For the past few months I’ve been researching and interviewing Asian American college students and mental health professionals for an article that was recently published by Pacific Standard. (If you don’t know their work, they cover a wide range of fascinating topics from science to health. And I’m not just saying that because I write for them.) My piece, The Dangerous Weight of Expectations, explores why depression and suicides are prevalent amongst Asian American college students.
Obviously, depression and mental health issues extend beyond the AA community, but I wanted to focus on why we don’t talk about these serious issues. It’s often seen as shameful to talk about your feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. The suicide rates for AA students is quite alarming, as evidenced by Jenn Fang’s Reappropriate blog post detailing the Asian American student suicide rate at MIT, which is quadruple the national average. Her article was the spark that made me want to investigate further.
In the article, I talked with a mental health expert at Cornell, the director of the Asian American Activities Center at Stanford University, and two students—Reera Yoo, a former NYU student, and Annie Phan, a current student at Stanford— about why this is such a silent problem.
I applaud the efforts all of my interviewees to bring much-needed awareness surrounding depression and mental health care, especially Yoo and Phan. Their honesty about their own journeys through therapy and seeking help are an inspiration to younger AA students who may think that they are completely alone in their problems.
Depression affects everyone. Asking for help may seem scary, but it’s needed. You’re not alone.
Back when Brendan and I were dating in NYC in 2004, he worked at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. He started as an NYU intern, got hired as a production assistant, then moved up to the writers’ assistant. While we were dating, I got to go to the show, meet the staff, and go to election parties. I’ll always remember the Gore v. Bush election night where we all sadly learned that we’d have another four years with Bush. A quiet came over the bar.
The less fun part were election years when The Daily Show did brilliant coverage, but meant that Brendan would leave for chunks at a time to cover the Democratic National Convention and the Republic National Convention. Or live tapings during important election nights when he’d come home at 1am (possibly later?).
Now, that Jon Stewart has left the show, there’s been a ton of articles about his 16-year reign. And one of those articles happened to have a screenshot with Brendan’s credit (thanks, Vulture!).
I’m so proud of Brendan’s involvement with this pivotal show. He wouldn’t be where he is today in his career without working at The Daily Show. He always had kind words about Jon, his first real boss outside of college.
It was amazing to watch Jon’s final show and see some of the staff that I met many years ago. He made the show what it is today, and I’m grateful I got to watch his rise from the sidelines.
I think this Daria GIF pretty much says it all.
When I was a kid, I was so shy that I used to hide my face under a couch pillow when adults came over to the house. I once dressed as a silent ghost for Halloween in second grade and talked to no one, not even my teacher.
As a professional writer, it’s not possible to hide under a bed sheet and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist. AS MUCH AS I WISH THAT WAS POSSIBLE.
Part of my growth as a working writer was realizing that I needed to learn the scary art of networking. So I talked to the most outgoing writers I know — my friend Eric Loo and my husband Brendan Hay — and learned from what they told me. (You can read Eric’s tips here and Brendan’s suggestions here.)
This past weekend I put my networking skills to the test by attending the annual SCBWI summer conference by myself. Granted, a writing conference geared toward YA and children’s book writers and illustrators probably isn’t the most intimidating crowd, as they are some of the nicest people on the planet who just love books. But still. I went alone, knew no one, and made it a point to talk to someone new every single day. I survived, ladies and gents, and this is what I learned.
- Introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you at a workshop. I’ve met great people this way.
- If there’s someone’s work you admire, politely tell them so in-person. Writers and artists appreciate this.
- When approaching an important person (like an editor or agent), compliment a project they’ve worked on and they’ll remember you. I was interested in talking to a particular literary agent and knew she repped a book that I loved so I told her that it was a beautiful book and she asked me to contact her when I was ready to query.
- Take a break when needed. For an introvert, it can be really overwhelming to talk and be around so many people. So every day of the conference, I made a point to find a comfy chair to hide out in and take a 20 to 30 minute break.
- Make small goals. If I went to the conference, thinking, I must land an agent, I would’ve peed my pants trying to talk to a literary agent. Instead I made my goal to make a list of agents who I wanted to see if they were right for me, and I did.
Phew! I’m glad I went. The conference was inspiring. I learned a lot. But I’m SO GLAD it’s over and I can be my shy self again.
One of my favorite things is listening to podcasts while driving, cooking, and getting ready in the morning. As a writer and journalist, I love listening to stories. They inspire me and help me learn something new. One of my favorite poets, Nikki Giovanni, said in a talk before a reading of her latest collection, Chasing Utopia, that a writer should read something every single day. I couldn’t agree more. For me, that could be a fascinating article in a magazine, a chapter of a book I’m reading, or listening to one of my favorite podcasts. I think it’s important to surround myself with storytelling and interesting characters (fictional and not) as part of my own creative process. Without further ado, here are my five favorite podcasts.
Each week, there’s one single topic like “Growing Up” or “Why We Collaborate” and the host Guy Raz interviews different TED speakers on the very topic that relates to their talk. I love the interesting stories that emerge. Guy Raz is a great interviewer and each theme is varied and fascinating.
This is a classic. Ira Glass hosts the series based on a theme with either one single story or several stories focused on a theme. Some times the stories make me laugh or cry, but I love every single one. Recent favorites include, “Birds & Bees” and “Is That What I Look Like?”
As a young adult writer, Mortified is one of my favorite things to listen to and remember the awkwardness of adolescence. If you’ve seen the live show, you know that real-life people read from their teenage journals. Hilarity ensues. Some times the stories can be touching and sweet or so wonderfully funny. The podcasts air one single story told live.
4. Dear Sugar
Authors Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond collaborate as the dual advice columnists of this podcast. I’m a fan of Cheryl’s work. Tiny Beautiful Things, her collection of Dear Sugar columns, is a gem of insightful life advice. She tackles the topic of being a writer beautifully (if you haven’t read “Write Like a Motherfucker”—it’s a must). This podcast is thoughtful and lovely and often brings in writer guests to weigh in on important topics.
This spin-off of This American Life was a huge hit when it debuted. The podcast focused on one story—the murder of high school teen Hae Min Lee—and spent the season delving into the different aspects of the suspect and the trial. It was fascinating and addictive. Season 2 is in the works and I’m sure it’ll be just as interesting. I can’t wait for it to come back!
Do you have a favorite podcast? Share it with me in the comments!
In Amy Schumer’s brilliant sketch “Fight Like a Girl,” she says that women can’t deny the authority of therapy and/or Oprah, and she’s damn right.
As a freelance writer, I have a list of my dream magazines that I would be thrilled to write for, and now I have my byline in one of them — O: The Oprah Magazine. In the August 2015 issue, I wrote for the Women Who Make Beautiful Things section, featuring Erin Lang, the business owner behind Garden Creamery, a delightful ice cream food truck.
I’ve been pitching O Magazine for five years now (no joke) and I’m beyond happy that my persistence has paid off.
Back when I lived in NYC, I used to play street hockey in a female and male league. One of my male teammates said to me once that other teams underestimate me. I might look small at five feet and one inch, but I’m tenacious and don’t let up on my opponents. That comment has stuck with me through the years because on the outside, it may seem like, wow, that’s cool, she wrote for Oprah, but not see the many years it took me to get to this moment.
There’s nothing quite like hanging on to a dream and then seeing it happen. Thank you, tenacity.
My husband and I adopted Buddy back in January 2010 from Indi Lab Rescue in southern California. When we adopted him, he was severely overweight at 118 pounds, had two ear infections, and didn’t know how to play. I threw him a chew toy and it hit him in the face. Our first walk together, he refused to move and sat in our driveway. Eventually, we got him to take short walks. Then the weight came off. Underneath all the health issues was this charming, lovable, silly yellow Labrador who often used his snout to beg for more pets on his head.
On June 27, 2015, Buddy passed away after waking up unable to move. It was the hardest decision we had to make, but for a dog who loved his daily walks and following us around the house, there was no life for him to be immobile.
Buddy was more than a dog. He was a kind friend, a compassionate soul, and he brought joy to everyone he knew. I loved him deeply. On our last morning together, I told him that I would miss him greatly, but his body wasn’t working any more and it wasn’t fair. He put his big paw on my chest as I cried.
I miss him every day, but I’m so grateful for the five-and-a-half years we had together. He taught me how to appreciate every single day like it was Christmas morning.
I love you and miss you, my teddy bear.
Back in January 2015, I wrote Why I Don’t Want My Miscarriage to Stay Secret, for BuzzFeed. The response was astounding. Hundreds of comments, tweets, Facebook messages later, I decided to try to put together a miscarriage anthology as a resource for the many women who experience pregnancy loss.
A few months after the essay was published, a BuzzFeed video producer asked if I wanted to turn my essay into a video for them, like these amazing videos: Fat Is Not a Feeling, This Is What It Feels Like To Be Depressed, and What It’s Like To Go Blind.
My first reaction was: NO.
I’m not an actor. I don’t want to be on YouTube. I’m not comfortable with this.
But a wise friend and my husband told me that I would be missing out on an opportunity to share my story with a larger audience, and help other women who might feel alone, ashamed, or scared.
So I did it. And here’s the final result.
Many thanks to my producer Steven Lim who was amazing to work with and who did an excellent job of turning a difficult topic into a visual story. Thanks to my friends Bernadette Guckin and Sarah Allyn Bauer for starring in the video and being so compassionate to take their time to be part of it. Thank you to Laura Beck and Brendan Hay for encouraging me to say YES when I was scared.
Thank YOU for watching.
For more info about the upcoming book, please click here.
I first met author Christopher Locke through his wonderful wife, Jaya Bhumitra. Jaya and I first met at Natural Foods Expo West, and we chatted for a long time. I could tell she was a compassionate, warm hearted person when I first met her, and her husband was the same exact way. Not a surprise! Christopher wrote and self-published his very first book, Persimmon Takes On Humanity, of The Enlightenment Adventures series (and Jaya edited the book. What a team!). I thought it would be great to feature his work and discuss the process it took to create his dream project. If you have any questions for Christopher, please post them in the comments!
What was your inspiration behind writing Persimmon Takes On Humanity?
In 2004, I read Fast Food Nation, and the sections depicting cruelty to animals on factory farms disturbed me so profoundly that I immediately stopped eating meat. Soon after, I learned about the abuse that all animals endure in dairy farms, the egg industry, circuses, etc., so as a progressive person, I knew that to be in line with my values, I wanted nothing to do with these industries as well.
Since I’m a writer and it was a book that inspired me to lead a more cruelty-free life, I immediately wanted to write something that inspired others to do the same. It took about ten years to come up with the story for Persimmon Takes On Humanity, but when it all came together, I was certain this was the one I had been trying to conjure up night after night. It’s a page-turner with lovable and heroic characters fighting against insurmountable odds—all wrapped up in a thrilling adventure. And on top of that, the characters are on a quest to save all animals from human brutality, so as the characters learn about what other animals go through in places like factory farms, so does the reader. Hopefully, readers will have an epiphany that if they’re rooting for the characters in the book, why not advocate for all the real animals out there who are suffering?
You chose to self-publish your novel. I’m assuming this was your first time acting as the publisher and author of your own work. What were some lessons you learned that you’d share with anyone considering self-publishing?
The most important piece of advice I can give to those who are attempting to self-publish is to go into the process with reasonable expectations. You have to be prepared that it is going to cost thousands of dollars and that it will most likely take around a year to accomplish. If I had known that in advance it would have alleviated a lot of the stress I experienced during that time.
For every aspect of the process (from the copyediting to the interior design to the printing of the finished book) I kept thinking, “Surely this will only take a week or two, and will only cost $200 at the most.” And every time instead of a week it took a month, and instead of a few hundred dollars it cost a few thousand. And that’s not because I got taken for a ride, it’s because I had no understanding of just how long and costly these things are.
With that said, I don’t want to scare people away from self-publishing. I’ve heard many horror stories from author friends who had problems with traditional publishing, and I didn’t have to deal with any of those issues. Plus, at the end of the day, the finished book is exactly the book I wanted. It may have cost more and taken more time to produce than I had anticipated, but I can proudly hand this book to someone and say, “I poured my heart into this novel. This is my best work.” After dreaming about being a published author since I was a kid, that’s an amazing feeling.
You’ve been very active touring with your book. What have been some highlights of attending events and talking about Persimmon Takes On Humanity?
I absolutely adore doing events for the book. For some events, friends and family come, and it’s so heartwarming to see how proud they are of me. I also get to meet new people, and my favorite moment is when I tell them the premise of the novel and their eyes light up. “Oh wow, that sounds really good!” I get to actually see their excited reaction to the story.
The book has been out a few months now, so the new fun thing is that some people are coming to events who have already read the book and are excited to meet me. Writing a book is such a solitary experience, but with these events I get to chat with people about who their favorite characters are or what parts made them cry. I really enjoy that interaction with readers.
You worked with a design team to create your beautiful cover and the inside look of your book. What was that process like for finding the right designer and choosing a cover image?
The front cover illustration was designed by the brilliant artist, L.A. Watson. I met her by chance. My wife and I went to an exhibit at the National Museum of Animals & Society here in Los Angeles, and my wife pointed out that the artwork for the exhibit was wonderful and she suggested I chat with whoever created it to see if they’d be interested in designing the cover. So I asked around at the gallery and eventually met L.A. and she said she’d be happy to work with me.
I knew the general look I wanted for the cover, so I drew a rough sketch and then emailed it to L.A. Since drawing isn’t my forte, the sketch was meant to just give L.A. an idea of how I wanted the characters positioned (I wanted Persimmon bravely standing up to the menacing shadow of a human, protecting innocent calves behind her who are trapped in tiny stalls), but I needed a talented artist to actually make an illustration that’s a work of art. And boy, did she ever. She is such a gifted artist. I was lucky to work with her.
Then, I had to get someone to design the spine and back cover, so luckily I knew the talented design team at raven + crow studio. They nailed it. They took the mood and theme of the cover and made a seamless back cover and spine, and they created that awesome raccoon mask design you see on the top of the spine, which I adore.
As for the book’s interior design, that’s one of those things that I had no understanding about when I began this process. I had no idea how much work (and how expensive) it was, so when it came time to start figuring it out, it was overwhelming, to say the least. To save money, I tried to design the interior myself using both Microsoft Word and Scrivener, but after a month of pulling my hair out, I realized why it costs so much to get the interior designed: it’s tedious and complicated work.
I finally decided to go with CreateSpace, because I was already going through them to self-publish the book. It took a few months to make all the detailed decisions (What type of fleuron do I want?, What should I write on my Dedication Page?), but again, now that I look at the finished product, I am very proud of how it turned out. I was even able to add a fun detail at the last minute. I put the raccoon mask as the fleuron for every chapter. It’s such a small detail, but it really completes the look of the interior.
You are an animal activist and it’s clear through your first book how you feel about the mistreatment of animals. What’s one thing you’d like anyone—vegan, omnivore and everyone else in between—to take away from your book?
There is so much suffering in this world caused by humans—to other humans and to non-human animals. I’m hoping when people read Persimmon Takes On Humanity, it reawakens their compassion. Deep down I think people are decent. If they were to see a pig lying in the road, whimpering in pain because she had been hit by a car, they’d feel sympathy for her and try to help her. But when millions of pigs are trapped in cages, suffering horrendously day after day as they await slaughter, too many people feel no sympathy for them. In fact, most people prefer not to think about it, so they can just enjoy their bacon. But in order for that fatty hunk of meat to end up on your plate, an innocent and sweet being had to endure atrocious agony.
When people read Persimmon Takes On Humanity, my hope is that they’ll never be able to eat another piece of meat without thinking about Gilby or attend the circus without thinking about Nayana. They’ll connect their actions with the animals who are tormented behind the scenes, and as a decent person they’ll say to themselves, “I can’t be part of this system of abuse any longer.” What a great world that would be, right? A world where everyone is more compassionate. That’s my dream for Persimmon Takes On Humanity.
Two weeks ago I wrote about a time I said yes that changed my life (see The Night I Said Yes To Kissing My Best Friend). My fellow writer friend Melissa Sarno wrote this beautiful blog post about saying yes to herself as a writer, after getting several no’s. If you have a moment, read it. It’s worth that 5 minutes of your time, even if you’re not a writer.
I have my own yes
and it’s the only one I need.
I love this line Melissa wrote because often we’re looking outside of yourselves for that yes. I know I’m looking for it whenever I send out a pitch to a magazine editor, writing a book, or submitting work to a playwriting contest.
I want that yes to justify all my hard work. I want the gold star.
What I love about Melissa’s sentiment is that the approval I need is within myself. Often, there’s a lot of rejection in this creative life. I used to feel crushed when my dream mag turned me down or a book I worked on for two years found no home. In many ways, I still feel the crush of rejection. It’s hard to put your time, blood, sweat, and tears into a project and get a resounding NO back at you.
But, I know I have to keep going, keep believing in myself, and keep hope in my heart. No matter what.
On June 11, 2015, Bill Hurter passed away. Back in 2008, Bill hired me as the editorial assistant at Rangefinder magazine, a trade photography publication. I didn’t have any magazine publishing experience, but I really wanted to break into the industry.
Bill taught me how to edit and work with writers. He taught me the photography basics and what made a good image or a great cover photo. We spent a lot of time talking about his cat, my cat, and the outdoor cat that hung outside of his office window.
In 2013, I won a WPA Maggie award for best feature article for VegNews. I was the senior editor—a long way from being a newbie in the magazine world. When I accepted my award, I thanked Bill, who wasn’t there, but I wanted the industry to know that if he hadn’t taken a chance on me back in 2008, I wouldn’t be standing there with this award in my hand.
We joked a lot. There was once a fierce mini-basketball tournament that I organized with the crew, with no joke, a little tiny basketball and this small hoop. I made it March Madness-style brackets and the competition was fierce. Bill was pitted against George, who jumped up and down and got in Bill’s face to distract him when it was Bill’s turn. If I remember correctly, Bill calmly shot his tiny basketball and beat George.
He even took it in stride when I dressed like him on Halloween, down to his trademark LA Dodgers hat and jean shorts.
Bill was a true friend. He saw potential in me and always encouraged me to believe in myself. In his memory, I’ll keep his spirit alive by believing in my work, and always remember to laugh at myself once in awhile.
RIP Bill. We miss you.