I read “The Changeling” by Victor Lavalle a few years ago and I so enjoyed it, I wrote him a fan email. I talked about how great it was, how I was also hoping to be published myself one day but that regardless, I would never be as good of a writer as him. His writing is exquisite. I have a handful of writer friends. They write like the Bohemian Rhapsody of prose. I am dazzled by their technical prowess and then when I got back to my manuscripts, my stories kind of feel like a bagel. Like not bad, but not that exciting either. Mr. Lavalle wrote me back the nicest email. He said that he appreciated my kind words, that it was nice to hear, but to also remind me that “The Changeling” is his ninth book and that his prose did not begin at that level. He also wished me luck with my writing.

I have a novel I have been shopping around to agents and I came very close to signing with one. She and I went back and forth for six months, and we developed a rapport. I liked her! She was extraordinarily shrewd yet supportive with feedback. I rewrote the outline, the first fifty pages, then the whole book to try to make it something she could sell and I really thought it was going to work out but she disappeared. And then I felt like, should I give up? I mean this book, this YA book, I started it years ago in my dad’s hospital room when he was first sick and I needed a light story to distract me. I have revised it off and on in ten-minute scraps of time here and there until I have written at least twenty drafts. I have wondered many times about giving up writing. In fact, I have quit but always end up coming back. I have been writing for years, since the third grade, and have always wanted to be published (and I have been, but I mean, I want an entire book with my name and title on it.) I have been writing and waiting for such a long time. Perhaps it is time to give up my professional aspirations for it. Perhaps I simply don’t have the talent necessary to get to that level.

Me: Husband, how do I know when it’s time to quit?
Husband: Is it still your dream?
Me: Yes.
Husband: Then never. The answer is never.

And his answer fortified me. It made the question of quitting, of being good enough irrelevant. Other friends, writer friends too, have advised the same thing. Never, ever, ever, ever give up (said Winston Churchill). The agent reappeared, apologizing for her long absence. She was battling an illness that was taking more time to recover from than she thought so regretfully, she needed to pass on my project to reduce her workload, and she said she greatly look forward to reading my work in print (such a nice thing to say). And her rejection did not sting so much, since I figured with her lack of response to me, I was being ghosted.

Another writer friend (mad successful writer friend) posted a link about Deborah Eisenberg saying that people don’t realize to get a piece of writing really good, it takes a long, long time. I haven’t even read the piece yet, but the headline alone was startling and has shifted my sense and understanding of time. What is my true goal? Is it to be published? Or is it to become a master? I am choosing both. And that is going to take a great deal of writing and working and sweating, and a lot more time. But what’s perverse about my nature is that if I’m told I should want something or I’m told I can’t have something because the obstacles are too hard, I go the opposite way than requested. I dig deep and drop down to a different level of patience. I am ready to wait.

school candy sale

Every year, I bring my kids’ candy sale catalogues to work, overcome my discomfort for asking for help, and visit all my co-workers. As one said to me this year, “Tina, I’m so sick of all you moms shaking me down. Get away from me.” (She bought peanut brittle. Correction: she bought an $8 bag of air with three pieces of peanut brittle in it.) Sometimes, I will have wine and order jewelry from the school candy sale (don’t be jealous.)

When that stupid day comes where all the goods arrive, I schlep the orders from all three kids. I’m like a professional mule. I pick up three bags/boxes/albatrosses from school along with kids, schlep home, then schlep the gigantic bags to work the next day. And just to encourage someone reading to get out the world’s tiniest violin, I take these giant, unwieldy bags during rush hour, with a Hunchback of Notre Dame style of walking, apologizing to strangers as I hit them in the back with gift wrapping paper when I don’t quite clear the landing. But I get ahead of myself.

Last night, when I got home and dumped the items, the kids were pumped. Nothing makes the kids more wired than the unexpected arrival of candy (only second to unexpected toys). Once they understood none of the candy was staying, they burst into tears. Long, agonized tears. Open-mouthed devastation. They needed to hold each, to give comfort, to give succor, so great was their sense of loss. It was like Carmina Burana.

Kids: What do you mean we’re giving all the candy away!
Me: We’re not giving the candy away. We are giving the candy to the people at my office who paid for them, who want to support you and your school.
Kids: I knew! This happened last year. Don’t ever do this to me again!

Fresh round of inconsolable tears and need to comfort each other for ten minutes.


kit kats from japan

I love all the random articles on Japan from the Times. They just pick out specific obsessions and casually point out the radical differences between their culture and ours. First, you think, “wow people in Japan are weird,” until you get to the point of, “oh my god, Americans are so weird.” For example, apple picking is an enormously popular family activity in the New York area. Every fall, I see all these pictures online of happy parent units with their descendants smiling in a field with a bag of apples, or apple doughnuts, or whatever apple product. And I was always hoping I could add this to our family repertoire, but it’s only happened once (and this only happened because my friend Nancy drove and organized me, First Son as a baby, and my parents, and I have officially let it go).

In Japan, they have something like apple picking, but not quite. What happens is you travel to a fruit area like say in Yamanashi, pay for a ticket, and eat for an allotted time. You don’t leave with a big bag of product. At first, the writer thinks the practice as bizarre, but upon further reflection, sees it as a profound living out of a life philosophy:
Unlike apple-picking in the fall in the United States, the fruit doesn’t really function as a “It was practical, it was beautiful and it acknowledged that souvenirs were, like memories, at best only approximations of the moments they represented. That it was, in fact, completely impossible to remove a taste from its origin without changing it in the process.”

Anyway, loved this piece, but mostly what hooked me was the focus on Japan’s obsession with Kit-Kats and the hundreds of flavors that the market makes available, from ones you’d find in a typical Western market (varying degrees of chocolate) to ones more in Asian markets (fruit like cantaloupe and mochi. the article detailed how this food scientist worked meticulously in trying to capture the spirit of the mochi in a Kit Kat, experimenting not only with different flavorings but also texture in order truly capture the spirit of this dessert. I found the whole pursuit completely wild, and tried to pitch food scientist to the kids. “Isn’t that cool? Someone’s job is just taste candy all day and make it more delicious?” No takers as of yet, but that’s fine. They may not possess scientist brains and the only reason why I’m pitching this path is for access to free candy.

glenn on “the walking dead”

god, there was a time where I was so fond of this show. Of course, I love zombies, stemming from my belief that most adults are dead inside. There was a great deal of diversity on that show without comment. There were multiple scenes with white actor and three to four African American actors. I never see that on TV or film. Usually, it’s one of every color; or a white ensemble with one actor of color, so I just loved, loved, loved this show forever. Excellent zombies! And although the show narrative is just running in place right, there is still ingenuity in location/set design and zombie stunts (like a shot of zombies rolling down a hill cracked me up. I had never seen that before. Who can forget zombies walking around with their unfurled large intestines dragging behind them like the tail of a glamorous gown? Such witty sight gags.) Back in the show’s hey day, it was absolutely a water cooler show that me and colleagues gabbed about. For some reason, it was only a handful of men I’d yell at about it, and every time a major character die, I’d yell through the office “I just have the one Korean! Leave my Korean alone!” (Glenn was the Korean, and of course he died). Anyway, I was just thinking today how two of the major actors on the show are from England and do these insane, crazy southern accents (the story takes place in Georgia) and my lone Korean sounds like he’s from New York. What gives, Glenn, what gives.

busy phillips

This actress/social media influencer Busy Phillips wrote a book recently about how, when she was on the show “Freaks and Geeks,” she was hit so hard by her co-start James Franco, that he knocked the wind out of her. Uma Thurman, in Kill Bill, went to the Times and talked about how she almost died in the car sequence when the car crashed at 40 miles an hour. Quentin Tarantino told Diane Kruger he had to actually choke her for Inglorious Bastards, that a stunt wouldn’t look as real on film as the sight of her actually losing consciousness.

This should not be happening at all. I don’t understand how this happens. Staging and performing a fight and/or physical violence is actually a craft, and filming a TV show or film is incredibly technical and precise. There’s no room for someone to be so lost in their art or the moment that they lose control. People go to drama school and receive training on how to do it. Husband is a fight choreographer among other things, and he has always taught me, that the “victim,” in any stage fight, is the one who leads the action and provides the reaction. You always want to be safe, you always want your actors to feel safe, so when I read or hear about stories of these women being endangered like the anecdotes above, it sounds like a bunch of amateurs are in charge and don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I can only imagine being an actress on set, not wanting to make it a big deal, not wanting to hold up production, not sure if maybe they were overreacting.

meghan markle, princess of the world!

Is it sad that I light up whenever I see footage or images of Meghan Markle? I want this woman to succeed so badly. It sounds goofy, but to be the wife of an English Prince seems to be like the worst fate ever. She had been an actor on “Suits” for seven years, and I’m wondering if the tedium and long hours of being on a TV show can amply prepare you for a lifetime of always being on. I mean, the woman is always freaking beaming and I can barely manage a polite half-smile. There’s so much terrible stuff she dealt with, including explicit racism by the press (she’s biracial, half white, half African American), exploitation for money by step siblings and her biological father (too painful to recount). As Princess, she has to give up being overtly political and explicitly feminist. It’s like she has to give up being an individual to become a symbol. (Reminds me of the plot of “The Little Mermaid” or like what happens when you fall in love with a vampire.) There are a flurry of news stories of how she shut her own car door, shown on TV on repeat. Right now, she’s in Fiji with her husband, making speeches, smiling in what seems like a relaxed, benign manner, even when her security team is shutting down one of her events early due to security threats. I mean, I’m sorry, under such relentless, intense scrutiny, most of us would buckle into a puddle, curl up in a ball, and rock back and forth, quietly muttering “redrum.” Whatever she’s doing to steel and center herself is working. (I also believe she and Prince Harry are madly in love because why on earth would you bother with this BS otherwise? Seriously.) And I am rooting for her. In this present garbage time when the U.S. is explicitly moving towards, if not already embracing Fascism, we have a black hole vacuum of moral leadership in the world, I am going to welcome Meghan Markle as someone who is trying to contribute to spreading good will. I am going to trust that the English monarchy, behind the scenes, is an incredibly political animal, and if they are “letting” her make her mark as an advocate for women rights, albeit in a more conservative approach, I am here for it. We need all the heroes we can get. Go, Markle, go. Be the light!

beyonce beast mode

In her Vogue profile, she mentions she’s has a little bit of post-pregnancy belly and is enjoying it. When she’s ready to get six-pack abs, she’ll go into “beast mode” and get it done. I so relate to that. Not the abs parts – I have not seen my abs in a long time, but beast mode, yes. It is the mindset you get into to access a deep, unwavering focus and determination that allows you to get through the difficult, unpleasant tasks to get your goal. It’s almost like being a superhero for fleeting moments, a magic mode you drop down into in order to do the impossible. However, I don’t use beast mode to get into a ripped physique or prep for a world tour. For me, I use it to tackle my parents’ medical bills + legal paperwork. It’s like this giant pile of actual paper I need to go through carefully, labyrinthine, complicated sentences that need a psychic sensibility to translate. Once in beast mode, I can plow through them. before then, they nag me. My ma suggested I handle medical bills and legal matters for senior for a living. Ha ha. No way. I hate this work with an extraordinary passion. I only do it for my parents because they raised me. I am the Sasha Fierce of bureaucratic monotonous paperwork. (Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?) Take that [!] you microscopic, conflicting directions on legal forms! Boo yeah!

Excellent Sheep

I read this book with great interest since I am obsessed with thinking about the education I received and how the heck I’m going to try to fake-guide my children in their pursuit of higher education. (If my mom was a “tiger mom,” then I would be considered “sloth mom.” Somewhere between us is probably a healthy model.) The author, who taught English at Yale (I think), summarizes the joylessness and intense anxiety he observed among his students. He takes down former colleague Amy Chua, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” for education approach of all-or-nothing excellence, calling her out for not seeing that the excellence she demands from her daughters is so much about proving herself to her own mother that she is profoundly handicapped at excelling at parenting herself. (Damn. I will never publicly call out a former co-worker, but also? It made me feel gleeful and a bit vindicated.) The author makes this sad observation that more than half of the undergrads of Yale go into consulting, a third go into banking or financing. Like, is my alma mater producing the least interesting humans ever?

There is an emphasis in college, overall, on being pre-professional, being hire-able. The book says kids often apply with five to six extra-curriculars and get perfect SAT scores and pitch in at the local soup kitchen, while performing as a world-class violinist. (Eww.)

I have worked with people from fancy consulting firms and heard them speak disparagingly of the liberal arts degree. (“We don’t need another barista with a liberal arts education.” To which in my mind, because let’s be real, I say “Really? Maybe that’s the job they can get in this garbage economy where there are fewer low-skilled jobs.) Through those projects and witnessing what gets funded through my kids’ schools (science, engineering, advanced manufacturing, STEM, STEM, STEM), I keep hearing how science and its cousins are so worthy ALL THE DAMN TIME.

But you know what, cutie? The world needs English majors. The world needs writers, actors, and creative types. If we are really going to get taken over by robots (and by all accounts, this is totes true. The reason why this latest industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 gives economists agitata is that computers that can make decisions now exist – that quality was once considered a uniquely human trait. Now, not so much. Oh well. But can a robot juggle? Can they overeat to the point of pain even though they know better? Yeah, I DIDN’T THINK SO. #HUMANPRIDE.) All of these trends, to me, further reinforce that we all need to learn how to develop the skills related to the right brain, the creative part, the weird part. As thought leader (is that title?) Daniel Pink has hypothesized, the right brain is the key to make us distinct as job seekers and work creators in this competitive job market.

Reading this book made me feel madly lucky. While raised by a quasi-tiger mom, I have always been myself. As an undergrad, I took whatever classes I want, including ones I failed abysmally. My grades ranged from A- to W, as in “withdrawal.” I would drop classes to not get an F, but I was okay with the D on Introduction to Psychology freshman year. (As mom said, I got every letter in the alphabet (not very happily, I might add. “I regret letting control go over your college years,” she says. “But Mom,” I say, “what is life without regret.”) (She hates me.) Junior year, I decided I needed to take classes outside my comfort zone so I took Military History with a bunch of guys with baseball hats with bulldogs on them and Old English, which I nearly failed. I acted for the first time. Like, I felt free to experiment, in a way that contemporary college students don’t seem to feel comfortable with. Poor things, lucky me.

RuPaul for President

I could say that our current president is a Nazi but I’m afraid that some people would think that’s a compliment. It’s a strange, strange time. It is a discouraging time. Some in my circle still believe in the path of focusing on the sure-fire, electable candidate, whereas I feel like we need to go big or go home. Look, I get that mindset of “we have to stick to tried and true or we will be shut out completely.” That was my mindset too, especially when the question of Hillary versus Bernie came around, but guess what? We tried that. We failed. You know why? Because we need a real leader, we need change. We need RuPaul.
I said it as a joke to my friend. We need a black drag queen president to counter all the negative Republican toxicity that has pervaded since Agent Orange (only mildly clever but keeping it anyway) elected. My friend was like, “Really? You want RuPaul for president?” And I said “hells yes, I want RuPaul for president.”

Drag queens are pretty tough and are authentically themselves at risk of death. Pretty goddamn ballsy. But it’s not so much my love of drag queens that leads to that answer than that I am ready for something completely different. Democracy is an experiment, and right now, in my opinion, it’s all kinds of funkified, and not in a good way. And now what I’m looking for is someone who can create a solution – not based on anything we’ve seen before, but something completely different. Many of my cohorts still dig lifelong Demos who have been in DC for decades. They are fine. They are smart, work hard, and are not that evil, but their positions are not manifest destiny/royal birth right, despite what they might believe. What I really want to say is we need someone who has the imagination to see something outside what is currently going on. Someone who can go in and work the system can no longer cut it in my opinion. I am looking for something completely different. A visionary. I no longer believe that this person is coming from my generation. It’s too late for us (maybe that’s ageist) but people my age are so entrenched in “establishment,” can they think outside of it? I am excited about the Parkland kids, I am excited by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Let the young have at it. Let them show me something I have never seen before.

As I said, these times are odd. CEOs make 500 times the amount of salary than their entry-level staff. Illegal immigrant babies are in baby jail. Criminals have positions of power. The wealth and power in our country are concentrated in this tiny, wee-wee group of men. I’m over being ruled by a small powerful few. When you have money instead of morals as your compass, you gotta whole lotta stuff in your house and no soul. And, as I tell people ad nauseum in this boring, if we are not on earth to help each other, what the f are we doing here. I have never had these feelings before like this week, where I am not upset due to personal setbacks; I am upset because of the state of our country.

This recent presidential election and all of its the horrific aftermath has radicalized my point of view. I was more of a centrist Dem, but I no longer believe in maintaining “The Machine.” Let it break down. Let’s reset. These are my feelings and they mark me as different from the people I interact with every day.

Guts (ESPY Courage Award)

The ESPY Courage Awards are wild because they actually choose people who demonstrate genuine courage. Why am I surprised? I think I see events where wealthy people just award each other for being awesome so to witness a giant corporate entity recognize a genuine quality feels a bit weird. Last year, the ESPY Courage Award went to Colin Kapernick, presented by real world goddess Beyonce, for his work with taking the knee during the national anthem at NFL games to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement. His gesture, though physically humble and was self-described to being akin to praying, was interpreted as defiance, impudence. (I never before realized how much our country still has still not dealt with the effects of the Civil War and slavery. It is still so present in the current fabric of daily life. In the US, black people do not have agency over their own bodies. Why do you think that is? To me, that is directly connected to their history as being considered property, etc. etc. I digress). He gave up a multi-million career, he gave up having a job in a game he loved, but he has said he loves people more. (Um, I’m not so selfless, but you’re awesome.) So like the “courage” in the award title, is real, you feel me?

This year, the ESPY Courage Award went to the female athletes, self-titled “Sister Survivors,” who came forward to accuse their doctor of years of sexual abuse that began when they were children or teens. There more than 150 women who were sexually abused by disgraced USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar. They were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for their “strength and resolve” and for bringing “the darkness of sexual abuse into the light.” One of the key athletes, Ali Raisman, said in her acceptance speech that she had complained for years and no one had believed her. “If only one adult believed me, he would have stopped. He would not have abused other girls.” HOLY MACEDONIA. The official count is 140, but on stage, it felt like there were HUNDREDS of women on that stage. HUNDREDS. And you know with these sexual abuse/assault cases, those are the only ones we know about.

How horrible and burdensome on these women, like they not only have to survive and deal with the traumatic experience, then they have to go deal with filing a report and relive it, testify and not be believed. It is a complex, multi-layered burden, especially when the perpetrator just keeps getting promoted, more famous, more successful, more untouchable in society. Like watching the women accusers in the courtroom after Bill Cosby was pronounced guilty of sexual assault, they flung their bodies down on furniture and wept hard. I didn’t see relief there. I felt the terrible quality of their existence. Not only did they have to deal with the violation of their intimate body, they had to deal with being disbelieved. The disastrous Kava-NAH hearings this week have triggered many in my circle. It makes me wonder who among my friends and acquaintances have been assaulted but are not able to tell me yet. As I argued at work the other day (and god, I try not to), for someone who is raped, they think of it every moment, every minute they’re awake. That’s the nature of trauma, and then to have pony up and talk about it publicly? These women have guts. There are people with tremendous courage in the world. Their suffering makes me want to eat something disgusting like Hostess products and pull the covers over my head, but their ability to stand… I’m just in awe. There are strong people on earth.