Category Archives: Abstract Thoughts

The food flashback


I’m doing a lot more cooking lately for health reasons. By doing so, I expected to expand my cooking repertoire, to improve my self discipline when it comes to eating and preparation, I expected to get healthier, I expected to save money, I expected to have some fun…

I did not expect all the memories and thoughts that spring up in my mind while cooking. The textures, the smells, the sounds–they really do transport me. Cooking is a largely right brained activity for me, like driving…especially when I’m grooving in the middle of a very familiar, oft-cooked recipe.

And it just so happens that those are the dishes linked to some old memory.

I made a Korean radish soup tonight. (Using watermelon radish from the farmer’s market! They’re very similar to daikon radish except…they’re MAGENTA inside! Almost flourescent pink, really. So I am made this very PINK Korean radish soup).

Usually, when I make Korean food, my head is full of thoughts about my mother, all comfort and love. I compare how my food tastes against hers, and try to match, match, match. But it never really does match exactly. Sometimes I make Korean food when I miss her, especially North Korean dishes handed down through our family.

I also remember summers spent in Korea, traipsing through the streets of Seoul, through the markets, riding the crowded buses, so unlike the Greyhounds and AC transit buses here in the States. Snacks on the street bought on the way home to my grandmother’s house. The air so humid I’m not surprised that even when I stand still, my skin’s glistening from both perspiration and…just the WET AIR.

I wonder about the culinary traditions of Korea, and how so much is wild mountain greens, how so much of it can be dried and then rehydrated in cooking. There are rich and fatty foods of course, but I imagine wartime and picking greens in the hillside, foraging for dinner. I wonder if they’re doing that in North Korea.

I usually think about things Korean. But today, as I looked at the radish soup, thinking that the brilliant pink of the watermelon radish made this dish somehow…no longer LOOK Korean…I thought of my mother-in-law, who died last year.

Whenever I think of her, I feel a stab of pain in my heart. I’m not sure if it’s heartbreak or regret or what. Even when I/we laugh at something she’d find funny (and believe there are many things she found funny), the pain is there. It’s so prevalent in my thoughts of her that the thought of my parents dying is unbearable–how insufferable will the pain be, then?

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Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Life, Memories

What is the question you ask yourself


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.  Energized.  Synchronized towards a singular goal.   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?


Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Inspiring, Life, Writing

do not eat dim sum if you want to write


I thought I might get some writing done today, in between a dim sum lunch (we debated between chaat at Vik’s and dim sum–dim sum won) and a Margaret Cho show (tonight! finally!).

Nope. The dim sum, while delicious, has put me in a stupor, akin to a dose of benadryl. The deepest thought I’ve had all day today is pondering the word “shampoo.”

Shampoo. Shampoo. Shampoooo. Sham.poo.poo.sham. Shampoo. SHAMpoo. ShamPOO. Shampoo. Cute word, isn’t it? It sounds nonsensical after awhile. What a neat word for hair soap. Cute. Neat Cute. Neat. Neat. Neat. Neat.Neat.Neat. Cute. Shampoooo. Shampoo. SHAHM-poo. Shaaaampoo.

Well. At least it’s a beautiful day outside. I can stare out the window and make the most of this dim sum haze.

p.s. got two rejections in the mail today. One of them apologized (in handwriting) for the delay.


Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Life

Environment, proximity, and effect


There’s a gopher, or mole, in my vegetable garden, rooting up the soil, and in one case, killing a dill plant. I have no idea what to do–only that I don’t want to kill the animal, despite commentary pushing death as the better option. I’ve looked up alternative ways to repel the animals–castor oil granules and this ultrasonic sound-emitting stake (the “gopher-it” or “mole mover”) being mentioned most. When I let my dogs out into the garden, one runs straight back into the house after taking a look at all the dirt (he doesnt like getting dirty) and the other one runs straight to the hole…and then…starts eating the gopher/mole dirt.

I have this odd feeling that the gopher/mole will prevail, and that my vegetables will…not. But so goes the circle of life.

It is strangely exhilarating to feel that there is life under my feet in that garden. Roots like carrots, beets, and radishes…and an animal also living its subterranean life. So regardless of the outcome of this battle, I will have succeeded in celebrating life with this garden.

Not feeling well this morning. Queasy, headache, reminiscent of a hangover. But I did not drink. What was the cause? Ugh. Am I sick?

Nova wrote a post about her new job in publishing–it was so energizing to read! To experience that passion for the written word while at work!

I work in an industry far away from writing (unless we are to categorize “writing code” as writing which, despite the debate about its potential for creativity, has little to do with story writing). There have been times in my life where I have yearned to work in publishing or anywhere closer to the written word. It’s stifling to work somewhere so far from my writing–what does this work have to do with my stories? How can I be inspired? I can understand why so many writers choose careers close to the word, whether it be teaching composition or writing or editing.

But I do love the industry in which I work–the culture in high tech has a whimsy that thumbs its nose at the traditional “corporate” model…and I really feel like I belong in that space. I love the people, and I feel passionate about the products. Hell, I’ve worked in this space for well over a decade!

Ultimately, that I work far away from the written word has helped my writing, for good and for bad.

Still, I do wonder what it would be like, to work in a job that has me surrounded by writing all day. I stood in the office of a friend who works at a publishing company once–it was incredible to know I was surrounded by books in progress, and that I was somewhere near that process. I took a deep breath just to breathe it in.

It made me feel small, it made me feel honored. All in the span of a few seconds.


Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Life, Writing

spanning space

Woo! I have satellite internet at our mountain retreat! (We were previously unwired here–a bane and a boon). I imagine a big tractor beam from the stars to my house–that is how I am connected to the universe! That is how this post is coming to you, bouncing off a star somewhere in the southern sky.

I am spanning space, these words are EVERYWHERE. Maybe they met a martian somewhere on the way to wordpress and to you.

Of course, an engineer would explain it all away–take the wonder out of it by detailing the scientific processes. I’m ignoring that for now, I prefer the mystery of it all, it feels much more beautiful this way than the reality of metal and wires (though to an engineer that is perhaps an ultimate beauty).

It is truly Autumn in these mountains: Aspen trees fluttering with leaves so yellow and bright they look like glass and hillsides dotted with orange and flaming red in the evergreen backdrop.  The air smells like leaves.

A biologist would explain it all away–the trees are changing chemistry, reacting to light and day length.  I prefer the vision of spanning space.


Filed under Abstract Thoughts

under the weather

A cloud has settled down over so many of my writer friends these days.

I’m helpless and scared and very concerned about the doubt we writers experience. I’m talking about the doubt of others (“Why is it taking you so long to write your book? Are you still writing it? Have you published anywhere lately?” or worse, “Why would anyone want to be a writer? Why are you writing?”). I’m also talking about the more insidious self-doubt (“What the f*ck am I doing? Am I any good? Am I full of shit?” and um, etcetera, etcetera I doubt (oh a pun!) any writer will have a hard time imagining all the other phrases we shoot at ourselves).

It’s the self-doubt that makes me hit the delete key, the self-doubt that has me paralyzed in front of the screen for thirty minutes before I start typing each day. It never goes away. Sometimes I call on fantasies to deflect the fear and questioning.  I fake it till I make it.  Or more usefully, I say, “F*ck it.”  Man, I have done some amazing things under the auspice and spirit of “f*ck it.”

I’m so scared of self-doubt that I keep one foot out of writing at all times.  I keep a “day job” so that I feel like I have at least one thing in my life where I can invest some of my self esteem–so that all my eggs are not in the writing basket.  (“Hey, I wrote SHIT today, but at least um, my boss said I rocked at that project!”)  Maybe that’s wimping out.  But I’m not that hardcore a person. I’m so scared of self-doubt that I feel like I need to find a “cure” for it: for myself and for my friends.  I want to save all of us from this self-doubt, and create a world where writers are confident and happy and productive and sure.
Why am I so scared of self-doubt?  The vulnerability frightens me.  The power of self-doubt over my production freaks me out.  And maybe self-doubt even erases a bit of my voice in my writing.

Am I right?  No.

Self-doubt keeps us true (well, as my writing mentor said, “Self-doubt paired with a desire to write provides the writer with her best tool: a great bullshit detector.”).  There is a balance implied in that equation: your desire to write must always be present and in equal if not greater amount than your self-doubt.  (ugh, I just did math on my blog).

Now I am doubting this post.

Am I making any sense?  What am I accomplishing?  Am I making anyone feel better?  Am I feeling more enlightened?  Am I full of bullshit?  Is this full of bullshit?  How many grammatical errors have I made?  Bleah.

I guess self-doubt is just part of being a writer.  I can’t fight it.  I must ride with it.  And see it as a poignant, beautiful thing.  It is our heart, isn’t it?  It is all of our vulnerability as a writer and it informs our writing.  I think without it, our writing would not have soul.


Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Writing

storytelling taste

I haven’t forgotten the questions posed in my post asking, “What is my personal writing style?” I have dialogues about my taste and style all day long (“Oh, I like those pants…Oh, I like that fabric…Oh, I like that color…Oh, I like that couch…Oh, I like that flatware–Oh, are my thoughts so banal?), and for some reason I haven’t really looked at my taste in literature/writing/reading styles.

Why is that? I guess a part of me wants to like it ALL. Or that literature is beyond reproach?  (Who am I to say what matters?  But of course, I’m clearly going to spend the rest of this post talking about what I think matters-ha.)  Or maybe I’m just pretty fucking ignorant when it comes to my storytelling tastes.

So what do I like in particular when it comes to storytelling? Maybe I better start thinking about it, even if my initial thoughts are plebeian (hey, stupid plebeian thoughts are better than no thoughts). I like anything the screen writer Charlie Kauffman writes (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). I love Haruki Murakami’s stories. I like wacky twisted television shows like “Lost” and (now) “Heroes” and “X-Files” and when I was a teenager, I obsessed about “Twin Peaks.” Ohgawd. I just listed more movies and television shows than books.

My favorite book of all time is The Great Gatsby, hardly magical or surreal, though. Why is that? I have to think about the link between The Great Gatsby and the fantastic stories I love these days.

And of writing in general: I just love it when a writer tries to do something different.

One of the things that makes me SCREAM in workshop even before I got “worshopped out,” are stories that tread well-worn paths. If I had a nickel for every story about a “girl who grew up in an abusive family and then got suicidal but then recovered,” or “a white upper middle class twentysomething who goes to a third world country and experiences an epiphany amidst ‘the natives’ (and discovers love while at it)” or “a middle aged woman who contemplates cheating on her husband out of boredom in her marriage,” or “a whiny Holden Caulfield wannabe character,” or “a drug recovery story,”…man, I’d have enough for an ice cream cone from Ben & Jerry’s. (My other pet peeve is the word “nipple”–my first semester in my program, I think I read the word nipple AT LEAST EVERY WEEK IN a workshop manuscript).

Anyway, that is just to say that I love it when a writer does something different…and that I hate it when a writer “plays to the familiar.”

Unless you kick ass with your writing. Then you can write about anything you want. 😛

Um, not really. I still think you should try to do something different.

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Filed under Abstract Thoughts, Writing