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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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blind spots

It's the last Wednesday in August, and the packing list for my sister's wedding is growing by the hour. With our extra baby gear and my food allergies to work around, every trip feels like camping: we haul the edibles and other supplies in and hope nothing runs out.

"We should get an RV," D. has said more than once this week. "Seriously, we'd be able to go anywhere."

After this morning's slow progress on our plan, I'm almost tempted to say yes.

Thankfully, my other wedding to-dos are waning. I've written my toast and charted the day-of schedule we'll have to get O. through. My dress and his ringbearer togs are fitted. All I have left is to assemble a slideshow of the happy couple, finalize the reception games we'll subject them to, and figure out which purse to carry. Makeup, snacks, sewing kit, hair pins, band-aids, headache relief -- where to put it all? The diaper backpack's tempting but a poor match for stilettos.

I start gathering supplies for a test-fit. "Oh come on," I mumble -- I'm out of the meds. I was at the store last week but hadn't started the packing list yet, and I'm dreading the back-to-school crowds. But O.'s already at the door to our garage, begging to go out. I don't resist. If he's willing, there's no better time than now to get the job done.

Everything these days is a job, I think as I pull out of our driveway. We are halfway down the block before I wonder if I've closed the garage door. It doesn't matter, I tell myself. We'll only be gone thirty minutes. But these endless tasks, boxes to be checked off -- it's no wonder I feel dull. I can't remember the last time I did something for myself this summer. At least, not without needing to invest as much energy in arranging for a personal stand-in to cover my absence as I was supposed to reclaim in the first place.

Four turns, six stoplights. The route is busy, but traffic moves. O. babbles to no one in particular -- is he telling me what he sees? We've been waiting for words, but even at 18 months, he has none. At his last check-up, we got a referral for early intervention services, which will start after we return. I'm relieved. Between this trip and the last one we took in March for my mother's birthday, we've spent most of O.'s year thus far in planning mode. This wedding needs to be over just so I can focus again on him, to say words like car, truck, and bus instead of accommodations, airline tickets, and aspirin. "Ya ya ya ya!" O. exclaims. I can't help wondering if the outside demands we've been fielding all year have more to do with his delays than any other cause.

I park. There are no carts nearby, so I sling O. onto my hip and start trekking to the corral at the store entrance. As I reach the end of our row of cars, a red SUV comes roaring past the front curb. It blows through the crosswalk and suddenly it's turning head-on toward me. My body freezes. Run, you idiot, the primal part of my brain says, but it's as if the rest of me can't believe the driver hasn't noticed us. Or maybe I'm afraid if I move, he'll swerve the wrong way. "Hey!" I shout. He can't possibly hear me. He goes left at the last second, swinging just wide.

I'm fuming. There's no apologetic wave or even recognition, just the hot stench of exhaust. I consider walking back to the guy's car and demanding an explanation. But I know it's pointless. He's got a wife and a kid in the passenger seats. For whatever reason, on his end or mine, I just wasn't visible.

See me, I scream silently. I haven't felt seen, I realize, in a terrifyingly long time. The work of preparing to move a pop-up habitat for so many events in this year and the last is like a scrim -- it keeps me forever busy behind the scenes and is itself so easy to look past. Not that my reasons for being in this parking lot on this day are the guy's reasons for nearly hitting me. But that don't-you-know-I'm-here moment I had in front of his bumper -- more and more, it feels like an ongoing state of being.

O. squirms in my arms. All this time he's been quiet, and I look at him for the first moment in a long minute. He's watching me, trying to read my expression, which must be anything but reassuring.

"We're okay," I tell him. But I know we both need better.

*

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

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.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blind spots

It's the last Wednesday in August, and the packing list for my sister's wedding is growing by the hour. With our extra baby gear and my food allergies to work around, every trip feels like camping: we haul the edibles and other supplies in and hope nothing runs out.

"We should get an RV," D. has said more than once this week. "Seriously, we'd be able to go anywhere."

After this morning's slow progress on our plan, I'm almost tempted to say yes.

Thankfully, my other wedding to-dos are waning. I've written my toast and charted the day-of schedule we'll have to get O. through. My dress and his ringbearer togs are fitted. All I have left is to assemble a slideshow of the happy couple, finalize the reception games we'll subject them to, and figure out which purse to carry. Makeup, snacks, sewing kit, hair pins, band-aids, headache relief -- where to put it all? The diaper backpack's tempting but a poor match for stilettos.

I start gathering supplies for a test-fit. "Oh come on," I mumble -- I'm out of the meds. I was at the store last week but hadn't started the packing list yet, and I'm dreading the back-to-school crowds. But O.'s already at the door to our garage, begging to go out. I don't resist. If he's willing, there's no better time than now to get the job done.

Everything these days is a job, I think as I pull out of our driveway. We are halfway down the block before I wonder if I've closed the garage door. It doesn't matter, I tell myself. We'll only be gone thirty minutes. But these endless tasks, boxes to be checked off -- it's no wonder I feel dull. I can't remember the last time I did something for myself this summer. At least, not without needing to invest as much energy in arranging for a personal stand-in to cover my absence as I was supposed to reclaim in the first place.

Four turns, six stoplights. The route is busy, but traffic moves. O. babbles to no one in particular -- is he telling me what he sees? We've been waiting for words, but even at 18 months, he has none. At his last check-up, we got a referral for early intervention services, which will start after we return. I'm relieved. Between this trip and the last one we took in March for my mother's birthday, we've spent most of O.'s year thus far in planning mode. This wedding needs to be over just so I can focus again on him, to say words like car, truck, and bus instead of accommodations, airline tickets, and aspirin. "Ya ya ya ya!" O. exclaims. I can't help wondering if the outside demands we've been fielding all year have more to do with his delays than any other cause.

I park. There are no carts nearby, so I sling O. onto my hip and start trekking to the corral at the store entrance. As I reach the end of our row of cars, a red SUV comes roaring past the front curb. It blows through the crosswalk and suddenly it's turning head-on toward me. My body freezes. Run, you idiot, the primal part of my brain says, but it's as if the rest of me can't believe the driver hasn't noticed us. Or maybe I'm afraid if I move, he'll swerve the wrong way. "Hey!" I shout. He can't possibly hear me. He goes left at the last second, swinging just wide.

I'm fuming. There's no apologetic wave or even recognition, just the hot stench of exhaust. I consider walking back to the guy's car and demanding an explanation. But I know it's pointless. He's got a wife and a kid in the passenger seats. For whatever reason, on his end or mine, I just wasn't visible.

See me, I scream silently. I haven't felt seen, I realize, in a terrifyingly long time. The work of preparing to move a pop-up habitat for so many events in this year and the last is like a scrim -- it keeps me forever busy behind the scenes and is itself so easy to look past. Not that my reasons for being in this parking lot on this day are the guy's reasons for nearly hitting me. But that don't-you-know-I'm-here moment I had in front of his bumper -- more and more, it feels like an ongoing state of being.

O. squirms in my arms. All this time he's been quiet, and I look at him for the first moment in a long minute. He's watching me, trying to read my expression, which must be anything but reassuring.

"We're okay," I tell him. But I know we both need better.

*

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

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.