What It Means to be "In Between"

Over the summer, I went back to China. I visited Xi'an, Jinzhou, Jilin City, Changchun, and Beijing. The purpose of the trip was twofold; to do some research for my thesis and to visit my family. I have been going back to China every year since 2014 (and before that, I returned to visit twice - once in 2004 and again in 2008).

My story is not new; I was born in China, my parents immigrated to America when I was 2-3, and I later came to America when I was 5.

By all means, I grew up in America. Year after year, vestiges of my Chinese-ness started to fade away; I stopped learning Chinese (reading and writing), spoke to my parents in mostly English, and tried very hard to be "American." At the time, what that meant was: hating my monolids, hating my Chinese grandparents (who lamented my dwindling Chinese), and hating any part of me that reminded myself that I was Chinese. I was trying very hard to fit into an America that still told me to "go back to where you came from!" 

As a result of this, I spent most of my teens disowning anything that had to do with China and being Chinese.

When I went back to China in those early years (2004 and 2008), I looked at everything with disdain and horror; China was nowhere near as modern (or clean) as America. I returned to America so very glad to be an American. America, however, didn't always show me the love I was yearning for; my desire to become American was based in fear; fear of not fitting in, of being made fun of. Raised on a childhood filled with being bullied because of my race, I just wanted to be like everyone else, which was to say: white. I wanted to be American, but I didn't exactly fit into the mold. 

Thanks to a good dose of college, Asian-American history classes, fellow Asian-American friends, and an emergence of minority-centric communities on the Internet (shoutout to Livejournal and Tumblr), I slowly moved away from hating my Chinese heritage, and instead being very, very proud of it. I returned to China in 2014, desperate to reconnect with the home I once left and shunned. I wanted more than anything to be "Chinese," only to find that the China I had left behind, had left me behind too. I couldn't speak Chinese well and I couldn't read or write, which meant that I was often left out of conversations. Furthermore, I didn't look or behave the way a mainland Chinese person would; I didn't dress like them, didn't have the same mannerisms. I no longer fit in; I was too tall, too big-breasted, too wide. I got looks everywhere I went, and not in a good way. Once, a banker even laughed at the way I wrote the number 8, asking his coworker in disbelief if what he was seeing was real. 

And so that's where I ended up, in my late twenties: Someone who is both American and Chinese, and trying to figure out what that means. In most of my writing, I have been searching for what home means when you’re someone who is in between: in between two countries, two families, two languages, two personas.

It wasn't until this most recent trip to China that I realized the answer to what I have been searching for is so, so simple: home is not a country, not your family, not a language, not who people think you are. Home is what you make it. And my home is in between.

What does that mean? My home is loving Lana Del Rey and remembering the words to Xiao Yen Zi. My home is loving burgers as much as noodles (or is it vice versa?). Taking my shoes off in people’s homes, even when they tell me not to. The color red being good luck, the color white bad. The number 8 being the best luck of them all. Saying that my body feels sour; because that’s the word for the feeling in Chinese. Still somehow believing that I’ll get sick if there’s cold air blowing at my head. My home is being just OKAY at making dumplings from scratch. My home is understanding Chinese well enough, but having a little bit harder time speaking it. My home is being a dark skinned Chinese girl. Wearing jean shorts in china and a qipao in America. Saying “a-ya!” even in English.  Always and forever loving fish head and pigs feet and chicken liver. Always and forever loving my family. Always and forever loving my life in America. Always and forever loving my family in China. Defending both, when necessary.

I’ve been looking at it all wrong. I thought that being in between was a bad thing, that it meant that I was lacking a little bit of both. But I now know that being in between is the best thing. It means having a little bit of both. Not two halves, but one whole. I am Hannah Montana - the best of both worlds.

The thesis I'm writing is about exploring the in-between. I have been saying that I am tired of writing the stories about being in between - I am ready for my writing to explore different things. Except I realize now that nothing about my writing will have to change - only my outlook. My understanding of my identity has changed. And that, I am stoked to say, makes me so excited for the writing I have yet to do.

A Week in Austin on a $55k Salary

Hello. This is a parody of Refinery29's "Money Diaries" series.


Monday

9 a.m. - Since I freelance, I have the luxury of waking up later. I meditate, eat breakfast, and walk the dog. Summers in Texas are scorching, so I try to do all outdoor activities before 10 a.m.

10 a.m. - I start work. I’m currently juggling four clients. I read emails, respond to queries, and continue working on a blog post. 

2 p.m. - The Alamo Drafthouse is screening The Dark Knight for a whole month. I was obsessed with TDK when it came out. You bet I’m gonna buy a ticket for tonight! $13

6 p.m. - I get to the theater early, and am pretty hungry. I buy the special “Bat Wings” basket, and chow down while I wait for the movie to start. $11

9 p.m. - I walk out of the movie in a daze. Christopher Nolan is a genius. Heath Ledger is inspired. Christian Bale is Christian Bale. I believe in Harvey Dent. 

11 p.m. - I can’t sleep, so I buy another ticket to see the movie again tomorrow. It’s just that good! $13

Daily Total: $37.00

Tuesday

9 p.m. - After the movie, I cruise through downtown Austin. I see a hooded figure threatening someone in an alleyway. I park and run towards them.

“GET AWAY FROM HER!” I roar in my best Batman voice, except it comes out sounding like “GERALDO RIVERA!”

The hooded figure turns and shoves a knife towards me. My bat like reflexes engage, and I wrestle the knife from him. I think I stab him a few times, I’m not sure. Either way, I saved the day.

I am the goddamn Batman.  

Daily Total: $0

Wednesday

6 a.m. - My boyfriend jostles me awake. He tells me the cops are downstairs.

7 a.m.  - I pack a bag with clothes, toothbrush, granola bars, and $500 in cash. I leap out the window, land in the bushes, and crawl away. 

12:12 p.m. - I’m on the run when I realize that my period has started. I didn’t pack any tampons. Shoot!

12:30 p.m. - I choose a crappy gas station. I buy three packs of tampons, because who knows how long I’ll be on the run? $40

1 p.m. - The cashier asks me, “Hey, aren’t you…?” I knock him out. I also take some Hostess Donettes, but I do leave money on the counter. $2

11 p.m. - I find some cover under a bridge. They’ll never understand me, just like they never understood the Batman. I knew the mob wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Daily Total: $42

Thursday

8 a.m. - I wake to the sound of dogs barking in the distance, so I quickly pack up and run. 

2:00 p.m. - It’s almost 100 degrees outside. There’s no way I can keep going, so I stop inside an iHop.

2:30 p.m. - I order a stack of buttermilk pancakes, gooseberry syrup, eggs, and sausages. As Anne Hathaway/Catwoman says in The Dark Knight Rises (a far less superior movie), “Girl’s gotta eat.” $12

7 p.m. - The sun’s finally going down. I steal a bike outside iHop, and ride towards San Antonio. There is just one more thing I’m missing.

8 p.m. - I get to Party City before it closes. I buy a Batman-themed mask, and give the cashier a $20 before rushing out. $20

Daily Total: $32

Friday

7 a.m. - I turn my phone on and see a text from my boyfriend. “Where are you? I’m seriously freaking out.”

I bet they’re making him send me that. I turn my phone off. I love him, but sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes, people deserve more. 

2 p.m. - iHop again. I order my stack of pancakes and drink coffee until I’m shaking. $15

3 p.m. - On my way out of the iHop, I see a dude harassing a waitress. She’s clearly not into it. I put my mask on.

“STEP AWAY!” I say, except it comes out like “STEFFI GRAF!”

The dude looks at me and laughs. The waitress laughs too.

“I’M NOT PLAYING AROUND!” I say, except it comes out like “ROBIN WRIGHT PENN!”

The dude is laughing so hard that it's rather easy for me to bust his kneecaps. He drops to the ground, screaming. The waitress is no longer laughing. "What the hell is wrong with you?" She yells. 

Another villain detained, another citizen safe from harm.

3:15pm - I hop on my bike. If I bike all day and night, I can be in San Marcos by morning. I have to keep going. You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. 

Daily Total: $15
Weekly Total: $126

Writers: SHARE YOUR WRITING, Dammit!

This week, I published a mini-essay about weightlifting and how it helps me rebel against the China Doll stereotype. But, of course, this post is not just about that (although I am ELATED that the story is finally seeing the light of day). I want to talk a bit about what it means to share your work as a writer.

It has always been incredibly difficult for me to share my work with those around me. I hate the idea of self-promotion, and I also hate being a nuisance on social media. As such, I hid a lot of my writing from friends, family, partners, and strangers. 

More recently, I've started sharing my work through social media. Every time I pressed "post," my heart would be racing. I talked myself out of it several times before finally squeezing my eyes shut, clicking the stupid button, and running away from the computer to hide in a corner.

But here's the thing: The world didn't end. In fact, the world - my little world, and a little bit of the world outside of that - responded. I wasn't a nuisance. I was just a human trying to share something I loved to the people who loved me. And they, in turn, responded with kindness, excitement, gratitude, and love. 

It felt so much better than I could have known.

Still, I get it. Sharing can be icky for first-timers and tenth-timers alike. If you're a writer who wants to share their work, but is feeling weird about it, here's what I would say: 

1. Writing is a lonely activity

As all writers know, writing is a lonely and solitary activity. When I tell someone that I have spent the day writing, what I mean is this: I opened up Microsoft Word, I read my Twitter and Facebook feed, I checked the news, I despaired in the news, I got up to make tea, I contemplated whether or not I should eat, I did some laundry, I sit down again to write, I ate, I checked Instagram, I googled the history of the Terra Cotta soldiers, I wrote again, I started writing a different thing, I went down a YouTube hole of The Voice auditions...you get the gist.

And then bam. a day, a week, a month later, I finish a story.

When I am writing, there are days when I reach the evening and realize I haven't said a word out loud all day. Then there are the days when I stare at my words and wonder who the hell I am, thinking I could deserve to write anything. Rarely, there are beautiful and delicious moments when it all clicks and I feel like I've ignited. 

What I'm trying to say is this: the writing process is different for all of us, but it is very much the same in this way - most of the writing happens inside before anything else happens on the page. 

2. Writers hate sharing their work

Because of the insular nature of writing, a lot of writers can find it hard to share their work. There are a few thoughts running through every writer's head during this phase:

  • Does anyone even care about what I have to say?
  • Is what I wrote actually any good?
  • What if people hate it?
  • How dare I even try? 
  • Who do I think I am? 
  • Will this just spam people's newsfeeds? 
  • So what? 
  • Is this even important?
  • Did I get something wrong? 
  • Worst: What if nobody reads it?

The last thing any of us want to come off as is narcissistic.

But the truth is this: in order to write, you have to be a little - a lot - narcissistic. Or, maybe we shouldn't be calling it narcissism in the first place. Maybe it's a galactic concoction of awareness, introspection, and passion. Maybe, above all else, it's a desire to communicate. 

With that in mind, I reach number 3:

3. Writers MUST share their work

Writers must share their work, because while writing itself is a lonely activity, the ACT of writing is a push towards community and connection. The act of writing carries with it a sense of longing. Longing to reach someone, somewhere who can say, "Wow. You as well?" 

If you are a writer who is having trouble sharing your work, ask yourself: Why do I write? 

If your answer is something along the lines of: to feel alive, to connect with people, to tell my story, to give voice to those who have lost theirs, to fight, to live, to love...my friend, it's time to share your work. No matter how unimportant you think your story is, there will always be one person out there who connects with it. 

Right now, stories matter more than ever. Diverse voices and experiences matter. Come and join the fray - it's wild, but it's also astonishingly beautiful. 

4. How, though?

Like this: 

Start small: small websites and presses where your writing would fit, your own personal blog, a Facebook status, Medium. Get used to the feeling of pasting a URL into a text box and clicking "post." Practice it now: "Hey guys, I wrote XYZ and I would love if you read it." POST. Breathe. Be proud of yourself. Eat a croissant.

Find your supporters: because you will have supporters! Those friends who have been asking to see your writing. Your parents. Internet acquaintances you know through hobbies and interests. Communities that are related to what you're writing about. Total strangers who are looking for exactly what you have to say. Your supporters will show up for you, and you should hold them tight.

Don't be afraid to go big: what are your favorite websites, dream outlets, and adored publications? Read the things they publish. If it's in line with the kind of writing you do, pitch them (if they're accepting). Most writers will find the editor of their appropriate genre/topic (you can usually see this info in the Masthead, About, or Contact section) and shoot them a pitch. If you can't find their email, you might have to do some light stalking; the good news is, most editors have their email in their Twitter bio. 

Keep going: keep writing, keep reading, keep sharing, keep believing. Why do you write? Your voice matters. Repeat it to yourself. And again, and again, and again. And again. 

5. Resources

You can't do it alone. Here are some resources that help me navigate the intimidating world of sharing your work:

That's all for now, bbs. Go forth and create <3 You'll be more than okay, I promise. You'll be freaking brilliant.