What a difference five years makes: the latest news

To get one of these, e-mail nwgsdpdx@gmail.com

And hello again to you too. Such news from here!

I met recently with a group of concerned friends who want to take action after this year’s election. We had a union organizer meet with us to talk about tactics, and it was so helpful.

But I also want to remember the first thing he said to us–even though the larger elections might have felt difficult, we also need to celebrate the gains that have been made in the last eight years and even in this election.

There have been difficult and wonderful things about this year for me professionally, too. But I’m starting to look back and five years after leaving academia, it’s amazing that I can just introduce myself to people as a writer. A freelance writer, arts writer, community journalist. So much gratitude to my family, and to my editors, including Hanna Brooks Olsen , Alan Lau (International Examiner), Omar Willey and Jose Amador (Seattle Star), Yoko Nishimura (Discover Nikkei), Tara Austen Weaver (Edible Seattle), and Jennifer Niesslein (Full Grown People). You have all encouraged me, nudged me out into the community, and made me a better writer.

Since graduation day, I’ve been working on so many projects, an abundance ventolin inhaler no prescription australia really. I’ve learned so much. Here are my recent projects and news:

Stay tuned for more news about these events:

  • My first published interview as an author should be up at The Rumpus in February 2017.
  • I’ll be reading in Seattle with some friends, also in February 2017.

Five years ago, I couldn’t have predicted that this is where I would end up. I’m so happy to be here still. Thank you for reading. I’ll keep going.

My word for the year, 2014

Chambers Bay

Welcome to January! I started this entry with some panic: I needed a Word For The Year. I’ve been using these lately, instead of New Year’s resolutions, as a rough compass for each year, for each place where I’m unsure. Should I do X or Y? I would feed the question to the Word of the Year Magic 8-ball, and see what emerges. Last year’s word was REACH.

Why the panic? I haven’t written a blog post since November of last year. “Don’t panic,” Josh advises in his FB chat to me. “You have to have a Day One [back to writing] that sucks. Make today Day One and get on with it.”


This year I am feeling the need for a different direction, away from achievement-focused pressure. My neurons are zinging too much on the pressure to achieve, to have a clean and uncluttered house, to make from-scratch nutritious meals and snacks for myself and my family. As if those two parts of homemaking were not enough work and commitment in and of themselves (if I’m not achieving in some public workplace, then I am going to out-Martha-Martha at home!), I am feeling the need to achieve more with my writing. And I think that need is actually hurting the writing itself.

Here, again, are the voices: the voices that berate me for going away from the book for so long. Some vaguely Catholic part of me still wants to confess to someone, ask to be forgiven. There’s the voice that suggests I go back to something with more tangible results, like baking or cooking. Seductive, those last two activities. There’s the voice that suggests I check my e-mail, Twitter feed, number of red dot responses on my Facebook account. There’s the fear and the self-flagellation: the I haven’t done anything yet,the self-accusations of laziness. Is that what I’m worried about the most? That someone will accuse me of being lazy? Sadly, the worst voices are all my own.

I have come to see that these voices are part of the process, coming to terms with the choice that I made—or rather that Josh and I made, together, for me to be home more and not to work outside it full-time, not to reenter the academy as an adjunct professor, not to work just for the income. I know. This is a luxury. But it’s also a balancing act.

Most perfectionists (also including me) grew up being praised for achievement and performance in our grades, manners and appearance. Somewhere along the way, we adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. A ticker tape began to stream through our heads: Please. Perform. Perfect. —Brené Brown

When I say I have had to detox from academic life, this is part of what I am talking about: a relentless pressure to achieve and perform for an audience. I am not saying that every academic feels this pressure. But it is certainly how I came to academic life, how I experienced academic life, and (in part) why I left it.


Here, then, the latest writing news. One of my blog posts (“How’s the writing going?”) was selected as a top pick for 2013 by the good folks at The Author Chronicles. I have just published a review of a book by Chang-Rae Lee, a writer I have long admired. I have just published an essay in Edible Seattle, a food magazine that appears on the newsstand at the grocery store. If you live in the Seattle area, please pick up a copy and support us. Turn to the back, just inside the cover page: that’s me.

Tempering the achievements is also rejection: a piece that I submitted to a contest was not accepted. I think it’s a good piece of writing, probably not the best fit for the contest or for performance. And it’s good to say that there is also waiting: a piece that I revised and submitted is going on 6 weeks. No word if it’s been received, but I can re-query after three more weeks.

Achievement, rejection, waiting: all parts of the writing life that I am starting to appreciate. In a follow-up interview to the famous Dear Sugar “Write like a Motherfucker” column, Cheryl Strayed added this, in the wake of phenomenal success:

My trajectory has not been failure, failure, failure, then success. The successes have been there all along, and all along, there’s also been a steady stream of rejections and disappointments. I imagine this will always be the case. It’s the writer’s life….Success in the arts can be measured only by your ability to say yes to this question: “Did I do the work I needed to do, and did I do it like a motherfucker?”

Am I doing the work I need to do? Not consistently, and not constantly. But slowly, in fits and starts, ventolin inhaler uk yes–something like this post.


“What if the opposite of good is real?”—Claire Dederer, Poser

I enjoyed Claire Dederer’s yoga memoir, Poser, but was hit especially hard by this sentence. What if the opposite of good is not bad, or imperfect, but real?

In yoga, that’s helpful: it accepts all parts of your effort as part of the process. In the case of perfectionism, it’s especially helpful.  Play in yoga has been one of the best words for me. It means that you are experimenting without preconception of what you might achieve or not. It places you directly in that moment of testing and discovery. It is low-stakes, with people not worried about what you might do or not. Play is exploration.

A few weeks ago one of my yoga teachers asked us in class: “What do you need to let go?”  I need to let go of the voices, the awkwardly but permanently coupled voices of perfectionism and self-doubt. The high expectations, even the arrogant expectations for myself, that come with prestige (the enemy of passion). The taking myself way, way too seriously. I need to let go of the need for someone to respond (and quickly) to what I write. I need to let go of the need for praise, which is especially difficult for the overachiever.

I need to let go of the fear of being vulnerable. “Opening your heart” is something you hear a lot in yoga classes, especially with backbends, and shoulder openers—all those poses which (according to my yoga teacher) release fear. In yoga class a few months ago we were on our stomachs, one arm outstretched parallel to the floor and the other arm rising, striving towards perpendicular using the floor as leverage. Shoulders pushed back, releasing the tension from writing and being at the computer. And I thought, “Right. I literally have to open my heart to write this book.”

And then it hit me: the opposite of perfectionism and self-doubt is play.


In choosing “play,” I am haunted by my own words, quoted back to me by a dear writer friend. She turned some of my words into a poem and gave them back to me in a beautiful 40th birthday card for my next writing project. (More on the birthday cards later.)

Ros-Collard card small

On the back of this lovely card-sculpture, here’s how she did it:

it took my
willingness to be
vulnerable, to hover on
the willingness to speak
what I don’t
say often
truths are so
close to my
That’s where I need
to be
in order to write
the book.

I take the words as an honor (my prose is something like a poem), and as a gentle but firm and loving admonishment (get back to work, woman!). But I also take the poem as an example, as a command to take my own writing and play. If I approach my writing as play, I am freer to make mistakes, freer to fail, free to cross words out before I can take them back, freer and more open to the process.

For example: I have organized the book one way: does it serve the story better if I organize it differently? I have a few sections to write still. Can I approach those as play? Although approaching early drafts as “shitty first drafts” has been helpful in the past, I wonder if I should let go of the self-defeating part of that term. Can I approach those as exploration? What will open up as a result?

I’m going back to the book. I’ve been thinking about it, and writing a few notes, but I have not sat down to work on it in a sustained way for half a year. (I originally wrote a year, then went back to my book journal and realized that it’s been half a year. It’s just felt like a year.) I have two big sections to write, and then it’s time to take a step back again and see what happens. And one of my dearest friends bought me a writing workshop as a 40th birthday present. My sister helped us redecorate our house, and we’re getting to know it again through new spaces and happier vistas. Surely those are other places to find out more, and play.

What if, instead of sitting down at my computer or my notebook to work, I sat down at my computer to play? For the overachiever, it’s something near-radical. I just turned forty. Play is actually why I created this blog in the first place.So I’m going to give it a shot. Day One, complete. Word for the year: PLAY.

Next entries: my birthday project, Project House Redecoration, learning to play with text and image through learning the photo essay.

First day back


First day back after a long hiatus is usually the worst.

It is cranky and sleepless as a new parent.

It is as uncomfortable as struggling back into a wet bathing suit.

It is the old chestnut writing prompt: to write about not writing.

It is acknowledging that yes, the flat of raspberries from the farmer’s market is partly a jam-making meditation, partly a form of procrastination.

It is hmmmm, forgot my cell phone at home. Maybe I need to go back home.

It is oh shoot I have a deadline to meet.

It is “you are SO unmotivated and if you were a writer, you would have written every day like Annie Lamott and Stephen King BOTH say you should.”

It is wondering about all that social media time and energy. Crafting status updates and Tweets? Micro-blogging? Or another form of not-writing?

It is maybe I should clean out my email inbox.

It is walking back into the indie cafe where the indifferent baristas will make my drink beautifully, even if it’s got chocolate syrup in it, to be back where there are windows and just the right amount of steam hissing and conversation and music for me to focus.

It is the ideas in my head that have yet to meet the page: the essay about No-No boys and No-No Boy, the essay about growing up multifaith (Buddhist and Catholic), the essay about yoga and water slides, the blog post about finding the end to my book (finally! finally! finally!), the book chapter about butterflies and auspicious coincidences.

It is scattered as a box of crayons, and just as full of possibility.

It is to keep my head down and do the work.

It is I’ve missed you, writing life.

Girl’s Day (Hina Matsuri)

It’s been one of those weeks when I’ve been writing bits and pieces, but not a nice satisfying chunk of writing. That’s okay–at least, I am trying to remind myself that this is okay.  All of it is part of the process. But it’s hard to trust the process on some days. Yesterday I took Anne Lamott’s “one-inch picture frames” approach and just tried to write as many small moments as I could. I’m not sure that these will make it into the book, but it’s clear so far that I needed to write them down, if only to download them from my brain.
I promised you some small breaks from the writing process here. So I wanted to tell you about the Girl’s Day celebration we had this year.

About Girl’s Day
Girl’s Day is a Japanese (and Japanese American) holiday, originally intended for little girls and their families and celebrated every year on March 3rd. We have a book about Girl’s Day and Boy’s Day, with photos and traditions, mostly intended for kids in Hawai’i. When C read about Girl’s Day and asked if we could celebrate it too, I couldn’t say no. I want her and her sister to know about Japanese culture, to know that this is part of who they are.

Girl’s Day (Hina Matsuri) is the Festival (matsuri) of Dolls (hina). Most traditionally, the family has a set of  hina that they take out every year for a few weeks before March 3rd. The hina are usually dressed in the court robes of the Heian era. Some sets are as small as just the emperor and empress on a stand, while one famous set in Japan has over a thousand dolls.

I never celebrated Girl’s Day when I was growing up, but this fact also means that I got to play with the day and the traditions as I went along. There are lots of traditions about Girl’s Day, and while I love some aspects of these traditions, I also like adapting tradition in order to keep the day meaningful and fun.  Hiragana Mama‘s collection of links about the day was especially helpful.

We made the day about dressing up fancy, eating special food, and playing with dolls. Josh finally finished making the dollhouse from a kit that we bought for Christmas, so the girls got to play with the dollhouse, too.
Ultimately, I wanted to keep the intention of Girl’s Day, which is about connecting girls to their families,  letting the girls know that they are loved and cherished.

The food
All of the food served on Girl’s Day symbolizes something, including hopes for the girls’ longevity, strength, and purity. A clear soup with clams is sometimes served, but I didn’t think any of our girls would like it this year. (Some of the food is offered to the dolls themselves, but I forgot this part. I’ll buy a small bowl to place by the stand (hina dan) next year. A sake cup might also work, since it’s the right size.)

Other foods that we served:

  • Thin egg crepes over rice from this recipe
  • Orange slices cut into flower shapes. We used to cut these up for dinner parties when I was little, and my family still likes to serve these on New Year’s Day.
  • Pink and green mochi. The mochi are supposed to be diamond-shaped, and they’re supposed to be pink, green, and white. I almost made the mochi, but decided it might be too much work (with everything else). Josh brought some guava and kiwi mochi from Uwajimaya, which was just fine.
  • Crepes. Yes, I know these are French, but here’s my reasoning: Japanese people are really good at making crepes. And some of the best crepes I’ve had are from places in Japantowns. I sweetened some cream cheese with powdered sugar, and made some strawberry sauce. I also had some ham, turkey and cheese. We presented them as fancy pancakes, and the girls loved them.

Girls usually dress up in kimonos and have their pictures taken next to (or in front of) the hina dolls. I actually have two things which were appropriate here: the yukata that my relatives had made for me when we visited Japan, so long ago, and an orange Korean robe which my sister sent to C. M didn’t want to wear her robe, which was fine. I just let her (and her cousin) ventolin tablets 4mg dress up in fancy dresses. C looked adorable in the yukata, though. Both girls wore hair accessories that my auntie had bought in Okinawa.  I wanted them to feel comfortable, but fancy, and special.

The hina (dolls) and their hina dan (doll stand)
This project took a while, but I’m a crafty sort of girl. I love taking materials that are available and then transforming them into something else. There are a whole bunch of wonderful cutouts online that you can download and print off. But these didn’t feel right to me. (I did print off a coloring page for each of the three girls, as a sort of party favor for the day.)

  • The dolls: I made the emperor and empress dolls, adapting this set of origami guidelines along with a washi ningyo kit that came with black crepe paper for hair and cutout white circles for faces. I made a small gold sensu for the empress, who often appears with an open fan. The emperor’s hair is shorter and more like a topknot. And then I made very simple stands (shaped like Vs, attached to the back of the dolls) which help the two dolls to sit up.
  • The doll stand: The emperor and empress appear on a stand, which is usually striped. I took an Altoid tin and drew stripes on the front. I also used a folded sheet of gold cardstock as a makeshift screen behind the dolls. Next year I’d like to make the screen fancier, maybe with a cutout decoupage from origami paper.
  • Cherry blossoms: And I knew that I wanted to make cherry blossoms. I’d been looking at this project for a while. So I picked two twigs from our backyard that looked small and interesting enough. I twisted small triangles of pink tissue paper and glued these onto the branches. I took paper cups, deconstructed one to make a template, and then covered the paper cups with blue origami paper. I turned the cups upside down and stuck the branches into the bottom.
  • The hina dan (doll stand): The actual stand is a black box that contained some beautiful Japanese bowls. Over the front, I draped a swath of obi fabric that my friend Marcy had sent me from Japan. It has gold origami cranes embroidered all over it. And, just for good measure, I folded three tiny cranes and put them in front of the dolls. Here’s how it turned out:


I wanted this day to be a day of celebrating little girls and family. So we invited my niece, as well as her parents, though they’re not Japanese. And we invited one of my best friends, B, and her boyfriend. Though B grew up in Kansas, she had read about Girl’s Day when she was a little girl. My girls have adopted her as an aunt. She brought a copy of an old children’s book, The Japanese Twins, which is about a little boy and girl growing up in pre-World War II Japan.

And I wanted to connect the day to my family, too. I mentioned that I didn’t celebrate the day while I was growing up. However, I have a picture that my sister framed and gave me. It’s a picture of the two of us in front of my grandmother’s set of hina. I put that picture next to my hina dan, and then put a picture of my daughters and my niece next to that. I wanted to connect those little girls with the little girls that my sister and I once were.

Traditionally, a big focus of Girl’s Day is marriage. As I understand it, this is why the hina are supposed to be from a Heian wedding. The day is supposed to represent your hopes for the girls’ future. But I didn’t really want marriage to be the focus here. If they want to be married eventually (far, far, far in the future), that’s great; if not, that’s great, too. Instead, my sister-in-law and I wrote short notes to the girls, describing our hopes for them. I’ll keep these notes and I hope that we’ll add to this jar of notes every year.

What special holiday traditions do you celebrate in your family? How have you adapted these traditions (or not), and why?

How I wrote my artist statement

Anyone remember that Muppet (Don Music, above) on Sesame Street who kept trying to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the piano? He would almost reach the end, then play the wrong note. Then he’d groan, “OH, I’LL NEVER GET IT! NEVERRRRR!” (and, sproing: the sound of his head hitting the piano keys.)

That’s how I felt about writing my artist statement for a grant application. Lately I’ve thought about that Muppet, a lot.

Writing the artist statement was one of the most productive writing assignments I’ve had on this blog. Translation: it KICKED my ASS over and over again. It was excruciating. I actually tried to write an artist statement back in November, for this same grant, and I actually missed the application deadline. Uncharacteristically, I gave up. Now, I usually let the pressure of the deadline work its magic, and Just Do It. But I didn’t, and I missed the deadline. I decided that I wouldn’t let the deadline pass me by again.

What paralyzed me for so long was, really, two things. The first thing was the perfectionist voice: it BETTER be good. I can understand how artist statements can be bad for those who have not been taught how to write. But, some voice sneered, a writer’s artist statement better be GOOD. Writers write, after all. We usually don’t paint or compose music or use other artistic forms to express ourselves. Words are what we have. I’ve read some terrible artist statements, ones which made the artist seem incredibly pretentious, or ones which made me respect the artist less. So my internal editor voice kept butting in: ’that’s SO cliche,” “that’s how EVERY artist statement starts,” and so on.

The second thing that paralyzed me was an issue of identity. Having been a professor and a scholar for so long, and having worked so hard to get there, it was hard for me to switch gears and claim myself as a writer. Writing the biography of myself as a writer, as an artist, then, was invaluable, and I had to write that before I got to the artist statement. I had to believe that I was—no, am—a writer.

Now in my teaching, I’ve asked my students to write artist statements. I’ve emphasized that artists need to be able to talk about their own work intelligently. Our culture demands (and gains) access to the artist and creative processes. Because of this demand, artists who can talk about their own work are often artists that I respect.

But in this case, ironically, I couldn’t let myself trust the writing process—the very process that I kept emphasizing as a writing teacher.  As the editor Bill Germano says, “You don’t write to record; you write to discover.”
I wrote six drafts of my artist statement. Most of them felt miserable and inadequate. I complained most of the time. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty writerly process. I wanted to describe some of the drafts, so that if you are struggling with your artist statement, you could take some of the approaches below. Consider them writing prompts, or a mishmash of ways to brainstorm for the artist statement.

  • In one draft, I wrote three anecdotes about the things that I write about frequently.
  • Another draft made me erase the stories and anecdotes. I think I was trying to hide behind the stories, the equivalent of the artist’s plea, “Should my work speak for itself?” But on my way out the door for a run, some tough-love voice said to me: “No. You do know why you write what you write. To pretend otherwise is dishonest.” So I wrote for that voice for a little while. I did know why I write what I write; I just didn’t want to claim these things, and risk being vulnerable or wrong. I looked at the whys and the hearts of the anecdotes: what were the lessons or themes to take from the stories?
  • In another draft, I wrote about the things I’d like to stand for, as an artist: education, literacy, compassion, questioning. (In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls this your “moral point of view.”) They don’t describe what I do write about, all the time. And that gave me pause.  I ended up putting these things into the statement anyway, because they do inform my work.
  • The next draft brought me to a more honest place. I looked at a bunch of things I’d written, and tried to find common threads and themes. These themes didn’t match the lofty goals that emerged in the earlier draft. But they felt accurate, and they felt sincere. And they felt raw.
  • Still another draft made me think about the emotional and psychological place that I inhabit when I write. The place where I’m writing freely and honestly, where I feel like I am doing good work. I thought about how I am scared by some of the things that I write, and I thought about Nikki Giovanni’s wonderful quotation, “If you’re not scared of your own work, it’s not doing anything.” And I’ve found that to be true: the writing that’s scared me the most is the writing that people respond to the most. That’s been my best writing. I thought about the strengths I try to access, the weaknesses I try to ignore, the wounds that I pretend don’t exist. I named those things, and I put them into the statement.
  • I also thought about my goals as an artist, and thought about them as goals that I haven’t reached yet, rather than descriptions of what I actually do. To do this, I had to admit that my work does not always match my goals. There’s the artist I’d like to be, and there’s the artist that I am. I think there will always be a gap between the two, and I had to make peace with that. I know very few artists that are completely happy with what they’ve released in the world—there’s always something you can do, something you can fix. And I thought about the artistic struggle between what the artist wants the art to be (or their original vision of the art) and the art that emerges.
  • I looked at the forms that I tend to use in my writing, in my blog posts and my creative nonfiction essays. I noticed that I like certain forms, such as the essay strung together with vignettes. I thought about the poetry classes I’ve taken, and how they’ve stayed with me because so much of my work is image-driven.
  • I thought about how I wanted to challenge myself as an artist, and how challenge is a goal for my writing. I do want to challenge myself, and I want to keep learning. I added something in the statement about how I value the work that is making art.

I sent the draft, a sad little cluster of sentences, to a writer friend from Twitter who generously offered to read it. She gave me wonderful and thorough comments on the rest of the application, including a biographical statement. But she liked that little cluster of sentences. I knew I had to write more. And that was enough to get me through the rest.

Most of all, I wanted the statement to clarify my writing. I wanted it to illuminate my writing, the way that sunlight illuminates the colors of stained glass. What emerged is not a great artist statement, but I think it describes what I do, and clearly. It’s a good beginning. I know I’ll revise it again. I’ll revise it one more time, and put it up here in the next post. I’ll try to add more about what I learned about artist statements, too.
I’m just glad I made it this far. For now, I want to remember how it felt when I finished that last draft. How I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before I hit “send” on the grant application. “It’s taken me twelve years to return,” I wrote in my biographical statement. “But I’m a writer again.”

Beginning the book

I’ve got an idea for a book, and I’ve got some drafts of pieces. So what’s next?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure the book overall. There are a number of pieces that I’m juggling, several historical time periods, and at least several plot lines (my dad’s incarceration, his untimely death, my own job loss and the writing of this book). And a whole bunch of smaller pieces about each “document.” It’s quite a lot to juggle. I’m not exactly sure what story I want to tell, and so much of the writing will be about discovery. I know that I want to begin with an introduction of mine, and then move into physical documents, into virtual documents (like Facebook and blogs). And then end with a memory. It’s not quite a linear approach, but I know that non-linear can really turn people away from a book (‘too difficult to follow”). We’ll see if the book really ends up this way.

So I’ve begun to write a draft of the Introduction, which feels really exciting to me. As I’ve been reading (and rereading, obsessively) Anne Lamott’s wonderful Bird By Bird, it strikes me that her Introduction does some of the work that I’d like my introduction to perform. It establishes trust and intimacy with the reader, and it does so with humor and wit. My book has heavy subjects (wartime history, death, loss), but I don’t want it to be a “downer book.” I do want it to be helpful for people who have gone through similar situations, or who are going through similar situations, but I don’t want it to be A Grief Book. So I want my introduction to establish me as a narrator, but a narrator that will bring people into the story, rather than pushing them away or putting up barriers right away.

I’m also feeling how the Introduction can and should be longer than the blog posts that I write here. I began writing as a poet, really, and longer forms terrify me. So creative nonfiction lets me integrate some of the sensitivity to language and keeps me grounded (at least for now) in a reality. The idea of writing fiction terrifies me, even though I have an idea for a novel already in mind. Maybe I’ll need to start with short stories after this.

Some books that have helped me think about structure, in no particular order:

  • Anne Lamott’s writing advice book/memoir, Bird by Bird (juggling of many pieces, intimate, funny)
  • Diana Abu-Jaber’s novel Birds of Paradise. This lovely novel uses multiple third-person viewpoints, but also surprised me towards the end.
  • Kim Severson’s memoir Spoon Fed. Each chapter here centered on a different “subject”, a woman who inspired or changed the author, but changed it up a bit, because it did not approach each subject the same way. To do so would have felt repetitive, and I’m glad she structured the book this way.
  • Rebecca Skloot’s biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. One of the very best nonfiction works I’ve ever read, frankly. Skloot juggles multiple time periods, jumping back from our contemporary present back to the 1940s, 1950s, and so on. She also juggles multiple subjects, including Henrietta Lacks, and her children. And—this is a move that I greatly respect, especially because Skloot is a journalist—she examines her own role in the writing of the book, critically and thoughtfully. Skloot has said, I think, that the novel Fried Green Tomatoes helped her to think about how to structure her book, so perhaps that’s a lesson for me to consider. (Outlining Flagg’s novel might be interesting, just in terms of timing.)

In the meantime, though, I am working on a grant application. Lots of people are applying, I’m sure, so I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high. But it’s useful to work on this application because it’s another step towards writer identity. I’m having to write down my goals as an artist, and to think of my biography as a writer. And those two exercises, alone, are also worthwhile for me to progress towards this degree, another step in the MFA.
Back with another post next week. In the meantime, if you can think of any books that would be interesting for me to read, because of their structure, I’d love the suggestions.

My own private MFA: the final project proposal

Thanks for all your responses, here and elsewhere, to the last post about beauty. I loved reading what everyone had to say. I’m trying to hold onto that momentum, and trying to remember how lovely the trees were last fall (see that picture above?). It’s been a bit gray here lately.

Coming into Year 3 of this private MFA and the second anniversary of this space, I’ve been thinking about the Final Project. Yes, I’m on the 3-year program. Tortoises, represent.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading still, which is lovely. I still find myself itching to get things when I’m in bookstores, but I no longer feel the rush to buy the latest must-read or bestseller when I’m there. Instead, I find myself making lists of things to place on hold at the bookstore. Now, I know that writers need to make a living (boy, do I know), but it’s also gratifying to know that the books I really want to buy now are the books that I want to keep around forever.

I’ve been drafting pieces of my book project all along, here on this blog, as well as in a separate document that I call “Book journal.” But the other day, I realized that I haven’t really laid out what the project will be for you, here in this space.

So it’s a good time to describe the final project of my private MFA to you. I want to tell you more about it, to give the project some needed rejuvenation, to kickstart me back into action (remember, go) and to bring some narrative flow back to this space (for you non-lit types out there, some “what’s going to happen next?” action).

I’ve been thinking about it for so long, I can’t believe I haven’t explained it to you properly. I wrote about an earlier version of it in a writing contest, almost 2 years ago. Over the last year I’ve been reorienting myself to life outside the academy, rethinking myself into writer identity, and looking for a job. But lately I’ve been talking about the project to a few people, and I can feel some energy coming back. And I’ve found that two things motivate me: 1) making lists, and 2) making promises to other people.

Here’s the project. And aaaaah, I can feel the fear creeping up as I type, so I better type fast. I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain the book, and I’m going to keep figuring it out over the course of the project. So this is not my elevator pitch, or my NPR “Fresh Air” draft, but another draft of my explanation to you.

I’m writing a memoir.

It’s a memoir about the aftermath of two—no, three—major events which have affected my life. The first event is my father’s death. He died when I was 10 years old. The second event is the Japanese American incarceration of World War II, which affected my father’s life and continues to affect my own. The third event, the one that made me turn to writing this project at all, is the loss of my job and my return to the writing life.

Here’s another way to explain it: it’s a triple-voice memoir, one that intertwines my writing, my sister’s artwork, and the voice of our father, who died when we were very young (10 and 6 years old, respectively). We have our father’s voice in many things, but perhaps most concretely, we have it in an unpublished memoir manuscript that he wrote about his incarceration experience. I plan to intertwine parts of my father’s manuscript, some of my sister’s artwork about memorials and memory, and my own musings about the aftermath of death, as well as the aftershocks of camp history. For right now, I want to organize the book into chapters using different forms of documentation, and writing about the different forms of memory that they evoke. For example, there will be a chapter about a family recipe, a chapter on the albums of Polaroids that he took of me when I was a baby, a chapter on his diary when he was in the military, well before I was born. There will be a chapter, or a series of chapters, about my dad’s typewritten book manuscript itself. I hadn’t seen the manuscript in twenty-five years, until I reread it a couple of summers ago. And when I began to read, I realized just how much I hadn’t worked through my feelings about his death.

And yet here’s another way to explain it. No one knows everything about the lives of their parents. When they leave us, they leave so many unanswered questions. I wanted to look at one particular stretch of time when I know the least about my father’s life: the time after his memoir, after his wartime incarceration, and before he married my mother.

Writing has helped me to clarify and discover and process what I’ve learned about my father’s death, and myself, and memory, over the last two years. So it’s a book about a writer’s (and visual artist’s) struggle between loss and memory, the ways that we memorialize our dead in an age where so much information is “in the cloud.” In some ways, it’s a present for my daughters, who never got to meet their grandfather.

Over the next few months I’ll share pieces with you, some revisions of blog posts, and updates about the writing and publication process. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about the project in process, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you. I’ll continue to post intermittent musings like these, so it won’t all be about the book. But I need to move forward, to keep writing, and to keep moving towards this bigger goal. Comments mean a great deal to me, even a quick line or two, so please don’t be shy. I promise to respond, too. Thanks.

What uncertainty looks like

“We just need to get to the ocean,” Josh said.

Really? I thought. As much as I love the ocean, I wasn’t sure if we should really go. We have two littles, after all. Even with each other, with rock-paper-scissors,  drawing materials, and an Ipad for company, they can get impatient on road trips. Did I really want to drive for about three hours out to the coast just for one night on Thanksgiving weekend?

We hadn’t gone anywhere on a family vacation, getting-away-for-getting-away’s-sake in far too long, almost several years. Over the last few holidays, and over the last two summers we had promised ourselves a vacation, even a staycation. Things never quite worked out, and money was far too tight.

But we had to get away. It had been a month of waiting, layered on top of other months of waiting, layered on top of months of career transition. A couple of weeks ago we’d been waiting to hear about job news for me. When news came—not quite a simple yes, not quite a simple no—I had to rethink what uncertainty means, and what stability would mean.


Despite my slight misgivings, the four of us piled into the car. I’m a terrible camper, because I want to take EVERYTHING with me. I packed ridiculous amounts of clothing and two grocery bags of snacks for the girls, for an overnight trip. We drove down the coast. On the way down we drove over long bridges, crossing wide rivers, and as we neared the coast, we caught glimpses of the ocean behind the hills. But then we got to the cottage, half a block from the beach. We knew we had to catch some time on the beach before it got too dark; the Northwest winter sunlight ends by 4:30. So we bundled up, and walked out to the sand.

To our left, Haystack Rock reared its head. It was low tide. Part of the beach was so wet, it seemed to overflow with pieces of sky. The wind whipped around me, the horizon stretched into the distance. And, there, unexpectedly,  were all those crucial times I’d spent near the ocean.

There were all those coastal road trips that Josh and I took to the Oregon Coast in grad school, before grad school. We’d been to Cannon Beach, and Manzanita, and Coos Bay: quick weekend trips, or even part of a week.

There was our honeymoon, where we drove back from Mill Valley and San Francisco to Seattle, up the coast. That week we saw more moods of the Pacific than I’d ever seen, from an optimistic turquoise to a stern cobalt grey.

There was the morning after we’d slept next to the ocean in a cabin. I woke up to the sun rising over a village where the Russian River meets the Pacific, in California. It wasn’t the sunlight that woke me up that morning; it was the reflection of the light on the water, as pink and as golden as the haze in a Maxfield Parrish painting. I looked over Josh’s shoulder, and saw that glorious light.

Why was I surprised that the beach would insistently tug the memories right out of me?  It was the power of the waves: pounding slowly in, pancaking towards you, and foaming away. It was the sharp wind, clear and cold in so much open space. And this surprised me: it was the sound of the ocean that I’d missed the most. Oh, we have polite wavelets in Puget Sound. But nothing like these waves.

And it was the pull of the horizon—it stretched so far away, I couldn’t really see where it ended.

Back at the beach cottage, the little girls were simply thrilled to be somewhere else for the night. They squealed their way through each bedroom, opened each kitchen cabinet, and climbed onto the mountainous easy chair multiple times. The toddler, who loves putting things away, happily unpacked her clothes into a dresser and began work on my overnight case. I laid on the couch, as relaxed as cooked spaghetti. By nightfall I had a book in one hand, a toddler sitting on my stomach and the other curled up next to my legs. We were all in front of the fireplace, content as kittens. Josh had gone grocery shopping and was making us something with pasta in the kitchenette.

Lying there with the girls, my memory traveled still farther back. In seventh grade I visited Mendocino with my GATE class. For part of the trip we sat near the ocean in near-silence, and wrote about what we were hearing and seeing. There I wrote some of my first prose poems. It was my first stream-of-consciousness writing, and words poured out of me almost faster than I could write. We also made lists of our favorite words, and had to read the first fifteen words out loud. (As steeped as I was in fantasy novels at the time, I remember that unfortunately the word “darkling” made it onto my list.) But I  remember a certain small silence that fell over the group after I’d read my list out loud. I was so uncertain and so afraid of so many things, but even then I knew that I wanted to be a writer.

In our cottage, I left the bedroom window open before I went to sleep. And the ocean roared all night long.

(P.S. Photo credits here should go to my husband, Josh Parmenter. The batteries on my camera were out that day.)

One more breath

Just to be clear, because I don’t want to scare anyone, everyone’s fine here.

I’m not talking about one last breath; I’m talking about one more breath. If you practice yoga, you know what I’m talking about. I’ll come back to this in a minute. While you wait, you can take a look at the picture I took, over left there. It’s a tree that I pass every day when I drive back from my yoga studio.

So: I’ve been looking for a job.

I’m not going to write too much about the career change here, for a number of reasons. Maybe I’ll write more later. But I can say that the job search hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had a job or some version of a job since I started college. Nevertheless, I’ve been lucky in so many ways.

I have the very best of partners, the one who surprises me with a copy of this book by one of my favorite authors, the one who nudges me to go for a run when I’ve got anxiety to burn, whose belief in me is bedrock to my days. I have two adorable daughters who constantly make me laugh and teach me to discover the world anew. I have the very best family who has taught me about resilience through the courage of their examples. I have the very best friends both “on” and “offline,” who bring me presents like this book and send me messages and hugs and go out for coffee, where we analyze and then take over the world. I have roots in my community, and friendly faces at my grocery store and the playground at C’s elementary school, and my yoga classes. I’ve got a house that I love in a neighborhood I love. And during my unemployment I’ve been able to do a lot of writing, for causes and people that I support. If it takes a village to raise a child, I can tell you that it’s taken my village to support me during this time, and I’m so grateful for you all.

One of the most difficult (and in some ways, interesting) parts of the job search has been thinking myself out of one career and into another one yet to be determined. I spent almost 12 years thinking myself into that last professional identity; that career seemed to carry so much certainty and forward movement. I loved parts of that job, and I will miss them dearly. But as things stand now, I will probably be leaving that career behind. I’m glad that I get to keep so many of the relationships that I developed in that time.

I’ve been applying for jobs for about four months now, and I think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. I’m excited about the possibilities. In a job market like this one, I’m extremely grateful that I even have possibilities. But right now, I need to wait, for at least a few more weeks.

Last week, the waiting room space was just about to drive me a little insane. The suspense, the tension, the lack of resolution. I wanted to scream, or go for a run, or tear up a hotel ventolin inhaler no prescription room, or preferably all three. “Why does it take so long?” my 3-year old likes to ask. “Because you’re not being patient,” I like to answer sometimes. And last week I realized I’m not being patient. (Great: just like my 3-year old.)

For the first time in my life, I understood the idea behind Waiting for Godot, if not Waiting for Guffman. I wanted to write a play called The Waiting Room. You know: the set would be furnished with bad landscape art, and old issues of Good Housekeeping, and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” played on Muzak panflute. The main character would be waiting, unable to leave the room until someone else unlocked the door for her. People would come to slide unexpected presents under the door, and talk to her through the windows, but she couldn’t leave until it was time.

But of course, I didn’t know how the play would end. I suspect that I’ll just have to write it and find out.


And here’s where I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of “one more breath.”

Yoga teachers often say this phrase to you when you are holding a pose—let’s say, downward-facing dog, or Warrior 2—and they want you to stay in the pose for just a little bit longer. They usually say this to you when you’ve been in a pose for a while, or for a little longer than you’d like. In those poses your legs might be screaming like 1960s Beatles fans, your arms might be stretched out taut as John and George’s guitar strings, and the rest of your muscles might be protesting like Beatles fans stranded outside without tickets.

In that kind of tension, “one more breath” can feel like a very, very long time.

If the pose is especially challenging, “one more breath” is the very last thing you want to hear. Some days you’re kinda pissed, actually, that you have to stay there a bit longer. (Not at your teacher. Don’t get pissed at your yoga teacher. They can make you hold poses even longer. If you’re my yoga teacher and you’re reading this, I don’t mean you.) But I’ve decided—and this must be yoga rewiring my brain, I can think of no other way to describe it—that “one more breath” is one of the very best things that yoga can give you.

See, in yoga the breath becomes a way to measure time. The space of “one more breath” is where you’re challenged, you’re waiting, and (somehow) you’re calm. In those few seconds you hold the pose. Sometimes, it’s true, you fall out before it’s time to move to the next pose. But more often than not, you stay in the pose, and you keep breathing. Your mind and your body say together, “It’s okay. You can do this. Just a little bit longer.” You learn to inhale slowly, in, and exhale even more slowly, ouuuuut.

There, you realize it: one more breath is really just fresh life, waiting to rush in.

Where I’ve been

A can of vintage MSG. No, this is not where I have been. Though that would explain a lot.

Where have I been?

Well, I’ve been thinking about you. You’ve been on my list, believe me.  I imagine you peeking through the velvet curtains, clicking the website address in vain. Anybody home? Not recently. Ah, well. I’ll try again. And I’m grateful you did.

I’ve been writing, so don’t worry too much about that. You can find my latest food writing here about chocolate and butchers and teriyaki history on Seattlest, and about yoga and running here for my yoga studio. I’m also excited for my upcoming first freelance assignment with the International Examiner, a Seattle Asian American community newspaper. And there’s some other writing I’ve been doing that I can’t quite post here just yet. But I’ve been writing hard. Just not here. Sorry.

I’ve been reading, too. I bought a few new books for the first time in ages—my own copy of Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, plus Colum McCann’s novel Let The Great World Spin, on the recommendation of a couple of friends. I’m excited to begin Monique Truong’s latest novel Bitter In the Mouth.  I’m also two-thirds of the way through Daphne Kalotay’s novel about ballet and jewelry and Stalinist oppression, Russian Winter. And I don’t want to return my library copy (though I will!) of the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, collected and called As Always, Julia. Their affection and wit and friendship made me fall in love with the two of them, and made want to write more letters again.

And I’ve been following the discussion on the movie and book The Help. In case you haven’t ventolin inhaler for sale seen this response yet, by Ohio State University professor Rebecca Wanzo, I highly recommend it. It’s pretty evenhanded and thorough, acknowledging the book’s emotional power while sustaining a more detailed critique.

I’ve been out and about a lot more—even a lovely date night here!–which is mostly good for me, not so great for the household sleep schedules, and thus not so good for downtime and writing time here.

I’ve been making jam, stocking the jam closet space downstairs. There’s a wonderful line from my goddess of domesticity, Pat in one of L.M. Montgomery’s novels: “While I move and live and have my being I’ll want a jam closet.” A jam closet! I might have scoffed a few years ago. Ah, but now. Now I understand.

And if you read the last few paragraphs of this haunting essay by Alexander Chee, you’ll get some of the feeling of where I’ve been. “What can you trust of what you can’t see?” his yoga teacher asks at the end. Like the yoga students in that essay, I’ve been moving thoughtfully through uncertainty, and trying not to fall.  It is terrifying and it is heady. Because of that combination, I’m sure it will eventually be good for me.

Nevertheless, I’m here too. I made you chocolate cookies. They’re still warm. Or you can spoon up some homemade peach jam over vanilla gelato, to hold onto summer as I have for the last two nights.

In other writing news, my creative nonfiction essay, “How It Feels To Inherit Camp,” is being republished and anthologized. It appeared in Kartika Review this year. I’m thrilled. And I’ll keep you posted.