March 3, 2009

New Blogger

Introducing Lori Young Williams: Lori Young-Williams is 41 years old, a prose and poetry writer born in St. Paul. She comes from a working class family that believes in laughter, crying, and praying when times are good, bad or otherwise. Lori has one brother, one sister, and another sister who passed away when she was 14. She received her degree in Human Relationships with an emphasis in family relationships at the University of Minnesota, 1992. Lori works a 9-5 job in Human Resources and Finance, but her passion is her writing. Most of her poetry is about her family—family relationships and how they impact her life. She has been published in Interrace magazine, the Turtle River Press, the National Library of Poetry, Quill Books, Dust & Fire and other anthologies. Also, she has self-published two chapbooks. She has read in various bookstores, coffee shops, and spoken word events in the Twin Cities. Lori recently was accepted as a participant for the Givens Black Writers Retreat, with Sonja Sanchez and Carolyn Holbrook. She is currently working on her Master’s Thesis through the Master of Liberal Studies program at the University of Minnesota. She has studied with Rose Brewer, Carolyn Holbrook, Sherry Quan Lee [that’s me], and others.

I have been the Women of Color: writing blogger since its inception. It was started in conjunction with a class I taught at Intermedia Arts, Women of Color Writers, Writing that Saves Lives. I must be honest and say, I am not a blogger. Perhaps it goes back to growing up in an environment of silence/of being silent. Although I am now more verbal, and I can actually say, I am a writer--at 61 years old silence is still haunting; it's baggage (as is the fear of shame—I can’t write, I can’t spell, I can’t put together a grammatically correct sentence; I might say something “wrong”, I don’t want to look dumb). Thus, my“bloggings” have been sporadic and far between (okay there are other reasons, no time, not taking the time, rather spend time with my grandsons, etc., etc.).

Also, participants in the WOC writing workshop didn’t have much to write either. Possibly it has something to do with the fact that I am not blog site savvy. I didn’t imagine a site where others can only comment on what I had written. I visualized a site where others would also write “blogs”—I am quite sure I am not using the words blog, blogger, blogging correctly, but it’s okay, I’m still learning what most four year olds already know (don’t you love those commercial where the 4 ½ year old says something like I’m a pc and I’m 4 ½ years old)!

Although I don’t know much about blogging, I am now passing on the little bit I do know to Lori. Lori will be using the Women of Color: writing blog site for the workshop she will be teaching beginning March 21 (see her recent post). Together we will become tech savvy and maybe even get some photos and some links on the blog site. I will continue to sporadically post my musings, but Lori will too. Most importantly, we are shouting out to women of color to post their thoughts (not just comments) on this blog site, and we want women of color to post their creative writing (poetry or short prose)—and we will post it under creative writing, not under comments to creative writing, at least that is the plan.

(Lori and I wrote and performed, along with Ann Freeman, Sun Yung Shin, and Carolyn Holbrook, Chinese Black Women Got the Beat, 2006.)

Sherry Quan Lee

By the way, Susan Power is teaching a weeklong short story workshop at Split Rock this summer:

September 27, 2008

Writing Block

Writing Block

Today--TGIF--my lunch consisted of one egg/egg salad sandwich on stale bread that I hurried to make this morning (thank goodness for birthdays and colleagues bringing birthday donuts)— and a desire to write.

I’ve wanted to write since the publication of my book, HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE, in June. I couldn’t. Not during lunches, not after work, not with friends and a glass of wine after work, not on weekends—no time, nowhere, nothing.

Writers write about writers’ block. Some say there is no such thing—that only a desire to write well, blocks us. Let go. Write. This wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I had challenged myself to write about love--my next book, I proclaimed, will be LOVE IMAGINED.

IMAGINING love is not easy. It is easier to write about what has been experienced—and my experiences haven’t necessarily been love-ly! What’s real, what I think I know or what I imagine?

I trust Richard Hugo’s concept of the “triggering subject.? I thought if I could just get started writing, I could discover much about imagined love. But the subject of LOVE didn’t trigger anything.

However, today, at lunch, I let go—not of the fear of not writing well, but of the triggering subject of LOVE. Instead, I remembered what a friend asked thirteen years ago—what is your theme/your focus? I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I hesitatingly said—identity.

I can’t run away from it—identity. I am a black Chinese woman who grew up passing for white. It has informed who I am and continues to do so, even as I enjoy my sixtieth year. I don’t know how to fool identity--how to write around it, away from it. In an odd way, it centers me.

At lunch, I reminded myself that I will write as long as I continue to be angry. Is that why I haven’t been able to write anything, because I’m not angry any more?

I thought I would put it to the test. I thought, maybe, even though there is more to be angry about than ever!--yes, there is--I am practicing serenity—so maybe I really can’t write, I am done writing, I will never have to write again. I would be okay with that. I am learning to not react. I am not—well, most of time I’m not—reacting. I chant--I love, I am loveable. (What does love have to do with anger/anger to do with love? Perhaps the answer is what I continue to write towards.)

The test: write something today, on my lunch hour, write anything, write. Think identity. Identity the triggering subject.

We never know where a triggering subject will lead us; it led me to writing again.

TGIF and I have the weekend ahead of me. Once triggered, there’s no stopping me. I have to write when I have to write. I remember, going to a bookstore in the early 80’s. There were no books about me, a Chinese Black woman who grew up passing for white. I was motivated. I wrote poem after poem after poem. In one afternoon I wrote enough poems to complete a chapbook, A LITTLE MIXED UP.

Identity is complex and changing. Yes, I guess I am still angry. I wrote a poem on my lunch hour. Here it is in its first draft not perfect form:


I said I would write

until love

replaced anger no one mad no crazed writers

no one writing I will write

until ghosts disappear, the ones dressed in white

sheets, the ones hanging from magnolia trees and

the choke cherry tree in my back-

yard, white picket fences, Woolworth’s,

high school football games/race riots, mother

knew more than I admit I remember though she was unwilling

to admit anything black it was the sixties and for my sister there were

drugs for me there was free love which was never free

paid for later with babies

who according to Kabala chose me so why do the women my sons love

mimic every girl I knew before I was nineteen, have I chosen them?

Are their babies, my grandsons, the generation to move beyond

my anger

to anchor


in place

to hold her

as she writes

hoping love will stop her.

Sherry Quan Lee

Women of Color: send your poems about identity, about anger, about love!

August 26, 2008

Taking the Time to Save Lives

Taking the Time to Save Lives: writing, a solitary and community effort

Recently I have been feeling that there are transparent but solid walls in the universe, blocking people from one another. As visible as each of us thinks we are or want to be, no one is noticing us. Am I wrong? I’m of an older generation and technology amazes me and tires me. Are we so overwhelmed with sound bites and word bites and to due bits that everything is a blur and we can’t function in time and space? I know I feel that way sometimes.

As much as I sometimes yearn for a telephone call or a visit or even an e-mail, I have to ask myself who am I calling, visiting, e-mailing? And, when someone calls or visits or e-mails me, do I take the time to appreciate them, absorb them, respond to them—or do I feel they are intrusions? Is there something or someone I am afraid of? Does insecurity have something to do with isolation—the lack of self-esteem? Instead of appreciating space, do I berate myself, do I fear it’s because I’m no good, not a teacher, not a writer, not a friend?

I recently read an interview in the journal pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, issue #3. Reading this interview, particularly a dialogue between Marta Maria Miranda and Rane Arroyo, I cried. I cried because there are few words or images I have come across that express the loneliness I often feel. Once an interviewer asked me what was something people didn’t know about me. My life is pretty much an open book, but I responded, “they don’t know how lonely I am."

Marta and Rane articulated for me what I knew, but couldn’t put into words. I am not lonely so much because of lack of relationships (I am lonely despite close relationships), but because of who I am and will always be—some other.

The loneliness of being “other." Rane wrote to Marta: “I only wish you were my friend when I was younger. One thing we don’t talk about in discussions of race and gender is the profound loneliness we must endure—and, perhaps, conquer."

Marta wrote, “What a profound sense of connection exists within the acknowledgement of the loneliness that we share as ‘other’ regardless of what group we are in or out of at the moment."

She also wrote: “Only parts of me get connected, lots of my selves are left behind, lonely. There is an underlying sense of deep depression I feel underneath my outward cockiness and my rage when I stop fighting, arguing, and teaching. I feel very lonely, sometimes hopeless, and most of all deeply hurt."

I believe writing saves lives—connecting our stories, knowing we aren’t alone-- but who has the time to write? In order to write, do we need to be strong willed, ignore e-mails, phone calls, community events? I believe we do. I also believe, however, that participating in grassroots events and/or attending them is just as important. I know I need community to support me/to remind me my work as a writer/teacher is important—don’t we all? I also know I haven’t written anything for maybe six months—and what was the last event I attended? Juliana’s play at Mixed Blood Theater? No, I think it was Split Rock instructors reading at the Split Rock Soiree the end of July. I know which events I tell myself I’m going to, then don’t. Why didn’t I go to the Peace Island benefit reading? I planned to go, I was looking forward to going.

A recent publication reading (Anya Achtenberg, STORIES OF DEVIL-GIRL and my book, HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE serial essays that saved a woman’s life) at Amazon Bookstore reminded me to not look back but forwards. We may send a hundred e-mails announcing our events, and maybe two people show up (or more, as was the case)—but those two might just be the most important two people to enter our life/and you theirs. And, as I was, we might just be blessed with family attending our readings, and finally know our words, our stories are not imagined. Yes, I am really Black, I didn’t make it up. Here’s my cousin whose mother wrote “white‿ on his birth certificate, then crossed it out and wrote “Negro.‿ My sister, now, is checking to see what her birth certificate says. Worlds open, family happens, community embraces us—I am able to write again after months of silence.

Nikki Giovanni once said to me not to be so hard on myself. Good advice. Don’t be hard on yourself. I do the best I can. We do the best we can.

I try to let go of the empty spaces, not be sad or hurt or lonely because of them. They are a blessing really, a time I could write. I also try to appreciate and acknowledge the work of others, and therefore the busyness of others, that does contribute to saving my life, as I hope and know my work contributes to the well-being/the survival of others.

We are all busy doing what we need to do-- loving our partners, our families, our children, our grandchildren (isn’t it on this most intimate level that love, and justice, and peace can blossom)—and working to pay the rent, squeezing in time for creativity, squeezing in time for friends. It’s okay to squeeze. We have to pay the rent, we have to eat—too bad necessity takes so much of our time, but it is what it is and better than being homeless and hungry. But don’t we know, don’t we feel the energy, the spirit, the connections of the love that is everywhere—it is everywhere.

I am trying to let love overwhelm whatever isn’t love. I am trying to write and share what love I have. I am trying to embrace your writing, your love. But, we all know there are limits, there are boundaries, there are time outs. It’s okay. It’s okay. I believe we are all striving to do the best we can to save our own lives, and each others. The world is big, so big. As we tell the babies—you are so big, so big. The largeness of it all can be frightening, can be overwhelming. But, we can love one baby, one person at a time—and the world knows and is changed.

Sherry Quan Lee
August 26, 2008 Rough Draft

Anya and I will be reading at the University of Minnesota Bookstore, September 17, 4:00 p.m.

April 14, 2008



Recently a writer told me she has about 300 hits a day on her blog site. Amazing. I am sure it helps to write more frequently than the once every two or three months I manage to write something. And, I’m sure it helps to be a little less self-conscious about one’s writing—it’s about communication, not about how good you write, isn’t it? (How much bad criticism has kept us from good writing?)

Last fall I taught a workshop for women of color focusing on how writing saves lives—our own, and others, based on the book I’ve been writing for the last six years, How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life. This blog site was part of the workshop, a way for the writers to get their stories beyond the page, to share them, and to have the opportunity to hear other women of color stories from across the country, maybe even the world.

How does one measure success? Although we reached a few women writers outside of our class, even we as a class sometimes failed to participate. But, we believe in what we started, and though we may be slow in gaining momentum, we haven’t quit. For me, sometimes life gets in the way, and that is more important than the writing. In other words, for me, I write to live so when I’m alive and living, life takes precedence!

Of course, sometimes I can do both, like now because I’m writing on my lunch hour and writing is a pleasant activity between bites of my sandwich and tortilla chips. Of course, my mind is wandering and my writing is unfocused, but I know I have something to say that I will eventually get around to saying.

Serendipity! I’ve always loved that word. Microsoft Word thesaurus also suggests: chance, fate, destiny, karma, providence, luck, fortune, coincidence, accident, and kismet. But, I believe there is more to serendipity than serendipity. I think one must plan for it. Be aware. Be ready. Know that destiny relies on hard work.

I have written a book. It started out prose, but I couldn’t write prose. It became poetry. The class I taught was multi-genre. Currently I am teaching a workshop on bookmaking. In-between I queried a publisher and received a book contract. Serendipity, yes. But, also hard work.

The hard work is about surviving. About working on relationships, as well as working on the writing. Here is a quote from the intro of the book:

It has taken me six years to complete How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life. It is memoir, a writer’s guide, and a guide to living.

It has taken me six years to write because I don’t follow any how-to- write rules, I follow my heart, my head, and my gut; I follow my emotional and intellectual needs. I don’t write every day, nor do I want to. I want to live.

I write to live. Attempts at suicide for me were desperate attempts to be seen, to be heard, to be loved—to be alive. Writing saved me.

Saved me and continues to lead me toward love. How to Write a Suicide Note is about writing through and beyond historical trauma and my everyday remembrances of it. It is about discovering where trauma originates, why it has subjugated me, and how I am letting it go. It is about acknowledgement of the trauma, about anger, about grieving, about saying goodbye--about endings, and, most importantly, about beginnings.

I discovered, after I sent the proposal to teach a class on producing a chap book, and/or a poetry manuscript, that there were few resources on how to do it.

What does the map of your life look like? Are there stop signs, detours, back roads, freeways, and tunnels? Do you travel one particular road over and over again? Are you writing that one story over and over again? Does your collection of stories need closure? Is closure possible?

Memoir can be the stories remembered and made sense of as you chart the map of your life. Memoir can be the connection, the collection of those stories. Memoir can be your stories written in poetic form. Memoir can be poetry enhanced with pictures, and other visual materials.

In this mentorship, we will explore the healing power of poetry as memoir. Initially, we will examine the stories that navigate your life in order to discover the theme of your memoir. Your theme will be your writing prompt to gather more material. We will discuss poems belonging in your book, but emphasis will be on overall theme, organization, format, and production. This mentorship is for poets (who may sometimes write prose) interested in completing a chapbook or manuscript draft.

I am teaching mostly from my recent soon-to-be-published experience—serendipity? Creating, learning, and teaching almost all at the same time! I did discover Phillip Gerard’s book, Writing a Book that Makes a Difference and have found it helpful, even if it isn’t necessarily about writing poetry. I am also relying on other poets’ experience, local poets who are willing to come to our class and tell us from A to Z how their book entered the world.

I guess what I want to say is, I hope you will gather your notes/your poems and write the book that saved your life. Produce a chap book, or query publisher with a longer manuscript. Find a way to put closure to a part of your life that needs closure, while at the same time sharing your stories with those of us who are in need of hearing them. Loving Healing Press is the publisher of How to Write a Suicide Note. This publisher has never published poetry before. He said my story needed telling and he would do what he could to make it happen. With a name like Loving Healing Press, how could I say no? The publisher is serious about stories that matter. Also, on the publisher’s Web site there are interviews with writers about writing, including one last fall with Anya Achtenberg whose novella, Devil Girl, will be published by Loving Healing Press this spring. Anya is also the writer who first told the publisher about my book.

Serendipity? Hard work? Luck? Who you know? I think it’s a lot of each.

We, last fall’s women of color writing class, continue to welcome stories from women of color on how writing has saved your life, as well as stories regarding your experience with having your work published, as well as any resource information regarding how to put together a chap book or manuscript. I am enjoying teaching a class on bookmaking and think the act of collecting one’s stories and poems is an act of resistance, an act of saying “I am here, I am here, I am here.? And, an act of sharing that can make a difference to someone who is listening and needing to hear what you have to say.

I am not going to worry about this blog entry, whether or not my writing is Writing 101 correct. Sometimes it is more important to just write and get it out, than to spend the time revising. Not to say revising is often necessary, worthwhile, rewarding—and, yes, fun!

Sherry Quan Lee

January 17, 2008

Online Dating: what does race, class, sexual oriention, and age have to do with happily ever after?

Online Dating: what does race, class, sexual oriention, and age have to do with happily ever after?

I wish I had written this when I was still laughing. Humor can help us heal. I would like humor to be part of this blog entry, but I’ve stopped laughing. My recent relationship experience has moved me from humor to disappointment to sadness to confusion to loneliness to denial to writing. I want to write angry so I can have closure and recuperate. Ha!

I think this blog entry is a safe place to be angry. I think it is also a place to feel part of an understanding community, a place to not feel so alone. I hope you will comment on this blog entry if you, too, as a woman of color, find relationships to be troubling, taking too much time and energy from the work we need to do, and never the happily ever after that some of our friends have been lucky enough to enjoy (I want to hear those stories too). What does race and class and age and sexual orientation have to do with our relationship woes?

Have you ever ventured into the online dating phenomena? Were you lonely enough to take a risk? Did you put your profile, your photograph online? Did you, with great expectation, write to and meet the maybe next love of your life? Did someone write to you? Did you know the two of you had little in common, but you felt good that someone actually wrote to you? Were there signs that said run and run fast, but you chose to tell yourself, well, but,s/he is interested in me? Are there signs, clues along the way that we have missed because we have been desirous for too long of someone to love/someone to love us?

Yes, I have women of color friends who have met their current partners online and they are very happy and I am very happy for them (but, did you ever notice how when your friends are happy you don’t see them as often). Are they the exception, rather than the rule? Do the newspapers and magazines ever print articles about the dates from the dark side?

Is my inability to attract and keep a good person in my life the fact that, as online date #1 said, I am a racist, sexist bigot? He a fan of Freud, who, from what I could understand of his philosophizing, basically believed it's women's fault they are raped; and he who enjoyed pornography, but tried to justify it and keep me at bay by saying he only viewed it when he wasn’t in a relationship. I was foolish enough to argue with him for too long before I decided, as always, I don’t want to try to educate them. Foolish, and, yes, ashamed. How long do we linger because either evil is well hidden, or we pretend not to see it. Here, #1 is getting less than a paragraph of my time.

But, was he right? Am I too race, class, and gender conscious? Am I unrelenting, uncompromising? Unwilling to accept racism or sexism for the sake of love? YES. I can compromise a football game, a hike in the woods (as long as I don’t see a worm) —I can give a person some leeway as I expect them to give me the same. But, I can’t ever be with a misogynist, racist, homophobe. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes me awhile to notice what I don’t want to see, or if I do notice, I often spend too much time pretending / hoping I’m not really noticing what I know to be true.

Online date #2 (we met once for lunch): a man of color who reads and writes poetry. He went back to school in his thirties, earned a graduate degree (so did I). My friends were suspicious--which prompted me to ask #2 if he had ever been in prison. Yes, he had shot someone. I only got the truth by asking question after question. He said he never lied to me. Is omission of truth lying? I wanted to be with this man who had elevated himself from what was probably a horrific or at least complicated childhood, as many of us have had, but are we ever able to lose who we once were? His means of controlling his past behaviors seemed also to be his way of trying to control the behaviors of others. Online #2 and #3 were both recovering alcholics. Both were slow to acknowledge it. Is it important? As a woman of color who grew up passing for white, grew up believing marriage to a white man and children were the future I must strive for, can I ever truly be a colorful woman loving only women? Can I ever love anyone or let anyone love me? Am I too judgmental, too unwilling to take a chance? My friend says I close doors too quickly. I think, I don’t close them quick enough.

Girlfriends ask, why aren’t you searching for a relationship with another woman? I searched. Online, in my age category (on a particular day on a particular site) there were three women. All wanted white woman (or maybe it was two out of three)--including the woman who was taking classes in Eastern spirituality. (Not to say there aren’t men online who only want white women and/or who want younger women—or only want women of color!—we all want what we want.)

Someone asked, am I hanging out where the lesbians are? Where are they? I went to the Metro and Lucy’s when they were open, but most of the women were young--I am soon to be sixty years old. I do not deny my bisexuality (though others may think I am not). But, it’s complicated. I go to bars to dance, but not very often. Also, I am a girlie girl and like other girlie girls who do girlie things like shop, and….okay, I’ve written myself into a corner here and I need to write myself out. Apologies. What I’m trying to say is I don’t want to date a woman/or a man who is into kayaking, camping, etc. I’m still in a corner. Identity is complicated. I don’t want to go kayaking, or camping. I’m just saying, I just happened to notice all the men and women online who like the outdoors. I’m just saying, I’m not one of them.

And, yes, I’ve dated people of color; sometimes the trauma we live with/have lived with makes for traumatic relationships. There is much more that needs to be written about this.

Online #3. A hunter. He thought that because I was a feminist I would be against hunting. I’m not, though I’m against guns! Was this an early sign that he was already looking for an escape, that he didn’t want me to take the relationship too seriously?

What I didn’t want was a long distance relationship (been there, done that), but even though #3 traveled, he managed to see me once a week or once every two weeks which worked for me. What I liked about the relationship was it wasn’t one of those heart pounding love at first sight affairs. It was about companionship, about an intimate dialogue of similar and dis-similar interests, and, well, read between the lines.

Three months into the relationship, and I am trying to keep this short, not in real time, I was invited to vacation with #3. I said, yes. We talked for two hours a day planning the vacation, both excited to see each other again. We drove three hours from the airport to our destination being chatty, chatty, chatty. We had a lovely and relaxing three days. On the fourth day, the ex-girlfriend calls. A day after I arrive home, I know the ex-girlfriend is not an ex, but is and has been the girlfriend for the last eight years except for the time #3 was caught cheating on her before with a woman younger than his daughter (and who knows how many times he wasn’t caught cheating).

This story doesn’t deserve too much of our time. However, when I say there were no signs, I mean I didn’t notice any signs. For Christmas he gave me a beautiful silver necklace and earrings. They were ravens. (#1 had also given me a bird necklace.) I am a Chinese Blackbird; I am intriqued by birds. Did I question the description that came with the jewelry-- The raven, the “trickster? the “Big Man.? / “His antics were often motivated by greed, and he loved to tease, to cheat, to woo and to trick??

Ladies, flashbacks keep erupting in my mind. Early on, Mr. Raven said he had only met in person one other woman online, and she was black. Was he seeking woman of color because he thinks we are _________? And what about the fact that I am open and honest about loving women? Is this a turn on for men, not an acceptance. Do women loving women make men angry? Do they want to get back at us by hurting us? Did the fact that I am poor suggest to him that he could buy me? Even though his (ex) girlfriend said, in so many words, that he was needful of a sugar mama; he, when I said I had no money to offer to pay for dinner or a vacation, replied that he was old fashioned and please don’t mention it again, so I didn’t. And what about the interest he had with my poem, “China Doll?? Was that a sign too? A challenge to him to make me eat my words? Did he ever like me?

China Doll

I am not a China doll. I am not a Geisha slut. I am not. Oriental. Exotic. Eastern. Fantasy. I’m not. I wear my mandarin collar, my frog closures for me. Because I can. Because I am. I wear my silk, my brocade. I am beautiful. Delicate. Okay, some stereotypes were me. Silent. Passive. Accommodating. Were me. Exotic. Were me. Were me.

What am I really trying to say here? I am a bad person? No. I’m trying to say as important as trust is to relationships, sometimes I shouldn’t have been so trusting.

Or, am I really trying to say my identity is too complex and I might as well stop believing anyone can love all of who I am? Should I be happily ever after with someone who likes my appearance, but not my writing? My writing, but not my children? My children, but not my sexuality? My sexuality, but not my sense of humor?


My sister said that we’ve all cheated, everyone cheats--and at our age we all have herstory/history. She asked me if #3 breaks up with his girlfriend, would I see him again. I hadn’t considered that possibility. But then, I admit, I considered it for a few minutes—he was a nice guy before I knew about all the lies. I believed he truly liked everything about me.

Okay, I am no longer considering it. Women continue to hurt not only themselves, but each other. When will we stop?

I have friends who continue to look for a partner online. Why should we stop looking for someone to love, someone to love us? But, are we too impetuous? Have we lost faith in serendipity (I met someone at a gas station, two weeks later I was getting him out of detox).

Thank goodness I have girlfriends who hug me, who cry with me, who laugh with me, who love me, who understand--well, will we ever understand--who have experienced the complexity of how being a woman of color affects our chances of being in a healthy relationship--of being happy ever after.

Also, Thank goodness, I am a writer--we can all be writers. We can write until we feel safe again, feel confident again, feel we can love again, feel someone can love us.

For now, I must keep writing.

Sherry Quan Lee

December 24, 2007


Intersectionality: how am I different than a white woman?

It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything. Everyday I say I am going to write, but I don’t. It is my responsibility to write; I feel I’m not doing my job when I don’t. But the truth is, when I’m not writing I’m living.

Sometimes living means creatively stretching the paycheck. Means eating that last can of soup in the cupboard before going to the grocery store. Going to the grocery store means rent, the electric bill, or the phone bill will accrue late charges, again.

Sometimes living means time and energy spent trying to explain I am not a nobody, a nothing. Means confronting people who trample me because they can, because they are privileged and powerful. Means even if I lose, I win because I am not silent, not passive. I can be who I am even if I can’t change how other people choose to identify me.

However, sometimes living is remarkably enjoyable and I want to inhale every breath of it, not write about it. There are plenty of unashamedly, self-satisfied writers that write happy all the time.

I have a friend who wears a hearing aid. He doesn’t pretend to hear when he doesn’t, but sometimes he hears what he thinks he hears which isn’t always what was said. He was surprised when he heard me say I write “happy.? I laughed. What I said was, “I write snappy.? I write what some people don’t want to hear, but I unwittingly write it with small jabs of humor.

I suppose I could write happy, but I’d rather be happy than write happy. To be happy I have to write all that other stuff that women of color are so good at writing—those difficult stories that save our lives!

There are always exceptions to my own rules. This morning I went to the grocery store. The temperature was 15 degrees below zero wind chill; the roads were icy. I was hungry. There was no meat in my freezer (or food in my cupboard). For several days I had been hungry. Last night and this morning I obsessed about wanting to eat steak.

I bought the cheapest steak amongst very expensive steaks. I bought the smallest steak. I bought a nine dollar steak. I also bought pork chops and chicken. I bought broccoli, but passed on the tempting sweet potato fries, and potato chips. I passed on the strawberries and raspberries too (which cost as much as meat)! I purchased my food with money I borrowed to pay bills. I was happy. I am happy. I am writing happy.

It’s the morning before Christmas Eve day. I’ve eaten bacon and toast for breakfast. I am drinking last night’s coffee. And I am dwelling on a question asked of me during one of many early morning holiday phone conversations. A question I felt inadequate to answer, though I knew the answer. How is a woman of color different than a white woman? How am I different than a white woman? What are the issues that separate us?

I remember the chocolate chip frozen cookie dough that I bought at the store—another luxury. I am happy, but decide to interrupt some of my “happy? space to answer my friend’s question. It was a heartfelt question, not at all disingenuous. He is interested in who I am and is not obnoxious or confrontational.

The question reminded me of a college class I was asked to teach. Students were assigned my book, CHINESE BLACKBIRD, as a text. They were having difficulty understanding intersectionality. How did race, class, and gender impact my stories? I was asked to explain. Although I understood intersectionality on an experiential level, I struggled to articulate the concept in theoretical language. I tried to visualize it by drawing a diagram with my name circled in the middle of the page. Other words came quickly—Mother African American Father Chinese relationships retirement gender church teenager education race death class German work children, etc. I made copies of the diagram and gave one to each student. Then I told them a story beginning with: before I was born

My Chinese father emigrated from China to the west coast of the United States when he was eleven. He sold vegetables from the back of a truck. He also went to school, participated in sports, was artistic, went to community college—then he jumped a train for Chicago and eventually ended up in Minneapolis and met my mother, a black woman who was handing out towels in the bathroom of a popular Chinese restaurant. Father wanted a boy. Girls in Chinese culture were considered worthless—of no monetary value. Father left his four daughters and the son Mother was pregnant with for the red haired woman who was also pregnant. I was five years old and fatherless. Mother became Mother and Father. I had neither the experience of being Chinese nor black. I was Scandinavian; passing for white. I attended the Lutheran church and sang in the choir. In fourth grade my Sunday School teacher asked if we should allow black people to be members of our church. I was confused. The answer was no. My mother had an eighth grade education. But earned a high school and business degree when she was fifty-eight years old, when all of her children had graduated from high school. We were raised on welfare and love. Raised on Government subsidies and my mother’s sewing. We were sheltered. We were disciplined (State Fair yardsticks broke on my behind). There was music and dancing and my oldest sisters’ boyfriends. We were afraid of snakes, and dirty ol’ men. I lived in the same house, the same neighborhood for eighteen years.

I asked the students to draw lines from my name to the other words on the diagram that related to who I am. Hint: there could be more than one line from one word to others. When they finished, there were lines everywhere. My story couldn’t be told without the intersectionality of the many aspects of my identity.

The first wave of white feminists tended to analyze discrimination of women based solely on gender. Women of color feminists recognized multiple and intersecting discriminations. How could white women not recognize class differences? And what about race?

My five year old world changed from a Chinese want to assimilate white father centered environment to a black female headed passing for white environment living on welfare Salvation Army white dolls for Christmas environment knowing how to play Mah Jong but not knowing Chinese beyond colorful tiles and chow mein environment having to use lemon cream to keep my skin light environment having to wear make-up to keep my skin masked environment relatives only can visit at night so no one can see they are black environment can’t go to high school football games because there might be a race riot environment to men in white sheets haunt me and still do today environment.

To better understand intersectionality an internet search provided clarity:


The UN and Intersectional Discrimination

Central to the realization of the human rights of women is an understanding that women do not experience discrimination and other forms of human rights violations solely on the grounds of gender, but for a multiplicity of reasons, including ages, disability, health status, race, ethnicity, caste, class, national origin and sexual orientation. Various bodies and entities within the UN have to a certain extent recognized the intersectionality of discrimination in women's lives. However, the structures of the UN do not necessarily support the implementation of such an understanding. . . .

A definition of intersectional discrimination

An intersectional approach to analyzing the disempowerment of marginalized women attempts to capture the consequences of the interaction between two or more forms of subordination. It addresses the manner in which racism, patriarchy, class oppression and other discriminatory systems create inequalities that structure the relative positions of women, races, ethnicities, classes, and the like. Moreover, intersectionality addresses the way that specific acts and policies operate together to create further disempowerment. For instance, race, ethnicity, gender, or class, are often seen as separate spheres of experience which determine social, economic and political dynamics of oppression. But, in fact, the systems often overlap and cross over each other, creating complex intersections at which two, or three or more of these axis may meet. Indeed, racially subordinated women are often positioned in the space where racism or xenophobia, class and gender meet.?

What does all this have to do with me?

My mother: hid her black identity to live in a white neighborhood so her children could hopefully live lives isolated from racism; work opportunities were limited by Mother’s eighth grade education, being a black woman, having five young children to raise on her own; etc. Class. Race. Gender.

Me: a mixed race don’t want to pass for white woman writer moving from one relationship, one house, one job to another running from prejudice and discrimination from racism and sexism only to encounter both over and over again earning a graduate college education in midlife earning less money in a lifetime than a white husband without a degree could earn in a year.

Sometimes I am happy. Sometimes I believe love is possible. Sometimes I believe my next lover will love all of me even though I know I am too much to love.

Sometimes I eat steak.

Women of Color: Please click on comments to add your story—how does intersectionality impact your life?

November 17, 2007

And, sometimes it’s not metaphor.

And, sometimes it’s not metaphor.

And the pain is real, the desperation, the loneliness. And the beautiful brown girl’s desire is so strong she’s willing to pull the white boy off the street, hand him the almond oil, say, “massage my back. Knead your fingers below my skin, into the bone and connective tissue where the assault remains fresh as this morning’s black coffee. Dig in, read who I am or don’t, doesn’t matter. Just dig in, make me hurt more than the pain. Own my sadness. Cross the lines of my tongue, of my teeth. Speak while I remain silent. I have nothing more to scream at you. I am no longer restless, no longer reckless. I’ve had your back for too long, while my back bone weakened, muscle burning, nerves shooting the lump in my left shoulder down, down, down into the intestine, into the holding place of my tears.?

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha wrote, Dictee, University of California Press, 2001(originally published Tanam Press, 1982), page three:

“It murmurs inside. It murmurs. Inside is the pain
of speech the pain to say. Larger still. Greater
than is the pain not to say. To not say. Says
nothing against the pain to speak. It festers in-
side. The wound, liquid, dust. Must break. Must

And sometimes, the boy in the street, the woman in the office, the child in the classroom, the man in the moon, the plantation owner, the president’s wife, the landlord, the snake under the bed, the bed itself, are all the same nightmare.
Sometimes in a dream, dead girls become women, their brown skin kissed by their author of hope, the black wo/man of isolation, of work, of possibility, of secrets. Their screams in sync, their lives almost touching, their love almost piercing the whiteness, almost obliterating the boy in the street.
The map of who I am is behind me, I can’t see what I look like, but I can feel death turn into life.

We hear the women who have heard the women who have heard the women who have heard the women who are the women that save us. Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Graywolf Press, 2004, page 57, wrote:

“Though Myung Mi Kim did say that the poem is really a responsibility to everyone in a social space. She did say it was okay to cramp, to clog, to fold over at the gut, to have to put hand to flesh, to have to hold the pain, and then to translate it here. She did say, in so many words, that what alerts, alters.?

We are the women that save us. I am the woman.

©Sherry Quan Lee, November 16, 2007

November 6, 2007

Writers Who Have Saved My Life

Writers Who Have Saved My Life

There are many women of color writers who have saved my life. Their stories familiar--the anger, the pain, the confusion, the loneliness, the abuse, the struggle, the triumph, the beauty, the passion, the creativity, the love.

Nikki Giovanni wrote: >

“and if ever i touched a life i hope that life knows / that i know that touching was and still is and will always / be the true / revolution? (excerpt from poem, “When I Die?)

Women of color are changing the/ir world by writing and sharing their stories.

Alice Walker asks:

“What can I give you to help you stay strong when you feel the world is turned against you and that you are standing, perhaps even naked, absolutely alone? I give you this poem:? (“Be Nobody’s Darling,? ANYTHING WE LOVE CAN BE SAVED, Ballantine, 1998, page 92).

Have you ever written a poem, or a story, or a letter for a loved one? Marian Wright Edelman wrote MEASURE OF SUCCESS A LETTER TO MY CHILDREN AND YOURS. What other writers have written books that are collections of letters? Who do you want to/need to write letter(s) to?

Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote:

“Creativity is not a solitary movement. That is its power. Whatever is touched by it, whoever hears it, sees it, senses it, knows it, is fed. That is why beholding someone else’s creative word, image, idea, fills us up, inspires us to our own creative work. A single creative act has the potential to feed a continent. One creative act can cause a torrent to break through stone.? (WOMEN WHO RUN WITH WOLVES, Ballantine Books, 1992, page 299)

When was the last time/any time that someone’s story made a difference to your life? Was it a book you read, a poetry reading you went to, a letter from a friend, a story in a magazine, a greeting card from your child or a grandchild, a note from a student/or a teacher? A song? Make a list of “creative acts? that have helped get you through tough times.

Whose lives have you touched? What story or poem made a difference to someone you know, or to a stranger? What story or poem haven’t you written that someone is waiting to hear? Write it.

I will never forget the angel I met at a Split Rock writing workshop. After introductions and at the end of the class she came up to me and asked if I was the Sherry Quan Lee that had read at the Loft some seven or eight years before. She went on to recite some lines from my poems! We might never know when we have touched someone’s life with our words, but our words can be transformative!

I keep some of the letters and notes from people whose lives I have touched. It is not narcissistic. It’s what I return to when I wonder what my purpose in life is, when I wonder if my life matters, when I’m feeling low down. The kind words others have written to me save my life time and time again. One of the most meaningful letters I received was from a second cousin. My first chap book, A LITTLE MIXED UP, was published in 1982 by Guild Press. It was all about family secrets; it was a scary endeavor. My second cousin thanked me for allowing her to know her grandmother through my poetry. My mother, however, wasn’t pleased. Yet, sometime before she died, she was able to say “we are proud of you.?

It’s all about love, really. Loving ourselves, and loving others. However, Clarissa Pinkola Estés tells us:

“…love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many many endings, and many many beginnings—all in the same relationship.? (WOMEN WHO RUN WITH WOLVES, Ballantine Books, 1992, page 162)

I have been loved, and loved and know that is true because I have gained much understanding by what other women of color have written, and what I continue to write.

Sherry Quan Lee

October 29, 2007

Stories that save lives: what's anger got to do with it?

The more I write, the more I understand about writing (how to make it better) and about myself (why I wasn’t better in the first place). One of the things I have learned about myself by writing is I AM ANGRY.

When I first started reading my poetry in book stores and coffee houses I was often surprised, and yes ANGRY, that people would come up to me and ask why I was so ANGRY, why was my writing full of ANGER. Often, at least one audience member was thoughtful enough to take the time to tell me they hoped my life would get better soon!

I scratched my head. Sometimes I laughed. I WASN’T angry. What was he thinking? Life is good, sometimes bad things happen. “Oh well,? I would say, and kept writing, and kept living (running would be a more appropriate verb, but that’s another story).

I write to share my experiences because I know my stories can sometimes comfort or strengthen a woman who has carried her burdens alone, unescorted, uninvited, unable to tell her own stories--yet.

The more I wrote the more I realized I had lied. The audience had been right. My stories were, okay, some were angry. I had much to be angry about.

The more I read writing by other women of color I learned many of us are angry. Wang Ping titled a poem, “What Are You Still Angry About.? The poem moves forward by a lengthy rewriting of family genealogy—along maternal, instead of paternal lines.

What are you still angry about? Make a list. Write that story or that poem.

Toi Derricotte, co-founder of Cave Canem, a retreat for black poets, wrote in the black notebooks (Norton, 1987):

" I want to talk about anger, about how important it is as a part of the process of coming to one’s voice, about how it is inevitable in a diverse classroom. I want to talk about how powerful it is, how dangerous it is, how mysterious, about how suddenly real feelings start to emerge. If we don’t recognize anger, if we don’t allow for it, if we’re not ready, if we don’t in fact, welcome it as a creative force, then I think we’re going to end up blaming and dividing people even more. We hesitate to allow it to happen, though anger is a part of life. (So often ‘life’ is not allowed in the classroom.)"

Anger, I believe, has saved my life. It gave me voice where there was none before. The voice of anger can be found in my poems. I give my students permission to write “angry.?

Nevertheless, I felt guilty and shameful when I had finally acknowledged my ANGER. Black women are angry, right—and in your face with their anger? Asian woman, however, are docile, silent, subservient, right? How do stereotypes fashion who we are, when we really are not anyone but our self?

Edén Torres’ stories have saved my life; she wrote CHICANA WITHOUT APOLOGY giving me permission to be angry:

"We have the right to be angry no matter how long ago the original trauma occurred or how different things were then, no matter how much progress has taken place, no matter how ignorant or well-intentioned our oppressors have been, no matter what change is promised in the future. Our fury is justified anytime we are ignored, silenced, negatively stereotyped, incorrectly labeled, or otherwise not respected. Any occasion in which our history is omitted or lied about deserves our indignant dismissal.90 Until equality and justice become reality, we have a right to be angry." Page 41

Torres also says it takes courage to express our anger because of what people might say about us, or do to us (pages 52-43 in CHICANA WITHOUT APOLOGY). Most importantly she says, we’re not crazy or stupid or out of control!

I AM NOT CRAZY. I AM NOT STUPID. Write a list of what you are not.

Write a list of what you are. I Am Black Chinese Woman Writer Mother Grandmother Hero Lover Wise Witty Robust Wild Friend Survivor Dreamer etc. etc., etc.

You might be asking: what is it she is so angry about?

I am angry about a black mother who had reason to make a choice to pass for white and decide for her children they should pass for white because it will be safer and there will be more opportunities for them even though this means distancing her own family. I am angry that there are people who will say who I am and not listen to me say who I am, or try to understand that I am who I am because a history of racism, and sexism has set itself inside my bones, my flesh, my spirit (But, you’re different. You’re not black. Your mother must not be ALL black. Is your husband black? Why don’t you write about being Chinese? If women changed their attitude they wouldn’t be raped.) I am angry that there were white men whose parents were gracious enough to patronize me, but not gracious enough to let their sons marry me, but they could marry women of color from other countries. I am angry that my sons have chosen to be with blonde women with big breasts. I am angry that I have just written something that I didn’t know I was angry about. I am angry that I have so much anger. I am angry that to survive I must get rid of my anger. I am angry that I must continue to write because there is always something new to be angry about.

Joy Harjo wrote the poem, “I Give You Back?-- “I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear / I release you …. I am not afraid to be angry / I am not afraid to rejoice …. But come here, fear / I am alive and you are so afraid / of dying.?

What is it you want to/need to give back? Make a list. Then give it away in a story or a poem.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in WOMEN WHO RUNS WITH WOLVES, “What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life.?

I give death to anger by writing what I am angry about. Again. Again. And again. Between each death I am joyously alive.

“I died once. And then I died again. And then, death had no hold on me.?

“Complacency is a far more dangerous attitude than outrage.?
--Naomi Littlebear, excerpt from THIS BRIDGE CALLED BY BACK, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

© Sherry Quan Lee 10/29/07

October 22, 2007

Stories that Save Lives

Leslie Marmon Silko in "The Storyteller's Escape" (STORYTELLER, Seaver Books, 1981) wrote, "The storyteller keeps the stories / all the escape stories / she says 'With these stories of ours / we can escape almost anything / with these stories we will survive.' "

As a writer I often wonder if my writing gets better as my life gets better or if my life gets better as my writing gets better. I do know that I have been writing about identity for almost thirty years and the writing and the life depend on each other.

Gloria Anzaldua wrote in THIS BRIDGE CALLED MY BACK, "I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you."

I started writing about identity when I went to a feminist bookstore and realized there were no books about me, a mixed race woman, Black and Chinese. I wrote poem after poem which eventually became a chapbook, A LITTLE MIXED UP, published by Guild Press in the early 80s.

I write because I have to. If I didn't write the silence would be unbearable. There would be no place for the anger, the pain, the loneliness to disappear. If I didn't write love wouldn't be possible.

Love is the essence of the mapping of who I am. My curriculum vitae is a map of my journey towards a holistic life. each line on my cv a blessing and a hope. I have other maps. My chapbook, A LITTLE MIXED UP; my memoir in verse, CHINESE BLACKBIRD published by Asian American Renaissance in 2002; and my almost completed manuscript, HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE: serial essays that saved a woman's life. Each map embraces all of who I am integrating race, class, gender, age, etc. into my stories.

Eden says in BLACK GIRL IN PARIS by Shay Youngblood, "...and between my tears words began to bloom on the page, one after the other. Words crowded each other, trying to lead me out of despair. I was exhuberant. The maps I'd made were guides to my interior. I remembered all the places I'd been, all the things I'd seen, and I caught them in my imagination. Jimmy was with me and Langston too. I wrote to understand where I had been, where I was going, to make sense of the world that had led me to the small room on the edge of the abyss."

Writing by colorful women writers has kept me alive, along with my own writing. Writers like Audrey Lorde, Joy Harjo, Evelina Galang, Toi Derricotte, Nikki Giovanni, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Wang Ping, Linda Hogan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Eden Torres, bell hooks, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Ana Castillo, etc., etc. etc. have given me the courage to discover who I am as I continue to map my life through writing.