Most of my readers will be female. And that’s fine! But it is something I think about…

0138cb8.pngRecently at a panel, someone asked how I envisioned my audience. And I was like, well, when I write I'm envisioning a reader who's just like me! But...realistically, I know that my reader isn't going to be me. And I don't mean that in the sense most writers do, where it's like, you're writing for an audience larger than people like you. I mean that people like me probably won't read my book.

I mean, thirty year old guys don't read YA novels. And if they do, they definitely don't read contemporary YA novels about conniving teenage girls. Even teenage guys don't read those sorts of novels.

Realistically, my novel is going to be read mostly by girls and women who're between the ages of 15 and 35. Which is great. Jonathan Franzen once made a stink, after his selection by Oprah, when he said he was afraid (I'm paraphrasing) that this would turn off male readers (who he obviously really wanted to reach).

I'm pretty agnostic on the sex of my readers. I honestly don't care. I like women. I'm dating one. Most of my friends are women. And in my professional life too, it's all women. I go to YA writer events and there'll be thirty people, and I'm the only man. Which, again, is not bad (or even awkward), it's just a thing. So I don't care what percentage of my readership is male. To me, readers are readers.

But it is something I think about. My readership is different from me. It's like when I'm writing, I always think, "How will this read to a white person?" Similarly, I think, "How will this read to a woman?" I can't say exactly how this affects the work, but I'm sure it does.

Another question I get asked is, "Why does your novel have a female protagonist? Did you ever consider writing it with a male protagonist?" And the answer is that I didn't. My protagonist sprang fully formed into my head. And then people will get all mystical and be like, "Well..I suppose that's just what the story wanted to be."

But no, I don't believe that. Because even if the answer is rooted in the unconscious, I do think there's a reason that Reshma is female. On the most literal level, it's because the antecedents for this character--two teenage plagiarists who made national news--were both female. But on a more symbolic and sociocultural level, I think it's because there's something about the theme of perfection that ties in very well with how our society conceives of women. There are guys who want to be perfect, but I don't think that's part of the masculine ideal in the same way. For women, it really feels like perfection is a necessity. You need to be beautiful and intelligent and successful and nice and popular and beloved--You need all those things.

But at the same time you're punished for wanting to be perfect. People will call you artificial or robotic. And if you try to project an image of perfection and subsequently fail, then there's a certain glee in the public reaction. We have this desire for women to be flawless, but we also hate and fear the women who succeed (example: the ocean of hatred that people feel for Gwyneth Paltrow). So yes, I think she's female for a reason.


Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, I was going to say something profound about most of my readers being female. Mmmm...I don't think I have a takeaway point here. Sorry.

Got very little sleep last night and felt awful today, but still drank no caffeine

article-0-0572EF5D0000044D-79_468x337.jpgI think there are plenty of good reasons to drink caffeine. Most people have jobs where they need to be awake and alert, day after day, no matter how much sleep they got on the previous night. Furthermore, there's something very unnatural about the work day. You're required to work through the afternoon slump that all human beings experience, and it's sometimes very hard to do that without chemical aid.

And in fact those were the circumstances under which I began drinking coffee: throughout college I never needed it, because I didn't ever attend class, but once I started working a normal 9-to-5 I suddenly had to find some way to force myself to stay awake.

But I always hated it. Coffee gave me headaches and made my heart pound. It made my sleep very restless, and in general made my organs feel very dessicated. And once I was working for myself, I decided that I'd no longer drink coffee.

Nonetheless, once the habit was acquired it was difficult to break. I'd try to abstain for a for a few months, but then I'd find myself feeling too tired, and I'd tell myself that I needed coffee to get through this day.

The cycle was only broken when I realized--I'm not sure how--that tiredness is actually not that bad. It's unpleasant, sure. Tired is not my optimal state. But I don't need to drink coffee, and I don't need to sleep. Instead I can just stay awake.

I realize this is maybe only possible for me because I'm generally well-rested, but it was a huge breakthrough. I could just stay awake. It was unbelievably simple.

And because of that mantra, I've been coffee free since 2014.

Remembering that lesson today because, for the first time in awhile, I only got four hours of sleep last night and am feeling pretty wrecked. Had the whole deal today: headaches, heart palpitations and a general dazedness. But I simply endured it. In some ways this is exactly what I've been trying to do in the rest of my life: endure pain, rather than attempt to evade or destroy it. Tiredness is difficult, but it's not irresistible. And once I stopped seeing it as unbearable, I no longer needed to run from it as much as I once did.


In other news, I finally read a book that's been on my shelf for years: Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It's actually not as fantastic and witty as I'd thought it would be, but it did give me some solid advice. I've never really thought much about when I should use a comma or a dash or a semicolon or a colon. I just used them as I wished. Now each one stands out in my writing like a beacon. It's quite fun, actually, to be so aware of every punctuation mark. I want to read more books on grammar and syntax and usage!

It wasn’t nearly as difficult to switch orientations as I thought it’d be

Bisexual-Awareness-or-Queer-Awareness-Week-bisexual-flag-1029×688Until twenty-four, I identified as straight and dated nobody.

From twenty-four to twenty-eight, I identified as gay, and dated only men.

Now I identify as bisexual, and I've been dating a woman for six months.

I'll leave aside the mental struggle that underlay these switches in stated orientation, since I'm not really prepared to talk about that. But what I will say, for those who're thinking about coming out as gay or as bisexual, that in my case neither of these comings-out was nearly as bad as I imagined it would be.

Beforehand, I never thought I'd be pariah or an object of hatred. Nor did I think my family would reject me. But I did think that there'd be some ridicule and some awkwardness. But there's really been none. In all cases, it was as simple as telling people that my identification had changed, and that was that.

I know that there's been some gossip about these changes when I haven't been around, but you know what? That really doesn't bother me at all. As long as I don't hear it or know about it, gossip is actually good, since it means I don't need to have nearly as many coming-out conversations.

When you're an adult, and particularly when you're thirty(!) people will mostly take you as you present yourself to them. You can be whatever you want, and people (at least in the milieu's that I've inhabited) will more or less be like, "Okay, sounds good."

Given this experience, I regret all the fuss and worry on my part, since there was really no need for any of it. In both cases, my comings-out were accomplished within the course of a few weeks, and then they were pretty much done. It's impossible for me to overstate how much of a non-event this all was.

Most of you are probably like, "Duh, why would it be an issue?" But I have so many friends who are curious about sleeping with people of the same sex, but they're afraid of moving too quickly. Before they identify as gay or bisexual, they want to be sure. But it's that very lack of public identification which makes it so difficult to find someone and have sex with them, so that you can finally be sure. If you're not out as someone who's attracted to people of the same sex (or, in my case, to people of the opposite sex) then you're really restricted in the ways that you can search for someone to be with. If you want to have sex with men, it's a little easier, since there are various ways to casually pick up a guy. But if you're looking to have sex with women, you've got to put in a fair amount of work, and it's hard to do that if you're not out as someone who's attracted to women.

I guess what I'm saying is that when you're sitting alone with these feelings, then it's easy to think there's a penalty for not being sure. But, in my experience, there's not. You can say one thing, and then four years later you can change your mind, and it's totally fine.

Dating, of course, is something different. I could write reams on the difference between trying to date men and trying to date women, but that's not what this post is about.

There is nobody who doesn’t feel, at their core, like they’re an underdog

The interesting thing about writing YA novels is that they're all (so far as I can see) about people who feel as if they're oppressed. No matter how powerful the characters might be, they always see themselves as geeks and nerds and losers who want to be on top. It's like the X-Men. The X-Men have super duper magical powers and can read minds and destroy planets and shit like that, but they've always got this hangdog "We are so oppressed" thing going.

And my novel is no different! It's about an Indian girl who's valedictorian at her school and is from a relatively well-off family...who still feels oppressed. She's one rung down from the top at the social hierarchy of her school, but she's full of poison towards those who are above her. And you feel it. You empathize with her. Because that's what we're all like.

overly-confidentPersonally, I've led kind of a charmed life, but I still feel oppressed almost all the time (unless I make a specific effort not to). It's really easy. I just need to focus on one or two specific things where stuff hasn't been as easy for me as it possibly could be, and I'm like wahh. Which is not to say my complaints aren't real. It is harder for queer people to date and figure stuff out in a heteronormative society. It is harder for people of color to write fiction that will succeed in a marketplace dominated by white editors, agents, and readers. the grand scheme of things, the oppression obviously wasn't that terrible, because life still turned out good.

It sounds here like I'm saying that all those women and minorities out there are whiners for caring about their oppression, but I'm not. What I'm saying, though is that all the wealthy white guys feel oppressed too! That's what leads to all these comments by billionaires where they compare themselves to Jews who are being persecuted by Hitler. White guys feel so oppressed! They talk about it with each other all the time! How all the jobs are going to women and minorities! It's kind of amazing, actually. I want to criticize them for it, but it also makes me wonder: maybe there's something inherent in human nature that causes us to think of ourselves as underdogs? Maybe it's not actually possible for people to perceive themselves as powerful and on top of the world. I feel like every overly-confident person I know is hiding, at their core, a deep sense of insecurity. And every humble person also carries around a sense of their unworthiness (except in their case that sense has been transformed into gratitude). There's nobody who's simply secure with their own high opinion of themselves.

Trying to be a more mindful driver

distracted-drivingFor years I've had a premonition that I was going to die in a car crash. I'm not a very good driver and driving is also very dangerous (easily the most dangerous thing I do on a daily basis). It's so odd to think that when I'm on the highway even brushing against one of these other cars could easily lead to my death. Driving requires split-second reaction time, all the time. There is, admittedly, some resilience built in, because most of the time there's the possibility that the other driver can catch your mistake and find a way to dodge you. But still, it's pretty horrifying.

Lately I've been trying to be a more mindful driver. Mostly this has involved me turning off the radio while I drive. I mean, I've no objection to music, but oftentimes I'm just scanning through the stations, looking for a song to distract me, and the whole exercise really adds nothing of value to my life.

I've already noticed a distinct difference. When I drive without music, I'm much more aware of my surroundings. I feel more confident when I turn and when I merge lanes. I'm more aware of the other cars around me. It's not that I've become a much better driver--it's that my attention is now focused more wholly on the task at hand. As a result, I feel a lot safer.

I'm not actually a big music listener. I have all these songs on my iPhone, but I never listen to them. I don't listen to music while I work, either (for instance, no music is playing now) or while I'm walking from place to place. Sometimes I'll listen to music while I shower, but even that has become less frequent.

I suppose I'd like to be a more purposeful listener. I don't want to lose out on music, but I do want to learn how to just listen--how to let music be more than background noise.

Writing fiction is for people who were too lazy when they were kids to learn how to code

HackerBeen futzing around with my website today, changing around some of the pages, switching up the front page, etc. I finally fixed that thing with my Top Posts sidebar on the right, where all the links would take you into the Wayback Machine. I made it so the blog now has a static front page (since it's my author site as well as my blog). I created some new sections, including one for people who want to hire me to do some writing for them. (You should check it out! The copy is laughably bombastic, but I don't care. I apologize for nothing).

I also decided that I didn't like the way a few things in my site looked: most notably block quotes and bulleted lists. So I went into the CSS, and I learned how to make them look different! Since half of you are computer programmers, you're probably like, duh, of course you did--CSS is simple. Well whatever guys, I've never programmed a line of CSS in my life, so I'm excited that after a mere hour and a half of work, I got everything looking alright.

Coding is really absorbing. People in this area are always talking down about tech workers, but I will have none of that. Programming seems way better than most jobs, because it's actually possible to love the act of programming. I mean, coding is absorbing in the way that's unlike everything else in life, except playing music or sports or computer games.

In a way, it's surprising that I'm not a computer programmer! When I was a kid, I was very interested in it: I bought all kinds of books that purported to teach you how to code Java in thirty days or C++ in thirty days or all that sort of stuff. Of course I never stuck with it. I don't even think I ever built a program. But by god I spent hours reading those books!

Ultimately I was too much of a dreamer. I wanted to make huge, epic computer games, and it was difficult for me to see the pathway from coding "Hello World" in Java to making the things that I wanted.

Writing is easier. When you write, you have exactly the same tools on hand that Tolstoy or Tolkien had. You can start on page one and spin the most complicated world that you can imagine.

But I think it's that very freedom which renders it less absorbing than programming. When you're working with code, there's a finite list of things that you can do next. You're trying to solve a problem, and you're trying to solve it well. Writing isn't like that. It's not about solving problems, it's about thinking up new ones.

Oh well, in another life I'd be living eight miles to the west of here and earning $150,000 a year.

Over time, I have changed how I feel about horn use

chinese-use-car-hornsThere's a Louis CK joke where he says something like, "Hey, want to know if you're an asshole? Yeah? Well, if, when you're driving, you ever use your horn to honk at someone, for anything, then you're an asshole."

And for many years, this how I felt. Honking always felt very aggressive and I know it makes me feel bad--indicted--whenever someone honks at me, so I never did it.

But somehow I've changed. Now I honk at someone at least once every other week (perhaps even more often). I try to only honk in the spirit of gentle correction ("Hey, you're about to hit me" or "Hey, the light is green and you should go") but I do sometimes honk at nervous drivers--people who're taking way too long to take a left turn. I am torn about whether this is a good thing to do or not. On the one hand, I know that it doesn't ease their anxiety, and that it probably contributes materially to the stress of turning. But, on the other hand, I also want to let them know that there are standards. I feel like driving is such a personal thing--you're mostly alone in the car and, unless you're driving with your dad, people are reluctant to critique their friends' driving (note--if you critique my driving while we're in the car together, I'm never gonna drive you anywhere again), so I think it might be valuable to people to know that they're being a little too nervous, because otherwise they might never know that it is possible to be better at this.

I like to think that I am Zen, about this. I honk, but never in anger. However, that's mostly an illusion. I'm frequently annoyed when I honk. But I try to be better! And maybe someday I will be.

I have one simple method for solving all of my problems, and you’ll never guess what it is!

everything-s-terrible-and-it-s-all-your-faultI'm told there are lots of people in the world whose main problems have to do with forces outside their control: poor health, poverty, governmental collapse, natural disaster, drought, famine, anarchy, etc.

But I am not one of those people. I--and I think this is also the case for many readers of this blog--am mostly concerned with things that are very partly inside my control: my writing career; my various current and former addictions; and my various social and romantic entanglements.

And with issues like that, you mostly need to: a) make sure you're using the right approach; and b) emotionally prepare yourself for the low points that will inevitably hit you.

With regards to a), I always find that there's usually surprisingly little disagreement about the right approach. For instance, if you're an alcoholic, you should stop drinking, forever. And if you want to make a writing career, you should write alot, and submit your writing. If you want to make friends, you should become part of an environment where you'll be repeatedly exposed to the same people without planning to meet them. There's no disagreement here! There's really only one right answer.

No, the most difficult thing, I find, is managing the emotional fallout of that course of action. Because there's a reason people don't do the above. There is a reason that they search for shortcuts or, more often, simply fail to act. It's because doing all of those things will sometimes make you feel really, really bad. And not doing them will usually not feel quite as bad. For instance, you might feel pretty unfulfilled if you want to be a writer and you never write anything. But you'll never experience that sharp drop into the abyss that comes when you realize your masterpiece is never going to be published.

What's worse is that with regards to managing your emotions, there is much more disagreement as to the correct course of action.

Generally, when you're feeling really really bad (on a subclinical level), you'll get four kinds of advice:

1. Suck it up and soldier on.

2. See a therapist.

3. Alleviate negative emotions using temporary palliatives: exercise, socializing with loved ones; going easy on yourself; etc

4. Engage in some sort of spiritual practice (here in the Bay Area, it's normally meditation) that will elevate you above the negative emotions.

The problem is that all of these recommendations sort of work. But none of them really work. Like, there's nothing there to which you could confidently say, "Oh, just stick with that, and you'll get sorted out!"

Because while there are very few people who write and submit their work for ten years and don't get anywhere, there're plenty of people who meditate extensively and are still terrified and anxious. There are plenty of people who exercise every day and still lose it whenever something bad happens. There are plenty of people who go to therapy for ages and still don't have their heads straight.

There's a feeling I've experienced so many times in my life that I can't believe it still surprises me. It's the feeling of hitting a really low point and trying something new that seems like it might be work, only to realize, "Oh my god, this is completely useless."

Before I quit drinking, I remember getting up all this energy and rolling into so many AA meetings and thinking, "Alright, I'm here. Help me do this!" and then having this sinking feeling where I realized that this actually didn't help at all. That none of this talking and community support actually put me one step closer to my goal, because the change I needed to make was a change inside my own soul, and there was no one in the world who could make it for me.

With meditation and therapy, too, I've had that same realization at various times. And there is a temptation to stick with it. A temptation to put your trust in an authority figure who says, "Oh, this is going to help." And I've done that too. But in the end, it always feels like a false God, because there's never a point at which someone who is supposed to help you is going to say, "'re actually on your own."

But that's what I've found to be the truth. Other people can sympathize, and they can offer knowledge and advice. But ultimately, you're on your own with your problems. And the way forward is never clear.

It's tempting to say, "Just suck it up and soldier on," because at least that gets you closer to whatever it is that you want, but even that's not the right advice. There's too much friction there. Too much blindness. Soldiering on is worthwhile when there's nothing else to do. But what you really need to do is to vanquish your enemy.

Oh, not completely. Loneliness can never die. The feeling of inadequacy can never die. Envy can never die. But there is a way to suck the poison from those feelings.

The problem, though, is that the way is different for everyone, and I don't know a reliable way to find it.

I will say, though, that in my experience, it is not particularly useful to sit around and think about your problem. There's no thought you're going to think which is going to shed fundamentally new light on any emotional problem you have. It's hard to avoid brooding, though, because it feels so much like action. I've brooded on my problems for hours upon hours, and each time felt I'd found an answer, only to see that answer evaporate with the rising of the sun.

The only worthwhile thing, I've found, is to confront the problem. To experience it. To not allow it to slip away. To keep it in the back of your mind for months or years, until finally the answer comes in a flash of white light.

That's probably not useful for other people, because if you've never experienced the flash of white light, as I have, then it's difficult to believe it will come. But for me, I've found that the answer always arrives sooner or later. And it usually arrives in the form of some relatively trite piece of wisdom that is, suddenly, imbued with new meaning.

For instance, I remember once I was feeling a little down, and I was walking around Lake Merritt, and I suddenly realized that this was it. This was life, and there was nothing else to life other than days like this. And with that in mind, I realized that I had no idea how to have a happy and contented life, but I did know how to have a happy and contented day, and that I should simply focus on making each day as happy as possible. And ever since then (this must, be wow, three years ago?) that has served as an organizing principle for my life.

You’ll never guess where I found this life-altering piece of productivity advice!

ahh-procrastinationYou know, you read all these articles on the internet, and most of them are total SEO crap: silly wikihow articles churned out for $15 a post in order to get some ad-money by perching on top of a search result for a term like "How do I stop procrastinating."

But then, once in awhile, one of those posts comes at you with some amazing advice. God knows where it comes from. Maybe the writer of the article was particularly good and conscientous? Or, more likely, they had a friend or a relation who knew something about the topic in question. Or perhaps every person does genuinely have one or two decent pieces of wisdom to impart, and sometimes you end up imparting that wisdom in the form of a generic looking listicle.

In any case, I've been making my way through the revisions on my novel, and I feel like I'm on track to finish by my April 1st deadline. And I realized that I actually tend to make my deadlines more often than not nowadays. And, what's more, I usually make them without going into 'crunch mode' or getting all stressed out.

And I owe it all to one tiny little article that a friend shared on Facebook.

The article is gone, unfortunately. I mean, it probably still exists somewhere on the internet, but I have no idea where it is. But anyway, the title was something like, "These seven trick will teach you how to finish all your work on time!"

And the first four of them were trite and obvious stuff like, I don't know, making to-do lists and breaking up your proejct into discrete tasks that could be doable in one sitting. But the fifth item was great. It was something like:

Begin each assignment as soon as you get it, even if you can only work on it for a few minutes -- Research has shown that human beings hate to leave things unfinished. If you put off starting an assignment, then it's possible to push it out of your mind, but if you begin to work on it, then your mind will prod you to return to it until it's eventually done.

This could not be more true. I swear to God, it's like magic. Nowadays whenever I get an assignment, I just open it up and work on it for twenty or thirty minutes. And then I know that, no matter what, I'll finish it by the deadline. I have no idea how this works, but it just gets done. Sometimes I'll even procrastinate for huge chunks of time in the middle. For instance, today I revised for two hours and then daydreamed for two hours. But over time, the effort I put in slowly accelerates and the ratio of work to daydreaming decreases and voila, it gets done.

P.S. This is not the article that my friend shared, but it is an article that's about this phenomenon (which is apparently called the Zeigarnik Effect).

I do not like to travel. I’ve gone to not-America more than enough times to conclude that visiting it is definitely not my thing..

travelling-vector-30_48402Several years ago, I realized that I really ought to get rid of the two or three or five grudges I was still carrying from HS and college because, in most cases, the original fault in those feuds was mine and, in any case, both I and the begrudged person were by now so different that it was like carrying on a fight with a ghost.

I am like that. I have lots of instinctive aversions to things that I've never really tried: salads; camping; running for exercise (as opposed to because someone is chasing you); urban bicycling; yoga; meditation; Eastern religion; Western religion; manual transmission cars; adjunct teaching; writing a trilogy or series; fixing things around the house; owning a truck or SUV; etc.

I have one aversion that I am absolutely certain about. I do not like to travel. When I was telling my friend Jillian about my dislike of travel, she was shocked! Jillian works as a foreign correspondent and is all about traveling, and she was all like words words words about traveling, but in the end I had to say that this is one preference of mine which I have tested out extensively, and if there's anything I am sure of, it's that traveling is not for me.

My parents immigrated to America from India, so they obviously do not share my aversion, and when I was growing up, we went on many, many, many family vacations. I honestly cannot fathom it. For me, the prospect of taking my own self to Vietnam or Egypt or Guatemala for two weeks is so exhausting and alienating that it puts me right to sleep, but my parents were perfectly content to do it with two children in tow (and oftentimes, because my father's work schedule clashed, my brother and I would also travel with just my mother). So I saw (and appreciated) many very old buildings before I turned eighteen: Macchu Picchu; Angkor Wat; the Pyramids; the Taj Mahal (I saw the Taj Mahal five times in one year, actually).

Then, of course, I lived in New Delhi for a year (9th grade) when I was growing up.

And I've also done my fair share of solo traveling. After sophomore year of college, a friend and I travelled through Europe for three months. When I worked for the World Bank, I would travel for weeks at a time, usually to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and I often attached trips of my own to either end of my World Bank missions. I spent ten days in Berlin, for instance, and once visited Jordan and Israel for a week. Both ended up being gaycations, actually. Hmm, maybe there's a pattern there. And all of that was really fun. I mean, I always enjoyed the trips I went on.

So I think I've experienced all the various facets of foreign travel, and I have to say, it's just not my thing. My three main complaints are that it's expensive, physically taxing, and lonely. (And yes, I know the expense can be ameliorated, in some cases, but only by increasing the loneliness and physical discomfort).

For me, the sense of alienation is the most unsettling part. Whenever I'm in a foreign country, I feel so distant from the culture around me. Like, I always think, "Could I set a story here?" And I find that the answer is almost always "No," because I really don't know anything about this place. And no matter how much I talk to people, I still won't understand the subtleties of life in this place in the same way that I understand them in the United States. It sounds silly, even to me, but I feel, in some way, that I have a responsibility to write about the things I understand: the places where I belong; the communities I've been part of; and the stories I've seen or been a part of. And in order to become a writer, I don't need to seek out new experiences: I just need to more fully understand the things that are already happening to me.

Although I struggled against it for years (because it's so expensive here), I feel lucky to have found a metropolitan area where I have community and feel connected to people. To me, that's the adventure: making a home and becoming a part of a place. Because I do think that you can gain something valuable by going to a new place, but I also think you can gain something valuable by spending five or ten or fifteen or fifty years in the same place. And, well...the latter involves a lot less time cramming myself my 6' 7" body into tiny airplane seats.

P.S. On a sidenote, the one kind of trip I like is the kind where I visit a friend of mine and spend lots of time with them and their friends, seeing how they live, because that's the only time I feel really connected to the place I'm visiting. That is, for instance, why I really enjoyed my recent visit to Salt Lake City.