Samples

Sample Saturday: “It’s a Lo Fi World”

This content may be offensive to some readers. You have been warned.

            It happened one autumn night when I was driving to San Diego, not long after the 215 ended its flirtation with the 60 and headed straight for its twin flame, the 15. It was dark and flat for miles, the cows having gone home years ago. I tapped the number two preset and heard an oddly familiar, affable baritone:

            “You’re listening to Javier’s Hovel on KUXR. I’ve got a great show for you tonight, a great show. We’ve got some Cowboy Junkies, some Arctic Monkeys, and even, even, some Slooowdive. Bet you haven’t heard them in a while. Slowdive, I mean. Keep it here, keep it queer.”

            I didn’t realize then that Javier was in my Asian American literature class. I saw an empty seat next to him one day. I dodged laptops screens and tried desperately to catch my breath so I could say: “Hey, I like your show because you’re funny and you never play Lou Reed.” We went out for boba tea.

            On New Year’s Eve, Dad left for his client’s party in San Jose. “Ogre Dad,” as Javier would say. He wasn’t due until late the next morning. I had ideas.

            As I lay on top of Javier, he said that I was perfect. He grabbed my butt cheeks. I smiled vacantly at the irony and leaned down to kiss him. I could feel him eating it or needing it. I could never tell which was which.

            I leave Javier’s place early in the morning of January 1, 2020, my head light and throbby, and climb down into my car. I wish someone would have told me how simple it can all be. As I plug in my dead phone and start the engine, I am about to make one of my cute and catty mental pronouncements on the topic of casual sex. The phone vibrates to life. I unlock it and find two voicemails and three seething text messages from Dad:

            “I don’t know where you are but you better answer the phone!”

            “I know you’re drunk and I’m not going to keep paying for you to wast [someone needs autocorrect] your life.”

            “You are worse than your mother. Spoiled, ungrateful, and out of control. I certainly didn’t raise you to be the kind of girl to give it away to anyone.”

            “It’s Kafkaesque!” cries Tucker Carlson meme. 

            Mom told me not to start with Dad, when he offered to let me stay with him and pay my college tuition, on the condition that I promised, in writing, to never drink or smoke “pot” ever again. Mom told me that Dad loves me: he’s just weird about it. She also reminded me again that she could not afford my tuition because of the note on our La Jolla condo.  “Just be careful,” she said. The words sank in, she sipped her dandelion tea, and my eyes unfocused on a cobalt napkin ring.

            Until last night, I had done all that was expected of me. I cooked, cleaned, paid bills, and went shopping — all, by the way, activities sanctioned for the weaker sex, as per http://feminismisthebiglie.co — Dad’s favorite website.

            I gave up my crusade, which was getting Dad to admit that he had an extramarital affair with former family friend Jeanette — all well-documented stuff. 

            Well, now I’m paying. Paying the only way I’ve ever paid for anything. I squeeze at the wheel where it’s already starting to wear, but the tears flow anyway. My phone rings, and of course it’s Dad.

            “Hello?”

            “Where are you?” he asks.

            “Near San Bernardino.”

            “Where have you been?”

            In my sputtering mind, Google maps and my contacts collide so hard it’s criminal.

            “Sarah’s house,” I say.

            “I called her. You weren’t there.”

            “Ok, fine. I was with a boy from school. Is that what you want to hear?”

            “What boy? Is this the Mexican boy? The college radio DJ?!”

            I hang up the phone. It rings again. I press the green button so hard I nearly rear-end someone.

            “You think I’m a slut. Fine. I was with one person my whole life. Guess that makes me a worthless fornicator.”

            I try to swallow the shrillness out of my voice.

            “Ok,” I continue. “Riddle me this. What about you and Jeanette?”

            Silence.

            “What about Jeanette?” he spits. In a lower voice: “I told you everything there is to know about Jeanette.”

            “No, you haven’t. What about the phone records showing that you were in Vegas with her? What about how you always smelled like her? And let’s not forget the lurid voicemail from her husband.”

            “Your mother has brainwashed you. That’s all I can say. Why don’t you stop bringing up ancient history and explain your own shameful behavior. You openly disobeyed me. I told you that you weren’t allowed to drink until your twenty-fifth birthday. And now that you have proven yourself to be a drunk just like your mother, you can never indulge in such behavior again.”

            “Whatever.” If I tell him the truth, he’ll be less likely to believe me.

            “I thought you were doing so well. I just bragged to all my friends about you. I was starting to think that maybe it was time for you to find a nice boy in the church to marry, but now I can see that you are unfit to be a wife.”

            I hang up the phone again, exhale into my turn signal as I pull off the freeway.

            I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in externalities. I believe that there is no moral high ground in stupidity. No matter how much this sucks, I know I’ve got to smooth things over. To keep a roof over my head.

             If he gives me any subtle shit about Javier being Mexican, I’ve got to keep it zipped, got to get through it, too screwed-up to be self-righteous. I park the car, yank the umbilical cord out of my phone, take a deep breath, and prepare for all-out war.

            I unlock the front door and find Dad sitting on the white couch, laptop in lap. He straightens and just kind of looks at me. It’s pretty anticlimactic.

            “Don’t you have to go to work?” I ask.

            “Today is a holiday,” he says, frowning.  

            “I noticed.”

            He rises, blue eyes popping out of round glasses, locked on me, gut barely contained in black polo shirt. I watch his jowls, feel sick, when he says:

            “I think I know why you did this.”

            The way I nearly jump and his circular glance — I know we’re thinking of the same thing.

            “Please, tell me your theory,” I say. He shifts his weight.

            “You miss Rick.”

            Of all the unwelcome, non-sequitur names!

            “I do not miss Rick. He has nothing to do with this,” I say.  

            “It’s ok if you miss him,” he says, almost empathetic, “But he’s getting married. A man and a woman can’t be friends.”

            “Fucking duh! You think I don’t know that!”

            I am shocked by my own loudness, audacity. So is he. I can’t stop now. Sorry Mom. Sorry, me.

            “Being married didn’t stop you from FUCKING JEANETTE!”

            “Don’t ever talk like that!” he rasps, wounded.

            “She couldn’t even write emails! Always had extra spaces and spelling mistakes, She was a real estate broker and she wrote like a third grader! She was a dumb bitch, and that didn’t stop you —”

            “Say one more word and I’ll slap you!” he screams.

            We both recoil in embarrassment. He turns and walks toward the couch, puts a hand on his forehead.

            “I didn’t mean all that. I’m just so sick of you acting like there’s one set of rules for you, and another for everyone else,” I say.  

            He glances up with a glimmer of self-awareness.

            “She was my best friend,” he explains.

            I say nothing. He takes off his glasses and massages his eyes.

            “I got you a brand new BMW. I’ve done everything for you, and you can’t even keep your legs together…”

            “What?!”

            “Stop talking when I’m talking,” he yells, eyes crazy. I clam up.

            “You have no respect for me or yourself. I know you still miss Rick. And you blame me for not letting you go on that date with him. You were too immature at the time. And now you’re just bitter because he’s found a beautiful and successful woman.”

            I feel so much rage, I want to smile. I give Dad a sociopath smirk and feel all my inhibitions disappear, leaving me nimble and fierce as a sea nymph.

            “So that’s it. You think I’m some sappy little girl who can’t get over her first itty bitty crush. You think I’m just a petulant cunt who’s got a chip on her shoulder, who can’t face reality, who pines day after day for a past that never was. Well, you’re wrong about me. I’m stronger than you’ll ever know, and my upward trajectory is only just beginning.”

            I turn and head for the staircase. I lean over the railing for dramatic effect.

            “I’m leaving this house, and I’m never coming back.”

            I run up the stairs into my room. I yank open the top drawer of my oak dresser so hard that the ballerina figurine rattles dangerously. My paternal grandma gave her to me, a white girl in a baby blue tutu, Vivian Leigh waist and all. I’d like to shove my self-esteem right into one of her porcelain pores. I throw my stretched and stained underwear backwards at my bed. Half of them bounce off the footboard and settle on the floor.

            “Your cadence is crap,” says Negative Self-Talk, brooding near my closet door.

            “Can’t you see she’s already upset?” scolds Abundance Mindset, who hovers near me, unsure of how to help.

            Dad knocks.

            “Please come out, Maggie. I’m sorry. Rick’s fiancée is not superior to you.”

            The sick cackle that escapes is my own.

            Oh, Dad.

            “I just want you to have a good life, full of blessings. Why should you have to pay the wages of sin, like I did? You know that your mother got half, right?

            Hehehe.

            Do you remember, Dad, how you used to hum, “Under My Thumb” while you shaved? Sometimes, I saw you, my hairy-legged hero, under the Hollywood bulb mirror, before Mom would tell me to shoo. Well, they told me, they told me that when one man dumps you, you get under another. No, that’s not quite right.

            “Do you hear me, Dad? You can keep your classic rock capitalism, your status symbol alternative media, your,  your, moral majority happy hour! I’m out of here, and I’m taking the Beemer!”

            I don’t actually say any of this because it sounds ridiculous AF.

            I pace. I’ve got to find my duffle bag. It’s not in the closet, which must mean it’s in the laundry room. My eyes settle on my turntable, opposite the closet. Most of the things that actively remind me of Rick, I’ve already thrown away, even the design award that we shared for the athletic department’s mobile app. But there’s one thing I’ve kept all these years.

            I flip through the bin of records. Boom. Scratched up copy of Eastside Story by Squeeze. I take the record out of the sleeve and break it in half against my nightstand, throw the pieces in my wastebasket.

            “The theory of sunk costs, illustrated,” I pronounce, peppily.

            Ugh.  

            Introverted feeling. What a joke. No one wants High Fi. You see any Hi Fi chillhop playlists ranking for longtail? Don’t think so. It’s a lo fi world.

            It’s an ESTJ cabaret.

            Look out everyone, Maggie Lovell is coming. She’s not going back, not to the bosom of her bullshit. Not to the insecure Ne fever dreams of love, community, and progress. Now she’s after the benjamins, bitch. So pop a squat, pop a corn, and livestream her “upward trajectory.”

            She will be INFP no more.

Writing Tips

How I, an INFP, Fell in Love with Writing (Again)

INFP writing tips

My first little creative renaissance happened when I was twenty. I had just finished my first year of law school, and in the summer, I went to London for study abroad. I had a number of formative experiences, such as: discovering the Velvet Underground Matrix Tapes (props to American Airlines inflight entertainment) during my flight there, reveling in the joy of macarons, making new friends, going to a bar for the first time, and having my first romantic experience on public transportation. During my flight home, I wrote some great material for my novel and, therefore, was completely unable to sleep during the whole trek from LHR to LAX.

I think what really happened during the trip was this: I discovered my Ne, and it was awesome. For you non-MBTI freaks, that’s extraverted intuition, the INFP’s misunderstood auxiliary function.

During parts of my childhood and adolescence, my Ne was poorly developed for whatever reason. Although I excelled in school (Fi-Si) and was sort of likeable when not trying to prove something, I could also be judgmental, selfish, and downright rude. I don’t think my Ne really developed much until my twenties. I still struggle with many social situations, but I think now it has more to do with anxiety than a dormant Ne.

In the months that followed my trip, I finished the first novel that I could be proud of. It was a coming-of-age literary affair called, “The Eastward Exodus of Julie Ashbury.” I had worked on it for years, and while earlier drafts had some good points, it was simply too disorganized to go anywhere. Certainly, this was a product of inexperience. But the root of the problem was that I was trying to do way too much. I’d had a pretty Christian-conservative worldview for much of my life, and that was a huge influence on my writing. Trying to serve God, country, and story — all at once — proved to be a tall order. 

The novel was never actually published. Anyone who knows me is aware that I actually turned down an offer. I’ll be kicking myself for that for a long time. But still, I consider the final version a success in so many ways. It was a raw and unflinching look at growing up for a creative, highly sensitive, and deeply religious young girl. Stylistically, it did a great job weaving heavy dialogue, questionable pop culture references, fantasy, and weird symbolism into a kind of slippy-trippy suburban romp.

I flirted with the idea of a second novel, but I was focusing so much of my energy on law school that it seemed impossible. For a long time, I just wasn’t writing anything of substance. After I took the bar exam, I completed three short stories within a year. The first one was way too Hemingway — and not in a good way. The second one was an experiment that I respect (it’s published here). The third one is forthcoming with Writer’s Resist magazine. This is where I really came into my own as a writer. But it was less than 3,000 words, and so I had to ask: was this just a fleeting glimpse at the writing career that’s already passed me by?

There was a lull after that. I hopefully scribbled ideas in notebooks, but they didn’t satisfy. I was spinning my wheels. Personally and professionally, my life was in disarray. Through late 2019-2020, I struggled with finding a job. Then there was a failed business. I was already starting to feel isolated and lost when Covid-19 hit. I battled fatigue, depression, and mood swings. My pet bird went to heaven. Yeah, it could have been worse. But twenty-year-old me had hoped for so much more. 

I settled into routines. I made bracelets. I made pizza. Also cut down on carbs. My health improved. I meditated. I replaced some of my coffees with ginseng tea. My energy levels spiked, and my outlook on life improved. It was one heck of a montage. As the narrator in my new novel says, “I’ve got a new lease on life, and this is the down payment!” You gotta love the naïvete.

My crazy ideas were tentatively impressed on legal pads. Most were useless: they were permutations of pure boredom, unfortunate puns, and meaningless pop culture jabs. But some were great. The plot slowly emerged. It was awakened more than it was actually “plotted.” An anxious-manic energy flourished.

The working title is “Cognitive Snack.” The narrator, Maggie Lovell, a salty, bat-shit INFP, goes on a quest to turn herself into an ESTJ with the aid of pseudoscience and magical thinking. She uncovers secret societies centered around microdosing, online CIA-MBTI conspiracy theories, and a personality change guru and former litigator who now operates from a shill tarot card reading booth in a Chinese supermarket in the Strip District, Pittsburgh. And yes, she discovers wonderful and uncomfortable truths about herself and the world along the way.

I simply allowed this to happen, and it did. Ne works in mysterious ways. Ne is underrated. Ne is cool. Not as cool as Se. Or maybe even cooler. It’s lustforideas meets lustforlife. No offense to other types (maybe a little), but it’s definitely cooler than Te, when used properly. Ne doesn’t hate, Ne doesn’t judge, and Ne is here for it all.

I’m not trying to denigrate my other cognitive functions. I will need their help too. Fi can help me fill up plot holes, tighten the loose screws holding together my whole emotional arc setpiece, and, more importantly, delete swear words. It takes a village.

I can’t wait for the world (more realistically, a small following of MBTI-obsessed nerds) to gawk over this romp within a farce that I’ve got going on. It’s basically a curated collection of clichés. It defies genre, balks at religion and politics, and wisely dodges the label of Literary.

It could be completely dissonant, banal, and awful. It could be brilliant. There’s really not much of a middle ground. And that’s just how I like it.