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RABBLEROUSE Wrapped, 2022
Looking back and looking ahead.
Hello, and welcome back to my Substack. Despite the various issues I’ve had and continue to have with this platform, the newsletter service I was using for the previous two years, Letterdrop, decided to go with a pricing-only model, meaning that I would have to pay them real money to make even a silly little post as this. So, yes, I’ve come crawling back to Substack, and the banner hangs over my window reading, “Welcome home, cheater.” My emotions are frayed. I can only describe them as a simmering clash between frustrated and ashamed.
Because it seems to be impossible to import all of my Letterdrop content back here while maintaining the date stamps, below is a list of all of the missing posts since June 2021, for posterity’s sake and for my own incessant need for completionism. Who knows! Maybe in a few years we will laugh about this embarrassing debacle, and I’ll forget I ever lamented about the encroachment by tech companies on our free internet, turning every digital space we cherish into an opportunity for business. Forgive the dramatics, I’m still raw about the betrayal.
How To Build a Cinematic Universe (and Do It Well) - August 13, 2021
On Body, Name, and Identity - August 22, 2021
On Change and Apotheosis - December 13, 2021
Review: Days - December 21, 2021
RABBLEROUSE Wrapped, 2021 - December 28, 2021
My Top 10 Films of 2021 - January 12, 2022
Every Unhappy Chinese Family is Unhappy in Exactly the Same Way - March 22, 2022
Alright, now that that’s settled — onto the actual reason for this missive.
I am, as always, slow on the uptake, and a skilled hand at procrastination. So this comes a week late, with my tail between my legs. A brief summary of what I worked on in 2022:
There Is No Easy Way Towards Earth - a short story written for the Los Suelos Anthology, which won Tenebrous Press’ Brave New Weird Horror of 2022! It’ll be republished in their anthology of other winning stories sometime this year.
Yama-uba - a short story that was published in the gothic horror anthology When Other People Saw Us, They Saw the Dead
Kindness Is A Weapon - a film review of Everything Everywhere All At Once that is more like a personal essay than a review
YAO - a short story I workshopped during my digital residency at The Seventh Wave and was published in Issue 15: Root Systems (more below!)
tranSMOGrifying - an essay about environmental and disability justice and how they intersect with trans rights and bodily autonomy
This summary would be vastly incomplete without mentioning the Periplus Fellowship, which formed the veritable core of my 2022. With all the words at my disposal, I still wouldn’t know how to express how grateful I am for the experiences and community I’ve had as a part of Periplus. Special shout-out to my mentor, Gene Kwak, who talked me through so many writerly woes and worries, including the dastardly MFA application cycle that took over the last few months of my year.
I also had the distinct honor and pleasure of being a digital resident at The Seventh Wave for their Root Systems issue. This is some of the most genuine fun I’ve had during a workshopping, editing, and revision process, and also some of the most clarifying. I wrote the very first draft of “YAO” during the slow hours of a retail job I had in 2021, and it’s a pale shadow of what my cohort and editors were able to bring out of it for publication. It’s also possibly the most personal story I’ve written to date (which is a lot coming from someone who only writes intensely personal stories), so I’m quite proud of it and how meaningful it’s become to me.
Looking ahead to 2023, I have various plans for this newsletter. Basically: to write more. To watch more movies again and do more film writing again, which I’ve missed. To write outside of the scope of this newsletter (which purports itself to be about cinema) because fuck it, I want to, and why not, anything just to write once more.
I feel that this year, I have written more about writing than I have actually written. To you, this may not sound like such a bad thing, but for me — to be honest — it’s a disappointment. My Google Drive is littered with half-written stories and essays. A veritable graveyard of (excuse the language) impotence. Each one marks a time when I was too anxious to move forward, or felt the task so overwhelming that it was a momentary relief to never do it at all.
In a way, this was the first real year of my life where I’ve had to re-examine my relationship to writing. I often think of my teenage self with envy — young Jonah had no expectations and therefore had no barriers; they wrote for themself, for truth, and for freedom; they threw down slapdash words on the page and privately cackled in glee when the words approximated a form of beauty. But even this is a misrepresentation of truth. I don’t have many written records from teenage Jonah, but even I with my faulty PTSD-addled memory can remember their pain. The dark sludge of months. They wrote to the page because the page was the only thing that would listen.
Things are different now that I am trying to use this skill, this act, this life raft, as something else — as a career, maybe, or even on a plainer level, as a way to be heard by the world and not just myself anymore. This rings selfish. Even more so: fallible. What I wrote last year in “Why I’m Taking a Break from Writing” still very much rings true, that it is difficult for me to write when it feels like the sole, semi-unstable pin of my survival, even though I am not writing for (purely) money anymore, because I am writing nowadays for reputation.
See, the audience before me (you!) is stultifying. I grow anxious when I think about being read. I’m an extremely private person, so why do I only seem able to write about myself? Worse, I was unfortunately raised to view my work and output as the only measure of my worth, which makes every piece manufactured for publication or submission an anxiety-inducing, insomniatic process. I haven’t been able to break out of that mind-trap, yet. The imaginary weight of your gaze pillories me with every succeeding word.
Yes, I need to start going to therapy again. That’s the simple answer, and don’t worry, I typed that with a laugh. Or did I, or did you have to know? I often struggle with this conflict in a world defined by social media — how much should I let you know about me? What is this image I’m crafting of myself, and how is it different from how you perceive me? If I write something that you think is awful, does it devalue me as a person? I know it shouldn’t, but does it?
I feel like I promise this to myself every year, and I’m increasingly poorer at keeping it, but I want to rediscover my love of writing again. And that is a promise not just about writing, but about life. I have to admit, it is hard for me to remain content, much less happy. I attempt to find those “small joys” everyone talks about. Sometimes I manage to succeed.
Next year, next year. What if I didn’t just write to survive. What if I didn’t just live to survive, either. What if what I had to say to the world wasn’t so important, but was important to me because it meant I love myself enough to say them out loud. What if I could recapture the sound of a bumblebee humming, and set it free inside of my mind. What if my heart could become as free as my body.
I don’t have a lot of time here, we never do. What if I could love myself enough to write myself into existence, and that would be enough for me, that would be everything I could ever need.
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