Friday, December 31, 2010


The Year of YES.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Year of Being Brave

When I was in second grade, in an effort to bridge different schools within the same district, my classmates and I were assigned penpals from neighboring elementary schools. The letters were written in careful, round writing. I assumed my penpals copied their letters from the teacher's chalkboard, since they all followed the same topic, sentence structure, and phrases. My penpal asked me if I had any New Year's resolutions.

I didn't know what a New Year's resolution was and what it entailed. I remember thinking that it sounded really official and that I should find one, quick, because maybe we were all supposed to have one. Essentially, I didn't understand the point of having one. Even as a seven year old, I sensed that resolutions were like hot air balloons, pumped full of false hope and good intentions. It didn't seem substantial.

We ended up writing a response that was more or less copied from the chalkboard. I think I told my penpal that I wanted to be a better student/speller/whatever was written on the board, same as the other 30 students in my class.

Fast forward. Last year was the first year that I sat down and wrote a resolution. I was frustrated and stupidly optimistic and tired of trying. I was working in a nursing home and studying for the bar again and living in limbo. I resolved, somewhat naively, to Be Brave.

So I was brave. I was brave and bold and sometimes stupid and kinda reckless and mostly smart. Now December is on its way out and the world has dipped back into view. I'm amazed by my good friends, by the people I've met, by everything out there.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

three among many

1) I hate to complain about this type of situation, but I strongly dislike sleeping on wooden planks. And I'm not going to take this lying down!

2) I would like to wrap myself in a cocoon of roast duck skin and eat my way out.

3) I forgot how drop dead beautiful it is up here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

how apropos

Monday, December 13, 2010

From Russia with Love

Caroline: .....
i'd have to think about it
you should post on facebook
oh the magic of the internet
"seeking Russian
Sent at 5:19 PM on Monday
I could elicit all sorts of inappropriate responses that way!
Caroline: yes!
do it!
it will be hilarious
my friend might know someone
he did peace corps in Kahzikstan
and might have some Russian connections
i wonder if the govermnet is monitoring this conversation
because I said Russian and connection
Sent at 5:22 PM on Monday
me: Russian connection! Russian connection!
run for the hills!
Caroline: there's a satellite pointing at you right now!!!!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

in-class assignments: exam anxiety and Amanda's legs

We used Jamie Cat Callan's Writer's Toolbox ( for a few in-class exercises.

Exercise 1:

We were presented with various popsicle sticks, each with a different type of writing prompt. Choose a "first sentence" prompt at random. Based on the sentence prompt, begin writing a story for two minutes. After the minutes are up, choose a "non sequitur" prompt at random (definition: a sentence that lacks meaning relative to what it follows; can denote an abrupt, illogical, unexpected or absurd turn of plot or dialogue not normally associated with or appropriate to that preceding it). Based on the prompt, continue writing your story for two minutes. Repeat with another "non sequitur" and "last straw" prompt.

Prompts are denoted in bold.

The only way John could pass the exam was by cheating. I didn’t know how to help him. We constructed elaborate, paper-thin schemes. We installed small, hidden cameras all over the center. We bought small mirrors and pasted them on the toes of our sneakers. We copied intricate formulas and rolled them up and forced them into the transparent bodies of ballpoint pens.

The plane was two hours late. Subsequently, the exams were delivered to the center two hours late and everything was postponed. It was two more hours wasted. We fumbled and waited and copied more formulas into the crooks of our arms. We prayed that the sweat would not wipe away our inky attempts at passing.

It wasn’t so much that I had been blind to the truth. It was just that I had seen the truth differently. When I was younger, I thought that hard work equated success. Now that we were older and wiser and lazier, we could see that no amount of studying would have allowed us to jump over that invisible threshold. We were doomed.

The lemon sherbert that melted all over the counter
sent my mind into a sugar-induced haze. We sat in the ice cream shop, counting down the last two hours and numbing our nerves with cold sweets. One last hurrah, one last enjoyable sherbert before it was showtime. Maybe I was in denial, maybe I was protecting myself from failure, but John and I never noticed that the clock in the ice cream shop was broken. We waited and waited too long, like a pair of frozen, sitting ducks. So we ended up missing the exam, after all.


Exercise 2:

You will be given four prompts: a protagonist, a goal, an obstacle, and an action. Spend a few minutes writing a story that incorporates these four prompts.

Protagonist: Amanda with amazing legs
Goal: king of the heap
Obstacle: fear of heights
Action: research at library

Our small town lived in a small valley and cowered under the shadow of a mountain. We called the mountain "The Heap" because it looked like a gigantic heap of pancakes, stacked up to the heavens. No one had ever climbed to the top and returned to tell the tale, except Amanda with the amazing legs.

Amanda was before our time. My uncle's best friend's little sister had been in the same class with her. Amanda had legendary stems. They glistened, year-round, unrestricted by pants. Those legs sashayed around the local park, the musty old library, the main boulevard. Male and female eyes moved with those legs.

Amanda was determined to conquer The Heap, but she was crippled by a devastating fear of heights.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I kid, I kid

If the criminal defense lawyer in my writing class reminds us one more time that he is a criminal defense lawyer, I think I am going to strangle him with my bare hands! Just kidding.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

art imitates life - assignment 7

"As promised, this week's exercise is a dialogue one, again lifted from John Gardner:

Write a dialogue in which each of the two characters has a secret. Do not reveal the secret but make the reader intuit it. For example the dialogue might be between a husband who has just lost his job and hasn’t worked up the courage to tell his wife, and his wife, who has a lover in the bedroom. Purpose: to give two characters individual ways of speaking, and to make dialogue crackle with feelings not expressed."

I discovered that I really like writing dialogue! That's a new thing for me. I've always felt much safer with descriptions. Anyway, I am somewhat dissatisfied with the end product. It actually kept me up all last night because I kept worrying that it wasn't believable because 1) wouldn't Sue tell her sister that her husband has pancreatic cancer? and 2) a blue bra is way, way too obvious. Then I rationalized that Sue was in shock + didn't have time to process the information + suspecting that her sister hooked up with her husband would cause her to hold back some information. Also because some families operate that way. And the earring-in-the-couch is too cliche.

Assignment 7:

The phone rang and little Jimmy picked it up. “Hello?”

“Hi Jimmy. Is your mom home?”

“Hi Aunt Peggy,” said Jimmy. “Hold on a sec.” He turned away from the phone. “Moooommm! Phone! It’s Aunt Peggy!”

Sue picked up the phone. “Hey Peg. Did you get the message about Ma’s present?”

“Yeah, I signed the card from both of us,” said Peggy.

“Oh, ok, good. While you’re on the phone – I wanted to tell you that Mike and I decided to take Emily out of the after-school program. Sorry to mess up the carpool schedule but we figured it’s a good opportunity for them to spend more time together.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Peggy. “That’s fine. You aren’t even scheduled to take over til next month. So Mike’s no longer working late?”

“Yeah, he rearranged his schedule to spend more time with the kids… and me.”

“That’s great!” said Peggy. “So he’s finally taking Dr. MacPherson’s advice to heart?”

“Yeah, you know how he is. She was saying that he couldn’t expect to work on us without juggling his work schedule and he kept saying no no no, it’s impossible to work fewer hours… well, his health scare knocked some sense into him.”

“Blessing in disguise, huh,” said Peggy. “So what was it after all?”

“Oh, it was a… a pinched nerve, just like we thought,” said Sue, a little too quickly. “The doctors told him to take it easy.”

“That’s such a relief! I was so worried!” Peggy paused. “Hmm, you better tell Ma, then.”

“What do you mean?” asked Sue.

“She called me last night at 10 pm-“

“Again? I thought the director was finally going to take the phone out of her room-”

“-Crying and saying that Mike has cancer…?”

“Oh. My. God. You know how she is. She thinks everyone has cancer.”

“Yeah, but she said you told her that.”


“She said that you said that Mike has pancreatic cancer.”

“What the heck? Where did she get that idea from?” Sue sounded like she was on the verge of tears.

“I don’t know-“

“You know what, last week when I was there, you know Mr. Rogers, the crazy guy in 302? Mr. Rogers was talking to us about his son who had pancreatic cancer. Couldn’t get away from him for an hour! That’s probably where she got the idea from.” Sue was slightly out of breath.

“Oh, ok.”

“We need to tell the director to keep Mr. Rogers away from her!”
“He can’t keep Mr. Rogers away from her if she’s always sitting in the TV room,” said Peggy. “It’s the common area.”

“I don’t care,” Sue said. “He’s a crazy old coot.”

“He’s a nice old man. He’s harmless.”

Sue grunted. “Oh, I wanted to ask if you and Scott can watch Jimmy next Thursday night? Mike and I scheduled in a date night.”

“Um, sure, let me check – ok, yeah, I think we’ll be free.”

“Ok, great! Thanks. Let me pencil that in.” Sue paused, almost casually. “By the way, you left a bra behind last time you were here. Jimmy found it near the couch.”

“What? Are you sure it was mine?" Peggy asked.

"Definitely yours, it was the blue one that you bought when we went to Macy's last month."

“Oh, I’m so sorry!" Peggy laughed. "Thanks. It must have fallen out of my gym bag.”

Sue sounded slightly relieved. “Oh, you’re doing yoga again? I thought you hated the new instructor.”

“Yeahhhh. I do hate the new instructor. But it’s good for me.”

“Ok,” said Sue. “So when did you start doing yoga again?”

“Um, last Thursday.”

“Oh. Did you go to class last Thursday?”

“Mmmm hmmm,” said Peggy.

“Which one? The late one?”

“The late one? I think so.”

“Oh, that’s weird,” said Sue. “I didn’t see you there.”

“Oh. Actually, I think I went to the earlier one.”

“Oh, ok.”

Both sisters paused.

Sue said quietly, “Let me know the next time you go, Pegs, we can go together."

“Ok. Hey, Pegs, I gotta run. Talk to you later?”


Peggy's secret: she hooked up with Mike. Sue's secret: Mike has pancreatic cancer.

Monday, November 8, 2010

assignment 6

"I want you to do a two-part third-person single point of view exercise. That's a lot of numbers, but basically it just comes down to this: You'll be presenting the point of view of one character, but that character's direct thoughts and feelings will not be described. Your focus will be on his perceptions: what he sees/hears/feels/smells/tastes. Here are the two parts:

A middle-aged man (or woman) is waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his son has died violently. Describe the SETTING from the man's point of view WITHOUT telling your reader what has happened. For example: How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odors? Colors? What will this man notice? What will his clothes feel like? You don't have to address those specific questions, but you do have to describe the man's perceptions in detail. Write a 250 word description.

Here is the second part:

A middle aged man (or woman) is waiting at a bus stop. He has just gotten unexpectedly good medical news (a negative biopsy, for example). Describe the SETTING from the man's point of view WITHOUT telling your reader what has happened. For example: How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odors? Colors? What will this man notice? What will his clothes feel like? You don't have to address those specific questions, but you do have to describe the man's perceptions in detail. Write a 250 word description."


The man’s eyes were two unwashed clams, salty and gritty and full of unshed tears. The two clams sat on the cracked bus stop bench next to the man and rubbed their shells ferociously to stem the tide and refused to acknowledge the soiled homeless woman who interrupted herself long enough to demand spare change and shuffle away, empty-handed and cursing. The homeless woman stopped to smooth away stringy bits of hair with a practiced, gloved hand and rocked back and forth on worn heels.

The street in front of the bus stop was a thick street with dense lanes of rush hour traffic. The two clams blinked and protested noisily every time ambulance sirens pierced the air, which was too often. Tired-looking passengers hovered near the bus stop and carefully avoided making eye contact with each other. They carried scuffed briefcases and dirty tupperware and newspaper rolled into tight cylinders. They smelled like stale cubicles and florescent lighting.

The man’s clothes were thick and clumsy. They were checkered, rumpled garments stained with old coffee and cigar smoke. It was too hot to be wearing such a heavy coat and too cold to leave it off for long, for the air was viscous and clammy.

The bench was raw and splintered in several places. It had been painted dark green once but was now bleached and weathered beyond recognition. Near the bench sat an overflowing trashcan; near the trashcan lay an empty coffee cup that had been carelessly discarded.


Sunlight filtered through the sieve of recent rain clouds. The new sun brought out everyone’s appetites: even the homeless woman wearing a red scarf sifted through the damp contents of her shopping cart, humming cheerfully and pulling out a package of old crackers. The wet sidewalk was punctuated by the quick clatter of busy stilettos on their way to lunch.

Creamy maple trees lined the sidewalk in front of the bus stop and waved to everyone. In front of the sidewalk, traffic was moving at a pleasant, brisk clip. Taxi cabs skirted other taxi cabs like a flock of bright birds at play, teasing each other with friendly honking. Buses paused in front of the stop, emptied out its contents, and refilled themselves with eager passengers standing in messy lines. A boy on a bicycle rolled by, whistling and clutching a package with a pink bow.

The man wore a good, solid coat with soft sleeves and polished buttons and careful stitching. The coat smelled as though the wearer had been recently hugged by a woman donning perfume and pearls.

The bench wore a fresh coat of paint. The trashcan near the bench had been caught in the sprinkler’s gentle crossfire so that its exterior was glistening with water.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

railing against liars and other semi-palindromes

This is a reminder to myself. This is a reminder of what it feels like to be right here, right now, right state of mind.

Not to get all X-files on everyone, but I don't know how else to put it except: I don't believe anymore. Shrug.

Forever and ever and amen and all that jazz.

Friday, October 22, 2010

assignment 4

"This week’s exercise concerns the Unreliable Narrator, and it should be fun. Some of you already know what this means and some do not. An unreliable narrator is a first-person narrator who cannot entirely be trusted to be telling the whole truth. In real life, we are all unreliable narrators, and we understand this, and when we listen to someone tell us a 'true' story (why he got fired; why her parents are totally unreasonable; how his bike went missing; how her husband is the greatest guy in the world; why she doesn’t really care about getting published...), we listen in two ways, simultaneously: (1) we listen in good faith, willing to believe everything we’re being told, and (2) we listen skeptically, alert to nuances, improbabilities, echoes of contradictions. We all do this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to function, socially or in any other way, because the fact is that we are all unreliable when it comes to assessing our own experiences. If we believed every story we heard, we’d make lots of dumb decisions. This is not to say that we can’t approach the truth when we tell stories—only that, being human, we often miss it, sometimes by a mile, sometimes by inches. We know this about ourselves, which means we know it about one another.

When I say 'unreliable narrator,' I’m not talking about a liar. I’m talking about someone who honestly believes the story she’s telling but who is, on some level, fooling herself. But not her listener. Not her reader.

It’s a show/tell contradiction, really. The unreliable narrator tells us one thing and shows us something quite different. For an interesting list of U.N. novels, see:

Exercise 4 will be—you guessed it—try your hand at unreliable narration.

1. Page limit: 3 pages, double-spaced.
2. First person (I) narration.
3. Essentially, this will be a monologue."

My Exercise 4:

It started out as a good day for a ride. I left the house before I could wake up to the rhythmic, lazy slap of my wife’s thighs as she walked from the master bedroom to the master bathroom to her closet to the main kitchen. Every morning, I heard Judy's thighs smacking each other as I lay awake in the guest bedroom and counted the stucco mounds on the ceiling and wished for unassailable silence. Lately, I was noticing all of the sounds surrounding me every morning: the aforementioned thigh slaps and the stupid espresso machine hissing and all of those clattering dishes and the children waking up late and slamming car doors with teenage finesse and backing out of the driveway too quickly. I wanted good, strong silence.

This year, my tolerance for loud things and loud people and loud sounds had disappeared. My head was hurting more and my knee was bothering me, even though I was no longer spending twelve hours a day on my feet. Ever since I stepped down, presumably because the company wanted to reward my service and I wanted to spend more time with my family and work on my golf game and pursue other, unexplored career paths, the pains were getting worse.

Once outside, the sun was a predatory thing, unblinking and unyielding. A nervous bird flew near the garage and pitched onto a nearby tree. I grabbed my bicycle out of the side yard. It was a Masi bicycle, blue and slightly crooked, but it was mine. I had seen a sign for a yard sale and stopped and bought the bike, even though I could have bought the yard itself and the accompanying house and the rest of the neighborhood. When I brought the bike home, Judy shuffled over and laughed that annoying laugh of hers and said that I was going through a mid-life crisis and why didn’t I buy a shiny Harley Davidson like Mike next door or look into a new car or even hair transplants? I threw her a ferocious look that spelled death, the kind that I usually save for a deserving employee, and she promptly shut her mouth. I felt pleased when this happened.

Ever since that day, I had been riding and riding and riding that bike around the neighborhood. I was pedaling furiously through pristine lawns and manicured flowerbeds, which brought me some sort of deep, untapped satisfaction. When I rode the bike, everything stopped somersaulting in my skull. I could only hear the wind; even then, it was a soft wind. I thought that I would start training for some type of race. I would become one of those hard-bodied men who wore spandex and weathered grins. I would spend hours at the gym and hire a trainer. My stomach would shrink and my shoulders would harden. I’d become one of those men who look good bald.

Riding the bike meant that I was getting exercise, which was supposed to be good for my condition. It meant that I was outside, breathing fresh air and stretching my limbs, not inside the house, watching the Tour de France in a muted reverie or scaling the walls all afternoon or fixing things that could be working more efficiently or sitting the Jacuzzi for hours with earplugs nestled firmly in my ears. Judy was afraid that I would fall asleep in there and wake up with wrinkles across my back like cobwebs.

Today I started riding the bike around the cul-de-sac, which sent me in a never-ending infinity loop. I counted the loops and lost track and started up again and lost track again until I noticed Mike standing the corner of his yard, watching my looping. Mike held up his hand but I ignored the gesture and concentrated on my riding. Lately, I could feel the whole neighborhood flashing me the same bright, false smiles. They were jealous of me; I knew they were jealous of me. I owned the biggest house in the neighborhood but I still held onto my aspirations while all of those neighbors had settled into their sad, noisy lives.

Mike continued staring at me, enviously, with a shovel in his fist. Unlike him, I would become a professional cyclist and inspire a whole generation of riders. I would ride aggressively, soundlessly, like a falcon skirting the sky. With each thought, I began a fresh, happy thought trail. I would wear a yellow jersey the color of cornbread. I would finish the Tour de France in Paris. I thought that I would buy a house in Toulouse or Marseille or Bourdeax. A house with thick, soundproof walls. I would never have to wake up in the guestroom again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

in-class writing exercise and recent obsession

In-class writing exercise from last week: write three things about yourself. They can either be two true things and one false thing or one true thing and two false things.

1) My great-grandfather courted and married four different women - successively, not all at once. My grandmother adored him anyway, even though she grew up without a father. Now she's a hoarder.

2) My sister is married to a cheap car salesman. Last Christmas, my parents and I received oil change coupons and matching clogs from him. We don't like him.

3) My dad left my mother at the altar on her wedding day because he got cold feet. She was devastated and would not leave her bedroom for two weeks. Apparently, she forgave him.


"Ordinary People" by John Legend moves my heart in embarrassing ways. When he sings "though it's not a fantasy, I still want you to stay", my chest always jumps into my throat.

Monday, October 11, 2010

writing assignment number one

Part one: write a real story.
Part two: take that story, change the gender POV, change a bunch of details, change the underlying moral or message.

This is what I came up with on Sunday night:


Hollywood has become enamored of travel-as-self-discovery storylines lately, but before Julia Roberts started traipsing through whatever third world country she needed to travel through to find herself, my younger and stupider self flew to Mongolia to mend a Broken Heart.

For a month, I lived on the steppes like a nomad. I galloped across the valleys on a tiny horse while worrying about my insurance coverage. I swigged homemade vodka from an ancient, plastic crystal geyser water bottle. I chewed on preserved curls of yak cheese. I drank frothy, fermented yak milk. I laid awake, nervously, in my little ger, while wild animals pawed outside in the dark. I chopped firewood with a machete. I stopped showering. I put a pause on my worries.

I made friends through generous use of gesticulations. One of these new friends, who spoke halting English, took me to her home for a visit. The home was a one room shack that housed three generations of family members and an army of flies. My friend called her mother ahead of time to let her know we were coming. Like all mothers everywhere, in anticipation of her arrival, her mother had prepared her daughter’s favorite meal. It was waiting for us, hot and steaming, when we walked through the tin door.

Her mother was all smiles and eager, sturdy hands. She pulled out stained, chipped plates while the rest of the family surrounded us, curiously, and watched me eat. Her mother served us horshu, which is a pocket of fried dough that is usually filled with meat. This particular horshu was filled with chopped organs. I took one bite and almost choked.

The taste was pungent and earthy. It tasted like animal. The organs traveled down my esophagus and tickled my stomach. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep the food down and that I’d be forever branded as an Awful, Ungrateful, and Ugly American.

Her mother nodded and pointed to the wall on my right. There was an empty, fresh goat carcass tacked to the wall, devoid of its kidneys and stomach and heart. The goat looked surprised. Its organs had been chopped up and wrapped with dough and lovingly fried and now I was eating it in a shack filled with flies and grinning strangers and wishing, suddenly, that I had never come to Mongolia at all.

PART TWO to be posted later.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

writing class

I attended my first ever writing class last week. I liked the writing instructor right away. She was straightforward and had a wry smile and long silver hair. I was the second youngest person there. Everyone present was some sort of working professional, mostly women. There were a few pretentious personalities, but I won't get into those unnecessary details.

I think it will be a tough class, only because it's forcing me to write more and weave together adjectives and think about characters and employ those long-unused neurons in my head that have forgotten how to be creative.

We wrote various in-class exercises. Our instructor gave us a few noun prompts and we pieced together unfinished stories based on these prompts.* I thought about whipping up a story based on vignettes that I had already written in the past, but I want everything that comes from this class to be raw, unwritten, and completely spontaneous. So I wrote the following, which I am neither proud nor ashamed of:

"She blamed it on the chocolate. The man in the stetson hat, while coaxing her into a date, had dropped off a small box of chocolate, which she had promptly razed. The chocolates tasted dusty. She woke up the next morning and found a rash smiling from one end of her torso to the other. The rash looked wet and slick and careless, as though someone had painted it on her body in the dark and had left in a hurry, before she could discover the intruder. She felt her way into the bathroom and fished her first aid kid out of an antique wire basket and that is how everything looked when the paramedics arrived and saw her with her arm spilling into the wire basket and clutching the first aid kit and the rest of her laying in a heap.

Unbeknownst to the paramedics, termites had overtaken a wing of the hospital so that the building looked as though it were crippled, too.

The man in the stetson hat took his hat off for work, which was appropriate when her body arrived for an autopsy. He signed and swallowed hard when he saw her still body. He folded back her breast, neatly, like a pancake, and sliced into her chest."

*Noun prompts in bold.

I wrote it in a feverish hurry. I don't know where the "smiling" rash came from but I liked it. I read those paragraphs to the class in a shaky voice and it was met with a strange silence and the instructor commented that it was very "minimalistic". In any case, it felt really good to put myself out there. I feel like I'm on my way.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When I was five

When I was five, I found my little sister in a frothy heap on the floor. Her eyes had wiped themselves blank. Her lips were emitting a steady stream of small bubbles. Her face was slick with wetness. She looked like she was keeping a secret from me, which I did not like.

An ambulance came and scooped up my sister’s nonresponsive body and deposited her at the local hospital, where my parents stood watch over her bed, day and night, like a pair of frozen gargoyles.

After that night, my parents sent me to live with the neighbors for a month. I ate marshmallow cereal for dinner almost every night, which I liked very much. I also ate macaroni and cheese, which I did not like at all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

emptiness, consumer goods, and what it means to me

Another thing that I've wanted to write about since yesterday and the week before and the months and years even before that is my quickening, hardening sense of "what matters to me" and how I felt/feel about minimalism, consumerism, materialism. All the "-isms". I was reminded of this a few weeks in a row when I went on small trips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. What better way to drive home these lessons than visiting Shangri-LA and Sin City?

Which is this: somewhere along the line, I realized that material possessions only bought me a fleeting satisfaction and that after I had purchased and sullied the product by making it mine; after caps had been opened and tags cut off with fierce, impatient snips; after shoes had been worn in and the clothes had taken up residence in my closet, I ceased to notice any of it anymore. I wanted off the consumer hamster wheel – or, at the very least, I wanted to slow down the spin.

Somewhere along the way, instant gratification no longer felt gratifying.

Even now, when something shiny catches my eye, I am filled with a sudden rush of want, but on its heels, a practical voice dismisses the feeling. Because I really don’t need it. I don’t even really want it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

traffic and The Best Thing I've Seen All Day

Yesterday, I was driving to the gym after work and found myself caught in the usual parade of rush-hour traffic. I've noticed that many of my fellow drivers wear varying imitations of the same expression. They appear a little tired or frazzled or annoyed at something or someone. They look like they are planning the dinner menu or worrying over their children or plotting out the rest of their night. Sometimes they are fidgeting in their seats and their brows are furrowed and their arms spill over the windows.

Anyway, yesterday, I noticed that the driver behind me was sporting a gigantic, curling mustache and smoking from a pipe and looking very pleased with himself. For some unknown reason, it was all very sweet and silly and wonderful. The sight of him sent a grin straight into my heart. It really, really made my day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday ruminations

"Why is Russian water a she, and why does she become a he once you have dipped a tea bag into her?"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I have new respect for the writing process. Last Sunday, I sat down in a fabulous little "European" cafe to write my entry and... nothing. I stared at the keyboard blinker for a few hours and listened to Edith Piaf singing and nibbled on a blueberry pastry and thought a little bit and erased a lot of ideas.

Then I wrote two sentences.

And then I was done and went home and was in a very bad mood. :(

Monday, August 23, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

I did something absolutely terrifying a few days ago. Something that makes my skin crawl and my neck burn and my stomach plummet to my toes.

I went to a local karaoke bar and serenaded a roomful of strangers while stone cold sober.

[Ok, insert laugh here.]

It wasn't the most graceful performance and the song seemed to stretch out a lot longer than usual (a Disney song, which made the whole experience even worse) and my hands transformed into granite blocks as soon as I reached out to grab the mic, but it was the first time I've sang solo in front of more than two people. Afterwards, my face was slick with embarrassment and my hair felt wilted. Somewhere out there, Walt Disney was turning in his grave and stuffing a fresh pair of ear plugs into his head.

Still, I am glad that I did it. I spend so much time observing others and avoiding the spotlight that it's kind of refreshing to change it up.

Although now I am aware that shower acoustics cannot prepare one for singing on a stage.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

seven days in Tibet

I started planning out Tibet/Hong Kong?/Nepal? last night and my head started buzzing like I was strung out on caffeine and sugar cookies. I was excited, almost too excited to sleep.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lost: one cell phone

Somewhere between the office and my car, I misplaced my cell phone. As usual, it's an exercise in restraint and small frustration. Maybe it's time for an upgrade?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

neon red goopity goop and other randoms

1) I have the weirdest craving for Chef Boyardee. Yet no one has ever been able to convince me to eat more than a tentative bite of it.

2) Why do I find myself averting my eyes away from everything Portland?

3) I can actually read Chinese.

4) I'm waitlisted for Russian and Spanish classes.

5) I like my job.

6) Life is good!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Lately, my acquaintances and friends have been leaving San Diego in droves. This phenomenon appears in predictable waves: it occurred after I graduated college, after I graduated law school, and for a third time when my classmates found jobs elsewhere.

I have mixed feelings about the whole situation. I'm sad to see my friends leave. I'm happy that they will be embarking on new adventures. I'm envious because a part of me believes that I should be the one going on these adventures. I'm resentful and afraid of being forgotten and left behind. Still, I'm touched with the quiet relief that I won't have to leave the city I have only recently begun to embrace.

When I told a friend that I had found my dream job in San Diego, she followed up her hearty congratulations with a comment that sent a stab of panic into my soul. She predicted, jokingly, that I will end up staying in San Diego forever. While I adore this city and readily acknowledge that there are far, far worse places to be "stuck", a part of me wonders if I will allow or have already begun to allow this warm Southern California sun to lull me into complacency.

I've been thinking a lot about the nature of leaving and the people who make up these sudden or not-so-sudden departures. I've been thinking about the people who work their way into our schedules and become smiling fixtures. I've been thinking about the people who have become the unwitting backbone of many support systems. I've been thinking about the people who drop into our lives, unexpectedly, and leave a warm, fuzzy imprint.

I used to think of myself as someone untethered, someone who could and would befriend and laugh and love and wander and explore and change, recklessly. Fly by the seat of my pants and escape by the skin of my teeth and wear my heart on my sleeve and all that nonsense. Now I'm becoming terribly sentimental. Now I wish I could hold on, just a little longer.

Friday, July 23, 2010

the nature of the beast

I attended a networking event very recently. It was the typical stiff affair aided by low lighting, alcohol, and finger foods. There were clumsy nametags and draped pearls and some awkward shifts in conversation. I bumped into a classmate that I haven't seen in awhile and we talked about his girlfriend, who is an utterly stunning creature, and how she's been tapping her feet and directing his attention, pointedly, at the unadorned fourth digit on her left hand. I told him you can't put a price on love. Then we made the typical marriage jokes and our little circle became a big, sympathetic circle and photographers swooped in and everything was quite merry indeed.


Maybe related:

I could be walking in a silent corridor, I could be wrapped up in my thoughts, I could be smiling into an unspecified distance.

I could also be striding away from some sort of pleasant networking event where starched shirts are tucked in and sparkling engagement rings are on display and we are engaged in lively discussions re: unusual dog breeding and shooting guns and twelve hour work days.

Some moments, you feel like you are spinning.

Life doesn't care that you try to be A Good Person or that you strive to smile or help or assist. It's not enough. I want more. This can't be it. All I can say is that I don't know. What I do know: the thought of smelly minivans and cleaning up after others and ushering little ones to soccer practice scares me. Ok, correction: mainly it's the slowing down and the complacency and the boring that I can't stand. Only in that sense does adulthood scare me, only in that sense do I found myself allergic to obligations that extend beyond my own. I know, it's only if I find the right one, the right one, then it wouldn't matter so much anymore? Somehow, I disagree.

I feel like a manic whirlwind. Please don't pin me down like a butterfly. Please don't plan out my life for me. I still want to learn 34758 languages and finally tack pictures on my walls and bake too many cakes and eat hot sauce until my face is covered with tears and laugh if I feel like laughing and be a great, great person. I have way too much to do. There is way too much to learn.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ninja Say What?

I've watched this video probably about 10 times already, but it still makes me laugh.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Last night, I dreamt that a tattoo artist sliced a thin, curving figure onto my body. He worked freehand. It was like one of those crime scene figures immortalized on sidewalks and CSI, except it was on my body.

I stood very still. He started right under my ears, near my neck, and the lines moved from there. The figure's arms spread past my arms, stretched down my torso and shifted over my thighs and down to my feet. I knew that I would regret it but I didn't stop him. The lines were a little uneven, especially against my legs. Later, I realized that the figure was the figure of a... devil?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

oh forbidden love oh

I had a dream last night in which I observed a Forbidden Love unfold between a young attorney and a law clerk who owned his own document review company. She accidentally wronged him, he was publicly humiliated by her jerk superiors, she went to his office to apologize, there was a heartfelt moment and some swelling background music but then the scene was interrupted when other young associates from her firm burst in with their high kicks and sharp ties and beat the law clerk up. It was like something out of a thug movie, but much, much nerdier. And ten times more ridiculous.

I woke up at 3 am, laughing, with pork belly sitting like a stone in my stomach (remnants of a wedding I had attended that evening). Had the dream continued, I am pretty sure that the law clerk would have saved the day somehow and that the jerk superiors would have had to apologize.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yes Reservations? Or No Reservations?

I had a nightmare last night. I was cooking for Anthony Bourdain. I was twitching and spastic and sweating bullets (extra sodium, anyone?) because I wasn't sure if he would like my food. In the end, he thought the dishes were mediocre but he tried to be nice about it. It didn't seem like the typical Tony response, but I was just relieved to make it out of there alive.

The stupid nightmare was brought on because I watched several episodes of No Reservations that night and considered shelling out the $ to buy the DVD sets, which I covet, covet, covet.

Monday, May 24, 2010


"The Happiest Day of My Life":

Like Meggy, I've experienced moments or even full days that are remarkable and marked only because they're punctuated by pure, unexpected bliss. Maybe they were brought on by little luxuries. Maybe they were brought on because things felt undeservingly simple. Maybe I was just having a Good Day.

Regardless, these moments swim around in my head and resurface occasionally. I recall snippets of sunshine and fingers braided into another set of fingers and steaming mugs of coffee and brunches that tasted like possibility. I remember a lot of quiet moments. Sometimes I feel a little, passing twinge because I know that I will never quite have those moments back. The concept that I have the most trouble accepting is that nothing lasts forever.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Los Angeles

Something in me shifted this weekend. I actually, um, like Los Angeles. Wait. That is too strong of a statement. Okay, clarification: I like some aspects of Los Angeles. I like driving down sun-dappled side streets and zipping down a bright, bright highway. I like spending only $9 on a car wash. I like eating pistachio macarons and almond macarons and vanilla macarons and any macarons. I like beating the morning crowds and stuffing my face with flakey croissants from Amandine. I like having my pick of interesting.

So why did/do I automatically despise everything LA? For me, Los Angeles conjures up images of milky death, hungry starlets, my grandfather laying in a hospital bed and smelling bad, everything fake plastic shiny and barely concealing sadness and anger and loneliness. It reminds me of limp summers and waiting, always too much waiting, and the feeling of being caught in limbo like a hapless, ensnared insect.

Ok, drama queen. But! Who is to say that Boston or San Francisco or any other city would hold the answers, the weather, the croissants (actually, yes to the croissants, but I digress)? It's the perennial dilemma of the grass being greener on the other side, the buildings over there being more imposing, the people on that side being more well-read. Why do I believe that moving to another city or another country would make me a better, happier, tougher, faster, nicer, cooler person? If I am unhappy here (which I am not), I would find some way to be equally unhappy somewhere else. If I am restless here (which I am), I would find some way to be equally dissatisfied somewhere else.

Conversations with Pauline and Evelyn made me realize that no matter where I go, there is beauty and culture and the interesting things happening everywhere. I have to learn to stop labeling cities and people. I just have to snap open these sleepy lids and pry open my heart and let go.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

not cute

I am sitting in a coffeeshop, trying to write something meaningful and interesting and inspiring. There is a woman sitting behind me and speaking in a cutesy, cringe-inducing voice. If I hadn't turned around and shot her a withering stare, I wouldn't have discovered that the sugary voice belonged to a woman and not a five year old child.

There are many things in the world that I dislike (bell peppers, laziness, goat cheese, sitting next to crying children), but grown-women-who-pretend-they-are-little-girls has to be near the top of my list. Come on! Who are you fooling? No, I don't think you are cute. I really don't.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


My posts have never really been forthcoming, but with my internet shut off, it's even harder to organize my jumbled thoughts into a coherent post.

So I'll keep this short and simple: I passed the bar.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

pie in the sky

I've been visiting my sister in Michigan for almost a week. This town, in the beginning of May, is idyllic and beautiful.

I've been having a lot of vivid dreams. Chalk it up to the late night snacks or the time difference. I've been having shopping dreams and pregnancy dreams and fake love dreams. Dreams that leave me feeling groggy in the morning and reaching for that extra dose of caffeine. My sister has tacked the FT all over the naked bedroom window to block out the light; as a result, everything is cast in a coral haze.

My sister and I kayaked along the Huron River. We pretended to be early explorers and paddled until our arms burned. We watched "A Prophet" and "City of God". We sipped sangria at a local bar and waited for the rain to stop.

My sister and I just baked a rhubarb pie. The pie is sitting on the stove. Because I've been swooping in and out of the kitchen like a hungry vulture, the pie is now missing pastry nubs. Its sweet, tangy innards are oozing free from the crust. I am hoping that my sister doesn't notice the missing portions.

I've kept one eye on the kayaking, the movie-watching, the sightseeing, and the pie-baking, but the other eye has been turned inward. I've been composing a relentless little manifesto of sorts, in my head. I've been slowly and thoughtfully turning the words around and around. It is like a puzzle. It is hard to describe. Sometimes I look at it and it seems selfish. Sometimes I look at it and it makes me feel elated or scared.

I feel like I am standing on the cusp of ______.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

save my hip, please

I found a new physical therapist and I think she's FANTASTIC!

Kelsey at Water & Sports Physical Therapy, Inc.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


On December 31, 2007, I was rushing frantically through a mall, looking for something-anything-decent to wear for a New Year's party that night. I remember this day because it was the day that I sustained a mysterious hip injury that has changed my life in many significant ways.

I took one wrong step and my left hip felt torn. I chalked it up to the misstep and ignored the pain. I thought the small injury would disappear within a few days.

It didn't.

Three years have passed. I've visited a multitude of doctors and physical therapists and even an acupuncturist. I've paid quite a pretty penny for xrays that show swelling and anti-inflammatory medicine that just masks the symptoms. Still, the cause and the cure remains elusive.

The pain is constant and alternates between deep, dull ache to tearing flesh. As a result, I am inactive and flabby. Once in awhile, for a couple of weeks, the pain will lift and I will try to reinstate myself into the world of the physically active. However, I can't run or jump or hike or do anything physical without backpedaling and thinking about the inevitable aggravation that occurs. The pain sets in, increases, becomes unbearable. Right now, because I've been hiking for several consecutive weeks, the pain follows me around like a second shadow. It lies with me in bed and taps me awake at night and sits with me at work and joins me during happy hours with my friends. I've learned that a comfortable position does not exist.

Two years ago, I read Philip Roth's novel, The Anatomy Lesson. Zuckerman, the main character, is a writer who suffers from a mysterious ailment that begins to take over his life. The corpus of his work, like his body, suffers tremendously. Although others believe his symptoms are psychosomatic (and he does seem to agree occasionally), the pain he feels is so prevalent that he cannot sit, type, or even hold a book without each movement becoming an ordeal. He turns to orthopedic pillows, mistresses, heavy booze, and a kaleidoscope of drugs and pills in order to cope. In the end, he concocts a crazy scheme to enter medical school.

Sometimes, when I feel impending panic ("What if I can never jump again? What if I will always have this pain?"), I think about Zuckerman stumbling around Chicago, hoarding his pain medication and dreaming up alter egos. I can't laugh.

Monday, April 19, 2010

now say that three times fast

Lately, I've been going on a literary binge. I am toting books everywhere and reading voraciously, on the sly: reading in my stationary car and reading in bed and reading while waiting my turn at the court records office. It is as though all these years of legalese have given way and the literary gods are calling out to me again. I can read and write about feelings, beauty, whatever I want! I can write in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or smoosheverythingtogether and sometimes I even let

my words
in the air
like this -

or cut them off mid-sentence -


Legalese means slicing off fatty, extraneous words; adding conjunctions to cover your bases; utilizing crisp, staccato language; scrutinizing each nuance and punctuation. The objective is always clarity and precision and protection. It means throwing up firewalls and Chinese Walls and Berlin Walls and any other kind of wall. It means almost as much what you don't say as what you do. It is analyze, analyze, analyze.

So, there are the two sides at play. The head-in-the-clouds vs. the feet-firmly-on-the-ground. So how do I reconcile my aspirations of becoming a writer with my chosen profession? How do I remember to turn off the legalese, firmly, when I'm out of the office? How do I console the muse when I've been ignoring her all day?

Over the years, I've fueled this small ember of writer-ly hope by jotting down my thoughts or flipping through my subscription of Poets & Writers. Still, there was no substance, no tangible evidence behind my dreams. All I had were small piles of trash and my little blog.

Admittedly, I am a person prone to distraction and extremes and restlessness. Passion without discipline, I've learned, is a dangerous thing. At the very least, passion without discipline accomplishes nothing. It is like my well-intentioned but long-abandoned regimen of situps.

This is where the reconciliation fits in. I have finally developed the discipline to sit and write for hours on end. I can stomach the rejection. I can work myself out of funks and sadness and badness.

I used to believe that growing older meant giving up on childhood dreams. Now I think that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. If I hadn't attended law school, I would have never cultivated the ability to continue reading even after my eyes singed red and raw. If I hadn't struggled a bit during my childhood and adolescence, I never would have learned to appreciate adulthood. If I hadn't fought my way out of bad bouts, medical and otherwise, I would have never learned to persevere. If I hadn't experienced the sheer devastation of heartbreak, I would have never challenged myself to feel differently. If I hadn't stayed in California, I would have missed out on a lot of good times.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Where is a tissue when you need one?

As a general rule, I never allow myself to cry at movie theaters. Still, there are always exceptions to rules. I cried once while watching the Disney movie "Mulan", during the scene where Mulan's father tucks a flower in her hair. I thought of my poor old dad and tears started streaming down my face. It was really embarrassing.

Today, I watched the DreamWorks Animation movie "How To Train Your Dragon". I could see the ending coming from a mile away (which still shouldn't stop you from watching it - I thought it was a fantastic movie!!!) and I still cried. In fact, the only reason I refrained from sobbing outright was because Alessa and Daniel were sitting next to me, snickering at my tears. I think I am turning soft.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Another year, another birthday.

Last year, I showered after snowboarding, locked the door, and wrote a hopeful entry about looking forward to good things. This year, I will be slopping up borscht and beef stroganoff at a group dinner.

I won't write about how quickly time flies (very quickly) or wonder about how much I have changed (a little) or reflect on what I have learned (a few tough, suck-tacular lessons).

A few months ago, beset by shaky nerves, I called my cousin for some reassurance. Jack reminded me, in his typical cynical fashion, that good things don't happen to good people. Hard work doesn't equate success. Still, once in awhile, when the stars align, when a good thing finally does congeal, you can smile and be thankful.

Sometimes I forget that these are certainly halcyon times for me. If you asked Sharon in kindergarten, Sharon in middle school and even Sharon in Mongolia where I thought I'd be by the time I was 27, I would not have said that I would be here. But here I am. I have not followed the life plan that I set for myself. I have not accomplished many goals. Much of the time, I am not really sure of anything.

Even so, I've fallen in love with life again, with all of its unpredictable curves. Everything is so beautiful and strange and challenging. I have a new job and the work is interesting and rewarding. The view from the office is breathtaking. I am getting back in touch with my friends. I just bought rutabaga, which I will try to figure out how to prepare. I started reading fiction again; maybe someday, I will even start writing stories again. I am still hopeful, hopeful, hopeful.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

big baby

I'm sitting in the San Jose airport right now. My mom cried before I left, which almost triggered a domino effect of tears. I feel twitchy and sulky. If anyone looks at me too closely, I might just start bawling.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I carried a lot of lofty goals into my vacation. I planned to study Chinese again, assemble cute, tiny clothes for my friend's children, and visit all of those places that I've been meaning to see. As it turns out, when given the chance to do whatever I want, I will choose to stay in bed all day and forego basic hygiene (then again, not a huge deviation from when I was studying). I will watch funny shows and foreign films on my laptop and laugh hysterically to myself and sip whiskey out of a coffee mug at 11 in the morning. If my life was a movie, I'd start to grow a beard and balance beer cans on my gut right about now. Of course, all of this will come to a screeching halt when I start my new job, so I am enjoying it for a couple of days. It feels like a nice privilege.

I left my bed long enough to watch Alice In Wonderland, witness my friend's elaborate wedding proposal (it was a happy ending - she managed to stutter "yes" between sobs), eat warm guava pastries at Tropicana Cafe (, and spend a few days with my grandmother. My grandmother and I made "mantou," which are plain, steamed buns, a staple food in Northern China.

(Our mantou did not look as flawless as the above picture, but you get the idea.)

I stopped by the library and stocked up on reading material and funny movies. Right now, I'm reading The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony. The book is about a short man who sells meat out of a stationary bus. I forgot what it felt like to read for the sake of sheer of enjoyment. I'm falling in love with beautiful words all over again. My head is spinning from word lust. It feels like I am holding a small, smiling secret.

Friday, February 19, 2010

ugh, look at that train wreck!

The following are a list of reasons why I should be inducted into the Hallmark Hall of Attractiveness:

1) I am sporting stained teeth due to the copious amounts of coffee and tea that I've been consuming. Oh, and I have a broken front tooth (from a flossing accident, seriously).

2) I have wild hair that screams for a haircut. I didn't try to cut it myself this time, but I am starting to consider it. Sometimes the hair on the right side of my head sticks out like porcupine spikes because I have a habit of rubbing my head when I'm thinking and the rubbing generates static electricity.

3) I am wearing my sister's old glasses. The glasses are thick-rimmed, dark, and probably don't fit my face. The prescription is so low that everything and everyone outside of my three foot radius is a blur. I am constantly squinting and running into things. Don't worry, I don't wear the glasses while driving. There are enough Asian women driver stereotypes floating out there. I couldn't bear to perpetuate it.

4) I have been wearing the same musty clothes for quite some time now. I'm not sure how long. All I know is that every night, I fold them neatly and, inexplicably, throw them on the ground. When I wake up, my clothes are waiting for me. The cycle continues. In the morning, I usually squirt some body spray on my jacket, on the off chance that someone in the elevator stands too close to me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

mind over matter

My brain has already settled into vacation mode. I booked a flight home in a hurry. I want to taste simple home cooked meals, peruse a farmer's market with my mom, reacquaint myself with friends, and explore big cities without a care in the world.

I want, I want, I want.

I just pulled a shoulder muscle... by sitting. My body has atrophied.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

bad fruit

I don't know why it took me this long to realize that I don't like tomatoes.

I've always eaten them dutifully because they're full of lycopene and vitamins. Now I say, WHO CARES! I am going to live on the edge and never eat them again!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Today I found out that another high school classmate passed away. Steph sent us the Youtube video and it was shocking to see the moving montage of photos from his childhood, from his middle school graduation, from his wedding. It was unbearably sad.

Next to this news, my maudlin little aches seem misplaced and shallow.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What have I been doing?

If you asked me what I have been up to lately, I really wouldn't be able to say. My days are bleeding together again.

I've stared at a lot study room racing stripes. A few months ago, the good people at the university spruced up the study rooms and stairwells by painting racing stripes on the walls, presumably to break up the monotony.

I could tell you which bathroom stalls are the cleanest and when the afternoon glare sets in. I know the best time to get a parking spot and I remember all of the library hours. Beyond that, I'm not sure if I'm even retaining the information. Every element, rule, and exception feels like a wilted refrigerator magnet. Everything threatens to peel off and slip onto the floor at any time. I'm running out of space. If I shake my head too fast, information will go flying out of my ears! I'm only kind of kidding.

Sometimes I feel annoyed when people tell me how certain they are that I will pass the second time around. I know they mean well and I appreciate the good intentions. There is no rational explanation for why I am annoyed by their kind words of encouragement, except that it's a mix of fear and hurt pride and generally being sick of the bar hanging over my head. I guess I just want things to be normal, to discuss recipes and news and happy things with my family and friends and acquaintances, rather than rehash things that I don't feel like I can control.

In the end, I keep reminding myself that I am thankful to have made it this far. I am lucky to have the opportunity to even take this test. It's easy to forget how much I used to enjoy learning when everything hinges on three days.


On a random note, I've always assumed that "dirigible" is synonymous with "morsel" or "nugget." As in, I picked up some delicious little dirigibles at the market. I pictured something quaint and rustic. Today, I learned that it actually refers to some sort of blimp or zeppelin or aircraft. It was a relief to find out because if I ever used it in in conversation, I would look like a fool.

Still, I rather liked pretending that the word referred to food rather than aircraft.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Becoming a Writer" by Junot Diaz

It wasn’t that I couldn’t write. I wrote every day. I actually worked really hard at writing. At my desk by 7 A.M., would work a full eight and more. Scribbled at the dinner table, in bed, on the toilet, on the No. 6 train, at Shea Stadium. I did everything I could. But none of it worked. My novel, which I had started with such hope shortly after publishing my first book of stories, wouldn’t budge past the 75-page mark. Nothing I wrote past page 75 made any kind of sense. Nothing. Which would have been fine if the first 75 pages hadn’t been pretty damn cool. But they were cool, showed a lot of promise. Would also have been fine if I could have just jumped to something else. But I couldn’t. All the other novels I tried sucked worse than the stalled one, and even more disturbing, I seemed to have lost the ability to write short stories. It was like I had somehow slipped into a No-Writing Twilight Zone and I couldn’t find an exit. Like I’d been chained to the sinking ship of those 75 pages and there was no key and no patching the hole in the hull. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but nothing I produced was worth a damn.

Want to talk about stubborn? I kept at it for five straight years. Five damn years. Every day failing for five years? I’m a pretty stubborn, pretty hard-hearted character, but those five years of fail did a number on my psyche. On me. Five years, 60 months? It just about wiped me out. By the end of that fifth year, perhaps in an attempt to save myself, to escape my despair, I started becoming convinced that I had written all I had to write, that I was a minor league Ralph Ellison, a Pop Warner Edward Rivera, that maybe it was time, for the sake of my mental health, for me to move on to another profession, and if the inspiration struck again some time in the future…well, great. But I knew I couldn’t go on much more the way I was going. I just couldn’t. I was living with my fiancée at the time (over now, another terrible story) and was so depressed and self-loathing I could barely function. I finally broached the topic with her of, maybe, you know, doing something else. My fiancée was so desperate to see me happy (and perhaps more than a little convinced by my fear that maybe the thread had run out on my talent) that she told me to make a list of what else I could do besides writing. I’m not a list person like she was, but I wrote one. It took a month to pencil down three things. (I really don’t have many other skills.) I stared at that list for about another month. Waiting, hoping, praying for the book, for my writing, for my talent to catch fire. A last-second reprieve. But nada. So I put the manuscript away. All the hundreds of failed pages, boxed and hidden in a closet. I think I cried as I did it. Five years of my life and the dream that I had of myself, all down the tubes because I couldn’t pull off something other people seemed to pull off with relative ease: a novel. By then I wasn’t even interested in a Great American Novel. I would have been elated with the eminently forgettable NJ novel.

So I became a normal. A square. I didn’t go to bookstores or read the Sunday book section of the Times. I stopped hanging out with my writer friends. The bouts of rage and despair, the fights with my fiancée ended. I slipped into my new morose half-life. Started preparing for my next stage, back to school in September. (I won’t even tell you what I was thinking of doing, too embarrassing.) While I waited for September to come around, I spent long hours in my writing room, sprawled on the floor, with the list on my chest, waiting for the promise of those words to leak through the paper into me.

Maybe I would have gone through with it. Hard to know. But if the world is what it is so are our hearts. One night in August, unable to sleep, sickened that I was giving up, but even more frightened by the thought of having to return to the writing, I dug out the manuscript. I figured if I could find one good thing in the pages I would go back to it. Just one good thing. Like flipping a coin, I’d let the pages decide. Spent the whole night reading everything I had written, and guess what? It was still terrible. In fact with the new distance the lameness was even worse than I’d thought. That’s when I should have put everything in the box. When I should have turned my back and trudged into my new life. I didn’t have the heart to go on. But I guess I did. While my fiancée slept, I separated the 75 pages that were worthy from the mountain of loss, sat at my desk, and despite every part of me shrieking no no no no, I jumped back down the rabbit hole again. There were no sudden miracles. It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel I had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself. And another three years after that before I could look up from my desk and say the word I’d wanted to say for more than a decade: done.

That’s my tale in a nutshell. Not the tale of how I came to write my novel but rather of how I became a writer. Because, in truth, I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.

Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

empty head

I can't wait to let my brain lie fallow.

I've been browsing through celebrity gossip, rhubarb recipes, and international news. I suppose this means I better get back to the books!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

the onion dream

I ate some sauteed slivers of onion before I went to bed last night. It probably wreaked havoc on my stomach and my head.

I dreamt that my dad, my sister, and I decided to play in a lake of sludge. We walked through a barren field to get there. While we walked, I contemplated explaining adverse possession to my dad, but decided that it was not a good time.

We paddled a rowboat together with makeshift oars. Periodically, the three of us lost our balance and tipped into the water. As soon as my back touched the water, the boat shifted its weight and sent us bouncing back up, like Russian nesting dolls.

Later, I found myself in New York, eating dinner with classmates and old friends. At some point, harsh words were exchanged, long-standing feuds bubbled to the surface, and I beat someone up. The crowd huddled around us while I knocked the crap out of the poor guy. I felt like I could not punch him enough. He suffered permanent physical injury. I saw him later and he looked like a mess. I felt really bad and sorry. I woke up and I still feel really bad.