On Terror and Tenderness (ft. Emily Lu)

May 8, 2022

Teh Talks is a series of iterative conversations released seasonally every year.
This conversation between Jasmine Gui (@jaziimun) and Emily Lu (@yyemilyluhas been scrambled and edited with love.

Emily and I have known each other since we were 18 and freshmen at the University of Toronto. We were roommates that first year, and polar opposites that got along swimmingly. An English literature student and a Life Sci pre-med hopeful, we would toss around our understanding of ideas, concepts, of things we were learning in courses, and our then-forming perspectives of the world.
It is a marvelous relationship that has continued today, each of us in our own orbital paths, overlapping in the ways we engage with, are entertained by, and find joy in the world. I’m ecstatic that Emily coughed up There is No Wifi in the Afterlife when I asked if she had a collection of writing that was close to ready for publishing. 

What were some of original impulses or motivations to write the stories that show up in No Wifi?

Uneasy dreams in the night. Instant noodles. A long shuttered storefront I walked past. Death knells, but always writing towards life. Terror and tenderness, something just beyond what I could say, something I would also roll my eyes at.

You work as a psychiatry resident (soon-to-be doctor!!), how does your work and experience in that arena impact or shape the way you think about language, about narrative and characters?

I try not to think about it as much as possible hahahahahaha just that over the years I’ve found it an increasingly incompatible headspace. The lens through which the medical establishment views people and narrative is very violent. I’m more interested in possibility and life.
The day-to-day though of working in these medical spaces and roles, the disconnect and despair and rage and hope and hopelessness, is more life than I could imagine.

A song you’ve been listening to on repeat (#1)

The first time I found out Emily had been writing poetry, I remember thinking, UGH some people just have all the talent! You're making your way through medical school and now you’re going to also add “published writer” to your belt? But more than a complaint, reading Emily’s work and watching it evolve over the years from early poetry work in 2015, an essay series she produced on mental health, to a poetry chapbook and then short fiction has been so remarkably exciting. I think it is evident that Emily is trying to make sense of the world every day, and this effort is precious, hilarious, tender and often self-conscious. How not to be invested in this creation of language?

Your previous chapbook was a poetry collection, what prompted the move to short fiction? What was alluring about it?

I just couldn't write poems for a very long time. These days they are still hard to write. I would sit down and try but somehow the affective spheres were all wrong, like wrestling a dead, slimy fish, no fun. Somehow in short fiction I found a little creative reprieve, little fictional unresolutions, that felt more true to the affective dimensions I wanted to play in.

Name three creative influences that shape your writing style!

#1 - Fanfiction! Just so much joy from reading fanfiction authors who love and understand the original work and universe and characters so well…the writing too is so joyful, not encumbered by pretense or trying to be anything besides sincere.

#2 - Translations! I just finished reading Anton Hur’s The Underground Village and Cursed Bunny. Last year, I was also trying my hand at fan translating the gay wuxia novel Qian Qiu.

#3 - The snack aisle at the local asian supermarket! I just got some melon jelly and yellow peach tea.

A song you’ve been listening to on repeat (#2)

This collection, although not about the pandemic directly, is very much of the experiences over the last few years. Can you speak to some of the themes or considerations that you’re engaging with in the poems and short stories?

Exactly. I think it’s the context, the fish spine, the song overhead at the supermarket, that everyone who’s been alive these last few years needs no explanation. As a point of departure, where next? How do we hold the afterlife in life, how might the afterlife support life, its attachments? The title There is no wifi in the afterlife is a tongue-in-cheek but sincere plea for life. One reason to not let it all go yet. It also came from a conversation with a Twitter friend about our joy in reading the chapter updates of a fanfiction we were following.

What’s the wifi password in There is No Wifi in the afterlife?  

It’s probably set to the phone number of Mantou’s last ex-boyfriend.

Describe the afterlife in one sentence.

Busy streets, an ancient Gingko tree, the same song on loop until someone protests, life, maybe.

There is no wifi in the afterlife moves at a pace unique to Emily, but also takes a form that is recognizable to a community of people. For those who revel in dry humour, cutting remarks borne of intimacy, who carry an energy that chooses to face life and death with equal parts bravado and courage, this collection of work indulges in the imaginative possibility of not taking anything too seriously, so as to live earnestly. I love this collection of writing a lot. I hope it brings a breath of fresh air to those who need the tools of a different language to keep living. 

A song you’ve been listening to on repeat (#3)

An image that represents your self.

A picture that represents your mood.