Ursula Le Guin once said, "First sentences are doors to worlds." In a way, these
first few sentences are an entrance into my world, into a slice of my life. Some
of what is here is ordinary, some extraordinary, but all of it is true and mine.
Thanks for taking the time and interest to visit me. I'll try to keep the story
well-gathered and make its meanings run sure and deep.
The very first version of my personal website was ornamentally called
"The House of Jade Righteous," eponymously named after my Chinese name Chang Yù-zheng.
Chang, or Zhang, is my surname; it comes first. Yù-zheng is my
personal or given name. Yù means "jade." Zheng means "just" or "righteous" or
"correct" or "straight" (an irony to be revealed later).
the wonder years
I was born May 6 in Columbia, Missouri (of all places). My parents are
both from Taiwan and immigrated to the US in the late 60s. They were attending
graduate school at the University of Missouri at the time. Six months after
I was born, we moved to the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Until recently,
I was a resident of Maryland for most of my life.
I have lived a relatively uneventful life, tending toward the quiet, introverted,
bookish, intellectual, and academic side of things. Growing up, I was hardly
athletic or elitely popular. In fact, I epitomized the chunky, overweight, nerdish,
booksmart, Toughskins-wearing, four-eyed, latch-key kid that everyone knew and
perhaps befriended or made fun of.
Fortunately, I escaped growing up relatively unscathed. What did Julius Caesar
say in Shakespeare's play? "Let me have men about me that are fat,/Sleek-headed
men, and such as sleep a-nights" (I.ii.192). I depended on my brains, my
creativity, and my unique way of disarming most social situations just by being
friendly to everyone. School was cool -- never really got into trouble, did
fairly well, surprised myself with a few notable accomplishments, and made
friends across all social circles.
Breezing through the years, I'll see what I can remember:
Nursery school -- I remember learning that thistles were edible.
Kindergarten -- Mrs. White was my teacher and her classroom had this
neat contraption made up of a series of grooved ramps that zig-zagged
back and forth, down which you could roll a marble or a steel ball bearing.
First grade -- I was became the student council representative for
my class because the kid elected became unable to perform their duties.
Second grade -- I had a crush on my teacher, Mrs. Sobol.
Third grade -- my family moved and I was in a new school. Fourth grade --
Mrs. Dilday was one of the strictest women I've known, who caught me
trying to forge my parent's signatures on a report card. Fifth grade --
Mr. Stoneman made us learn the 50 states in alphabetical order, which
I still know to this day. Sixth grade -- Mrs. Etze, who gave me my
first copy of The Hobbit told me I would be a great writer
someday and that has stuck with me all of my life; I also played
Tom Sawyer in the school musical Tom Sawyer.
Seventh grade -- began junior high (back in the day when it was still junior
high). Eighth grade -- became an office aide and got first place in the
school science fair. Ninth grade -- I was voted "Most Likely to Suceed."
Tenth grade -- my family moved again so I could go to a better school,
High School. Junior year -- got into role-playing games and stage crew.
Senior year -- I won a prestigious residental architectural design
where my house was actually built as well as help put together the first
poetry arts night that has become an annual tradition.
the college years
I graduated from high school in 1988 and decided not to leave home
for a university out-of-state. I have always been a homebody and feared
being away from the comforts of hearth and family. Though I was courted
by a few universities beyond the borders of Maryland, I applied only to
one place and was accepted by the
University of Maryland at College Park --
home of the fighting Terrapins and Testudo, UMCP's snapping turtle mascot.
Because of my high school success and proven affinity, I persued a degree in
Architecture, alongside a degree in English. I spent the first two years
of my college life preparing to get a seat in the 'great space' -- the studio
in the School of Architecture. I made it through the highly competitive
selection and application process and was accepted by the School of
Architecture in my junior year.
Unfortunately, I completed only one semester before deciding it was not the
time nor the place from me to finish. Too many things fought for my attentions
and my dedication. The program demanded too much from me and gave too little
in return. I was disenchanted and dissatisfied with the school's spirit and
intentions. Finally, I was simply not mature enough to conquer the dangers,
the demons, and the dissections of the program. To this day, I still love
architecture and once in a blue moon entertain the idea of one day finishing
what I started. But, till then, I persued another love -- literature.
University was a mix of experiences. Toward the end of my five years at UMCP,
I began to open up more, become far more social, and developed a stronger sense
of myself. I was always told that I would be a late bloomer -- well, finally, it
was time to unfold a few petals and to grow a few thorns. It was a difficult
time, as most times of change are. It was incredible. It was painful. I did
not realize the extent of the changes I would surmount.
Because I switched from Architecture completely to English, I needed
to stay in school for an extra year. Looking at my transcript, I realized
that I could get a second degree with just a few more classes.
I graduated from the University of Maryland in 1993 with a BA in English
and a BA in Classics. Two large pieces of paper that would do me very
little in the "real world." Overall, though, university was a good
experience and started me down the road to face a lot of demons and
mirrors and challenges and compliments and triumphs. There were many
issues that came to the fore that I had been dutifully avoiding.
the graduate years
Again, not wanting to stray too far from the nest, I applied for
graduate study at UMCP in the Master's of English program. I had no
idea where I wanted to go. And I wasn't sure if heading straight into
graduate study was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, I decided to
continue on and to go with the program at UMCP. I wanted to be close
to home. One main reason I did not want to leave the area was because
my mother had been diagnosed with stomach cancer the year before and
was not yet one-hundred percent. Her recovery from the initial
surgery was short of miraculous. She healed quickly and returned
to her everyday life -- home, work, gardening, family, saving.
On July 23, 1993, my mother passed away due to complications brought
on by her chemotherapy treatments. In an instant, life simply snapped.
Everything went numb. Routine became the only saving grace. My father,
my sister, and I grieved, adapted, weathered, worried, cried, collapsed,
suffered, survived, and in the end, grew and healed. Eventually, the
feelings came back -- not without a lot of tears and late night talks
with my higher power. My mother was one of my best friends and greatest
advocates. To this day, I hope her spirit and her memory continue to
support me through everything I do, even through things she would not
have necessarily agreed with or approved of.
In 1995, my sister, Alenda, brilliant in her ways, graduated from high
school and marched off to Ithaca, New York to attend Cornell University.
She went off to Johns Hopkins
for a semester before transferring finally to
She loved it up in the mountains of Ithaca, New York -- at least for
the most part. Strangely, she decided to take after her brother studying
English and Film. She was and is always busy. In many ways, she is an
intimidating dynamo of enthusiasm and dedication. While at Cornell, she
juggled the already hectic life of a college student, worked part-time,
dedicated a great deal of time to her film production class, and she
sang in and administrated the
a student a capella group. I think she's amazing, elegant, charming,
and fun. We share a great deal and I enjoy the moments when we are
together, hysterically laughing at our lives.
In 1995, my father remarried to a woman from Taiwan. Instantly, I
gained a step-mother and two step-sisters. My father's new wife left
her life in Taiwan and moved to the United States. My step-sisters,
whom I know barely as acquaintances, have visited but remain in Taiwan.
There is some tension in the family. Being a "step" and having a "step"
relationship creates all sorts of problems and negotiations. In my eyes,
though, if my father is happy, I support him and his life.
Meanwhile, I moved out of the house to be on my own (though I lived only minutes
away) and I was taking my time with my studies. I realized that going straight
into graduate school was not the best of decisions. But, the only time table I
needed to worry about was the one I put myself on. Sadly, like many perfectionists,
I am extremely hard on myself and continue to try to live with high expectations.
By the end of 1995, I had finished all of my coursework for my MA. All that
was left was my thesis. But, from 1995 to the end of 1998, the terms of my life
came crashing down on me. My heart, my hands, and my challenges were brim full.
Life was changing too fast and I was ill-prepared to slow it down or race it
through the steeplechase. There was just too much going on, too
many issues, too much crammed in my head.
I hemmed and hawwed over my MA thesis. I changed topics several times.
Eventually, I decided I would focus on film as texts. Though I still enjoy
literature, my visual training from my architecture days takes well to the
analysis of and engagement with filmic texts. After taking a few film studies
and cultural studies classes, I was a born-again movie-goer and cinema-lover.
Unfortunately, the love wasn't enough. Even with all the work and the enthusiam
in my research and in my coffee-shop discussions of my topic, I joined the thousands
of escapees and perfectly happy people stamped with the three letters ABT--All
I reached the end of my graduate school rope. Technically, after the summer of
1998, my coursework begins to evaporate becoming invalid once the five-year mark
is reached. I could have filed for an extension. And at the time, I really
wanted to be done. But, there was a significant block in my mind, my heart,
and in my soul. Graduate school, my program, the whole agonistic process became
a talisman of despair, distrust, and danger. (That in itself is a whole
To be fair, my graduate experience has not all been doom and gloom. Like I said
earlier, life was changing. And I was adapting as fast as I could. One of the
best decisions of my life was to revisit counseling. As an undergraduate, I
walked through the doors of the university's counseling center and simply
walked out again. Years later, hopefully wiser in my ways, I went back to
Shoemaker Hall. This time I found help. I spent a year in individual and
group therapy. I walked into the process knowing that I needed to refresh
and reinvent my coping mechanisms. I needed to find the confidence to face
my struggles. I wanted to let joy and peace back into my life.
I am thankful that the university offered such services. Though
limited in number of sessions, I worked to gain as much as I could in the
time allotted to me. The results have been promising but there is still
a long way to walk. But I have gained more confidence. And I cope. And
I strive for health. And I honor myself more. I look forward to the day
I can return to counseling.
Another powerfully positive graduate school experience was teaching. Afterall,
my personality archetype (eNFj) is the teacher. I taught at the University
of Maryland for the past four and a half years. I started as a teaching
assistant and then became a dependable source of cheap labor for the university
who continued to hire me semester after semester as a lecturer. I taught
English 101, Freshman Writing, also know as Introduction to Academic Writing.
I went beyond the rhetoric and the grammar of the class, though. I worked
in critical thinking, popular culture, film and video, and all around ways
to look at yourself, people around you, and life. I have taught many, many
sections and many, many students. I know that my legacy continues in them.
ed's great adventure
Personally, emotionally, financially, occupationally, and aspirationally, I have
a ways to go yet. I promised myself in the spring of 1998 that I would try to
turn my life back toward the things I wanted to do, to the dreams that I had
left to gather dust. Since that time, I knew I needed to focus on myself and
make strides toward new possibilities.
In May of 1998, Alenda graduated from Cornell. My father and I went to Ithaca
to see her convocation and degree ceremony. As always, I am totally proud of
her. She's done a great job and she deserves every bit of praise. Originally,
she wanted to go to Taiwan for a year or so to teach English. I didn't want her
to go because I wanted her to stay close and accessible. But, she chose to
remain in Ithaca, NY to work for a small technology startup company.
In the fall of 1998, I made the decision to leave my graduate program. I would
finish out the school year teaching and then move. I knew I had to leave the
area. I was stagnating. Then, a good friend from the university asked me why
I was staying through the school year. He asked what was preventing me from
leaving as soon as possible. He asked what I really wanted to do. My answer
was to leave right after the fall semester.
So I did. It was time for an adventure. It was time for me to leave the nest.
It was time for me to go away and grow and change. I thought about going to
New York City or Boston. I also thought Seattle or Portland might be good.
I needed a city that was more my style, my sensibility. I needed to get away
from the conservatism of Washington, DC. Eventually, I set my sights on
Other than the rich, diverse, and bohemian atmosphere of SF, there were three
major reasons made San Francisco the best choice. First, even though I
was striking out into unknown territory, I wanted to go someplace that I had
some connection to. One of my best friends from college, Sarah, was moving
to the city. We have not lived in the same city for a number of years and it
was time that we reunited. Second, my sister was eventually going to be moving
to the area with her company. Finally, my father plans to return to Taiwan as
a dual citizen spending most of the year there and part of the year in the US.
It would make more sense for him to find a place on the west coast to live
(though not necessarily in SF). By moving to the bay area, I could remain
close to significant people in my life.
By October of 1998, I had bought my one-way plane ticket to SF. By the end of
December, I had packed up my apartment, sold all of my furniture, and reduced
my life to two suitcases. With the ringing in of the new year, I left DC
on January 5, 1999.
SF is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Moving to a
the heart of a major city from the suburbs of Maryland was definitely
culture shock. I lived in the Mission District of San Francisco for
three very full years. Making life work on the west coast was amazing,
difficult, riotous, and grueling all at the same time. It was the
first time I was so far away from my family and my home town and my
roots. But like going away to college, my years in San Francisco
helped me grow and learn and trust in myself.
[ You can read about the San Francisco years from
1999 through 2002. ]
[ I left San Francisco and returned to the Washington, DC area. A lot of things
led me back to Maryland. You can read about it starting in
February 2002. ]