So what did I buy instead of bags and earrings and de la Renta?
We bought Stella and Serra and Sub-Zero.
Art and appliances! All the good stuff.
Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about now. I want to talk about the arrogance of youth. I was an arrogant youth. When I was 25 I sent my query letters to agents talking about how I was going to be the next Amy Tan, about how I hated the victimization characterizations of Asian women I saw in her novels, and how MY book Stuck-up Trendy Asian Bitch, was going to knock everyone dead. And at 22, I believed it.
I am older, wiser and much more humble these days. Youth is brash and pumped up and full of promise and spunk. When you’re young you HAVE to think you’re wonderful because no one else does. You’re still just: promising. You haven’t delivered yet, but you think—and others hope—that you will. (I never did publish S.T.A.B. – I wonder why? LOL.)
When you are older, you realize life is more difficult than you had thought, that the writers you scorned once produce works you now admire (I have come to love Amy Tan, I think I always did, I was just big-headed). You will discover as a writer, that it is really really hard to do this stuff well.
Apparently these days because of Margaret Cho (whom I j’adore) and YouTube, it’s become fashionable for Asian kids to bash their pushy Asian parents and mock them online (complete with ching-chong accent). Asian kids are pushing back, they don’t want too much pressure, they are sick of having to study so much. They want to have fun and go to the prom and have a life.
This is fascinating to me. I never thought of my parents as particularly pushy. Of course, academic excellence was prized and encouraged, but my parents never pushed us. By the time we were applying to colleges, my siblings and I were doing it for ourselves—not to please mom and pop. I think we were lucky: my parents stressed achievement and trying your best, not necessarily A’s, although of course A’s paid $10 a report card and B’s paid nothing. They didn’t push just to push. I don’t think I ever heard “If you don’t get into an Ivy League, your life will be a disaster.” What we heard was: “Do your best.” And I think they meant it.
I also remember a lot of humor. I remember my dad sort of jokingly encouraging me to to go a school where I got a full ride scholarship that was near the beach rather than to Columbia, which gave us a generous financial aid package but still meant that my parents had to pay the price of a Toyota every year for me to be able to go. “The beach is nice!” he would say, and I would shake my head grimly. I mean, I knew my dad was JOKING. And really, if I had said: the beach school is what I want, I don’t think they would thrown a fit. They would have been DISAPPOINTED in my choice maybe, but they would have lived with it.
As much as I remember my parents encouraging me to stay in my computer job while I was struggling to be a writer, I also have, in my jewelry box, a check my mom sent me to pay for a six-week writing program during that time. I never cashed the check. But I kept it because it reminded me that my parents did believe in me, and they supported my wanting to be a writer. That in the end, they just wanted me to be happy. (And I don’t even know why I asked them to pay for a writing program, only because I mean—it was school! And my parents paid for school! I didn’t do that! Even though I was 22 and making a good salary.)
I’m glad they told me to keep the computer job: real-life experience is invaluable. It makes my working in pajamas today all the more sweet.
And I think my parents were lucky too: School was easy for us. I don’t think I ever felt stressed about academics. I mean, not in a real way. I always thought it was easy. Because all you have to do is study. And I could do that.
ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS STUDY.
You don’t have to be particularly talented or particularly smart, even.
Studying means sitting at your desk for one to two hours a night, reading. READING! And writing. Writing!
Studying is not hard.
If anything, if you do it well, it will prepare you if you want to be a writer.
Now I know many writers are not academic and did not go to this school or that school. And really, it does not matter AT ALL creatively. What I am talking about is dedication, diligence, and the ability to sit on your butt and concentrate for hours.
You’ll need that if you want to become a writer.
So go ahead and study your butts off. It will pay off in the end, I assure you. I spent many, many nights at home studying. But I remember what I learned during those years so well: I loved Roman history, I loved Art History, I remember every book we discussed—I still remember why I loved Great Gatsby, how it was so enlightening to realize why that book was so great—and you will come to it again later, and read it and have an even deeper understanding of it when you grow up in America and its society. The careless rich. Those beautiful shirts. Gatsby with the house full of people who don’t even know who he is.
In a way, high school is a misery. But in another—and if you are lucky—to have had great teachers and read great books—it is also wonderful.