Here I am, at AWP 2012 in Chicago! After 3 years away from the AWP loop, it’s nice to be back. And some of my very accomplished friends and I are giving a panel on Friday afternoon called “Finding the Time–and Money!–to Write.” So I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fulbright Fellowship experience, and decided I should offer a sneak preview/hyperlinked version of the talk we’re going to give tomorrow.
By the way, if you’re in Chicago right now and curious about the talk, it’s on Friday, March 2nd, at the Palmer Hilton House at 4:30 pm in the State Ballroom. That’s right folks; they gave us a ballroom! (Eeeeeeeek. Why did I who secretly fear public speaking think this would be a good idea?)
So happy AWP, happy March, and without further ado, here’s how to get a Fulbright Grant in 10 Easy Steps: Continue reading →
Happy week after Thanksgiving, everyone! Just a quick announcement to say that my writing has been published in the new issue of Fourth River, a literary magazine based in Pittsburgh. And it’s IN PRINT. Sure, I’ve seen my writing in print before, but it’s typically been short columns, with creative stuff going up on the web. So there is something very satisfying about being able to hold my work in a bound magazine, to flip through the pages of familiar words (oh, so, so familiar, after much revision), and toss the weight of the printed volume down onto a table with a light thud.
These are the moments when I feel like a real writer, not like someone in a delusional state who mistakenly pretends that anything they are scribbling down might actually ever be read by another human being.
Which brings me to a conversation I was having with my former roommate Bridget about writing, and discipline, and sticking to the work even when it’s so hard and lacking in external moments of gratification like this one. We both remembered reading this quote by Ira Glass, and feeling both heartened by it and also wishing that someone had said this to us sooner:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
And here’s a video with Glass elaborating just a bit on this theme:
So after that long preface, please click here to order a copy. Fourth River makes a great stocking stuffer! Thanks to friends and family for your support, and hopefully you’ll soon be seeing clips up here of published writing from my year in Taiwan…
And to writer friends and readers, let’s keep producing our large volume of work together! I have only recently realized that the key to writing well and someday being satisfied with the work is just to KEEP WRITING, write deeply, write freely, and just write my heart out. These few and fleeting moments of external recognition remind me that it’s worth it to keep working, to write the stuff that I want to someday read, because it’s worth it. Even if only one other person reads my words and maybe cares a tiny bit about them.
Just to whet your appetite, here’s a short excerpt:
“Cities are my favorite natural expanse–a jungle of people, a forest of culture, an ocean of opportunity. And for me, subways most approximate the kind of motion that Newton described. Sometimes when I ride the subways of New York, I think about our train’s swift movement through the dark tunnels, and wonder: could a train really continue on forever in a vacuum, unhampered by such inconveniences as friction, inertia, or dirt on the track? Such hypothetical motion seems perfect.
Occasionally, I can almost imagine what that kind of perpetual motion would feel like, when I stand on a Local train and hear the rumble of an Express gaining on us. The two trains thunder through the tunnel, until they meet and continue side by side, and for a second, I catch sigh of the passengers in the other car through the brightly lit oval windows. Then the Express roars by; our train seems to catapult backwards and for a moment, I feel myself suspended between time and space, floating.
Sometimes I wonder what forces of physics propelled me out of my hometown, across the country to go to college in California, across the ocean to Paris and back, to live in Boston, as I continue my search to find a city that is my own. Like my father, I see wanderlust embedded in my love of public transportation: the promise of potential, the wind on my face when a train pulls into the station.”
Everything looks familiar, but I feel like an alien. Like I’ve been turned inside out, so my lungs and nerves and liver and intestines are on the outside, and my skin on the inside is rendered a useless organ–sheltering nothing and sweating and goosebumping all over itself.
I sit in a cafe in the health food store in my hometown, that I have been frequenting with my mother since I was three years old. Before I could read, I used to walk around and smell the whole grains and fresh produce and no-sugar-added juices and spritzers. My favorite treats of all time with carob-covered rice cakes, because I didn’t even know chocolate existed. Then came honey sticks– little straw-like tubes full of flavored honey, and black and red “Panda” brand licorice. Later when I discovered chocolate, there were Tiger’s Milk Bars: a light chocolate coating over a nutritious, protein-filled peanut butter interior.
Now I sit at a booth, a recent addition to the cafe of 5 to 10 years ago, with a cup of coffee and a carob-covered rice cake. I used to have Proustian flashbacks of nostalgic childhood memories when I bit into these; today, it tastes slightly stale and waxy. The coffee is lukewarm.
Why does nothing measure up to my memory of it? The menu is in English, not Chinese, Japanese, Malay, or Vietnamese, but I don’t comprehend it. How is a small cup of soup $8.25 USD??
On the left side of the wall, even the First Aid for Choking sign has been re-vamped, refurbished. Now the people choking and saving one another are rendered in full color, and the instructions for how to save lives are more detailed. But it is illegible from more than 10 feet away, whereas the old CPR signs that were required in restaurants in the 1990s were full of huge line drawings of the intricacies of the Heimlich maneuver. I used to study them as a child, preparing myself for the inevitable moment when I would be called upon to save a life. As a 10-year-old. Of course this was perfectly logical to me back then.
Being back in America, from a year living in Asia, is weird. But being back in my small and beautiful but cloyingly intimate seaside resort hometown is unimaginably stifling. I had no idea it would be like this. I feel smothered by the 25 years of memories tucked into every crevice of this place, by the heartache and resentment and despair and fear and desperation I used to feel here as a teenager. My mantra from ages 13-18 was “Get Me Out of Here.” So to be back, with only sketchy plans to go to NYC, only flimsy job leads, little to no savings to speak of and no immediate employment prospects (in the middle of a recession) is TERRIFYING.
But then I think: it was all worth it for the amazing year I’ve just had. Continue reading →
This weekend, Girl Meets Formosa was Freshly Pressed. Now I’m steeped in juicy pulp. (Just kidding. I know, that was terrible.)
To explain “Freshly Pressed”: WordPress.com is the location and also the blogging software that I use to host this humble site. Word Press is a very popular blog interface, and needless to say, gets lots of traffic on its homepage. Each weekday, the content editors at Word Press choose 10 posts to feature in a special section on the wordpress.com homepage called “Freshly Pressed” (with a feed to which you can subscribe). This Friday, Girl Meets Formosa was featured in that section for my post “The Fantasy Treehouse.” Thus, my site traffic has increased by an embarrassingly large number of page views in the past two days.
photo by Yuichi Kosio, courtesy of Flickr creative commons
Here, here? By here, I mean, Taipei, Taiwan (although to be fair, at the time of writing my plane has not yet taken off). I mean how I am able to have this opportunity to do research and write this book. In two words: obsessive curiosity!
To introduce myself as a guide to the readers who don’t know me well–or perhaps, for those who don’t know my career aspirations but merely my favorite coffee, morning pastry, bbq meal, favorite writers, or usual drink order at the Tam–let me explain how I got here.