Category Archives: non-fiction

The time I met Jericho Brown but didn’t know he was Jericho Brown

It was a warm day in March earlier this year. I was in Miami at AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), the largest literary gathering in North America. Writers were everywhere. I remember taking a break in the conference hall, curled up in a nook and charging my phone. My eyes widened as I saw Ross Gay 20 feet from me, just catching up with Danez Smith, Fatima Asghar, and Franny Choi. Getting to listen to, interact with, or just stare at Tyehimba Jess, Bich Minh Nguyen, Patricia Smith, Don Mee Choi, and so on and so on.

So I should have expected to meet writers everywhere.

On the first day of the conference, at 8AM I was at an acai truck, because healthy foods help me feel better and more grounded when I travel. I leaned my uncorrected proof copy of francine j. harris’s poetry collection play dead against the metal siding of the truck as I put away my wallet. A tall, athletic man with dreadlocks, who had just pulled up in a sporty car with a woman, leaned in to look at the book. Squinting at it, he asked, “Is this yours?” I said no and explained how I ended up with the proof copy of the book. He asked to look at it and if I liked it. I started to talk about how harris came out of Cave Canem and Cave Canem writers have a reputation of being top-notch. He nodded and said he’ll look into the book. I got my acai bowl and left for my first-ever AWP session.

Fast forward two days. It’s Friday night and I’m at the Lambda Literary X Copper Canyon reading to support friends and for the hot writing. Poet Jericho Brown is last to read, and I’m happily surprised by his short poems and direct, tender lines, a style I feel contemporary poetry is moving away from. (Also, in all fairness, it was reassuring to hear poetry that resembled my poetry a little.) I also loved how casually he sat on the stool, reading and bobbing along with his lines, sometimes almost falling off.

When the event ended, Jericho quickly left to make it to another reading. I turned to him to say thank you and to tell him I appreciated his poetry. He shook my hand, smiled, and said, “Have we met?”

I was very certain we hadn’t and onto our separate nights we went.

Months later though, this moment still bothered me. I’m usually the person who recognizes familiar faces before they recognize me. I might not remember names or how we’ve met, but I always always remember faces. So, how come Jericho Brown thought we met, when I couldn’t recall him?

Obviously, I put it together that Jericho Brown was probably Mr. Acai from that first morning. But again why didn’t I remember his face?

I have to admit to myself that I did not remember him later, because I read him as a stereotype instead of looking at him fully when we first interacted. I wrote him off because of the sporty car, his Nikes, the joggers, and just how fit and attractive he is (y’all, Jericho Brown is the hottest). I also want to believe that race wasn’t a part of this. It would be easy to say that I don’t think of writers as athletic, attractive men. It is more difficult and important to say that I don’t think of writers as black, athletic, and attractive men. Was it the combination of these qualities or explicitly race itself that activated my implicit bias? I’m not sure, but I remember this initial moment with Jericho Brown and remind myself of all the races and colors of writers, all of our complexities– the shy awkward parts, the extroverts, the capitalist-in-us, the spiritualist, the revolutionary, even the athletic parts, and the shades of in-between that make living possible. I remember to hold myself responsible. I remember to reflect and confront my unconscious stereotypes and internalized racism.

You can read more of Jericho Brown’s work here and here.

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Filed under culture, essays, non-fiction, race, writing/writers

Check-in

Is it weird to interview myself? Here’s my cheat for a quick blog post. It’s been a while, and of course I write posts when I am busy and should be studying and working on other things.

How’s the weather? It was almost 70 degrees when I woke up and worked it’s way down to the 40s with a sprinkling of snow by the evening!

What are you enjoying? The tulips! Thinking about the future, daydreaming about someone, thinking about cities and the different feelings they give me. The photos in this has me thinking about New York and Europe in the late summer/fall: https://oakandbone.wordpress.com/2018/02/25/last-minute/

What do you hate? How it’s not Friday yet. Time is definitely about perception and it’s been moving fast as I get more busy.

What are you doing well? Managing time, emotions, and risks. Before our performance and writing class today a friend said, “I can’t believe I’m doing this… in front of other people.” In some ways I can’t either, but it’s become normal, and as our confidence builds, safe. I feel like I’ve been generating a lot of writing as well.

Not so well? Slowing down, being present in my body, feeling grateful and peaceful. This is a good reminder to try harder as the semester wraps up.

What do you want to say? I’m excited about the future as much as I am craving time to slow down and reflect on myself and my work. What is happening? I need time to process the good news to work from there. On that note, I have good news to share, but need to disseminate it thoughtfully. Keep an eye out!

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What I am learning

1.

TENABLE. IMMUTABLE. INDEXICAL. PHENOMENOLOGICAL.

How often I want to visit social media. And the call to be a “voice,” or something.

I see your phenomenological. I raise you EPIPHENOMENOLOGICAL.

How to decide what is worth your time, energy, and money.

How to use the phrase “ephemeral archive” as much as possible.

Trust yourself. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. There is nothing left.

How fraught these spaces—and really all spaces—are with our personal and professional expectations and desires. And the underlying social, cultural, historical, raced, classed, gendered expectations for behavior.

And the ensuing silence.

 

2.

Direct from the horse’s mouth, or bastardizations of what poetry professors have said–

-Make collages.

-Some people write with music, but I need to write with words around me. I find words.

-Then using a number system, I went through and killed poems.

-I would ask my dates, “Are you happy with your job?”

-Cut this word out.

-Image cul-de-sac.

-This voice feels authentic.

(This last one bothers me.)

 

3.

By showing up, I inherently pressure the Institution.

Better get used to it.

 

4.

I realize my life is rather “boring,” that most of the time I am looking for ways to spend time somewhere writing or with people talking about writing or listening to people read or perform writing. That when I look around Boulder, there is not much I feel drawn to do. (Mostly, one has the choice of school, the mountains, shopping. Boulder in three words.)

I think the secret now is to embrace this. How much more time can I reserve for writing– without becoming a complete recluse?

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Update: Write. Right? Right!

Hola mi gente. It’s been a minute, and I have news and reflections to share. First off, I’m going to graduate school! *Insert celebration here.* Not much to say about it except that it’s been a long time coming. As I turn 30 this year, there is nothing greater I could have done for myself except this radical act of self-acceptance.

Second piece of news– I wrote almost everyday in April for National Poetry Month. It was amazing how much came out of me. I didn’t like all of it, but much of it I did like. It even became overwhelming at some points to edit and transfer my writing onto the computer because there was so much to do. The good news is that I am writing, and it’s not stopping. The bad news is that I will probably always be playing catch-up with journals that need to be typed, poems that need to be edited, and collections of writing that want finalizing.

Third– I am committing myself to finishing a poetry collection in July before I leave the Bay Area for school. It will give me something to focus on this summer– as if preparing for an interstate move wasn’t enough to fill my time. It will also mean closing out a period of writing between my chapbook in 2012 and now. Just like graduate school, it is time, and I have more than enough material to shape.

So about this… I have at least two books worth of poems, at least. I also know that some poems are not worth publishing– whatever that means. How does one make peace with this? Decide that some part of you is worth more than another. What do you think? There is the organized and anxious part of me that wants to make sure nothing falls through the cracks and that I have consciously decided every word and not “lose” anything. Impossible. I suppose selecting poems is an exercise in humility, an acceptance that some things are not shaped in a way that is ready to share with the world. Or it’s an act of marketing, selecting the things one knows will sell or connect with readers? Or this agony is a part of art-making, the process in which one crafts a unit and deems it beautiful?

Either way, I am happy to have gleaned clarity and acceptance that I have been writing about two central subjects. I write about home, family, and being Vietnamese. I write about love and sex– think Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman. (I guess that’s five subject, oh well.) All of this, I imbue with ethnicity, race, gender, politics– obviously, memory, the body, place. 

It makes me envision what else I want to write. There are so many stories about Vietnamese or Vietnamese Americans connecting to a sense of two homelands and– of course– the Viet Nam War. I see this even more clearly now with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s books. I see the value in the topic, and I have read and will continue reading these writings. But where are the stories about second or even third generation Vietnamese Americans? What if the duality of two cultures no longer exists or at least isn’t felt consciously? I want to change our place in relation to immigration, not because the connection isn’t there, but because some of us are heavily “American.” And this means our language, our culture, the people are diverse. Where is the hip-hop in our stories, the activists marching with Bayan, the girls dating Mexicans? (Quick side note, I’ve been thinking too about Asian American “protest literature.” I don’t know what that looks like or if it already exists. Some may not consider it art, but it’ll be important to envision, both for writing it and escaping it.)

Okay, wrapping up. I am grateful to be where I am. I am excited. I am nervous too. At the end of the day, I am writing, and I am thinking about writing, all the time. I mark that as a win. It makes sense that entering an MFA program has allowed myself to claim my writer/creative identity even further (even if I held my breath last night when a friend introduced me as a writer). I am entering graduate school with a sense of what I write, what I want to write/read, and a deepened connection to writing. Awesome, right?

 

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For the Women

There has been so much going on at work lately. So much, that I can only say, “I cannot even tell you. It’s confidential.”

I can tell you, however, it’s been tough. In all this, I reflect on the people I have leaned on. So this entry is all about the women. The ones who have made this slice of hell not only bearable, but a place for me to walk through the fire with my head held high, principles clutched tight.

I think of my friend who made the time to talk on the phone. Who asked questions to prepare me for the ones I would be asked. Who clearly said, you are doing the right thing.

Another friend who said the students will thank you, eventually they will understand what a big thing it is for someone to stand up. And I smile to think of her tough-as-nails attitude, when she said, if you need lawyers, give me a holler.

Yesterday, I went out with another friend, and we reflected on our positions as Asian-American women. She began to reflect on her experiences as a middle school student in a private school and her experiences with teachers and parents there. It brought us closer to think about how migration, language, and other forms of social capital have shaped us. And when my friend saw the chamomile flowers a student picked, she reminded me, one day that student will look back and remember you.

(Also, we both got to dress up, and there is nothing better than feeling good one’s own skin. Oh, to be in a body.)

I even think back to the professor whose class involved blogging, which led to my current WordPress account. I thank her for pushing the boundaries and offering classes that no one else could think of nor facilitate the way she did. I remember our shy tongues when we saw how she graced the classroom. I imagine the fires she’s walked through to arrive at her magnificence. I think about my 6th grade math teacher and her tough love. But always, we knew it was love. I picked flowers for her on my way to school and cradled corn snakes in her class. I think about how important it is to know that you are cared for because others work for you.

Oh yes. There are great men in my life too. Thank you to my colleague who has been a solid rock at work. Whose politics and morals extend into every fiber of his actions and words. To my friend this morning, who I drove to the airport, finally taking a long-awaited and much-deserved trip into the future of his dreams and fight for food justice. This friend’s gentleness reminds me to be there for myself, and when I am ready, the work will be there. As he handed the keys to the car to me, he handed me my own trust that I can always get myself back home.

Thank you and peace.

Peace.

 

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