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Apr. 23rd, 2016

I've been slogging through the process of finding an agent. Stage one: read through the agent's section of an out of date Writer's Market. Stage two: go to the Internet for more up to date information. Stage three: submit.

I've been happier with my gym time. I've been using a variation of a three step program. First, do 5x5 sets of a heavy weight at a pressing exercise, then a pulling exercise, and then a leg exercise. Then do those same three at 4x8 at a medium weight, and then do them again at a light weight at 3x12. But my variation saves some time by only doing stages 1 and 3, and it still worked so well that I broke my college bench press record and set a new personal best for shoulder presses. I also like doing different leg exercises: dead lifts for the heavy and kettle ball swings for the light, for example.

I've also been watching a lot of "Third Rock from the Sun" on Netflix. I missed it the first time around because my ex-wife was against TV on general principles. They have no shame and it is often brilliant.

Good Bye Hanoi

This is my last day in Hanoi. I liked everything except for the work and I could gripe about the weather. I really can't teach children well and the job offers I had for adults bit the big one.

I made several friends who showed me around the city and chatted with me over dinner or tea. I taught a couple of them how to play Rummy and they picked it up fast. Some of them gave me gifts these last few days, and I was handing out books I didn't want to pack in my luggage to them.

Vietnam is a lot like China, but with a strong French influence that means a vast cafe culture and much better desserts and pastries. They also didn't have such a harsh Cultural Revolution so there are probably more temples, pagodas, and churches in Hanoi than there are in China (judging by personal observation). Vietnamese women also seem more independent than Chinese women in some ways, more willing to open their own small businesses or have children without bothering with a husband. It might have something to do with having a feminine-centered religion before Buddhism and Catholicism arrived. The cult of the Virgin Mary might be why Catholicism more successful in Vietnam than in China, but that's just a guess.


Update One: finished the rewrite of the novel I've been working on in spurts for years but finished in a mad rush in the last few months about college life in China. Four POV Chinese characters and one American POV character. Three kids trying to make it through college and a romance between a Chinese martial arts teacher and an American professor.

Update Two: finished the rewrite of a novel I wrote in five weeks. It is set in a magical version of the ancient Chinese occupation of northern Vietnam. The POV characters struggle against sexism, racism, the lies of scripture, and sometimes each other. Plus, two romantic subplots, a rebuttal of Lovecraft, and the answer to why Slayers are girls.

Update Three: I broke my college personal best for bench press by eight pounds. Not bad for a middle aged man.

Bus Trip to Thai Binh

I noticed some interesting things on the way to Thai Binh. First, the cemeteries we passed on the way are built like little fortresses to protect their dead from the effects of marshy land. We were also given free food called “Cay cakes” but were shaped like sticks and combined stick rice, carrots, and enough ginger to mask the favor of the other two. My friend and I were also the only people talking on the bus, but I’m pretty sure a couple of people were listening in to practice their English. Our bus was pulled over for over-crowding (people were sitting in the aisles on stools) and the driver paid the police the standard “fine.” I also think it is interesting that a two hour bus trip to another city costs less than a twenty minute taxi ride to work. Capitalism loves scaling upwards.

We saw so many churches and cemeteries from the highway that you could do religious bike tours from Hanoi to Thai Binh. I also saw a lot of places where the trees were in lines, I suspect planted to hold the ground in place.


Stealing Milton for a Muse

It was the month of Halloween
When the curse of Heaven’s Queen
Lay upon the ambitious daughter of a farmer
And the scholarly son of a carpenter.
For the ascetic muses sang
And their choir bells rang
For the birth of the bouncing
Budding writer.

In his inglorious form
Which light did not forgive,
His body rejected vice,
His mind rejected lies.
The unwilling monastic,
The lost romantic,
The agnostic by principle,
The atheist by practice.

Say, Heavenly Muse, should not thy sacred style
Afford wealth, luck or the love of a good partner
Shall not ye grant unbearable talent
To one ye gifted infinite imagination?

My mind’s eye has soared
To dream palaces of dragons,
Over the battlefields of Ares,
Swam the sea of spirits
Light of heart enough to transcend.

Wielding pens of good intentions
To forge swords of great faith,
Telling truths through heroes’ speeches,
Villains’ quips, and Wizards’ rules.

See how far upon the eastern roads
I have travelled to ladies sweet.
Teaching ancient people our modern odes.
Stretching hands outwards to greet.

Only with queries fair
And synopsis intriguing
May I woo busy editors
And seduce wary publishers.

If my secular song
Will entrap your fancy long,
Truth will penetrate
The thick skulls of men
And love envelope
The bitter hearts of women.



Having one of those days when the purposeless of my life is dragging on me. Here in Vietnam having trouble finding a job that fits me, trying to write a novel more on momentum than faith that it would ever get publishing, feeling I'm too old to get married. Ten years ago I had plenty of patience with life, twenty years ago I had plenty of confidence, but it just never sorted out and now I look forward and wonder, is it all too late?

I know intellectually that it isn't, but I feel my options narrowing. I know intellectually that there's no predicting the future, but on an emotional level I'm stuck with this "learned helplessness," that nothing I do will work out so why do stuff?

Jan. 30th, 2016

A friend of mine invited me to the Tet festival market place for all your festival shopping needs. Google maps said it was a half hour walk, but it turned out to be forty minutes, but my friend was stuck in traffic so she was late, too. It was built around a regular open market where you bought nuts, spices, and dried fruit in bulk and gift shops. Lots of red and gold decorations.

I kept looking around the buildings trying to imagine what the neighborhood was like when it was newly built; tall, narrow townhouses (now divided into apartments), no power lines, fresh paint, etc. An Aussie came up with some old coins he had just bought and he was trying to figure out if they were real antiques or not. I'm pretty sure at least one of them was fake, since it had "French Republic" in French stamped on it but was dated 1825, smack in the middle of the Bourbon Restoration (I admit to using wikipedia when I got home so I could give you the right name).

So when my friend and her friend showed we walked around a lot. I almost bought what I thought would be really cool Vietnamese wrapping paper for gifts but it turned out to be the tube for fireworks. That would have been embarrassing to get through customs. Then we sat down to eat wrap your own spring rolls, which was a nice experience even if my paper folding/rolling skills are rudimentary.

By the time I was walking home the sun was going down, so decorative lights were coming on, which made the same forty minute walk back just as interesting as the walk there.


Rain Rain Go Away...

I've had another day when most of my exercise was walking. I had a job interview but it was very unsuitable. Twice as far as the other options, boring work, and the didn't want to pay until the end of the nine weeks of twice weekly lessons. Pretty much a three strikes you're out sort of situation. I was almost lost coming home, but pushed on and after 90 minutes of walking in light rain I made it home. I guess I shouldn't be to down on the weather. It's been raining harder before and after I was out there, so overall I got lucky.

On the other hand I'm making great progress with my novel about college life in China. I'm filling out the characters and have figured out the endings of most of the plotlines. I've been dividing some of my life experiences among the western male characters and my Chinese women friend's stories among the Chinese women characters. I believe I can have the rough draft finished by the end of February, barring horribly bad luck.

Getting back into the swing of things

I'm back in Vietnam, but the professional opportunities that I thought I had lined up evaporated. One of them has changed management and the other hired someone else. But I have enough money to tide me over for a couple of months so life goes on.

It is quite chilly today with strong gusts of wind. It feels more like an Iowan autumn than the normal, Floridian weather. I did my push ups, etc, and hustled over to the grocery store to stock up for two or three days in case this turns into a real storm.

My Chinese college life novel is finally taking off; I've finally been able to define the characters' problems. When I write about life in America, it's always been satirical, probably because I think most of our daily problems are self-inflicted. People in other nations have much greater problems than we do.

Which is probably why I find their literature more interesting.

There and Back Again

I went back to the States for the holidays. As always, I visited with family, hit the gym, and watched too much TV; naturally this led to regaining five or so of the pounds I'd lost in Vietnam. I've also recommitted myself to not just writing but pushing my fiction on agents.

But it is good to be back in Hanoi with friends to hang out with, a pedestrian lifestyle (which I credit for much of my weight loss), and no distracting television. I binge watched "Arrow" and "Awake," both of which hooked me for different reasons but slowly lost their touch. The more complicated their worlds, the more I could nitpick their reasoning. "Awake" went from a great SF premise to Freudian psychology, unless the break from SF to Fantasy represented the character's psychological breakdown. "Arrow" turned inwards and thus slowly into what my father calls "a soap opera with weapons."

This morning I walked to the grocery store and the crowds and noise of Hanoi streets didn't bother me at all. I felt more at home than annoyed.




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