One of the things that I've always wanted to do was write a novel. Of course, I've dabbled with writing for several years, the most significant portion of which has been free verse poetry. (I try to take an imagist tack in the poetry as much as possible, and therefore I avoid meter, rhyme, and other things traditionally considered poetry. Like I said, I am a dabbler.) But, I have not really delved much into prose, except for a couple of ridiculously angsty short stories I tried to write on my own in my early twenties and a handful of short stories I wrote in my creative writing college classes. Therefore, when I came across the NaNoWriMo website, I figured it seemed like a good thing to try. Short for National Novel Writing Month, the NaNoWriMo group encourages everyone to write a novel in a single month and to keep track of their progress on their site. I figured, what the heck, why not give it a shot? As it is completely free, I created a user profile and signed up.

Official NaNoWriMo 2004 Participant

Their basic advice about writing is pretty sound. The thing they say is that the most difficult thing about writing is pounding out the first draft. Having written countless college essays and term papers, I can concur. Many of my composition courses, or training classes to become a composition instructor, have said the same thing. Consequently, emphasizing quantity over quality, NaNoWriMo is encouraging participants to write 50,000 words during November. As I still have a lot of my own work to do (writing several essays for college), I already know that I will fall far, far short of this goal. As with all of my creative writing, I only intend to dabble, which means I will work on this "novel" during slow moments, or when I can't stand to write another academic word. These brief moments of novel writing will be a way of loosening the stiff writing muscles for the heavier work of writing term papers. (I haven't forgotten which side my bread is actually buttered on.)

And I have a past history of doing something similar to this. During my undergraduate days, I would often try to write a poem or two (usually a bad one) before launching into writing a rough draft of an assigned paper. The assigned paper would generally come more quickly and be bit better after doing so. It is roughly analogous to stretching before running a marathon. And that is how my priorities are going to be, the real marathon is not writing a novel, but getting my own work done. The stretching will be the NaNoWriMo project. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

28 October 2004

Progress and Outlook 

I finally got my computer cord during the end of last week, and I have been catching up on my internet usage for the past couple of days. I am also trying to get as caught up as I can on some unfinished projects at school. Yes, I have two final papers left over from the previous term that I need to finish quickly, as well as final papers from this term that I need to start soon. For those of you who are keeping score, these two papers that need to be finished are completely different from the previous two papers that I had talked about in months past. I did not do too badly on those papers, although I wish I had done them sooner.

Tonight, I am going home to clean up the house for upcoming inspections from the student housing office. Lest you think me an incorrigible slob, I must tell you that I am not being singled out for said inspections. Since I go to a state university, and have student housing (which by default makes it government housing), the entire student complex of over 1000 units is being inspected. They did this last term and I passed with flying colors, but that was merely because I had barely lived in the place for more than a few weeks before they came over. Now, after a full year, the house has more of a lived in feel, instead of the bare, stark, institutional feel it had back then. Consequently, I will need to make sure that the house is clean top to bottom. It should not be too hard.

But then it will be back to working on my papers. I am going to need to have the one done by tomorrow night or Wednesday. I think I can do it, but it will need some solid dedication on my part and a commitment not to get to get distracted.

Yesterday, I read the novel The Flower Drum Song by C.Y. Lee. According to the instructor, this was popular novel about a family in Chinatown that came under attack in the seventies for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Asians. After reading, I have to admit that I was uncomfortable with some of the portrayals of women in the book, but I chalked it up as being a product of its time (which was the late 1950's). Of course, the book doesn't come close to the 1961 Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical of the same name for stereotypes. In fact, the movie blows past harmful stereotypes straight into full-on racism and sexism. The fresh-off-the-boat Chinese woman Mei Li has no other desire than to get married to a stiff shirt who suffers from a father who apparently acts too traditional. I won't go into too much detail except to say that the younger son of this too-traditional father is wearing either a New York Giants baseball uniform or a 1776 American Revolutionary fighter costume through half of the movie. I did like the Samuel Adams Fong (no kidding!) character in that he seemed to be channeling a kind of Dean Martin persona with all the attendant 60's lingo. But, it is a movie I probably won't be seeing again soon.

25 October 2004

A Conversation 

The following is an actual transcript of a conversation that I had with my computer last week. To provide the appropriate background, I must tell you that I am college graduate student majoring in English, and therefore have a daily need for a computer to do research, note-taking, and of course, word processing. (Furthermore, I am a level 10 nerd, with plus one (+1) modifiers to all around geekery.) My computer is a laptop Toshiba Satellite A45-S150; let's call it Toshi.

Zhaf: Well, Toshi, time for another session on the Internet.

Toshi: Dude, are you kidding? That's like the third time today. Don't you have a book to read or something?

Zhaf: Yeah, but I just want to check my e-mail to see if the school has sent me something important.

Tohsi: Hah! You just want to post something on your other blog, and you use school as an excuse.

Zhaf: I do not!

Toshi: Right, and I'm not a computer. Listen, I'm so sick of eating all the cookies from the countless websites you visit, I could lose my "chips."

Zhaf: That's an exaggeration.

Toshi: Uh, actually, I do feel a little sick. My cord hurts for some reason.

Zhaf: Oh my god, your cord is frayed! When did that happen?

Toshi: Man, I don't know. Ow! Don't jiggle it! That makes it worse.

Zhaf: Just let me plug you in for a little bit to see if you'll take a charge. (a short moment later) Whoa!

Toshi: OWWW! Holy Crap! What did you do? That really, really hurts!

Zhaf: When I plugged you in, there was shower of orange sparks that shot out from your cord and melted the nearby plastic.

Toshi: Aw, geez. That's just great! Why don't you set me on fire to see if I will put myself out! Not a smooth move, dude.

Zhaf: Hang a second; Let me see if I can get you a new power supply.

At this point, I call around to several different computer and electronic stores around town. Although one could theoretically buy something called a Universal Power Supply that will fit most laptop computers, nobody within a 60 mile radius has anything that will work specifically with my particular brand and model of Toshiba. I call the warranty people from the store I purchased Toshi, and after much wrangling, I manage to get them to send me a new one free of charge. Unfortunately, it will take 7 to 10 days for it to get here.

Zhaf: Bad news, Toshi. It is going to be awhile before I can get you fixed.

Tohsi: Bad news for you, not for me. It looks like I am going to get a weeklong rest from your grubby fingers pounding on my keys.

Zhaf: Um, whatever. Look, I am going to have to let you sleep for about a week. We'll talk again when your part comes in.

Toshi: Good night, man.

And that is where I am now. I am using other people's computers to do most of my computer work, but for the most part, I am not using a computer near as much I used to do. I've actually been reading more. What that means for this site is that I will not post as much as I used to. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that (heck, I sound like a hundred broken records--a broken jukebox!), but this computer issue will be the reason why I don't post for now. I'll be back when the power supply arrives, which I hope is real soon.

19 October 2004

Academic Monuments  

I finally met my new office mate after three weeks of school being officially over. He seems like a very interesting person who wants to focus his English studies in film, which, as far as I am concerned right now, seems about as good as anything. I need to figure out this whole program of English study for myself sooner rather than later. I am still interested in books, but I hardly have time to read anything outside of what I'm assigned. I can't imagine having the time to watch a bunch of films, even if they are for a class I am taking. At this exact moment, I have about two hundred pages of rather dense material to get through of The New Rhetoric, a long treatise on the nature of rhetoric. I think I can follow most of it, but it is testing my ability to concentrate on the subject.

Anyway, My new office mate has be rearranging the other desks lately, and recently wanted to know if I cared whether or not he moved bookcase. Since I'm a pretty easy-going guy, I said that whatever he had in mind was fine with me. But, the thing about the bookcase is that at least one hundred student portfolios are sitting on it, waiting for students to come back and pick them up--something that the students have generally seemed reluctant to do. (These portfolios contain the three essays and three rough drafts that this cirriculum requires them to do, plus all of the writing they ever did in class.) Consequently, even though the students have long graduated, even though the graduate student instructors who taught the classes have moved on, the portfolios remain waiting for a pick-up that will never happen. They are sort of a dust-covered monument to the undergraduate, academic past.

In any event, the new office mate moved all of the portfolios to a couple of the desks that are not being used. As he has brought attention to these portfolios, I became curious about them and decided to thumb through a couple. I was most interested in the previous graduate students, the past teachers of these portfolio authors, because I am currently in the position--hell, I am in the same damn office--that they themselves used to occupy. I noted their names and began to google them to see what greener pastures had lay in store for them after investing their time and money in this particular instituion. Perhaps their success would indicate what may lay in store for me if I worked hard enough.

The results were sobering. Out of eight names, only one turned up: Brian S. And he currently works in an all girl boarding school in Conneticut, not a University or a Community College. I suspect that the only reason that he was able to get the boarding school job is that those types of jobs are harder to hire for, and therefore will accept anyone qualified person willing to work in those conditions. You will not find many people willing to choose to live with their students beyond the normal teaching day. Part of me had hoped that because the program I am at focuses so heavily on its unique approach to teaching that all of the students would be more valuable, and therefore more hirable, in the work force. I expected to see more than half of the names as instructors at community colleges around the country, and even one or two at a full fledged University. They, apparently, are not. I need to really laser my efforts here to not only overcome the previously difficulties I have had, but to acheive some measure of distinction that will help me get a lucrative job in the future. I am doing a pretty good job with my comments in class, but I need to keep up on the all of the homework and improve my writing skills by at least one thousand percent.

12 October 2004

Ghosts and Warriors 

Today I finished reading The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston for my Asian American Literature course. I am not sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, it declares itself a memoir, but interwoven throughout (in some places more than others) are mythological elements that fight against its being classified as a traditional autobiography. Overall, I enjoyed it, but since this reading was for class, I feel I need to understand a bit more.

For example, in the first section, a young Chinese girl, lost in wilderness, is found and taken care of by two mysterious old people who train her to take revenge on the the people who have made her homeless. She is trained as a swordswoman, like the traditional figure of Fa Mu Lan, which apparently is akin to Joan of Arc. (That is, all of this happens if I understood the narrative right.) The elderly couple is described as magical beings who hardly eat, and have powers of prognostication thanks to their crystal ball, which isn't a crystal ball but actually a magic drinking gourd. Contrast those images to the final section where a young Chinese-American girl working at the family Laundry in New York is frustrated by her mother, while she simultaneously struggles to define who she is and how she fits in the Western World.

I am oversimplifying here, but the thoughts that come to my mind are this: as this book shapes itself as an autobiography, should one think of the mythological elements as an ideological framework in which the more realistic elements are grounded? What I mean is this: does the mythology provide a framework that gives readers with no knowldege of Chinese culture a cultural background that is necessary to understand the autobiography? This book reads more like a novel than anything else, and as a novel, I am thinking along the lines of the "magic realism" style associated with Marquez. I think all this might be happening, but then again, I also think this is too technical for my blog, and I should be putting this on the class site instead. Actually, I think I am going to do that right now.

08 October 2004


As everyone who has watched the news in the last several days already knows, Mt. St. Helens has been making some noise and has generated a lot of interest. My grandparents happened to be painting their deck when the big blast occurred in 1980. They watched helplessly as ash fell into the wet paint ruining it. Then it was tragedy, but now, it is a family story (which most of us think is kind of funny). Now, my parents live in that house, and the grandparents have moved ten miles to be closer to town. And guess what they are doing? Painting their new deck for their new home. I know it would be a lot of money to repaint a deck, but if ash managed to make it down here in a new explosion to ruin their paint job, I really would find that hilarious.

Anyhow, while looking, I found this link to the live webcam from the Johnston Ridge Observatory (named for the scientist who died in the 1980 blast). In the interest of science, I present the following to you. Enjoy.

UPDATE: October 4th, 8 a.m.-- Scientists have said that the lava dome, that big bulgy thing in the crater of the volcano that acts like a lid on a shook up soda bottle, has moved 50 to 100 feet! They were concerned when it looked like it had moved just a couple of centimeters. Another thing I have heard is that Volcanoes in the Northwest have a tendency to explode, shooting out plumes of ash rather than erupt with rivers of lava. It looks like the darn thing could blow at any minute. While I hope I get to see it when it happens, I also hope noone gets hurt.

UPDATE 2: October 4th, 6:00 p.m. -- This information about the Volcano is really interesting. I found it on one of the US Geological Survey sites:
Northwest Indians told early explorers about the firey Mount St. Helens. In fact, an Indian name for the mountain, Louwala-Clough, means "smoking mountain". According to one legend, the mountain was once a beautiful maiden, "Loowit". When two sons of the Great Spirit "Sahale" fell in love with her, she could not choose between them. The two braves, Wyeast and Klickitat fought over her, burying villages and forests in the process. Sahale was furious. He smote the three lovers and erected a mighty mountain peak where each fell. Because Loowit was beautiful, her mountain (Mount St. Helens) was a beautiful, symmetrical cone of dazzling white. Wyeast (Mount Hood) lifts his head in pride, but Klickitat (Mount Adams) wept to see the beautiful maiden wrapped in snow, so he bends his head as he gazes on St. Helens.
I want to hear more of these kind of stories about the mountains in the news, rather than see reporters get excited every time there is a belch of steam. Oh, and one final thing, don't make that Sahale guy angry. Apparently he has a temper.

03 October 2004