Ugh. I feel like I have a writing hangover. I don’t know whether I’m over it or just scared of what might happen.

How do you know if something is really done? How do you know where to put the period? To say, “Enough, I’m done with this—for now.” I feel like I’ve been stuck in writing limbo for a long, long, long, very long time. And the longer it drags on, the more I question myself.

I question my motives. I question the quality of my writing. I question why I’m even writing about this in the first place. There’s a part of me that’s screaming at me, “Don’t do it! Don’t even THINK about it.” WTF, inner self? Why you gotta do this to me?

Truthfully, I don’t know how to find resolution, just in general. I think something does happen when you put a period on something—when you let it be out there, in the big wide world, all by itself. I wouldn’t call it magical, but I would call it “sort of done.”

And my hope is that in the sort-of-done-ness other people would find something that they can also relate to.

In a larger sense, I know that I’m hoping to find resonance in the world, in other people. I can’t pretend that I don’t want someone else to say, “Yeah, I get it” although it does seem like there are easier ways to get empathy than writing about some of your worst moments, trying to capture the kind of pain that feels unbearable.

Why this? Why writing? Why now?

There are no answers here, only questions; no periods, only ellipses…


I don’t know if you know this, but Jewel (yes, the singer) wrote an amazing memoir called Never Broken and you should definitely read it. I started re-reading parts of it recently in order to find one specific detail and it felt harder to read this time around.

I’ve been struggling to write this post for like, an entire two days, so basically forever. I keep getting sucked down this rabbit hole of thinking about care—what it is, what it looks like, what it means, why it makes me feel so incredibly vulnerable.

I want to get it right. But this is writing, there is no “right”—not really. Or that’s what I keep telling myself.

Jewel writes about busking her way all the way to and through Mexico as a teenager, hitchhiking alone, playing the guitar at bus stations, living off tips, etc. etc. And you might think, “Wow, what a free spirit, what a badass, good for her!” But I saw it differently: She had an unstable and abusive childhood. She was emotionally and physically neglected, and so she took risks that no sane person would ever let their own child take.

Her parents treated her like she didn’t matter, and so she treated herself the same way.

In so many ways, fear is a survival strategy. It keeps you alive.

If no one’s ever worried about your safety or well-being, you don’t know how to worry about yourself—and you put yourself in these unsafe situations, not because you WANT to be harmed, but because you don’t have that innate fear, the sense that you might be something of value worth protecting. And it doesn’t make sense to you that other people see you as vulnerable.

No. I’m just REALLY, REALLY independent. And I don’t need your help.

There’s still fear, of course, but it’s more this fear of screwing up or fucking up or being wrong.

I wasn’t taught to fear for myself, but in some ways I was taught fear of myself, that fear of doing something shameful and bad—that persistent fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.

When I think about the moments of care that have killed me—they have to do with having a body, with being physically vulnerable, needy even.

Do you know what happens when you don’t fear for yourself?

You do some dumb shit and you put yourself in some unsafe, stupid situations.

Fear is an acknowledgement of vulnerability—when we see another person as physically or emotionally vulnerable, we tune into their inherent value. But somehow I learned to equate my own vulnerability with weakness, and weakness with worthlessness, so that what makes me most vulnerable is to be shunned and despised.

I don’t know why it’s so easy for me to see the vulnerability of others as endearing and lovable but to see my own vulnerability as shameful and better hidden and denied.

Jewel writes in the foreword to her memoir: “I should probably not be here today.” I think it all amounts to a feeling, maybe it’s an instinct, a thought: “I shouldn’t be here.” Which really boils down to: “I shouldn’t be.”

Maybe one of the reasons care can feel so terrible and wonderful at the same time is that it closes the distance between me and being a person in the world. It reminds me that I am human, that I need food, air, water to survive.

It reminds me that I exist.



I’ve been trying to write for a while (my entire life?) about not feeling at home anywhere. Call it third-culture-kid syndrome. Call it being a child of divorce. Call it being ethnically ambiguous (where are you from?). Call it whatever.

When I was studying abroad in college, I couchsurfed with this guy in Glasgow, Scotland over break. He had accepted my couchsurfing request, but seemed pretty ambivalent about my actual stay. Sort of a, “Yeah, sure, you can stay with me, or not, that’s fine” vibe.

When I got there, he had two other guys from Poland staying with him too. And maybe it was because I was a woman traveling alone, or for some other reason, but my host seemed genuinely concerned for my welfare.

It was already night, and he and the other two couchsurfers went out to go light writing, while I stayed behind to read my copy of Shakespeare’s complete works because I’m an English major, introvert and complete nerd.

When they got back, he tossed the guys some sleeping bags to sleep in the living room and asked if I wanted to sleep in his roommate’s room instead of sleeping out in the living room (all the roommates were out of town).

His roommate’s room was utterly wrecked and there were clothes completely covering the floor and even all over the bed, so I felt right at home. I made a little nest right in the middle and curled up like Rose on the door in the middle of the freezing Atlantic.

And I cried, overcome by a grief I didn’t even know I had.

I don’t know how to tell this story. I don’t know how to explain what it felt like to have this complete stranger show more care and concern for me in a few hours than I felt from my own family.

Earlier this year, I found myself in the type of shitty power dynamic I was pretty sure I had escaped for good.

And of all the people in the world, I feel like I should’ve known better. I mean, c’mon, I practically wrote the book on shitty power dynamics (I’ll take toxic jobs and relationships for $1,000, Alex).

But there I was, again, fumbling around in the dark with a constant low hum of guilt, shame, resentment and fear.

I’d been here before, more times than I care to admit. I think that’s what kills me the most, that sense of repetition, as if I’m doomed to repeat this shitty dynamic over and over again. Worse, I’m angry at myself for falling for it again.

I’m almost scared to go back and re-read the texts—to see how little it took to put me back in my place. Part of me wants to break down the diction, the syntax, the tone, the metaphors and similes, as if I can close-read my way out of shame.

I feel like this is the part where I should talk about not giving away your power, you teach other people how to treat you, don’t let anyone bully you over how much sunscreen you use, blah blah blah. But there are some narratives that hold so much power in our lives simply by virtue of their familiarity.

It’s impossible to exercise hyper-vigilance all the time, and as I’ve written about before, hyper-vigilance doesn’t protect you. I’m coming to believe that it’s basically the flip-side of shame, this idea that you can control how other people treat you or even how they see you.

When I write, I feel like I have so much power, but so little control—power to write into the unknown and the inexplicable, into those “Titanic” moments when I’m lost and adrift. And as much as I want to believe that I can control how other people “read” me (or leave me on read), I really can’t.

It feels simultaneously terrifying and freeing.


I’ve thought a lot about how love is particular: how it exists, like writing, in the details. You love someone not because they embody some platonic ideal of “friend” or “partner” or “parent” or “sibling” or “Chipotle server who gives you an extra scoop of chicken.” You love them because they are this specific human being, singular in the plurality of their peculiarity (sorry).

There was this one person—I had to suppress a smile every time they said the word “jam.” They always used it in the sense that I was least expecting and it was so adorable I could not cope. But I didn’t want to say anything because what if they stopped doing it!

Oh my God, I sound like a romcom: “Your hair. Your smile. That faraway look in your eyes when I try to talk to you about Blake on ‘Bachelor in Paradise’—HE LOOKS LIKE A WALKING BROOM OKAY I SAID IT.”

When someone notices details about me, it can feel like love—either that or they’re trying to Half-Asian-White-Female me, you never know.


I’ve recently started coming to terms with a pattern of emotional abuse in childhood involving shame and control about specific, everyday things. Do you wanna know what it feels like, as an adult, to realize that you have very strong feelings about how to load a fucking dishwasher, feelings that suggest that if you do it wrong WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE??

I think one reason abuse is the opposite of love is because it erases the particular. When you think about the cycle of abuse, it’s not based on the person being abused, who they are or what they’re doing or not doing. It’s about this engrained pattern that keeps getting repeated over and over again by the abuser, often with different people or in different situations.

But the thing is—it feels specific. It feels like it’s about you. I’m bad. I’m wrong. There’s something uniquely flawed about me that means I will never load the dishwasher correctly and therefore never be good enough or worthy of love.

It’s this perfectionism that holds on so tightly, thinking, this time, it will be different. I will finally get this right.

And when you inevitably encounter another person or entity who tells you, “You would be better/happy/successful/accepted/healed, if you only ______,” it feels like another shot at redemption.

And that’s what sucks about trauma too—you lose the particular. Instead of responding to this particular person or situation as distinct and different from all the other people and situations in your life, you end up projecting onto them patterns from the past that might have nothing to do with the present.

But that’s okay. That’s where I am now, trying to be okay. Yeah, maybe my coping strategies were/are imperfect, maybe I have irrationally torrid feelings about dishwashers, but my survival strategies got me out of a jam.

And now, maybe I can stop just coping.

Maybe now, I can be free.


I recently wrote a comedy pilot about my church trauma (c’mon—you don’t have one too?). I wasn’t planning on writing this pilot. It just sort of happened to me, kinda like trauma itself (jokes!). Writing can be such a funny thing—not in the “haha” sense, more in the “what the fuck am I doing?” sense.

I felt pretty lost. I didn’t really know where the edges were, the boundaries. But like with most forms of creativity, you just have to let all that go at some point and do the thing.

There was this one scene I was feeling especially insecure about. I wanted it to work—I really did. I just wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. It was like the double-double dismount of my script, and I’m no Simone Biles. Not even close.

Writing this script brought up a lot for me, primarily guilt and also grief. It made me remember the person that I used to be, the person I was before the traumatic thing happened. Writing this, I felt like I had lost my faith—and that in losing my faith, I’d lost something beautiful. Maybe that self who had faith was naive or immature, but that version of me also seems, in retrospect, oddly endearing.

In Christianity we talk a lot about before and after—we emphasize the never-the-same-ness of life after salvation. I wonder if trauma works in reverse, a reverse-salvation of sorts, where you are never-the-same after.

I don’t know if it’s our culture’s emphasis on bright-siding that makes it seem taboo to admit that I’ve lost something, particularly something of value that I can never really get back. There are moments when I feel powerful and free and whatever post-traumatic growth is supposed to feel like. And there are other times where I still grieve what I once had, the person that I once was. Turns out, you can both/and that shit.

We did a table-read of my script in class and one of my classmates praised the one scene that I had struggled with the most, that I wasn’t sure if I could pull off, but that I fucking did pull off (HA! HA!!!!!!!!! Sorry, just had to go hubristic for a second).

And I think it’s a different kind of faith at work in me—faith that I can connect with other people in this space, that they might find resonance and truth and connection in something that I’ve written. Faith that I am not alone.

I wonder if it’s not unlike the same faith that I had before—the kind of faith that I never really lost in the first place.

Present, Part 2

I went to a workshop the other weekend on getting an agent. I wasn’t interested in getting an agent, so I didn’t think that it would apply to me. I was there for the networking? [I was so tired and out of it I couldn’t talk normally to another human being, go figure.]

Anyway, plot twist, it did apply to me.

There, in a too air-conditioned library conference room with high ceilings and fluorescent lighting, I listened in rapt attention.

I don’t know how to describe it, exactly—but by breaking down in the most granular, specific way the costs and profits of being a writer, the presenter made one thing clear:

Your writing has value. My writing has value. Ironically, breaking it down into nickels, dimes and two dollar bills didn’t cheapen my writing, didn’t make it less valuable—quite the opposite.

“What do you write?”

When people ask me about my writing, I always shrug and reply, “You know, I blog and stuff.”

And stuff.

You know me—I dabble. I dip one toe gingerly into a sea of words, close my laptop and then amble leisurely to my hot yoga class, green juice in hand.

Um, have you ever had someone call you out on your bullshit? I wouldn’t recommend it, but it happened to me recently. I felt like I was completely vulnerable and exposed and on the edge of tears, but there was no reason for me to pretend that I don’t care.

Trauma is tricky, tricky.


By avoiding the commercial and professional side of writing—you know, the part where you actually get paid—I conveniently avoided assigning value to my work. I write. So what?

I’ve been living in this contradiction of pretending that my writing means nothing while giving it absolutely everything. I’ve held nothing back. There’s nothing I haven’t given, nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice.

At this point, this feels less like some inherent nobility of spirit and more like the lingering effects of childhood trauma: This idea that if I sacrifice myself, then I will be worthy. It’s almost like trying to prove that you deserve to exist by pretending not to exist at all.

It’s hard for me to articulate just how deep this goes for me, but that’s what writing is, right, trying to make explicit the very thing that resists explication.

I gotta be honest—you can run from your trauma all you want, but it will fucking come for you eventually. It will pound down your door at 2am in the morning and refuse to leave until you face it.

I guess I’m just trying to buy more time.

Stress, Story & Writing Trauma

I woke up again today feeling a nameless stress. I’ve been stressed out recently, for no reason that I can really put my finger on.

Are there reasons to be stressed out? Sure. There are always reasons. But this feels different, like the stress is just floating around like an angry cloud of possums, waiting to attach itself to something and sink in sharp teeth.

I want to do everything, but I’m too wired to do anything at all. I want to do all the things, see all the people, read all the books, write all the screenplays, apply for all the jobs, take all the classes, make all the money, learn all the programming. My mind is screaming at me to do something, ANYTHING. But what?

What do you want from me?

Yesterday, I read Alexander Chee’s essay The Autobiography of My Novel from his book of essays How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. On the surface, the essay is a blow-by-blow account of how Chee wrote his first novel. But beneath that, it reads as almost a how-to guide about how to write about the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to you.

Somewhere at the back of my mind, I know that this is the time of year when THE TRAUMA® happened. Part of what made it so traumatic was that I felt trapped, like I couldn’t escape.

[Cue your biannual reminder that it’s ALWAYS OKAY to leave a bad situation, full stop. If you need to GTFO, GTFO.]

I feel some of that same energy now, like I need to start running and never, ever stop. My body feels poised on the edge of something terrible, feet pressed into the starting blocks, waiting for the gun to go off.

In Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s latest book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, they talk about dealing with stress by completing the cycle. They differentiate between the stressor (cause) and the stress (effect). Even if you deal with the cause—being viciously attacked by a rabid Koala, you still have to deal with the effect—the stress hormones still coursing through your body after the koala is neutralized. Maybe you run a mile. Maybe you hug a friend. Maybe you run a mile while hugging a friend (could happen).  Otherwise, even if the koala is no longer a threat, your body will still be freaking out on the inside.

One way to think about trauma is as stress that got stuck in the body because at the time, you couldn’t escape. You were trapped in a locked freezer with the koala and there was nowhere to run.

What I found fascinating about Chee’s essay is that he describes the process of completing the cycle of trauma by writing a novel, i.e., through narrative.

He describes this as moving from paralysis (the freeze response) to plot:

“All my stories lacked action or ended in inaction because that was what my imagination had always done to protect me from my own life, the child’s mistaken belief that if he stays still and silent, he cannot be seen.”

And so Chee searches for a plot he loves in stories that he already knows. He draws on Aristotle’s poetics and the conceptions of pity and fear, action and catharsis. Through story, he completes the cycle.

The brutal truth is that a straight retelling of trauma rarely makes for good story—perhaps because the cycle is never completed and catharsis is impossible—trauma is a kind of never-ending loop, your worst fears on repeat, not a linear story with beginning, middle and end.

But what if you could complete the cycle through the driving force of plot, one event after another, one event causing the next, all leading to catharsis and release? [This is why J Lo always kills her abusive husband at the end of the movie.]

I am not writing a novel right now, autobiographical or otherwise, but reading Chee’s account of his process, I wept in recognition (also, I was really tired, because stress and not sleeping). I feel like I’ve been trying to write the things that I least want to write about. I’m struggling like hell to write something that doesn’t make any sense, even to me.

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I don’t know what shape or form this writing will take, let alone what genre I’ll end up writing in.

Chee in no way implies that writing his autobiographical novel resolved his own trauma, only that he had no choice but to write it, to write “across gaps, things that I wouldn’t let myself remember.” I feel the same way, compelled by something I don’t understand to do something I’m not even sure I want to do.

But if I’m going to run like hell from a nameless, faceless terror, I might as well make it story.


How can you write about writing without writing about procrastination? Hello darkness, my old friend.

I procrastinate, like, a lot, especially when it comes to writing. I had a big deadline this past week. Did I meet it? No, I definitely did not. But I tried. And then I stayed up till 4am, slept for 3-4 hours, woke up, and finished by noon.

There was a lot of writing and there was a lot of crying before I actually just wrote the damn thing (dear Lord, so many tears). And I think that I wasn’t just trying to write this piece, I was also trying to become a different person—

I was trying to become the kind of person who could write this. And change is always so fucking hard.

I don’t know if I have anything profound to say about procrastination, except that it always helps to get straight to the point. The thing that you least want to say? Write that thing. Don’t apologize. Don’t prevaricate. Don’t rationalize or make excuses. Don’t write around what you’re trying to say. Just say it. See what happens.

You can write around and around something all that you want, that’s fine. But I think that even when I’m writing in circles, or asking questions in circles, or being elliptical on the elliptical (just kidding, I don’t exercise), I’m still going somewhere. At least, I hope so, each circuit bringing me closer and closer to the center.

Getting to the point doesn’t hurt as much as you think it will. Speaking the truth out loud doesn’t hurt as much as you think it might—it’s all the other stuff that really hurts—the isolation, thinking that you’re the only person who’s ever experienced this, feeling wrong and feeling alone.

If I had to do it over again, would I still procrastinate?





I am a goddess, a glorious female warrior

This past week I attended a branded event for a food company releasing its new condiment that you can put on an assorted variety of vegetables (vagueness intended). The event advertised a free yoga class and meditation. The theme:

You are a goddess.


“I am goddess, a glorious female warrior.” Yes. Yes, I am. via

I was there for the yoga and the free food (Free food is my jam. Or is it my bread?).

During the yoga class, as I struggled and sweated my way through triangle pose, warrior II and downward facing dog (sometimes while staring directly at wall art that read “You are a goddess”), I didn’t feel particularly divine.

I’ve been trying to do this thing where I’m honest with myself about what I want—not what I should want, not what I pretend to want, but what I really, genuinely want. This is a lot harder than it might seem.


Me. via

If you start wanting things, you might also start not getting them. It’s tricksy.

Usually, I only find out I want something because I’m lying on the grass using my hat to cover my face as my tears run into my sunscreen and sting my eyes, trying to cry in public in peace and tranquility like a normal person.

[Yes, when I don’t get what I want, I cry like a four year old who wanted to meet Mickey Mouse but got Donald Duck instead.]

So let’s talk about things that I’m not supposed to want, let’s see, money, beauty, fame, success, power, love—did I miss anything.

Why though? I know that being grateful for what you have is good, and I was constantly told I was ungrateful by a parent who never seemed to be able to go into detail about how I might be more grateful, at least in a way that would make him feel like I was grateful enough—

But still, isn’t this the culture where wanting it all is precisely the point?

So there I was, grunting and sweating my way through a goddess flow, not exactly feeling myself but definitely feeling a bit shaky and lightheaded from all the physical exertion.

After the yoga class, we hit the bar for some vegan fare showcasing the new condiment. It tasted very healthy.

I met another woman who was honestly hashtag friend goals (Help! I’m an introvert and I don’t know how to make friends without being creepy). I mentioned that I really wanted one of the cropped hoodies that they had on display and wondered out loud how to get one.

She went over and asked some of the organizers how to get a hoodie and reported back in whispered tones that they were on sale for $25 but she thinks another girl just walked away with one because she didn’t know (like I said, friend goals).

At home later, I checked out the brand’s Instagram account and they had reposted an Instagram influencer’s story of attending the event that ended with a photo of her wearing the sweatshirt that read, “Thanks for the cute sweatshirt @brandnameredacted!”

Instantly, I felt a hot rush of—what’s a word for if shame, anger, jealousy and disgust had a super ugly baby?

I felt grossed out by the corporate hypocrisy, sure, but there was this even deeper sense of my own unworthiness:

I am a goddess—but not divine enough to merit free swag.

I am a goddess—but a lesser one, not as worthy of worship as the 22 year-old with better abs and 14.5K followers on Instagram.

I am a goddess—but let’s be real, there’s still a hierarchy of value in which I miiiiiiight squeak in at 46th place, if I’m lucky. I’m not hot enough, not pretty enough, not fit enough or attractive enough or young enough.

But I think the question goes deeper than whether I’m influencer enough or whether I have abs (I don’t)—it’s a question of how our culture chooses to value women by unattainable standards of beauty and youth, all while touting equally unattainable standards of boundless, infinite self-love, that, not coincidentally, will help us to achieve our wildest dreams!

It’s all so easy if you just believe. We’re allowed to want everything and nothing at the same time. And let’s not even talk about the taboo of wanting what another woman has.

God forbid I want anything at all. The best that I can do is be happy with the little joy I’ve managed to eke out in the present. And I’m really, really good at living with less.

One of my friends once said, “When I stop having a dream, it’s really hard to feel hope.” And without hope it’s really, really hard to do anything at all.

What do you want? No what do you really want? What’s the stupidest, dumbest, most shameful or shallow thing that you can bring yourself to admit that want?

Fuck being a goddess. Be a messy, emotional wreck of a person who wants things.

Filthy Thoughts

Hello, this is the intro to a series against purity. Die, purity, die!!

When I was trying to come up with a title for this series, I googled the word “thoughts” to see if there were any useful synonyms and the Twitter account Thoughts of Dog (@dog_feelings) came up.

I’ve never heard of it but it does have 2.47M followers and includes hot takes like:

“if someone could hold me for a bit. that’d be nice”

“i’ve been thinking about it a lot. and i love you”

It’s adorable. But we are not here to feel all warm and fuzzy, no, this is a series against purity—the concept, the word, the idea, I hate it all. Not really. But kind of really.

Confession: I think the sentimentalization of dogs in American culture is part of our unhealthy obsession with purity. Kill the sacred doggo.

I would hypothesize that when a culture relies heavily on sacred objects of holiness, goodness, and innocence, that culture also struggles to negotiate the moral complexities of flawed human beings.

I think the problem with “purity” is how slippery it is as a concept—it always contains within it its opposite, “impurity”—so to think of something as “pure” is to already imply its violation.

When we consciously or unconsciously use purity as a metric for morality or ethics, we slide into ever more punitive and unrealistic measures of shame and control.

Can purity be saved? Find out by reading this series that I haven’t written yet!

Possible topics:

Purity of thought
Purity of heart
Purity of feeling
Purity of identity
Purity of language
Purity of spirit
Purity of word
Purity of action
Purity of body

Resources I will draw from:

Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality by Richard Beck
Growing up in evangelical Christianity
Purity culture
I was an English major, so…