Month: September 2012

On timelines and “I don’t know”

Sometimes I crack myself up. Like in this post, from July of 2011, when I predicted that I would be ready to query agents in September. Of 2011. HAHAHAHAHA! HAHA! HA!


Well, that was before my “no timelines” rule, obviously. Before I realized that I am not very good at estimating how long it will take me to do things.* Before I admitted to myself and accepted that I have NEVER been very good at estimating how long it will take me to do things.** For example, in high school, 1 hour of calculus homework usually took 3. In college, a quick trip to the library for research could last all weekend.

So now? Now I just say, “I don’t know.”

When are you going to finish editing your manuscript, Kristan? I don’t know. When are you going to query agents? Dunno. When is your book coming out? No idea. When are you and Andy getting married? Eh, sometime. When are you planning on having kids? In the future!

Not a very satisfying answer, I’m aware. But it’s honest.

“I don’t know” also prevents me from feeling bad about myself for setting up an expectation and then not delivering. I think that’s important. Because otherwise you can get caught up in a cycle of self-defeat, and that’s vicious. Trust me, I’ve had to escape it many times.

Footnotes (which are almost as long as the post itself):

* Sometimes I worry about publicly admitting that I’m bad at predicting timelines for my writing. Like, what if an agent or editor reads this and doesn’t want to work with me? I could ruin my career before it even starts! I could be added to that giant blacklist they all pass around in a manila folder marked CONFIDENTIAL.

** But it’s important to note: I always get my shit done in the end. And on time, if there’s a real deadline. (Meaning, one that I did not create for myself and/or one that has actual consequences.) For proof, you can ask any of my former coworkers or bosses. I was NEVER the one holding up the line or dropping the balls.***

*** For whatever reason, my brain prioritizes things that I “owe” to other people. (Even if there’s no literal payment/debt involved.) Of course, that means MY stuff always get pushed off for “later.” That’s no good for an aspiring writer — because my manuscript will never belong to anyone except me**** if I never get it finished and out into the world! But that’s a whole other rant for a whole other post…

**** This is where crit partners help. Or at least, mine do. They’ve read my manuscript; they’ve grown attached to my characters. I “owe” them to a degree.

Addendum: To be clear, I am not excusing myself from ever being able to estimate timelines for my work. This is a skill that I need to develop. And I’m working on it. But just like you wouldn’t book a second year piano student for a concert at Carnegie Hall, I’m not going to aim too high too soon. So when will I be able to give more accurate predictions on my progress? I don’t know.

Like this:

The other side of Sept 11

I don’t typically blog on/about Sept 11. Last year was an exception, and my thoughts weren’t only about the anniversary, but they happened to coincide nicely.

Speaking of coincidences…

The other day, my mom suggested that I watch this documentary called The Cats of Mirikitani. Today, of all days, I finally watched it. It’s about an elderly, homeless Japanese-American whom the filmmaker sees every day in her neighborhood and begins to worry about. But he’s content to live and sleep on the streets of Soho, so long as he’s making his art. And that’s the part that I think my mother wanted me to see. That tunnel-vision passion. That ability to subsist on one’s dream and little else.

And I did see that, and appreciate it, and admire it.

But I also saw the part where the Twin Towers bled flame, and smoke swallowed the sky, and dust and ash flooded through the city like rivers overflowing their banks. Caught unaware, I started to cry. I didn’t know this would be part of the story. But really, how could it not be? Is there any American life that isn’t touched by that day? By those terrifying images?

(How weird is it that the post-Sept 11 babies are almost teenagers now? That they have no memories of what happened, besides the ones passed down to them? That eventually there will be babies for whom Sept 11 means practically nothing? Just another date on the calendar. Another tick on a timeline for history class. Another melodramatic story that their grandparents tell. Time marches on…)

As New York City becomes a ghost town of sorrow, danger, and uncertainty, the filmmaker invites Mirikitani into her home. She learns more about his past, and as a result, the documentary begins to juxtapose his experiences in the Tule Lake internment camp (after the Pearl Harbor attacks) with the racially charged aftermath of Sept 11. The verbal slurs. The physical attacks. The vandalism, arson, assault, shootings, and harrassment. The way neighbors suddenly looked like strangers. The way friends suddenly acted like foes.

It was a stark reminder that not everything — or perhaps everyone — in America came out better and brighter. That not everything that rose from the ashes of the World Trade Center was triumphant. That for all the incredible, inspiring bravery and beauty of human spirit that we saw, there was some ugliness too. That when we say “never forget,” we have to remember everything, and learn from our own dark side as much as from our enemy’s.

I know that might not be a popular sentiment, but I thought it was too important not to say.

Like this:

Ann Arbor

ann-arbor-01 ann-arbor-12
ann-arbor-17 sidewalk-is-lava
ann-arbor-25 ann-arbor-29

Like this:

Privilege, guilt, and the right to pursue our dreams

Sometimes I wonder…
What right do I have to pursue my dreams?
Especially when so many other people can’t.

But the truth is…
Everyone has the right to pursue their dreams.
Whether or not they choose to is a different matter.
And it has nothing to do with me or my right.

Yes, some people are more privileged than others.
Some are luckier.
Some achieve success quickly.
Some take a long time.
Again, none of that has anything to do with me.

As long as I understand, appreciate, and don’t abuse the circumstances of my life,
I have the right to make the best of them.

Guilt serves no one and accomplishes nothing.
Let it go.

Like this:

Once a child

Congratulations to giveaway winners Pieter, for THE HYPNOTIST, and Shari, for ON MAGGIE’S WATCH. I will put your books in the mail by the end of the week!

Over Labor Day weekend, Andy and I went to visit some of my family in Ann Arbor. We ate (a lot), we played golf, we walked around town, we relaxed at their house. It was a lovely weekend, and the highlight was spending time with my cousin’s adorable — and impressive — little boy. As Andy joked, “This kid knows more languages than I do!” Yes, he speaks English, French, and Chinese; he’s starting to read; he’s well behaved and cheerful*; he loves to sing, drive, and play guitar… All before the ripe old age of 3.

*Note: When I first met him 2 years ago, he was a fussy, scream-y baby who never wanted to eat or sleep, even when he desperately needed to. Yay for change!

I cannot tell you how my heart surged when he started asking for me. “Where is Tata Christmas?” (Tata is baby French for “aunt,” and Christmas is his interpretation of Kristan.) Or when he chose to sit on my lap during family photos instead of his grandfather’s. (Sorry, uncle!) Or when he gave me a big hug and bisou goodbye.

The love of a child is achingly sweet and pure.

Then one of those Moments of Maturity hit me. I realized that the way I feel about this kid is probably a lot like how my parents’ relatives and friends used to feel about me. They watched me grow, marveled at my development, felt special when I showed them preference. But as I got older and more independent, I stopped desiring the glowing spotlight of their questions and compliments. It became a burden instead of an honor. Instead of shining, I shied away.

It makes me a bit sad to realize that my cousin’s son — and the kids of all my friends, really — will probably think of me this way someday, too. But it’s not personal, I know. Just a normal part of growing up. And hopefully, like me, in time they’ll come full circle, learning to appreciate the adults in their lives in a new and different way.

Like this:

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