Arch Author Interview:
Erin He on “Journey of Faith”
Erin He, a freshman at the University at Albany, talks about faith, taking risks, and being published for the first time.
Interviewed by Brenna Croker for Arch e-Journal
What would you like for people to know about you? How would you describe yourself?
I don't have anything in particular I want people to know about me. Maybe the fact that I don't dislike you as much as you think? I get that often. The, "I think you hate me" thing.
I'm not sure, but I think sensitive is the right word. When I was in elementary school, the word always had a bad connotation- if you were called sensitive you are weak or a crybaby, something like that. I am sensitive to things that involve me, of course. I feel overwhelmed easily, and I try hard to forget my mistakes. I feel I may be overly sensitive of racism. But I also care a lot about inanimate, animate things, and even abstract ideas. Sometimes I wish I wasn't.
Sensitivity can be both a good thing. How do you think that's affected you in your writing?
It definitely made my writing more cynical. Especially since I'm aware that some people can careless about the things that are important to me.
Does this relate at all to your story “Journey of Faith”?
Well, I consider being what people refer to as an "ABC" (American born Chinese) an important part of my identity. But I can say the same for my faith back when I initially wrote the piece and now. In Chinese culture, filial piety is very important, and as a child of parents who are atheist but practice Mahayana Buddhism and other rituals for the sake of tradition, I felt like I was trapped in between the two.
So the being torn between atheism and Mahayana Buddhism led you to start a literal journey of faith? Do you think that you've reached the end of that journey yet?
Yes. Less than two years ago I was agnostic.
For the second question, no. To this day my relatives tease me about being Christian. I know my parents love me and want the best for me, but when I was home for thanksgiving, my dad tried getting some family friends who are a couple of years older than me to give me a pep talk about why I shouldn't go to church. But even more than that, the journey is mostly internal. There are a lot of things I don't understand, which cause me to waver and doubt.
I actually don't think I'll ever come to a definitive "end"
Why do you believe so?
In my life, I'm sure I'll experience more things that will shake me, so I guess it's just a feeling. For example, I didn't intend on coming to Albany. I was miserable before classes started, but once they did, I was able to meet so many great professors that have so much to offer and many new people. I also involved myself in several groups and I felt my faith was growing, and thanked God for bringing me here. But then something happens, and I'm confused as to why He allowed it to happen, and I feel like I'm back to square one.
How did you get introduced to this faith if your family doesn’t practice it?
The high school I went to had a special diploma from the school, and in order to get it, students had to volunteer for a certain about of hours. My mom found my sister and I a place to volunteer for the summer- a church's summer bible school. At first I was cynical and thought of the people there as fanatics, but at the time I was struggling in school and with my own expectations. I found solace in God that no one and nothing could have provided me with before
I know you struggled with putting “Journey of Faith” in either fiction or non-fiction. What about it makes the difference?
I started writing the piece will the intention of it being a nonfiction piece. My faith, my questioning, the opposition from my parents and relatives, and my cousin are all real. But in the end... I'm just a sucker for a good story. I don't know what that makes me, but as I'm writing, these small details come to me that aren't "real", but in my mind, would add so much more. I often go between adding it or leaving it out, and in this case, there are details that are fiction. I came to the conclusion that even if it's 99.9% nonfiction and .1% fiction, it should still be labeled as fiction. It makes me feel better about adding those details.
Selfish, if I think about it
Instead of sticking to writing a nonfiction piece from beginning to end and learning to "kill my darlings", I take the shortcut, label it as fiction, and make myself feel better.
Do you see writing as a more personal thing or do you write to share your work?
I see it as a personal thing. I said before I’m a sensitive person. I don’t know how to express my feelings any way other than writing, and even then, it’s difficult to put down into words exactly what I mean.
But i guess that means I also write it to share with others
What do you mean by that?
I don't know actually. I think it's almost like a two-step process. First I write it down to get whatever is welling up inside of my out, and sometimes I'll feel okay after that. But other times, I feel the need to hold it to other people's faces and scream, "This is what I feel! Do you understand? Why don't you understand?"
I think that's a sentiment that a lot of writers share. Is this first time you've been published? Do you want to be published in the future?
Yeah, it's my first time. In high school, there were so many opportunities but I was always so caught up in wanting to write a masterpiece even though I was aware of my lacking abilities. I do want to be published in the future, but I'm afraid because I can't force myself to write and I feel like I'm like the squirrel in the idiom "even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while"
What made you take the leap this time?
I was tired of my own inaction. If I get rejected, it's better knowing I tried. My professors also gave my peers and I the push and encouragement I needed
Returning to your work, “Journey of Faith” includes words and phrases and names from the Chinese language. Obviously not everyone who reads it will be able to understand that part. Can you tell me a little bit about your decision to include that?
A lot of the pieces I write include Chinese-speaking characters, but I usually write it in English and emulate the seemingly broken grammar Chinese has instead. Other times, I won't even bother doing that. But for this piece, my family's traditional values are part of the reason why they oppose my faith. I think Chinese characters embody some of that tradition.
What do you hope that people who don't have this kind of background knowledge about you take away from “Journey of Faith”? Is that something you considered in choosing it for publishing?
Is it possible to leave that up to the reader? I don't know what to take away from my experience myself.
Absolutely! And as I reach the end of my questions, is there anything else about “Journey of Faith” or about yourself that you haven't gotten to express yet that you think is important? Any final thoughts?
I want to get better at writing.
That's about it.