I haven’t been as regular with this blog lately. What have I been up to, you ask? Today, I got caught in a vortex of cake-decorating videos. You know the ones. Three minute, sped-up clips of anonymous hands handling colourful fondants, expertly piping frosting, spinning cake turntables and chirpy music.

It’s like magic. And they make it look easy. Plus it’s cake. And I like cake. I like cake very much.

Maybe a little too much, truth be told.

I wish I wrote as much as I used to. Le Hubs and I sometimes talk about growing up in the old days. We were a generation with one foot in the past and the other in the future, growing up with dial-up modems, pagers, not-so-smart phones and VHS. Man, the late nineties were fun. There was a purity in having to work harder to get the things that mattered, entertainment-wise. Like listening to DYGB-FM with a finger poised on the record button, hoping against hope the DJ would play something by the Backstreet Boys.

We used to create so much more back then. The hubs is an artist (my blog header graphic is thanks to him!) although like me, he hasn’t made his passion a day job, and he too feels the constant pull of consuming rather than creating. Because that’s what today’s reality is like. It’s become so much easier to consume than create, thanks to the onslaught of the internet and the convenience of having almost everything at our fingertips. And, like cake, that’s not really a good thing.

It is so easy to be distracted. I sometimes wake up telling myself to write more, that I need to put down something, anything, and then I pick up my phone to check the weather and all of a sudden an hour has rushed by and I know a lot more about the Toronto Raptors than I really needed to.

You know what I need? The cone of shame. It’s not really a cone of shame (thanks, Up), it’s just something to keep spayed pets from licking their healing bits. It would be nice to have something like that when it comes to technology, wouldn’t it? Something to help us focus, to remind us that too much time spent online is hazardous to our health. The thing is, I don’t think a cone of shame would be enough. Nothing short of an EMP-triggered shutdown would be enough.

via Giphy

If I want to be distracted, I will be. And the truth is, after a long day at work and a stressful commute, a lot of the time I actually want to be. I’m not proud of it, but most days I just want to lie on the couch and bask in the UV rays bouncing off of my TV screen.

The internet has been reverse-engineered into a time suck on purpose. It is to the advantage of the puppet masters that be to keep us all occupied, the way parents hope toys will keep their children from throwing tantrums. While that is not fine, it is what it is, and the only advantage we have is that we can still recognize the trap for what it is. I can choose to buckle down, zone everyone and everything out, and just write. Easier said than done, but baby steps. And I’m doing this post today, so yay for progress!

I’m in the TransPacific Literary Project!

I’m in the TransPacific Literary Project!

I’d been sitting on this until everything was finalized, and today’s the day! My essay, “Tiangge” is the first entry of the TransPacific Literary Project’s Trans:Act Folio, and I couldn’t be happier!

I wrote the bones of this piece four years ago, around four in the afternoon. It just poured out, fuelled by a haze of nostalgia and homesickness. Immigrants are transplants who carry pieces of their homeland with them no matter where they may be, and sometimes I miss the part of myself that I had to leave behind.

This wasn’t something I ever thought I would share, but I am glad I did. The challenge was to seamlessly incorporate the native language of transaction into the piece, and I was fortunate to have an absolute marvel of an editrix who patiently helped me wrestle it into the shape it eventually ended up taking. People never believe me when I say I’m a sentimental little thing, but seeing my work published is always a surreal experience, and I’m really excited to be able to share my essay with you now!

Blow by Blow

Blow by Blow

I got my first rejection email recently.

I was, absurdly, thrilled.

This may mean nothing to the ones who are brave, who always put themselves out there, who really and truly don’t give a single damn what people think. You know who I mean. The ones able to post anything and everything on social media. The ones who lay themselves open for all of us to see. The ones who share fresh selfies, unfiltered by anything but strident fluorescent light. The ones who post every excruciating detail of their personal relationships as it crumbles around their feet, oblivious to or uncaring of the reception from the rest of us. They hide nothing. Not their pain. Not their joy. Not their confusion. Their feed is a raw jumble of exposed nerve endings, every gnarled moment on show.  To the very brave – and, incidentally, the very stupid – everything is fair game, and they are unfazed by having the world at large as their audience. To them, putting themselves out there is as easy as breathing.

I’m not brave like that. I have always lived by the tenets of nganong ni enter, a maxim that means never willingly putting oneself in a situation which is bound to have an unfavourable outcome. I have never  found myself capable of  rolling  over to expose my belly for inspection, of being that vulnerable in public. It’s a big reason I fail in the world of social media, because so much of it requires selling myself and my capabilities, something I am way more comfortable having other people do than actually doing myself. It’s just not how I am, and I realize I am eventually going to have to get over myself someday, but for now, it is what it is. My  feed is a hundred percent self-deprecation, almost an apology for sharing, like excuse me for showing up on your wall, but yes, I would like to share this today. It sounds sad, and maybe it is, but that is the way I operate. I deflect with humour and sarcasm. I am outwardly blasé because the truth is I care very deeply about things. Risking being seen as anything less than strong and capable is very hard for me, as I am not brave enough to be who I really and truly am unless I trust someone implicitly. It’s difficult for me to readily trust society. I think people as a whole are terrible (except me, I’m amazing), and the internet hasn’t done anything to change that point of view. If anything, it’s magnified that side of the human race a thousandfold.

(Yes, the irony of putting this out for anyone out there to read doesn’t escape me – but a blog is different from social media!)

Anyway, I was thrilled.

Not because being rejected puts writers in the “company of greats”, as so many aspiring dreamers like to say, assuaging the pain with thoughts of Stephen King and the nail in his wall, impaled with so many rejection slips, he had to drive another one in beside it to accommodate more. There is a cold sort of comfort in the story of J.K. Rowling and her incredible journey to superstardom, her path strewn with numerous rejection letters from publishing houses and agents who failed to see the potential of a boy wizard with a lightning shaped scar.

That’s not why I was thrilled.

I was thrilled, because it felt freeing. I had opened myself up to the very real possibility of receiving a blow, finally received the blow, and realized it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. It’s like taking that first step into thin air, with the very real fear of falling to my death, and realizing it’s not the end of the world.  I think I would like to see how far this little side project of mine will go (and no, I’m not giving any further details about it for now!), because I want another blow like that, as masochistic as that sounds. And another. And another. And still another. I will take my blows, and – hopefully – come out on the right side of it, battered, but with a dream come true.

NaNoWriNo, or a litany of excuses on why I’m chickening out this early in the game

NaNoWriNo, or a litany of excuses on why I’m chickening out this early in the game

November is it, I told myself. National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo.

I would sit down and pound out 50K words in thirty days. I would be in a lovely online community of writers all working toward the same goal, I would finally finish something I’ve been working on for what feels like ages. So why am I wasting my time decidedly not doing what I told myself I should be doing?

I’m a pantser.

In industry parlance, a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants, writes when it becomes impossible not to, when the scenarios and the words come out of nowhere and need to break free. That’s when pantsers sit at the keyboard, make that  cursor move and the blank page fill. It’s akin to running to the bathroom and unloading whatever is in my gut. When I feel that familiar twist in my brain, when that bolt of lightning hits, everything seems as clear as day. The words knit themselves together  and it’s all I can do to capture them and write them down before they’re gone. Because that’s the underside to being a pantser. That wonderful fugue doesn’t last. It eventually dissipates, like mist clearing on a sunny day. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s no specific trigger, which is why my stuff is sporadic and very often makes no sense.

Forcing the fugue is difficult, and again akin to sitting on the pot and waiting for things to come out. I’ve done it a few times. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t. It’s painful and frustrating, and what comes out is almost always unsatisfying.

It isn’t that I don’t know where I’m going when it comes to telling a story,  but plotters do much better when it comes to finishing a work. They have an outline, they come in prepared, they follow their own structure and ultimately come out with a finished work. I’ve tried to make myself one, but I just can’t seem to do it. The rigidity of it gets too tedious for me, although I really should find a balance between enjoying the journey and reaching the destination.

I’m a compulsive self-editor.

This is not a good thing, as many writers will tell you. The best way to write is to ignore the impulse to edit as you go, to  keep going until you run out of breath, to shoot now and ask questions later. Editing is a thing that should be done when everything is over, and I am aware of this as I write, but the urge to tweak the phrasing here and a comma there is almost impossible to ignore. So I get caught in an infinity loop of going over and over paragraphs, sweeping for issues until I lose my original train of thought. (I’m doing it right now!)

I’m superstitious.

I have a thing about pre-empting things. It may not make sense to most, but I believe if I’m working towards something, have a goal that I intend to reach or a project I want to come out with, talking about it will jinx it. It sounds ridiculous as I write it, but I just can’t seem to shake that feeling. It’s the way I work, which is why I tend to announce things once they’re nearing completion or are already achieved.

One of the first requirements of NaNoWrimo is announcing your novel, giving it a working title and a brief synopsis. Sure, no one is going to read it, and no one gives a shit, but I do. I broke the no jinx rule with one project I’m working on – talked about it, shared it, and it’s stagnated. I feel I talked about it too much and blame myself for oversharing. Officially announcing on NaNoWriMo not only breaks my no-jinx rule, it ups the pressure of actually finishing something I’m not sure I can even finish.

Not even started, and I’m already stumped.

I work better alone.

I chase Le Hubs out of my work space (which happens to be the bedroom) because I can’t write if he’s around. Remember Invisible Boy, the kid who becomes invisible as long as no one is watching? That’s me. I can’t write if someone I know is in the same room.

I’ve written in the library and this particularly lovely coffee shop along Broadview which sort of worked, because I was surrounded by strangers doing their own thing, but I find the best places to write are the ones where I am surrounded by absolutely no one. Writing is like tennis – a solitary experience. It’s just you and your keyboard and the untapped reserves of your own imagination, your opponent a blank page that needs to be filled.

NaNoWriMo is filled with a community of passionate writers who want to fulfill the same goal. It’s nice to be with people of the same bent, but sometimes knowing about the progress they make frustrates me. It makes me ask myself why I’m not making the same progress, why my own word count isn’t as high, why I’m not closer to the end of my work.

It makes me feel petty and small (not something I enjoy being) and it’s the opposite of what the community is intended to be, which is uplifting and encouraging. I know. I make myself sound sad, anti-social and maybe even borderline mad. Yes, sometimes I am all of those. Still, I have no problems sharing once it’s done, but until then I think it’s best I keep to myself.

Look at that, a thousand words and none of them on a NaNoWriMo project. I still really want to do it. A part of me wants to use this month to just flush out everything inside, like a mental colon cleanse. I’d  come out on the other side refreshed and ready to edit. Or I won’t, and I’ll spend the next few months beating my head on the wall out of frustration. I guess time will tell.


Featured Image from Bat Fan Diaries