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.

In the time of the coronavirus

All the news nowadays on the virus–the toll it takes on lives, on minds, on the economy and society. Sometimes I can’t tear my eyes away from the constantly updating news, the numbers going up and up, all the things we should’ve done. I know it isn’t healthy.

Strangely enough, there are parallels in my work to this strange present. Here, “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” about another disease that swept through part of China. And from years ago, “What Is Lost” which references the racism and fear that can arise from traumatic events tied to certain countries. How surreal it is to see events and emotions extrapolated from possible events ripple through actual current events.

It’s been an upheaval, that’s for sure. The rhythm of my days is different, my social circle limited to the family members I’m currently living with. Spring has come more slowly to the suburbs than the city; some of the daffodils here have yet to bloom. But the birds are everywhere and spring peepers sing at night. A volunteer cherry tree blooms in the corner of the yard. Thankful for the beauty of spring, for the healthcare workers in the hospitals,  for those sharing facts and not rumors, for everyone taking this virus seriously and staying home as much as possible. The world is different now.

Also thankful to have poems out in two journals! In all the craziness of the last few weeks/months, my work hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind but I’m happy to have some more writing out in the world. The Capilano Review has three of my poems (Fire&Gold, If/then, Milky Way) and EVENT published “Lake.” I’m honored to have my work in the pages of these journals and I’m looking forward to reading everything!

Take care; stay safe and healthy!

Materia spinosa!

Following on the heels of my last post on a translated story, you can now read “Cacti Prickle” in Italian! Due to a partnership with Edizioni Black Coffee, my story was chosen to be translated from Bennington Review 7! New title: Materia spinosa, and it’s translated by Alex Di Nepi Finzi. Take a gander here!

Maybe I should start taking Italian so that one day I can read my own story??? Grazie, Edizioni Black Coffee and Bennington Review! ❤

My first translated story!

Excited to let you all know that a story published back in 2013 (Thirteen Steps in the Underworld) was recently translated into Chinese and is in the latest issue of Science Fiction World/科幻世界! It’s particularly amazing to have my first translation be in Chinese, considering it’s the only language other than English that I’m somewhat literate in! Strangely enough, the story itself has nothing to do with China–it’s actually more in conversation with Greek mythology and thoughts on death, memory, and identity. Here are some images:

Check it out if you’re in China and/or can read Chinese! I’m excited to dig into the translation and read the other stories in this mag–it’ll be great practice for me 🙂

A new year

Happy new year! Hoping this year is better than the last. A friend had told me how the first pigeon you see in the new year is auspicious (per a Japanese term) but I haven’t seen one yet, so auspicious gulls it is! They all flew well, which I’m taking for a good sign.

In 2019, I did manage to get a few things published. First was “Privy” in The Journal of Compressed Creative ArtsThen in December, “Cacti Prickle” came out in Bennington Review 7And a Chinese translation of “Thirteen Steps in the Underworld” was published in the January 2020 issue of 科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)! It’s the first time I’ve had work translated and it’s in China’s only science fiction magazine (!)

I started a novel this year, wrote for a forthcoming Lonely Planet book, and finished a couple of short stories, one that took me almost all year to write, but I’m super excited to share it at some later point, after a bit more editing. Forthcoming in 2020, I’ll have a few poems out in EVENT and The Capilano Review.

Also, I did two readings, one in NYC and one in my new favorite state, Wyoming. Attended a few writing/research-related workshops and residencies (a one-day residency! a bird language workshop! a residency in the Rockaways!), and saw just how amazing the West can be <3<3<3

I was trying to sneak a book or two under the wire for 2019, but looks like I’m at 40 (better than last year but way less than when I first started counting…) I read more nonfiction than usual this year with 13 books; here’s my list.

Books read in 2019:
1. The Voyage of the Beagle– Charles Darwin (NF)
2. Fire and Fury– Michael Wolff (NF)
3. Dark Skies (NF)
4. Hidden Wonders (NF)
5. Gingerbread– Helen Oyeyemi
6. The Weil Conjectures– Karen Olsson
7. Running in the Family– Michael Ondaatje (reread)
8. The Seas– Samantha Hunt
9. Myths and Legends of the World (NF)
10. French Exit– Patrick deWitt
11. Dealing With Dragons– Patricia C. Wrede (reread)
12. The Unique States of America (NF)
13. The House of the Spirits– Isabel Allende
14. What the Robin Knows– Jon Young (NF)
15. The Incendiaries– R.O. Kwon
16. All You Can Ever Know– Nicole Chung (NF)
17. Wake, Siren– Nina MacLaughlin
18. The Foley Artist– Rico Villanueva Siasoco
19. Saltwater– Jessica Andrews
20. When We Were Orphans– Kazuo Ishiguro
21. Hazards of Time Travel– Joyce Carol Oates
22. Ravens in Winter– Bernd Heinrich (NF)
23. Pushcart Prize Anthology 2019
24. Family of Origin– C.J. Hauser
25. N.P.– Banana Yoshimoto
26. Signal Fire Reader
27. Trick Mirror– Jia Tolentino (NF) ***highly recommend to everyone!***
28. Close Range– Annie Proulx
29. When You Reach Me– Rebecca Stead
30. The Ecliptic– Benjamin Wood
31. Battleborn– Claire Vaye Watkins
32. Alone on the Wall– Alex Honnold (NF)
33. Inland– Téa Obreht
34. The Overstory– Richard Powers
35. The Taiga Syndrome– Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
36. The New Me– Halle Butler
37. Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube– Blair Braverman (NF)
38. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running– Haruki Murakami (NF)
39. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead– Olga Tokarczuk
40. Imperfect Women– Araminta Hall

Looking forward to more reading and writing this year!

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!

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…