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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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For posts sorted by date or label, see the links below.

For posts on frequently referenced topics, click the buttons to the right.

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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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The only way out is through

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

The last few days have been challenging on the work front. I've reached the point where it's time to get going on the writing and I'm really not sure I know what my story is. I have no outline, as my thesis committee has more or less forbidden me to use one (it's for my creative good, to free up my mind from all the structure I like to impose on it). All I have as a result is a pile of personal documents -- letters, journals, school records, etc. -- and a lot of questions.

I've been gathering and sifting through these artifacts all summer, partly in an attempt to organize all the debris, partly to determine what can be thrown away. A lot of this stuff was boxed up, occupying unnecessary space in our closets, so it needed to be dealt with. I think I've finally streamlined everything as of yesterday, so the logistical work is done. Which means I can no longer avoid the really tough part: the emotional excavation of the memories in those boxes, memories I've blocked out for a long time.

I unearthed something in one document yesterday that brought back a lot of feelings, so many that I had trouble disentangling them from one another. Anger, shame, fear, hope, confusion, gratitude, grief -- I imagine there was more in there, but I couldn't stay with the memory long enough to identify anything further. It was too overwhelming.

I'm sure I'm afraid of the memory because there are truths about myself and others wrapped up in it, truths I didn't want to see before because they would cause me pain. Now that it's been so long, bringing those truths to the surface is going to be much harder work. And at the end, I get pain as my reward. Why am I doing this?

Good question.

The writing of this work plays some essential role and fulfills some crucial need in this whole process, I know, so maybe I'll have an answer eight months from now. That's the deadline if I want to graduate this spring.

In a way, I've been working on the project itself for much longer than just my recent years at Little U. on the Prairie. Elements of the subject matter have shown up time and again in creative essays I've deliberately tried to make about something else! Apparently this isn't unusual either -- one of my professors commented in a workshop that for a while, every single piece she wrote was about her dead mother. "You'll get a lot of mileage out of this," she said, about the subject dogging me. I wasn't sure at the time whether to feel good about that or taken aback by it. Does anyone really want to look at his or her personal griefs as something to "get mileage" from?

Anyway ...

I finished another reading this week -- a collection of short stories by Madeleine Thien called Simple Recipes. Many of the stories were published in literary journals before becoming part of the collection, and interestingly, now that they're side by side, the repetition of one theme among them is very noticeable. Specifically, each story seems to deal with a child's experience of being caught between parents whose relationship is slowly unraveling. The cause of that dissolution changes from one story to the next, and the actual conflict doesn't always take center stage, but the author does seem to circle the theme over and over as if she's searching for some way of understanding it. I can't say it makes for great variety in a short story collection, but the gaze trained on that repeated idea is compelling.

Speaking of which, it's time I turned my eye back on my work. To the dig, then ...

3 comments:

Sherlock said...

Going through old stuff is difficult. I've got boxes and boxes that I inherited from parents and grandparents. That's a lot of stuff and I have to go through it at some point. Or leave it to our kids to dispose of after I'm gone!

The writing will work out. You've been heading in this direction for a while and there will come a "lightbulb" moment when all of a sudden, it all comes together.

Good Enough Woman said...

I'm not sure which would make me more uncomfortable, facing painful memories, or working without an outline.

I'm amazed that you're doing either!

Write! Write!

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Sherlock -- thanks for the encouragement. I guess I'm wary of those light-bulb moments because I've had some that fizzled out! The number of dead-end essays I've got on the hard drive ... just have to remind myself that this isn't an essay. It's a book. Things can be repurposed and moved around a bit more in some ways.

GEW -- the no-outline thing is SO uncomfortable!! At least the painful memories are somewhat familiar (I knew they were there; I was just ignoring them). But writing without some kind of rough map for the progression of ideas is like being asked to use my non-dominant hand to groom myself.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The only way out is through

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

The last few days have been challenging on the work front. I've reached the point where it's time to get going on the writing and I'm really not sure I know what my story is. I have no outline, as my thesis committee has more or less forbidden me to use one (it's for my creative good, to free up my mind from all the structure I like to impose on it). All I have as a result is a pile of personal documents -- letters, journals, school records, etc. -- and a lot of questions.

I've been gathering and sifting through these artifacts all summer, partly in an attempt to organize all the debris, partly to determine what can be thrown away. A lot of this stuff was boxed up, occupying unnecessary space in our closets, so it needed to be dealt with. I think I've finally streamlined everything as of yesterday, so the logistical work is done. Which means I can no longer avoid the really tough part: the emotional excavation of the memories in those boxes, memories I've blocked out for a long time.

I unearthed something in one document yesterday that brought back a lot of feelings, so many that I had trouble disentangling them from one another. Anger, shame, fear, hope, confusion, gratitude, grief -- I imagine there was more in there, but I couldn't stay with the memory long enough to identify anything further. It was too overwhelming.

I'm sure I'm afraid of the memory because there are truths about myself and others wrapped up in it, truths I didn't want to see before because they would cause me pain. Now that it's been so long, bringing those truths to the surface is going to be much harder work. And at the end, I get pain as my reward. Why am I doing this?

Good question.

The writing of this work plays some essential role and fulfills some crucial need in this whole process, I know, so maybe I'll have an answer eight months from now. That's the deadline if I want to graduate this spring.

In a way, I've been working on the project itself for much longer than just my recent years at Little U. on the Prairie. Elements of the subject matter have shown up time and again in creative essays I've deliberately tried to make about something else! Apparently this isn't unusual either -- one of my professors commented in a workshop that for a while, every single piece she wrote was about her dead mother. "You'll get a lot of mileage out of this," she said, about the subject dogging me. I wasn't sure at the time whether to feel good about that or taken aback by it. Does anyone really want to look at his or her personal griefs as something to "get mileage" from?

Anyway ...

I finished another reading this week -- a collection of short stories by Madeleine Thien called Simple Recipes. Many of the stories were published in literary journals before becoming part of the collection, and interestingly, now that they're side by side, the repetition of one theme among them is very noticeable. Specifically, each story seems to deal with a child's experience of being caught between parents whose relationship is slowly unraveling. The cause of that dissolution changes from one story to the next, and the actual conflict doesn't always take center stage, but the author does seem to circle the theme over and over as if she's searching for some way of understanding it. I can't say it makes for great variety in a short story collection, but the gaze trained on that repeated idea is compelling.

Speaking of which, it's time I turned my eye back on my work. To the dig, then ...

3 comments:

Sherlock said...

Going through old stuff is difficult. I've got boxes and boxes that I inherited from parents and grandparents. That's a lot of stuff and I have to go through it at some point. Or leave it to our kids to dispose of after I'm gone!

The writing will work out. You've been heading in this direction for a while and there will come a "lightbulb" moment when all of a sudden, it all comes together.

Good Enough Woman said...

I'm not sure which would make me more uncomfortable, facing painful memories, or working without an outline.

I'm amazed that you're doing either!

Write! Write!

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Sherlock -- thanks for the encouragement. I guess I'm wary of those light-bulb moments because I've had some that fizzled out! The number of dead-end essays I've got on the hard drive ... just have to remind myself that this isn't an essay. It's a book. Things can be repurposed and moved around a bit more in some ways.

GEW -- the no-outline thing is SO uncomfortable!! At least the painful memories are somewhat familiar (I knew they were there; I was just ignoring them). But writing without some kind of rough map for the progression of ideas is like being asked to use my non-dominant hand to groom myself.