends because then you'll start understanding why that girl on the bus didn't want to talk to you when you were flirting shamelessly with her, and you'll understand why that girl at the bar ignored you entirely, because, wow!, maybe people just want to sit on the bus and read their book sometimes, maybe that girl just wanted a drink with her friend after a bad day at work. Your girl friends will help you realize, with their own horror stories, how constant such attempts really are, how they cherish being left alone, and then your reaction to their avoidance will no longer be, What a bitch. 

"Can't I take the Redline in peace?" 

You need a girl friend in your life, guys. I'm talking to the straight guys, specifically, because you specifically need to understand. When you've had a girl friend long enough, you'll stop calling girls whores or saying that they're asking for it. You may even give up leering. You'll even find that you've stopped slut-shaming entirely. When one of your guy friends treats a girl like dirt, in either a passive or overtly cruel way, it will give you pause. You'll wonder what is deficient within his own character instead of giving him that enthusiastic high five he expects for putting a woman in her place.

Not that it will always be easy.

Some of your guy friends may ask you when you will have sex with your girl friend or your other girl friend or why haven't you attempted to sleep with that one girl friend because they are so sure that she wanted to sleep with you. They may attempt to give you tips on how to sleep with her, thinking that something is wrong with you.

You'll shrug and you'll feel sorry for them, these sad, angry men who seem to be always seething with an unfathomable violence. But then, you'll notice, that many of your other guy friends will have girl friends too, and because it's not a big deal for them, it won't be for you either. You'll just think of all of them, eventually, as friends.

"Hey, you're my friend and I appreciate you in my life!"

Do you understand? You need girl friends because when you meet a woman your first thought shouldn't be, Now how am I going to fuck her? 

You need women friends because Elliot Rodger is not an anomaly. What happened this weekend didn't come out of nowhere, he's not just some crazy kid (people don't work that way). Because when you hear some atrocious statistic about the rate of which women have been sexually assaulted in this country, your reaction should not be, Here we go again, how come men are always the bad guys? 

Instead you'll remember your girl friends and you'll realize that other women are human beings just like them. You'll feel outrage instead of this strange need to be defensive. You'll no longer view everything as men vs. women

It'll just be us (human beings).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Asian Artist Profile: Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses is the author of a novel, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying and the novella, The Last Repatriate. Both books I highly recommend. His newest book, from Thought Catalog, is an essay collection called Different Racisms. It explores the unique racism Asian Americans face, including Jeremy Lin's impact on Asian American representation in national media, America's perception of Psy (Gangnam Style), and the model minority myth. Different Racisms can be found here.

Matthew was kind enough to answer questions about his writing, growing up Asian American, and, yes, sadness. You can find out more about him at his website here, friends.

I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying is a novel told in flash fiction, while The Last Repatriate is a beautifully concise novella. What are the benefits and difficulties of writing short fiction? Especially with taking the short pieces to form a longer narrative, like a novel? 

Each of the chapters in I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying is shorter than a page long. And I suppose, though I hadn't thought about it, The Last Repatriate is made up of many small parts. I've realized recently that this may just be the way I write best, as much as I'd love to write longer extended scenes. When I attempt those scenes, they often work better broken up into parts. I think part of this is that I am working with insight as cause and effect, more so than a longer string of physical action, and insight on the scale of smaller arcs is a lot about suggestion. Real insight is done in conjunction with the reader, or something. I leave a lot out when I'm making leaps or I cut a lot out when I'm really revising. When these small arcs add up, their elisions, as much as what is there, hopefully add up to some larger arc of emotional insight, where the reader is able to make something out of what is missing and feel it on a deeper level than the satisfaction (hopefully) of the resolution of what is there. I am making this up as I go along, though, and perhaps am not explaining myself accurately.

What struck me from reading both I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying, and The Last Repatriate, is a sense of almost indefinable sorrow, something that the characters in the books don't quite have the language to articulate. Even with the humor in these books, there's an underlying sadness that creates a tension, at least for me, that is extremely effecting. This may be too abstract, but can you talk about creating that mood? About writing, capturing, that sadness?  

Sadness--that's interesting. I think, in a way, the sadness is in the level of awareness. What the characters are aware of and what they are not aware of. The disconnect there is a large part of the disconnect in articulation and between fantasy and reality. I'm often writing arcs of denial. But at some level, there's awareness, and that awareness probably creates a sort of unrealized, or mood of, sadness.

Who are some of your favorite writers? What are you reading right now? 

I was just telling someone that I've noticed that so many of favorite writers are Canadian: Michael Ondaatje, Anne Carson, Alice Munro as frontrunners. Some of my favorite storytellers are Japanese: Haruki Murakami and Hayao Miyazaki, especially. Right now, I'm reading and rereading a number of Asian American books for a course I'm supposed to be teaching in the fall. I'm also reading ARCs of forthcoming books, like Kim Sunee's A Mouthful of Stars, and listening to E.M. Forster books on my iPhone.

There was a time that I didn't think there were really any young Asian American writers out there. But I was wrong, I just didn't know where to look! Was it difficult for you to find other Asian American writers? Do you feel like it's getting easier for Asian American writers to get noticed, to be found? 

It was difficult. I hope it has gotten easier with the internet. But I think part of what made it difficult when I was younger was that I didn't even know to look. Or I was afraid or ashamed to. One's school (and maybe one's local library) tell you what books are supposed to be, especially if you grow up in certain parts of the country. There is always someone telling you what books are supposed to be. Perhaps now those voices are more representative, but I suspect they're only very slightly so. There's too much politics to go on with this answer.

How was it like growing up Asian American? How has it affected your writing? 

For me, it was inextricable from growing up as an adoptee. I'm basically always writing about it, now. But there was a long time when I couldn't bring myself to write about it. It's harder for some people to be honest with themselves than it is for others.

Monday, April 28, 2014

This Is Happening

I have a short, ten minute piece that will be performed at 2014 My Asian Mom by the wonderful people at a-squared. It starts Friday. It is happening. You can buy tickets, here (I don't know why it says 7:00 in the ticket drop window, the production starts at 8:00).

So, this is happening. When I wrote my piece, "Why Do We Mistreat Our Korean Mothers?" I was not sure I would ever see it performed. It's fast-paced and split into ten separate parts, a disjunctive narrative that could fall apart under the weight of its chaotic asymmetry. And, even though it's not a direct adaptation of my life, it's still very personal, and a part of that embarrasses me, because I'm also a very private person. But it's time to get over that.

I have faith in a-squared. I have faith in the power of theater, or is it theatre? Google says I'm spelling it wrong.

This is happening too. No, not Calvin Kline. He is not happening (here).

After months of random Kpop posts, Zander Stachniak and I have made a separate website, Critical Kpop. It is a labor of love. This website is happening, has happened, will continue to happen. We've put a lot of work into it (okay, okay, Zander designed most of it) and we think, no, we strongly believe, that we're looking at Kpop from a different angle.

I was worried about this site too, because I worry about everything. I was worried about it failing immediately and embarrassing me, but I was conversely worried about it succeeding and embarrassing me.

What I should accept about myself is that I am always, somehow, embarrassed. If it's not about bad fortune, I'm embarrassed about success (fleeting as it is), about my reaction to success (am I gloating, am I showing off?) I'm embarrassed by conflict, by friendship, by my own exhaustion (you'd be exhausted too if you were this embarrassed all of the time)! When I'm not embarrassed at the moment, I'm considering how I will be embarrassed next, and I wonder, even now, why this is such an essential part of my biological makeup, what part of me sets me in a constant state of shame.

Which is to say, I'm embarrassed by this blog. I'm embarrassed by my lousy segue, informing you to look at the website for the Marble Room Reading Series, which I am co-curating with Olivia Lilley, and am very happy (and embarrassed) about. May 18th is our 12th reading.

And the new issue of Ghost Ocean Magazine is out (why bother with segues?), and it has poetry and fiction that I strongly believe in, and a review of Joshua Young's play in verse, The Holy Ghost People, that I also believe in.

I'm a fiction editor on the magazine (did you know this?); Heather Cox, a poet you should know, founded the magazine, and the wonderful press, Tree Light Books. The press is happening (has happened even). Heather is happening.

When you think about it, and maybe you should, the entire world is happening. Good, bad, tragic, impossible to fathom. The world has no time to be embarrassed, no time to say, "Sorry about that tornado." Or; "You're welcome for the nice breeze." There is only movement and spinning and spinning, etc.

I'm not sure what my point is with this post, except to say: This is what is happening in my life and I'm happy and I'm embarrassed. But also, I can't forget, so very fortunate.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Dystopias: A look at Bald New World(s), Orphans, and the complete and total Annihilation of Identity

I've always enjoyed reading about damaged worlds. I feel a thrill in weaving through Dystopic Literature, not just to see what writers do with their futuristic worlds, but to figure out what these worlds are saying about us right now

Peter Tieryas Liu's Bald New World, Ben Tanzer's Orphans, and Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation are dystopic books released within the past year that bring us into three very different futures. But they carry similar themes, a synchronicity that can't be ignored. 

I've written about Peter Tieryas Liu's work extensively because I feel like he's pushing Asian American writing into new avenues. With Bald New World, Peter writes his most personal story yet but brings us into a setting that may just be his most bizarre. In a future where everyone on Earth has gone bald, wigs are the largest commodity. Peter's book follows aimless but good-natured Nick Guan, a war-veteran and photographer, and his friendship with eccentric billionaire filmmaker Larry Chao, who owns, through inheritance, the most powerful wig company in the world.

The story is about image, yes, and about human greed, but at its core it's a story about belonging, and friendship, and what that makes you as a human being.

Who are you, really?

Peter uses the dystopic landscape of a world teetering on the edge to test the limits of human identity. This is a story about image but not just what you see in a mirror: It's about how you perceive yourself.

One of the most telling moments is when Nick finds himself embodying the body of a cricket, as part of a neural sport dangerously played in the future. It's so dangerous that Nick almost forgets that he is, in fact, a human, and the hormonal instincts of the cricket nearly take full control. But if his mind still believed he was a cricket would he still be Nick? With plastic surgery so precise in this future that you can look like literally anyone, who are you really? And does it even matter?

At its heart, Bald New World is a confrontation with identity in a world where so much of that can be bought.

With Orphans, Ben Tanzer brings us a dystopia that pushes inequality to the limit. In this future, jobs are the commodity. And with jobs being so scarce, keeping one, at all costs, is the only thing that matters. Even above holding your own individuality.

There are many issues at play here that break down the identity of the protagonist, Norrin Radd. Norrin has to sell real estate on Mars to the richest people on Earth, who are looking to start a new, better world. He's good at his job, a job that he hates, so what does that make him? No one cares.

What's most interesting about Ben's book is how the Corporation (capital "C") of this novel don't stop at minimizing people at work, using them as cogs, the Corporation's reach touches the home - where they supplant their employees, some gone for months at a time, like Norrin, with idealized clones. These Terrax inherit the memories and much of the personality of the employee, without their glaring, and very human, flaws.

Using Terraxes to take the place of the employee at home is used to avoid heartbreak over these long separations, to keep up productivity. But what the Corporation in this story is really saying is chilling:

In every single way, you can be replaced.

With Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer's first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, we get a dystopia that continues the question of identity. But it doesn't just say, You can be replaced. A big part of the story leaves you wondering if that would be such a terrible thing.

The enemy here isn't a monolithic corporation, the enemy is science itself (or maybe that's not the right word to use here, maybe there is no enemy). There are strange things happening at Area X, a place cut off from the rest of the world. Annihilation follows an expedition (the twelfth to reach the site) of four nameless woman; our protagonist is the biologist, but there is an anthropologist, a surveyor, and the leader, known only as the psychologist. Names are not important here, in this case, they are forbidden. You are your skill. The personal is to be kept at a minimum for the security of the mission.

But that doesn't stop the mission from falling apart.

As we learn more about the biologist, we find that her participation in this mission is not simply for science. Her husband traveled through the strange, ever changing terrain of Area X on his own mission, and when he returned, he was changed. Himself, but not. Hollow. And then he died. The biologist is in Area X to find out what happened to him. As she progresses, she must also figure out what is happening to her.

Through her interactions with the breathing landscape, her own biology begins to change. There is no doubt: Area X is changing her from within. But if her cells change, her own biological makeup, is she still herself? Can you become an entirely different being and not even realize it?

When it comes down to it, all three books are very different and ask different questions about identity. All are worth reading and analyzing and questioning.

For myself, I'll never stop questioning.

I believe that we are more than our jobs. We are more than what we like on Facebook, what we read, what food we eat. We are more than our skin. Our race. Our personality. Who we love. Even our biology.

But I can't stop wondering. How much more?