You recently tweeted a kind of counter to the Forbes 30 Under 30, asking people to share their post-thirty victories. What were your favorite or most surprising responses?
Hah! God. Somehow, that turned into a two thousand-reply thread, which . . . still boggles the mind. Unfortunately, because there were so many responses, I’m going to have to be honest and admit that they’ve all blurred together for me. But shining through were the stories about how people found joy, plain and simple, and how they didn’t feel like they deserved to talk about it. It’s fascinating that we’re wired to think that success requires empirical evidence. We need to be X or Y in order to say we’ve found “success” and “joy” past the age of thirty. And that’s ridiculous to me. At the root of our ambitions, there’s the drive to be happy. Some people need a complicated route to get there. Some people find their bliss in simpler things. Both are valid. Both are wonderful to see in the world. The fact society teaches us to devalue one of these just exasperates me to no end. All joy is good.
Except when it involves non-consensually collecting someone else’s teeth.
I loved the line, “we exist to accent and accentuate that which makes our husbands impressive.” What drew you to that dynamic?
Growing up in Malaysia, really, and listening to the usual doctrine. The wife is an asset, an advantageous acquisition for the husband’s family. She has to be. Because otherwise, what’s the point of her? There’s definitely a growing awareness of women’s rights in the country, but a lot of the older generation still subscribe to the idea that women are almost property. And you do see its impact on men of my generation, on even how the women have internalized those beliefs. Like, I’m still worried about not being sufficiently useful to people. I constantly feel the urge to be a living manifestation of Siri with some cosmic powers, because that’s what I’ve been taught: that my value is dependent on my ability to benefit the social infrastructure I’m part of.
Also, that line just rolls off the tongue, damn it.
There are folktales of animal-husbands and animal-wives all over the world, both getting captured and escaping, but it’s rare that we see the aftermath from this point of view. Is she reclaiming or erasing the city with these rituals?
Reclaiming the city. I won’t lie. A lot of this story is autobiographical. Malmo, where the story is based, is unique to me in that it represents one of the rare happy memories I had with an ex. For the longest time, I couldn’t think about visiting, couldn’t wrap my thoughts about the place. I couldn’t divorce that city from them, and I hated that because I loved Malmo. So, someone suggested I build memories—my memory is audiovisual, the kind you can sort of walk through, re-experience everything from taste to subvocal thought—that weren’t associated with them. Pile my brain with all of my own memories, reclaim the city I’d loved by walking through it, free of any notion of them. And I did. And Malmo felt like mine again.
What can we look forward to next from you?
A post-apocalyptic mermaid novel that I desperately hope the world will love, a volley of short stories, and so many bloomin’ [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] that I’m beginning to feel like my life is one big embargo.
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