What Jaya Saxena’s 2014 Looked Like

Even though the Internet collectively agreed 2014 was a piece of shit, I wouldn’t trade it. Good things happened to me this year, including the growing ability to admit when good things happen. In January, I was the “before” cliché, working a dead-end job, writing in all my free time, pushing everything I had into what felt like an abyss that couldn’t even echo back to me. And then finally, I got a response.

Now, I freelance full-time and am writing two books—one a collection of dad humor and the other a historic cookbook. Sometimes I worry they’re too dissimilar, both from each other and from the growing body of work I publish elsewhere (like my etiquette blog). I’m trying to remind myself how lucky I am to not have to choose.

I was told making a list of my favorite things I wrote this year could be an exercise in self-reflection and critique, something I’ve often avoided. It’s why I favored places that wouldn’t edit me early in my career. This was the year I realized what a mistake that was, when I started thinking hard about what I was producing, what was attached to my name, and how I could make myself better. This is all to day please don’t read anything of mine before maybe 2011.

Anyway, off to the year’s favorites.

Dad Magazine, The Toast

This started off as a joke over lunch and has now landed me a book deal. I will never fully believe that, but it makes me happy to know it’s hitting with other people. There’s not much reflection to be done here, I’m just happy Matt Lubchansky and I have been given such a platform for all our dumb jokes. I’ll also sneak Me, IRL and I’m A Gamer in here, because man I’m funny.

Eating History: Recreating a Curry From 1894, First We Feast

This is from the column that inspired the second book, and I can tell I was enthusiastic about this one. I can also tell I was rushed. I’m still figuring out my feelings about food writing (which maybe I should figure out since I’m writing a damn cookbook), but I find I like it best when it hints at something other than food. Reading this inspires me to take my time with the second book, and tell a story that’s bigger than just fun recipes.

There Goes The Neighborhood, The Archipelago/Medium

This thing happens to me where I write something very personal and subjective and once it’s published it’s like my opinions are released. I exhale whatever guilt or frustration or passion drove me to write it all down. I still miss Sapporo East, but less, and the space where these thoughts lived started filling up with new thoughts about hometowns and identity. I meant what I said, but I mean a lot of other things too.

Why You Looked Weird In High School, The Archipelago/Medium

Remember when I talked about appreciating editors? Jess Zimmerman, who edited this and the piece above, is probably to thank for that. I’d never had the experience of feeling like an editor’s words were mine, or their suggestions just clearer versions of what I was already thinking. I needed that with a piece like this that combines personal essay with interviews with something like a thesis on the semiotics of your high school wardrobe.

Identity in Pieces, The Aerogram

I am just beginning to be comfortable writing about my racial identity. For years I didn’t want to upset my families by revealing that it was something that affected me, that I was different than both of them. It’s something I’ll be writing and thinking about more in 2015, but I’m really proud that I wasn’t afraid to write this.

The Witch In All Of Us, The Hairpin

My husband jokes that I remember too much from my childhood, and I think because of that I’m drawn to pieces where I get to unpack those memories. I also enjoy looking back on those times where I learned to be accepting of myself, probably because I’m still doing that. Oh, and my mom commented, so that’s great.

Why I Quit Playing Cards Against Humanity, The Daily Dot

Oh man does Reddit hate me now. This was one of the last articles I wrote this year, and now, after doing this exercise of parsing over my work, I can see that there’s a big difference from my work at the beginning of the year. Feeling proud of myself is something I’m getting used to, but to me this reads as a reasonable, well-researched and fair discussion of the game. After it was published, a lot of people told me it articulated feelings they felt embarrassed to say. A lot of people yelled at me too, some because they thought I was a SJW crybaby, others because it should not have taken me five games to realize aspects were “problematic.” I think I sound honest, and that I did a good job.

I think I have some goals for next year. I want to get my manuscripts in on time and I want to feel good about them. I want to wake up one day remembering one of my pitches to the New Yorker, and then pitch it and have it published. I want to maybe be on a year-end list other than my own. I want to maybe pitch another book, or get a full-time job when I’m done with these, or just keep trusting myself and moving on to what feels right. Is that enough? Okay. Email me at jhsaxena@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter if you want me.

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