Just go for it

This year, Haruki Murakami fans experienced continued disappointment at him being denied the Nobel Prize for Literature yet again. I was reading the comments below The Japan Times’ reporting of this, and found mixed responses concerning whether he was deserving of this award: enthusiastic yeses and emphatic nos, assertions of his brilliance and scoffs that he is overrated.

I recently visited the newly minted library dedicated to his work (The Waseda International House of Literature – The Haruki Murakami Library). Books from his collection lined the walls of the room adjacent to the entrance as well as the center staircase leading down to the study and cafe area. The leader of my writing circle mentioned What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when I told her what I would be doing, so I searched for it and brought it with me to the audio room. Jazz played as I reclaimed the feeling of being engrossed in a book. I did find myself wishing for more floors to explore, but I enjoyed the outing regardless.

Not everyone is a Murakami fan, and yet, I was surrounded by his books translated by translators who signed up for the linguistic grapple. Reservations were fully booked for the next month by people who saw this library as worthwhile to visit. It was built with generous donations of time, money, and energy by people who felt this project was warranted.

Not everyone likes Murakami’s writing, but there are people who do. Enough people to support his career. Enough people to make this building I stood in a reality. As I writer myself, I know not everyone likes my writing. But there are people that like it enough to subscribe and ask for more (thank you!).

I created this website a little over a year ago with the aim of putting my writing out there. To not worry about pleasing everyone and just stand by what I create. I enjoyed writing what I’ve written and I know there are people who will enjoy reading it. So whatever it is you feel that persistent nudge to do, just go for it. Not everyone will like what you produce, and that’s okay. Enough people will.

How much do you want it?

I had an opportunity to apply for a one-week program in Japan organized by my high school, but I allowed fear to get in the way of me going for it. Five years later, as a college junior, I came across a summer study abroad opportunity in Japan. I was aware of other opportunities, but those were either for fall/spring semester, or a whole year, and I wanted to graduate on time. Finally, it seemed like my moment had come. I had been itching to go to Japan since I first became aware of its existence in elementary school.

There was just one problem: the deadline was a few days away, and two letters of recommendation were required with the application. I knew it was poor etiquette and unrealistic to seek letters of recommendation from my professors in such a short time. I was bummed. As a junior going into my senior year the following semester, this was likely my last opportunity to study abroad. I didn’t want to let go of this chance.

Why not ask them to extend the deadline?

It worked with professors for papers, so I decided to give it a shot and send an email. I didn’t get a response, but when I checked the website, the deadline had been pushed to a later date, giving me a little under two weeks. I decided not to question it and thanked God for it. After I refreshed the page (repeatedly) to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, I wasted no time asking my two referees for their recommendations. One of them was not happy with the short notice given, but supported me anyway. I poured all my hopes and passion into the essay and got it done. Additionally, I went to the study abroad office to keep tabs on the progress of my recommendation letters. On the day of the deadline, they told me that they had not received one of the letters. I went to the office of that referee and swallowed my panic as I gently reminded them that the deadline was 5 PM that day. I decided to carry over the recommendation letter to the study abroad office myself.

With everything done, I hoped for the best. Some time later, I did a phone interview with the program director and from there I was accepted. That study abroad program was better than I could have imagined. I stayed with a lovely couple and two of their sons, took classes at a Japanese university, and got to explore 5 prefectures. I still look back fondly on that experience. It was a stressful two weeks to get the materials together for the application, but it was more than worth it. In that moment, I realized just how much wanted it and how willing I was to make it happen.

Just ask

I had gotten an opportunity to teach employees at my local city hall, and I was excited. That excitement changed to concern when I realized that the classes would be held Wednesday evening, the same day as the weekly faculty meeting. I could still attend the meeting, but it would mean that I would have to either leave early and cause a disruption, or make a mad dash after it was over. In order to get to City Hall, I had to take a train and then transfer to a bus. The commute was about 30 minutes. My energy as the teacher affects the class, so I wanted to arrive early to get setup and be in a calm state of mind by the time class started. There was no way I could achieve that by still going to the meeting.

I could have just accepted that I would have to be in a state of hurry every Wednesday evening for the next 2 months. I didn’t want to miss anything that was required by my job. However, this City Hall opportunity was a partnership with my university. That meant I was representing them when I went there. If I didn’t perform well, it would not only make me look bad but the university as well. I decided to use this to approach my boss with a request to skip the meetings for the duration of the partnership. I asked respectfully and laid out the reasons I felt it would be better for me not to be there at all as opposed to the other two options (disrupt or rush out). My boss agreed and approved my request.

In my professional career, I’ve learned that if you ask for something (with respect and good reasons), you are likely to get it. Almost everything I’ve asked for I’ve received, from salary increases, room or schedule changes, and materials. Sure, you might receive a no, but what if they say yes?

Why just accept it?

During my first year as an undergraduate, I was determined to get as many general education requirements out of the way as possible. One of those requirements was in the wellness category. I had not done much yoga by that point, but a class in which I would do stretching and breath work rather than write a paper appealed to me. During the registration period, students with more credits got earlier access to courses to choose from. Although I had come in with some extra credits from my AP courses, as a first-semester freshman, I was still fairly low on the priority list. That meant that by the time I could access the yoga course, all 20 spots were already taken.

I could have accepted that and signed up at a later semester. But in that season, I was shifting from courses I didn’t care for to courses I was excited about and wanted yoga to be in my schedule. So, I kept checking to see if someone would cancel their registration. For a few days, all I saw was 20 out of 20. Then, one day, at an odd hour of the morning (maybe 3 or 4 AM), I saw 19 out of 20. I quickly registered and snatched that vacant spot.

The class was great, and I suspect that I was the only freshman there. I’m aware that it could have gone a different way: I could have kept waiting, only to find a vacancy didn’t open up. In that case, I would have accepted it and chosen another course. But why not persist and see what happens rather than just accept what seems to be settled? In this case, it ended up working. I can think of other times in my life when it worked and when it did not work. The point is, though, that whether it worked out or not, I was satisfied that I had truly given my all.

Please understand that I am not talking about ignoring boundaries; we still need to use discernment and know when a situation will not change and respect that. If I get rejected for an opportunity, I’m not going to push the hiring manager to change their mind about me. If someone tells me they don’t want to a favor for me, I’m not going to tell them why they should. What I may do instead, is try for that opportunity again when it opens next year (which I have done) or find someone else who can do that favor for me.

Your response to a roadblock or rejection doesn’t need to be inaction. Think about what can you do instead.

What’s your criteria?

In a conversation with a student about the arts, I talked about playing in my high school’s orchestra. It wasn’t just that I liked (and still like) classical music. My being there was part of a bigger, intentional effort.

When I was applying for high schools, my top choice needed to fit three criteria:

  1. It needed to be located in Manhattan. I’m from Brooklyn, and up until that point I didn’t know much beyond it. Manhattan was the center of the city, the heart. I hungered to be in a more diverse environment surrounded by diverse perspectives.
  2. It had to have Japanese as a language option. My interest in Japanese formed and grew in middle school, and I wanted to take classes instead of trying to pick up words on my own.
  3. It had to have an orchestra. The protagonist of a Japanese drama I really liked, Orange Days, is a deaf woman who is a skilled violinist. I was moved by this and wanted to play the violin.

Reflecting on this with my student, I realized that second and third criterions were not typical at all. What I lacked in self-esteem as a child I made up for with an unflinching drive to just go for what I was interested in. I wanted to be part of Japanese cultural exchange events at school, so I did it. I wanted to be in orchestra, so I requested to be pulled out of band when I was placed there instead.

I knew what my conditions were and I stuck with them. I didn’t concern myself with what “made sense” to others. I wasn’t even aware that this is what I was doing: as far as I was concerned, I was simply doing what I wanted to do. Sometimes we adults can make matters overly complicated for ourselves. It’s useful to revisit moments from when we were younger and take notice.

Now, with not only experience but the vocabulary to process this, I know what my criteria are for different areas of my life. As I grow and change, so do certain criteria, and that’s fine–I would not, for instance, expect to value the same things I did in high school. What is important is that I identify what is important to me in the present moment, own it, and ask for it. This is part of living authentically and can be done respectfully without guilt or judgement. The result? Following my criteria in high school left me with many good memories and experiences, like taking part in a tea ceremony as the guest of honor.

What is your criteria? Identify it, own it, and ask for it.

Push through the mess

When I haven’t exercised in a long time, it shows: I’m stiff, the moves that used to be manageable for me are a struggle, and I find myself pausing and/or modifying more than I would like. I do the exercise anyway, knowing that my form is not great and I am moving slower than the instructor. I will still get some benefit out of it and, in the process, remember why I used to enjoy exercising in the first place. I know after a few more sessions, my body will become used to it again and my movements will be better.

Like exercise, writing is a skill that needs to be built constantly. When I sit down to write after not having written for a long time, I am at a loss of where to start. Then I push through, accepting that what comes out might not be good. I’m crossing out words and adding different words and I know while I’m writing it’s not going to be a great read. But as long as I write something, it’s enough. Sometimes, something good does come out of it! In the process, I shut out the editor and just let the writer flow, recapturing the enjoyment I get out of writing. I know the more I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, the better my writing will get over time.

It’s great when inspiration strikes, but that’s unreliable. Writing is often messy. If not on the page then certainly in the mind. But it’s only by working through the mess that the message can come through.

May’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own. This one is especially fitting for Mother’s Day today. Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and mother figures! I dedicate this to my own wonderful mom.

Through baby’s eyes:

“She’s beautiful.”

Her warm hands encircled my body and all felt right with the world. What do I call this woman? I don’t know. But her love, I can feel it already, seeping through this warm, white blanket touching my wet skin. My wet hair sticks to her chest as I listen to her heartbeat.

Through mom’s eyes:

“She’s beautiful.”

Nothing else matters now. Everything up until this moment was worth it. I don’t want to just see her through to 18 but through the rest of her life? What do I call this girl? It’s so cold in here, but I will transfer as much warmth to her as I can.

April’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own.

The green waves rippled widely between frames of windblown hair. 1 hour in and she was already restless. Even this, the fastest train in the world, didn’t feel fast enough.

She wanted to be there now.

Looking out the window again, she longed to swim in the pool of green, lush rice fields that stretched for miles. She would do backstrokes, her face looking up at evening giving into night. Then she’d float down to the muddy bottom…

Only 3 more hours left.

You are as you see yourself

I’ve written here before about not feeling confident enough to call myself a writer. But what does it mean to be a writer, anyway? Rather, what do I think I should be doing to count as a writer?

Writers work on their manuscripts every day, and go to writing clubs and writing events to pontificate about the elements of writing and other writerly things.

Let’s dissect that.

In the post I linked, I wrote about the benefit of my local writing circle. However, we’re on break at the moment. Sure, I could seek out others but I don’t. It’s like with teaching. There’s plenty of conferences to go to, but I don’t go to all of them. Sometimes I don’t go to any for months at a time. I like to meet other teachers and share ideas, but conferences are a commitment of time and energy. I get overwhelmed when I do too much of anything. By being selective, I can enjoy the conferences I do go to because I genuinely want to be there. Even if I never went to any conferences, I would still consider myself as a teacher, as gaining experience, reaching out to colleagues, reading online research and resources, and taking courses are other ways to improve my craft.

There are people who do work on their manuscripts daily. I have manuscripts I want to work on but am not particular vibing with at the moment. But I do writing exercises with a book of prompts and I do journaling most times. That writing might not ever be published, but it’s still valuable and is still writing. I’m still working on my craft. I listen to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast to learn about the elements of writing; I am exposed to the writing of others as a writing teacher, reader, and consumer; I’ll point out some writing that struck me in a text I received. There’s no one way to be a teacher, writer, or whatever it is you want to do.

I certainly desire to do more. But considering that I went from years of hardly writing to doing what I mentioned above, I am making progress. The end result I seek will come if I continue to be consistent and patient with myself.

In his call for applications to join him on the first private trip to the moon on Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Yusaku Maezawa said, “If you see yourself as an artist, then you are an artist.” I see myself as a writer, therefore I am a writer. To be clear, I don’t believe seeing yourself a particular way is passive. Actions do need to be taken to back up that vision. So, what work are you doing to be what you seek? Don’t overlook the seemingly small things. Don’t focus on what you think you’re supposed to be doing. Just look at what it is you are doing now. List it out–it just might be more than you think.

February’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own.

I have become a morning person, shaking off the late slumber of my adolescence. 8 AM is my personal favorite: the sun gets itself in position. Everything is quiet. The motors of my brain can slowly churn. Even better on a weekday, when everyone’s going and I’m staying. Nothing punctuating the air, save for the occasional swoosh of passing wheels, soar of the day’s airplane, gallop of the passing train, light murmur of passersby, cooing of winged friends.

The breeze seeps in through the window opening to cradle my face, the sunlight that makes the window pane glitter like the sea wakes up my skin. Today can be what I want it to be. All these hours subject to my intentions.

It is not so if I awaken closer to noon. A sense of regret washes over for the loss of time, an urgency to make up for it yet also a resigned acceptance that the day is almost over. As a teen, I had a simple agenda: make up for lost sleep, relax with friends or alone, do any homework that was put off. I got by with this. But when I decided I wanted to thrive and not just get by, I learned that I needed more to function optimally. And that required more time. The afternoon is too late, demands for attention bubbling over.. Night owling no longer has the appeal it once did, exhaustion overruling all else, staying up past midnight a mental workout.

Truly, the morning is my time before the world pulls me in.