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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, October 21, 2014

Rude awakenings

At quarter after 11 on a drizzly Wednesday, O. pushes off my lap, where he's been climbing up and down all morning, and starts rubbing his eyes. My rendition of "This is the way the ladies ride," which I've been repeating for half an hour with all the associated bouncing speeds, has finally lost its appeal, and the tell-tale signs of tiredness are on both our faces.

For most of O.'s life, I've automatically kept an eye on the clock -- if it isn't time for him to eat, nap, or be changed, it's almost time -- and we both do better when he gets his needs met on a reasonable schedule. Of late, though, despite my attention to his usual signals -- half-mast eyelids, a sudden interest in cuddling rather than running circles around the sofa -- O.'s barely been sleeping during the day, and I have yet to figure out why.

I've grown skittish of his new quickness to wake. And resentful of every rumbling truck, yapping dog, and shrieking middle-schooler passing our door at certain times of day. Our walls are thin. While O. used to slumber through almost anything, the slightest disturbance now raises his banshee howls right away.

I know he's not fully rested. When he used to nap for three hours straight, he'd wake up babbling to himself and thump the bars of his crib with glee. His screams of distress complain of interruption, of the sudden, abrupt transition from a dream state to reality, almost like the indignant cries of an infant just born. I'd pity him more if his predicament didn't mean a similar disruption of my own work. I am inevitably writing -- I've stepped into that ever changing current of words and thoughts that will only be here in this form on this day now when, unexpectedly, I'm hurled from the stream onto the rocky shore again and someone has made off with my towel and shoes.

Today, though I'm tempted to hustle him off to his crib right away, I buckle O. into his high chair and put his favorite foods on the tray. It's hard to know if this is the right choice -- if I delay putting him down, am I missing that magical window where he'll naturally fall into his deepest sleep state, or if I don't, will I set him up to wake too soon because he's hungry? He seizes a pork rib, bone and all, and gnaws contentedly. That he has the patience for this tells me all is as it should be for now.

I take O. to his room an hour later. There's minimal protest -- a whimper or two as I leave him, but he's quiet in seconds. At last, I can sit and think, the blank page before me, only the slight hiss of air through the floor registers for company.

But I can't settle. Three delivery trucks motor through, engines thrumming. Our neighborhood school lets out, and children call after their friends as they head to the park down the street. It's not the noises themselves distracting me -- I've written in a college dorm that faced a local fire house and in an apartment under another inhabited by an old professor who thumped around with his cane at all hours. He'd swear in Greek every time he couldn't get his PowerPoint slides working for his next day's lecture, which seemed to be a frequent problem. No -- I only cringe now because I'm anticipating a rude awakening for O. and me, though I haven't even entered that meditative state I've been looking forward to.

This can't continue, I tell myself. You can't jump at every potential disturbance or you won't get anything done.

But there is no solution for this when I am both mother- and writer-in-residence. I laugh wryly at the idea of parenthood as a post one might apply for like a guest lectureship at a university. I enjoyed the visiting professors who rotated through my department when I was working on my MFA, but as they weren't permanent, the connections I made with them always felt tenuous and harder to guarantee. That certainly wouldn't be an ideal dynamic for me or O.

Still, I wish in this moment for a little less mother brain and more of the focus that only a particularly emphatic stream of profanity from the old man upstairs could break.

*

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Conversation in a dressing room

It's unseasonably warm for October and the padded cloth baby carrier cocooning O. against my torso is making us both sweaty. But the consignment store I'm about to enter has no room for a stroller in its narrow aisles and I'm intent on dropping off the clothes my sister has helped me cull from my wardrobe in the last week. On her post-wedding visit, we sorted every last item I hadn't worn in several years to donate or sell -- by holding on to these pieces, she insists, I've been using up valuable real estate in my closet, fooling me into thinking I have what I need. "You owe it to yourself to have clothes that you'll actually wear," she says, pulling hanger after hanger from the rack.

I can't argue with her. I wear only a fraction of what I own, and by most standards, I don't own a lot. But I rarely consider what I want to wear on most days. Since O. arrived over a year ago, I've lived in yoga togs while at home. I tell myself it's a matter of practicality -- when I'm constantly cleaning up after a baby, now a toddler, having to avoid getting my clothes dirty is impossible. And during his precious sleep hours -- my writing time -- the last thing I worry about is how I look.

But some invisible finger always pokes me a little when I see how put together my sister is. Hey, the voice that goes with it says, why can't you dress like she does? If not all the time, at least when you're making your nth run to Target?

Half the problem, it seems, is that I can't tell what makes an outfit work. Starting with basic fit. At least four pairs of pants I model for my sister get an immediate rejection. One is in beautiful Italian herringbone wool, which I've had since my first year out of college. "Those legs," my sister says. "Way too wide." She's right -- even if the style might have been in ten years ago, I never quite liked how it looked on me but couldn't understand why. "You've got sad crotch too!" she adds with almost comical dismay -- the rise is too deep, and the extra fabric is sagging beneath me. I laugh. All of this adds up to a heavy look in the butt and thighs that is, in my sister's words, tragic. How did I not see it, though? I wonder. It's only clear now that she's pointed out the underlying issues.

The pants are tucked in with the rest of the items I hand to the girl behind the cash register at the consignment store. While I wait for the manager to screen them, I wander through the women's section on a whim. My sister and I took one day of her visit to shop a nearby outlet mall, with success -- she's helped me replace what I'm getting rid of with updated staples -- but we didn't find the skinny jeans she's insisted will be a versatile addition to my wardrobe.

I'm intimidated by the idea of anything that might grab my post-baby jelly belly in its unforgiving waistband, but I browse the racks. This'll be a long shot, I think. Most of what I tried on at the outlets fit in the legs but not in the seat -- it's as if my body's been cobbled together from different-sized parts. But I spot a pair that looks promising: clean tailoring without embellishments or flaps on the pockets, a rise that's not too high or low, and a really dark wash that will be long wearing. O. wriggles impatiently and cranes his neck to see what I'm looking at. When he can't turn beyond the limits of the carrier, he starts making noises of protest.

"Okay, okay," I say. I might as well try these on at under thirty dollars, and O. needs to stretch his legs.

I maneuver us into the curtained dressing room and quickly release O. from his straps and buckles. He sits on the built-in bench for a few minutes while I change. The legs on the jeans are too long, but the waist buttons at a good position -- no gut overflow. I'm not confident on what else I'm supposed to be assessing, though, having never owned skinnies. Are they like any other pair of pants? Will these bunch weirdly at the knees after I stand up from sitting down? Is there a teensy bit too much fabric in the butt? Do I buy the jeans regardless? They're less than half the price of a brand-new pair, but like all else in the store, they're final sale.

As I peer ambivalently at my reflection, O. scrambles off his seat and starts shaking the mirror, which is only propped against the wall, not fixed. He moves quickly to test an adjustable floor lamp in the corner then makes a dash for the curtain. I take one last look at myself, switch back to my own bottoms, and wrestle O. into the carrier before he escapes completely.

I check the time. It's hard to say whether my sister, who is several hours ahead of me, will be available, but I want her advice. If you can't reach her, it's not meant to be, I tell myself. I dial her number.

To my relief, I get an answer. "Ass and crotch," she says, when I've explained the situation. "Those are the areas that matter most."

"Yes," I say. I've already anticipated this, after her most recent assessments. "But what am I looking for?"

"Across the front -- is there whiskering?"

She's referring to that rayed wrinkling that occurs around the base of the zipper when the cut isn't right for the body, not the intentional dye fading on the same area to produce a certain look. I'm pleased that I remembered to check before I took the jeans off. "Only a little," I say, "but I think it's because the inseam is too long and my legs are uneven."

"Okay, we can alter the hems. How about the back pockets -- are they riding really low? Is there sagging?"

"No," I say, trailing off slightly. "I mean, there might be a little extra under the cheeks, but again, I think it's because the whole leg is bunching."

"You'll pull that down and scrunch at the ankles," my sister says.

"You're sure? I mean, this is definitely not a saggy ass or sad crotch problem, but I'm worried they'll pull up out of my boots and then do a muffin-top thing at the knees."

My sister pauses. I can't tell by her silence if she thinks this is absurd, hilarious, or plausible, but I trust her more than anyone else on such matters because I know she's taking my concern seriously. Then, "I've never seen that happen. How much are they?"

"Twenty-eight."

"Done and done. I think we can work with these for this season as a starting point!"

Her enthusiasm convinces me -- and just in time. O. utters a small blast of complaints that signals me to wrap this consultation up. I pay, then collect what the shop manager doesn't want from my closet clean-out.

The drive home is quiet. I'm flushed from the heat and wrangling O., and as I turn up the air conditioning, I realize my heartbeat is running fast in my ears. I'm strangely elated. In spite of my doubts, my initial read on the jeans was good -- my sister's guiding appraisal only confirmed what I thought I ought to look for.

"Sad crotch," I mumble, remembering my sister's horror at the ill-fitting rejects now headed for donation. I start to giggle. While I usually never give this much thought to how I look at clothing, I imagine anyone listening to our conversation at the store would think I'm obsessed with the space between my navel and thighs.

There's something that's tragic, I think, laughing harder. But I'm happy to feel for once that I'm not a complete fashion idiot.

*

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

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Rude awakenings

At quarter after 11 on a drizzly Wednesday, O. pushes off my lap, where he's been climbing up and down all morning, and starts rubbing his eyes. My rendition of "This is the way the ladies ride," which I've been repeating for half an hour with all the associated bouncing speeds, has finally lost its appeal, and the tell-tale signs of tiredness are on both our faces.

For most of O.'s life, I've automatically kept an eye on the clock -- if it isn't time for him to eat, nap, or be changed, it's almost time -- and we both do better when he gets his needs met on a reasonable schedule. Of late, though, despite my attention to his usual signals -- half-mast eyelids, a sudden interest in cuddling rather than running circles around the sofa -- O.'s barely been sleeping during the day, and I have yet to figure out why.

I've grown skittish of his new quickness to wake. And resentful of every rumbling truck, yapping dog, and shrieking middle-schooler passing our door at certain times of day. Our walls are thin. While O. used to slumber through almost anything, the slightest disturbance now raises his banshee howls right away.

I know he's not fully rested. When he used to nap for three hours straight, he'd wake up babbling to himself and thump the bars of his crib with glee. His screams of distress complain of interruption, of the sudden, abrupt transition from a dream state to reality, almost like the indignant cries of an infant just born. I'd pity him more if his predicament didn't mean a similar disruption of my own work. I am inevitably writing -- I've stepped into that ever changing current of words and thoughts that will only be here in this form on this day now when, unexpectedly, I'm hurled from the stream onto the rocky shore again and someone has made off with my towel and shoes.

Today, though I'm tempted to hustle him off to his crib right away, I buckle O. into his high chair and put his favorite foods on the tray. It's hard to know if this is the right choice -- if I delay putting him down, am I missing that magical window where he'll naturally fall into his deepest sleep state, or if I don't, will I set him up to wake too soon because he's hungry? He seizes a pork rib, bone and all, and gnaws contentedly. That he has the patience for this tells me all is as it should be for now.

I take O. to his room an hour later. There's minimal protest -- a whimper or two as I leave him, but he's quiet in seconds. At last, I can sit and think, the blank page before me, only the slight hiss of air through the floor registers for company.

But I can't settle. Three delivery trucks motor through, engines thrumming. Our neighborhood school lets out, and children call after their friends as they head to the park down the street. It's not the noises themselves distracting me -- I've written in a college dorm that faced a local fire house and in an apartment under another inhabited by an old professor who thumped around with his cane at all hours. He'd swear in Greek every time he couldn't get his PowerPoint slides working for his next day's lecture, which seemed to be a frequent problem. No -- I only cringe now because I'm anticipating a rude awakening for O. and me, though I haven't even entered that meditative state I've been looking forward to.

This can't continue, I tell myself. You can't jump at every potential disturbance or you won't get anything done.

But there is no solution for this when I am both mother- and writer-in-residence. I laugh wryly at the idea of parenthood as a post one might apply for like a guest lectureship at a university. I enjoyed the visiting professors who rotated through my department when I was working on my MFA, but as they weren't permanent, the connections I made with them always felt tenuous and harder to guarantee. That certainly wouldn't be an ideal dynamic for me or O.

Still, I wish in this moment for a little less mother brain and more of the focus that only a particularly emphatic stream of profanity from the old man upstairs could break.

*

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Conversation in a dressing room

It's unseasonably warm for October and the padded cloth baby carrier cocooning O. against my torso is making us both sweaty. But the consignment store I'm about to enter has no room for a stroller in its narrow aisles and I'm intent on dropping off the clothes my sister has helped me cull from my wardrobe in the last week. On her post-wedding visit, we sorted every last item I hadn't worn in several years to donate or sell -- by holding on to these pieces, she insists, I've been using up valuable real estate in my closet, fooling me into thinking I have what I need. "You owe it to yourself to have clothes that you'll actually wear," she says, pulling hanger after hanger from the rack.

I can't argue with her. I wear only a fraction of what I own, and by most standards, I don't own a lot. But I rarely consider what I want to wear on most days. Since O. arrived over a year ago, I've lived in yoga togs while at home. I tell myself it's a matter of practicality -- when I'm constantly cleaning up after a baby, now a toddler, having to avoid getting my clothes dirty is impossible. And during his precious sleep hours -- my writing time -- the last thing I worry about is how I look.

But some invisible finger always pokes me a little when I see how put together my sister is. Hey, the voice that goes with it says, why can't you dress like she does? If not all the time, at least when you're making your nth run to Target?

Half the problem, it seems, is that I can't tell what makes an outfit work. Starting with basic fit. At least four pairs of pants I model for my sister get an immediate rejection. One is in beautiful Italian herringbone wool, which I've had since my first year out of college. "Those legs," my sister says. "Way too wide." She's right -- even if the style might have been in ten years ago, I never quite liked how it looked on me but couldn't understand why. "You've got sad crotch too!" she adds with almost comical dismay -- the rise is too deep, and the extra fabric is sagging beneath me. I laugh. All of this adds up to a heavy look in the butt and thighs that is, in my sister's words, tragic. How did I not see it, though? I wonder. It's only clear now that she's pointed out the underlying issues.

The pants are tucked in with the rest of the items I hand to the girl behind the cash register at the consignment store. While I wait for the manager to screen them, I wander through the women's section on a whim. My sister and I took one day of her visit to shop a nearby outlet mall, with success -- she's helped me replace what I'm getting rid of with updated staples -- but we didn't find the skinny jeans she's insisted will be a versatile addition to my wardrobe.

I'm intimidated by the idea of anything that might grab my post-baby jelly belly in its unforgiving waistband, but I browse the racks. This'll be a long shot, I think. Most of what I tried on at the outlets fit in the legs but not in the seat -- it's as if my body's been cobbled together from different-sized parts. But I spot a pair that looks promising: clean tailoring without embellishments or flaps on the pockets, a rise that's not too high or low, and a really dark wash that will be long wearing. O. wriggles impatiently and cranes his neck to see what I'm looking at. When he can't turn beyond the limits of the carrier, he starts making noises of protest.

"Okay, okay," I say. I might as well try these on at under thirty dollars, and O. needs to stretch his legs.

I maneuver us into the curtained dressing room and quickly release O. from his straps and buckles. He sits on the built-in bench for a few minutes while I change. The legs on the jeans are too long, but the waist buttons at a good position -- no gut overflow. I'm not confident on what else I'm supposed to be assessing, though, having never owned skinnies. Are they like any other pair of pants? Will these bunch weirdly at the knees after I stand up from sitting down? Is there a teensy bit too much fabric in the butt? Do I buy the jeans regardless? They're less than half the price of a brand-new pair, but like all else in the store, they're final sale.

As I peer ambivalently at my reflection, O. scrambles off his seat and starts shaking the mirror, which is only propped against the wall, not fixed. He moves quickly to test an adjustable floor lamp in the corner then makes a dash for the curtain. I take one last look at myself, switch back to my own bottoms, and wrestle O. into the carrier before he escapes completely.

I check the time. It's hard to say whether my sister, who is several hours ahead of me, will be available, but I want her advice. If you can't reach her, it's not meant to be, I tell myself. I dial her number.

To my relief, I get an answer. "Ass and crotch," she says, when I've explained the situation. "Those are the areas that matter most."

"Yes," I say. I've already anticipated this, after her most recent assessments. "But what am I looking for?"

"Across the front -- is there whiskering?"

She's referring to that rayed wrinkling that occurs around the base of the zipper when the cut isn't right for the body, not the intentional dye fading on the same area to produce a certain look. I'm pleased that I remembered to check before I took the jeans off. "Only a little," I say, "but I think it's because the inseam is too long and my legs are uneven."

"Okay, we can alter the hems. How about the back pockets -- are they riding really low? Is there sagging?"

"No," I say, trailing off slightly. "I mean, there might be a little extra under the cheeks, but again, I think it's because the whole leg is bunching."

"You'll pull that down and scrunch at the ankles," my sister says.

"You're sure? I mean, this is definitely not a saggy ass or sad crotch problem, but I'm worried they'll pull up out of my boots and then do a muffin-top thing at the knees."

My sister pauses. I can't tell by her silence if she thinks this is absurd, hilarious, or plausible, but I trust her more than anyone else on such matters because I know she's taking my concern seriously. Then, "I've never seen that happen. How much are they?"

"Twenty-eight."

"Done and done. I think we can work with these for this season as a starting point!"

Her enthusiasm convinces me -- and just in time. O. utters a small blast of complaints that signals me to wrap this consultation up. I pay, then collect what the shop manager doesn't want from my closet clean-out.

The drive home is quiet. I'm flushed from the heat and wrangling O., and as I turn up the air conditioning, I realize my heartbeat is running fast in my ears. I'm strangely elated. In spite of my doubts, my initial read on the jeans was good -- my sister's guiding appraisal only confirmed what I thought I ought to look for.

"Sad crotch," I mumble, remembering my sister's horror at the ill-fitting rejects now headed for donation. I start to giggle. While I usually never give this much thought to how I look at clothing, I imagine anyone listening to our conversation at the store would think I'm obsessed with the space between my navel and thighs.

There's something that's tragic, I think, laughing harder. But I'm happy to feel for once that I'm not a complete fashion idiot.

*

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