That time I took a Modern and Contemporary Dance course

I’ve recently taken up hip hop classes in lieu of intensive workouts at my gym.

Yeah, I never thought I’d write that sentence. But it’s true. Me, who cannot follow a lick of choreography, in a hip hop class … One day, I will film the class so that you can get a sense of how inadequate I am. Another post will likely delve into this experience.

Believe it or not, Dance and I have a long history.

In my senior year of college, I wanted to take a course that would fulfill my visual and performing elective and also allow me to have fun. I realized that my course load was too focused on writing; I needed to take a break somehow. So, I enrolled in Modern and Contemporary Dance. Cue the initial stages of awkwardness, as I recalled early childhood memories of dance classes (tap, jazz, and hip hop) with Miss Beverley, courtesy of Waterbury Park and Recreation: the horror of doing solos, the feeling of utter failure as my clumsy body tried to mirror my teachers’ lithe movements, and oh god, the glittery dance costumes and corny photos . . .

How did I last ten years? (I have the trophy to prove it.) I still don’t have the answer.

I was surprised by Brad Roth’s class at the Pepsico Theater. He was always so chill that I wondered if he smoked a few before our class. He wanted us to sync our inside self with our outside self, wanted our emotions to fuel our movements. He taught us the Alexander technique to reduce the tension that comes from everyday activities like sitting in a slouched position in front of a computer. (I had to correct my posture after writing this sentence).

As much as I pretended to dislike this class—laughing and rolling my eyes at certain things that Brad did—I honestly treasured these afternoons. We once had a dancer from Stomp! guest-teach our class. We also did yoga (and I didn’t fall asleep!). My most memorable moment, however, was toward the end of semester when our class decided to do a flash mob outside. Well, not a mob, as it was a class of maybe twelve . . . and it wasn’t planned very well. I just remember us jumping and prancing around the traffic circle near the campus center. People definitely stopped to watch us, but after awhile, it didn’t seem like our class cared. We were too busy dancing 🙂

Our final project was to create a piece of work that incorporated what we had learned throughout the class. The thought of choreographing anything terrified me, so I decided to play it safe: I wrote a story. I ended up reading it in class, the first time in a long time in which I’d shared my work out loud.

I thought it’d be fun to post it here, unedited, as it’s almost two years old. I didn’t imagine it as more than what’s pasted below. Sometimes that happens with writing. Below, I also pasted my analysis of the movements that were mentioned in the piece.

Trust Gone

by Loan Le

December 13, 2013

The pale and bare branches of dying trees swayed violently, battling each other in the winter wind.  A maroon Prius, with its windows shivering, drove over crushed ice and slush and entered an asphalt yard boxed in by gray and icy chain-link fencing. Lily emerged from the front seat and gazed up at the cemented boxes and rectangles that kept her father inside. She wanted to get back in the car and turn around. She wanted go back to her house and sit near the warmth of her fireplace. But he had called her. For some reason, he decided to reach out to her—even though she never wanted to hear from him again.

Stuffing her hands into the pockets of her wool jacket and tucking her chin underneath a scarf, she battled the winds, walking to the entrance. In her nightmares—the ones that emerge even after a peaceful day—she would explore the prison’s halls, and strange men with scars, tattoos and rotten teeth would always jump out around the corners. She’d wake up screaming and her boyfriend Tom would have to hold her until she regained her breath. 

Now inside, Lily said her name to the guard, who, after jerking his head to the right, buzzed her in. Large and small hands did a preliminary search of her body. She kept shifting her feet, which made the guards suspicious, but once they realized she didn’t want to be there, they let her go. She followed their directions, proceeding down a long hallway with double doors at the very end. Her feet moved automatically in a straight line. In the same nightmares she had appeared in a similarly placed corridor, only as she traveled further and further, the walls closed in on her. Trapped behind the blindingly white walls were grotesquely distorted faces and hands clawing their way out. They screamed at her.

She kept her body tight, crossing her arms to fight away a bout of claustrophobia. In the distance she heard men throw curse words at each other, chairs and tables scuffling, and keys jangling as someone presumably jogged to secure the scene.

One tall guard stood outside of the visiting room, his face stoic, and arms behind his back. His stance was fit for a soldier prepared for an attack.

“Hands out,” he said.

She glanced up at him, confused. How in the world could she sneak something in hands between the first checkpoint and this area? Yet, Lily removed them from her pockets. Satisfied, he listed out the general etiquette for visitors. Keep it to a half hour. Hands where they can be easily seen. Use the phone to talk to the prisoner.

It took her a few beats to realize the guard had stopped speaking. He had opened the door for her.

As if sensing her hesitation, he added, “We have two guards inside who will watch the door.” Lily let her eyes wander over his deep mahogany face—which aside from residual acne scars and what looked like a crooked nose—appeared kind. She wondered if he was a father. If he was, she wanted to tell him her whole story. That it was her father who wanted to see her, not the other way around. That he could never receive her forgiveness no matter how many times he tried.

She took off her jacket, feeling her body heat up. She hugged it as she stepped into the next room. The walls looked more gray than white. A row was sectioned like cubicles to allow visitors to speak with prisoners in semi-privacy. A redheaded woman joked with a scrawny, nervous looking man whose gray jumpsuit made his own red hair more pronounced. Another man sat with a little blonde girl, probably five or six, since she carried a doll with her. The female prisoner behind the glass divider, her hair cut short and uneven, gazed fondly at the girl, who was more preoccupied with her toy. These family gatherings would have looked normal—sentimental even—if only there weren’t glass dividers, jumpsuits, handcuffs, and guards.

She then look to the front and, with a slight jolt, saw her father staring straight at her; he waited for the moment she walked through that door. Her boots clicked against the linoleum tiles, echoing over the hushed conversations. Once taking a seat she didn’t tuck in her chair like she would at a dinner table. Even with the divider up, she didn’t trust herself enough to get close.

He had aged since the last time she’d seen him at his sentencing. White hair dominated light brown strands and wrinkles were carved into his skin. Black bags under his eyes resembled bruises. He sat up, loosening his right hand, which had been curled into a fist. He leaned forward, shoulders hunched, digging his elbows into the table.

Her father mouthed something at her and then pointed at the handset that was to his left—her right. She reached for hers—was her hand shaking?—and pressed the cold chromium plastic to her ear.

“Hi, Lily,” the man whispered. And in that instant, she was six years old, in bed, falling asleep to the sound of him reading Peter Pan to her.

“Hi.” The word “Dad” could no longer be used.

“How was your exam?” he asked.

“I passed.” Bradley must have told him. For some reason Lily kept in touch with her father’s lawyer. He relayed her father’s request, asking cautiously engaging her in a pretentious conversation about her life. Like others, Bradley felt sympathy for her father; they were actually good friends. During the trial people said that he had snapped—that was all. He wasn’t a bad man. She was surprised to receive more mail from sympathizers than from angry and sometimes incomprehensible people. Some said they understood why he’d kill someone. Some said they would do the same if they had experienced the same betrayal as he did.

Regardless of people’s opinions about her father’s innocence, she knew nothing could bring her mother back.

Her father smiled. “That’s great. You always wanted to be a nurse. Nursing school is the first step.”

“Yeah.”

“I remember you used to like playing with those—what were they called? Cabbage Patch Girls I think. You’d take care of them like they were your babies.” He laughed briefly, more to himself.  “How’s everything else? Work treating you well? You look a bit thin since the last—”

“It’s been eight years, Dad,” Lily answered. She bit her tongue; how naturally that word could flow out of her mouth. She hated how this seemed to strengthen him, because he gazed at her, long and hard, seeing something that she could not.

“You look so much like her.”

She gripped her handset tighter.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say it like that. I didn’t think.”

Lily locked eyes with her father. She couldn’t believe him his nerve. The disgust abated, and was replaced by familiar numbness. She followed where his eyes landed and saw her sleeves had rolled up to reveal the gashes on her wrists. They still hurt. Quickly, she pulled her hands away and put them on her lap, intertwining her fingers so tightly that they turned white.

“So you called? I didn’t expect to get a call from here.” Appear interested, her psychiatrist told her a few weeks ago. Don’t let yourself feel scared; be in control.

“I have something to tell you. And I couldn’t wait for you to call me—because that would take forever.” The lightness in his voice wrung her heart, and she tried inconspicuously to breathe deeply through her nose. She sensed his father wanted to talk more about what he’d just seen, but she should never reveal anything to him. It would be futile. She watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallowed.

“What is it?”

“I’m dying.”

“Oh?” was all she could say.

“It’s cancer.”

Lily, without knowing why, started laughing. Her mind seemed to overload then, thoughts and thoughts piled on top each other but one word that kept repeating was “Why?”

“I didn’t think you’d find it funny,” her father said, almost looking hurt.

“Oh, it’s hilarious. What—” She stopped, fighting down another laugh that bubbled in her throat. Cancer in this case must be a sympathetic disease, though her father didn’t deserve any mercy. “So what does this mean?”

He tilted his head, genuinely confused. “I’ll be moved to a hospice. I’ve chosen one near home.”

The word “home” had not registered in her mind for a long time. She wasn’t able to save hers. “How sweet,” Lily spat. “But no one lives there anymore, remember? I ended up in foster care.” The memories came back to her; her psychiatrist kept telling her to move on, but they kept her back: her “parents” who had already too many kids to care for and her “siblings” who’d goad her about her real father who was all over the news until someone else killed another person.

“I didn’t know that would happen. I didn’t want anything to happen to you,” her father kept saying.

“It’s too late to say things like that.”

“I needed to see you. Because the doctor said the cancer’s spreading fast. He doesn’t think I—”

“It’s been four years—”

“—the meds aren’t working—”

“You can go fuck yourself for all I—”

“—Damn it, Lily!” He banged a fist onto the table, the mere action sucking all other conversations out of the room. Lily instinctively pushed herself away, and had nearly pulled out the telephone’s cord. Her father forced his hand open and then dragged it through his hair. He slowed his breathing. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He was saying this to the guard who had stood a few feet away from them.

“You okay?” the guard asked gruffly, placing a hand on Lily’s shoulder. She nodded.

With the other man back in his original place, her father started speaking again. “I don’t expect you to forgive me. Not right away.”

“Not ever. I wouldn’t have cared if you died.” She instantly knew that was a lie. She did care, still, even it was just a little. Her therapist knew as well, which was why she encouraged her to come today. Lily felt the tears behind her ears.

Her father swallowed again. He pressed a hand against the glass divider. She could see the faint reflection of herself, and was surprised to find her expression emotionless—cold like the weather she would soon meet again.

As a kid Lily thought it was so fascinating how much larger his hands were. She used to rest her own hand against his, as if he was her reflection. Lily compared the difference in texture: hers baby soft, his calloused with grooves and small hills, hers clean, his stained with residual oil grease, as if he had the color black permanently tattooed on it. She remembered wanting her hands to be like that—so grown up. She wanted to be him, not her mother—the woman who keep Lysol cleaning wipes in her bag, who would cringe at her dad’s touch and never allowed him a small kiss, even when he did shower after work. One time, while her mother cooked dinner, he snuck up behind her, quickly wrapping his arms around her waist. She wriggle out of his embrace, telling him he was bothering her. Her father spoke with his arms—outstretched arms meant he couldn’t contain his words and feelings. Her mother spoke with frowns and disapproving eyes. Lily never understood her—sometimes she even hated her. She was only a little surprised when her mother had sought comfort elsewhere.

Now staring at her father, Lily felt her arm inching forward on its own accord. In her mind, she saw that hand, outstretched, waiting for hers as she balanced—left foot, right foot, left foot, right food, don’t fall—along a narrow cemented wall in a nearby park. Her father would walk steadily besides her, watching for a fall, but she never took up his offer. If she could just remember how she felt in those moments, maybe—

But she couldn’t stop her mind from going back to two years ago, when she came home late from volunteering at the hospital . . .

When the police were already there.

Blood pounding in her ears, she moved through the rooms: the living room, where she was measured every year; the kitchen, where her mother seemed to live; the stairs that Lily used to slide down as a carefree child. She thought of her father; he must be hurt. The police wouldn’t tell her anything, but she eventually found out when she saw her mother’s body in the master bedroom. She pushed past the officers with strength she didn’t know she possessed. The medical examiner didn’t have time to cover up her mother, her bruised neck, and her naked body, when Lily made it to the room.

A slash of blood coated the walls like a Pollock painting Lily once saw at the Met. Next to her mother lay the naked body of a John Doe, his chest sliced open, and on the floor a bloodied letter opener.

His hand against the glass reminded her of the same hands that prosecutors said wrung her mother’s neck until her larynx caved in.

“We’re family,” his dad said to her, bringing her back.

Finally Lily pushed her chair back, metal screeching across the floor. She nodded at the nearby security guard who stepped aside and opened the door for her. She gave her dad one last look. His hand still rested against the glass divider, but he let his phone dangle beside him. He gave her a pleading look, the kind that would have made her six-year-old self rush into his arms and bury her nose into his shirt to smell the gasoline in the summer. But she wasn’t six anymore.

“No, we’re not.”

 Reflection

I’ve learned that dance reflects life. Dance is the outward expression of the emotions that we hold inside; it is an attempt to make emotions tangible. When deciding on this story, I focused first on the emotions, because that is the way I write: I want to make readers feel something. I believe readers can empathize with characters who also show emotions, so when I create my characters, I create them as broken people. Then I try to repair them in my stories.

I usually find inspiration when I hear a one-liner or when my mind focuses on an imagined scene, like watching a movie. For this story specifically, I saw the father’s hand pressed against the glass divider. It is such an open expression; we use the gesture every day. With an open palm, we give friendly high-fives, we wave hello and goodbye, and we place it on our heart when we pledge to the flag or when we just want to remind ourselves that we are alive by feeling our hearts beat. The palm faced outwards says, “I am here.” In this story, I wanted the open hand to mean “I am your father.” Naturally the climax, as you might say, revolves around this one imagery.

My next step was to build a conversation that could be the crux of the story. Dialogue tends to hasten the plot while also revealing a lot about the characters. After that, I had to fill in the blanks, and I did this by using what we learned about the four efforts. When we went over the efforts in class, you provided us with examples and pictures that helped make them more visible to us. This is a bit odd, but when I thought about time and weight, I thought about feelings. What feelings can be associated with sustained time? With light weight? I started asking myself these sorts of questions. Using the open palm and other examples of what an outstretched hand could mean, I built the history of Lily and her father. I wanted the light and slower scenes in the story, mostly in flashbacks, to symbolize a happier time. But then the stronger and quicker descriptions were bad, symbolizing a broken present. I connected the flow element with the concept of freedom and the space element with the concept of relationships.

For example, the closer the space between two people, the closer they are related. Similarly in our dance class, we had a lot of exercises that required us to work close with other classmates. With our visit to the center in Trumbull, we would often strike a pose to connect everyone—people with disabilities and people without disabilities—together. It is clear that dance has the great potential to connect.

But I wanted to show that there is a downside to being so close and so connected to another person. When Lily was little, she didn’t like being away from her father. We all know just how comforting another presence can be. Yet, we must acknowledge an unfortunate reality – a close presence can be poisoning. You can become dependent on it or you can ignored all of its flaws. Lily had not seen the darker side to her father because she was young; she had only seen the product of his anger. But after his jail time, she realizes that she never wants to see his true side. As you can see, she misses the past, but she knows that nothing can make up for the present. And there is no more future with her father. At the end, she walks away, purposely widening the distance, realizing that she does not need to be close anyone, she is independent.

I learned that movement within a story must mean something. Actions are sometimes more important than dialogue. A man might confess his undying love for a woman in a speech, but if the readers reads on and finds out through the writer’s narrative that “he held a knife behind his back,” then readers can realize the truth of his intentions. I realized the power of movement by observing the exercises we have done in class. Good choreography tells a story. So many examples in our dance class have stayed with me. For the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we dedicated a piece to the people who died that cloudless day. I remembered a moment when two of my classmates standing next to each other, modeling the Twin Towers. Taken out of context, it would just mean two people standing side by side. Yet, when I saw this happening, I felt sad, angry, reflective, and comforted all at the same time. Experiencing the power of movement, I wanted my descriptions about Lily and her father’s outward movement to be clear. One main element that I kept in mind was movement that represented resistance.

In one of our partner exercises, we had to have one person lean forward as far as possible, while the other person held back the partner’s arms to balance them. This exercise was based on trust and strength. My partner needed to feel comfortable with how far she could lean forward. But I interpreted this exercise in a different way, too. I imagined my partner leaning away, trying to escape my grasp, even though her efforts were futile. In this story, I portrayed Lily as she tried to escape her father’s grip. In the end she does, but the ending can also be interpreted that her father had finally let her go, because he knew he couldn’t do anything else to win her back.

After writing this story and the end-of-the-month responses, I’ve grown used to writing dance descriptions, which made me pay more attention to writing descriptions in general. Before, when watching dance recitals and performances, I always had a passive experience; I would see so many moves that looked pretty and awe-inspiring, but now I wonder about a choreographer’s choices. I learned a good choreographer doesn’t just put moves in a dance to “wow” the audience; the moves must have weight and must affect the viewer long after the dance is done—not just in that one minuscule second. Much like choreography, descriptions in short stories and novels have to mean something in order to make stories truly come alive.

Fleeting thoughts : love, hate, and the MTA

8278802443_97a515a2a1_z (2)Morning: The train halts and you feel the first twinges of anger. We apologize for the inconvenience. Apology not accepted. You hold on to a warm slippery pole, and think about the many hands that have already touched it–sweat, germs, questionable fluids. Everything and everyone you hate is in this car. Lanky kids hanging about, their jostling of slangs and nicknames almost like another language. The smell of urine hovering. An herbaceous scent trailing a blood-shot-eyed kid as he slumps down in his seat. Someone without headphones blaring indecipherable music for everyone to hear. A man coughing raucously into a handkerchief, who then checks the phlegm and stashes it back into his pocket. Stand clear of the closing door. Your grip on the pole tightens as people pass by, looking for seats, their flab sliding against you. Please do not hold the doors open!!! 

Late evening: There’s a young couple facing each other, huddled and close enough to touch. But they show restraint, aware of others, or shy themselves. You sense that a look has passed between them, the kind that only couples are privy to, and you wonder if they’ve already imagined up a life together. A few steps away, a blue-eyed baby is strapped to his mother’s chest, his hands exploring the creases of her face. He listens with wonder to the words she says only to him. Everyone seems to be reading, their books shielding themselves against the world, and you know and understand what it’s like to exist in two places at once. The car is soundless. You suppose that life, in this moment, isn’t that bad.

Reminder about my Fleeting Thoughts series: releasing my imperfect, unfiltered words that often occur when my body is still, but my mind is racing.

Keeping Sean Cononie Alive

One of the pieces I wrote this weekend for The Homeless Voice!

Will Write For Food 2015

WWFF13 sean

By Loan Le

You’re not supposed to stick antibiotic capsules up your butt. You’re not supposed to drink eight to 10 cans of Monster Energy drink every day. And you’re definitely not supposed to pee 1 1/2 gallons of urine during a four-hour power sleep.

But Sean Cononie, owner of the Stay Plus Inn homeless complex, gets away with this because he says he has more important things to worry about.

The ashtray on Cononie’s desk is rimmed with six burning cigarettes – all his. In between alternating drags of those cigarettes, he gulps from a 20-ounce Monster energy drink, one of many he’ll consume in a day. Recently, he went through 20 cans in a day. Like a revolving door, his staff members walk in, sit down across from him, and tell him what’s new in their lives. Then they leave when the walkie-talkie starts chirping, but not before…

View original post 671 more words

Fleeting thoughts: Bullies

c3422ad3-6ef0-4325-83c2-14d54f1b40fdMy mind’s a time machine at night. With only darkness as my company, I revisit moments of my past that I think about only when I don’t have anything else to think about.

Fourth grade. Waterbury, Connecticut. I’m back at my old school. Construction paper animal cutouts pinned to the hallway walls. Stinky multi-color cubbies. Cafeteria tables stained with grape juice spills. I’m in the bathroom, peeing, when I hear a door slam against a wall, the squelch of my usual tormentors’ Mary Janes as they find their way towards me.

The lights are off. Loney. Loney. Loney, they sing. I quietly rip off a tissue of toilet paper, wipe myself, and wait. They begin banging on my door, a steady rhythm that escalates to rabid chaotic beats. I know I am safe in the locked stall, but my mind sees a different scenario: the door falling down, me facing death while sitting on the toilet with my pants down. But, eventually, when they don’t hear me cry, the girls grow tired, and they file out, leaving me alone, breathing heavily, still in the dark.

I return to the class and sit down, my legs trembling. I sit across from the pack leader who often liked to kick me underneath our desks. I don’t look at her face, but I watch her hands, folded innocently on the desk. One hand goes up when the teacher calls on her.

I am fascinated by bullies. What leads them to hurt others. Even today, when I know how to stand up for myself, I tell myself to feel sorry for them, because it’s most likely that they act in such a way because they have witnessed it, or they have had it happen to them. Sometimes, bullies just want to fit in, too.

Then again, it would make them a better (stronger) person if they resisted such a temptation.

Back then, I couldn’t stop my bullies by myself. I was quiet and friendless, and often wanted to melt into the walls whenever I was around people. Depending on the company today, I still have the feeling. So I didn’t say anything back then, not until I was almost attacked at recess, not until my sister stepped in to confront my most-feared bully, whose name escapes me now. Next, it was the principal’s office. Then our mom had to come in. The next day, I talked to my teacher after that, just the two of us in the classroom. She knelt down beside me, asked why I didn’t come to her. As I stared at her lipstick-stained teeth, I lied and said I did. I did tell her. But she just shook her head, because she knew that all of this could have been prevented.

It sounds a bit odd, but I credit my love for books and writing to these days of torment. I turned to books to find refuge. In these books, I delved into the minds of characters good and bad. I tried to find reason in these imaginary characters. Most of all, from these times of being a victim, I understood, and still understand, that actions speak the loudest. Their impact can stay with you long after.

If I was honest about the things I did during lunch break . . .

On Facebook

  • Mentally disliking so many statuses. Unfollowing people, but still staying friends with them
  • Sobbing at vacation pictures

On YouTube

  • Babies laughing
  • Bloopers of Law & Order and Criminal Minds
  • Matthew Gray Gubler
  • Powderpuff cheerleading dance routines. Seriously.
  • Matthew Gray Gubler
  • Epic trap music to abate my mid-day slump
  • Novak Djokovic

Outside

  • Checking my phone to see if I have any friends
  • Spying on other people’s reading choices
  • Deciding whether or not I should go to the gym after work or eat a doughnut
  • Checking out guys

A True Story, Part 1

A True Story

W. sits alone at a table near the kitchen, and the flurry of cooks, French expletives, pots and pans in the background brings him and his stillness into sharp focus. Our eyes meet and I smother the pinprick shock I feel. I can see, even from my spot, the curl of his bottom lip that causes his chin to jut out ever so slightly, making me clench my fist. The sight of this little crease, the attitude it exudes, the silent judgement … If not for this spike of annoyance, I would have kissed him to erase that pout. But as I bridge the gap between us in the cafe where we’d met just yesterday, where he requested that we meet again today, I remind myself that I shouldn’t criticize what and whom I don’t know. Not yet, at least.

I answer when he inquires about my morning so far, as if I care to tell him, as if we are simply two friends catching up, rather than odd strangers. His voice is slow molasses, and the pauses between every clothes-line sentence is like a sudden breeze from nowhere amidst a stiff-hot summer day. I feel my irritation disappearing. Finally, he thanks me for meeting him here and I nod, wary.

He waits patiently, hands clasped, as I place my messenger bag against the table’s legs, dig through my mess  for a decently sharp pencil and a clean, unwrinkled piece of paper. I feel as if my every move is being tucked away in some mind palace. I stiffen my spine and clear my throat to sway authority in my favor. I am the one telling his story.

But then he said, opening his palms to feel the weight of the air: “Let’s begin.”


“I have a story for you,” the note had said. At first, I didn’t notice the hastily scrawled words, just saw the folded-in-half notepad paper that was dropped in front of me, one corner dipping itself into my cup of jam, and the rest of it soaking in the oil from my croissant. I glanced up from my morning read – a New Yorker – and prepared an indignant Excuse Me. But I stopped when I saw a man about my age, looming over me. Tall, lean, and handsome, with black hair that curled along his forehead, still slightly damp from a shower or from summer sweat. Impatient, too, I gathered from his dancing fingers atop my two-seat table at Manny’s.

It was my Summer Friday, and I had allowed myself to read for pleasure, rather than participate in the search for The Next Big Book, that everlasting pressure an editorial assistant like myself would feel on a daily basis. I already disliked what I was reading, a pretentious essay that overused semicolons, which always need to be treated delicately.

I picked up the note and read it. “What?”

“I see you writing here, all the time.”

“Okay. Creepy?” What an odd way to flirt.

He only laughed. “I have a story. For you.”

“What makes you think I need a story.” And what would he be able to give me?

“Every writer needs a story.”

“Well, every writer lives in Brooklyn. Why are you giving me a story?”

He shrugged, which frustrated me but also made me place down my New Yorker. I wanted to hear his answer, I realized. “I belong to a group called The Saints. We deliver punishment to those who deserve it.”

And I felt it suddenly, a great familiar pang of disappointment, what I seemed to feel every time I fell in love with smart-looking and meticulously dressed men on the subway. This guy was crazy.

“Right,” I said.

“No, look,” he said, a cutting edge now in his voice, which caused me to look around uneasily. No one seemed to noticed this strange man. “I’m serious. I want to tell my story, but I haven’t met the right person to help me with that.”

“Okay. What’s the story?”

The clerk, Hector, called out an order. Crazy Guy got up. He said, looking at me, “W.”

“W?”

“That’s my name–for the story.”

But I just heard it clearly, didn’t I? “But your name’s –”

“No, W.” He reached for his food, in a brown bag, still not looking at me, and would have grabbed Hector’s shirt if only he hadn’t taken a step back. In another hand W. accepted the outstretched cup of coffee. He pointed at me with a finger. “I need to keep quiet about my identity. I’m telling you, it’ll ruin The Saints.”

“What the fuck’s The Saints?” I cried out.

Then W. grinned. “What’s your name?”

I snorted. Why the fuck would I tell him?

“It’s Loan,” Hector, still behind the counter, said.

“Jesus.”

“No, I’m Hector. Jesús is in the kitchen,” Hector said, pointing a thumb in the kitchen’s direction.

W. looked at me, amused. “Great, Loan. Saturday. Same time.” He walked backwards, until he was at the front door. Over the cafe’s din, he yelled, “My number’s on the back. Text me if you’re running late.”

To Be Continued As The Story Is Told To Me.

An editorial assistant’s rejection letter to assholes online

Dear hugecock145:

Thank you so much for messaging me on Tinder/Hinge/OKCupid. I’ve now had the chance to review your pick-up line/sexist comment/racist remark.

I’m impressed by the time that you’d taken to relay your crude thoughts about my physical appearance. Your audacity to list the disappointing measurements of your dick is astounding. However, it is clear that you have not read my dating profile, and I cannot quite understand how you failed to follow the most basic writing conventions. I also feel as if you lacked any cultural and racial sensitivity. That said, I’m afraid I will have to pass.

Thank you again for letting me read. I wish you the best of luck burning in hell.

Sincerely,

Loan Le

How to win at everything

If you’re walking home by yourself in the dark, and get cat-called by a group of men, stop. Place one hand against your ear like you’re talking into a small microphone, and say: “We got him. Send in backup.” Watch them scatter.

Do you have a problem with people crowding the poles on the subway? Whisper “gonorrhea.” Press up against them. Sneeze or cough on them. Breathe, heavily, on their necks. They’ll love that.

Always give up your subway seat to expectant mothers and mothers with small children (notice I didn’t say tall). Smile, and say, “Your kids look delicious.”

There is nothing better than leaving a psychiatric hospital, breathing in the polluted air, meeting new people to scream at, and jumping in front of cars on purpose. #namaste

Nazis matter. They’re beautiful, too. #stopNazishaming

They should have let Hussein live.

Never trust anyone named Nancy.

Your whole life is a lie. You’re Asian. That’s the only thing you can be. When people ask what language you speak, say Asian. And when they suggest that you look this rather than that, say, “No, sir, I’m Asian.” Or Alien.

Say “Shank you,” rather than “Thank you.” It’s the right way to do it.

When people tell you about their bad day, interrupt them to tell them how badly yours had gone. Override them if they try to interrupt.

If someone says, “Not to be racist,” kick them in the balls or punch them in the boobs or both, and make a run for it.

Foreclosure is good. Foreplay is bad.

Guys love it when you whisper “Schweaty balls” in their ears, then walk away backwards, making sure to maintain eye contact.

Stay close to your loved ones. They’d love to see how much of an asshole you’ve become.

A foreign experience

IMG_5082

Since freshman year ❤

I told myself I’d write about my Italy trip immediately upon my return. (I also promised that I’d update this blog more frequently. Total fail). I wanted to capture the memories before they disappeared. Every time I travel to another place, I come back feeling as if I’d fallen out of a dream—a wondrous sort of existence filled with freedom and possibilities. It’s been more than two weeks, but I think I needed the time to let the experience sink in.

Let me tell you, I am so jealous of people who’ve had the chance to study abroad. I had an opportunity in junior year, but due to concerns about security in my country choice, I couldn’t go. And though I made the best of that year, I have regrets. The opportunity to learn another language? Be immersed in a different culture? Have the freedom to explore? EAT THE FOOD?!? Again: so freaking jealous.

In Italy, I was with one of my best friends, Ali, (oh and Eric, too, I guess) and she was an amazing tour guide. I was able to get a taste of what she sees every day. We stayed in Florence for most of the time, touring the Boboli Gardens, hanging out by the Ponte Vecchio, and climbing the Duomo. I bargained my way through the San Lorenzo leather market. We took a day trip around the Chianti region where we learned about terracotta and the politics of growing grapes. I saw countless rolling hills and majestic castles. I tried eight different types of wine and didn’t fall asleep (right away! #asianwin). I ate prosciutto, salami, cheese, and other things that I’m trying to burn off now. We stayed overnight in Rome and saw the Colosseum and the Vatican (no pope). We even got to see Ali’s office in Florence.

P1100577

Santa Croce

Okay, that was a bit of an eh moment, compared to the other activities, but I still felt excited.

I really loved the churches. Ali joked that I’d return to the States as a Catholic. I couldn’t get enough of them! It’s funny, since I’m shuffling between agnosticism and atheism. What I mean by that is that I don’t usually step into churches (not that I devalue these places in any way). Churches are hallowed grounds. While I admired the artwork and statues, people prayed in the pews. Have you ever watched people pray? Their earnestness allured me: the wrinkles between their brows, their lips moving silently, their hands tightly intertwined. Occasionally I felt as if I had to look away, like I was intruding.

One of my favorite church experiences happened in Ognissanti. A flute player and a pianist were just hanging in the front with the Franciscan friar (who was surfing the web on his phone!), and they started playing. I felt as if I was transported to a different time.

What I also loved about Florence was the energy. New York is always bustling. It’s a constant stream of noise and grit — naturally, as an introvert,  I usually get tired of being in crowds. Although Florence was certainly crowded, the rush felt different. People walked along the cobblestone roads freely and leisurely, only to move aside when they realized a taxi was trailing behind them. I didn’t mind the tourists so much as I was too busy looking everywhere. All of the buildings seem to have a history. The scenery, untouched by sewage smog so common in New York, made my heart skip.

During our last hours in Italy we sat in the Piazzale Michelangelo among couples sharing a bottle of cheap wine, families winding down, and friends catching up after a long day. A very talented singer belted her heart out just below us. We watched the sun set slowly. I said my goodbyes to this beautiful city.

IMG_5160I can see why people like to travel, why people make a big deal out of it. I met many Americans who moved to Italy because they fell in love with the country and felt a sense of belonging. My time in Italy only lasted a week, but I felt moved by it. I needed this vacation to sort out concerns and anxiety, which have been with me since graduating college. This trip has given me a lot to re-consider. It’s given me, again, a slither of life away from what’s familiar (something I consciously wanted when I first moved to Brooklyn and started my job). Florence has renewed me.

Thanks, Ali, for hosting us! We had a great time. I’ll always remember this experience.

“Yeah, um, I don’t like to read.”

ConversationsI’m not that good at starting them. Some people might think I’m odd, but one of the questions I might ask a stranger is what she or he is reading. I was at a writing group one time, and met a girl who was close to my age. She had just read an excerpt from her fiction short story. Asking for her reading preference didn’t seem unusual to me, especially because we were in a writing environment, but then she laughed shortly and answered:

“Yeah, um, I don’t like to read.”

giphy

I tried hiding my shock, but I’m told that my emotions show.

In general I’m not bothered by people who don’t like to read. It’s perfectly fine for people to consume information through a different medium. But it doesn’t make sense to me when I hear that a writer dislikes reading. For my entire life, reading and writing have always gone hand in hand.

Let me explain how I started writing. I read the Harry Potter series over and over again, and in between each book release I created elaborate stories involving Rowling’s characters (aka, fanfiction). Eventually, I realized that my plots involved little to no magic, and my characters were unlike the characters within Rowling’s pages, so I knew that I’d outgrown the Harry Potter world, and needed to create my own. I started writing because I liked reading so much and I wanted different things to read.

I can say that one of my main sources of inspiration stems from the books I read (Harry Potter is only one example). When I can’t think of anything to write, I find refuge in books. True, there have been times when I purposely stopped reading. I foolishly convinced myself that I should focus on my own writing, that I should create sentences and stories, not absorb them. I also worried that by reading and writing at the same time I might accidentally compose a sentence that sounds good, only to realize I had read it in someone else’s work. However, I’ve learned that inspiration doesn’t mean plagiarism (well, to Shia LaBeouf it might). It’s taking one small, compressed detail in an existing work and expanding it into a completely different piece.

Take postmodern literature for example. Wide Sargasso Sea explores the life of a character who later becomes the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre. You can also consider more irreverent titles like Jane Slayre, which re-imagines the title character as a demon-slaying heroine. While still relying on the bare bones of Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys and Sherri Browning Erwin‘s novels created something different from the original story.

Additionally, writers who read have a better sense of their place in the spectrum of existing writers, and this awareness helps when you’re trying to establish your writing career. In publishing, there’s something called a Hollywood formula. When pitching a book in a letter, sometimes it’s easiest to write, “This book is such and such meets such and such.” Inception meets 10 Things I Hate About You. Um, well, that might be a weird description. I don’t even know how to make sense of that . . . I hope you get my point. Just one sentence can help an editor understand the content of your work, but it’s near impossible to make comparisons without possessing knowledge of those who are deemed great writers in your genre.

By reading, writers also gain literary aspirations. Be jealous of great writers! I’m constantly envious of today’s writers; I’ve read works from storytellers like Kate Milliken and Denis Johnson, and I think, “Damn. These people are unbelievably good.” I endeavor to be like them one daynot for the fame, but for the ability to evoke powerful, lasting emotions in strangers. People often say that you learn a lot from life, but I’ve learned so much from writers. (I guess what I’m saying is redundant because writers essentially mold life and its peculiarities into plausible words and sentences). I learned about the economy in writing from Raymond Carver, the unnecessary existence of form and punctuation from José Saramago, and the art of writing fascinating disturbed characters from Vladimir Nabokov, Ian McEwan, and Bret Easton Ellis.

If I could meet this non-reader writer againdespite the size of New York, it’s still a possibilityI’d encourage her to read more and read well, and perhaps leave her with this quote from Stephen King regarding the synergy between reading and writing:

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. . . .” (Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

I’m interested to see which books have influenced writers the most. I’m starting a page called A Writer’s Toolbox, and would love to hear your suggestions. Comment or answer the poll below!