Knitting instead of writing

The holidays are officially here, which means a great deal of knitting and too-ambitious plans to make gifts, as well as that familiar feeling of sassy fatness from eating way too much.

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one of many hats knitted this fall

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Manischewitz-brined turkey for Thanksgivukkah

The knitting is beginning to take a toll on my hands and the development of carpal tunnel or some other form of repetitive strain injury. If I knit for a while, my fingers start to get tingly, and lately I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with my right hand asleep, and it takes a while for me to shake it awake. I may have to reassess the list of projects to make over the next month.

It has also taken over every free moment of my life, which means I haven’t written, not even in a journal, for a week now, and I’m definitely not fulfilling the contract I made for myself for the duration of the writing workshop I’m taking, which was to write for 45 minutes at least six days a week, which was nothing compared to my initial NaNoWriMo idea of writing 1,660 words per day, so I thought it was doable.

Today, I am proud to announce, I went to my first yoga class in a loooooong time, so the fat feeling is dissipating, while the motivation to do other things, like write in my journal, update my neglected blog, look for and apply to jobs, is increasing. All is not lost!

Back in grad school at Ohio State, I developed a daily yoga practice, which was excellent for my health in general but especially for my depression, and the combination of that with learning about mindfulness meditation made me think the clearest I think I ever did in my life. While reading Wherever You Go, There You Are, I had this very sad revelation that I had lost my way in life, that I had gotten distracted by other things, like material possessions–fashion, beauty products, academic degrees, social status, etc.–which I thought were essential to finding a good mate, a good career, a good life.

I was in a master’s program in Chinese literature, partly because I had acquired this desire to be in academia and get my PhD in something (it didn’t really matter, at the time, in what) and become a professor, like my parents. There were good reasons for wanting to go into Chinese lit, but not good enough, and I realized I wasn’t doing what I once thought I should do with my life, and that was mainly to be useful in the world, which came down to practicing nonviolence, because trying to help others starts with trying to stop harming others, and especially yourself.

At that time, I also realized I had harbored a dream of becoming a fiction writer for a long time but was always too scared to try it. Nearing the end of my program, newly on antidepressants and having successfully defended my thesis on Lu Xun, I decided to find a job in publishing in New York City and try to write. Then, of course, I discovered how hard it would be to find a job in publishing in New York City. That’s when I got distracted again and went into teaching.

The point is, doing yoga has helped me be more mindful, and it’s a good thing that I am starting to do it again. So: more writing, less knitting.

No more NaNoWriMo … I think

Even though the week got off to a rather harrowing start — when I went to move the car for street sweeping and found our car window smashed in — things seem to be going pretty well, especially on the writing front, though I have officially given up on NaNoWriMo. (Their messages to me, however, try to sound perky and encouraging, making it sound like it’s possible to get the word count back up. I don’t know about that.)

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Everyone was nice and concerned about the car, but the car was actually fine — I was just grateful first that it was still there, and second that nothing was taken from it, even though there’s nothing of any value in it anyway. And even though the replacing of the window cost me $300, at least I was able to find a place to fix the window that day. I was saying to someone that the car thing wasn’t actually the worst part of the day.

Because when I finally made it into the office, I (or I like to think someone who used the bathroom ahead of me, because I don’t want to blame myself, haha) managed to clog up the toilet, so I got the plunger, but it wasn’t working properly. Making sure it wasn’t just me not working properly, I struggled with it for a while, but in the end I had to go out and buy a new one. That one did work, but I had just spent most of what little time I had in the office doing that ridiculous task. (Those at the workshop don’t want me to scare off any future interns from working there, but since it was my poop in the pot, I wasn’t going to make anyone else deal with it. Just teaches you to take your dumps in a reliable toilet is all.)

Then I decided to make myself a nice, comforting cup of hot cocoa, but of course I took a big sip and it was scalding my tongue and I didn’t want to spit it all over the place or let it scald my throat, too, so I just let it burn my mouth before gulping it down. My tongue still feels messed up two days later.

The good thing about that day was workshopping my story. I had good feedback on the writing I had submitted, because the workshop has definite guidelines on being supportive, so I came away feeling confident about it. It needs a lot of work, but I don’t worry as much anymore about whether or not people want to hear my story; it seemed that there were enough interesting parts to keep people wondering and wanting more, and that makes me feel happy. Of course, I haven’t gone and read the comments on the hard copies yet, but in time I think I will have to courage to do so. And I might even get up enough courage to read part of it or an edited version at the open mic on Friday, which the AAWW is holding.

In other news, I am a knitting fiend these days, since I volunteered to make some hats and things for the AAWW fundraiser for typhoon survivors in the Philippines. Like I’ve said before, I’d rather knit than write. And apparently, I’d even rather do chores than write, sometimes, because yesterday I was super productive like I have never been in my entire life, taking the car for an oil change, doing the laundry, and making dinner, even while finishing the sewing up on a couple of knitting projects, which I usually detest doing. Just so I didn’t have to even think about writing. Which is why I think NaNoWriMo is over for me, and my very own knit-yourself-sore month has begun.

A week of momentous writing events

Week 2 of NaNoWriMo is not going well, but like I say to anyone who asks, the whole point of the exercise for me is to get into the habit of writing every day. Of course, having a lot written down is good, too, and so far I’m over 15,000 (though technically I should be at around 25,000), so there’s some material to work with for the future.

Most important this week was the start of my six-week memoir/autobiographical fiction workshop with Bushra Rehman and two big literary events: a conversation with playwright/novelist Ayad Akhtar through the Brown University entertainment group last night, and tonight Junot Diaz will be at the United Palace in Washington Heights to promote the illustrated version of This Is How You Lose Her.

I’m excited about the workshop — Bushra is encouraging and helpful, and Corona was a great read, but of course I’m nervous, too. I volunteered to be the first person to turn in a piece to workshop next week. Since AAWW is having an open mic for readings on the theme of ancestors next Friday, I thought I’d try my hand at the topic while writing as many words as possible for NaNoWriMo, so I cleaned it up a little and just sent it out to the class. We’ll see what I can do to make it better, and whether I think I would want to read it in public….

Last night, my coworker Nadia and I went to a Brown alum’s apartment on the Upper West Side for this 20-seat event to hear Ayad Akhtar ’93 speak. He had been on a panel for Page Turner, our huge literary event in October, but neither of us had heard it because we were both running around working. When we heard that he was going to do this Brown group event, because he has had a lot of success recently (like winning the Pulitzer Prize this year for his play Disgraced), Nadia and I scrambled to read his novel, American Dervish, in time to actually hear him speak. It was a very good book; both Nadia and I cried at the ending, which I think is saying something, because while I cry at everything, Nadia said she hardly ever does.

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I was inspired by hearing him talk about his trajectory from Brown to now, because he really persisted in writing, through years of struggling, having to learn to take criticism, and opening his mind to lessons from really unexpected places (like from the ultra-successful creator of Survivor and other reality shows). And he also had to come to terms with his identity and background, growing up Pakistani American in Wisconsin, and I think he did that through his recent writing and through his novel in particular, which is autobiographical to a mysterious degree. That is something that I aspire to — simply because that’s all I end up writing about anyway, myself — and letting my past experiences and background be fodder for creative work. I had recently decided, whether or not anybody wants to read about my life, I just have to do it, and then maybe I can move on to other things.

I related a lot to Akhtar’s novel, even though I knew close to nothing about Islam or Pakistan — the book taught me a bit about the Quran because the protagonist starts learning about it as an adolescent — but the experience of growing up Asian American with immigrant parents in a white community was familiar, and interest in spirituality and religion at a young age, too. The story in the novel, about the consequences of a childish error, was fascinating, similar to Ian McEwan’s Atonement, tragic and riveting, like a train wreck. I would like to read Disgraced and see his new play, which will be produced at Lincoln Center next year. (Shane will be happy because I have up to now had very little interest in going to any plays at all, not having ever been in the habit of going to the theater as he did growing up.)

In preparation for tonight’s event with Junot Diaz, I made myself read This Is How You Lose Her, which I finished last night. I enjoyed it, but not as much as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (coincidentally, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2008). Well, this new one was just different. I would like to read Drown next, which was his first book, a collection of stories. Looking forward to hearing him talk tonight and hanging with my AAWW comrades coming up to my part of town.

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo

I’m not sure if I’m going to continue doing this novel-writing month thingie.

It isn’t that the first week isn’t going well–in fact it has been good to get in the habit of setting aside time to just write, and not just a couple pages but a substantial amount (even though it’s all crap that I’m writing down, but that’s not the point of why I’m doing this, is it?)–but I am starting to see that there are other things I could be doing with my time on certain days. This may just mean doing a lower word count on busy days and a higher one on days off, but as the month gets into swing, I start to find all kinds of reasons not to write 1,667 words per day.

For example, I like doing this blog, even though I’m not sure what it’s for exactly–but it helps me in some strange way. I have never tried to promote this blog outside of my own circle of family and friends, because I have always just used blogs to keep those people who care updated about what’s going on in my life, starting with the blog about living for a year in Mexico eight years ago. I don’t necessarily want it to get a big readership or anything, because then I’ll just feel pressured to produce something really good every time I write, and that proves disastrous for me. Instead, I use it to focus my thoughts on what I want to do to make a living and to try to notice what I like and don’t like and work that all out. It’s also something that keeps me a little more accountable, because even though I only have a few people who read it, I have committed to trying to post once a week so that I do think about my career (or lack of one, more like) and communicate that to people who either worry about me or just want to make sure I’m still alive.

My tumblr is another thing I want to spend time on, only because I love birding and photography now. Which leads to a bunch of other things I want to do, but primarily: Learn how to take better photos. First, it does mean getting a stronger zoom lens, which I’m hoping I’ll do once I get a job with an income…. Second, learn how to process the photos I do take with Photoshop.

I saw a posting for a communications assistant for the New York Philharmonic the other day, helping with press releases and PR but also managing photography and video for the orchestra, and I’d have applied except for that whole thing about not trying to get a full-time job while I’m committed to a part-time internship, but also because I don’t know how to use Photoshop yet, even though my friend Ruth lent me a book months ago to help me start with learning. So that’s another thing I’d like to spend some time doing. And while I’m not thrilled about doing communications work (having to contact lots of people for shit isn’t my idea of fun), I’d do it for an organization like the NY Philharmonic, of course, hello! The freakin’ Philharmonic!

Other things to do with my time:

Read. I start the six-week writing workshop on Monday, and I just got the workshop leader’s novel in the mail yesterday! Also, Junot Diaz is going to be at the United Palace in Washington Heights on Nov. 15, and I am getting This Is How You Lose Her in the mail today so I can be prepared to listen to him talk about it.

Yoga. I used to have this daily morning practice back in Ohio, but it fizzled out while I was in Mexico and I’ve never really gotten back into a routine since. By now it’s nonexistent, so I have to start taking classes to get going again. It was so good for me back then to do it–good for my body but mainly good for my low-grade depression because it was a discipline that I did even when I didn’t want to, and it made me feel better in the long run (plus I hate all other forms of exercise). That’s the problem when you’re depressed, not doing things because you don’t feel any motivation or energy at all, ignoring the fact that it will make you feel better at the end of the day, not caring what’s good for you anyway because, well, you don’t feel self worth in the first place, right? 

Therapy. That segues nicely from the depression thing, because honestly I need to deal with some of these issues that have been problems for most of my life. Also, I don’t want to be medicated anymore. Time to find a counselor.

Look for jobs. Of course–what else? I have to find some way of making money to fund one of my favorite all-time hobbies: shopping.

In the end, I’m still going to try to continue NaNoWriMo for at least another week. They say it takes two weeks of doing something daily to make it a habit. We’ll see about that!

On the eve of NaNoWriMo

I didn’t accomplish my October goal to write every day to practice for National Novel Writing Month (November). So now I guess I must suffer the consequences of just having to jump right into it & learning to get 1,660 words down per day.

One good thing is that I got into the next AAWW writing workshop, led by Bushra Rehman, whose first novel was recently published and who read at the first event I ever attended at the workshop. (I write about it in a previous post on this blog.) She is doing six weekly sessions on memoir and autobiographical fiction — Hello, exactly what I want to do for November! Her novel is about growing up Pakistani in Corona, Queens, and the workshop filled up within a week.

I was definitely lucky to get in, because even though interns get to attend one workshop for free, there haven’t been any in the past few months, and there are a lot of interns who still have yet to take one. Basically, I wrote asking for permission as soon as it was posted and I was persistent. Squeaky wheel and all that.

It also helps that my older sister and a couple of other interns at the workshop are also doing NaNoWriMo, so there will be fellow writers I know suffering through the month.

Another good thing is that I have a friend who tried to do NaNoWriMo last year and gave up on it, with no regrets, so I won’t feel so bad if the same thing happens to me this year. I mean, it’s nice to know it’s not necessary or easy. I imagine there are lots of casualties of this thing; just guessing.

P.S. I’m not used to the WordPress app on my phone and accidentally published this before I was done writing. Also, didn’t see autocorrect typos till much later!