I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.
I couldn’t get out of Boston soon enough when I was in the midst of leaving the country in January. I wanted nothing to do with the city any longer, and I felt like there was nothing left for me there. But of course there’s something I left behind, or I wouldn’t be this upset, this much of a wreck that I interrupted a family dinner to shove a smart phone in my boyfriend’s face.
Surprisingly right now, I actually miss Boston. I even wish I were there. I feel something I didn’t think I was capable of feeling anymore. Homesickness. Powerlessness. I don’t know, but I feel something and that is more than what I can say for most days. I called the first friend I could think of in Boston, and the number was busy because every number in town is busy, and then I called my best friend, a native Bostonian, who now lives in New York. And I guess there is, after all, something I’ve left behind.
The only thing I want at the moment is to be able to see and hold my friends, to sit in my old apartment (now occupied by strangers), to be on that street I took for granted. We went every year to the marathon. We’ve waited at that finish line, me and the dog. Our apartment was two blocks away. Patrick has even run that race, back in 2008. I’ve passed that intersection hundreds of times over the course of the past few years, so many times that by the end, I didn’t even really register it anymore, because that’s how numb I was to it all. That’s how shut down I was in January. But I don’t feel numb anymore. I feel something, that’s for sure. I feel something.
I think you’ve already demonstrated your strength by sharing this story (which I have been terribly tardy in responding to - my apologies). Hopefully, in writing me this message, you can recognize that the people who ostracized you were wrong in their actions and especially in their opinion. Your ideas DO matter. This note mattered to me, and I’m sure it will matter to someone else who is reading.
I have been told many times that my work and writing are passionate and courageous, but if I am brave, it is only because I am continually humbled and inspired by others who have overcome far more adversity and emerged even kinder and more loving than before. There are so many people I have had the privilege of knowing (both online and in real life) who have shared similar stories of exile and rebirth. And these are mostly regular people - not sex bloggers or hardcore activists or folks who are even necessarily political. Sometimes, all it takes to be made fun of is to be poor, disabled, a person of color, a survivor of sexual/psychological trauma, queer, gender non-conforming, or just plain weird or “crazy” by typical standards of society.
The thing is, most of us are weird, most of us are born with both privileges and handicaps, most of us spend our lives trying to make sense of the suffering we witness or endure in the world, but few of us manage to avoid inflicting suffering upon others, few of us manage to ease the suffering of others. As Albert Camus noted, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” And it’s precisely because I know how difficult it is to live in this society (no matter what position you might occupy in life) that I have tried to share a bit of my experience. Honesty and open-heartedness and empathy are some of the few tools at our disposal. Writing is simply my way of wielding these tools. I am certain that you will discover the right ones for yourself.
I spontaneously threw up again last night, the culmination of a migraine that had been building up for the past few days. I don’t know what it is with my body.
I wasted away this fall, to the point where it became visibly noticeable. The worst of it was in August/September, when I dropped about ten pounds (approximately a tenth of my body weight) in a single month. It taken me a long time to recover. I guess my appetite went awry around the same time I got depressed and anxious and had a kind of breakdown.
After we left the East Coast in February for our California sojourn, I started experiencing food cravings again, but I also got nauseous whenever I consumed meat. I could barely eat any tacos, sushi, Chinese BBQ, all the things I associate with home. Patrick’s been vegetarian since he finished his dissertation (on food production) last May. But it wasn’t until California that I started doing the same. Like everything else that’s happened with my body, this is involuntary.
And then there are the sleeping issues, the weirdly intense dreams featuring people I thought I’d long forgotten. I wake up with aches and pains, despite the fact that I spend an hour or more stretching everyday. Sometimes, I get claustrophobic in bed. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t breathe properly. There were entire days I spent on the verge of tears this past fall. The last time it was like this, it was 2008 and I’d been humiliated in the most public fashion possible. I haven’t been humiliated this time around, but I’ve been deeply disappointed.
I stretch so much these days because I had to stop doing yoga regularly this fall. Then the last time I attempted it (in New York City in early February), I fainted half an hour into the class. That’s never happened to me before in all the time I’ve been practicing, and now I don’t feel like doing yoga again, which I know is stupid.
I think I know what this is all about, but if I don’t know how to express it, how to be honest about it, not just to myself and to Patrick but to the other people in my life, then how am I supposed to gain back everything I’ve lost, both physically and emotionally?
I wish I felt like there were something in America for me to return to. But I don’t - not at this moment. I feel like I’ve done everything I can over the past few years to help the people in my life become better versions of themselves. I feel like I can’t care about anyone the same way anymore. I don’t miss my friends the way I thought I would. I don’t miss my life or my work or my old apartment. I don’t miss who I was either. That’s the thing I miss least.
I’m not angry, not anymore. And I’m not without hope either. But I do feel blank, like there isn’t much I left behind.
I think I miss having expectations of people, having ideas of who they would become, having hopes and dreams about a common future. I don’t know what my future holds anymore, but I feel like I can’t wait for the past. I feel like I’ve been waiting and waiting for something or someone to change. And the only thing I can change is myself.
Don’t feel silly - this note made me feel better about a lot of things (both past and present), so I’m glad you wrote it even though I have no idea who this is.
We’re all guilty of judging other people, and what I’ve come to realize since I left college is that more often than not, we are really just judging ourselves. Cruelty to others is too commonly a manifestation of self-hatred. Maybe that’s why I’m able to take criticisms less personally and treat strangers more kindly these days. I actually like myself and I want everyone else to like themselves too.
(And it does help to be reminded that there are those who once judged a younger me and who have since reconsidered their original opinion.)
So, thank you for your honesty. I’m glad that reading about my depression made you feel less alone. I’m sure that your message has made someone out there feel less alone as well.
Left Williamsburg shortly after 4pm.
Puked on myself/the luggage/cab en route to the airport.
Got on flight around 7pm. Plane taxied for 45 minutes.
7+ hours later … disembarked to snow and below freezing wind chill.
Maneuvered luggage to train station. Waited an hour, got on, transferred to another train, got off.
Got picked up.
Still smell like puke as of this post. (It’s a little after 2pm in Germany).
So I guess my “leaving home” or “leaving the continent” was not nearly as triumphant an endeavor as originally envisioned.
Given the completely last-minute and disastrous nature of my first visit to Germany, I really shouldn’t be surprised that this is how my new life starts.
“Certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit.” –Thomas Mann
I could say that my sparse blogging is the result of being on the road or overwhelmed with assignments, but neither have stopped me from journaling before and there is plenty I write these days that I don’t post. This blog isn’t for journaling, though. It used to be, when I wasn’t as public a figure, when I started this as a scrapbook of my remaining college years, when I was still considered what we then called “early adopters” - but whatever this site has morphed into, intentional or not, no longer serves my writing. I’ve deprioritized what I care about for far too long, and now I feel like I owe an explanation to someone, maybe to myself.
I’ve wanted to write a goodbye post for a while, but there never seemed to be an appropriate time to write it or to post it and what I really feel like I need to do is explain myself, which is not so much of a “goodbye” but a “hello”. And how do you say hello to people who think they already know you?
I am not even talking about readers anymore.
My blog was a selfish endeavor when I started it. I was trying to heal myself and fight back with text, and for a while, what I was doing felt authentic even if it was different from my Sex And The Ivy writing. At some point, blogging stopped being about healing. It became only about fighting back. And maybe that’s when I started being selfless about it - maybe to a fault.
How are you supposed to write freely when you are in constant fear of what might happen to others as a result? I don’t allow myself to mourn for lost friendships anymore, because I see what happens to those who can’t handle betrayal. I don’t think I’ve ever loved myself enough to protect myself from getting hurt. My own self-preservation is learned.
I wish I allowed myself the kindness of peace a long time ago, but I never believed then that I deserved it. I never believed I deserved anything. Never the fame, for one, and then the infamy - well, that was just terribly confusing. It’s funny that so many people seem to think - even if they don’t say it - that I’m moving to Germany for someone or something other than myself. As if I could still envision a life here.
No, this is actually one of the first things I’ve done for myself in years. I was supposed to live in Berlin during the summer of 2010. There was a plan: a couple of languid months with the dog and mountains of books and bustling flea markets. And back then, I didn’t believe in fate or absolutes or God, but I did believe that I would go crazy if I didn’t live in Berlin that summer. And I didn’t end up living in Berlin, and I did go crazy, except I don’t think it was just for that summer and obviously, my unrest was about a lot more than a vacation.
You can break yourself with unwant. I no longer think about what that lost summer means for who I am today, but ever since, I’ve always felt fragmented, like there was a part of me that didn’t make it back to Boston. I changed. I changed because I had to in order to survive. Because for people like me, there is really only one alternative and that is not a route I will take.
Maybe I’m lucky to have lived interesting enough a non-fiction existence that I can’t even talk about it transparently without getting pilloried by both left and right. I have allies, of course, but they’re pilloried too, and I’ve certainly encountered my fair share of agents and producers who think that my unlikely truth is more marketable than any fiction. Friends or foes? You can never know. Another reason why I wouldn’t mind my blog dying a nice, quiet death. Less lying around for the opportunistic scavengers idiotic enough to believe I did this for money.
There were so many trigger points over the past year, so many instances in which I promised an unknown someone, “Okay, this is the last time I do this to myself”, and in the end, of course I kept going. I kept doing things and going on and on and on until I couldn’t anymore. I felt like I’d made a Devil’s Bargain, except it was one with myself, because I knew that stopping meant confronting that I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. That what I wanted was something I gave up and that I had given it up willingly because I didn’t care enough about myself.
Maybe I always knew this but chose to ignore it. Maybe instead of simply forgiving and forgetting, I had to have the peace of not remembering what hurt so much in the first place. It’s a funny thing, the business of forgiveness. It’s an act of kindness toward others, but most of all toward oneself - and only in undoing my purposeful forgetting have I realized how the worst of these wounds have been self-inflicted all along.