It was only because I wanted to say that I took a class from a porn star

When I walked into the class today, a woman walked with some authority around the classroom. Her hair was brown, cropped right above the shoulder. Her clothes was conservative, and she carried a quiet self-awareness, a feeling of being a teacher and assured of her place in the world. She scanned the classroom, almost trying to memorize the faces. She smiled at people entering, most who rushed to find seat. Eventually, she settled down in front of a seat, piles of paper and books.

She was not the porn star.

I had signed up for the writing class several weeks earlier, intrigued by the name of the instructor. Initially, I imagined that the instructor was Asian with a last name of “Lee”. An Asian writer is rare—especially from a culture that emphasizes wisdom from science and mathematics. It’s interesting that the emphasis is toward logic when China once revered the arts of opera, dance, and painting. Especially writing. So all of that led me to googling. When I realized that the name was of a porn star down at the local San Francisco Now most contemporary porn stars…if I can use that terminology…are often feminist activists. Rather than seeing their work as simply indulgent paid work, it’s about letting females be powerful, just because they can be. It’s about allowing women to be who they are and make choices in their own right.

So I was super excited. Because writing is so vulnerable, I wanted to learn from someone who allows vulnerability in a real way.

To my disappointment, she was sick last week, causing a slight riot from students when we were told after sitting 20 minutes in the class waiting. Then this week, we were told by the replacement instructor that the original instructor needed to opt out due to her mysterious illness—something that she discovered at a doctor’s appointment. For my curiosity’s sake, I really wanted to know. But when announced, I nodded emphatically, accepting that for the next few weeks, I wouldn’t be learning from a porn star.

Unconditional number one fan

Every artist needs one. Someone that will always hit “like” or “favorite”. It’s the one person that will always show up when it’s free, when it’s $100. It’s the someone who not only says, “I believe in you” but also screams angrily at you when you say, “I quit!”

Quitting isn’t an option for the unconditional number one fan.

I always wondered how successful people got to where they were without someone who believes in them. Was their internal voice that strong? Were they that stubborn?

While visiting potential wedding venues, my friend told me why her fiancee (and now husband) was the one. “Because he was like a rock,” she said. “No matter, what I did and where I went, he was still there.”

I hope that I can be like that too.

Killing your darlings

I only learned recently that William Faulkner said the oft-quoted phrase, “Kill your darlings”.

I first heard the line at a SXSW talk on how to succeed in design. In 2008. Granted, being raised by immigrant parents, meant that I often miss common idioms. At the time, I thought it was cute. Yes, of course everyone should kill their babies! To save the most precious one! Save your resources for the one that deserves the most love and care!

But today, I am reluctantly getting there. The worst part of any creative project is killing the darlings. I am suddenly in a midst of a project where I am more than just knee-deep. I am all the way in. Instead of flying through it swimmingly, I am sinking and my toes are getting caught in the mud. It doesn’t feel right, but I know that the mud doesn’t belong. It is making me seeing less of the surface, less of the sun, and less of the oxygen.

I am not afraid, am I? I have finished more than half. I have thought about it over and over again. And I wouldn’t have gotten here if it wasn’t for all the failures and mistakes, right? I’ll create it for them, because it’s what they wanted.

Creativity now squarely in the morning

In college and the few nascent years after that, my creativity peaked at night. At that time, I engaged in deep, emotional conversations with people (and myself) during those times. That’s when I was the most inspired to create. Brilliant ideas came naturally (although I wouldn’t always execute them) always then. My best writing dumped on the page after the day had finished. I needed to write all of that down.

Then I started working. In an office. I am not sure what happened, but my creativity and/or my willingness to let creativity blossom only happens in the morning. The day’s events bogs me too much now at night. The day’s activities take away any of my creative clarity and energy I need.

So what happened? What happened to the me that would need a day’s worth of turmoil, disappointments, activities…vs. a good night’s sleep to whisk all of that away? Maybe it’s because now that I have landed squarely in my thirties, that the brain is different. Or that I have gotten over the wounds and pain…and those healed areas…well they don’t inspire anymore. Or that clarity comes best with rest.

I wonder. But my best work in the last year have come in the morning. And also when I am stuck somewhere without purpose or intention.

Passion Pit. Live.

On Monday in Fox Theater, Chris helped me find a spot behind the railing on the floor. I was happy, watching the band up close, but not too close. I recognized the large golden “foxes” on either side of the stage. A human really with lights that glowed green with a black pupil and a colored jewel.

On stage, the Joy Formidable banner went down and a Passion Pit banner went up in its place. While waiting between sets, I looked up behind me.

Then I remembered. I remember the last rows. I remember watching New Order. I remember watching another band that I had so-so feelings about. I remember all of this as I was wretched in emotional turmoil. I remember wanting to desperately be on the ground floor in general admission. I remember why I had hesitation. And most importantly, I remember how much I desperately wanted to be somewhere else in the darkness as the booming music floated from the stage into the last rows in the balcony, the furthest seat that you could possibly have.

That flashed over me as the lights went down and the lead singer Passion Pit appeared on stage. And even then, every song evoked a memory. The last two years of confusion and strife. I love the music of Passion Pit. On the surface, it’s happy pop. It’s a reminder of how to be fun, after all two tracks appeared in the happy LittleBigPlanet game that I was obsessed with during the recession (I wouldn’t leave for days). It had hope for me. Then when their second album came out, I listened to a few tracks over and over again over Spotify and in the car. I could quote their lyrics now—like the one where a voice declares how happy he is but underneath all the pain is just bubbling to the surface. I can quote the jazzy croon that evokes images of glances exchanged and words unsaid. All of this.

But there I stood near the stage the balloons batted by concertgoers, shifting from foot to foot trying to kill the numbness of standing in the same place, bobbing my head. In the darkness lit up by colored lights, I smiled.

“Class cancelled,” the sign said.

Walking to the elevator, I heard a female talk to the security at the front desk, “Is the class cancelled? I saw a sign.”

“I don’t think so if you haven’t gotten an email…”

I walked around the sixth floor trying to find the room number. A middle-aged woman came up to me, “Are you looking for the creative nonfiction class?”

I nodded and right at that moment, the security came up, explaining that the registrar said that the class was still in session. He paused, staring at the sign, unsure about whether the class was in session. “Well the registrar said that it was still on and nothing changed. So if the instructor doesn’t arrive, come tell me.”

“I don’t know about you, but I came a long way to be here,” a woman said to me.

The room filled. The chairs were arranged in a circle with a few seats in the middle, all facing the board. It reminded me of rooms of screenwriters—people tossing ideas where we could see each other faces, nearly equally. Then as time ticked, each seat was slowly filled. Women dominated the class. A woman in her seventies took a seat next to me, fiddling with her flip phone. A guy with a white hipster bike helmet sat across the room. Several people looked distant, middle-aged. Our eyes gazed downward, not quite connecting with other faces.

“If the instructor doesn’t show, someone should teach the class!” the old woman next to me said. “What’s her name?”

“Lorelei Lee,” I said and then hesitated knowing what I found. “There’s a lot of stuff on her.”

“Maybe we can find her phone number?” a female voice suggested.

We sat in silence for the next few minutes. A Filipino lady pulled out her phone and called the main office. No answer. A busy tone. “Seems like it’s closed,” she said finally and tapped her phone off. She walked to the other side of the room to plug her phone in.

I brought out my notebooks, of varying sizes. One empty from my previous work. Then my working notebook, almost filled with writing from workshops and my very early drafts from early January. Only a few pages remained as I flipped through with various stickies showing how hefty this black spiral notebook was. I pulled out my smaller red notebook, the pocket-sized one and pondered Nanowrimo. Was that really a good idea? To just draft out some version of my grandfather’s story? What is the tension? I wrote several lines down, drafting a list of scenes in case that I would pursue the project in November. But I reminded myself, you have greater work to do in the month of November!

A student finally went downstairs to talk with the security guard. The old woman turned to me and said, “The janitor said that she might show!”

My face twisted. Was she insinuating that his Mexican features suggest that he worked as a janitor even though he clearly wore a security guard uniform. “He is security,” I said finally.

“Maybe someone can teach the class!” she said loudly to nobody in particular.

In a few moments, a man in casual wear walked in, “She’s not here. Hold on tight and we’ll get this all sorted out shortly.”

The security guard walked in, glancing at the full classroom of earnest faces—people from all walks of life, people with notebooks, people who had never taken a class. “Her husband apparently came and put up the sign and told nobody, because the instructor was ill. I am sorry about that. But if you have complaints, don’t direct them to me.”

As people got up to leave, he told everyone that now they could get back to whatever they wanted to do. He looked at a woman and said, “I know that you wanted to go shoe shopping.”

She turned around, “Now why would you think that?”

That moment slid quickly away.

The old woman put away her things and said again, “I thought someone would teach the class!”

How to win at the game of Assassins

(Based on personal experience of winning the game.)

Assuming that each assassin gets your full name, your home address, and your work address (if it’s post-school):

  • 1. Stay overnight somewhere else.
  • 2. Don’t return to your home.
  • 3. Well…if you must go back to your home, send compatriots to get your things.
  • 4. Use a taxi or someone to drive you to your home if you must so that you can quickly dash inside.
  • 5. Take inventory of everything that can be found through multiple links of your full name.
  • 6. Don’t wear anything that has been featured in photos online.
  • 7. Have an unpredictable schedule. Show up to work early one day. Show up to work late another day. Work late. Work early. Eat lunch at 3 pm. Work from home.
  • 8. Don’t trust anyone.
  • 9. Tell all your trusted friends that you’re playing and have them alert you if there is any suspicious activity.
  • 10. If you’re approached for a potential job interview or the like, delay it until after the game is well-finished or invite them to your home or work places.
  • 11. Exit all buildings through the most unnatural place of exiting.
  • 12. Google your target. Memorize the face.
  • 13. Hire contract killers.
  • 14. Show up to events unannounced (and un-RSVPed).
  • 15. Most importantly, this is a game. Don’t let it interfere with your life…that much.
  • He respected me

    “I didn’t try, because I knew that I wasn’t looking for the same thing that you were,” a former crush said to me more than eight years ago.

    In contrast to all other rejections I had then, I smiled then. Because why go through the grief, the rejection, the games. He read what I was seeking and didn’t feel the need to use me to validate himself. And for me too, I accepted it as it was, not trying to change his mind. He had a slight crazy, ranting streak that I admired. But internally, I knew that it wasn’t for me—I was becoming more socially conservative, turning inward and staying in. Partying? A thing of my insecure early twenties!

    For years afterwards, we kept in touch. Although five years ago, our communication completely faded into nothingness.

    Then suddenly, a mutual friend mentioned that he was coming in town. Yesterday, we met again after more than five years of silence. He had become more disillusioned. I had grown past my wounds, which for some reason, he never rubbed. As the night ended, he said, “Let’s not make it five years.”

    “Let’s not,” I said.

    Gravity and then no more

    I saw Gravity in the best way possible. Real Imax. 3D. Best surround sound. Best seats.

    And it was an intense 90 minutes.

    Afterwards, I almost nearly wanted to say that I never wanted to see another movie again. Mostly because there is nothing that can be quite comparable.

    It’s like the gelato that I had in Italy. Initially, I had bad gelato. But I didn’t really know it. There was one time during a dark Italian evening that…I finally just threw it out. The cream, the straticella gave me a headache and I just could not finish it. It was then that I decided that I would never again have bad gelato (to the best of my ability) and stick with good gelato. My stomach thanked me for that.

    And yet here’s a movie. A masterpiece. Where I wonder how it could be any better. Will I be disappointed my eyes gaze across similar movies? Will the dialog elsewhere seem so much more fake? So here I am: stuck. I had the best then and now I want more. Yet how do I do that without forsaking the great quality.

    My friend’s kid

    Last year, when he was barely one-and-a-half, we traveled with a friend’s kid. It was his first time traveling long distances. It was his first time to Taiwan.

    Like many kids his age, he was uncomfortable with all the change, all the weird food and people.

    Our friends had warned us about how their kid had them at their mercy. He threw tantrums, quite often in the most inopportune places. Restaurants, trains, airplanes. We were warned that things might be slow. Because he is…like the king. He wailed. He needed to be consoled. He needed help.


    But he had this incredible knack for looking at you. For a brief moment. You then face him and smile back. Suddenly, he turns away and the smile is gone. You wonder…did he smile for you? Just for you? Has he figured out that’s his way of getting you to pay attention?

    Whatever the case, I saw him today, almost a year older, he was jumping around his living room. He repeatedly fell into the couch, planting his small body in the cushion. Every so often, he would look up at his adult counterparts—over five feet towering him. Then he would smile.