Lena Chen

is a reluctant sexpert, a feminist and queer activist, and a walking case study on bad publicity. Once called the "self-appointed poster girl for ... brainy girls gone wild", she authored the blog Sex and the Ivy about her misadventures and sexcapades as a Harvard undergrad. Her reputation has never quite recovered.

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Faith and First Times: Sex, Society and Religion

I’m speaking tonight at Pomona College and will be in Los Angeles until Wednesday. If you’re in the Claremont area, come check this out :)

Faith and First Times: Sex, Society and Religion
Thursday, October 4th, 7:00-8:30pm
Rose Hills Theatre, Pomona College

In today’s modern age, female sexuality has become less taboo to discuss. Whether through Cosmopolitan Magazine or Victoria’s Secret, society is beginning to explore a certain brand of female sexuality. Yet many women of faith are faced with the dilemma of embracing their sexuality while still maintaining religious traditions that value virginity and purity, while secular women often feel these cultural representations are not a true expression of their experiences. Come join the Pomona Student Union at Faith and First Times, an event aimed at exploring the influences of religion on virginity and how it effects women in today’s society.

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a·mok   [uh-muhk, uh-mok] noun
(among members of certain Southeast Asian cultures) a psychic disturbance characterized by depression followed by a manic urge to murder, a state of murderous frenzy.It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer an orange-haired joker gunned down the fourth wall of a Colorado cinema, and I didn’t know what I was still doing in Boston. I’m weird about shootings. The idea of killing people makes me sick, but when confronted with the rampages, the national tragedies, my impulse is to empathize not with mourning families or fallen victims, but with the perpetrator. He’s usually one of the losers or freaks, a social outcast, the kind of role I had always been assigned no matter my environment. What happened in Aurora had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering who I would’ve become if luck hadn’t intervened, if it would’ve been me pulling the trigger instead, only in a different place at a different time.Frank said it was the most morbid thought in the world. (But of course, how could he relate to the character of the underdog?)Boston was bad enough. The sun rose at 6 in the morning, warming the black-tarred streets and mansard-roofed homes of a noiseless city. By the time I woke hours later, the temperature in our centrally air-conditioned penthouse unit had risen above 80 degrees, a result of leaving the windows open overnight for fresh air. A heatwave was sweeping through the country, its rays as indiscriminate as the aim of the joker, ravaging residents of coast and country alike. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, least of all to write…
            –Excerpt from “REAL ESTATE CURES FOR WRITER’S BLOCK”

I haven’t read The Bell Jar from cover to cover in years. This fall, I’m going to take a page from Hunter S. Thompson and retype the entire thing by hand. I figure I might learn a thing or two given a few years of distance, and either way, it’ll be better than pitching thinly disguised stories about a writing professional who hates the professionalization of writing. All of my writer friends feel the same about their jobs, but none of them are passive-aggressive or ironic enough to actually approach their editors with such a story idea. I guess I should say “most” and not “all”, especially since I sleep beside a German academic with an appreciation for specificity, but come to think of it, all of my writer friends really do share my rapidly dwindling faith in the media and publishing industry.
Earlier this August, the Hound and I were in Fire Island for ten days with ten books. The only one that got cracked open was The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath was my sole like-minded companion in the darkest hours of my adolescence. She was the author who defined my girlhood by defying hers, and after I discovered her memoir at the age of 15, I had an annual habit of revisiting its pages. I don’t know why I ever stopped. Plath makes me think about a part of myself that I haven’t had opportunity to consider anymore, especially as the topics of my writing have become more professional, legitimate, closer to the mainstream. Look at my portfolio; I never really wanted any of this for myself. I wanted to write, yes, and I like “networking” if what you mean is finger food and compliments from strangers, but the travel, events, business cards, etc.? I spend more time on my Twitter stream than I do on stream-of-consciousness.
I knew by the time I graduated college in 2010 that I didn’t want any of the things I thought I wanted all through my undergraduate years at Harvard. The only reason I pursued any sort of career in the traditional sense was because I needed to insulate myself from cyber bullies who couldn’t get over the fact that I wrote a sex blog when I was 19. Why should I have to encourage people to forget that I ever appeared naked on the Internet in order to have them take my writing seriously? Moreover, my genius plot didn’t even fucking work. I’m 25 now, and they are still not bored of stalking and defaming me or my friends or my boyfriend or my family. And last year, they moved on to stalking my readers by outing anyone who commented on, reblogged, or liked my posts. I felt like I gave up a part of myself for nothing. Ever since the harassment has escalated, I have lost any desire to blog most days - and I’m sure my lack of enthusiasm showed in less frequent and less substantial updates this year. I felt the walls creeping up and the confines of my career closing in every time I signed another contract for another gig I didn’t really want to take.
I burned out. I put away my unfinished memoir. I started a novel. I decided I needed to get the hell out of America. I wanted to break up with my life. I read the first page of The Bell Jar.
On Fire Island, I spent the first half of my vacation being mildly irritated that there was no Internet or cell phone reception, despite the fact that I specifically wanted to visit Fire Island to escape Internet and cell phone reception. I was generally displeased by my then-unresolved housing situation, my two-week separation from Patrick (who was obtaining a visa in Germany to stay in the U.S.), and my utter inability to make progress on my novel and the three or four creative writing pieces I’ve been working on since the beginning of 2012.
Then Patrick arrived (by ferry) and brought with him foodstuffs, supplies, and the best birthday present ever. But I cannot reveal the latter for fear that it will not come to past! So, instead on this 25th year of life, I am belatedly sharing the above photograph (taken by Patrick) and the excerpt (written by me). The latter comes from an unfinished short story about six people trying to find a home during an unusually hot summer. It’s my first adult attempt at writing fiction, and I’ll think about trying to get it published somewhere when it’s complete, but mostly, I’m just curious to see how the writing process plays out. I’m writing this one for me, and the mere notion of trying to price something like this, to figure out its market value - well, it’s absurd, but so is the rest of capitalism.
I know now for certain that my writer’s block is over, because I know that I can and I will and I want to finish writing this story. I need to, because it not only tells the tale of this summer, but the story of my young adulthood, the story of this entire year and my entire life, the story of The Bell Jar and what it means to me. If I can finish this, I can finish my book. There are things I want to accomplish here, things I want to say about literature in general, and things I have wanted to say about myself but have always been too scared to reveal. Writing this short story is both personal challenge and tribute. How better else to thank the poet whose single novel saved my life countless times over than by proving with text the suspicion that she must have always nursed, the contradiction that marked her career - that in the end, genre is just a state of mind, and the truth - or what it is we call “the truth” - lies not in words but in the spaces between the lines.

a·mok   [uh-muhk, uh-mok] noun

(among members of certain Southeast Asian cultures) a psychic disturbance characterized by depression followed by a manic urge to murder, a state of murderous frenzy.

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer an orange-haired joker gunned down the fourth wall of a Colorado cinema, and I didn’t know what I was still doing in Boston. I’m weird about shootings. The idea of killing people makes me sick, but when confronted with the rampages, the national tragedies, my impulse is to empathize not with mourning families or fallen victims, but with the perpetrator. He’s usually one of the losers or freaks, a social outcast, the kind of role I had always been assigned no matter my environment. What happened in Aurora had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering who I would’ve become if luck hadn’t intervened, if it would’ve been me pulling the trigger instead, only in a different place at a different time.

Frank said it was the most morbid thought in the world. (But of course, how could he relate to the character of the underdog?)

Boston was bad enough. The sun rose at 6 in the morning, warming the black-tarred streets and mansard-roofed homes of a noiseless city. By the time I woke hours later, the temperature in our centrally air-conditioned penthouse unit had risen above 80 degrees, a result of leaving the windows open overnight for fresh air. A heatwave was sweeping through the country, its rays as indiscriminate as the aim of the joker, ravaging residents of coast and country alike. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, least of all to write…

            –Excerpt from “REAL ESTATE CURES FOR WRITER’S BLOCK

I haven’t read The Bell Jar from cover to cover in years. This fall, I’m going to take a page from Hunter S. Thompson and retype the entire thing by hand. I figure I might learn a thing or two given a few years of distance, and either way, it’ll be better than pitching thinly disguised stories about a writing professional who hates the professionalization of writing. All of my writer friends feel the same about their jobs, but none of them are passive-aggressive or ironic enough to actually approach their editors with such a story idea. I guess I should say “most” and not “all”, especially since I sleep beside a German academic with an appreciation for specificity, but come to think of it, all of my writer friends really do share my rapidly dwindling faith in the media and publishing industry.

Earlier this August, the Hound and I were in Fire Island for ten days with ten books. The only one that got cracked open was The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath was my sole like-minded companion in the darkest hours of my adolescence. She was the author who defined my girlhood by defying hers, and after I discovered her memoir at the age of 15, I had an annual habit of revisiting its pages. I don’t know why I ever stopped. Plath makes me think about a part of myself that I haven’t had opportunity to consider anymore, especially as the topics of my writing have become more professional, legitimate, closer to the mainstream. Look at my portfolio; I never really wanted any of this for myself. I wanted to write, yes, and I like “networking” if what you mean is finger food and compliments from strangers, but the travel, events, business cards, etc.? I spend more time on my Twitter stream than I do on stream-of-consciousness.

I knew by the time I graduated college in 2010 that I didn’t want any of the things I thought I wanted all through my undergraduate years at Harvard. The only reason I pursued any sort of career in the traditional sense was because I needed to insulate myself from cyber bullies who couldn’t get over the fact that I wrote a sex blog when I was 19. Why should I have to encourage people to forget that I ever appeared naked on the Internet in order to have them take my writing seriously? Moreover, my genius plot didn’t even fucking work. I’m 25 now, and they are still not bored of stalking and defaming me or my friends or my boyfriend or my family. And last year, they moved on to stalking my readers by outing anyone who commented on, reblogged, or liked my posts. I felt like I gave up a part of myself for nothing. Ever since the harassment has escalated, I have lost any desire to blog most days - and I’m sure my lack of enthusiasm showed in less frequent and less substantial updates this year. I felt the walls creeping up and the confines of my career closing in every time I signed another contract for another gig I didn’t really want to take.

I burned out. I put away my unfinished memoir. I started a novel. I decided I needed to get the hell out of America. I wanted to break up with my life. I read the first page of The Bell Jar.

On Fire Island, I spent the first half of my vacation being mildly irritated that there was no Internet or cell phone reception, despite the fact that I specifically wanted to visit Fire Island to escape Internet and cell phone reception. I was generally displeased by my then-unresolved housing situation, my two-week separation from Patrick (who was obtaining a visa in Germany to stay in the U.S.), and my utter inability to make progress on my novel and the three or four creative writing pieces I’ve been working on since the beginning of 2012.

Then Patrick arrived (by ferry) and brought with him foodstuffs, supplies, and the best birthday present ever. But I cannot reveal the latter for fear that it will not come to past! So, instead on this 25th year of life, I am belatedly sharing the above photograph (taken by Patrick) and the excerpt (written by me). The latter comes from an unfinished short story about six people trying to find a home during an unusually hot summer. It’s my first adult attempt at writing fiction, and I’ll think about trying to get it published somewhere when it’s complete, but mostly, I’m just curious to see how the writing process plays out. I’m writing this one for me, and the mere notion of trying to price something like this, to figure out its market value - well, it’s absurd, but so is the rest of capitalism.

I know now for certain that my writer’s block is over, because I know that I can and I will and I want to finish writing this story. I need to, because it not only tells the tale of this summer, but the story of my young adulthood, the story of this entire year and my entire life, the story of The Bell Jar and what it means to me. If I can finish this, I can finish my book. There are things I want to accomplish here, things I want to say about literature in general, and things I have wanted to say about myself but have always been too scared to reveal. Writing this short story is both personal challenge and tribute. How better else to thank the poet whose single novel saved my life countless times over than by proving with text the suspicion that she must have always nursed, the contradiction that marked her career - that in the end, genre is just a state of mind, and the truth - or what it is we call “the truth” - lies not in words but in the spaces between the lines.

link

25 Under 25: Most Influential Women on the Web 2012

Flattered to be included in CollegeCandy’s annual 25 Under 25 round-up :) Check out the full list of notable bloggers, Tweeters, entrepreneurs, and personalities over at CollegeCandy.

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Marie Claire | "The Asian Thing"

I talked to Ji Hyun Lee for this April 2012 Marie Claire feature on Love & Race. The piece I’m quoted in examines Asian American women’s experiences with fetishization in dating and relationships. As interracial couplings become more common, how do racial biases and misconceptions impact those who are fetishized and what does it reveal about the culture in which we live? Last fall, I wrote about my own encounter with a fetishist for GOOD Magazine’s Dealbreakers column.

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Happy Summer!

The past two months have been a whirlwind of deadlines, travel, and house guests, but now that Patrick’s finally graduated, I get to call him Dr. Boyfriend, and I’m excited to figure out the post-Boston gameplan. (I’ve been living here since the fall of 2005! Another winter? I can’t handle it.)

My novel is chugging along but I know the blogging has been sparse. Here’s a fly-by update of what I’ve been up to:

No promises as to when I’ll return to regular blogging, as I’m more concerned about off-line work for the moment. That said, I’ll be redesigning TheChicktionary.com (and possibly even this site) some time within the next year. It’s one of the top items on my post-book to-do list! Feel free to continue sending in reader questions, though I may not be able to answer right away :)

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Wait to have sex? | YouBeauty.com

Say you’ve started seeing someone you really like. As far as you’re concerned, how long will it take before you have sex?
  • 1-2 dates
  • 3-5 dates
  • 6 or more dates
  • Only after the wedding

If you’ve ever read my Bedsider essay on the first time I shared dinner and bodily fluids with the Roomie, you already know my stance on first-date sex. Granted, not everyone wants to start off their relationships with a bang (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!) and that’s pretty understandable given that we each have varying degrees of tolerance for strangers in our bed and morning-after regret. So when I spoke with Nadia Goodman for her piece on deciding how long to wait, I struggled to give universal advice on a topic with not-so-universal opinions.

I feel like a lot of the anxiety over having first-time sex with a new person stems from the desire to make things go perfectly, and timing is one of the few things that we can actually control. Dating can be a high-stress affair complete with expectations, fantasies, and assumptions - who knows what pans out once the clothes are off? And though I am not the type of person who wishes they could take back their sexual history (or really, any part of my personal history), I wish there were a way to express that I’ve had dissatisfying or disappointing experiences in the bedroom without folks assuming that it means I wish I could take it all back. Because the truth is, I don’t want to take it back, not even the bad, awkward, unremarkable sex - isn’t that stuff at least partly responsible for making me more aware of my needs and desires? For me, the risk of jumping the gun by jumping someone’s bones is well-worth taking, precisely because I wouldn’t want to be with a person who would judge me for that.

So, those are my two cents. Now I’m curious to hear how you would answer the question I posed in the beginning on the post.

(Source: lenachen)