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On Prophecies

Do you believe in fortune tellers? I’m feeling a little low after a flurry of rejections, so I’m just going to talk to myself here.

Once upon a time, around the time I was born, my mom saw a fortune teller in Hong Kong.

His soothsaying was uncanny: he predicted my younger sister’s birth years before the fact (and that it was a girl).

He said my husband and I would be frequently separated 聚少离多. It worried my mom, but apparently he laughed and said we would be fine, I just wasn’t the type to stay at home. Well he was definitely right about that. I tried, but threw in the towel after my twins turned one. As for my husband and I, in our first 5 years of marriage I had a job where I was out of the country at least a week a month

He also said I would be “world famous” 名赫天下 at 40, which my mom made the mistake of telling me in my twenties. “You’ll be fine. The fortune teller said you’re going to make it big.”

I feel like that’s never going to happen now that I’ve shouted it out loud here. Ha ha.

And I don’t want to be famous. It seems like a rather unpleasant sort of life. I just want to write books that move people. And are read widely.

(If that happens you heard it here first. Lol)

For a long time, the fortune teller’s prophecy made me feel useless, because I was getting nowhere in a job I didn’t like at a place I hated. I constantly felt 怀才不遇, that my talents were not being applied in the right areas. Where was that promised glory?

Some time after I turned 30, which is almost six years ago, I started writing again. The first short story I ever wrote was picked up by a prominent local lit journal and praised by the editors. “Oh that’s it,” I thought. “I’m going to be a world famous writer.”

Well, I haven’t published anything since although I’ve gotten a whole bunch of longlists, shortlists, personal rejections, but at the end of the day, still rejections.

All I’ve had to show for slogging the past 5-6 years is one rejection after another.

And every day the age 40 draws nearer and sometimes it makes me panic, thinking I will never live up to who I was supposed to be.

Or more accurately, who my mother expects me to be. Or, who I think my mother expects me to be.

But you know what, at this point it doesn’t really matter. Because the one thing that is palpable to me: over the last 5-6 years, and especially the last one year, my writing has gotten A LOT better. I know because I cringe when I read my earlier work.

The real problem the prophecy inflicted on me: complacency.

At first I’d just send out my story to the New Yorker, Granta, twiddle my thumbs waiting to hear back, then feel confused when I got rejected.

The thing is, I had no idea how to b a writer, much less build a writing career

In another example of early success going to my head: I was published in Time magazine at 18. Most people from my school knew, my head swelled, I thought I was going places. (I think it was around this time that my mom told me said prophecy)

I left journalism years ago, but I sometimes wonder, what if I had persisted? My contemporaries who didn’t have my early luck worked much harder, and are now nationally known/ award-winning correspondents (I’m very proud of them!)

The thing is, prophecies will just get in your way. The only way to get anywhere is to persist like a bitxx. As my best friend likes to tell me, Constance Wu waitresses for 10 years before Fresh Off the Boat.

What have I done? And have I even done enough? The honest answer is no.

While working a professional job, raising twins, and trying to keep the marriage going, the truth is I haven’t put enough (until recently) into my writing career. I haven’t been writing enough, I haven’t been submitting enough, I haven’t been getting rejected enough.

My goal after Toji (my first artist residency) last year was to become a writer from the inside out (and stop doing the converse).

My second goal was to submit more. Like a whole lot more. So the fact that I’m getting more rejections, really, is a sign that I’m on the right track!

A last word on prophecies. Another famous fortune teller says my zodiac (the Dog) which has been having terrible luck the past few years, will see my luck change this year – specifically after spring.

I should know better, right? But will anything happen? Stay tuned!

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