On Sunday, which is today if you're in the United States and yesterday if you're in South Korea with me, I went up to Gwanali Beach. Something happened a few weeks back. I wrote a big long post about it and the internet gods didn't see it go live. I've since decided to not talk about what happened in the public forum. (Doesn't that just make you curios as hell?)
Anyway, what happened isn't important. It's the aftermath which, for inexplicable reasons resulted in me staying home. I'm a home body anyway, but I hadn't realized how long it was since I'd been to the beach. Three or four months. The day was nice, the ocean baby blue and the sun hung low in the sky to warm things just right for a seaside November day. I settled on a bench and watched the tide roll in. There were two sailboats in the bay doing figure eights in the intermittent breeze.
These are the kind of things I get inspired by. Okay, that's not true. I also get inspired but drunks puking as my taxi rolls by. The world is just chuck full of little details looking for a home in a story. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I was having a perfect day and when I sat down to write I drew a blank.
As I prepare to relocate, a funny thing has happened. I've nearly stopped writing. In the interim I've wasted countless hours on Craigslist and searching the internet for cities I might like to settle in. But the key information here is Craiglist. I keep scanning the employment adds looking for... I don't know. I plan to take time off because I NEED to to do something about this insomnia. How long that will be... shrug. I've got enough saved that I can probably go a year without working if I'm careful.
But work defines me and my mind is set: I will never make a living as a writer. I believe I'll sell stories. I believe I'll sell full lengths books. I might even get an agent and a real publisher. What I don't believe is that I'll ever be able to quit my day job. Is this mindset fatalistic or realist? I don't know.
I had some old bananas and because of my impending <strike>dislocation</strike> relocation, I decided to made banana nut bread. I'm trying to use stuff up. I don't have any walnuts on hand, but I do have some pecans. I tossed in a pack of banana pudding because hate banana pudding in and of itself. My friends sent it too me from home in case you're wondering.
Anyway, adding pudding to a cake mix will result in a moister cake so I thought I'd try it with the banana bread. I didn't quite have enough flour so I took the trash out and stopped off at the Family Mart on the first floor of my building. They don't have much of a baking section, but I remembered seeing some flour. The single small bag was still gathering dust next to several bags of sugar which were not not dusty. I whooped with joy and grabbed a diet coke from the cooler. I got a bemused look from the cashier at the register.
This was about 10:30. Before bedtime shoppers are usually after beer, ice cream, and chips. There were two Koreans loading up on this goodies as I made my purchase. They too, gave me a bemused look and about ten minutes ago some neighbors stopped to linger outside my door. The scent of fresh banana bread has apparently escaped into the hall.
This might seem counter intuitive to buy more flour when I'm trying to use things up, but I have some pie filling I've been sitting on. It's not easy to come by here and I can't remember exactly where I got it, but I do remember when my shelf had a can of pumpkin, a can cherry and two cans of blueberry pie filling. That was probably two years ago. Anyway, I've one can of blueberry left and now that I'm returning to the land of perpetual pie ( You didn't know that is a nick name for the United States? Well, it is now.) it seems kind of silly that I waited so long to use it.
I'll probably give the pie to my boss, though I'll grab a slice when everybody at work sits down to eat it. The next few weeks they're going to discover some delicious surprises. I wouldn't say I have a lot of special stuff waiting to be cooked, but with only three weeks left, I can probably prepare two special dishes each week. it also means the hall is going to be smelling pretty sweet in the days to come. None of this is import.
Except maybe one thing. The power of smells, particularly smells of fresh backed deserts. My neighbors have not grown up with these scents. They do not recall their grandmother pulling a fresh pie out of the oven on Thanksgiving. They do not have the memory knowledge to distinguish pumpkin pie from apple pie from banana bread. And yet it compelled them nonetheless to linger. It could just be coincidence but I don't think so. In the 18 months I've lived here, not once has any one lingered. To me, that is proof of the power of a smell.
If there was a theme song for your life, what would it be?
What a stupid question.
We go through phases. Our theme songs change. There isn't one for an entire life, or at least there shouldn't be. A month ago my theme song would have been a classic. Something stable. Now that I'm leaving South Korea and everything is in a state of upheaval, maybe half of it is a sad country song about leaving a place you love, but the other half is heavy metal, kiss my %$#@.
Since everything is changing, it seemed like a good time to update the blog thing.
There is a time for everything. For example, the time to eat pie is always.
Not everything is like pie. Take coming and going. They are as unlike pie as mice are unlike elephants.
Living abroad, even with the occasional break, is like living in perpetual mental ward. Life can be very, very good-- there is something about being abroad in and of itself that is like happy gas-- but you still are in another universe where the dots do not quite connect. These are not always specific things. Sometimes it's just a longing for x to be like it is back home.
Scientists have developed a word to describe this complex relationship. It's called homesickness. Most people feel homesick within the first six months of leaving their country of origin. I did not. I did not feel it the first year or the second. At of this has to do with my lack of family relations in the states. But starting with my third year, homesickness slowly took up residence. I didn't even know it was there in the beginning.
There is a time to stay and a time to go. It's hard to know exactly when that time is, but if fear is your biggest obstacle, then the time is now. I am terrified of returning to the United States and the depressed job market that sent me abroad in the first place. But I am so very happy to be going home, a place where there are 500 kinds of cereal even though I only usually buy Raisin Brain and Oat Meal. Mostly, I just want to be confounded by choice.
My co-worker spent last night in intensive care. He is a kind man who has a smile for everyone and geeky sense of humor that I enjoy immensely.
I knew that he was in the hospital due to an auto accident, but as with so many things in Korea, the severity of the situation was lost in translation. He wasn't driving a car. he was walking to work when he lost out on South Korean driver's favorite pastime: whack-a-biped. Though to be clear, if you're on a bicycle you're still eligible to get run over.
If two Koreans travel to (insert the name of every other county but North Korea) the two Koreans will refer to the denizens of that country as weigoogan. This Korean word is equivalent to foreigner but it also means everybody who is not Korean. An extension of this led to my co-workers accident.
No, he was not beaten. He is a Korean man. So how did he become the victim of his own cultural identity? Well, the concept of weigoogan extends even futher. Koreans also have word ( I can't remember it right now, sorry) to describe a social tradition of treating strangers as foreign but also invisible. This worked pretty well for everybody until about thirty years ago when the first roads went up and the first <strike>cars.</strike> motorized missiles appeared.
Now that the country is riddled with concrete arteries and the arteries are clogged with traffic resulting int two national past times: whack-a-biped, as I have mentioned and "how long can you live with getting whacked?"
Crossing any road, regardless of a well marked crosswalk and a light, is dangerous. Koreans are lax about traffic laws and a lot of drivers run red lights. First, imagine the crosswalk as turned green. You look both ways like your mother taught you. There are cars coming but the light is red and they have plenty of time to stop. Plus, you have to cross eventually. Still, you know how it works in Korea so you look to see if there are in other pedestrians. When there are you let them go first.
Today it's only you. You step into the crosswalk glancing at the traffic. In your country of residence the vehicles would slow down or at least swerve. You can see the drivers looking right at you. They don't squint, they aren't texting, you are just invisible and you're in a country where a red light means "only stop if you don't think it will cause an accident." Your heart jumps into your throat as you calculate whether or not you can run fast enough to make it to the sidewalk.
Now, the police will call the accident an accident. The biker, if he was not severely injured as well will get a pat on the wrist, and my gentle kind co-worker is looking to months of recover followed by months of PT. And his future job prospects are charred. Korea is not a kind place to live for those who are not perfect.
If you think you have it hard state side, listen up. South Korea has more people than jobs which has resulted in a very competitive job market. Remember that C you got in middle school algebra? Now imagine if a C could cost you a job? Would that 13 year old you been able to put aside being a kid long enough care about what it would mean when you were 28, 30, 0r 50? When it comes to the good jobs, Koreans can lose out on employment because they go a 99 on test in middle school. Why? There's a deluge of qualified applicants who got 100 down the board.
Remember when you were in high school you skipped class? Imagine if that followed you forever. In Korea high school students stay at school from 7 am to 9 or 10 pm. Classes stop around 4 but the students are expected to stay and study. Skipping school in Korea can be defined as leaving after classes but before study time is over. Sick days also go on your permanent record and you could lose a job because you took one and your classmates didn't. This is why Korean parents push their kids so hard.
But even with grades equivalent to a 4.5 their children might not get a job because of the way they look. Minor plastic surgery, specially a procedure to the eyes (Honest to God, I can't tell the difference after the surgery.) and mole and freckle removal, are commonly done to give job hunters a leg up.
So we are back to my co-worker.. My boss is kind and will keep his position for him. But if he wants to change jobs and he's the only one who limps into the interview....
There are lots of things I love about Korea, but this has never been one of them. Well to be clear, I mean both the perfection standard and whack-a-biped. With such a tough job market, the perfection standard isn't going to change, but motorbikes on sidewalks. That could be outlawed and it should be. And I'm not just saying that because it's a different way. I've been to Vietnam where motor bikes swarm like locusts.I've stepped into that swarm, albeit the first few times time my heart climbed up my esophagus, and was never in as much danger as I've been in Korea.
South Korea needs to get the bikes off the sidewalks because pedestrians are invisible. Reserve whack-a-biped for the crosswalks.
Today I set down to setup an accounting system for my story sales. You know because I've just sold so many stories. (I'm being a touch sarcastic in case that isn't clear.)Before 2011 writing income was zero.
In 2011 it jumped to just shy of $200.00
In 2012 it's dropped to $35.00
I stand my ground firmly that anything is better than zero. However, if you calculate the hours of each story took to write and revise, I made .00001 per hour on each of the stories. Think it gets better when you sell a book. Nope. Lets say you spend 20 hours a week x 51 weeks. ( You took a week off , you probably invested more than 20 hours but you have a day job so it wasn't 40.) That's 10,200 hours. You snare an agent. The agent asks for revisions. The revisions take 5000 hours. Now your at 15,200 hours. You snare a publisher who is willing to give you a $10,o00.00 advance. It feels like you won the lottery. You happily pay your agent her 15%.
You are asked to revise more. You spend another 5000 hours. You are now at 20,200 hours on this book. But there's book signings and a lot of stuff. You can add another 20,000 hours of work. You're now at 40,200 hours. But thanks to all your hard work, your book has sold a gazillion copies, for which you get a 25% royalty. You're agent takes her 15% of your 25%. In other words your actually royalty is closer to 1.6%. ( I haven't studied math for years so I Googled the answer. Google might be wrong =)
You sold 1 million titles at $10.00. In other words you sold 10 million dollars worth of books. Your royalty check isn't $16,000 dollars. You got the advance remember. You get a check for $6,000.
On this book you made about 30 cents an hour. Now all you have to do is pay Uncle Sam his share and deduct your travel expenses. Of course if you could find a minimum wage job that you loved as much as writing, you would have made $281, 400 before taxes for your 40,200 hours.
"That's why I'm going Indie," you say.
Indie authors aren't doing any better than agented authors. They make a high royalty of up to 70% but selling volume is troublesome. And unless you can edit like a pro, you'll have to hire somebody. Minus cover art, marketing, etc. it comes down to about the same. Few people get rich writing. Hell unless you can live off .30 an hour one should never look at writing as financial decision. Do it because you love it.
I came across this video some time back. I don't know the history behind it: was it a spoof or a documentary? Anyway, enjoy.
Donning Flame Retardant Suit.
Okay, now that's done, lets get started.
If you're like most people, November invokes memories of dysfunctional turkey dinners, in laws and pumpkin pie.
If you're a writer then November means it's time to write a novel in 31 days. Welcome to National Write a Novel in Month month.
I dearly miss the days when participation was a skeleton writers kept in their closet. In the old days I was never was pressured to participate. Two years ago, I got tired of making polite excuses and set up an account but I managed to avoid participation. This year a friend is dragging me along kicking and screaming. I have nothing against NANOWRIMO. I'm sure it's a lot of fun for some people in the same way crash diets are fun. And that's just what it is, a crash diet. Unless you count thinking about writing for 11 months out of 12 a serious pursuit.
NANO was developed to help everybody and anybody write a novel without the being burdened by troublesome grammar, story structure and plot. Or commitment. Give yourself permission to write badly. It's the word count that matters not the content.
I kind of understand. This has motivated people to follow through on something they've been thinking about doing. Notice I didn't say wanted to do. If you want to do something, you do it. If you thinking about doing something but don't then it's not that important to you. In my opinion NANO is a gimmick but I've never participated, so I concede that maybe I just don't get it. I'm participating with my friend because she's my friend. Perhaps at the end of the month I'll understand NANO more. Right now it just seems to fall under the self-esteem building category of "Congratulate Me for Breathing." If I win, you are required to send me a beer or, if you live in Dickshooter Idaho, a keg.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).