the ch!cktionary

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.

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irregular features
Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
Freelance Friday: Career Advice for Young Writers
Hate Mail
Gratuitous Photos Of My Bulldog
Notes & Snapshots from Abroad
Recent Tweets @lenachen
Asker Anonymous Asks:
I feel silly writing this, but here goes. Several years ago, we had a soc class together; we were in the same section (with Patrick as TF). I'd heard of your blog and read a little of it; I judged you. Today, something reminded me of all that and I thought I'd check it out. I read about your depression and I felt normal and unashamed for the first time in 3 years. I couldn't believe it. I was inspired. To be healthier. To work harder (or at all, again). Thank you. :)
lenachen lenachen Said:

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.

Ate breakfast.

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.

After seven years in New England, I’m leaving Boston for good on Wednesday and moving to Germany in March.* Before I bid adieu to the East Coast, I’m making a pitstop at the Barnard Center For Research On Women in New York City to participate on a panel about young feminist activism.

I’ve spent the last few months writing less publicly to reflect privately on whether and how I can better serve the causes, communities, and people I’ve come to love during my time at Harvard and in Boston. What this means in practice: less time spent on the Internet, tweeting, Facebooking - and in its place: listening, thinking, journaling, surprisingly learning things I never thought I’d need or want to learn. Taking a break has helped me reflect on the work I’ve done (as part of a movement, as an individual) and the work I hope to do in the future.

Naturally, I thought this conversation at Barnard would be a lovely way to end my time in America, and I also liked the idea of being able to see friends and readers before my departure. I’m planning to spend February on the road in California, Lunar New Year with my mother, while the contents of my apartment/life got shipped to Berlin. So, when a bureaucratic error almost forced Patrick to leave the country last week, I cursed immigration laws, sort of freaked out, and almost cancelled everything in order to fly the coop literally and figuratively.

Needless to say, I’m glad that didn’t happen and that Harvard worked it all out. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to all these lovely people :) Whether you’re a real-life friend or an online acquaintance or first-time reader, details are below - please, please, please come and say hello to me and spread the word and invite your friends.

FEMINISM AND BEYOND: Young Feminists Take on Activism and Organizing
with Lena Chen, Jessica Danforth, Dior Vargas, Sydnie Mosley ’07, Julie Zeilinger ’15, and Dina Tyson ’13

January 30, 2013 | 6:30PM
Event Oval, The Diana Center | 3009 Broadway, New York, NY

Young feminists have long battled invisibility. Countless media articles bemoan young women’s lack of activism or suggest that movements that “go viral,” like SlutWalk or Occupy Wall Street, have come out of nowhere. In fact, feminism among young people is as active as ever, constantly pushing boundaries both inside and outside feminist communities and engaging with issues new (privacy in the digital age, universal healthcare) and old (racism, rape). Young feminists today are consistently building coalitions and questioning narrow interpretations of what makes a feminist issue. This activism is local and transnational; in the street, in the classroom, online. It frequently engages with multi-layered identities and challenges itself as much as it shakes up the wider culture.

In this panel, moderated by Dina Tyson ’13, five feminist activists discuss their areas of interest, what they see as the major challenges for feminist movements, how organizing today compares to that by previous generations, intersections between feminism and other approaches to social justice, and how to build coalitions that can enact structural change.

This event is free and open to the public. Venue is wheelchair accessible.

Image courtesy Ennuipoet on Flickr, BY-NC-SA.

"According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), use of IUDs by female ob-gyns is three times greater than that of the general public.”

Not that it’s a competition, but I humbly predict the public will soon follow. Since I switched from the Pill to the IUD in 2009, I’ve heard more and more stories from readers and friends about people clamoring to get them - some even go as far as crossing the border to Canada, which frankly impresses me. Trend or cult? I don’t think the IUD is going to get any less popular (and I think a lot of readers would agree).

My text and soul are one and the same, and I make no Faustian bargains.

Getting ready to show my apartment today - so bizarre, but I’m just five weeks from moving out. New York is one of my last stops before I go onward to California (where I’m visiting family as my stuff gets shipped to Germany). In late January, I’ll be in NYC to say goodbye to friends and talk to people about book stuff. A final opportunity to get face-to-face time with so many people - it’s all a little overwhelming. I’ll also be speaking at Barnard College on the 30th - probably my last event for a while. I’d love it if any readers would like to attend. Please let your NYC-area friends know that this is happening :)

Young Feminist Activism Today

A panel with Lena Chen, Jessica Danforth, Sydnie Mosley ’07, Dior Vargas, and Julie Zeilinger ’15

Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 6:30 PM
Event Oval, The Diana Center

As long as there has been feminism, there have been young feminists. On the street, on college campuses, and online, young people have worked to break down oppressive systems and nourish creative communities that honor the worth and dignity of all involved. Young feminists continue to labor on a daily basis to change policies and perceptions around reproductive justice, policing and the prison system, popular culture, gender-based harassment and violence, sexuality education, and much more. With this panel, BCRW continues a decades long tradition of examining the forefront of young feminist activism with this group of dedicated activists under 30.

I mean that in the least suicidal/extraterrestrial way possible.

Just did a segment on HuffPost Live about the United Nations declaring contraception a human right. You can check it out above :)

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:

  1. Finish an article on the Affordable Care Act, the first assignment I’ve taken in ages (since I desperately need to write something, really anything, unrelated to the book)
  2. Watch at least one movie (promised a friend I’d see Conversations With Other Women, also would like to rewatch Mysterious Skin)
  3. Retype some more of The Bell Jar, which I need to reread for research purposes anyway
  4. Catch up on contracts, forms, mail all that boring life stuff I’ve just ignored
  5. Make a dent in my two-foot tall clothing pile

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.