Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Thing I Want

I don't mean to sound prideful when I say this, but I'm good at a lot of things. Not excellent, not spectacular, but good. I can sing quite well. I play the piano well enough to enjoy it. I can sketch okay. I'm a good student. I think I'm a decent writer. I'm quite gifted at languages.

The problem with being good at many things and enjoying those many things is trying to dedicate time to improving them. Some activities are going to get neglected. 

I have a difficult time deciding what I want.  There are many things I'd kind of like to have or do, but it's easier to know what I don't want than what I really want.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this a couple times here before.

Well, I've figured out something I want.

I want to write.

The problem is i have to have certain conditions just right in order to write. I have to be in a place where I can be relatively free from distractions. I have to have a decent chunk of time, as it can take me a bit to get started. I also have to be pretty inspired to get going. 

Ideally, I would have a private space of my own and two to three hours in the morning to dedicate to writing. I'm in a one bedroom apartment in Korea and I've traditionally been a night person. So private space is at a premium and waking up early is a difficult task.

I have writer friends who can write directly into a computer while watching a movie or the television. I can't do that. Movies or TV will sometimes spark an idea, but I can't focus enough to develop the idea while the TV is going. I also have to write my ideas out by hand before I can type them, but I actually enjoy that part and wouldn't change it.

I love the revision process. I love going over something I've written and finding weak words and phrases and making them stronger. Revision is something i can do while listening to music. I still can't watch TV, though, but that's okay by me. I get too into the revision to watch TV.

My revision process is probably not as efficient as it could be, but it works for me. The first revision is the process of typing what I've written into a word processor. This allows me to catch small problems and see what I've written with new eyes. After typing, I print out a copy. After a couple days, I will read the printed copy and make changes right on the page. After two or three readings, I will type the changes into the computer, then print another copy. I'll repeat this process a couple times. I don't know that I get to a point where I feel the piece is great, but I reach a point where I feel I can't make it any better.

What I would like to have is a group of people I could count on to read my piece and give me feedback. Fresh eyes will catch problems I'm blind to as the originator of the piece. Unfortunately, the people I've approached before to read haven't been good at leaving comments or suggestions. And yes, I'm halfway around the world from my friends from the creative writing classes I took, but I use Google Docs, so distance is not an excuse.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing is that it helps me process what I'm thinking about. It helps me figure myself out. In a way, writing is extremely relaxing. Part of the benefit is that when I'm writing I can focus on the words and forget about the other things that I'm worrying or stressing about.

What do I want? 

I want to write.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cliches Were Meant to Be Broken...

Particularly this one: "Never judge a book by its cover."

Really?  What else does everybody do every single time they go to the library or bookstore to browse for a book?

You go to the store, wander up and down the aisles. A book catches your eye, so you pull it off the shelf. If the cover looks interesting, however you define that, you will read the synopsis on the back, maybe glance through the bits of praise and see what other people are saying.

If the book doesn't look interesting, then you put it back on the shelf and walk on. 

I get what the old cliche is trying to say: "Don't dismiss someone until you get to know them." But sometimes the cover doesn't lie. 

I've spent the last several weeks judging books by their covers. Sometimes just by their titles. 

I came into possession of around eight thousand ebooks recently. That's a lot of books, I know. I knew there was no way I would ever come close to reading each one, so I started to attempt to winnow the list a little. 

First, I found all the duplicates. There were quite a few. Then I started consolidating books into folders under their authors' names. As I was consolidating, I would open the file that showed the cover. If it was a romance novel, it went into the trash. If it was a book based on Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars or a video game, it also went into the trash. 

Eventually, I got to the point where if the title sounded like a romance book or included the words "A novel" after the title, I deleted the book. I've since relented a little when it comes to the words "a novel." They still bug me, because I know it's a novel, but I'll let it slide for now.

Now I'm working on going through and renaming each file so that it will be sorted by author in one big list, subdivided into genre. 

It's a little monotonous, but I actually enjoy it. I listen to music and sort book files. Kind of fun. I'm still reading a lot and trying to get into the practice of writing every day. 

And I'm judging books by their covers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life Is Just the Same... in Korea.

No, really.

See, I continue to read voraciously. That hasn't changed at all. I still buy books. The only way that has been altered is the quantity of books I purchase.

I've done quite a bit of shopping while here in Korea. I like having tangible souvenirs of the places I visit. So I buy things.

I decided to take a picture of the major things I've purchased up to this point. Why? Because I can, of course.

The books are (from left) Blankets by Craig Thompson, Fun House by Alison Bechdel, Sleeper by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Persepolis(the boxed set) by Marjane Satrapi. 

I bought a man-bag in Namdaemun. It's handy and a convenient size. Plus: lots of pockets. 

The bag is propped against the printer I purchased. On top of the printer is the wireless router. You can see the antenna!

There's a pipe and two pins that I purchased at the Mt. Odu Unification Observatory. The pipe is supposedly a product of North Korea. The pins are of the South Korean flag and of the observatory itself. The observatory is all about the propaganda of unifying the two Koreas. The message I got was that South Korea wants to unify to benefit their cousins in the North, but North Korea keeps screwing things up.

And last, but not least, is the Samsung Galaxy S II. Great phone. Best phone I've ever owned, actually. Here's the cool thing about buying a phone in South Korea: In the phone box, you get the phone, headphones, and a charger. All pretty normal. What makes the purchase great is everybody with a smartphone gets a spare battery and a battery charger. So you can use the phone while the spare battery is charging! Brilliant!

Oh yeah, I also purchased a 2TB external hard-drive. I like having it.

And there you go!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I have this week off.  Monday was the Chuseok holiday here in Korea. It's generally a three day celebration, so Sunday and Tuesday were included. As I teach in a week-long program, I got the week off. And got paid for it, though it came out of my vacation days. Kind of a mandatory holiday. But I have twenty days total, so no big deal.

On Monday I went to Everland with a group of friends. Everland is Korea's Disneyland. Fun amusement park. It doesn't have as many thrill rides as Disneyland does, but the prices are more reasonable. Both to get in and to buy food and souvenirs once inside.

The first rollercoaster we chose didn't have a very long line, which was nice. The security harness did not fit over me. That wasn't nice. I couldn't go on the ride! Very rude. So I waited.

The next rolloercoaster I attempted to ride had a line that lasted 2 hours to get through. Crazy! I was able to ride, though Chelsea wasn't. This coaster was a wooden one that features the steepest drop of any wooden coaster in the world. Really! Look up "T-Express" on Wikipedia and you'll see I speak the truth. The initial drop felt like it was vertical. I'm sure it wasn't, but that's what it felt like.

My favorite "ride," however, was the Rotating House. There were fantasy paintings on the walls as I waited in line. Gave me something to look at. When I went into the room that starts the ride, a pair of gargoyles began to speak and argue with each other. One was evil and one was good. The evil one had an evil laugh and red eyes, so I knew he was evil. The good one had a kind voice and blue eyes, so I knew he was good. 

I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying, though. All in Korean.

After the gargoyle argument, the group of park visitors I was with proceeded to the next room, which had four long benches, two running down each long side of the room. Once seated, a lap bar lowered down until I was securely held into place.

The gargoyles across from where I sat came to life, their eyes glowing red! The room began to rock back and forth! I began to get dizzy.  

Then the room began spinning! I was staring down at the floor from up above it!  It must have been magic holding me up there, as I was not pressing against the lap bar at all. 

Then blue lights started shining from behind me, and I knew the good gargoyles had started to try and protect me.  The room began spinning the other way, because the good gargoyles were trying to protect me.

Faster and faster the room was spinning. First one way and then the other. I didn't know when it would stop. 

Then, with a puff of air that exploded in my face, the room came to a rest, the right side up. The evil gargoyles' eyes flickered on and off, then turned off for good. Thunder crashed outside, and lightning flashed through the skylight. I saw a demon's face in the skylight! The good gargoyles must have chased him off.

I thought I was safe, then I felt something moving underneath my butt, inside the bench! It scared me and I jumped! It ran back and forth underneath me a few times, then went away.

The lights came on and the lap bar went back up. The doors opened again, but the room on the way out was upside down! I felt like I was stuck to the ceiling!

Then I went outside the house and felt safe again.

Seriously, though, the Rotating House was a lot of fun. Sorry for the abrupt change of voice. It just came over me.

The last ride I went on was the Log Ride. It was lots of fun. I was in a log with Chelsea and our friend Brandon. I even bought the keychain with our picture in it. Only seven bucks!

It really was a fun day. Liked it a lot.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Photo Dump: Beautiful Bugs and Creepy Crawlies...

Since coming to Korea, I've seen many amazing creatures. I try to catch them with my camera as best I can. I just wanted to share them with you.

I frequently see these huge black butterflies. But they move so fast and so rarely stop that it's hard to get my camera out in time to snap a picture. One finally landed in my vicinity, so I got a couple good pictures.

There are many dragonflies flitting around. I didn't realize they came in such vivid colors until I started taking pictures.

This spider was hanging out at the bus stop for Everland, an amusement park near Seoul. This guy was about four inches long. If you look at the full size picture, she (I'm guessing it's female due to its size) has a white skull shape on her back.

The next two photos were taken just outside the back gate to the English Village. This spider was about two inches long. If I were going to attempt to kill this one, or the previous one, I would want a flame thrower. I'm not going anywhere near that with a shoe!

And there you go! 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Good Books Are...

...a traumatic experience.

No, really, hear me out.

Anyone who reads more or less constantly knows that finding a new book to read is a challenge. And heaven knows that the ratio of good books to okay books is pretty small. And the ratio of okay books to crappy books is even smaller.

When you look at it that way, finding a book you like is a rather miraculous experience. 

Let's say I'm at the bookstore, looking through shelves and shelves of books. I see a title that looks intriguing. It's not trying to be clever, it's not a pun and it doesn't give away key plot points. I read the author's name. Not someone I've read before, but I've seen his name mentioned in interviews where an author I enjoy is talking about authors he likes. So I think, "Hey, I'll give this a shot."

After making my purchase, I go to a restaurant or fast food joint, place my order and start to read.  

So far, so good. The first chapter is enticing. I like the protagonist. I think I can see where the story is going to go, but there is a distinct possibility I'll be surprised. 

Then I really start getting into the book. The supporting characters are well-formed and feel like real people. The settings are given enough description that I can almost see them in my head. 

I'm completely pulled into the book now, starting to read faster and faster. I know I should take my time and savor the experience, but I can't help myself. It's so good, I just want to devour it. I stay up late, thinking, "I'll read through the next chapter." 

I tell myself that four more times before I go to sleep. 

When I wake up, and I mean alert-and-thinking wake up, not just get-out-of-bed wake up, I open the book again and keep reading over breakfast. 

The next thing I know, I've finished the book, and I'm not ready for it to be over. I sit staring at the cover for a few minutes, the reader's version of an athlete catching his breath.

The glow, the rapture, of reading an enjoyable book is transformed into a new desperation: I have to find another book to read. I almost don't dare look for something new. What if I end up with a bad book? It takes me an hour or so to work up the nerve to browse my "Unread" bookshelf for my next affair. 

I make my selection, praying it won't let me down. I open the cover. The smell of book wafts out and my eyes become unfocused for a moment. I take a deep breath and hold it to the count of five.

I start to read.