wrestling with reading

Posted: January 14, 2018 in novel, toil & sound, creative writing, short fiction, writing life

This blog has been up since late 2006. It was first called “Time and Circumstance” and served as a travelogue with ex-pat observations during my four and a half years in South Korea. The second iteration was called “The Ex-Pat Repatriated.” Great title, but it was an era of sparse output, the adjustment to life back in the US wasn’t that interesting; but there was a spike in production and quality around the 2016 presidential election. Now, this blog–with all its past entries–starts a new epoch. It bears the name “a writer’s toil & sound” to document the many aspects of bringing a book–my book, Toil & Sound–to life.

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I started writing creatively for the same reason many others try to learn to play the guitar: to impress a girl. Suffice it to say that writing terrible poetry was not the key to this girl’s heart–or many others over the years, it should be known. Nonetheless, at the age of 16, I finally put pen to paper over endless cups of heavily-sugared coffee at Lyon’s restaurant on McHenry Blvd or J Street Café in downtown of the place I spent my youth: Modesto, CA.

The pull to write has been with me as long as I can remember. I’ve never quite figured out the origins of this pull toward producing the written word: I really didn’t read much when I was growing up. And it wasn’t for lack of a good example. Both of Mom’s parents always had half-read books on the coffee table when we visited. My parents read to me when I was a wee lad. Dad was always a big reader of histories and biographies and fiction. My brother could rarely be found without his nose in a book; throughout the fourteen years that we shared a room, I would wake up on weekends to find him in his bed reading.

Mom tried what she thought was the right way to get me to read. During summer mornings, she would tell me to read 50 pages before she got home from work; I can’t remember ever finishing one daily summer reading assignment, moving the bookmark up 50 pages in any given book. I mean, why not? I was never asked to give a summary of what I had read. Mom was probably too tired from work to follow up.

Having said that, it wasn’t like I didn’t read; it’s just that once I got beyond the Stuart Little and Superfudge phase, shit that was available was just boring to me (with the exception of The Indian in the Cupboard and The Bridge to Terabithia). Unless it was picture-heavy pages–a coffee table book on the history of America, the 28-volume Time-Life series on the Civil War that my dad had read from beginning to end, or the years and years of National Geographics my parents kept–, I would rarely crack a book without some sort of resistance. Instead, I could be found outside chasing and killing Soviets in ongoing battles fought on foot, in trees, over fences, and on bicycles. When I wasn’t eradicating commies from the neighborhood, I was playing Nerf football with friends in the street or homerun derby with a tennis ball at the high school’s tennis courts. Later, it was girls who captured my imagination rather than Great Expectations, Les Misérables, or Greek mythology (though I was taught Animal Farm in an outstanding two-week lesson my sophomore year). Oddly, I really jumped into vocab study in preparation for the SAT.

Reading became more of a necessity when I left home at the age of 18 to study literature at SJSU. With the kind of relationship I had with words up to that point, I had quite an uphill fight my first year. Not only did I not have a less-than-stellar high school academic history and a piss poor reading habit, I was also away from home for the first time. It is useful here to paraphrase Homer J. Simpson: booze, pot, and Sega Genesis are the causes of and solutions to all of life’s problems. But long, marijuana-addled treks in downtown San Jose with Alice in Chains, John Coltrane, Bad Religion, or Rachmaninov on my Discman coincided with the creative and critical thought I was somehow picking up in my literature courses. By the time I started my sophomore year, I found a balance between work and play; a routine was put in place necessitated by part-time work and a full load of classes. I saw the results of this hard work in my grades. And the more I read, the more I wrote. In downtown San Jose my need to write took firm root.

This is why I claim San Jose as my hometown: it’s the place where my Self emerged.

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Dorm rats Fall ’95

Including my first several handwritten notebooks–now transcribed, with the exception of the first, which was stolen–, the writing of love and heartbreak and selfhood and narrative experimentation are 16 volumes, (75 pages each with 10 point type) that span 1995 to present. These will not see the light of day while I live. Even then, I may ask that the funeral pyre is kindled with those pages and my hard drive.

The pathetic misery and awful writing and sheer repetition take up 90% of those volumes. I had to learn to be patient with myself over the years, as that remaining 10% has been polished to become short stories and scenes from the novel.

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