wintersong: liesl

YA HEROINE AESTHETICS [1/∞] → Liesl, Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free.

anonymous asked:

ok this is going to sound rude but i totally don't mean it to be, but as an asian i always get super exited when i see asian authors, so i was wondering why you chose to write a european story rather than something korean? loved it tho

Hi nonny:

I get this question a lot, so I’m going to come across as a bit short or annoyed, but it’s not about you, I promise (I don’t know you after all). 

It’s about your question.

It is a rude question, and I don’t appreciate it. Frankly, what I am and how that affects what I write is none of anyone’s business. If you want to know why I wrote Wintersong and not something Asian, I write a little about it here. And it isn’t that I don’t intend to write something Asian-inspired; I do. Why did I choose to write something European? Many things. I like Mozart. I like the German language. I like European folklore. I am pretty goth. I grew up with these things, so I know them pretty intimately. 

But I want to unpack this question a little. Why is it that women of color are expected to write or perform their own marginalizations? Do we go around asking out queer people to only write queer stories? Do we ask disabled people to only write their disability? Incidentally, I wrote my disability into Wintersong. I gave Liesl my bipolar disorder. But the praise and censure I get always stems from the most obvious marginalization I have: my face, and by extension, my ethnic background.

If you want to get into the weeds of why I didn’t write something Korean first, it’s because I’m not Korean. I am of Korean descent, yes. I am a member of the diaspora. But neither am I truly a part of the Korean-American immigrant experience. I grew up pretty privileged: my dad is white, I went to an all-girl’s private school, was part of swim and tennis clubs, etc. I had a lot of the markers of cultural whiteness, which is tied with class. My Koreanness is whitewashed, not just by my cultural privilege, but because I didn’t have access to a Korean extended family. My aunties, uncles, and cousins all live in Seoul, or some didn’t make it out of Pyongyang before the establishment of the 38th Parallel. I’ve been to Korea twice. The only Korean members of my family are my mother and my grandmother. Everyone else is white.

That cultural whiteness? It comes across to a lot of people, and it especially came across to other Koreans. There are reasons I don’t speak the language as well as I should, considering it was my milk tongue. I went to Korean school and attended Korean church for a while, but I was bullied and ostracized so badly I stopped going back when I was 9. I wasn’t bullied because my dad was white; I was bullied because I wasn’t Korean enough. I didn’t share their cultural language. I didn’t even share the same parental pressures. My mother is the one who had been pressuring me to quit my day job and become a full-time writer, not my dad. As a result, I was the outcast in every Asian group I ever tried to be a part of as a kid. Some were open about it to my face. You’re not Korean enough. Some were more insidious about it. They would deliberately choose subjects and topics about which I had no handhold, freezing me out of conversation. My friends? The theatre kids, the artist freaks, the writers. The vast majority of them? White. 

This obviously left pretty deep psychic scars. I can’t eat doughnuts, for one. They smell of Korean school and shame. But it also left me with a deep insecurity about even approaching a Korean subject in writing. Am I enough? Am I enough, am I enough, am I enough? It’s only as an adult that I’ve made Asian friends, that I’ve slowly started to find my way back to the heritage I’ve kept at arm’s length. 

I’m telling you my history, nonny, to better answer your question. But to also maybe shed a light on the effect of asking a marginalized person to perform their marginalization for you. For me, that question is fraught, and I imagine it is for a lot of other Asian writers as well. When I hear that question, all I hear is You are not enough. You are not Asian enough. You didn’t even write something Asian. You are not enough, you are not enough, you are not enough.

Letter to Liesl on your 10th birthday

My dear, growing girl,

It is now a week since your birthday and you turned 10. I’ve started this letter several times the past week, and there hasn’t been enough time or downtime to allow me to begin and finish it.

We celebrated your birth this year as we did 10 years ago – in between the wash of Christmas trees and nativity sets. This year, you had your two best buddies over, along with their families, for an evening dinner and for free play out in the yard and inside. It always feels good and right to welcome others into our home, and that evening was no different. The week before that, Papa took you camping to Big Bend for a double-digit father-daughter trip – the first of hopefully many. According to him, you fell in love with the place and with being out in the middle of nowhere: just you two, a trail to hike, and the desert sunset and a tent under a pitch black sky.

In the week since your birthday, I’ve reached the end of myself and this Advent season. As a family, we haven’t lit our nightly Advent candles as much as we normally do this time of year. Attention is prayer of a sort, or at least it can be, and our attention has been elsewhere instead of on the truest meaning of this season that we celebrate. If there’s one chorus for the past year, it’s that we’re too busy and don’t have enough time together at home.

As it is, it is the middle of the night and I’m up alone after falling asleep hours earlier in a kind of hopeless mood. I have the laundry going because it was beginning to stack up. And I may stay up longer to finish off the last of the Christmas cards that need mailing. These seem to be the only free moments I’ll get.

But here I am writing about the burden of seasonal over-activity and it is you that should be at the center of this letter. 

The Sunday after you were born in 2005, we were to have had a Christmas party at our house. I was well into its preparation, but it naturally got cancelled since you came into being so prematurely. It was on that Christmas – 10 days after you were born – that we first held you in our arms in the NICU. Christmas was on Sunday that year, and we had just come from church with my father. Now, Christmas and your birth are inextricably linked; and I may forever struggle with how to carry on well in the Christmas season but still give you the time and attention your birth (and its celebration) requires. 

Apropos of nothing, I told you that my hope for you this year is that you would grow in thoughtfulness and mindfulness of your presence among others, and how you may take greater care and attention of your surroundings and others in that way. You and your sister seem to have grown closer the past few months, forming a bond that is so sisterly and lovely that it is a joy to see and to be on the outside of. Conversely, we have had more than a few conversations lately about how – in the midst of anger – it serves community the most to stay put rather than to flee. You are always one to run away from us when you get angry, and it pushes my buttons to no end. Speaking to you kindly in those instances is always at the heart of my desire, and I succeed and fail equally. 

Everything now seems a precursor for the teenage years; so I am trying to deal with you compassionately, most especially when it is hardest. That, and I am trying to let you be who you are. At this point, it’s about letting you (more often than not) choose your own ways of wearing your hair and clothes. What small things. And yet how big and hard that is for me; I who have seen you come up from being a nursing infant who once was happiest in my arms. You often prefer your father over me now, and I am well aware: from this point on, it is all about letting you go, and letting you go well. 

I am sure you will help me do that my bold, brave one. The past years are held so closely. A friend and I talked recently about how difficult it is to not be known. It is so difficult, and I have had the experience of that recently and in times past. I want to know you and keep knowing you in all the ways you abide by me and go your own untraveled path.

Happy birthday (so, so late). I love you for all this and more. 

Photos from top: Dressed for Christmas; this summer, on one of your adventures; nature girl in cowboy hat; from earlier days