I am so pleased to welcome debut author Christine Hyung-Oak Lee to The Debutante Ball! Lee is the author of the memoir Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, which was featured in The New York Times, Self Magazine, Time Magazine, and NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Zyzzyva, Guernica, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed, among other publications. She is a Senior Features Editor at The Rumpus and her novel is forthcoming from Ecco / Harper Collins.
Her memoir of reinvention after a stroke at thirty-three, Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, is “The stuff of poetry and of nightmares… [Lee] investigates her broken brain with the help of a journal, beautifully capturing the helplessness, frustration, and comic absurdity (yes, a book about a stroke can be funny!) of navigating life after your world has been torn apart.” –Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire
You can connect with Lee through her website: http://www.christinehlee.com/
and Instagram: @xtinehlee1
I’ll have more about her incredible memoir at the bottom of the post, plus instructions on how you can enter to win a signed copy and a tote! But for now, read on for what I think might be the most hilarious and candid interview we have yet featured…
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I am randomly naive. Like, I once walked into an Ace hardware–it was a phase during which my then-toddler daughter was super into “tiny things.” Welp. I became ENAMORED of these teeny tiny ziploc bags. LOOK! THESE ARE SO CUTE! WHY ARE THERE SO NANY OF THEM? WHY WOULD SOMEONE NEED SO MANY TINY BAGS? They were only sold in bulk. So I asked if I could buy 5. My boyfriend’s eyes rolled so hard into the back of his head.
Then he realized that I truly had no idea. “Um, Christine–” he said, “those are for drugs.”
I said, “what kind of drugs? What kind of vitamin pill would you put in here? I mean, you couldn’t fit more than one or two.”
“No Christine. Not that kind of medication.”
Right then, an Ace hardware employee walked by, overhearing (or perhaps he just had to see who it was fussing over the tiny ziplocs). He stood there, head cocked.
OMG. IS THIS FOR DRUGS-DRUGS? LIKE COCAINE??? YOU CAN BUY THESE AT ACE??? I for some reason thought you got these things at the Secret Drug Depot Market.
THE EMPLOYEE NODDED SLOWLY.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
You’d think working in HR is NOT strange, but you see a lot of strange things in that job. I won’t share all most of the stuff that was part of official HR duties, but I will share the facilities stuff. Because at a startup, I also did facilities as part of HR.
One time, someone pooped on the floor of the company bathroom–someone came by to my office and said, “Christine–someone shat on the floor.”
“There’s shit on the floor of the bathroom.”
Like literal shit? Or figurative shit?
A Big Turd.
I got up.
She stopped me, “You don’t need to see it. In fact, it’s best if you don’t see it.”
So I put a sign on the bathroom redirecting people to another bathroom. And then I called facilities to bring in hazmat.
Then I sent an email out. I wish I still had that email. Basically, I said, “Hi, please don’t poop on the floor. If you find yourself pooping on the floor, please clean up after yourself. But mostly, please don’t poop on the floor.”
Another time, someone peed on the side of a cabinet. That was a big mystery. There was a lot of pee on the side of an office cabinet. It came to our attention because the smell kept getting stronger. We don’t, to this know why–but we suspect a disgruntled employee came in after hours and indulged in some passive aggression.
What can I say? People are very very interesting.
In what fictional place would you most like to spend a day? What would you do?
Does everyone pick Hogwarts? Because I’d pick Hogwarts. And then I’d use magic to order up dessert and carbs all day. And I’d also use magic to make sure my cholesterol was in check. I’d order up Berthillon salted caramel ice cream (I’d make my lactose intolerance disappear–or conjure up a Lactaid pill). I’d order buckwheat crepes from Breizh Cafe in Paris. Korean barbecue from Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong. The parker rolls from Tom Colicchio’s defunct Colicchio & Sons. The list goes on.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?
The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom TollBooth, The Boxcar Children, Beverly Cleary, Encyclopedia Brown, and every single Roald Dahl book. Also Little House on the Prairie. Every single book from my childhood has informed my adulthood. I have such respect for writers who write YA, MG, and children’s books. They’re changing not only the landscape of literature but the landscape of humanity.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Who knew? It was on HOBBIES outside of writing. BEES. It’s important to nurture a life outside of writing. It’s the non-writing stuff that is crucial to a writer’s mental wellbeing.
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on New Year’s Eve 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, she learned that she had had a stroke. For months, Lee outsourced her memories to her notebook. It is from these memories that she has constructed this frank memoir.
In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage; and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, her stroke and every upset, temporary or permanent, that it causes.
Lee processes her stroke and illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event provides a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self.
You can enter to win a copy of this amazing book, plus a free tote, by following us on Facebook or Twitter and sharing this post! Feel free to comment below for extra entries. We’ll choose a winner on Friday, July 19th and be in touch shortly afterwards (US only).