Brian Lin

I was wired by white worlds: the Midwest and the Ivy League. Fat, Asian, and queer, I feared sight as judgment. Abercrombie was the norm; I was nightcrawler.

An immigrant too, my every word held the threat of mistake. I feared more than misunderstanding; I doubted I would ever make sense.

Thus I learned to observe, not act; to listen, not speak; to hide, not seek.

I didn’t meet another gay Asian man until my last year of college. I’ve seen myself reflected on screen once—on an international flight, nowhere.

You live this way long enough, you believe two things. One: that you’re impossible, outside of comprehension. Two: that you’re exceptional, the only one deserving of sight.

In this body, recognition was unthinkable, and desire, impossible.

I learned the problem was loneliness from David Foster Wallace.

When he died on my birthday, I wanted to believe that a cosmic shift was at work. It would make me heir to his genius.

“Genius” exempts you from the duties of communication—namely, understanding of self and clarity of presentation. Works of genius get to be inscrutable. By definition, they are out of our lay line of sight.

An easy read of Wallace is that he wrote to be looked at, not to be seen.

My body wasn’t ready for either, much less both.

I fear for my writing as I did for my body. My question is always: Does this make sense? After workshops, my writing always feels illegible, its themes unspeakable.

When the workshop is all white, I say that they are blind. When the workshop is my people, I tell myself they’re too simple.

This year in the writing world has been more about me than my work. I looked for people to tell me I was worthy. If only a stranger would tell me I was a genius, I would be at last enough.

My body, afraid, wrote for style more than story. I trusted sight for only so long. Looking can turn into seeing, and my body was not for sight.

I didn’t believe I needed story. Wallace is known for his sentences, so smart, so long.

My own turned heads, but I was trying to break hearts. I wanted people to see the world in my work, but what I had really worked on was words.

Style makes people look. They’ll do it for only so long. Story makes people see. They’ll take all the time in the world.

I don’t see myself as fat anymore. I fear attention less. I feel less shame when I look at myself. I hold my body as worthy.

As I shapeshift, vulnerability changes from condition to choice.

I choose these days to speak as deeply as I listen. I learn to tell stories.

I shed the armor of style. I assemble its shards into bridge. Across the way, I see people I can hardly yet imagine, looking back at me.

 


 

When the task of writing grows inevitably arduous—and seemingly thankless—we must remember why we started. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” this introspective project highlights our motives for writing. Share your story and join the conversation. Live events are produced throughout the diverse cities of Orange County and feature author readings from curated essay submissions.

  1. Write a 500-word essay explaining why you write.
  2. Submit via Submittable.
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