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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.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On deception

This is Deception Pass, a channel at the north end of Whidbey Island that connects the Puget Sound to the Strait of Juan de Fuca (the body of water that ultimately connects the sound to the Pacific Ocean). We stopped there to snap a few photos toward the end of our afternoon on Whidbey, just as the sun was setting.

I thought the name of the pass was interesting, but there wasn't an immediately available explanation for its origins. Newly Graduated Sis and I guessed that the currents, perhaps, were what was deceptive -- the water looked calm, but the boat heading into the sound just as we arrived was working extremely hard to make any headway. Of course, it turns out there's another reason for the name, which you can find here. (Ours wasn't too far off the mark, but for the sake of accuracy ... )

Deception -- the more abstract idea -- has been on my mind for a while, so coming across the word here felt oddly coincidental. Before our impromptu trip, I spent about a week trying to get through Hilary Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost, which was definitely not my favorite of the books I've been reading for my thesis. My beef was with the narrative voice -- I couldn't connect with the narrator for most of the work because of its distance, which made it difficult to identify what the memoir was really about. The subject matter isn't hard to grasp: the writer's loss of her father under uncomfortable family circumstances, physical symptoms that elude a diagnosis for years, and the aftermath of treatment for her ailments. But that list of topics still doesn't quite pinpoint what the story is meant to show. Except for the parts where the narrator talks about writing and its ability to mislead. Says Mantel:

I hardly know how to write about myself. Any style you pick seems to unpick itself before a paragraph is done. I will just go for it, I think to myself, I’ll hold out my hands and say, c’est moi, get used to it. I’ll trust the reader. This is what I recommend to people who ask me how to get published. Trust your reader, stop spoon-feeding your reader, stop patronizing your reader, give your reader credit for being as smart as you at least, and stop being so bloody beguiling: you in the back row, will you turn off that charm! Plain words on plain paper. Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a windowpane. Concentrate on sharpening your memory and peeling your sensibility. Cut every page you write by at least one third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what it is you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can. Eat meat. Drink blood. Give up your social life and don’t think you can have friends. Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink; that will cure you of persiflage!

But do I take my own advice? Not a bit. Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don’t use foreign expressions; it’s elitist.) I stray away from the beaten path of plain words into the meadows of extravagant simile: angels, ogres, doughnut-shaped holes. And as for transparency -- windowpanes undressed are a sign of poverty, aren’t they? How about some nice net curtains, so I can look out but you can’t see in? How about shutters, or a chaste Roman blind? Besides, windowpane prose is no guarantee of truthfulness. Some deceptive sights are seen through glass, and the best liars tell lies in plain words.

So now that I come to write a memoir, I argue with myself over every word. Is my writing clear: or is it deceptively clear?
(4)

When I came across this passage, it was as if someone had finally put into words the problem I frequently have with my own work. Don't get me wrong; I know what I write will never be objective. But have I illuminated my slant on things well enough? Or has some other story, the alter ego of what I think I'm writing, emerged? Words are tricky things, projecting one image to one reader while presenting something different to another -- obviously, this is impossible to control. But what about that image I see? In the transfer of energy between seeing and telling, have I done my utmost to conserve the essence of the experience, or have I let things escape? And if so, why?

I'm not even sure that makes sense anymore, I've read it over so many times trying to practice what I mean to say. But that's the way it is with writing about writing, no?

5 comments:

Good Enough Woman said...

You raise very interesting points about the ways in which persona can obscure the self and the way things really are.

Sherlock said...

Good description of what many writers experience. I think 99% is in the readers' perception, which is skewed by all their experiences. We can try to adjust for some of that, but can't ever adjust for it all. So objective really can't be but so objective! Love the photos, btw!

Contemporary Troubadour said...

GEW -- thanks. I think this is the primary thing I got out of my summer work, which is now spilling over into fall. Squeeeeeeeeee ...

Sherlock -- glad you like the photos. D caught me and Newly Graduated Sis (she's in the foreground) while we were watching the boat. The other shot he took looks out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Such a peaceful spot, very recommendable campgrounds nearby too.

French Fancy said...

I'd never heard of 'persiflage' before - Ihate flowery prose and usually skip chunks of descriptive prose.

I've ony just discovered John Irving - about 40 years after everyone else. Now his book I am reading every single word. There is nothing unnecessary.

Is that your sister in the photo?

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Yes, FF, that's my sister :).

On persiflage, the same for me -- hadn't come across it until I read Mantel. Fun new word!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

On deception

This is Deception Pass, a channel at the north end of Whidbey Island that connects the Puget Sound to the Strait of Juan de Fuca (the body of water that ultimately connects the sound to the Pacific Ocean). We stopped there to snap a few photos toward the end of our afternoon on Whidbey, just as the sun was setting.

I thought the name of the pass was interesting, but there wasn't an immediately available explanation for its origins. Newly Graduated Sis and I guessed that the currents, perhaps, were what was deceptive -- the water looked calm, but the boat heading into the sound just as we arrived was working extremely hard to make any headway. Of course, it turns out there's another reason for the name, which you can find here. (Ours wasn't too far off the mark, but for the sake of accuracy ... )

Deception -- the more abstract idea -- has been on my mind for a while, so coming across the word here felt oddly coincidental. Before our impromptu trip, I spent about a week trying to get through Hilary Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost, which was definitely not my favorite of the books I've been reading for my thesis. My beef was with the narrative voice -- I couldn't connect with the narrator for most of the work because of its distance, which made it difficult to identify what the memoir was really about. The subject matter isn't hard to grasp: the writer's loss of her father under uncomfortable family circumstances, physical symptoms that elude a diagnosis for years, and the aftermath of treatment for her ailments. But that list of topics still doesn't quite pinpoint what the story is meant to show. Except for the parts where the narrator talks about writing and its ability to mislead. Says Mantel:

I hardly know how to write about myself. Any style you pick seems to unpick itself before a paragraph is done. I will just go for it, I think to myself, I’ll hold out my hands and say, c’est moi, get used to it. I’ll trust the reader. This is what I recommend to people who ask me how to get published. Trust your reader, stop spoon-feeding your reader, stop patronizing your reader, give your reader credit for being as smart as you at least, and stop being so bloody beguiling: you in the back row, will you turn off that charm! Plain words on plain paper. Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a windowpane. Concentrate on sharpening your memory and peeling your sensibility. Cut every page you write by at least one third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what it is you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can. Eat meat. Drink blood. Give up your social life and don’t think you can have friends. Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink; that will cure you of persiflage!

But do I take my own advice? Not a bit. Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don’t use foreign expressions; it’s elitist.) I stray away from the beaten path of plain words into the meadows of extravagant simile: angels, ogres, doughnut-shaped holes. And as for transparency -- windowpanes undressed are a sign of poverty, aren’t they? How about some nice net curtains, so I can look out but you can’t see in? How about shutters, or a chaste Roman blind? Besides, windowpane prose is no guarantee of truthfulness. Some deceptive sights are seen through glass, and the best liars tell lies in plain words.

So now that I come to write a memoir, I argue with myself over every word. Is my writing clear: or is it deceptively clear?
(4)

When I came across this passage, it was as if someone had finally put into words the problem I frequently have with my own work. Don't get me wrong; I know what I write will never be objective. But have I illuminated my slant on things well enough? Or has some other story, the alter ego of what I think I'm writing, emerged? Words are tricky things, projecting one image to one reader while presenting something different to another -- obviously, this is impossible to control. But what about that image I see? In the transfer of energy between seeing and telling, have I done my utmost to conserve the essence of the experience, or have I let things escape? And if so, why?

I'm not even sure that makes sense anymore, I've read it over so many times trying to practice what I mean to say. But that's the way it is with writing about writing, no?

5 comments:

Good Enough Woman said...

You raise very interesting points about the ways in which persona can obscure the self and the way things really are.

Sherlock said...

Good description of what many writers experience. I think 99% is in the readers' perception, which is skewed by all their experiences. We can try to adjust for some of that, but can't ever adjust for it all. So objective really can't be but so objective! Love the photos, btw!

Contemporary Troubadour said...

GEW -- thanks. I think this is the primary thing I got out of my summer work, which is now spilling over into fall. Squeeeeeeeeee ...

Sherlock -- glad you like the photos. D caught me and Newly Graduated Sis (she's in the foreground) while we were watching the boat. The other shot he took looks out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Such a peaceful spot, very recommendable campgrounds nearby too.

French Fancy said...

I'd never heard of 'persiflage' before - Ihate flowery prose and usually skip chunks of descriptive prose.

I've ony just discovered John Irving - about 40 years after everyone else. Now his book I am reading every single word. There is nothing unnecessary.

Is that your sister in the photo?

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Yes, FF, that's my sister :).

On persiflage, the same for me -- hadn't come across it until I read Mantel. Fun new word!