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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Introducing Fictionables

Remember the 100-word-story postcard? Want to buy one? Or three? Or five?

Three different designs (#16: Heartbreak, #42: When you're a skunk, and #31: Pies) will be available starting mid-August on my new Etsy page, Fictionables.

Help us spread the word - in every possible sense.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dear Internet,

Dear Internet,

Please help me write a book.

I realize that lots of letters and prayers might start this way, but mine is unique, I swear. This is not a Kickstarter pledge, nor is it the pitch letter I hope to one day write. This is the kick before that step. This is the I-have-something-in-mind-and-in-order-for-it-to-realize-its-full-potential-I've-got-to-do-a-lot-more-research step. A long step, yes, but a crucial one. One that you, Internet, could hurry me along.

When I was 22 I moved to Fuengirola, Spain, to work as an educational assistant at an elementary school that was implementing its first year of a bilingualism program. I was naive and my Spanish was high intermediate at best and I more or less flew by the seat of my pants and nothing too terrible happened and I'm a much better person for having lived alone, thousands of miles from home, in another language, for the better part of nine months.

That is not the story I am writing. The story I am writing is way more interesting. The stories I am writing are about all the things I feared would happen, an amalgamation of immigration stories that six-year-olds told me, whilst learning to add and subtract, and the stories their moms and dads told after school, and perhaps most interesting, the glaring difference between the two. The stories I want to write are about living between languages, cultures, countries, identities. The stories I am writing are about expatriates -- those that embrace the label and live each day homesick, those that slip right in while no one's looking, those that exist in limbo until the day someone finally notices.

So where do you come in, Internet?

Well, here's the thing: I've written six stories so far, and hope to write at least five more. My characters are American, Spanish, German, and English; but I want to include much more. In order to do this I need a better understanding of how people land in Fuengirola, what their life is like there, and what kinds of fears and desires they have. Don't worry: I do plan to do my homework - I will read what you recommend, and I will sit my ass in my chair and flail through the words as they come or don't come - but more than anything I need to know what life is like for expats in Fuengirola today. Now.

Note: I am not asking for money, or space, or anything fully tangible. I'm asking for people who currently live in Southern Spain, or who have in the past, to answer a few simple questions about their life abroad. This will be a piece of fiction and I am not interested in using other people's experiences or words. What I want are your impressions of life abroad, and what reflections you may have about your own nationality during your time away.

What will you get? A very kind email from me, a written acknowledgement if this thing ever gets published, brownie points in Heaven.

If you are still reading and are interested in chatting with me further about this project, please email me at foreignerthebook@gmail.com.

Thank you, Internet, for letting me post such a long letter. I owe you one.

Yours,

Julia

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On faith and future

I’ve read a lot about the difference between educators who identify either as “a writer who teaches” or “a teacher who writes.” I have wavered on that line for so long, not really wanting to choose, because to me they are complementary skills, like fiction and nonfiction. The challenge for me has always been time and space. How do I value my time as writer? As a teacher? What is the best way to develop as both?

I found much comfort in Don Murray’s words. Two weeks into the Invitational Summer Institute at the San Jose Area Writing Project, Ryan and I drove up to the Eastern Sierra to camp out for his birthday. I was a ball of worry. I did not know how to adapt my ideas for my presentation. I had committed to teach at a summer camp for children but was in desperate need for a mental vacation. I was still waiting to hear back about a potential full-time writing gig, one I that both excited and worried me, because I knew that by accepting this job, I would not have the time or space to teach. I could tell Ryan was tired of hearing me worry, so I opened up Don Murray’s book and searched for a passage to read aloud. As luck would have it, I opened to this paragraph, entitled “Faith”:

“Hardest of all for me. Faith that I can write, that I have something to say, that I can find out what it is, that I can make it clear to me, to a reader, that I can write so that the reader is not aware of the writer, but the meaning.

Faith enough not to read what is written until the entire draft is done and then not to compare it to what it might have been or what others have done, but to listen to the writing, to see in it its own meaning, its own form, to hear its own voice. Faith enough to stand out there all alone and invite the lightning.”
-- Murray 84-85

I’m not a strong believer in epiphanies - more often than not, they are moments that confirm a secret fear or desire, one that lay hidden within us all along. I suppose epiphanies are less the moments themselves and more the strike that starts the lightning. We were driving through Los Banos and I found myself clutching this book, learning, once again, that no matter what I decide to do, I get to be the one that decides. I have a book I want to finish, so I’ll work on it bit by bit until I can share it with my readers, and then I’ll work on it rewrite it and revise it and rework it until it something I can feel proud sharing. I have exercise and health goals, so I’ll do my best to make time for running and eating well. I value my friends and family, so I’ll try to find time for both. I want to learn so much - how to teach, how to design websites, how to draw, how to speak other languages, eventually, how to parent - and so I’ll simply have to trust that these are things that I’ll learn, in time.

And perhaps the greatest irony here is that I felt so validated when reading Murray’s reflection on his own wavering faith. These are things we all feel - Anne Lamott certainly has, Hemingway likely did (they say he wrote the ending of one of his novels something like 38 times?), teachers seem to. But what I’ve learned about teachers this summer, at least the ones I’ve met, is that the commitment to their students is stronger than any fleeting insecurity. Perhaps it is comparable to the commitment writers feel to the page, but I don’t know if it is. A page doesn’t talk back to you or endure standardized exams. Perhaps this could explain how my greatest fear as a teacher was facing a room full of empty, expressionless faces. How could you know what you were doing had an impact?

You don’t - just the way I don’t know where my writing will take me, if anywhere, but it’s the pleasure in the process that keeps the words coming.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The landing

Last night Ryan and I walked to San Pedro Market, where we saw a live jazz band playing under the canopy of trees strung with little white lights. We wandered through the stalls selling baklava and pizza, juice, coffee and beer, walking between hipster couples with large earrings and young families pushing strollers and thirtysomething executives with Bluetooths. There was an ancient cactus towering overhead, its blossoms hanging over an old plaque that declared this the city’s first central plaza. This, I thought, must be San Jose. I live here now.

What does that mean, to live in San Jose? So far it means skirting St. James Park and biking down Fourth Street to San Jose State. It means biking the Guadalupe Parkway under the airplanes, circling the Shark Tank and eating jambalaya on the Fourth of July at the Poor House Bistro. It means coming home from class, taping our windows and doors, and painting our place our own colors. It means walking through Japantown searching for fireworks, stopping at Smile Market first because we like its name, second because the man behind the counter has the most brilliant silver hair, third because they sell packs of pens for one dollar each.

I don’t really know how to navigate this city yet, or where, exactly, to place myself in it. For three years this was the place I drove to on weekends, arrived late and tired so I could lay down on the couch with Ryan and shake my week out of me, weeks of writing and grading and stressing and family and running, forever running.

Now I can feel San Jose seeping into my bones. It’s an energy I can’t quite define. It isn’t the hipster irony of San Francisco, nor is it the down-to-earth quiet of Davis, the hot splendor of M├ílaga or that unreal magic of Southern California. It is a place of wrought iron, of clanging trains and tall, metallic buildings that catch the light just so, a place that speaks Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, English - and likely much more.

I still remember my first day in each new place: that foggiest of September days when my parents dropped me off at the Anacapa dorm along the Santa Barbara coastline, that bright cold morning I descended the bus in Granada, where a huddle of Spanish “mothers” waited, their hair in curlers, the trees around the square barren and thin as toothpicks; that dazzling October day I drove up the steep hill in Bernal Heights that would be my home those three daydream years, when adulthood felt like a trick I was learning to stick, that first day back in my hometown, shuffling back into my parents’ kitchen, trying so hard not to feel 15 again. The common denominator is always the way these first days are framed, before the terrain is mine, before the topography real, before the smells familiar, before all my favorite spots surface -- this new place, or rather my place in it, is unclaimed. It is both terrifying and freeing - this knowledge that here is an identity I can walk into with open arms.

The difference this time is that I’m not alone. This time my favorite person is sitting in the room opposite, and he knows how to caulk baseboards and grill steak and he’s ready with a glass of juice when I’m low. This time I (we) are spending so much energy building this place from the ground up that by the time night falls there’s nothing appealing about going out, unless it is to Trader Joe’s for more carrots and apples, or to stroll the streets of Japantown looking for wizard houses. (I believe that all buildings with turrets house wizards.)

This time I want to stick the landing.