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An Asian American Woman Tries to Find Herself Outside the White Gaze

As I was reading Days of Distraction, Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, a pandemic swallowed the news cycle, infiltrated my thoughts and implanted itself into the arc of the story, inseparable now from the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in her career, family and love relationship. Such is the nature of modern life, the novel suggests. For its narrator, life proceeds in app platforms, work chat streams, text messages, media, memories, and of course, IRL interaction—and this is reflected in the novel’s fragmented form. Chang often writes in succinct bursts of narration, cutting through the din, allowing incisive commentary about racism, sexism, and the everyday multitudes of being Asian American. 

Cathy Erway: Your book is written in fragments—the story of the protagonist’s journey from a technology reporter in the Bay area to following her boyfriend to upstate New York for his grad school is interspersed with flashbacks, reflection and often snippets of media, like historical records. Do you think that in this day in age, our lives and our decisions are more influenced by the things we’ve read, at some point in time?

Alexandra Chang: I do think that’s the case, at least for me. I, in any given day, will read bits from articles, read Tweets, go on Instagram, watch TV,  then read a book. There are so many sources of information that I’m taking in during any given period of time, and I might not be aware of each individual one affecting my state of mind or an opinion that I might develop. The form allows for a lot of different sources to fold into the narrative in a way that, for me, felt more natural to the way that I take in information. 

I was also interested in the fragmented form because it’s really malleable and can dramatize the psychological and emotional state. The fragments dramatize the ways the narrator in the book is grasping to find a sense of self, and then at times failing, and how she’s looking to various sources, whether it’s in her own past or something that her parents or coworkers say or doing research.

CE: As the narrator is struggling to feel at home after leaving her job and the city that felt like home to her to live with her boyfriend across the country, there is a fragment from Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir, Woman Warrior. Did her work have an influence on yours? I noticed there weren’t too many other novels excerpted.

AC: I read Woman Warrior when I was an undergraduate, in my sophomore or junior year. Before that, I had never read a memoir by a Chinese-American woman… It was a foundational text to me and a book that I have gone back to time and again, so it felt apt to include a bit of it in the novel. 

CE: Did you consider writing this story as a memoir? There are a lot of parallels between your life and that of the narrator’s — being a reporter for tech publications, then traveling across the country to live with your now-husband as he attended grad school.

AC: No, I never considered writing it as a memoir, mostly because I didn’t think my life was really interesting enough to be put down as memoir. I am also not as familiar with the genre and form. For me, fiction is where I feel comfortable, and where I can access and hopefully put down on the page some emotional truths about my existence and the way I see the world without having to exactly adhere to my own experiences. In a lot of ways the book drew from my life, but in many other ways it strays and it’s stylized, and in that way it’s fictional—it feels very fictional to me. 

CE: Speaking of fragments in your book that are historical records, there are a couple pages that had back-to-back clippings from American newspapers the late 19th century, discussing Chinese American immigrants. Then the narrator follows it with:

“Excerpt 1: Pit minority races against one another to benefit white supremacy. The creation of the model minority. Excerpt 2: Thirteen years later: This model minority no longer benefits white supremacy. Therefore, no more allowed in this country.”

Why do you think it was important to include these pieces, specifically? 

AC: As the narrator is trying to figure out her place in the world, she seeks out these historical documents and sees these parallels between the past and the present and [those two clippings] are important for her to recognize her place in the world as tied to a history of white supremacy in the United States. 

Racism against Asian Americans is not something that exists outside of racism against all marginalized people.

For me growing up, I was in predominantly white spaces—and this is reflected in the book in certain places—that I did sometimes have this desire to fit in or to be accepted in white society. As I got older, I started to realize that chasing assimilation was not actually the way I wanted to live. Also, racism against Asian Americans is not something that exists outside of racism against all marginalized people, so in this moment, the narrator is pointing out and recognizing how racism against Asian Americans is part of a larger system of white supremacy, how white supremacy can utilize one race against another. 

CE: Did you happen to read a recent op-ed by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang that is receiving a lot of pushback from the Asian American community?

AC: Yes, that’s an example of what I was talking about, where there is this desire for assimilation and to prove one’s humanity and existence to white society. That the burden is on Asian Americans to do this work. I could have related to that feeling when I was younger, but I have very much grown out of that. It’s definitely not the message I would want Asian Americans to hear and to follow, and I was glad to see such a concerted pushback from the community. 

In the book, the narrator is concerned with these individual moments of racism that happen to her as an Asian American woman, but she’s also on this path to better understanding how that fits into this larger system of racism which affects more than just her. It doesn’t seem like Andrew Yang has considered this yet.

CE: Unfortunately, your book’s publication coincides with a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. How does it feel to publish a book that explores Asian American identity in a time where racism against this group is making headlines?

AC: It’s strange and sad to think that my book might be more “relevant” now because of the increasing visibility of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. The book takes place is in 2012 and 2013, and a lot of it is about the ways in which the narrator experiences and navigates veiled forms of racism—microaggressions from supposedly well-intentioned people, lack of visibility, lack of access to opportunities, an overarching feeling of loneliness. At one point in revision, I cut a scene where a friend of the narrator’s, during the heat of an argument, calls her a “chink.” It felt too melodramatic to me at the time, too much of a departure from the more minor, but persistent and insistent, experiences of racism in the book. Today, seeing Asians in America not only increasingly called this and other racist slurs but also physically assaulted—that scene feels, sadly, ordinary.

CE: In the book, the narrator struggles a bit with her interracial relationship. There is one passage where the narrator observes that her white boyfriend, J, can’t hear the difference in tones when she says something in Chinese. It feels like a loaded description. Do you think this reflects an inherent inability on his part to really understand her or her culture?

A lot of this book is about this experience of struggling to find a way to exist in the world authentically beyond outside perception.

AC: I didn’t necessarily write it with that specific intention. I wrote that section from personal experience, knowing that my white husband and many white friends aren’t able to hear the differences in the inflections of Mandarin. But there’s another moment where J persists in calling the narrator the family nickname even though he pronounces it differently than her family does. That is a moment that exists in this gray area, where he isn’t able to access this person who she feels she is with her family, but he persists in calling her this name. So for her, she starts to think of it as this different version of herself. I do think all of these moments add up throughout the book to show how even in this intimate relationship, they can’t ever fully understand one another. 

CE: Your novel begins with a fragment about how people underestimate the narrator’s height. Have people underestimated you?

AC: What’s interesting about that first paragraph is that it has always been the first paragraph of this novel, it has never changed. It speaks to this struggle that the narrator has in defining who she is, while she being very aware of the ways people perceive and misperceive her. It’s also about these distances in how she wants to be and how she experiences the world based off of other people’s/society’s perspective of her. 

I have been in many situations where I’ve been underestimated or made to feel small. In the workplace, for example, not being acknowledged for the work that I’ve done or having to do a lot more in order to be acknowledged or rewarded. A lot of this book is about this experience of struggling to find a way to exist in the world authentically beyond outside perception, and of course, that is something that I also still struggle with today. 

CE: Is there anything else you want to say about your book?

AC: I wanted to add that there seems to be a renaissance in Asian American literature right now and I feel like very lucky to be part of this resurgence—there are so many books by Asian American authors that have come out this year and the months to come, so I just wanted to shout out a few of the ones I’ve read and loved, including: Meng Jin’s Little Gods, C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold, Kevin Nguyen’s New Waves, Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings, and Maxine Mei-Fung Chung’s The Eighth Girl. I’m also excited to read Tracy O’Neill’s Quotients, Megha Majumdar’s A Burning, and Asako Serizawa’s Inheritors.  

Even though this book addresses a lot about the experience of feeling invisible or feeling underestimated as an Asian American woman, what is really invigorating and heartening right now is that I do see many more stories by Asian American authors coming out and to be a part of that is really great. 

The post An Asian American Woman Tries to Find Herself Outside the White Gaze appeared first on Electric Literature.

What’s the most interesting book insight you’ve recognized this week?

Chris Carter is Group CEO of retail marketing agency SMP and Amazon ecommerce specialist Melody.

We asked Carter what his day-to-day now looks like, what trends he is seeing in his sector, and what advice he has for marketers.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I’m Group CEO of SMP. It consists of SMP, a retail marketing agency focused on the consumer technology sector, and Melody, an ecommerce specialist and part of Amazon’s coveted Solution Provider Network.

Our head office is in London and we also have footprints in Dublin and San Francisco. Since mid-March we’ve expanded significantly, gaining 37 home offices as the team are doing what they do best, but from the comfort of their own homes!

My role is to set the vision and strategy for the agency and to keep us on track to deliver it. I also work very closely with key clients to help them deliver their own strategy. At the moment that means a lot of Zoom calls, particularly with clients keen to migrate sales from their offline channels to ecommerce while we’re all stuck at home.

How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?

Ordinarily, I’d be on a train to Holborn by 7am, in and out of meetings and calls all day before getting home about 7.30pm. But my current day is very different. I am up by 6.30am and after breakfast I make the short commute from the kitchen to my home office, being at my desk by 7am.

The Leadership Team meets at 8am via Zoom to discuss the plan for the day and address any resource challenges. From time to time my daughter joins the calls (yes, Zoom-bombing is a thing) to provide her perspective on how we are performing as a team. At 14 months old she’s one of our youngest team members but already showing a huge amount of promise.

I am a big fan of to-do lists, so I’ll review what’s urgent and important and focus on these first. The days are normally made up of several internal meetings focused on our performance against company metrics, plus a lot of client video calls. We’ve also initiated virtual coffees with individuals to check-in on them whilst they are isolated – it’s really important to maintain day-to-day contact with team members, especially where they live alone.

Late afternoon is when I’ll catch up with our San Francisco team and clients, which always gives us some great insights into how the US approaches retail and ecommerce, especially at this time.

And whilst working from home brings its challenges, there are upsides; I get to see my daughter in the morning for breakfast, take her for a walk at lunchtime and read her a bedtime story at night – all things I rarely have the chance to do when I am working in town.

What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?

Like most people, I use a variety of apps, technologies and platforms to keep connected and working no matter where I am. And as an agency we haven’t needed to invest in any new tools to support the teams working from home.

My go-tos at the moment (besides my iPhone and iPad) are WhatsApp (perfect for quick catch-ups), Evernote (great for meeting notes) and To Do (great for to-do lists, unsurprisingly). I’m also a big fan of how Blinkist condenses business books into bite-sized text and audio, which will one day make that commute bearable again.

And of course, who couldn’t live without Houseparty and Netflix Party during lockdown!

Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?

Not your traditional brand campaign, but I love how BBC Creative has turned four clips from classic sitcoms into public information videos. The clips from The Thick of It, Miranda, The Mighty Boosh and Alan Partridge encourage UK residents to stay at home.

The first three films end with the on-screen message: “Seriously, stay at home. Please help stop the spread.” The Partridge one, meanwhile, has the text: “Set a routine to get through staying in.”

What changes are you making to help your clients’ brands connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?

Even during the weeks leading up to the lockdown we were developing proactive ‘Now > Next > Future’ recommendations for our clients. They’re designed to help brands optimise their Amazon and ecommerce channels in the absence of physical retail. This included helping support smaller brands, significantly impacted by the closure of their physical presence, to set themselves up and start trading on Amazon.

Additionally, we’re analysing how COVID-19 is impacting UK shopping habits today and, whilst it is hard to separate anticipated consumer intent from actual behaviour, what shoppers believe will be the lasting impact of their newly formed shopping habits in the future. We’re sharing these insights with clients to help inform channel strategy development.

And finally, where our clients have products that have become invaluable during the lockdown we’ve worked with them to ensure as many people as possible are able to access them, as quickly as possible.

What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?

Unsurprisingly, the biggest trend has been the shift of focus from physical retail to ecommerce. Melody, our ecommerce division, has never been busier. On a lighter note, I’ve also been getting a lot of interior design hints and tips from all the Zoom calls I have been on.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

The advice I’d give right now is the same that I have always given, which has served me well over the years: attention to detail should be your mantra and delighting your clients your speciality.

However, recently we have been discussing the increased importance of context and would recommend two key steps: first, review your current/scheduled campaigns and see what needs to be cancelled, paused, reimagined or reconfigured. Is the message, tone, offer and imagery appropriate for the current crisis?

Second, identify what value your brand can legitimately offer to help get people through the crisis, and communicate it in a positive, informative, sensitive and accessible way.

What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your clients’ brands?

If differs so much by client, but one thing they all have in common is scenario planning. Where there is so much uncertainty, it is critical to model plans against different variables. Brands need to understand the markers that will determine which plan to follow, and when.

Download Econsultancy’s Ecommerce Best Practice Guide

The post Marketers on the new normal: Chris Carter, CEO at retail marketing agency SMP appeared first on Econsultancy.

What’s the most interesting content marketing tip you’ve discovered from this post?

Six weeks ago every event got cancelled, postponed or moved to virtual. Like many professional speakers, I started delivering my talks virtually. But taking a 45 minute talk and doing it over Zoom doesn’t work. It’s too long, tech gets in the way and it just feels boring.

I knew I had to get better at this.

So I started researching. At first it was YouTube videos. I watched a 34 minute overview on selecting the right cardioid microphone. I took notes from a masterclass from a Hollywood lighting pro on techniques like loop and butterfly lighting. I consumed hours of videos on acting techniques, professional studio setups, and product demos. I also asked for advice from some professionals in the entertainment business from my network and read what my friends and fellow speakers were sharing on social media.

And I started writing a book all about everything I was learning when it came to presenting virtually, working more effectively while remote and building trust with people without being in the same room (or perhaps without ever having met in real life. This week, I’m launching that book as a free download (get it here!) and throughout the process of writing and researching it, I kept presenting and experimenting.

Over the last three weeks I have learned a lot and gotten better. Though I’m continuing to do presentations and getting better at virtual storytelling, I thought I’d share some of the biggest things that I have learned which will help you get better faster, and perhaps skip watching hours of YouTube videos in order to do it.

1. Don’t fear the tech.

I realized over the past month that I have been completely spoiled at events by working with a professional AV crew. At home, it’s just me. And when faced with complex technology, my tendency has too often been to claim ignorance. I was, after all, an English major. But in a professional setting, when you are on your own without an IT department, technical problems just end up making YOU look bad. There’s no one else to blame. So skip the excuses, watch some YouTube videos yourself and conquer your fear of getting technical. This isn’t like programming the Mars rover. You can do this.

2. Get dressed.

It’s a beautiful thing that we can now present in our pajamas. But I don’t. In fact, I usually dress the same way I would if I were presenting from the stage. For me, it helps me to bring more energy in an artificial environment where I don’t get the benefit of audience feedback. So I don’t look the same in every video, I also try to wear something different for each talk.

3. Embrace the unperfection.

Most of us don’t have a professional studio at home. It’s ok. In fact, it might be better. When we see each other’s homes in the background, or some of our personality – we feel more connected. So let it be a little bit unperfect and focus on being authentic instead of perfect.

4. Face the window.

All of the light tutorials I watched on YouTube were great, but complicated. You can buy ring lights or hook up web-enabled dimmers to your phone – but the real secret to how I’m getting pretty good light on all my calls comes down to three words: face a window. When your face is to the window, you avoid backlighting (the biggest lighting problem most people have) and odd shadows too. The picture below is me in my home office with NO additional lighting. I literally just turned around to face the window instead of putting it behind me. Of course, this won’t work if you’re in a room with no windows (or at night) – so if that’s the case, get good lighting from the front (a ring light works for this) and start with that.

5. Invest in sound.

If you are going to spend money on anything to improve your virtual presentation, make it a high quality microphone. Headsets generally are a great way to get good sound and avoid background noise. The problem is you end up looking like a call center operator. The alternative is a good cardioid microphone (a microphone that mainly picks up sound from the front). The microphones to avoid are omnidirectional (they pick up ambient sound from around the room).

6. Play with the tech.

Whenever my boys encounter something new, they want to press all the buttons. As they get older, they still do that. We can use some of that same mentality when it comes to using videoconferencing platforms. Do you know what all the buttons do? Try them out. On a Zoom call, using the space bar is a shortcut to go off mute. Skype has similar keyboard shortcuts. The best way to get better at using the tools is by playing with it … and pressing all the buttons.

7. Skip the apology.

We all know that virtual meetings aren’t seamless. Sometimes people are hard to hear. And your WiFi may be slow. It’s tempting to always be apologizing for this, or even worse, apologizing before anything even goes wrong! Instead, go with the flow and adapt to the difficulties. If they persist, be decisive in what to do about it – whether it’s asking everyone to log out and then back in, or the worst case scenario of rescheduling the meeting. People may not like it, but they will definitely appreciate it more if you didn’t waste 30 minutes trying to get everything working before finally canceling.

8. Speak to the camera.

When you are on a video call where multiple people are sharing screens, you will want to look at them. The problem is, doing this appears as if you’re looking sideways. The only way to offer the appearance of eye contact is to speak to your webcam instead of to the images of the people. This is logical, but very hard to consistently do because it feels unnatural. To be honest, I haven’t found an easy way to do this, apart from asking everyone else to turn off their video screens. So I’ve just been practicing ignoring their videos and speaking to the camera instead.

9. Use props.

One of the nicest things about presenting from my home office is that I can have all the tools I usually use right next to me. So while I used to share a picture of a stack of books that I read from the stage, now I can actually SHOW people the stack. Props are a great way to break up the monotony of a talk and bring your personality too.

10. Update your website/profile.

Everything is changing, but a lot of what we see online seems to have been created before Covid-19. As a speaker, I wanted to be sure to let event planners and potential clients know that I’ve adjusted what I do, so I changed my homepage and my speaking page to focus on virtual events. If you want to show potential customers or even your colleagues that you’re adjusting too, consider updating your site (if you have one) or your professional profiles too.

Want to see all of my best insights as well as learn from the experiences of more than 50 experts who have contributed to share their best tips with you?

Download a free copy of my latest guide and ebook, The Non-Obvious Guide to Virtual Meetings & Remote Work.

Download here >>

What’s the most interesting marketing tip you’ve found from this post?

Our next Delivery Discussion is May 6 at 5pm Irish time, noon eastern and 9am pacific. We’ll be talking about spamtraps. Drop me an email at laura-ddiscuss@ the obvious domain to get an invite.

two stick figures sitting across a table talking

Bring your questions, your concerns and, yes, even your gripes to talk with various folks in the industry. We’ll share what we know, what we think and what we feel about spamtraps.

I’ll be pulling together some resources and will share them here after the call.

Can’t wait to speak with you.

5 Of Our Favorite Moms From Literature | Writer’s Relief

Attention POETS!

A special Review Board just for poets! We have a few more spots open for poets, so submit your poetry today!

DEADLINE: Thursday, April 30, 2020

5 Of Our Favorite Moms From Literature | Writer’s Relief

Mother’s Day is coming up, so of course the bookworms here at Writer’s Relief want to acknowledge not only our actual mothers (you rock, Mom!) but also our favorite moms from literature. Just like our own mothers, these literary moms are sweet, brave, complicated, tough, smart, and so much more—but most of all, they love their children. See if your favorite mom from literature made our list…and don’t forget to wear a sweater when you go out!

Our Very Favorite Moms From Literature

Bernadette from Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

At first glance, Bernadette may seem like a strange choice for a best mom in literature. The entire book revolves around her daughter, Bee, trying to piece together the pieces of a puzzle to figure out where her mother has run off to. But Bernadette, despite seemingly abandoning her family for a little while, is always a loving mom to Bee. Though their relationship is strange, it’s strong, and Bernadette teaches Bee to be independent and true to herself.


Patricia Noah from Born A Crime By Trevor Noah

This may be Trevor Noah’s memoir, but his mom is definitely a force to be reckoned with. A determined, churchgoing woman (multiple churches in one day!), she’s definitely a match for young Trevor and his mischievous ways. Fearless and loving, Patricia keeps Trevor safe during a time when he could be taken away from her just because he is mixed race. And when apartheid ends, she joins her son in taking advantage of new opportunities.


Miss Honey from Matilda by Roald Dahl

Jennifer Honey is Matilda’s teacher, but she quickly recognizes the young girl’s talents and grows to love her. Since Matilda’s family doesn’t appreciate, understand, or really love her, Miss Honey winds up adopting Matilda and together they become a family. Miss Honey is the kind of mom anyone would want—she’s kind, sweet, patient, and loving!

Bobbi Lambrecht from Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Bobbi isn’t just one of the best moms in books—she was a real mom, and a mighty memorable one too. Cheryl Strayed’s story became hugely popular with the release of this book and its subsequent movie, and Bobbi is the heart and driving force of the entire story. Strayed’s unending love for her mother, as well as her deep and painful grief after she died, is what sends her on the journey that makes up Wild. All moms are special, but Bobbi, her story, and the story of her daughter’s life after her death have hit so many of us where it hurts.


Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

With seven children, Mrs. Weasley is one of our favorite moms from literature. Though her offspring may sometimes be annoyed or embarrassed by her (and what kid doesn’t feel that way about their mom at some point?), they never question her love for them. And the way Molly considers Harry Potter as one of her own and welcomes him into her home shows how generous and loving she is, despite the occasional screeching Howler she may send her kids—but only when it’s really deserved.


Question: Which other moms from literature do you love?


Drop a comment below if you’ve shared anything cool for authors!

The post Break Free B2B Marketing: Lisa Sharapata of 6sense on the End of the MQL appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.