All posts by Su-Yee

About Su-Yee

3 things: 1) If I could have one superpower, it would be the ability to fly. 2) I would like my life to be like Nancy Drew's. My nighttime dreams have gotten to that stage but reality has yet to match those dreams. 3) I write stories about things that are lost. Sometimes.

Every tree is perfect

Where I am in Wyoming, shade is in short supply. Red boxelder bugs fly against the windows, trying to get in, and small garter snakes sun themselves near the barn. An abrupt transition for me, from backpacking the evergreen-covered Cascade Mountains in Washington with Signal Fire to these arid hills of Wyoming. From carrying 30+ lbs of tent/food/sleeping bag/etc. and sleeping on the ground to the luxurious surroundings of a remote house on a cattle ranch where the nearest town is over 18 miles away. But the backcountry has prepared me for less time on the internet, no cell phone reception, no interaction with anyone other than those who live with me. Reading and hiking or running take up most of the day. I’ve only just started getting back into my writing, but I love the story I’m working on. Natural distractions abound: the cows mooing in the hills, a bobcat walking over a bridge, tubing on the creek, antelope and white-tailed deer leaping across the pasture, hail banging down on the roof, hawks on the wing.

Backpacking with Signal Fire was amazing though—the people, the conversations, the difference in flora and fauna we saw between the North and Middle Cascades. Deep play, learning how to tell between a cedar and a hemlock, how ponderosa pines smell of vanilla, eating huckleberries and elderberries, drinking mugwort tea to help your dreams, eating foraged chanterelles, hearing about everyone’s art practices that ranged from performance and interdisciplinary work to botanical illustration to poetry and sculpture. Learning to make a bear hang, to cook over a tiny propane tank, to dig holes in a forest floor that was mostly made up of moss grown over fallen tree trunks. Reading about the interconnectedness of nature and trophic cascades: salmon with bears and eagles and forests and whales, wolves with deer and elk and aspens. One day, a 12-mile hike to a beautiful turquoise lake and back, several creek crossings along the way that required footlogs and good balance. Mushrooms of all different shapes and colors everywhere. The grouse, the marmots, the trout, the hawks. Time ran both quickly and slowly—quickly when we were trying to get everything done before dark (the tent setup, bear hang, dinner), slowly when it rained or while hiking. I already miss the inspiring artists I was with, and feel so grateful for the guidance and knowledge from Tarp and Blanca—a week felt too short.

Two weeks away from NYC and what a gift it’s been already. So thankful for those at Signal Fire and Jentel, as well as WJ, one of my oldest childhood friends, for hosting, backpacking equipment, and conversation that ranged in topics both large and small.

For anyone in the northern Wyoming area, all the residents will be participating in a free and open to the public event at SAGE Community Arts in Sheridan, Wyoming on October 1st. Come by and hear/see what we’ve been up to!

Advertisements

of the sounds of birds

Last week was my 360-minute residency at Freshkills Park (a hidden gem!!) and my blog post about my time there is up on the Holes in the Wall Collective’s website here.

My text is below but go to the link for photos and accompanying text from Julia and Dhira!

Coming here to Freshkills, there’s a lot to take in. The transformation of the park from landfill to nature preserve, the resiliency of nature (the deer that swim across the river, the volunteer trees on the mounds, planted by seeds dropped by birds and other animals), the effect on the local economy, the understanding that this is a project that takes years and years and years. In the here and now, so much has returned—there’s fish in the creeks and osprey in the trees, and a quiet that signifies space to breathe and to think.

Because there are so many birds in my story and here in Freshkills Park, I’m thinking a lot about sound and how to capture it on paper. The mechanical whirr and twang of the red-winged blackbird, the strident calls of gulls signaling a bird of prey overhead. The soft chirps of sparrows and the familiar warbling song of the robin. Killdeer, nothing as imposing as its name suggests, call with their high-pitched cries—what I’d thought somewhat like a gull’s, and the sound they’re named after. A high chipping call of another bird I cannot identify and a high-pitched whistle like the intake of a breath. How to bring sound into a story: here, the wind rustling new leaves, the hum of an airplane overhead, those various birdcalls that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Just a part of the landscape but such an important part: how do you describe what you expect to always be there? What happens once it’s gone?  

Gorgeous space, tons of birds, and creative, interesting people meant I got a lot of thinking and writing and observing done. Thank you to Dhira and Julia for accepting me and setting it all up, and Mariel for hosting me at the site!

and later this week…

I’ll be doing another mini-residency this Wednesday as part of Holes in the Wall Collective’s 360 One Turn Residency! It’s a 360-minute (6-hour) residency where, once accepted, they pair you with a location to spend your 6 hours. I’ve been lucky enough to be paired with Freshkills Park in Staten Island, which I already know and love after having kayaked there and watched osprey and turkey vultures, since I’ll be working on my bird-centered, mythology-influenced short story. It’s a really nontraditional way of holding a residency but I think it’ll be a lot of fun! Expect some words/images about it this week :]

Far Rockaway II

My second day in the Rockaways dawned clear, with bright blue skies scattered with clouds. Taking a bus to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, we found tree swallows in the dozens swooping around in the wind. The views were across marsh and water, and we learned the odd creaking song made by the red-winged blackbird. Below, my list of the birds I saw here:

There were a few tourists from out of the country, which I found interesting, but it was a gorgeous day to be out. At the visitors center, a woman imitated a bird call for help from a staff member on identifying it. As she sang, his eyes caught mine, a slight grin on his face. He, of course, could not identify the bird she was imitating. What poor voices we humans have. Later, lunch at The Restaurant, a local diner, and a gorgeous sunset across from JFK, where a few locals were fishing. The texture of the beaches there, with skeins of dried saltmarsh cordgrass lining the sand; they’ll sink just a little beneath your feet.

The next day, it began to rain again but I still made my way down to the beach where a number of surfers were battling the swells. In even larger numbers were sanderlings–I love the motion of them, the push and pull of their movements with the waves. Their marks like the sketch of labryinths in the sand. There, there were also a few piping plovers whose tan feathers blended in with the beach, and a few American oystercatchers with their high-pitched calls and thin, bright orange beaks.

I’m calling the photo above “The American Dream.” 😉

It was an amazing, relaxing retreat at beach64 that I sorely needed. I’m rethinking the story I’m working on, the focus of the narrator and the nature of what she’s battling; the role of the birds will probably play an even larger role, as well as the mythic underpinnings of the story. Reading I’ve been inspired by lately are Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and Jon Young’s What the Robin Knows, as well as Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread.  I only wish I could’ve stayed longer!

Far Rockaway

Since January, there’s been a lot to catch up on, the biggest of which was that I went to Sri Lanka for vacation. Photos will eventually go up but right now, I’m in Far Rockaway in Queens at the Beach64retreat, thanks to the invite of talented artist Wojciech Gilewicz and his husband, Bartek. I arrived late, after several delays with the MTA, and fell asleep to the sounds of wind and rain.

Heavy rain in the morning but by noon, it had stopped. The clouds are so heavy and thick that I can hear but not see the airplanes that pass overhead. So many more birds here than where I live in Manhattan–the squawking of gulls, the singing of mockingbirds and robins. I ventured out to the small wildlife sanctuaries nearby; there were no real paths but I glimpsed a loon among a fleet of dark-headed ducks, and several laughing gulls with their dark heads and gray and white bodies. On the way back to the apartment, a bright red cardinal sang on top of a TV antennae. Since the story I’m working on a bird-centered narrative and I’m currently reading all about bird language, I’m really glad to be here. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is only a short bus ride away; I’m looking forward to going when it’s sunnier tomorrow! I only wish the skies would clear so I could try to get a view of the Lyrid meteor shower…

Privy

I’ve got a microfiction piece called “Privy” up at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Check it out here!

Stayed up for the lunar eclipse last weekend—truly a cool sight despite the wind. Actually, because the wind was blowing so hard, the scuttering of the clouds made it look as though the moon were rapidly traveling across the sky. It was so bright before the start of the eclipse, I could see the dark shadows across the face of the moon. I was also not in the city, so the light pollution didn’t prevent me from seeing Orion and some of the other constellations. One of my goals this year is to go somewhere where I can see the Milky Way. I’ve only seen it once, out in the desert of Gansu many years ago.

My reading at Erewhon Books with Elsa Sjunneson-Henry was so much fun! It’s such a low-key yet intimate venue, and all the people there were super friendly and welcoming, and gave me plenty of advice on a work in progress flash fiction piece that I read. Special shout-out to Liz Gorinsky, who invited me to read and welcomed everyone into her publishing company’s space. It’s really a wonderful community (even though I am not even close to well-versed in most of the fandoms that others there were) and I definitely plan on going to more of their salons.

This month has also brought me back into contact with folks I knew while I was in grad school and before—it’s always fun to catch up with other writers that you admire and hear about all the cool things they’ve been up to. It’s also a reminder for me to carve out more time for my writing this year. Maybe I should set myself a weekly quota…

Oh, and for those who’d like a reminder now that nominations are open, I have a couple of stories eligible for the Hugo and Nebula awards (my post about it is here). Also, I’m on Twitter for those who want to follow my very occasional posts (but more than what I have here!)

2018

It’s been an eventful year, with half of it spent in Asia before coming back to New York in the summer. Just last year for New Year’s Eve, I went up to my roof in Wenshan district to watch the fireworks shoot off from Taipei 101 (the only skyscraper in the city!). This year I’ll be watching from uptown and thinking about these two different realities, the strangeness of various New Year’s memories conflating together. In between, there’ve been island-hopping adventures in Taiwan and China, hanging out with cute kittens in Vietnam, new jobs, new apartments, new publications, a Pushcart Prize, seeing old friends and making new ones and meeting everyone’s babies, Chicago and Boston, readings at KGB bar and Asian American Writers Workshop and the Center for Fiction, broken cell phones, artist salon evenings, cookie-baking and cheese danish-making (very recent but turned out great!), art receptions, tons of bicycle riding in the summer and running in the fall (maybe I’m starting to dislike running less…), starting a novel that is involved with all things ocean, and so many other things that encompass everyday life, but apparently not quite enough reading. Only 31 books finished this year and here’s the list:

1. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder- Caroline Fraser (NF)
2. Sour Heart- Jenny Zhang (short stories)
3. Why We Sleep- Matthew Walker (NF)
4. Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart- Kimberly Lojewski (short stories)
5. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls- T Kira Madden (NF)
6. White is for Witching- Helen Oyeyemi
7. Florida- Lauren Groff (short stories)
8. Starlings- Jo Walton (short stories)
9. Freshwater- Akwaeke Emezi
10. Mr. Fox- Helen Oyeyemi
11. Come West and See- Maxim Loskutoff (short stories)
12. Awayland- Ramona Ausubel (short stories)
13. Her Body And Other Parties- Carmen Maria Machado (short stories)
14. Hunger- Lan Samantha Chang (short stories)
15. Strange Weather in Tokyo- Hiromi Kawakami
16. Little Fires Everywhere- Celeste Ng
17. Better Times- Sara Batkie (short stories)
18. Severance- Ling Ma
19. In West Mills- De’Shawn C. Winslow
20. Confessions of the Fox- Jordy Rosenberg
21. Convenience Store Woman- Sayaka Murata
22. Less- Andrew Sean Greer
23. If You Leave Me- Crystal Hana Kim
24. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore- Robin Sloan
25. Curiosities and Splendour- edited by Mark MacKenzie (NF)
26. The City of Folding Faces- Jayinee Basu
27. Sorry to Disrupt the Peace- Patty Yumi Cottrell
28. Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return- Martin Riker
29. Tin House Vol. 70, No. 1: Poison
30. The Friend- Sigrid Nunez
31. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter- Theodora Goss

Happy new year! Here’s hoping next year is even better than the last.

Ocean

Popping in to say I’ve got a new flash fiction piece called Ocean up at Bracken Magazine!

It’s been a busy half year back from Asia: I’ve started working on a novel that is obsessed with all things fish and ocean life related, catching up on all the reading I hadn’t been able to do in Asia (my gosh, so many great debut books!), visiting family and friends, and just getting back into NYC life with all its readings and art openings and cool events.

Speaking of cool events, I’ll be reading at a speculative literature literary salon in January! More info on that soon.

I also received my copy of the Pushcart Prize anthology and it is huge! So excited to delve into it and read all the great work that’s come out the previous year.

A Pushcart Prize!

First off, I wanted to let everyone know that my story, A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration won a Pushcart Prize! I’m really honored to have been nominated by Bennington Review and excited that the Pushcart Prize committee chose it to receive a prize! You can read it online here or buy a print copy of either the Bennington Review issue or the Pushcart Prize anthology coming out this autumn.

A lot of changes these past few months—writing up presentations on pigeon racing and finishing up classes in Taipei, snorkeling and rock climbing (Taipei rock gyms are HARD but the people are crazy nice), traveling and researching in China on a series of islands, visiting relatives, and catching up with L—but now I’m back in New York and finally settling back in. It has been less than a month but my life in Asia already feels somewhat dreamlike, especially since I never have to speak Mandarin here. But I miss my sweet potato guy and my pigeon-keeping neighbors and the mountains and plants and birds there.

I’ve just started writing again, though, and it brings the places I’ve been back to life for me. I’m really excited about what I’m currently working on even though I’m not quite sure where it will go. It’ll have crabs and windmills and the green sea in it for sure though.