About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

26 September, 2012

Getting Smaller

Getting Smaller

No, I wish I could say this blog is about my waistline or the number my bathroom scale reads. Although with my marathon training - even as sporadic as it is - those two numbers are coming down.

Seriously, though, this post is about the world. Last summer, I wrote about my family’s trip to Montauk and how we met a mother, her friend and their kids and how the mother and her son live in New Jersey. They live in a town not too far away from where we are. It struck me, then, as funny and odd in a “what a coincidence!” sort of way. Even before then, however, I’d already started to believe that there aren’t any true coincidences. Every event and meeting however seemingly insignificant at the time will have some sort of meaning and merit later on. Experience has led me to believe this.

Well, today, another one of those faux coincidences happened again. I don’t know the significance of it - yet - but it also reinforced how small the world really is - or has become - and how much smaller it is still becoming. With the internet and all sorts of social media, especially Twitter, the world has shrunk. We connect with people instantly and through avenues like Twitter it’s even easier to meet ‘strangers.’ I put strangers in quotes because sometimes people aren’t really complete strangers anymore.

I’m on Twitter - I think the proper phrase is ‘I have a Twitter’ -  and I’m there to promote myself as a writer and to hopefully generate some buzz about my work and writing endeavours. If you’re not familiar with Twitter, a person sets up an account, has some kind of username, follows other Tweeters (aka Twitterers) and is followed by other members of the Twitterverse as well. In my case, many are other writers and readers and we read, attend and follow many of the same books, blogs and conferences. Often, as an event draws near, we tweet about our excitement, what workshops we’re going to attend and things like that. Sometimes, people arrange to meet and those virtual friends become in-person friends. And they address each other by their Twitter handles, which makes it all one big game. So, in this regard, the world has truly gotten smaller.

With social media and the internet, we can see easily how things have gotten closer. At 43, I feel that I’m in that in-between generation; the one that manages to exist on both sides of the internet age and the smart phone revolution. I wouldn’t think, then, that meeting someone for the first time in-person would make things so small. But, then again, what do I know? I met my neighbour’s ex-wife today to find out that she grew up in the town where I teach and knows many of the people I know from where I did my senior year of high school (Seton Hall Prep) and where I work. I know a couple of the teachers she’d had and some of her classmates who ended up teaching in the district they attended. To make things more intimate, more meaningful, one of those classmates who is now a teacher is one of my best friends.

This kind of thing is probably something that’s happened to you many times. I’ve met people before who’ve known people I know but I was introduced to them by a mutual friend or at an event or occupation that we all have in common. With my neighbour’s ex, however, there wasn’t any kind of obvious connection potential.

Perhaps, only now, I’ve started to open my eyes and observe the world more clearly; observe the world at all. Maybe it’s always been this way. Then again, maybe it hasn’t. Either way, it makes for good writing material and it seems to be bringing people together. What do you think?

11 September, 2012

Beating Writer's Block Through Adaptation

Just like many other writers, I suffer from the occasional bout with writer's block and low motivation to sit in front of my laptop screen and crunch out words. In my years of writing, I know that I just need to put words down, that they'll be more junk than literature as a first draft, and that I'll be editing and making revisions until the prose is right. I've no problem with that. Some days, though, it's just harder than others to get it done.

When I started taking writing seriously, I focused on screenplays. Just like with my novel writing, I attended workshops and classes, got feedback and rewrote. One of my screenplays, Aliens Among Us, Part I: Discovery, even garnered agent interest (I think from CAA. I've moved thrice since then and the correspondence between us is something I've not looked at in years and it's all in a box in my basement) and reached the quarterfinal round of the 1996 Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition. During those years of screenwriting in the 1990s, I'd written three other scripts - Hong Kong Boy, Jenny and Holy Communion and during the sessions of tapping on keys (Jenny was written on a typewriter) I'd spent many collective hours staring at the brown wall behind the IBM Selectric and at the lonely white screen of my Mac. And, this is even with a plot outline! Some days the muse just isn't there.

Today, as I focus on writing my second novel, the muse has taken another vacation. I could be suffering from 'second book blues,' trying to sort out if I really have another story in me. I think I do. I've managed to complete four screenplays, after all, and I've managed to plot out the first in a YA fantasy series for my next book. I'm also trying to adapt my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, into a screenplay. I am, however, also ridiculously busy (teaching, coaching, being a parent and husband and training for a marathon, among other things) and life, as many of my fellow writers who wear other hats will attest, does challenge one's writing goals. When I do get to sit down, the juices just aren't flowing right now. About fifteen years ago, when I'd get blocked, I'd give myself anywhere from 15-30 minutes to see if any words came out. If they did, I'd run with it; even if that meant hitting the backspace key as soon as I'd finish typing. If no words came out after the given time, I'd call it a day and go for a run or watch a movie. One time, when I happened to be working on more than one project, after the time was up, I closed the file in front of me and opened the other one. And the words flowed. Since then, I try to make sure I have more than one project at hand.

Unfortunately - and back then I was working on two screenplays (the same form of media) - switching projects isn't even working for me right now. I'm having a hard time with creating the draft. My novel, Sage Of Heaven, is plotted and loosely outlined (I'm not a big outliner and when I do I keep them very loose so I have room to adapt it as my characters lead me) but I'm stuck three chapters in; not in what I want to happen in the story but in how to express it, describe it, illustrate it. Heck, I'm more than stuck. I'm blank. I've started another novel - well, it's probably going to be a collection of related short stories - set in a Filipino-American community in New Jersey. Switching mindsets has helped the juices flow a little but I need a more aggressive jump start. Like I said, my difficulty right now is with creation, not with ideas.

So, what I've decided to do is adapt a work. Like I said earlier, I am working on an adaptation of Back Kicks And Broken Promises into a screenplay but I think and feel that I need to step back from it for a bit. I spent ten years working on it and it's a very pesonal story that, perhaps, someone else should write the screenplay. (Any takers? Haha!) Instead, what I'm doing is taking my screenplay Aliens Among Us, Part I: Discovery and turning it into a novel. Really, I'd love to turn it into a graphic novel but I'm not an artisit. I'm doing this, ultimately, as an exercise to get my mind back to a writer's mindset - a novelist's mindset - but if I like what it turns into I may pitch it. Who knows, right? Or, I may self-publish it directly as an ebook through something like Createspace. At least I have a fleshed out story that's more than an outline so it's not creation. It's...adaptation.

Either way, I hope the exercise can get me back to writing; writing with a purpose. If it works, I'll have found my muse and she'll be from another planet at that! (I do believe in aliens but that's a story for another post).

Happy - and successful - writing to all!


01 September, 2012

A Word of Advice for the Next Generation

A Word of Advice for the Next Generation 
I don’t know. Is it just me or did the summer whiz by? Really, normally, I’m okay with that. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that the autumn is my favourite season. The ease, for lack of a better word, of the summer though makes it special. By ‘ease’ I mean that I don’t have to plan lessons, there aren’t any meetings to attend or assignments to grade, and I don’t have to worry about always bringing my A-game when performing for my students. Teaching is performing, after all.
Well, it seems that this summer wasn’t that easy.
I worked, as I’ve done since 2002, for my school district’s maintenance department with male teachers from schools in my district.  Our dynamic is pretty mellow. As long as we get the jobs done, all is good. We joke a lot, usually taking jabs at each other, like we were a frat house or good old boys club. Don’t get me wrong. There is thinking to be done - planning how to tackle the jobs we’re assigned – but it’s not the same kind of thinking needed for creating assignments, getting the most out of students, analysing test scores, overcoming the achievement gap, etc. On some days, the most harrowing decision we make is where to have to lunch.
What made this summer less summer-like was how busy it was. Even before last school year ended, I began night practices for returning and incoming volleyball players. I continued this, switching to late afternoon sessions, in July for a total of seven and a half weeks. Every year, tryouts begin mid-August but in an attempt to make us more competitive and to continue on the improvements we made last year and to pick up the slack that’s been left from the seven girls who graduate I ran the free camp. It’s proven to have been worthwhile. The level of play that came into tryouts was much stronger than in past years. Now that tryouts are concluded and the teams (JV and varsity) are made and we’ve had some scrimmages, the summer is truly over and the school year has begun.
Since the start of last school year, I’ve also been on our Health and Physical Education curriculum writing team. Granted, I chose to be on it and I get paid for every hour I work, up to what the school board approves, but it’s still another thing I put on my plate. And, I spent time meeting with my department supervisor and my fellow team member as well as working on writing the curriculum at home and school during July and August.
I’m not looking for sympathy or anything like that. I chose to do all these things but there are prices to pay. I’m scheduled to run in this year’s New York City Marathon. I was following my schedule to the kilometre but suffered an injury setback and then the summer hit with its mad timetable. I had to be at work by 7am, end at 3pm. Then there was volleyball followed by picking my son up from day care and then the home things. Running? What’s that? I’d get and continue to get runs in when I can. I just hope that I can get back on some kind of schedule once the school year starts and that my experience having run three previous marathons (NYCM 1995 and 2005, Disney World 1999) will help me get through this year’s edition.
My writing has dramatically suffered too, which is the worst part of it all. The most consistent writing I’ve been able to do is this blog; a post once a week if I’m lucky but, really, less than that. I wanted to have a first draft of my novel, Sage of Heaven, completed by summer’s end but, alas, that’s not going to happen. My reading, too, is two put offs away from flat-lining.
And, then, there’s my Taekwondo training. That, like everything else, requires time and there is only so much of that to go around. I also don’t have a place to train. My classes have folded due to no new sign ups and no renewals so, while I’m keeping the school name alive, really, my attempts at running a Taekwondo endeavor and passing on my soon-to-be twenty-seven years of knowledge has failed again. I don’t even have a place to train my son so I’ll probably end up bringing him to one of the schools one of my friends owns. I’m going to be the only Taekwondo master I know of whose own son didn’t carry on the Taekwondo tradition directly from his father. At least my son will be able to train, however, and become a master in his own right.
So, what’s the point to all of this? There are two and I address this to teenagers who are starting out on new paths in their lives and to the not so young, twenty and even thirtysomethings, who have recently left the safety net of education or the security of an established but unfulfilling job, and are trying to make their own marks on this world. Here they are:
1.       Try everything when you’re young and be fearless about doing it. I’m talking about opportunities in arts, sports, industry, and academia and not in drugs, alcohol, other substances and promiscuity. Make yourself well rounded but also don’t be afraid to pick one or two things to make them your own; things that will shape who you are into who you want to become and things that you can, in turn, shape and help evolve into something better than it was when you started doing it. Don’t take “No” for an answer and be willing to prove people wrong when they say, “You can’t do that” or, worse still, “Why?”
2.       For the not so young, as you endeavour to make you mark, your fame and your fortune, don’t forget to be fearless and don’t forget that thing or two that shaped you and you helped shape. Anyone above, I would say thirty or thirty-five, will tell you that life isn’t always rosy and the plans you make don’t always fall into place. You’ll have to be flexible and maybe even change your plans for a bit. When those harder times come - and they will – you’ll need to turn to that thing you did when you were younger. It’ll ground you and, even for a little while, make you feel like the world is once again at your fingertips.
There’s an adage that says, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Looking back on my life and recalling conversations I’ve had with friends around my age, I have to admit there is some truth to that. I hope this post can help young people take a minute and think about who they are, who they want to be, what they want to do, where they want to be, what they need to do to get there, and why they want it. Young people don't often have enough knowledge or experience to know the Whats and Whys but today's young people are smarter and experience more at younger ages than my friends and I did at the same age. Most people will say they just want to be happy. Happiness is easy to achieve. It’s fleeting, after all. Contentment and satisfaction are really what one should pursue. At forty-three, I’ve not (yet) found them. I hope to, someday. I hope you do, too.