Should I stay or should I go?

Over the past few days, I’ve been really going back and forth over way too many small things:

  1. Should I use ruled, plain, or grid paper in my next notebook?
  2. Should I taken that bite of raw chicken or put down my fork?
  3. Should I keep using wordpress or should I come back to tumblr?
  4. Should I just suck it up and buy a new laptop?

But there was one question rushing through my head like a rapid white river:

Am I better at writing essays than I am at writing fiction?

I asked myself this as I continued to edit a short story from NaNoWriMo tonight. Instead of editing the language, I rewrote the entire damn thing. It pissed me off that I had to rewrite something I thought was great when I wrote it. Then, I thought about how the new rewrite might suck even more if the first draft was crap. Thus the cycle began.

After finishing the draft, I stared into the words as if it would reveal its secrets to me. Will you be a good read? Will people find you interesting and share you with other people? Will this bring me what I’ve been waiting for since I was 12 years old? I kept perpetuating this damn cycle.

In order to pull myself from the cyclone of questions, I turned to the small literary magazine I planned on submitting my story to. I read through the requirements for submitting once again mulling over the font choice on the page and wondering what it means by “be patient, we receive a lot of requests.”

Naturally, my stomach churned. Somehow the inertia of this cycle made me feel like I was stuck in a centrifuge. The talents of my writing bubbled to the top while the shit, well, sank to the bottom. I heard the liquid in my belly bubbling up. I’m nervous about submitting this story. And even though I know I’m going to go ahead and submit this story anyway, I won’t have the great confidence that I do when I write blog posts or when I submit cute essays to online magazines. I’ll submit it with the knowledge that this story will lead to just another series of rejection letters I read in my inbox far too often.

And yet, I can confidently turn in an article much more personal than a fictional story. Why’s that? I think there is only one real reason. Because my fiction writing skills are not as good as my journalism skills. I went to college to become a journalist, not JK Rowling. I couldn’t stand those creative writing/comparative literature nuts who walked around campus holding their pile of books in some really moody way and bumming cigarettes off of people walking on the sidewalk. God knows that I love to read as much as the next person, but that’s not what I wanted for my life. I wanted to write about what I saw and what I experienced. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid.

But the challenge to write a fiction novel in 30 days enticed me. It wagged its little carrot in my face and I needed to chase it until I had the sweet flavor stuck between the tastebuds of my tongue. Now the bigger challenge appears to be trying to convince someone, anyone, that I can write fiction. Perhaps this is a clear message. Perhaps there are some much stronger forces here nudging me and giving me some sort of a “hey, this isn’t what you want. This isn’t what you’re good at. You should continue and excel at writing essays about your life. I mean, everyone wants to read about what interesting Japanese snack you found at the grocery store.”

Either way, the inertia of my life over the last few years was slowing down. I can feel it starting to speed back up and I want to continue speeding up until I can’t speed up anymore. No matter what, I’m going to write. I know that for damn sure.

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How I chose to be an Asian female writer

When I was growing up, I’d read a few books written by Asian/Asian American female writers. Some of the books were about the struggle to fit into American society. They were about Asian families and the rigid rules and difficult standards they lived by. Other stories talked about rebellion against the understood norm of Asian culture in order to live a more fulfilling life in America. It was either living in America or living in Asia and someone having some sort of cultural anxiety about where they fit in.

I didn’t gravitate naturally to those stories as a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, but I did find some interest. Being one of a small handful of Asians in my graduating class made finding myself tougher than finding a grain of sand in a snowstorm.

And with all the reading, I noticed one very strong theme: struggle. Strong Asian female writers wrote stories about their struggle, their mother’s struggle, their grandmother’s struggles. Yet, I felt none of these struggles growing up. It was only until I was an adult that I felt this way. In high school, I had my group of friends, all of them from different ethnic backgrounds. I had that one Asian friend that sat next to me in orchestra (first stand violin). I felt included in every after school activity I wanted to try, in every social gathering, and no one thought twice about me being slightly different than everyone else.

It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I realized that I’m Asian, but I’m also American. The dichotomy slung me across different cultures, back years through my formative years and made me think through all the past family events to find that ripple of where the two cultures collided. Didn’t everyone visit their family on New Year’s Day? Didn’t everyone get lucky money? Didn’t everyone eat rice cakes on the harvest or noodles for long life on their birthday? Did your grandma tell you your horoscope when you were nine?

What really intrigued me is the fact that I subconsciously knew as a kid that something was very amiss. But there was no urgency for me to write about it. When I had my first notebook, I wrote more crappy poetry about being alive and falling in love than about who I was. I felt like I already knew that. I didn’t need to write about my grandparents marrying during the Japanese occupation of Korea. I didn’t have to write about my mother immigrating here from Argentina. I felt no need to find connection with my roots through the retelling of my grandmother’s struggle to be free of her wifely duties.

I didn’t need to do any of that. I wanted to write about love and connections between human beings. I wanted to expand beyond what other Asian female writers have already written about. It was time to move forward.

The generations raised in America within the last decade of the 20th century have the unique advantage of being one of thousands in the same position. We are all struggling to please our parents and at the same time be happy with ourselves. We are questioning the accepted norm. We are giving way to what new horizons lie beyond our heritage and at the same time remaining deeply rooted in our background and ethnicities. We struggle with being both American and Asian and although it may make for great writing, it’s not what I want to write about. As a struggling writer, I think I’ve already run the gamut of “struggle” in this world. I want to stir the pot and write what I want to write. I will never not be proud of where I come from, but I’m also proud to be where I am. I am an Asian female writer.

So, I put a question out there for you to answer. Do you know any great Asian female writers that don’t write about the struggle between being Asian vs American?

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Giving up on the book

There’s always that great feeling a book reader gets when they snap into a new book. The crisp pages, the aromas, the perfect spine you’re about to break, they all are welcome features of a new book.

However, there is that air of mystery. There is that 0.9999999% chance that this book isn’t going to interest you. The thought nags at the back of your mind as you open to the first page. You read through the introduction and the 2-3 pages of quotes (depending on the author) provided to give you some insight into the story. Then, you arrive at the first page. You read.

Then it’s the end of the first chapter.

The end of the fifth chapter.

The end of the first sentence of the fifth chapter.

And the only thought in your head throughout the entire first fifth of the book is “I don’t like this book.”

It’s an atrocity to start to think about it. I always feel downtrodden and almost sick by the next thought that pops into mind, “I think I might just give up on the book.”

As an avid reader, I try my best to finish every book that comes across my eyes. I want to read. I want to read everything, but there are some books that I try to read and fail at doing. It doesn’t grab me by the neck and tell me to turn the page. Sadly, that’s the case with Ian McEwan’s Solar.

A friend of my suggested I read this book because of my failed attempt to read McEwan’s other classic Atonement. He believed it to be better; a story about a man who must overcome a major issue, solve the problem with global warming, and deal with his botched love life. For someone who is interested in Ian McEwan’s work or even reading about physics, this would be ideal. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about overweight 50-year-olds who are basically coasting through the rest of their life. Unfortunately, for me, it’s a bit of a snore.

Every time I look at the cover of this novel laying idly in the spot next to me on my bed, I can’t help but to imagine a tear-stained face calling out to me “why won’t you read me, Simone?” In my mind, the guilt is heavily laden and the ability for me to put the book away fades out. I don’t want to read it, but like a kid forced to eat their brussel sprouts before leaving the table, I feel like I’m forced to finish this novel.

There are hundreds of other books staring at me on the shelves and windowsills of my apartment. They all want their chance to be read and enjoyed, but I have to finish this one. I have to finish reading it because it’s the Mt. Everest I’ll never get to climb. I have to do it for posterity, for my own sense of pride.

I suppose reading is similar to trying clothes on in a clothing store. You’re not too sure how it’s going to fit until you actually try it on. With a book, you can read the back of it. You can read the first page. You can read several pages, but it won’t prepare you for the story you’re about to dive into. That’s only revealed through actually reading it.

Leaving a book has happened a few times for me and every time I do, it’s like leaving in the middle of a great conversation. I don’t regret it when I actually do it, but it’s the continuous uphill battle to finish the book and knowing deep inside this isn’t the book for you that really causes the hesitation. I know what I’ll do. I’ll end up reading this entire book, and maybe next time, I’ll have enough courage to cut the cord halfway through.

Maybe I won’t.

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Working from home and instant coffee

I’m not a big food writing person, which is kind of funny when you think about it because one of my hobbies is eating. I mostly write about troublesome worries and how my writing career is zilch. However, it’s a new year and trying new things is something that always follows. What I have for you today is a miserable Thursday afternoon; the day after New Years. Also, I need to talk about this topic because it’s blowing my mind.

The sky is ominous while looming blizzard Hercules awaits to deliver a tundra of snow and fury on the small town of Brooklyn, New York. I decided to work from home today.

And on this momentous occasion, I also decided to make myself iced coffee. Normally, when I get iced coffee, I go out to the most expensive coffee shop in my neighborhood and drain my savings account of every penny just so that I can smell and taste the sweet aromas of burnt Colombian beans. This would have been the norm for me today (especially at 27 degrees outside), but I decided to go a different route. Instead, I reached for a singular cup of instant iced coffee.

How does one express “WHAAAAAAT?!” without looking too amateur? I guess there isn’t any way to do that.

Yes, it is true. I’m drinking instant iced coffee. My boss recently introduced me to the little package packed with the bitter punch of a cup of iced coffee. They’re called “Nescafe Excella.” After she provided me one little capsule, I needed to get more. I found these little guys in a small Japanese grocery store in Manhattan. The store is on the second floor of the building it inhabits. The journey up the elevator in the middle of the East Village isn’t quite as comfortable as you think it will be. But now, I have my own little supply. I’m not sure how long it will last, but I probably won’t hesitate to go out and get more in the future.

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The instructions are in Japanese, but the illustrations are pretty self-explanatory. You pour yourself a glass of milk and then the contents of the Nescafe.

The coffee is straight concentrate. The milk will help to dilute the coffee, but it won’t take away the bitterness. I’ve always been the type of coffee drinker that poured a little bit of milk into my coffee and that was it. However, the concentrated high-grade formula of Excella requires that you add just the slightest amount of sugar. After my first sip, I realized that that may have been a mistake. It’s super sweet on its own even though the packaging says “lightly sweetened.” Take with caution!

Although the coffee is instant, it doesn’t just stop there. The flavor is bold and I can feel the caffiene waking the dead person hiding inside me. You may want to take this after staring at your computer screen for a few hours. It’ll revitalize you, but also getting up from your makeshift home desk will sting your eyes, in a good way. I may not drink anything else instant, this may come with me on trips and overnights during the year. I know I sound like I’m trying to sell this stuff like a car salesman in a polyester suit, but I’m utterly surprised at how great it is for just a small package.

As the afternoon horizon darkens, you can barely tell if the sun is setting or if it’s the storm. But my eyes can only rest on the sullen afternoon typing away at my computer drinking a cup of iced coffee in the middle of winter.

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Baking sugar cookies and ringing in a new year

I bake. I bake when there is nothing else for me to do. If the world was about to end, I would get in the kitchen and make a big batch of chocolate chip. I’m pretty sure those are my favorites.

I spent the last days of 2013 baking. I knew I wanted to bake cookies for my friends and family for Christmas and New Years, but I didn’t think I would bake this much.

First, I made cornbread in a cast iron skillet my boyfriend gifted me for Christmas.

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I had to test out the goods and I had seen people make cornbread in a skillet before. The bread was as cornbread should be; a bit buttery, very crumbly, and a slight hint of moisture. It tasted better toasted and slathered in jam.

The next thing I made was a banana bread.

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I had purchased some bananas for my boyfriend to snack on at my apartment as we ate and celebrated Christmas together. Sadly, he only ate one of the three bananas I purchased him and as the saying goes, “waste not, want not.”

I added some flax meal for texture and a little bit of whiskey for that grown up kick. Unfortunately, there was no kick but a whole lot of fiber.

Finally, it was time for the end-all-be-all of baked goods this season: sugar cookies with royal icing.

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After putting together the dough and chilling it overnight, I spent December 31st, baking and decorating. The cookie was crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. It was the perfect sugar cookie. The success of these cookies at my grandma’s house on New Years (today) can also commend its brilliance.

But why am I telling you this? Why end the year with baked goods and not some drawn out post about the events of my life? Because these three delicious treats are the outcome of my year. Some days were dry and mundane and not really noteworthy. Other days were sweet and beautiful and there was a few days where I felt like nothing was going to go my way.

Like the cornbread, plans crumbled. Like the banana bread, I left things off to the last minute letting plans sit for too long on the counter. Like the sugar cookies, I was racked with nerves and worried about perfection.

I worked hard. I tried to stay focus. I even fell in love. All these beautiful moments that live in my head are what make my life just as beautiful. The moment you pull the tray or pan out of the oven and you can smell how delicious the treat is going to be before you even taste it, that’s the moments I cherish so much and I don’t regret any of it.

In the end, my year ended the same way these baked goods came out. They were misshapen and maybe not pretty, but they will always be sweet.

I think this year, I’ll make better note of it.

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NaNoWriMo: Day 1

I don’t have much time to write a traditional post because it’s eight in the morning and I need to start getting ready for work. I spent the last two hours starting my novel for NaNoWriMo. This year seemed different than years past. Although it’s only day one, it feels like day 15. The words I wrote this morning felt rigid and difficult to get on the page. My eyes drifted closed a few times from exhaustion of waking up at six. However, I got what I wanted to accomplish; I’m at 2109 words.

I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of myself. Normally, I would have just barely made the word count in about 4 hours time. However, it only took an hour and a half. Perhaps it’s because of the style of writing that I’ll be doing this year. Instead of writing a traditional novel, I’ll be writing a book of short stories. I feel like this is cheating a little bit, but the stories all will present a similar theme; they will all be about the human connection.

If you don’t know me well, I have a huge boner for human connection. In the past, my theory of human connection was more about the casual encounters a person would make throughout the day. Be it a quick conversation about God or finding the love of your life. Somehow, throughout diversity and turmoil, human beings are able to connect with one another. The only thing holding us back from seeing these connections are ourselves. We pick and choose the people we want to affiliate ourselves with, but if we take the moment to welcome any walk of life, the possibility of finding a kindred spirit becomes infinite. This infinite is what I want to portray in my short vignettes.

I won’t be posting excerpts from my short stories, but I will try to keep a running journal of my month. I want to expose the writing process. I want people to know that this doesn’t come easy and just like any other artform, it is filled with anguish and pain and disgust. I used to scoff at people who would refer to me as an artist, but as of late, I’ve been thinking that maybe I am. Maybe I am an artist hellbent on perfection and anything less than that is trash. Perhaps this is the reason for my slump and my jealousy for the literary accomplishments of the people around me. I recall the quote from Cheryl Strayed:

I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us,, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too.

I need to listen to my literary heroes more often. I need to let go of the accomplishment of my peers and focus on what is truly important: writing, in every aspect of the word. Literature. Prose. The story. The art of it all.

I will start here. I will heal. I will understand, discard, and move on. As in survival and in art, there can only be the ability to keep your mind open and stay on the course. There can be no distraction.

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Tomorrow is NaNoWriMo. Tonight is NaNoWriMo Eve

The sun set a few hours ago and children on the street walk hand-in-hand with their parents as they collect candy from the neighboring stores and restaurants. It’s Halloween in Brooklyn. As the younger children make their way home in half-dressed batman costumes and smeared face paint, the older children make their way to the street. It’s their chance to foot those same restaurants and stores and get a much more grown up treat this evening.

As the festivities of the evening commence, there is a group of people from all ages and from all walks of the earth waiting for the clock to strike midnight. No, it’s not the witching hour that they so desperately anticipate. It’s the beginning of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.

Along with this quiet group of introverts sits one girl on her couch. She lifts her feet up and rests them on the edge of her story-filled coffee table. It wouldn’t be a story she would tell to any knowing person, but glancing at the nicks and holes reveal a secret story. The girl ignores the subtle pleas of her coffee table and begins to wrap yarn around her fingers. She needs to make sure to maintain the same amount of tension throughout the project she is in the midst of knitting.she needs to concentrate on her gauge if she wants to have the correct size afghan at the end. The tv blasts the sound of audience laughter as another episode of the Big Bang Theory airs at the hour.

The clock strikes once. Twice. Three times. And continues on this way until it reaches ten. The potential energy gathering in the offices and apartments of all the writers waiting for November builds as this girl knits. Each stitch perfectly formed as her movement synchronizes with the seconds of her watch ticking loudly against her frail lists.

While the rest of the world wastes the evening in alcohol and drugstore face paint or writes the finishing touches to their outlines, a girl sits as the character of Wolowitz cracks another joke in poor taste. This girl, me, doesn’t know what to do with herself. Deep inside, she knows the moment is nigh and the time should be spent organizing the notes of the stories she’ll be penning. At the same time, the month could be better spent resting. Her pride and procrastination are at odds. Will she begin to write her story or will she left her feet Reston the table where stories are born?

To be continued…

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Goodnight

Lately I have been trouble sleeping. I turn off my lamp and sidle into bed. I close my eyes and try to dream but end up imagining instead. Lately, all I’ve had is my imagination.

I imagine my life in three years when I’m 31 going on 32. Things will be different at 31. I will be different and the feeling is difficult for me to cope with. My existence is difficult to cope with sometimes.

But I am still alive. I am alive and laying in bed and listening to my neighbors have sex for the third time tonight. I close my eyes and try to imagine 31 one more time before the inevitable sleep casts a spell on me to sleep until I wake up again.

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The glow of love

There was light at the end of the tunnel, but now it seemed like the light has gone out. Where it went, I did not know but I knew it didn’t light the way anymore.

In the darkness, I felt the traipses of your body next to mine. Our fingers intertwined, but I can’t tell if these were your hands. Your heartbeat was strong, but there’s no telling if that was actually mine.

It’s scary in the dark, but I know that’s you sidled up next to me. “Are you ready?” you said.

“More than I’ll ever be.”

Perhaps it was a combination of your voice and the strength of your hand, but the end of the tunnel seemed to light up with the glow of your warm face.

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Sending out a question to the cosmic void in hopes of finding some answers

Simone to the earth.

Testing, testing. Is this thing on?

I would like to send a question out to the cosmic universe known as the “Internet.” I’m not sure how this will go and I’m not sure if you’ll respond. So I’ll send you out there, question.

What does it feel like to pursue the one thing you want the most?

I ask this with sincerity. For quite some time I’ve fallen into the pattern of everyday life: I go to work, I spend eight hours behind a desk, I get home and sit in front of my tv and watch for 2-3 hours before I fall asleep. I wake up and I do this all over again.

A friend of mine recently published a blog post to a fairly decent readership. People read and commented and told her how pretty she was on and how funny she is. I’m ecstatic for her achievements, but at the same time I felt the pain of the knife penetrating through my thick skin and twist through my internal organs. I was bleeding out and on the floor, I wondered, what am I doing with my life?

I didn’t feel envy or jealousy. I was genuinely excited and happy for my friend. However, I couldn’t suppress the dejection and ennui for my own life filtering past anything else. It was as if I were Tinkerbell and only capable of feeling one emotion at a time.

All these opportunities and these rejections and these moments of my life that stream past me as I make my way up some corporate ladder. The pangs of failure droned through my heart. It comforted me to know that this was still here. It’s a sobering fact to pull you down from the high horse I’d been riding for the past few months. It was my own damn fault and I don’t know where to go from here.

I spent the rest of this evening laying helpless on the ground hoping that the spiders and pill bugs that moseyed through their normal lives. They would be dead soon. They weren’t concerned about their novels remaining unedited on Google Drive. The moment you feel the dream slip through your fingers like sand at the beach.

This is why I send out this question out into the void. What does it feel like to pursue the one thing you love the most? How do you get started? How do (as people say), “make things happen?”

Sometimes I think it’s magic. Cast your spell on me, please.

 

 

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