My new favorite blog. It made me laugh, cry, cringe, and drool, in that order.

Jenny True


There’s only one thing better than being single and childless at 39: having your novel rejected by one of the biggest agents in New York (AGAIN. AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN).

My joke these days, although it’s not a joke, is I’m being rejected by the best. Three of the biggest agents with the biggest and most famous clients, who are so famous I can’t even name them here, asked to read my full manuscript. One of them even asked for an EXCLUSIVE. Which means she wanted me to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t send my novel to any other agents while she was reading it. Which I couldn’t do because two other agents were already reading it.

You’d think I’d be excited. Instead, I was overcome by panic. I was convinced I’d somehow tricked these important people into wasting their time reading a bad novel (or not reading — one agent was kind…

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At the beginning of February, I became aware that it was national handwritten letter month month. I used to be such a prolific letter writer. I have boxes and boxes of letters that I received from friends, limes, and family. I miss those days so much.

Took the leap and I bowed to write a handwritten letter every day of the month. To top it off, I started making little handmade collage books to enclose in the letters.

It give me such joy to make these little books and to send them off into the world. To my utter delight, I started getting handwritten responses back.

Nothing can describe the happiness I felt when I saw these envelopes in my mailbox. Then I saw an advertisement for a class on fancy envelopes. I had to do it.

By the time the class rolled around, letterwriting month was over. But I did not want to stop. The instructor was a dream. She reminded me how precious and wonderful handwritten letters and even the envelopes can be. What a gift and what experience to send as well as to receive. Her calligraphy was beyond exquisite and it inspired me to practice more.

Here’s one of her masterpieces. Her motto is to make the recipient’s eyes pop and say “WOW.”

Since starting this challenge at the beginning of February, I have received some absolutely wonderful letters in the mail. Stories that I’m sure would not have been relayed in an email, and hearing from people I think I would not have otherwise. It inspired a reunion meeting with a friend I have not seen in over 10 years. It turns out that she is a fabulous and I’m excited to see her in person.

I won’t be writing a letter every day going forward, but I pledge to write a letter back to anyone who writes to me. Possibly in a very fancy envelope.

Next up: handwriting in journals.


Image by Volkan Olmez/Unsplash

I thought that writing an essay for a themed literary magazine on the theme of “shame” was going to be a piece of cake. I was excited when I read this call for submissions; I thought I would write something easily, in the space of an afternoon. I had a whole truckload of images, anecdotes and memories ready to stitch together on the topic. I’d start with one of my adoptive mother’s favorite phrases: “Shame, shame,” the way she said it in a lilting, almost singsongy voice, accompanied by the hand gesture of two index fingers rubbing perpendicularly, as if they were sticks starting a campfire. She had used this most recently on our blind, eleven year old Havanese when a bowl of kibble ended up scattered on the kitchen floor.

I’d continue with the way she said “Shame on you” constantly when I was growing up. It was on me, heaped upon me. There was also the more direct,“You should be ashamed of yourself.” Of my self. The shame of my existence. That was a big one. I’d then go into my birth mother’s other, multiple shames and how they seeped into my embryonic cells: the shame of her family’s internment during World War II, then of being the only Asian Americans in a little Dutch town in the Midwest. Following this, the shame of an extramarital affair, a secret pregnancy, a child nobody knew about. So much shame, an infinite well of material. It seemed as if this essay would practically write itself.

I started writing. The beginning wasn’t so bad, but then I got four pages into it and it seemed to fizzle into nothing, like a car sputtering on its last drops of gas. I didn’t understand. This was the topic of my life! I was deflated.

Then there was the added pressure of a pressing deadline for my writing group. After months, my turn to share pages had come up, and here I was, nearing midnight on the due date, with nothing but a measly, struggling four unfinished pages.

Before long, I was paralyzed.  I began to feel shame for not even being able to do this, to write about the most familiar theme of all. I was going to have to admit defeat, and send off my sorry little unfinished draft, and ask for support and mercy. As I sweated over my keyboard, writing a pathetic and apologetic cover email, the list of things I felt ashamed of, but was unable to craft into anything useful, grew. It sprouted branches and roots and climbed the walls of my writing room. It permeated the air I was breathing.

Some things on the list: I’m ashamed of starting but not finishing any of my books-in-eternal-progress (memoir, two novels, short story collection, poetry collection). I’m ashamed to call myself a writer. I haven’t published anything new recently. I’m ashamed of offering writing classes that for one reason or another don’t fill to capacity. I have a revision class coming up this Saturday at the Grotto. I don’t have the minimum number of students. Should I cancel? Or should I continue with the small class, and feel ashamed in front of the students when they see I have such a small turnout? I don’t want to let them down but it feels embarrassing to run a class with a tiny handful of students.

I’m ashamed that I built an online writing online course and then charged too much and then hardly anyone signed up. (note: I later made the decision to cut the price, shorten the course and make it the fun, open experiment that it is) I’m ashamed for being so scattered and not focusing on one thing. If I just did one thing – physical therapy, teaching, writing – I would probably be better at that one thing – but instead, I scatter my energy and focus and I’m afraid that it all comes out half assed.

I’m ashamed that I’m leading a session at the Fitblogging conference in two weeks, and I’m not very fit and I haven’t been blogging at FoodFoodBodyBody in months. I am confused about this because I used to love blogging. I lived for blogging. It gave me so much energy. But since my injury and this past year of physical pain and anxiety, I haven’t blogged. I remember years ago, somebody tweeting “If a fitness blogger stops blogging, it means they aren’t fit anymore.” Those words burn in my mind. At the time, I thought, that will never be me. I will blog forever. I will be fit forever. And then first my hip and then my cervical spine and then my foot all collapsed. Things change. I should know this. But it feels so shameful to go to this conference of fitness bloggers when I don’t feel like one of them anymore.

I am ashamed of the hundreds of emails that sit in my computer, emitting a radioactive glow. I am ashamed of my unfolded laundry, the pajamas on the bathroom floor, the pastries that I ate this weekend when I had sworn to eat Paleo. I am ashamed of my perpetually cluttered office, of the time that I don’t spend at the Grotto, and at the time that I do spend there but don’t write (enough). Many days, I’m ashamed of every fucking moment of my day.

I laugh at myself. Me, who thought it would be so easy to write about shame.

Last night I wrote to my friend. I said, I need a retreat. She said, “This is the beginning of summer writing right now.This is your retreat in your life this summer  now. A 20 minute retreat. Whatever you do, don’t not write.”

Don’t not write. So I’m writing. It helps. It helps to wade through the shame, waist deep. The writing helped to bump me out of my paralysis, to loosen things up. It’s scary to put these embarrassing, mortifying things out in the world, but holding them in the dark is what makes them grow.

IMG_8640.JPG20 years ago, I began putting together pieces for a collection of literature about adoption. Poet Tina Cervin was my coeditor and we spent years passing shopping bags full of manuscripts back-and-forth to each other. Yes, no, maybe? Finally, in 1999, the book was born. We were so proud of it, of the beautiful works by first time writers as well as rock stars like Isabel Allende, Charles Baxter, Dan Chaon, and even Joni Mitchell. (her poem/song “Little Green” is about the daughter she relinquished for adoption)

It was a gorgeous, powerful book, but was never a huge commercial success. It went out of print and then briefly came back into print about 10 years ago. Finally, it seemed to draw its final breath and the only thing left was a few cartons of remaindered books in my garage. A few months ago I received an email from a woman named Kaia in Minnesota. A Korean adoptee herself, she had discovered the book and said it had moved her deeply. She wanted to adapt it into a theater presentation for her high school students. I was stunned. I was not able to attend their production in January, but when they heard that I was coming to Minnesota for AWP, they invited me to the high school so that we could meet.

It was wonderful to meet another adoptee whose life had been touched by this book. Kaia felt like an old friend immediately and we sat and talked in the teachers room and then I went to visit a creative writing class, where I had a great discussion with the teacher, who also happened to be an adoptive dad (small world). Then I went to the drama room to meet the theater kids.

Even though they had not performed or practiced in months, the kids decided that they wanted to put on the full production for me in their drama room. They arrived in their Ghost at Heart’s Edge T-shirts and even the sight of that was enough to bring me to tears.


I barely have words to describe what it felt like to hear those words embodied. Even though it was decades ago, I know this book by heart.

IMG_8658.JPGTina and I had read this manuscript over so many times and these powerful and beautiful words mean so much to me. I was absolutely riveted.  They brought such life and honest, heartfelt emotion to these experiences. Some of the poems were spliced together and divided into many parts, spoken or even song by the ensemble.

IMG_8649.JPGThere was music, too, and a lovely segment of dance accompanying “Little Green.” Boys played guitar and one girl with a sweet and voice did some magnificent solos, but really all of them sang various parts throughout, and it was really beyond words how beautiful and moving it was to hear them, often all of their voices together and in turn. Their harmonized lullaby pretty much brought me to my knees.



“She doesn’t look like you. How can she be your sister?”

IMG_8644.JPGIMG_8647.JPGIMG_8646.JPGI was constantly on the edge of breaking down sobbing as I sat there and watched these amazing young people. I could barely keep it together. But I kept blinking and moving from piece to piece, willing myself to stay focused through it all. I did not want to miss a single moment by being overcome with emotion. They ended the performance with the final poem in the book, the poem that I used to end all of our readings with:  “There is No Word for Goodbye” by Mary Tallmountain.

What do you say in Athabascan

when you leave each other?

What is the word

for goodbye?

We never leave each other.

When does your mouth

say goodbye to your heart?

You forget when you leave us;

you’re so small then.

We don’t use that word.

We always think you’re coming back, I

but if you don’t,

we’ll see you some place else.

You understand.

There is no word for goodbye.

When they got to this poem, I knew it was the end and I finally let myself cry. They seemed pleased by this and said that it had been their goal: my tears. I tried to articulate to them what it meant to me to see them doing this. I’m not sure I was able to convey it or even if I am able to do it now. I am not sure if I’m getting a huge book contract or winning a literary prize could really even come close to this moment. It was so gorgeous and honest and heartfelt and also incredible theatrical work. I felt so proud. Humbled. Honored and awed.


As a way of giving back a little of what they gave to me, I performed a few excerpts from my own solo show, The Ice Cream Gene.  I felt truly seen, received and understood. Once again, they were one of the very best audiences I have ever had the chance to perform for.

I left them with some little goodie bags with postcards from the book and some chocolate hearts. It was just a little gesture. Sweet, small hearts wrapped in colored foil as a way of saying, you did something amazing for me. Something so big. These are the moments, so seemingly ordinary and small. A dozen teenagers in high school in Minnesota. A teacher whose experience of adoption was validated and moved by the words we had put together so long ago. These are the moments that we writers live for, right? Having our words received, recognized, felt.


2 generations of adoptee solidarity

I’ll never forget yesterday. There are no words for goodbye.


Crooked House

If I was an architect or a builder, I’m sure that I’d be building falling-down bridges and houses whose floors tilted so that marbles would roll from wall to wall. My staircases would be crooked and there would be corridors that led nowhere. Surely, the bathtubs would leak onto the kitchen table.

It’s taken me decades to construct this book of mine, this story-without-end. I’ve read countless books and taken classes, hired helpers and still, this unwieldy piece of writing has eluded me like Jell-O slipping through my fingers.

I spent today in a fever, writing a book proposal for this agent Pitch-a-Thon that I decided, spontaneously, to sign up for. It’s hard spending years writing a book that nobody really cares about or wants. I just decided I’d had it, and I was going to put together a proposal and march myself over to this agent and wind myself up and pitch.

The agent has very considerately provided a book proposal Template on his website. I filled out all the sections. It wasn’t going so badly. But then it got to the Table of Contents section.

Include the full Table of Contents, with detailed summaries of each chapter. This section could be anywhere from three to 20 pages – it needs to give a comprehensive, detailed map of what the book will contain.

I have an outline that I’ve been following for the past year or so. I copy-pasted it and started tweaking it and editing the “detailed summaries.” As I did this, I could feel a growing sense of dread and hatred. I hated it. I hated its chronological orderliness.

For years, I have been declaring that I do not want my book to have a “traditional shape.” And yet I keep writing these deadly, chronological, traditional chapters. I ploddingly put them in order. It is killing me.

It turns out that it was a great idea to write this dreadful book proposal. Because it showed me just how deadly bad it is, and how much I do not want to keep going in this vein. In the middle of the afternoon, an industrial sized light bulb exploded in my brain. And I remembered a book.

Jo Ann Beard’s Boys of My Youth. Eureka! I scrambled through the thousands of books in our ridiculous collection and finally, after hours, I found it.

I have just spent the past half hour studying the structure of this collection of autobiographical essays. It’s not in chronological order. Hooray! It’s not even in any kind of thematic order. The chapters, or essays, range in length from two pages to 57 pages (akin to a novella). They ricochet throughout her life, starting with a “preverbal baby memory” and then bouncing from teen years, to adulthood, to preadolescence, to age three and ten and eighth grade. The structure is both invisible and unnecessary. It’s a book about her. It’s a book about relationships and family. That’s it. It’s full of beautiful imagery and sentences.

I don’t know if this is what my book will look like. But just knowing that it CAN be a book with asymmetrical windows, boarded up closets and an inexplicable sprinkler system, has made me breathe a whole lot easier.

How do you come up with structure for a book or a short piece? Do you know right away what its shape will be? What patterns or things to hold it together? This has been the single most challenging thing about writing this damn book, and I welcome any shared experiences.

I’ve been dealing with some writing “stuckness” in the past month or so. And I’ve been aware that it’s had to do with both inner and outer obstacles. The writing was just not happening.

  • The first thing I needed to deal with was my space. I alternate between writing in my home office, and my shared office space at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. But recently I realized I was fleeing to the Grotto more often than not, because my own space was just such a damn mess. These photos don’t even begin to show the half of the mountains of paper and boxes all over the floor. I could barely get from one end of the room to the other. Well, I hired a TaskRabbit to help me out last week. I just needed someone to sit next to me, to cheer me on, and to not let me get bogged down in reading every single sheet of paper. She just held up the basket and said, helpfully, “Recycle, right? Right!” In the end, I filled up more than half of the giant bin out on my driveway. That’s about 10 grocery bags worth of unnecessary paper. It made an immediate difference. Suddenly, I wanted to sit in my cozy chair to read. I wanted to sit at my desk and write. For the first time in many months, I wanted to hang out in this pretty space I have in my own home.
  • IMG_8202.JPGI also just picked up this book that I’d been hearing a lot about: “the life-changing magic of tidying up.” I could honestly build a CABIN out of all the decluttering/organizing books I’ve purchased over the years (with varying results), so I had to laugh at myself for getting yet one more. But the voice in this book is so very Japanese – it’s kind of strict, kind of charming and very compelling, in a very new way. It’s all about letting go of stuff. And her approach is unique – she doesn’t advocate going room-by-room, or doing a “little at a time,” which many books encourage, as a way of not freaking people out. Well, this author is apparently not afraid of freaking people out. I’m a little freaked out. But intrigued by her approach, which is to go by category. Ie., clothes, books, kitchen equipment. Her way is to lay ALL the stuff out at once. Like, ALL of it. Every. Single. Piece. Of Clothing. Or book, or whatever. And then have a massive laying on of hands. Of deciding if this object truly is worthy of keeping. She has guidelines for deciding yes or no. And the rest of it – the majority of it – out it goes. GONE. Yeah, it freaked me out. But it also made me think: this is probably what I need.
  • After I dealt with the outer environment, I had to deal with the inner environment. I took a trip to see my therapist, whom I hadn’t visited in years. But she knows me well, she knows the pits that I can crumbfall into, especially regarding my writing. She calmed me down and reminded me of some things. She reminded me that I’ve often settled for “crumbs” in certain relationships (relationships that appear to be in direct opposition to my writing life) and that the price of those crumbs is diminishing my voice. I left there thinking about crumbs. And the need for a
    little compassion.
  • I also had to deal with my body, which has been similarly cluttered. As I wrestled with writing issues, I often used food as a form of comfort. This didn’t really lead to long-term comfort, of course, but actually a kind of numbed out despair. So on February 1st, I embarked on a 30-day Whole30 plan. I decided to eliminate alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes and dairy products, just to see what would happen.  It’s been 3 weeks now, and I’m feeling a heck of a lot better. And it’s a lot easier than I had ever imagined. I’m never really hungry in ways that I used to be, I’m not craving any of those things, and I’m just feeling overall cleaner. I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to do when the 30 days are up, but I do know that these changes have had a positive impact on my inner physical state, and no doubt for the writing as well.
  • Final step involved clearing out my schedule, which is typically packed-to-the-gills busy with events, activities, social things, readings, classes, etc. I made time for a morning of silent walking followed by silent writing. I was nervous. After all of this clearing, would the words really come? Yesterday morning I joined up with five other silent walker-writers. We walked through the beauty of a redwood forest. I found a meadow with beautiful views. The fresh green was brilliant. IMG_8226.JPG

After all of this – the office cleaning, the therapy, the fresh food and the walking  – finally, there were no more obstacles in the way. I sat down after the hour walk, took out my notebook, and the words came.  Relief.


Walk without speaking for one hour. Then, write without stopping for another hour. It’s a simple sequence, but somehow it’s magical, what that combination can produce.

I’ve been doing this practice since 1996, when my writing friend introduced me to it. We’d switch locations: one week, we’d walk the beach in San Francisco and then write at her house; then the next week, we’d walk in the redwood forest and write at mine. We ended up writing hundreds of pages in this way.

What happened in that silence during the walk?  Every walking hour was different. Sometimes it was filled with worry, or running through a mental to-do list, or hashing out the happenings of the previous day. Sometimes, the words that would later be fill the page, came into our minds whole. All we would have to do when we got to the notebook or computer, was spill them out.

Eventually, my friend moved, first out of the country, and then to New York City. Our shared walking/writing sessions had to happen long distance. We walked quietly on our own, and then faxed our pages back and forth.  We were only able to walk together during scarce visits to each others’ coasts.

Last year, I began inviting others to share this practice with me. It has been incredibly moving for me to witness other people experiencing this for the first time. Something happens in the quiet. The words come.

The next group session will take place this Sunday, February 22nd, starting at the Skyline Gate lot of Redwood Regional Park at 10:00am.  Let me know if you’d like to join us.