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A Writing Affair


One of my first memories of writing was in second grade. I had taken to writing my name with a lower case T. Like this: Sobrina tung. My teacher was all up in arms about it, reprimanding my inappropriate use of lower cases. But I just didn’t see what the big deal was, especially since that was how my dad signed our last name on my field trip permission slips and on grocery store receipts. I once asked him why he didn’t capitalize the T as we had learned to do in school. He said it looked much better uncapitalized, and after comparing a capitalized Tung and an uncapitalized tung, I had to agree. It did make for a finer signature.

My first memory of expository writing was sometime after this in elementary school. We learned the approach many students learned, the Sandwich approach. An essay could be viewed as a sandwich, with each of the essay’s paragraphs corresponding to the different components of a common sandwich. The introduction and conclusion were the slices of bread holding everything together and the three paragraphs in between played the roles of the bologna (or ham or turkey if that was your preference), the lettuce and the tomato. If I didn’t think about it too much, it would have made enough sense, but all too often I would get hung up on all the unanswered questions. What about the mustard? What would that be in the essay? What if I don’t take tomato in my sandwiches? What if I decided that I’d like to have peanut butter and jelly and not a savory meat sandwich? This confusion lingered through junior high through high school and through to my freshmen year of college. I followed the sandwich approach and yet I had no idea what I was writing or what I should be writing about. I pictured crafting a paragraph of bread, then laying in my bologna, and after that I filled the rest of the sandwich with random musings behind the author’s title choice, forgetting completely what I was trying to prove.

Freshmen year of college, two interesting things happened. First, I took an English class with Weiko Lin who taught me how to write. I don’t know how else to put it because he really did. We wrote pages and pages on Malcolm X’s first conk, on the loss of virility in American History X, on why most shoelaces are flat and not rounded pieces of string. After receiving our first assignment, we came back to the classroom and said, “But we don’t have 8 pages worth of stuff to write about the conk.” To which he said something good and wise, something like, “Yes, you do. Now go back and try.” His point was that we needed to learn how to focus our writing, how to make a point, and for me, it worked.

The second thing that happened was that I started writing short blurbs (for lack of a better word) in my AIM profile. AIM was the lifeblood of the dorms, and I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t on it. I didn’t know if anyone paid attention to my profile, but one day someone living on my floor told me that he checked my profile all the time, just to read my little blurbs. It was enthralling to have a reader, even if it was just one reading my insignificant profile blurbs. Eventually I moved out of the dorms and stopped using AIM and my blurb writing lied dormant. When graduation came, I tried figuring out a way to harness my blurb writing creativity into something I could do everyday. Preferably something that would still allow me to eat on a regular basis and to have a bed to sleep in. Because eating and sleeping in comfort are a few of my top priorities and finding any sort of job was trickier than I thought, I set aside any writing desire and took up a job in market research. My life became a life of Excel spreadsheets, SPSS data tabulations, calculators, surveys and PowerPoints.

Two years after that and after some heavy duty soul searching, my friend Jon said half joking that I’d be good at writing the blurbs on the sides of Vitamin Water labels. This set off a series of sparks in my head, ones that ultimately led to my conclusion that someone had to be writing those blurbs. And there weren’t just blurbs on Vitamin Water labels, there were blurbs on everything. When I finally figured out these good people were known as copywriters, I made it my business to become one. Except that all open positions were looking for people with copywriting experience, of which I had none. I finally found a job posting that looked promising, so I whipped up a compelling cover letter, an improper one that I hoped would look at the hiring manager straight in the face and say, “I can do this. I can be non-traditional. I can be rock ‘n roll. Please hire me. Oh, please.” A month later I moved to Walnut Creek to get my blurb writing on and surprisingly I was still able to eat and sleep in a bed.

Now here I am, still writing blurbs at work (among other things) and writing, at times, long winded blurbs here. I recently found out about a newish online magazine called Content. It is “For and By the People of San Jose.” It is one of the most beautiful magazines I’ve ever seen, and as someone who’s always sticking up for San Jose, San Francisco’s homely (to some unshapely) sister, I wanted to be a part of it. On Friday I went to a collaboration meeting and found I might have a whole lot more to learn about magazines and magazine writing. The two editing/writing types I met with talked about how much they despised Facebook, about how pretentious the track changes function in Word is, about Gonzo journalism. It made my head spin. Because although I don’t live and die by Facebook, I don’t think it is really any sort of evil. Actually, I had never given it much thought before. I also actually think track changes works fine for many of my intents and purposes. And who is Gonzo?

Watching the two go back and forth in lively conversation, I felt sort of like I was removed, on the other side of a window, the one looking in at a scene playing out on a stage. It sort of like that time Alan and I went to the hipster cafe in Santa Cruz. As we parked and walked up to the entrance, a man as tall as Alan but half the weight of me, walked out. He walked with purpose and gave off an air of accomplishment, as though he had just completed a substantial portion of his memoir detailing his 22 years of life. In his arms he carried a typewriter, an actual typewriter.

Listening to the two go on, I didn’t want to disagree too much or to ask if Gonzo was a new character on Sesame Street, so I did my best to nod and look like I, too, hated track changes. But really, I was making mental notes to bring my typewriter to the next meeting. That should really impress them!

Last modified: January 10, 2019