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
Posts tagged "travel"

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.


a·mok   [uh-muhk, uh-mok] noun
(among members of certain Southeast Asian cultures) a psychic disturbance characterized by depression followed by a manic urge to murder, a state of murderous frenzy.It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer an orange-haired joker gunned down the fourth wall of a Colorado cinema, and I didn’t know what I was still doing in Boston. I’m weird about shootings. The idea of killing people makes me sick, but when confronted with the rampages, the national tragedies, my impulse is to empathize not with mourning families or fallen victims, but with the perpetrator. He’s usually one of the losers or freaks, a social outcast, the kind of role I had always been assigned no matter my environment. What happened in Aurora had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering who I would’ve become if luck hadn’t intervened, if it would’ve been me pulling the trigger instead, only in a different place at a different time.Frank said it was the most morbid thought in the world. (But of course, how could he relate to the character of the underdog?)Boston was bad enough. The sun rose at 6 in the morning, warming the black-tarred streets and mansard-roofed homes of a noiseless city. By the time I woke hours later, the temperature in our centrally air-conditioned penthouse unit had risen above 80 degrees, a result of leaving the windows open overnight for fresh air. A heatwave was sweeping through the country, its rays as indiscriminate as the aim of the joker, ravaging residents of coast and country alike. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, least of all to write…
            –Excerpt from “REAL ESTATE CURES FOR WRITER’S BLOCK”

I haven’t read The Bell Jar from cover to cover in years. This fall, I’m going to take a page from Hunter S. Thompson and retype the entire thing by hand. I figure I might learn a thing or two given a few years of distance, and either way, it’ll be better than pitching thinly disguised stories about a writing professional who hates the professionalization of writing. All of my writer friends feel the same about their jobs, but none of them are passive-aggressive or ironic enough to actually approach their editors with such a story idea. I guess I should say “most” and not “all”, especially since I sleep beside a German academic with an appreciation for specificity, but come to think of it, all of my writer friends really do share my rapidly dwindling faith in the media and publishing industry.
Earlier this August, the Hound and I were in Fire Island for ten days with ten books. The only one that got cracked open was The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath was my sole like-minded companion in the darkest hours of my adolescence. She was the author who defined my girlhood by defying hers, and after I discovered her memoir at the age of 15, I had an annual habit of revisiting its pages. I don’t know why I ever stopped. Plath makes me think about a part of myself that I haven’t had opportunity to consider anymore, especially as the topics of my writing have become more professional, legitimate, closer to the mainstream. Look at my portfolio; I never really wanted any of this for myself. I wanted to write, yes, and I like “networking” if what you mean is finger food and compliments from strangers, but the travel, events, business cards, etc.? I spend more time on my Twitter stream than I do on stream-of-consciousness.
I knew by the time I graduated college in 2010 that I didn’t want any of the things I thought I wanted all through my undergraduate years at Harvard. The only reason I pursued any sort of career in the traditional sense was because I needed to insulate myself from cyber bullies who couldn’t get over the fact that I wrote a sex blog when I was 19. Why should I have to encourage people to forget that I ever appeared naked on the Internet in order to have them take my writing seriously? Moreover, my genius plot didn’t even fucking work. I’m 25 now, and they are still not bored of stalking and defaming me or my friends or my boyfriend or my family. And last year, they moved on to stalking my readers by outing anyone who commented on, reblogged, or liked my posts. I felt like I gave up a part of myself for nothing. Ever since the harassment has escalated, I have lost any desire to blog most days - and I’m sure my lack of enthusiasm showed in less frequent and less substantial updates this year. I felt the walls creeping up and the confines of my career closing in every time I signed another contract for another gig I didn’t really want to take.
I burned out. I put away my unfinished memoir. I started a novel. I decided I needed to get the hell out of America. I wanted to break up with my life. I read the first page of The Bell Jar.
On Fire Island, I spent the first half of my vacation being mildly irritated that there was no Internet or cell phone reception, despite the fact that I specifically wanted to visit Fire Island to escape Internet and cell phone reception. I was generally displeased by my then-unresolved housing situation, my two-week separation from Patrick (who was obtaining a visa in Germany to stay in the U.S.), and my utter inability to make progress on my novel and the three or four creative writing pieces I’ve been working on since the beginning of 2012.
Then Patrick arrived (by ferry) and brought with him foodstuffs, supplies, and the best birthday present ever. But I cannot reveal the latter for fear that it will not come to past! So, instead on this 25th year of life, I am belatedly sharing the above photograph (taken by Patrick) and the excerpt (written by me). The latter comes from an unfinished short story about six people trying to find a home during an unusually hot summer. It’s my first adult attempt at writing fiction, and I’ll think about trying to get it published somewhere when it’s complete, but mostly, I’m just curious to see how the writing process plays out. I’m writing this one for me, and the mere notion of trying to price something like this, to figure out its market value - well, it’s absurd, but so is the rest of capitalism.
I know now for certain that my writer’s block is over, because I know that I can and I will and I want to finish writing this story. I need to, because it not only tells the tale of this summer, but the story of my young adulthood, the story of this entire year and my entire life, the story of The Bell Jar and what it means to me. If I can finish this, I can finish my book. There are things I want to accomplish here, things I want to say about literature in general, and things I have wanted to say about myself but have always been too scared to reveal. Writing this short story is both personal challenge and tribute. How better else to thank the poet whose single novel saved my life countless times over than by proving with text the suspicion that she must have always nursed, the contradiction that marked her career - that in the end, genre is just a state of mind, and the truth - or what it is we call “the truth” - lies not in words but in the spaces between the lines.

a·mok   [uh-muhk, uh-mok] noun

(among members of certain Southeast Asian cultures) a psychic disturbance characterized by depression followed by a manic urge to murder, a state of murderous frenzy.

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer an orange-haired joker gunned down the fourth wall of a Colorado cinema, and I didn’t know what I was still doing in Boston. I’m weird about shootings. The idea of killing people makes me sick, but when confronted with the rampages, the national tragedies, my impulse is to empathize not with mourning families or fallen victims, but with the perpetrator. He’s usually one of the losers or freaks, a social outcast, the kind of role I had always been assigned no matter my environment. What happened in Aurora had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering who I would’ve become if luck hadn’t intervened, if it would’ve been me pulling the trigger instead, only in a different place at a different time.

Frank said it was the most morbid thought in the world. (But of course, how could he relate to the character of the underdog?)

Boston was bad enough. The sun rose at 6 in the morning, warming the black-tarred streets and mansard-roofed homes of a noiseless city. By the time I woke hours later, the temperature in our centrally air-conditioned penthouse unit had risen above 80 degrees, a result of leaving the windows open overnight for fresh air. A heatwave was sweeping through the country, its rays as indiscriminate as the aim of the joker, ravaging residents of coast and country alike. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, least of all to write…

            –Excerpt from “REAL ESTATE CURES FOR WRITER’S BLOCK

I haven’t read The Bell Jar from cover to cover in years. This fall, I’m going to take a page from Hunter S. Thompson and retype the entire thing by hand. I figure I might learn a thing or two given a few years of distance, and either way, it’ll be better than pitching thinly disguised stories about a writing professional who hates the professionalization of writing. All of my writer friends feel the same about their jobs, but none of them are passive-aggressive or ironic enough to actually approach their editors with such a story idea. I guess I should say “most” and not “all”, especially since I sleep beside a German academic with an appreciation for specificity, but come to think of it, all of my writer friends really do share my rapidly dwindling faith in the media and publishing industry.

Earlier this August, the Hound and I were in Fire Island for ten days with ten books. The only one that got cracked open was The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath was my sole like-minded companion in the darkest hours of my adolescence. She was the author who defined my girlhood by defying hers, and after I discovered her memoir at the age of 15, I had an annual habit of revisiting its pages. I don’t know why I ever stopped. Plath makes me think about a part of myself that I haven’t had opportunity to consider anymore, especially as the topics of my writing have become more professional, legitimate, closer to the mainstream. Look at my portfolio; I never really wanted any of this for myself. I wanted to write, yes, and I like “networking” if what you mean is finger food and compliments from strangers, but the travel, events, business cards, etc.? I spend more time on my Twitter stream than I do on stream-of-consciousness.

I knew by the time I graduated college in 2010 that I didn’t want any of the things I thought I wanted all through my undergraduate years at Harvard. The only reason I pursued any sort of career in the traditional sense was because I needed to insulate myself from cyber bullies who couldn’t get over the fact that I wrote a sex blog when I was 19. Why should I have to encourage people to forget that I ever appeared naked on the Internet in order to have them take my writing seriously? Moreover, my genius plot didn’t even fucking work. I’m 25 now, and they are still not bored of stalking and defaming me or my friends or my boyfriend or my family. And last year, they moved on to stalking my readers by outing anyone who commented on, reblogged, or liked my posts. I felt like I gave up a part of myself for nothing. Ever since the harassment has escalated, I have lost any desire to blog most days - and I’m sure my lack of enthusiasm showed in less frequent and less substantial updates this year. I felt the walls creeping up and the confines of my career closing in every time I signed another contract for another gig I didn’t really want to take.

I burned out. I put away my unfinished memoir. I started a novel. I decided I needed to get the hell out of America. I wanted to break up with my life. I read the first page of The Bell Jar.

On Fire Island, I spent the first half of my vacation being mildly irritated that there was no Internet or cell phone reception, despite the fact that I specifically wanted to visit Fire Island to escape Internet and cell phone reception. I was generally displeased by my then-unresolved housing situation, my two-week separation from Patrick (who was obtaining a visa in Germany to stay in the U.S.), and my utter inability to make progress on my novel and the three or four creative writing pieces I’ve been working on since the beginning of 2012.

Then Patrick arrived (by ferry) and brought with him foodstuffs, supplies, and the best birthday present ever. But I cannot reveal the latter for fear that it will not come to past! So, instead on this 25th year of life, I am belatedly sharing the above photograph (taken by Patrick) and the excerpt (written by me). The latter comes from an unfinished short story about six people trying to find a home during an unusually hot summer. It’s my first adult attempt at writing fiction, and I’ll think about trying to get it published somewhere when it’s complete, but mostly, I’m just curious to see how the writing process plays out. I’m writing this one for me, and the mere notion of trying to price something like this, to figure out its market value - well, it’s absurd, but so is the rest of capitalism.

I know now for certain that my writer’s block is over, because I know that I can and I will and I want to finish writing this story. I need to, because it not only tells the tale of this summer, but the story of my young adulthood, the story of this entire year and my entire life, the story of The Bell Jar and what it means to me. If I can finish this, I can finish my book. There are things I want to accomplish here, things I want to say about literature in general, and things I have wanted to say about myself but have always been too scared to reveal. Writing this short story is both personal challenge and tribute. How better else to thank the poet whose single novel saved my life countless times over than by proving with text the suspicion that she must have always nursed, the contradiction that marked her career - that in the end, genre is just a state of mind, and the truth - or what it is we call “the truth” - lies not in words but in the spaces between the lines.

Taken on the Beech Forest Trail in Provincetown. It’s been great to be spending time outdoors with the dog lately. My trips to the Cape and to Vermont finally offered some quiet, a much-needed respite from city living. It’s too bad the more scenic parts of New England get so much tourism during the summer. Between all holiday weekends, Back Bay foot traffic, and Harvard commencement (today!), I’ve had my fill of crowds. One day, I’ll have to try zip-lining, apple-picking, and all those traditional autumn activities…

Wish I could put up an electronic version of a Gone Fishin’ sign. (Well, I guess that would be a vacation auto-responder ….) Anyhow, I am spending the week in Manchester, Vermont with the roommate and the dog. We’re doing some post-dissertation hiking before his entire German family descends upon Boston for commencement festivities.

I can’t believe half the year is already over and I am still not done with this damn novel. Bostonians: any good recommendations for cafes where I can jab at my keyboard for hours undisrupted? Wifi totally not a must.

In DC visiting one of my besties from college. Folks came from six different states to surprise the birthday girl :) I’m in town until tomorrow and then headed back to Boston where I need to get many life things in order.

(Yes, Kennedy is wearing an 80s prom dress. This is because she is awesome.)

Had to get the Roomie out of town after the dissertation was turned in, so we drove to Provincetown to spend some beach time with the pup and mentally regroup before summer.

Photo credit: Patrick Hamm

Hey guys! Tomorrow, I’m headed to San Francisco to attend Sex:Tech, the 5th Annual Isis Conference on New Media, Youth, & Sexual Health, where I’ll be speaking on a panel about online intimacy and relationships. Then I’ll be in Los Angeles from April 3rd to 6th to do an event at Pomona College. It’ll be a hectic week of work and travel, but I’m hoping to see both of my parents and some friends while in town. I’m going to try to make it back to California at least one more time (when I don’t have any professional obligations) before I make the big move to Berlin. And maybe next time, I can bring the two boys?

Below is the info on the two events :)

xoxosms: Authentic Relationships and Online Identities
11:30am, Monday, April 2nd at Stanford Court Renaissance in San Francisco, CA

How do we navigate online identities and relationships? Can you really “know” someone you’ve never met? Is it safe to form relationships online? Enjoy a film screening of “xoxosms”, a new short documentary by Nancy Schwartzman that follows two star-crossed lovers in the digital age. Following the screening, we’ll discuss the idea of “digital intimacy”, and the authentic and healthy relationships to be found and nurtured online. Featuring Nancy Schwartzman (Filmmaker and The Line Campaign), Cory Silverberg (sexuality.about.com and ISIS Board Member), Heather Corinna (Scarleteen), and Lena Chen (Sex and the Ivy).

Writing Sex Positively: A Discussion with Lena Chen
7pm, Thursday, April 5th at Pomona College in Claremont, CA

What is sex-positive writing, and at which point does it become a political act? How has the feminist or sex-positive blog-o-sphere reshaped social activism and cultural criticism? Is the Internet an effective tool for social change or does it merely maintain the status quo and replicate offline power structures? In a moderated conversation, Lena Chen, a "reluctant sexpert, a feminist and queer advocate, and a walking case study on bad publicity", will discuss her career as a blogger, speaker, media commentator, and activist. She’ll answer questions about the future of new media and publishing, professional options for feminists and progressives, and the pros and cons of working within the non-profit industrial complex. RSVP for the event on Facebook.

Sitting in Charlotte, NC right now. I literally just missed my connection to Boston because my sleep-deprived brain was too engrossed in writing to hear or see my flight boarding three feet in front from me. Whoops.

This was easily the single most bizarre week of the past year. Weird weather, unbelievable crowds, even less believable coincidences, not nearly enough sleep, and a total change of pace from my solitary writing routine in Boston. (Thank god I had Lux with me to keep me semi-sane.) I feel like I sort of needed this trip to jolt me out of my single-minded focus on the book, but now I have SO many ideas and no energy to process them. I’ll need a week to recover, and then I fully expect that I’ll be planning for SXSW 2013 before you know it.

In the meantime, if you couldn’t make my #digitalsex panel, check out coverage from NOW Toronto and The Daily Texan (or on Twitter).

And away I go! Back in Boston in a couple hours …

I’m here. I’m alive. And I’m only *mildly* sleep-deprived. (Yay, that rhymed!)

I’m kicking myself for forgetting my “As Seen On The Internet” tee (because really, how perfect would that have been for my panel?), and I’m pretty peeved that I’ll spend tomorrow scurrying around to locate last-minute business cards, but when my tummy’s full of brisket, it’s pretty hard to stay irritated.

Well, what can I say, it’s also my first SXSW, and given my inability to be ready for anything, it’s totally fitting that I’ve shown up to my deflowering with nary a plan or condom.

I’d promise live-blogging but we all know I break promises.

Catch me at this SXSW Interactive panel next week … I arrive in town this Wednesday and will be there for six days. *Very* excited to see Austin!

SEX IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Monday, March 12 12:30PM - 1:30PM
Driskill Hotel - Driskill Ballroom

As the Internet has become an increasingly integral part of our daily lives, it’s transformed virtually everything about how we live—from how we communicate with friends and family, how we get our jobs done, and, yes, how we flirt, find lovers, and explore our sexuality. In many ways, this evolution has been a positive one, bringing us amazing new ways to connect with the rest of the world, but it’s also had some unforeseen consequences. Just over a decade ago, when the country was reeling from the aftermath of the Lewinsky scandal, who could have imagined that one day a congressman would be forced to resign from his post after a scandal that involved no sex, no illicit meetings—in fact, nothing more than some online flirting and a few ill advised sexts?

Sex in the Digital Age examines how the Internet has transformed our relationship to sexuality: what it’s given us, what it’s taken away, and how it’s transformed our ideas and expectations about how our friends, lovers, and public figures can—and should—behave.