Category Archives: Daily Grind

Fireworks Across the Ocean

I am one of those rare creatures always desiring adventure: Fireworks and ribbons, a new project, something to get adrenaline pumping and my mind whirling through galaxies. Growing up, I hunted for treasure in books. Later I relied on school and the occasional amusement park for a fix; taken out of my comfort zone or given new information to digest, I quickly learned and thrived. Yes, I was that girl in the front seat of the roller coaster, hands in the air, waiting for the fall. I soaked in every moment.

A few months ago, I decided it was time to shake up my world. I had reached an impossible plateau both professionally and personally, and my writing idea pool had stagnated under general stress and frustration. I wasn’t satisfied with the direction I was heading in any area of my life. I needed drastic change, something to keep me moving forward.

I am now writing to you from South Korea.

In March I accepted a job teaching English at an all-girls’ high school in Yeosu, a beautiful city on the southern coast, known by many for the 2012 World Expo. I officially settled in to my town and school about a month ago. Friends, I love it here. šŸ™‚

Whisked away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known, I’ve already noticed a big difference in my writing: I’m more focused, more willing to wander in my thoughts without inner critics shutting down metaphors or suggestions. My words are reinvigorated with heart and passion and everything I worried I’d misplaced in the past couple years.

Julie Delpy’s character in Before Sunset (one of the most gorgeous romantic dramas ever filmed, for the record, and one of my all-time personal favorites) explains this feeling well: When describing her time abroad in Warsaw, she says, “After a while, my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot more in my journal, ideas I never thought of before. … I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn’t understand, so, all I [was] doing was… walk[ing] around, thinking right. My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy.”

…Hello, Korea. šŸ™‚

Moving halfway around the world to jump start your creative juices or climb out of your rut is not, of course, for everyone. Admittedly, I’m a wee bit crazy. šŸ˜‰ But I’ve learned thatĀ giving myself a shock, moving outside my daily routine, can dramatically impact my creative voice.

Prior to departure, a good friend asked me how I thought my work would change in Korea; I hemmed and hawed and scrambled for an answer.

Then, during my first week here, I looked at a poem I started back in late 2006/early 2007. After slaving over every word and sound for months and months, I had set it aside, saved it on my computer as a work in progress; though I returned to it occasionally over the years, I was never in a place to hear its true ending. Within days of arriving in Yeosu, I discovered what was real and missing from the lines. That poem is now saved under “Finished.”

I find inspiration in the unknown and the strange. The land changing beyond my bus window as we turn corners, drive around mountains and ragged coastline; dodging scraps of burning paper on Gwangalli Beach, watching teenagers shoot firecrackers over the Korea Strait in Busan; navigating different menus and street foods as I walk through market districts around Jeollanamdo Province: all of these things give me a thrill. And that thrill translates into more words on the page and a fresh dedication to discovering my language and ideas.

Don’t settle for what is. Try something new. Rejuvenate your creative life. Trust me, the adrenaline is very addicting. šŸ™‚

 

Hwasun Temple, South Korea

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Daily Grind, News, Revision

If I could build a house from books…

…I’d easily have a mansion. And I mean that in the literal, not the philosophical “books = knowledge = wealth” sense.

This is something I never thought I’d say: There might be such a thing as too many books.

When I was moving all over the place last year, I had to store my entire personal library in Rubbermaid containers. They were carted here and there, some stacked in family members’ basements, some tucked away in my apartment attic, some <cough> used as an end table beside my couch. Recently I had the opportunity to move all my book boxes to a single storage unit, andĀ holymackerel!Ā That unit is filled to the brim. Don’t ask how many containers are in there….

In case you were wondering, I still have at least 500 novels double-lining my bookcases and stacked around my apartment. And I may have also <coughcough> purchased another 10 books in the past two days. (It’s not my fault! There’s an adorable independent bookstore called Squirreled Away Books near the place I’m working this week, and I’ve spent each lunch hour exploring its treasures. Those books just jumped into my possession, I swear it.)

I have heard of the amazing new device called an e-reader, believe it or not. I own a Kindle, and I use it all the time. But for me, it just can’t quite compete with the feel of paper under my fingers, the smell of old ink and binding glue….

This week, I’m planning to weed out my collection, donating not-favorites and double-copies to the library, Books For Soldiers, or beloved family and friends. We’ll see how many book boxes I have left at the end…. [Still way too many, no doubt.]

How do you preferĀ yourĀ books, paper or e-reader? Any suggestions for the book-weeding process (or should I stand proud on my library-mountain)? Also, pray tell, do you know of any local meetings of Book Buyers Anonymous? šŸ˜‰

3 Comments

Filed under Daily Grind

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all are having a very blessed and wonderful holiday season!

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Grind

Please Excuse the Interruption

I decided the site could use a face lift, so for the next few hours, the theme will be changing frequently as I play around with options.

Look forward to a shiny new jendempsey.com! šŸ™‚

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Grind

Battles …(plus reference to delicious baked goods)

It’s not often that I haveĀ an entire 24-hour periodĀ free of responsibility or strict plans. Holy mackerel, I’ve been looking forward to today for weeks: I envisioned sleeping in, delving deep into my story without needing to watch the clock, maybe baking some heal-the-sick-amazing double-chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm. The day was going to be perfect.

Of course, though, reality is never so pretty.

1. My neighbors decidedĀ something desperately needed hammering at a very early hour. Very early. And it had to take place on our shared wall, which butts up to my bed. …Grrrrrr. (I don’t know what it is about my neighbors and pounding things.)

2. I’d been in denial about chores.Ā They’ve piled up for a few days, and the dutiful, practical me insists I complete them before any writing take place.

3. Just checked my cupboard. Completely out of sugar. Uh huh.

Now, none of these hurdles is insurmountable– Meijer’s is just down the street, after all, and there are plenty of hours remaining this afternoon for laundry AND writing. But the day has certainly not progressed flawlessly.

I learned the same lesson this week with my story. You may know what I’m talking about: The charactersĀ will not cooperate.Ā Originally, I had all these plot-points and plans for the long-term shape of the book, but noooooo, my characters had to go and grow personalities, and now a few of the scenes I’ve written no longer fit, and the protagonist insists on walking down a nasty, garbage-stricken alley when I know she should really be on the other side of town, and she stubbornly won’t say what I want her to say, and now she wants a tattoo, andĀ man, I have to re-sculpt my plan for the book. I’ve lost control over my story.

In the bigger picture, this isn’t a bad thing. The writing is growing organically, rather than sticking to a potentially-lifeless imposed script. I like that my characters are mouthing back.

But in this moment? Half of what I know about the plot and setting and characters will be chucked. It’s unsettling.

Who knows how this story will end up? Certainly not me.

Guess I’m in for a ride.

Yeah, I’m gonna need those cookies.

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Grind, The Novel, Writing