Minnow Park

Saving Face

Write Toward Vulnerability

The whole book is a gem, but this advice towards the end of the Bird by Bird will stay with me for a long, long time.

“Write about your childhoods, I tell them for the umpteenth time. Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understand­ing your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and in­sight and compassion.

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say; in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don't be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.

If something inside you is real, we will probably; find it interesting, and it will probably be uni­versal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulner­ability.

Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

I created all these different websites/identities online so that whatever I wanted to say could be organized and filed so that I don’t “risk being unliked”. But the safer route betrayed me because I just sat overwhelmed by having to maintain all these different identities. Instead, I’m collapsing all of myself onto here. Going to “write towards vulnerability”, so that I can decrease “the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”

My Fat on My Sleeve

I’ve always, always, always hated the way my body looked. I never thought it was good enough and still don’t till this day. Before I could learn about proper nutrition, I had already hit puberty and was obese. My genetics weren’t helpful either. I gain weight on my face and stomach, two places that society and I have deemed unsightly.

When life was simple, like early twenties living at my parent’s home and going to my entry-level job simple, I got into a routine. And over the course of a year, I lost nearly 50 pounds. My body transformed and I’m still gaining the benefits of it now. But as life got complicated with relationships and freelancing, that routine went away. I realized I was disciplined because there wasn’t anything else to do but that back then. I couldn’t keep it up because my motivation came from a place of self-loathing than a desire to get healthier. If it came from the latter, I would’ve been better about keeping it up.

And it’s been that way ever since, but that’s not good enough anymore. It’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to feel like I will finally become the person I want to be if I can just lose 30 pounds.

I recently did a thought experiment about how rather than my body being a product of ignorance and indulgence, what if it’s from the love I received from my family and friends?

My dad worked for 70 hours every week for as long as I can remember to provide for our family. When we came back from school, my mom was in the kitchen cooking for my brother and I every night. When we sat together to eat, my parents would have a routine banter. Mom would urge us not to eat so fast, and my dad would tell her to stop nagging us because we were growing boys and we needed to eat. There may have been some truth to all of that, but really it was because mom was happy that we loved her food, and my dad was proud that he was able to provide for our family. My dad grew up not knowing when he was going to eat his next meal. There wasn’t much else they needed to see to be fulfilled. And my brother and I benefited from that emotionally and physically.

Our high school was connected to Queens College campus, and in senior year we were allowed to go onto their campus during our lunch periods. Sometimes, we’d get to have two periods back to back. We went to the Panda Express multiple times a week. With a plate of General Tso’s chicken and fried rice in front of me, I would laugh until I cried with my friends. That was the year I discovered my sense of humor. I learned how to laugh and have fun with grease in our stomachs and fart jokes, tons of fart jokes.

And through the years since then, I had such great conversations over meals. I grew deep friendships over meals. I fell in love with my wife over meals. Those memories didn’t happen because I was fat or skinny. It was because I was loved.

So then what should this newfound motivation be about? It’s not about a tactic or strategy, but it’s about wanting something better for myself. Not because I can’t stand who I am, but because I want to challenge myself. Being challenged isn’t a bad thing, we should always want to become better, but I think it’s how you reward yourself that matters. Rather than the prize being the life I really want to live or the person I want to be, it’s to be the best version of who my family and friends already see me to be.

EssaysMinnow Park
Crazy Asian Americans

I saw Crazy Rich Asians this morning with Becky. What a great movie. I’m starting to enjoy romantic comedies (watching Love Actually again last week seems to have started this trend). I found myself getting sucked into the story, getting emotional, laughing, and either rooting for or hating on different characters.

What I didn’t find myself doing though was making excuses for the movie. Not once did I think, “this is good for an Asian movie.” It was just a good movie. When I watched Ali Wong’s comedy special, or read Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko I felt the same thing. I genuinely enjoyed the work, Asian or not.

Not that there hasn’t been great work for years and generations before. I know that just because I came to this realization these past few months, it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been great work done by Asian Americans.  But I’m curious and eager to see how we as Asian Americans find our story and place here. And I’m glad to be a witness to what is happening now.

ArticlesMinnow Park
The Birth of a Project

This project has been rattling inside my head for a while. A nagging, haunting idea that didn’t want me to forget that it was worthwhile. There’s been countless nuggets of half-formed thoughts that I jotted down, trying to find a thread of insight. The first drafts of this were rambling sentences that didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t until actually doing the interviews and photoshoots that it started to come together.

This is my latest draft and pitch of a project that I hope to work on for a long time. I gave this project its own section so that I can document and share how the project is going.

Growing up in an Asian home, I lived with a deep, constant tension that pulled me in multiple directions.

One side pulled me to conform, to be in harmony with the traditions and standards that my people have upheld through war and sacrifice. But as an American, there’s a pull to be seen, heard, and accepted for who I am. I am a special person, and I don’t want to be categorized or limited in who I can be.

I remember long and intense conversations with my parents about why I didn’t fit into their safe molds. I didn’t want art to just be a hobby. I wanted to be free to be. But I also remember feeling different, left out, singled out. Even as the model minority, I thought I could never measure up to the majority.

I felt deep gratitude for how much my parents sacrificed for my brother and I. My dad has worked 70 hour weeks for most of my life. But also wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities I was given without their input and nagging. Because what do they know? They weren’t born here.

It’s only in hindsight I can see that this experience has made me a deeper person. As I continue to pull from all sides, I am the better for it.

Every Asian American has their own version of this story. The contours of how all this plays out is universal. Whether you’re an artist, doctor, lawyer, chef, banker, athlete, influencer, the lives we lead strive to be all American. But the way we got here, the way we have managed and reconciled the expectations of being Asian is a unique story. One that is still being discovered.

This project is to aid in that discovery. To find those opportunities where we can learn and empathize with one another. We are taught early on to “save face,” not do anything to stand out. But if we can be vulnerable and true with one another, it’s the way for us to be accepted.

Saving FaceMinnow Park