The Return of the Desk Zombie

The Daily Life Text

I’m back at my desk for the first time in about a month. I can hardly believe it’s been such a long time, and I will readily admit to missing the small space that I’ve made my cubicle, with its crammed bulletin board and random toys over its working surface.
I feel like I haven’t had too much time to think. There have been very few down weekends since May, when we moved here, but the time’s been filled with good things, things that make me happy and proud, and things I’ll be able to talk about for the rest of my life–or, at least, until the Next Big Thing comes along. I’m worried that I’ve set the bar so high this year that every other year will pale in comparison.
Thing is, I didn’t really consider what a big year it’s been for me until my friend Ed pointed it out, while I was nearing the end of my deployment in Taiwan. I was moaning about post-deployment blues (which feel remarkably like post-race blues, actually) while online with him, and he said something like, “It’s been a very big year for you, Yi Shun. Turn that frown upside down!”)
I’m sure he only meant it as a flip comment, but I’ve been carrying that idea around with me for weeks now.
Post-deployment has been interesting. Certainly, my world is larger, my parameters for judgment are different, but it’s only obvious in small increments–like the other day, when I was showing a friend some photos of Taiwan after Typhoon Morakot, and she said, “God, it must have been terrible to see,” and I followed automatically with “It was a disaster area.”
I mean, duh. I can’t really say that anymore, without having the automatic snapshot pop into my mind.
Or when I found I’d gone weeks without regular TV of the brainless-sitcom (or even crime procedural) sort, and didn’t miss it, or much care. I’ve regressed to a certain level of childhood, it seems, where books were all that mattered. I don’t mind it.
Lara asked what it felt like to be in the field. It isn’t like anything, really. It’s like, you get there, you do the job, and you don’t do any processing until you get good and home and you’re way out of the situation. People who’ve never been in a situation where action counts most of all can’t understand it, and that’s OK.
Some part of you just takes over. The best, most useful part of the 9-day training course, by far, is when you’re sitting in the middle of class and someone standing just outside screams, “Fire! Fire!” and they make you go outside, run laps with your kit, unpack and repack your stuff, and then settle right back into class, as if nothing ever happened. It’s that ability to zip in and out of situations that they’re looking for: Address the immediate need, get back on track.
My patience for small things has slid rapidly downwards, although my taste for drama remains the same. I’ll still entertain calls about boy problems from my younger cousin, for instance, but I’m much more likely to snap, “Oh, Christ, who cares?” when she veers away from how he’s making her feel and rapidly into the “Why is he doing this to me?” school of thought. (She might argue that it’s always been this way with me, but I think it’s gotten worse.)
The amount of stuff in my house has become somewhat offensive to me. When you live out of one 35-litre pack for a few days and you do it just fine (okay, with meals out thrown in), you start to wonder why you have five hundred pairs of shoes, some of which you can only wear for two hours before they start to Piss You Off.
(That’s not to say that I’ll stop painting my toes before races and long training sessions, or that I’ll actually get rid of all of my shoes. Some things a girl just cannot give up. My immense bag collection, however, might do with a little pruning.)
My need for silence has increased exponentially. My preference for reading as a past-time is becoming a problem. I still love the city and all of its trappings, but I love this city most because of its lack of provincialism. I’ve been thinking about re-introducing myself to music as a past-time. (I have a keyboard, a saxophone, and a guitar in my storage room. I can only play two of those instruments, and only one of them kind of well.)
Mostly, I am tired. And hungry. For some reason I skipped dinner last night, and all of my English muffins are frozen.
And if you’re wondering why I’m thinking about the things that have happened over the last year, it’s because I turn 35 on Tuesday. Tuesday. 35. Mmmmhmmm.
Here are some photos from Taiwan.

This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan
This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan

The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.
The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.

This is one of the five dogs that runs about our house. This one's name is Ah-Huei, or "Little Flower."liberry
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.

This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.
This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.

This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.
This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.
This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.
This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.

Book publishing goes all Michael-Jackson on me

The Daily Life Text

There’s been some hue-and-cry lately over Justine Larbalestier’s new book, Liar. It’s not because it’s about a black girl who is a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s a young-adult book about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar who may or may not have committed multiple murders.

No, it’s because of the cover, which shows a white girl.

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Bloomsbury, Larbalestier’s publisher, is quoted here as saying something to the effect of, well, the girl’s a liar. You’re going to believe her about her own race? (Justine’s side of the story is here. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, I suggest you take some time and read her very thoughtful post.)

I haven’t read the book (it’s not out until September in the U.S., and I don’t have an advance reading copy). But I must confess to having spent several hours thinking about this from several different perspectives.

As a Reader

I have a specific problem with seeing movies that are based on books before I’ve read the book. If I didn’t know that a book was based on a movie, I tend to quarantine myself until I’ve read the book, so that I don’t end up with too many pre-arranged images in my head. I feel sorry for those who equate Harry Potter with Daniel Radcliffe, and not with the angel-faced boy that Mary GrandPre dreamed up. I feel equally sorry for everyone who equates Ralph Fiennes with The English Patient, or mistakenly thinks the Czech Republic looks anything like France (“Les Miserables” movie, 1998) . The point is, of course, that when you go to pick up a book, you get to draw your own conclusions about what people look like, what the landscape looks like.

In this case, Bloomsbury runs the risk of screwing with the backbone of the book. The readers were presumably intended to draw our own opinions about whether Micah’s compulsive lying extends to a matter as basic as her identity, her race. Visuals are a powerful thing, and with one photo, Bloomsbury has made the decision for us.

I wrote a review earlier on Christopher Paul Curtis’ Elijah of Buxton, and how cheated I felt to find that the big event that’s mentioned in the jacket copy actually has very little to do with the bulk of the book. If jacket copy can have such an effect, imagine how cheated readers will be to discover that one of this book’s questions is already answered for them, and without them even knowing it. I spent the bulk of Curtis’ book wondering if I had missed something, if “the big event” was metaphor for something else; if I was less of a reader than I thought I was. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers comb through Larbalestier’s book after they’ve read it, looking for clues to Micah’s race that might betray the fact that she’s really white.

As a writer

My parents have always said to me that I can’t forget that I’m an Asian , no matter what happens. You can imagine the kind of effect a statement like that has on a girl trying to fit in. My friends were white, my teachers were white, the pop culture all around me was white–my parents were effectively telling me that I’d always be different. More than once they’ve said that I might *want* to be an Asian kid, but I could forget about it–my black hair and slanted eyes would always give me away. (Later, as I took classes in such high-falutin’ subjects as “The American Dream,” I argued that being American was more a matter of style than substance. Yeah, that didn’t fly, so much.) They were trying to protect my heritage–I get that. But I am and always will be an American kid.

As I grew in my fiction, though, I noticed that I was de-colorizing my books, probably as a way of fighting back. The YA novel I mentioned yesterday is about a girl, just a girl, living in New York City. The middle-grade book is about a girl with a decidedly British bent. One of my downfalls is that I almost never physically describe my main characters. I think all of this is tied up in my hangup about being Asian. At any rate, the book I’m hitching my star to, my third WIP, is about an Asian woman living in New York. It addresses all of the things I’ve learned growing up in two cultures, and I think it’s a better book, a richer book, because of the distinct issues that only a person of color might encounter. My main character is stuck between two worlds, and that makes her struggle real, and a real American story.

I can’t imagine what would happen to my thought process if my future publishers saw fit to slap a white girl on the cover of my book. I mean, the book’s not about a white girl. Why would there be a white girl on the cover? It’s apparently a very real question. I’ve worked too hard to walk the fine line of being Asian American in my writing. I’m loathe to think that my publisher could take the work I’ve put into being an Asian American writer away from me.

My heart breaks for Justine–she’s worked so hard to craft a complicated personality, only to have one important pillar of that personality–its race–swept out from beneath her.

As a person

I try not to think so much about race. A friend of mine once said, in a college class I was taking with her on journalism, “My friends think of me as Holly first, and Asian last, or maybe never.” I’ve always had what she said floating around in my head–I think putting people into a box hampers what you can learn about them.

But my parents were right, to a degree: visuals are powerful, and, whether or not we like, we often make suppositions about people based on race. But I take very special exception to being called something I’m not.

Liar is not a book about a white girl.

And I am not good at math just because I’m Asian.

And Bloomsbury is not in the right here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Bloomsbury tested the cover, but without letting focus groups know what the book was about. It tested very well. Also, there’s been some discussion about whether covers with black kids on them sell as well as covers with white kids, and whether covers with illustrations or type (the Australian version of Liar is below) sell better than covers depicting people.

july23liaraustraliancover

I don’t care about any of that. Bloomsbury’s cover doesn’t reflect the subject matter of the book, and this makes me mad.

I don’t even know how to end this post. I think I’ll go and read some Asian-American picture books.

Odds and Ends

The Daily Life Text

We leave for the airport to begin our trip to Zurich in about two hours. There are a few things on my mind.

1. I’ve been slowly falling apart over the past week. First, I banged my shin on our square bed-post. This happens every once in awhile, with varying degrees of severity, but this was ridiculous, because it led to me banging my head on that lovely Arco lamp that we purchased recently, and then to the discovery of s bizarre niggling pain in my rib, and then when I went for my run on Sunday I discovered a grossly unhappy hamstring. And then, yesterday, in our open-water swim, coach had us come in on a particularly rocky shore–no, he didn’t see the rocks until it was way too late–and both Jim and I have multiple cuts on our feet. Owtch. They should heal in time, but…

2. My house is falling apart. I woke up this morning and stood over the sink, rinsing my coffee pot, and noticed a leak right next to me. Creepy thing is, it’s coming from the upstairs apartment, where no one lives. Eee. The maintenance guys came right away to turn off the water upstairs. Now, no more leak. But they’ll have to fix while we’re away.

3. I am really pretty upset at Twitter right now. I asked someone, quite nicely, to refrain from tweeting Tour de France results, since not all of us get a chance to see it until the end of the day. She refused, and, in turn, sent out a tweet out that asked why people get upset when results of things are revealed. This, in turn, resulted in a bunch of people calling people like me “whiners” and “losers.” I suppose this is going to be one of those web debates. I’m refusing to get involved. I just sent her a note thanking her for clarifying her position, and noted that I’d unfollow her for now and then re-follow her later. After the way she’s handled the situation, though, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. Too bad–she’s a bicycle tour organizer and I was thinking pretty seriously about joining her tours one day.

4. I was really excited for Switzerland last night, and today I’m just nervous. I hope I’ll be able to sleep on the plane! I love traveling, though. I’m sure it’ll be fun.

5. Sprocket is in Connecticut having a blast, or so his facebook page tells me, snort snort. Here’s a photo. p7060074These are Sprocket’s new friends, Murphy and Bella. They are sweet and drooly.

6. Lunchboxes are back. Aren’t these interesting? I spotted these in Connecticut on our way back from dropping off Das Hund. p7060079

A triathlon primer

The Daily Life Text

I’ve been involved in multi-sport since 2001, and started doing triathlons back in 2003 as part of a project to get more urban women involved in outdoor sport (“Yes! You *can* have a two-martini dinner and still go for a five-mile run when you get home!”)
At any rate, navigating some of the terminology in triathlon is one of the things I remember doing first, so let’s start from the very beginning.

Base Definition
Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. But, strictly speaking, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order.
sbr
(Cartoon images help me to remember which order events are in a tri.)

That Whole “Ironman” Thing
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when I’m doing an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes I get the same question when I tell people I’m doing a triathlon. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”
There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. I was very disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3” instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles, exactly), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” I suppose, but I believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. I find it annoying. I don’t like the idea of making it sound as if I’ve done something I haven’t. For me, that will all change this year once I cross the finish line at Ironman Switzerland, and I suppose that, in the future, the collective memory will forget that Ironman once meant one specific thing, but…eurgh.
Anyway.
imlogo
(This logo is fraught with controversy. Okay, just in my head.)

The Distances
Remember a couple of days ago, when I was geeking out to the math involved in a triathlon? Get ready for some more geekspeak.
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman. Here are the distance breakdowns:
Sprint
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Olympic (International)
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles

Half-Ironman (Middle)
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles

Ironman
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2

How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines as once and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online. I used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
team-divas-05
(These are the girls who were in my virtual network for awhile. Loved doing a triathlon with them.)
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.

Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.

Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, I’ll admit this is my own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about the specific legs of a race.

Manatees are far more interesting than green beans

The Daily Life Text

Certain things make a girl happy. To wit:
1. The children’s section at The White Plains Public Library is the best I’ve ever seen. I loves it! Witness “The Trove”:
p6230072
And here’s what you see when you walk into it:
p6230073
2. A few days ago there were perfect clouds outside my window. I love the views from my apartment. I wonder how it’ll be in the wintertime, when there isn’t very much foliage and you can just see the highway and the Nordstrom’s.
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3. About a week ago I made a shrimp-and-green beans dish that called for the beans to be sliced on an “extreme diagonal.” Do you know how annoying it is to be told to be extreme in your cooking? At some point I got so extremely diagonal I went vertical.
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4. It’s the last day of school here in New York. The high school across the street is lovely to look at on any day, but the noise of happy kids is hard to beat.
5. My friend Erica is a remarkably talented illustrator. I had her do this piece, of manatees shopping for lettuce, for me. I just got it back from framing. I loves it.
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6. My friend from junior high school, Jo Smith, came to visit with her Grammie Lucy. Lucy is 88 years old and sharp as a tack, nay, sharp as a sharpened tack. She is wonderful. I hope I’m as engaging and as confident as Grammie when I am 88.
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7. My morning glory plant is an idiot. I keep on threading it around my balcony railing, but it insists on making knots around itself. Time for a trellis.
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8. Today the skies are more threatening. I like this weather, but I’m sure the kids would rather a nice sunny day to play in.
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9. Today: reading, writing, a short swim at the end of the day. Nice, nice day. GoooooOOOoood day. Stay. Sit.

It’s no good, Capt’n, she’s fogged in!

The Daily Life Text

Today is one of those brilliant writing days. It’s raining like gangbusters, and I can hear the sound of the traffic on 287 because of the shusshing of the tires on the tarmac. When I finally took the time to look up from my work this morning I was shocked to see how foggy it was out, and how little I could see of the opposing hillside. I immediately opened my balcony door too see if it was just the rain on the window hindering my eyesight, and the briskness of the air outside had me pulling on a pair of fuzzy slippers right away. Fuzzy slippers! In summer!
It was not the rain on the window; I really was socked in all around.
As I type, a big boom of thunder has rattled my windows, and I’m happy I’m inside, pecking away on my computer. I’m also happy about the fact that I’ve decided to shelve my swim for today and double up on workouts tomorrow. It’s far too good of a writing day to waste on getting to the pool and back by bus and over an hour on swim.
What I’m not happy about, however, is the lack of overhead lighting in our little apartment. The grey day outside has made it obvious that I won’t be able to put off my big lighting purchase until after July, as I had planned.
I am in the market for an Arco lamp by Castiglioni. I have the name of a fairly reliable reproducer in Brooklyn, so I believe I will make that purchase sooner rather than later. I have wanted one of these lamps forever, so I think I will take advantage of the fact that we are going to be in Brooklyn this week, and pick it up. Boy, oh boy. Lighting.
arcomoma
Anyhow. It’s already 9:25. On to breakfast with the newspaper and then forward to more writing and reading. Forthcoming: a review of Elijah of Buxton, and some reading of the first book in the Faeries of Dreamdark series. And, of course, pecking pecking at the keyboard, trying to make my most recent story arc work.