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.
"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.
I mean that in the least suicidal/extraterrestrial way possible.
Two months of not being on email has made me realize how little I need email. If you need me, call, text, or if you must, resort to Facebook. My auto-responder will be on until the end of the year.
I’m in no state to be working on my book right now, so I’m refocusing my energy on projects that have fallen by the wayside and reconsidering some ideas that I had filed away in case of a creative drought. Some examples of things I have on the list for next week:
I really wanted to have a draft of this book done by now, and in fact, it’s been almost exactly a year since I decided to turn what had previously been an idea for a memoir into a fictional novel project. It’s become a much larger, more artistically challenging undertaking as a result, but I also think I’m a better writer and a better person because of it. I continue to be extremely grateful that I didn’t write a memoir or sell the movie option to my blog at age 20 when I lacked both business sense and a sense of self. On the other hand, I’m not able to just take off to the woods (or even to my mother’s house) for an uninterrupted six months of writing - I have a boyfriend and a dog and roommates and, well, people beyond myself to think about. And that’s a really hard position to be in when I’ve been literally trying for years to write this story and don’t feel like I can move on - emotionally or otherwise - until I get this out and get out of Boston.
In other news, I am doing an informal farewell tour that involves eating everything that I won’t be able to eat in Berlin. (Fish tacos are on the top of my list.) I’m trying to fit in a DC trip in December, spending January in California to visit friends and family, speaking at an event in New York at the end of January, and packing up my life in February. I’ll be out of the country by the first week of March.
This has been such an emotionally and physically exhausting year that I need more than a vacation from life. I need a new life, and I need 2012 to be over. I mean that in the least apocalyptic sense possible.
What does writing teach us?
First and foremost it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation. So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Second, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die.