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.

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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!

Of handmade pasta and knitting

On the Friday night before my Sunday birthday, Shane’s friend Enrico had me, Shane, and their friend Evan over for dinner, and when they found out that my original plan to celebrate my birthday by doing karaoke that night had fallen through, I think they might have felt obligated to make dinner a special occasion in my honor. It was indeed special, and I deeply appreciate their efforts. These guys are incredibly good people.

The three of them are playing Bach inventions together, Shane and Enrico on guitar and Evan on cello, with plans to provide musical entertainment at the Columbia econ department’s Christmas party. They are expecting me to join them on the violin for Christmas tunes. But more on that at a later date.

Shane and I had invited them over the weekend before, to play music and drink lots, and we fed them some slow-cooked venison (courtesy of Shane’s hunting family), which they greatly appreciated, so much so that Enrico, who is from Italy, vowed to make pasta for us the next time we got together.

After getting out of Spanish class Friday evening, Enrico went home and made pasta dough, rolled it out with a rolling pin, and hand-cut the tagliatelle he later cooked and served with a creamy mushroom sauce he just threw together. It was divine. Then he brought out a caprese salad. Oh my god, some of my favorite foods….

Note to the ladies: Enrico is single and apparently a brilliant doctoral student in economics, which means he’ll probably be making the big bucks after finishing school. Plus he is a great cook. And he even bought me flowers for my birthday!

I mention the handmade pasta on this blog because Enrico made a remark that is relevant to the idea of doing work that has visible outcomes/tangible results: He said that choosing to spend an hour making noodles often makes more sense to him than sitting and doing economics on a computer for three hours, after which he doesn’t see the result of his efforts anywhere in the world; but with pasta-making, you have pasta.

Like many people, I’m guessing, I completely relate to this — especially with the cooler fall weather arriving and as I feel a push to get some knitting done. All of a sudden I want to knit a million accessories for myself, not to mention the tons of holiday projects I’ve planned for other people, many of which have been in my Ravelry queue for years.

And instead of writing more, like I’m supposed to be doing, and reading the next book on my list, I just knit. A noodle, or a scarf, is just so much more satisfyingly and physically present than, say, an economics paper (or whatever economists produce), or a short story.

Sort of, not really, back to normal

Now that the literary festival is over, and we’ve moved vanloads of stuff back from downtown Brooklyn, we at the AAWW office finally get to wind down. We’ll slowly unpack boxes while getting back to the work of putting out three online magazines and preparing for other, smaller events.

I will get back to the project of creating a house style sheet/guide for the AAWW publications, which is kind if exciting if you like copyediting, as language-nerds like me do.

I also spent my first working day away from the office writing my long overdue article on the Quakers, whose service I attended weeks ago. If there’s time today, I may even finish it, which is no small accomplishment for me. I putzed around most of the morning yesterday until finally getting myself to the nearby cafe to work.

Haven’t started looking for work again yet. The whole part-time thing seems strange since I won’t be doing this internship long-term, but it’s no excuse.

I complain about working as an intern a lot, but it is a special thing to be working with writers.

One thing I found inspiring at the festival Saturday was unexpected, because it came from the author of several urban-fantasy romance novels and X-men comics, Marjorie Liu. While I love the X-men films (especially Hugh Jackman, I mean, Wolverine), I do not aspire to writing romance novels or making comics. But she said something that has given me motivation to start writing my own fiction, that you can talk about voice and plot and character development all you like, but you have to finish your writing. If you don’t finish something, none of that other stuff matters.

She also said that a lot of her writing, especially in the beginning, sucked, but that’s what revision is for. You have to spend a great deal of time revising to make the writing good. That’s something I definitely need to remember when my perfectionism takes over and harshly judges everything I write down or even think.

So I’ve now signed up to do National Novel Writing Month, in which people vow to write 50,000 words over the course of 30 days and keep track of it at the website.

Who’s gonna do it with me?

In preparation, I am going to have to spend the rest of October writing a lot, so I’ll have to journal daily, at the very least, which I haven’t done in ages, and maybe try for a short story or essay.

No procrastination, no training wheels, just writing … every day.

Living and breathing the internship — and eating, too

The Asian American Writers Workshop is having their giant, annual literary festival — Page Turner — on Saturday, Oct. 5, in Brooklyn, and we are consumed by it in the office. In addition, we have had two events there this week already and are co-sponsoring another about Edward Said tonight at CUNY.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of work to be done. Since I don’t yet have another job, I am working the internship full-time for the week and a half leading up to Page Turner. This leaves little time for me to work on my next article for the religions series or for my new pastime of birding, but I am eagerly awaiting the next week’s migration news on BirdCast and hoping that Saturday is going to be a good day for birding on Van Cortlandt Park’s free bird walk. Plus, I can work on the article. And of course look for jobs…. (Oh yeah, that other thing I need to do!)

Last night was the book launch for Jen Lin-Liu’s On the Noodle Road, a travelogue about searching for the origins of noodles along the Silk Road from China to Italy. She did a cooking demonstration, and we got to sample manti, the Turkish dumplings that are very similar to Italian tortellini, in a yogurt sauce. She also cooked up some tortelloni, the bigger cheese ones, with some butter and fresh sage. (Tortelloni were by far my favorite food in Bologna when I was there, except I had them with this heavenly butter-tomato sauce called burro e oro.)

on-the-noodle-roadAnd to end things, we also had some Chinese vegetarian dumplings, which I had to schlep all the way from this tiny hole-in-the-wall place called Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown. I’m not complaining because they were delicious and cheap and I have found my new go-to place for dumplings; while I waited for the dumplings I got a free piece of this giant fried sesame bread, 芝麻大餅 — so tasty and I have never seen this thing before, where’s this thing from? — and on the menu it only costs $1.50. I love Chinatown!

I wish I had gotten a picture on my phone of them frying this thing in a wok — this is not the usual scallion pancake 蔥油餅 that we have had all our lives; it’s a thick yeast bread that’s fried, kind of like this one:

zhimadabingexcept mine might not have had scallions, and it reminded me of New York-style pizza, because it was huge. You can order it plain or with different things inside, like egg or different kinds of meat, but I got the veggie filling of carrots and cilantro and a nutty blend of spices — oh my god, so good.

It was also quite inspiring to hear about Jen Lin-Liu’s book, because I’m interested in travel writing — I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in traveling and then writing and publishing a book about it? And on top of that, food writing — eating and then writing and publishing a book about that!

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My birding blog

I’ve been trying out different social media/blog thingies, mostly because job descriptions for editorial assistants sometimes want you to be familiar with them, and I’m getting to like Tumblr after having an empty account on it for a year.

I called it “pillowtumblr” after the fashion of Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book (not the Ewan McGregor movie, which I have not seen, but beware searching “pillow book” because you’ll get all kinds of photos of naked bodies with calligraphy on them). If you don’t know it, it’s kind of this Japanese court lady’s journal, but it’s done in mainly lists of things, such as:

“64. Surprising and Distressing Things
While one is cleaning a decorative comb, something catches in the teeth and the comb breaks.
A carriage overturns. One would have imagined that such a solid, bulky object would remain forever on its wheels. It all seems like a dream — astonishing and senseless.
A child or grown-up blurts out something that is bound to make people uncomfortable.
All night long one has been waiting for a man who one thought was sure to arrive. At dawn, just when one has forgotten about him for a moment and dozed off, a crow caws loudly. One wakes up with a start and sees that it is daytime — most astonishing.
One of the bowmen in an archery contest stands trembling for a long time before shooting; when finally he does release his arrow, it goes in the wrong direction.”

Well, if you aspire to be the social media version of a Sei Shonagon, there is no way you will write anything … for a whole year. I could make lists, but they certainly wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as entertaining or profound as hers. (And Sei Shonagon’s would-be Twitter account has been cleverly done already — “Peach trees are blooming, nice. Willows looking good omg am I done yet” — there’s a screenshot of it from one of my early pillowtumblr posts, too.)

Finally, I realized I could forget about trying to make pithy lists and simply make lists for myself of birds I see, since I’ve now become a compulsive beginning birder (a recipe for frustration if ever there was one). It’s good to write down what you see on a birdwalk. And most definitely, there are visible outcomes of birdwatching — you are bound to see something, even if it’s a park full of Canada geese, or some sparrows and pigeons.

So in the absence of a post here about looking for a job (not really happening much) or my internship, I am linking the birding blog.

I feel old

There aren’t many places where I would take an unpaid internship; the Asian American Writers Workshop is one of those places. I applied for a fall internship there last year and had an interview, then tried again in the winter but wasn’t called back. This summer, with all different editors and managers, I got it.

I figured, it’s only part-time, so I could have a paying part-time job while I’m doing it, make lots of good connections in the publishing world (which I sorely lack at this point), learn about nonprofits and digital publishing (since they have three online publications, including CultureStrike, about changing mainstream views of immigration through culture and art, mostly in response to anti-immigration laws in my home state of Arizona), and though it’s unpaid, there is a travel stipend and a free writing workshop. My dream, after all, is to write fiction or creative nonfiction, and I’d be in this ethnicity-based genre whatever I wrote, so where else better to intern?

My first event was Friday night, a reading at the workshop space in Chelsea by Bushra Rehman, from her novel, Corona, which is about the neighborhood in Queens where she grew up. She was joined by other Queens artists from the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective. The readings left me feeling rejuvenated, especially Bushra’s. I can’t wait to read her book; the parts I’ve read and heard are really good.

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Monday was my first official day on the job. I was there with three other interns, all college students, all of them really nice. That was weird, though, to think these kids are, what, 20 years old? And I am working for free alongside them, even though I am almost twice their age? I couldn’t help but think to myself, what am I doing here? I’m turning 37 next month and I’m an intern! But I try not to feel embarrassed and remind myself that I’m getting connections, lots of connections, which is the only way to get a job in publishing.

Meanwhile, I wonder what would happen if I got called for any of the full-time jobs I applied to before accepting this internship. I mean, if I were offered a paying job with benefits, I would feel weird turning it down for an unpaid internship, but I have this deep sense of responsibility, making a commitment to an organization I feel passionate about, that would basically put me in a state of agony.

In fact, the same day that I was offered the internship, I was sent a copy test, my very first one, for a copy editor’s position for a digital media company, something to do with comedy, which is why I was worrying about whether “ball sack” should be one word or two (for those who saw my Facebook post). My solution, in the end, was to just use “balls” and avoid the problematic term. I never did hear back from them for an interview, though, which is disappointing, but it’s also kind of relief for my abovementioned sense of duty.

So the goal today is to apply for some part-time jobs, I guess clerical stuff at universities, which is my default, because I am so good at that sort of mindless labor, especially making copies, and working with students and professors. But I know you can make mad tips waiting tables, so that’s an option. I mean, I could do anything I wanted! I would prefer copyediting, but that’s been a hard little network to crack. I’m working on it, though, joining copy editors’ associations and reading articles and books on how to get freelance gigs….

I also need to work on my last InDesign assignment, though that online class is getting so tiresome that I’m certain to skip the last discussion session and go to a happy hour in Brooklyn for CultureStrike.