Ritu posted a meme where she answered five questions, and then invited others to ask her for five questions for them to answer. I asked for questions, and here they are:
1. How do you perceive yourself?
Hmmm. What a terribly dangerous question. It’s dangerous because in some ways, I find I’m a tiny bit of a cipher to myself, if you know what I mean. I know how I feel about things, and what I think about things, but as far as how I perceive myself… well, my feeling now is, uh, keunyang, I guess? I am who I am.
Wait, I interpreted that question as, “How do you feel about yourself?” when it could as easily be read as, “How do you see yourself?”
The thing I think is interesting is that my perception of myself varies with context. When I am in the classroom, I am mostly self-assured, confident, open-minded, fair, but also challenging. I challenge my students a lot, I implore them to think more deeply about things, to make decisions for themselves, to choose their own limits and transcend them.
At home, I think I’m more of a mix — sometimes more giving and generous, and sometimes almost monomaniacally focused on whatever I’m doing. I’m a touch of a hypochondriac when I’m at the doctor’s office. A part of me always has always seen itself, and maybe always will, as shy, ineffectual, poorly spoken, but it’s mostly been washed away by experience that contradicts this basic idea, which I think is basically old wounds from my experiences at school.
These days, I especially see myself in ways I’m not sure are good. I am a bit of a hermit, at home as much as possible, often working on a story or something. I also see some parts of my personality are changing because I’ve been in Korea so long, and I’m acquiring some of the traits of certain foreigners who’ve been here, well, not a very long time, but long enough to begin to be unhappy here. I don’t like my constant complaining, or the way I nitpick tiny things and sometimes read deep, damning meanings from them. I’ve been making efforts to curb that habit, but I’m not sure those efforts are really paying off.
2. How long do you see yourself in Korea?
Well, I’ve said to Lime I could do a few more years here, but I waver on that. Sometimes I think a few more years would be the ultimate maximum, and sometimes I think more than a few years would be okay. I think it ultimately depends on things like living conditions, quality of work, and alternatives. Since we haven’t really settled on a place we mutually prefer, it’s all up in the air. But as long as she continues with her current residency, we’ll be here until at least early 2009. At the very least. I may, however, decide to work somewhere else briefly while she’s doing her residency here, on a six month or one-year stint, provided that holidays are enough for me to come see her for a reasonable part of the year.
3. What next?
Who knows. Really, nothing’s set in stone, and nothing much is even scribbled on paper. Sometimes I consider studying further. Not a PhD in Creative Writing, which I think would be basically useless. But sometimes I consider possibly a PhD in literature — though I’m not sure I want to do that. Sometimes I think of graduate work in another field, like history or education. I even consider doing some basic training in science, sometimes. And then a part of me says, “I have studied in school for 20 years of my life, do I need to do more of it?” In a way, I am very tired of schools, though not of learning.
But I know I’ll have to either work, or study more and then work, for a long time. I have no illusions about becoming a best-selling author, ever, let alone overnight.
4. How does it feel to be a professional author?
Ha… I’ll let you know when that happens. I’m not even professional by WotF standards: you need three pro sales to be a pro, pro sales being defined as selling to SFWA-acknowledged pro markets.
But selling a story to a pro market? That’s excellent. It’s a great feeling. It’s like a small bit of encouragement that ever so slightly salves the wounds — okay, the faint bruising — of all the rejection letters that have come before and since. It’s cool.
I’m really looking forward to the next sale!
5. The most important life lesson you’ve learned.
You know, most people answer this question with one, or a few single pithy statements. I could probably produce a couple, but I’m at this point now where I’m starting to find the pithy don’t cut it. Not for what I want to say.
I tend not to learn single lessons from experiences, or from series of experiences… or else, I think, the most important lessons are ones that I find all but inexpressible in conventional terms. If I try to phrase it as a life lesson, then it’s unlikely I’ll say what I mean. I find that the most important learning I do is under the surface of my conscious mind, these days… it’s about a kind of attunement and attitude to people and to experiences and to learning itself.
I also find that these lessons, for me, don’t come in ones or threes or, well, countable amounts. They tend to come as sea-changes, and sometimes they’re incompletely learned, for a while. The tide comes in, sea-change, then it goes out and comes in again. You know what I mean?
My time in India was a great example of this. While I was there, I was learning all kinds of things, besides the surface lessons from exposure to a new culture (or cultures, as I felt I was surrounded by multiple cultures most of the time), frames of references, and ways of being. There were all kinds of internal lessons I learned, some of which sound pretty silly but which were important for me at that time. I learned about how when you surf a wave of coincidences, you can start to build synchronicity for yourself; about how to really pay attention to, and trust, my own alert system when I meet new people; about the value of solitude and how good it is for one’s mind, and one’s work (especially when one’s work is writing); about the kind of happiness one can feel being around genuinely good people (like Ritu and her family). All of these feel a little hokey, put individually, but there’s also a way that, when I came back from India, people could see a difference in me — it was visible, tangible, and not just in terms of lost weight.
So I guess for me, the pithy answer doesn’t cut it because it doesn’t reflect on the effect the learning had on me. Anything I actually learn has a tangible effect on how I feel about people and things, how I interact with people and things, and how I think about those people and things. Even to myself, what is more observable (and in some ways much more expressible) is the change in character or behaviour that I undergo as a result of a period of concentrated learning.
One more example would be Seattle. To express it on the surface, I learned things like, oh, I could be one of the cool kids too, with the right crowd — a crowd of SF geeks being my ideal niche; I learned that I could, in fact, succeed in writing — not meaning becoming a bestseller, but in writing engaging, interesting fiction that makes people want to read more. I already knew that writing was hard, but I learned that I could be hard too, as hard as stone, and hard as it takes to keep writing. I learned that the famous writers whose names rang though my mailing lists and my chats with friends like the names of Greek gods were just people like me and my friends, who had started earlier and spent a lot of time thinking, and writing, and receiving rejection letters, just like us.
But the change, that’s what was remarkable. I came home, and Lime commented on it. I was taking writing seriously, more seriously than I’d taken it before. I had a kind of energy I can’t say was “renewed”, because it had never really even been as high as that before — though it had been high, and in some sense had been renewed and then expanded. I began to think harder about my stories, and my planned projects. I began to send fiction out. I began to consider rewriting seriously, and to do it a lot. I began to really put my back into it, and I began to actually believe in my abilities as a writer of fiction. I also began to open up in my reading, to read more, to spend less time online, to think in new and different ways about fiction, to soak up as much as I could. I also found myself growing happier and more cheerful in general. I began to plan big projects that are, even now, still seeds beneath the top layer of my imagination’s topsoil. I also began to prioritize, to consider how much important my writing is compared to my day job, and started to direct and reserve my energies in such a way that usage reflected priority. (And I continue to do so, even now that my teaching schedule is loaded down with extra work.) My behaviours changed significantly because of what I learned through my experiences in Seattle, but the behaviours bespeak the lesson better than any pithy statement of what I learned.
All that said, the lesson I am trying to learn now is not to worry so much. I am still a worrier, and it’s bad for my health. But worrying fixes nothing, and it’s not good for someone like me, whose body responds physically to anxieties. I’ve been through some stressful times and I have learned to relax into the knowledge that mostly, things work out okay, even when everyone else is worried or stressed out, but it’s still hard. Recent crises have taught me that I still need to learn how to relax in tense situations, a little more. But I am better at it now than I used to be. I can sleep at night, even in the middle of tense situations. Now, if can eliminate the angry and tense reaction that comes with stress, I think I’ll be well on my way.
1. Leave me a comment saying, “I too am an egomaniac.”
2. I respond by asking you five question. You will answer them, because you like talking about yourself.
3. You will update your LJ with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.