Monthly Archives: November 2008

What is the question you ask yourself

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A writing mentor once asked, “What is the question you struggle with in life?”

I hesitated, puttered and stalled. I am not used to probing questions–in my hours everyday in my HR career, my focus is to smooth things over, continuously, creating a perfect frosting on cake. Keep everyone happy.Β  Energized.Β  Synchronized towards a singular goal. Β  Ask questions of others, not myself. Keep things moving, keep things pleasant. I am good at that job, both to my benefit and detriment. It also makes me a good Korean girl (the real reason I’m good at the HR job), good under crisis…not so good to myself, not great for my relationships.

When I got sick almost two years ago, I quickly learned that many of my friends did not know how to care for me, because they did not know who I was/am. I could rack it up to them not giving enough of a shit about me to try to get to know me (for a few cases this was clearly very true)…but part of reality is that I don’t make it easy for people to get to know me, either.

What IS it that I ask myself?

It took me a little while to switch my mind to the dark place, where my daylight distractions do not enter, to the place deep inside myself. To where I have hidden the parts of myself that I feel aren’t safe or don’t belong in the world, at least in my everyday.

After the stroke and then my mother-in-law’s untimely death…I have often asked and wondered how I will die.

Death is not a new topic for me–I have spent a number of years wishing for death, and have more than once done more than wish for an early exit from life. I have wondered what if I had died on all those occasions. I have turned my back on death more than once, and finally embraced life.

My parents, having survived war, made it abundantly clear to us as children that life was not permanent, that death always hovered nearby and could make a surprise appearance (this still did not prepare me for my mother-in-law’s death, something that broke my heart and will leave it broken forever). We grew up knowing that mom and dad could die anyday, and to brace ourselves for–death. It was nearby. Don’t be surprised.

But I do wonder now, as to HOW I will die. With dignity? With great fear? With peace? With panic? With anger? Will it be quick? Will it be slow? Painful? Will I have time to prepare? Will I have time to hug my husband goodbye? Who will I leave behind? Will I be alone? Or surrounded by those who love me? Will I disappear? Will it be bloody? Be full of sleep and tenderness? Will I fight? Or will I resign? Will it be a heart attack? Another stroke? Cancer? A car accident? A plane crash?

For death is a certainty.

Will I be the first one to go, abandoning my husband? Or will I be last? If I never have children, who will bury me? Who will hold my hand? Who will claim my body? Who will pray for me?

I have many more questions over which I obsess. But that is the newest addition. And when I provided “I wonder how I will die,” as an answer. My mentor said, “That explains a lot about your writing.”

What are the questions that can inform an entire novel, an entire life?

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Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Inspiring, Life, Writing

omg mumbai

sending positive thoughts to all in mumbai. may peace return to your city quickly.

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Happy turkey day

Happy turkey day everyone. πŸ™‚

We’ve been up since dawn cooking…
Done: pumpkin pies, creamed spinach, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes…

in progress: prime rib

Tomorrow: marjoram brussel sprouts with pine nuts, candied yams, stuffing, turkey…

Absolutely NO writing done. Meanwhile, all my friends are tweeting their usage of Write or Die–I guess today I’m going to die…under the weight of cooking. πŸ™‚

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what i’m doing what i’m not writing and what i’m not doing when i’m not writing

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What I’m doing when I’m not writing:

  • I am watching the Shiba Inu Puppy Cam–positively addictive. It’s a live camera feed of shiba inu puppies! I’ve been watching them since they were 3 weeks old, when they would glom onto their mother to feed (and when she’d get sick of them, they’d still be hanging off her teats). They’re now almost 2 months old. Eating solid food, squabbling with each other, attacking the pee pads. Still very cute and forming their individual personalities. And this week they made it onto New York Magazine’s approval matrix! They scored a brilliant.
  • I am tending to one of my wiener dogs. She tweaked her neck/back and isn’t doing so well. On crate rest. Occasionally whimpering, and occasionally thumping her tail against the crate.
  • Working the desk job. It’s a good job.
  • Going to the David Sedaris reading. (“Knock knock….Who’s there….I eat mop….)
  • Watching television. A part of me wishes there was a writers’ strike again. Except for the fact that that would probably delay the season premiere of “Lost” and I could NOT bear that!
  • Mulling over Ward Six’s question about whether writers need interesting lives or interesting minds in order to write. I think an Interesting Mind is critical path–without that, no experience can translate into “interesting.”
  • Accidentally buying maternity shirts at Walmart (seriously! There are some cute finds at Walmart! Mix and match the Marc Jacobs with the Walmart! πŸ˜› I thought they were really cute blouses until I got home and was like, “hrm…they’re big. Hrm….the brandname is “Announcements…” hrmmm… OH. NO….). In the midst of baby announcements left and right (my friends are expecting, and having, babies left and right). Congratulations! *gulp* Congratulations!!!! …*gulp* Weirdness galore.
  • Watching brilliant autumn sunsets.
  • Going to the farmers’ market and reveling in the produce.
  • Reading. I just read J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, which is a masterpiece. And am now reading Tayari Jones’ The Untelling
  • Traveling. I love traveling. To the detriment of my writing. Well, unless one thinks writers need interesting lives in order to write (refer to Ward Six’s question above).

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What I’m not doing when I’m not writing:

  • I’m not exercising. I think this also is to the detriment of not only my health but my writing.
  • I’m not cooking. I haven’t cooked as much as I used to, even though I have been eating in a lot more often. Hrm. Does that make sense? I guess my meals aren’t as elaborate.
  • I’m not taking those fertility meds anymore. They made me feel utterly crazy, and extenuating circumstances…I just have tabled the whole thing for awhile.
  • I’m not tending to my garden. My tomato plants look gnarly.
  • I’m not even taking care of my nails. Egads. They need some polish. Chanel blue satin!
  • Writing. I’m not writing nearly enough, even though I’ve got the structure finally down and I can SEE the end of the novel!

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code name

The secret service has given code names for the first family to be (I can’t believe they’re published but they are). Obama is Renegade. His wife, Michelle: Renaissance. Dubya’s: Tumbler. Laura Bush: Tempo.

Now I want to give all my friends and family members code names.

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finally, hope

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Was sick and focused on recovery. Slept as much as I needed and wanted, skipped the makeup, stayed in pajamas and/or workout pants all weekend. Began to gain back all the weight I’d lost from the flu (mixed feelings about that!).

Even as I type this on a crisp cool and brilliant Sunday morning, I’m skipping my weekly visit to the farmers’ market. I love the farmers’ market but but but…our fridge is still full because between the whole household has been down with the stomach ailment/flu for days now. We’ve been consuming food like anorexics and vomiting like bulimics. And this hermit life has grown on me. I could get used to this.

I did venture out twice–to go to a cafe to get some writing done. I had not been to this cafe in fifteenish years! But how could I have forgotten? It’s where I got most of my creative writing done as an undergrad, back when I used to hide my creative writing. And it still works for me–I emerged with having accomplished some decent writing on my laptop (back then, I used to write in a notebook–the paper kind you use with a pen).

The scene’s still the same: college students come for socializing, a bit of reading. And a few middle aged people taking part in this collegiate atmosphere. That dude up there sat across from me and handed me a flower before settling into his book. I’d forgotten the permeable social membrane of being at college cafes.

I like the sounds. Loud espresso machines against the cacophony of voices and a stereo playing gypsy kings or some other music with too much treble. The environment even made it into my novel–a woman laughed at a nearby table and I did wonder, “My main character lives in a city–he hears a distant laugh in the alley outside!” So that dear anonymous woman with the laugh is now a character in my novel, albeit a very very minor character.

Anyway–I’ve been discouraged about my novel’s progress for some time. I feel like we’ve been fighting a losing battle against the music of daily life and work.

It’s not like I wrote hundreds of pages–I think I really wrote only about ten (omg sorry, total brain burp made me miscount) five in the two hours total spent at cafe writing, a pathetic total for many writers out there. But it’s a lot more writing than I usually get done in that span of time. And I feel like if I can keep this up, then the ending is not too far away.

I’m thinking a lot about ideal writing environments for me these days. I wonder about setting–I would still love to go to New York for a month to write (and visit friends!) and I would still love to go to Seoul/South Korea for a month write (and visit family!). I wonder with glee how the environment would wend its way into my novel, set both in Korea and New York City. I wonder about music and weather and temperature and humidity, and how all these elements help me produce.

What is your ideal writing environment?

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ugggh

okay. i just read the last few blog posts: i’ve been cranky and down on myself. i swear, back to regular funny programming soon.

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to a cafe!

Yesterday, I rediscovered a great writing venue: a cafe that I used to frequent when I was an undergrad at Berkeley 15ish years ago. In between classes, I used to sit at one of the tables and scribble into my notebook and compose poetry (because that is what I used to write). And I think I even wrote the first draft of my first published story at that cafe, too.

I hadn’t been in many years–mostly because parking sucks in the immediate southern boundary of the Berkeley campus. But I set out with renewed vigor yesterday afternoon and lucked out with a parking spot and sat myself down with a hot chocolate.

Boom! I was inspired and off writing.

Going to head there again today.

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old, cranky

Narrative Magazine is holding a 30 Below Story Contest, calling all 18-30 year old writers to submit work.

30 seems to be the cutoff line for “prodigies.” Think of all the lists that end with “…under the age of 30”–the Granta list not excepted.

I know I sound old and cranky when I say this, but I really am not interested in reading work by most writers under the age of 30. What do you learn before the age of 30 that you should share with the world? Generally speaking, not much, given what I read from most writers under 30: traveling to a foreign country for the first time, young love relationships, cohabitation, beginning a career, etc., dosed with the all-important angst. There’s something fresh about it sometimes, because of the writer’s prose…but overall, not interested!

I read my own writing under the age of 30, and it bores me to DEATH.

Update: Heather reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on writing after the age of 30–I’ve been meaning to blog about it. It’s a good essay to read if you’re over the hill thirty years old, in that its encouraging. But also a statement of the obvious: that genius is linked with precocity, and that some people are late bloomers. And that for some people, the best work is yet to come.

Whose best work came later in their career (even if “later” means mid thirties)? Clint Eastwood’s directorial work…Toni Morrison…Frank McCourt…

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what is it?

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Sometimes I really do wonder if I’m one of those people whose ambition outweighs her capabilities. Where I dream, dream, dream…and desire oozes out of my incompetent pores. To be matched with zero ability. Where I’m chiseled into a fate of dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment.

Still recovering from the flu, but feeling (physically) better…enough to dig myself back into an emotional hole, paralyzed on my couch, gritting my teeth against nausea and feverish chills. In this way, I lose hope and belief in myself as a writer. And wonder what it is I’ve been put on this earth to do, to become, if not to write. And wouldn’t it be mean for G*d to determine me to become a very mediocre writer.

I only emerged from the house to check the mail, which by weird coincidence, keeps delivering rejection letter after rejection letter. Seriously–why does this phenomenon coincide with flu season? I swear, I think I was more inspiring and inspired when I was recovering from my stroke, back when I couldn’t write a paragraph of fiction. Irony, irony, irony.

And then as usual, I begin with the fantasy scenarios–you know, the ones where I sublet a beautiful Upper West Side or Greenwich Village apartment in Manhattan for a few hundred dollars a month, with interiors looking like they belong in Architectural Digest…and finding myself utterly inspired and typing my entire novel in three months. HA.

No matter. I’ve got to plod on, despite my despair. It’s what writers do. And in some way, I hope that I am wending my way to inspiring dark places in my psyche.

I sent out more submissions. I’m figuring out a time to retreat to the mountains where I can spend one on one time with my novel. I may just do that when my husband is out of town for a couple weeks.

Okay back to moping and plodding.

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gray

Sick. Fever. Chills. Headache. Dizziness. Nausea. The nausea being the worst–because I feel that if I could just EAT, I could get BETTER.

I stayed in bed until 2pm when I was finally able to get up and walk downstairs. Now I’m on the couch utterly bored out of my mind, gritting my teeth at the nausea.

I obsessively waited for the mailtruck. If I had dog ears, you’d see them, continuously cocked for that low rumbling sound accompanied by the metal “clack” of the mailbox opening and closing. I checked the mail and found two envelopes for me: one from MacDowell, the other from a litmag. Both rejections, as expected (my friend received her MacDowell letter on the East Coast two days ago, another person received hers yesterday–I figured I would receive mine today as the mail wound its way to the West).

Prop 8 passed.

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ugh i need a residency

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Ugh. I totally need a residency. I work most of the week, and my job leaves me exhausted most evenings. It’s an all consuming sort of job (having nothing to do with writing), and I like it…but it’s pretty difficult to disengage and then switch gears. So my writing suffers. And my house is not the best setting for writing, what with two needy and very charming wiener dogs, a husband who always tempts me with fun outings and activities, a kazillion televisions and tivo and many other distractions.

It’s November. Thousands of writers (maybe tens of thousands? how many are out there now) are hard at work on their novels via NaNoWriMo. That’s not my thing, but I cheer you on, well aware of my plodding progress.

Tayari Jones suggested NaFiWriNoMo, National Finish Writing Novel Month–and I was so tempted to join. I sure as hell do need to make more progress on my novel.

But instead–I think I’ll just complain. πŸ˜‰

I gotta figure this out and buckle down.

And in the interim, I’ll wait, nervously twiddling my fingers, awaiting responses from writing residencies. My friend and then her friend received rejections from MacDowell already–I checked my mail today: nothing. I’m on the West Coast, they’re on the East Coast, I imagine an additional day or two might be needed for a response to travel to me. “Maybe acceptances come later!” my friend suggested. One can hope, but I’m not a Famous Writer and so my chances are very very slim.

But even if I’m not offered a residency, I’m going to carve out two weeks to write, somewhere away from my house.

Like I said, I’ve got to make some progress.

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