25 August 2009

Hello World

I had the opportunity to participate in an author panel at Book Passage in Corte Madera as part of their Kid Lit Salon last night. Aside from getting a chance to present Exclusively Chloe and talk about my path to publication, I got to meet some more Debs! Sarah Quigley (TMI), Malinda Lo (Ash), Cheryl Herbsman (Breathing), and C. Lee McKenzie (Sliding on the Edge) were fantastic and I continue to marvel at how lucky I was to join the Debs. Everyone I've met so far has been super nice and it's always interesting to talk to fellow young adult authors about their experiences. All four of them were eloquent, insightful, and hilarious. I need to learn how to emulate them and be just like their awesome selves. This also marked the first time I met a book blogger in person, Zoe from Zoe's Book Reviews. Pretty cool right?

Oh and of course we also met George McGovern. Met as in saw him walk in, take a picture with us, and then walk out. I wasn't sure if we should salute or clap or what. I mainly stood up in respect as quickly as possible. He was at Book Passage promoting his recently released book about Abraham Lincoln. McGovern's name may ring a bell as he ran for President in 1972 and was the Senator for South Dakota some time back. He's like famous, maybe even celebrity famous, but more important. And historical.

Malinda's "Ash," is out in exactly a week and her book is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. I'm going to her book debut party on the tenth of September so if you're around the Bay Area, you should come too!
"In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief."

23 August 2009

More Than Words

Blogger is turning ten this weekend. I was trying to figure out how I could commemorate the moment since it's kind of an important milestone for them -- and me. I thought there would be some awesome way to create a list of things that have happened in my life during all this blogging but I realized what's the point? It's already done and out there among my blogs. I did dig through my archives a bit and realized that I started blogging on Wednesday, October 4, 2000. As a frame of reference, the Playstation 2 was released later that month. If that helps. Probably not.

Since October 2000 I've started countless blogs, switched my main site a few times, and evangelized to and bullied people into blogging every chance I could. The answer to almost any problem was "start a blog." Upset about your significant other? Start an anonymous blog. Need to keep people updated about your life (pre-Facebook)? Start a blog. Incredibly bored at work with nothing to do? Start a blog. Have no friends? Start a blog. The possibilities were/are endless. I've witnessed "blog" start out as this weird little word, turn into a sort of geeky hobby, and then transform into something that's become an essential and enjoyable part of many people's daily lives.

Heck, I've even been fortunate enough to have blogging turn directly into a writing career. My first book was a book about blogging for Rough Guides and that all came about because I had a blog that people liked to read. It got me an agent, it got me friends, it got me published. It kind of got me a life you know? This will sound weird and cheesy and maybe only long time bloggers will understand, but blogging has been a really good (and constant) friend for the past decade. It's been somewhere to share my thoughts, to vent about life, to build a community of people, and to focus my writing.

There's lots of little things you pick up while maintaining a blog. You learn to reflect on events and to present them in a semi-coherent way. You learn to organize your writing. You get to experience the give and take of having readers and people who'll respond to something you wrote. You get the freedom to write about any damn thing you want, and then to find like minded people -- who are always out there, no matter how obscure the topic. And the best part is that you get to go back in time and read a younger you, and even if he sounds stupid or insanely cringe-inducing, it's a record of your days and thoughts and that kind of time warp is priceless. Our memories aren't perfect and it's only getting worse, but blogger's memory is long lasting and forever, like best friends forever.

Nine years ago, here's what I was doing:
"I'm at my 17th day of work right now. I'm an intern at aMedia. They publish aMagazine. aOnline is the 'Asian American Digital Network.' To be more specific, I'm a Marketing Intern. Which means I do lots of web surfing and research. I also do lots of interny-stuff for our event coordinator. I look up contact information for people, research limo prices, that kind of thing. It's all very glamorous as I'm sure you would of guessed."
-yellow brick road-
This was my very first job out of college and I had lots of menial responsibilities as well as plenty of time to blog. My friend James turned me onto Blogger and I was instantly hooked. For some reason, I was heavily influenced by Socratic dialogue and created two characters to talk about things. Tragically, I didn't know enough HTML to have the conversations come out correctly so now the archives are all weird unless you read from the bottom up.

My friend Ameer, also a long time blogger, had a printed out and nicely bound copy of his entire blog -- complete with comments -- presented to him by his sister a few years back. Flipping through it, all I could think of was "Dang, how cool would it be to have my blog all printed out?" So that's what I'm going to do to celebrate my blog turning ten next year. I want a thick huge tome of my blogs on a coffee table. Maybe even my coffee table, if I'm lucky enough to own one by then. Dare to dream.

I know there are tons of other blogging services that sprang up post-Blogger but I've never switched off despite all sorts of infuriating issues. I'm been pretty much unable to commit to much over the last decade but if nothing else, I've been a Blogger brand loyalist and I don't think I'll ever switch.

I know, this post is like the closest thing I've written to a love letter in quite some time. Excuse the outburst of emotion.

21 August 2009

You Don't Know Me

Listening to: Phoenix, "Armistice."

So I've been giving this article a lot of thought. To sum it up, it's basically about how hanging out with people doesn't necessarily mean you know much about them. Close friends, people you see every day, your significant other, none of these are indicators of how well you know an individual. Think of your co-workers, chances are that despite seeing them for most of your day, you don't know them very well. People are guarded and careful with what they let out. So that brings into question whether feeling close to someone is knowing a lot about them or them letting you know the bits about them that they feel are important.

A game I always want to play but never do is where you go around the room/table and say a fact about someone (pick one) until there's a last man standing. It's gotta be a fact. Like, "Joe likes corn, rice, and pepper." Or "her shoe size is six and a half." Conceivably you could go on forever but I think you'd find very quickly that the facts run out. Certain people could keep going but many friends, even close friends, might get eliminated just a few rounds in. Anybody want to play with me? Feel free to raise your hand.

The article says that generally when we hang out with people, we're looking for a rapport and a bond. We aren't searching for information or what exactly they think about politics or religion or ethics. Talk is light, you cover the basic facts and move on to hanging out. Repeat that over and over and you can suddenly have a friend you see often but actually know very little about. That's kind of sad right? Why hang out if you can't try to know everything about the person? Of course, there's a million reasons why you don't go there or talk about that but they all seem sort of weak and snively. I'd rather know than not know. If not, why bother being friends?

Then again, one thing the article brings up is that our conversations with friends are generally "focusing on areas of agreement and avoiding topics that might cause friction. Our natural tendency toward comradeship makes us, ironically, leery of learning too much about the people we’re befriending." So if you agree and say "yes" a lot, you'll make friends. There's certainly truth to that but it might make for lots of meaningless head nodding right?

I'm gonna try to be not so agreeable and see what effect that has. Be contrarian all the time. Will people just stop talking to me? I guess another important aspect of talking to friends is to present a nonjudgmental attitude. People who are easy to talk to, or who make you want to open up, generally aren't judgmental. They can be opinionated but if you feel like by telling them something they'll turn right around and talk shit behind your back, you'd probably not want to say anything. These people must be punished. And by these people I don't mean me.

Someone once asked me how much of a percentage did I think my friends knew me. I said eighty percent. She said that sounded awfully high. Is it? Is there any way to take some sort of test to determine how well you know someone? I mean, outside of self-created Facebook quizzes? Someone give me a grant to study this stuff, I'm ready to find out.

19 August 2009

I'm Sorry, Do I Know You?

"A growing body of experimental evidence suggests that, on the whole, we know significantly less about our friends, colleagues, and even spouses than we think we do. This lack of knowledge extends far beyond embarrassing game-show fodder -- we’re often completely wrong about their likes and dislikes, their political beliefs, their tastes, their cherished values. We lowball the ethics of our co-workers; we overestimate how happy our husbands or wives are.


Whatever the cause, such findings challenge our idea of what friendship is. Friends and spouses are people to whom we are supposed to be able to confide anything -- we draw support and a sense of well-being from the thought that our friends know us better than anyone else in the world, and like us nonetheless. Instead, it appears that there are whole regions of our personalities that they miss entirely, and we do the same with them.

The news is not all grim. Other researchers argue that people are pretty good at seeing at least the building blocks of their friend’s personalities. And in certain realms, like judging intelligence and creativity, there’s evidence that our friends are actually more perceptive about us than we are, if only because any illusions they may have about us are dwarfed by the illusions we have about ourselves."
-What you don't know about your friends-

18 August 2009

District 9 (2009)

District 9 had mysterious previews that mirrored Independence Day's. The films share similar marketing campaigns and both contain aliens. One is serious entertainment and the other entertains thoughts of seriousness. Guess which was which? District 9 has great reviews and critics gushing about how powerful it is, the idea of having aliens stuck behind walls, segregated and hated by humans, and all of it evoking concentration camps and apartheid. Underneath it all however, District 9 is just another summer shoot'em up, and it got cheesy and predictable quickly.

To be honest, I really wanted to like this movie. I tried to suspend disbelief. But because the movie worked so hard during the first forty minutes to make everything feel like a documentary, I found the increasingly absurd character motivations, rationales, and situations to be laughable and all of that combined to pull me out of the story. I have a laundry list of issues if you ever want to talk about it. I could go on and on. Don't believe the hype. The film is good for a summer blockbuster and semi-interesting but the whole bit kind of drags.

Director Neill Blomkamp has an interesting world and idea on his hands, I just wish he didn't take it in such a banal direction. Without introducing any spoilers, there was definitely a specific point in the movie when I started to feel like it was headed downhill. Here's Blomkamp's original six minute short, "Alive in Joburg," that helped him get Peter Jackson's attention and the whole movie made.

14 August 2009

Hua Ren

Listening to: Faye Wong, "I'm Willing." My favorite Chinese singer, and not just because I know like only one or two. I know like three. Anyway, Faye Wong is an amazing singer, actress, and style icon. It's a bit ridiculous how talented she is.

Look Ma, I made it! As I prepared to leave San Diego to go back to the Bay, I stopped by 99 Ranch Market and dug through their piles of newspapers to find an article about me. I found it and um, well, just wished I'd smiled without my eyes going all tiny. But hey, what can you do you know? I can't really read Mandarin, despite years of Chinese school, so the only thing I could glean from the text was my name (楊兆安) and well, that's about it. I did the interview about two weeks ago and had a really good time talking with the journalist from The World Journal. I'd often seen this particular paper in my house and the houses of my Chinese friends so that was kind of cool.

Dominic, the writer who interviewed me, had quite the story himself. He was in the Chinese army for twenty years as a war correspondent before moving to the United States. In 1985, he wrote a book about a soldier who lost an eye in battle and eventually moves to America. However, the soldier dearly misses his homeland and is torn between the two countries. Dominic said they printed 90,000 copies of the book at the time. That's a huge number. If a book sold 90,000 copies nowadays, that would be a best seller. Due to a larger population and less competition for publication, it was semi-normal for a book run back then. I think nowadays if you had an initial print run of half that much it would be pretty impressive.

I gotta say, talking about myself in interviews is something I am not used to. I tend to ask just as many questions as I answer and I'm not sure if that's what they want. The idea of meeting someone new and just talking about me, me, me is unsettling and unnatural and I start wanting to know their lives and stories. I hope that's okay.

Earlier in the week, I had the chance to sit down for another interview, this time with a Chinese magazine, and my Chinglish was really put to the test. Key words that I don't know how to say in Mandarin include "exclusively" and "adoption." Gotta work on that.

12 August 2009

A Fine Romance

"He may not have a girlfriend, but he certainly likes girls -- he's even, in some cases, a hetero blade, scoring with tourists or love-hungry single mothers. But if he does have a girlfriend she works hard. Usually, she's the same age as he is but seems older, as if the disparity between boys and girls in ninth grade had been recapitulated fifteen years later. She dresses in Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren or the like; she's a corporate executive, or a lawyer, or works in TV, public relations, or an art gallery. She's good-tempered, honest, great-looking, and serious. She wants to 'get to the next stage of life' -- settle down, marry, maybe have children. Apart from getting on with it, however, she doesn't have an idea in her head, and she's not the one who makes the jokes.


There they are, the young man and young woman of the dominant romantic-comedy trend of the past several years -- the slovenly hipster and the female straight arrow. The movies form a genre of sorts: the slacker-striver romance."
-David Denby, The New Yorker (2007)-

11 August 2009

Talk to Her

Listening to: Frente!, "Bizarre Love Triangle." Apparently a cover but hey, I didn't listen to New Order so this is pretty much the original for me.

So I've been watching a lot of romance movies recently and noticed a really annoying thing. The moment when two people are falling in love is always inevitably done via musical montage. Four minutes of quick cuts and some bouncy indie song. This has been happening all over the place and I find the trend disturbing. For one, I like conversations that lead to liking and romance. For two, nobody falls in love like this. It's cute but so so fake.

I watched Manhattan for the first time and realized how much I missed love dialogue. Like it was five in the morning when we started the movie and I couldn't stop even though I was dead tired. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton shared a moment in the museum that could have had some music jammed in but because I got to hear their banter beforehand, it felt more like a moment. And lo and behold, no cutesy montage.

Compared to the other stuff I've been watching, their attraction felt real and honest. Like they'd earned it. With these other movies, it's sort of a generic running around some city streets, eating and laughing, a sunset (or sunrise) in the distance, and you end up not really understanding why these people like each other. Usually I'm like "Wait, they just hung out, they connected for three seconds, cued the music, and now they're destined for each other? What did I just miss? I cry bullshit! These people are not in love, they just have good editing and a must buy soundtrack."

Of course, I shouldn't be too harsh because writing dialogue that shows how two people could conceivably fall for each other in an exact moment must be terribly difficult. Some screenwriters have successfully done it but it's probably safer to go with the non-conversation. If you write a lame conversation you'd probably lose your audience pretty fast too. But think of all the amazing lines we would have missed out on in movie history if everyone had been lazy and just music-ed everything. ".....I think I'd miss you even if we'd never met."

The nice (and challenging) part of writing/reading a fall in love scene is that you can't skip over the talking. You need to use dialogue and action. There's no "they hung out for a day and then fell for each other." You have to show it, you have to prove it. I can't say I've ever written an amazing fall in love scene (yet), but when I do, I want it to stand alone. I don't want any actions or verbal cues, just straight talk. And if somehow that isn't realistic or convincing, then I've failed terribly.

Actually the counterpoint to my annoyance is that maybe the modern day montage more accurately depicts the first few moments of "oh man I like this person feeling" because really, no matter what they say, you'll probably like them anyway, right? Maybe this is the statement the montages are meant to make. When you first like someone, maybe you're only looking at their eyes or their lips, your brain isn't comprehending much of anything they're saying, and you're really just lost in the clouds. Why not use some music to approximate that feeling?

So a day at the zoo isn't about the conversation you have walking around and getting to know each other. It's really about sort of mumbling a few things, looking at each other from different angles, doing a few closeups of smiles and happy eyes, and then boom, connection. Track that out to a song and there you have it, l-o-v-e.

If that's the case, I better start carrying a boombox around with me, for those moments when I need to generate some mutual attraction. I'd get ready to hit play on the Frente! song. Well, maybe something more upbeat. And then I'd grab her hand and run somewhere. Anywhere.

09 August 2009

Paper Heart (2009)

If you're going to watch Paper Heart, stop right here. The less you know the better. Pause. So if you've seen it already, you probably thought it was pretty cute, that Charlyne Yi was charming, and Michael Cera was his usual Cera-like self. All true things. Overall it was an entertaining movie and I quite enjoyed the experience and rather liked Yi's fidgety persona and humor.

But I have a few bones to pick with the idealized version of love they depict. Or at least the people they chose to talk about love. All platitudes about "you'll know love when it hits you, love is personal sacrifice, love is when you care more about someone more than yourself, blah blah blah." I might have added one of those messages in. Either way, for a mockumentary that purports to find out what exactly falling in love is, this film doesn't present anything new. It kind of sets the question back a few decades actually.

The final message is sort of feel good and Paper Heart is probably a good date movie but it's pretty useless as a think piece. I think I learned more from say, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," which isn't saying that much.

And now I'm all confused about if Yi and Cera actually dated in real life. Reports are they never did, even though I walked into the movie thinking they were already deep in a relationship as they were filming. I'd love to see an actual documentary about falling in love, but that would probably be pretty depressing when the answer still ends up being "who knows?"

07 August 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

I used to have so many GI Joe toys. They might still be laying around somewhere actually. I'm going to dig and try to find them. "Mom! Did you throw them out?!"

Here's the short version of the review: GI Joe is good, go watch it. While I was pretty much expecting GI Joe to be terrible and only worth it for fanboys, the truth is that this is probably the best action movie of the summer. Star Trek will be reviewed better, I enjoyed Wolverine more, but GI Joe pretty much hit on all cylinders and didn't let up. It was easily twice as good as Transformers 2.

Degree of difficulty in executing this movie? Pretty high considering all the bad press it was getting. Did the producers, director, and actors/actresses nail it? I'd pretty much say so. Sienna Miller was good as the Baronness, Marlon Wayans was excellent as himself, and everyone else in the cast looked and acted the part. I especially enjoyed Arnold Vosloo as Zartan for some reason. The only casting choice I had an issue with was the President, who was really pretty boring looking.

Overall, GI Joe had a fast moving plot (that actually made sense), a few glimpses of the main characters' pasts, and some pretty awesome action sequences. I don't often like chase scenes but GI Joe has a great one tucked in the middle. The big battle royale at the end reminded me of early Star Wars in terms of energy and execution.

I know a summer movie like this can't be labeled great but it really was quite good. I so want to give it an A and recommend it to all but it's hard to do. Oh dammit, I'll give it an A, for old time's sake. I'm ready for the sequel already!

06 August 2009

Point Break

Listening to: Gregory and the Hawk, "A Wish." I can't get enough of this track. It's just quiet and lovely. You'll see.

A few summers ago, I started surfing. I don't know why I never tried it when I was younger, since we lived so close to the beach, but we just never did. I didn't know anyone who surfed, I didn't have any particular interest in it, and it just never happened. We'd go to the beach all the time but just to frolic and boogie board. When I went off to college, as soon as someone found out I was from San Diego, one of their first questions to me was inevitably, "Do you surf?" Nope, not a bit.

Then, one idyllic summer, everyone I was hanging out with in San Diego suddenly got the surfing bug. We started off with big boards, eight or nine feet long, giant slabs of foam and fiberglass. Half of us even bought boards within that first week. There's all this stuff you have to learn before even getting in the water. How to carry the board so that it was comfortable under the crook of your arm, which leg to put the leash on, how to paddle, and finally how to jump up and balance at the same time. And then when you're actually out there for the first time, you mainly end up just trying to remain upright and not fall off the board. Staying on the board without wobbling and looking like a total loser isn't as easy as it looks.

Once you've got the hang of all that, you still have to figure out when to paddle, what waves are going to be strong enough to catch you and push you along, and how to get up when there's water whooshing underneath. It's not really overly complicated since millions of people do it but each little step forward is a thrilling accomplishment.

From the very beginning, we always surfed at 11th street, which is right in-between Torrey Pines beach and the more popular 15th street in Del Mar. To get to the beach, you have to walk down this narrow, rock strewn, dirt path. The pavement is scorching hot, your feet are all unaccustomed to stepping around on sharp rocks, and I'm a little afraid of heights anyways. Getting down that path was the hardest part of surfing for me. Other surfers would just hop on down the path like billy goats. I'd carefully measure each step and pray that I wouldn't slip and fall. Or bump my board.

Flash forward a few years later. I can walk down the path with decent speed and without fear. I know how to paddle, sit, and when to catch a wave. I still can't stand up very often though. Which is extremely aggravating. Surfing is one of those things where everyone looks super cool and experienced while heading out into the water. Get some trunks on, tuck your surfboard under your arm, and you look like a surfer. But the real surfers look good actually surfing, like on a wave. The poseur surfers like me sit there and look decent, but once the wave comes, it's all downhill. Sometimes I catch a wave just as it's cresting over me and I get pummeled, doing somersaults as the water just pushes you along. You have no idea how powerful even a little wave can be, or how intimidating it can look, until you're facing one.

The beautiful thing about surfing though, despite not being very good at it, is that it doesn't really matter to me if I'm particularly good or not. I mean, I want to be able to get good. Or at least average. I do, and it'll happen I'm sure. But I get just as much joy out of just splashing around and fighting my way trying to surf as I do actually surfing. And when you actually catch a wave and manage to stand up and ride one in. Damn, nothing feels better.

And let me tell you about nasal drip. After my first day or two of surfing, after numerous flops and falls and definitely no standing up, I had a mess of saltwater just come pouring out of my nose like a faucet. "What the heck is this! What is going on?" I asked. Turns out it's perfectly normal to get nasal drip. And unlike having a runny nose when you're sick, there's no stopping the waterworks. Just lean over and get all that ocean water out of your head. And then go back the next day and fill it right back up.

02 August 2009

Snip snip

Listening to: Matt and Kim, "Daylight." I had wanted to use this track for our snowboarding video a few months back but it didn't quite fit. The pounding piano intro never left my head though. Great song for driving to.

So I've been learning quite a bit about hair from my friend who is a budding stylist. I can't lie, for some fleeting moments in the past, I had ambitions to be a stylist. I mean, it seemed like a job you could travel around, use your creativity and problem solving skills, and also make good money. I remember going to the same hair person for ten years or so. Bonnie was her name. I didn't really need much style -- nor did I have any -- but it was a relationship you know? Every few weeks I'd make an appointment, go sit for a shampoo and cut, and tell her about what was going on in life. Sadly, after I first shaved my head during freshman year of college, I never went back to her. I wonder if she wonders what happened. No good byes, nothing.

A few years ago, I was addicted to season one of Bravo's "Blow Out," which featured all the shenanigans, glamour, and cattiness at Jonathan Salon Beverly Hills. I got more hooked once I realized that Jonathan's sister, Robin Antin, was the founder of The Pussycat Dolls. What a childhood they must of had. Just sprinkles and fabulousness all around I'm sure.

The big impediment to wanting to learn how to style or cut hair? I'm not sure I'd want to carry around all the gear. There's a lot of stuff to tool around you know? Scissors, hair dryers, bottles, razors, clips, foils, all sorts of doodads I'm sure I don't even know about. I wouldn't have the patience to find the best solution for something. I'd rather operate like an Old West cowboy. Put some clippers in my hand and I'm ready to buzz away. Before learning to cut my own hair, I practiced on a fair number of friends. It's such a college thing, cutting someone else's hair. Only one girl ever let me touch her locks but there were quite a few guys that would call upon my fading skills -- not a double entendre. I specialized in only one haircut, but luckily it was in high demand.

I contend that few things make two guys bond more than having one of them cut the other's hair. Maybe not bond exactly, but something is definitely going on. You spend half an hour standing around shirtless on newspaper, getting all up in each other's personal space, one guy critiquing and trying to create the best look for another guy, and all of it done while maintaining some chatter. It's kind of intimate to tell the truth. Once someone has cut your hair, or you've cut someone else's, you feel closer. It's inevitable.