“toenails twinkle”

Dylan Thomas

I was riding the subway when a group of teenagers were reading and talking about the poem wedged between two ads. For over ten years, Poetry on the Way, has been placing short poems on TTC subways, cars, and streetcars in Toronto.

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” said one of the kids quoting, Dylan Thomas. I was most impressed!

Ever since I first read, “Do not go gentle into that good night” in high school, I’ve admired Thomas’ poetry.

Here are a few thoughts on poetry by Thomas worth passing along:

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.”

“Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.”

Creative waiting

I’ve never been good at waiting. It often leaves me feeling restless, impatient, and even anxious. I used to do a lot more waiting in the past – when I had to actually go into a bank to do my banking, when I took public transit everywhere, and when I used to hand-write letters, mail them off, and wait weeks or even months for a response.

I resented waiting because I didn’t have a choice but to endure it.

Most recently though, I’ve come to realize that as a writer I should appreciate the opportunities that come as a result of waiting. It’s the bald-headed cashier with the purple lipstick who will spark a story idea. Give her a name. A few idiosyncrasies. A temper. What would she do if she was forced to wait 40 minutes in a supermarket line, a crying baby and a mother who refuses to get off her cell phone behind her?

The writing circle

It’s been five years since I joined the 11th Floor Writers. Of all the benefits that I have reaped over the years, the following three are the most significant.

The circle has kept me a disciplined writer.

Because we have regular meetings, the circle has kept me motivated to write. We push each other as necessary to keep everyone working on something. The whole purpose of being in the group is to write and receive feedback. We work to move each other forward.

The circle has helped me better understand my writing strengths and needs.

Getting feedback is absolutely critical as a writer. Members point out discrepancies, and make recommendations to strengthen the submitted pieces of writing. My writing skills have also further developed by critically examining the works of other writers and trying to provide meaningful and constructive feedback.

 Because we meet face-to-face, friendships have formed over the years.

Friendships with other writers have become especially important to me as I evolve in this craft. Fellow writers who believe in each other and encourage each other to forge ahead is critical when we become unmotivated or uninspired to write.

Five years ago, I submitted a raw first chapter to the circle. It was a humbling experience. Over the course of several years, I have worked through an entire novel manuscript. In June 2012, this manuscript won The Marina Nemat Award, a writing award from the University of Toronto. I attribute much of my growth as a writer to the ongoing support and guidance I get by being a member of a strong and inspired writing circle.

[This entry also appears on the 11th Floor Writers’ blog. Click here.]

Koreans here and there

I was surprised to see so many books about North Korea in the Social Science section at Chapters, the bookstore. I picked up Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.

Nothing to Envy chronicles the lives of six North Koreans – a teenage couple secretly in love, a female doctor, a homeless boy, a factory worker, and her rebellious daughter – over a period of fifteen years.

My fascination with the lives of ordinary North Koreans grew after hearing about a friend’s son who, upon turning 18, actually visited the country on his own. I’m sure that he stood out. He’s over six feet tall with strawberry blond hair! It was fascinating to hear about his visit, and I couldn’t help but think about the stark contrast between the lives of North and South Koreans. It also got me thinking about the lives of Korean-Canadians which again is so different from the two Koreas.

 

We need more of this…

Noranbang: The Yellow Room,” is written by M.J. Kang, a Korean-born playwright. I found her play in a collection of contemporary Asian-Canadian drama entitled, “Love + Relasianships.”

“Noranbang” is about a Korean family living in Toronto, Canada, during the late 1970s. This is only the second play that I’ve read by a playwright of Korean heritage with a story set in Canada.  I especially enjoyed seeing the Korean words and phrases woven throughout the dialogue. I wish such books and plays existed when I was a child, or if they did, I had known about them. I was never exposed to any books by Asian writers in either high school or university. I hadn’t even thought to think about them.

The other plays in this collection are: “Yellow Fever” by R.A. Shiomi, “Bachelor-Man” by Winston Christopher Kim, “Maggie’s Last Dance” by Marty Chan, “Mother’s Tongue” by Better Quan, and “The Plum Tree” by Mitch Miyagawa.

Creative confidence

I watched a great TEDtalks video entitled, “How to build your creative confidence.” David Kelly provides some interesting insights on developing creative confidence, overcoming phobias and achieving self-efficacy (the belief that we can deal with any challenges that life presents us).

I especially appreciated his comment that we are all “naturally creative” in our own unique way. Unfortunately, that belief is too often quashed by others, even if unintended. I once worked in a daycare where the teacher insisted that clouds could not be purple and had a four-year old re-colour all of them.
 

New year’s eve – back to school tomorrow


Since I was a kid, September has always marked the beginning of a new year. Between completing my writing programs and my ed-related courses, I’ve been in school steadily since I initially graduated from the University of Toronto back in the early 90s.

So, in the spirit of a new year, the following are this year’s resolutions:

  • No more courses – for a while anyway. I need to focus on getting my book revisions completed.
  • Have realistic deadlines and expectations. Not everything needs to get done ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
  • Get five things done on my LIFE list.

An inconvenient life

A play by Ins Choi

I was at a really great little bookstore earlier called Theatre Books.  It was my first visit there. I went in specifically looking for Kim’s Convenience, a play by Ins Choi (no relation) that I’ve been wanting to see for a while now. It’s about a first generation Korean immigrant family living and running a convenience store in the heart of downtown Toronto.

My family did the same for thirty years. Our store was open 7-11, seven days a week.  My friends used to feel sorry for me because my family never ate meals together, and because my brothers and I were always working in the store. But that was the only life we knew growing up. The worst thing of all though was living with the constant threat of being robbed which happened so often, we lost count over the decades.

The book that I’m currently writing is also set in and around a family-owned variety store. Mary, my protagonist, is a Korean-Canadian immigrant who struggles to break free from the rigid expectations imposed on her by her parents and her culture.

After one week…

Terry Fallis

I got the idea to start a blog after taking a creative writing course entitled, “Building an Audience” with Terry Fallis at the University of Toronto’s School for Continuing Studies. Terry is the author of The Best Laid Plans (Canada Reads 2011 winner) and The High Road. He made blogging seem like the easiest thing to do in the world. A quick look at his site suggests that he really enjoys doing so.

I’m still learning how to navigate my way around the blogging universe. I’ve appreciated the visitors who have let me know that they’ve been here so that I can check out their blogs. I’ve found some really neat ones as a result and still have a few that I’m excited to check out.

Any advice/suggestions from fellow bloggers who write for a living or simply enjoy doing so would be greatly appreciated. You can email me at annykchoi@ymail.com or comment below. Thanks!

Getting things done

Am finally getting around to reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft which was  mentioned in several of the writing courses I took. I appreciated reading that King went through “periods of idleness followed by periods of workaholic frenzy.” It actually made me feel better to read that someone as prolific a writer as King goes through spells of inactivity. If I’m not writing or doing something “productive”, I’m often plagued by guilt.

I read two interesting pieces about writing and writers today worth passing along: