2020 Writing Log, Part 23

– I finished a complete rough draft of Chapter 40 of Malice. This chapter got a bit long, so I’m going to take all of next week to edit and polish it.

– I posted Chapter 39 on FFN.

– I edited Chapter 6.

– I wrote a very short story about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which I posted on AO3. This was such a joyful and healing project.

– My short story “Don’t Order the Fish” was rejected from the body horror anthology. I went back to the story and decided I really like it. I edited a few bits, and I’m going to send it to the online magazine Strange Horizons when their submission window opens on Monday.

– I finished the illustration I was going to submit to the Path of the Goddess zine. Since my artist application was rejected, I didn’t put as much effort into the piece as I originally intended, but I still had a good time working on it and learned a few things in the process. I’ll post it on various social media platforms tomorrow. (ETA: Here it is on Tumblr!)

– I wrote the second page of my essay about gender in the Zelda games. I intended to write more, but you know what? Two pages is better than zero pages!

Emotional Intelligence

What with one thing and another, I’ve recently been wondering if I’m prone to misreading people. I was worried that I might have low emotional intelligence, so I took two online tests.

One test hosted by Berkeley shows you a picture of a model’s face and gives you a choice of four related emotions indicated by their expression. I scored 15/20, which is average. This makes sense to me in a roundabout way.

One image shows a woman blushing and looking down with a coy grin. She’s using her index finger to point at her cheek, and the only way she could be broadcasting “kiss me, you handsome devil” more strongly is if she were wearing the words on a t-shirt.

The emotion I’d assign to her pose and expression would be “flirtatious,” but apparently the answer is “embarrassment,” as people who are embarrassed often touch their faces. All right then.

In another image, there’s a man making a classic “oh no they didn’t” face by smiling with his lips closed and pulling his head back while looking sharply to the side with his eyebrows raised. The emotion his expression conveys is a very specific combination of secondhand cringe and prurient interest, which I might describe more generally as “amusement.” The correct answer is “guilt,” because guilty people won’t meet your eyes. Okay, sure thing detective.

So I guess this test proves that I have enough emotional intelligence to read people’s expressions but not enough emotional intelligence to understand what the people writing the test consider to be the correct answer, which was probably decided by committee vote.

An average level of emotional intelligence, in other words.

A longer test hosted by the website for Psychology Today magazine presents you with scenarios to imagine and a range of possible responses to choose from. I got a score of 86/100 on this one, which is average. This also makes sense.

One question asks what you would do if you went to your mother’s house for dinner and she made a snide remark about your table manners in front of her friends. I know the test wants you to say that you’ll talk about your feelings with your mom after the other guests have gone home, but that’s silly. If your mother is still talking shit about how you don’t use a napkin when you’re a grown-ass adult, that’s a manifestation of a long-term dysfunction in the relationship that is well beyond your ability to repair. Your job in this situation is to smile, make an equally snide but still loving joke at her expense, and then let the matter slide. Are you going to hang around the house and wait until you’re alone to say something? Fuck no, go home after dinner like an adult and let your mom have her wine time with her friends.

Another question asks what you would do if a friend just broke up with their partner and called to ask for your advice. The answer to this question is obviously “they’re not calling to ask you for advice, that’s just a hook to get you to hear their story, and you both know that, so just listen to what they say and ask considerate questions until they start winding down, by which point you should know what they want to hear, and that’s what you’re going to tell them, except that’s also what their mom would tell them, and you know they have a difficult relationship with their mother, who never approved of their partner to begin with, so you basically have to repeat what they told you back to them in a way that doesn’t sound like their mom.” This is clearly the correct answer, and I would gladly have chosen it, but it wasn’t an option for some reason.

Another question asks what you would do if you caught your boss embezzling pocket change. I think the answer is supposed to be “be a good citizen,” but let’s be real. You didn’t catch your boss embezzling pocket change. You didn’t see anything at all, in fact, and that’s why you’re not going to say anything. One day, when you do not embezzle pocket change, your boss will similarly not see or say anything. We do not hold moral responsibility toward corporations, Karen.

(I suppose this begs the question of whether I’ve ever stolen from a low-wage job. The answer is yes. Of course I have! Mostly toilet paper and food that was going in the trash anyway. I’ve also witnessed people shoplifting and done nothing to stop them. Do you want to be the monster restocking the shelves at Walmart who feels compelled to say something to the woman who comes in after midnight and gently nudges a pack of diapers into the back of a baby carriage containing an actual tiny living human being? Of course you don’t, and neither did I.)

(I also still have a box cutter that I stole from the warehouse stockroom of a big chain bookstore. I used it just last week when I was unpacking from my recent move. It’s a good box cutter, and I regret nothing.)

Anyway, my score on this test proves that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to know what the right answers to these questions are supposed to be, but I’m too lazy to bother lying on an online quiz administered by a pop psychology magazine. So, in other words – average.

I imagine that almost everyone thinks this of themselves, but I really do believe that I’m totally average, or at least within a normal range of standard deviation.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. I would actually argue that one of the most enjoyable elements of being a writer is having an intuitive perception of the emotional baseline of any given character and then pushing it as far as it will go just to see what happens, at least according to the specific parameters of your understanding of human behavior. If every character you write starts off and ends up as perfect and unique, that’s not much fun for anyone involved.

2020 Writing Log, Part 22

– I edited Chapter 38 of Malice and posted it on FFN.

– I edited Chapter 39 and uploaded it to FFN. I’ll post it next weekend.

– I edited Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.

– I wrote the first five hundred words of Chapter 40. This one is going to take a while, but that’s okay.

– I signed up for Multifandom Drabble, a low-pressure fanfic exchange. I requested and volunteered writing about a handful of video games, and I think I managed to describe myself fairly accurately: I specialize in humor, horror, worldbuilding, and character development, but I’m happy to write romance as well. There’s no pairing I prefer or am averse to. I don’t have much experience writing kink, but I’m willing to make a good-faith attempt at just about anything.

– I wrote the first page of my Legend of Zelda essay and revised the abstract. Getting started is always difficult, but it feels good to be on my way.

– I posted a very short review (of roughly 300 words) of a fantastic academic monograph called Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan. It was nice to work in such a concise format, and I’d like to write more of these super-short reviews of academic work in the future.

– I finished putting my reviews from 2019 and 2020 through another set of edits, and I posted a few abbreviated versions on Goodreads.

– I posted about a dozen zine reviews on Etsy, and I finally responded to all the lovely and wonderful comments people left on my stories on AO3.

There’s no need to write about this at length, but I finally realized why I feel so self-conscious about leaving comments on other people’s fanfic. Even though I figured out what happened to make me feel this way, it’s going to take some time to work through it. Still, next week I want to challenge myself to leave one comment on someone else’s story as I continue to work on my own. I can do this!

“Color” in a Different Context

On the problematics of “colour”, and on silence

Asia isn’t just Japan, or Korea, or China: these countries are traditionally – and likely, if you look into their histories, forcefully – homogeneous cultures. Asia isn’t just India either. Understanding how race work in Japan does not immediately grant one a crystal ball vision into how race works in other parts of Asia. And yes, while Malaysian (and especially Sarawakian) academia may be asininely insular, it doesn’t mean that they – we – should be silenced.

Nor should a blanket term like “people of colour” be accepted without challenge or contextualisation to best represent people when talking about race because that is a gross assumption that is unfair to some. I have no solutions. I don’t think there is any. Nor should they be a blanket term to represent all. Especially when the term itself comes with its own baggage, its own assumptions about what it is meant to represent.

This is a powerful essay. I’m having trouble finding words for how much I appreciate and agree with what the author is saying, but I think that’s probably okay. I’m not the person who should be commenting on this, after all. Still, what Chin refers to as “the problematics of colour” are something I spend a lot of time thinking about and struggling with in my work on Japan in a transnational context, and I was very excited when a friend directed me to this blog post.

I’m looking forward to reading more perspectives like this, so I followed @bertha_c on Twitter. I complain about social media, but there are good people doing amazing work there, and it’s always a pleasure to discover the writing of people outside my immediate social circles.

Toxic Fandom Culture

Waking Up: Neil Gaiman and Toxic Fandom

There is no shortage of examples [of toxic fandom]. Much of this behavior is based in misogyny and racism, some of it is not, and all of it seems to shriek, “You did not do what I want, therefore you are bad, and I am going to tell the world.”

This is not love. It is not even fandom. It is a mob.


I should mention two things about this short essay. First, it’s about the author being a fan of Neil Gaiman, not about Neil Gaiman himself. Second, it was written in July 2018. I was going through an intense online experience at the time and wondering what in the world I had done to deserve what was happening, and reading this essay then would have helped me a lot, I think. It’s definitely worth saying that, outside of a genuine #MeToo (or similar) situation, no artist or writer deserves this. I’m tentatively hopeful that this sort of culture has started to fade, not in the least because we all have much better things to devote our time and energy to.

Summer Writing Plans

Between on thing and another, I’m in something of a difficult place right now. Thankfully, I finally have room to maneuver, so I’ve been trying to take a step back from “productivity” and figure out what a healthy and sustainable workday looks like. I think that, for the time being, I might like to experiment with less work. Specifically, how would it feel to focus on fewer projects?

I think I’d like to have two “tracks” in a day. I don’t want to say “a morning track” and “an evening track,” because I’m not that big on set routines, but something like that – two sustained periods of writing during the day, each devoted to a different project.

Here’s what I’d like to spend the rest of the summer doing:

Track One

– I’ve been invited to contribute a 6,000 word essay about The Legend of Zelda to an edited volume on JRPGs. If I write 2,000 words a week, this will take three weeks, plus another week to edit.

– When I’m done with that, I need to return to the essay about the Hiromi Kawakami story I translated. It’s mostly finished, but it needs more research. Assuming that I write 1,000 words a week and edit as I go along, this should take about two weeks to finish.

– Once those two projects are squared away, I should get started on a public lecture I’m supposed to give about The Legend of Zelda in the fall. I’m aiming for this to be around 5,000 words, so I think the rough draft will take about three weeks.

Track Two

– I’m going to write Chapter 40 of my fanfic novel Malice. I’d like for this to take two weeks, but it could take three. There’s no need to rush, after all. After this is done, thus concluding the fourth (of five) story arcs, I’m going to put the novel on hiatus. I’ll leave a note at the end of the chapter saying that it will be back in the fall, which is probably true. I’d like to have the novel finished by the end of the year.

– I wrote an original short story a few years ago that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I’d like to return to it and see about submitting it somewhere. My style has changed a lot, so I’m going to say that it will probably take about two weeks to edit properly.

– I want to write a short horror story based on The Tale of Genji. I’ve already got a rough draft, but it’s a mess. If I write 1,000 words a week (emulating Heian prose is not easy), it should take me three weeks to reach a solid length of 3,000 words, and then I’ll give the story a week to rest before I edit and submit it.

And after all of that?


2020 Writing Log, Part 21

– I posted Chapter 39 of Malice on AO3. This chapter has a cool illustration from Meiaushzz, who has created an incredible gallery of digital paintings, including some fun video game fan art.

– I did another set of edits on Chapter 3 of Malice.

– I put a fair amount of admin work into a Ganondorf zine I’m helping out with.

– I know I said I’m done with Legend of Zelda fan art, but I saw a meme and had to draw it for myself.

– I finally got access to a photocopier, so I made a scan of the Japanese-language text and sent in my translation of Hiromi Kawakami’s short story “Summer Break” to Samovar.

– I my original short story “Don’t Eat the Fish” to an interesting body horror anthology. (The blog run by the editor is really fun, by the way.)

Submitting my first original short story for potential publication is a major milestone for me, and it felt great to put my nonbinary name on the manuscript. I also changed the name on my email address and website. I still feel a bit of residual pressure from the notion that it’s “too late” to get started on where I want to be in my life, but fuck it. Today is a good day.

Sexism and Ageism in Fandom

On “Fandom Moms”

I can finally afford to attend conventions regularly, pay amazing artists for great work, delve into more detailed media analysis, appreciate symbolism and homages I didn’t understand as a teen… and I should give that all up now? Because I have a job that makes me cry from stress, do my own taxes, and should be Looking For A Husband Now?

Oh gosh yes. Wow.

For me, as a queer nonbinary person, I was really only able to do things that made me happy once I had a stable source of income. I got kicked out of high school for being gay a few months after I turned sixteen, and the following twelve or thirteen years were a constant struggle just to survive. I couldn’t watch television or play video games because I had to work all the time to pay rent while putting myself through college and grad school on a series of scholarships, fellowships, and grants that were generous but not quite enough to live on. If I had time to “have fun,” it was time I needed to spend networking by attending various parties and other social events. I couldn’t afford to go to conventions, and I certainly didn’t have energy to devote to developing my skills at creative writing and visual art.

I was 27 or 28 before I had enough breathing room to even think about doing something that wasn’t work, and getting involved in fandom felt (at the time) like one of the best things that had ever happened to me, not in the least because I didn’t have to pretend to be a serious adult.

So when I was accused of being a creepy older person (when I was 32, which I maintain isn’t actually that old, not that it matters) for existing in a fandom space that was shared by people of various ages, it precipitated an incredible jolt of anxiety. What if it actually is Too Late for me to enjoy myself and follow my dreams? I’d been getting this message from various places for my entire life – even when I was in college! – and it was a serious blow to suddenly start hearing it again from the inside of a previously supportive fandom community.

I’ve come to terms with this and moved on, but I’m so relieved that this culture is fading.

2020 Writing Log, Part Twenty

– I wrote and posted Chapter 38 of Malice. In this chapter, the person who was initially set up as the villain turns out to be not such a bad person, just someone who was forced to make an awful decision when he was younger and has had to spend the rest of his life trying to justify it to himself while dealing with the consequences. I’ve been gradually (and subtly, I hope) building to the reveal that there’s an actual antagonist in this story, and this chapter is where that reveal happens. I hope I was able to pull it off successfully.

– I edited Chapter 37 and posted it on FFN. According to the site’s statistics, this story has an ungodly number of hits, but I’m not sure what that means exactly, especially given that it has so few followers and reviews. If I had to guess, I would say that FFN still gets a lot of traffic even though actual fandom engagement has moved elsewhere.

– I also edited Chapter 2. I hope it’s not pretentious for me to say that this chapter feels much less dependent on tropes than I remember it being. I went ahead and edited Chapter 3 as well.

– I ended up writing about two thousand words of the story based on The Tale of Genji that I mentioned in the last writing log, but I decided not to submit it. I also decided not to write to the anthology editor to ask for a deadline extension. I realized that this piece has the potential to become something much more interesting if I give it more time to develop. I think it would be cool if there were a frame story in addition to the Heian period diary that contains the core of the narrative, and I also think it would be cool if the narrator of the frame story had my actual name and was in fact my actual self.

– I actually wouldn’t mind being a recurring character in my own fiction, come to think of it. If Stephen King can do it, and if Andrew Hussie can do it, then there’s no reason why I can’t do it too.

– I posted a review of a light novel called Overlord, which – to be super honest – sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. I still had a lot of fun reading and writing about the book, though.

– I really enjoyed working with Frankiesbugs on a comic about Ocarina of Time, which is posted on Tumblr. It’s so gratifying to meet someone who shares almost my exact taste in horror, namely, an appreciation of both classics and trash and the desire to pet, hug, and/or be bffs with the monsters. Basically, I love horror, but I don’t take it too seriously. So when I wrote a comic about all the spooky monsters in Ocarina of Time, but I also wanted them to be cute while at the same time making fun of Ganondorf, it was such an amazing realization that I could actually work with an extremely talented artist like Frankiesbugs instead of having to take three or four months to draw the art and try to make the joke work all by myself.

– I said earlier that I commissioned an artist to illustrate the climactic chapter at the end of the fourth story arc of Malice, and that the illustration would more than likely be amazing. That artist is my best and most excellent friend Krokodilov, who managed to create an actual living masterpiece when I wasn’t sending them rambling bits of speculation about the apocalypse via DM. This painting is so good that it makes me re-evaluate my relationship to art, and this artist is only getting better with every piece they create. Seeing something like this come into existence right in front of my own eyes has filled me with determination!

– I moved to Philadelphia and unpacked everything. Now that my desk is set up, I can get back to the illustrations I’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

– I did what I could to amplify voices speaking out against police brutality and support protestors within the Black community. And you can too!

I’m starting to be able to see what my life is going to look like now that I don’t have to spend seventy hours a week working for a horrible neoliberal institution, and the view isn’t bad. May we all be powerful and brave as we look forward to a better future!

Down Here We All Float

The Coming Disruption

Galloway, a Silicon Valley runaway who teaches marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, believes the pandemic has greased the wheels for big tech’s entrée into higher education. The post-pandemic future, he says, will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and elite universities. MIT@Google. iStanford. HarvardxFacebook. According to Galloway, these partnerships will allow universities to expand enrollment dramatically by offering hybrid online-offline degrees, the affordability and value of which will seismically alter the landscape of higher education. Galloway, who also founded his own virtual classroom start-up, predicts hundreds, if not thousands, of brick-and-mortar universities will go out of business and those that remain will have student bodies composed primarily of the children of the one percent.

I recently read through a threaded conversation on a subtweet and saw some rando (probably a grad student) complaining that I only write positive reviews of the work published by my friends.

On one hand, that’s absolutely true! My friends and professional colleagues are doing amazing work, and I think their writing should be promoted and appreciated.

On the other hand, I don’t really have much choice in the formal assignments I get. I have the ability to turn down review requests, but walking up to the editor of an academic journal and saying “let me review this” isn’t really a thing I can do. I mean, I could do it – there’s nothing stopping me – but writing academic book reviews is time-consuming and difficult, and I don’t have the energy for more than I’ve been formally requested to do. My priorities lie elsewhere.

On my third hand, I kind of want to be like, How about you become my friend so I can write positive reviews of your work too?

I feel like academia was already on the verge of collapse before the pandemic. It’s currently a disaster, and an attitude that holds that “we all rise if the water level rises” is more relevant and pragmatic now than it’s ever been.

Between one thing and another, I’ve been spending the past two weeks seriously thinking about how to amplify the voices of people from marginalized positions. To be honest, a lot of these voices are doing brilliantly and don’t need my “assistance,” such as it is. Still, I want to use the platforms I have to at least try to help change the discursive space so that it can better reflect the rich diversity of voices in my field.

I agree with everything Scott Galloway says in this interview, and I think “disruption” is not a strong enough term for what’s going to happen as American universities become more corporate. If we’re lucky, however, this might become the opportunity people need to transform what (and who) is considered valuable and important in higher education.