Missed the three year anniversary of my COVID lockdown, which was March 13, 2020.
But today’s the three year anniversary of the day I started feeling COVID symptoms. I ended up having what passed for a mild case, but it was at the beginning of that first wave in New York City, and it was quietly terrifying every step of the way.
All the best and huge hearts to everyone who went through something similar or much worse. May we all stay healthy and safe.
Another hard day with plenty of terrible things to mull over and deal with. But here’s three good things…
Luther Vandross’s “Brand New Day/Everybody Rejoice” always makes me feel better. I first encountered it in THE WIZ. Here’s the original version.
The story about Bob Sagat that begins with this tweet is just beautiful and hilarious and a real tribute to making the most of every moment. I’ve been getting tons of comfort from the Sinatra song “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die” recently, and everyone in that story seems to have really lived with that glorious energy.
Remember that roast chicken I talked about the other day? I made chicken salad out of the leftovers, and it was absolutely glorious. Liked it even more than the original meal. Just some chopped chicken, a little light mayo, diced celery, and some sea salt. But wow. It’s the little things, friends, day after day.
My mom died in August, which pretty much makes 2021 the worst year of my life. But here on the first day of 2022, I’m going to focus on some of the things from this last year that I’m deeply grateful for, because, hey, today I’m gonna laugh instead of cry.
Jane Pak, my beloved mother, knew how much I loved her and I knew how much she loved me. This grief will never disappear, but it’s a tribute to her love. You can read more about her here.
I got a fucking tumor cut out of my jaw. On my birthday this year I shaved for the first time since 2018, and I discovered a bulge at the edge of my right jaw. After several months, a series of ever more specialized specialists determined it was an inch-long, benign adenoma in my parotid gland, and on December 3, a surgeon finally cut it out. I’m deeply grateful that the tumor was indeed benign. I’m deeply grateful that the procedure went beautifully and the worst possible side effect of facial paralysis did not occur. And I’m deeply grateful we were able to get it done between the Delta and Omicron surges of this unending pandemic.
My mom’s greatest joy during the pandemic was a book club she ran for the young people in our extended family. I joined early last year to run a writing workshop and a Dungeons & Dragons campaign after their book club sessions. My mom eventually joined the writing workshop herself, which was an incredible experience and delight, and we’ve continued the workshop and D&D sessions after her death. These sessions are very often the very best part of my week.
In the wake of the surge of anti-Asian violence in March and April, I went to therapy for the first time this year, and it helped a lot.
So many friends and family members reached out in big and small ways over the course of the year. Every kind word meant the world. If you’re one of those people, thank you so much.
My everyday work of writing comic book scripts was agonizingly hard in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. But at a certain point, writing became a kind of balm. Never easy. But it stopped feeling like I was damaging myself by working, and eventually began to feel like I was helping myself by writing. Writing has always been my way of figuring out what the hell is going on in the world and in my own brain and heart. Returning to deeply personal writing, not all of which is for publication, has been a succor.
Speaking of writing, I’m grateful for poetry. When it was hard to write anything else, I wrote poems this year. And I’ve kept going, writing things in poetry that I couldn’t imagine writing any other way. Rediscovering and re-exploring a medium that I loved when I was younger has been gloriously liberating and reinvigorating.
Cooking breaks my heart and puts it back together again. When I’m cooking, I’m not asking myself what I’m doing with my life. I know exactly what I’m doing: preparing food for people I love, which always feels like exactly the right thing to do in the moment.
I’m grateful for my Dark Horse editors and collaborators for their tremendous support of the STRANGER THINGS: TOMB OF YBWEN book we put out this year. I wrote those scripts before my mother died, but they’re all about grief and loss and they mean so much to me. I’m grateful for my Marvel editors and collaborators for their tremendous support of the DARTH VADER books I wrote this year. Ochi of Bestoon in particular has been a joy to write. His ridiculous, brash cockiness has provided the tonal shift I’ve needed time and time again. I’m grateful for my BOOM editors and collaborators for their tremendous support of the FIREFLY books I wrote this year. I wrapped up my 36 issue run on the book with two issues with no fights, a single explosion, and all heart, and my editors and collaborators pulled out all the stops to make every page sing.
I’m grateful for the readers who bought my comics during this pandemic and for the 1,098 backers of my COOKING WILL BREAK YOUR HEART cookbook memoir Kickstarter campaign. A number of people said impossibly nice things about the importance of my writing to them, and that meant a lot this year in particular. The success of COOKING WILL BREAK YOUR HEART campaign also meant a huge amount because it’s the most personal writing I’ve put out into the world in years, and affirmation for that kind of work is just tremendous. And since we live in a world in which we need money to eat and live, I enormously appreciate the fact that so many people paid real dollars for my books and supported the CWBYH campaign. Thank you so much.
Speaking of money, I’m so grateful to the folks who supported the various fundraisers I pushed this last year. I gave half of my Greg Pak Shop income to comic book shops in an initiative that ended in October, so if you bought books there, you helped channel hundreds of dollars to the small business people who are the backbone of our industry. I made some pretty nifty VACCINATED pins and mailed them to people who donated to food banks or mutual aid groups, and folks ponied up $3400. I helped organize an online happy hour for the AAAJ Chicago to support their bystander intervention trainings that raised a few thousand bucks. And throughout the year, when I posted about various GoFundMes or charitable groups on Twitter, people stepped up and helped spread the word and donated. I literally teared up multiple times when I saw how fast people jumped on board to help each other. Thank you so much.
I’m so grateful for the vaccines. It’s easy to fall into despair as we face this latest pandemic surge. But the vaccines are vastly decreasing the severity of the virus and the death rate. Please get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already. I want us all to thrive.
I’m grateful for sheepshead minnows and the aquariums I’ve been keeping throughout the pandemic. They make me happy every time I see ’em swimming around in there.
I’m grateful for books like THE MAGIC FISH, THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO, LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST, and the upcoming EVERYDAY HERO MACHINE BOY, all of which gave me comfort and joy this year.
I’m grateful for Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, and Aretha Franklin. Grateful for the SUMMER OF SOUL and GET BACK documentaries. Grateful for the movie AMADEUS, which I rewatched for the first time in decades the other night. Grateful for the Frank Sinatra song “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die,” which seriously makes me feel better every time I listen to it.
I’m gonna live till I die,
I’m gonna laugh ‘stead of cry.
I’m gonna take the town and turn it upside down
I’m gonna live, live, live till I die.
I was horrified to confirm yesterday that due to a website configuration error, a huge percentage of the people who subscribed to my newsletter haven’t been getting my emails for over a year. My best guess is that at least two thirds of the emailed newsletters were ending up in spam folders!
But I’m thrilled to report that after a couple of hours of googling things like DNS, DMARC, DKIM, and CNAME, I identified the problem and found the right places to make the right tweaks — and things are working again! My latest newsletter currently has a 30.8 percent open rate, which is about triple the average open rate of all of my newsletters since May 2020, when the configuration error apparently first manifested.
I can’t help but grieve a bit over the hundreds of unopened emails that I sent during the pandemic. But I’m comforted that moving forward, I’ll be able to reach so many more folks through a mailing list that’s completely separate from social media companies. And that’s feeling more and more necessary every day, since I’m making an effort to stay away from Twitter as much as possible.
Twitter is where I’ve built most of my internet presence over the years. I’ve laughed like hell, learned a lot, made dozens of real friends, reached readers, sold books, raised many dollars for great causes, and helped pull thousands of people into various events and volunteer activities for nonprofits and political groups. All that’s tremendous! And yes, I’ll still pop in there to cheer on colleagues and causes and spread the word about my own stuff – heck, a link to this very post will be automatically cross-posted on Twitter when I hit “Publish.”
But Twitter is also a magnifier of the very worst tendencies of our culture. Its business model depends on interaction, good or bad, and like Facebook, it’s been inexcusably slow to enforce its own policies against harassment and bigotry. And even beyond the most obvious negatives, Twitter creates an expectation of unending access and observation that can be exhausting. Yes, I want to be informed and responsible and active in the world. But Twitter’s not the only place for that. Everyone’s got a different, valid position on all of this, and no doubt some day when I’m goofing around on social media, a good friend will point at this post and give me a sardonic look. But at this moment, on a personal level, I’m realizing that I’m healthier when I’m off Twitter, so off Twitter is where I’m trying to spend most of my time.
So I’m thinking about other ways to both take in information and reach out, which explains why I’m so ridiculously excited to have solved this goofy technical issue with my newsletter. And I’m deeply pleased with myself for figuring out how to edit the CSS to tweak the paragraph spacing of posts on my website to make them more readable, because here I am blogging again like it’s 1999.
If you’re reading this, you’re joining me on this retro journey, and I appreciate you so much. Thank you.
Posted a new article on my Patreon about the specific joy in making the time to write something just for myself and only myself. An excerpt:
…during the pandemic, I’ve found myself spinning into introspection and nostalgia. I got obsessed with finding some of the cheap Sheaffer fountain pens I loved and used every day as a kid. There wasn’t conscious intention to all this, and maybe the two things are totally separate, but I was blown away by how great it felt to hold those old pens again, to feel the specific, just-right bite of those nibs on paper, to see that ink flow and fill on the page. And at the same time, I’ve found myself writing just for myself again.
It costs just $1 a month to sign up for my Patreon, which will let you read all the posts as soon as they’re posted instead of waiting a week or two. There’s tons of practical writing advice up there. Please do feel free to check it out!
Hey, I launched a Patreon last week! Please do check it out — it’s gonna be awesome!
If you’re interested in learning more about the practical craft of comic book writing, my Patreon is the place for you. I’ve written a number of articles and big Twitter threads about comic book writing and co-written a book called MAKE COMICS LIKE THE PROS with my frequent collaborator Fred Van Lente. But now I’m writing a whole book about the very specific things I do as a comic book writer to get the job done — and as a backer of the Patreon, you’ll see this book develop in real time, as I write it, in a series of incredibly practical posts and articles.
It’s gonna be great! Hope you come along for the ride! Thanks for your consideration and all the best!
Just a little stunned to have an essay in Poetry Magazine this month — which includes excerpts of my high school poetry!
The magazine has a feature called “The View from Here” in which it gets folks who aren’t generally known for their poetry to talk about the meaning of poetry in their lives. So I dug into my old high school notebooks and read through dozens of my old poems. Hoo boy! It was harrowing and fun and ultimately opened my eyes to how important poetry really has been in my development as a writer and a human being.
A few months ago, Michi Trota asked me if I’d be interested in writing an essay for Uncanny Magazine. I said sure and cheerfully suggested a light-hearted piece about my old Dungeons and Dragons notebooks from middle school, which I’d recently rediscovered (along with the incredibly flattering photo of 13-year-old-me above).
But when I sat down to write, I started sweating. Because digging through those old notebooks was as harrowing as it was hilarious and the essay turned into the most personal thing I’ve ever published as an adult. It’s all about adolescence and writing and worldbuilding and the Boy Scouts and biracial Asian American identity.