My Writing in 2010: A Review

2 01 2011

OK, I’m back. I always faintly regret telling my readers that I’m taking a break from blogging because, inevitably, saying so just makes me want to blog again! In any case, I though it would be a good time to do a quick review of my writerly accomplishments this year, just so that I don’t feel like a total failure. Seriously though, this taking stock at the end/beginning of a year has been very helpful for me in keeping my writing progress in perspective over the long haul, and 2010 was no exception.

This past year, to help keep myself motivated to do my writing, meet some deadlines and just stay on track, I bought myself a wall calendar upon which I wrote major due dates and such. Since 2010 is now officially over, I finally took down the calendar (which, quite honestly, I eventally started using to track pregnancy-related stuff!) the other day, and decided to take a look through it to remind myself of what I’d actually accomplished. So here are the highlights:

– Applied to and got into the Macondo Workshop, Sandra Cisneros’ program to nurture writers who also identify as social change advocates. I learned a lot, mostly about the writing ‘biz’ at this one-week workshop in San Antonio, Texas in July, and met some cool folks.

– Applied for and got rejected by Blue Mountain Center’s residency program (which ended up being a good thing because it would’ve ended up being when I was in my first trimester of pregnancy which probably wouldn’t have been too much fun!), as well as from the Hyphen Magazine and Asian American Writers Workshop short story contest. I was happy, though, for my former workshop-mate, Sunil Yapa, who won first place! And I got good feedback on the story I submitted from AAWW founder Bino Realuyo, although I didn’t show it to him until after I submitted it to the contest, which in hindsight wasn’t very smart. I should’ve gotten more feedback on the story before I sent it in. Lesson learned.

– I spent a lot more time writing this year than I have in a long time. Writing dates were a crucial part of this. I would show up to them even if I didn’t know whether my writing buddy would, which as Natalie Goldberg points out works well. I had fairly regular writing dates with a few folks—notably Claire Light, whom I met several times at Farley’s East in Oakland, and Melanie Hilario and her husband, Sam Sattin, whom I met fairly often in the latter part of 2010 to write, chat, eat scrumptious gourmet donuts and drink Blue Bottle coffee with at the fabulous Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

– I completed a self-imposed seven-day short-story challenge on this blog, in hopes of teaching myself more about the art and craft of writing short pieces, which I’ve always had a hard time doing in the past. This exercise really helped me get through the beginning, middle and end of stories and narrative arcs much more quickly, and also helped me write some pieces that I think I’ll actually send out for publication soon. I also got some good feedback on a couple of the pieces I wrote for the challenge when I submitted them as a part of my package for the Macondo workshop.

– I completed a week-long Advanced Fiction Workshop with the amazing, funny, prolific and generous Mat Johnson at VONA in June. I learned a lot about structure and story from Mat and from my workshop-mates, and had a great time as always at VONA, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Mat gave me some much-needed encouragement to work on what is now shaping up to be my first book—a collection of character-driven short stories set in a post-apocalyptic California, where technology has all but disappeared and human relationships and Mother Nature become the cornerstones of a new rural ‘civilization’. I made tons of progress on three of the twelve stories for this collection in 2010, and a lot of that progress can be credited to Mat and my VONA 2010 workshop experience.

– I had two public readings this year, neither of which I tried very hard to secure, but they were lots of fun and a good chance to share some of my work with an audience. The first one was at my neighborhood cafe, Woody’s, in Oakland, with some of my workshop-mates from my fiction workshop with Junot Diaz at VONA in 2009. The other was my second reading at San Francisco’s annual LitCrawl. This year I got to read with a group of writers of color for the Carl Brandon Society, which is all about promoting sci-fi/speculative fiction writers and fans of color. I got some great feedback on my story from new acquaintance Naamen Gobert Tilahun, who said my work reminded him of Ursula Le Guin’s! Super-cool.

– As far as publications, I did get several non-fiction pieces placed this year. One was a piece on living in a multi-cultural world in a cool new anthology from Beacon Press called Are We Born Racist?, edited by my old work buddy Jeremy Adam Smith along with Jason Marsh and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. Other writers who were included in the collection were Rebecca Walker and Bishop Desmond Tutu, so that was cool! Another piece I had published in 2010 was a nostalgic memoir-type short about my first ‘gay uncle’, which was printed in local literary mag Instant City. This story was as much an ode to the San Francisco of my childhood as it was a story about true family, deception, loss and memory. I am particularly proud of an essay called My New Sisters which was published in the online version of Yes! Magazine And of course I had a couple pieces published in the ever-useful Grassroots Fundraising Journal, the Editorial Board of which I joined in 2010 as well.

It was a busy year, and although I didn’t reach all of my writing goals in 2010, I did make a lot of headway and am proud of my writerly accomplishments. Of course, my writing has now taken a back seat to my pregnancy and impending mommyhood, but I have been doing a fair amount of journalling and will continue to push forward with my creative work in 2011. My next post will be on 2011 new year’s resolutions, but in the meantime, here are my writing buddy





Where I’ve Been

16 11 2010

Apologies for being so absent these last few months, but life has taken a big turn for me—for the good—and I needed to take a break from blogging for awhile, as well as revisit how public I wanted to be with my big news: I’m pregnant! I’m very excited to become a Mama as I’ve been wanting a child of my own for many years, and the Creator has blessed me with the new life growing inside me. During these past few months of my pregnancy, I have felt the need to go inwards, to take more time just to be quiet and listen to my baby, and of course to nest! There are lots of preparations to make before the little one is born and my partner and I have both been busy with regular work as well. My creative writing is moving along smoothly, and I feel that I need to priortize that writing for now, with my time and energy for writing in general becoming more limited.

And so while I enjoyed blogging and will hopefully come back to it after the baby is born (I already hear all the parents out there laughing at me), I am going to continue to take a break from public blogging, aside from my occasional posts on the GIFT Exchange blog of the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training, where I write about fundraising, movement-building and nonprofits.

I’m sure that when I am a Mama-for-real instead of just a Mama-to-be, I will have many interesting and new insights into environmental issues, writing and other things that I’ve written about previously. Thanks for reading and check back in late Spring 2011 for more from me.





Yes, I am Thinking and Saying Things, Just Not Here

9 07 2010

Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland on 17th and Telegraph

As a person of color, a writer, an activist, as a long-time resident of Oakland and someone who is Bay Area born-and-bred, I have some strong opinions and feelings about yesterday’s verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial re: the murder of Oscar Grant. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to blog about it now because I have other writing to do, but if you’re interested in finding out more about what I think, please visit my Twitter feed, which is the main way I’ve been communicating with folks about what’s happening here.

And special shout out to Max Elbaum, fellow activist, writer and Oakland resident, whom I ran into at the rally last night downtown. He told me he's been following my blog (not sure which one) so just want to give him special thanks!





VONA Reportback and the Real Work

28 06 2010

I was offline much of last week because I was at VONA, short for the Voices of our Nations writing workshop, at the University of San Francisco. I had the privilege and pleasure of being in an advanced fiction workshop with author and all-around-cool dude Mat Johnson, who wrote Hunting in Harlem and the graphic novel Incognegro, among several other books.

Despite the tough-looking photo on the home page of his web site, Mat was a generous and encouraging teacher. He gave lots of critical feedback too, don’t get me wrong, but what’s a writing workshop if someone doesn’t slice and dice your work? His case-study lectures on structure were especially helpful to me, and I made a note to myself that when I get stuck on a story, when it’s basically at the stage where I feel like I can’t do anything with it anymore, I should do what Mat did with our stories / novels-in-progress in class and figure out two things: 1) What’s this story about? and 2) What’s actually happening? We made scene ‘maps’ to identify what’s actually on the page (versus what we are ‘trying’ to write), which was extremely useful to all of us. It was also good to work with a writer (and especially a father) who has children and realize that it is possible to have a career and a family at the same time.

And Mat left me with a healthy dose of much-needed inspiration when he said to me a few times, “I can’t wait to see your short story collection. That’s a book I want to read.” (I recently found out that I didn’t make the cut for the Hyphen short story contest, although a friend and fellow VONA alum won the grand prize, Sunil Yapa. So while I’m happy for Sunil, I was a bit bummed.) But there’s no better anecdote for rejection blues than having an accomplished writer I admire telling me they expect more from me. Makes me want to get my butt in the chair and start writing! The same thing happened when I met Bino Realuyo for breakfast a few years ago in New York City and he told me, somewhat gravely, at the end of our conversation, “The next time I see you, I want to see your book.”

The Student and the Teacher: Me and Mat Johnson at VONA



And of course, the other magic at VONA is being around 60+ other writers of color from all over the country who are all dedicated to crafting their work and making it as good as it can be. I made new friends, as always, and got to reconnect with old writing buddies, and got terrific feedback on the short story I’m working on.



Me and Emily Yamauchi, a super-talented writer and new buddy



The view from the campus is pretty gorgeous, too.

View from Lone Mountain Campus, where VONA workshops take place

Been feeling a bit of post-VONA withdrawal these last couple days, which since this is my fourth time doing the workshop, I know is normal. And now the real work begins. I’ve set aside most of this week to write, and to hopefully put into practice all the brilliant advice Mat and my fellow writers gave me this week. Butt in chair. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Avoid Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. That’s my goal for this week. Wish me luck.





Gearing up

13 06 2010

Sorry I’ve been so absent, but work has been super-busy lately, and I anticipated that my writing life on all levels would fall off during this hectic time. But I was okay with that because I have two writing workshops coming up: next week at VONA in San Francisco, and next month in San Antonio when I head to Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo Workshop to study with one of my old professors from Cal, Carla Trujillo. I’m really excited about both workshops and looking forward to talking about writing, being around my writing buddies and meeting new ones, and just immersing myself in my literary world and leaving my everyday work-world behind for a few weeks.

Of course, my ultimate goal is to merge these two worlds more fully, and I’ve taken a few steps in that direction, but still have a ways to go. I did get one of my short stories placed in a publication recently—and, even more exciting, will be getting paid for it too!—but I’m hesitant to say where just yet since things in the literary world can be a bit unsure at times. Like the fact that I never got any copies of one of the anthologies in which one of my non-fiction pieces was recently published.

In any case, I’ve got a lot of reading to do in the coming few weeks, and will be doing a fair amount of writing too, I’m sure. Will try to blog during the workshops and fill you in on what’s going on.





I Miss Writing

23 05 2010

It’s true, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing—but for work, not my own creative writing. I have to admit that I am one of the lucky writers who’s not completely broke all the time, or who can actually still work on my grammatical and technical writing ‘chops’ and get paid to do so (I do fundraising consulting which entails a fair amount of writing), but I really miss spending more time on my creative writing. Fiction, non-fiction, even poetry (which I rarely try my hand at, but when I do, it’s pretty fun).

This blog helps fulfill my craving a little, and I have been working on a new short story for a friend’s online publication, but I miss the days when I had more time to sit and write, or think about writing, or read whatever I felt like reading. Ironically, I don’t think I really valued those days when I did have them—of course, when I had days in a row with little paid consulting work I mostly goofed off or cleaned my house rather than write—so now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. I am planning to go on a short writing retreat soon—not sure where, but I just know I have to get out of Dodge and away from the distractions of the city, my apartment and everyday life and get some solid hours of writing in.

But even this craving is a sign of progress to me, because when I was working full-time 9-to-5 I could go for months without writing and it didn’t really bother me all too much. Now, writing has become more of a habit, a good habit that I don’t want to break. I started this blog and my other blog to help keep me writing, to keep me accountable to my own writing goals, and I’m glad I did. I still don’t blog as much as I’d like to at times, but it’s nice to know that these blogs are here for me to just scribble (or type, I guess!) a few words and thoughts and send them out to the world with a click of my trackpad.

Still, though, I miss my fiction writing, and when I’ve sat down lately (like I did the other day with my friend A. at a cafe) and work on a story, I feel a different part of my brain, my consciousness come alive. And I like that feeling. A lot.





Loneliness

7 05 2010

Being a writer can be damned lonely. Maybe I’m feeling this way right now in particular because I just found out that one of my ‘Uncles’ (a family friend that I grew up with as a little girl) just passed away yesterday, and that his funeral is tomorrow, and I got the message about it on my cell phone voicemail. And that I’m sitting here alone, and feeling sad and isolated from my family (whom I have a very difficult relationship with), and wishing on some level that things were different.

And then, I thought, let me write about this. Because writing is the one thing I can do when I’m feeling lonely that sometimes—not always—but sometimes, makes me feel a little less so.

Which is ironic, because writing is a very lonely act. I think that’s why when we get together with each other—especially when we find a group of writers we like and vibe with—it’s like we can’t get enough of each other. That’s what happened a couple weeks ago after the reading I did with a few other writing buddies from last year’s VONA workshop for writers of color. Five of us read at a local cafe to a small but attentive audience, and then we proceeded to head out to a nearby restaurant/bar to hang out, eat, talk writing, laugh a ton, and just be.

It felt good, warm and right to be there with them. We don’t hang out all the time—I hadn’t seen one of them in almost a year—but we share a bond as writers that I don’t find with other people, even other artists. And these moments of connection with other writers can do a lot to assuage the intense loneliess I sometimes feel when it’s just me, here, at my laptop, at home alone or even in a cafe surrounded by a sea of strangers, typing away, trying to articulate something that dwells deep inside my psyche—and sometimes succeeding, oftentimes failing.

I think this loneliness factor—that the act of writing by its very nature is a solitary act—is what spooks a lot of people about writing. I was at my dentist earlier today getting my teeth cleaned, and talking about my writing and other work, and he said, “Well, it’s a gift, isn’t it? Not a lot of people can write.” I wanted to say, “Well, they can, it’s just that they choose not to.” But I decided to just nod and let him stick metal instruments into my mouth.

Sometimes—I would say maybe 30% of the time—the loneliness and the solitary nature of writing doesn’t bother me. At these times, in fact, I enjoy it. The loneliness becomes a blanket of serenity, giving me the quiet stillness that allows me to really listen to my mind, to let the images in my head flow out of me, to allow my consciousness to pick up on the subtleties of language and meaning that otherwise get drowned out by the quotidian distractions of modern life. At these times I guess I’m able to transform or distill the loneliness into concentration—and the result is often decent, if not good, writing, and a full feeling of satisfaction which motivates me, ultimately, to keep writing during those times when the loneliness just feels shitty and well, lonely.

But right now, I’m remembering Uncle Tito, and allowing the loneliness to wash through me, and letting it work for me by writing about it here. And maybe you, a writer yourself or an aspiring writer or just someone who likes to read about writers, will feel a little less lonely because you’re reading this.

Or maybe not, and that’s all right too.