Monthly Archives: August 2008

jealous of oppression

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I have mixed feelings about writing characters of another race–most of my concern has to do with how much social responsibility we as writers bear with our writing. So many people learn about other cultures through fiction, even more so than nonfiction historical books (there are literary nonfiction exceptions, like The Diary of Anne Frank and other great books like Elie Wiesel’s Night)–but mostly in history books, you don’t often get inside the head of another character and get a sense of their inner life. Your high school history texts don’t show you that. But literary work can go there. As writers, you’re making a first impression, you’re enlightening the world with literature.

And how do you get REALLY honest if you’re writing outside your race? There are bad people and good people, and most of us fall somewhere in between. If you are writing a character of another race, how can you do the character justice, how can you do that culture justice, but also be honest and possibly not flattering? I am all for complexity without confusion. And I think if you are writing a character outside your race, things can easily fall into confusion. Again, not a verboten thing, but I think a writer’s skill and heart are key.

Another reason I have mixed feelings about people writing characters of another race…revolves around the writer’s intention (again, this falls along the line of social responsibility).

The other day, I totally remembered a moment in my MFA program while munching on a garden salad at the Elephant Bar.

There was a classmate who told me once, “I wish I were a writer of color.”

I replied, “Really?” (because really, how else can you reply to that?)

“Because you have cooler stories.”

“About?” I stared at her closely. Was she serious? She looked dead serious.

“Racism, oppression, war. You have better things to write about.”

“Are you serious?” I responded.

“Yes,” she said. “You have more interesting experiences than we do. I wish I had those stories to tell.”

Uhhhh. I wanted to lay into her. Did she REALLY WANT THOSE STORIES TO TELL? I did tell her, “It’s not that simple–to have those stories to tell means you lived those stories–and I’m not sure that’s something to be jealous about.”

She looked at me, stunned. I hoped it was a look that meant she had had an epiphany. Sadly, it was not. She replied, “My life is so boring.”

Later, I heard she did write a story from the perspective of an Asian man. She workshoped in a class with a Famous Asian American Writer. I did not read the manuscript, but I heard the character spoke Ching-Chongese. Egads.

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Protected: just devastated inside

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a few weeks away

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The other day–I saw it, a shift in the light. A golden tint filtering through the leaves, a particular angle, the way the shadows were growing longer. A breeze. A smell in the air. A brown leaf that fell from the tree. A bird nest, long abandoned by its inhabitants, now adult birds. The neighborhood baby turkeys, all grown now to adolescence, standing by their waddled parents.

Italian prune plums in season. A butternut squash on the vine in the garden.

A hint of peace and happiness in my being.

Autumn approaches!

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Filed under Inspiring, Life

the scary age begins

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I turned thirty-five this week. Tuesday the 19th, to be exact. It was a pretty low-key birthday: a couple of friends took me out for lunch and then we went to see the Chihuly show. My boss only called me once to ask me where I was. “I’m at my birthday lunch,” I said curtly. I wasn’t happy about my birthday, and I wasn’t happy about being hunted down on my birthday, either.

When asked what I wanted to do that evening, I said I just wanted to get in my pajamas and watch television. So we did just that–after picking up a half baked Zachary’s stuffed spinach and mushroom pizza.

While I was zoning out on the couch that evening, the smell of warm pizza crust in the air and the taste of tomatoes still lingering in my mouth, my mom called me and said, “You don’t sound too happy.” Nope. I wasn’t happy to turn thirty-five. Despite common perception, I do not have a fear of aging. I have a fear of thirty-five. The year when doctors say fertility decreases in a woman (yes, I know it’s not EXACTLY thirty-five, but they have chosen the age thirty-five). I can imagine my body now–going OFF.A.CLIFF. She giggled, but in a way that didn’t offend me.

Men come up to me and say, “It’s a great age!” I nod and smile and say, “Thank you for wishing me happy birthday.” But a part of me stares blankly at them, wondering what would happen if men experienced a fertility cliff at the age of thirty-five. What if they had a significant decrease in sperm count/production at the age of thirty-five? (Same thing goes for menopause, I’m sure–what if they actually become infertile at one point in their lives).

My husband replied, “The world would be a significantly different place if that were to occur.”

(BTW, the best remark I got was from a man who when I said I wasn’t happy about turning thirty-five, responded, “I had a friend who hit menopause at 28. She ran out of eggs! So you never know!” UGGGGGGGGH. I *think* he meant to say that age is arbitrary. I THINNNK).

It’s hard for me to describe what I’m feeling to the general public when it comes to thirty-five/The Cliff. Ten years I’ve tried having a kid–and now it’s going to be…MORE difficult. I don’t want to hear about the miracle cases where women have succeeded in having kids. Because the reality is that they are the minority of outcomes. There is a large number of women who suffer silently, or at the very least, do not share their stories–the ones who did try but never did have their own biological children.

So the door has closed a bit further. It is not all the way shut, of course, but it has closed just enough to discourage me.

And so I also struggle with writing my novel–because in a way, my novel is my child. And it sure has a gestational period that lasts much longer than nine months (oh, if only a novel’s gestational period WERE nine months!). I’m trying to realize my dreams. Maybe I’m not trying enough, though. I often wonder about that.

I am exhausted this week–there was a trip to L.A. and back, and then a trip to the mountains–most of it executed while following a U-Haul truck full of my mother-in-law’s things. I saw a couple of friends in L.A.–the best part about the trip, really. But mostly, it was an exhausting journey. Punctuated by the arrival of thirty-five, one of my “scary ages.” (Oh yes, there are MORE to come).

I came home and have tried to write–but my brain is mush. I’ve recovered from my stroke–but the one thing that remains is that once I get tired, my brain turns OFF. I mean all the way off–my memory deteriorates. The only solution to all of this is rest and sleep.

That’s kind of why I’m writing a blog post now: I got up and tried to write my novel, but I was just too damn tired. So whatever, I figured I’d blog, at least get all this off my chest.

Oh and speaking of writing–I still have that sublet at the “Writing Place.” I got up early each morning last week and got myself over to San Francisco to write. I’d write (or stare at the wall) for three hours each morning before heading into work. Some mornings I’d take the BART in and just revel in the walk. Some mornings I’d drive. It was entirely pleasant. And I discovered that writers like to take summer vacations and also do not wake up early in the morning. Because the place was deserted until about 10am when a couple of people would trickle in.

I didn’t get a ton of writing done, but I got words on the page.

This week, not so much writing–between all that traveling and my exhaustion. I decided to experiment this morning and try to write from home in the morning instead of going in to the office. I’m writing now–in the office upstairs, the room I’d originally set aside to write. So I’m hopeful that this will be possible, go forward (after all, the sublet isn’t for all eternity–it ends at the end of the month). But I can’t write if anyone else is home. And miraculously, my dogs are quiet right now–usually they’re howling at me to come downstairs if they know I’m home.

And it’s hard to write with howling critters.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed–I really need time and space. I feel like things are just creeping up on me and I can’t take enough of a stand to carve out my own time and space. What does this say about how much I value my life?

Anyway. Boring post. Just a lot of rambling. That’s the junk that’s in my head, crowding my thoughts.

It’s a beautiful day outside–the fog is burning off, revealing azure skies. The tomatoes are ripening in my garden. I’m sure the day will turn. I just need a lot more sleep. And then I can write some more, try to make that goal of finishing a complete draft of my novel by the end of the year.

p.s. some not awful news…I got a rejection letter from the Cimarron Review. It was handwritten (and on an entire 8.5 x 11 piece of paper!) and said, “Dear ———- Our Senior Fiction Editor admired your work; sorry it didn’t work out this time. Please do try us again.” So on that front, the door didn’t open all the way, but it did open a crack.

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Filed under Life, The Novel, Writing

“The Perception Personality Image Test”

(couldn’t they have thought of a better name for the test? it’s actually quite fun.)

Your result for The Perception Personality Image Test…

HFPS – The Humanitarian

You perceive the world with particular attention to humanity. You focus on what’s in front of you (the foreground) and how that fits into the larger picture. You are also particularly drawn towards the shapes around you. Because of the value you place on humanity, you tend to seek out other people and get energized by being around others. You like to deal directly with whatever comes your way without dealing with speculating possibilities or outcomes you can’t control. You are in tune with all that is around you and understand your life as part of a larger whole. You prefer a structured environment within which to live and you like things to be predictable.

The Perception Personality Types:

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Take The Perception Personality Image Test at HelloQuizzy

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approaching the Cliff

I am not happy about my upcoming birthday. Odd, I thought, because I usually LIKE and enjoy my birthdays. I like the thought of having put another year behind me–the act of summarizing the year past and creating new goals go forward. To just think, “Cool, today’s my birthday.”

But not this year. It first began when I sensed my face was sagging JUST a touch. Not noticeable at all, to be honest, but just enough–and very marked if I were to, let’s say, browse through old photos taken when I was in my early twenties. Hypothetically. And see how I have aged. Hrm. Hypothetically aged. Hrm. Older. Hrm.

And then there are some personal things going on that have exacerbated this whole growing another year older thing, the feeling I’m going OVER THE CLIFF.

They say at age 35, your fertility, for instance, drops over a cliff. When you’re pregnant, post-35, they put stickers ALL OVER YOUR FOLDER stating you’re “over 35” as if it is some horrific territory. It seems arbitrary, but medicine claims it is NOT arbitrary.

So I’m not happy with turning 35 at all. For more than a few reasons.

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switching captains

I opened my mail yesterday and found the Fall 08 issue of ZYZZYVA. As I most often do with litmags, I flipped to the table of contents to see if there was a name I recognized, a writer I’d like to read–I scanned the “first time in print” category too, to see if there was a friend I ought to congratulate (a friend of mine did get published in ZYZZYVA a couple years ago I was tickled to see her name there). I looked at the titles, did any strike my fancy?

That’s how I go about pouncing upon the stories in a litmag.

I like reading what Howard Junker has to say. So I looked at his Editor’s note. BOOM.

He’s retiring at the end of this next year, and looking for a new Editor. I’d been wondering how ZYZZYVA might go on in his absence, and wondering whether the magazine would go down with the captain–or the captain go down with the magazine. I mean, he and the litmag have been alive for twenty-five years. I’m glad the Board made the decision to go forward…but sad that Howard’ll be gone. He published me–I like to say he “discovered” me. Though I hope one day to make myself worth of “discovery.” I’ll miss Howard Junker at the helm.

Then I flipped to the excerpts from letters to the editor. I love those.

I like Howard Junker. I like ZYZZYVA. I hope they both make a great transition.

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