Mike Jung

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Shhhhhhhh

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2015 at 3:01 pm

I’m writing at the public library – okay, at this very moment I’m actually posting on Facebook at the public library – and there’s a student and his tutor two tables over, discussing what sounds like a paper he’s written. They’re working hard, it’s clearly an interaction with meaning and value, and it’s good to see young people actively engaged in scholarship.

That said, these two people, who I have no reason to think ill of, and whose pursuit of scholarly betterment is worthy of support, are VERY LOUD, and that’s one of my beefs with the current dialogue around the future of libraries. There’s so much talk about libraries evolving to become more visibly dynamic centers of group collaboration, focused on lively, unfettered conversation and a 180 degree change from the old, hidebound perception of libraries as places to speak in whispers or risk being shushed. That’s all well and good – I understand the value of those things – but I worry that the value of quiet contemplation and internal focus is being publicly dismantled, one smartboard or piece of modular furniture at a time.

The library’s the only public place I rely on to consistently provide a haven from the world’s relentless barrage of external noise; I don’t have that at home, and I rarely find it at places like coffeeshops. Some of us place enormous value on the quiet we find at the public library; some of us badly need it. I hope that emphasis on quiet doesn’t get completely obliterated in the process of redefining the role of libraries in our society.

It Is Once Again Time to Unleash the Winged Pigs of Joy

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2015 at 2:31 pm

I think luck plays a role in the publication process – a limited role, but a real one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve invested massive amounts of time, money, thought, and energy into developing my craft and learning about the industry, and I know we can’t take advantage of opportunities that come along if we don’t make ourselves ready for them. I’ve done that. Doing the work is far and away the most important thing; the importance of luck doesn’t come close to equaling the importance of hard work, IMHO. I do think luck plays a role in terms of timing, however, and in that regard I’ve experienced my fair share. For example, I got acquainted with Arthur A. Levine on Facebook, met him in person at LA10SCBWI, struck up a genuine friendship with him right away, and gladly accepted his offer to publish GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, all in the course of a whirligig eight-month period.

It was a heady time, and I felt like the stars were grinning cheerfully down at me for every moment of it. Arthur’s accomplishments as an editor and publisher are the stuff of industry legend, of course, but I was immediately struck by the impression that he’s also a warm, generous, vulnerable human being, and one of those rare people with whom I experience a nearly instant bond of fellowship. Time has borne out that initial impression; Arthur has proven to be the most trustworthy and steadfast of friends, one whose presence in my life I cherish to the point of thinking of him more like a brother than a friend.

My affection for Arthur shouldn’t obscure my appreciation of his professional brilliance, because again, industry legend, monumental legacy, continuing record of published brilliance – pick whichever career accolade floats your rowboat. There’s no doubt that his editorial acumen made my book worlds better than it would have otherwise been, and it’s more obvious to me than ever why he’s in the midst of a career for the ages. Arthur’s ability to help his authors define and give life to a story’s emotional center borders on the supernatural. and it’s one reason why I’ll always look back on my first book with an abundance of satisfaction and pride.

I couldn’t have asked for a better author/editor experience than I had with my debut, and the stars are apparently still yukking it up in my honor, because there will be an encore. I feel grateful, thrilled, and yes, exceedingly lucky to announce that I’ve accepted an offer of publication from Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, for my second middle-grade novel, Unidentified Suburban Object. Cue celebratory hooting, Muppetesque arm-flailing, grossly excessive doughnut consumption, etc.

Pico Ayer, Paddington, and me

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Mike Jung:

Hooray, Arthur’s blogging again! And expressing valuable points about the importance of diverse books to ALL readers.

Originally posted on Arthur A. Levine's Blog:

I so enjoyed reading Pico Ayer’s “Critic’s Take” column in The New York Times’ Book Review, titled PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR.

(Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/books/review/please-look-after-this-bear.html?_r=0)

In it, Mr. Ayer expresses the response to a beloved book that is remarkably congruent with my publishing philosophy. I’ve always said that what I want to publish are books that readers don’t just like, but that are deeply meaningful to them; books that they love so much that they would say, when asked “Oh that was my FAVORITE book as a child” and they would keep those books throughout their lives. In talking about PADDINGTON BEAR, Mr. Ayer says, “On the single shelf for books I have in my two-room apartment in Japan, Paddington sits next to Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul, and Graham Greene.” Exactly!

I too loved PADDINGTON BEAR, laughing appreciatively at what Mr. Ayer describes as Paddington’s attempts to “master…

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Hiking Shoes

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2015 at 9:00 pm

I, er, haven’t actually read the Marie Kondo book about how decluttering your home leads to magic carpets, pet dragons, and the ability to transmogrify lima beans into doughnuts, but my half-assed, not even semi-informed attempt at following its approach is definitely a good thing, even if it’s causing 35% more damage to my already messed-up rotator cuff. Today I finally dug deep and got rid of a pair of hiking shoes I’ve had sitting in my closet for over a decade without ever having worn them, not even once.

They’re perfectly good, high-quality hiking shoes that I probably spent $100 on back in the day, but I somehow didn’t like them – something about the way the laces tied. I later bought a pair of hiking shoes that I like much better, and even wear once every 36 months or so, but I hung on to the other pair. Every so often I’d look at them and think GAH THIS IS STUPID, JUST GET RID OF THEM, but then I’d think about how sorry I’d be if I ever needed a spare pair of hiking shoes, or if I were to go hiking with someone who’d forgotten to bring their own shoes and needed to borrow a pair, and I’d throw them back in the closet where they’d been hunkered down for 2, 5, 10 years.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that I’m just not the kind of person who’s likely to ever be in a situation where pulling an emergency pair of hiking shoes out of the closet at the last second. Self-understanding has come slowly to me, however, and on more than one occasion I’ve wished to be that kind of person – carelessly fit, radiating physicality, possessing an inner glow born of a deep love for life in the outdoors. I’m not, though. I’m the most indoorsy person that’s ever walked the face of this planet. I can barely justify owning ONE pair of hiking shoes – nearly all of my favorite activities involve sitting in a chair somewhere inside.

I donated the shoes to Goodwill, and I think that’s a good thing. Someone who’d probably struggle to pay the current retail price for hiking shoes of that quality will get a really good deal on my old, unused pair, and it underscored my own level of comfort and good fortune in being able to just give away a brand-new pair of shoes. In a way it felt like admitting defeat, I have to say, as if I was giving up on a long-held (if completely unrealistic) fantasy-based concept of the person I could be if I was, you know, a completely different person from who I actually am. Decluttering. It’s not as complicated as writing a book, but it IS complicated.

The New Year

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2015 at 9:06 am

Years and years ago I spent a late December night with a couple of friends, having a few beers and watching TV or some such thing, and at some point in the evening one of them made a pretty caustic and disillusioned comment about the approaching new year, something to the effect of how we’ll wake up on New Year’s Day and not actually start anything fresh or do anything new, that it’s a day like any other day.

There is truth to that, of course – as human beings we assign significance and meaning to certain days and times as we see fit – but I remember feeling diminished and saddened by the remark back then, because I’d just been thinking about my hopes for the new year. Those hopes weren’t realized then or anytime soon, but still, I’d been feeling them in that moment, and artificially constructed or not, the concept of starting anew with the turn of the calendar helped me experience that feeling. I need that kind of help sometimes, you know what I mean? I suspect most (if not all) of us do.

New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, birthdays, solstices, and so on and so forth – it’s entirely possible to strip the symbolism and deliberately constructed meaning from these events and treat them like any other day. I myself am cynicism personified when it comes to Valentine’s Day, for example. I think there’s value in these days of celebration and reflection, though. Sometimes we need help remembering how to be grateful, expressing love and affection, reflecting on the joys and hardships of the past, and declaring our hopes for the future. Sometimes we need to be reminded why and how important those acts are.

2014 was a fully-lived year for me. I had moments of terrible fear, and moments of incandescent joy. I witnessed things that made me despair for the future of humanity, and other things that made me so fiercely proud of the people in my life that I could have burst. I had to cope with discouraging setbacks, and I made more than one quantum leap forward. I continued to have the stunning experience of meeting new people who’ve become cherished, beloved presences in my life. Happy New Year, my friends. You mean so much to me. Let’s see what 2015 holds for us. Let’s move forward into the new year, together.

A Complicated Conversation About Neurodiversity

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Yesterday Corinne Duyvis (author of OTHERBOUND) tweeted about an interview with the author of a book featuring an autistic protagonist. Corinne had a powerful and clearly painful reaction to the following statement (among others):

“High-functioning autistics and Aspergers also interest me, because they challenge our definitions of what constitutes a human being…”

It seems pretty clear why Corinne responded to that quote with such force. The idea that people with autism spectrum disorder don’t automatically qualify as human beings is repellent. I read Corinne’s tweets, which expressed her usual depth of emotional self-knowledge and intellectual clarity, and saw that she was having a contentious exchange with someone I don’t know. Her combatant was responding to Corinne’s tweets with statements like “this is how it works,” “you can’t expect people to be telepathic,” and “…their interpretation of (blogs, memoirs, and non-book writings) aren’t always going to go the way you want.” She was responding to Corinne in very contradictory fashion, and I decided to engage with her as well.

We had a fairly animated exchange, which I tried to engage in as I usually do – try to acknowledge what the other person is saying, keep focus on the topic at hand, and make pointed, direct comments about the actual verbiage being used. And partway through the conversation this person revealed that she has Asperger’s syndrome. It wasn’t a complete surprise – she’d hinted at it earlier in the exchange – but it nevertheless caused me to abruptly skid to a halt and entertain a flurry of questions. How does this change the conversation? Does it change my understanding of her comments? Should I just stop talking altogether? Does this automatically mean her comments have more validity than mine? What’s the right thing to do here??

(A note: I’m going to stop using the term “Asperger’s” and rely solely on “autism spectrum disorder” from here on, only because its elimination from the DSM-V has informed so many of the in-person conversations I’ve been having about it.)

I’ve been involved with We Need Diverse Books since its inception, and during the organization’s incredibly eventful first year I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to engage in the complex discussions about diversity, and my slowly-evolving philosophy was and remains built on the idea that imperfection is no more avoidable in the arena of diversity than it is in life as a whole, and that mistakes, which will inevitably be made, are avenues to engage in dialogue, practice accountability, and provoke change. So I chose to continue debating the interview in question, despite the fact that doing so with a person who has autism spectrum disorder felt like a potentially huge mistake.

We exchanged more remarks, and I experienced a familiar kind of exasperation: I felt that my debate partner was being evasive with her comments, leaving herself room to question my thoughts without articulating her own in a committed way. She was saying things about her experience as a person with autism spectrum disorder that I hadn’t directly discussed with anyone before, including what seemed like genuinely vulnerable statements about her struggle to understand perceptions of her, both her own and those of others – it seemed like a clear learning opportunity for me. At the same time, I grew increasingly convinced that she was presenting difficult, painful experiences of her own as reasons to invalidate the difficult, painful experience Corinne was communicating about, and I said so. In the process of saying so I gave her my interpretation of her comments and asked her to clarify them.

At that point my debate partner grew agitated and angry. She accused me of putting words in her mouth; she became very, very sarcastic; and she told me I should go ahead and make something up to explain her statements, since I was doing so already. I confess that I didn’t find it terribly enjoyable, and it was perplexing that the openness of interpretation she defended in dehumanizing statements about autistic people was not applied to my statements, but I also found myself wondering if she was right. Was I actually doing those things?

I partly continued this really quite uncomfortable debate because she talked about not knowing if and when outside perceptions that contradicted her self-perception might be true. That really struck a chord with me, and when she started leveling these accusations at me, I went to that place with no effort at all. Is she right? Am I exercising a kind of unearned privilege that I’m not even aware of? Am I SILENCING her?

I felt and still feel pretty sure that I wasn’t. I’ve reached a point where I think I’m able to engage in debate in a relatively nuanced and balanced way, and I think she was resorting to tactics aimed at ending the conversation on terms defined by her, at the expense of actual dialogue. But what if I was wrong? What if I was shirking some kind of responsibility that I didn’t even know existed? I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to do that, and it occurred to me that ending the conversation on that note would not result in any more insight or understanding on my part.

So, I told myself that I had a choice. I could provide a rebuttal to her aggression, protect myself, and hear no more from her, or I could take a step back, silently deflect her aggression within the space of my own mind, and ask to hear more, despite my conviction that she was mischaracterizing my statements.

I chose the latter. I asked her if she’d read the review Corinne was referencing, and if so, what her reaction to it was. She was unconvinced of my sincerity, so I promised not to respond to any further explanations she might give, other than to say “thank you for sharing your thoughts” (which I did say). I wasn’t terribly optimistic that answers with more clarity were forthcoming, and when my debate partner did respond, she didn’t provide direct answers to my questions. She did respond, however, with two tweets, and the first one did indeed refer to the interview in a way that communicated new information to me.

She said “I know that as an Aspie I have in the past given people a reason to wonder about my humanity.”

I can’t lie, I’d been feeling very irritated by this person, but this statement struck another, entirely different chord in me. Not “In the past people have wondered about my humanity,” or “I have in the past been told there are reasons to wonder about my humanity.” No, she unambiguously took full responsibility for the perceptions of others. “I have in the past given people a reason to wonder about my humanity.” This woman actually believes there’s legitimate reason to question the humanity of people with autism spectrum disorder, and the moment when I realized that was what she’d said was a moment of ineffable sadness.

The degree of fully internalized self-loathing in her statement is shattering, and I felt more compassion for her than I expected. What had this person experienced that would provoke her to hold such a self-hating, self-diminishing belief? The obvious answer is that she lives in a society which communicates that message to her on an endless, unavoidable loop. She’s wrong, of course – the presence of autism spectrum disorder simply is not a reason to question anyone’s humanity. Not only is her lack of complete belief in her own humanity wrong, I also think it’s more than a little dangerous, because I have no doubt that such a belief, publicly stated, could serve as an arrow in the quiver of disability rights opponents out in the world.

Her belief that it sometimes might be valid to question the humanity of people on the spectrum isn’t one that I can ever stand behind, in any way. Nevertheless, I felt compassion, and also a kind of understanding. I’ve never been screened for or diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but self-loathing rooted in issues of self-perception is not unfamiliar to me. I’ve written at some length about my struggles with racial and ethnic identity, and I know what it’s like to question my own value as a person.

I’m thoroughly unschooled in the politics of neurodiversity. I’m trying to find my footing in that realm, partly because I strongly suspect that I’m neurodivergent myself, but I’ve never engaged in this kind of public discourse before. I don’t know how wrong or right any of what I said to this person might have been, and I don’t know what factors I could or should have taken into account. I know that my debate partner was having a strongly negative reaction to my words, but I don’t know who else might have had strong reactions, negative or positive, and what the emotional and intellectual underpinnings of those reactions might have been.

I didn’t lend a huge amount of credence to my debate partner’s accusations that I was simply fabricating opinions on her behalf, but another philosophical touchstone that I’ve been holding on to is the idea that we all need to take accusations of bias, privilege, and silencing behavior with as much seriousness as possible. I tried to do that; it was hard, and I don’t know if I succeeded. I don’t know what kinds of bias and privilege I brought to the table in this situation; I suspect there was more than one. I couldn’t help wondering if anything I said was at the expense of somebody with a stake in the overall dialogue. I want to continue talking, though. I want to keep learning. There is so, so much to learn.

Imperfection

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2014 at 7:32 am

I saw Anne Lamott and Jack Kornfield at San Francisco’s Nourse Theater last night, and they were wonderful. I didn’t know anything about Jack Kornfield before last night, but the rapport between them was palpable, and I was deeply moved by the thoughts and stories they shared about the permanence of imperfection, the lifelong need to try, fail, and try again, and our overaching need for love above all things. They broached the topic of Ferguson almost immediately, which I was grateful for. I lost count of the phrases that expressed my confused, contradictory state of mind almost to the letter, or touched some locus of true emotion within me.

On the drive home there was a bottleneck of traffic on the freeway exit to downtown Oakland, and I saw a column of smoke, then what appeared to be at least 100 police officers in riot gear at the side of the freeway. I wondered what was burning – it turned out to be a dumpster fire – and I had the thought that I’ve seen expressed in many places over the last few days. Is the world just irreparably broken? Is humanity simply broken beyond repair? Perhaps. Or maybe this isn’t what the world is like when it’s broken down – maybe this is simply what the world is like.

Who can say? Certainly not me. I suppose I can just stagger along and do my best. As Anne Lamott said in her story about the little bird who tried to hold up the sky with its feet, we do what we can with what we have. There is horror and pain in the world, but there is beauty and love too. I’ve received numerous words of appreciation and encouragement over the past few days; they’ve meant so much to me. People have shown me such kindness. There are ways in which the world may be irreparably broken, but there are ways in which it couldn’t be better.

I’ll try to follow the many words of wisdom that were spoken last night. I will try not to turn away. I’ll look for the helpers. I’ll understand that we can never perfect ourselves, but we can try to perfect our love. I’ll continue to try, fail, and try again.

I believe I’ll write some poetry

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2014 at 3:25 pm

I’m not known for an aversion to hyperbole, and the danger of such a proclivity is, of course, the potential disempowerment of my words. It’s not my tendency alone, but it is unquestionably mine, and maybe that takes the edge off of my current state of emotional upheaval. So be it. It’s been a psychologically turbulent few days. I am learning much about the world and about myself, which is rarely an easy process for me, and often a heinously uncomfortable one, and I’ve been leaning on books to keep my mind and spirit centered. One of those books is Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award-winning middle-grade memoir, BROWN GIRL DREAMING. I just finished reading it for the second time, and I suppose I’ve been deeply affected by events of the past three days, because while I was dazzled by it the first time through, this second reading has rocked me to my core. My life has been nothing like Jacqueline Woodson’s life, and I suspect I’m not much like her as a person, but it has truly been one of the most emotional reading experiences of my life. That may be yet another demonstration of hyperbolic excess, I don’t know. It feels true. I feel awash with optimism about my creative abilities, crushed by insecurity about the insignificance of myself as a human being, big as a tower to the heavens, small as a microbe in the soil…I feel so many things, in so many ways.

Sunday afternoon is one of my reserved periods of writing time. I believe I’ll write some poetry.

#CelebrateJackie

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

For the 24 hour period ending at 5:00AM Pacific time tomorrow, Daniel Handler will match all donations to #‎SupportWNDB up to $100,000, and in the first 7 of those hours we’ve raised FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. This is not a celebration of Mr. Handler, to be clear. I accept his apology for his enraging comments at the National Book Awards ceremony, I’m glad his money will be put to good use, and I believe in the value of making an effort to atone for mistakes, even those as hideous as the one he made, but I don’t celebrate him or his matching gift.

I celebrate Jacqueline Woodson, for the honor she rightfully received, and for the remarkable literary achievement that is BROWN GIRL DREAMING. And I celebrate the people whose gifts are truly the heart and soul of the #‎SupportWNDB campaign: all of us who’ve been doing this work, and that goes way back before We Need Diverse Books came into being. The matching gift has value, but it only has value in that it’s following up on the commitment, ferocity, and generosity of the people whose gifts are being matched.

Handler’s words should never be forgotten. He’s making amends, but he is not an example to follow, a leader, or an inspiration. He’s following OUR example. WE are leading him. WE are the source of inspiration. And to state it personally, all of you inspire me. Thank you. Thank you for unmistakably demonstrating that we will not let these offenses go by unchallenged. Thank you for leading the way.

A small act of kindness

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2014 at 11:01 am

During my first year of college I remember meeting someone at a party, an older guy, taller than me, frizzy-haired, something of a Deadhead, whose name escapes me. I only vaguely remember the details of that meeting – my strongest impression is still just a feeling of overwhelming anxiety and paralysis, partly because of the party itself, partly because of the enormity of being in college.

What I remember more clearly is walking to class (or maybe from class) a couple of days later, seeing this guy sitting among a mob of other people, socializing and whatnot, hearing him say “hey Mike,” and hesitantly approaching him. He asked how I was doing; I mumbled something about being tense and weird at parties. He then said something like “That’s okay, it just takes you longer to relax than some people. You’ll be fine.” I might have said thanks, and I might have just nodded or something similar. Then I continued on my way.

I was frankly shocked that he’d remembered me at all, because at the time, my conviction that there was no reason for anyone to do so was bone-deep. I don’t want to make the interaction sound bigger than it was. We didn’t become friends. In fact, I don’t recall ever talking with him again. It was a very casual, even-keeled act, one that he may have considered a normal moment of engagement with the world at large.

I considered it an act of kindness, however – a small one, true, but a real one, and I’ve never forgotten it. It continues to hold meaning for me, and I somehow take heart in the knowledge that even the smallest acts of kindness can stay with a person for a long, long time.

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