Fireworks Across the Ocean

I am one of those rare creatures always desiring adventure: Fireworks and ribbons, a new project, something to get adrenaline pumping and my mind whirling through galaxies. Growing up, I hunted for treasure in books. Later I relied on school and the occasional amusement park for a fix; taken out of my comfort zone or given new information to digest, I quickly learned and thrived. Yes, I was that girl in the front seat of the roller coaster, hands in the air, waiting for the fall. I soaked in every moment.

A few months ago, I decided it was time to shake up my world. I had reached an impossible plateau both professionally and personally, and my writing idea pool had stagnated under general stress and frustration. I wasn’t satisfied with the direction I was heading in any area of my life. I needed drastic change, something to keep me moving forward.

I am now writing to you from South Korea.

In March I accepted a job teaching English at an all-girls’ high school in Yeosu, a beautiful city on the southern coast, known by many for the 2012 World Expo. I officially settled in to my town and school about a month ago. Friends, I love it here. 🙂

Whisked away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known, I’ve already noticed a big difference in my writing: I’m more focused, more willing to wander in my thoughts without inner critics shutting down metaphors or suggestions. My words are reinvigorated with heart and passion and everything I worried I’d misplaced in the past couple years.

Julie Delpy’s character in Before Sunset (one of the most gorgeous romantic dramas ever filmed, for the record, and one of my all-time personal favorites) explains this feeling well: When describing her time abroad in Warsaw, she says, “After a while, my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot more in my journal, ideas I never thought of before. … I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn’t understand, so, all I [was] doing was… walk[ing] around, thinking right. My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy.”

…Hello, Korea. 🙂

Moving halfway around the world to jump start your creative juices or climb out of your rut is not, of course, for everyone. Admittedly, I’m a wee bit crazy. 😉 But I’ve learned that giving myself a shock, moving outside my daily routine, can dramatically impact my creative voice.

Prior to departure, a good friend asked me how I thought my work would change in Korea; I hemmed and hawed and scrambled for an answer.

Then, during my first week here, I looked at a poem I started back in late 2006/early 2007. After slaving over every word and sound for months and months, I had set it aside, saved it on my computer as a work in progress; though I returned to it occasionally over the years, I was never in a place to hear its true ending. Within days of arriving in Yeosu, I discovered what was real and missing from the lines. That poem is now saved under “Finished.”

I find inspiration in the unknown and the strange. The land changing beyond my bus window as we turn corners, drive around mountains and ragged coastline; dodging scraps of burning paper on Gwangalli Beach, watching teenagers shoot firecrackers over the Korea Strait in Busan; navigating different menus and street foods as I walk through market districts around Jeollanamdo Province: all of these things give me a thrill. And that thrill translates into more words on the page and a fresh dedication to discovering my language and ideas.

Don’t settle for what is. Try something new. Rejuvenate your creative life. Trust me, the adrenaline is very addicting. 🙂

 

Hwasun Temple, South Korea

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If I could build a house from books…

…I’d easily have a mansion. And I mean that in the literal, not the philosophical “books = knowledge = wealth” sense.

This is something I never thought I’d say: There might be such a thing as too many books.

When I was moving all over the place last year, I had to store my entire personal library in Rubbermaid containers. They were carted here and there, some stacked in family members’ basements, some tucked away in my apartment attic, some <cough> used as an end table beside my couch. Recently I had the opportunity to move all my book boxes to a single storage unit, and holymackerel! That unit is filled to the brim. Don’t ask how many containers are in there….

In case you were wondering, I still have at least 500 novels double-lining my bookcases and stacked around my apartment. And I may have also <coughcough> purchased another 10 books in the past two days. (It’s not my fault! There’s an adorable independent bookstore called Squirreled Away Books near the place I’m working this week, and I’ve spent each lunch hour exploring its treasures. Those books just jumped into my possession, I swear it.)

I have heard of the amazing new device called an e-reader, believe it or not. I own a Kindle, and I use it all the time. But for me, it just can’t quite compete with the feel of paper under my fingers, the smell of old ink and binding glue….

This week, I’m planning to weed out my collection, donating not-favorites and double-copies to the library, Books For Soldiers, or beloved family and friends. We’ll see how many book boxes I have left at the end…. [Still way too many, no doubt.]

How do you prefer your books, paper or e-reader? Any suggestions for the book-weeding process (or should I stand proud on my library-mountain)? Also, pray tell, do you know of any local meetings of Book Buyers Anonymous? 😉

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What Happened With NaNoWriMo….

I blinked, and there went November.

I participated in NaNoWriMo (hence my lack of updates) …but did I reach my 50,000 word goal? Not so much. Apparently I feel the need to weigh every syllable before I type it, and then reweigh it as I finish each word and each sentence, and then judge that syllable for its accuracy and sound quality seven times before the end of the paragraph. Yes, I realize I was battling against NaNoWriMo’s entire premise. I truly tried to break a lifetime of OCD writing habits, but I was only so-so successful. Still, SW is coming together, and I have a large portion of the first draft sitting in a folder on my desktop. I’m sure I’ll return to it soon. And despite my overall NaNoWriMo failure, I did benefit from scheduling regular writing jams, a practice I plan to continue in 2013. By golly, SW will be written!

(I may post a small excerpt from SW in the near future….)

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New Poems in 2013

Just got word today that two of my poems will be appearing in Bellingham Review next year!

This is my face: 😀

Fall 2012 Issue

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Storms and Lists (but not lists about storms)

Hurricane Sandy is now bearing down on the east coast. The images are terrifying. And magestic. What awful, amazing creative inspiration.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you buckle down and survive the storm and its aftermath over the next few days. I know I’ll be contacting several close friends later tonight to see how they’re managing, where they’ve relocated to, and what I can do to help. I hope everyone is safe, dry, and warm this stormy day.

***

In writing news, I’ve been frantically composing lists for SW. Once upon a time, I was an obsessive lister: groceries; types of flowers I wanted in my (current and future) garden; Must-Read-Books releasing in the next month, two months, before Christmas. Since we are in the last week of October, the final week before NaNoWriMo begins, I’ve attempted to organize my thoughts in every spare moment by composing lists on my characters (their traits, locations they’ve lived, pets they’ve owned, family relationships), the setting (businesses downtown, road names, natural features), scenes I’ve written, scenes I need to write, names of secondary characters…. You name it, it’s probably jotted down somewhere.

I do believe I have a slightly better grasp on SW‘s world. Which is good.

… But.

In the midst of all my organizing, I’ve also noticed a severe decline in actual writing taking place. I’ve allowed my OCD listing to overpower the story itself.

Not good.

My epiphany today: It’s all fine and dandy to delve into prep work, but at some point, we just need to sit down and write, lists and research be damned.

Will all my compulsive listing help my writing process over the next month? I have no idea. But my goal this week is to strike a better balance between prep work and writing. I don’t want to know this much about my characters and fail to bring them to life.

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…Can music save your mortal soul, and can you teach me how to dance real slow…

No, I’m not throwing around song lyrics for the heck of it. (Really, though, is there ever a bad reason to quote “American Pie?”)

This is what has been on my writing-mind of late: SW‘s Playlist. No pressure. Shouldn’t be too difficult. Just need to assemble a few tunes with the power to blank out the rest of the world.

Uh huh.

For those of us who prefer to write far from home and its plentiful temptations, chores, and distractions, a writing playlist (and an excellent set of earbuds) is key. (Nothing like coffee mugs clanging and neighbors conversing to put you off your grammar.) Beyond the immediate benefits, I’ve also found that the songs I choose greatly influence the composition itself– molding scenes, intensifying the mood, giving my words an echo I might not have otherwise recognized — so I’ve become verrrrrry deliberate in what I select, and the order in which I select it.

A good friend of mine writes to a smorgasbord of international pop (read: American Top 40 circa 1993, but in foreign tongues). Another prefers hard core electric guitar riffs. Me? In the past, I’ve found it difficult to work with other people’s lyrics rolling in my head.

Here’s an example:

A few years back, I was rocking out, writing, to a certain power ballad. I was on a roll: The words just streamed from my fingertips, tempting me to raise a Fist of Triumph for the success of the poem. I was so excited about it, in fact, I immediately emailed the draft to another poet.

…minutes later… <phone rings>

Poet Friend: “Umm, Jen?”
Me: “Hi! You already read it? What do you think?”
Poet Friend: <pause> “Were you just listening to <name of a very well known band>?”
Me: “Wow! How did you know?”
Poet Friend: … “Yeah. Have you read your poem?”

Needless to say, I found it necessary to switch to instrumental music after that.

Now I’m working on the playlist for SW. I find myself once again drawn towards songs with lyrics. (Really loving Mumford and Sons at the moment.) Maybe I should attempt a mix? Make a couple different playlists, in case the classical/instrumental soundtrack is needed? Perhaps I should form different song collections by intended mood/theme? Hmmm….

What specific songs or genres of music do you write to? Is there an artist that makes you want to pull out your pen and scribble away? Or are you one of those horrible, horrible souls who can sit and write anywhere, regardless of exterior noise? 😉

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Submission Hell

 

Okay, that may be a wee bit dramatic. Perhaps “Submission Limbo” would be a better title.

For the past week, whenever I’ve needed a break from SW, I’ve focused on revising poems– some ancient little things, leftover from my MFA days, others very new, only just squirmed onto paper. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this genre of late, and it was invigorating to delve back into the nuances of sound and language, view my poems as fresh beasts. And beasts some of them were. <shudder>

I figured, since I was already at it, I should also check my poetry submission log, the excel worksheet I use for tracking all my poems and chapbooks out in the world.

<cough>

If computer programs could get dusty, this one would be riddled with mites.

It was time to reenter the publication circuit.

I threw together a few different submission packets, sent them out to maybe a gazillion different journals and magazines.

It’s been a few days now. Most of my submissions are still swimming out in the ether, as expected. But it’s nerve-wracking, folks. Even though I’ve been an editor on a couple journals and I remember the time + energy this process takes, even though I know I won’t receive notification for weeks, if not months, I still have to force myself not to obsess and check the submission managers 29 times a day.

(Yes, 29. Yesterday I failed. And I counted.)

How do you handle the submission process? What strategies do you have for thickening your skin during the painful publication/rejection wait?

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