This story was originally published in the October 19th, 2018 issue of The Slant. Want more Asian American stories like this one? Subscribe to the newsletter for free.
Lulu Cheng is taking a touchy-feely class. The touchy-feely class, in fact, with an Inc article, business school pieces and plenty of anecdotes from touchy-feely graduates who learn leadership skills, forge relationships, and pretty much get group therapy.
“The kind of adjective that people use to talk about it is transformative, which is a really interesting word,” Cheng tells me over the phone. “You get a lot of feedback on first impressions and how you come off to other people. It’s kind of intense.”
In her first class, Cheng found herself in a “T-Group” of her peers, with minimal structure, no agenda, and, well, touchy-feeliness. “The really funny thing is, you hear that people cry, and I went in thinking, ‘I’m not gonna fulfill the cliche,’” says Cheng. “I ended up being the first person who had some tears.”
Which makes sense, because this is an emotional boot camp if there ever was one. “There are so few opportunities in everyday life to stop and think about the impact that you have on other people and vice-versa,” says Cheng. “We have hundreds of interactions with people every day, and there’s an emotional resonance and an emotional residue. And this is an opportunity to just sit and accept that.”
Cheng’s writing exemplifies that line of thinking. In her email newsletter, /tell it slant/, Cheng authors emails chock-full of that emotional resonance, telling personal stories about her grandmother’s dementia, or going to therapy, or her relationship with her mother.
It’s the kind of writing that fully realizes the fever dreams of whoever invented email: missives plunging into emotional depths and yet delivered instantly to your phone, three scrolls long.
Last week, we talked about everything from writing for the email medium to being a 1.5 generation immigrant to how overrated boba might be. And before you read, you might check out her email newsletter archive. We’ll wait.
We’ve featured a few highlights here. See the full transcript on Medium.
On starting her newsletter
It really was an experiment to see if I could write more. I started doing a bit of it on my blog. But the content I was posting was more work-related, and I felt this intense pressure to make everything perfect, because it’s about work and it’s very public. And I had this suspicion that if I didn’t have that pressure and that constraint, I would write a lot more.
The [topics] that I continually return to are scenes around personal growth, emotional development, and increasingly around Asian American identity and the experiences of a one-and-a-half generation immigrant. And I’m kind of at the point now where I’d like to spend some time in China. I’ve only been back twice since I left, and the last time was almost a decade ago. So I’m feeling this sense of wanting to reconnect with my past, my family stories, and hopefully glean some creative inspiration from that.
On writing for email vs blogging
I think people have been predicting the demise of email every year for the past 20 years. Email has stuck around so long because at the end of the day, it’s really hard to beat this direct personal communication.
I think the asynchronous nature of it is really nice, where you get an email, you open it, there’s no pressure to respond right away. It’s not unusual to let something sit, where sometimes you’ll get responses a month or so after you send the thing. And I think that’s totally fine.
And I still think there’s really no more direct way to get to people, especially nowadays when attention is so fragmented and there’s so many pulls on your attention. Email is kinda the universal thing that you know everyone from your mom to your little cousin is gonna have.
On using Chinese in her writing
It’s actually stylistically something that you see more and more in works of literature. I recently finished The Wangs vs. the World, and one technique the author uses all the time is writing out sentences in pinyin. Entire paragraphs sometimes. And it was kinda crazy. It was hard to imagine someone reading it while knowing pinyin, ‘cos I’m doing translations in my head. And I remember seeing reviews on Goodreads complaining about these entire paragraphs of prose in another language. (laughs)
But honestly, I think we’re gonna see so much more of that going forward. Because that’s what we’re doing as people who are bilingual and communicating with family where fluency is at very different levels. You’re constantly doing this switching, this translating when you’re talking with them. And so I think it’s just a reflection of the reality of my experience, and what it’s like to talk with them.
On the most overrated Asian food
Um, okay, so hot take. Maybe controversial. I honestly, I don’t understand the boba fascination. Like, I have a sweet tooth. And maybe I’m just pickier about how I spend my sweet allotment for the day. But I’d much rather eat … anything else. A moon cake. A mochi. On its own, not in boba. (laughs) Maybe it’s user error or faulty product. I don’t know.
Lulu is a product manager on the Discovery team at Pinterest, where she’s building illuminating recommendation experiences. In her free time she writes a newsletter on Asian American identity, among other things, and tweets things that sometimes go viral. She’s also a transformation coach and would love to connect via Twitter if there’s an area of life where you’d like some change or are feeling stuck.