A short but honest list of influences

Oh god, my writing has slowed to a crawl. But I’ll try to not think too much about that. Now, on with it…

I tend to have ongoing threads and themes of thoughts—semi-related ideas that bubble to the forefront of my consciousness as I go about my daily life. They can last weeks, months, and… well, beyond that point, it’s probably become integrated into my worldview.

Lately, I’ve been passively thinking about influence. Example musings:

  • The world judges an artist’s career and body of work on how influential they were…
  • We pick apart the early-life influences of important historical figures to try and better understand them…
  • Your inputs determine your outputs… your media diet, what inspiration photos you look at, what accounts you follow, who you spend time with…
  • Retracing the source of trends and historical references…
  • And then I tried to retrace of some of my other thought themes to figure out what influenced those

What I found was fun and surprising, and honestly much more interesting to me than the hundredth list of influential reads that includes Marcus Aurelius or Machiavelli. (They’re classics for a reason, but come on, be honest!)

  1. N.K. Jemisin’s interview on the Ezra Klein Show, where she and Ezra do a light world-building workshop. At the ~40-minute mark, they start figuring out the power dynamics of a new world they’ve built. She has such a crisp articulation of how sociological power works—nothing I didn’t necessarily know before, but stated in such simple and clear ways— that it burrowed in my mind and stayed there. \ \ I first listened to this in late summer 2018, then the general theme of power bubbled up to the forefront of my mind again in the beginning of 2019. I spent a lot of last year re-examining everything—my relationships, my career, my place in society, the world at large—through the lens of power dynamics, and the structures and systems that reinforce them.\ \ It’s not lost on me that N.K. Jemisin is a woman of color who lives in a world that is systematically biased against people who look like her, and has had to develop hyper-awareness of these power dynamics in order to survive. I’m grateful she channels that knowledge into her art, and that I’m able to appreciate and learn from it.
  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee—or specifically, a Q&A event with her that I attended in late 2017. She talked about how she had some version of an idea for this story in college, carried it with her since, and finally turned published it almost 3 decades later.\ \ I literally think about this every few days. For the author of one of my favorite books to have her career breakout moment at around age 50, and to take her dang time to make her art the way she wants to—it’s a relief to hear, especially when my own industry (tech) is always telling me to ship fast, fail faster 🙄, and ignores anyone over 35. Having this example might have been the single biggest influence in cultivating patience with my work and myself.\ \ (Side note: Writing seems like a later-peak career, which gives me something to look forward to.)
  3. A one-two punch: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante + a Tweet from 2019 I can no longer find, but the gist of it was that the things we hoard reflect our own insecurities. (This was at the peak of the Netflix-fueled KonMari trend.)\ \ I was stunned when I first read My Brilliant Friend in 2017 and recognized my own insecurities laid out in the narrator’s story. Constantly comparing myself to my various seemingly-innately-brilliant friends (heh), recognizing the advantages I’ve had that they haven’t had, then feeling guilty about not doing as well in my work despite having more support… it felt like reading a lightly fictionalized version of my own diary. Before, these thoughts were just part of the fabric of my existence, unexamined and unnoticed. Like air. It wasn’t until after reading the book that I realized, hey, maybe there’s some stuff I need to work through here.\ \ But then was kind of sitting in the back of my mind as an amorphous cloud of feelings until I saw that tweet over a year later, and was finally able to give it a name: intellectual insecurity. (Funny how my brain works.) I realized my shallow book-hoarding habit—I’ve only read like 1/3 of the books I own, but I just can’t stop getting more—stemmed from this intellectual insecurity.\ \ Having a good name for any broad or complex or abstract set of ideas (or feelings!) helps to concretize it, makes it a tool you can use. It might sound counterintuitive, but having a name for this trait has helped me better understand myself and helped me be conscious of what stories I tell myself. It’s all very circular and I know I sound like someone who just smoked too much weed.
  4. This Atlantic article about the lifelong friendship and annual book club of 4 middle-aged men. Specifically, this quote in the lede: “To be known completely and to be loved is a very profound experience. Adult males do not often have that kind of an experience.”\ \ I read this in August 2019, which the most recent thing on this list. Similar to the others influences, it was a case of seeing just the right words that describe something I’ve always felt but not fully recognized; in this case, the craving “to be known completely and to be loved.” After growing up as an awkward immigrant only child, I’ve developed a chronic outsider complex, perpetually feeling different and misunderstood. These words helped articulate and clarify a lifelong goal for me.\ \ The rest of the article is beautiful too, and I still hold onto this example of middle-aged white men having rich friendships and emotionally nuanced conversations as a reminder of things to look forward to later in life.

So overall, common themes among these influences are… feelings! Feeling seen! Being inspired by the examples set by others!


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