Monday, January 26, 2009

Progress Report

For the past few weeks, I've been taking some writing classes and I find myself focused more than I've been for the past eight months. One is a feature writing class at the city college, another on line called Boot Camp for Journalists through Media Bistro, and another on literary techniques starting in a week at Berkeley Extension. I also took a class this Saturday with my friend Carrie on flash fiction at the Writing Salon, which made me realize (again) how intricate, intelligent, and daunting literary writing can be.

All of a sudden, I find myself flooded with writing projects. All but one unpaid, but hey, I need the experience. At the city college, the instructor asked me to be the editor in chief of the on campus magazine, which I gladly accepted. It will help me build my portfolio and gain practical experience. I have a few stories I am preparing for the magazine. I also did a short interview of Michelle Rhee, the DC Schools Chancellor, which pretty much tanked. Note to self: email interviews are not the way to go. Good lesson learned. I did the interview by email because her press secretary allotted me ten minutes for an interview but suggested I supplement it with email questions. Unfortunately, the email answers do not provide much insight. I still have my ten minutes on the phone with her, so I'll see if I can get anything useful, and then I'll write up the interview on Kimch Mamas. Koream Magazine also published one of my Kimchi Mamas posts in the January issue, and this weekend, they agreed to pay me for a piece on Luke Song, the designer who made Aretha Franklin's inauguration hat, whom I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing yesterday morning. On top of that, I have class assignments and a few other interviews in the pipelines. Whew.

And I'm loving it.

Since the start of the new year, I have been feeling so optimistic. As if I am not just wasting time. As if I'm not just floundering. As if I'm finally building toward something. Part of it is just entering a new year. I love new starts, new markers. It's like spring cleaning that lets me shed the baggage of the past year. Another part of it, I suspect, is that I'm beyond the hormonal chaos of the miscarriage and we are back to trying again, which allows me to hope instead of being bogged down by the dejection of the failed pregnancy.

Mainly, though, I think the turning point was reading the article about Immunity to Change. I started thinking about psychological blocks I may have about changing careers. I thought of the obvious ones, like wanting to make a good living, the security of having a regular, structured job. One day, it dawned on me that much of the anxiety I was feeling was not about the job change itself (although I still wonder what the hell I'm doing sometimes) but about spending time in this crack between careers, which probably stems from my experience growing up.

When my dad quit his engineering job and starting running a hamburger joint with my mom, they lost their middle class comforts and took up exhausting, physically demanding labor. Before then, my mom had stayed at home to take care of us, cooking us snacks and helping us entertain our friends. As the managing director, my dad had a relatively senior position, and he was flanked by assistants who ran errands for him (yes, it was a different time and a different culture). My dad had never operated the microwave oven (yes, shocking). Suddenly, they were thrown out of this secure, easy world and began working 16 hour days, driving to the wholesaler to pick up onions, lettuce, tubs of catchup, mustard, and pickles, standing over the grill and a vat of grease six days a week, coming home with burn marks on their arms and cuts on their fingers. The most shocking image was my mother who lost 30 pounds in a matter of a few months and my dad who suddenly drove erratically (as hard it is to believe, he had never exceeded the speed limit before) and shut down when he came home.

Anyway, I'd written about this ad nauseam, but to a sheltered fourteen year old, it must have been pretty shocking. I think I must have felt tremendously guilty watching them come home late every night, exhausted and dejected. Compared to their lives, going to school and just studying seemed like such a luxury. So, yeah, I studied and did what I was supposed to do for school. But I spent a lot of time organizing their sock and underwear drawers. And sorting their shirts by color and folding the sweaters and knits into perfectly symmetrical stacks. And rearranging the kitchen pantry into the most immaculate rows of canned soups, canned vegetables, ramen, dried goods. And preparing dinner, doing the laundry, and cleaning the house. With every task, I thought, if I do it, it's one less task they have to do when they come home. I wanted to contribute however I could, but it was never enough. I couldn't shorten their long days. I couldn't save them from their burn marks. I couldn't take away their fatigue.

I realized that the feeling I've been feeling is similar to the one I used to have growing up. Feeling as if I am not contributing. Worrying about not doing enough. Feeling like a free loader, even though Jeff was doing everything to encourage me to try my hand at this writing business. I realized that I was paralyzed by my own anxiety. And that was a moment of ephiphany.

I'm not sure what I do with this kind of anxiety, but somehow, just recognizing that has made a huge difference. For a change, I find that I am able to push that anxiety to the side and give myself the mental space to learn what I need to for a career change. And take the chance to try this out. I could work on my writing for another six months, a year, and it may never go anywhere. But at least, now we'll have a chance to see.


  1. What an excellent start to a brand new year!

    Your description of how you attempted to ease the pain of your parents' long days almost reduced me to tears. I hug that thoughtful little fourteen year-old, who bore too much of life's burdens. And I do so, perhaps, because I can relate. I recall trying to waste less, eat less candy, do whatever I could to undo my parents' financial discomforts. So I, too, have some anxieties, some control issues . . . And I can relate.

    I hope you will continue to be healthy and strong, and that your next pregnancy will be stress-free and every bit wonderful.

  2. envy. that you are doing something so fulfilling and stimulating. i think the editor thing and the koream thing are both VERY exciting. congratulations!

  3. Your post is wonderful, and alas, I don't have time to respond it in the manner in merits. I will say this part made me laugh:

    "the instructor asked me to be the editor in chief of the on campus magazine, which I gladly accepted."

    Just one question: Do you think it will help you with your college apps?


    All for a return to halcyon days!*

    *Even if they weren't so halcyon for you or your family. :-(

  4. You are one great daughter! Your parents are lucky to have you as a daughter. =)

  5. Ditto to Mary. I feel ashamed reading about your thoughtfulness towards your parents. I still mostly complain about what went wrong.

  6. Great to see you going after the next big things for you. I'm happy for you trying again too! I wish you the best!
    my friend has a fertility blog, she's on my blogroll, not sure if you've seen it... "shaken mama"-
    -take care!

  7. This is a great progress report. Go you, getting gigs and building up your portfolio. My family situation is a little different, though my parents too worked hard and sacrificed a lot. But in the end, they did it so you could lead a fulfilling life. I'm glad that you're giving yourself a chance to find that for yourself! Good luck and be ready with links so we can see your other writing.