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Have you ever had a story that saved your life? Maybe helped you figure out the path you wanted to take? Took you to a place you needed to go?
When people talk about fiction being escapist, especially the genres of romance, science fiction, and fantasy, it makes me wonder—because often when I experience those stories, I feel more truly myself than almost any other time. It’s more than imagining myself as the hero—I don’t often do that—it’s about relating to characters and feeling like I belong, and further, maybe bringing some of that feeling out into the real world.
Reading The Saga of the Swamp Thing as a teenager during some of the most difficult times of my life gave me an appreciation for literature, poetry, philosophy, religion, and environmental issues that still informs my values to this day. Yes, it was a comfort read but even more, it spoke to me, gave me a place where I could feel and be alive at the same time, instead of having to choose—reflected and validated me without trying to change me, which I think is something the “real world” tries to do. Which is more real, then? The you that lives on board The Millennium Falcon and strives to be brave (and a bit of a scoundrel), or the one that fits into the adult-shaped box with bills to pay?
The truth for me has been both—it’s the combination of both the imaginary and the mundane that allows for me to exist as a whole person in reality. I do not retreat into fiction—I draw strength from it.
And this is why representation means so much to me—because it will mean something to someone else. This isn’t just about having someone look like us in stories, because that would be tokenism. My parents would yell for us to come and check out the TV whenever Connie Chung came on—but my brother and I had no idea why this meant anything. My parents thought it was a huge accomplishment (it was) but it wasn’t until later, when I became older and saw Ke Huy Quan (now Jonathan Ke Quan) starring as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and then Data in The Goonies, that I had a moment in my life where I truly believed I had options. You know, other than being “smart” and “good at math” and “quiet” and all the other things I learned every Asian person should be according to the stories of this land.
There’s more to media than seeing faces, especially those that don’t matter to the story or merely exist to give flavor like raisins in a milk-filled bowl of bran. It’s about participation. Not as a supporting character, sidekick, comic relief, villain, or mentor on whose backs and shoulders the real participant stands.
Being a part of a story tells us we’re not alone—not in our happiness, our sadness, or our anger. They tell us we have options and that we can exercise them—that we have both permission and encouragement. This ultimately gives us a choice on how to make our lives meaningful based on what we decide, not what is decided for us.
Stories are tools for remodeling that adult-shaped box we were given from a coffin into something custom and spacious; they are not blankets to hide under, but the raw materials for a ship to shelter and propel us into our real selves.
Title: Red Envelope
Author: Atom Yang
Publisher: MLR Press
Publication Date: 12/04/2015
Cover Artist: Kris Jacen
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Gay Romance, Humor/Comedy, New Adult, Other Holiday, Romance, Winter Holiday
The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar, a time for family reunions, and for saying goodbye to the past and hello to the future. Clint, however, doesn’t want to bid farewell to what happened after last year’s celebration, when he and his Cousin Maggie’s handsome Caucasian friend, Weaver, shared an unexpected but long-desired passionate encounter. East is East and West is West, and Weaver seems to want to keep it that way, but maybe Clint can bridge that great divide this coming New Year, and show Weaver what it means to be loved and accepted.
About Atom Yang
Atom was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it’d be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too–so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character, in case you were wondering.
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