Category Archives: Path and Goal-Setting

I made the Best American Essays 2013’s Notables list

The Best American Short Stories 2013 details have been posted and it looks really good. Laura van den Berg has two notable stories (as well as a notable in Non-Required Reading too!) and Lauren Groff has a story on the Notables list for each too. Karen Russell made Non-Required Reading! I’m really excited for both anthologies.

This, of course, led me to Best American Essays 2013’s details page. I did a quick scan of the authors who made it and then I immediately popped over to the Notables list. It was a long shot and I didn’t have high hopes, but I also really believe in the worth of my essay, so I clicked and scrolled. And there it was. Right at the bottom of the page. My name. My essay.

Heart-stopped, stunned, I stared at the screen for a good ten minutes. I stopped all work. I couldn’t process anything. I haven’t been writing seriously for very long, even if it’s something I always knew I had to do, so no part of me expected to make a list like that so soon in my career. I cannot thank non-fiction editor Nick Anderman and the Carolina Quarterly enough for running my essay. I’m really just in awe right now.

I guess this counts, huh? I’m on the right path in life, moving in the right direction.

Update: I’ve also placed a story in the Southern Humanities Review. Whoo!

Now I’m Just Babbling…

I suppose, from time to time, I might actually use this blog as a proper blog, though my general busy-ness is a great preventative measure there. Lately, I’ve been reviewing the manuscript I wrote, a novel on the shorter end of things about college-aged ghost hunters. There’s always been some disquiet about this piece because, thematically, I really love it. I can’t help but to, even if I’m exhausted of it at the same time (the curse of any novel-length project, I imagine). I kept thinking that there was something off on a structural level, something missing in the first part of the story (which I wrote several years ago) that lacked motivation, drive, stakes for the characters or the readers.

Still, the structure seemed okay to me. Rereads went on and I still liked what I’d produced. So what was wrong? When I decided to go ahead and write a synopsis out, I saw pretty quickly. There’s something about condensing a whole chapter into a single sentence and seeing those sentences side-by-side that make you think, Oh… well… how the crap do these two ideas follow? How did we get from there to here at all? I could see the gaps. And I could also see how I had neglected one simple thing.

When I approached this novel, I wrote an outline. This outline changed a lot and it existed as a perpetual Gmail draft so that I have no record of what the original looked like nor even what the final looked like (the outline was deleted). So I always had a relatively clear idea of where I was going, but not necessarily how I got there. I think that as things changed and shifted and moved, the original stakes were lost (in fact, the original narrative is nothing like the final) and I simply forgot about it. With the synopsis, I can see very clearly what the stakes should always have been. It’s so simple that I feel really dumb for not seeing it before. And it requires only a very minimal retouching of some lines here and there, and suddenly, everything makes sense and the narrative is cohesive (enough anyway).

I’m debating whether to continue calling this a work of literary fiction or to start marketing it as “young adult.” Maybe I’ll query it out as both and see what bites first.

Anyway, lesson learned: write your synopses.

“Becoming Batman” on The Good Men Project

I began discussing with my friends recently about procuring the pieces to my battle suit–the one I’ve been planning for years now. Since a great deal of my friends are comic book geeks like myself, they saw pretty quickly what I was up to. After all, I’ve been in the martial arts since I was nine; after two years of powerlifting, I placed top ten nationally and took four state records and a host of titles; I spent years studying the science of training so that at every moment I could keep getting better. The idea of blogging the rest of this journey came up and I was all for it. Then I thought this might be better served if it wasn’t exactly a blog. Gender issues are very important to me. I’ve done a lot of suffering in my life for being a sensitive man and I no longer want men to be ashamed of their feelings. I wanted to use this project to also address issues of manhood and I’m incredibly lucky and grateful for the Good Men Project running my article today.

I owe a deep thanks to Matthew Salesses for putting me in touch with Good Men Project Editor-in-Chief Noah Brand; to Brand, I owe a deep thanks for working with me enthusiastically on the concept and politely turning down my first article attempt for one far better. I’m excited for this opportunity, not only to show the world this insane little hobby of mine but to also simply because I’m being given the opportunity to be much more forthright saying what I want to say, what I think is important to say.

I was a little worried about not being very productive this year, but I feel a lot better now. Thanks to everyone!

Acceptance to the Kartika Review!

I’ve another short story accepted for publication, this time to The Kartika Review. Very rarely do I ever write anything that stems from being Asian-American. I’ve actually taken great strides to distance myself from that identity. I want to be known for writing great stories, not for writing great Asian stories. I think Nam Le sums up how I feel on the matter best:

My relationship with Vietnam is complex. For a long time I vowed I wouldn’t fall into writing ethnic stories, immigrant stories, etc. Then I realized that not only was I working against these expectations (market, self, literary, cultural), I was working against my kneejerk resistance to such expectations. How I see it now is no matter what or where I write about, I feel a responsibility to the subject matter. Not so much to get it right as to do it justice. Having personal history with a subject only complicates this — but not always, nor necessarily, in bad ways. I don’t completely understand my relationship to Vietnam as a writer.

Hoan Kiem Lake’s giant turtle

I wrote this story after my girlfriend and I broke up (right around the time this blog was started). I was fairly distraught over the idea of suddenly being alone again and needed to write out my grief, sense of loss, and abrupt solitude. I didn’t want to do a break-up/divorce story (I seem to do those best when I’m not feeling like that). Somehow, the news article I read about a giant turtle from Vietnamese legend being discovered sick came into my mind and provided the backdrop for this story. I found myself writing about Vietnam for the first time in my life, but there was enough distance (and subtle amounts of fantasy) that I could do it without necessarily being very personal about the whole process.

The Kartika Review is a journal with a themed focus on the experience of Asian-American diaspora. Honestly, I could never write about my experience with that diaspora. It almost seems like whining. But I’m proud of what this story – originally very cathartic, raw, and super cheesy – has turned into. I’m happy and extraordinarily grateful to have it face the publicAfter, of course, the editor takes a knife to it. 🙂

Satisfaction is overrated

At a powerlifting meet last year, I went 8/9 in attempts. For those not in the know, that means of the nine attempts I made, I missed two of them. It was my third squat attempt at 380lbs. My original plan was 375, a number I had gotten a few times before in the gym. I didn’t cut weight for this meet, my training had been going really well and I smashed my second squat at 365. What’s five extra pounds?

I went down. And on the way up, my ass flew up into the air while my head, neck, and shoulders stayed glued where they were. Spotters caught the bar and that was that. No lift. This was so memorable that an older lifter, six months later, approached me at Nationals to retell the story to my girlfriend at the time. The rest of the meet, though, went amazingly. My third and heaviest bench press flew off my chest faster than the first attempts. In deadlift, I was pulling more than the equipped lifters in my weight class. Their jaws hung loose watching me.

I went away with first place in 165 Raw, happy with my performance. But not satisfied. People are always telling me how they’re surprised that every powerlifter they meet is extremely humble. It’s because we’re trained to be. We’re trained to realize that we suck, we’re weak, and no matter how strong we get, it’s not strong enough. The very culture enforces this: never be satisfied with yourself.

I’m not saying to not be happy, with your life or your identity or your present state. But satisfaction is different. Being happy with yourself and your accomplishments is natural and healthy. It’s a celebration of who you are, which is all this blog is about. Being satisfied with yourself, though, implies that there’s nothing left to improve.

A co-worker once asked me why I’m pursuing an MFA in creative writing. He said, “It’s a skill you already have. Wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to pursue a skill or knowledge set that you don’t?” It’s an admirable point of view, but I think it misses the point. Just because I have the skill to write doesn’t mean that I write as well as I want to. No matter how good you are at something, there is always room to grow. People who will never be satisfied with where they are will always pursue growth. Never stop learning. Never stop growing.

If you believe in something, if there is a practice that contributes to your definition of yourself, I feel like the only thing you must do — the thing you are compelled to do — is pursue mastery over it until the sun winks out of existence. Anything less is cheating yourself.

What is this?

I’ve decided that it’s about time I started a personal blog, not necessarily as a matter of ego-stroking and self-congratulations. See, I’ve had this idea for a long time now to start something between friends and I called A Matter of Metal and Masculinity. I’m a big fan of the comedic writing of T.C. Luoma, who occasionally writes articles for the bodybuilding e-zine T-Nation. He always has some hilarious but poignant things to say about what masculinity and manhood mean today, how the definition is changing, why men are losing touch with who we’re supposed to be.

See, manhood seems to be split down the middle these days: hyper-masculine, aggressive, dumb brutes or overly emotional sissy boys combing over-waxed hair and wearing ball-suffocating skinny jeans. And this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. TC made some great points in his most recent article, namely that rage and aggression need to be tempered with compassion. The things that make a strong man are the same that make a strong woman.

I believe wholeheartedly in the feminist movement. We live in a day and age where women are fast becoming more educated than men, but are still getting paid less. That’s absurd, plain and simple. But the feminist movement is growing. It keeps moving forward, which is beautiful. The problem is that masculinity shouldn’t be repressed as a result. You know what happens next? We end up with a culture that produces a million man-children running around with no clue how to direct their aggression or desires. We end up with men who’re emotionally unavailable, who lack introspection, who lack the ability to progress the way women currently are.

But this blog, right here, isn’t supposed to be about masculinity. I wanted a personal blog to discuss living the writer’s life. I wanted to discuss me: a writer, characteristically sensitive and emotional, and a testosterone-fueled athlete, characteristically angry. I don’t believe manhood excludes femininity. A strong man and a strong woman share all the same traits.

It became clear to me that the theme of this blog is identity: what it means to be a writer (rejections by the hundreds), what it means to be a man, what it means to be a person. And so my title came: The blog is a matter of Self.

So far, it’s pretty bare-bones. But I hope you enjoy the musings as they come along.