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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.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reconnecting

The conference is over, and I'm spent. Three days of attending panels, meeting editors and agents, and familiarizing myself with -- well, I'm not sure there's a term to describe what the ins and outs of being a writer entails. It's art and business and mentorship and a tenuous work-life balance, at the very least. I got to hear about that in detail from many different people, who have experienced it in vastly different ways.

I'm still wrapping my head around it all. And I hope to do that in part by writing about it here. But first, I need to get down in words a different story that has run alongside the writing I've been doing for many years.

When I was an intern at a magazine in D.C., the summer before I started my last year of college, a fairly prominent photographer, but not one I'd ever heard of, gave a talk during lunch. He was about sixty at the time, married without children. He spoke about his work, which took him around the world, but more importantly, he spoke about how he came to it from a childhood in rural Ohio and described the family he grew up with there. While he didn't say this explicitly, I saw how their stories were entwined with his and, as a result, were knitted into the photos and writing he crafted long after he'd moved away, like fiber wicking ink.

Under his words whispered a stranger language that my ear didn't understand but some other part of me did. I wouldn't have called it a soul at the time, but I will now. It sat up and took notice, recognizing, though we'd never spoken directly, writing-kin. I was only beginning to learn, in crafting narrative essays, what he seemed to be demonstrating in his photos: the act of examining one's life by looking at and documenting, counterintuitively, the lives of others we encounter. And I wanted to say, yes -- yes! This is what my work is for me too, and thank him for revealing this to me, even as more questions about that impulse threatened to overtake the thought before it was fully formed.

He invited the interns in attendance to contact him at any time after his talk if we had questions or were interested in chatting more, so I sent him a note toward the end of the summer. Coffee, I suggested. Dinner, he replied, his treat. And so, at a tiny Japanese restaurant, with a chef who would introduce me to my first taste of sushi, we talked in the way an intern and a mentor might about writing and life -- or were they, in some breaths, the same? -- until the lights were bright on the sidewalk and the heat of the city had gone.

*

We didn't speak again for years. I graduated, began teaching, got engaged, took a different job that leached what soul I did know I had from me, planned a wedding, and neglected my writing throughout it all. Then came grad school and commuting, not a year after D and I were married. I had no reason to go to D.C., and certainly nothing I felt compelled to share with this man who had encouraged me in his own way to pursue what mattered to me. The challenge of the commute overshadowed my work at Little U., and it made me doubt my drive to write. I stared at white space without excitement or joy or even curiosity about what might appear.

But I remembered what the photographer had said in his talk, so many years ago, about his own challenges before a near-empty page. "Never stop in a tidy place," he said. "Leave a sentence unfinished, an idea only halfway developed, a paragraph mid-stride, as it were. That way, when you come back, you will be able to pick up and re-engage."

So as I did begin to put one word in front of another in this last year, I followed his advice. And the work that has emerged is in some ways the result.

Once I knew I'd be going to D.C. for my conference, I wanted to find the photographer to return, at the very least, the kindness of the meal he'd treated me to. I found his name in a posting for a photography class several months old, but fresh enough that the media contact might still know how to reach him. I wrote to her, telling her in brief this story.

Two days later, the photographer wrote me back. "I remember you well and have often wondered where you were and what [you] have been doing," he said. He'd moved away from D.C. but still visited the city from time to time to meet with his editor. "So please tell me when you will be there. Perhaps your visit will coincide with one of my trips. I hope so."

On Monday, we met for lunch. I was early and tried in vain not to be nervous; he was late and put me completely at ease. From the moment we saw each other, it was as if we were simply picking up the conversation we'd suspended. And so we talked about writing and life, just as before, but this time as friends.

I remembered then what it was to love what I do but even more so how much a connection to other writers is essential to me in sustaining such a solitary art. So I am glad for this dialogue we've restarted, one that promises to continue for a long time. As it turns out, the photographer visits Seattle once a year, so we have an informal standing get-together for the foreseeable future.

As for that strange language I first heard during his talk, I was surrounded by it all week, even in the moments when I was overwhelmed by all there was to take in. So I think it's safe to say I was doing what I needed to for a long-forgotten part of me, and I won't question that further. Or at least, not as much -- as long as this language is mine to hear.

8 comments:

Sherlock said...

How wonderful that you were able to connect again. Those kinds of mentors who become friends are invaluable!

kate hopper said...

This is so inspiring and reinforces how important mentors (even if you see each other a couple of times in a decade) can be! Thank you for your powerful words and this wonderful blog!

merrilymarylee said...

What a wonderful story! I love the advice. (Do you think it could apply to housework?)

I must come back and read more.

C. Troubadour said...

Sherlock -- it's very true. It was a lucky moment when I met him, luckier still that his info was still out there to find when I looked for him again.

Kate -- thanks for the kind words! (And welcome.) I do find it amazing, the power of connection, even if it's infrequent. With the right person, it creates an incredible impact, no matter how much time has passed.

Mary Lee -- thanks for visiting! I've never tested the strategy for housework, but I'm all ears if you find a way to adapt it :)

BigLittleWolf said...

The empty pages. The struggle to find those long-forgotten parts of self, of imagination, of language. . . it's all part of the painful and bittersweet journey that we wouldn't trade for anything.

Sometimes, one person can make such a difference.

Wonderful to know you gave yourself this connection again.

C. Troubadour said...

It was, indeed, a sort of gift, BLW. The kind I'd forgotten I could give myself until that week.

SuziCate said...

What an inspiring story...love that you got to reconnect!

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, SuziCate!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reconnecting

The conference is over, and I'm spent. Three days of attending panels, meeting editors and agents, and familiarizing myself with -- well, I'm not sure there's a term to describe what the ins and outs of being a writer entails. It's art and business and mentorship and a tenuous work-life balance, at the very least. I got to hear about that in detail from many different people, who have experienced it in vastly different ways.

I'm still wrapping my head around it all. And I hope to do that in part by writing about it here. But first, I need to get down in words a different story that has run alongside the writing I've been doing for many years.

When I was an intern at a magazine in D.C., the summer before I started my last year of college, a fairly prominent photographer, but not one I'd ever heard of, gave a talk during lunch. He was about sixty at the time, married without children. He spoke about his work, which took him around the world, but more importantly, he spoke about how he came to it from a childhood in rural Ohio and described the family he grew up with there. While he didn't say this explicitly, I saw how their stories were entwined with his and, as a result, were knitted into the photos and writing he crafted long after he'd moved away, like fiber wicking ink.

Under his words whispered a stranger language that my ear didn't understand but some other part of me did. I wouldn't have called it a soul at the time, but I will now. It sat up and took notice, recognizing, though we'd never spoken directly, writing-kin. I was only beginning to learn, in crafting narrative essays, what he seemed to be demonstrating in his photos: the act of examining one's life by looking at and documenting, counterintuitively, the lives of others we encounter. And I wanted to say, yes -- yes! This is what my work is for me too, and thank him for revealing this to me, even as more questions about that impulse threatened to overtake the thought before it was fully formed.

He invited the interns in attendance to contact him at any time after his talk if we had questions or were interested in chatting more, so I sent him a note toward the end of the summer. Coffee, I suggested. Dinner, he replied, his treat. And so, at a tiny Japanese restaurant, with a chef who would introduce me to my first taste of sushi, we talked in the way an intern and a mentor might about writing and life -- or were they, in some breaths, the same? -- until the lights were bright on the sidewalk and the heat of the city had gone.

*

We didn't speak again for years. I graduated, began teaching, got engaged, took a different job that leached what soul I did know I had from me, planned a wedding, and neglected my writing throughout it all. Then came grad school and commuting, not a year after D and I were married. I had no reason to go to D.C., and certainly nothing I felt compelled to share with this man who had encouraged me in his own way to pursue what mattered to me. The challenge of the commute overshadowed my work at Little U., and it made me doubt my drive to write. I stared at white space without excitement or joy or even curiosity about what might appear.

But I remembered what the photographer had said in his talk, so many years ago, about his own challenges before a near-empty page. "Never stop in a tidy place," he said. "Leave a sentence unfinished, an idea only halfway developed, a paragraph mid-stride, as it were. That way, when you come back, you will be able to pick up and re-engage."

So as I did begin to put one word in front of another in this last year, I followed his advice. And the work that has emerged is in some ways the result.

Once I knew I'd be going to D.C. for my conference, I wanted to find the photographer to return, at the very least, the kindness of the meal he'd treated me to. I found his name in a posting for a photography class several months old, but fresh enough that the media contact might still know how to reach him. I wrote to her, telling her in brief this story.

Two days later, the photographer wrote me back. "I remember you well and have often wondered where you were and what [you] have been doing," he said. He'd moved away from D.C. but still visited the city from time to time to meet with his editor. "So please tell me when you will be there. Perhaps your visit will coincide with one of my trips. I hope so."

On Monday, we met for lunch. I was early and tried in vain not to be nervous; he was late and put me completely at ease. From the moment we saw each other, it was as if we were simply picking up the conversation we'd suspended. And so we talked about writing and life, just as before, but this time as friends.

I remembered then what it was to love what I do but even more so how much a connection to other writers is essential to me in sustaining such a solitary art. So I am glad for this dialogue we've restarted, one that promises to continue for a long time. As it turns out, the photographer visits Seattle once a year, so we have an informal standing get-together for the foreseeable future.

As for that strange language I first heard during his talk, I was surrounded by it all week, even in the moments when I was overwhelmed by all there was to take in. So I think it's safe to say I was doing what I needed to for a long-forgotten part of me, and I won't question that further. Or at least, not as much -- as long as this language is mine to hear.

8 comments:

Sherlock said...

How wonderful that you were able to connect again. Those kinds of mentors who become friends are invaluable!

kate hopper said...

This is so inspiring and reinforces how important mentors (even if you see each other a couple of times in a decade) can be! Thank you for your powerful words and this wonderful blog!

merrilymarylee said...

What a wonderful story! I love the advice. (Do you think it could apply to housework?)

I must come back and read more.

C. Troubadour said...

Sherlock -- it's very true. It was a lucky moment when I met him, luckier still that his info was still out there to find when I looked for him again.

Kate -- thanks for the kind words! (And welcome.) I do find it amazing, the power of connection, even if it's infrequent. With the right person, it creates an incredible impact, no matter how much time has passed.

Mary Lee -- thanks for visiting! I've never tested the strategy for housework, but I'm all ears if you find a way to adapt it :)

BigLittleWolf said...

The empty pages. The struggle to find those long-forgotten parts of self, of imagination, of language. . . it's all part of the painful and bittersweet journey that we wouldn't trade for anything.

Sometimes, one person can make such a difference.

Wonderful to know you gave yourself this connection again.

C. Troubadour said...

It was, indeed, a sort of gift, BLW. The kind I'd forgotten I could give myself until that week.

SuziCate said...

What an inspiring story...love that you got to reconnect!

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, SuziCate!