My Writing Process

One of my favorite bloggers Rudri at Being Rudri tagged me some time ago in this meme about the writing process. I have mentioned Rudri and her wonderful blog before. She writes thoughtful and reflective posts on the process of growing, healing, and finding joy. Her words are compelling because they come from a place of loss. She also writes regularly for The First Day, a quarterly print journal and on-line magazine about the spiritual journeys taken by people from all faiths and cultural backgrounds. Thanks so much for including me in this exercise, Rudri.

What am I working on as a writer?

I’m in a gap period in my writing. I’ve enrolled in writing courses over the last few years and worked on some personal essays for publication. Then I realized that I was suffering from a huge gap as a want-to-be writer: I wasn’t reading enough. A former classmate advised me to “learn from the masters” and so for the last couple of years I’ve been trying to return to the classics as well as familiarize myself with contemporary writers. I’m trying to figure out which voices and styles resonate with me most. I continue to write in my blog and last year began writing about books as well.

I would actually like to write a short story. For years I thought I would write a memoir but I struggled about privacy. Fiction, however, made me feel inauthentic. But I think blog writing has helped to release much of my pent-up emotions. I can comfortably try my hand at fiction now, as soon as I feel confident enough to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). For some reason I feel terrified about doing this.

I am also interested in poetry. I actually signed up for a free on-line poetry writing course that started while I was still traveling. I have a few course emails waiting for me so I need to get on that. But talk about a reading gap – I definitely need to read more poetry!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know if I can say that my writing belongs to a genre and, if it does, if I can say that it differs from others. I’ll just say that in general my writing tends very much to be on the personal side, and sometimes that applies to my book reviews too. I usually like to incorporate a personal voice into my posts.

Why do I write what I do?

I often get very personal in my writing, as my readers know. I’ve asked myself many times why I do this, when clearly I’m the only one among my (non-blogging) friends who reveals so much. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do it because I’d led a life of secrets. I come from a culture in which the most human conditions are seen as shameful flaws: hardship, injury, illness, failure, misfortune. I’ve been made to swear more than once to not utter a word to anyone about [something completely normal]. I also grew up in a home in which emotions were not acknowledged let alone discussed. This could work for some people, but I’m expressive and sensitive by nature. I see and interpret the world through words and feelings. Not allowing an expressive person to communicate is like forbidding an athlete from moving. I’ve had to write the most personal in order to heal and to find a healthy way to exist. I also do this in the hopes of making others (who may have grappled with similar issues) feel less alone. Being personal has helped me connect with readers, and I love and appreciate my small community here.

How does my writing process look?

I only sit down to write (blog) about two to four times a week (usually write 2x and edit 2x). I do, however, go about my days alert for possible topics. It might be a feeling that I have watching my son do something, or it might be something that my husband or friend brings up in conversation. Does that incident or comment reveal something larger about what many of us go through? I look for those moments and sometimes I talk them through with my husband. I store my ideas away mentally and on my phone and then get on my laptop the day before I want to publish the post. I try to write in the early mornings, and will postpone (non-urgent) work if necessary to get a post done. I write it all out in one sitting and then go back and edit small parts here and there. My most authentic posts get written the most quickly. For me personally, if I am in writing mode but the words are not coming to me easily, it’s a signal to me that I am not really writing what I’m feeling but writing because I feel pressured to churn something out. (The pressure is all internal, of course.)

Regarding my book reviews, I keep a small notebook of notable quotes to trigger memories of my biggest take-aways. More often than not I rely on memory. I’m not sure if this is the best tactic, though, given my no-longer-so-young-brain, so I think I need to start taking more notes!

Do you write? What is your writing process like?

On Self-Consciousness, the Fear of Being Judged, and Struggling to Write

I’ve been having a hard time over the last couple of weeks mustering up the energy to write. The struggle is not new; I get hit by this every so often.

Emotional and physical fatigue is my biggest culprit. I experienced extreme highs and lows over the last couple of weeks that included a death in the family. I don’t sleep as much as I should on normal days, so the last couple of weeks have taken a bit out of me.

The other block is a renewed self-consciousness. I’ve received only support and encouragement ever since I posted about my experiences with anxiety, and friends are now even forwarding articles to me on being good to myself. But in the aftermath of those personal posts are the uncomfortable feelings of having said too much. Do my friends look at me differently now, even though my achievements have not changed? When I meet people, are they smiling at me out of pity or judgment? One friend confessed quietly that she had suffered from depression as well, but added, “But I’m not about to go around telling everyone about it.” Though she was speaking only of herself, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was also making a statement about my choice.

How do writers balance authenticity and vulnerability?

There are two sides in me, constantly, that either fuel or drain my motivations to write. There’s the side that expects the best in others – their open-mindedness, their compassion, their acceptance, their lack of judgment. And then there’s the side in me that fears the worst. My culture has instilled in me the importance of keeping secrets and keeping face; the reality of my life has shown me the toxicity of holding everything in. Since I started writing almost five years ago I’ve been gaining strength in my internal battle against the needless shame of being human. I had made the decision that having a voice outweighs the fear of being judged. It’s a seesaw I ride on every week that I write, and I hope that in time the nobler side wins.

Image courtesy http://www.ynaija.com

 

 

 

Happy new year!

I prepared Christmas Eve dinner and loved how it felt to give the gift of food to family. My brother was fully expecting me to defrost a pre-made dinner from the market.

I prepared Christmas Eve dinner and loved how it felt to give the gift of food to family. My brother was fully expecting me to defrost a pre-made dinner from the market.

I’m so eager to read all the year-end book and recap posts that I’m seeing in my reader, and I also want to post my own lists of favorite books and other 2013 reflections. Alas, I think I’m going to have to wait a few more days. I didn’t realize just how much solitude reading and writing required until school let out for my son and my brother flew in for a visit. I spend my early mornings working for clients and I’m too tired at night to write. So right now I’m craving creative time while simultaneously savoring the presence of my family, a happy kind of tension, and a privilege to have the possibility of both.

I hope that whatever you are doing this holiday, you are enjoying your own good balance of solitude and time with loved ones. I am so incredibly grateful to all the friends whom I have either met or reconnected with through this blog. My experience reading and writing this year has been a powerful affirmation that words and stories are important – both in reading them and in sharing them (to feel connected and to heal). Thank you so much for reading and for giving me a reason to write each week. I wish you a memorable new year full of all the things that make you happiest!

Cecilia

Thoughts on blogging by an ordinary blogger

My blog is four years old today (!). That’s four years longer than any plant I’ve ever owned, a little less than half my son’s lifetime, and a third of the life of my marriage.

I’m not putting myself down when I call myself “ordinary.” By ordinary I am referring to clout and status in the blogosphere. It’s not unlike money and status in the off-line world. By both accounts I am ordinary. But do I think I am a good person who lives authentically? Yes, in both worlds, I do. I don’t have tips here on how to get big and successful, but if you want validation, you might find some here today.

I started blogging because I was interested in writing again. I could’ve simply written in a private journal, but maybe what I wanted was to speak up and be heard, by somebody. When I began looking back after a couple of years, it became clearer and clearer to me that I wanted to write because I had spent most of my life silenced. For many different reasons, not the least of which was growing up in a culture of shame, I had been trained to shut my voice down and to take up less space. We all have a voice, and it is a matter of whether or not we want to activate it. After all those years I wanted to activate mine.

And so I started, with many false starts. I had different blogs with different themes and names and nothing stuck until Only You. I named Only You for my son, then five years old. I liked having him be a part of this new life, and partly for that reason I have never considered abandoning this blog, even during stretches when I had lost motivation and confidence to continue.

But Only You was also me, because after having been consumed by motherhood those previous five years, I felt my identity fading out once Fred entered his own world of school and friends. And yet there was no previous self that still existed that I could go back to. Blogging helped me to re-draw the outline of who I was and to fill it in again.

So below are some thoughts, looking back on my four years of blogging:

On motivation

I was never a prolific blogger, and I have gone through peaks and valleys in terms of posting. For me the biggest motivation drainers are lack of physical energy, low writer self-esteem, and perfectionistic tendencies.

I’m going to sound a bit self-pitying here but in the name of honesty I’m just going to come right out and say it: I used to be inconsistent in part because I wasn’t sure if anybody cared. Writing to an audience of busy mothers I’d felt apologetic for my long and heavy posts. And when I found it hard to write – and I have gone as long as two or even three months without writing – I also didn’t explain my absences because I’d assumed that no one would notice if I disappeared for a while.

Of course, what I’ve learned is that 1) as a blogger you need to take a leap of faith and start from there; and 2) creating a community will help lessen that fear of “Who’s going to care?”. It’s a catch-22 because the less you write, the less likely it is you will gain a community and the less accountable you will feel about showing up. For a long time I was caught in exactly that negative cycle.

I also decided to follow my heart in adapting my blog. I was losing a bit of steam writing about motherhood, most likely because my world had shifted. Since the summer, books were becoming a greater part of my life, and I really wanted to start writing about reading. So I took a chance and added books as another blogging theme. I was a bit nervous about changing my blog but being able to write about my passion has refueled my motivation to write.

Finally, I’ve learned to not care as much. I used to approach writing each post almost as if I were drafting an essay for publication. That kind of pressure is what it takes to kill any chance of getting a blog off the ground. I’m still struggling to find my voice after all these years, to write more the way I talk, but I realize that won’t come unless I keep writing and keep practicing.

On community

I’m not going to say the predictable just yet. Instead, I want to say that it took me a while to get the hang of community, the on-line kind. I started out as a “mom blogger,” and soon learned that there is a whole subculture in the world of mom bloggers. There are the big players and you can choose to be a part of that whole scene or not. I’ve strung along to see what the fuss was all about, but I often ended up feeling more alienated and alone than anything else, like being back in my freshman year in college when I was struggling to find my niche. Any social situation that reminds me of those adolescent times is a sign that I need to move away. And so I did.

I also took things a little too personally in the beginning sometimes, feeling hurt if, for example, someone I followed didn’t follow me back. I’ve long let go of that need for tit-for-tat commenting and visiting, because the truth is I often can’t follow back the same people who follow me. Trying to keep up on-line is overwhelming and I understand that everyone else is going through what I go through. It’s not personal. There’s huge freedom in being able to visit a blog simply because you enjoy it, and not worrying about obligation of any kind.

And now I’ll say the predictable: I love my community. It is hard to talk about this without sounding trite or resorting to cliches. I blogged last Friday about the things that bring me down. Well, the people I’ve met through blogging are what bring me up. It is not better or worse than having friends off-line, but there is a certain amount of ease in building relationships on-line. Our first impressions are made not through appearance but through the most intimate parts of a blogger: her words. We can know quickly if we click or not, and with each post we feel we’ve gotten to know the other person a little better. Words are my favorite medium for bonding, and so I love being able to build authentic connection through that.

On validation and vulnerability

Like most bloggers I’ve done my fair share of obsessing over statistics, followers, comments, and shares. Are people reading my posts? What do they think about what I’ve said? Why did I just lose a follower? I never had any goal to amass a huge following, but still, I probably spend more time than I need to checking on my stats.

A few times I got syndicated on larger sites, and it was like small midwestern town girl meets the Big City. My stats skyrocketed during those brief periods of exposure, and it was there, in the scary streets of Blogher and Mamapedia, that I also encountered my first trolls. It was kind of a surreal experience, being told I was an incompetent mother who needed therapy or at least a few good self-help books, all because I’d written about the regrets I’d felt and the lessons I’ve learned from fighting with my husband in front of my child. Since then I’ve had little motivation to put my words out there again, in such public venues. It’s not so much that I’ve allowed myself to be intimidated into silence as it is my lack of desire to share myself with so many people whom I don’t know. It’s like I’ve decided I like my small town better than living in Los Angeles. My goal isn’t to make the big time.

Putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to judgment as both a person and a writer is one of the hardest things you can do. It’s impossible not to be self-critical and to fill yourself with doubt, honestly paralyzing doubt that makes you question if there aren’t easier and safer things to do with your free, unpaid time. So if nothing else – even if I don’t have a ton of followers or page views to show for my four years of blogging – I can say that I’ve shown up, year after year.

Do you blog? If so, what’s helped you stay in the game? As a reader, what keeps you coming back to a blog?

Living, Loving & Reading: my new blog theme

I’m back from my whirlwind trip through 4 cities in Japan, simultaneously exhausted and energized. So much happened internally for me over the last few weeks, as going back and meeting family and friends took me face-to-face against such issues as our aging parents and mortality, the meaning of filial piety, the cultural differences in what it means to be successful and how to raise our child in this blended context…

Exhausted and energized. American and Japanese. Confused and clear. Fatter and leaner. Yes, even down to my weight and body, I feel like a contradiction. Somehow I managed to gain 5 lbs. and feel more plump (due to the incessant eating) and yet more muscular (from the miles of walking and commuting we did each day).

At least the trip was a kick-start to get me out of the lazy comfort zone I had fallen into. Despite a difficult return home (our connecting flight was cancelled after the 13 hour leg from Japan, and we were stuck for the night at Newark Airport which I am convinced is hell on earth), I threw myself into work and cleaning the moment I got home. Maybe seeing my weakened parents-in-law (a distant relative died on our last day in Japan as well) unconsciously pushed me to not waste a minute.

I spent a couple of jet-lagged nights making over my blog. I’d struggled over the last few months to write meaningful content and to stay consistent. I’d gotten close to launching a second blog as well, on books and reading, until I had to be honest with myself that I can’t in any way be able to manage 2 blogs simultaneously. I think I was struggling with my blog identity.

As fellow blogger friends of mine have done and talked about, I need to let my blog grow with me. I started writing several years ago focusing on motherhood. These days, although motherhood is no less a priority for me, it has become less pressing for me in terms of discussion. Someone should probably write the life cycle of a mom blogger, as this cycle must exist. Somehow we go from wanting to talk and read about mothering all the time to wanting to talk and read about other things as well, all while still focusing very much, of course, on our children.

So I’m at that stage right now. Fred is 9. In many ways parenting is easier now. I don’t need to find childcare if he’s home from school and I need to work. I don’t have to serve him breakfast if he’s up and hungry and I’m still in bed. I don’t need to take him to the restroom if he has to go and we’re out in public. (Though I’ll wait outside. I’m paranoid of him being alone in a male restroom.)

But in other significant ways parenting is harder now. I feel less control than I ever did, more clueless about whether or not I am doing the right thing (with an uncomfortable, gnawing feeling that I am going about it all wrong and a fear of finding out just how wrong once the teen years set in). When Fred was younger the challenges were largely physical, and in the end I was usually successful in my influence. I’m feeling my power as a parent waning slowly bit by bit as Fred gets older, and I’ll continue to write about mothering in the middle years.

And I’ll still write about life, which is starting to look a little different now, with my time less constrained and with more need to find purpose, with the tarp over my relationship to my husband slowly coming off now that our child is older, with our thoughts turning now to the eventual loss of our first parent.

My new addition to my blog is a discussion of books. (I’ve added a new page to my menu (a list of the books I’ve read this year) as well as links to previous posts on reading to the right of the screen.) I’ve cranked up the reading this year, as some of you know, and I’ve loved being able to throw myself again into this hobby over the last few months. I’m finding myself gravitating toward other readers and other blogs about books, and I thought it would be fun to become a part of that community too. I read mostly fiction and memoir, and I know there’ll be parallels between what I’m reading and what I’m living.

So as you may or may not have noticed also, I’ve changed my tag line from “Motherhood, Marriage and Self” to “Living, Loving and Reading,” because that pretty much sums up what I want to be doing these days. Thanks so much for sticking with me so far, and I hope you’ll also join me in my future book discussions!

When baby’s proud of mama

Work has suddenly picked up these two weeks and I haven’t had a chance to write. Then I remembered this post from 2 years ago that was sitting in my drafts folder.

Fred’s eyes widened as his mouth followed. He glanced from the black-and-white photo to me.

“Mommy, you won!”

It was midweek between Christmas and New Year’s, and an essay I had written about my family’s immigration experiences appeared in a series of newspapers in our tri-city area.

“Read it to me,” Fred asked.

I hesitated, knowing that the essay would lose him in both concept and interest. On second thought, though, why not? He had every right to read what Mom had written. And so I started, interrupted a couple of times with “What does ____ mean?” By the time I ended the second paragraph, Max was calling us to the table for brunch.

At the end of the day Max would tell me that, after we had finished brunch and I had gone back to work at my computer, Fred had asked my brother (who was staying with us for the holidays) to finish reading to him the rest of the essay. When he was done, Fred took a poll of the table: “Who thinks Mommy is the best? Raise your hand!”

I was surprised that Fred had shown that much interest in my story, a story he undoubtedly would have rejected with a loud  “Boring!” had this come from any other source. My eyes welled up as Max relayed the story to me, a continuation of the unfamilar poke at my heart that I had felt earlier that morning when Fred first asked to be read to.

It’s a position I never saw myself in. I went into motherhood expecting to be the supporter, the coach, the one who says “Good job!” and gives high-fives. I look forward to those heart-bursting moments when my child might kick his first goal, win a spelling bee, or get into college. I hadn’t really expected that, once in a while, the tables might be turned.

My own proudest moment of my mother came just a year ago, when she called to tell me that – despite my advice to the contrary – she was going to apply for that teaching vacancy at her school. She had been a school teacher before she immigrated to the U.S., and since then has been working as a teacher’s assistant in the public schools. To lead a classroom again was a dream that kept eluding her. We had talked about the open position for weeks, but I ultimately discouraged her from applying. Too much stress and pressure at this point, I told her, especially given her health and age. She had turned 70 earlier that year.

But how I fought to keep the tears in as she said to me, “Ceci, I’m going to go for it.” With all that she has gone through as an immigrant and mother, it was that moment that I felt proudest to be her daughter.

Like many mothers, my main expectation is the chance to parent. The only gift I need is the joy in raising my child. I would have completely understood if Fred, at age 6, weren’t interested in hearing the details of my essay. But by the fact that he was, he has given me the most unexpected gift: encouragement to be more than a mother.

Do you have a story of when your children were proud of you? What interests do you like to pursue outside of motherhood/parenthood?

Fighting in front of our children

Dear Readers,

I’ve always been a verbose but quiet blogger, not too unlike how I am in real life. The type who prefers 3 close friends over 300 acquaintances, I’d like to think I make an interesting and fun friend once you’ve found your way to me, and then I’m infinitely grateful that you took the time and had the patience to find me. And so that’s how I feel this week, when a number of you (and who I don’t even know for the most part) shared some of my posts on Facebook and Twitter. Because of you, the editors of Mamapedia and Bonbon Break contacted me to feature some of my writing there, and one of my posts, When We Fight in Front of Our Children, appears today on Mamapedia.

I am so incredibly grateful for your support, because while it’s thrilling to know that someone is reading what I have to say, it means doubly more to know that you have invited others to join our quiet but important and rich conversations.

Thank you!

Cecilia

How it feels when your mom blogs about you

The following is a true story, written by me, from my son’s voice and point of view. 

So I’m sitting at the dinner table and I’m in a bad mood. Because I was sorting my Pokémon cards when my mom started yelling, “Thunderstar! Do your homework!” “Thunderstar! Did you wash your hands?” “Thunderstar! Did you unpack your lunchbox?” “Why do I need to say this every day, Thunderstar?!” I just got home – for goodness’ sake! – after being in school since 7:40 this morning. And it’s now 5:25, P.M.!

Then I start my homework and before I’m even done my dad goes, “Thunderstar! Set the table! It’s dinner time!”

There is something really wacky about my family. Because my mom and dad get to tell me what to do, but I’m not supposed to tell them what to do. Like with the iPhone and iPad. They’re always dictating rules about that, even though I know sooooo much more about technology than they do. They say, no iPhone or iPad on school nights. No iPhone or iPad after 8 p.m. No iPhone or iPad if I talk back. Blah blah blah. But my dad is forever playing Bejeweled Blitz, even when my mom says, “Why don’t you read a book instead.” Yeah, Dad, why don’t you read a book instead? So I gave them my own rules, like “No Bejeweled Blitz while Thunderstar is awake.” and they said, “No, Thunderstar, it doesn’t work that way.”

I don’t care much for dinner time, unless it’s at McDonald’s or I’m eating mac and cheese from a box.

Because my mom is always staring at me too. She says things like, “Thunderstar, your hair is starting to look like a helmet. I need to cut your hair this weekend,” and then forgets all about it. Or she’s watching me to make sure my mouth is moving. If my mouth stops chewing for more than like 3 seconds, then she’s like, “Thunderstar! Eat!”

But today she probably saw my bad mood, because she suddenly tried to sound cheerful.

“Guess what!” she said. “This moms website wants to feature my blog post. Isn’t that great news?! I’m wondering which post I should send to them.”

I know my mom writes a blog. And I know she writes about me and Daddy. And I know she calls me Fred, which I hate. I asked her why she can’t use my real name, because my real name is so much cooler, but she said it’s not safe to show my real name on the internet. So I told her to change my name from Fred to Thunderstar. (Did she do it yet?)

She and my dad were talking, then suddenly I couldn’t believe it. She started giggling. She said – she actually said – “I’VE ALWAYS LIKED THAT POST ABOUT HOW THUNDERSTAR WOULDN’T WIPE HIMSELF. MAYBE I’LL USE THAT ONE!”

It was like all the sound in the room disappeared, and I shrunk to an inch tall, and I have no pants on, and I am surrounded by faces, just hundreds and thousands and an infinity and beyond of faces. They’re mean and everyone’s laughing and pointing their fingers at me. I can’t hear them but I see their mouths wide open with that deflated balloon thingee hanging and shaking from the back of their throats, and their eyes are shut so tightly from laughing, laughing at that big fat baby Fred who wouldn’t wipe himself.

I cried to my mom, “No! No! I don’t want you to use that post!”

“Oh Thunderstar, you were 4 or 5 years old at the time! All moms would understand! You don’t even know what it’s about – if I told you, you would think it’s so funny. It’s totally innocent and cute!”

She was not getting me at all! I have a blog too, in Mrs. Stevens’ class, where we write about the books we read. How would my mom like it if I wrote about her wiping herself and let the WHOLE class read it??

The tears were bursting out of my eyes and running down my face but I didn’t care. She really thought it would be cute to tell the WORLD – because she just finished showing off that there are almost a million people reading this website – that I couldn’t wipe myself after potty.

“No! It is NOT cute! You are NOT telling that story!! How would YOU like it if I wrote about YOU pooping?!”

I was really crying now. I couldn’t believe she was trying to sabotage me. How could I make her stop? How?? I can’t give my mom and dad rules. I can’t tell them what to do, not even when they’re wrong, SO wrong! I can’t believe I’m only 8 and they are like practically 50 and I know more than they do!!

“You are NOT using that story!!”

“Oh Thunderstar…okay. I won’t. I promise I won’t use that story. I will use another story.”

Did she really listen to me just now?

“It’s okay. Mommy won’t.” She put her hand over mine and looked at me. I couldn’t tell if she was trying not to cry or not to laugh.

“But it’s still on your blog,” I said. “You have to delete it.”

I’m 8, so that means I was literally not born yesterday.

“But, I – I mean, no one’s going to find it, Thunderstar. It’s 3 years old.”

“No! I want you to delete it, after dinner. And I want to SEE YOU DELETING IT.”

“Thunderstar. Don’t talk to me like that.”

“BUT I NEED TO SEE YOU DELETING IT. I need to know you are really doing it and not just saying it.”

“Not that many people even come to my blog. They’re not going to find it. It’s buried under a gazillion posts. But okay, I’ll take it down tomorrow.”

“How can I trust you?”

“Because I’m your mom, and I love you.”

“But moms lie.” This is a fact. I know from my friends that moms lie. I don’t even think there is a Tooth Fairy.

“Some moms may, but I swear that I don’t.”

“How do I know you’re not lying now?”

“Thunderstar, have I ever done anything to make you not trust me?”

I couldn’t think of anything.

“I will take it down because I am seeing how important this is to you. So I promise. I will take it down tomorrow. I don’t want to do anything that makes you so upset.”

I looked at my mom a little while longer, and then I went back to my dinner. Tomorrow, I’m going to check with her to make sure she really deleted it.

Post script

I took down the post the next day. And began thinking about what privacy and embarrassment mean to a child.

Thunderstar really says things like “for goodness’ sake!”, “infinity and beyond” and “sabotage.” And he really hates that he has little power, especially when sometimes he knows more than the adults.

An amazing thing happened as I was writing from my son’s point of view: I began to understand him in ways I didn’t before.

I apologize if Thunderstar has offended anyone named Fred. In kindergarten he asked me why, why we didn’t name him Fred. You know how kids are.

Many thanks to the writing prompt over at Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop (Mama’s Losin’ It) for inspiring this post.

Mama's Losin' It

Voice: a story of

Growing up I had the perfect poison for extinguishing a voice: I was female, Asian, immigrant, undocumented.

Outside our home I learned to stay in the shadows and not rock the boat.

Inside the home, I was an explosive acid of pent up frustrations: loud, uncensored and callous. The fumes that boiled within had to come out somewhere and at somebody, but there was no willing ear, no one accustomed to voicing his/her own feelings let alone capable of dealing with another person’s.

My family loved generously, but in ways that were different from western culture, the only culture that made sense to me at the time. We never spoke of our emotions.

The rare person who got close enough to catch a good glimpse of me often reacted with such surprise. I remember the friend in 6th grade, after our first phone conversation: “I didn’t know you were so interesting! You are so quiet!” And my freshman year English professor: “I had no idea you had so much to say until I read your paper…I would love it if you spoke more in class.”

I credit my four years at a women’s college for re-introducing me to a word – Voice – that up until then I had only considered a physiological mechanism. English lit classes were about George Eliot, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf…and, in so many ways, about us.

But studying these pioneer women writers was only a first step in understanding the courage to speak. While I admired our foremothers, I didn’t yet make that connection between their achievements and my duty to myself. Coming out of college, I am not sure how truly empowered I was. I failed to defend myself against women bullies at my first job, or to recognize abuse in my first serious relationship.

It’s taken me many years to understand the consequences of an early life in which emotions are not acknowledged, expressed, talked about, dealt with, or validated. You learn that certain (many) emotions are shameful, and you decide to keep the poison inside. You are used to having negative emotions dismissed, so when you feel disrespected by a boyfriend who (for example) threatens to dump you if you gained weight, you choose to ignore your instincts. You are not used to getting feedback on your emotions, so when you are upset with someone you love, you lash back with a venom that isn’t warranted by the offense.

I was like that for so long.

Voice began emerging for me, once I started to build up small successes. Like stepping inside a gym for the first time, after a lifetime of not believing in my body. Being loved by friends after the trauma of childhood bullying. Being happy without a man after once needing a man so badly that I tolerated abuse. Giving a talk before an audience of 250 in New York when once upon a time teachers and classmates never heard the sound of my voice. Finding a compassionate and committed life partner after so many prior failures. Becoming a mother when once I believed I didn’t have what it took. Co-founding my own company when my first boss didn’t trust me to answer the phones or much of anything else. And speaking up to and taking action against a teacher who hurt my son…after a lifetime of allowing everyone else to be right.

And somewhere along the way new friends began laughing if I tried to tell them I considered myself shy. These days I have to consciously hold down my hand at parent-teaching meetings so I don’t dominate the Q&A, and my husband – the one man I’ve dated who needs it the least – gets earfuls of my “I Will Survive” tirades.

A few years ago I took my first writing class, and in a class of supportive strangers I nervously began to share experiences that I had only begun to find words for. I’ve since had a few personal essays published, and today I celebrate the three-year anniversary of Only You. During these three years I’ve gone back and forth on numerous posts, publishing and unpublishing, torn between catharsis and fear of judgment, between confidence and doubts that anyone cares. I’ve been attacked on Motherlode in the New York Times for expressing my opinions (heh, who hasn’t been?), and I’ve been personally put down for writing a “mommy blog.” (But I’ve always been proud of writing about motherhood, and of bearing that most awesome, significant and beloved title of Mommy.) This blog has exorcised whatever shame, doubts and depression that I still sheltered several years ago, because it became a vehicle for me to face and process the emotions that never before met with trust. I am so grateful to you, some of whom I’ve been privileged to become friends with through your comments, many others who I know return quietly with each post, and some of you whom I met the old fashioned way, before blogging became a word. In many ways old friends were the ones I was most afraid to share my writing with. I can’t thank you enough for being that listening ear I’ve been needing all these years, for allowing this Voice to come out, and for nurturing it to grow. You’ve saved me.

A renewed purpose to write (overcoming my struggles to write and blog)

I keep disappearing, I know. And I keep promising to be consistent.

I’ve been struggling to write and blog for exactly a year now. The ideas became harder and harder to come by. I no longer had topics I felt compelled to talk about. I’d think about the theme of my blog – motherhood, marriage and self – and feel as though I had exhausted everything that once screamed at me to come out. Did I no longer care about those issues?

I also began to question the whole exercise of blogging. For all the laundry I had shamelessly hung out over the previous year, I suddenly caught a delayed case of modesty. I thought about taking down some overly personal posts (if I could even bare to re-read some of them, that is). Some of the issues I had written about – depression, old family conflicts – were no longer really there for me, and suddenly felt like the black sheep that I wanted to deny ever existed.

And I found it very hard to be a good blog follower. Time, or the lack of it, and a job that consumes me for half a year, left me with little energy to follow fellow bloggers. We blog not simply to share our own needs but to be a part of a wider community and to respond to the needs of others. And not being a skim-through kind of reader, I feel that if you took the time to put your heart out there, then you deserve to have someone really read and understand your words. I was afraid of being selfish for blogging, if I couldn’t return the same attention to fellow bloggers. When my time became limited, I thought that if I couldn’t throw myself into blogging 100%, then I wasn’t going to do it at all.

But the idea of closing shop on Only You made me wince. Though I had neglected it over the last year, I wasn’t ready to stop writing, as shutting my blog down would in essence shut down a significant part of who I was and the larger community that I came to know.

I realized that I simply needed to look again for my focus. What is it that is now screaming to be heard?

For the past year, while I was hiding behind my blog, I was actually trying to figure out where I was going as a person. Somehow I felt gradually different, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then, over the last few months, things became clear. Maybe that is why the old theme had come to resonate with me less, because I have now moved on to the next stage of my life. I feel less of a need to process now, to look back on my past. Having done all of that work has brought me to where I am now: I am ready to go, ready to make concrete changes, ready to become the person I have always wanted to be. And my husband Max reminded me that having grown doesn’t mean that the past – Only You – wasn’t real or wasn’t a part of me, that I don’t need to ditch or change my blog, but just continue with Part 2. So, having this clarity now, I’ve found a renewed purpose to write, to share, and to know that I can put myself out there and engage again as I once did.

Have you ever found yourself direction-less? If so, what did you do? If you’re a writer, have you struggled with short- or long-term writer’s block?