The following online journal entries are from October 2002.
TUESDAY. 9:40 PM. Well, I've gone and done it. I am now officially registered as a participant of National Novel Writing Month 2002. I did NaNoWriMo (as it's so fondly called) last year for the first time and am a 50,000 word winner. I didn't know whether or not I would be up for the challenge again this year, but I guess I'm masochistic enough to do it again. I'm looking forward to it. I am a little sad that I won't be writing furiously 1,667 words a day with my friends back in San Francisco.
I encourage anyone with a penchant for writing to try it at least once. I encourage anyone who wants to see what it's like to be a writer condensed into a thirty day period of sweat, tears, anxiety, frustration, breakthroughs, excitement, anticipation, agonization, procrastination, diligence, creativity, madness, and just plain hard work, then try it at least once.
Though I don't know how I'm going to survive November. I barely know how I'm going to survive the next couple of weeks. I'm not exactly sure where all my time goes or where all my energy goes. I just have too many balls in the air (and not enough in...um, nevermind).
The weekend was chock full. Friday night, Meredith, Kate, Rob, Dana, Shawn, Ryan, and I played Call of Cthulhu. It was a fun night; it was our first session in a long while and the storyline I've cooked up is intriguing. Saturday day, Meredith, Kate, Dana, Jesse, Marc (a friend of Kate and Meredith's), and I went to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. It was a lot of fun. I had never gone before. It's smaller than the Maryland fest, but the actors are much more interactive. It's the bane and blessing of my existence. Because my hair is spikey and green, I was the target of many "Oh, milord, you do have the most unusual hair!" or "I believe something has bewitched your hair!" or "Is that mold growing on your head?" Saturday night, the whole gang went to Meredith's house to watch Rocky Horror. Sunday, my gaming group played Tellings with a guest appearance by my friend Jeff, who was visiting Maryland for a short while.
It was really good to see Jeff. He's been on tour with the Lion King for a few months now. Not that I really got a chance to see him when he was in New York. But I'm glad when I do get an opportunity to hang out with him in all four dimensions. He's out due to a stress fracture in his foot. It's from all the jumping around he does on stage. At least that's what he says is the reason. But he should be back in the show in a month or so. I still intend on seeing him when he heads to Atlanta, GA at the beginning of next year.
Monday I spent most of the entire day grading papers. I wanted to crank through the remaining stack I had left. About ten hours later, I got them all done. They are now back in my student's hands and I'm sure many of them are cringing. "But I always got A's on my papers in high school," they cry. "I worked really hard on that paper," they declare. "I really think I did a good job," they explain. But on average my students did average work. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. They're students. They're in a class to learn how to write. If they were all doing A work, why would they be there? Why would they need me? I keep stressing to them that the important thing is the journey and not the end result. If they work hard, if they learn something, and if they improve then I have no problem rewarding them. But so many of my kids just want immediate satisfaction and immediate gratification. I really hope to show them that there is a richness and a complexity and a depth to their lives, no matter how everday it may seem. And I hope that they learn how to read, think, and write about their experiences in the end.
Maybe I'm just a dreamer?
FRIDAY. 7:51 AM. It's early and I'm awake when I don't have to be. I don't have classes today nor do I have anything pressing that I have to do. But I woke up a little after 7 AM. My body is just trained to wake up at that time thinking it's time for school.
I tried to go back to bed. I know I could use the extra shuteye. But then I start thinking about things. My mind slowly reviews what I could be doing, what I need to do that day, and what has been going on in the universe. And the universe is troubled these days.
A student in my second class yesterday told me that his mother called him and warned him not to drive around Montgomery County. It turns out there has been a killing spree in Rockville, an area about ten minutes from my house. Five people are dead. A seventeen hour window. The authorities declare that the shootings were random: a white man, a black man, a Latino, including 3 men and 2 women. I'm not sure anything is ever truly random. My spidey sense tells me that there is more to it than that.
All I can say is that I dislike guns.
Moreover, I dislike being interrupted in my delusion that the world is a safe place, a civilized place, a humane place. But somewhere in the back of my mind I'm always thinking that. It comes with the territory of being a person living in a world where people will kill you because of the way you look, because of the color of your skin, because of the things that you have, because of the people you love. But I guess you can't be ruled by fear. At some point you have to live your life and step outside your front door.
All of this news comes after hearing that a peaceful friend of mine was beaten up by police in Washington, DC during the mass arrests of protesters who gathered to demonstrate against the IMF and World Bank and uber-globalization. I am alarmed at the growing trend toward "permitted" demonstration or "policed" demonstration as if you really need some slip of paper from City Hall to be allowed to raise your voice, exercise your freedom of choice. I am certainly convinced that if the demonstrations were about something more palatable to the culture and government (such as demonstrating "against the evil of terrorism") then there would be far less harassment, far less containment, and far less violence.
I dislike institutionalized violence. I dislike institutionalized violence in the name of capitalism even more.
In light of recent events, I might show my students a video I saw screened in San Francisco called This is What Democracy Looks Like, about the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in November 1999 in Seattle. It's a powerful documentary, an example of what the creators like to call "media activism." The most compelling thing about the film is the fact that it sets up a completely different telling of the Seattle events than what the mainstream media told the public.
For example, it's interesting where authorities and the media draw the line between peaceful protest and "riot," a word that is bandied about with as much ease and irresponsibility as the word "evil." Both the Seattle 1999 protests and the Washington, DC 2002 protests became "riots" after a very small population of people destroyed property. I am by no means condoning destructive behavior (though in Seattle it was just a Starbucks), but the mainstream is certainly quick to vilify a group or place the worst possible spin on a situation.
Anyway, I have to walk out my front door today. I guess I should go get ready for my day. Anyone have a bulletproof vest I can borrow?
THURSDAY. 3:34 PM. Somehow it doesn't seem like a year has past since last I mentioned Double Ten Day on my website. But, I guess a year has past and it once again is time to celebrate Taiwan's independence day.
It's been a pretty full week for me. A lot of my free time has been devoted to getting the new Archaea website online; it's up and running but there are still a few key sections that need work. Overall I don't feel rushed or overwhelmed exactly. I just always have something to do, something to work on, something to think about.
It's a peculiar position to fear for your safety. I'm not sure how many people in everyday life -- at least in my part of the world -- actually fear for their lives. Our relative safety is something I think we all take for granted. Until something happens. Until someone's hurt. Until something random happens to tear away that thin comfort coating.
I don't know how to engage a conversation about the shooting spree currently going on in my backyard. It seems so surreal, almost impersonal even thought it's happening right here. Teaching has afforded me a unique backdrop--many of my English as a Second Language students come from countries where violence is a fact of life, where violence happens every day, where institutions themselves use violence as a just means for change, oppression, control.
Speaking of institutions using violence, the government is poised to to attack Iraq. Are there right reasons? There are certainly a lot of wrong reasons and there are certainly a lot of reasons to want to shake a big stick even if the target is small, underdeveloped, and poor. Of course, I ask too many questions and think entirely too much.
I played the "Label Game" today with my students. We put aside English 101 for a day and talked about labels, about stereotypes, and about assumptions we make about people. I wrote up a bunch of labels with words like "POOR" or "JOCK" or "SINGLE PARENT" or "ADDICT" or "SLUT" or "RICH" or "DISABLED" or "NERD" or "GAY" or "HERO" or "HIV+" on them. Then I stuck a label on the back of each student; the student has no idea what label they were given. Then they got up and mingled with one another with the intent of reacting to a person's label without telling them what their sticker said. Then we sat down and talked about what it felt like, what they though their labels were, and what does all of it mean in the big picture. Then I invited them to wear their labels (on the front of their shirt now) for the remainder of their day. In the past, students who chose to continue to wear their labels had very profound experiences to report in their response papers and during the next class.
At the end of class, I gave the students an opportunity to think about their labels for me. I left the room for five minutes and they were to write on the board the labels that came to mind when they first met me at the beginning of the semester and now nearly halfway through the semester. All of my classes were consistent in their responses with words like "CREATIVE" or "LAID-BACK" or "PUNK" or "CULTURALLY AWARE" or "FUN" or "EXTROVERTED." Some added "WEIRD" and "STRICT" and "CONFIDENT." And to no surprise they all wrote "GAY."
Tomorrow, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. I usually come out to my students at about this time during the semester. They've gotten to know me and most of them have already figured it out. But, as per usual, there are usually a handful that are genuinely surprised. Tomorrow I get to go to campus to do a Speakers Bureau for a Health 140 class. It should be an interesting experience and hopefully a good one.
Just in case you didn't know...I'm gay.
FRIDAY. 9:08 AM. Happy National Coming Day! Here is my story.
MONDAY. 8:27 AM. Monday morning. The weather's actually chilly. There's frost on the windows of the cars outside. I guess the autumn is actually here to stay now.
It's the start of another week and I find myself tired again. I should've stayed in bed a little longer this morning. It was warm under my down comforter. But I've got a stack of stuff to do.
Last weekend, I was busy down to the last drop. I even went out Sunday night after a day of gaming to Feint, a "lounge night alt/indie/rock/whatever music for queer boys and girls and their straight pals" held at Staccato (18th @ Florida) in Adams Morgan. It was their first Feint and the crowd reminded me a lot of the nights out in San Francisco; in fact I ran into a number of former SFers who were looking for a little patch of the City here in DC.
This weekend was also filled to the brim. The weekend actually began on Thursday night because a bunch of people came over to play Call of Cthulhu. Who was it? Myself, Kate, Meredith, Shawn, Ryan, Rob, and Dana.
Friday day, I went to the university to do my first Speakers Bureau of the semester. It went reasonably well. It was a Health 140 class full of student athletes. They were pretty quiet but we managed to keep the discussion going. They seemed resistant to me and maybe even a little suspect like they weren't quite sure why we were there in the first place. The teacher warned us that they weren't very big on class participation. It's always hard to play to a tough room.
Then after a long week of teaching and working many hours on the Archaea website, I wanted to hang out on Friday evening. Everyone I knew either had plans or stayed in that night. I ended up hanging out with my friend Ryan, drinking entirely too many rum and cokes, and watching videos. It was fun but boy did the morning come too early the next day -- went to bed at 4 AM, got woken up by screaming children outside my window at 10 AM.
Saturday night, Rob and Dana (and Jesse) picked me up and took me to the wedding of mutual friends Scott and Stephanie. Traffic was bad. The four of us made it into the church in Baltimore just as the final prayer was being said and the minister declared, "Scott, you may now kiss Stephanie." From the wedding, we went to the reception. I have only two words for you: "open bar." For once, I wasn't driving. So I got down to drinking--again. Many 7 and 7s later, I was pretty rambunctious to the delight of my friends (who were swimming in their own brand of happy) and all of the wedding-goers who stared gaping at the red, spikey-haired Asian man singing whatever came to mind.
I competed in the bouquet throw but came up empty handed. Then I joined the throng of single men (none for me though) and caught the garter! I was like Drunken Gay Man, Hidden Ninja. It was all in the wrist. I snatched it right out of the air. I guess my "lace-dar" was working. Then came the barbaric, heterosexist ritual (hah hah hah)of sliding the garter up the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet. Who better to do this than a drunk, gay man? Let's say, that's the closest I've probably gotten to anything sexual with a woman. I think I actually startled the woman and probably a few onlookers, too. Scott and Steph are guaranteed a long, long torturous...I mean blissful marraige. I had to run after the woman to make sure I didn't offend her or anything. She was fine and thought it was very funny. Alas, I don't even remember her name.
After the wedding, the "kids" went to a bar in Towson called The Crease, a Towson University hangout. I think I had only one drink there. Dana bought me a drink. Oh, wait. Brian bought me a drink, too. Okay, I only had two drinks there. The bartender was very chatty. I told him that we would be bringing the party. And they came. People were having fun. And then it was time to go home.
Sunday morning was even rougher than Saturday morning. You wonder why all of my students last Thursday gave me the label "ALCOHOLIC." I told them that I was only a drunk; alcoholics go to meetings. I poured myself out of bed. Got a godawful stomach ache for most of the morning. Then gathered my brain cells and insides enough to head over to Kate and Skinner's to play Tellings.
And that brings us back to Monday, Monday, Monday. I have to clean up the apartment a little bit. I have to get some grading done. Then there's always more to done for Archaea. I guess I probably should go get started. More later.
10:43 PM. There is a certain poetry to the universe, the rhythms of how things change, reverse, evolve. I guess that was a pretty strange and existential thing to say. I've just come off of grading a stack of response papers by students (most of whom anyway) still struggling to scratch beneath the surface of even the most ordinary of things. Again, another deep yet obtuse statement.
I had been wondering where my melancholy was hiding in the past few weeks. Not that I am inviting its visit, but I think I have been so caught up in everything I've been doing that I just haven't thought about where I am emotionally, psychically, even physically. From the ground up, I know I am a little tired thought not overly so. There were a few days when I wasn't sleeping very well. My body is adjusting to the change in temperature, the change in season. I'm sure I've been staving off the season's first bug since a lot of people I've talked to recently have been sick.
I know there's a corner of my mind that's worried about things. I think my biggest concern right now is what I'm going to be doing in two months time when the semester is over, when I'm facing application deadlines, when I'm waiting to see if I have a job come January. I've been told by my director that there are fewer slots of 101 this coming spring semester. I may not get teaching. Of course, I've heard this tale before. But if it is true (or more true) this year, I may find myself in (dire) straits.
A lot of things around me have been pointing up very existential themes, maybe even lessons. Teaching, speakers bureaus, working on Archaea (which by extension is working on a large part of my past), and thinking about the near future. Even a night of television brings up these ideas.
I just finished watching an episode of Smallville, the third episode this season. The episode is called "Duplicity" and in it Clark "comes out" to his best friend Pete about his "extraterrestrial" secret. Much like the Buffy episode where she "comes out" to her mother about being The Slayer, the circumstances, the dialogue, the context, the surprise, the resentment, and (of course) the reconciliation is all couched in terms of outing. I guess the reveal of any secret will always be a coming out story.
But since my first mention of Smallville on my website, I've talked about the homosocial (if not homoerotic) subtexts set up between male characters with Clark as the proverbial and phallic lynchpin. "Duplicity" is a coming out story and a nearly queer one at that. The pieces are there: best male friends, friends who supposedly tell each other everything, it's all about the "guy stuff," the urgent need to not hide, the shock, the "you didn't trust me?" line, plus the "nothing has changed" or "I'm still the same person," mix in "don't touch me," and don't forget the "I just wanted to be normal" explanation.
I am reminded of the work I was doing on my Master's thesis way, way back in the day. Now, I think the queer subtext between Clark and Lex is much stronger, much more tantalizing, and fully purposeful (so when Lex turns Judas, the hurt will be that much sweeter). But we cannot forget Clark and Pete, who is characterized as overtly heterosexual (a lot of his lines are about women). The coming out is set up. Clark says, "I'm an alien." Pete gets angry because he's been duped all these years. Clark even goes as far as to say, "Go ahead and call me an alien or a freak. Just say something." We can almost hear the words "queer" or "fag" in-between the lines. Of course, Pete has to go off and get himself kidnapped by the insane, palsied scientist. Clark has to save his friend. But in the process falls victim to Kryptonite and must be rescued by Pete in return. Poor Clark--feminized again. According to my thesis, the formula is near perfect. Create the subtext. Establish tension. Invent a way for the men to touch. All that is left is recuperation. Final scene: two boys playing basketball (nice, healthy, wholesome activity--though another analogy for touching) and here comes the whole conversation about Clark's x-ray vision and peeking in the girls' locker room. Clark's answer is a little on the shy side. But the package is tied up. There can be no doubt now that these friends are just friends. Clark's "secret" isn't a problem. Pete is safe. Clark is safe. The heterosexual narrative is safe.
I'm boiling down of course. This is not to say that the writers, producers, or actors set out to create this queer subtext. Would it matter if they did? Or that we knew they purposefully did? The lenses of theory, of imagining other readings, of finding other stories within stories is what I do, is what I taught myself to do. I think we all do it. We want to find some part of ourselves in the stories we read, watch, hear so that we feel connected to the larger picture. Of course, then there's the fantasy of it, too.
I think the Buffy episode was explicitly done as a "coming out" story. Being familiar with the WB gestalt, I think Smallville probably echoed if not followed suit. It's just a fascinating pattern to keep noticing. It makes me a little nostalgic for my MA days. I'm not necessarily wanting to go back to how difficult those years were for me, but I think I'm sensing that there are things I miss doing, things I want to do, and things that I have lost about myself along the way.
I'm not sure what all this internal dialogue is about. It's just a TV show, right? I tell my students on video days that it's never just TV. I guess something woke up in me. No, not exactly that. Something just stepped back into the light out of the shadows. Academia aside, theory aside, intellect aside, I want the fantasy. I am in a lot of ways the "idea" of Clark. I am certainly no Tom Welling (though I probably have fantasies about wanting to look like someone like him), but I understand the theme about being "different." Alas, if we were all "different" and packaged like a WB star, I don't think the world would be as cruel, as ugly (ba dum dum). But I see these "best friend" stories and I think back on my own life and I come up empty handed. I never had that kind of friendship. I think being in the closet really got in the way. I think if I had been able to come out earlier, I may have managed to build friendships in a totally different way and I may not have self-destructed the friendships I did have in the past.
Sadly, all I can say right now is that I'm sorry for that.
TUESDAY. 7:00 AM. Happy birthday to my father! Happy birthday, Dadi!
© 2002 Edmond Y. Chang. All original material. All rights reserved.
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