Quick follow-up to MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES

Just before leaving for Taiwan, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for my friend Jasmine Warga’s debut novel.

I first blogged about her book, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, here.

I have now recapped the launch party over at We Heart YA.

And last week, I tweeted about a couple special surprises:

On being a girl geek, and a new look for the site

“Coding Like a Girl”

It’s one kind of progress for people to agree with the statement “Women can be anything they want.” It combats a kind of sexism called oppositional sexism. But there’s another kind of sexism, traditional sexism, that we’ve made less progress on. You could get more people to agree that women can be anything they want than to agree that femininity is as valuable as masculinity.

• • •

My friend Rose recently blogged about “being a woman in tech.” It’s a great read about her personal experiences with sexism and how she handles it. Also, the article quoted above was found via Rose’s post.

I don’t work in tech, obviously, but like Rose (who I went to high school with) I was a self-taught coder, a female nerd. I still am, actually, and proud of it, even if it’s not at a professional level.

(Edited to add: I too experienced various shades of sexism in regards to my interest in programming, science, or even Star Trek. But I’ve also been admired or embraced by people for those same interests. It’s not all bad, and no one is trying to say it is. Anyway, I didn’t want to go into too much of my own history, because I’d rather you read the two pieces I linked to.)

My computer science journey ended during my sophomore year of college, when I dropped it as a double-major because I was tired of staying up all night on my computer. Between writing stories for my fiction classes and coding for my programming classes, it was non-stop screen-time, and that just wasn’t sustainable for me. Plus, I realized that I had always been more interested in the design side of things, and programming was (mostly) just a means to that end.

Nowadays, I indulge my web design hobby here. It’s perfect, because this space is meant to be a reflection of me anyway. Speaking of which: ta da! In case you hadn’t noticed, things look a bit different around here.

Before

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After

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As much as I loved those hand-drawn icons, it was time to go mobile-friendly. The new design is built on the framework of WordPress’s lovely Sela theme, and it should look pretty snappy no matter what kind or size of device you’re reading on.

(If you see anything wonky, it’s probably on accident, so just let me know and I’ll take a look.)

I decided to outsource the bulk of the coding by using a pre-made theme, but I still had to do a lot of tweaking. I got to learn about breakpoints — which mark where and how the design should change for different screen sizes — as well as about the specialized web font Genericons. It’s just too bad they don’t have a character for GoodReads. I had to use a book icon instead of the official logo.

Also, I finally did away with the BlogHer ads. I used to enjoy being part of that network, largely because they did a good job sending traffic around, so there were always new people coming here, and new blogs for me to discover. But that feature hasn’t been around for over a year now, and the ad income only partway covers my hosting costs, so I just didn’t see the benefit anymore.

As with all things shiny and new, the redesign will probably lure me here to blog more often in the coming weeks. Maybe. I hope. Because there’s still more to be said about my trip to Taiwan, not to mention all the thought-provoking media I’ve been watching and reading. Stories. Whether mine or other people’s, that’s what I always come back to.

Taiwan: An overview of our trip

Friday: Woke up early (ugh) for our 3 flights to Taiwan. Cincinnati > Minneapolis > Tokyo > Taipei. My mom met up with us in Minneapolis. We all watched a lot of movies and TV shows, some of which I already posted about here and at We Heart YA.

Saturday: Mostly still flying. We finally landed in Taipei around 11 p.m. My uncle and cousin picked us up from the airport and drove us to my other uncle’s house, where my mom was staying. Andy and I walked to our AirBnB, which was just a couple blocks away. Our room had a view of Taipei 101.

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Sunday: My cousin, his wife, and their toddler showed us around for the day. Stops included the Taipei 101 observatory, the beautiful columbarium in the mountains where my grandparents’ ashes are kept, the town of Shifen on the northern coast of Taiwan, and finally the Shilin night market. In between all these places, we napped in the car. The jet lag, it burns.

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Monday: Andy and I visited the National Palace Museum in the morning, had lunch at Din Tai Fung, then joined up with my family again in the afternoon. My aunt took us on a walking tour of Ximending, the Presidential Palace, and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Plaza, which is one of my all-time favorite places on Earth. Dinner was a special family banquet that Andy and I hosted in honor of our recent(ish) marriage, as well as Chinese New Year.

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Tuesday: My uncle and another cousin drove us to Yangmingshan National Park, where we toured one of Chiang Kai-Shek’s former residences, as well as did some light hiking around the hot springs. The sulfur there gives off a sharp, distinct odor that is a strangely treasured memory from my childhood. In the afternoon, Andy and I went back to Taipei 101 to check out the shopping levels, then trekked over to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Plaza and through the Dunhua neighborhood to meet my friend Linda and her boyfriend Wesley for dinner.

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Wednesday: Chinese New Year eve. Also, the first of our two day tours. We were escorted to an organic tea plantation to learn about the tea-making process; to Shinfeng Old Street for lunch; and to “Thousand Island Lake” (aka the Taipei City reservoir) for the lovely views. In the evening, we prayed to our ancestors and enjoyed a home-cooked feast at my uncle’s house in honor of Chinese New Year. My aunt even remembered one of my favorite dishes, stir-fried Japanese cucumber.

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Thursday: Chinese New Year day, and the second of our two tours, in the Pingxi district. We began with a light hike — although there was one terrifying section that went straight up a rock face. Most of us opted to skip that part. We re-fueled with a traditional miner’s lunch, explored an abandoned mine, and rode the old train line. Amidst a bustling holiday crowd, we painted a sky lantern with the names of our loved ones and good thoughts for the new year. The lanterns floated up to the heavens on fire and smoke. Our last stop was the Shifen waterfall (aka Little Niagara), then it was back to Taipei for dinner at my big uncle’s house. Despite our exhaustion, Andy and I ended the night with a quick stroll through the Rao He night market.

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Friday: In the morning, Andy and I visited Longshan Temple. For lunch we got dim sum from Tim Ho Wan, whose specialty pork buns were the best I’ve ever had. We spent the afternoon shopping, got foot massages, then met up with a couple college friends who we had randomly learned were also in Taipei for the holiday. Our final meal of the trip was an informal banquet in Taoyuan, courtesy of my mom’s cousin and his wife, both painters, who gifted us with some of their art as a special souvenir.

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Saturday: Flying back. All day. An extra-long day, since we were crossing the dateline. 36 hours of travel in (seemingly) less than 24. It was like magic, but without the fun. Cincinnati greeted us with nearly a foot of snow. You guys really pissed of winter while we were gone.

MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga

My Heart and Other Black HolesI don’t typically observe “book birthdays,” but this one is special. Today is the day that my dear friend Jasmine Warga celebrates the release of her debut novel.

It has been such a fun and valuable experience watching Jasmine’s journey to publication over the past year and a half. More importantly, it has been a pleasure getting to know her, talking with her about writing and the creative process, and bonding over our halfie experiences and immigrant parents. She is always so thoughtful and grounded, so purposeful and generous. Without question, Jasmine has been a positive influence on me, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.

I think her book will be a positive influence on its readers, too. MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is the story of two teens who feel irrevocably broken, but who find a spark of hope when they meet one another. It’s an unflinching look at sadness of various kinds and degrees. It shows how depression can isolate you and warp your perspective. It’s about not fitting in, and the human need to feel connected.

What I love most about MHAOBH is its authenticity. You can tell that Jasmine poured her heart onto these pages. The book isn’t designed to romanticize the problems that these characters face. It doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties that lie ahead for Aysel and Roman. It’s hopeful, but truthful too.

You’re like a gray sky. You’re beautiful, even though you don’t want to be.

Beyond the poetry of this sentiment, I also just appreciated the shoutout to “gloomy” weather, which I happen to love.

It’s funny how once you like someone, even the unattractive things they do somehow become endearing.

So true. Andy has one bad habit in particular that I could do without, but mostly his quirks just make me laugh. If you took them all away, he’d be a different person. Or at least, a blander version of himself.

You know, it’s probably worth turning that gentle, appreciative gaze on ourselves too.

Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.

I don’t think there’s any “maybe” about it.

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Overall I would say that I’m a pretty upbeat person. (Or at least even-keeled.) But there was one time in my life that sadness threatened to squash me. And for a short while, I let it. I carried that boulder and let it push me down, bend my back, until I was almost sinking into the ground.

Then one day I realized it wouldn’t stop. Not on its own. I had to decide to be stronger than my sadness, because it for sure wanted to be stronger than me.

The decision was instantaneous, but the strength wasn’t. It took months to build myself back up, to push off the boulder, to be happy and healthy again. But I did it. It’s possible. And it’s so worth the effort.

I wonder if that’s how darkness wins, by convincing us to trap it inside ourselves, instead of emptying it out.

I don’t want it to win.

Of course, battling sadness isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. But every victory counts. Every victory helps.

A long way from home

1.

We are two old friends catching up in a busy café. The smell of fresh bread wafts over the lunch crowd, everyone abuzz with pent-up energy from the rainy day and waning holidays. My friend is so tall that I feel like a child sitting across from him. But I listen attentively as he describes the various heartaches and struggles he has faced over the past four years.

Needing distance and a change, he has decided to leave our hometown and strike out on his own. I’m proud of him for making such a bold and difficult decision. I’m excited for him and all the new things he will experience. But I’m also sad that it has come to this, that he couldn’t find what he needed in the place where we grew up, with the people who were supposed to nurture him. He’s strong for all the wrong reasons.

Now he’s taking that strength and heading out a long way from home.

2.

When I left home over ten years ago, it was for college, not forever. At least, not intentionally forever. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know when — if — I will go back. I’m not opposed to living there again, but I’m not drawn to it either. I guess only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it’s harder than I expected to live far away from my parents. I worry about them a lot. About their age and their health. About their house and their cars. I worry about them working too hard and not eating very well. Most of all, I worry about whether or not they’re happy. And I worry about them worrying about me.

If you could put all of our worries into physical form and lay them end-to-end, maybe they would cover the the hundreds of miles that separate me and my parents. Maybe that’s their purpose, in a way. To bridge the gap. To connect us. To keep us intertwined, in each other’s hearts and minds, even when we’re far apart.

3.

This year, my mother and I will return to Taiwan for the first time in over a decade. I’m excited, and I’m scared. I can’t wait to see the teeming capital, taste fresh scallion pancake from a street vendor, smell the damp green mountains and the smoky sulfur pits. But what if Taiwan doesn’t live up to my treasured memories? Or worse: What if I don’t live up to Taiwan’s expectations of me?

I don’t know if everyone has these kinds of complicated feelings about their grandmotherland. I only know that I’ve been battling a sense of inadequacy my whole life, when it comes to my Asian heritage. Yet at the same time, it’s such a strong part of me. My values, my personality, my experiences. I don’t speak much Mandarin, but I sense there’s a deeper sort of language that I share with the place where my mother was born.

Maybe going back will prove that. Maybe not. I have to remind myself that either way, that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about visiting with family, both living and dead. It’s about walking the same streets that my mother walked as a child, and listening to her stories. It’s about introducing my husband to one of my favorite places on earth. It’s about reacquainting myself with the part of my heart that lies an ocean away.