hmh.

just remembered something.

i’m writing an essay on the history of immigration policy in the U.S. and its implications about the American identity, and it’s really quite difficult.

as an chinese american who grew up quite sheltered, in a strong chinese american and asian american community, i don’t recall any incidents of racism or outright prejudice. however, i’ve always been aware of and conflicted over my ethnicity.

most of my friends are asian american; that could be because of the social network i was a part of in chinese school and via family friends. i don’t know if that’s really evidence for anything.

(this is what i remembered:) but my younger brother has used the term ‘american’ multiple times to refer to people who are not chinese. not even just caucasians but also african americans, hispanic/latinos, i’m not even sure what the full list (if it exists) of all the minorities in the US is. it was weird the first time i noticed it. i corrected him then, saying that we too were american. it was a label that we both knew was a bit clunky. it happened again, and again. i kept correcting him. but even so, i still knew what he was meant when he described people as american.

chinese americans definitely have a reputation for being good students, meek, really talented, competitive, nerds, a ‘model minority.’ people chalk up our achievements and attribute it to our race/ethnicity (i still don’t really know the difference). we even say it ourselves, usually in jokes and memes; “there’s always an asian better than you,” “of course you got an A on that paper, you’re chinese.” i call b/s. i know plenty of not-asian americans who are definitely more brilliant than i am. they just don’t care as much in class, don’t try as hard, have a little more freedom behind them. and i’d also say that increasingly i’m seeing non-asian americans meeting/exceeding asian americans in school, i’m seeing asian americans be really outgoing and social and have worse grades. everyone just wants to get into college. there are no hard lines; there are hardly any lines. but the lines are there, and that’s what makes me uncomfortable.

not saying that i want everyone to blend in and be the same regardless of culture and ethnicity and race. but there are tensions, and there is certainly racism. it is abating, thank god i can call myself a legal citizen of the USA, but especially with the coronavirus you can see that racism towards chinese people is definitely alive around the world. even while writing this, i have a qualm that people will think less of this piece, this blog, and myself because i’ve revealed that i’m chinese american. hopefully that isn’t true.

people, please don’t make assumptions about me. being asian does not make school a cakewalk. i am my own complex person with random thoughts. i try really hard and i fail a lot. i’m not a robot, i’m an introvert, i’m kind of a hot mess. i know others that are the complete opposite.

please don’t make assumptions about chinese people, and please don’t extend those assumptions to people from other east-asian countries; the cultures within and around china are extremely varied.

inevitably this piece contains evidence of my own perception of stereotypes and prejudices. to combat this, i try to keep my mind open when i meet new people, and don’t assume things i don’t know about them. i hope you do the same.

growing up with privilege

I may not reek of privilege, but I certainly am not short of it.

I am privileged to have a family that loves and supports me; I am privileged to have friends that understand me and connect with me; I am privileged to have a house in a neighborhood in a town I call home; I am privileged to enjoy the miantiao that my grandma makes for lunch; to have met people I admire and learn from them; to have a properly functioning body; to enjoy the delectable rush of sound that comes from four people with string instruments and the rumble of open C against my chest. I am in no way short of privilege.

But that can be constricting. My parents are first-generation immigrants who came to America with nearly nothing (yes, I’m aware this is a classic trope) but scholarships and the ambition of carving out a life (not even necessarily in the United States- my mom had planned to leave after uni). Together, they’ve given my brother and I a stable home, a family, love and nurture, a supposed head start in life.

That makes failure feel worse. Because when I don’t live up to expectations, of starting here and ending here, I face my own qualms of letting people down- letting myself down. I see other people who have started in roughly the same place as me far, far ahead of me. Why should I keep pushing forward when there’s no way I’ll be able to beat them? But I do anyway because that’s the track I’ve decided to take. I know I’ll end up at the finish line, maybe without distinction but at least I’ll be finished.

I wonder how I can be successful, how I should go about carving my own life. But there are so many choices and I falter at every step, second guessing myself. Is this path really going to lead me where I want to be? Do I even know where I want to be? So far all I’ve done is kept my options open, leaving the future a gaping question mark.

See? No room for large failures, because I haven’t committed to anything completely. And, I think, that’s precisely why I’m not distinct. I’m not sharp edges and straight lines; I’m a blurred amorphous blob quivering indecisively. Even when I know how much needs to go into a particular passage, I don’t know how to give myself, to completely go in without reservations or trying to save face. But the lack of commitment is wrecking me; it’s a form of self-sabotage because I’m left with so many ends to pick up and maybe somehow tie together.

So this is where my privilege leaves me: I have the opportunities, but I have yet to be someone of worth, someone worthy of privilege.

a vessel filled to the brim yet always empty

Alternative title: romance is dead

I’ve realized the problem with myself. My problem is that I want to be too many things at once, but I have so many things I already need to be, and not enough of myself to do it all. Instead, I am a half formed glob of artiste, yes i did put an e at the end of that, writer (thought dumpster), cellist, scientist, student, teacher (of little kids, at least), daughter, cousin, friend, human

Because, after all, this all brings us back to the age-old question: who am I? This is certainly not the only time I’ve thought about it. My dad is driving me back from school and I’m staring out the window, thinking that a part of these neighborhoods is forever embedded in me and how wonderful yet terrifying that is. That all the experiences I’ve ever had have left an imprint on my being and that everyone carries what is around them. That maybe globalization isn’t so great because then we’d all be so similar, and life would be so dull if all we ever heard were our own thoughts back and back again.

The latest essay I read for my english class was an essay by Brian Doyle called Joyas valoduras. (Not too sure about that spelling or punctuation but that’s how I say it in my head, at least…) That essay was confusing to read. Yes, it was beautiful. I appreciated the sweeping view of all life forms, and upon closer examination the parallel structure between paragraphs and sentences and phrases and words, even. Yet it was hard for me to grasp the crux of Doyle’s purpose in writing the piece; was it to pay tribute to the exquisiteness or fragility or variety of life, or was he simply pouring his own thoughts down on paper, suddenly astounded by constellations in his mind? And how did it all connect to each heart being alone, because we cannot bear the closeness of another person inside?

P.S. regarding the title, I am conflicted. I like the sentiment, but “yet” doesn’t read as effortlessly as it should, and “but” is much too clunky. Which one is preferable to you?

hot and cold

When i was younger i was so warm i drank cold water in the winter

When i was younger i was so warm i drank cold water in the winter.

I drank cold water and i loved the snow and if anyone ever asked me if i’d rather be too hot or too cold i would always say too cold. always. When i played outside i didn’t mind when the snow got under my layers because i didn’t feel the cold until i went inside and it felt so warm When i was little summer was always too hot and i would play in the sprinklers out on the front lawn with my brother I didn’t care about getting wet because i was a swimmer and i would never hate the water. Never. My favorite color was yellow then. If you asked me now i would have to think for a second, even if there’s nothing much to think. The truth is i don’t really have a favorite color now (maybe turquoise?) It’s winter and i find myself sitting in my room for entire afternoons with everything and nothing to do Even when it’s white outside i crave the warmth of my room and force myself into bored stupor. I dislike taking showers I’m no longer a swimmer. I don’t like the cold any more Yet even after a hot shower in a steamy bathroom the cold still finds me. I drink hot water now.

thoughts on a pencil

Pencils: colorless, bland, and boring, yet allowing for thoughts to fall freely to the paper like raindrops.

      Pencils: colorless, bland, and boring, yet allowing for thoughts to fall freely to the paper like raindrops. We erode them until they’re gone or lost, like the tides do to the empty shells on the beach, or like sticks of chalk shrinking in your hand as you drag them across pavement. A pencil is adequate for expression, and grayscale is more wholesome, economical, and more widespread than the turquoise-and/or-purple-scale. After all, dogs see only in black and white, but they grasp a world not limited by sight. Pencils tend to cater to the other senses in a way the pen doesn’t. Sharp tips and dull stubs alike lend a clarity to the picture on the paper, the words on the page: reality recreated. Pencil lines blur smoothly through all the shades of metallic grey, but they don’t bleed, because blood drips only from pens. But blood isn’t needed to be alive- plants don’t have blood. Plants don’t need it.

        I guess a pencil could be sort of an anti-tree. It doesn’t grow taller, but instead shorter; it grows not leaves but meaningful words (all words have a meaning) and works of art on fluttering papers scattered in the wind. Trees use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy, and pencils- they take the unformed ideas and convert them into something you can look at with your own eye(s). A pencil is a tree, an angiosperm, a plant, a living thing.

        All living things, however, must be made out of cells, my science teacher tells me. A pencil, one could argue, is made out of cells (at least the wooden part). One could also argue that the graphite is the collection of ideas ready to be spent. But cold reality fails to see it this way. It tells me now, pencils are not alive. They may be made of cells, but are those cells alive? Well, I say, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. Parts of a plant cell include the mitochondria, the vacuoles, the cytoplasm, the lysosomes, the nucleus, all of which would not be alive on their own. If all the parts were mushed together randomly, there wouldn’t be a cell- there would be no life. To pencils, this can apply as well: the graphite as the vacuole that stores the thought, wood as the cytoplasm, paint as the cell wall, eraser as the lysosomes… except, an eraser doesn’t remove waste from the pencil. It removes mistakes from paper. What to make of this? Is paper part of pencils, or rather, the conceived idea of one?

        “That is the whole,” Virginia Woolf said as she closed upon revelation, looking upon a flower in the garden in St. Ives. The whole pencil includes not only the pencil, but also the paper. After all, what is a pencil without paper? Without ideas and the guidance of the hand of a thoughtful creature? (There is the nucleus.) It may be that the “whole” differs by the individual, and if that is so, then here is my pencil: The wooden stick guided by my hand, metallic graphite smears, coherent pictures and ideas formed on the paper, eraser dust scattered throughout.

overwhelmed

the frenzied state I found myself in on the eve of November 5, 2017

I just

I can’t put my feelings into words

I tried to explain to my mother but ended up saying shut up under my breath

Today I went to a math class, and everyone there basically already knows the material

and I don’t

and they’re all just loud

and I don’t know anything

and the teacher just stands at the front and gets mad at the loud people

and goes on with the lesson

he’s smart but he’s annoyed

and that makes for a bad lesson

and I’m sinking slowly into the depths of despair

keeping a face on that says I’m mature, I know what I’m doing (I really don’t want to be here right now)

a long time ago this class used to be fun

I don’t know what the teacher is talking about

well I should, but

I can’t pay attention

and then I go home

and I go over the material with my dad

who somehow gets the impression that I need to be less shy

and more loud

and ask more questions

but my questions

where are they?

I’m just lost, I have no questions

or I do, but they just get lost in the general chatter

or I kind of get it, and I just let myself think I’m fine

before going home and just

freaking out

and he keeps telling me to be louder

be less shy

ask more questions

don’t be shy

why are you so shy

why are you so soft spoken

just ask the question, goddammit!

And I cry

because I’m so done

I don’t want to answer his rhetorical questions

deal with his annoyance

his fury

well I know it’s not fury but

I get the material now because we just went over it, end of story, we’re all good now, okay?

stop asking me why I couldn’t ask questions, okay?

and I cry

walk away

say, can I do something else?

and he says sure

so I go work on my essays

I have two due the day after tomorrow

one is half done

half, because there’s a shit ton of editing to do

I don’t like my partner’s writing

the other hasn’t been started yet

although only the rough draft is due, so that’s okay

I can write it tomorrow

I tell myself

but think about it, what time do you have tomorrow?

tomorrow you have cello class

so you need to practice,

and you’ll have more homework

cello takes away three hours

thank god I don’t have cross country any more

oh right, we still have to get and oral presentation together

and there’s a math test on tuesday as well

all this is running through my mind as I’m trying to edit this mess of an essay

it’s not a real essay it’s so freaking messed up

and music is going through my head, red hot chili peppers

and my mom pops her head into my room (I’m wrapped in my blankets, by the way, all i want to do is read my fanfiction)

she tells me to go to bed soon,

am I almost done with my essay?

I want to scream

and I almost do

I drop my head onto the bed

and burrow under the blanket

and groan

and she just

she doesn’t understand

oh right

my dad texted my math teacher’s wife

who runs the classes, basically

and he said I was having trouble

and the wife told my friend

who probably also thinks I’m having trouble

but I was really just overreacting

all that chaos inside of me being let out

please stop overreacting to my overreacting, dad

just help me get through it

the whole world doesn’t have to know

okay, back to my mom

she comes in

tries to comfort me

but I’m too far gone

she leaves eventually,

not having helped at all

a little later, she returns

watches my stare at the screen in perpetual dismay at the carnage that’s sure to happen to my grades

she goes out again,

telling me to go to bed soon

as she leaves

I can’t just go to bed

idiot

I have two essays due the day after tomorrow

and I have no time tomorrow

so I have to do it today

but today is over

so when

will I do it

instead of doing my work

I feverishly type

this

an

example

of

my

overreacting

.

fear of failure

trust me, I’m an expert at failure.

Sometimes when I listen to my brother practice piano, I notice that when he stumbles on a passage, he’ll get frustrated and keep playing it, faster and faster, until he gets it right- but then he can’t get it right because he’s making it even harder for himself, so he switches to a different song to practice. It’s easy to see why he didn’t like playing the piano.

It’s probably partly because he wants to be good at it, so badly, because he thinks I’m really good at it- as his older sister. I try to show him that he doesn’t have to play it perfectly every time. There are strategies he can use to perfect imperfections other than pointless repetition, but he doesn’t listen to me. He tells me to stop talking and get out when barely a word escapes my lips.

I know he wants to be good, I know he’s trying really hard, I know he just wants to catch up to me-

But that’s not how you’re going to get there.

I wonder- when I’m practicing, struggling, failing, doesn’t he notice? That before you get good at something, there’s a period of disarray and chaos and mistakes and failure and correction and improvement. It’s a process I’ve gotten used to, having over eight years of experience and two different instruments.

I want him to know that it wasn’t easy for me, either. There was hard work, there were times when I got so mad at the world, too, sulking and screaming and crying.

When he keeps stumbling on the same phrase, I want to say, “David, you don’t have to play it every time like you want it sound in a performance. There are better ways to reach that end- Instead of playing it through faster all the time, it might help more if you played it slower, and accented every note- that way, you make sure you hit every note, and you won’t stumble as much when you play it faster.”

Because sometimes it seems that he only wants to play it faster and faster and faster, and I’m shouting into a void.   

I hate it. (I know he does, too, because:)

But- I do it, too. When I practice cello, and my mom’s watching and listening, it feels like I’m being trapped in a corner and I become incredibly passive aggressive, trying not to be mean yet wanting her to just go away. And eventually, she does, because the pressure just gets higher and higher and I implode, and it’s tangible in my demeanor and my music. And when it’s over, the self-loathing barrels in and it’s all a vicious cycle. My cello teacher said that I was learning to play for other people, but do I want to play for other people? I keep reminding myself that the answer is yes.

Yes, I do. I want people to hear me, hear all the time that I’ve spent dedicated to this instrument. But I don’t want them to hear me and think that it was a waste of time, that time and money was wasted on me. That’s failure. However, if you simply avoid playing for others to avoid humiliation and failure, it’s still a failure because other people aren’t getting the opportunity to enjoy what you’re playing. And if you go out there, on a stage, you have to follow through. That’s how you overcome the fear of failure.