Challenge yourself

“That’s cheating!” Chris said about a short piece I wrote to a prompt. “You’re writing about something you already know.”

The funny thing about having someone who completely believes in you unconditionally is that you are unaffected by criticism. I am able to hear the actual words instead of piling into a “oh no, I am not a good writer!” So this time, I heard it. And all week, I thought about it.

Like many budding writers (and perhaps due to the writer’s block that I believe started when I was 7), I have trouble writing fiction. The creativity, the settings, the made-up characters rarely flow out of my fingers. I write about memories. It’s no secret that new writers can only write from what they know and as they get better, the worlds mold together easily like floating puzzles putting themselves together and together.

But that other day, the prompt, I read it aloud. A deep thinking about my own childhood experiences contrasting with more recent ones. After so many years of blogging, I am so good at creating a beginning, an arc, and an end. It bothers me that my own writing can barely last more than 1000 words and then suddenly the ending demands to be entered. Because that’s what my writing is like—it describes, it climaxes, and then it rests almost out of exhaustion.

But here is where my challenge was. I write from experiences, contrasting with the past, present and future. I write what I know. And yet. To this day, I rarely have heard any memoir-like pieces come out of Chris. It’s always dragons, crazy insane characters, and explosions. It’s Michael Bay spilling out of fingers and through the ink. It’s loud, obnoxious characters. And then some.

I want to write about technology and my mind tingles at the thought. A short story about privacy in technology. My stomach gets excited, but it lurches at the fact that these characters are not real. And the skill that I have honed over the years—to meditate on a memory—is not real. But here, isn’t that exciting itself?

My Favorite Movies of Each Year: 2003 to 2013

Only because I couldn’t help but make my own list much like loudlysilent. As I made this list, I realized that my taste is very eclectic—it ranges from Asian American pride to foreign-philia to zombies to deep relationships to rainbow equality to simple good vs. evil. Whatever the case, I am drawn to good storytelling on a big screen. Shiny objects don’t work for me (you hear that, entertainment marketers?). The key to my heart is a story of hope and innocence. Also if it’s a story about being an outsider (probably why there’s so many films on same-sex relationships), well you got me.

Note: The year corresponds to the year that the movie was released in the US (or if I saw it at a film festival), which doesn’t always correspond to when I saw it. After all for the first part of this decade, I was a poor graduate student. Like Roger Ebert, no runner-ups, but jury prize for the movies that should be first place, but for whatever reason, it can’t be first. It was very hard to choose.

Let’s start with the worst movie of the last 10 years. Well at least the worst movie that I was subjected to seeing. There were many of course. There were the stories of love that had flat characters and a boring storyline. There were the action movies that was just about CRASH and BANG and very little substance. Congratulations to The Room who made it into the list. I was subjected to it as a “pleasant” post-dinner event (they did warn me though)and a cult midnight showing where I promptly fell asleep and awoke to the director giving an oblivious Q&A. It’s a film of self-indulgence, cheap filmmaking, and an overly dramatic ridiculous plotline that makes no sense. Well Lisa, you’re tearing me APART!


2003: Good Bye Lenin!

Good Bye, Lenin!

Why I loved it: This was the beginning of my love affair with Berlin (the reason for its end is another story completely). I loved the clash of the East vs. West (in those days, it was really just a symbol of the Cold War). The actual story is about one of the world’s biggest political transitions—the end of the Cold War—and how a mother, an authentic socialist believer, was protected from the real world by her children.
Jury Prize: Finding Nemo, The Station Agent

2004: Before Sunset

Before Sunset

Why I loved it: Much like Before Sunrise, this sequel followed the same city wandering as the last movie of Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke. There are too many movies out there about the beginning of love and so few about what happens afterwards when we are jaded and too experienced. Granted, I love this one more now than in 2004 when “beginnings” were more appropriate for me. I am jaded too.
Jury Prize: Shaun of the Dead, Saving Face, Oldboy

2005: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain

Why I loved it: Relationships are hard. I get it. But rarely do films show this well. Going into this, I had a fondness for Ang Lee and Jake Gyllenhaal (before 2004, it was The Good Girl and Donnie Darko that got my attention). Heath Ledger was just that guy that played teenage romance movies. Interestingly, I remember being surprised that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character was as engaging as that of Heath Ledger. It’s hard to play someone with complexity and struggle. At that time, I struggled with acceptance and authenticity.
Jury Prize: Good Night and Good Luck

2006: The Departed


Why I loved it: Because I loved Infernal Affairs. Truthfully, one of the main reasons I watched Infernal Affairs was that I hoped it would shed light on my parents’ childhood growing up in Hong Kong. To my dismay, of course, their lives were not filled with gangs and crime (from what I understand, it was much like mine—idyllic but in a big city). But who doesn’t love a story of good and evil wrapped up with…more good and evil. I was disappointed the the Police Chief’s role was small as it was bigger in Infernal Affairs.
Jury Prize: Pan’s Labyrinth

2007: Persepolis


Why I loved it: I first read the graphic novel in book club. Like many Americans, I had a very narrow and stereotypical view of the Middle East. This was my first time to see their lives and the sadness that happened in Iran. That they are truly like us. And more so, that my teenage experience is very much like someone in Iran. For more, read I am Malala and watch A Separation.
Jury Prize: Juno, Ratatouille, The Mist

2008: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Why I loved it: Heath Ledger appears twice in this list. But I wouldn’t say that it’s just because of his acting ability. It was everything here. For me, the ferry scene was what did it for me. To trust the people and to trust honesty. This complexity just got me.
Jury Prize: In Bruges, Departures, Milk

2009: Up


Why I loved it: The first 10 minutes. Lovey dovey films and songs are everywhere. My love of the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight is compressed in the first 10 minutes.
Jury Prize: Up in the Air, District 9, Precious

2010: Inception


Why I loved it: Incredible visual effects. The dream vs. reality. The dream within a dream. The spinning top. The exploration of what it means to make an inner intention. And simply put, a compelling story.
Jury Prize: Klown, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network

2011: Weekend


Why I loved it: There’s nothing as special as two people meeting and having lasting conversations. To me, it was as simple romance should be. Plus the fact that one person is closeted and the other isn’t.
Jury Prize: Drive, Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings

2012: Argo


Why I love it: Great storytelling. It is simply what Hollywood is. A story of how the remaining Americans at the beginning of the Iranian revolution got out through the most Hollywood way ever.
Jury Prize: Compliance, Ted, Pina

2013: Gravity


Why I loved it: Going into the movie (in IMAX) of course, I thought it was a movie about special effects. I mean, really, we have seen many movies shot in space. What I discovered was a story, even though it was at a small scale, that was human and real. Unlike many movies, the “enemy” wasn’t a human figure or some monster. It’s just a fact of nature or in this case, space. It is a bad day in space. But the ability of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to convey who they are in such a small view…says so much. If this was a book, I wouldn’t read it. But as a film, this is everything a film should be. A film is about a deep story, visuals that engage the viewer, and performances that make us feel a part of the story. Where the metaphors and themes speak so deeply to me in loss and hope. Not to mention, I loved the ending alluding to rebirth.
Jury Prize: What Maisie Knew, Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station

Everything I do is in preparation of doing what I was supposed to be doing

Mindy Kaling describes it well in her memoir (or a book of her quips). It went something like this:

I spend all day organizing and preparing so that I can sit down in front of my computer and write.

And well that’s me. In fact, what I am doing right now, in writing this post is in preparation of writing my book. And also, I am preparing for my writing group by baking and cooking and cleaning so that the writing group will prepare me for writing my book.

That’s right. All my waking hours up until this very moment have been buying supplies for the food, baking fruit crackers, thinking about making slice-baked potatoes, making chai from scratch, and using up my old eggs. It was about washing my dishes and bowls, watering my plants, putting away my laundry, brushing my teeth, and making myself look presentable. Not to mention that I did the things that other typical people do in preparation: browse Facebook and twitter, eat strawberries, check email, and aimlessly scroll through Craigslist.

My title? Master of procrastination.

The food trucks underneath the freeway

It never bothered me before, standing underneath the freeway overpass. The gigantic concrete thing that flew over 2nd Street. I have walked down that street many times as I strolled with my team for lunch to South Park. I have rode under it to get to the bike path on Townsend. The flurry and noise of traffic never bothered me until…

…I stood under it at the G-Food Truck Lounge.

I had been there once on my own and with a friend. And I don’t know how to describe it, the noise was suddenly overwhelming. And this is to someone who lives on a busy traffic where the sounds of cars and trucks clatter past my front door every day. The sound of traffic is meant to be soothing. But for some reason, this wasn’t. As the cars and trucks rode over the roads overhead, bumping over small road dividers, their engines, their whoosh echoed down below. And although I could occasionally block it out, the noise touched a deep fear circling in my heart.

Was it because I was afraid of being run over? Was it because I felt the noise closing on me? Was it the space of hipsters, office workers, tech people that squished me?

I only remember the same feeling when I stood in front of an ocean at Santa Cruz. The noise of the waves was oddly terrifying. They never bothered me before as a Californian. I have seen them repeatedly before. But the noise echoed and sounded louder around the cliffs…and my body instinctively wanted to get away. But instead, just like I did today, I stayed there and waited for what I sought.

“Don’t be a dead journo”

Just under a year ago, Chris and I wandered into Taksim Square when we knew that riots were brewing. Granted, it was a crazy idea, but I loved the area before it was taken over by a mob. It was trendy and hip. The best restaurants with a real local flavor rather than the touristy Sultanahmet were all there.

I posted a picture of a graffitied message which referenced Game of Thrones: Tayip, Winter is coming.

I thought it was amusing at the time as I was strolling away from Taksim Square and down to the tram. Interestingly, moments later, the tear gas cloud had floated to that area, and my eyes achingly burned. The logical side of me kicked in. I wasn’t panicked, mostly annoyed. Nobody around me was angry, no fear, just focused as we rode the tram in silence. Someone gave me a lemon and said in hasty English, “Squeeze in eye.”

I posted the photo later that night, satisfied that the only casualty of that experience was 45 minutes in teary eye pain and the contacts that I had to throw out. A friend commented hours later, “Don’t be a dead journo.”

All I could think was “don’t be stupid”.

BURFday wishlist 2014

This year, I am spending it in San Francisco. Unlike the rare last year where I didn’t do some crazy celebration.

This year, I am better grounded. Although a bit more cynical and jaded. But as for my birthday? What’s crazy is that I nearly got everything from last year’s wishlist minus the serendipity while traveling (turns you really have to plan and just wandering doesn’t mean that there are pleasant surprises everywhere) and the portable tripod never quite appeared.

But for my wishes! Well!

Previous years: 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

1. Presence > Present
2. CANDY! Although Chris has caught on and will prevent me from OD’ing on candy.
3. More opportunities to improve my craft of writing (more classes, maybe conferences?)
4. BE PUBLISHED LIKE LEGITIMATELY (and not just self-published—can somewhere please accept my pieces???)
5. Another pair of casual walking shoes (because apparently my shoes from last year are almost worn out!)
6. The wisdom to know when to strengthen a friendship and when it’s just simply not worth it
7. Endless supplies of snacks and tasty juices
8. A better macbook pro