Monthly Archives: July 2010

My honest writer bio

please don't eat us.  we're not REALLY hot dogs.

After reading Ellen Potter’s amusing post entitled, “The Big Fat Lie of the Author Bio,” my enterprising friend Nova wrote “a more honest author bio,” and challenged other writers to do the same.

Aha! A challenge! I shall take thee up on your (thy? dammit. I suck at Old English? Middle English?) quest! Um.

My official bio, up at on my About page, reads:

My work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as ZYZZYVA, Verbsap, and Yomimono. An adjunct instructor at a local college, I received an Ardella Mills Fiction Prize from Mills College in 2005, placed as a finalist in Poets and Writers Magazine’s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmertrain’s Fiction Open in 2009.

I earned my undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and my MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. I am the Fiction Editor at Kartika Review and, in addition to writing short stories, I have a novel in progress.

It’s so sanitized. So professional sounding.

My more honest bio (written spontaneously, because honesty comes without premeditation) would read:

Christine works at a dining room table surrounded by piles of teaching materials and student papers that need constant grading and she writes with a needy geriatric wiener dog who smells like corn chip Fritos on her lap and another needy wiener dog with feral survival tendencies who is up to no good somewhere in the kitchen. She dotes on her husband who dotes on her and together they get through her sporadic writing self esteem troughs that sometimes attack daily and sometimes leave her alone for weeks. She should be running and exercising, but instead she is baking cookies and eating them. By herself. In front of her laptop. Trying to revise her novel. She is very pale.

What is your honest author/writer bio?

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Articulating Pain: Expectations on Expecting

bellflowers

There’s an iPhone4 advert series that shows various people talking to each other thru FaceTime, an iPhone app that allows videoconferencing between phones. In one of the adverts (youtube link here), a woman calls a man, with a facial expression that I can only describe as Infinite Glee and Joy and Smugness; she begins by saying, “Hey do you got a minute? Are you alone?”

The glee on her face betrayed the understatement. F*ck you, I thought. I saw it coming right then.

“Well, you know that THING we’ve been working on for awhile now?” she continued. Ohgawd. Here it comes.

The man replies, “No way.” Yah, me too. I flipped off the television screen.

The bird didn’t stop the inevitable. She continued (because she’s an advertisement on television, not a real person), “Mmmhrmmm–You’re gonna be a dad!” I knew it. Argh.

I.hate.that.iPhone4 advertisement. It smacks of all that frustrates me about societal expectations of women and couples without children. That conversation, that situation (of being “with child”) is supposed to be the symbol of The Greatest Joy.

This advertisement bothered me. I went ahead and tweeted, “I just flipped off the iPhone 4 commercial where the woman tells her husband via phone video, ‘You’re gonna be a dad.'” And found that I was not alone in my frustration. Really not alone.

And then this morning I read Eve’s amaaaazing post on the Empty Womb and Self Actualization (there’s an actual psychological pyramid of needs by Kenrick that puts parenting at the top, thereby equating parenting with self actualizationg! zomg). In her post, she details the psychological aspects of the issue and offers a few suggestions, one being that parents share the downs as well as the ups of parenthood to the world and do the justice of offering a balanced portrait (instead of smugness). Her post explained my frustration and anger with the iPhone 4 advertisement. And it helped me articulate some of my personal thoughts on societal messages about Parenthood as Ultimate Joy and Self Actualization.

When I was studying with an Orthodox rabbi for conversion to Judaism, I learned many things. For example, I learned the laws of kashrut, the debates within kashrut, I read the Kuzari and learned history and learned to ask questions (being Asian, one of the greatest hurdles to my learning process was that I initially found it very very difficult to question an authority figure or an overriding law, which is precisely the method of learning a rabbi embraces). I studied for five years. I learned things with which I had conflict, like the Orthodox Jewish stance with homosexuality (which officially is not in support of homosexuality in case you needed that stated).

And I read a line in a book by a female author describing Jewish life that sticks with me to this day: “A childless couple in the community is pitied.” I had never seen it spelled out like that before. It stung even then, before I knew I would spend over 10 years trying to conceive without success.

It stung because it is true. A childless couple, or childless person, is pitied.

Pitied. Not accepted. Not extolled. Not empathized. Not sympathized. Pitied. To see as lesser, to feel sorry for.

As in, missing out on The Greatest Joy.

And I am reminded of this constantly. From a guest at a wedding sitting to my right, who inevitably asks, “Do you have children?” To which I answer No. To which he replies “Why not? You really should have children. They are great. You should have children.” To which I decide to reply Because I can’t have children. Thank you. (I have many responses; this is one I save for the truly obnoxious because it is a conversation killer). To which he continues, “You should try IVF, have you heard of IVF?” To which I *want* to reply What is IVF? I have never heard of IVF! But instead I reply It doesn’t always work. To which he responds “Yes it does! C’mon, you can’t tell me it fails! Everyone I know who’s had it done, conceived!” To which I want to reply are you really that f*cking stupid but instead say No, it only works a percentage of the time. You should look into your facts…and on and on and on. I can only summarize the conversation as a painful exchange, one that begins with the man extolling The Greatest Joy, urging membership, and then insisting on ways to join, all the while showing utter ignorance.

Someone who is a part of my daily life came up to me not too long ago and said with utter sincerity (and joy), “You don’t really finish growing up until you have a child.” He knows I have been trying to have a child for years and years. I was silent. I wasn’t sure that was true. But I didn’t have a rebuttal until months and months later when a friend of mine told me, “You should have told him you don’t really finish growing up until you’ve had a stroke at the age of 33!” That’s an awesome line from an awesome friend. A little too late. But it gave me a good laugh and helped me imagine a different end to that exchange.

I have had to hide the status updates of so many of my friends on Facebook, because of what I call “smug Mommy updates.” It makes me feel I am lesser, even if they don’t feel they’re consciously doing so. There are mommy friends I haven’t hid, and those are the friends whose updates are more balanced: not only are their kids cherubic at times, their kids also slip out of their diapers in the middle of the night, roll around in their doody and smear doody on the walls. Their kids are beautiful and they have videos of kids singing…and their kids also have rockin’ tantrums. This is real, this is beautiful, this does not make me feel lesser, and does not fill me with heartbreak.

Even an article in nymag entitled “All Joy No Fun; Why Parents Hate Parenting”, one that portrays parenthood as being absent of fun and enjoyment…ultimately defends parenthood as a bastion of Joy.

At times I am bitter, but most of the time, I am not bitter. I am happy. I am a joyful person who happens to not have a child, and who wants a child (one! I just want one!). My infertility brings me pain; as far as I know, pain can coincide with happiness and joy. I am happy for my friends with children or who are pregnant, even if sometimes I can’t stop crying while saying I am happy for them. Sometimes I wonder if my grief stems from societal expectations and pressure as much as it comes from within me. My grief probably is complicated by these societal messages and this feeling of exclusion as much as it stems from a real desire for a child.

An addendum: After I wrote this post, I kept thinking about all the myths out there and how they are furthered by the stupidity of people like…screenwriters. There is nothing that has infuriated me further than the Sex and the City movie (the first one) where Charlotte is suddenly pregnant after having adopted her first child, Lily. The screenwriters even had the gall to have her character squeal, “I’m pregnant. I guess if you relax and adopt like they say, you will finally get pregnant on your own!” That they turned her character and her infertility from something meaningful (her conversion to Judaism in the TV series, although a bit speedy/easy, was something that rang a little true…and her struggles with infertility even truer) to something that was an insulting cliché disappointed me. That people turn to me and say stuff like, “If you stop trying, you’ll get pregnant/Why don’t you adopt?/I know someone (probably Charlotte) who adopted and then got pregnant,” is just so sad. And after a little bit of googling, I’ve found I’m not the only person who thinks/feels this way.

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Links

rose, evening light

Yes, it’s summer. Summer: roses in bloom, farm-fresh strawberries and yellow donut peaches, warm evenings, leafy trees, swimming pools, ice cream, watermelons, sleeping in, sleeping late…

  • Janet Fitch’s very wise 10 Writing Tips
  • HEY! HOW’S THAT NOVEL COMING ALONG? YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED? (Really: my dry cleaner is STILL asking me, 4 years after I told her I was writing a novel. I regret having told her. I should have just said I work in HR–that tends to shut people right up): The quiet hell of 10 years of novel writing
  • Dear Sugar’s remarkable column. “How you get unstuck.”
  • Acting with James Franco (watch all of them!)
  • You know about my love affair with VONA. Sharline Chiang is guest contributor at The Basin Blog, and is generously sharing her notes from various workshops, beginning with Gail Tsukiyama and David Mura
  • Mel Gibson’s f*cking rants, visualized (yet another great use case for Wordle–the best use case being that you should plug your writing in and see which words you use most for editing purposes)
  • This iPhone/ EVO youtube video has me cracking up…even weeks later
  • Jeffrey Eugenides discusses his novel-in-progress. (Original interview w Galassi on his novel-in-progress here).

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Volunteers

what is this?

My vegetable garden has inspired me throughout the years as a writer. Amending the soil, is like enriching the language in revision, or coming up with rich ideas as foundation for story. Planning the garden out, making sure the tallest plants don’t cast shade on the others come mid-summer, is like planning structure. Making sure to plant vegetables and herbs I eat–that’s like making sure everything in a novel has a purpose and serves the existing themes (you really wouldn’t plant celery if you had zero intention of eating celery, right? And you really wouldn’t create a character who didn’t serve the story, right?).

Molepher/Gopher meal

The occasional pest, like gophers, is another painful lesson: for a year I let that gopher live, and that gopher ate everything in my garden (it pulled down my tomato plants, it pulled down my chamomile, my dill, every broccoflower, pea plant, carrot and radish). I couldn’t bear to kill it, but in the end, I had to for the sake of my garden; I had to kill my darlings, as every writer must do. Every year, the garden, in addition to nurturing my body, teaches me a lesson.

molepher evidence

At first, I unleashed one of my wiener dogs (the one with the hunting prowess and loves to roll around in dirt, not the one who doesn’t like to get dirty) to hunt it down. Scarlet the Wiener Dog had a lot of fun pinpointing its location and unearthing its many underground tunnels (did you know that dogs don’t close their eyes when digging underground? She emerged with very irritated eyes):

Scarlet and the molepher

But in the end, it was I, the gardener, who had to take matters into my own hands. Because the wiener dog never actually found the gopher, I set the trap. Writers have to do this, too. We have to take matters into our own hands; we cannot hire a proxy.

Now this year: volunteers. Volunteer plants are plants that grow on their own, without intent, blown in by the wind, or dropped by a bird, or as is most likely the case of mine, it’s mixed into compost that is introduced into the garden before the seed has broken down.

what is this?

I admit: last year, before I got a compost bin, I got rrreal lazy and threw vegetable bits straight into a corner of my garden. So the reality is that this vegetable is likely one that I have eaten before–perhaps it is grey zucchini? Or a melon? I hope it’s summer squash and not winter squash–I’d hate for it to interfere with my triamble squash seeds (as I understand it, two different winter squash plants will cross pollinate and produce seeds that are not “true”).

Now this post is twofold:

  1. I am wondering if one of my dear readers can tell me what this volunteer plant might be (the one pictured above and at the top of this post). Is it a summer squash like I suspect? Perhaps a grey zucchini?
  2. To talk about volunteers as a metaphor for writing.

I wrote the first draft of my novel, and at times it was tedious, like pulling teeth from my characters. Putting words down just to get the words down, in what felt like the most unnatural progression. This part of writing is dreadful; like knowing I’m getting more lost by the minute, like walking into the WRONG part of the forest or getting off the wrong offramp. But I kept going because sometimes you have to put down the shitty words before you get to the good stuff. (I have to believe this, people).

But! When it went WELL–I felt the words flowing. When it went REALLY WELL, I felt delighted and surprised, sometimes even going as far as to laugh out loud. REALLY laugh out loud at what spontaneously appeared; whether in funny dialogue or stunning character action. This did not happen as often as I’d like, but it did happen–and it almost always felt spontaneous. (Here’s the irony: I sit and plan and plan and sit and write and write and plan in order to achieve that moment of spontaneity).

That feeling of spontaneous inspiration? It’s like a volunteer plant. Despite all that actual planning, I didn’t plan for it to exist (though it’s very welcome), and in some way, it feels like it was planted there by the Muse/G*d/Fate/Wind/Bird/Compost. I don’t know what the volunteer inspiration is going to turn out to be, but I let it grow, out of curiosity and delight, and because it FEELS right. And oftentimes, that’s the best part of writing, and the best part of story.

Now I have to nurture the plant, and identify it to make sure that it grows well, and that it fits into the scheme of things. I’m going with it.

What has popped up in your life and writing that was unexpected? And what did you do with it?

And um, what IS my volunteer plant? Do any of you know?

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“Ninja say WHAT?!”

oh holymoly, this is funny. Thank you to Kimchihead for the link.

Everyone needs a good laugh. It’s the funniest sh*t I’ve watched in a long time. Watch it. I’ve seen it 5 times, and I keep laughing harder. I swear, if I had seen this even just last week, I’d be in pain, laughing while holding in my cartilage torn ribs with my hand (they’re healing now).

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Quick blog post, June

Ziggy

Read/Reading:

  • Manuscripts from VONA. It has been a looong time since I was in a workshop, and at first I regarded the stack of manuscripts like papers from my students (I think I literally said outloud, “Arrgh! Aren’t I on summer break from teaching?!”). But then I started reading them and fireworks exploded in my head; they were rich and creative and I enjoyed reading them as a peer. I learned as much from reading and critiquing their works as I did having my novel excerpt workshopped, no small thanks to Mat Johnson’s extreme generosity and heart as our mentor and workshop leader.
  • Vida by my amazing friend Patricia Engel. Vida is out this Fall; when the galley arrived in the mail I think I nearly squealed with pride. Buy it.
  • Blindness by José Saramago. Started reading it before VONA. Still reading. Can I say WOW?
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is one I’m picking up now. It was mentioned several times in workshop, 3 of those mentions occurring during my workshop. Must read.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. This is a book that is so dark, I can’t immerse myself in it right now. But I also know this is a book I’ll probably savor like I finally did Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, another book that sat next to my bed for 2 years before I picked it up and read it nonstop. The Road, as you know, is a book that I consider perfectly written.
  • And I read a rejection letter that had a substantial handwritten note about my story they liked reading (but still rejected). I’ll take it.

Wrote/Writing:

  • Really? The truth? Nothing. Except this blog. My journal. Dabbling with a few half done essays, including one about my stroke and its impact on my writing and the 2 year recovery process. Thinking and obsessing about my novel and what I want to revise, which I kind of count as writing. I am in a trough void of confidence these days (picture a neverending chorus inside one’s head chanting, “You suck, you suck, you suck, you suck…”). But VONA has recharged me. Couldn’t have come at a better time, really.
  • But I did send out a bunch of stories. Spent enough on postage to miss the money.

Viewed:

  • Nigella’s cooking show on the new (and so much better than Food Network) Cooking Channel. I want her to take care of me.
  • Jamie Oliver’s cooking show. I don’t think he meant to be funny, but…
  • Per Mat Johnson’s recommendation, Children of Men. A grim movie but one that tells a story in a non-stupid way.
  • See happenings below, for the sights on our road trip.

Memorable eats:

  • A special meal at Poppy in Seattle and savoring its thali-centric menu.
  • Albion strawberries from the farmer’s market.
  • The McGangBang (McChicken sandwich inside of a Double Cheeseburger):
    the McGangBang

Culinary outings:

Pizzaiolo. Caffe Intermezzo salad. Lots of fast food on the road. All a blur.

Cooked:

We ate a sh*t-ton of road food this month–such that the first thing I did when I got home was make chicken matzo ball soup.
chicken soup

Happenings:

  • One of my friends is sick and without health insurance. She is starting radiation and chemo this week. Pray for her. Send lots of positive thoughts. She is worth praying for, you won’t regret it. Let’s put it this way: she is the kind of person, who despite her diagnosis sent ME a get well gift when she heard about my brief ER/Trauma visit:

    plushy comfort toy gift from Jennifer

  • Road trip to Seattle!
  • Road trip to Seattle…where I got hit by a car. The first thing I saw in Seattle was Harborview’s ER Trauma 1 center.

    car accident vs my pedestrian's ass, day 5

  • I pretty much HATED Seattle after getting hit by a car, which happened my very very first morning in the city. (I’d literally left the hotel and walked 20 paces when I got hit by a car while walking in the crosswalk on a green light). I tried eating a sandwich from Salumi, but it was an incredibly average two bites (I stopped eating it in my malaise). But guess what? My friend Tara saved Seattle’s honor by inviting me to join her for dinner at Poppy, to which I limped via cab (pain) and thoroughly enjoyed (thank you so so so much, Tara, especially for the wonderful conversation and hospitality even if I was distracted by pain and unable to laugh for fear of rib pain):

    poppy bar menu

  • Then, road trip back from Seattle. I love the surprising things you see on the road.Like, the people from Little People, Big World driving alongside you:

    Little People, Big World

    And Mount Shasta, which isn’t so much surprising as it is stunning. I swear, as I grow older, I become more and more like my parents, who are Korean, and thus obsessed with mountains as I have become:

    Mount Shasta

    Happiness and hope in a car:

    car

    GROMMIT-obsessed:

    Gromit!

    Not enough room in an 18 wheeler for your stuff, so…

    not enough room in the truck...?

  • One of my short stories, sent to a litmag, was returned to me in its original envelope. The stamps were not cancelled. The envelope had been opened and taped back up. The contents were still inside. The post office said the address was wrong. Who opened up the envelope? And did they read my story?weird.
  • VONA. Workshop with Mat Johnson, which was an amazing experience, the highlight of June. He is smart and funny and compassionate.
  • I also met Tayari Jones irl!
  • My dogs went to the vet. Not exciting. Except they both took simultaneous dumps in the exam room before the vet walked in. And when I limped-walked to get a paper towel, I stepped in one of the dumps (didn’t realize that was happening behind me on the floor). Total shitstorm. These are my 2 wiener dogs planning the whole thing, en route to the vet:trouble!
  • My 17 year old Wiener Dog lost a front tooth. This is after the vet appt. We don’t know where the tooth is. Is this how it happens? They just start falling apart?

In sum, I looked out the window today and saw sunlight, and leaves rustled by a slight breeze. My dogs are sleeping on the couch, and Jónsi is playing on the stereo. My aches and pains and recurring sadnesses are not much in the Universe. I’m in love with my husband and he, with me. I’m able to hug my friends and family. Hell, I have friends to hug. I feel thankful.

p.s. this feeling of peace/contentment/satisfaction will dissipate at any moment.

comfy wiener dogs

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