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When I'm not here, you may find me wandering the pages below. (If I'm a regular visitor to your site and I've left your link off or mislinked to you, please let me know! And likewise, if you've blogrolled me, please check that my link is updated: thisroamanticlife.blogspot.com. The extra (a) makes all the difference!)

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Body: in sickness and in health

I won't lie; this body and I have had our issues with each other for many years. Body image -- sure. Physical and mental overextension -- comes with being a Type A kind of girl. I still struggle with these things, so they show up from time to time in my writing.

More recently, illness, pure but not simple, has added itself to the mix in a multi-system sort of way. And the challenges in figuring out exactly what's gone wrong are many. As problems have revealed themselves in the last few years, beginning with reactive hypoglycemia in late 2008, I've documented them here, partly to gain a little clarity on managing complex conditions but mostly to give voice to vulnerabilities I feel but don't normally share with anyone face to face. Better out than in, they say, right? (Oh yes, humor is one way I deal.)

The links below cover the different angles I've examined (and from which I've been examined) within that experience.

Travel: neither here nor there

When the person you're married to lives two time zones away, you log a fair number of frequent flier miles. And if you blog about commuter relationships, you log quite a few posts en route too.

Since we're no longer in separate places, I blog less often from airports. But we do travel -- together now! -- which is much more fun to write about. So in addition to thoughts on our years of commuting, the links below cover the places we've been as a pair and, in some cases, the adventures that have happened on the way.

Writing: the long and short of it

Why do I do it? Good question. Maybe it's not so much that I like to write but that I have to write, even when the words refuse to stick to the page. Believe me, I've tried doing other things like majoring in biochemistry (freshman fall, many semesters ago). Within a year, I'd switched to English with a concentration in creative writing and wasn't looking back.

After graduating, I taught English for a few years and then worked as an editor, which I still do freelance. In 2007, I applied and got into an MFA program at a place I like to call Little U. on the Prairie. I finished my degree in 2011 and have been balancing tutoring and writing on my own ever since.

The following links cover the writing I've done about writing: process, content, obstacles, you name it. It's not always pretty. But some part of me loves it, even when it's hard. And this is the result.

Heart: family and friends

I'd have a hard time explaining who I am without being able to talk about the family I grew up in as well as the people I've met beyond its bounds. But even with such context, it's not easy! In the simplest terms, I'm a first-generation Asian-American who has spent most of this life caught between cultures. That, of course, doesn't even begin to describe what I mean to, but there's my first stab at the heart of it all.

That's what this group of posts is reserved for -- heart. The essential parts of my life whose influences I carry with me, for better or worse. The links below cover what I've written as I've learned how these forces work within me, for me, against me, in spite of me. They anchor me even as they change me, and they keep life interesting.

Recommended reading

What do I do when there's too much on my mind and my words won't stick to the page? I escape into someone else's thoughts. Below is a collection of books and articles that have been sources of information, inspiration, and occasional insight for my own work.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ventilation

It's Wednesday, and the house I wake up in is still leaching heat from its thin walls after our first 90-degree day of the summer. The thermostat says it's 74, and the thermometer on the porch says 65, but the stagnant air both in and out feels warmer, heavier. Even as we throw the downstairs windows open to let the first floor draw breath, the atmosphere doesn't want to stir. D. puts box fans on the sills to get things moving, but there's no competing with the retained memory of the previous day's sun. We are headed for at least 80 again today.

I'm groggy as I pull breakfast together. We had all the upstairs windows open overnight with fans in those too, but the constant buzz and strangely warm breeze, like a giant's exhalations, make for poor sleep. We are spoiled, living in the Pacific Northwest, where summers are short -- the rest of the country has had its hot temperatures for weeks. But they have air conditioning, I mumble in my mind. For July and August, I will be on ventilation duty, drawing blinds or opening them, flipping fans to blow in or out, depending on the indoor/outdoor temperature differential. I wouldn't mind if it actually had a detectable effect on days like this.

I'm not the only one feeling the weather. D.'s brother, who recently moved up here to start college, has agreed to watch O. once a week for two hours in the morning to give me chore-and-errand time so I can write while O. naps. He calls shortly after we sit down at the kitchen table -- he has a migraine and won't be coming.

I resign myself to juggling O. and the paperwork I've put on my agenda. We are -- surprise -- trying to get an air conditioner installed, but the homeowner's association has a Modification Request Form for such things that's more daunting than a college application. I've bogged down at the section that asks for a description of the project. How much detail do I need to provide? Illustrate on diagram, it simply says, to scale. I'm no contractor, but I suspect just sketching in a box on our porch and labeling it "A/C" isn't going to suffice. There will be wiring and refrigerant piping and other small but significant parts that I don't know the first thing about, all of which will be connected in some way from the unit to the house.

O. scarfs his yogurt and cereal but pushes scrambled eggs away. Smart kid. He's not inclined to eat anything heavy after yesterday's heat. For the rest of the morning before naptime, he alternates between stacking board books in an empty Huggies box and chugging water from a sippy cup. I attempt to compose a description of the air conditioner project that addresses the design guidelines on the form, but every time I turn my attention to the directions, O. tries to climb onto the couch with me. I abandon the papers and my laptop, neither of which will benefit from an accidental splash or O.'s damp hands, and move on to sorting mail. O. takes all the unwanted coupons and grocery circulars and spreads them on the floor. Losing interest, he turns to the box fans. I grab his fingers just before he shoves them through the plastic grille at the blades he cannot see.

This is a new wrinkle, I think. Last summer, O. wasn't mobile enough to get remotely near the fans on his own. The rest of the day stretches out like a mirage retreating toward the horizon -- I'm not looking forward to being on this additional piece of ventilation duty.

He finally naps. I sit down to my real work. At least I can run the fans while O.'s asleep. But their drone is so loud that I can't hear myself think. I read and reread for twenty minutes a draft of an essay that is suddenly a collage of disconnected words. Sweat or write, I say. I can't bear the idea of losing this time to something as stupid as this noise, but not cooling the house means another day of the same. Stagnant progress or stagnant air?

I close the file, open a blank page, and give in to neither.

*

I'm linking up with Just Write this week. For more stories and essays, click the button below.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The work-nap balance

Life's been busy.

I imagine I could start any post that way, but lately it's been a different sort of busy. Busy for just us, D. and O. and me. We've had a lull in travel planning and at last, we've begun finding time for other projects as a family. Outings. Home improvements. Social time with kid-friendly friends. Some tasks are more mundane -- like tweaking our household budget tracking system so that it's not so labor intensive -- but even that feels like a welcome change, a shifting of our attention back to our own home life rather than managing being away from it.

Of course, just as we were starting to get some hours back for all these neglected things, O. began sleeping less and exploring more. Walking and running have given way to climbing, banging blocks together has become building with them, and suddenly, he's in need of an adult playmate much more than before. Which is fun -- as D. was commenting to me the other day, you can now play with him as opposed to watching him play on his own. But all the random weekday tasks I used to do while he self-entertained are harder to juggle. You can't balance the budget while being asked to balance multiple stacks of blocks on your knees. (Believe me, I've tried.)

I'd started to feel a sense of panic whenever O. would nap, which was abruptly down to once a day. My mind was pulling itself in multiple directions during that window. I was supposed to be writing -- I'd told myself months before that I had to treat my work seriously if I wanted to stop second-guessing its value -- but I was also supposed to be researching bids for a new air conditioner and doing basic home care tasks that would take more time than was reasonable to put O. in the playpen for and, oh, how about showering too? Never mind attempting something for true leisure so that writing didn't have to be the sole activity to serve that purpose as well.

I'd sit down before the page and freeze. There was so much pressure to get something done during O.'s nap that I ended up expending more energy being frustrated by my sense of compressed time than using it toward building any sense of accomplishment.

After a few weeks of this, D. gently suggested that we try rearranging my routine a little.

The idea of asking for help hadn't crossed my mind. At least, I didn't feel I could justify asking D. to give up some of his own limited hours outside of work or our family time on the weekend to let me use it to scrub down our bathrooms and wash my hair. I'd looked at those tasks as things I ought to do while he was working or O. was asleep so we could make the most of our down time together. But he was right. Something had to come out of the nap window to return that time to what it was best intended for: putting one word in front of another, without worrying about whether I should be doing something else. I wasn't happy when I wasn't writing, and I needed to give myself a lower-pressure environment to let it happen in.

So we trialed a new schedule over the weekend. For the two hours after breakfast usually preceding naptime, D. hung out with O. while I did some chores and got properly clean, instead of speed-showering. Once O. was asleep, we both had a chance to work on our independent projects. And in the afternoon, we all got to be together for a little World Cup viewing, reading aloud, and stacking blocks on every surface imaginable.

The difference in my state of mind was almost palpable. At the end of the weekend, I didn't feel like an over-wound spinner's bobbin, just a properly tired person who'd done a fair amount of work in addition to taking care of O.'s needs. A reduced set of his needs, but certainly plenty to keep me feeling just as connected to him. And also D. Giving up the time we would have spent together in the morning didn't feel like a loss when it meant being less conflicted about using the time we did have later in the day.

We're now considering having a baby-sitter twice a week to cover the same two-hour morning window. If that works out, I suspect the dividends such help will pay in giving me semi-dependable work hours will be enormous. I know there will still be difficult days when I emerge from my time at the page with no more than a paragraph I'm truly happy with. But the panic that was setting in during the last weeks of ever-shrinking writing time is at bay now with the small but significant protections we're building in.

This just might work. Until O. shifts his routine again, of course, but now I know what I need -- and how making it possible is so very worth it.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ventilation

It's Wednesday, and the house I wake up in is still leaching heat from its thin walls after our first 90-degree day of the summer. The thermostat says it's 74, and the thermometer on the porch says 65, but the stagnant air both in and out feels warmer, heavier. Even as we throw the downstairs windows open to let the first floor draw breath, the atmosphere doesn't want to stir. D. puts box fans on the sills to get things moving, but there's no competing with the retained memory of the previous day's sun. We are headed for at least 80 again today.

I'm groggy as I pull breakfast together. We had all the upstairs windows open overnight with fans in those too, but the constant buzz and strangely warm breeze, like a giant's exhalations, make for poor sleep. We are spoiled, living in the Pacific Northwest, where summers are short -- the rest of the country has had its hot temperatures for weeks. But they have air conditioning, I mumble in my mind. For July and August, I will be on ventilation duty, drawing blinds or opening them, flipping fans to blow in or out, depending on the indoor/outdoor temperature differential. I wouldn't mind if it actually had a detectable effect on days like this.

I'm not the only one feeling the weather. D.'s brother, who recently moved up here to start college, has agreed to watch O. once a week for two hours in the morning to give me chore-and-errand time so I can write while O. naps. He calls shortly after we sit down at the kitchen table -- he has a migraine and won't be coming.

I resign myself to juggling O. and the paperwork I've put on my agenda. We are -- surprise -- trying to get an air conditioner installed, but the homeowner's association has a Modification Request Form for such things that's more daunting than a college application. I've bogged down at the section that asks for a description of the project. How much detail do I need to provide? Illustrate on diagram, it simply says, to scale. I'm no contractor, but I suspect just sketching in a box on our porch and labeling it "A/C" isn't going to suffice. There will be wiring and refrigerant piping and other small but significant parts that I don't know the first thing about, all of which will be connected in some way from the unit to the house.

O. scarfs his yogurt and cereal but pushes scrambled eggs away. Smart kid. He's not inclined to eat anything heavy after yesterday's heat. For the rest of the morning before naptime, he alternates between stacking board books in an empty Huggies box and chugging water from a sippy cup. I attempt to compose a description of the air conditioner project that addresses the design guidelines on the form, but every time I turn my attention to the directions, O. tries to climb onto the couch with me. I abandon the papers and my laptop, neither of which will benefit from an accidental splash or O.'s damp hands, and move on to sorting mail. O. takes all the unwanted coupons and grocery circulars and spreads them on the floor. Losing interest, he turns to the box fans. I grab his fingers just before he shoves them through the plastic grille at the blades he cannot see.

This is a new wrinkle, I think. Last summer, O. wasn't mobile enough to get remotely near the fans on his own. The rest of the day stretches out like a mirage retreating toward the horizon -- I'm not looking forward to being on this additional piece of ventilation duty.

He finally naps. I sit down to my real work. At least I can run the fans while O.'s asleep. But their drone is so loud that I can't hear myself think. I read and reread for twenty minutes a draft of an essay that is suddenly a collage of disconnected words. Sweat or write, I say. I can't bear the idea of losing this time to something as stupid as this noise, but not cooling the house means another day of the same. Stagnant progress or stagnant air?

I close the file, open a blank page, and give in to neither.

*

I'm linking up with Just Write this week. For more stories and essays, click the button below.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The work-nap balance

Life's been busy.

I imagine I could start any post that way, but lately it's been a different sort of busy. Busy for just us, D. and O. and me. We've had a lull in travel planning and at last, we've begun finding time for other projects as a family. Outings. Home improvements. Social time with kid-friendly friends. Some tasks are more mundane -- like tweaking our household budget tracking system so that it's not so labor intensive -- but even that feels like a welcome change, a shifting of our attention back to our own home life rather than managing being away from it.

Of course, just as we were starting to get some hours back for all these neglected things, O. began sleeping less and exploring more. Walking and running have given way to climbing, banging blocks together has become building with them, and suddenly, he's in need of an adult playmate much more than before. Which is fun -- as D. was commenting to me the other day, you can now play with him as opposed to watching him play on his own. But all the random weekday tasks I used to do while he self-entertained are harder to juggle. You can't balance the budget while being asked to balance multiple stacks of blocks on your knees. (Believe me, I've tried.)

I'd started to feel a sense of panic whenever O. would nap, which was abruptly down to once a day. My mind was pulling itself in multiple directions during that window. I was supposed to be writing -- I'd told myself months before that I had to treat my work seriously if I wanted to stop second-guessing its value -- but I was also supposed to be researching bids for a new air conditioner and doing basic home care tasks that would take more time than was reasonable to put O. in the playpen for and, oh, how about showering too? Never mind attempting something for true leisure so that writing didn't have to be the sole activity to serve that purpose as well.

I'd sit down before the page and freeze. There was so much pressure to get something done during O.'s nap that I ended up expending more energy being frustrated by my sense of compressed time than using it toward building any sense of accomplishment.

After a few weeks of this, D. gently suggested that we try rearranging my routine a little.

The idea of asking for help hadn't crossed my mind. At least, I didn't feel I could justify asking D. to give up some of his own limited hours outside of work or our family time on the weekend to let me use it to scrub down our bathrooms and wash my hair. I'd looked at those tasks as things I ought to do while he was working or O. was asleep so we could make the most of our down time together. But he was right. Something had to come out of the nap window to return that time to what it was best intended for: putting one word in front of another, without worrying about whether I should be doing something else. I wasn't happy when I wasn't writing, and I needed to give myself a lower-pressure environment to let it happen in.

So we trialed a new schedule over the weekend. For the two hours after breakfast usually preceding naptime, D. hung out with O. while I did some chores and got properly clean, instead of speed-showering. Once O. was asleep, we both had a chance to work on our independent projects. And in the afternoon, we all got to be together for a little World Cup viewing, reading aloud, and stacking blocks on every surface imaginable.

The difference in my state of mind was almost palpable. At the end of the weekend, I didn't feel like an over-wound spinner's bobbin, just a properly tired person who'd done a fair amount of work in addition to taking care of O.'s needs. A reduced set of his needs, but certainly plenty to keep me feeling just as connected to him. And also D. Giving up the time we would have spent together in the morning didn't feel like a loss when it meant being less conflicted about using the time we did have later in the day.

We're now considering having a baby-sitter twice a week to cover the same two-hour morning window. If that works out, I suspect the dividends such help will pay in giving me semi-dependable work hours will be enormous. I know there will still be difficult days when I emerge from my time at the page with no more than a paragraph I'm truly happy with. But the panic that was setting in during the last weeks of ever-shrinking writing time is at bay now with the small but significant protections we're building in.

This just might work. Until O. shifts his routine again, of course, but now I know what I need -- and how making it possible is so very worth it.