the snow stopped, i murmured to myself. it felt as if a long time had passed. snow erases everything. sometimes, it covers up things that can rot and disappear. for a little while, snow helps us to remember the memories we keep scattered in our hearts. and now the snow had stopped. (park min-gyu, pavane for a dead princess, 10)
2016 was a year of heartache; i didn’t know my heart could hurt like it did.
i didn’t know it could hurt so much from fear, anxiety, and disappointment. i didn’t know it could hurt so much just being who i am in a conservative setting, to look into the future and see the continued aggression and rejection, and i didn’t know it could hurt so much on account of my country.
i didn’t know my heart could hurt so much from sheer longing, not even for anything impossible but for things that seem so basic, so human.
i didn’t know my heart could hurt so much, to want so much to love someone, to want only happiness for her.
i didn’t know the human heart could be so easy to decimate, so difficult to kill.
if my heart feels destroyed, my brain feels so muddled these days. i’ve been trying to write this post since december 17, when we had snow in new york, and, now, it’s december 30, and i’m trapped in california because 2016 is the year the idea of rock bottom lost all meaning. i have things i want to say, but i’m not sure where to start, and all the anxiety from being stuck here is bleeding into everything.
all i want right now is to go back home.
i suppose, though, here’s a brief summation, that 2016 was the year of instability, of looking for and failing to find a full-time job and gain, with it, a measure of stability and assurance that i haven’t totally fucked up. it’s the year i finally met the challenge of semi-regularly producing content and trying to find a voice of my own, and it’s also the year i stopped caring about trying to fit into a specific niche or satisfy the implied requirements of what makes a good social media presence of a particular ilk.
2016 is the year i was constantly surprised by people’s capacity to love and reach out, and this means a tremendous amount to me because 2016 is the year i learned to carry anxiety with me everywhere, the year when spaces that were once familiar became treacherous. it’s the year i looked my sexuality in the eye, recognized it for what it was, and outed myself on social media, which wasn’t something i planned to do, ended up doing the night of the election because of terror, fear, and rage. 2016 is also the year i excised god from my life and walked away from faith — and the two combined means that 2016 was a year of constant tension and strain and worry.
it’s liberating to be out, but it comes packaged with a whole lot of uncertainty and fear. i also have the added baggage of having grown up in a conservative christian community, and being out means that i honestly don’t know where i stand with many people, if and which relationships are dead, what consequences my conservative christian family might face from their community because of my orientation. it might be a stupid thing for me to be worrying about, but it is there, and it is a thing that has kept me silent or talking in what feels like code, hoping people (allies) read between the lines or (non-allies) miss the hidden language altogether.
it’s been a lot to carry, trying to rebuild my world without faith and to navigate life outside the heteronormative mainstream. i feel almost like i’ve been reborn, and it has been exciting to claim this part of myself that i’d neglected and dismissed for so long — but that makes me angry, too, the narrowness of the world of my youth, the ways religion continues to repress and shame and harm with ugly violence fueled by blind hatred.
and, so, 2016 is the year i learned that silence is not an option. i ended up outing myself in a pique of rage and panic because this country had basically made it very clear on november 9 that it didn’t matter whether i was in the closet or not — it was going to come after me and my rights, anyway, so i might as well speak up, and i might as well fight.
which goes to say that we might be looking right at 2017, and i might be feeling completely muddled and broken these days, but we’ll find the words to talk about all this shit in the months to come.
my goal for 2016 was to read 75 books, and i did not meet that goal, coming in at 65 (i think). i feel like i fell short of all my reading goals this year — didn’t read 75 books, didn’t read anything in completion in korean — though i did blog more, so i did write more about what i was reading.
it’s not to say that 2016 was a bad reading year. i don’t think any year in which i read and attempt to read diversely, intelligently, and thoughtfully can be a bad reading year, but it is true that 2016 was largely an uninspired reading year. i struggled considerably with staying engaged, staying interested, not with specific books per se but with fiction in general. for the most part, though, as unpleasant as it is to be uninspired, that was still okay because i diverted a lot of my focus into reading more food writing and more cookbooks, into exploring what that intersection of literary writing and/or journalism and food looks like.
this is not a comment on the books that were published in 2016 — or that i read this year because i read some amazing books that moved me and challenged me and helped me find hope amidst the shit (my next post will be about 10 specific books). i’ve struggled with some very real fatigue this year, though, and it’s a fatigue that has almost entirely to do with whiteness and straightness, despite 2016 having been a pretty good year for writers of color. it’s encouraging to see the industry being better, trying to look beyond its white straightness, and yet …?
maybe this fatigue is an inevitable by-product of both this election cycle and this election, all the ugliness it exposed to be alive and well in this country. maybe it’s an inevitable by-product of the disappointments in my own life, of not finding a job, of struggling so much to survive, to pay the bills, to write. maybe it’s also an inevitable by-product of all my interpersonal and social anxiety.
maybe it’s all of it.
in his year in reading essay for the millions, kevin nguyen writes:
if you believe that books have the power to do good, you also have to believe that they can do just as much harm. after the election, there was no soul searching on book twitter. no one questioned the power structures of publishing. can we talk about how one of the big five publishers is owned by news corp? often the publishing of things like bill o’really’s twisted histories is justified as a means to support literary fiction. but does anyone asks if that trade-off is worth it?
it’s easy to romanticize books and to make them out to be great cultural pillars, and that’s not to say that they aren’t. it’s crucial to recognize literature’s place in the world and its ability to shape thought and, yes, do good (and to stop trying to kill humanities programs), but it’s easy to lose ourselves in this idea that, because we read, we are good, we are somehow superior to other consumers of other modes of culture.
we make a thing out of a flawed industry, even going so far as to make the big 5 out to be these great underdogs in the world of amazon and internet media, when big publishing is exactly that — big — and just as guilty of making bad decisions, of failing to adapt and make changes, of sitting around and talking about a topic (aka diversity) instead of trying to do something about it. just because publishing’s business is books doesn’t mean it’s an industry that’s not guilty of indulging and overexposing celebrity, of selling out, of making questionable compromises in the name of what — money? reputation? power?
which is not to dismiss the agents and editors and publicists and marketers and designers and the army of assistants and HR people who try to acquire great work by writers of different colors and backgrounds and orientations and bring beautiful, thoughtful writing into the world. i know that there are great people working in publishing today, and i love the work that they do, the dedication they have to literature and literary culture. as a reader, i am indebted to them, and, as a writer, i hope one day to be published by them, to place my book in their hands, to have them on my side.
and yet there is something about always having to make this kind of statement that feels odd — like, how we must always go out of our ways to say that, yes, we know that not all white people are racists and we know that not all men are misogynists or assholes who commit violence against women, not all christians are homophobic bigots. to have to make that concession is simply another way that power exhibits itself, this seeming need to protect the power-holder’s fragility and indulge its self-defensiveness, all just to be able to say that shit is bad and shit needs to change.
making a criticism is not making a blanket statement that everything in that setting or grouping is bad. things are not so clearly either/or, and contradictions exist within everything — and, as such, 2016 was a good year for writers of color, but 2017 needs to be a better one. we need more writers of minority groups telling their stories, whether through journalism, fiction, or personal essays. we need to be asking ourselves if the trade-offs are worth it, and we need to admit that books can do as much damage as good. we need to question why we read what we read, why we write what we write, why we publish what we publish, and we need to look at where voices are being cut off and shut out.
we need to ask how we can do better, whether as people who work in the industry or as writers or as readers because it will take all of us to create change and move the world to a better, more open place.
i don’t mean this to sound condescending or like a lecture, but i do want to throw the challenge out there because, again, silence is not an option, and, similarly, indifference is not an option. we don’t get to not care anymore, and, as such, i hope to see more in 2017 from publishing and the literary world. like i said, there are people out there doing great work, so i don’t think this is a vain hope.
ultimately, 2016 is the year that being able to recognize myself in literature started to mean a whole fucking lot, and i will do as much as i can in my own limited ways to bring more attention and awareness to great writing by minority writers. it is the least that i can do.
if 2016 was a year of heartache, 2017 is the year we lose each other.
early next year, i’m looking at a move to the bay area, back across the country to california, that fucking state that just won’t let her goddamn claws out of me. it’s a mess of a situation where no one wins, not me, not my family, not anyone involved, and it’s not something i’m really thinking about in any substantive way yet because to do so would be to descend into rage and desperation.
i know exactly what a move back to california means; it means a return to rootlessness and restlessness and continued self-loathing. it means not letting myself settle down because my singular goal will be to leave as soon as i can because the longer i stay, the greater the damage, and i’m already in pieces.
to some, it might sound strange and irrational because a state is a state, it’s just place, somewhere to be, who bloody cares? a cage, however, is place, too, and place is a weapon, a trap, a hell, and, as a queer woman of color, place matters a lot because place is directly attached to safety, and safety is something i don’t take for granted.
there’s that saying that a wounded animal is the most dangerous, but i wonder to whom the danger lies. is it the wounded animal that is in danger from herself? or is it the person or thing cornering her that is in danger? when you trap a wounded animal, who will she harm — you? or herself?
if there’s something to remember, it’s that things do not exist simply in clear binaries. it is possible to love someone and be disappointed in that same person, to acknowledge someone’s goodness and generosity as well as that person’s narrow-mindedness and flaws. it is possible to love someone who harms you, not in a stockholm syndrome sort of way, but in a genuine way that recognizes that we all fuck up and we are all capable of causing great harm but we can also admit that and work to heal wounds and rebuild trust.
it is possible to be so completely, humbly grateful for what someone does for you and find yourself suffocating from that same gratitude, and it is possible to care for someone and love that person deeply and trigger that person in all the worst possible ways. it is possible to believe that you are doing the best for someone and wreak so much damage that that person will flee from you just to have even the smallest chance to heal.
it is possible for things to be okay even while they’ve fractured beyond repair.
it is possible not to want to live and also not to want to die.
it is possible to listen to someone speak and not hear what that person is actually saying.
it is possible to have an open heart and draw lines and conditions that close up that same heart.
it is possible to be, to commit acts that so completely oppose each other at the same time, and to believe in a world of perfect consistency is to be naive.
when i think about 2017, i see nothing. i have no hopes, no expectations, just silence and darkness, a low thrum of hopelessness underneath it all. 2017 already looks like regression, ten steps backwards, and i can already chart it out in loss. 2016, in many ways, is ending with lines drawn in the sand indicating the limits to certain relationships, and 2017 is starting not with calm and anticipation but with my anxiety and depression keyed up as high as they can go. 2016 might have tracked the decline of my mental state, but 2017 is already tearing at the shreds, causing more damage before the year has even begun.
i have one goal for 2017, and it is to move back out east, whether to new york or boston, by the end of it because i will not live and die in california, a state that i despise and that has never been kind to me. i know where home is, and, by the end of 2017, i will be back home.