Statement of Purpose/Application for Dat Winning Fellowship

I wish I could tell you I knew where I wanted to go with my writing.

I actually have no idea, although that has nothing to do with a lack of desire.

In fact, it’s probably the opposite — since I was a child, writing and thinking about writing has made up nearly all of my waking hours in some form or another, something that continues today in my work as an English teacher, and in the free time I have outside of the classroom. Rare are the moments when I am not tweeting, micro-blogging, working at my spoken word, toying with short fiction, grading writing, planning writing, tweeting, micro-blogging, working at my spoken word, toying with short fiction, grading writing, planning writing…

Sports, and sportswriting, despite being a passion of mine for as long as I can clearly recall, too often find themselves relegated to whatever mental space is left after all that, the unfortunate victim of a cycle that has, over time, made me a dabbler in much, yet focused in none.

My constant, desperate attempts to juggle every single one of the above comes from a deep confusion about what kind of writer I should be just as much as it does my refusal to be boxed into any one area, and doing so has exacted a cost – stretching me too thin to really develop any particular area with the attention it deserves.

The Dat Winning fellowship is an invaluable chance to simplify, simplify, simplify all of this for me. Instead of worrying about what kind of writer I really am and battling the anxiety of writing everything, it would push me to do what I’ve never done, by asking that I simply write one thing, and write it with all the energy and skill I can muster: sports, its intoxicating, unscriptable drama, and the tales of the very, very human characters tasked with acting it all out.

No bouncing around. No using form or genre as an excuse to escape commitment.

Indeed, the unscriptable drama, that feeling of unbridled possibility is what colors my fondest, most vibrant sports memories: Super Bowl XLII, Oklahoma – Boise State, the Vince Young game (you know which), the short-lived “We Believe” Warriors; and while I did not grow up rooting for all of the teams listed, these moments helped cement in my formative years my favorite thing about sports itself — the sense that anything could happen, and that on any night, a new story was waiting to be explored, with a rotating cast ready for new roles.

This feeling was probably my favorite thing about sports even before I knew anything about sports at all. I had no idea what an ERA or an overload blitz was when I was 9, but my age and naivete didn’t prevent me from sensing how the world seemed fundamentally shaken by Allen Iverson’s step-over against the Lakers, didn’t stop me from cheering the underdog Diamondbacks over the dastardly Yankees, wasn’t a factor in appreciating the anti-hero that was Barry Bonds.

That is where my main interest in the fellowship comes from – if accepted, being a member of this program would challenge me not only to capture all the incredible drama of sports and the athlete-cast I have always loved following, but to also unearth the truths that are kept at the heart of that drama, on a platform that lets my own recounting be heard. After all, the drama itself is one thing, but dedicating myself to telling that alone is just summarizing. It is what lies underneath the action, hiding in the blur of plays and players that makes sportswriting so powerful and worth pursuing. At its very best, sportswriting is a lens into something bigger about us all.

The program also has my interest for a different reason, as well – being an Asian American, and particularly being an Asian American male can often act as its own box, because a person carrying those descriptors is rarely expected to write, or like sports, let alone meld the two. Working in this fellowship would allow me additional guidance from the kinds of writers I hope to eventually become, writers who have managed and then thrown off the handcuffs of stereotype, with voices that express a distinctly Asian American perspective, but are not defined by the ethnicity of the person penning them, signalling to my students that they can accomplish the same as well.

The truth is, even if I don’t know where my ultimate destination is as a writer at 25, whether fiction, non-fiction, journalism, or anywhere in between, I am certainly sure of two things, at least.

One, when I actually arrive, I will still be driven by this deep need to unpack the drama in front of me, because I will still love sports then, too, still fascinated by its twists and turns, the why is this happening and what does it mean. Maybe that happens in a formal column format, maybe in notebook form, but I don’t ever see a version of myself writing where sports isn’t in it somewhere.

And two? I’ll need to be damn good when I get there.

2016.

​one of the longest running traditions i have on social media is titling the current chapter of my life — it’s something i’ve been doing since 2007, and it always consists of one word for the year. (rookie, to mark my first year as a teacher, was 2015, for example.)

so, with it being deep enough into 2016, i have my title to share with you guys this year, but to understand why i picked this also involves sharing something really vulnerable, too.

in july — actually, the day KD decided he would be a Warrior — i had a relationship of 1.5 years come to an end. i am still cleaning up the fallout from this now, and probably will be for the foreseeable while, even though it’ll end up better in the long run not to have that kind of toxicity and a significant other who takes me for granted in my life. 

my breakup isn’t the only thing that happened this year, though, and when i think back on 2016 i will equally remember the struggle of turning 25, which, while a milestone, hasn’t yet been a lifechanging 3 months the way we would love to think. there are signs that i am moving toward fully functioning adulthood, but i still often feel behind the curve — i don’t cook regularly, i don’t run errands on time and am constantly flooded with stuff i haven’t graded and and and and — especially in comparison to everyone else around me. (i run in some accomplished circles, evidently.)

most of these first few months have been spent trying to learn that that’s okay, as long as i keep moving in the right direction, and that i still have value even in my incompleteness. 

i’m a slow learner with some big goals that i’m inconsistent about reaching. 

but i’ll get there. eventually. just like everything else so far. 

this year’s title is some wordplay that captures both those experiences.

xxv. – n – 

1) a year in my life in which i x’d out my ex: v. 

2) the 25th chapter in the novel of nam, filled with struggle, slow growth, and hopefully before long, sunshine.working title.

On: Teaching Asian American Literature

I could have avoided it.

I think.

Maybe I could have finessed my way around the oddity of teaching Asian American Literature to a student population that’s 95% Hispanic and Latino, many of whom did not choose to be placed in the course.

Maybe.

I like to think I could have.

I went the other way, though, and took the awkwardness of the situation head on. Same as I ever have, really. I’m not old enough yet to know better, so all my students ever get is honesty — they know, before too long, that I’m open about my screwups, honest and critical in my feedback, and truthful about damn near everything else.

Plus, they say it’s the best policy, or something.

“You’re probably wondering why you’re in this class,” I guessed, met by a smattering of slight nods and a room still cautiously attentive. “Most of you aren’t Asian, after all.”

Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Curse of Nostalgia

While Harry Potter is a fantastic, engrossing, reading experience for anyone of any age, I’ve always believed that it was most special for kids who were growing up with Harry — the kids who were adolescent around the time he got his letter to Hogwarts, and verging on adulthood by the time he left it. That generation — my generation — got the special magic of living things out alongside him, our imaginations inhaling each glimpse into his world, our hearts seeing him as an intimate friend, despite never seeing him at all.

Close to a decade later, and that feeling of childish wonder — or perhaps more specifically, the want of that feeling — still hasn’t really left us. Any of us.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, though. It’s a tricky, an impossible thing, actually, if you look at it closely enough — because even if the thing itself, a movie, a book, a tv series, is recreated to perfection, the conditions for that feeling still can’t be. Ever, actually.  Try as we might, we’ve all grown away from that moment when we were simply in love with the adventure itself, reading whole-heartedly, and without question.  Continue reading

#The52Project (18) – “Write some fanfiction.”

It is 10 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. How is Harry dealing with PTSD?

The wizarding world had found a decade’s peace after Voldemort’s demise, but all was not yet well, for one more battle remained. It was one Harry had long put off fighting, against opponents long gone and even longer unseen.

In the immediate rebuilding, Harry had been too distracted to notice what was happening – there was the pressing need to bury his loved ones and classmates, to compose his own testimony before the Ministry of Magic, the sound of fluttering that meant yet another demand, another request, another interview. These were tasks that emptied his life’s hourglasses, items on a to-do list that magically, miraculously never got any shorter. In the spare moments he could manage, Harry often found himself cursing that he had smashed the Minstry’s stock of Time-Turners, knowing he could surely use one now.

This – cursing himself  – was something he found himself doing increasingly often. Continue reading

[no title necessary]

If you’ve known me for any substantial amount of time, it’s pretty obvious that writing is a big part of who I am.

Before I even had my first crush or inkling of romance — Traci Liang, sixth grade — I remember loving writing — sitting with my dad, whose native tongue is Vietnamese, working on a Pokemon-inspired universe that would have surely failed any intellectual property lawsuit;  penning out my general confusion in angsty, adolescent poetry, and at one point, there was even something about a food themed superhero with a nacho cheese blaster for an arm. Continue reading

I wrote a poem. It is about my relationship with literacy. Read it if you like.

i know the narrative of my language quite well

how could i forget, when
all it takes is but a moment of listening
to notice
the tussle of tongues straining to be heard
every time i open my mouth at all;
a fatal four-way between
my studied, polished English and my laid-back slang
the lingoes of my interests and the language that lives, almost literally
in my blood
these traceable lineages that line my every syllable
each a Belt holder for moments, but rarely longer

what’s funny is
in all the times i’ve told it and all the times i’ve written and recounted,
“why i want to be an English teacher”; “why i started writing”
this tale, openly on display, now well worn by my vocal cords
in it always make sure to mention Ms. Barrett from 11th grade,
Stine and Rowling and Sajak and White and Applegate,
those childhood mainstays,
forgetting to mention my other teacher:
simply living at all

now, i’d rather not force the metaphor of life and lesson
but it’s still true
child me plucked up new words from magic: the gathering card backs
read from, through endless screens of video game text and dialogue
helped, where possible, to decode American legalese for my parents
(how ironic that they now return the favor)
finally finding himself home, entangled in an interweb from far too young an age

the discourse of this course
was raw and often profane
in a dialect too inappropriate for children under 13
left to navigate it myself, with no scaffolds and no guides
i slowly crawl my way toward understanding,
learning to mimick the proper codes of protoc(l)ol in the communities
until I could hide in plain sight, sharing all of me at the same time

still do, now
my voice
on topics I know both too much and too little about
sh@ring anything and nothing all at once
to strangers who feel closer to me and know more about me than people I know in real life
I connect
I converse
and my language
still
thrives