Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wrapping Up (Taiwanese Tuesday)

I'm leaving in eleven days. First to Hong Kong, then back home for a week, then up to my home college for my summer job.

It doesn't feel real.  Not at all.  The butterflies in my stomach are scant fluttering their wings.

Summer has most definitely arrived: Taiwan's humid stickiness has returned and the temperatures are soaring again, but I'm much more used to it this time around.  I didn't think that that was possible--getting used to 90-degree, 65 percent humidity weather--but I suppose you can get used to a lot.

I've learned so much on this journey, but I think the most important lesson has been learning to love my messy and incomplete self.  I have a much clearer picture on what I want to accomplish my last year in college and in graduate school, and that was worth all of the discomfort and pain.

Time to finish my research paper, do my job training...and keep writing.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tangentially Related to the WIP

King of Nowhere

            I was born and raised in St. George, an economically depressed town of about thirty thousand people five miles southeast of Ithaca.  My father was raised by Polish immigrants in Australia; my mother’s parents came over from Sicily during Prohibition.  My parents met at a mixer not long after my father came over with his family.  My father was taken with my mother’s dark hair, smooth olive skin and tiny, sparrow-like frame.  They married six months after they graduated from high school.  Early on, my parents more or less accepted their fate of childlessness (a car accident when my mother was a little girl was to blame) so my arrival as their late in life son duly shocked both of them.
            For years I never knew what my father did for a living.  I knew he worked nights: whenever I came home from school I was never allowed to make a lot of noise because he was asleep in the upstairs bedroom, and he went to work right after dinner.  When I was leaving for school in the mornings I would see him coming up the walkway.  He appeared in an instant, materializing out of the morning fog that draped around the houses on our street and piled up in the alleys like weightless cotton.  This optical illusion, combined with the mystery of his job, solidified my awe and terror of him.  I never thought he saw me those mornings because his head was bent in intense concentration, but he always reached out to touch me on the shoulder before sitting down to the breakfast my mother laid out for him.  It was our silent ritual.
I made the mistake of asking my father what he did at work when I was about eleven years old.
His eyes, normally reptilian in their passivity, flicked over at me, annoyed.  He snorted.
            “What difference does it make?” he asked.  “My name is Bill.  I’m your father.  I keep the lights on.  That’s all you need to know.”
            I never asked him again.
            I eventually did find out what kept him out all those nights.  When I was fifteen, a bunch of my friends and I decided to “borrow” a car and take a joyride downtown.  The plan was to get into a bar.  How we were supposed to accomplish this, I don’t know— our master plan of four pimple-faced teenagers with no fake IDs showing up at a bar was destined for failure: but, of course, that night we were invincible kings of nowhere.
We stopped in front of a strip club, and debated whether or not we wanted to go in.  One of the members of the group (I won’t say who it was) wanted to go home, but didn’t want to risk his friends calling him a pussy.  The unfortunate schmuck was called upon to get out of the car and ask how much the cover charge was.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Work in Progress Tab

This week I decided to stop hiding my ideas under a bushel, so I posted the subject of my work in progress on my blog.  The reason?  Accountability.  This is my second attempt writing an actual book, and while I have been legitimately busy trying to get credit for classes, I don't want to give up on my idea.  I don't know where it will lead.  I have no idea if I'll even finish the damn thing.  But that Work in Progress tab is going to serve as a reminder that I am writing a book, and I've finally been able to condense what it is I'm writing about into two (somewhat) succinct paragraphs.

What do you do to hold yourself accountable to your works in progress?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Research Project (Taiwanese Tuesday)

Or, what I've been worried about for the last six months.

I came to Taiwan with the intention of researching about seventeenth-century Chinese eunuchs in hopes of using that research for a creative thesis.

It didn't work out, mainly because I couldn't find a professor to work with me.

The resident director of my program is Buddhist, and knows pretty much Every Living Buddhist in The World.  I'm sure she's met the Dalai Lama at one point.  In December I accompanied her on a translation retreat run by an international Buddhist women's association.  It was a very cold but enlightening weekend.  The ladies I met were of all ages and walks of life, and had taken refuge in Buddhism for different reasons.  I participated in workshops where mostly Chinese was spoken, and got to know them over the course of

Because of her connections and my limited options, I decided refocus my project.  I love languages (not linguistics--yuck).  I was intrigued by something my resident director had said: when the Buddhist sutras were translated from Sanskrit to Chinese, the translators had to come up with about 100,000 new idioms to convey the ideas the sutras were proposing.  The concepts did not exist in Chinese, and so the language itself had to change in order to allow a new religion to take place in a different culture.

My project is seeing if Taiwanese students under 25 still use these centuries-old idioms today.

I'm in the last stages of drafting a questionnaire that I will be using to ask Taiwanese students around my campus.  I already did some interviews and ran into some preliminary glitches, so it's back to the drawing board.

And no.  This questionnaire does not include all 100,000 of the idioms.  That would be overdoing it just a hair.

See you Thursday.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Honesty and Doubt

Since the rapture didn't happen, it means we all have to get back to our responsibilities and commitments.  I'm actually kind of happy about that.  I'm in the middle of a lot of interesting things, and if the world had ended, I wouldn't have been able to go to Hong Kong to see my mom.

Time to be honest about some things, I think.

I haven't been completely happy here.

That's a bit of an understatement.

I really hated it here for a long time.

It's no one's fault.  I'm not blaming my program, the friends I've made, or even Taiwan.  But this experience for a long time was none of what I was expecting.  I complained pretty extensively to my mother and close friends and left it at that.  I had work to do, classes to go to, and projects that needed to be completed on time.  Making deadlines has historically been difficult for me, and when I leave here, I leave.  That's it.

So, I figured if I didn't have anything positive to say, then say nothing at all.  I beat myself up about not posting because not everyone gets to travel, so I didn't have the luxury of being unhappy.

This is not to say that I spent every moment of my time in abject misery.  There were moments where I found satisfaction, and I sucked those moments dry to find the strength to keep going.  And I threw myself into my research here: working with my advisor, refining my topic, working on my proposal, and steeling myself not to give up.  I could have.  The temptation was there; there were a lot inconveniences and obstacles, not the least of which was that I couldn't take books out of the library, and I needed a bibliography.  So I needed to get creative.

And then, like magic, everything came together for me.  The end is in sight, all I have to do is complete my research, take a final, write a couple of papers, complete my online job training, and I'm on my way.

Life is glorious.  Living often isn't.  But the unromantic moments (or days, or weeks, or even longer) help us enjoy those romantic moment when they hit us over the head.

I'll talk more about my research project on Tuesday.  Enjoy not being raptured.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'm Back!

I'm almost there!  Three more weeks and I'll be done with my year abroad.  Man.  I feel like I just got here.

It's been a tough year.  That's why I haven't been posting as regularly as I should.  I got hit with a lot of things that needed careful monitoring, and I felt bad that I dropped out of the challenge.  It really came down to setting priorities.  I was really getting ahead of myself with this novel and I needed to refocus myself so that I can graduate from college first.  It'll happen.  I just finalized my research project this week and I heard back from my home university that I should get credit for it.  My departure day from Taiwan is June 11, right around the corner.  I'm meeting my mom in Hong Kong and we'll be vacationing there for ten days.  Then it's back home for a week, and then my summer job.

My novel is on hold, but I've thought about it a lot and will continue it at some point in the future.  First things first.

I've learned so much about myself, and I'm so grateful for all of you who read this.

More later.  Promise.