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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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On debris

Author's note: I wrote this in late June and never got around to editing it until this week! Chalk it up to what came out of the incident below -- lots of other writing and even more decline in my laptop's function. The latter's at the shop, so I'm working on borrowed technology until further notice ...

Yesterday, I sat down to write as I've been sitting down to write for several months since establishing something like a morning routine with D. and O. We have breakfast together and go for a walk, then D. leaves for his office and I entertain O. until he's ready to nap. On some days he shuttles happily from toy box to sofa to floor, sorting and piling various items with intentions only he understands. On others, he gets impatient and sweeps aside the entire mess -- a fallen tower of blocks, stacking rings that refuse to stack -- flailing his arms to remove every last offending piece. And then he starts from scratch, arranging the materials he was just rejecting toward whatever ideal his busy fingers want so much to create.

Most of the time, he finds his way, but I've been wondering lately when to step in during those moments of frustration to do more than comfort and redirect, as so many parenting advocates suggest. To teach him how to handle the disappointment without producing quite so much debris. For now, when play is no longer fun, I know it's time to give him a break. That's also where my nap time writing window fits.

My laptop had restarted in the middle of the night -- to install some automatic, unavoidable update the operating system insists on making once every few weeks -- and I'd expected that, given the warning messages it had been flashing the evening before.

What I didn't expect was that the essay I'd been working on over several weeks had been failing to save, thanks to a glitch with the software, for three days.

I'm sure the first thoughts I had after the discovery were unprintable. Silent, fuming, desperate, I considered my options. Rewrite it all? It was worth a shot. The draft that had saved was substantially different from the version that was lost. In a moment of clarity -- rarely do I have these, so ever more my dismay -- I'd drastically altered the direction of the essay, moving sections, reintroducing ideas where they made more sense. Those changes were gone. Sifting through the older draft, I could see the phrases that had triggered the shift in thought, could see fuzzy fragments of particular transitional sentences in memory that I'd begun working in, an essay in pieces that if only I could reassemble them --

Thirty minutes later, I might as well have been trying to rebuild a melting sand castle on a beach at high tide.

The words just weren't right. I was copying a badly damaged artifact without the benefits of the original moment of inspiration guiding my choices. I wasn't hearing the stream of thought, just listening to echoes and fighting a mounting swell of frustration instead.

The impulse to sweep it all aside -- much as O. would -- was suddenly a hard lump in my throat. But there was nothing really to fling, lost data being lost. I understood, though, the temptation of clearing something away, of needing to be rid of the mess that I was unable to right. After a few minutes, I gave up. If I couldn't sweep aside the damage, I could at least clear myself away -- to deal with my frustration without staring the creative disaster in its face.

O. is asleep again this morning. I have, perhaps, another hour to work at this unforgiving thing I do because I need and want to, in spite of all the challenges the act comprises, even without technological snafus. That I'm actually grieving the loss of this essay tells me it matters, that the work is essential, that scraping together the time at the cost of -- well, at the very least, certain household chores and anything else I can't do while O. is awake -- is better than any alternative.

But after looking at the essay yet again, even with fresh eyes, I know I won't be able to pick up where I'd left off. All frustration aside, I can't relocate the place in my consciousness where those particular words dwelled. So I'm going to have to start from scratch.

Am I disappointed? Yes. But maybe there is something to be said for debris, and what can come of rummaging through it.

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.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

On debris

Author's note: I wrote this in late June and never got around to editing it until this week! Chalk it up to what came out of the incident below -- lots of other writing and even more decline in my laptop's function. The latter's at the shop, so I'm working on borrowed technology until further notice ...

Yesterday, I sat down to write as I've been sitting down to write for several months since establishing something like a morning routine with D. and O. We have breakfast together and go for a walk, then D. leaves for his office and I entertain O. until he's ready to nap. On some days he shuttles happily from toy box to sofa to floor, sorting and piling various items with intentions only he understands. On others, he gets impatient and sweeps aside the entire mess -- a fallen tower of blocks, stacking rings that refuse to stack -- flailing his arms to remove every last offending piece. And then he starts from scratch, arranging the materials he was just rejecting toward whatever ideal his busy fingers want so much to create.

Most of the time, he finds his way, but I've been wondering lately when to step in during those moments of frustration to do more than comfort and redirect, as so many parenting advocates suggest. To teach him how to handle the disappointment without producing quite so much debris. For now, when play is no longer fun, I know it's time to give him a break. That's also where my nap time writing window fits.

My laptop had restarted in the middle of the night -- to install some automatic, unavoidable update the operating system insists on making once every few weeks -- and I'd expected that, given the warning messages it had been flashing the evening before.

What I didn't expect was that the essay I'd been working on over several weeks had been failing to save, thanks to a glitch with the software, for three days.

I'm sure the first thoughts I had after the discovery were unprintable. Silent, fuming, desperate, I considered my options. Rewrite it all? It was worth a shot. The draft that had saved was substantially different from the version that was lost. In a moment of clarity -- rarely do I have these, so ever more my dismay -- I'd drastically altered the direction of the essay, moving sections, reintroducing ideas where they made more sense. Those changes were gone. Sifting through the older draft, I could see the phrases that had triggered the shift in thought, could see fuzzy fragments of particular transitional sentences in memory that I'd begun working in, an essay in pieces that if only I could reassemble them --

Thirty minutes later, I might as well have been trying to rebuild a melting sand castle on a beach at high tide.

The words just weren't right. I was copying a badly damaged artifact without the benefits of the original moment of inspiration guiding my choices. I wasn't hearing the stream of thought, just listening to echoes and fighting a mounting swell of frustration instead.

The impulse to sweep it all aside -- much as O. would -- was suddenly a hard lump in my throat. But there was nothing really to fling, lost data being lost. I understood, though, the temptation of clearing something away, of needing to be rid of the mess that I was unable to right. After a few minutes, I gave up. If I couldn't sweep aside the damage, I could at least clear myself away -- to deal with my frustration without staring the creative disaster in its face.

O. is asleep again this morning. I have, perhaps, another hour to work at this unforgiving thing I do because I need and want to, in spite of all the challenges the act comprises, even without technological snafus. That I'm actually grieving the loss of this essay tells me it matters, that the work is essential, that scraping together the time at the cost of -- well, at the very least, certain household chores and anything else I can't do while O. is awake -- is better than any alternative.

But after looking at the essay yet again, even with fresh eyes, I know I won't be able to pick up where I'd left off. All frustration aside, I can't relocate the place in my consciousness where those particular words dwelled. So I'm going to have to start from scratch.

Am I disappointed? Yes. But maybe there is something to be said for debris, and what can come of rummaging through it.

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.