Cheshire High School Reunion Part II

How I envisioned my high school reunion would go.

How I envisioned my high school reunion would go.

I honestly didn’t expect the response to my previous post about my high school reunion. People I haven’t talked to in ages had sent me messages saying they enjoyed my post and appreciated my manic candor. I’m guessing a lot of things I had said resonated with those who dreaded the idea of their past and present colliding at Aunt Chilada’s. I felt obligated to satisfy my readers (count: 2) with a follow-up post.

Before heading to the high school reunion, I had a smaller one with old friends, and we all crammed into the back of my Highlander, legs bent, knees to our chests as we faced each other (quite uncomfortable for KP who’s like 6’2″), and just talked about our lives—random things about significant others, roommate horror stories, pelvic organ prolapse, etc. People driving by, their headlights illuminating our silhouettes, might have wondered about what was going on inside the Highlander. I remember thinking that even if everything sucked that night, at least I’d remember this moment when us gals (minus one) were together again.

But it came to that time, yes that time, to make moves toward our reunion. We all knew it. Adele sang Hello on the drive there, which was so appropriate of course, but despite Adele’s well-timed accompaniment, I still felt excited after spending time with the vag squad.

So, I walked into Aunt Chilada’s feeling like this:

Only a few more steps into the restaurant moved to commence my discomfort. I had an odd flashback to one of my high school homecomings, where our adolescent, hormone-infested hormonal bodies were hypnotized by Miley Cyrus’ masterful lyrics in a song called, “Party in the USA.” Somehow kids managed to grind to it. I just remembered thinking, The fuck? Out of all my thoughts, this phrase perhaps occupied 95 percent of my thoughts throughout my high school career.

Then the flashback went away, because no one was grinding yet!

A note to readers (count: 5, now?): I was stone-cold sober the whole night because I don’t drink. If anyone ever harbored ill will towards me and wanted to render me comatose, pour me the tiniest bit of alcohol and I’d be out. (Please, don’t.)

I found myself fading out, forgetting about the music, and focusing all on sight. This tends to happen when I’m overwhelmed (and I’ve been told that my face goes slack and I go into a trance). This has also led to many awkward encounters when someone thinks I’m staring at them, when it’s most likely that I’m just thinking about what to eat next.

I spied two high school classmates dancing rather closely. I saw the same pair later on in the night, when they shared a kiss and went their separate ways. The girl was staring brokenheartedly after his retreating back. Perhaps she had fulfilled a long-time wish to make a move on the boy she liked. Good for her. But if she expected anything more from this encounter, I’d say the joke was on her.

Oh, the heartbreak in high school, those that you had witnessed—and experienced. I promised that I wouldn’t let my eyes drift too much, but they did and landed on a few boys whom I wish I had been brave enough to get to know.  I was disappointed that they were for the most part still handsome and mostly definitely unaware of my existence, and will never be.

Other classmates had ballooned. Some lost weight, was going bald, or dyed their hair. Names and question marks appeared in my mind’s eye as I tried to remember who was who, ineluctably mistaking one person for another person, who was most likely their best friend. Before and after pictures floated in my mind as well, snapshots of the past overlaying what was right in front of me.

There were many who seemed to use alcohol to mask their discomfort in this situation, not totally bad . . . . well, until the alcohol led to ridiculousness, and it became obvious people were laughing at them, not with them.

I was watching all this, because I couldn’t bring myself to hold any legitimate conversation, despite what I had said in my previous post. See, I’ve always been wary of social gatherings, noisy and quiet, but I despise raucous ones even more. Usually, the music serves to mask the tremble of your voice, which reveals your nervousness, yet also drowns out the ability to hear fucking anything. I found myself shouting—more like spitting–in people’s ears most of the time, then nodding, dumbly, whenever I saw their lips moving in return.

What are you doing?

Publishing.

Sorry, what?

PUBLISHING!@@**!

Not cool, to be honest. I genuinely did want to have longer conversations with really cool people who were slaying bitches in life, but I couldn’t muster the effort because of this noise. Again, missed opportunity.

I felt inexplicably angry at some points. Surges, I call them, in which a laugh, a glimpse of a classmate, or a small gesture brought back an unpleasant memory, and I couldn’t quite decipher it because it’d disappear too quickly.

I had hoped to see some faces and prayed to Satan that I wouldn’t see others. Not to say that I disliked the list of 28 people that I mentioned to Satan . . . it was more of me thinking and worrying about what I could possibly say to them. However, I caught eyes with these people. Quick glances: they are fucking painful. I mean the ones where you accidentally meet eyes with someone else, then you look away, knowing that this person saw you glancing away, and all you’re thinking is ShitShit. Shit. Your pain is only relieved when that person doesn’t approach you. But then there are certain people who think Ah, fuck, we saw each other, might as well torture her with forced conversation, and they stalk toward you, and you’re just scrambling for interesting things to say when you know you don’t have anything to say.

At one point I had retreated to a table with my friends. I put my back against the crowd, thinking, Fuck this sucks. I focused on my girlfriends sitting across from me, and I could see them staring out into the crowd, almost looking like they regretted coming here. As if, their faces were saying, why did I ever think that things would be different? It made me sad to watch, because I knew I was feeling the same thing. Then, someone made a bet, someone said, I kind of want to dance. EChow, I think it was, her shaved side hair emblematic of her rebellion, whether she intended it to be just that or not, led the line to the crowded dance floor. We danced stiffly side to side. I was thinking, Oh boy. And then, eventually, the night went away as our movements became more bold and crazy, and we focused solely on the fact that all of us were here together, again. When dancing with friends, I inexplicably end up in the circle. Perhaps because I’m shorter, perhaps because I gravitate to this area not out of ego, but out of comfort, knowing that I’d be surrounding myself with the people I love.

I asked KP to take this picture. I’ve always found it hilarious that if we were to “face” each other, we wouldn’t be able to: my line of vision would be on her chest. She’s too damn tall. So here, it seems like she’s standing on something to take a picture of us from up above, when in truth she’s just standing. Sorry, KP, to talk about your height, but it’s one of the things I love about you.

I kind of hoped we would look like this as we were dancing:

…though, that wasn’t the case. Anyways, who cares? Let’s say it again, WHO CARES?!?

A beautiful thing happened. I’m gonna quote the greatest wordsmith of the quintessential teenage experience: Stephen Chbosky. In that moment, I swear we were infinite.  I felt infinite. I felt infinite in the sense that I was there, in that moment, with the people who were and will always be dear to me. And that, I suppose, is the takeaway of a reunion:

Remember the good.  Fuck the bad.

(Some might say I’m trying to make something more than it is–it’s a reunion nothing more. But I’ve always been sentimental and shit.)

Taking pleasure in just existing, I felt more and more thankful of my experiences as the night progressed. And it seemed, by the noise and the number of bodies flooding the dance floor, that this was the case for my classmates. The music, however corny, served to unite us. People belted out “Forever Young” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” An alligator hat was passed around, for some strange reason. Someone placed a wooden chair in the middle of the floor—not sure it’d survived the night.

One moment stuck out to me: I had a friend in high school and we drifted apart for no big reason. Our eyes met from across the room, my friend pointed a finger—a yes, you gesture—and then suddenly we were embracing each other. With this brief touch, I tried my best to convey how happy I hoped this person was, how awesome they were and will continue to be. After that, we parted, never exchanging a word, and I was left feeling content.

The reunion ended at around 1 a.m., and the crowd definitely shrunk seventy-five percent. The lights became brighter, and I was able to see who exactly was there—and I looked away. I didn’t want to stare any longer, so with my girls, we headed out to paint the town fucking red.

Just kidding. Nothing’s open in Cheshire after 10 p.m. NOT EVEN MCDONALD’S!

We will all move on from this high school reunion—we have already. We will continue to take on the world, continue to find ourselves, continue to forge confidence in whatever we may do. My promise is to hold on tight to what matters and let the insignificant go.

For those of you from my past who are reading this post, I wish you well, and I hope you’ve gained only positive feelings from our high school reunion! Good luck to you, Class of 2010. T-What? Okay, I’ll stop now.

HSR, High School Reunion, Holy Shit Really.

HSR

Ah, fuck.

When a Facebook invite to my five-year high school reunion popped up on my phone, my reaction was not one of excitement but one of mortification. Oh god, the memories. Oh god, TENACIOUS 10.

Like a girl’s menstruation cycle on its second day, the remembrance of struggling with inadequacy and anonymity, of unspoken crushes, of constant preoccupation about my future came flooding back. Then, this horrible thought: shit, nothing about me had changed.

After graduating high school, I made a mental checklist of where I’d want to be when the five-year mark happened. Doesn’t everyone? I had this idea that if I completed this checklist, I’d have officially redeemed myself, shown immense improvement from what I was in the past.

What would lead to said redemption? Five star ratings in the following categories:

  • Career – I’m gonna be successful 
  • Social life/relationships – I’m gonna have a significant other, otherwise known as bae
  • Health – I’m gonna have ZERO cellulite
  • Knowledge – I’m gonna be smarter than all of these motherfuckers . . . Hmm, what? No one thinks that? Just me then, I guess.

Rating myself now, I’d give myself Eh stars in each category.

Cue introspection. As I went over this checklist, and as I thought about it more (ugh, thinking is dangerous), I fell into yet another endless pit of looped 50-minute insecure thoughts that mostly revolved around what I hated about myself as a high school student. I was quiet — a specimen whose name might inspire slight recognition from my classmates. I was terrified of being forgotten and in fact, I wrote my college essay about my desire not to dissipate into a black hole, not to become a somebody in the yearbook. I was also closed off, and again, that was mostly my doing. Sure, I had a core group of friends (which sadly had grown apart over the years), but after graduation, I remembered regretting not getting to know certain people who seemed pretty damn cool from afar. Also, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in life, and felt almost guilty that I was planning on majoring in English, the most common major for the indecisive . . .

Okay, see that? That’s all negative thinking. Now, I imagine if I had enough money for a therapist, I’d be given this advice: Stop thinking that way. If all these thoughts were yours, you should be able to stop them.

That’s what I’ve done over the years. These I-should-have, why-didn’t-I, pity-me thoughts have no place in my life. And any self-mocking on my part is just that — self-deprecation (sort of). I enjoyed college immensely, made lasting friends, and paved a way to my dream career. I mean, every day I look into my mirror and I know that I’m doing what I love as my job. I’m living in Brooklyn. I’m finally hunting putting myself out there. I’m starting a great MFA program and look forward to being published one day. I’M A FUCKING INDEPENDENT WOMAN. (All of this, I should note, is scrawled on my mirror in blood.) Why should high school matter so much? I’m not defined by who I was, but by who I am and will be. [To be honest, my bad memories are superficial; I could have had it worse, but didn’t. Example: I was never bullied (not like in my younger years). Or, thankfully, I wasn’t aware of being bullied.]

I made great memories at CHS. I loved working on the newspaper. I loved my friends. I looked forward to orchestra class and chemistry class taught by Bertenshaw, who could have also been a philosophy teacher instead. I still remember my junior year AP Language Comp class with Ms. Yamamoto. In this class we wrote Occasional Papers, or personal narratives, that really allowed us to develop our writing voices. We were Admiral’s Soldiers. When we received our college acceptances, we made our own posters and hung it up all around Ms. Yamamoto’s office. There was magic in that class, and I will always cherish this time.

Now that I’ve typed all of this out, I’m actually excited about my high school reunion. It’s an opportunity to catch up with people (read: go into stealth mode). Some are engaged, some are married (kids?!). Others have awesome jobs. Yeah, I know this because of Facebook. I’m excited to see how people have changed. Will the bitches still be bitches? Has anyone come out? Did anyone get a sex change? These are, after all, important questions.

If everything goes to hell at this reunion, then at least I’ll be inspired to write a blog post or a dark short story in which the characters will strongly resemble my high school classmates.

If things go even more south than that, then at least I’ll have margaritas burritos to knock back, because our classy reunion will take place at Aunt Chilada’s.

 

I’m glad to report that I do not wear pink anymore.

Ha, what a NERD. Who spends time in the library lik wat iz reeding?

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.

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.

Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions

Yeah, I’m unique because I posted this on Jan. 2 and not Jan. 1.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope everyone finds what they’re looking for, and I hope everyone experiences the joy of stumbling across something unexpected.

2014 was hectic. I graduated from college, got a job in Manhattan, and moved way out of my comfort zone to a place in Brooklyn. I’m ready for more surprises! Here are a few of my hopes for 2015:

Continue writing. That includes updating this blog more often. I feel as if I’ve been editing instead of writing, stripping away the emotional nuances in my stories and leaving behind coarse, but grammatically correct sentences. I also want to finish at least one story and have it proofread, before sending it off to a journal or a magazine (and accepted!).

Read more. I’ve read books, of course, but not as many as I want to read. First book for me to finish in 2015? “Why I Read?” by Wendy Lesser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed my subway stop because of this book. It’s rare for a nonfiction book to have that effect on me. Reading it really strengthens my love for the written word.

Now I just have to resist Netflix, but they tease me:

Netflix

Make friends and cherish the ones I have. What I’ve realized is that you make friends without knowing it. One day, you think about someone and they think about you, and you gradually see each other more and more, and a nice friendship forms. The other day, I looked around the room, and found myself feeling grateful for each and every person surrounding me, who’ve affected me in more ways than one.

One of my worries after graduating college was losing touch with friends, but I feel even closer to them now that they are far away. Being able to keep in touch with them—via text, phone, or email—proves that our friendship goes beyond Stag Nation, and has love and respect as its foundation. #Gurls, you’re the best.

Be healthy. In my defense, I signed up for my gym membership way before New Year’s Day, so exercising is not my main resolution. I’ll try eating healthier, which means cutting down my consumption of desserts and fried food (though I started off the new year by eating fried chicken from Amy Ruth’s. Shhh!!!).

What’s your New Year’s resolution?

Letters to myself

A week before graduation (wow, six months ago?), a creative writing professor asked us to write letters to send to ourselves. I’d gotten mine in September, and it’s taped to the wall, right above my writing desk. Whenever I hit a writer’s block, I look up from my computer screen and stare at this letter.

This letter reminds me of promises that I had made. Most of the time, however, this letter funnily reminds me that inside this petite Asian body is a character I imagine to be similar to Clint Eastwood …

Dear Loan,

You’re probably still procrastinating and wondering if your novel is “worth it,” if your writing in general is “worth it.” You always doubt yourself, you always go back and forth with your ideas, and you always say, “I’ll write it soon.” I want to tell you to stop that bullshit.

Sit the fuck down and write.

And when you can’t, go outside, wherever you are, and observe the things going on around you. Create a story for the people who walk with their heads down, for the people who look angry or upset. Look for the houses that look abandoned, the cracks on the road … let yourself be inspired by the broken.

Then go back and

1. Work on your novel.

2. Say ‘hi’ to your family.

3. Work on your short stories.

Love,

Loan

Sit the fuck down and write. Maybe I should copyright that phrase. Does anyone want to buy a poster? No, no one?

Whatever. I think you might like this, too–here’s something I wrote in 2009, back when I was just getting serious with my writing (completely unedited, unfortunately). I read it the other night, and I was surprised by how fervent I sounded as a high school junior.

(By the way, does anyone use Facebook’s Notes section anymore? That’s where I had posted this letter. To save myself from embarrassment, I have since deleted all of my notes.)

My Purpose

I find myself contemplating about my purpose in life. I suppose this can relate to everyone has been lost before. It’s a narcissistic quality that is innate in all humans–the feeling that you were made to do something. Feeling, deep down, that some divine power had placed you on earth for a singular purpose. Believing that you were genetically designed to do one thing that could affect the process of our metaphysical world. Unfortunately, it just takes an insane amount of time to find a niche.

These thoughts of mine had resulted from a digression in self-esteem. It has been going for the past few days, I admit. Grades, friends, family…I took a hit one day, staggered, got hit with another, and finally, I fell. After this, the world ceased to make sense to me.

I don’t want to make a difference. That’s right. I don’t. Personally, I’m simply not capable of changing the way the world runs. Some people dream of creating inspiring and brilliant theories in science and math and stuff like that. Me? I’m not gong to invest my time to try and reach something that’s best to be left high in the sky. But I do want to be noticed. Do you have to bring a change if you want to be recognized? What reasons make people look at you with respect and awe?

I want to be a writer, plain and simple. But I can’t find the main driving force behind my desire. Perhaps I never will. Do I have to have one reason?

Do I want to write in order to be recognized? That’s one question.

Yes, I suppose I do.

Do I want to write because it makes me feel great?

Hell yes. Solved.

Writing is…indescribable. I love the smell of graphite that reaches my nose whenever my pencil caresses paper. I love hearing the words that I write echo in my head, in the way I intend them to be said, heard, and felt. I love the perplexity that I feel when I can’t find this one word…and I love trying to sift through the files of my mind to find it.

And when I do, the word fits snugly into the puzzle that is my sentence. Suddenly, it all makes sense. I love the fact that nothing is finished until a period is meticulously dotted. That a stretching sea of beautiful bountiful blue will forever go on until I write “and then it was drained of all water”. I love the pictures that are painted by my words and pencil (No paint, no mess). That when I used the world “pencil”, I only saw me and my red Coca Cola pencil against my piece of paper. I love the feeling of my pencil in my hand, because it’s like my hand has molded itself to let my pencil, my creative extension, fit. There’s a mark made by my pencil on the third finger, and it’ll remind me of my writing which will forever be etched in my soul.

No one has told me my purpose. At certain times, I feel like I have none. Like someone had just put me on earth for entertainment, to watch and laugh at whenever they feel sadistic.

Other times, like the moment that had occurred two minutes ago while I was writing this, I know what I need to do. And I will let no one tell me what I can and should do. It’s me who has to find a purpose. And my purpose is to write. Therefore, I am a writer.

 I guess I don’t want to let my 16-year-old-self down. Better keep writing.

Photographed by Alyssa Coffin in 2008?

Photographed by Alyssa Coffin in 2008?

In search of a writing community

photo

Oh wow! Writers in their natural habitats!

In a previous blog post, I wrote about loneliness and the transition from college life to semi-adult life. Short summary: It wasn’t going very well. My way of coping, of abating that loneliness, was to write. Interestingly enough, after I published that post, a stranger on Twitter suggested that writing could also be the cause of loneliness. I suppose this person is half-right; when you’re doing something you love, you’re in the moment, and you can forget where you are. But I don’t want writing to prevent me from meeting people; I decided that writing should help me meet people.

I immediately began my search for writing groups in NYC and Brooklyn, and let me tell you: The quest was exhausting. I left my first meeting feeling utterly disappointed. I was the youngest person in attendance, and felt as if the older members devalued my opinions. They were also creepy.

Then I attended a Gotham Writers’ Workshop course in downtown Brooklyn, which turned out to be a much better experience. I felt included—perhaps it was because the instructor sought to make all writers feel comfortable. Despite this, I’m not sure I’d want to pay $20 for another course. The instructor only allowed us to offer positive feedback. I’m all for positive energy, but I wonder how we’ll improve as writers if we receive only positive feedback. Perhaps I am used to seeing my writing be brutally torn apart, thanks to my journalism experience (starting with the time I got a 76 on my first journalism assignment in Dr. Simon’s freshman news writing class…but that doesn’t really matter…)

Anyways, guys, I’ve finally found a writers’ group. It’s been around for twelve years, with a solid core and a welcoming attitude toward newer members like moi. I’ve attended four meetings so far, recently returning from a session last night, and I feel like I can belong here eventually. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to the other writers. There’s a writer who is a financial analyst by day and a horror screenwriter by night, a former Silicon Valley techie working on a (surprise!) technology thriller, and a librarian writing the next big teen novel (sans vampires).

Here’s the drill: we chat for a few minutes and then take an hour to work on our writing. After the host says stop, we spend two and a half hours reading and critiquing each other’s works. Three types of readers usually show up to these meetings. There are the immediate volunteers. This person is confident enough to be the first to read. Or, this person is overly confident and likes the sound of his or her own voice (ew). There are the reluctant sharers. They look around and see no one volunteering. They decide, after a sigh, to read. There are the oh-god-don’t-look-at-me non-readers. They usually sit in the corner and frantically shake their heads when asked to read. They don’t share in fear that they might be horrible—but by doing this, they might be brilliant writers, but we’d never know it.

I can be any of these three types of people, but I tend to be the reluctant reader. I’ve always been a self-conscious speaker, because I stumble over my words. Good thing I can practice at these meetings! It actually helps to listen to myself. For example, if I struggle with a sentence, I make sure to mark the spot and see if I can smooth it out later.

As much as I love writing and reading my work, my favorite part is the feedback session. Over the years I’ve received countless writing advice from trustworthy writers, and I like to absorb all that I can to become a better writer. Naturally, I want other writers to feel like they’re receiving constructive feedback—something they can use and not just think about. At the last group meeting, our critique got intensely detailed. For about twenty minutes, we pondered if it was right for a particular character to drink Bass Pale Ale. Yes, I know how silly that sounds, but we were all serious! Is this character really a Bass guy? Or would he drink Guinness? Decisions, decisions (As a non-drinker, I tried to play along).

I do worry, however, that some feedback will go unheard. Writers can’t help but feel a small stab whenever they receive critiques. There are some who can swallow their pride, and there are others who feel the need to defend their every word. I’m sure people have felt the frustration of explaining a critique only to find a writer completely intolerant to the idea that maybe – just maybe – they have committed a fault in their writing. Because of this, I sometimes prefer writing feedback, rather than giving it to the person upfront (yay reader’s reports!)

I’m so excited for more writing sessions!

In effort to become more social on the web (I hear writers need to do that these days), here’s a question to end this post: writers, what do you think of writers’ groups?

 

 

 

 

What I learned after working at a literary agency

I worked at Folio Literary Management in Manhattan for about four months. It’s an agency that represents fiction and non-fiction authors. I’ve already experienced the publisher side when I was at Simon & Schuster  (where I will soon return), so I wanted to get a sense of where a book really begins: at an agency. I heard about Folio from a friend, and decided to apply in the summer of 2013. I didn’t get a response until the end of the year, but I didn’t care: it was a response!

While at Folio I maintained my agent’s query inbox. She’d get more than 20 emails a day, each with ten-page submissions for me to read. If I liked a query, I would say so (two paragraphs talking about narrative momentum, character, marketability – all things to consider when reading a manuscript), and then I’d get either a partial manuscript (50 pages) or a full manuscript. For a full script, I would have to write a one-page reader’s report listing the story’s strengths and weaknesses and a suggestion as to whether or not the agent should represent the client. I’d also research recent literary prize winners and see if their work could become a novel or if they’re already at work on a novel (making sure, of course, that they are not already represented). As you can see, I was given many responsibilities and I worked hard to complete  my tasks in a timely manner.

This experience was so rewarding. I learned so much about the publishing industry, thanks to Folio’s Intern Academy sessions. When I finish my novel, I’ll know how to query an agent! If you’re reading this, you’re probably a friend, and you’re probably curious to see what I’ve learned from Folio. Or you’re a complete stranger, but want to hear about my experience at a literary agency. Maybe you want to get an internship at a literary agency. Perfectly fine!

Here’s what I have to say. Some are tips for authors, some are pet peeves that I had as an intern (a few are confirmed pet peeves and others are personal pet peeves). Comment below if you have any more questions!

  • Easy on the font. Use Times New Roman or a clear serif.
  • When writing your reader’s report, watch the tone. You’re trying to help the writer improve his or her story, so it’s important to maintain a cordial tone throughout your report.
  • When submitting one novel, don’t mention that you have another one in the works. If an agent really likes your writing, he or she will ask. But if you tell them right away, it’s like you’re telling them, “Hey, I don’t think this is good enough either, so here’s some other choices!”
  • Research your potential agent. Did you write a YA novel? Check if she or he is accepting queries for that genre at the moment.
  • Let your supervisor know what you like to read. I told my supervisor that I love reading literary fiction, so he would always send me those queries.
  • Queries are first impressions that agents get of clients, so proofread. It’s amazing how people can completely ignore that.
  • Never send a mass email. Always address one agent at a time.
  • Don’t mention how you got your novel idea. Agents don’t care if God told you to write something.
  • Have a detailed synopsis ready in case the agent likes what you’ve sent him/her so far.
  • Don’t compare your writing style to legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen. That’s just pompous.
  • The first ten pages matter. They usually tell agents to read more. You might be asked to submit a  partial (50 pages) or a full manuscript. So, it’s important that you get to the point of your story.
  • Read the literary agency’s submissions guidelines. It’s that simple.
  • Include relevant writing experience in your query. If you’re writing mystery and you’re a member of a mystery writing club, let them know.
  • If you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction, have a platform. If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, you have to write well.
  • Interns: Take books from the book pile. Book piles are heaps of gold. Don’t pass up an opportunity to get FREE books (and no late fees from the library).
  • Know what’s going on the publishing industry. I recommend reading PubTalk, Galley Cat, Mediabistro – any site that relates to publishing.
  • Make friends, because you’ll never know what’s going to happen two years, three years, etc. down the line. Publishing peeps are fun.
  • ENJOY.

Am I a poet now?

8885641187_80eec14ba3_z

Courtesy of V.H. Hammer on Flickr. Found through Creative Commons.

I just handed in a short poetry collection that I worked on for a semester. That’s right: poetry.

This class was certainly a transformative experience. I’ve learned to appreciate the emotional stake, the inspired language, and the truth in works of several poets (Sylvia Plath, James Tate, James Wright, to name a few). I’ve also learned a great deal by reading my classmates’ poems and seeing their style. In my poems I talked about myself and my family, and it was weird, because I’ve become so used to writing fictional lives. Some elements in these poems surprised me; they came out of nowhere. Writing poetry helped me explore why I’m the person I am today.

Here’s a poem that I’m proud of, just because I’ve never written something like this before. I was inspired by my days in New York. I look forward to revising it even more.

To infinity

My eyes burn and the computer
keeps staring at me.
Sighs and clicks
accent the air. The heater
moans its frustrations,
and it’s time to go home, finally.
Thanks for everything, Loan.
No problem.

It’s the smell of piss that gets to me.
Sobbing, a dirty-face vagrant
sits with his back
glued to the wall
Hell’s Kitchen.
Please, I need help.
God will come, a woman responds,
Paper-stuffed Bible in hand.
Eyes down, emails to check,
iPhones, Blackberries—
Subway ads are far more interesting.

Footsteps of I-have-tos
edge me
down the corridor
towards the 7 train.
Wheels whine
a cautionary tale.

Ding.
I jump through
biting doors
and the man who follows—
gray-haired, Wall Street, no ring—
almost loses an arm.

Another man
sits across from me:
balding and sweat
casing his forehead.
What does he see in me?
Our eyes meet, and
his smirk bathes
my body with grease
and scum.

Doors open;
people gush out.
The old woman is always there,
her back a hill,
her arms tethered with
plastic bag weights:
her belongings.

I wonder where her children must be,
and how they could
leave her to beg.
My grandmother, if she were alive,
would never have to do this.

Today, she sits
in front of the staircase
until a cop on a Segway
tells her:
You’re bothering people.
And she will not understand.

Underneath Times Square,
a pulse emanates
from the drums beating in the back,
and pushes out into the crowd—
jolts my heart.
Forward I stride
into a dripping tunnel,
down, down, down we go.
Silence arches over
the March on Eighth Ave,
the New York Diaspora.

A family of
fanny packs and sneakers
walk ahead.
I hear my parents
and turn around
to be reminded of home.
But they’re just impostors.

I yearn for the sky again,
so I go above ground, and
elbows collide
against one another.
Breathing in cigarette air,
I tread in a pool of people
waiting
for the walk signal.
Yellow-bullet taxis roar:
Look out!

Above us gray clouds
cluster once more.
Rain drops like bombs
so we run for cover.

We pack the train.
Suits pop open their
Coors Lights, Bud Lights—
poisons to end
their Nine to Fives.
We wait for the lull.

Tickets, please.

If you’re interested in reading, here’s the original poem:

The computer screen stares
at me, and sighs and clicks
accent the air. The heater
moans its frustrations,
and it’s time to go home finally.

It’s the smell of piss that gets to me.
Sobbing, a dirty-face vagrant
shivers, his back
glued to the walls.
Please, I need help.
God will come, a woman responds,
Paper-stuffed Bible in hand.
No one sees them.

The drone and taps
of heels and I-have-tos
follow me, edging me
down the corridor
towards the train tracks.
Wheels whine
a cautionary tale.

A man sits across from me.
Our eyes meet,
his smirk bathes
my body with grease
and scum.

Under Times Square,
a pulse emanates
from the drums beating in the back
and pushes out into the crowd—
jolts my heart.
Forward I stride.

Elbows brashly push
against one another.
Breathing in cigarette air,
I tread in a pool of people
waiting
for the walk signal.
Look left and right!
One man bravely
edges out on his own
and we surge ahead.

Above us the gray clouds
cluster once more.
Rain drops like bombs
so we run for cover.

We pack the train.
Suits pop open their
Coors Lights, Bud Lights,
choosing their poisons to end
their Nine to Fives.

We do these things
for another
tomorrow—
over and over
again. Maybe
things will get better.

Time is short.
If someone offered me
Forever,
I would take it.

Oh, summer internships

Image courtesy of Denise Krebs, creativecommons.org

Image courtesy of Denise Krebs, creativecommons.org

Just two months ago, I was stressed because I hadn’t heard back from any internships. I applied to internships with an optimistic outlook. I had my resume ready and cover letters that were individualized and particular to each potential employer. My belief that I would get an internship was made stronger by my experience last summer.

Weeks passed by and I received no word. I resigned to thinking that I would spend my summer working on my novel. It was a nice idea and all, but I now know that if I’d done that, I wouldn’t make any money. And I’ll be honest: I am such a procrastinator when it comes to writing. I like to think that I write from inspiration, but sometimes inspiration doesn’t come so easily and I resort to checking Facebook, Twitter and the news too much.

Then I got a call from an amazing internship but withdrew because of time constraints. Now here I am. I’m interning at Record-Journal, which is a family-owned company that publishes multiple newspapers. I am expected to write periodically for The North Haven Citizen. I also work with writing the blotter and college news for the administrative desk. When I’m not working, I am also a remote intern for “Contagious Optimism” in the press/publicity department. “Contagious Optimism” is a book series of uplifting and self-help stories.

I’m so thankful for both opportunities, because I feel as if I am doing something of use during the summer. And each day, I’m inspired to write. I haven’t been doing a lot of blogging, so I figured I’d write about my summer.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

Your last choice may be your best choice.

Well, I wouldn’t say these two internships were my last choices, because I didn’t even know they were choices until they were offered to me at the end of the semester. Initially I was so stuck on my dream to intern again in New York that I felt like I would be taking a step backwards if I didn’t not do so again.

Good thing I didn’t. I also like my internships because I can work near or from home. Record-Journal is located 15 minutes away from my house, and I only need a computer to work on “Contagious Optimism.”

Right now, I feel overwhelmed, but I know that I just need to get into the groove of things.

Don’t get carried away with thinking you’re better than anything. 

I often catch myself thinking too highly of myself. I get cocky sometimes. Confidence is a great thing to have, but too much is poisoning.

Applying what you’ve learned.

My two favorite classes out of my Fairfield career have to be Fiction I and Journalism, Editing and Design. The skills I’ve learned in those classes most definitely apply to everything that I do in the ‘real world.’ At my R-J internship, I want to make sure my editors like my writing, which is why I use my AP style and storytelling skills. When I look essays for CO, I think about the grammar and editing tips that Dr. Baden had taught me.

Have fun.

Being in the R-J environment has definitely helped my productivity. I love hearing people typing on their keyboards and answering their phones. Debbie likes to have the radio on and she plays the latest hits. Love it.

In all, I’m honestly enjoying myself.

And hey – I guess I’ll start looking for fall internships. I believe I am qualified for anything related to publishing or journalism. Get at me.