Author Archives

Wei Tchou

The Unreliable Reader

Aditya Chinchure / Unsplash, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Wei Tchou | Longreads | April 2019 | 11 minutes (2,983 words)

“I write this while experiencing a strain of psychosis known as Cotard’s delusion, in which the patient believes that they are dead,” the novelist Esmé Weijun Wang writes at the beginning of “Perdition Days,” an essay from her new book, The Collected Schizophrenias. (Read an excerpt on Longreads.) “What the writer’s confused state means is not beside the point, because it is the point,” she continues. “I am in here, somewhere: cogito ergo sum.” The passage moves swiftly, from first person agency (“I am writing”) to distanced third person (“the patient,” “the writer”) to the famous Descartes assertion, in Latin, “I think, therefore I am.” As a reader, it’s astonishing and a little unnerving to consider the immediacy of the prose, your intimacy with a speaker searching to find the correct vantage from which to narrate the strangely drawn, difficult-to-map districts of her mind.

That same authorial compulsion to navigate and survey pervades the book, which is notable for its subject matter alone: a first-person investigation of “the schizophrenias,” as Wang describes the four overlapping classifications of the mental disorder listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, often shortened to DSM-5. (Wang was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, in 2013.) Wang approaches the work of writing about her mental illness as if she were reporting from a foreign place, returning to it diligently, pursuing dark corners as if to case the joint. She publishes email correspondences between herself and her physician, written in a period of psychosis. She considers her desire for motherhood through the lens of her time as a counselor at Camp Wish, a bipolar youth camp. She recalls scenes from her three involuntary hospitalizations, describing the trauma of those stays, as well as the slippery interviews on which those hospitalizations were based. Read more…

‘As a Grown Woman, I Still Have To Continuously Learn To Say No’

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Wei Tchou | Longreads | October 2018 | 14 minutes (3,646 words)

We’re certainly living in a time of revolution. I feel a great deal of wonder when I reflect on the fact that we’ve witnessed our society’s cultural norms regarding sexual assault and consent shift in real time, on the most public of stages: Washington, Hollywood. Yet I’m perhaps less attuned to the shifts happening within myself, in light of the national conversation. I know that I conceive of my own consent and agency more intentionally now, from day to day. But where I most often notice this evolution is in the way I think about my past — it’s as if many of my memories have been entirely rewritten.

I was thinking of all of this as I read Tanya Marquardt’s Stray: Memoir of a Runaway. In the book, Marquardt writes about escaping her dysfunctional home at age sixteen and finding community within the early-nineties underground goth scene in Vancouver, British Columbia. The book is haunting and spare, and wrestles with the nuances of one’s agency, in the face of cyclical abuse. Marquardt is an award-winning performer and playwright. Her play Transmission was published in the Canadian Theatre Review, and she has published personal essays in HuffPost UK and Medium.

We became friends, back in 2011, while we we both attending the M.F.A program at Hunter College, and we sat down recently to speak about the art of crafting memory into literature, the ongoing stigma against personal writing, and the ways in which the cultural conversation surrounding consent affected the writing of her book, among other topics. Read more…