Graphic novels and easy reads!

I’m very blessed that I’ve been able to read a lot lately. Aside from reading books that are related to each other or share a theme, I’m also reading one-off books just for fun! Graphic novels fit this niche perfectly. Sometimes you just need something to break the pattern and get you out of a reading rut.

I LOVED Brazen by Penelope Bagieu. I can’t say enough good things about it because each biography blew me away. She illustrates the stories of women, some famous, some unknown, who have done extraordinary things in their lives. There have been a lot of books like this, but this one stands out because the women in it are well rounded — they are flawed, they like/marry the wrong men, they grow old and more than a few of them have done sketchy things in their lives. That made their stories more powerful because they are real. Even powerful and inspirational make mistakes. We shouldn’t aspire to be perfect women, but women who are confident in our skins and BOLD <3.

Jedi Academy is a fun series for a non-Star Wars fan like me because I like the school humor part of it. My favorite character is nerdy and allergic (Allergenic?) Artemis. He is pretty much me. I love Jedi Academy because it would make kids feel like they are living the Star Wars life in their own schools and homes. Star Wars characters, they’re just like us!

The illustrations in Level Up are cute, but the story is a little bit dark. Gene Luen Yang is one of the Asian-Am graphic novel OGs, and Thien Pham did a wonderful job illustrating the story here. Despite the cover it’s really not a story about video games at all, but rather living up to expectations or following them because you choose to. It made me feel uncertain and to be honest, a little unsettled. Many Asian dramas have a way of making you feel that.

On a totally different note, it’s always a joy to read early reader chapter books. Just look at the title! How could you not feel good after reading My Heart is Laughing and When I am Happiest. I love Dani and Ella’s stories even when their lives are full of sadness. It kind of reminds of Kate DiCamillo’s books where the children have super sad lives but still are full of hope.


Rookie: Obsession & Up All Night

I’ve been a fan of Rookie Mag for several years now. I found out that they have 4 issues of Rookie Yearbooks, and I got them from the Library! It’s everything I wanted. It’s taken me a long time to read them because honestly, I just want to sit down and read them front to back like a book. It’s a visual feast and SO healing to read. It’s “for” teenage girls but it really is about making sense of the world and becoming yourself in it. Which applies to EVERYONE.

I’m on Rookie Yearbook One and I’ve only read 2 themes so far: Obsession and Up All Night. Some takeaways (The entire book is the website in print form, lucky us!):

  • How to Approach the Person You Like Without Throwing Up” by Amy Rose
    • Collect rejections like badges of honor. “The only way to stop fearing rejection is to have it happen and realize, whether it’s an hour or a week or a month afterward, that it didn’t kill you. In fact, you’re just fine.”
    • Just be honest. “So, go with whatever feels most natural to you.”
  • The Year of My Eating Disorder” by Charlotte S.
    • “My relationship with my parents has improved because I’m no longer lying to them. I’m doing better in school now that I can actually concentrate. I am counting down the months until May, when I can return to the CEDC as a recovery speaker.”
  • Bad Romance” by Sady
    • “It’s very hard to respond in a healthy way to an unhealthy situation. If someone wants to prove you are a mean or weak person, they’re going to do and say things that would cause any reasonable person to feel upset, so that they can watch you fall apart or lose your temper. So you need to have rules for what you will let yourself do or say, and you need to stick to them.

More TK with notes from Up All Night!

Survival tactics #1

My father could pelt me with shards of glass, for all I cared. Nothing was going to get to me that day. Soon I’d be at Rebecca’s house where I’d be treated like a queen. – Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Written by one of my favorite writers, this quote describes how I’ve survived nearly 30 years under my parents. I always told myself that one day, I would be living a good life and they would not be able to touch me.

At school, when I was teaching and being nearly abused in the classroom, I told myself that one day, this was going to be in the past, and I would never have to see this student again.

Whether it is healthy or not, this tactic of looking forward to a day when these people are not in my life anymore has carried me to this day. I’m not ashamed to say that when I really didn’t have to see these people or students anymore, I was happy. Overjoyed. Relieved.

I do wish I was treated like a queen. But as of now, I am just so glad that my life is not constantly stressful. Perhaps one day I will be treated like a queen.

There I go again looking forward.

My random thoughts

These are my random thoughts, written in a guest room at an Airbnb at 3am in Queens, NY! This moment in my life is never going to happen again. Like all moments.

-Less than a week ago, I wasn’t going to come to NY. I’m so glad I decided to on a whim, to come to Kweli 19!

-Sometimes (actually, everyday) I miss Ray very very much.

-Every day for the past 2 years, I have wanted to feel how I did the spring and summer of 2017. I miss the sense of pure freedom.

-There is no better feeling than being released and feeling completely free. It’s like being born and your life begins again.

-There is a very specific moment in May 2017 when I felt that, the day after I started my leave and knew I would never have to go back to the school I was teaching at.

-The first thing I did that day was read.

-And do yoga, cook, order pizza, spend time with Ray, go to painting class, spending time with Claudia and Elaine, and do a bunch of things that I’ve always wanted to do.

-That is my favorite life and I want space and time to be able to do that again.

-The radiator in my room is gurgling like crazy right now.

-It’s very redeeming and healing to attempt something that you failed at before.

-Some paths are formed by going from A to B. Others are formed by a series of doors closing until a path emerges. – Ransom Riggs

-At the lowest point of my life, maybe just 3 or 4 months ago, I was just “a skeleton with a beating heart” – Tahereh Mafi. I have begun fleshing out that skeleton now.

-I had a nice chat with my host last night ^^ . She is so cool!

-I wonder if there is a way to make money from my love of reading.

-I have wonderful friends and I’m proud of how strong I am.

Healing from wounds

This is really meaningful to me because each of these books, except “How to Read a Novelist,” have to do with wounds. My therapist recommended Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents to me and it felt like the book was written for me. The book talks about different types of emotionally immature parents, and my parents are two of the types. I really appreciate the anecdotes in the book because they made me feel seen. Once I know this exists for many people, and I’m not alone, I can begin to recognize and heal from it.

Along with that, Darius the Great Is Not Okay also talks about feeling distant or even rejected by a parent. I’m really liking this wave of Muslim-American authors like Adib Khorram and Tahereh Mafi. They do a good job of writing well-rounded characters whose religion is only one part of who they are.. in fact, these characters have much greater obstacles to overcome than being Muslim. They have to battle depression, micro-aggression, and peer pressure. I loved Darius and I’ll be rooting for more characters like him.

Speaking of self-involved parents, Rapunzel was raised by one in the form of Mother Gothel. So, Disney Hyperion has this series that are origin stories for villains. I came across Mother Gothel’s and was curious. Disclaimer: I love fairy tales and dark fairy tales (and Rapunzel.) I always thought Gothel is a well-rounded villain and I think part of her does love Rapunzel even if the glowing flower motivated her to keep Rapunzel around. I like that we are getting a different POV on the classic villains.

Lastly, I LOVE A Crack in the Sea!!!!!! I wish this book became huge but I can see why it’s kind of an obscure book in the MG/fantasy market because it is different from popular fantasy. There aren’t paranormal creatures or heroes who wear capes. The story has a complex set up with twins during the transAtlantic slave trade, siblings who are Vietnam boat people, and aa trio of kids from a fantasy Second World, the Raft and the Island. The author pulled it off very well and the story was a joy to read. If I was a writer, I would definitely want commercial success, but I’d also like to take narrative risks such as Bouwman did here. Will be reading the sequel!

I skipped “How to Read a Novelist” because it was just too dry. I think my wheelhouse is still kidlit and contemporary fiction written by women. ❤

Kweli, comics, writing & therapy

I went to Kweli this weekend and it was a wonderful, healing, and affirming experience. I have never been in a room full of writers and illustrators. I’m really thankful Laura Pegram created this space for us. Some thoughts:

  • Meeting authors, librarians, and kidlit people in person was a dream come true. It felt like the first concrete step toward my becoming a writer.
  • The kidlit community is real and welcoming. It’s a little surreal to meet Karina Yan Glaser, Cheryl Klein, Alvina Ling, Minh Le, Alia Jones, Tiffany Jackson, JACKIE WOODSON, Susan Tan, and all of these authors that I’ve followed for a long time.
  • I loved meeting debut and aspiring authors too. I met Jessica Kim, whose Yumi Chung is coming out next year, and Emily X. R. Pan whose books have been missing from my life.
  • My thoughts about books have changed so much since I was in high school. All I ever read were dead authors with a few minority authors on the list as tokens. Going to Kweli and reading contemporary books made me see that authors are living and breathing, and they are people living in the same world as I am.
  • My favorite session were the picture book sessions. I learned so much about picture books and they are an ART.
  • Speaking of that, I’m going to start following illustrators and practice drawing.

I had gone to the conference wanting to meet people working IN the publishing industry, but I left wanting to do writing and illustrating myself. I am thinking it would be ok to have a job that supports me, but is not all-consuming, and be able to write and draw. I’m happy being an Admin Assistant and I actually think I’m pretty good at this job. I’m realizing that some jobs are a calling and passion, where you are willing to make sacrifices, and others are something you do, with relationships being a really nice bonus. In a world where work can be literally traumatizing, I am thankful for a job I can do decently and with pleasant coworkers. I realized that as long as I can 1) support myself, 2) pursue my hobbies, 3) working environment is not harmful to my mental and physical health, it is the right job for me. Having been so traumatized, I no longer need my job to “BE” or say something about myself. I just want to feel safe, respected, and get donuts once in a while.

I’ve done a lot of work in therapy the past 3~4 months, and I feel like my life has transformed because of it. Some takeaways:

  • Self-care is noticing when you are not well, and taking steps to FIX IT. Bearing something and hoping it’ll pass or you’ll get used to it is not at all a healthy way to go through life. The problem is going to get worse rather than disappear.
  • It takes a lot to undo years and years of toxic relationships.
  • You need to build up your muscle/shield for dealing with people who attack you. I’ve dealt with my share of aggression from my own parents, students, students’ parents, and bosses. Like a physical sickness, it doesn’t get better unless you treat it.
  • I still need to work on being detached and observing how I’m feeling before acting. Being defensive is also not a healthy response.
  • My biggest takeaway is probably learning to accept who I am and the path I’ve chosen. There are many kinds of success and no one is more valid than the other. Success is when you feel good about yourself and are not constantly rejecting and struggling every day.
  • I’m not really done working on myself and I’ll never be, but I’ve come a long way <3. I am more loving toward myself and finding my community and purpose.

Purpose is not the same thing as passion. Passion is not always a helpful word because it can put people up to a lot of abuse in the name of “passion.” As a teacher, this killed me. Purpose, on the other hand, is a little more detached yet still personal. You have a purpose and everything you do pushes you a little closer towards it. But if it is harmful to you, you can say no. This has made all the difference to me and taken me 7 many painful years to learn.

My purpose now is graphic novels. I am going to work hard on writing and illustrating so that I can make my own graphic novel. Some steps I will take toward my purpose:

  • Read a lot of graphic novels!
  • Listen to Graphic Novels TK, a podcast
  • Practice drawing
  • Brainstorm story ideas
  • Study picture books


NYC! and Kweli19

I recently went to New York and it was a lot of fun! This is actually a really important trip for me because the first time I went to NYC was summer 2012, right after I graduated from college. I was in a really bad place in my life–I hated everything, I was annoyed at everyone and I didn’t appreciate the great opportunity I got at all 😦 . This time, I was going for Kweli 19, a children’s writer and illustrator conference at CUNY Graduate Center. I signed up for the conference on literally the deadline!

Seven years later, I’m at a point in my life where I actually WANT to be there because I finally found a career path that would require me to be in New York, book publishing. But there are a lot of red flags and anxiety associated with that too:

  • What if I don’t like NYC? the city life is too chaotic for me.
  • What if I don’t make any friends there?
  • What if publishing isn’t right for me? just like teaching

Going there was kind of a test run for myself. It’s sort of like NYC is this boss I have to battle. If I face it for two days and I actually like it, maybe I could actually work and live there. In the end, I’m so glad I went. I loved Sunnyside, Queens, the place I stayed at. I loved Kweli obviously!!!!!! I loved going to McNally Jackson, Mighty Bowl, and thisrolled ice cream place in Chinatown. It was to be honest, fun and manageable. This means everything for an anxious person like me!!!!

No matter what happens, I think I can do it. I can make a life for myself in NYC if I get the chance. After everything I have gone through in teaching, this was going to be doable and definitely more fun.

Education, success, and J. K. Rowling

Welcome to my second TED talk! Today I will be talking education, success, and having your J. K. Rowling moment in life.

The author of Harry Potter gave a commencement speech at Harvard, and this quote has always stood out to me from that speech:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

How assuring it is to know that. It isn’t the same thing as “Things can’t get any worse,” which has made me feel sore. I’m learning what J. K. Rowling means is that the fact you have nothing can actually help you. Let rock bottom be your asset and strength.

Here, I will share my story. I spent years and a lot of money to become a teacher. I spent a lot of money taking tests, going to school, getting gas so that I could commute to school, and moving so that I could pursue teaching positions. I spent a lot of time doing everything that teachers are expected to do. All in all, teaching is an incredibly expensive endeavor in terms of money and time.

But that is not the worst part. When I became a teacher, I lost myself. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. It felt like all of my best qualities–being personable, creative, passionate, kind, and accepting–did not help me at all. In fact, they hurt me. They made a subpar teacher and I struggled with getting students to listen to and respect me. I had a hard time with administrators and coworkers. Yet, I felt like I had to “work through” this because my parents wouldn’t let me quit, and because I had already spent so much on teaching. It made me extremely miserable until one day, I took the plunge, called my principal on the phone, and resigned from my job.

This is the cliche part of the story, where people say “When one door closes, another opens.” But I closed the door myself, and there isn’t another open. I’m just in the hallway, locked out but not having another room to go to.

In the past, I’ve always made sure I have one job or school lined up before one ended. Doors closing have never really bothered me because I knew where I’d go next. For the first time, I didn’t. At the moment, I’m not successful by any means. I’m at the least successful point in my life but I feel really happy with myself. Being compassionate is no longer a flaw. Being me, is alright.

At the same time, I start reaching out to editors and book people I follow on Twitter. The funny thing is that I never would’ve gotten on Twitter if it weren’t for this last job I had, where the school district required everyone to get a Twitter account. I came for the job and I stayed for my love of reading. Then I started following, commenting, and DMing these readers and authors and it’s been the best thing ever! I feel like there are people like me, and they have grown-up jobs doing what they love. It. Is. Possible!!!!!

My world started to open up because I’m finding so many connections, articles, books, and TV shows that speak to me. It’s like the things that have always existed, but I didn’t notice or was ignoring, are coming to the surface.

Recently, I talked to an editor, Cheryl Klein. I did a little research and found one of her talks, another convocation speech. In it, she talks about the idea of “the wand choosing the wizard,” and how the best time to move is when you have nothing. I’m not tied down by marriage, family, or a career. In this way, all of my past failures and breakups have actually given me the freedom to get up and pursue my dreams.

But, my experience has also shown me that I’m going to struggle a lot and have a hard time. I’m going to. I’m going to have to start at the beginning. There isn’t a shortcut just because I’ve worked and people are not necessarily going to care that I’ve been a teacher.

No matter how much writing I had done, I hadn’t done this before, and the only way to do it was to start at the beginning. Just like everybody else.

It’s not really logical to step away from job security and a salaried job, especially one as stable as teaching. But I know I am not alone. This is the right choice and rather than seeing myself as being too weak or not able to hack teaching, I see it as having the courage to step away what isn’t right for me to go for what might be right. I don’t need to know and no one gets to tell me “I told you so,” because it is all unknown. EVEN IF someday I go back to teaching/a desk job/cashiering, there is absolutely no shame in that because it is my choice. Plus, how could there be shame in working? People get to change their minds and circumstances change. I am done with shame!

My life now makes far more sense than it ever has. My therapist said that when you are doing what aligns with your values, the universe will start to expand and doors will open. (Feels, I know!)

I want to end with a video from Tiffany Young, a former k-pop singer I’ve followed for 10 years now. She inspires me because she left a very very successful career in Korea and came back to the U.S. to start over. At age 29, she is living her best life and starting as a “new” singer. I just love everything about this. You don’t need to be 18 to start a career. Sometimes, the right choice is leaving behind something that isn’t working and starting over. AND, the best part is, you don’t need to be immediately successful. The older I get, the more I realize there is no rush. I am going to be here as long as I am here, and I want to live my fullest and highest-quality life rather than rushing and fearing what happens.

Thank you for coming to my second TED talk! I love you all. Live your best life.