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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.

To search this blog, type in the field at the top left of the page and hit enter.

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, January 5, 2012

Mother knows best

On New Year's night, the final evening of our holiday visit, my mother and I are the last ones standing in the kitchen. D is in our room down the hall getting ready for bed, and my father, after a weekend of being on call, is sound asleep. We keep our voices low so as not to disturb them, but my mother, finally alone with me, makes her whisper more purposeful.

"You know, now that you've changed your last name, ours will be lost forever in your family."

Before this visit, D and I agreed, should anyone start to ask me about my health -- a challenging subject, given all the questions we still have and the skepticism we often hear from my family about the kinds of testing and treatment we've pursued -- that I would go find him, bring him into the conversation, so that I would not have to defend our choices alone. I don't expect an attack from the angle my mother takes, though, as she scrubs at her wok with her hard little hands. Leaning on the granite by the sink, I am suddenly vulnerable. I can tell she's been waiting to talk to me on my own.

Where is this coming from? I wonder. And why now, five years after my name change became official? Maybe my mother is thinking of the family we've wanted to start for so long but have held off on because of my health, how our children will bear only D's name instead of his and my father's. Or it's my writing, the essay I had published in the fall but never mentioned until this visit. I used a pseudonym as it was, unwilling to place my name, maiden or married, on the work -- because the subject was so difficult for me to write about, much less discuss, I didn't want anyone to find me just yet for further questions.

I wouldn't have brought up the essay had my mother not pressed me so hard to find out what I was really going to do with my life instead of tutoring as I have been. What are your goals? she'd asked.

"Putting something together that I actually believe in publishing," I said, which, without a detailed plan attached, was an only somewhat satisfying response. Whatever my mother's reasons now for raising this other concern about lost legacies, I feel her disapproval like a blast of west Texas wind carrying the smell of cattle ranches from the next town down the highway.

I know I shouldn't respond -- there can be no good outcome from midnight conversations about family differences -- but so much of my writing is tied to this very issue, the knots in our relationship I am forever trying to untangle by examining them, sentence by sentence. I've chosen to be published under a pseudonym not just to give myself privacy but also to protect that process of personal and relational inquiry, taking on a persona whose name won't be recognized by anyone who knows my family. This way, I can write without fearing their real-life loss of face. Not that I expect my parents' friends to read the kinds of literary journals I'd submit my work to, but in this electronic age, I am searchable, linkable, forwardable, potentially viral.

My writing persona, regardless of her name, needs protecting too. To use either of my surnames is to be who they imply I am: wife, sister, daughter, with everything those identities carry with them. Not that I wish to deny those aspects of my life experience, but I am more than all that. I am other thoughts and questions and indeterminacies that do not yet know how to bear up under the labels automatically bequeathed or contracted to me. For now, then, it is easier to shed these names temporarily and just be me, with a pseudonym as a neutral placeholder where it would be inconvenient for someone to address me simply as "she" or "you."

But that's not the answer to the question my mother is really asking on this night.

Why couldn't you have kept our name? It's a loaded question because it immediately implies that I did not choose as I should have (consider why did you change your name for comparison). The differences are minute, but words and meanings are my territory; I can't help being attuned to the subtexts in my mother's query even if she doesn't realize they are there. Why the clannishness tonight? I'd like to ask in return. I glance inadvertently toward the guest bedroom, confused by my mother's sudden coolness toward my husband. I'm hurt on his behalf.

And then it all comes out. Suddenly she's on to our financial arrangements (joint), our career decisions (too much in favor of D's advancement and not mine), even our past marital problems (the particulars of which she can only guess at since I don't share them -- and she is, of course, largely off base). It is all I can do to parry with fragmented sentences in the face of this onslaught. "You give him too much control," she says at last, still at a whisper but eyes blazing, angry for reasons I can't fathom. Do I just run?

I wish I had.

Cornered by so many accusations, I lash back. "My marriage isn't like yours," I spit. "The choices we've made have always been ours -- not just D's or mine."

The argument deteriorates from that moment. I've found the bruised places in her heart, and everything she throws at me from then on is more of the irrational -- which I don't recognize until long after I've met her barb for barb. I am terrible at refusing to engage.

That is what I need to learn, though, because the boundary that marriage establishes between me and my parents is a necessary one. Like my decision to use a pseudonym to separate my writing persona's role from the roles I have to take on in real life, my decision to limit the information I provide about my married life when my mother asks is protective -- young marriages, like young writers' identities, have weak places, foundations that need work. The protection that such a boundary affords as D and I contemplate starting a family of our own has never been more important.

But the price of maintaining that boundary is clearly something I didn't completely anticipate. If anything after this ambush, I've learned that much of what my mother thinks of my marriage is what she assumes about it, perhaps based on her dissatisfaction with her own, because I've left her with little real information to take its place.

Still, some of her last words to me on New Year's night tell me that the alternative -- sharing it all to prevent so much misunderstanding -- will be more costly. "We'll never be able to have a heart-to-heart," my mother says, "because you won't let me be honest with you."

As long as her idea of a heart-to-heart is for me to accept unconditionally her opinion on anything I share, I'd rather keep the details to myself.

6 comments:

TKW said...

I love you. That is all.
Except.
I am here if you need me.

C. Troubadour said...

<3, TKW. <3.

BigLittleWolf said...

Not knowing any of the details (of course), I can only empathize with the complexity of familial relationships, particularly those between mothers and daughters.

As a writer, I also understand completely the need for privacy as well as, in your words: to protect that process of personal and relational inquiry - that process we explicitly don't want to engage in, especially when relationships have their bruised and fractured places as, inevitably, many do.

I am fairly certain that your gut is guiding you correctly in your choices, including the lesser of two problematic exchanges - the one in which you share enough for her to understand (and she will potentially wound you with that knowledge), and the other, where you hurt both of you to some degree, by withholding. Yet you protect a necessary core of privacy. And you protect your own marriage.

As always, CT, beautifully expressed.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, BLW. The balance in how much we withhold and reveal is so frustratingly fine these days. And the requirements to maintain that balance continue to change! Writing is good practice for that, though. If only the brain in conversation worked as well as the brain on paper.

Jane said...

"the knots in our relationship...forever trying to untangle"

The perfect image of an imperfect relationship.

I have an estranged relationship with my own parents. I truly admire your ability to engage and examine and learn how to cope.

Beautiful writing that really struck a chord with me.

C. Troubadour said...

Jane, thanks for visiting. The writing's one of the only ways I can process it all -- inconvenient, at times, when you just want to get through that aftermath and move on! But that's not my lot, it seems.

I'm glad you said hello again :)

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mother knows best

On New Year's night, the final evening of our holiday visit, my mother and I are the last ones standing in the kitchen. D is in our room down the hall getting ready for bed, and my father, after a weekend of being on call, is sound asleep. We keep our voices low so as not to disturb them, but my mother, finally alone with me, makes her whisper more purposeful.

"You know, now that you've changed your last name, ours will be lost forever in your family."

Before this visit, D and I agreed, should anyone start to ask me about my health -- a challenging subject, given all the questions we still have and the skepticism we often hear from my family about the kinds of testing and treatment we've pursued -- that I would go find him, bring him into the conversation, so that I would not have to defend our choices alone. I don't expect an attack from the angle my mother takes, though, as she scrubs at her wok with her hard little hands. Leaning on the granite by the sink, I am suddenly vulnerable. I can tell she's been waiting to talk to me on my own.

Where is this coming from? I wonder. And why now, five years after my name change became official? Maybe my mother is thinking of the family we've wanted to start for so long but have held off on because of my health, how our children will bear only D's name instead of his and my father's. Or it's my writing, the essay I had published in the fall but never mentioned until this visit. I used a pseudonym as it was, unwilling to place my name, maiden or married, on the work -- because the subject was so difficult for me to write about, much less discuss, I didn't want anyone to find me just yet for further questions.

I wouldn't have brought up the essay had my mother not pressed me so hard to find out what I was really going to do with my life instead of tutoring as I have been. What are your goals? she'd asked.

"Putting something together that I actually believe in publishing," I said, which, without a detailed plan attached, was an only somewhat satisfying response. Whatever my mother's reasons now for raising this other concern about lost legacies, I feel her disapproval like a blast of west Texas wind carrying the smell of cattle ranches from the next town down the highway.

I know I shouldn't respond -- there can be no good outcome from midnight conversations about family differences -- but so much of my writing is tied to this very issue, the knots in our relationship I am forever trying to untangle by examining them, sentence by sentence. I've chosen to be published under a pseudonym not just to give myself privacy but also to protect that process of personal and relational inquiry, taking on a persona whose name won't be recognized by anyone who knows my family. This way, I can write without fearing their real-life loss of face. Not that I expect my parents' friends to read the kinds of literary journals I'd submit my work to, but in this electronic age, I am searchable, linkable, forwardable, potentially viral.

My writing persona, regardless of her name, needs protecting too. To use either of my surnames is to be who they imply I am: wife, sister, daughter, with everything those identities carry with them. Not that I wish to deny those aspects of my life experience, but I am more than all that. I am other thoughts and questions and indeterminacies that do not yet know how to bear up under the labels automatically bequeathed or contracted to me. For now, then, it is easier to shed these names temporarily and just be me, with a pseudonym as a neutral placeholder where it would be inconvenient for someone to address me simply as "she" or "you."

But that's not the answer to the question my mother is really asking on this night.

Why couldn't you have kept our name? It's a loaded question because it immediately implies that I did not choose as I should have (consider why did you change your name for comparison). The differences are minute, but words and meanings are my territory; I can't help being attuned to the subtexts in my mother's query even if she doesn't realize they are there. Why the clannishness tonight? I'd like to ask in return. I glance inadvertently toward the guest bedroom, confused by my mother's sudden coolness toward my husband. I'm hurt on his behalf.

And then it all comes out. Suddenly she's on to our financial arrangements (joint), our career decisions (too much in favor of D's advancement and not mine), even our past marital problems (the particulars of which she can only guess at since I don't share them -- and she is, of course, largely off base). It is all I can do to parry with fragmented sentences in the face of this onslaught. "You give him too much control," she says at last, still at a whisper but eyes blazing, angry for reasons I can't fathom. Do I just run?

I wish I had.

Cornered by so many accusations, I lash back. "My marriage isn't like yours," I spit. "The choices we've made have always been ours -- not just D's or mine."

The argument deteriorates from that moment. I've found the bruised places in her heart, and everything she throws at me from then on is more of the irrational -- which I don't recognize until long after I've met her barb for barb. I am terrible at refusing to engage.

That is what I need to learn, though, because the boundary that marriage establishes between me and my parents is a necessary one. Like my decision to use a pseudonym to separate my writing persona's role from the roles I have to take on in real life, my decision to limit the information I provide about my married life when my mother asks is protective -- young marriages, like young writers' identities, have weak places, foundations that need work. The protection that such a boundary affords as D and I contemplate starting a family of our own has never been more important.

But the price of maintaining that boundary is clearly something I didn't completely anticipate. If anything after this ambush, I've learned that much of what my mother thinks of my marriage is what she assumes about it, perhaps based on her dissatisfaction with her own, because I've left her with little real information to take its place.

Still, some of her last words to me on New Year's night tell me that the alternative -- sharing it all to prevent so much misunderstanding -- will be more costly. "We'll never be able to have a heart-to-heart," my mother says, "because you won't let me be honest with you."

As long as her idea of a heart-to-heart is for me to accept unconditionally her opinion on anything I share, I'd rather keep the details to myself.

6 comments:

TKW said...

I love you. That is all.
Except.
I am here if you need me.

C. Troubadour said...

<3, TKW. <3.

BigLittleWolf said...

Not knowing any of the details (of course), I can only empathize with the complexity of familial relationships, particularly those between mothers and daughters.

As a writer, I also understand completely the need for privacy as well as, in your words: to protect that process of personal and relational inquiry - that process we explicitly don't want to engage in, especially when relationships have their bruised and fractured places as, inevitably, many do.

I am fairly certain that your gut is guiding you correctly in your choices, including the lesser of two problematic exchanges - the one in which you share enough for her to understand (and she will potentially wound you with that knowledge), and the other, where you hurt both of you to some degree, by withholding. Yet you protect a necessary core of privacy. And you protect your own marriage.

As always, CT, beautifully expressed.

C. Troubadour said...

Thanks, BLW. The balance in how much we withhold and reveal is so frustratingly fine these days. And the requirements to maintain that balance continue to change! Writing is good practice for that, though. If only the brain in conversation worked as well as the brain on paper.

Jane said...

"the knots in our relationship...forever trying to untangle"

The perfect image of an imperfect relationship.

I have an estranged relationship with my own parents. I truly admire your ability to engage and examine and learn how to cope.

Beautiful writing that really struck a chord with me.

C. Troubadour said...

Jane, thanks for visiting. The writing's one of the only ways I can process it all -- inconvenient, at times, when you just want to get through that aftermath and move on! But that's not my lot, it seems.

I'm glad you said hello again :)