On Writing: How to Write (?)

 Greetings from Hualien (花蓮), Taiwan.

I’m sitting at a small desk in our hotel in Hualien, blogging for the first time in 2015. I had thought, at the end of December, that I’d take the time to write a thoughtful post on January 1st, and blog somewhat regularly after that from Tokyo, then Nagoya, Takayama and Nozawa Onzen, but while we had consistent internet access (though our ryokan in Takayama was too high up in the mountains for our WIFI hotspot to get a good signal), I was usually too tired or never quite focused enough to do it at the day’s end. There was always something more fun and less mentally taxing to do (e.g. play poker with Tom – I currently owe him $10.50 – or eat a late night super expensive Kobe steak dinner at the Park Hyatt Tokyo).

It’s not that blogging isn’t fun, but when I try to blog while traveling, it’s a bit taxing to sit down, sift through the days’ photos and remind myself a.) what I did/ate/saw and b.) figure out, “What is the point of sharing this, aside from just sharing it?”

The same goes for my writing, in general.

Before I left for my month-long Asian winter escapade, I received from a professor critiques on a final assignment. It started with kind enough words.

“You have a voice, a slant, a twinkle, a feeling for types and mood, and, God, a great enviable ear for dialogue – but,” and he asked the question I’ve come almost to expect in an essay critique: “how can these individual set pieces be amalgamated into something larger? Only your ambition can answer that…”

I had sighed and shut my computer, not because my feelings were hurt, but because it was an old criticism, one other professors and readers and writers have asked as well, and, this evening, prior to leaving our hotel for the night market, Tom too.

“How’s the thesis coming along?”

In case you didn’t know, I’m entering my final semester of grad school and the deadline for my thesis is close though not quite looming (and in case you’re wondering what kind of student I am, I’ve no idea when it’s due…). It isn’t the first time he’s asked me, but it is the first time my old answer of “Oh it’s going okay,” didn’t seem to work, especially because Tom has also told me several times point blank that he doesn’t get the point of some of my posts, though to his credit he doesn’t do it in the irritating self-important way of certain too-serious English majors who favor, “But what’s at stake?”

I told him I still wanted to focus on relationships. Mine and ours, and the relationships I grew up observing: my parents’, grandparents’, friends’. And even if it didn’t seem like it in my writing both on and off this blog, I was still trying to make a point…about what, well, I guess my ambitions to make the points clear aren’t strong enough yet.

We left for Zi Qiang Night Market (自強夜市) and as we first walked amongst the stalls, surveying the offerings and deciding which delicacies to try, I thought about my thesis, and about writing in general and how I felt I knew but how possibly, I might not write like I know. The point of it all, that is.

Assignments were made: “I’ll wait in line for this while you get a table for that” and, sharing paper plates and plastic bowls of stinky tofu, pork chili wraps and fragrant lamb stew rice, we batted around ideas about structure. I thought about the essays I’ve submitted and the ones that received good feedback and the ones that made people scratch their heads and wonder aloud, politely, carefully, “Okay, but…what…is the point?” and thought about things like vulnerability and consistency and voice.

Over stir fried young cabbage and snow pea shoots, I thought too, about the ones that are still in progress, floating aimlessly on Google Drive, that perhaps are actually on their way to being strong essays but just nowhere near finished enough for me to share and not simply be wasting a reader’s time.

We ended up at an ice cream stand, sharing a cup of taro and strawberry sorbets. I thought about Tom’s idea – one I’ll keep to myself for now – and how more than any I’ve entertained thus far, seemed particularly attractive, though it would be daunting.

Back at the hotel we readied for bed. Or at least Tom did. I sat down at the desk and opened my computer. It had been a while.

“I am interested to see how you’ll approach your thesis,”  Tom said.

I thought about the months ahead and the time it would take to make even the essays I already have written coherent and cohesive. That sounded daunting too.

I shrugged, “I guess I’ll just start writing.”

“Well, I think you need to come up with a structure first before you start writing. Otherwise you’re just throwing shit at a wall.”

I burst out laughing, “I’m not a crazy monkey in a cage.”

“No,” he said, “but you know it’s true.”

Still laughing, I nodded and he, yawning loudly, went to sleep.

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