Four Letter Words

I had always hated these words used to describe me—”nice” and then later in life, not in the lustful way “cute”. It was a way to both infantilize and ultimately minimize who I was. Like there were no other words to describe me as the person that I am.

In the last few years, I have been questioning the foundation of how I became the person that I am today. How did my Americaness and Asianess play into that identity? How did the (unknown???) slow childhood development play into it? And perhaps all the coddling, all the anxiety from my parents that I wasn’t learning…how did that have an influence?

Maybe I am seeking just an answer. Min Jin Lee’s piece on speaking had been provocative for so long.

In school, I could envision myself giving the presentation. Like the time in eighth grade giving a English presentation about my Chinese background, I imagined myself standing in front of class telling them about the stories that I knew and highlighting them through a book that we read. I saw myself as a performer—radical, funny, entertaining. But when it came time, my heart beated fast and I shuffled to the front of the class, at the time in a trailer on the side of the middle school campus. My voice could barely increase above the volume of a whisper and I am not even sure if I said what I wanted to say.

That is to say, I internally craved the spotlight. But never was able to execute perfectly with my external self.

Of course, over time, I learned how to speak. Yes, perhaps practicing and honing through online conversations so that my thoughts actually made sense through typed word. I often joked about it in my early twenties—”I wouldn’t exist if the internet didn’t exist!” referencing how I spent hours talking to people online letting my identity form by the six to ten chat boxes that would occur everyday from waking to sleep. And that’s before a smart phone! For whatever reason, whether it’s that internalized fear, I gravitated toward jobs that required public speaking. I could tell everyone better than they did! I would think. But it rarely was ever true.

What is it to be someone whose words are unheard? What about being someone who wants the words to be heard? I may draft over and over again, rehearse and rehearse until the words are burnt into my brain. But I can only look at stare at someone’s eyes, now imaginary through the camera lens of my computer, and hope that I make a connection.

Year 2020

2020 was…as I wrote on my retrospective thing…a year of let’s not do that again. Honestly, it wasn’t a complete dump fire for me. Rather, it was through a lot of ups and downs, especially as I craved more quiet moments. And the environment that allowed Chris to recover. Somewhat.

There were the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

May 2021 be better. For everyone. But the writing stuff, that it stays on the same trajectory of growth and success.

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2020: Dear Jenn of the Future and Past

Now I haven’t done this for so long, but with a turn toward introspection due to this year, I am returning to this prompt.

In 2010, I wrote of clear idealism. In 2011, I wrote of ways to move on.

Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)


Dear Jenn of 2025,

Don’t forget about writing. Or at least, don’t forget about how creativity drives your inner core. There was this movie that was released on Disney+ Soul, which you probably forgot because it was forgettable, but there was this pivotal question in it—what is your spark? Obviously it’s not quite writing. But it’s the desire to connect with others through creation, because you want people to think differently. That is the goal and your way of doing that is through creation.

Remember all the times that you were moody and then you suddenly created? Those moments changed everything. I have been trying to find that quote that I heard in a TV show or movie. The one where creators must create or else they create chaos or destroy. I am one of those. You’re one of those. Your pent-up energy doesn’t get released in any other way. If you keep it trapped, then it builds up in pressure, stretching in bad decisions and surrounding yourselves with bad influences.

So remember, always create. To create wonder. To make sure that others don’t feel alone. To let go of your steam. So go ahead, create the stories. Create the videos whether it’s a movie, shorts, or tik tok like things. Create the podcast. Create the images. Create the food. Or whatever they do to entertain the future. Create the experiences.


Dear Jenn of 2010,

Chris is a rock and accepts you as you are. Don’t forget it.

2020: Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2019, it was when I left my job and when Chris comforted me that we are ok. In 2018, it was realizing my own qualities. In 2017, it was giving advice in hopes of inspiring others. In 2016, it was the moment that when immersed in the election aftermath that anything could change. In 2015, it was the moment when I realized that I could finish Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2014, it was when I wrote a well-crafted piece (that I read to a live audience 11 months later). In 2013, it was when light shone in the face of despair. In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself. In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

I would like to say that in this dump fire of a year that it was the moment that Trump was kicked out of the office and that Biden was elected! But still, that’s all about stuff so external to me. As privileged as I am, I realize that there were many things that during the last four years, they didn’t affect me so personally. Despite not being white, I still have escaped the worst. Plus the fact that so much of my family is safe due to our jobs and huge safety nets. Also the vaccines. But I personally have so many mixed feelings due to what I love about this time, yet craving the missing moments that I once enjoyed.

So the real thing that everything is ok…is actually job-related. It wasn’t even about writing, because I had already decided to have a beginner set there.

In the fall, I received some feedback at work that…the core thing about my job wasn’t good enough. It was simply devastating because I had believed that it was good enough. But when I finished the project and presented it. When others actually responded positively, when others really appreciated it, that’s when I knew that it was okay.

Particularly when the head of product for my group repeated the biggest takeaway from the report and gave me credit. I heard it several times in product group meetings. And I wasn’t going to shy away from taking it.

That’s when I knew that it was going to be okay. But that’s also partly when I realized…well, is this something that I want to be constantly doing. Seeking praise. Seeking validation. But there was something about the process, the way I would get to the results, that I appreciated on my own. That’s what it was all about.

And I knew everything’s ok.

2020: Next Step

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

In 2010, it was about dream making. In 2011, it was about sticking to my boundaries. In 2012, it was about being true. In 2013, it was about embracing fear. In 2014, it was sitting my butt down and writing. In 2016, it was about leading. In 2017, it was about persistence. In 2018, it was about seeing the big picture. In 2019, it was about moving on (on my own terms).

In this very special year, it’s about simply valuing the things (and people) I love and finding ways to recreate those experiences. It’s an easy cop-out answer for this year.

There’s a question though about FOMO that I know that I will unfortunately falter. What other people do, what the Jones do is going affect me. Look, they’re partying. Look, they’re traveling. Look, they’re doing this and that. And I’ll feel obligated to do the same.

I already had been progressing toward this path. I got traveling out of the way. I refined the friend group. I pivoted my interests into something that felt more fulfilling to me. I indulged in what I actually liked rather than what others liked. And I’ll be aware of what’s truly unhealthy for me. And what things were truly healthy.

But with this comes worry. When it’s back to “normal”, when it’s the After times, I might not feel the same anymore.

2020: Moments

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2019 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2019.

2019 5 minutes, 2018 5 minutes, 2017 5 minutes, 2016 5 minutes, 2015 5 minutes, 2014 5 minutes, 2013 5 minutes, 2012 5 minutes, 2011 5 minutes, and 2010 5 minutes

  • When they announced shelter in place
  • When they called it at Four Seasons Total Landscaping
  • Biden winning Arizona
  • Getting accepted to Tin House
  • Getting accepted to VONA
  • Co-leading the BIPOC community at Tin House
  • Reading at a BIPOC event at Tin House
  • Workshop at Tin House
  • Getting published at Quiet Lighting
  • Reading at Quiet Lighting
  • Reading at Novalia
  • Taking a class on Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings
  • Making sourdough bread the first time
  • Making sourdough bread and it turned out well
  • Making a dutch baby
  • Birthday zoom
  • Animal Crossing and having people on the island on birthday
  • Meeting people on animal crossing
  • Getting Animal Crossing and switch
  • First day at new job
  • Eating at cafe of new job
  • New writing group
  • going to Orr hot springs
  • Getting po po big watch
  • po po funeral and burial
  • Doing The Artist’s Way
  • Taking the shuttle to new job
  • Winning trivia night organized by Becca
  • Watching lots of TV
  • Watching Tenet
  • Seeing Chris getting Tenet from Santa
  • Getting first covid test
  • Getting second covid test
  • Getting negative results each time
  • Seeing parents for the first time in their backyard since March
  • Having dinner with parents in early March against our recommendations
  • Waiting in line for House of Prime Rib on Thanksgiving
  • Having Farmhouse Thai birthday (remote) celebration
  • Having fancy eats from San Ho Won
  • Having first take home meal from Han Il Kwan
  • Having Claws of Mantis
  • Having the basque cheesecake
  • Giving a Pecha Kucha at work research summit
  • Writing and workshopping How to Grieve essay based on my experiences in the pandemic and Po Po’s passing
  • Reading a truncated essay of that at a Minor Feelings reading

2020: Making

What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

In 2010, I made xmas photo. In 2011, I made metaphorical things—that were intentionally symbolic of relationships and history. In 2012, I made ice cream. In 2013, I made design. In 2014, I made “my room”. In 2015, I made the last line of Ice Cream Travel Guide, literally. In 2016, I made my annual holiday video. In 2017, I made another annual holiday video. In 2018, I made scones (from the Tartine cookbook)! In 2019, I made another holiday video!

See, there’s a theme! Granted, the most recent thing I made was actually two minor things—a hastily written draft chapter for a book that I saw for a call for submissions that had a deadline in 90 minutes AND writing for prompts during writing group. I cobbled both together in less than an hour. Sigh. That’s what happens when you give yourself principles of never losing out on opportunities. Carpe diem, as I used to tell myself over and over again in my twenties. With diligence.

But of course, since it’s that time of the year. The thing that I actually MADE was the annual holiday video. That is, half of it. The original concept was about talking to our past selves, inspired by this video. Originally it was envisioned as various scenes like January Chris talking to April me, April me talking to July Chris, July Chris talking to October Jenn, October Jenn talking to November Chris, and November Chris talking to December Jenn. But first, we’re bad actors (and comedians). And second, the editing is way off because I have no formal editing experience!

Then we trimmed it simply to 2019 us talking to 2020 us. Easily done. Quicker. With jokes inspired by Chris (I admit that jokes don’t come naturally to me). And so although we went through phases of Anguish (and moments of Christian Bale), we filmed all 2020 stuff. We added a few music tracks…and I put in placeholder audio clips for the moments that we need to film for the 2019 scenes. And so here we go!

The current draft feels pretty good for someone who lacks editing and acting ability. But hey, it’s the best we can do!

I am very excited. We’ll see how it goes when it’s complete hopefully by Christmas!

2020: One Moment

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail.

In 2019, it was the moment that I realized that he was actually…alive and whole. In 2018, it was the moment that we realized that the car would start. In 2017, it was the moment (or moments) that I deeply connected with a group I had just met at a conference where I thought I would have been antisocial (or just horribly socially anxious). In 2016, it was the moment that I felt in the flow in telling the story of Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2015, it was the moments after my hat was “stolen” in Rio. In 2014, it was a moment in a writing workshop that I had achieved greatness. In 2013, it was talking to Yasar Usta in Istanbul. In 2012, it was using the ocean as a “big toilet” while floating outside Palawan. In 2011, it was my birthday moment. In 2010, it was the success in Journey to the End to the Night.

Sometimes when I look back at moments where I thought that I would be very alive—reading my own work, successfully planning some event and relishing the praise, talking to someone (who I think that I am getting closer to), or being in very social connected moments…it feels disconnected. I don’t feel quite in my body. I don’t feel like myself. Like I had concocted all of it as if it was meant to be perfect and designed. But the feelings aren’t there.

Instead in the past year of many things, I don’t know what that moment was. It likely was a quieter moment where I successfully created something. Bread. A story. Growing tomatoes. Holiday video. The aliveness is barely social. The aliveness is just the pleasure of being me and there.

Last year, I realized that this question is simply a synonym for “when you were the happiest?” Which directly I would answer as when I could stay at home. Which is the complete opposite of everything that everyone else wanted. I literally am tired of performing. And yet, my antisocial tendencies are coming out.

Perhaps it is the moments when I wake up and think “I don’t have to go anywhere today.” Maybe it’s the creation of a video as I always enjoyed. The fact that I can create something and send it out to the video.

It’s rather interesting that I am so drawn to creation. That just like so many years, I was so excited about creating any video. That as my energy goes into creating, developing it, editing, and everything…that it still makes me so happy.

2020: Letting Go

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

In 2010, it was a person. In 2011, it was an idea. In 2012, it was a symbol represented by a person. In 2013, I let go fear. In 2014, I let go of humility (or the desire to appear humble). In 2015, I let go of perfection. In 2016, I let go of expectations. In 2017, I let go of things and people I don’t need. In 2018, I let go of constant discovery. In 2019, I let go of expectations.

This year. This year. This year. I think that I could easily say the same thing as last year, expectations. But honestly, I actually didn’t have strong expectations due to Chris’ PCS. Of course, I had hoped to travel for work. I had some aspirations of going to a writing workshop in a faroff place like…Portland! But of course, as things went this year, none of that happened.

The things that I definitely let go of…is UNCOMFORTABLE PANTS.

Like pants with pockets. For years, I refused to wear jeans, but I was FORCED to wear them, because everyone wore them. Also, because they had pockets, so it was easier to carry the phone AND that stupid badge thingie. But now, of course, I don’t need it! Because the space is so small that why would I need pockets!

It is very likely like it happened during my first month that I would leave my phone somewhere and forget where and frantically look for it.

Whomp whomp.

Okay, so bigger meaning from the letting go of pockets. I just love the fact that I have my own personal space. The fact that I can dress pretty much however I want. And if I have a spill, well I can clean it up because nobody is watching!!! And if I gotta go, then I gotta go with nobody watching! I love the privacy. Years ago, I would have thought…well I can take a nap anytime, but I actually don’t. I just like taking long breaks! But the privacy!

2020: Writing

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

In 2010, I said everything. In 2015, I said fear. In 2016, I said that it’s sitting down and doing it.
In 2017, I said that it was work.
In 2018, I said that it was lack of support. In 2019, it really was the lack of accountability.

The most obvious thing that’s getting in the way is the fact that my creative space that was meant to be my writing space was suddenly turned into my office space. Earlier this year, I had taken a job at a big company in order to relieve any work-related feelings at home and to make it so that it felt truly creative here. And yet, it all vanished when I had to find a way to keep WLB going.

This year though after doing not just one but two writing workshops/programs, also taking MANY classes, AND getting not just one but two writing groups…I would say that I have accomplished a lot in that realm. I had hoped to revise my novel, but I did finish a full draft earlier this year (before the pandemic). But the subsequent draft has barely moved that much beyond the so-so attempt as part of nanowrimo, but I got 50,000 words done!

Each day, sometimes I worry about things. And that worry turns into browsing the internet and trying to find an answer. Quite often, the browsing doesn’t turn into anything. So if that’s the case, then it’s not the room. It’s the behavior that needs changing.